Having internet problems, please excuse the lateness, wanted to get something out. I am aware of some time discrepancies between this and the prolog, but will be adjusting the prolog timeframes to match this. I also know it would probably take far longer to get from Andoria to Starbase 214, near Cardassian space, but heck, they do that all the time in the shows. Anyway, here goes, enjoy!
Stardate 53340.96, (19:00)
Docking Hub B
Master Chief Rexar Arthrun walked down the passageway behind several other officers disembarking to the starbase for various reasons. Choosing to travel lightly, he carried only a small duffel bag over the shoulder of his newly issued Starfleet uniform. The gold ‘support division’ turtleneck still chafed his neck, but all in all, he liked the new black pull over jacket and comfortable black pants. Somewhat of a departure to what he was accustomed to, Officers and Enlisted personnel now wore the same uniforms, with rank insignia the only distinguishing feature. Perhaps the jumpsuit he had worn years ago was a bit more practical, but it seemed he could never get away from the turtlenecks. At least the new ones were smaller, and of a lighter weight fabric.
Reaching a T intersection, he saw a larger crowd of personnel, both civilian and uniformed, exit from the opposite side and turn into the larger corridor. A group of three officers, all Lieutenants Junior Grade, walked separate from the others, two of them talking animatedly, the third a Vulcan female, listening. Then it struck him. While the male looked human except for curious brown spots running down the side of his face, the other female beside the Vulcan was green with dark hair. An Orion? Rexar was quite used to the cultural diversity the Federation offered, but had never heard of the Orions, producing anything other than slaves, smugglers, and traders who always operated at least a bit outside the law.
His thoughts were cut short by a commotion at the T intersection, now several paces behind him. “Hey spoonhead, are you lost?” Looking over his shoulder, Rexar saw a man in a loose fitting tunic with his arms on his hips staring at an Ensign who had just walked out of the same side passageway he had in an obviously failed attempt to avoid the crowd. The gray skin tone, the ridges running around the orbits of the ensign’s eyes and from his neck to his shoulder identified him as a Cardassian, although Rexar had never seen one in person. Rexar had stayed mostly in his cabin during the journey, and had not noticed the Ensign during the voyage.
As the man in the tunic started walking towards the ensign, Rexar half expected the young officer to back into a wall. Instead the Cardassian took a step towards his antagonist.
Several of the people watching the scene unfold saw only a Cardassian. The species that had subjugated the Bajorans for decades, the Cardassians had also been at war with the Federation twice in recent memory. More than one of onlookers had lost family members in conflict with the Cardassians, and none had ever known one personally. Rexar saw a Starfleet officer. He turned around and started walking towards the confrontation.
Rexar had only taken one step when the green Orion Lieutenant brushed past him. The two men were standing in a now clear area, the human clearly a little confused by the resilience of his intended insultee. “Back off, if you know what’s good for you!” He said, his voice edgy. Calmly, in an almost soothing voice the Cardassian started to reply, “I assure you, I…” when the tuniced man pushed him backwards with a shove to the chest.
Bolstered, the human stepped forward as if to continue his attack. Suddenly, a green hand slapped the side of his head, hard, and he was vaguely aware of his feet flying up into the air over his head. The deck came up hard, and for some reason he was unable to cushion his fall with anything but his face. A knee pushed down on the back of his neck, and he almost passed out. Eventually, as his vision cleared, he noticed a green face, a female face, looking intently at him from very close. The voice that came into his ear, silky smooth, almost a whisper was strangely incongruent with both the look on her face, and the pressure of her knee, non-abated, on his neck. “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t get up and apologize sincerely to the Starfleet officer you just assaulted, I will tire of playing Mr. Nice Guy. Am I clear?”
To his credit, the prone figure seemed to realize he was in a thoroughly no-win situation. Assuming the gurgle he managed was a “yes,” or something similar, Lieutenant Junior Grade Tara released the pressure on his neck and hoisted the man to his feet.
Facing the Ensign, who looked genuinely surprised at the turn of events, he tried to sound sincere with “I’m sorry.” Lieutenant Tara had still not released the man’s arm, “Sorry what?” she said into his ear. “I’m sorry that I shoved you,” the man corrected. She squeezed, just a little, somehow managing to find a nerve cluster that sent a jolt up his arm. “And?” She hissed. He winced, and then replied, “I’m sorry I called you a… spoonhead.”
