–[Mars Orbit: U.S.S. Republic NCC-81371]–
Looking out of the tall Conference Lounge windows upon the denizens of Utopia Planitia personnel completing their final tasks before certifying the newly-minted Luna-Class Republic fit for active duty, Captain Kimberly Dorian considered the assignment with which she had been tasked. Though it had been over a year since the Orion Remnant attacks which had come to be known as the Stand, virtually the whole of Starfleet was still operating on a war footing. So to be appointed as one of three token scientific missions designed to appease those who would dissent against the very people who sought to protect them was grating to her. Though she had never been one for war, she chafed at the idea of squandering valuable resources and personnel simply to ease internal political tensions.
All things considered though, she had to ask herself how much of her feelings where rational and how much of it was based in regret?
Until her tour as the former Republic's commander, she had been one of the mass multitude of Starfleet Officers and Federation citizens oblivious to the pseudo civil cold war of ideologies that had been an ongoing undercurrent for know one knew how long. She had quickly questioned the honor and motivations of her patron in Vladimir Kostya, feeling used and manipulated, and so had rebuked him and the role he had deigned her to play. She had thought unkindly of the hawk faction, and allowed herself to be tainted into viewing them through the spectrum of the doves: as the villains, or at the very least, the anti-heroes who did what they thought necessary even if it was unpopular. How foolish she had been to think things so black and white.
Perhaps the true reason she was chafing so much at this particular assignment was because of how much she wished she had realized the truth sooner.
It had taken the colossal loss of life at the hands of those implacable foes whom the hawks had known, if not specifically than generally, had always been waiting in the shadows to wake up so many individuals - including herself. The hawks had seen the dangers that the galaxy was wrought with when no one else could muster the courage to confront such a grim reality. So many of the cultures of the United Federation of Planets had become so accustomed to peace and the utopian vision that they refused to acknowledge the darkness for anything but a fleeting interruption to their tranquility. Despite centuries of conflict after conflict with race after race, the masses simply refused to accept that there where those who would meet their out-stretched hand of friendship with a dagger or the barrel of a gun.
The Suliban, the Xindi, the Romulans, the Klingons, the Tholians, the Gorn, the Ferengi, the Breen, the Cardassians, the Borg, the Dominion… all seen as temporary threats that with enough time and patience, would eventually reciprocate the Federation's peaceful overtures. While such had sometimes come to fruition, more often than not it was only in response to an alternative factor. For the Xindi, it had been the revelation of their manipulation at the hands of the Sphere Builders. For the Klingons, it had taken the catastrophic disaster of the destruction of Praxis. For the Cardassians it had taken the gradual conquest and degradation under the heal of the Dominion. In every case, something else had forced their hands to accept change. Only when it was opportune for them to do so did they accept the Federation's olive branches. Only when faced with a greater threat did they stand down their arms.
Unlike many of those whose opinions hers where now more closely aligned, she could not bring herself to truly fault any those whom had allowed their desire for peace to overcome their more rational instincts. Perhaps because she had been of those beliefs herself, or perhaps because she knew that the kind of people who held such where decent and honorable. People like her late former First Officer and former Chief Medical Officer, John Carter and Leon Cromwell, respectively. They allowed their hopes and dreams to guide them, and their was something noble in that. After having born witness to the tidal wave of death and destruction that had crashed down upon them without remorse of second thought though, she could no longer allow herself the luxury of following their example.
Hope had a place within them all, but it was not a sound policy for security.
That very obvious reality was precisely why this particular assignment continued to irritate her. The Luna-Class was simply not the type of ship Starfleet needed right now in her assessment. Though she had to admit to being somewhat grateful the situation had mitigated squandering even further resources on a larger, more general explorer such as a Sovereign or a Galaxy-class. Of the three more science-focused ships being completed, the Republic was the largest. At just over 450 meters in length, 200 meters in beam and 80 meters in height, she was a far cry from the immense size of her predecessor. Likewise learning the layout of the 17 decks and the names of the 350 crew where a welcome change from trying to do likewise with 42 decks and nearly a thousand personnel. At the same time it was a bit strange to have only one shuttle bay, let alone such a large area as the overhead sensor pod unmanned.
