February 2011 Challenge: "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing
Tales of the USS Bluefin: “It’s a Family Thing”
Stardate 42093.8 (14 February 2365)
Star Station Echo – Berth 16
The ship was quiet now that the formal change of command ceremony was over. With the exception of the skeleton watch crew, most of Bluefin’s
personnel were on the station, having shifted the celebration from military formal to Border Dog excess. It was likely that more than a few would find themselves in the station’s brig by morning as their alcohol-fueled exuberance ended with a few fights with Fleeters and Marines.
The thought made Joseph Akinola smile. Captain
Joseph Akinola. That thought gave him pause.
He stood in the mostly empty ready room (his
ready room, now) and gazed out the viewport toward the stars. He caught his reflection in the transparent aluminum, focusing on the new fourth pip that now adorned his collar. It was amazing how such a tiny piece of gold could weigh so much.
It’s my ship now. My crew. My responsibility.
This weight, too, settled upon him, though not painfully. He had served on the Bluefin
for 15 years under Captains Darby Reninger and Stanek, initially as an NCO, then as a mustang officer. Now he was in command.
When Akinola had enlisted back in 2334, he had never dreamed he might one day command a cutter. His promotion to Master Chief Petty Officer back in ’52 had seemed the pinnacle of his career and he enjoyed his role as senior non-com on the cutter. The war with the Cardies and the needs of the Service had changed that.
What had not changed was his love for this ship and her crew. With his ex-wife dead, his daughter estranged and his only sister many light years distant, the Bluefin
was his real family.
He exited the ready room to stand alone on the quiet bridge. Akinola had relieved the duty officer, ostensibly to allow him to join his friends at one of Echo Station’s bars. In truth, Akinola wanted some time alone to process his new responsibilities.
Stepping down into the “pit,” he ran his hand across the leather of the command chair. He was, of course, no stranger to the center seat. As XO he had spent many duty shifts in this chair – but always there was the knowledge it was not truly his.
The seat belonged to Captain Stanek. Akinola had merely served as a caretaker while the skipper was off-duty.
Now the chair was his.
He closed his eyes momentarily to take in the sounds and faint smells of the bridge. Most of the systems were off-line as the cutter drew power from the station’s umbilical connectors. The soft chirp of diagnostic routines and the faint hum of the air handlers blended with the lingering aroma of stale coffee and the faint tang of warm transtators.
To Akinola, they were the sounds and smells of home. Only the familiar voices of the crew were lacking.
The swish of the turbo-lift doors broke through his reverie. He turned to see Rear-Admiral Stanek step onto the bridge. The Bluefin’s
former C.O. paused for a moment and Akinola thought he caught a brief, wistful expression on the Vulcan’s face. Stanek nodded in greeting.
“Captain Akinola, I hope I am not disturbing your solitude.”
“Not at all, Skipper.” He stopped and grinned, catching his mistake. “Sorry – old habits die hard, Admiral.”
“Indeed,” replied Stanek. He stepped around the rail and stood by the command chair, absently running his hand along the back much as Akinola had done moments earlier.
“Strange,” continued the Vulcan, “how an inanimate object such as a ship can become such an integral part of one’s life,” he murmured.
“Are you reading my mind, Admiral?”
A silver eyebrow crept upward. “Hardly,” he replied, dryly. “I have known you fifteen point two four one years, Joseph. I’m sure you have come to know me somewhat as well.”
This was true, at least as much as a Human could know a Vulcan without a mind-meld. Though he would never fully understand the workings of Stanek’s mind, he considered the Vulcan his friend and mentor.
“Sir . . . will you miss this?”
Stanek regarded the dark-skinned Human with quiet scrutiny. “You are inferring an emotional response on my part, Captain, to which I must reply . . . yes, I will ‘miss’ the ship, the crew, our work out here in the Borderland, and you, Joseph Akinola.”
Akinola nodded, not really surprised by Stanek’s response. The Vulcan could be as stoic and detached as the most disciplined Kolinahr
adept, yet there were times when the veil slipped ever so slightly. Like now.
“Sir, I hope I’m ready for this. I don’t want to let you down, and I especially
don’t want to let the crew down.”
Stanek nodded. “It is logical to be apprehensive when facing such a great challenge. But I have confidence in your abilities, Captain.”
The Admiral gazed around the bridge, as if to commit to memory every detail. “I have lived among Humans and other,” Stanek paused, “emotional
races long enough to recognize there can be value in the expression of feelings. I do not pretend to fully understand this phenomenon, nor do I consider it logical, but I accept it as fact.”
He turned to face Akinola. “Joseph, your love
for this ship and crew are evident. You have their loyalty as they have yours. But, as some of my Human colleagues have said, ‘command can be a fickle mistress.’ The Service will not always love you back.”
Akinola chuckled. “Forgive me, sir, but I never expected you to commend me for my emotional state.”
“Considering my many years, I suppose I can be forgiven my lapse.” A ghost of a smile appeared on Stanek’s lips, so briefly Akinola could not be sure if it was real or imagined on his part.
“In any case, Captain, I did not come to offer advice but to take my leave of you. A runabout for Earth leaves in eighteen minutes, twenty-two seconds. It would not be seemly for the new Commandant of the Border Service Academy to be late.”
“Our loss is New London’s gain, sir. It’s been a privilege to serve under you, Admiral.”
“The privilege has been mine, Captain.” He lifted his hand in the traditional Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper, Joseph.”
Akinola returned the salute. “Peace and long life, Admiral Stanek.”
Stanek nodded and glanced around the bridge, the wistful expression returning.
“Take care of her, Captain,” he said before turning and stepping into the turbo-lift. The Vulcan mask was once more firmly in place, Stanek’s expression stony and unreadable as the doors slid shut.
Akinola turned back to view-screen which was currently streaming diagnostic messages and providing a non-spectacular view of the station’s hull.
“Looks like it’s just you and me, old girl,” he murmured, settling into the command chair. He was interrupted by the chirp of his combadge.
“Brin to Bluefin.”
“Bluefin. Akinola here, go ahead, Chief.”
“Skipper, just wanted to give you a head’s up – some of our guys got into it with some Fleeters at Sloopy’s.”
Akinola sighed. “How bad?”
“It took station security twenty minutes to clear it up. Lt. Gilenhal has a broken nose and Crewman Tyler has a concussion. Commander Jilissa is at the station brig trying to get our guys released. She told me to get in touch with you.”
“Very well. Where were you when this broke loose, Chief?”
“Playing poker with some of the other senior non-coms, what else? By the time I heard about it, it was already over.”
“What about the Fleeters? Anyone hurt?”
“We put seven in sickbay.”
Akinola noted the “we” as well as the obvious pride in Solly’s voice but did not comment. “Keep an eye on our people, Chief. I don’t want another dust-up this evening, is that clear?”
“Aye, aye. I’ve already expressed my opinion in that regard.”
“Good. Make sure of it. Anyone else taking a poke at a Fleeter tonight will be up for Captain’s mast.”
“Don’t worry, Skipper. I had to persuade a few of our guys, but they’re all standing down now.”
Akinola didn’t ask how Brin “persuaded” them. “That’s what I want to hear, Chief. Bluefin
He considered calling someone to the bridge so he could head to the station’s brig, then thought better of it. Commander Jilissa was now the XO and springing the brig rats fell into her area of responsibility. Besides, he had every confidence that the Deltan could straighten out this mess. No time like the present to learn.
He sat back in the chair, once more relishing the quiet. No, the job would not always love him back. No doubt he would hear from an angry Starfleet C.O. in the morning.
But he couldn’t help smiling.