Chapter 4 is ready... again comments and feedback welcome...
Stardate 53106.08, Captain's Ready Room, USS Nightingale, Utopia Plantia
Captain Wilcox was sat at his desk looking over the crew manifest he had in front of him. The list of everyone on his ship was present plus the mission advisor that would be joining them at Starbase one-one-two. John checked the list against the crew he had originally requested for, there were several names on the list that weren't present, Jones his Operations Officer and Wongla his helmsman were his two missing officers and twenty one enlisted personnel were either missing or replaced.
What concerned John more than anything was the lack of security that he had on ship, he had a total of six personnel in order to maintain security, and they were all tactical officers not security officers. Although the departments were often interchangeable, there were still some delicate differences between the two, and not having enough of either seriously affected the combat efficiency and the security aboard ship. The persons he had were just enough to run the ship's weapons during combat, if they got boarded, there was no way effective way he could counter it.
John had contacted Admiral Jenkins, but he had been told that he had all the personnel that he could have and he would have to either deal with it, or find another way around the problem. John knew that the fleet was suffering from major man shortages but felt that his ship was given a low priority when it came to giving out personnel. His ship was designed to have a crew of sixty five; he had fifty five crewmembers on board, barely enough to fly the vessel let alone carry out its mission.
John also had serious doubts about some of the crew that were assigned to him. Lieutenant Junior Grade Chloe Visitor for instance had only graduated four months ago - how on earth she had obtained her rank so quickly was a stroke of luck. She had been piloting a shuttle in the Delphnic system with two admirals aboard, transporting them from a starbase to a nearby patrol vessel, when a Dominion task force attacked the system. She had piloted the shuttle to safety and disabled a Jem'Hadar attack ship in the process, the two admirals were so impressed by her skills they promoted her on the spot. It sounded as if she was a great pilot and surely someone who was good to have on the ship, but was she experienced enough to head up the navigational department, she would have responsibility for two other crewmembers, John doubted that her abilities was good enough to compensate for her lack of experience.
Then there was Ensign Torlik; he was something of a mystery. According to his record on his first assignment he was responsible for the death of sixty crewmembers when he fired the weapons to the ship too close to a Klingon Bird of Prey. The Klingon vessel exploded far too close and his vessel was severely damaged with hull breaches on nearly every single deck. However he had never had a bad word said against him on any of the seventeen posts he has had since that post. But it was hard to have a bad word said against you when your only responsibility is cleaning the waste disposal units. It seemed that his former commanders were just keen to get rid of him.
At the end of the day, John knew that it didn't matter; he was stuck with both of them for now in the roles that they had been assigned and they were due to call on him at any minute. John paused as he picked up the next padd in front of him, the engineering report, he was about half way down, probably about to get to the end of the techno babble that V'ras had written to find out the actual speed he thinks that ship could maintain when the chime of his office door went. John ushered the callers in.
John instantly recognised the young brunette as Chloe Visitor and behind her was a middle aged Denobulan, John presumed this was the infamous Torlik. John studied both of them carefully as they filed in front of his inadequate sized desk, both stiff at attention.
"Stand easy both of you," ordered John, both of the figure before him moved swiftly into a more relaxed posture, "welcome aboard the USS Nightingale." John smiled at both of them, hoping to create some sort of friendly atmosphere, some kind of rapport with these two officers. Deep down it felt fake.
"Thank you sir," the young helmsman replied in a soft excited girly voice. He gleaming smile portrayed as much as her voice; she was very happy to be on this assignment.
"Sir," the Denobulan replied, his tone was much more neutral, as if he was bored, as if he didn't want to be there, which would have made two in the room.
"It's good to have you both onboard," that was another lie, like his friendly smile, "you both have something to offer the ship, I expect a lot from my crew, don't let me down." John changed his gaze, holding each one of them by the eyes in a serious embrace. Neither of the junior officers seemed too fazed by the look, Torlik kept his bored expression and Visitor's earlier excitement had not completely disappeared.
"First assignment on a Starship isn't it Lieutenant Visitor?" John asked standing up to get to the same height as his two officers.
"Yes sir," replied visitor snappily, "I was assigned to Starbase four-one-two for three months before being assigned to Earth," she explained, neither post, to John's recollection, was anything special, especially to a young officer looking for adventure to the expanse of space, this assignment was probably the dream she wanted, flying a vessel, not sat behind a shuttle doing regular passenger runs.
John smiled at her, "have you met the rest of your department yet?"
"You're responsible for them on this ship Lieutenant, it's your department and I want navigation to run smoothly," John reminded the young girl. John switched his focus to Torlik, "What assignment number is this for you Ensign?"
"Nineteenth," the man replied abruptly.
"A lot of experience there to give the ship, there are a lot of people who could benefit from that," John said with the fake encouraging smile that he had held before.
"Can we just get on with it sir," replied the sour faced Denobulan, "just assign me to waste extraction and get it over with."
John bit his lip; he hadn't expected that kind of response from the ensign, it almost threw him back. It had certainly thrown Lieutenant Visitor who had turned her head and changed her expression from excitement to pure shock. "Lieutenant could you take your station please," John asked, "we'll be departing soon, I just want a word with Ensign Torlik before we leave."
Chloe nodded her head, stood to attention and walked out of the room. John let his office door slid shut before he returned to look at Torlik, which seemed like an eternity before they had finally closed.
"What on Earth was that?" John shouted.
"We both know what I'm doing here, what's on my record and what assignments I've been given for the past twenty years," Torlik sternly replied, his voice not raised, tempered by age and experience, yet speaking volumes of what he thought.
