UES Enterprise. Approaching Galador system. Warp 3.2.
October 12th 2156.
Captain Jonathan Archer, of the United Earth Space Probe Agency, brushed a spot of dust from his uniform sleeve before pressing the lever that opened the briefing room hatch. "Morning all." he said cheerily as he stepped through. There was a chorus of "Morning." in return. Ignoring the main table for the moment, he headed for the smaller desk at the side and pored himself a large mug of coffee. After a fortifying sip he turned to his first officer. "Is everyone here?"
"Not yet Captain." Commander Hernandez replied. "Commander Tucker sends his apologies. It seems the starboard warp field has started, in his words, 'wriggling about a bit', and he wants to monitor it during the deceleration phase."
Archer frowned. "Nothing too serious I hope."
"Tucker didn't seem too worried. A nuisance rather than a problem is the impression I got. Also, Professor Partridge has yet to turn up. No message as to why. I suspect she's planning one of her typical dramatic entrances."
Archer smiled wryly at that. There was no denying that the flamboyant scientist loved being the centre of attention. "Alright. Shall we get started?" He took his place at the head of the table. Hernandez sat in the chair immediately to his right. This lead to a state of affairs that Archer had expected, but still found depressing.
Enterprise had a mixed crew. About half came from Archer's service, UESPA. Apart from a few civilians, the rest were members of the United Earth Military Authority. There was a certain rivalry between the two organisations, and Enterprise's first mission had not run smoothly as a result. Having worked together the crew had now begun to integrate, but there were still divisions, barriers, between them. As Hernandez, the highest ranking UEMA officer on board, took her seat, all the other military personnel present instinctively flocked to that side of the table, leaving the other side for the UESPAs. They don't even realize they're doing it
, Archer thought glumly. I'm going to have to find a way to break this patten of behaviour, get them together
. As his senior personnel sat and made themselves comfortable he glanced at them in turn, trying to gauge their opinions and feelings.
In addition to her duties as XO, Maria Hernandez was the ship's chief Gunnery officer. She wore the black uniform of UEMA Fleet Division with pride. Looked good in it too, it suited her sultry Latino features and athletic build. She maintained an impassive demeanour, though a repeated tapping of her finger tips against the tables surface indicated a desire to get on with things. That's understandable
, Archer thought. She has a personal stake in this mission.
Next to Hernandez sat Lt. Travis Mayweather, chief helm officer. He also wore Fleet Division black. A superb pilot, both of large ships and small shuttles. Cocky, bordering on the arrogant. And clearly, right now, bored out of his skull. The ship had been flying in an almost straight line for the best part of a month, giving him little to do. He was staring straight ahead, not really paying attention to his surroundings.
Major Malcolm Reed also wore UEMA uniform, though his was the olive green of the Marine Division. A small winged dagger insignia showed his membership of the elite Pathfinder unit. There wasn't much need for him to be present at this meeting. Archer suspected that Hernandez had summoned him for his coffee making skills as much for any contribution he could make to proceedings.
Finally, on that side of the table, came Doctor Philip Locke. He was a civilian, in a well tailored if slightly old fashioned suit. But his tie bore the symbol of his old unit. UEMA Ground Forces, Medical Division. He held a cigarette in front of him, unlit, regarding it steadily with his pale blue eyes. Can you see what I am doing? his expression seemed to say. I'm not smoking. I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I'm making, not smoking. Do you? Do you?
Next to Archer, on his left, Lt. Haleh Moshiri studied her computer pad carefully. An attractive, slightly plump young woman of Iranian descent, she was the ship's top navigator. Realizing the captain was watching her she lifted her head and offered a quick grin. Deep space exploration was what she'd joined up for, so her posting to Enterprise was pretty much a dream come true. Like the captain she wore the blue uniform of UESPA.