“Maam,” a deep voice from behind her caught Tara’s attention. She turned, leading the apologetic individual around, still by his arm. “Maam, I’m Lieutenant Howard, station security, we’ll take it from here.” Seeing the two somber looking, large security officers behind Howard, Tara didn’t doubt they would. She unceremoniously pushed the man towards them and turned to check on the Ensign.
Rexar had stopped short when the Orion Lieutenant became engaged in the fight, watching her skill appreciatively. A few feet away, he stood and followed the young officer’s conversation until he was assured the Ensign would be taken care of before continuing on his way into the station.
“Are you hurt?” Tara asked, sympathetically. He shook his head. She noticed that her two companions had finally reached her side. T’Noor, the Vulcan female, she had known from her previous assignment stayed silent. It was Arjal Brak, the Trill, whom she had only just met while transiting to the starbase on orders who spoke first, “I guess we’re in good hands.” T’Noor spoke coolly in reply, “I believe I stated that Lieutenant Tara was highly skilled in unarmed combat. If that is what you meant by ‘good hands,’ did you doubt my veracity?” Arjal stammered, “No, I, um…” But was interrupted by Tara’s melodious laugh, “Don’t worry, Arjal, you’ll get used to it.”
The Cardassian Ensign, now feeling a bit awkward with three Lieutenants Junior Grade having a conversation in front of him stood silently, unsure of whether to salute or not.
Tara turned back to him, offering her hand to shake, “I’m Lieutenant Tara, and you are?” The surprised Cardassian clasped her hand and was surprised at the firmness of grip, “Dulak, Ensign Dulak. Thank you for the help.”
“Ensign Dulak, this is Lieutenant T’Noor, and this is Lieutenant Brak.” Arjal Brak quickly shook Dulak’s hand while T’Noor merely nodded in greeting, saying only Ensign,” as she did so. Tara continued, “Are you here on orders?”
Dulak nodded his head, “Yes, I am to report to the Commanding Officer, Starbase 214 for further assignment.” T’Noor interjected, “As the three of us have the same directive as you do, Ensign, perhaps we should proceed together to avoid any further difficulties.”
Dulak spread his hands to his sides, as if to shrug his shoulders and said, “That sounds like and excellent idea Sir.” The now larger group followed unknowingly, Rexar’s path into Starbase 214.
Same Day, 1915
Brig Medical Unit
Lieutenant Howard decided enroute that not only did the bump on his charge’s forehead look potentially serious, but his stumbling walk was also a concern. The three men escorted the worse-for-wear troublemaker directly to the BMU before processing him in.
“Hey Doc,” Howard said casually as they entered the examination area, “check out this bump.” The figure that came around the end of a partition was not the ‘Doc’ Howard was expecting. This one was Female, wearing Federation Marine Fatigues, and had rank insignia matching his own. He tried to remember his rank equivalency, Captain, he hoped.
She smiled, the prettiest smile Howard had seen in a long time, walked over to the subdued patient on the exam table, talking to Howard while starting a cursory examination of the injured man. “I’m Captain O’Connell and I’m helpin out your ‘Doc’ this afternoon.” Because of her dark brown or maybe black hair, Howard had not expected her lilting Irish brough. Luckily, she had not asked for either his first born child, or all his worldly belongings because right then, he would have gladly given her either, just to hear her speak again. Instead he managed to croak, “Well, you are definitely easier on the ears.” He felt instantly foolish, but was relieved when she smiled at the comment. “Does this one have a name?” She asked pointing to her patient.
One of the previously silent security officers held a pocket ID in front of Captain O’Connell’s face and pushed the open button. The ID slid upward from its holder and she read it in surprise, “Well well, Chief Petty Officer Anthony Marconi is it? Tell me Lieutenant, why is the good Chief here?”
“Well he um, started a fight with a spoo… a Cardassian and wound up getting his head bounced on the floor.” Captain O’Connell wiped the abraded bump on Marconi’s forehead with antiseptic before producing a dermal regenerator and slowly passing over the area repeatedly. “So where is this Cardassian? You didn’t let him walk away injured now did you?” Her tone took on just a hint of bossiness and Howard responded the way any well mannered mid-western boy would, “No Maam, he wasn’t injured; in fact he didn’t throw any punches. It was some Lieutenant, an Orion I think, she flipped the Chief right over like he didn’t weigh a thing and he landed head first as I recall. As far as the Cardassian Ensign, he….”
