Location: Confiscated Ship "Ariadne" / USS Pandora
By now, the Brennan-Griffin family had been in space for a full week. Carnwennan and Federation space had been left far behind, with the small Ariadne zipping through the Expanse in stops and starts. The little ship was astonishingly fast, but unfortunately, its speed made it stand out on long range sensors, even when utilising its state-of-the-art camouflage system. Tzenkethi freighters did not, as a rule, race along at Warp 9. As a result, Cailus and Shae were forced to be careful, only zooming along at high warp when sensors were clear, then slowing dramatically to a pedestrian Warp 6 whenever their sensors caught another spacecraft. They had been making good time lately, taking advantage of the Pandora's charting of the region to bypass various hazards to progress quite quickly.
However, it couldn't last forever. The closer they got to Paradise Station, where Starfleet's rather shaky intelligence suggested that the Pandora might have sought safe harbour, the more dense local space became with freighters, passenger ferries, small private ships, mining vessels and everything else imaginable. Recent hostilities in the Expanse had left a dent in commercial activity, but that was all. Left with no other choice, the unusual crew of the Ariadne were forced to slow down for the rest of their journey to Paradise. They still had no idea if the Pandora was there, and after some discussion, Cailus and Shae agreed that it was too risky to try a subspace communication. Either the Luna-class starship was there or it wasn't. They'd find out in a few hours.
Up ahead in the cockpit, Cailus was keeping a weather eye on long range sensors, but more important, he was checking the Ariadne's systems. The engineers at Carnwennan had only given the craft a brief examination, proclaiming it to be an extensive modification of the Delta Flyer design invented by the crew of Voyager. Both they and Shae had made all sorts of happy noises upon examining the ship, but Cailus was more cautious. For all the Ariadne's stupendously advanced technology, it was clearly not designed for long flights. The extended warp nine sprints had placed some strain on the small warp core and nacelles, while the main deflector would likely need an extended degaussing before too long. None of the issues were especially alarming in the short term, but they were adding up. Cailus and Shae reckoned that they had another week of flying, another two weeks at the very most, before the Ariadne suffered a serious problem that they couldn't fix.
Still, if the Starfleet's intelligence was right and the Pandora was at Paradise, none of that would matter. If it wasn't...well, they'd cross that bridge when they got to it.
After a final check of long range sensors (a Breen frigate was disconcertingly close, but it was heading away), Cailus got up, stretched, and made his way aft. The living space of the Ariadne was (somewhat predictably) a mess, as Eva had quite enthusiastically claimed the space as her own. Seeing Shae and Eva at the small table, Cailus made his way over.
"Another four hours until Paradise," he said to Shae, then glanced at Eva, smiling. "What's happening here?"
"Eva has been in a drawing frenzy," Shae said with a smile. "I think she's remembering people, she's drawn Rebekah, Eiri and Ayan, Tisar, Huyo, even Raven. Tell me, my love, who are you drawing now?" she then asked.
"Kat-y, Ms Temple and Nyx!" Eva said as she scribbled furiously at her paper. Her coordination still left a lot to be desired, but she was getting better everyday, and there was enough detail to distinguish the blobby shapes as distinct people.
Observing Eva's progress with curiosity, Cailus sat down at the table. "Very good," he said, sharing a happy look with Shae before glancing back at Eva. "Do you want to show your drawings to Katrine and her mommy and daddy when we get home?"
"Yes, Kat-y, yes!" Eva said with an excited wiggle, her tail wagging so fast she nearly fell out of her chair. "Whoa!" she said as she adjusted how close to the edge of the chair she was sitting, then resumed drawing, taking more time and putting more care into the details of the Temples. "Kat-y and me play, everyday!" she said, which was possibly the longest sentence she'd ever said.
"I think she'd like that," Cailus said, although he glanced at Shae with worry. Katrine had watched Aoife suffer the aneurysm and then lost her best friend, which may well have been traumatic for the child. They had no idea if it was wise to introduce Eva to Katrine, but evidently Eva was quite looking forward to it. Looking at Shae, Cailus asked "How's Eoin?"