The next seat was empty, awaiting Commander Tucker, and the one after that was occupied by Lt. Hoshi Sato. The communications officer was deep in concentration, building a house of cards on the table. She didn't seem to have noticed the captain's presence. Archer briefly considered banging hard on the table, knocking the cards down, but decided against it. It would be rude. Besides which, Hoshi was a karate black belt, and had recently started learning the combat martial arts used by the marines. Not someone you'd want to upset
, Archer thought, only half jokingly.
The chair next along was empty, as was the one at the opposite end of the table.
Hernandez cleared her throat. "Captain, whilst we are waiting, perhaps now would be time to discuss our combat drills?" Her voice had the merest hint of a chiding tone. She had raised this matter with him many times during the voyage. "Regulations demand that we carry out full drill once every---"
"I'm aware of the regulations, Maria. We'll get them done, at the appropriate time." he said, leaving it vague as to when the 'appropriate time' may be.
She leant back in her chair with a curt "Sir.", clearly unsatisfied with his response.
Fact was, Archer didn't like combat drills, and would avoid them completely if he could. He was an explorer, a diplomat, not a soldier, and resented the attempt to turn him into one. The depressing thing was, he could see the need for such drills--the events of the first mission had driven that
lesson home--but he'd still been putting them off for as long as possible.
Further down the table Major Reed raised his hand. "While we're on the subject," he said in his soft Yorkshire burr, "I reckon we should be running more security training. Set my marines up against ship's security. Get a feel for boarding actions, that sort of thing."
"We'll discuss it later Major." Hernandez said, to Archer's relief. Whilst his first officer might not like his decisions, she'd back him up on them all the way. Mind you, she's going to keep on at me in private. She knows she's right.
I know she's right. We'll have to do something soon.
He took a deep swig of coffee. "Ahhh. I think we should just get on with this, and fill the others in later." He turned to Moshiri. "Haleh, if you would?"
"Yes sir." The navigator touched a control on the panel set into the table. The lights dimmed, and Sato looked up from her cards for the first time, slightly startled. The viewscreen activated, showing a star map, with a big yellow arrow pointing at one system.
Moshiri cleared her throat. "The Galador system. One star, G class. five known planets. Most of what we know comes from long range observations, although as the first officer will---"
"Sorry I'm late!" interrupted a cultured, English accented voice. "I had the very devil of a time finding my tiara! And you know how necessary that is."
Professor Polly Partridge, chief scientific advisor, swanned in through the hatch, automatically finding the point in the room from which she could be most easily seen. A gorgeous blonde with the sort of curvaceous figure normally only found on comic book super-heroines, she positively craved the limelight. She was indeed wearing a tiara, along with one of her customary figure hugging glossy catsuits, this one a bright pink. After pausing to pour herself a coffee she tottered back to the briefing table.
Now where will she sit?
Archer wondered. In Trip Tuckers chair? The empty one next to Hoshi? No, no, neither of them are prominent enough. There's only one place for her...
Sure enough Partridge took the seat directly opposite him, at the other end of the table. She leant back as far as the chair would allow, hands behind her head, and swung her long legs up onto the table, crossed at the ankle. "Oh, sorry Hoshi."
"No problem." Sato said resignedly, gathering up the cards that had been knocked down.
Hernandez rubbed her forehead wearily. "OK, Professor, I'll bite. Why is a tiara necessary?"
"Why, in celebration of course! The very first visit to an unexplored star system! I know we've been to systems before where the hand of man had not yet set foot--" she paused here, thinking over what she had said, then continued "--as it were, but in each case there had been other races there before us. Vulcans, Tellarites, Ithenites....But this is different. A totally unknown system! Never before visited by any sapient life! We're the first! Isn't it wonderful! So we must celebrate! Hang out the bunting, crack open the bubbly. And wear your very best jewellery!"
Archer cleared his throat. "I'm sorry Professor but we're not the first."
"Do you like the earrings, by the way? Got them in Paris. There's a matching broach too but I couldn't wear that with this outfit, the pin wouldn't go through the material. But I think the tiara is enou---Sorry Captain? What did you say?"