Captain O’Connell cut him off sharply, “Did you say Ensign, as in Starfleet Ensign?” The dermal regenerator snapped off quickly, leaving significant swelling and redness untreated. Howard answered, also quickly, “Yes Maam, I believe it was a group of Junior Officers reporting here for duty assignment.”
Her face went serious as she shined a light into each of the Chief’s eyes, then away quickly. For the first time, she spoke directly to him, “Let me guess Chief, you’re here on orders to?” Chief Marconi winced as he nodded. “I would say it’s a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, but there’s nothing fine about it.” The Captain looked at Howard with a much cooler smile, “He’ll be ok in the brig till you figure out what to do with him. Just call me if he starts vomiting or flopping around on the deck like a fish out of water.”
The three men escorted Chief Marconi out of the room. Howard looked back as Captain O’Connell began to straighten up the exam room, “Thank you Maam.” She paused and looked up at the Lieutenant, “Just so you know, I prefer Sir or Captain while on duty Lieutenant,” but she smiled as she said it, all bossiness gone. Lieutenant Howard just gave a smile of his own, said “Yes Sir,” and followed his men out.
Same Day, 1935
Docking Hub Lounge
Seated in a booth which allowed a panoramic view of not only the space-side docking ring, but also the deep star-field beyond, two Starfleet officers, one male and one female, both human, sat in comfortable yet non-intimate conversation. Their drinks had the requisite assortment of paper umbrellas, plastic swords holding maraschino cherries, and rainbows of liquid color, but to the females chagrin none of the alcohol or even synthahol.
The male wore Lieutenant Commander Devices on his collar, below a neatly cut head of brown hair and blue eyes. The female, wavy blond hair reaching well past her collar had green eyes and the collar devices of a Lieutenant. Both were awaiting the official report time on their orders to the starbase, and both had no idea what those orders might entail. Lieutenant Beverly Townsend of Australia spoke, in the middle of a conversation already in progress, “Yes, but I don’t see why all the secrecy.” Lieutenant Commander Ryan Ridgeway answered, as if the two had already been over this part, “Really Lieutenant, a little patience, in less than thirty minutes we report, and I’m sure all your questions will be answered. There is honestly nothing worrying will do until then.” With that Commander Ridgeway picked up his drink and polished it off. Standing, he smiled at the perturbed Lieutenant, “Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to freshen up, before the big news.”
Lt. Townsend held up her glass and smiled in lieu of a wave, secretly wondering why she had let the young looking Commander talk her into the non-alcoholic kind. After Ridgeway left, she took a sip from her drink, set it down unfinished and exited the lounge herself.
Same Day, 2000
Commanding Officer’s Briefing Room
Seated around a large round table in the austerely decorated briefing room sat seven officers. All, with the exception of Lieutenant Junior Grade T’Noor glanced surreptitiously around at the others, no one daring to break the silence. T’noor merely sat with her outstretched fingers touching together, making a triangular shape commonly used by Vulcans deep in contemplation.
No one had presumed to sit in the somewhat larger chair that seemed to indicate the ‘head’ of the table. To either side of it sat Lieutenant Commander Ryan Ridgeway and Lieutenant Beverly Townsend. Next to Lieutenant Townsend sat Captain Shelly O’Connell followed by Master Chief Rexar Arthrun, then an empty chair. Going the other way around the table sat the three Lieutenants Junior Grade, Arjal Brak, T’Noor, and Tara. Finally, next to Tara sat Ensign Dulak, with the empty chair between him and Master Chief Rexar Arthrun.
