“A Fine Ship if Ever There Was One.”
This story takes place in the years 2354 and 2374, the latter portion on Stardate 51149.8, just after the Deep Space 9
episode “Behind the Lines.” The USS Naptown’s
maiden voyage would prove to be baptism by fire, as the vessel would participate in Operation Return as seen during “Sacrifice of Angels.”
Sran stared at his reflection in the small viewport, taking note of the streaks that lined his face. He was supposed to be going home. That’s what Captain Keel had told him. But as he fought back more tears, Sran waged an equally futile struggle against the gnawing in the pit of his stomach, the feeling that he would never see his home again.
The visit to Starfleet Headquarters- a rarity for a Romulan in this day and age- had started innocently enough. His mother was a member of the Romulan Diplomatic Corps and the only ambassador willing to deal with the Federation in any capacity following the Tomed incident of 2311. She did not attend diplomatic functions as frequently as most of her colleagues, but the woman was always willing to visit Earth. And as Sran harbored a similar inclination toward humans, he was allowed to accompany his mother on such visits now that he was old enough. Diplomacy bored him, but the adolescent relished the opportunity to observe Earth’s people up close. Their behavior puzzled him to no end. After his first visit to Earth more than three years earlier, Sran had told his mother that he was surprised a group of people could be so open about everything. “They don’t have any secrets,” he’d said, to which his mother had replied, “That’s why I work with them.” Sran hadn’t understood exactly what his mother meant by those words, but they sparked a curiosity that burst into an open flame in the years that followed.
A dedicated and eager student, Sran read anything and everything about humans that he could get his hands on- not an easy task for a child raised in the heart of Ki Baratan. What he read told him of a violent and protracted struggle nearly two centuries before, a struggle ended in an uneasy truce hatched by subspace radio, of all things. Sran recalled a school field trip to the Ki Baratan Historical Museum, the highlight of which had been an enormous mural depicting a squadron of Romulan birds-of-prey flying among a formation of Federation starships. Of course, his teachers knew of his obsession. One even threatened to turn him over to the Tal Shiar. His mother had been furious then, one of the few times he’d seen her angry. “You’d throw my son in jail over a painting? A painting! Is this who we are now?” Her outburst probably saved him from further punishment, but it also led to him being home-schooled the following year after his educational enrollment papers mysteriously disappeared en route to the school superintendent’s office. “An accident,” they’d said. Sran scowled. Despite his youth- he was barely thirteen Earth years of age- he knew better. Romulans didn’t believe in accidents.
Humans did, apparently. That was what they were calling the hovercar mishap near Starfleet Headquarters that claimed his mother’s life nearly a week earlier. But was it true? Sran couldn’t’ be sure. He again found himself on the verge of tears.
“Romulans don’t cry.”
Sran bit back a sob and forced himself to keep his chin up. He father was always saying that. He believed tears were a sign of weakness. And a Romulan never showed weakness. Sran knew what his father would think if he saw him just now, could picture the look of disgust and disappointment- of resentment- on the older man’s face. His father was not a gentle man, the product of a lifetime’s service to the Praetor in the Imperial Romulan Fleet. Commander Tavix would no more approve of his son’s tears than he did his fascination with humanity. As far as Tavix was concerned, humanity and weakness were one and the same. Indulgence in either did not befit a loyal Romulan citizen. Sran wiped a single tear from his cheek, determined to keep his grief at bay. His father would see that he had strength in him yet. His vision clearing, Sran’s eyes scanned his surroundings.
He was aboard the USS Horatio
, a Starfleet vessel commanded by Captain Walker Keel. After his mother died, the Federation contacted the Romulan Senate to return Sran to his people. Arrangements were made for the Horatio
to rendezvous with the IRW Tarex
near the Romulan border to make the hand-off. But when the Horatio
arrived at the intended coordinates, they found only debris, material Horatio’s
science officer concluded could only have come from a Romulan ship. Keel was unwilling to accept that Sran’s mother’s death and the destruction of the warbird were not related and apprised Starfleet of the situation. Even now, Starfleet Intelligence was investigating the matter and promised Keel that they would inform him as soon as they learned anything. And so Sran waited quietly in the captain’s ready room just off the vessel’s main bridge. From where he was seated, Sran could easily hear the sounds of normal bridge operation beyond the room’s exit. He looked away from the door and focused instead on a strange model near the room’s far wall. Curious, Sran stood and crossed the room. Nearing the model, he crouched slightly to get a better look at it and discovered that it bore traditional Federation markings. He read them aloud:
“USS Enterprise. NCC-1701-C.”
“A fine ship if ever there was one,” a voice behind him said. Sran started. He hadn’t heard the door open.