Shae agreed with his unspoken sentiment; she had no idea how to explain this to Katrine, or for that matter, what her parents had even told her!
"Hm, Eoin?" Shae peeked into the sling she wore to check on the little guy. "He's fine, sleeping peacefully. Why, you need some baby time?" she asked playfully.
"It's been all of three hours," Cailus countered wryly. "I'm not that needy." Nevertheless he stood back up, moving around Shae to peek at Eoin, and he sighed in resignation, smiling. "Well, perhaps I am, but let the boy sleep. There's an entire crew just waiting to melt when they see this little guy. He and Willian will be contesting for cutest baby on the ship." He glanced at Shae with sudden mock severity. "Which Eoin will win. Easily. Because he's a winner."
"You are simply too adorable for words," Shae informed her mate with a laugh. "Although that does pose the question, how do you tell your crew that you had a baby when you never knew you were pregnant?"
That was a genuine quandary, and Cailus considered Shae with a frown as he sat back down, watching Eva's merry drawing out of the corner of his eye. "I have no idea. Call it one of the wonders of an interspecies pregnancy, I suppose." He raised an eyebrow. "Emilie might be a bit envious that you got through your pregnancy so well that you didn't even notice. Nyx told me that she was pretty miserable at times. I wasn't there for most of Harriet's pregnancy, but she didn't exactly enjoy it, either. Threatened to kill me at least one day for putting her through all that."
"Oof..." Shae said sympathetically. "Well, I can tell you this much, if Eoin's pregnancy and birth had been half as rough as Eva's, I might have been throwing some threats around as well; she was pretty rough on me, but then again I was really too young to be having children anyway." Shae paused to peek in at her slumbering son once again. "I'm sure we'll figure out how to tell the crew, then he can go on to win their hearts, because he really is a winner, isn't he..."
Cailus snorted. "He's our son. Of course he is." Before he could say anything else, the soothing female computer voice piped in: Alert: sensors have detected a Breen ship on an intercept course. Estimated time to intercept: fourteen minutes. Cailus looked at Shae with alarm, but they had been ready for this. "Go," he said curtly, standing and moving to take Eoin from his mother. "I'll get the kids squared away and be up there in a minute."
Shae handed off Eoin then rushed to the cockpit to assess their situation, settling herself into the cockpit seat and checking their camouflage shields. They were still operational, but it looked like the Breen didn't care about the Tzenkethi transponder data they had been faking, they were still on an intercept course. Double checking that their heading was still Paradise, Shae pushed the ship into warp 9, hoping to outpace the Breen ship to Paradise where it should be safe for them even without the Pandora.
In the aft compartment of the Ariadne, Cailus moved quickly. He and Shae had drilled on what to do with the kids when they had a problem, so it didn't take long to get Eoin secured into his crib, latched onto a bulkhead. "Computer, activate crib emergency protocol," he said, and the Ariadne's computer obliged, the inside of the crib lighting up a faint blue. Eoin would be perfectly safe in there; even if there was a fire or they lost atmosphere, the crib had its own shielding and life support, while the computer would monitor him.
Nevertheless, no computer was a substitute for a big sister. Hearing the warp drive's hum grow much louder as they sped up, the deck plating vibrating briefly before settling, Cailus picked up Eva and secured her in a jump-seat, pulling down seatbelts to strap her in. Eva had been drilled by her parents as well, so she had an idea of what was happening, but nevertheless, Cailus lingered.
"Keep on your eye on your brother, Eva," Cailus said, crouching down in front of her and looking at her intently. "Stay in your chair no matter what happens, but we need you to look after Eoin. Shout for us as loud as you can if anything happens. Can you do that?"
Though a little scared, Eva managed to give her Papa a thumbs up and a brave smile.
In the cockpit, Shae was taking the risk of hailing the Pandora. At their current speed, it would be a matter minutes, not hours, so she calculated the risk to be worth it to have the Pandora's support upon entering the system. the Breen ship was hot on their tail and slowly gaining.
