Starship Essex #1 - Take Notice

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Rat Boy, Jun 1, 2015.

  1. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Seven

    While Astrid Dumont still felt she was practically brand new to the starship Essex, evenings like this one helped to make her feel integrated to the command staff. The first officer was dining with Captain Thorton, Chief Engineer Yang, and Doc Parker; a trio who had known each other dating back to their service aboard the Potemkin starting a decade ago. Clearly she had known them for only the past three months, but the way they told their stories, Dumont almost felt like she was now becoming a part of their de facto family.

    “You’re kidding?” she asked of Doc in regards to the tale he was presently spinning. They were eating in the captain’s mess this evening as they had every couple of weeks since the Essex left on her current deployment. Unlike the other mess halls aboard ship, this one was catered by the Essex’s galley staff; the meal being that of a pasta dish with heavy sauce along with a salad with Caesar dressing. Served family style from the center of the banquet table, it appeared to be one of Thorton’s attempts to recreate a family environment among his top officers while light years away from his actual family.

    “He’s not,” said the captain. “Trust me.”

    “Five steps out the door, then wham, nose dive to the deck face down,” the doctor said. “He’s lucky everyone was at battle stations or else someone might have seen him.”

    “And you didn’t even try to stop him?” Yang asked, stifling a snort or two. The engineer could have easily heard Parker’s story in the past, but she appeared to not let any foreknowledge of the outcome enjoy hearing it once more. In Dumont’s experience, Yang cared little for what used to be called spoilers on Earth.

    “You usually don’t last long threatening to strap a vice admiral to a bed when you’re fresh out of Starfleet Med, particularly when said vice admiral was in charge of five sectors.”

    “So then you dragged him back into sickbay when he was out cold and then strapped him down,” Thorton pointed out with a sly grin, sounding like he had heard this particular tale before as well.

    “Fortunately he was in no condition to protest,” Doc replied wryly. “He awoke a few hours later after the battle was over. He wasn’t happy but later conceded if there was anything I needed from him, all I had to do was ask. Cashed that chip in as soon as I could.”

    “What was the favor?” asked Dumont.

    “Transfer to the starship Faraday once my tour was up. Spent a few years out along the frontier just before the war with the Klingons broke out. It was fun while it lasted.”

    “Really?” That border conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire occurred over twenty years ago; Dumont was only in grade school back in Belgium when that happened.

    “Once the Klingons started charging across the border, Starfleet pulled the plug on all long-range missions of exploration, recalled anything that had phasers and photon torpedoes installed,” the doctor explained. “By the time we reached the war zone, three sectors had been invaded and the fleets we were supposed to reinforce were flying in our direction and not towards the front with their tails tucked between their legs like my grandad’s Rottweiler. After the armistice was signed, I decided I should probably spend a few years back on Earth before heading out there again.”

    “And then you showed up on the Potemkin,” Yang pointed out, “and proceeded to drive anyone you met there completely insane.”

    “Oh come on, Cass. Captain Tagawa thought I was a saint; it was the two of you she was worried about. Along with Kelly.”

    “I guess I should consider myself lucky that she didn’t have an aversion to fraternization among her crew, Doc,” Thorton remarked. “I know Charlie probably should.”

    “So what’d she send you, Sean?” Yang asked eagerly.

    “She sent you something over subspace?” Dumont asked in disbelief. She was fully aware that the captain was married and had a daughter, including the fact that the mother of said daughter was also a former shipmate of the other occupants of the captain’s mess. Having little experience with let alone inclination to deal with children, though, made her curious about the prospect of a child sending a message from Earth to a starship hundreds of light years away.

    “Charlie didn’t send the message; Kelly did after getting coerced into doing it,” the captain explained. “And it wasn’t much; it was just Charlie showing off a few pictures she drew.”

    “You should print them out, Sean,” said the engineer. “Frame and hang them up in your quarters.”

    “I don’t exactly have a personal freezer unit to pin them on.”

    “Oh come on, put it on those blank walls of yours.” Dumont found herself smirking. She had served under a few captains of various ships during her career, but Thorton was the first one who was married and a father of a child. Even though she had no urge to start one for herself, she had for the past three months found herself entertained by her captain’s family life; it was indeed a rarity in Starfleet. “Make Magda do it if you’re pressed for time. How many kids Charlie’s age get to say that their drawings were hanging on starships hundreds of light years from Earth?”

    “At least three more, Cass,” Doc said wryly. “Not that they really were awed by it all that much; mine all grew up and decided Starfleet wasn’t their thing…”

    “Your daughters aren’t interested in Starfleet?” asked Dumont. Again, while these dinners were akin to a family meal, the first officer still felt she was the newcomer and her experience the best thing for a new arrival to a family dinner to do was listen and not say much.

    Parker took a long drink of his water. “No. Not that I’d oppose them joining, Exec, it’s just that…well, I think the whole following in your parents’ footsteps as a career choice is a tad outdated.”

    “And if Charlie decides to join?” Yang asked with a smirk fired towards Thorton.

    The captain, however, didn’t reply right away. After sipping his water, he finally stated, “That’s her choice, Cass. Well, it will be, but both her parents being commanders and above might make it harder for her to resist.”

    “Or it might make it easier to enlist and become a non-com just to piss you two off, Sean,” quipped Parker.

    “So what did Irina end up going with for her major, just out of morbid curiosity?”

    “Pre-law from the last message I received. She’s thinking about getting into colonial affairs.”

    “Fun,” Thorton remarked. “Needy colonists on one side, micromanaging government officials on the other.”

    “What can I say?” the doctor commented. “She gets her desire to put herself through unbearable situations from Natalia. Must be a Russian thing.”

    “I guess you must have done something really bad to make her practically shove you down the gantry,” joked Yang before turning her gaze to the captain. “That just leaves figuring out what you did to poor old Kell to get her to agree to let you go play space cowboy for five years.”

    “Starship command doesn’t come along all that often,” Thorton explained, adding for most likely the executive officer’s benefit, “I was in command of a frigate out of Starbase 8 where she was the base’s executive officer. Then one day I get a call from Starfleet Command about the Essex during a layover. Kelly almost looked like she was going to slap me in the back of the head for even thinking about turning down the Essex.”

    “Would you have turned it down if she wanted you to, sir?” Dumont found herself asked.

    The captain did not respond right away, as if the question had never occurred to him and he was only just now mulling a response. For the first officer with no familial ties to consider, there wouldn’t have been any hesitation or second thoughts about accepting command of a starship like the Essex. When the nearly last minute offer to serve as exec was given to Dumont, she was serving in the same position aboard a scout vessel and accepted almost immediately, but then again she had to since by the time the various transports and shuttles got her back to Earth mere hours before the Essex’s launch. Even if she had months to decide, she would have accepted immediately anyway.

    “If he did, I would have slapped him in the back of his head,” Yang said with a cheeky smirk. “Then I’d be stuck at ASDB trying to make that damn whale with three nacelles work.”

    “That’s assuming you wouldn’t have been fired by now,” Doc said wryly. Dumont knew the engineer’s previous posting was at the Advanced Ship Design Bureau, which as the name implied was responsible for creating new vessels for Starfleet. While Yang hadn’t said much about the last project she had been working on prior to being named chief engineer of the Essex, it was clear that she wasn’t particularly happy about it.

    “Considering how I walked in on her not two minutes after she snapped that pesky nacelle off of a display model in front of a commodore, she probably was,” Thorton said with a grin.

    “For all you know, I finally got it through his thick skull and he was about to promote me,” Yang said before sticking her tongue out.

    “Then you wouldn’t be flying out towards what I like to call ‘The Boonies,’” commented Doc.

    By this point, most of the dinner set out before them had been consumed. Thorton held up a glass of water and took a slow sip. “I suppose in regards to your last question, Exec, if my wife believed I shouldn’t have taken this assignment, then I wouldn’t have. Marriage and career are both about trade-offs.”

    “And in Starfleet sometimes the trade-offs involve really big ones with warp drive attached to them.” Dumont found herself quietly nodding in agreement. The balance of career and family was always a tricky one and while the first officer didn’t have the latter, she’d been around enough people who did to get a sense of what it was like.

    “But, we’re out here now,” Thorton said, “and if the ETA from the bridge was correct, we’ll be entering the frontier tomorrow morning. It’s kind of what we all dreamed of when we signed up, isn’t it? Heading into deep space; setting foot on planets that no one has before.”

    “Assuming you passed the physical for landing party duty,” Yang said dryly.

    “He did,” Doc remarked and Dumont wondered if that constituted a violation of doctor/patient confidentiality. “Although I think it’s probably wise for him to go on a modified diet.”

    “So you keep saying,” Thorton remarked defensively. “Does this at least pass the muster?”

    “I would have gone with a tossed green salad with a vinaigrette, but that’s a matter of personal taste. I was referring to other meals. You ask me, too many people these days treat breakfast and lunch as glorified snacks or excuses to splurge depending on what day it is.”

    “Not all of us sit at a desk all day during our duty shift, Doc. We’ve got to take what we can when we can.”

    “I could always install a tray table on your chair, Sean,” the engineer suggested sarcastically. “Maybe a cup holder for your coffee, too.”

    “How about you start with seatbelts, Cass?” Thorton remarked with a grin.

    “What about a chair for me?” Dumont found herself asking. While she had yet to experience any issues without having her own seat on the Essex’s bridge, she imagined that it might become problematic in the future. During red alerts, certainly, but even back or leg strain from just standing there during condition green after months in space.

    “What am I? An engineer or an interior decorator?” Yang asked with a mischievous grin.

    “Definitely not a decorator; I remember that apartment you wrecked in Oakland,” commented Parker wryly. The others, even the captain, shared a light laugh. He placed his napkin on the dining table and stood up. “Well, it was a fun one, but I best be getting back to sickbay before turning in.”

    “And I’d better check in on the kiddies in the engine room,” the engineer added as she too rose from her chair. “Can’t have tomorrow’s big to-do ruined by a last second malfunction.”

    “Wait until you’re my age, Cass. You won’t even trust the ‘kiddies’ to check someone’s tonsils.”

    After exchanging pleasantries, Parker and Yang departed, leaving the captain and first officer alone. This of course wasn’t the first time they were alone in the same room together, of course; their first meeting took place in private aboard an orbital office complex in Earth orbit and they routinely had one-on-one meetings during the day. However, Dumont couldn’t recall a time they were together in a semi-social situation by themselves.

    “So how much of that last science brief did you get through?” Thorton asked after a momentary bout of silence, referring to various items of scientific interest that had been sent to Dumont over the course of the day.

    “Not a lot,” she admitted. “I only had a few minutes to spare during my lunch break to skim the summary. Like you said, I’m lucky I get a chance to eat anything during it.”

    He let out a bit of a light snort. “Yeah, I can imagine. Seems like I had more work to do as first officer on the Potemkin than I do now. Captain Tagawa called it ‘delegating.’”

    Dumont smirked. “You could always reverse delegate, sir.”

    “And you could always wait until you get a ship of your own so you can start delegating there,” he countered, taking a bit more food for himself, almost as if he feared this was the last enjoyable meal he’d ever have for the next five years. “I bet this is certainly is different than your last posting, isn’t it?”

    Prior to serving on the Essex, Dumont’s last assignment was as first officer of the Endurance, a surveyor whose primary mission was to investigate planets that had been already discovered and given a thorough once-over by starships. She merely smiled for a moment and another moment passed in silence. “It had its moments.”

    “So…how are you settling in?”

    “Sir?” she asked.

    “You’ve only been here a few months so you haven’t had the same amount of time to adjust as the crew had during the refit. You didn’t help me build this crew; Commander Cox did. I should have asked sooner but it seems like we only talk about the ship and crew when we’re in private.”

    “I see, sir, and I think I’m settling in well, though the demands of the job obviously don’t give me much time to myself.”

    “Other than the seven hours you get inspecting the inside of your eyelids,” Thorton remarked with a smirk. Dumont was lucky to get six most days. “The point of these meals is to give us a chance to discuss things outside of our duties. Bear that in mind for next time, Astrid.”

    “Of course,” she commented, not recalling if he had ever referred to the first officer by her first name in the past. Dumont certainly didn’t have the gall to try the same with her commanding officer. “Sir…I know this isn’t exactly in keeping with your suggestion, but I have a question.”

    “Now’s the time to ask ‘em.”

    “Why was I your second choice for first officer?”