Through a door at the end of the briefing room, a full Commander entered, calling “Attention on Deck.” As a group, the seven stood to attention as their chairs slid back. Following the Commander into the room was a Vulcan Admiral, old enough to have some gray hair around his ears, and wrinkles on his face. Presumably, he was the Commanding Officer of Starbase 214. He walked all the way to the larger chair, which the Commander pulled out for him, and sat down before saying simply, “Take your seats.” He had not said, “Sit at ease,” but apparently this distinction was lost on all in the room with the exception of Rexar, who sat to a position of rigid attention. T’Noor, noticing the difference in his posture as the others placed their arms onto the table or shifted their chairs to more comfortable positions, decided to emulate the Master Chief. She also noted, disconcertingly, that he was struggling mightily to keep a torrent of emotion hidden below his rigid demeanor. She even noticed him start a slow-breathing exercise taught to Andorians at a young age as a self control mechanism, curious.
Approaching one hundred and sixty years, and over one hundred twenty of them in Starfleet, Admiral Selak had seen many Starfleet careers come and go. He had seen changes in policy and procedure, seen numerous illogical uniform changes. Whole classes of starships had gone from prototypes to obsolete, with full lifespans and upgrades in between. He had never married. Being the second son of an obscure family whose father tailored ceremonial garments for rituals old beyond memory had made him an undesirable arraignment for any un-betrothed girls. Not of a scientific bent, the sciences had not been an option for him. So while he was unable to convince his parents of the logic in joining Starfleet, that is what he did anyway.
When many of his contemporaries had gone on to other careers after Starfleet, such as the Diplomatic Corps or Vulcan Science Acadmemy, Selak had stayed. He had twice been admiral, and after his first demotion had to wait forty years until everyone presiding over his courts martial was either retired or dead before being promoted again. Obscure post after obscure post followed his demotion. But while that would have troubled an undisciplined and less logical mind, Selak merely continued doing whatever tasks Starfleet assigned him with stoic determination. While he considered the decision to demote him largely politically motivated and illogical, he held no malice towards either the people responsible, or the fact of his demotion. That would have been an emotional response, and that he did not allow himself.
Looking over the briefing table he simply noticed which of the seven had followed his order and which had not. Just one more change he was having to adjust to was the relaxing of discipline and protocol within Starfleet itself. While wartime situations typically degraded both traditions, usually they rebounded a bit when the conflict was resolved. He was not sure if that was the case following the Dominion war.
To her credit, the Vulcan female was following the correct example shown by the Andorian Master Chief. Perhaps being removed from Starfleet during his retirement had insulated him somewhat. No matter, there was a briefing to attend to.
“Sit at ease.” Selak said finally. T’Noor turned her head to look at the Admiral, but Master Chief Rexar relaxed only slightly and only his antennae pointed towards him. “I know you are wondering why you were ordered to report here with incomplete details. Several people nodded.
“The reason for this is simple enough. Starfleet, both the security and intelligence services remain unsure of our current internal security status following severe weakening and compromise during the Dominion war. Your orders involve classified and sensitive information restricted to anyone with a direct need to know.”
The door chime buzzed, interrupting Selak from continuing. The Commander, who had taken up a position near the entrance, answered, managing to sound both testy and bored at the same time. “What is it?” Through the speaker a voice answered. “Sir, its Lieutenant Howard from Security. I’ve got Chief Marconi here on the Admirals orders.” The Commander looked at Admiral Selak, who nodded. Pushing a button on the door access panel, the Commander opened the door, “Enter.”
Chief Anthony Marconi walked slowly through the door, hands still in restraints behind his back. Howard followed, showing surprise at several recently familiar faces, and smiling at the Marine Captain who nodded in reply, but kept a serious look about her.
“You may remove the restraints Lieutenant, I do not believe the Chief will be any further trouble. Am I correct?” The Admiral looked directly at Chief Marconi, who was opening his mouth to accuse Lieutenant Junior Grade Tara of assaulting him. The Chief swallowed his accusation, replacing it with “Yes Admiral, I will not cause any more trouble.” The looks he got from the Marine Captain, Arjal, Tara, and Dulak did not do much to assure the Chief there would not be trouble, but at least this time, he wouldn’t start it.
“In this instance, any disciplinary action taken will be up to your commanding officer. For now, you may be seated.” When Lieutenant Howard finished removing the wrist restraints, Chief Marconi rubbed his wrists and moved towards the empty chair, sitting uncomfortably between Dulak and the Andorian Master Chief.
