Conference Room 12, Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards
Stardate: 53047.5 (January 18th, 2376)
The long table of the conference room was covered with PADDs and holoimagers, most active though only a few of which Thanasirta sh’Ranni was actually looking at. All of them displayed information on the Intrepid-Class U.S.S. Renown
which, in a week, would become her new command. Her last ship, the Exeter
, had been lost during the Battle of Cardassia. Fortunately their casualties had been light and after the battle the crew had been recovered by rescue ships. After some healing onboard a medical ship bound for Earth, she had returned to duty, but with the chaos that existed after the war there was no clear place for her to go, no ships in need of new Captain’s, so she had been assigned to Utopia Planitia, where she would oversee starship construction—assured that one would be earmarked as her next ship.
was a fine ship, cutting edge technology, fast and with an impressive array of sensors and weaponry, sh’Ranni knew that she would enjoy serving onboard—though it would be odd to just have a crew of around one hundred and forty, compared to the seven hundred-odd that had been onboard the Exeter
. She knew that the old Ambassador-Class ship would always have a special place in her heart, being the first ship she had commanded, but she would take the lessons she had learned there and apply them to the Renown
“Captain sh’Ranni, you have an incoming communiqué from Starfleet Operations on channel Alpha-three.”
“I’ll take it down here, thank you.”
She rose from her chair and moved to the large viewscreen that dominated one of the bulkheads. Activating it, it took only a couple of seconds for the images of a woman to appear. She was very attractive, face angular but appealing, a curve to her full lips, golden blonde hair tied up in an immaculate manner, and bright blue eyes that almost glowed—as an Andorian, sh’Ranni could appreciate beauty, regardless of gender, what did surprise her though were the Rear Admiral pips on the collar of someone who looked younger than herself.
“Captain sh’Ranni I presume?”
the admiral asked.
“Thanasirta sh’Ranni, sir. How may I assist you?”
“I am Rear Admiral Alisana J’Nae, Commander of Project Outreach.”
Sh’Ranni was surprised. Everyone had heard of Project Outreach, hardly a day went past when she didn’t hear at least six separate opinions on Starfleet’s newest assignment. She had been so caught up in preparing for the Renown
she hadn’t been able to keep track of all the latest news threads or developments, so she hadn’t heard who had been assigned to the project—that it had been given to only a lower half rear admiral was somewhat unusual.
On the monitor, J’Nae smiled. “I see you’ve heard of it.”
“I’d be surprised if someone hadn’t, sir.”
“That is true. It has been decided that rather than command the Outreach Task Force from here, it would be more effective to lead from the front—that way any problems or issues that arise can be dealt with immediately and, given the nature of this particular beast, there are likely to be many things that will arise to cause trouble.”
“Agreed. The situation out there is somewhat unstable, what with their military all but gone, their economy and infrastructure destroyed, millions of refugees needing resettled, raiders and pirates at work, and a government that appears to have little in the way of any real power. It’s a hard job you’ve undertaken, sir.”
“That is an understatement, Captain,”
J’Nae replied with a serious smile. “A couple of days ago, a team from the S.C.E. arrived at
Empok Nor to begin disarming any security systems left behind, then bringing the base online and made operational. From there the task force will be commanded, all supplies will be routed, defence will be co-ordinated and whatever other aid and assistant we can provide will be given. Due to the amount of work that needs doing regarding the task force, I won’t be able to supervise the station as well, which means I am in need of someone as base commander. I would like that someone to be you, Captain sh’Ranni.”
“Me?” she asked, shocked. “Admiral, I’ve already been given a new assignment, the Renown
. I’ll be taking command in a week. Surely there must be other candidates for the post.”
J’Nae nodded. “There are. A long list of them in fact, but of that list there are those that are too inexperienced, promoted up too rapidly these last two years, some who are waiting for the stop/loss order to be rescinded so they can step down, others have been left too hot-headed after years of conflict, and then there are those who would just point-blank refuse to take it.”
“How do you know I’m not one of the latter, sir?”
“I’ve been reading up on you, Captain. You’ve never shied away from hard assignments or tough decisions, you’re as much a humanitarian as you are a soldier—just four months ago, after an engagement with a Cardassian ship you recovered the crew before their warp core breached. Add to that six years commanding the
Exeter and the five before that as First Officer on
DS2, you have the necessary experience. I need to have someone commanding the station that I know can handle it, who will make judgement calls and decisions themselves, take action and stand by their choices. I can assure you, that although I will be based on the station I won’t interfere with the goings on—unless they have a direct correlation with task force operations.
“So what do you say?”