    Thorton chuckled weakly, commenting, “I guess I asked for that one when I encouraged you to be more forthcoming. To answer your question, Commander Cox had experience as a science officer and later first officer aboard a cruiser. Aside from his obvious bad judgment in terms of recreational activities, he was the top candidate for a starship posting.

    “That said, you are just as qualified, Commander. Captain Rashid’s message to me recommending you for the job was so glowing I should have had Thalla tested it for radioactive contamination. Cox might have had more experience, but you’re both good leaders. And what you lack for in your managing a large crew on an extended deployment, you make up for it with your time surveying planets out on the frontier. And as I know too well, the unexplored sectors can pose risks as severe as parking a ship in the middle of the Romulan Neutral Zone.”

    “Personal experience, sir?” she asked.

    “More or less,” he replied. After a pause, he continued with, “I can understand why you might feel slighted for being first runner up for this job, Astrid, and it’s my fault for not telling you all this sooner. But you are ready for this; you are my choice for my first officer. If anything, Cox’s accident proves that I was wrong to select him over someone like you. Doc pointed out to me earlier that there’s a difference between a risk taker and a thrill seeker. Cox was clearly the latter and what happened to him gave me a chance to take a mulligan and pick someone better suited for the assignment. That someone is you.”

    Dumont found herself smiling warmly at that. If nothing else, Thorton was a skilled orator. “Thank you, Captain.”

    “Good.” They finished what little was left on their plates in silence and in under about five minutes. Thorton lightly tapped his napkin against his mouth and stood up. “I should probably finish up the briefs and then figure out what the hell I’m going to try to force down my throat just to be compliant with Doc’s recommendation.”

    Dumont did the same, suggesting, “You could just have him prepare a dietary plan for you.”

    “As a starship captain, I’m trained to always find alternatives,” he noted as they exited the captain’s mess. “If I can get around Doc being my personal chef, so much the better.”

    “You never know, he could secretly be a five-star chef,” she explained with a grin.

    “Better not let him hear that; it will go to his head. Good night, Exec.”

    “Good night, Captain,” she replied and they both went down separate corridors, though Dumont cast a look over her shoulder at Thorton as he vanished around a corner of the corridor. Their day ended much in the routine fashion it had began, like almost every day for the past few months since the Essex began her mission save for the pep talk. Not that she needed it; after all, Dumont barely had enough time in her busy day to think about anyone other than herself. For the most part…
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Nice litte quiet moment on Essex.

    I like Dumont's outsider perspective which greatly compliments the already existing and well established triumvirate in place.
  3. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Eight

    The night aboard the starship Essex had quickly transitioned into the relative state known as “daytime” aboard a vessel that traversed between the stars. Much as the day before, Captain Sean Thorton found himself at his desk in the morning both reading and being dictated to the events of the night before. At least it was mostly akin to the day before, the only difference being what his diet card had produced as his breakfast today: a bland and tasteless substance submerged in milk (one percent, of course) that turned each of the little O-shaped pieces of a close relative of plastiform into mush or perhaps a slurry. True, his previous choice of breakfast didn’t overwhelm the taste buds with an abundance of flavor, but at least he could taste something that resembled food instead of a construction material.

    “Captain’s Log: Stardate 1520.0,” he stated into his log recorder. “We’re approaching the limits of Quadrant 047, our assigned patrol area. No further contact with the Klingon vessel from yesterday. Ship and crew are managing well. Thorton out.”

    After turning the recording device off, the captain wondered if he was still singing the same tune with different lyrics that he had in the three months since the Essex had set sail. Oh, there was certainly a few different and interesting details since yesterday, but it seemed to be more of the same; maybe there’d be something new ahead of them worth surveying but they wouldn’t know until they got there.

    He flicked off the recorder after it had acknowledged his encryption in its bland though feminine voice. After consulting her ubiquitous data slate, Eriksdottir added, “And that’s it, sir.”

    “That’s it?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “All right, dismissed,” Thorton ordered while returning his pursuits in a vain consumption of a breakfast that was barely palatable. While still shoveling spoonfuls of what was officially designated a balanced breakfast into his mouth, he activated his desk monitor to check the messages that Eriksdottir hadn’t referred to but inevitably existed. Obviously he would not be getting a message from Kelly and Charlie after yesterday given the limits of communication traffic between ship and shore. However, even the random ones from distant family and friends had been diminishing the further out from Federation space the Essex traveled. With no network of subspace relay stations out in the frontier, there was an increasing delay in the time it took transmission to reach the Essex plus its powerful subspace communications array had a limit on its bandwidth. Naturally, there was a sense of isolation building among Thorton and his crew, at least isolation from their lives off of the starship. He imagined his ancestors that had been amongst the first Martian settlers might have felt that way, as well; leaving behind the world that they knew for a harsh and hostile planet that in those days didn’t have a breathable atmosphere.

    On a shelf next to his desk sat a miniature flag first flown by Mars Colony during a bloodless revolt against Earth. Joined above on the wall were framed reproductions of the drawings Charlie had shown her father in the subspace message from yesterday, though it had taken a little effort to get the computer to extrapolate them from what was displayed on the screen. It probably wasn’t a hundred percent accurate and given how sharp Charlie’s mind was even at her age she’d be the only one to notice and point out the errors.

    While admiring his daughter’s work for a few minutes more, he finished his detested breakfast before exiting his quarters. As with the day before, the corridors had a healthy level of activity but not overwhelmingly crowded. However, there was a more pleasant tone amongst Thorton’s crew, a strong hint of excitement and enthusiasm; they were all now about to cross over into unclaimed space, the frontiers of the unknown and they would be the among the first to experience. After three long months (and one Klingon encounter), the starship Essex was about to begin to do what she had been built to do. Even Thorton found himself repressing a smirk before entering the turbolift to head to the bridge.

    Of course he had been on missions of exploration before; they were a requirement for Starship Command School let alone being selected to captain one. He was especially fortunate that his first executive officer posting was to the Potemkin on a similar though shorter exploratory tour rather than on some other vessel, but that was a long time ago. Between the Potemkin and her younger sister ship, there were several other assignments, ones that kept him on the ground, on a starbase, or on a ship close to home, but deep space hadn’t been something he’d experienced as a captain, let alone as a husband and a father. Months and months of preparation, recruitment, and refitting had gone into this moment and aside from a snag yesterday, the Essex was on the verge of entering the final frontier.

    Thorton arrived on the bridge and entered with a bit more a spring in his step. The “exploration fever” he was finding himself now caught up in had clearly infected his top officers. Grins seemed to abound and if a Vulcan were standing watch, they might have as well; even Yang and Parker were here perhaps to witness the big moment. Dumont quickly yielded the center seat to the captain and before he could even fully get himself into it, Ortiz and Thalla quickly charged him with data cards in hand.

    “Sorry,” the ensign said to the science officer.

    “No, you usually submit your report first,” she replied. “Mine can wait.”

    “Yeah, but…”

    “I can take them both, thanks,” Thorton remarked before accepting both cards and the decryptor from Ortiz. None of the updates he had been reading contained any noteworthy items, which was probably for the best. He handed the decryptor and card back to the communications officer and stuck the science report into a card holder on the chair’s right arm for later perusal. Both officers then returned to their posts. “ETA to Quadrant 047?”

    “Eight minutes, present speed, Captain,” Fatima replied.

    “So, what’s our first stop?” Boone asked cheerfully. “Hopefully someplace warm with people we don’t have to hide in the bushes from because of the Prime Directive.”

    “We don’t know what our first stop will be, Lieutenant,” Dumont said with a smirk. “That’s why it’s called the unknown.”

    “That’s not entirely accurate, Commander,” Thalla said before turning in her seat. “This area of space has been charted by probes and subspace telescopes for decades.”

    “There’s only so much probes and sensor sweeps can reveal. We know that there are stars and planets out there, but not much more than that.”

    “Besides, there’s something to be said about seeing things first hand,” added the captain. “Otherwise, why bother building a ship like this in the first place?”

    “Five minutes,” announced the navigator.

    “You sound like you’re counting down to New Year’s, Lieutenant,” Parker commented dryly.

    Fatima turned her head slightly, just enough for Thorton to catch the left side of a wide smile. “I’ve never been this far into deep space before, Doc.”

    “Me neither,” added Boone.

    “Well I obviously haven’t,” Ortiz stated. Thalla didn’t chime in though by her service record this was also her first deep space assignment. Even from the center seat, Thorton almost envied them in what they were about to experience for the first time. Almost.

    “Let the kids have their fun, Doc,” Yang remarked.

    “Yeah, before the fun turns into boredom,” he added. “Or screaming.”

    “Let’s also not curse the mission before it unofficially begins,” Thorton said before looking towards Thalla. “Lieutenant, estimated time to complete the survey of this quadrant?”

    “Difficult to say given we don’t know what’s there,” she replied. “I estimate two to four months.”

    “And to think that’ll only be a fraction of our time in space.” Once more the scope of the concept of the five-year mission seemed staggering to the captain, to say nothing of what they might find during all that time. He pressed the ship-wide intercom toggle on his chair and waited for the artificial boatswain’s whistle to gather the crew’s attention. “This is the captain. We’re presently minutes away from Quadrant 047 and the start of our first assignment. I know for many of you this is your first five-year, maybe even your first voyage this deep into unexplored space. Not everyone and not every vessel and starship gets out this far. I also know that many of you are excited, perhaps even a little nervous…”

    As the captain had hoped, activity across the Essex came to a halt as the crew hung on every word. The gang of Yang in engineering, Parker’s medical staff in sickbay, the science staff in the main lab; all of them were looking up towards the speakers and symbolically towards their commanding officer. “…and you should feel that way. There’s no greater thrill than exploring the unknown and no greater danger. This ship was designed for this purpose and you were all assigned to her because you’re ready for it. We’ve had a long several months getting to this point. Now let’s get to work. Thorton out.”

    For a second Thorton wondered if he was putting too much significance into this moment. The Essex was merely crossing into another sector; a transit that in as little as a few months could seem as routine as taking a shuttle from Mars to Earth. Even the achievement itself might pale in comparison to the early achievements in space exploration, akin to charting an asteroid instead of landing on another planet. The voyages of the Essex might not make the history books in the same manner as other starships that started with the letter “E,” but this was their journey, their discoveries, and their memories that they’d share far beyond the five years ahead of them.

    “Ten seconds…” said Fatima.

    “I almost feel like this calls for champagne,” Dumont remarked.

    “Now entering Quadrant 047, Captain,” Boone stated with pride.

    “Like I said,” Thorton stated with a smile, “let’s get to work…”
  4. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    A lot of build up in this chapter. This is getting me excited for what they might find out here in the unknown.

    But hey, no pressure or nuthin'.
  5. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    It's a riff on the old "Leaving spacedock" sequence without the spacedock. My aim was to do a first story without it being too much of an origin story.
  6. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Nine

    [LEFT]As what tended to happen after just over a month’s time, the crew of the starship Essex had settled into a routine. Known space was well behind them as they had reached their designated patrol quadrant thirty-two days ago. Thalla’s science department was using every sensor aboard ship to map and study the area of space they were now traveling in. Yang’s engineering department kept the Essex traveling at a steady, normal pace for this sort of exploration work, while conducting routine and minor repairs and maintenance as needed. The greatest medical issues confounding Parker’s sickbay was the occasional sprain or headache. So far they had only found a few things worth slowing from warp speeds to investigate closely, but even the sea explorers of ancient Earth spent more time surrounded by nothing but oceans than on newly discovered lands. But the question that spurred ships to sail oceans of blue or traverse oceans of black remained the same: what was out there?

    It was late into the arbitrarily assigned night aboard the starship Essex and Rodrigo Ortiz was still on the bridge; while a department head, he was still an ensign and still needed to put in the work to prove that his assignment wasn’t a mere fluke, even if it involved essentially listening for nothing. Not even stray signals from the primitive form of communication known as radio was being detected this far out. All Ortiz was doing at the moment was just keeping the chair warm so that his record looked like he was putting in just a little more extra effort in the hopes of getting promoted and getting the George moniker removed from him.

    In the thirty-odd days since arriving on station, the Essex hadn’t encountered anything that warranted sending down a landing party. Any planet or solid stellar body they had come across was uninhabited at best or completely hazardous to the crew on multiple levels at worse. Whatever enchanting effects crossing into the unknown had started to wear off aboard ship and at least Ortiz was now wondering if they had been sent into the interstellar equivalent of a desert, a place devoid of new life and new civilizations, let alone an interesting microbe.

