Star Trek: Threnody CHAPTER ONE Stardate 51559.6 Starfleet Drydock 47, Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards Geostationary Mars Orbit, Sol System Commander Evelyn Lowe slumped through the hissing double doors of the empty turbolift, fighting a new phase of exhaustion she had previously considered entirely theoretical. She sagged against the back wall of the turbolift car with a long sigh, cut short when she almost dropped the stack of oversized PADDs in her arms. Who needed this many PADDs, anyway? Certainly not a normal, sane person. Lowe was shorter than average for a human female, standing just over 1.5 meters in her socks, and would likely have been called petite had she not maintained a rather strict fitness program for many years. She had hazel eyes with more green than gray, often narrowed due to a lifelong sensitivity to overly bright light. Her frazzled, wavy mane of dark auburn hair framed a slightly round, pale, freckled face. How often she’d cursed that perpetually youthful complexion, especially after graduating from Starfleet Academy, maneuvering through the ranks and political realities of the fleet. Each misconception it had engendered in certain senior officers, especially flag officers. Except with Vulcans. They didn’t give a damn how young you looked, only how competent and intelligent you were. Fortunately for Starfleet, Evelyn Lowe had competence and intelligence in spades. And now her sleep schedule was paying the price for it. The turbolift doors were already closed, and the computer waited patiently for another ten seconds before prompting her with a soft, almost apologetic tone. Lowe flinched. “Oh, Deck Four.” She rubbed her sunken eyes tiredly as the turbolift engaged, accelerating through the guts of the drydock fast enough to smear her body across the deck plates, if not for the inertial compensator. That gruesome mental image struck her as darkly comedic. Lowe chuckled, realizing how damned tired she truly was. Only one year into the war with the Dominion and it already felt like a decade. The turbolift paused and the doors opened again, admitting an older woman with ebony skin, smartly-cut gray hair, and a severe expression. Lowe snapped—well, more like sluggishly straightened—to attention. “Evening, Admiral,” she croaked. “Good morning, Commander,” Admiral Vanderhaar replied, arching an eyebrow as elegantly as any Vulcan. “Ah,” Lowe stated simply. “I see you’ve skipped burning the candle at both ends and gone straight to phasers.” Vanderhaar’s hand formed the seemingly universal gun gesture, one corner of her mouth quirking in as close to a smile as the officer ever wore on duty. “Disruptors, ma’am,” Lowe corrected with a ghost of a grin. “Faster thermal bloom.” Vanderhaar shook her head ruefully. “That sass, even after a—” she glanced at her own PADD. “Nineteen hour shift?” The Admiral frowned. Had Lowe been straight out of the Academy she would have withered on the spot. Vanderhaar’s frowns were almost legendary. “The final crew assignment isn’t even close—” Lowe started to counter. “You need to rest, Commander,” the Admiral cut her off. “That’s an order. And not one of those ‘strongly worded suggestions’ you love to maneuver around. An honest-to-God, test me at your peril order. I can’t have you burning out when we’re this close to the finish line.” Lowe winced. “Aye, ma’am.” Vanderhaar stared at her for a long moment, eyes narrowing in thought. “Come to think of it, when’s the last time you actually slept? Off-duty doesn’t count.” Lowe pursed her lips and studied the bulkhead circumspectly. “Yesterday, I think. Maybe the day before. That was Wednesday...ma’am.” She barely remembered to tack the honorific onto the tail of the sentence. Evelyn had been working with the Admiral very closely over the past few months and was probably getting a bit too familiar. Damn good thing I’m not fresh out of the Academy. A bit of a martinet, Vanderhaar’s temper was nearly mythical. “Unacceptable, Evelyn.” Vanderhaar crossed her arms and looked down at her boots, the expression of displeasure so familiar it was nearly considered the Admiral’s signature pose. “I want you to march—or stagger—straight to your quarters and rack out for a minimum of eight hours. If insomnia is bothering you, try magnolia tea. If that doesn’t work, report to Sickbay for a sleep aid. Understood?” “Yes, ma’am,” Lowe replied wearily, shifting her grip on the data tablets. Vanderhaar exhaled slowly, relenting. “Never seen anyone, not even a cadet, with so many PADDs.” “Maxed out the storage