Apparently, the crew had already taken to using the short-hand term of the 'attic' when referencing the equipment platform set at the highest point upon the ship. Why the designers had opted to set the ready room facing aft, and thus obscuring a good portion of the view with the overhead platform was beyond her. Still, overall the vessel was nimble and quick in comparison to the larger ships and yet not too small as to feel overly claustrophobic like a Steamrunner, Saber or Defiant class. All of which had become the most common vessels in Starfleet this past year with only the occasional larger Akira or Prometheus to break things up. All in all the class was a good balance, generally speaking. Though she wouldn't be able to hang in a fire-fight or be as intimidating as the old Republic, she was more defensible overall.
As the doors at the front starboard side of the room leading from the bridge swooshed open, Roth turned to see who had entered. Standing just inside the still opened doors that separated the Bridge from the Conference Lounge was Nathan Hawk. Sporting a particularly scruffy and unkempt appearance that included a full beard and hair pulled back into a pony-tail, he was clad in rather ragged-looking loose civilian clothes that looked like they hadn't been cleaned at least twice as long as however much time it had been since Hawk himself had last bathed. He was the picture of unprofessional and anti-Starfleet, and looked as out of place in the sterile environment of a Starship such as this as one could ever imagine. Despite all of this, or perhaps precisely because of it, the sight before her brought a broad smile to her face as a chuckle escaped her.
“Nathan Hawk, reportin' for duty, ma'am,” said the Southern man, the hint of a smile tugging at his features.
“So we're back to 'ma'am' already?” she asked him as she stepped over towards him. “It took me how many months to convince you to call me Kim? I finally manage to, and then just like that,” she said, snapping her fingers for effect, “we're back to 'ma'am'?”
Offering a half-shrug, he replied in a conspiratorial whisper, “All things considered… don't quite feel right anymore, these circumstances n' all.”
“Oh? But this does?” she teased, gesturing to his appearance.
“Well ta be fair, I expected ta still be island hoppin' across the South Pacific fer the next coupla months. Sure as hell never thought I'd be on a ship named Republic again, least've all with our 'fearless leader' Vlad the Incompetent still in charge.” Hawk responded, unable to keep from tapping the transparent aluminum surface of the large fish-tank built into the wall just next to the door through which he'd just come. It was an unusual sight for a Conference Lounge, something one would more expect to see in a ready room or VIP quarters.
At the mention of President Kostya, Kim's mood hardened just a bit. She and her former Helmsman had grown to be more friends than colleagues over the last year, do in no small part to the existing friendship between Hawk and her husband Tom. Hawk had even been Tom's best man and thus one of the half-dozen people to attend their small private wedding a few months earlier. It had been a bit awkward at first for both of them, socializing with someone she was used to only thinking of as a troubled junior officer. Likewise, it had taken her months to convince him not to salute whenever they where together. Something she hadn't even noticed until Tom had pointed out how awkward he found it for Hawk to always be acknowledging her as 'captain' or 'ma'am' in spite of the fact they where no longer serving together. In point of fact, Hawk had not even been wearing the uniform for nearly a year now, not since…
…As was often the case with friends, she and Tom didn't see eye-to-eye with Hawk on everything. Most prominently, politics and the presidency of Vladimir Kostya. They had agreed a long time ago to avoid discussing such whenever possible as a result.
“Lets not get into that particular debate again, agreed?” Roth suggested.
Turning away from the aquarium to face her again, Nat gave a conciliatory nod. “So what's this all 'bout, anywho?” he asked her, gesturing to their surroundings. Or rather, to the latest vessel to be dubbed Republic upon which they now stood. “Thought they had uh moratorium on buildin' any ships without big ole fangs?”
Nodding in the affirmative, Roth explained, “As I understand it, that's precisely why these ships are being put into service. To appease those opposed to such.”
“Ships?” Hawk asked curiously, stepping over the reference to the ever-growing protests. The realist in Hawk knew they would achieve nothing of consequence but token gestures from Kostya's administration. Still, he couldn't help but hope that somehow they would find a way to make a difference. Someone had to; especially with the doves having gone into full retreat since the Remnant attacks - or 'the Stand' as Kostya and his cronies liked to refer to it.
Stepping over to the central briefing station, Kim manipulated the controls and activated an external sensor view that showed Republic herself, as well as an Nova-Class and an Intrepid-Class in berths to either side. It was evident by the open sections of out hull on both of the latter that they where still incomplete. “The Wolowitz and the Pioneer,” Roth said, identifying the Nova and Intrepid respectively as Hawk leaned back to sit on the edge of the Andorian marble topped table. “Both they and the Republic here where all in various end stages of construction before the Stand, but where more or less shelved and stripped of resources after such. With the demonstrations continuing to grow larger and louder though, someone in the upper echelons had the inspiration that since they where near completion as was, finishing and launching them could appease the masses without technically violating the Tactical Imperative.”