    His fellow senior staff members (being a fresh-faced ensign meant that it took a while for him to feel at ease with being referred in their number) had retired hours earlier save Fatima who was taking the center seat for this late-night shift. All the other stations were manned by people he only saw in the morning when they were coming off watch, looking not much worse than they did right now in the middle of their work cycle. Ortiz tried to tell himself that if he did just enough of these, the broken stripe of lieutenant junior grade would be his halfway through the Essex’s five-year mission at the earliest.

    “Rod,” Fatima said in a tired tone as she got up from the captain’s chair and walked over to the communications station. “You look bored. I take it nothing interesting is going on.”

    “Nope,” he stated. “All’s quiet. We haven’t picked up a single stray transmission in over a week.”

    “Maybe you should pack it in for the night. I’m sure the computer will send out an alert if something comes in.”

    “Just putting a little extra work to make my evals look good, that’s all. I’m sure you know the feeling.”

    “Yeah, I do, but I got my JG stripe on a cruiser and not as a department head,” she said quietly. “You already have a seat at the big conference table; no sense for you to rush it.”

    “Like you’re rushing it, Fatima?” he countered, turning in his chair towards her and staring up into her eyes with a wide smirk. “I swear you’ve been up here rather than at dinner with us more and more over the last couple of weeks. You bucking for Commander Dumont’s job before we return home?”

    The navigator/weapons control officer/officer of the deck smirked as well. “Someone’s got to be in charge up here and since Cass doesn’t like taking command, might as well be me. Besides, even night shift has its moments and you gotta know just how to deal with them, even the small stuff. I know for sure that the captain’s not the type that likes being woken up for trivial matters.”

    Ortiz relaxed in his seat. “Why do I get the feeling that the real reason you’re pulling extra duty now is because you ticked him off?”

    “I had the conn we needed to make that course correction because of that comet the other day,” she answered with a sigh. “I thought standing orders said the captain was to be told anytime we changed course, so I called his quarters on the intercom at about 0400. First thing he said I didn’t quite get, but then the curses came and I understood everything.”

    “Curse words,” he remarked. “A more universal language than Linguacode, if not math.”

    “I quickly became aware that unless I needed to call a red alert I was better off leaving it in the ship’s log until the morning watch.” She turned away from the communications station and leaned against the railing to the starboard aft of the center seat.

    He stood up from his chair and leaned on the same railing a bit down from her. “So other than badly timed calls and necessity, why do you keep pulling these extra hours?”

    “Because I’m trying to get into Starship Command School when we’re done out here,” she replied. “Because it’s almost as cutthroat as getting command of a ship like this. Taking the conn on a starship when you can looks good in the admission board’s eyes.”

    “And then what?” asked Ortiz.

    “What do you mean ‘and then what?’”

    “So you get into Command School. Spend two years there and graduate. Then what?”

    “…then I try to land a first officer post, then wait for command of a smaller ship like a frigate or surveyor to open up and take it. Then use that to get the center seat on a starship.”

    “Didn’t they tell you that the odds of that are slim?” he noted.

    “Well, yeah, but it’s how most captains do it, including ours.”

    “And if it doesn’t work out? You qualify to be first officer but no starship’s looking for one? Or if you command a frigate or surveyor and are stuck there for years because all starship command spots are filled? Or instead of a starship you end up with a cruiser until you either muster out or get a desk job?”

    “Then I’ll…improvise,” she admitted, albeit in a dejected tone. “I know things probably won’t work out as I hope they will…”

    “But you still hope they will,” Ortiz said with a faint smile.

    “Yeah, maybe I do. They don’t exactly give out spots on starships to people who wish as opposed to try. So then why are you up here manning your post in the middle of the night, Rod?”

    He snickered. “Because someone told me ensigns, particularly Georges, are supposed to do a little extra leg work to get their first stripe on a starship.”

    “Now there’s a grounded goal,” she remarked.

    “I’m also a communications officer,” he commented. “There’s a big demand for those of us who don’t need the UT to understand what aliens are saying, but experience also counts as much as talent.”

    “So in five years once we’re back home, what then?”

    He flashed a sly smirk. “What do you mean, ‘what then?’”

    “I mean what does an ensign do after his first tour on a starship?” she asked with a warm smile. “I’ve told you my long term plans in Starfleet, so what’s yours? And don’t tell me it’s trying to get your first stripe.”

    “It’d better not take me five years; I’m pretty sure Captain Thorton would fire me,” he replied. “Look, I don’t know. By the time I was ten and living on Colony 6 I could speak Spanish, English, Rigelian, two forms of Tellarite, and the Trader’s Tongue from the Orion Colonies. I guess I was destined for communications. If not another starship, then…the First Contact Office? Teaching?”

    She smirked mischievously. “Twenty-seven, twenty-eight year old academy instructor. I can see certain cadets falling over themselves to sign up for your classes.”

    Guessing that she was tacking on five years to what she thought his age was, he gleefully countered with, “Actually, I just turned twenty-one.”

    “Now you’re showing off,” Fatima remarked just as the communications station started to beep. “What’s that?”

    “Let me check,” he said before turning around to sit at his station and putting his Feinberg receiver back in. “More stuff for the captain from Starfleet.”

    “Anything urgent?”

    “Nothing marked that way. Guess it can wait for tomorrow.”

    “Like everything else?” Fatima asked wryly before joining him again. “One month of this and we’ve only studied a few uninteresting stars, planets that you’d need the biggest space suit we have on board to visit, and a class 2 comet.”

    “This area can’t be completely vacant of anything interesting,” Ortiz said. “Statistically speaking one planet in this quadrant has to be capable of supporting life.”

    Could support life, Rod, which doesn’t mean it can support life yet. Or it could have once supported life but doesn’t anymore. A friend of mine from the academy got a post on the Excalibur after she graduated; they did a four month long survey mission like we’re doing and didn’t find a single inhabited planet. She said it was the most boring excursion of her career.”

    “I had an academy instructor who said the same thing about a tour aboard the Exeter…and is it just me or does Starfleet use the letter E a lot?”

    Fatima mentally counted all the starships whose names began with that letter and commented, “Must get confusing for a starbase when all four of us show up at once…”

    “Excuse me, Lieutenant,” said Simon Rupp, the science officer for the watch. “We’re getting probe telemetry from Whiskey 3-2.”

    “I thought we weren’t supposed to get readings from it for another two days,” the navigator noted. To speed up the time it took a starship to perform a survey, unmanned probes were utilized to scout ahead of the ship or off of its present flight path. They were used sparingly, though, since the Essex only had a limited amount on board.

    “I know, that’s what’s making me curious,” he answered while looking into the scope. Why the results of the scans couldn’t have been displayed on one of the two monitors above the science station was beyond Ortiz’s ability to comprehend. “It has a partial reading on a star system designated G-181. Six planets in total; can’t really get much, though. The system’s fairly off the probe’s course, but it was programmed to take readings in case a system entered its scanning radius.”

    “That’s six more planets than we knew about a minute ago,” noted Ortiz.

    “There is one planet in the Goldilocks Zone. The third one.”

    “I bet Thalla was confused when she heard that for the first time,” Fatima said wryly.

    “Hmmmm…” muttered Rupp, though he then stayed silent for several seconds.

    “You Hmmmm’ed, Ensign. That usually means there’s more.”

    “I can’t be entirely sure, but these readings seem to indicate…Class M. Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere.”

    That caused Ortiz to grin from ear to ear in spite the lateness of the hour. “And you were worried this was going to be boring.”

    “It’s only a probability of it being Class M based on all the other ones we know about. Maybe Lieutenant Thalla will be able to tell you more in the morning.”

    “Can you re-task the probe to get a closer look?” asked Fatima, sounding like the captain she desired to be. A voice that could cut through background noise (not that there was much at this hour) but wasn’t loud; authoritative but not angry. Too many officers even in his limited experience felt that loud and angry equated leadership.

    “I’m afraid not, Lieutenant,” the junior science officer said. “Last update said its fuel state is nearly zero; it’d be out well before it got close enough to get anything definitive.”

    “We’d need the captain to sign off on diverting course,” added Ortiz somewhat needlessly.

    “It sure beats studying a protostar, though,” noted the one in charge on the bridge. “Rod, note it in the log. I’ll brief Commander Dumont about it in the morning.”

    “Aye,” he replied as Fatima assumed the center seat. After logging the event in the computer before, he got up from his station and walking over to the captain’s chair.

    “I think I know what everyone’s going to be talking about once this gets out tomorrow,” he said to Fatima quietly; “quietly” being the usual volume of speech during this particular shift. “You’re going to have hundreds of people falling over themselves to volunteer for landing party duty with the line to the transporter room back up into fusion reactor room.”

    “If it’s really what we think it is,” she remarked. “Last thing we need is to get our hopes up over a false alarm.”

    “You certainly know how to take the fun out of it,” he said before returning to his station to probably only rise again once his shift was over. Even in the late hours aboard the Essex, there was still something going on even if it was nothing…
  7. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Ten

    As opposed to the captain, Astrid Dumont, first officer of the starship Essex, tended to get her morning started at an hour as a youth she considered to be ungodly. Since first officers didn’t have the equivalent of yeomen, Dumont had to organize everything on her own, requiring more time to get her day properly started. And of course since she was also the last step between the captain and the rest of the crew, she had to be up to speed on all ship’s business while Thorton was still likely enjoying the last dreams before waking up. First officer duties aboard a surveyor like the Endurance, a ship with a crew of less than twenty, were simple by comparison.

    She was seated at her desk nursing a cup of coffee from the food processor (whose functions and quality were limited in comparison to the ones in the mess halls) and personally going over all the messages that had accumulated since the last time she had reviewed them. And since she was doing this on her own, she had to go through each and every one of them individually with only the computer to filter by priority. Department head reports, both of consisting of status and disciplinary concerns, but the latter was thankfully almost always nonexistent. Requests for meetings, project reviews, reports and evaluations conducted by department heads or shift supervisors that required her to look them over and authorize them.

    After that and messages of a dozen or so other types had been read and appropriate actions taken, she turned her attention to the ship’s log to review the events of the previous night. Ordinarily this was a quick exercise until she spotted a notation made in the dead of the night by Ensign Ortiz:

    “Stardate 1523.6, 0245 Shipboard

    Transmission from probe W 3-2 received. Long range readings of System G-181 indicated six planetary bodies. SCOOW Rupp believes preliminary results indicate planet #3 Class M with oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, but readings not conclusive.”

    That was certainly eye-catching even at this early hour and while the log entry didn’t indicate that the readings were definitive, it was definitely the best chance of exploring a strange new world on foot the Essex had since heading out here. Once the review of the log was finished, her coffee had turned tepid and her chronometer indicated that she had zero time to look at messages of a personal nature yet again. Such would have to wait until midday.

    After swallowing the bland remnants in her cup with one gulp, she headed out of her cabin…and almost slammed right into the passing Thalla.

    “Commander?” she asked. “Forgive me.”

    “Sorry!” she said. “I should have been paying attention.”

    “No, it was my fault. I had more warning than you did.” Thalla obviously did, what with how loud the doors were when they opened and closed, but Dumont was tempted to let it go. At worse, the human probably was more likely to have been bruised if they had in fact collided. They both began heading towards the turbolift. “Is there anything from overnight of interest, Commander?”

    “Funny you should mention that. The log mentioned one of our probes finding what might be a Class M planet in System G-181.”

    That caused Thalla’s antenna to stand on end. “That would be near Whiskey 3-2’s flight path.”

    “That’s the one,” Dumont replied. They both entered the turbolift and with a twist of the throttle handle, the first officer ordered, “Bridge. The log indicated that they weren’t entirely sure, but it does seem to warrant a little further examination.”

    “I can understand why it wouldn’t, Commander,” Thalla commented. “That particular probe was sent to study the T’Vel Pulsar. System G-181 is well off of its present course.”

    “What are the odds that we’re getting false returns?” Dumont asked. One of the first things taught to cadets at Starfleet Academy was to be wary of initial findings. After all, the ancient astronomers of Earth first concluded that the planet Venus was much like their own. Had they known how inhospitable the surface of the planet was, they might have gone with the name Hades instead.

    “Given the range involved, rather high I would say, Commander. Or at the very least it may be Class M though environmental conditions preclude the possibility of sentient life.”

    “I agree to a point, Lieutenant. There are areas on Earth where it seems impossible for life to exist and yet they’ve evolved there and flourished.”