Admiral Selak looked at Howard, “Dismissed Lieutenant.” As the security officer turned and left the room, Admiral Selak reached down and typed a brief memo to his XO. It read ‘Lieutenant Howard was late two minutes delivering prisoner from brig, contact my adjutant for details.’ He finished, sent the memo and looked up at the now complete group.
“As I was saying, your orders involve classified and sensitive information restricted to anyone with a direct need to know. What I say concerning your assignment from this point forward is classified and not to be released to anyone, including the rest of your crew.”
Lieutenant Commander Ridgeway raised his hand to ask the obvious question, but a look from Admiral Selak and he lowered it. The Admiral would take questions when he was good and ready, if at all.
“As some of you may already be aware Starfleet took heavy casualties during the recent war with the Dominion, both in personnel and in fleet strength. We are still far under desired strength in many areas, and have had to seriously curtail colonization, exploration, and scientific survey missions.”
“Emergency measures have been taken to replenish manning levels, such as delaying of retirements and stop-loss measures for personnel wanting to resign. Unfortunately, Starfleet has also had to shorten some of its training programs and promote at a faster rate than usual. It has also been forced to keep certain persons who would have been discharged for disciplinary reasons.” The Admiral paused as he gazed over the group seated at the table.
“Replacing lost ships is not so easy. Shipyards can only produce new ships so fast. As a stop-gap measure, a number of ships have been brought out of mothballs and refitted to enable them to assist Starfleet during the rebuilding phase.”
Watching the Admiral, trying to project his usual upbeat, confident demeanor, Lieutenant Commander Ridgeway felt a big ball of dread building in the pit of his stomach. He had half expected some nice post as a department head onboard a Nova or Galaxy class. Maybe it had been ‘wishful thinking’ after all, just like his last CO had told him upon reading his somewhat nebulous orders. ‘What did I do to deserve some old relic?’ He thought silently to himself.
Lieutenant Townsend had much the same thoughts running through her head. Risking a quick glance around, she noticed that none of the junior officers had a clue they were getting the short end of the stick, they were all intently soaking in all that the Admiral was saying. Probably felt all excited about getting their first real assignment. The newly arrived Chief had his head in his hands, whether from his injuries, or a bit more reality based take on where the Admiral was getting, she couldn’t tell. The Andorian Master Chief, she couldn’t get a read on at all. He just sat still, as if carved from stone.
The Admiral continued, “All of the mothball fleet in recall class A or B have already been reactivated, however, and as fleet strength is still low, that is where you come in.”
Chief Marconi vaguely remembered through his splitting headache that class C mothballed ships had been so completely stripped of parts, and often whole sections were simply cut away that they were, for all intents an purposes, scrap. If he hadn’t been brought in restraints, facing Captains mast at the very least, if his head wasn’t pounding, he might have voiced what he was thinking, ‘what, you going to issue us Vac suits and backpack thrusters and call it good?’
Admiral Selak activated a large wall viewscreen to one side of the room, a two dimensional map of several sectors surrounding Starbase 214 came on as the room lights dimmed slightly. The nearby boundary of Cardassian space was clearly delineated, as were several outposts and inhabited systems. The Admiral remained seated and began narrating.
“Eighty-five years ago the USS Shepard, an Oberth class science vessel was lost in sector 8572.” On the map display, one sector, outside the boundary of Federation space and farther out than Cardassian territory extended, lit up and expanded to fill the screen, showing more detail as it did so. “She was presumed lost with all hands until twenty years later when a single survivor was returned to Federation space by a free trader interested in opening trade routes with remote Federation member worlds and colonies. That survivor was a Chief Arthrun, and he has been called out of retirement for this mission.” The Admiral nodded towards Rexar, addressing him by his current rank, “Master Chief.” Rexar raised his chin slightly in acknowledgement. At that, a murmur of surprise went through the group, only silenced when the Admiral raised his voice slightly, “Excuse me!”
The trader was well compensated for the return of a valuable Starfleet member, and for star charts of the area surrounding the presumed location of the Shepard.”
“Unfortunately, upon examining the limited cultural data contained in the traders database of the area, a simple recovery or destruction operation was deemed too risky. Several star systems in sector 8572 had started developing primitive space programs. All of them were busily listening, looking and collecting data on nearby space. None were close to developing warp drive and some remained highly warlike, so the entire area was designated a no-contact zone.”