“Politicians love their loop-holes, now don't they?” Hawk replied. Looking from the screen back to the Captain, “Gotta be honest here, Kim,” he slipped, “I don't wanna be here. Not by a long shot.”
A supportive hand on his upper arm, Roth bowed her head in both acknowledgment and understanding. “Believe me, Nathan: if it where up to me, you wouldn't be. You've more than done your bit for king and country, and then some. Not to mention…”
Letting her hand fall away as she trailed off, not wanting to re-open old wounds for him - particularly not the freshest of them - she allowed a sigh to escape her as her shoulders slumped ever so slightly as she turned away from him. “Honestly? I don't even think I want to be here…” she admitted, allowing the facade every captain wore to one degree or another amongst their crew to break for a moment.
Surprised by this, he challenged her claim. “Come on, you've been itchin' fer somethin' more important ta do than push papers back n' forth…”
“Oh, I want to make a difference again, don't get me wrong… I just…”
Struggling to put her thoughts into words, she couldn't escape the bottom line of it any longer. “…I want to make a difference, but I want more than just duty and obligation in my life. I want… what you almost had, what you lost,” she confessed as she turned to look at him once more. The last thing she had intended was to make such an admission here and now, least of all with the emotions it was likely to bring back to the surface for Hawk. “I'm sorry, Nathan, I didn't mean to… I shouldn't have said that.”
“It's alright,” he assured her. The past year had been difficult for him, maybe even the most difficult of all the bad times he had known. And yet from such, from having survived so much adversity before, he had been able to weather the latest storm better. It hadn't been an easy journey, but he had found some semblance of peace and acceptance in and of his life in the end. To that end he had recently set himself on a path of self discovery, furloughing his medical leave into an indefinite leave of absence. He had planned to take the better part of the next year to travel his native world and immerse himself in more leisurely pursuits. As was often the case though, it seemed fate, destiny or whatever else had different plans for him. “Though if yer back in the big chair, ya might wanna put them 'Cap'n indifference' shields back up.” he joked.
Taking the comment as it was intended - good naturedly - Roth countered it appropriately. “Well, we captain's - indifferent and otherwise - can afford to let those shields falter a bit now and then while in the company of our first officers.”
Nat's smile quickly turned into a look of abject and utter confusion as he absorbed her words. “Wait… first what now?”
Amused by his reaction, Roth moved sharply over to the far side of the table near the forward-facing view ports she had been looking out of a few moments ago, and retrieved a small flat black box from amidst the stack of PADDs she had been reviewing earlier. “First officer,” she began as she made her way back around the table towards him, “as in the position of second-in-command,” she continued as she handed the small box to him, “and customarily held by an individual with a rank in the commander grades.”
Looking back and forth from Roth to the box in his hand, Hawk looked more nervous than anyone whom had ever known him had ever seen him. He had faced Jem'Hadar in hand-to-hand combat. He had been assigned to an attack wing, the position of which had the second-highest mortality rate of any assignment in Starfleet during war time, second only to ground infantry. He had piloted ships in manners completely contradictory to how they where ever intended to be, and cheated death doing so more times than he could count. And while he may or may not have felt such emotions before, he had never shown such before. Opening the box slowly, he was at first relieved by the sight of two - and only two - solid gold pips contained within. That was, until he finally noticed the gold-rimmed black-centered third pip next to them. “Aw, shit…”
Allowing herself to enjoy the moment, a snort of laughter escaped from Roth as she took the box from his hands once again. Selecting a portion of his shirt near the neck-line that wasn't adorned with sweat-stains, she pinned each of the rank insignia upon him. “Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander Nathan Hawk.”
For most of Starfleet, while rank may not have been the driving force for them, promotion was always a welcomed thing. For Nathan Hawk, such was not the case. In his opinion, rank simply entailed more behind-the-scenes paperwork, more responsibility, and less free time. It was difficult enough to convince those lower upon the ladder not to call you 'sir' every five minutes simply be being an officer. With each increase beyond ensign, it just made it that much harder. Now he was at the stage where it would be next to impossible for him to convince anyone below a senior Lieutenant not to salute.
“Ya have read ma service record, right?” he asked, knowing the answer.
Nodding, she patted him on the shoulder supportively. “I've also served with you, and I've seen the man you truly are at your core. Whether it be Sigma Omicron V, or events best left unspoken of like those either in nebulas or aboard space stations we won't name, or how you've dealt with more recent issues… once you get past the sarcasm and the distaste for protocol… you're actually one hell of a fine officer.” Roth told him, meaning every word.