    “As with Andoria, Commander,” Thalla remarked, “though even in the most frozen segments of my world, there is life, including life that could kill you before you knew what was happening to you.”

    “Really?” Dumont asked.

    “I am quite familiar with Andoria’s more dangerous zones. My clan has a long tradition of defending Andoria and later the Federation. Service is more or less mandatory; each of us trained for that role from an early age. As part of our final training before reaching what we consider to be adulthood each of us was forced to endure the Northern Wastes, similar to how Vulcans ceremonially traverse the Forge. There is no less than fifteen different species capable of killing someone if the cold doesn’t first.”

    “With all that combat training, why’d you become a science officer in Starfleet?”

    “Not every Andorian desires to be a solider, Commander,” she said simply. They exited and found Fatima standing up from the center seat, looking like she had a long and tiring night.

    “Commander, I take it you read the log?” the navigator asked.

    “I did,” Dumont replied. “Anything else to report?”

    “Negative, Commander. The probe hasn’t sent back any more readings on the system and by our estimates it’ll run out of fuel in a few hours.”

    “A second probe specifically calibrated for planetary surveys would tell us more, Commander,” noted Thalla.

    “Or we could just go there ourselves…” Fatima said in a leading tone.

    “We have been assigned to study the protostar in Sector 319, Lieutenant. Sending a probe would be more efficient.”

    “Or we could just send a probe to the protostar instead,” said Ortiz as he turned from the communications station, looking more exhausted than Fatima did.

    “Ensign, our space probes lack the sophisticated sensor equipment necessary to conduct a proper survey of the protostar,” noted the science officer. “In order to study the protostar at length we will need to go there ourselves.”

    “It’s up to the captain to decide” said Dumont. The turbolift doors opened and the officers and crewmen scheduled to man the next watch entered, Boone included. “Lieutenant Thalla, double check the probe’s readings again just to make sure we’re not seeing things. Mr. Ortiz, signal the watch change.”

    “Aye, Commander,” he replied before opening a channel throughout the ship. “All hands, begin alpha watch. Repeat all hands, begin alpha watch.”

    “Gamma watch dismissed,” Dumont ordered and they led by Fatima and Ortiz entered the turbolift just as their replacements continued to disembark.

    “I get the feeling I missed something last night,” said Boone. “Figures.”

    “It remains to be seen if it’s something, Lieutenant,” the first officer concluded before taking the captain’s chair.

    And then came the fuel consumption reports, duty rosters, and such that required her signature in addition to the captain’s that weren’t sent for a variety of reasons through the main computer. Once that was over began the favorite part of Dumont’s morning. She was technically in command of the whole ship at the moment, something that only a select few in Starfleet could also claim. True, the captain was minutes from arriving and taking command away from her, but for now the Essex was hers.

    But, most times being in command involved sitting in the chair for a long time where nothing happened. All that was required of her was to acknowledge anything that the bridge officers brought up and make a decision if something came up that required her input. During a transit at warp speeds in the great gulfs between the stars there wasn’t much of either happening. In fact, about the only orders Dumont had issued from the center seat in her time on board was authorizing course changes for various minor reasons. That nothing seemed to happen while she was sitting in the captain’s chair so far was probably another reason that this was a favorite part of her day.

    However it was a short part of her day; the turbolift doors opened and Dumont turned to see Captain Thorton and Yang enter, chuckling about something that must have been said during their ride up from the crew decks. Rising from the center seat, she greeted him with, “Good morning, Captain.”

    “Good morning, Exec,” he replied. “Well, anything?”

    “Lieutenant Thalla’s running another analysis now, sir.” The captain stood next to the chair without sitting down, no doubt his curiosity piqued by the log notation while Boone and the present navigator Lieutenant j.g. Johansen merely traded clueless looks.

    “Analysis is still in progress, Captain,” the science officer stated while staring into her sensor scope. “I’ve also sent a query to Whiskey 3-2 for a diagnostic report.”

    “I see,” Thorton remarked in a leading tone before finally settling into his chair with Dumont moving to his right, again wondering why no one thought to give her a chair. “Thank you, Lieutenant. Let us know what you find out.”

    “Aye sir.”

    “Hopefully it’s not a malfunction or misreading, Captain,” Dumont said. “I’m sure the crew could use some good news.”

    “‘Good news,’ Commander?” Boone asked curiously.

    “Yes, the opposite of ‘Bad news,’” added Yang wryly.

    “Speaking of news, I’ll take the communications report now.” Chief Fleischer, Ortiz’s relief at communications, brought over a data card along with the decryptor. The captain inserted the former into the latter and began to review the screen. Within a few moments, his expression soured.

    “Something wrong, sir?” Dumont asked quietly.

    “The situation with the Klingons back home is getting worse,” he replied. “The Constellation was attacked by a Klingon ship in the Disputed Zone eight days ago, apparently in retaliation for the last one. That makes five in the past month. And all in either frontier or disputed space.”

    “Maybe we could use some good news pretty darn soon before they rotate us back home, sir,” remarked Boone. Standard practice was with twelve of the current and presently only class of starship in active service was that four would be assigned to deep space exploration, six to various domestic and border assignments, and two undergoing refits and turnarounds after their tours were complete, rotating among those states as needed. At least under ideal circumstances; in crisis situations the four ships on exploratory duty could easily be recalled just as Doc Parker’s old starship Faraday had over two decades ago.

    “I know Matt Decker; he never met a problem he didn’t think could be solved with phasers at full power. At the rate we’re going, we could have a shooting war within the next couple of years.” Dumont found little reason to doubt that, sadly. The Essex’s encounter with that cruiser last month to the attack on the Constellation weren’t as the captain implied isolated incidents. The Klingon Empire clearly was becoming more aggressive and sooner or later these lone battles would escalate into something far worse.

    “Captain, I’ve finished reexamining the probe telemetry,” the science officer said before turning from her station. “I believe that within a seventy-five percent probability that the third planet is Class M; oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere.”

    Dumont immediately noticed an exchange of smiles among the bridge crew not privy to last night’s discovery. Yang was smiling as well, but she was in a generally cheerful mood all the time. “Any sign of industrialization? Star travel and subspace communication?”

    Thalla shook her head. “Negative on all counts, sir. No signs of star faring species or atomic weaponry or power generation detected by the probe. So far the readings appear accurate, but I won’t get a diagnostic update for another two hours.”

    “I see; thank you, Lieutenant,” said Thorton. “Navigator, estimated time to System G-181 at present speed?”

    “Checking, sir,” she replied. “Twenty-nine hours at warp 4, sir.”

    “Captain, we do have that protostar survey to conduct,” Thalla interjected.

    “Psssh, losing a few days isn’t going to kill ya,” Yang added.

    “The crew could use a planet like this to explore after the past month,” Thorton concluded. “Besides, that protostar’s not going anywhere. Communications, advise Starfleet of our course change. Navigator, lay a new course for System G-181.”

    “Aye sir. Course laid in.”

    “Helm, bring us around. Maintain warp 4.”

    “Aye sir,” Boone said cheerfully. The Essex then turned and banked to her port slightly before adjusting to her new heading. “On course for one new Class M planet, speed warp factor 4.”

    “Steady as she goes,” Thorton said. He glanced to his first officer and flashed her a slight smirk. “I think we found the cure for our ship-wide malaise.”

    “I hope so, sir,” Dumont remarked, having only experience with being the former.

    “Can we not jinx it all?” Yang asked while flashing a look over her shoulder directly at the commander. “Remember what happened on the first Class M we found on the Potemkin?”

    “It wasn’t all that bad, Cass,” the captain remarked. “We were only cut off from the ship for…what, four days?”

    “I don’t want to know, do I, sir?” Dumont asked.

    “Probably not, but this far out, you can never afford to take anything for granted, Commander. We’re in a starship, but we’re weeks away from the nearest help. And there may be plenty of things out here even a starship can’t handle, especially with Klingons out there.”

    “Agreed, sir,” she remarked. Thalla brought over the science log to the captain and Dumont stepped over to lean against a railing. Naturally the prospect of finding a Class M planet had only piqued her interest even more now that there was firm confirmation that it was there. On the other hand, though, the cryptic reference to the captain and Yang’s previous experience reminded her that vigilance was required…
  8. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Eleven

    “Oh come on; how could a protostar be more important than a planet?” Boone asked of Thalla while they, Fatima Noureddine, and Ortiz entered the officer’s mess hall for the evening meal with everyone’s attention focused on the Class M world ahead of the starship Essex. Word had traveled fast during the course of the day and the level of excitement on the ship had clearly climbed; the volume level of conversations in the mess hall was as loud as Fatima heard it since the Essex first departed Earth. About the only person who didn’t seem to be all that enthusiastic about diverting to System G-181 was of all people the science officer. The quartet as usual approached the food slots and began obtaining their meals based on their diet cards. “You don’t exactly get to beam down to one, you know.”

    “Class M planets are quite common, Lieutenant,” Thalla commented. As the lone non-human of the group, the Andorian’s meal selections were of course quite different and according to the science officer “mostly inedible” and even “potentially fatal” to humans. Fortunately any curiosity still left on Fatima’s part was dispelled upon seeing a few plates up close and realizing that there was no way she’d bring herself to eat something akin to shards of broken glass, like the one the food slot had just given her once again. The navigator opted for a simple salad, Boone his familiar plate of food cubes (how he could also stomach that, Fatima didn’t know), and eventually Ortiz picked up a plate of chicken and rice as usual. “The last extensive study of a protostar was conducted back in your…”

    “What will be different about it when we come back this way in a week?”

    “What will be different when we head to the planet in a week?” Fatima had to admit that the science officer had a point even though she too shared Boone’s desire to see a new world up close, though was doing a better job of reining her giddiness in. The four of them found an unoccupied table and sat down; oddly enough, the men were sitting on one side and the women on the other once again.

    “The lot of us will be a lot more tired and anxious to find a planet in a week and probably twice as surly,” Boone remarked, sitting directly across from the navigator. “How long have we all been stuck on this ship? Nearly five months? Half a year?”

    Fatima looked to Ortiz and only then noticed that he hadn’t said so much as a word since they all rendezvoused with each other after finishing up their various duties. He said, “Stretching our legs wouldn’t hurt.”

    “Rod, the odds of this planet being suitable for shore leave are remote,” said Thalla reassuringly. “Class M covers a range of atmospheric and surface conditions, not all of them pleasant.”

    “And there’s plenty of other reasons we might not get to beam down,” said Fatima. “Hazardous microorganisms, radiation, hostile life forms.”

    “Cheery thought there, Weps,” said Boone. “Maybe really big hostile life form like dinosaurs.”

    “That’ll make fun material to write home about,” commented Ortiz dryly. “‘Dear Mamá, just saw the ship’s helmsman get eaten by T-Rex’s long lost cousin.’”

    “I wonder what medal they give for that,” Fatima remarked with a smirk.

    “Or maybe, just maybe, there’s someone out there we can make first contact with,” said Boone, grinning widely before shoving a yellow food cube that might have at one point in its past as a geometric piece of pineapple, only yellower. “And think about it; if we make first contact, the people on that planet will be teaching the name Essex to their kids for centuries. Roads, schools, hospitals, space ports; they’ll be naming things after us left and right.”

    “Or our names might end up getting reviled until the end of time.” All her life she had dreamed of landing command of a starship; though she would not be the first woman of any species to do so on the current class, she nonetheless had her career goals set out to land the center seat as fast as possible, perhaps faster than her current captain. She graduated from the academy and got her commission a year early, served on a cruiser for two years, promoted to lieutenant, junior grade and then full lieutenant during that time, then earned a spot on the Essex. And as she told Ortiz last night she was hoping to use her time here to earn a spot in the prestigious Starship Command School, but that might be less likely if all the Essex did was fly around in circles.

    “We might actually become curse words,” Boone said with a grin. “That could even be better than the Iain Adewale Boone Space Port.”

    “I can easily see ‘Boone’ being an expression of frustration,” Thalla said dryly. Sometimes Fatima couldn’t tell if she and Boone were being antagonistic or they had actual chemistry. On the other hand, if Andorian food occasionally was rated as “potentially fatal” to humans, who knew what else might not agree with humans?

    “Thought your middle name was ‘Smooth’, Boone,” commented Ortiz. “At least that’s what you said during our New Year’s liberty.”

