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December 4, 2295
Aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior

"Permission to come aboard?"

"Granted, sir."

Transporter Chief Keyoto Hamilton glanced at him, then quickly looked away. He knows, Captain Hikaru Sulu thought bitterly. It’s probably all over Excelsior by now. He left the transporter room without another word and headed straight for his quarters.

He would not be there long.

Fortunately for him, his lover and C.M.O., Doctor Ariel Cord, had office hours in Sickbay at the moment. He didn’t think he could face her—not just now. He changed into a chamois-colored civilian softsuit and packed the few things he would need into a large duffel bag. Then he strode to the nearest turbolift.

Sulu’s mind churned as the lift transported him to the bridge. He had nearly lost it all—his command, his ship. He had most definitely lost the friendship of newly-appointed Fleet Captain Pavel Chekov for going behind his back to Admiral Lystra Davis to complain about Chekov’s new post. Just add that to the list of what he’d lost the past few years. His daughter Demora, his lover Janet Rachelson. This ship was all he had left, and to hear Davis talk, he didn’t deserve to keep her either.

Was C-in-C Lystra Davis right?

His jaw clenched. They’d called him an asshole. It was among the nicer things they had said. Were they right? Did being forceful and decisive make you an asshole—or one of the best captains in Starfleet? He needed time to think. Fortunately, he had laid the groundwork on their return flight to Earth. He had planned to take some leave time even before the unfortunate episode in the commanding admiral’s office. He was glad now that he had taken such precautions.

The turbolift doors hissed open.

"Captain on the bridge!" Chief Navigator Linda Parker sang out. She flashed a brilliant, fresh-faced smile at him and did not break eye contact. Sulu smiled back, in spite of the way he felt. Well, maybe not everybody has heard yet.

"How did your meeting go?" asked Lieutenant Ryan Peterson, the tactless tactical officer, obviously unaware of the scuttlebutt.

Commander Janice Rand started to rise from the center seat, looking as though she were going to kill Peterson with her bare hands, but Sulu held out a hand.

"As you were, Commander." He cleared his throat. "Some of you may have heard by now that I was less than happy to learn I had been passed over for the position of Fleet Captain. Some of you may also have heard that I voiced my opinion to the C-in-C." He paused, reflexively stiffening his back. "Both Commander-Starfleet Davis and Fleet Captain Chekov have seriously questioned my ability to command this vessel, and I find myself wondering if perhaps they are right."

You can hear the proverbial pin drop, Sulu thought, as a stunned silence settled over the bridge. His gaze swept over them. Rand, Parker, Peterson, all gazed at him in open-mouthed astonishment. Even the insufferable Vulcan science officer, Ensign Tuvok, raised a Spock-like eyebrow in his direction.

"Pursuant to that, I have decided to take a leave of absence of indeterminate length. Until such time as I can determine whether I myself feel that I am fit to command this ship, Commander Janice Rand is Acting Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior."

Rand’s mouth worked as she tried to speak. "Captain," she finally managed, "may I ask how long you intend to be away?"

Sulu flashed a brief, wan smile. "I have no idea." And with that, he strode quickly into the port turbolift and disappeared.

"Captain!" Rand called after him.

For a few minutes, no one said anything. What was there to be said anyways? As the captain of Excelsior, Hikaru Sulu had not made a lot of friends. His command staff had never gelled into the sort of unit Starfleet hoped their crews would form. The comradery failed to develop; the friendships were half-hearted. Above all, their captain was little more than a dictator, and few of them liked or admired him.

The bosun’s whistle sounded. "Transporter Room to Bridge."

"Bridge. Rand here."

"Uh, Exec? Chief Hamilton here. The captain’s beamed down to the San Francisco."


"One of the drop tube stations. Looked like he was going on leave."

"Yes, Chief. He was. Thank you."

Rand hurried to the communications console, elbowing aside Lieutenant Janine Howard, who was currently covering the station. She frantically began reading various transmission logs, and messages between the captain and Starfleet’s personnel office.

"Uh, I’m not up to speed on all this," Peterson began, "but, you know, with him being a starship captain and all, is it okay, I mean, is he allowed to do that?"

The executive officer nodded. "I’m afraid so, Lieutenant. According to the communications logs, he requested and was granted bereavement leave—for however long he desires. Science Officer?"

Tuvok turned from Science One. "Sir?"

"See if you can track his transponder. I want to know where he’s going."

Tuvok cleared his throat. "According to Starfleet regulations, if he is on bereavement leave, what he does is not our concern, and we are to carry on accordingly. Scanning for his location would be a gross breach of etiquette and protocol."

"Then we shall respect his privacy," Rand said, sitting back down at the conn. "Everyone—as you were." She mechanically signed a padd someone thrust at her, outwardly attempting to convey a calm, efficient demeanor.

But inwardly she seethed. Sulu, you son of a bitch! she angrily thought. How could you do this to me?

It was at that moment Janice Rand decided she would submit a request for a transfer to another vessel...any other vessel.

Little did she realize that most of Excelsior’s bridge crew had come to the same decision.

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