'Come on, Pandora, where are you?' Shae thought as she tried to coax a little bit more speed out of the engines, but after a week, the extra speed just made the ship shake dangerously, causing Shae to reduce their speed slightly.
Cailus had just gotten to the cockpit when Shae was forced to slow down, and he slid into the copilot's seat swiftly, grimacing at the ship's shuddering. Glancing at sensors, he did a double take. "What the hell are the Breen doing to their frigates to hit 9.5?" he said in astonishment, but it didn't matter. The Breen were gaining, and fast. "Powering up weapons, reinforcing aft shields."
Then the comms system triggered, a sharp agendered synthetic voice sounding out. "Federation shuttlecraft, this is the warship Ahksur of the Breen Confederacy. Paradise Station is under blockade. You are illegally trespassing in a zone of special Breen interest. Stand down and prepare to be boarded or we will use lethal force."
Shae shut the channel off so she wouldn't have to listen to it repeat, instead, searching for any sign that the Pandora heard their hails.
"Nyx, we really need you now!" Shae said as she struggled to keep the tremoring Ariadne on course.
The ship's sensors lit up with three unfamiliar signals. Irokari fighters approaching at high warp, weapons charged. Without hesitating, they began to fire upon the Breen ships.
The Irokari swept past the Ariadne and continued bombarding the Confederacy's ships, hitting them in quick succession. Their weapon fire seemed to be targeted at specific locations upon the Breen, hoping to overwhelm their weak spots with a barrage of phasers. The Breen quickly responded by breaking off pursuit of the Ariadne and engaging the Irokari.
"Chief Rivian to civilian vessel." Came a voice over the comms.
Somewhat surprised by the turn of events, Cailus sat back in his chair. "Well, those fighters are new. Katya's been busy." He glanced at Shae and shrugged. "It's your ship," Cailus said, gesturing for her to answer.
"This is the Ariadne, Chief Rivian," Shae answered over the comms. "We're attempting to rendezvous with the Pandora at Paradise Station. Is she there?"
"Yes." The white-feathered alien replied. "She is docked, safe and sound."
"Thank you, Chief Rivian, and thank you for the support!" There was a certain amount of glee in her voice just from hearing that the Pandora was docked at Paradise. With the heat off their tail, she slowed their pace to an even warp 9 so that the shuttle would stop shuddering. "We're almost home!" she said as she hailed the Pandora once more.
"Keep going, we'll hold off the Breen. They know they can't pass into Paradise's territory but they still try to block the area." Rivian replied her vessel shaking as the Breen returned fire. "Stay safe." The call ended as one of her co-pilots reported the Breen were converging on them. "Evade them!" Rivian ordered as the comms shut off.
"Will do," Shae replied, then cut comms as well, still waiting for a response from the Pandora.
Finally, the Pandora returned the hail. "Unidentified vessel, this is the USS Pandora." Ensign Milkovich was sitting at the Ops station on the Bridge. He thought it was likely the strange craft was trying to contact Paradise but was hailing the Pandora by mistake.
Hearing Milkovich's voice, Shae did a brief cheer in sheer relief that they had made it. They were entering the system no, so she dropped out of warp to impulse power; not only could they see the Paradise, but they could see Pandora docked there, what a beautiful sight!
"Pandora, this is Lieutenant Brennan; open the doors and tell Captain Temple we're home!" Shae said. it was hardly the proper way to request to board, but Shae was so happy that she didn't care.
The young Ensign fumbled at his console. "Brennan... The Chief Science Officer? Okay, I'll do that. I can do that." He started pressing the necessary commands, feeling flustered. "But you might have another problem."
Paradise Outpost was now hailing the vessel.
Cailus glanced at Shae warily. "Katya. She might be angry that we started a battle in her backyard." He tapped the button to accept the subspace hail, opened his mouth to speak, then stopped himself just in time, nodding at Shae instead. Ariadne was a Starfleet ship (if only hurriedly commissioned a week prior) so the one Starfleet officer aboard was the person who had to answer, not the civilian passenger.