Sh’Ranni would be lying is she said it wasn’t tempting. A posting such as this was something she could get her teeth into, could make a lasting impression and really do some good from. As part of Project Outreach, she could make a considerable difference, whilst aboard the Renown
all she’d really be able to do was deliver a couple cargo holds worth of supplies. J’Nae was right, she’d never been someone who backed down from tough missions—and this would be one of the toughest going.
She would miss serving on a starship, but the assignment wouldn’t be forever. Besides, Commander Ghall was more than ready for a command of his own, and a small ship like the Renown
would be a fine choice for him. Pausing for a moment, sh’Ranni chuckled to herself. It sounds like I’ve already decided without realising.
She looked J’Nae straight in the eye. “When do we leave?”
Transporter Pad, Starfleet Operations
Sydney, Australia, Earth
Stardate: 53055.8 (January 21st, 2376)
The tingle of the transporter beam released Chief Petty Officer Aku Nkova and he found himself in the atrium of Starfleet Operations, which looked out onto the majestic harbour of Sydney. Several sailboats were gracefully moving across the water, whilst a few hoverskies darted back and forth. He had never been to the city before, but this wasn’t to be a social visit, he had worked that needed to be seen to.
Stepping of the dais, he headed over to the nearest directory and searched for the name he wanted. As he stood in the open space, which was mostly glass and support beams, he noticed several people looking at him from the corner of his eye—not surprising as there weren’t many Rylak in Starfleet. Like the Orions, his people were known more as pirates, thugs and criminals, with connections to many underworld organisations or other disreputable groups. He was only of only seven of his people in Starfleet service, so the odds were against most seeing a Rylak in uniform.
When he stopped the name he wanted, he made a mental note of the floor, section and office and then headed for the stairs. Bypassing the escalator, he climbed the stairs beside them three at a time. His swift and effortless progress brought him to the attention of those travelling slowly beside him, who paused in mid conversation or looked up from the PADDs they were working on. He paid them little attention as he was used to the looks, he still got them at the Academy, despite being there for over five months—since the Breen attack on Earth—where he taught hand-to-hand combat to all the wet behind the ears cadets.
His journey to the third floor was quick. Though he was tall and broad with muscle, he was fast on his feet and nimble, allowing him to pass through crowds with ease—though in most instances when they saw him approach they parted before him. He rounded a corner and saw a set of double doors ahead, on which was clearly written: Relief Management Centre. He had arrived.
The doors parted for him and he stepped through into a large room, filled with computer terminals and operators, many wearing headsets and working from multiple monitors as they spoke to people over the comlinks. There was a general din in the room that made it hard to hear anything in particular, it was only when one of the logistics specialist lost their cool and raised their voice to whichever bull-headed individual they were trying to work with—which, Nkova noted, happened relatively frequently. It was a tough job these people had, trying to organise shipments of supplies and services to dozens of worlds and outposts affected by the war. There was a reason he had stuck with Security, at least he could take out his frustrations on the people that annoyed him.
Everyone was too busy to notice him, even if he was built like a tank, with cobalt skin and two long headtails hanging down his back. He noticed a sign which showed where the private offices were located and headed down the correct corridor. He passed a couple of meeting rooms and a few other offices, before he got to the one he wanted. Tapping the enunciator, he didn’t have to wait long.
Complying, he stepped through the opening doors and approached the desk. His sharp eyes quickly assessed the room, noting that all personal effects had been removed, leaving behind only the standard furniture and fittings, whilst a couple of containers were set beside the desk, one full the other about halfway. There was a briefcase on the desktop, with various PADDs and holoimagers secured inside, with a small stack next to it waiting to go in. The woman he had come to see had her back to the door, but he could tell it was her; the same lithe build, the same golden hair though a little longer than the last time he’d seen her, the same elegant grace with which she moved. She didn’t look back at him, as she was busy taking down a few pictures, plaques, citation and medal displays, so he stopped in front of her desk and stood at parade rest.
It was around thirty seconds after he’d stopped that she finally looked back. The look on her stunning face was priceless, somewhere between shock, disbelief and joy. Alisana J’Nae came down off the stepladder before she fell off, a wide smile quickly spreading.
“Aku,” she began but gave up going any further. “Wow, ok. You have me speechless.”
“My job here is done,” he stated, then made a move to turn away and leave.
She laughed, a beautiful musical sound. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m assigned to Starfleet Academy, an instructor in self-defence and weaponry.”
“Why didn’t you get in touch?” J’Nae asked, perching herself on the desk.
“Firstly there was a war on, then there was all this,” he said, gesturing to the ops centre behind him. “Never seemed like an appropriate time to catch up.”