    “My actual middle name actually has a better ring to it,” remarked Boone sarcastically. “It’s from my mum’s side, if you couldn’t tell.”

    “Completely didn’t notice,” Fatima commented dryly.

    “I believe our writing our names into the planet’s history books is moot,” Thalla commented. “As I noted on the bridge, the probe telemetry indicated no readings of interstellar craft or subspace communications from the system. You may wish to curtail your plans to dedicate space ports and statues after yourself, Boone.”

    “As I recall, it was Zefram Cochrane was the one who got the statue on Earth; Solkar probably was lucky enough to get a park bench,” said the deep voice of Doctor Parker, who made his way over to the quartet’s table. “You four sound like a bunch of cadets debating during a lunch break. Don’t you ever talk about non-Starfleet stuff while you’re eating?”

    The navigator grinned. “It’s a little hard when we’re wearing it and living in it.”

    Doc pulled up a chair from another table and sat on one of the unoccupied sides of the ones the younger officers were using. “I suppose I keep forgetting that you young folks don’t have lives outside of the Service.”

    “Also kind of hard to have much of a private life when you’re living for five years on a starship, Doc,” remarked Boone.

    “Decided to join us at the kiddie table?” Ortiz quipped.

    “I sometimes prefer the ‘kiddie table,’” said Parker. The doctor’s meal was just a sandwich with…something that vaguely resembled a deli meat of some type. Even if Fatima wasn’t a vegetarian, she’d probably think that every meat that came out of the food slots all tasted similar to one another. Food processing technology was more advanced than when it was first invented long ago, but in most people’s opinion it had a long way to go before completely replacing the genuine article. “You know what they discuss at the grown up’s table? Bodily functions, health issues, growing old, complaining about young people, pets dying left and right; stuff I’d rather not talk about while I’m eating. And of course when you’re a doctor you’re the first one everyone asks about this cough, that pain here, and the whatever the hell’s growing on an arm when you’re just trying to relax and not do work. And it’s worse with my in-laws since I don’t speak a lick of Russian.”

    “Reminds me of the last time I brought a guy to a family function. I spent most of the afternoon translating to him.”

    “So you know what I mean even at your age, Rod.” Parker smirked wryly before taking a bite of his mystery meat sandwich, grimacing slightly after swallowing. “So what’s got you four buzzing about?”

    “That Class M planet we’ll reach tomorrow,” Fatima explained.

    “Ah, your first Class M,” he prefaced, “that’s the one you never forget. Or so they tell you.”

    “So what was yours?” Boone asked.

    “Oh, just another rock in a star system with a bunch of letters and numbers for a name that I can’t recall off the top of my head, but I remember exactly what the beam-down site looked and felt like. The purple sky, how the air smelled, the slight shiver I got once I could feel a breeze for the first time in months that wasn’t coming out of air vents.”

    “Was there any sentient life there?” Fatima questioned.

    “Good lord, no. Our science officer couldn’t even figure out which species had the best chance of achieving sentience, let alone when. That’s how new the planet was. Contrary to popular belief, not every tour gets to make first contact with a new civilization. I think the average is…what, four per tour?”

    “Fourteen, actually,” said Thalla which drew a look or two. “Though certain starships on exploration missions skew the mean average higher than the rest of the fleet.”

    “Point is that they’re rare and special, most of the time. Most folks are lucky to get to take part in one in their life time. Sometimes finding any world with any life on is a rare gem. Hopefully this one will pay off for you four.”

    “Did you ever conduct a first contact mission, Doc?” asked Boone.

    “Several times, but I’ve had a good number of years to try,” he replied. “Last one was on the Potemkin with Sean and Cass. The people we contacted were friendly; had a dip that makes guacamole look blander than porridge by comparison. One of the few times we did any exploring on that ship. Of course, starships do more than explore…”

    “That is to be expected,” said Thalla. “The current class is the best combatant in Starfleet’s arsenal and Starfleet is also charged with defending the Federation from threat forces like the Klingons.”

    “That I know all too well…”

    “Did you fight in the border conflict, Doc?” asked Ortiz. The struggle between the Federation worlds and the Klingon Empire was fought over twenty years ago, so the ensign probably hadn’t even been born yet.

    Parker smirked weakly. “Yes, despite my youthful good looks I did serve in the border war with the Klingons. Fought a few times, but I was mostly responsible for patching up the people who were supposed to be doing the fighting. And the people that got caught in the crossfire. Klingons generally don’t distinguish between soldier and civilian during a heavy firefight.”

    “That must have been a bloody mess,” Boone remarked grimly.

    “Wars generally are, Iain; pray you never have to be in one,” noted Doc. “And that one was bloodier than anything in my lifetime. Ultimately all we got out of it was ensuring that the borders stayed in the same place plus a few thousand dead. No, son; best for you to hope that you enjoy a long and boring career in Starfleet. Don’t forget who’s in charge of stitching you back up.”

    The four younger officers remained silent; even Thalla the Andorian was rather stoic. Parker weakly chuckled before adding, “Well, looks I’ve managed to make the kiddie table more depressing than the adult table.”

    “The captain and Cass this morning were talking about the first Class M you all found back on the Potemkin,” mentioned the helmsman. Fatima raised a curious eyebrow; since she hadn’t heard that, it must have happened after she went off duty. “Where you were stuck there for four days?”

    “Oh, Sean and I were stuck; Cass was just assistant chief in those days so she was back on the ship,” Parker explained. “There was an ion storm that forced the ship out of transporter range; might not have been four days as far as I can remember, but we were stuck surrounded by wildlife that’d make old Earth lions cringe in fear. On the other hand, we were probably better off on the ground than trying to ride it out in space. My stomach doesn’t do too well in rough rides.”

    “It seems to be able to handle whatever you’re eating, Doc,” Fatima said in slight disgust.

    “It’s just a ham sandwich,” he replied before giving it a once over visually. “At least I think it is…”

    “That’s a ham sandwich?” asked Ortiz. “Looks more like turkey to me.”

    “I was going to say chicken or tuna, but…” added Boone.

    “Since I cannot digest most Earth foods, I will refrain from making a judgment,” remarked Thalla. “Though the animal of origin is…ambiguous, at best.”

    “Either I need to change my diet card,” Parker remarked, “or I need to convince Sean to invite all of us to the captain’s mess every night to spare us from ambiguous meat and food cubes.”

    “Hey, what’s wrong with food cubes?” the helmsman asked.

    “That food doesn’t naturally occur in the shape of a cube, for starters,” said the communications officer. “Unless you count salt as food.”

    “I certainly don’t,” Doc said with a smirk.

    “Hey, Mum is a lovely woman, but the way she cooked she might as well have been using a phaser on maximum setting. Now my father’s ex-Starfleet and swore by these little gems. Slightly palpable flavor, enough nutritious value to keep the doctors off your back.”

    “Contrary to popular belief, we doctors don’t always practice what we preach, particularly when it comes to nutrition. I haven’t touched one of those since I was your age.”

    “That long?” Boone asked.

    Parker considered him a moment before dryly retorting, “Actually, come to think of it, longer. The final straw was when I when I read what actually goes into those things.”

    “Dare we ask?” said the navigator cautiously.

    “Well, I’m sure the fact that the bio-matter resequencer being tied into the food processors is only a coincidence.” Said resequencer recycled biological waste into a form that could be reused for a variety of purposes aboard a starship; said waste came from a variety of sources from the humanoid body.

    “It’s…made out of…” Thalla said, her antenna drooping slightly and her face turning a darker shade of blue. “…feces?”

    Fatima tried keeping her laugh back, but ended up coming out of her nose as a snort. Ortiz wasn’t so lucky as he descended into a fit of giggles. Boone also flashed a broad grin while Doc just sat there with a deadpan stare at Thalla, who sat there still dumbfounded. And that just fueled the laughter even further…
  9. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Food cubes are people! Well, not quite. It's actually much worse.

    I'm getting really interested in this Class-M planet myself. I hope they know to leave anyone wearing a red shirt on the ship. Red skants on the other hand, I think will be fine.
  10. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Twelve

    Why a five-year mission and not some other length? That had been a question asked long before the first components of the starship Essex had been welded together. The simple answer was endurance, the actual word and not the name of the scout ship Dumont had previously served upon. As had been observed since the days of the Daedalus-class of over a century before, aside from fuel and consumable resources, the one greatest limit to the length of a starship’s mission had been the ship and crew’s ability to sustain it. Even if an extended deployment kept a starship close to home, the stresses of being on a prolonged voyage eventually wore down on a crew at a far faster rate than the ship’s space frame. Being aboard an interstellar craft no matter how large and comfortable would after a time always exhaust those on board.

    But even if the crew morale and stamina could be sustained indefinitely, there was another factor to consider. A starship eventually had to return home, if not for repairs then for refits of technology; a starship’s components often became less than top of the line within months after its departure. And more often than not in the days of Daedalus and Einstein, the return voyages were forced by maintenance issues rather than a lack of sophistication. A Daedalus would come home after a year with her matter and antimatter stores depleted, an Einstein would suffer a minor maintenance issue and be forced to turn around. Even if the crew of a starship could handle the rigors of extended voyages, in days past their vessels could not.

    So then around thirty years ago, a Starfleet captain named Robert April had was then becoming a novel but not so radical idea: build a new class of starship that could not only stay out in space as long as its crew was able to but also be able to embark on sustained voyages far beyond those tried before. It certainly wasn’t a new concept, but it was one that had always failed to live up to its potential dating back to the middle of the previous century. When he presented the numbers, he stated the sustained missions could go from five to eight years with starbase visits and in between such voyages these new starships could be repaired, refitted, and upgraded to return to service for another jaunt. The Federation’s oversight board for Starfleet, burned by the expensive, oversized, and unwieldy Einstein wasn’t about to take another gamble with starships. The issues with Einstein had resulted in Starfleet focusing more on cruisers, frigates, surveyors, science vessels, and escorts; specialty ships rather than jacks-of-all-trades. But those smaller ships were by design limited in their range, their supplies, and ultimately their capability in fulfilling Starfleet’s time-honored mandate. Backed by the finest minds assembled in the Federation, with enough awards and laurels to fill a cargo hold, Robert April sold the council on giving starships another try and on a program of five-year missions and of creating a specialized command school for these new starships. He only managed to get funding for a handful of them; sixteen to be launched over the course of the next twenty-five years including the Essex, but his gamble had ultimately paid off. Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel were falling over themselves to get assigned to starships regardless of the stresses endured.

    But even with April’s painstakingly researched and tested arrival at the number five, it was still a large number and no one could know the sense of separation and isolation such a voyage would entail unless they were in the middle of one. For Captain Sean Thorton of the starship Essex, this was his third such excursion, including on the Potemkin as first officer and well before that a tour aboard the Constellation as a junior officer and later senior officer. On those two earlier voyages, his ties beyond the outer hull were minimal or at least didn’t constantly need refreshing. But now in command of one, he found himself in the odd position of being one of the few people aboard his ship that found contact with home as essential as re-circulated oxygen.

    “Come on, Charlie; tell Daddy what you learned about First Contact Day,” urged Kelly Thorton to Charlene Thorton in a recording playing on Captain Thorton’s desk monitor in his quarters. His arms were crossed on the desk and his chin sitting against the former; the lights in his quarters turned down as he stared at the screen. Kelly was sitting at the desk in her apartment off of the campus of Starfleet Academy with Charlie on her knee; their daughter seemingly having trouble being motivated to perform for the camera. Hard to blame her; her daddy at this point only existed to her in recordings, two-dimensional representations that didn’t give out hugs and kisses or randomly whip out stuffed Berengarian dragon dolls from behind his back.

    “April 5th. Zefram Cochrane launched from Boze…Bozeman,” said Charlie like she was reciting from a script; something similar her father probably learned at her age. “Solkar’s ship landed on the Earth and he said, ‘Live long and…’” A loud and drawn out yawn put a pause in the child’s recitation. “‘...prosper.’ Zefram and Solkar shook hands and…and…”

    “You almost got it…”

    “First Contact would lead to the Federation we know today.”

    “Very good, Charlie!” Kelly said happily, kissing their daughter on the top of her head. As much as Thorton wanted to vocalize his praise in this moment, doing so while watching a recording was ultimately pointless. “Let’s get you off to bed and Daddy and I can have a chat…”

    The screen went blank for a second before Kelly reappeared in the exact same pose her husband was in; folded arms upon the desk with her chin using them as a pillow. Considering Kelly’s work load at the Academy, she had more than likely recorded this message at a late hour back on Earth and roughly a week ago. The Essex’s range from the solar system now precluded real-time contact and the taped transmissions took even longer to reach their destinations. And of course Thorton couldn’t help but think he noticed ominous overtones in her “have a chat” remark; in the history of romantic relationships between two individuals, little if anything good came from words to that effect.

