“Human beings are fascinating creatures. They anthropomorphize nearly everything they see. This makes them capable of amazing compassion, but it also makes them incredibly dangerous.”
-From a floor address by Soosek of Vulcan, March 23rd, 2160. During the debate on the Charter of the United Federation of Planets-
<USS Republic, Utopia Planitia Shipyard, Sol IV, Present Day>
An objective observer would be hard pressed to deny that the universe tended to favor certain conditions. Planets that might sustain humanoid life, for example, could only do so within a very specific orbital range, and only if the chemical conditions on a planet met a very particular criteria.
Given the sheer volume of planets in the galaxy, it could be seen as remarkable that only a fraction of worlds that MIGHT sustain life in fact DID. Indeed, despite the fact that life came in many strange…one might even say `alien' forms, even those seemingly different life forms had very basic commonalities.
The vast majority of life forms in the galaxy had a central nervous system, guided by some form of local, electro-chemical consciousness. Most beings exhibited bilateral symmetry, an endo-skeletal structure surrounded by fibrous musculature, and had redundant organs for respiration, sensory input, and various digestive or endocrine functions.
Given these understandings, it is perhaps not unusual that most life forms, humanoids in particular, tended to model most of their constructs; civil, mechanical, etc. on the practical examples they were surrounded with. The tendency of the universe to order itself along similar lines was a theme evident to most scientists. Captain Kimberly Dorian-Roth among them.
As busy as life on a starship was, the last few days on board USS Republic had been positively electric. As she strode through the corridors of the newly christened Luna Class Republic, Kim couldn't help but smile to her self. `If it felt electric', she wondered to herself, `then does that make me an electron?' She paused at a turbolift shaft and mentally corrected her scenario. `No,' she thought. `Not electrons. More like neurons through synapses.'
As Kim considered the analogy further she stepped into the lift, which promptly closed and shot her toward the bridge. `Just like impulses to the brain' she smiled. Kim wasn't sure what had brought on this contemplative state of mind, but for at least a few seconds, she was happy for the distraction.
On the bridge, Chase Meridian was the picture of poise and confidence, just as a Starfleet Diplomatic Officer should be. At the moment, she was moving smoothly among a group of civilians. However, judging by the presence of floating holo-recorders and audio-wands, these civilians were more dangerous than a crazed mugatu.
“I trust you enjoyed your tour, ladies and gentlemen?” Chase asked the crowd. On the whole, they seemed unimpressed. By now, the Luna class itself was old news, and while the new Republic did have bleeding edge sensors and communications gear, the bulk of her tech was time-tested and unremarkable.
Two of the reporters nodded politely. The press assignments had been “randomly” picked from a pool of candidates, each competing to be one of the four who would be allowed to witness Republic's launch live. Meridian, of course, knew that these reporters had been “suggested” by the President's Press Secretary who no doubt knew just the right ears to whisper in.
Chase gestured for the reporters to follow her and stand across the back arch of Republic's bridge. “The Captain will be along momentarily to get the ship underway.” She explained. “After a quick run around the block,” she added, “we'll have you all home for dinner.” The reporters chuckled in response.
A few seconds later, the bridge turbolift opened and Kimberly Dorian-Roth, with her kitsune Smoke adroitly set on her shoulder, stepped onto the deck. She paused, took a breath, and gave her First Officer a curt nod.
“Attention on deck!” Nat Hawk said, which was followed by the crew members rising to their feet. Hawk then returned the same small nod the Captain had given him. “Afternoon, Captain.” Hawk said. “All departments report secured for departure. The Dockmaster is awaiting your call.”
“Very good, Mister Hawk.” The Captain commented as she stepped toward the command chair. She sat down, which allowed the standing crewmen to follow suit. It also gave Dorian a moment to take stock. Out of habit, she reached up and scratched under Smoke's chin, which elicited a bleek of appreciation from her companion.
A great deal had changed since the last time Kim and Smoke had been on the bridge of a starship. In that time, she'd found renewed sense of purpose, gotten married, and seen old friends change or die.
As to the ship itself, while many of the positions on the bridge had been filled by new faces, most notably her First Officer, it never ceased to amaze Kim the way that crewman could fill spots with minimal disruption to a ship's function. Each still managed to execute their function, to the near-exclusion of all else. Much like the organs of the body.
