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Log of the Month for May, 2012

The Other Harper
Posted on May 29th, 2012 by Leda Harper and Kathryn Harper

Commander Kathryn Harper sat at a corner table of Ten-Forward, idly licking the salt from the rim of an empty margarita glass while she pored over crew records on the PADD in front of her. Every member of the Atlantis crew whose biographical file even so much as mentioned piloting of any kind of craft whatsoever made her list, and with a clear mandate from Admiral Blackthorne to rebuild her fighter wing, Kate intended to find people with the fabled Right Stuff, even if they didn’t know they had it. Her train of thought derailed as she rotated the glass to suddenly find the rim completely devoid of salt. With a sigh at only having found a few potential candidates so far, she raised the glass to signal for another and stared out the window until it arrived.

At least this time, she hadn’t tried to punish herself over the deaths of her pilots in the last battle, but Kate still found herself uncomfortable at the notion of being even a little desensitized to it. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was unavoidable, and the hell of their last sortie reinforced that sometimes you lose people under your command, no matter what you do. Sage advice from Jack Cahalan had made Kate realize that if she had continued to take it out on herself, she would end up just as dead. She turned back to the room to thank the waiter as her fresh drink arrived, and noticed one of the prospective pilot candidates walk through the doors. Not just any candidate, either, but the one that shared her name.

Lieutenant Leda Harper was not in the habit of dressing down much; her idea of ‘casual’ tended to involve a lot of black, a set of near-regulation boots, and a severe little knot for her dark hair. The couple of weeks she’d put in on Atlantis had been a whirlwind. Orientation had been little more than ‘here’s your bunk, here’s your locker, here’s the armory, we land in an hour, welcome aboard.’

So this marked the first visit she’d managed to make to the lounge, and she was still hesitant to so much as consider relaxing. The people she was serving with were barely more than name, number, toss-me-that-rifle, where’s-the-medic blurs, no matter how quickly shared experience on the battlefield forged bonds. Leda let her glance flick over the place, but recognized no one at this odd hour, and settled for meandering over to the bar and sliding wearily onto a stool.

Kate rose from her seat and temporarily left the drink behind to approach the Other Harper. “Lieutenant Harper?” she asked as she reached the bar.

Leda snapped upright, a glass of something pale-orangish in her hand. “Yes, ma’am?” Reflex; she probably hadn’t even registered to whom she was speaking yet.

“At ease, Lieutenant,” Kate chuckled. “We generally relax the rules a little in the bar, or else no one would be able to finish a drink.”

“Right. Sorry.” Two beats and a cautious sip of her drink before Leda relaxed a little. “Commander Harper, I believe? Good afternoon.”

“Yes, I am Commander Harper, helm officer and CAG. Nice to meet you, Lieutenant.”

Leda gradually settled, elbow to the bartop, glass idly hovering. “You’re not kidding; we’d never get a drink down in here. To what do I owe the pleasure, ma’am? I’ve managed to avoid confusing the computer too badly over our respective training saves in the holodeck.”

“Would you care to join me at my table? I have a drink getting warm over there.” Kate gestured, thinking that if she was convincing enough, the lieutenant might need her holodeck saves after all.

“Oh, of course, ma’am.” Leda hopped off the stool with a quick smile, looking entirely too grateful for the company. “There’s been so much mayhem to deal with of late that it’s a relief just to take a few minutes’ break. I hope you’ll forgive me if I pick your brain a little, though.”

“Oh, certainly, I do not mind.” She sat back down and took a drink, glad to find fresh salt. “This conversation was bound to happen eventually anyway, what with the same name and all that.”

“I suppose. It’s a big ship, and we’re in different branches.” Leda slid into the opposite seat with a low huff, allowing herself to slump comfortably into the corner. “Thanks. Please call me Leda, so long as we’re off-duty.”

“Alright, Leda. Off-duty, I am Kate, or sometimes Firefly to the other pilots.”

“Kate.” Leda tipped her drink politely in her superior officer’s general direction. “I’m so sorry that we couldn’t have been of more help in the recent battle. It’s frustrating,” this rather cautiously, “that we were just confined to a couple of hallway fights. It’s clear that you need the Marines in here – but your guys took the worst of it.”

With a long sigh and a solemn nod, she answered, “Yes. It was bad out there. But we accomplished our mission.”

Leda’s hands cupped the glass up high enough that she was half hiding behind it, dark serious eyes just visible over the rim. “If I may ask, Kate, how the hell did we end up coming to this? I’ve read what background I could get my hands on, but the sheer scale and violence of what we just went into was…startling, to me. My sergeant said that they’d be throwing me into the deep end, but this wasn’t quite what I expected.”

“It… well, was not what anyone expected.” Kate looked into the margarita, as if to find the answer and then drink it, which she did. “The sheer size of their fleet, coupled with their determination to stay free from us, surprised everyone. I do not think anyone expected to find more than a small band of criminals.”