Shae nodded meekly back, offering him a sympathetic smile as she answered the hail. "Paradise Outpost, this is the shuttle Ariadne; we do not require docking assistance at this time as we are joining the Pandora."
A small, yellow squat alien appeared on screen. "WHO ARE YOU?" He demanded.
The demand was so sharp and sudden that it actually evoked a small squeak from Shae. "Lieutenant Brennan from the Pandora. We're not docking with you, we're just trying to return to our ship!"
"No one approaches Paradise without clearance!" He replied, gruffly. "State your designation or we will open fire!"
"Haj! It's okay, they're part of the Pandora." Ian called out, trying to reason with the Paradise flight controller through the Ariadne's comms. "They are designated... uh... friend."
"FRIEND?!" Haj huffed. "Only Katya may designate friends!"
"Well ask her." Ian pleaded, hoping he wasn't overstepping his boundaries. "Or Captain Temple, who will confirm the shuttle is part of the Pandora and therefore part of the same designation."
"Pandora is designated ally. Not FRIEND!" Haj retorted, as if there was a universe of difference between the two. "WAIT HERE!" He shouted before the channel abruptly went silent.
Shae just blinked, staring at the comm systems for a long while. "Is he always like this?" Shae finally asked Ian.
"Apparently." Ian sighed heavily, "Not even Captain Temple could get through to him when we arrived. I've pinged Temple, by the way, but he was in a meeting with Queen Katya. Do you need medical attention at all?"
"We could use a good meal from a proper replicator or even some of Miss Huyo's cooking, but no, we're fine, just ready to be home," Shae said with a smile, then looked back at Cailus. "I think we're safe now, go get the kids ready."
"Huyo's cooking," Cailus said wistfully as he stood. "You're right, that is a definite priority." He headed aft, and was only gone for a couple of minutes before returning with Eva and Eoin; the former clutching Cailus's hand, the latter returning to a very important nap in his sling on Cailus's chest.
"Eoin slept through the entire thing," Cailus said with amusement as he slowly led Eva forward. Sitting down in the copilot's seat, he heaved Eva up onto his knee so that she could see them dock on the Pandora. Trusting Shae to handle the flying, Cailus pointed at the distant shape of Paradise Station, a much smaller silver object attached to one end.
"See that, Eva?" he said to the child.
"Ship!" Eva said brightly.
"That's Pandora, love; that's home," Shae said, smiling brightly at the wonder in her child's eyes.
"Pandora to Ariadne, we have clearance from Paradise Outpost." Ian came back on the comms, "You can start your landing procedures. But first, there's someone who wants to see you."
In the cabin behind them, blue lights swirled into existence and a figure appeared. The lights dissipated and Nyx stood there smiling, eyes a little misty. "You're home?" He spoke softly, half in disbelief.
"Nyx!" Eva blurted out, then applauded at the sight of Nyx in the cabin.
"Well, almost, we just need to land," Shae said as she turned in the cockpit seat to get a clear view of Nyx. "You have no idea how much we've missed you."
Cailus, quite unusually, was smiling warmly as he turned in his seat to look at Nyx, careful keep Eva secure on his leg and Eoin comfortable in his sling. "Captain," he said simply in greeting, profoundly glad to see the man.
The Captain could only smile in return, seeing the family return, knowing they had rescued Aoife's sister and... And a boy? Another addition to the family? Confused, Nyx blinked, "Why hello there."
"That's Eoin, he surprised us a couple days after the rescue," Shae said with a smile, returning her attention to her console so she could start landing the shuttle.
"Surprised is an understatement," Cailus commented wryly. "We were in the shuttle on our way to a starbase when Shae says 'I'm having a baby'. Scared us both to death. We didn't even know Shae was pregnant."
"No, it was more like 'panic panic panic, oh look, a baby! more panic'," Shae said jokingly as she brought the shuttle around to line up with the Pandora's shuttle bay.