"For your information ensign," John began to say, his voice lowered, but anger penetrating each and every word, "I have no choice, I have to assign you to the bridge, as chief of operations. My only other operations officer is fresh out of the academy. He doesn't have the experience or respect to command the non-commissioned officers."
"In case you've forgot sir, I don't have anyone's respect."
John was about to speak again, but paused, his mouth half open. Quickly shutting it he sat down in his chair, dropping his rear on the seat like a lead weight in water, "I take it you don't like Starfleet very much." John made more of a comment than a question, it was an obvious statement, Torlik had obvious resentment against his assignments and Starfleet.
"It's hard not to resent an organisation that has persecuted you for twenty years," Torlik gave a look at John that slightly scared him deep inside, Denobulans weren't known for being a particularly aggressive species but Torlik seemed as aggressive as any Klingon.
"If you hate Starfleet so much, why don't you leave?" John asked, more curious than anything else, "I can't have an operations officer who doesn't want to be on that bridge."
Torlik's eyes filled with years of depression, something that John felt saddened to see, "Starfleet is all I have sir," he replied, "with my record no other ship would have me on their crew scrubbing plasma injectors or cleaning waste disposal units." Torlik held his head low, looking at the floor, a tear formed in his eye and dropped down to where he was looking at, "My wives won't have anything to do with me and my children have all disowned me," he announced, sadness filled his voice, "I haven't spoken to any of them for sixteen years now, you see Captain, I have nothing but the fleet."
John looked at his desk, his heart felt heavy and he started to sympathise with Torlik. Everything that he had gone through, everything he had lost and yet the very thing that had caused it, his career, was the only thing left to him and he clung to that like a bat to its' perch. "There isn't much detail in the records about the..." John paused for a second, he didn't know what the right word to say was, "incident," he finally came up with, "is everything in the report? Is it all accurate?"
Torlik's head rose slightly, his eyes still filled with tears, and yet anger still present within them, "To be honest sir," Torlik stopped in the middle of his sentence, his voice stuttered, then he composed himself, "it doesn't matter sir, it doesn't change anything," Torlik's voice started filling with the same anger that had saturated his voice earlier, "you said so yourself sir, if you had a choice, I wouldn't be on your bridge." Torlik snapped at John.
John stood up in anger, "With that kind of attitude ensign, my opinion of you won't matter," John walked over to his door and held a finger over the open button. "While on my ship you will serve as chief of operations and I will expect you to show some professionalism in that post" John paused, his finger poised to press the button, "keep that attitude in check mister, or you will find yourself off this vessel."
"Yes sir," replied the now completely composed and emotionless Torlik.
John pressed the door button and walked out onto the bridge, not giving the ensign another look. Torlik followed John out quickly taking his station at the operations enclave that was behind and to the left of the Captain's chair. John strode to his chair and sat down, on his right Dan Hawke sat comfortably in the executive's chair. He had a look of concern on his face, "everything okay Captain?" he asked.
John nodded, his face telling a different story than what he was trying to portray, "let's get going shall we?" he asked looking at Dan. Dan nodded and stood up, taking up the centre of the bridge.
"All hands, prepare for departure, clear all moorings and spin up the engines," Dan started to give the general list of items that were required to leave the dry dock.
John pressed a button on his command console next to his chair to open up a communications channel, "Space Control, this is the USS Nightingale, request permission to leave dry dock and proceed with mission."
"USS Nightingale this is Space Control, permission granted. Please remain at one quarter impulse until you have cleared the defence perimeter,"
the controller, a female voice replied to John's communication. John looked at Dan and nodded at him.
Dan turned round to the chief of operations; Torlik was stood at his station pressing random buttons on his console, looking like he was monitoring something, "are we free of the dry dock ensign?"
Torlik looked at another console, pressing a few more buttons, John felt a little uneasy in his stomach, as he felt the Denobulan was taking too long in the process, "the umbilical cord has been cut now sir," Torlik eventually responded, "we are completely free of dry dock."
Dan licked his lips, an excited movement John noticed Dan did from time to time, and walked up to Lieutenant Chloe Visitor at the helm station, who was smiling from ear to ear, "take us out Lieutenant, thrusters only until we have cleared the dry dock then one quarter impulse to the perimeter," he ordered.
John's stomach tightened as he felt the ship jolt forward, with the motion of the first firing of the thrusters, John decided to drag his thoughts to other matters. He pressed another button on his command console, "Captain Wilcox to Lieutenant V'ras."
," came the Lieutenant's Vulcan voice, so perfectly pitched so perfectly maintained and emotionless, "you can go to warp nine when you are ready sir."
John allowed himself a smile, "Commander," Dan turned round to face John, "when we have cleared the perimeter, maximum warp to Starbase one-one-two."
Dan nodded and turned back round to look at the view screen that showed the exterior view of the ship moving forward. "How long until we have cleared the perimeter Lieutenant?" he asked Chloe who was busy piloting the vessel, with not a look of concentration on her face, but pure enjoyment.
"Two minutes sir," she replied, "and at warp nine it will take us three days to reach one-one-two."
John was impressed by the young officer's thought of calculating the speed, and her ability to do so while trying to control the ship during a difficult manoeuvre.
Shrak, at the tactical station, seemed almost bored. John looked at the other crew on the bridge who all seemed to be thrilled to be on the move and enjoying the launch. John wished he could share the same feelings, but something deep down didn't make him feel excited about the launch, not with all the problems that were going on with the ship.
John was disturbed in his thoughts of the mission and the launch by Chloe, "We've cleared the defence perimeter," she announced, "course plotted for Starbase one-one-two, warp nine."
John looked at the screen, "engage," he ordered, standing up from his seat.
Chloe pressed a few buttons and the ship slid effortlessly into warp nine.