Questions began running through everyone’s minds. So many that even T’Noor found it hard to maintain full attention on the Admiral.
“Six months ago a long range survey probe sent telemetry which activated an archived file in a classified section of the Federation star charts. The file indicated simply that the probe had located what was, with a ninety-eight point seven percent chance, the USS Shepard.”
T’Noor looked at the Master Chief, raising an eyebrow as she noticed a single tear run down his face.
“A recovery mission has been authorized, and you eight have been chosen to lead the recovery team, ascertain if the Shepard is salvageable and to perform field repairs sufficient to return her to Federation space. In the case she is salvageable but repairs cannot be made on site, a warp tug will be employed, but only as a last resort.”
“Once the Shepard returns here, she will be made fully space-worthy, you will be given a crew compliment and assignments to follow. Once enroute, further information, including the probe data and ship specification files will be made available. It will take three weeks to reach the Shepard’s location, so you will have sufficient time to learn how to operate and repair her. Holographic simulations as well as technical manuals will be available aboard the Persepheron, which departs dock 6, hub 2, in one hour. Commander Swanson will brief you on your duty assignments, dismissed.”
With that the Admiral pushed his chair back, flipped the wall display off, and stood up. Commander Swanson called out, “Attention On Deck!” causing everyone to stand to attention, and also forestalling any questions. The Admiral turned and walked out, into the same door he had entered, leaving a puzzled crew in his wake. No sooner had the door swished shut behind the Admiral Selak than Commander Swanson refocused their attention, everyone that is except for a certain Andorian Master Chief, “At Ease. Listen up.” Swanson began, picking up a PADD from the table. “Commander Rigeway, CO; Lieutenant Townsend, XO; Captain O’Connell, Medical Officer; Lieutenant Brak, Operations/Helm; Lieutenant T’Noor, Science Officer; Lieutenant Tara, Security/Tactical; Master Chief Arthrun, Chief Engineer; Ensign Dulak, Tech Division; Chief Marconi, Engines Division.”
Swanson was so intent on reading the roster that he failed to notice Rexar stand up from the table and walk to the Admirals door until Rexar pushed the chime. Stunned he started after the Master Chief, but the door opened and the Andorian entered before he could stop him. Stepping through the doorway before it closed, Swanson started dressing down the senior enlisted, “Just a minute, Master Chief, you can’t…” but was interrupted in turn, surprisingly, by Selak, “It is not necessary Commander, you may leave.” Swanson stepped back out of the Admiral’s ready room, mystified. Turning towards the remaining officers and the chief, he said simply, “Dismissed.” Then he walked to the exit and keyed open the door, and waving them out of the room, into the hallway.
Once outside the room, Lieutenant Beverly Townsend turned to her new Commanding Officer, Ryan Ridgeway and said, “One hour or not, I’m going to have a real drink now. Are you coming?” Ridgeway merely nodded, then remembered something. Turning towards Chief Marconi he summoned the man over with a wave, noting with satisfaction that the four junior officers were moving off, purposefully down the corridor. “Chief, I don’t know the particulars of why you got into trouble. I suppose I will have three weeks to figure out what to do. Right now, I just want to know if you can get off this station without getting into any more trouble. Can you do that, Chief?”
“Yes Sir.” Chief Marconi said, assuming a close approximation of Attention. Commander Ridgeway relaxed, “Very well then, carry on.” The Chief nodded and walked off down the corridor in the opposite direction the junior officers had taken.
“What about that drink?” Beverly pressed the issue. “Oh yeah, right.” Ryan responded.
The doors to the briefing room opened and Master Chief Arthrun exited. Walking up to his new CO and XO, he looked somehow relieved. “Had some old bones to pick I take it?” Commander Ridgeway asked. Rexar smiled and looked casually down at the empty knife sheath at his waist, “Sort of.” Both the officers jaws dropped in disbelief, “You didn’t?” Both asked in unison.” Rexar actually managed a laugh, “Of course not. I merely told him to hold on to it for me until I got back.” Commander Ridgeway became even more incredulous, while Lieutenant Townsend was simply puzzled. “What?” She asked. Commander Ridgeway shook his head, “The Master Chief has called out Admiral Selak to a duel, and apparently the Admiral has accepted.”