At the Operations Station, the dark-skinned, bald head of Lieutenant Cail Jerrin surveyed his readouts, surveying the readiness of Republic's necessary systems. To Jerrin's left, the newest addition to Republic's crew, a Caitian Ensign. M'reww, if Kim remembered correctly. By all official accounts she was an able Conn. Officer. Not as reckless as Hawk had been in the position, Roth knew, and not as unorthodox as Cater might have been. At the moment however, M'reww seemed as impatient as the captain assumed the rest of the crew felt. The felinoid officer clacked her claws lightly against the polished surface of her console.
Dorian cleared her throat softly. This seemed to get the Caitian Ensign's attention, and the quiet clacking ceased.
Kim then tapped a control on the arm of her command chair. “Bridge to Engineering”, she called smoothly. A moment later, a faintly electronic voice answered.
“Lieutenant Ayala, Bridge. What may I do for you, Captain?”
Dorian nodded and smiled slightly, surprised at the note of civility. “Preparing to set sail, Lieutenant.” Kim explained. “That is, of course, assuming all is well?”
“Ship-shape, as you humans say, Captain,” the Lieutenant offered. “To be a bit more precise,” she added, “the reactor core is functioning exceptionally, and all plasma conduits are rated for full warp stresses.” Even through the minimal processing of the comm channels, her pride at the department's readiness was apparent. “You may depart at your discretion.”
“Very good, Lieutenant.” A moment later, Dorian shifted her attention to the Ops. Station. “Mister Cail,” she called. “Hail Utopia Planitia Control, please.”
A few beeps of the console, and a moment later, the communication system chirped to life. “Dockmaster Standing-By, Captain.” Jerrin confirmed.
“Thank you, Ops.” Dorian commented. Then, she paused to address the being on the other end of the comm channel. “Utopia Planitia Control,” she said, “Republic requests permission to disembark.”
“Permission granted, Republic,” said the disembodied voice.
If the clipped, efficient syllables were any indication, Roth judged the Dockmaster to be Vulcan. Meanwhile, the voice continued. “Proceed with departure protocols. Your flight plan to Io, en route to Alpha Centauri is approved. Fair sailing, Republic.”
“God willing,” Dorian agreed. After a beat, she looked to the red-collared officer to her right. “Mister Hawk,” she commented. “If you would?”
“Aye, Ma'am.” Hawk confirmed, with just a hint of his North Carolina drawl coming through. “Ops.” he called to Cail, “Detach umbilicals and all externals.”
A moment later, the order was confirmed. “Aye XO.” The Bajoran answered.
Hawk paused briefly, suddenly aware that he was giving the order to depart, rather than waiting for the whole silly mess to be over with. He reflected on the fact that, from this side of the command deck, the well-rehearsed and choreographed chorus of calls and responses didn't seem silly at all, and he coldn't help but wonder when that had changed.
“Helm,” he called stubbornly to M'Reww, refusing to address the station by its technically correct “Conn.” designation. “Disengage docking clamps; Clear all moorings.”
“Republic is clear,” the Caitian said after a moment, with a slight purr to her voice, “and free to navigate.”
Hawk gave a small nod and continued the all-too-familiar ritual. “Thrusters ahead two-thirds. Set course for the Io navigational beacon.”
“Course confirmed, ahead two-thirds, Aye.” the Caitian answered again.
With a soft, steady surge, the sleek hull of the Luna Class USS Republic slid free of the skeletal frame that had kept her secured in the long weeks since the ship was first deemed space worthy. Now, as the nimble ship moved under it's own power, nothing holding her back, nothing keeping her safe, Kim Dorian couldn't help but feel a familiar pang of excitement deep in her being, and she wondered if it was the same feeling a mother might have seeing her child take its first steps, or reaching impossibly tiny fingers out to touch an unfamiliar world for the first time.
Kim felt a sharp inner pain as she thought of the child she didn't yet have, and also of the man she'd pledged her life to, the man who's name she'd taken; and yet she was leaving him again. 'Not too long this time Tom,' she thought silently. 'Promise.'
As if the creature could sense her sudden apprehension, Smoke dipped his head down and nuzzled Kim's cheek. “Thanks, Stinker.” she said softly.