"We're not the first to visit this system, I'm afraid."
For a few moments the normally garrulous scientist was most uncharacteristically silent. She goggled at him, jaw flapping ineffectually, before pulling herself together with visible effort. "Well! I mean, well! I, I, I, I think it's....well! At least we are the first humans
to visit. That's still worth celebrating."
Besides her Doctor Locke gave a soft chuckle, while the rest studiously avoided making eye contact.
Hernandez said "Actually, humans have been here before. In fact...." She raised her hand, feeling slightly guilty.
Partridge stared at her. "You've
been here before? All this way? But you can't
have! You can't! I'm wearing a tiara, so that proves it!"
"And not even a Vulcan would argue with that logic." Sato said conversationally.
"Damn right! And if he did argue, I'd, I'd, I'd rip them both off!"
Now it was everyone else's turn to be silent.
"Both what?" Mayweather asked with a quiet, horrified fascination.
"Ears, of course!"
The helmsman gave a sigh of relief. "Oh, OK. Just wondering if you knew if the rumours were true. Y'know, about Vulcans..."
Partridge pulled her legs down from the table, folded her arms, and began to pout like a small child denied a treat. She snatched the tiara, along with a few strands of errant hair, from her head and tossed it onto the table. It bounced, hitting the hand of Major Reed, who said "Ow!"
"Serves you right!" Partridge said, somewhat unfairly, and levelled an accusatory finger. "This is all your fault!"
The marine, a decorated veteran of numerous combat engagements, drew back in his chair and squeaked "I'm sorry!" Across the table Moshiri and Sato exchanged amused, if slightly puzzled, glances.
Hernandez sighed heavily. "Well, now that we've had the Professor's usual theatrics, perhaps we can continue with the briefing...?"
Partridge glared along the table at her. Then, as if a switch had been thrown, was all smiles again. "Yep, sounds reasonable. Carry on Haleh."
Moshiri cleared her throat "So, as I was saying. G type star, slightly redder than Earth's sun, but not a significant difference. Four gas giants, quite far out, just as you'd expect. The only known solid planet is a Mercury type, class-B on the STP scale, and in a comparable orbit. Yes Major?"
Reed had raised his hand. "The STP scale?"
"It's a planetary classification system, a sort of shorthand for defining the attributes of worlds. Named for it's developers, Sotal and T'pree of Vulcan, and..." Moshiri trailed off, glancing down the table.
"Oh, you don't have to finish that sentence." Hernandez said. "Even without looking at her I can feel the smugness." The Professor was grinning broadly.
Sato asked "So you helped develop an entire classification system?"
"Well, I had a weekend free." Partridge nodded.
"There's never been a proper study," Moshiri went on, "so there may yet be undiscovered planets."
Archer drained his mug and put it down on the table. "And that's why UESPA sent us out here, to make a full study. Now the military have their own reasons. I think Maria can explain better."
"Thank you Captain." Hernandez touched a control key. The display screen zoomed out, various systems highlighted in either green or red. "Back in '43 the war was at it's height. We'd had some success. A number of our front line systems and outposts were too well defended for the Axanar to attack. Or at least, attack and win. So they changed tactics. They were able to get small squadrons behind our front lines, right into our territory. They were lightly armed, useless in a stand up fight against warships, but they took a toll on our supply lines. The question was, how were they getting through?
"Turns out they weren't going through, they were going round. An end run, as it were. Given what we knew about Axanar ships and capabilities, they must have had a staging area for resupply. There were a number of possible systems where such an area could be located. Military Intelligence---" here she paused at Partridge's snort of amusement "---somehow identified the Galador system as the most likely location. We couldn't spare many ships, but a small task-force was assembled with orders to scout the system, and disrupt Axanar activities if feasible. And I was on one of those ships."
"The Sun Tzu?" Sato asked.