The shuttle gently cruised into the shuttle bay and came to a prompt landing on the waiting deck, the crew soon gathered around to start investigating the unfamiliar vessel. Nyx busied himself making faces at Eoin while the shut down procedures happened, hoping he was entertaining the child.
"We have a lot of catching up to do." The Captain stated the obvious.
"So much catching up," Shae said in agreement as she finished shutting down the Ariadne, then turned her seat to let herself out of the cockpit. "Why don't you let us settle in for a bit, then come around (mouthing: with Katrine) and we can make an evening of it. How does that sound?" she said as she picked up Eva and headed for the rear of the shuttle.
"Wonderful." Nyx said, pleased.
As he arrived in the shuttle bay, Owen could see the new arrival had landed and then realised as the rear doors opened that his moment of panic in trying to locate the Captain was short-lived as he saw him exit the new craft along with Cailus and Shae and from what he could see...two children with them.
Owen decided to ask questions later, despite having missed his friend and his family whilst they had been away. Looking at Nyx, Owen adopted a stern parent stance. "So, here I am ready to provide a status report for you and can I find you? Can I hell," Owen started. "Then imagine my shock when the computer says you're not on board either the Pandora or Paradise station...are you trying to give me some sort of heart attack with everything going on..."
Nyx gave a nonchalant shrug, grabbing hold of some luggage to help unload the shuttle. "I had to." He offered as a cheeky explanation. "I didn't go far."
Pausing for a breath, Owen carried on as he saw Nyx smile. "So... now that I know your safe and not out there causing some sort of galactic incident... How are we all doing?" Owen asked with a smile.
"Tired of living in a shuttle," Shae said, then embraced Owen with her free arm. "Owen, it is so good to see you again!"
With the baby still in his sling hung on his father's chest, Cailus smiled at Owen as he hugged Shae, a distinctly mischievous glint in his eye. "It's good to see you. While we're here, we should make a formal introduction." Cailus shifted so that the baby and Pandora XO could see each other, speaking with complete seriousness and deep severity. "Eoin, this is Owen. Owen, this is Eoin. Now, listen close, my boy. Eoin, I want to be good friends with Owen. Trust Owen well as you grow up. Owen, I hope we can count on you to take good care of Eoin. That goes for you too, Eoin. You can do worse for a crewmate than Owen, Eoin, trust me."
Shae just stared at Cailus. "You just had to go there, didn't you?"
"Go where?" Cailus answered completely deadpan, although mirth danced in his blue eyes.
"I had negotiations with Talarians that were less confusing than that," Nyx commented from behind as he continued to help with the bags.
"Well, at least they chose a good name..and thankfully Eoin won't be calling on the comm anytime soon to confuse things further," Owen added with a smile. "It's good to have you all home and safe in one piece, you have all been missed."
=/\= Bridge to the Captain =/\= Came Ensign Milkovich over the comm badge, =/\= The Irokari are requesting our help repelling the Breen ships. =/\=
=/\= Acknowledged. I'm on my way. =/\= Nyx replied immediately. He looked to others with a brief smile. "It's great to see you all back. We'll catch up tonight, okay?" He said it as he was running towards the turbolift, not able to wait for a response.
Shae and Eva waved goodbye to Nyx as he ran off, then grabbed one of the bags he had been carrying, hoping that Owen would get the other one. "So, when are we on for the next game of pool?" she asked Owen as they walked.
"As soon as we have some quiet time around here, we'll get one set up, it's been way too long since we had a game of pool together and how much fun we had doing it as well," Owen said. He looked down at the bag leftover and picked it up swinging it over his shoulder. "I'll take care of that, now let's get you all back home shall we?" he offered.
Before they left off, Owen could see that Cailus seemed to be quiet than his usual self and also noticed that he was in his civvies as well. Whilst there may well be reasons for that, he knows that his friends would explain all to him and he'd understand as to what was going on.
"Besides, I need to get my winning streak back up and running so that I can show little Eoin here how to play as well as his Uncle Owen," he added.
"Uncle Owen, it suits you," Shae said, ruffling his hair. "But yes, take us home."