on the first few, ma’am.” “Damn,” Vanderhaar shook her head. “Strange days.” The turbolift paused again, opening onto Deck Four. Senior officers’ country. There were so many personnel crammed aboard Drydock 47 that sometimes two or even three officers had to share quarters. Lowe was currently bunked with a tall, brunette Trill engineer named Delfi Xir. Lowe trudged out of the turbolift toward her quarters, turning back when the Admiral’s voice followed her down the corridor. “Keep your head up, Captain! Invictus needs her skipper bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for launch.” Vanderhaar’s eyes twinkled as the turbolift doors slid shut. Lowe stared dully at the seam between the duranium panels, her sleep-deprived brain playing back the flag officer’s words. Captain? Skipper? Her lips parted, gape slowly morphing into a grin. The exhaustion lifted from her slight frame, if only for a moment. “Hot. Damn.” She pivoted smartly on one heel and glided into her quarters as if riding a tractor beam. Xir was sitting at their tiny excuse for a dining table, a half-eaten plate of something gray and amorphous sheltered between her elbows. She studied engineering schematics on her PADD and did not look up as Lowe rushed into the compartment. “Full impulse is against regulations while in drydock,” Xir pronounced dryly. “Screw the regs,” Lowe shot back with a sly smile. “Guess what?” “Too tired to speculate,” the Trill drawled. “Spill it, Red.” Lowe took a deep breath. “Invictus.” Xir’s eyes widened. “You’re shitting me.” Lowe shook her head slowly. “Zero defecation, Spots. Just heard it from Ol’ Battleaxe, herself.” Xir laughed, her strong voice ringing like a bell in the cramped space. “The fact that you’re brave enough to call her that tells me everything I need to know. Congratulations!” Lowe collapsed into their single, dramatically understuffed armchair, her eyes focusing somewhere between the bulkhead and infinity. Unfortunately, there were no viewports in this part of the drydock, and she missed gazing out at the stars. “It’s not official until it’s official,” Lowe muttered pessimistically. Xir frowned. “Vanderhaar doesn’t screw around, Ev. If she said the ship is yours, it’s yours. Maybe you’ll be ‘acting captain’ until the promotion order shakes loose at Starfleet Command. They’re behind on their paperwork these days.” Lowe snorted. “‘Strange days’,” she mumbled, echoing Vanderhaar. Then she smiled, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. “Captain of the Invictus. About five years early for a capital ship command, give or take.” She grimaced. “They must be desperate.” “They are,” Xir confirmed, gravely. “Not enough CO’s to go around, for the number of ships the yards are churning out right now. We’re dealing with a critical personnel shortage across the Federation, not just here at Utopia. I heard they’ve strongly considered promoting Lieutenant Commanders to run support ships. Even line ships, in some cases.” “Still,” Lowe mused. “Invictus is a Galaxy-class starship. The last available Galaxy-class hull in the production pipeline, no less. And they’re giving her to a neophyte,” she gestured at herself dismissively. “Neophyte?” Xir laughed. “Ev, you’ve served aboard, what…two ships, since earning your third pip?” “Three,” Lowe almost growled. “Three starships, with command experience on each. Hell, every captain you’ve served under has fought tooth and nail to keep you, without success.” “‘Subject to the requirements of the service’,” Lowe quoted, sotto voce. She had often lamented being transferred off previous ships, due to no fault of her own. It made forming friendships, and the very idea of camaraderie, incredibly difficult. Not to mention settling into existing chains of command with each new crew. Xir fixed her with a serious look that bordered on a glare. “I’m saying, and I’ll spell it out for you since you’re about to lose consciousness any second...you’ve earned this, Evelyn. You’ve proven a dozen times over that you’ve got what it takes to command." She smirked. "Besides, there’s obviously no better candidate in the star system, or Vanderhaar would’ve picked that poor bastard instead.” Lowe grinned. “Wow, Spots. That makes me feel so much better.” “You’re welcome,” the Trill replied with a theatrically derisive sniff. “Now, stop being so damned modest. It’s painfully boring.” She paused thoughtfully, chewing on her lip. “Out of curiosity…have you already assigned a Chief Engineer?” Captain Evelyn Lowe let out a perfectly genuine snore, PADDs spilling off her lap.