    “So, usually I’d ask how you’re doing right now.” Obviously there was no immediate response to the unasked question. “Or how Cass and Doc are doing, but I know I’m talking to a screen right now and I figure they’re doing better than you, knowing you. Talked with Natalia last week; she’s holding up with Doc and the girls now off on their own. And she seems to be doing better in Russia than she did in Missouri; probably shouldn’t tell him that, love.”

    Thorton slipped his right hand out from under his chin and touched the screen, his fingers only finding a flat panel instead of the familiar curves and lines of his wife’s face. “Oh, and the commandant’s trying to rope me into being a supervisory officer on the next trainee cruise. I told him I couldn’t leave Charlie alone for almost half the summer, but…”

    “…but he couldn’t take no for an answer…”

    “…but he really wasn’t about to take no for an answer,” they both said simultaneously. Thorton smiled and ran his thumb along her face on the screen. “I’m leaning towards taking it; Mum and Dad said they’ll move in here until Charlie’s out of school and take her back to Leeds for the summer. Unless you think you can twist your folks’ arms into letting her stay at their place in Utopia Planitia…”

    He wasn’t about to. Charlie had been born and raised on Earth and starbases that all had the gravity of the former, 1 g. Mars had a mere .38 g, far less than Charlie had been accustomed to in her short, five-year life time. While not the near-microgravity of Earth’s moon, it was still significant enough to potentially cause long-term development problems for a child born in higher gravity locations if they were exposed to a low gravity world for a prolonged period. Even Thorton found adjusting to 1 g to be difficult when he relocated to Earth for academy training, including losing a few centimeters in his height and needing quite a bit of weight lifting to compensate. On the plus side, if he had ever been bullied in grade school, he was in a lot better physical shape now then those hypothetical tormentors would have been.

    “…but I figured you’d say no, Martian gravity and all. Still haven’t given the commandant a firm yes or no yet. At the very least maybe the board would consider trading it for that grant I’ve been wanting; get some real work done around here. Or they might put me back in space on another ship. One of the two…”

    Thorton let in a breath through his nose while he smiled, focused less on his wife’s words and more on the sound of her voice, the appearance of her face and hair, trying to drill it all into his brain with a phaser, hoping that the images of her wouldn’t start to fade into forgotten memories. This was the hardest part of a five-year mission, he realized; the risk of losing the familiar looks and sensations of those left behind. For the ones he loved turning into unrecognizable strangers when it was all said and done. While he hoped that after the Essex’s current deep space probe she could swing back towards Federation space and arrange a joint shore leave with his family at some starbase or resort planet, that felt about as long off as the end of the five-year mission at this point.

    “Look, love, I’ve got a month or two to make up my mind. I promise I won’t do anything in haste. Or at least until I get a message back from you. Stay safe out there, all right?”

    “I will,” he half whispered despite the futility of it.

    “Love you, Sean. Always…”

    He said, “Love you too…” though the screen dimmed and his wife vanished before he could finish the sentiment. Thorton forced himself back into his chair and sighed loudly. Wrapped in emotion and exhaustion, he couldn’t out a suitable return message let alone get one out in the state he was in. And given the lateness of the hour, he was probably better off doing so tomorrow sometime before the Essex reached System G-181. Rack time seemed to be calling to him as sleep was both a valuable commodity and a precious luxury aboard a starship.

    But as he slowly rose up from his chair, the buzzer to his door sounded twice. Flicking the light level back to standard, he called out, “Come in” and almost before he could get the second word in, the door slid open and Yang entered. As always, his friend the same level of expressive energy at the end of the day as she did at the beginning of the day. How she did so would probably remain one of life’s greatest mysteries. “Cass? What brings you by here?”

    “Just thought I’d pop in before the morning,” she replied before taking a step far enough inside the cabin for the door to whoosh shut. “See how you were.”

    “I am doing fine,” Thorton said as he leaned against the divider between the office area and sleeping space of his cabin. While not exactly a hotel room, the officer’s quarters aboard a starship were luxurious compared to those on other types of Starfleet vessels. “Little anxious for tomorrow, but who wouldn’t be?”

    “If we’re doing a full-on survey, I wouldn’t mind having my people take a look at the engines,” she remarked with her arms crossed. “Every other department’s probably going to be busy; might as well give engineering something to do.”

    “Diagnostics and a planetary survey, too,” Thorton said before rubbing his neck tiredly, realizing that the position he watched the message from probably wasn’t the best in hindsight. “Can’t think of a more fun Tues…”

    He couldn’t help but yawn loudly, which made Yang ask, “Keeping you up late, Captain?”

    “Just watched a vid from Kelly and Charlie.”

    “Oh? What’s going on back on the home front?”

    “Charlie’s learning about First Contact Day,” he explained with a stroke of his beard. “Makes me wonder if they teach Martian Independence Day in Earth schools.”

    “Oh, I bet they do, Sean,” she commented. “The whole peaceful independence thing while leaving out the reasons for it. How possessive we Earthers can be, how much we think we govern all of humanity…”

    “As much as I’m a Martian patriot, I really hope that my parents don’t find out that’s what their granddaughter’s being taught. They’re worse than I am.”

    “Pssssh, big deal. Besides, it’s not like Charlie’s going to get shipped back to Planitia any time soon because of the grav difference.”

    “Oh, there’s a really outside chance she might,” he said with a smirk. “Kelly’s being recruited for the next trainee cruise.”

    “Any idea what rust bucket they’re sticking cadets on these days?” Yang asked.

    “No, but if they’re still using Einsteins like back in our days, they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

    “Last I heard, they busted those clunkers down to the Class-J rating.” The “J” was often and quite obviously associated with the term junk. “So is she going to do it?”

    “She’s leaning towards it, maybe get that grant she’s been angling for in the exchange,” he replied. “She’s already talked to her parents about Charlie. They’d move to our place in San Francisco until school’s out and take Charlie back to Leeds until Kelly gets back during the summer.”

    “Leeds? Pffffft. She might enjoy the summer more in Toronto.”

    “Watching your uncle fly aircraft that need lift and prayers to stay aloft? I don’t think so, Cass.”

    “Well he has more time for the prayers,” she commented before sitting in the guest chair at the desk, then putting her feet up on said desk and reclining backwards to the point where the chair was balancing on only two of four feet. “He retired from the cargo service, effective after we shipped out.”

    “He did?” Thorton knew that Yang’s uncle, her legal guardian since her parents died on the Blue Savannah Colony when she was a child, was an engineer who serviced automated freighters when they returned home with their cargos. He sat back down in his chair and asked, “Why?”

    “Oh you know how it goes; better automation, new bases being set up in the deep, less need for keeping experienced engineers on staff in between arrivals.”

    “Then I guess this wasn’t his choice,” he commented.

    “More like choose retirement or choose to spend his days out in the middle of nowhere,” she stated in a huff. “Just another victim of progress, like how half our tactical team will get transferred off the ship once they get around to installing the new integrated fire control system if it works. No more Fatima yelling, ‘Phasers, fire!’”

    “You mean the one they’re testing on the Intrepid?” The starship Intrepid, which was of the same class as the Essex,was crewed primarily by Vulcans. It seemed odd to Thorton that Starfleet would be putting the latest tactical upgrades through its paces on a ship staffed by four hundred people sworn to non-violence, but on the other hand it stood to reason that if anyone could work out the bugs with a new starship system it’d be Vulcans.

    “At this rate, they might find a way to replace Doc while they’re at it. Or myself.”

    “I don’t think even Starfleet could figure out how a ship can possibly make do without an engineer or doctor, Cass,” the captain remarked, now smiling. “If they could, I’m not sure I’d want to command a ship without you two.”

    “If they could do that, they might as well replace you while they’re at it,” Yang said with a faint smile.

    “Cass, if they could replace every senior officer on a starship including the captain, they might as well just keep sending unmanned probes out into deep space. Certainly would be cheaper than automated starships.”

    “Don’t give them ideas, Sean.” She then stood up and straightened her red minidress. “So that Class M I keep hearing about. Hope it’s worth our while.”

    “Me too,” he remarked.

    “Hope it goes better than the first one from the last…one,” she added.

    “I hope so too, but I came out of it okay.”

    “You already have a wife, Captain. No where to go but down.” With that, Yang exited the cabin and leaving him alone to ponder her last statement for a moment.

    His solitary reply came a scant few seconds after the door shut. “She does have a point…”
  11. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    A bit of a mini Starfleet history lesson here, interesting. I'm still eager to find out what the crew will find once they get to their current destination.
  12. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Thirteen

    System G-181, assigned that moniker by a small committee of astronomers at the Federation Office of Stellar Cartography. Alphanumeric designations were given to distant stars only studied by long range telescopes and probes; something less generic might eventually be assigned after it was explored and perhaps learning of an indigenous name if it possessed one. But for now G-181 was what the starship Essex was hurtling towards and so far readings did not indicate that they would be asking around for what the locals called their sun. Centuries ago, humanity’s first warp drive drew the attention of the Vulcans, convinced them to make planet fall and contact the beings who achieved such a flight. In the decade prior, the Vulcans observed from a distance the thirty minute nuclear exchange that devastated the Earth and sent humanity into a new Dark Age. They might have even observed the first nuclear detonations of the early 20th Century and on both occasions elected to stay away. Warp power and atomic power; those could be picked up in the depths of interstellar space, those could inform a starship of who was out there, but neither had ever been detected from System G-181.

    And suddenly appearing out of nowhere, perhaps with a loud bang if the sound traveled through the vacuum of space as much as it did the outer space of imagination, the Essex suddenly dropped from warp speeds to space normal speeds. As an unexplored system, it was inadvisable for the Essex to charge in towards the third planet without getting an assessment of what they might be dealing with. On the Essex’s bridge, Captain Sean Thorton sat ramrod straight in his chair, eagerly awaiting what his crew would find.

    “Secured from warp, sir,” Boone reported from the helm. “Space normal speeds, holding relative position at the system’s periphery.”

    “Full sensor scans, Lieutenant,” Dumont ordered of Thalla. The senior bridge officers were at their posts and hopefully grabbed lunch prior to the Essex’s arrival; Doc and Yang below decks in the respective hives of activity for their departments.

    “Aye, Commander,” the science officer replied, gazing into her trusted scope. “I have a reading on the third planet. It is Class M as the probes indicated. I’m reading massive polar ice caps.”

    “That would be indicative of a severe ice age, Captain.”
    “Agreed, however we will need to enter orbit to obtain more exact readings.”

    “What about the rest of the system?” Thorton asked.

    “The star is Class K; temperature and age comparable to your Sol, sir,” she replied. “The first and second planets are in extremely close orbit to the star; surface temperatures in excess of eight hundred degrees Kelvin for both.”

    “I think we’ll skip sending down landing parties to them, then,” Dumont commented.

    “Planet four is a minor gas giant as is the fifth. The outermost planet could barely be called such. Mass is similar to a dwarf planet…”

    “Like Pluto?” asked Boone. “Some people do call it a planet, you know…”

    “Let’s not start that old debate again, please,” Thorton warned preemptively.

    “Readings indicate minor debris belts between the fourth and fifth planets and the system’s perimeter. Composition appears to be common, unremarkable ores.”

    “I guess the chances of any of the mining companies taking an interest just dropped.” Most valuable and rare mineral deposits like dilithium or pergium could be found in asteroids or the moons of major gas giants similar to the likes of Earth’s neighbor, Jupiter. In rare cases, they occurred on or beneath the surfaces of inhabited or habitable worlds, but those were harder to find and certainly couldn’t be detected from the periphery of a star system. “Any sign of space vessels?”

    “Negative, Captain,” she replied.

    “All communications channels are clear, sir,” added Ortiz.

    “Recommend we enter orbit of the third planet, sir,” said Dumont. With little of else of note among the other planets and minor stellar bodies, it was definitely System G-181’s main point of interest.

    “Lieutenant Nourredine, compute a course for standard orbit of the third planet,” ordered Thorton.

    “Aye sir,” she replied before pressing the proper controls. “Course laid in.”

    “Take us in, Helm. Impulse engines, ahead full.”