On the main viewer, Republic's scenery changed to that of open space, with the glowing red dot that was Jupiter beckoning in the distance. For a few long moments nothing happened, then the assembled reporters broke into a quiet round of applause. The quiet clapping died down after a few seconds, and Chase Meridian took that as her cue. She stepped forward and turned to address the civilians. “And that, ladies and gentleman of the press, is that. It will only take a few moments to reach Io,” she explained. “From there, we'll go to warp and it should be a leisurely ten or so hours to Starbase Two.” Again, the former Intelligence Operative gestured for the crowd to follow her. “There isn't much to see in warp space, of course,” she offered, but if you'll follow me, the view from the observation platform is rather impressive. This way, please.“
A few moments later, Meridian and her charges were off the bridge, and Nat Hawk couldn't care less where they were off to next. “Good riddance.” he offered sourly. “Can't say I ever much cared for civilians on starships,” he continued. “Reporters? Pfft.”
Kim arched her eyebrow, noting the surprising admission from Hawk, who only a short while ago seemed quite partial to at least one reporter. 'Still,' Roth reflected silently, 'better to let sleeping dogs lie, as it were.' “Now Nathan,” she finally said aloud. “That's not entirely fair, is it? After all,” she offered, “they didn't cause any sort of disaster.”
“Yet.” Hawk shot back crisply.
It was then that the bridge lift doors opened again, and the hulking frame of Attos Ragnar, Republic's new Tactical Branch Chief strode onto the bridge. He looked around briefly, then nodded to the Captain. “Good,” he commented. “They're gone.”
On Dorian's shoulder, Smoke bleeked.
Kim smiled. “I know stinker,” she said to the small marsupial. “I didn't think Hawk and Ragnar agreed on anything either. I suppose this IS an auspicious day.”
“The first of many, I hope, Captain.” Ragnar offered. “I just got confirmation from PERSCOMM,” he continued. “They advise that Major Kinsey and his squad have been delayed, but logistics is on it, and they should rendezvous with us by the time we get to S-B-Two.”
“Understood, Tac. I appreciate the notice. See to it that the Marine's quarters are squared away please, Mr. Ragnar?” Despite the inflection in the Captain's voice, any experienced officer knew that the sentence was anything BUT a request.
Ragnar nodded smartly. “I'll see to it personally, Captain.”
“I'm sure the Major will appreciate it, Ragnar. Thank you.”
“Ma'am”. A few seconds later, Ragnar was gone as well.
For a few long moments, nothing happened as the ship soared easily though the black of space. Every so often, a monitor would chirp, and of course, the hum of the impulse drive was ever-present, rather like a heartbeat, if one ever took the time to notice, but eventually, it seemed that everything on board Republic found it's rhythm; found it's proper place.
“Nathan” Dorian offered after a few more moments. “I'm sure our guests would appreciate a greeting from the command staff. Things seem to be well enough in hand here,” she commented. “Why don't you join our Diplomatic Officer on the observation platform.”
“Captain?” Hawk asked quizzically.
“Nathan,” she explained. “P-R is just as much a part of a Captain's job as diplomacy or tactics. Now more than ever. It's time you started to test the waters on your own.”
Slowly, Nat Hawk rose from his seat and turned toward the turbolift. “You've…got a point, Captain.” He agreed. “There's a first time for everything, I 'spose.” Without additional comment, he entered the lift car.
Once Hawk was gone, Kim Roth-Dorian finally sat back in the Captain's Chair. Smoke moved soundlessly from the Captain's shoulder to drape himself along the back of her chair, like a lizard basking on a hot rock.
“See Stinker,” she said to the animal, “six months ago, Hawk would have laughed in my face and given me at least six home-spun reasons why letting him talk to civilians was a bad idea. Tell me that's not progress.”
Rather than bleek again, the animal simply yawned and closed his eyes.
Eight hours into the cruise to Alpha Centauri, Republic's Comm system chirped to life. At the Ops station, Cail Jarin looked quickly at the readout. In another five minutes this call would have been Beta Shift's problem. However, that was apparently not to be. The Ops Lieutenant tapped at his controls to receive the incoming call. “Message from Starfleet, Captain. Starbase 157.” Cail said. “It's flagged priority three, but not classified.”
Behind the Ops station, Hawk and his Captain exchanged looks.
“The Neutral Zone?” Hawk wondered aloud. “That's an awful long ways away from here.”
Kim nodded in agreement. “Understood ops.” She confirmed. “Let's see what they've got for us. On the viewer if you would.”