“Why the determination? I guess I don’t understand the political end of this yet, I got dropped into this too quickly to have a good feel for much of anything save who I’m supposed to shoot at…” Leda’s glass tapped the table, and her free hand curled a questioning line through the air. “The only sense I have so far is for that Coburn guy, who seems to be a bit of a grandstander. Where are we going from here? Because you’re not kidding, that was no skirmish we sailed into.”

“From what I can tell, the determination stems from wanting no part of our way of life. Many of them fled the Federation, probably as criminals, but possibly for other reasons as well, and want to continue to live outside our sphere of influence. And as to where we go from here? It looks like they are going to get what they want, if Coburn and Ashexana manage to work out a treaty with the Council.”

“It’s not such a terrible way of life.” This with a fleeting smile, though Leda’s brow was creased. “Treaty, though. After all that mess, and the Revenge. I find it hard to imagine that’ll go over well with many people.”

“No, it will not,” came her simple reply as she found another sip of her drink. “At least not to those of us that were here, or witnessed the biological attack on Gencodia.”

Leda settled back, allowing a pensive quiet to stretch. “I grew up on the frontier,” she offered at length. “About as close to the middle of nowhere as one can get. We were most grateful for what Federation support we had, and I can’t say that we were terribly patient with pirates, though my old station served – and still does – as a haven for all sorts of shady types. We found ways to work together, though, towards a common goal of survival, and I suppose that’s why this bunch confuses me so much. But, well.” Her brows drew hard together. “I’m becoming increasingly aware of the sheer complexity of galactic politics.”

“They become unavoidable serving on a flagship. I do not like letting these pirates get away with what they did, that much is certain. But after losing so many of my pilots, I have even started to doubt whether this fight is worth the trouble.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” Quiet, formal. Leda dipped her head, then sipped, nearly done with her drink. “Furthermore, sorry to bring up such troubling topics when in theory we’re unwinding from them. I hope we’ll all be kept apprised of what’s going on out there?”

“You know what they say about news being the only thing that travels faster than warp ten. You will know.”

That earned a low chuckle. “That much, I do understand. Even for us poor ground-bound bastards. They’re sending you fresh fighters, right?” Leda’s brows rose. “The higher-ups do owe you that much, no matter how this so-called treaty shakes itself out.”

“New Mustangs are going to take a while, as manufacturing output has not been increased to compensate for this rate of loss. As for pilots, well…” Kate gestured at the PADD laying on the table. “That is what I am working on now. Trying to find new pilots among our crew.” She watched the lieutenant for a reaction.

“They shipped me out here more or less completely green from the Academy. Surely there’s an incoming class you can tap.” Leda tilted her head. “Why start with the crew? From my point of view, this ship’s so near the center of things it’s a little boggling…Federation resources aren’t infinite.” That sounded a bit like a concession. “But they seem awfully close.”

Kate shook her head. “No, our resources are not infinite. It takes time to train fighter pilots, and the next class from Top Gun school will not graduate for several months. The crew has the advantage of being here, now.”

“Good luck with that.” Leda set aside her glass, empty now, and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I imagine you must be press-ganging anyone who’s so much as sat shotgun on a fighter at this point. A few of us can run shuttles, I guess, but those are bricks – they’re as much kin to the things your bunch flies as clownfish are to dolphins.”

“Do not discount your own experience flying shuttles.”

The click in Leda’s brain was nearly audible, and her eyes narrowed warily. “Ma’am, I’ve never flown anything with more than a tractor beam on it.”

“I have a series of holodeck training programs, followed by actual flights, that can change that.”

Leda laid palms lightly upon her face, fingertips pressing eyelids down, drew slow breath, let it out, then glanced up soberly. “You’re serious, ma’am?”

“I am.” Kate gestured to the gold wings pinned above her commbadge. “If you would like to earn the right to wear these, I can train you.”

“If I can be of service to your wing or to the Fleet, I would be delighted to offer myself up.” Leda did not precisely sound delighted, but her shoulders were squared. “I suppose I’m on your list of the shuttle-qualified somewhere. I’m sorry, ma’am, it should have occurred to me to come to you.”

“No need to apologize, Leda. I am deliberately not putting out a call for anyone with flying experience to report to my office. There are certain qualities that I am looking for in my pilots, and from what I have seen in your file and in reports since your arrival on board, you may fit the bill. Of course, I will have to clear this with Colonel McKnight.”

“Of course, Commander.” Leda smiled a little, though thoughts were clearly busy behind her eyes. “I’m sure they will let me know when to report. I wish you luck in your roundup. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“Nothing aside from giving this your best and flying your ass off.” And do not die in one of my planes, came her mind’s silent interjection. “Before that, you can get us another round.”

That at least earned a sharp, startled laugh, and Leda rose. “Yes ma’am. Just the one. Then I’m going to go relax a little to shake off the side effects of this round of relaxing. I might be able to carve that much out before my spare brain cells start getting tangled up with missile systems and flight checklists.”

“You will handle it well.” With a chuckle, she added, “After all, with a name like Harper, you can not go wrong!”

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