    “Aye sir. Ahead full.” Using faster-than-light drive within the confines of a star system was a perilous endeavor; using it to enter a star system doubly so unless every object, natural and artificial, had been scanned and plotted by the navigator and science officer. In that event, a starship’s impulse drive, in concert with the distortion field of the warp drive, was utilized to propel the ship to near-superluminal velocities though thankfully bypassing the relativistic time dilation (and the term “full” denoted the setting of the engine’s power, not the actual speed) to allow for safe navigation within a star system and around objects with high mass like planets whose gravity wells tended to impede the normal operations of warp drives. It was still far faster than the ancient rocket and atomic drives of the early days of human space exploration and certainly a collision with a large asteroid would be just as fatal as if it had happened at warp speeds.

    At high impulse speeds, the Essex probed deeper into System G-181 and its habitable third planet. Visually it looked vaguely similar to older images of Earth, with blue oceans, brown and green land masses dusted with snow, and bright white ice caps, but it was the third aspect that proved to be the starkest contrast with the birth world of humanity. Ice practically covered the northern and southern quarters of the planet, leaving patches of unfrozen seas and bits of continents untouched by the white sheets that enveloped the rest of the planet. Above this strange new world, the Essex began enter into the embrace of its gravity field, just enough to prevent her from plummeting to the alien skies below.

    “Entering standard orbit, Captain,” Boone reported.

    “I don’t think I’ve even heard of a planet like this before,” Dumont commented. “Not even Earth’s last ice age froze that much of the planet.”

    “The sea levels down there have to practically non-existent,” added Fatima.

    “Full planetary sensor scans, Lieutenant,” Thorton ordered Thalla. That was the first step when encountering a new planet; sensor sweeps from orbit would detect animal life form readings and signs of civilization, informing the captain as to whether or not it was suitable to send down a general survey party for closer study.

    “Aye sir,” she replied before getting up to examine her scope. “Confirmed that it is Class M and the atmosphere consists primarily of oxygen and nitrogen. Animal life forms detected, however if there are intelligent life forms, I am not picking up signs of large settlements of them. It is possible that they may be nomadic; no more advanced than hunter/gatherers.”

    “Not much that they could hunt or gather down there, I would imagine,” noted the first officer. “It probably snows on the unfrozen portions more often than it rains.”

    “Does it remind you of home, Thalla?” Boone quipped.

    “If Andoria experienced the same conditions of this planet, it’d make the ecological catastrophes during your Earth’s 21st Century seem minor by comparison,” the science officer said without looking up from her scope, her tone of voice not indicating if she was joking or serious. “I am reading several unfrozen climate zones within the tropics, but all fall under the range of oceanic to taiga to tundra.”

    “I guess it sounds more like Scotland, where the seasons are winter, not quite as winter, and oh dear God, it’s really winter. Plus summer at some point.”

    “Any idea why this planet’s ice age is so severe?” asked Dumont.

    “While it is the third planet in this system, Commander, its orbit is near the extreme range of where similar habitable planets can be found,” Thalla said, making an indirect reference to what humans called the “Goldilocks Zone,” though obviously it was highly doubtful Andorians used that term. “There also appears to be a substantially lower amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere in comparison to similar Class M worlds, thus making it more difficult for the planet to retain the warmth of its star.”

    “You mentioned the climate change of 21st Century Earth, Lieutenant,” Thorton said as he got up from his chair and walked over towards the view screen to give the slice of the planet in the lower left corner a better look. “Looks like this planet has the reverse problem.”

    “Except that this is a natural occurrence, not the result of negligent pollution and willful ignorance of the damage being caused even after…”

    The captain wasn’t about to spend time listening to his science officer harp on the mistakes of Earth’s past; a past like many eras of Earth’s history from so long ago few modern humans had any nostalgic attachment to. “Find us a suitable transport site yet?”

    “Several on the dayside of the surface, sir. I’ll attempt to locate more when we cross over to the nightside.” Standard procedure called for a general survey party to be sent to the surface to take readings and conduct rudimentary cataloguing of local flora and fauna to gauge possible suitability for colonization and of local minerals for possible mining lasting as little as hours or as much as a few days depending on what was down there. A full survey of the planet would then be handed off to a dedicated science vessel on a mission that’d take months. He had to weigh things carefully; if they spent too much time on one star system, they’d have less time to conduct a sweep of the whole sector and perhaps miss something strategically important like valuable minerals or new sentient species to make contact with.

    “I think that can wait, Lieutenant,” Thorton noted. Regulations also stated that the first landing parties to a new world were to beam down to the dayside of a planet unless extreme circumstances prevented it, owing to the potential hazards being multiplied due to being transported to an unknown planet in the dark, where almost universally the animal life were far more dangerous. “Find the warmest one you can and feed the coordinates to the transporter room.”

    “Aye sir.”

    “All right, we’ll send a general survey party down to the surface to conduct the initial study. I’ll lead it; Thalla I want you along with your top astobiologist and geologist with us. Also one guard from security. Mr. Ortiz, inform the transporter room to equip a landing part of six and have Doc join us there.”

    “Aye, Captain,” he answered before making the appropriate calls below decks. The captain started to make his way over to the turbolift, but slowed as he sensed that he was about to engage in a discussion with his first officer that he had predicted would happen since she first reported aboard three months ago. The same discussions that always happened the first time a moment like this came up, one that sometimes led to a back and forth and ultimately had to be resolved by the captain exerting their final authority aboard ship. Perhaps he shouldn’t have slowed down and just kept going to hopefully avoid it.

    “Captain?” Dumont asked before Thorton could leave the bridge. He slowly turned and braced himself for his first officer to protest his decision to lead a boarding party down to a new planet.

    “Sorry, Exec, but with the situation as it is it makes sense to leave the ship’s most experienced command officer here to keep an eye on things,” he preemptively explained. He had been expecting a discussion like this the moment he received command of the Essex all those months ago, a conversation a captain invariably has with their first officer the first time a starship encountered something worth sending people to. The question was simple: who would be best suited to deal with whatever the party might find? Unfortunately, there were no simple answers.

    His first officer smirked. “I was just going to recommend you bundle up, sir. I for one hate cold weather with a passion.”

    “First desert or tropical planet we come across is all yours, I promise.” He and Thalla began to move into the turbolift but as the doors opened, Yang exited first.

    “Where are you two going?” she asked.

    “The planet’s surface,” he replied.

    “Can I come along?”

    “If there’s an engineering issue down there, you’ll be the first I call.” He smirked before he entered the turbolift.

    Before the doors closed, however, the engineer added, “…I swear they pull landing party assignments out of their asses…”

    “The ship is yours, Exec.” With more than just a hint of anticipation, he reached for the nearest throttle handled and ordered, “Transporter room…”
  13. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    So they finally arrive and it appears to be a frozen rock. Well Thalla will feel right at home, not sure about the others. Now let's see what mysteries this planet holds. If this were the good ol' Enterprise, it would most likely be scantily clad women or some sort of supercomputer. Or perhaps both.

    Also can't believe they are still having the Pluto debate two hundred years later.
  14. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Fourteen

    Moments later, the members of the first official landing party from the starship Essex during this mission of exploration gathered in the transporter room. The sense of anticipation was vibrant among the team (except for Doc Parker, who for whatever reason was running late) and while Za’Naya Thalla felt some intrigue in the planet below, her reaction was far more muted. The third planet of System G-181 didn’t seem to her to be all that different than similar Class M worlds save for the unusually severe ice age. And with no signs of a sentient civilization on the surface, unless there was a deposit of a valuable ore, the planet simply wasn’t all that remarkable. Her species, similar in some respects to the Klingons, regarded planets as potential sources of resources or new allies; while there might be some minor scientific interest, the new world below the Essex was just another planet and this just another planet was taking time away from the survey of the protostar. Still, the captain had assigned her to the landing party and she had a duty to perform.
    Thalla had summoned the top astrobiologist and geologist as Thorton had ordered, respectively in this case Lieutenant Wanda Gregg and Lieutenant j.g. Reza Sharif, a lanky human male with short brown hair. The astrobiologist was clad in long pants, likely due to the temperature on the planet and both of them like the captain were slipping on black landing party jackets, which had dark gray rank stripes on the cuffs, the ship’s badge and department logo on the left breast along a patch with their last names all in the same shade of gray on the right, and finally a patch of the flag of their planets of origin worn on the left sleeve. Thalla, however, wore her standard uniform, though she now had a belt to accommodate her phaser pistol and communicator with her general science tricorder strapped over her right shoulder. Also joining the landing party was Chief Vanig Osur, a male Saurian from the security department, who’s had an elliptical and hairless skull, large red orbs for eyes, and scaly flesh was a shade of dark pink.

    “Are you sure you’re going to be fine like that, Lieutenant?” Thorton asked the science officer, taking a communicator and a phaser pistol off of the transporter console. Prior to the Essex getting under way, Starfleet had issued a new design for phaser weapons and communicators. Feeling obligated to do so, Thalla had sought out certification to carry the new pistol weapon dubbed Phaser 2 and was probably one of the few members of the science department to do so; Gregg and Sharif merely had the Phaser 1 unit that bolted onto the top of the pistol and a single one of those remained on the console, likely intended for Parker.

    “I grew up under worse conditions, sir,” she replied simply.

    “And I grew up on a planet that a couple hundred years ago didn’t have breathable air. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take an air tank if it was offered.” After flashing a slight smirk, he turned his attention to Berex, the operator at the transporter console. An Edosian, she possessed three arms and three legs as opposed to the pairs on most humanoids, bronze skin, yellow eyes, and a slightly elongated head that like the security guard was also hairless. “Have you figured out a beam-in site?”

    “I believe so,” she replied before making further fine adjustments with her three hands. Thalla supposed an additional hand was quite useful in Berex’s line of work. “I’ve narrowed down the coordinates the bridge sent down to a small clearing near a large wooded area with a river flowing nearby. My scans aren’t picking up anything that looks like sentient life, so if there is any you should beam in unnoticed.”

    “Let’s hope so; I don’t want to violate the Prime Directive on my first excursion,” Thorton said before glancing towards the door. “And Doc has about five minutes before we beam down without him.”

    “What’s keeping him, sir?” asked Gregg.

    “Guess, Lieutenant.”

    “The shirt?” Sharif offered.

    “The. Shirt.” Thalla furled her antennas forward in puzzlement, unsure what the significance of the reference was. The captain turned to address his science contingent. “Any idea what we could find down there?”

    “Scans indicate that the vegetation on the planet is comparable to other cold weather planets we have discovered, sir,” the chief science officer replied. “Pinophyta trees that reproduce through cones, however the cold environment on the planet’s surface may preclude new growth. Whatever is down there must have survived for thousands of years.”

    “In other words, sir,” added Gregg, “those trees down on the planet maybe many times older than the old growth still left on Earth.”

    “What about animal life?” asked the captain. “Anything that might be hostile?”

    “Animal life has probably adapted to the cold, meaning we’ll probably be dealing with insects, avian, and mammalian life mostly, sir. Lack of small vegetation and prey probably means they’re small. No way to tell the risks from…” Before the astrobiologist could complete that thought, Parker came charging into the transporter room, now clad in his standard long sleeved duty uniform. And suddenly the reference to “The Shirt” became a lot clearer to Thalla.

    “Forgot which drawer I stuffed this thing into,” Doc said lightly to the captain. For all the time Thalla spent aboard the Essexshe had never seen the ship’s surgeon clad in any shirt other than his short sleeves. His tunic seemed to have the obvious signs of being stored in a fashion where Parker might have thought he’d never need to use it if the wrinkles were any indication. “Didn’t think you’d want me to spend time ironing this.”

    “Gear up, Doctor,” Thorton said in a firm tone and without another word Doc retrieved his belt, phaser, communicator, medical kit, and medical tricorder from Berex along with his personalized jacket.

    “Still wish my old hat was regulation,” he remarked before stabbing his arms through the black sleeves.

    “Doc,” said Osur in a raspy voice, “I didn’t know you were a full commander.”

    “Thanks for the reminder I’m getting up there in years, Chief.” Anyone who had no knowledge of Parker’s service record or only seen him aboard ship wouldn’t have known about his rank, since the medical short sleeved variant didn’t have rank stripes on it. “Ready when you are, Captain.”

    “You sure?” Thorton quipped as he stepped onto the transporter platform.

    “No, but don’t let me stop you.” The rest of the landing party took their places on the transporter right over the appropriate pads.