Seconds later the round, weathered face of a man who'd seen more than anyone's fair share of years filled the bridge screen. At the sight of Republic's assembled command staff, the older man smiled. “Ah, Captain Roth,” he nodded. “So nice to…” He stopped in mid-sentence, shaking his head. No, no…I got it wrong didn't I. It's Dorian now, isn't it?”
Kim returned the flag officer's smile “Technically, Admiral Glenn, it's Roth-Dorian now.” She corrected gently. “But Dorian will certainly do.”
On the screen the old man nodded. “Thanks for that.” He offered. “I remember my great-grandmother had similar difficulties back in the 2240's. Nice of you to keep that old tradition alive,” he commented. “But if you ask me, you give that goldbrick you married too much credit.”
Dorian let out a small, easy chuckle. “I suspect Tom would strongly disagree with you, Sir.” She said simply. “To what do we owe the honor, Admiral?”
“Ah, right. Down to business.” Glenn agreed with a nod. “I'm sorry to interrupt your shakedown cruise, but there's been a development in the Arcadia system, Captain.”
Nat Hawk shook his head. “Arcadia. That's a bad break.”
The Captain looked to her XO. “Explain, Nathan.”
“Well, Arcadia's a system with a larger than average primary footprint. Aside from the fact that the star itself is one of the more volatile in the quadrant, there's also lots of anomalies. Gravametric waves, unpredictable coronal ejections, cosmic radiation bursts…the whole damn system's like a mass a'static. Right on the edge a'the Neutral Zone.” Hawk frowned slightly. “Bad part of town, Captain. She'd give the Briar Patch a run fer her money.”
Again, Admiral Glenn smiled. “That about sums it up, I'm afraid.”
Dorian looked first to her XO, then to the senior officer on the screen. “With all due respect Admiral, I'm still not sure what this has to do with us.”
“Just coming to that, Captain.” Glenn offered. “As you know, Neutral Zone integrity is monitored by a huge sensor network, using the bases along the Zone as, well, fence posts basically. Each Starbase is in constant contact with a dozen or more sensor drones. These drones are like the links in the fence, to continue the analogy.”
Dorian nodded waiting for the penny to drop. As if on cue, Chase Meridian stepped onto the bridge. She was about to greet the Captain when she noticed the Admiral on-screen and wisely kept her mouth shut. Instead she moved quickly and quietly to sit in the vacant seat on the Captain's left side. A spot normally reserved for the Ship's Counselor.
“Sixteen days ago,” the Admiral continued, “two of the drones tasked to the Arcadia system went down. We dispatched the USS Fearless to investigate and repair or replace the drones as needed. Unfortunately, Fearless hasn't reported in for some time. I'd like you to bring our lost sheep home, Captain Dorian.”
Kim nodded grimly. A lost starship was certainly a serious matter, but the Neutral Zone was nearly the other side of the quadrant, and she had other realities to consider. “Respectfully, Sir,” she began. “We're in no condition spearhead a rescue. We're missing crew, our weapons systems haven't been fully certified and, frankly Sir, I've got civilians on board. Press, Sir. If this is the prelude to a Romulan attack…”
Glenn nodded. His eyes seemed to reflect a certain empathy for Republic's situation, but the firm set of his jaw also meant he was undeterred. “I sympathize with your situation Captain,” the Admiral agreed, but in this instance at least, I can confirm that the Romulans are just as much in the dark as we are. In fact, they asked for us to send someone.“
“They what?!” Nat Hawk blurted out.
Again, Admiral Glenn nodded. “I was skeptical too, Lieutenant Commander, but the Romulan Senate has agreed to let one ship…YOUR ship across the zone, in the hopes that SOMEONE can get to the bottom of this.”
“And you're sure that someone is Republic, Sir?” Dorian asked.
“Your the best shot I have Captain.” Glenn replied. “You're the only Luna Class ship within a thousand light-years. Sending any other ship might look too much like provocation, and your sensors are the best in the fleet.”
The Admiral paused for effect, then continued before Dorian or Hawk could raise another objection. “Go to the Arcadia system, cut through all that damn cosmic soup, and find the Fearless. Everything else is secondary.”
Dorian nodded grimly. “Fair enough Sir. We'll bring them home.”
“I'm sure you will Captain. I'm sending you every bit of data we have on the Neutral Zone and the Arcadia System. You should have more than you need.”
“Understood, Sir.” Dorian said simply.