“So instead, you turn up on my doorstep a week before I leave for a new assignment.”
“I heard you got Project Outreach. Are congratulations in order?”
She nodded, her bright blue eyes looking onto his. “I wanted this job, there’s a lot of good I can do out there.”
He took a step closer to her. “But it’s dangerous in Cardassian territory. Just yesterday there were attacks on the relief outpost on Septimus three and the UFP Embassy on Cardassia Prime, two Federation officials and four Starfleeters were killed! Is it worth that kind of risk?”
J’Nae chuckled and looked down at the floor for a moment, shaking her head. Her reaction had him perplexed and a little annoyed, she didn’t seem to be taking the threats to her safety seriously. When she looked back at him, he saw in her eyes the same mix determination and trepidation he’d seen the first time they’d met.
“Who would have thought, Aku, when we first met twenty-seven years ago, that you’d be here, now, in a Starfleet uniform lecturing me about the dangers of the job?”
“I would have thought that especially after our first meeting, you’d be more careful.”
He and J’Nae had met almost three decades earlier, back when she was a fresh-faced ensign, the administrative officer to Vice Admiral Yanok chim Donnar, and he had been what many people thought of his race as, a thug, part of a mercenary ship who had been hired to abduct the admiral—exactly why he had never been told until after they had him. J’Nae had gotten in the way, trying to keep him safe and so they had taken her too—many of his shipmates commenting on what they could do to her. He was new to the ship and life, his headtails had barely finished growing out and didn’t know any better—his father was a merc so he was expected to follow him into the life as well, but the whole thing made him uneasy. That feeling only got worse when he’d heard the others gloating over how they would enjoy carving up the pig and violating the girl.
When it had been his turn to watch over them, Donnar was hurt bad and slipping in and out of consciousness, so it had been J’Nae who had asked for his help, talked to him, telling him that things could be different, if he would just help her, she would make sure that everyone knew he had helped them. She had been so honest and earnest, her words so heartfelt that he couldn’t help but listen. Somehow she had picked up on his inexperience and distress over what they had done (and would do) and appealed to that. Against everything he had known, everything he had been led to believe, he had opened their cell and helped them escape onboard one of the assault shuttles.
His former companions had been on them instantly, but they were able to call for help and take shelter in an asteroid field until a Starfleet ship arrived. The starship seized the raider and rescued the shuttle, at which point he was arrested for the part he had played. Had it not been for the reports of Donnar and J’Nae he would have faced the same sentence as the others, but instead he had just had six months in a minimum security penal colony, upon his release he found a communiqué awaiting him with a letter from Vice Admiral Donnar supporting his entry into Starfleet.
J’Nae stood up and faced him. She was a few centimetres shorter and at least thirty kilos lighter, but no less intimidating than himself. “It’s because of things like out first meeting that I have to do this. I can do more good out there than I can sitting here.
“Besides,” she continued, “I won’t be on Cardassia, I’ll be based out of what was Empok Nor
. Much safer.”
“If you think sitting on top of a Cardassian-designed fusion reactor is safe.”
“I have every faith in the S.C.E. teams to get it ready and if you’re so worried about my safety, then why don’t you come with me?”
That stopped him short. “What?”
“Starfleet Security has voiced the same concerns following what happened yesterday. They don’t want a member of the admiralty out there without an armed escort, so if I need to have one, I’d like it to be you.”
“You’ve come all the way from San Francisco to look out for my wellbeing. I’d be willing to bet that you would go through every layer of hell to keep me safe from anything and everything—even myself.”
The corner of his lips tugged upwards, the closest he really got to a smile. “You’re not wrong there,” he admitted. He would do whatever was necessary to keep her safe, she had saved his life all those years ago, then given him purpose and direction (even though it had been Donnar’s signature on the letter of recommendation, he knew she had been the one who had written it), the least he could do was to keep others from doing her harm.
He gave her a single nod which made her smile once again.
J’Nae moved back to the desk and tapped an interface. “J’Nae to Hannigan.”
“Hannigan here. Go ahead, Admiral.”
“Lieutenant, can you get Chief Petty Officer Aku Nkova added to the Project Outreach roster and comm list, then make sure that whatever travel arrangements we have he is added to them.”
“Of course sir. What shall I add the Chief’s duties as?”
“Personal security escort.”
“Understood. I’ll get him added right now.”
“Thank you, Chloe,” she said before closing the link. She looked back at him. “I’ll clear your reassignment with the Academy. You’d better get packed and ready.”
He snapped to attention. “Aye sir.”