    “Hopefully any predators down there are enough for our phasers to handle,” said the security guard.

    “I would hate to see any creature that could resist Phaser 2, Chief,” remarked Thalla. Naturally Osur was armed with the same weapon as the captain and science officer.

    “Did you ever hear the story of the captain and my first landing party mission on the Potemkin?” Parker asked wryly. “I swear, the hail from that creature was as big as…”

    “…as big as the exaggerations you keep adding to this story,” interrupted Thorton. “Ready?”

    “Ready for transport, Captain,” said Berex.


    The transporter chief used all three of her hands over the console and slid the activation sliders to the energize position. There was a loud hum and quickly Thalla was awash in a haze of golden, shimmering energy. The transporter room seemed to slowly dissolve around him to the point where all she could “see” was the energy of the matter stream. Eventually the transporter beam and the shimmering chimes of its re-materialization process faded to reveal that the boarding party had been beamed onto a grassy glade surrounded by enormous trees below partly blue skies and with a welcoming chill in the air that bit right through her blue uniform tunic and her stockings. From the controlled environment of a starship to the random nature of the Class M planet below her in the span of a scant few seconds; that was something that still invoked a bit of wonder even from the jaded.

    “Someone mind reminding me why I’m down here?” asked Parker, already stuffing his hands under his armpits to keep them warm.

    “I thought your old long legs needed some stretching,” the captain said as he turned around to take in the view. Thalla made note of a range of mountains in the distance whose tops were covered with bright white snow before opening the protective “flap” of her science tricorder and activating its scanners. The high pitched whine the tricorder made while in operation loudly drowned out the sound of the slight wind.

    “Since when did you decide to become a doctor?”

    “Since I felt it’d be funny to see how you liked getting a dose of your own medicine. Temperature readings?”

    “Scanning, sir,” Thalla replied. “Temperature reads at ten degrees Celsius.”

    “Ten degrees, you say?” Doc asked. “Does that gadget of yours take into account wind chill and humidity?”

    That comment drew chuckles from the other two science officers of the landing party. “The captain did order me to locate the warmest possible location to beam down to.”

    “I did,” said Thorton, “and it also looks like you and the transporter chief picked a rather scenic spot.”

    In addition to the large forest around their transport site, there was a flowing river just ahead of them as Berex mentioned back on the ship. It wasn’t especially wide, say about one hundred meters by visual examination, flowing loudly against various rocks. Not exactly a body of water that’d freeze someone once they’d put their foot in it, but on the other hand not something that looked all that inviting to fully-clothed waders, at least the human ones.

    “I’m reminded of pictures I’ve seen of Alaska and Canada.”

    “Reminds me of Russia in the summer; just missing the moose and bears,” Parker added while consulting his tricorder. “And I wouldn’t recommend taking a swim, Sean. Water temperature’s so low that you’d start suffering from hypothermia inside of two minutes.”

    “A human would, Doctor,” noted Thalla, “however I would not. There was a lake by my clan’s starbase roughly the same temperature. My clanmates and I would often swim there in between drills as youths.”

    “Your family owns a starbase?”

    “Not so much ‘owns’ as maintains for the Imperial Guard, Doctor.” She found herself slightly nostalgic for those days; the youths of her clan were organized into squads and spent most of their childhood training at Clan Za’s base near Andoria. While there wasn’t as much vegetation as there was here, the air temperature was almost the same.

    “Well, I wouldn’t take a drink from it, either, Lieutenant,” added Gregg while consulting her own scanner. “Massive amount of microorganisms living in the water; an eyedropper full would have more life in it than the crew compliment of the ship. A single gulp could be fatal.”

    “I suppose we should have brought canteens,” Thorton remarked. “How about animal life forms can I see with just my two eyes?”

    “Reading avian and insectoid animal life all around us, sir, but the latter’s hard to spot. There’s some mammalian life forms beyond the tree line and fish-like organisms in the river, but that’s about it.”

    “I believe that is to be expected,” Thalla commented. “If this ice age began relatively recently, then the extreme change in climate would have caused mass extinctions. What life forms that are on this planet were already suited to the change, which would include scarcity of food sources.”

    “Geology report, Lieutenant,” Thorton said to Sharif.

    “Aye, sir,” said Sharif as he gazed at his tricorder’s readout. “Deposits of conventional coal, iron, and a few other common metals, but that’s it.”

    “We’d be rich if this was the 19th Century, Sean,” Parker said with a slight smile. “As it is, looks like we’ve found a nice place to put up a bed and breakfast.”

    “There’s a lake about fifteen kilometers up river that might have a better view, Doctor,” said Gregg wryly.

    “I’m not walking that far just to keep a joke going, Lieutenant.”

    “Fan out and have a look around,” said the captain. “Anything and everything of interest. Limit your sweep to a one kilometer meter radius of the beam down coordinates and keep in touch with the communicators. We’ll contact the ship in three hours and determine if we need additional teams. Move out.”

    “Aye sir,” Thalla replied. One kilometer would provide a microscopic appraisal of the life forms on this planet if not less than that. She and her team would only, for now, be taking readings of life within one ecosystem of Planet G-181, Planet #3 for a bare minimum of three hours. That’d hardly be an all-encompassing assessment of life on this world, but then again starships explored strange new worlds, not turned new worlds upside down to investigate them down to the last molecule. “Sharif, widen your geologic scans to include the N-band.”

    “You got it,” he replied.

    “Keep me posted and if you see anything that might be trouble, contact me immediately,” Thorton ordered before starting to make his way slowly along the river with a slow gait and a slight smile on his face.

    “He’s certainly in a good mood,” commented Gregg.

    “Let him have his moment,” Parker remarked.

    “‘Moment,’ Doctor?” Thalla asked curiously.

    “Walk around this planet a bit, look up from your tricorder occasionally, and maybe you’ll understand, Thalla.” With a wry smirk, Doc, Gregg, and Sharif walked off in separate directions, all consulting their tricorders along the way while Osur remained close to the transport site. The science officer’s antennas leaned forward slightly out of brief curiosity before returning towards their neutral expression. While she began to understand what the doctor was suggesting, she doubted that she’d have the same sort of reaction. To Thalla, it was merely a planet…
  15. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    So far a rather dull planet, ain't it? Statistically speaking, Thalla is absolutely correct, most planets, I suppose, class M or otherwise are probably nothing to get excited about unless you are a geologist or exo-biologist who gets a kick out of cataloging new things.

    Alas in Star Trek most planets seem to offer rather nasty surprises, incidentally always exactly where the landing party decides to make planetfall. But hey, I wouldn't mind this crew facing an unknown challenge of their own.
  16. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Fifteen

    Aboard the starship Essex in high orbit of the mostly frozen planet below, Astrid Dumont held court on a bridge where practically nothing was happening nearly three hours after the landing party beamed down. Well, even less than usual; with the ship in standard orbit of the second planet of the G-181 system, Boone and Fatima were barely touching their controls. Thalla’s relief at the science station, Lieutenant junior grade Sarkeesian was alternating between the sensor scope and the library computer panel to catalogue further planetary readings. Ortiz was again listening to his Feinberg on the off chance they might have picked up another anomalous signal. Yang seemed to be hovering over her subordinate at the engineering station as if she was finding any excuse to stay on the bridge while the landing party was on the surface. Dumont couldn’t exactly blame her; she too felt a tad uncomfortably out of contact with the captain and party on the planet to fend for themselves even if they were perhaps only fending off a case of the chills. While she was in command of the ship like for those few blissful moments in the morning, the acting captain was feeling no emotion that roughly came close to that.

    She supposed Thorton would have felt the same way if their positions had been reversed; if Dumont had lead the landing party and he had remained on the ship powerless in most respects to intervene if trouble occurred. All that she could do was to wait for a signal of any sort from the surface and keep the transporter room manned in case the landing party needed a quick exit. Waiting being the key activity and it was gnawing at the back of Dumont’s head incessantly.

    “Oh, Exec?” Yang asked before turning from the engineering station and leaning over the nearby railing with both arms on it. “We managed to solve that chronic flow sensor problem we’ve been having over the last few weeks. Everything looks good now.”

    Dumont forced herself out of the captain’s seat and made her way over to the engineering station, grateful for the distraction. “I suppose that’s good, Cass. How far off was it?”

    “A teensy-weensy point zero zero three percent. Give or take.”

    “That’s all? I know engineers are perfectionists, but that’s a little much, isn’t it?”

    Yang lowered her voice, saying, “It is, but I thought you’d like to think about something other than Sean, Doc, and the gang running around that half-melted ice cube.”

    “Am I that obvious?” Dumont asked quietly.

    “…let’s just say you were fairly close to having the captain ask why there were scratches on his chair when he gets back.”


    “In the armrests,” Yang clarified. “You know, by gripping them too tightly with those duranium nails of yours?”


    “Look, lighten up a little; if the kids see you getting nervous, then they’ll start getting nervous. Then you get more nervous then I get nervous and…”

    “Kids?” Dumont asked in an even quieter tone. “I’m not that much older than them.”

    “But you’re still in charge,” Yang pointed out.

    “Commander?” asked Ortiz. “Incoming signal from the surface.”

    The first officer quickly jabbed the transmit button on the center seat, saying, “Dumont here.”

    “This is the captain,” Thorton stated. “Three hour check-in. Our survey so far hasn’t turned up much of anything. Have further scans from orbit revealed anything like dilithium or pergium or the like?”

    The first officer flashed a look to Sarkeesian, who merely shook her head. “Negative on that front so far, sir.”

    “Sounds about par for this particular course, Exec. Our evaluations of the surface and the life forms we’ve encountered so far suggest the planet’s ice age peaked recently; the animal life down here either barely just managed to survive or is only now adapting to the current climate. There might be some people interested in colonizing the planet, but it doesn’t look like something we’ll be rushing to plant our flag on.”

    “Understood, sir.” Unfortunate, but not every Class M planet in the galaxy was worth claiming by the Federation. “Do you want us to send down additional survey parties?”

    “At this point, any further analysis of the planet’s best left to a dedicated science vessel or a surveyor. We’ll finish up our survey and return to the ship in…twenty minutes. Lieutenant Thalla will probably want a few more orbits to make sure we haven’t overlooked anything.”

    Boone and Fatima immediately exchanged disappointed looks, no doubt wanting to be a part of additional landing parties that the captain just nixed. And while Dumont had expressed her disdain for colder climates, she too would have liked getting off of the ship and exploring the planet below for a time, though she could understand that if there wasn’t anything of interest for a starship down there that there was little point in studying every single rock or leaf. “Acknowledged. Transporter room will be ready to bring you aboard when ready, Captain.”

    “I’ll keep you apprised until we’re ready to beam up. Thorton out.”

    Dumont had been tempted to ask something, anything, but he had closed the channel before she could even get her mouth open. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Yang flashing a wide smirk before saying, “Annoying? Isn’t it?”

    “Just a tad,” she replied.

    “Well, shame we’re not all getting a chance to get off of the ship this time around,” Boone remarked.

    “You do realize this is work instead of shore leave, right?” Fatima asked wryly. “Not that there sounds like much down there to for fun anyway.”

    “Of course there is. Ice skating, skiing…”

    In an instant the bridge suddenly drew quiet and all eyes now were glaring on the helmsman, except for Dumont who didn’t quite get what was wrong as did the last man to speak. With the bridge’s instrumentation the only thing making a sound, Boone asked in confusion, “…what?”

    “Still too soon, Boone,” Yang commented, which was only when both the first officer and the helmsman got the reference.

    “…right, shutting up then.”

    Ortiz walked over with a data slate in hand; without saying anything, perhaps just to bask in Boone’s slight humiliation, he handed off the duty roster to Dumont to review. A roster of crew members who’d be staying on the Essex rather than putting further boots on the ground of the planet below. Obviously every single officer and crewperson out of the ship’s compliment of 430 would trample over their peers to get assigned to a landing party to a new planet, but this planet appeared to not warrant much more than a cursory examination. Dumont understood their desire; she had felt the same when she was a fresh-from-the-academy ensign like Ortiz back on the starship Kongo many years ago. And that deep-space voyage didn’t exactly go as planned. “Lieutenant Nourredine, lay in a course back to that protostar in case the captain wants to head there next.”

    “Aye, Commander,” Fatima answered before inputting the proper commands. “Commander, on a direct course for the protostar from here, we’ll come awfully close to System G-184.”

    “Thinking lightning might strike twice for us, