Author: Suzanne Borchers

Her fingers fumbled with the fasteners on the uniform. She breathed out harshly and shook her left hand. Trying again to manipulate the loop, she cursed under her breath so that her crew wouldn’t hear the unprofessional words. They were at war, dammit, and she couldn’t allow anything less than perfection from them or herself.

Calm. She needed to relax, take the time for precision, and allow her fingers to find their strength and dexterity. Once more she attacked the task. Dammit! Why did some idiot decide officers needed loops and not Velcro fasteners? Velcro had been used for eons and then some designer changed the uniforms—why?

And why wasn’t her hand cooperating?

“Sir, may I help you?” her second-in-command’s syrupy voice interrupted.

Second would love to be in charge, wouldn’t he? Always watching her and waiting for a chance to catch a mistake in judgment. She was a mature woman with decades of service! She wouldn’t step down to this man only a few years out of academia. What did he know about running a starship? He had no people skills and one had to command not only the crew’s minds but their hearts.

“When I need your help, I’ll tell you.” He needed to remember his place in command. His face told everything that skipped through his brain. And a captain needed to control emotions and not show them so obviously. What was the fleet commander thinking when he draped this albatross around her neck? “Make your job easier,” he said. She swallowed a guffaw.

Give him a project to handle and he wouldn’t have time to stare at her. “Second, alert the crew to ready themselves for a battle drill.” There, that would keep his power-hungry eyes off her. And why couldn’t she move her left arm? She, who had always prided herself on control of others, couldn’t control her own muscles. What was happening?

“Sir, I didn’t understand your command.”

What was wrong with his ears? She deepened her voice and raised the volume when she repeated it.

Why were other crew members swiveling in their chairs to stare at her? Their faces registered confusion. She had to regain control. This was an insult!

“Second, we are to begin a battle drill! Alert the crew!

The second-in-command tapped his panel. She couldn’t hear his words. His quiet voice quickened her suspicions of mutiny. The bridge crew members appeared to be on the edges of their seats, watching her.

Tears began to tickle her eyes. She never cried. She blinked hard. She was the captain! She was in control!

The doors opened to admit the ship’s lead surgeon. As he approached her, he said, “Everyone back to your panels,” and they obeyed.

As Second stood next to the doctor, his face showed his emotion. What? He was sorry for her!

The doctor touched her arm. “Captain, please accompany me to the sick bay. You’re needed there.”

When did those two orderlies enter the bridge?

“I’m needed here, Doctor.” She had to stay in control. Why wasn’t her body cooperating?

When she awoke in Sick Bay, she scrambled to climb out of the bed. Her body pinned her down. Why didn’t her left side obey her command? She used her right hand to lift her heavy left arm. When had her skin become thin and wrinkled? When did brown spots cover her hands?

She was just an old woman.

She wept uncontrolled tears.