Hernandez shook her head. "No. This was before I was assigned to the Sun Tzu. She was still being built then, I think. No, I was on board the excitingly named D-32. A Thor class destroyer."
"You're kidding me!" Mayweather exclaimed. He looked closer at the display. "Which base did you launch from?"
"Outpost Delta 14." she said evenly.
Mayweather gave a low whistle. "That's a hell of a trip for a destroyer."
"Tell me about it. Every spare millimetre was used for stores. Spare deuterium pods on all exterior hard-points. Torpedo launchers and storage removed, and replaced with antimatter fuel bottles. No proper food at all. We did two and a half months, there and back, on nothing but emergency survival rations, plus a vitamin injection every other day."
"That," Doctor Locke observed, "would have a deleterious effect on the digestive system."
"Yeah. After we got back, I spent weeks in physiotherapy before I could eat regular food again. Everyone who went on that mission was classified as medically unfit on their return. Those who did return, that is."
She paused, staring into the past. "We came out of warp near the largest gas giant. It was hoped we could use it's gravitational field to mask our arrival. Almost immediately we detected transmissions. We'd expected a supply ship or two. Somehow the Axiees had built a station all that way out. It wasn't complete, but it was operational. Shuttles were collecting deuterium from the upper atmosphere, taking it to the station in orbit. It was a fuel refinery. It was also unarmed and undefended.
"We swooped in, and in short order ripped it to shreds. Then, on our way out of the system, our luck changed. One of the Axanar raiding parties warped in, right on our exit vector. We had no choice, but to try and fight our way past. Only two ships made it out, the Eisenhower and the D-32."
Partridge leant closer. "How many ships were there, in total?" she asked softly.
"Five. I had friends on some of them." Hernandez breathed in deeply, let it out through her nose. "Anyway. We never went back there. Intercepted signals suggested that the Axanar had abandoned plans for the system. We later learned that they did send an expedition to recover their dead for their burial rites---"
"Cremation. Axanar usually cremate their dead." Archer said.
"Right." Hernandez said, clearly uninterested in how they do things. "So. Now we've got diplomatic channels up, they've communicated to us that they've found the wreckage of one of our destroyers. The Admiralty want us to go out their, assess it's condition, and try to determine if the Axanar could have learnt anything of military value from it."
"Is that really likely, Maria?" Partridge asked "If this were a great intelligence coup for them they'd hardly be telling us about it now, would they? Besides, the Thor class is decades old."
Archer said "Perhaps, but there's more to it than that. The Axanar said they'd done no more than a quick scan of the wreckage, but enough to determine that there were bodies on board. Those people had family, friends. Now we can't just abandon our exploration mission to take our fallen servicemen back home. But we can perhaps identify them, and ensure their remains are secure. Not going to fall on a planet or anything. Maybe later they can be repatriated."
Partridge nodded, and said a quiet "I'm sorry" to Hernandez, who gave a quick nod of acknowledgement in return.
"Enterprise's sensors are better than those on Axanar ships." Archer went on. "So as part of our scientific survey, we're going to be looking out for any more wreckage. If it's ours, identify and secure."
"What if it's Axanar?" Reed asked.
Archer rubbed the back of his neck. "Again, make sure it's safe. Other than that leave well alone. We'll place a marker buoy nearby, and if we encounter an Axanar ship on our travels, let them know. Otherwise it'll have to wait until we return to Earth. They can send it through diplomatic channels then."
The intercom whistled. "Captain Archer, paging Captain Archer.
He lifted the handset attached to the table. "Archer here."
"Kaufman, sir, on the bridge. You asked to be informed when we were thirty minutes from the Galador system."
Archer glanced at his watch. "Thank you Mr. Kaufman. I'm on my way. Archer out." He put the handset back in it's cradle. "Ladies and gentlemen, any further questions? Yes, Travis?"
The helmsman pointed to his head. "Does this tiara suit me?"
"It goes with your eyes. Anyone else? No? Then I suggest we take our places. Let's go to work."