For one of the few times in his life, Nat Hawk didn't quite know what to say. Finally, he said the only thing that felt appropriate. “I won't let ya down, cap'n.”
Extending her hand to him, Nat followed suit and reciprocated the age-old gesture.
“Welcome aboard, Commander,” said the former and once again captain of the Starship Republic.
“Thank ya, ma'am,” replied the Helmsman turned First Officer.
“Well, we still have some work ahead of us if we're to make our scheduled launch. I think we should get to it, don't you?” Roth asked, somewhat rhetorically.
“Truth be told, I could use a shower an a new uniform first,” Hawk answered.
Unable to argue with either point, Roth acknowledged such. “Good point.” Retrieving a PADD from amongst the pile back at the head of the conference table, she handed it to Hawk. “Your official re-activation, re-assignment and promotion orders. Your quarters are on deck 4 - just down the hall and around the bend from mine, so please no raucous parties into the wee small hours?” she quipped.
“Yer sure not makin' this easy on me,” Hawk jested back as he headed for the door.
“Now where would the fun be in that?” Roth asked joyfully. “Dismissed, commander.”
Stepping out onto the front of the bridge with the view screen to his right, Hawk felt more than a little bit disoriented. The bridge before him was very different than what he was used to. Smaller in size, the consoles more compact and close-knit, the basic layout and design resembled that of the Sovereign-class. Though the furnishings where more reminiscent of a Defiant or Saber-Class as far as he could tell. Still, he couldn't fault the color scheme of hues of gray and blue. Beige had never been a color he had much appreciation for, and the Galaxy-Class Republic had been bathed in such. Still, it felt a bit cramped compared to what he was used to, and having the conference lounge at the front as opposed to the back really did a number on you.
Making his way past the Helm console, something that he knew would take a very long time to adjust to, he moved up the two short steps to his own new position. 'Carter's position,' he said to himself silently. He couldn't bring himself to sit down in the chair. Not today, anyway. Soon enough though, he knew he wouldn't be able to avoid such. Glancing around the bridge, he was still a little dazed at the variety and number of species aboard. Though humans (or at least human looking species) where still the dominant majority as had been customary in Starfleet since it's founding, the Luna-Class ships had been designed with a keen eye towards enhancing and increasing diversity. To that end, while humans tended to make up at least 70-80% of the population of most Starfleet vessels, such was slashed by at least half on a Luna-Class to closer to 35-40%.
It was one of the founding guidelines for the class when it had been designed, and as a result the class supported highly variable and uniquely programmable environmental controls and life support systems that allowed a much wider array of species to be assigned. Where as on average there was usually less than one non-humanoid per capita aboard a Federation starship, the Republic alone was home to 9 such individuals. Included amongst them was the former Republic's only-such non-humanoid, the Medusan navigator Ensign Mahlanoy, as well as an Edosian engineer, a Horta science officer with a rather stereo-typical specialty in geology, and a Xindi-Aquatic junior counselor. For the latter two species, it was a rare opportunity for a starship assignment. Typically, such races could only be eligible to serve on larger orbital starbases or planetary outposts due to their unique requirements.
Already just in the span of time from first coming aboard to reporting in to the captain, Hawk had seen a half-dozen species he had never even seen in a Starfleet uniform before. For that matter though, there we a few of them like the trio of science specialists he'd come across earlier in the corridor - a Farian, a Nuvian and a Risan - that he was quite eager to see out of Starfleet uniform…
Making a mental note to check on the protocol of inter-personal relationships as it pertained to the first officer, Nat at last turned to head up one more step and toward the starboard turbolift. He stopped though and turned at a familiar face amongst the myriad miscellaneous crew moving about the busy bridge. Familiar, and yet he couldn't put a name to the face. It certainly wasn't someone he remembered from Republic. The large solidly built man wore a gold collar, but didn't strike Hawk as an Engineer. His displeased expression as he dismissed a crewmen added to the sense of familiarity though.
It was only as the hulking officer turned his face and Nat caught sight of a small but prominent tattoo next to his left eye that Hawk realized where he knew the man from. In turn, the other man had spotted Hawk and was scrutinizing him as well, as if he was now trying to place Hawk. No doubt the beard, long hair and disheveled clothing was making it a bit more difficult.
Stepping over to him, Hawk decided to beat him to the punch, somehow knowing it would annoy the other man - and getting a bit of perverse pleasure from the idea of such - to be told the answer before he could find it on his own. “Lieutenant Ragnar, ain't it?” Hawk asked.
“That's right,” replied Ragnar, not quite having figured it out yet and kicking himself for his inability to do so in rapid order.
“Nathan Hawk,” Nat replied, introducing himself, “we met at-”
“-Starfleet Command, security division. Yes, I remember.” Ragnar responded quickly as all the pieces fell into places in his head. “I escorted you during your debriefings that week about eighteen months ago. I'm surprised you remember me.”
Realizing that the fiction being presented was intended to be taken as truth, likely a cover story specifically designed due to the covert and classified nature of the very existence of Ananke Alpha, Hawk played along. “Ya, well… those where memorable times fer me.”
“Indeed.” was Ragnar's only response. Clearly, the larger man who Hawk placed between a half and a full dozen years his senior in contradiction to his lieutenant's rank, had not expected to see Hawk here. That in addition to being in the presence of someone else outside of the upper-most tiers of Starfleet command who not only knew of Ananke Alpha's existence as fact, but whom had actually seen and set foot aboard said mythic facility, was clearly discomforting to him.
After a moments awkward silence, Hawk leaned against the tactical console as he asked, “So, ya stationed ta Utopia Planitia then?”
“No, actually. I'm assigned here to Republic,” he revealed. “Chief of Security, matter of fact,” he added with a hint of pride. Clearly this was either his first assignment as a department head or his first assignment away from Ananke Alpha. Maybe both.
Nat wondered how much of his being here was connected to the fact that Captain Dorian had prior knowledge of Ananke Alpha and thus, would likely be more amenable to playing along with the cover story doctored for his prior career history. Maybe that's how Ananke worked? Since no mention of being assigned to a facility that did not officially exist could be made on a personnel record, every such officer was given a falsified record that placed them at an assignment large enough to avoid being within six degrees of any other officer they might run into. Likewise, said people where only assigned to bases or ships whose commanding officer was already 'in the loop' as to the reason for such a false record. “Ah, well, I guess we'll be seein' lots of each other.” Hawk replied.
“Oh?” Ragnar prompted, looking a bit surprised and a bit anxious, “I had heard you'd left Starfleet?”
“Recalled,” Hawk said with a shrug and a faux grin that looked like it belonged to a Ferengi used shuttle salesman. “What're ya gonna do?”
“I see.” Ragnar responded succinctly. “Well, it'll be… good serving along side you, Lieutenant. Your reputation as a pilot is… well known.” Ragnar stated, obviously even worse at feigning emotions than a Vulcan. Hawk felt the sudden urge to play poker with the him - and whip the tar out of him in the process. The two had clashed like matter and anti-matter during their brief time in each others company, and though Hawks actions in eliminating Faro and saving everyone in the courtroom that day - and in point of fact, doing Ragnar's job for him - had earned him at least some measure of respect from the older but junior ranked lieutenant, Hawk had never been rid of the distaste he'd had for the strict soldier type.
“If only,” Hawk lamented, cocking his head to the left to make the pips on his shirt collar more visible. “Wouldn't ya know it? Promoted ta first officer, outta the blue. Who'd uh ever seen that comin'?”
This final revelation was likely the worst of them all to Ragnar, who clearly reciprocated Hawks dislike. Serving along side someone you disliked so was difficult enough. If you had a conflict with a fellow department head who may or may not outrank you, you could always go to the head of the department heads. The first officer. Serving under such a person with no one in such a neutral position? That could be a nightmare. “Congratulations, sir.” Ragnar finally offered, unable to fathom anything else to say.
Opting to retreat while he was ahead on proverbial points, and wanting to leave the lieutenant to ponder his new fate, Hawk gestured to the turbolift doors as he tapped the PADD containing his orders on the tactical console a few times just to be annoying. “Well, considerin' I smell worse than a Klingon that ate some real bad gagh, I think I'm a go find my quarters n' test out the sonic shower.”
Turning on his heel, Hawk departed the bridge without looking back. Which was probably best since he had an ear-to-ear grin smeared across his face. 'Maybe this'll be more fun 'an I thought…'
- Lt. Commander Nathan 'Nat' Hawk,
AKA: Wild Card, AKA: Death Wish,
Human, Southern, Executive Officer,
U.S.S. Republic NCC-81371, Luna-Class.
Veteran of the Flying Aces 85th Attack Squadron.