Captain Walker Keel stood at the room’s threshold. A man of near middle-age, Keel’s face was a study in contrasts, a puzzle unto itself. His large piercing eyes seemed to see everything, a trait Sran supposed every ship’s captain should have. They were almost raptor-like, not only looking at something but also looking through
it at the same time. The memory of the mural from the museum came back to him, for what did raptor mean but bird-of-prey. Sran wondered if Keel could see through him as he turned to face Horatio’s
master. Meeting the older man’s eyes, he found that they held not the familiar scrutinizing stare but instead an expression of inviting warmth that that reminded him of Earth. Were all humans like this? Somewhat uneasy, he started to move away from the ship.
“You go on and have a look,” Keel said. “It’s alright. Actually,” he continued, a small smile playing across his features, “there’s a story behind that ship. She was very special.”
Sran furrowed his brow, looking from Keel to the ship and back again. Keel motioned for the boy to join him on the room’s lone couch. “That ship was the last one to be called Enterprise
,” Keel began.
Captain Sran stared at his reflection in the small viewport, taking note of the fourth pip that lined his uniform collar. Captain
, he thought to himself. It’s almost beyond belief. But then
, so much of my life has been since the day I met Walker Keel, since he told me about the
Enterprise. Sran allowed himself a small smile, a stark contrast to the tears that had come so easily on that day more than twenty years ago. Keel was dead, his ship victimized by sabotage as part of an alien conspiracy to infiltrate the highest levels of Starfleet Command. Sran thought Keel’s death senseless and regretted that the man who’d sponsored the first Romulan to apply to Starfleet Academy couldn’t be present to witness such an important event, both for Sran and for Starfleet. His eyes moved from the viewport to stare at the large object beyond it- Starfleet’s newest vessel- a ship Sran would not only command but had named, as well. And Captain Keel would love the name
, Sran thought.
During their first meeting, Keel had told a then-heartbroken young man about the brave crew of the Enterprise-C
, a ship destroyed while fighting a battle against impossible odds, odds in the form of four Romulan warbirds attempting to destroy a Klingon outpost on Narendra III. The story resonated with Sran because it was a tale of courage and heroism in the face of certain death. That it involved humans didn’t matter, as Sran had long ago come to respect their culture and values, a distinction he owed to his mother, to Captain Keel, and to Captain Rachel Garrett, the Enterprise’s
commanding officer. Garrett had been a close friend of Keel and the reason he kept the Enterprise
model in his ready room aboard Horatio
. That the two vessels were of the same starship design was what humans called a coincidence, but Sran didn’t believe in coincidence. “Nothing happens by accident,” he often said.
A pang of sadness hit him just then. It was at times like this that his thoughts invariably turned to his mother and father and the life he’d left behind. As he’d suspected, his mother’s death was no accident at all. It was, in fact, an act of sabotage engineered by the Tal Shiar. The destruction of the Tarex
had been their design, too. But neither fact troubled Sran as much as the awful truth discovered by Starfleet Intelligence. Both incidents happened at the behest of his father, who sought to punish Sran for allowing himself to become enamored with humans, and Sran’s mother, for exposing him to their way of life in the first place. He never saw his father again after that. The death of his mother and the attempt on his life ended that chapter of Sran’s existence. Captains Keel and Garrett began the next.
After Keel shared the story of Enterprise
with his young charge, Sran studied the lost ship with the same fervor and passion as he did the Earth-Romulan War. His studies revealed many interesting facts about the vessel. It was launched in 2332 and was the fourth starship to bear the name. Captain Garrett commanded the ship for all twelve of its years. She was from Earth and grew up in Indiana.
Sran found himself watching a small shuttle circle the primary hull of the new Akira
-class vessel. Its path brought it near the ship’s name and serial number. When Admiral Ross had told him that he would be able to choose the ship’s moniker, Sran spent several days considering an appropriate identity for the new vessel. In the end, however, he decided to go with the only name that made sense to him. His earlier research told him that the capital of Indiana was Indianapolis, and although he’d briefly considered that name for his ship, it didn’t seem right. An ancient naval ship of the same name had met a disastrous end during Earth’s World War II. Sran thought it unwise to tempt fate lest the Jem’Hadar try their own shark attack and devour the vessel whole. Nonetheless, he sought to honor both the state of Indiana and Captain Garrett’s memory, so when he’d stumbled across a reference to Indianapolis’ Midwestern culture and lifestyle, he knew his search was over. He continued watching the shuttle.
Its course took it up and away from the hull, but not before it passed once more over the ship’s identification: USS Naptown. NCC-65465. “A fine ship if ever there was one,” Keel had told him so many years ago.
, Sran told himself, but she will be if I have anything to say about it
. His face now a mask of quiet determination, Captain Sran turned on his heel and strode toward the nearest turbolift. Enterprise-C
made her mark on history by helping to usher in an era of peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Now, that peace in was danger of being lost forever to the might of the Dominion’s war machine, a reality Sran refused to accept. History remembered the Enterprise
. The Dominion would remember the Naptown