Thank you, Captain. And, for what it's worth, I have every confidence you'll weather this particular storm. Starbase 1-5-7, out.”
As the viewer returned to showing the streaking starlines of warp-space, Kimberly Roth-Dorian pressed a switch on the arm of her chair. “Bridge to all Command Staff. Report to Conference Room One in fifteen minutes. Repeat. All Command Staff report to Conference Room One. Fifteen minutes.”
<Deck One, Conference Room, USS Republic>
“I understand the urgency Captain,” Lieutenant Aylaya offered, but it seemed that her objection was falling on deaf ears. Again. “But the warp matrix has not been properly tested for prolonged high warp cruise.” The female Edosian set her two outer arms down on the table top while her torso arm, and the hand attached to it, reached up to rub her temple.
“I thought you said the plasma conduits had been stress-tested?” Captain Dorian asked somewhat briskly.
“For a shakedown cruise to Alpha Centauri, yes.” The Chief Engineer explained, “but if we're talking about maximum warp to the Neutral Zone, and then the chance of COMBAT… I need to run more tests.”
Dorian nodded, but her mind was unchanged. “Then run them en-route.” She ordered. “We cross the Neutral Zone in…”
“Twenty-nine hours, forty-six minutes, twenty-seven seconds…mark. Assuming warp nine point one.” Answered Chase Meridian. Unlike one of Republic's former crew. Meridian had relied on an internal, synched chronometer to know the exact time. One of the many benefits a head full of Black Shirt cyber-tech afforded her.
Aylaya turned her head to give Meridian a somewhat peeved scowl. Then she simply nodded in resignation. “We'll be ready, Captain.”
“I have no doubt.” Dorian added. Then she surveyed the rest of the senior staff, pausing briefly to look at Reitan Tolkath, and then Leon Cromwell. “If there's nothing else?”
Surprisingly to the Captain, despite the invitation, neither the CMO, nor the Counselor took the bait. “Very well then. Rescue Operations will commence as soon as we cross into Romulan territory. Department Heads will coordinate with Mister Hawk in the morning. Nathan,” Dorian turned to address the First Officer directly. Go over every scrap of that data, and get me a plan to bring Fearless home.“
“Will do, Capn'” Hawk added with a nod.
Just then, Chase Meridian cleared her throat. “With regard to that, Captain…it might be helpful if I…”
Quick as a phaser strike, Nat Hawk spoke up, looking briefly at everyone BUT Meridian as he did. “Clear the room people. Now.”
One by one, the members of Republic's senior staff filed out. As he followed orders and left the room, Leon Cromwell smiled to himself. 'Oh what I wouldn't GIVE to be a fly on THAT wall.'
In a few short seconds, only the Captain, Hawk, and Meridian were left in the briefing room. For her part, Kim stood up and headed for the door as well. Stopping just short and then leaning on the bulkhead. She gave Hawk a small, silent nod.
“Something on your mind, XO?” Meridian asked.
“Two things.” Hawk said with calm, but fiery determination. “One. You will address me as either Lieutenant Commander, or Hawk. YOU don't get to call me XO.”
“I see.” Meridian nodded, taking careful notice of the fact that the Captain was letting Hawk have his way. “And number two, Hawk?”
“Two,” Hawk said as a cock-sure smile crept over his face. “You do not want to end-run on me like that ever again, and NEVER in front of other crew.”
Meridian returned the smile. “Oh, Hawk.” She said sweetly, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You misunderstood. I only wanted to…”
“Bullshit!” Hawk shot back. “I let you run the show for the damned media vultures we got runnin' 'round here because I don't like THEM, and I like YOU even Less. If you think for one second that I'm just gonna roll over when you open your pretty mouth, you got me all wrong.”
Chase blinked in surprise.
“Chain a'command works pretty simple here.” He continued. “Capn' sets the agenda, I make sure the job gets done, and it gets done the way SHE wants it done. No debate. No suggestion. You ain't a Black Shirt no more, Missy. You got a job to do here, and I'm gonna let you do it, but you'd best not mistake my kindness for weakness. That's it.”
With that, Hawk pushed away from the table. As he turned, Kim Roth-Dorian was already out the hatch headed back to the center seat. A few seconds later, Chase Meridian was alone in the conference room.
“Duly noted.” she said slyly to whomever might be listening.
CAPT. Kimberly Roth-Dorian