Ariel Cord was alone in bed, and she was lonely as well. She knew that this had been a result of her own choice, for not knowing when to keep quiet. Her mind posited the obvious defense.
Hikaru has shown poor judgement lately. All youve done is try to remind him of it, and to get him to stand up to Chekov, a man whose obviously enjoying his new position a little too much. Wheres the harm in that?
The harm was now apparent. Questioning Sulus holding out for the return of some crewmembers captured during an errant first contact had been bad enough. The way in which she had done it had been belittling to a man who likely already felt belittled. Holding your tongue was provocative behavior, inviting of disaster in the holovid industry as the predators sank their teeth into what they saw as prey. But in Starfleet and apparently in a relationship with Hikaru Sulu, it was sometimes a wise practice. Talking with him since his humbling had become impossible. He actually chatted more freely with that kid from the Enterprise than he did with his own lover.
Maybe, Ariel, you should have been part of the mass exodus.
Then again, if people like Petersen couldnt find postings because no one could tolerate him, then she would find it hard to be taken seriously anywhere else. Cord was frankly glad when she learned Chekov had taken all those who left Excelsior and put them out of the Sixth Fleet. She did not need to run into any of them anytime soon, especially the ships former first officer. If she found current Executive Officer Floyd a pain because of his open ambition, it still beat the constant dour grumblings of Janice Rand. But was Starfleet her only option? She fell back asleep waiting for an answer, but it was an hour before an answer of sorts came.
Upon the activation tone, she made for her BellComm screen, and answered a private call. The man on the other end surprised her with his appearance.
"Dad? What the hell are you doing?"
Aaron Cord did not look his public face of nearly four score years, but rather his true appearance of a man not even half that old. "Hi, honey. Be prepared to field rumors that you have an illegitimate brother. Im going ahead with it."
"Should we be talking...like this...about this?"
Aaron Cord waved his hand in the air. "Ariel, there is exactly one group in all the galaxy capable of hacking a line this secure, and I helped found them, and sometimes I even fund them. Even the comm officer aboard your ship will only hear me offering you another movie deal, were they to eavesdrop. Now listen up, because what I have to say is serious."
Doctor Cord nodded at her father, not even registering his odd comment about a secret group of some sort. Her attention was all on the face of her youthful-looking father, a face she had thought gone with her childhood. "Go ahead, Dad."
He did, and surprised her just as much as he had with her heritage. "Ariel, youre nearly sixty, and I think its time you started planning your death. Its a sexist thing to say, but a woman who holds her age well will draw a lot more attention than a man. Maybe not now, but within the next twenty years. Within ten years, you should withdraw and kind of disappear, like Betty Page asked me to help her do back when. Now this is the hard part--for all this to work, you should really be out of Starfleet within five years. One is probably better. You never know what missions youll see, and they could bring you attention you dont need. In fact, I have a warp-sled shuttle on standby. Just say youre following the lead of the other folks leaving Excelsior."
Doctor Cord shook her head. "Dad, thats not fair! I have a life here."
"No, darling. You have your first life, with plenty more to come. Why do you think Im introducing your brother? Back in the twentieth century, when I ran that mens magazine, I held on so long it got pathetic. It was one of the only times I lost control of my public image. Then, I was able to leave it all to my adopted daughter. To my daughter by blood, I leave the advice to get your passing started now."
Doctor Cord looked none too pleased with this advice. "What about Hikaru?"
"A good man. I think he understood why I told him our secret-to prepare him for what he knows must occur. Ariel, Ive met Ambassador Sarek. Charming man, really. Dont know what he really thought of someone in my line of work, but thats beside the point. When we met, his wife Amanda was already aging visibly. She said some kind words about a charity I support, then withdrew due to exhaustion. I told Sarek he was a lucky man. He agreed--but Id swear Id never seen a Vulcan so close to Human-level emotion when he said it. Because he knew. Just as Sulu knows. Let him find a woman who will be buried beside him in more than name. Because you dont want to be there when the time comes, knowing that his last chapter is done when youre barely past the first few pages. It hurts. Its agony of the sort I wouldnt wish on the Norman raider in Sicily who drove an axe into my skull before murdering my first wife."
Doctor Cord surprised both herself and her father by what she said next. "He hasnt given me a lot of reason to stay around of late. If that doesnt change very soon, then Ill signal you for that warp shuttle."
Aaron Cord smiled. "Fine. Now tell me everything thats happened. I want to hear it from you, and not my secret sources." He winked at her.
Thankful, she spilled her guts about the last three weeks, weeks that had felt like the centuries and millennia her father and his father had lived.
Aaron Cord offered some more advice. "Well, no one likes to be dismissed, dearest. I doubt Chekovs on a raging ego trip. Probably just the opposite. Sounds like Sulus already learning to deal with him on his own. I would advise him to keep any direct contact between himself and Chekovs officers open, and the young man you mentioned is in an excellent position to serve as a go-between, should it come to that. Look, I dont know if youll follow my advice, but at least consider it. For all your sakes. The realization would have come to you on its own. But like anything else, it will only get harder as time goes by. Time doesnt serve our sort any more than it does others. The wick is just a bit longer on our candles is all. Well, even this encryption tech has limits, so I gotta say goodbye, honey. And remember about your brother. Love you."
"I love you too, Dad. Cord out."
Sulu was waiting, back in his quarters, the mission to a now off-limits planet concluded without real incident or casualties. Cord had been wrong, and her man had been right, to wait out the mysterious aliens who held his crewmembers. His treatment by Chekov she would let lay for now. But now was the time to begin broaching a painful subject.
"Ariel, you know I never accept command advice from anyone outside my circle."
Here it comes, she thought. Another verbal torpedo aimed at and concerning her position aboard the ship.
"But Ive also been up against a lot of other nevers of late. I love Leonard McCoy like a brother or gruff uncle, but I never understood until today why Jim Kirk included him in his command circle. You need someone in there who just speaks their mind, someone for whom causing no harm is literally part of their core mantra. More over, its what I need, and I think that, should the worst happen, even a Captain Floyd might need it. He was too itchy to go back down to that world. I have an opportunity to show my once and hopefully future friend, the fleet captain, that I can and I have changed. Whether that does any good for my career is immaterial. He and Admiral Davis have written me off as hopeless. I cant permit that low regard to stand unchallenged. Will you help me out there as much as youve helped me inside my heart?"
Ariel Cord heard his words clearly and plainly. She just couldnt believe he was saying them. "You want me to start offering you command advice?"
Sulu raised a finger. "Not perhaps the way you're hoping for. Certainly not unsolicited. But Im going to start finding reasons to have you in on these things, and Im going to make it stick in such a way that no one can say Im doing this because were lovers. Eventually, you will be there because you belong there. So what do you say, Doctor?"
His smile was disarming, but it was the effort he was making that drew her immediately to his lips, her answer not needing to be spoken. The next day, she would compose a letter to her wealthy and powerful father:
Dad, take that shuttle off standby. Hes given me that reason, the reason I needed to stay and be his until that day I learn what you, Sarek, and others have known, and I will treasure that pain as they lay him to rest. Though I cant guarantee I wont use the occasion to tell Chekov off, if hes there.
Doctor Ariel Cord,
living a life of indeterminate length one day at a time.
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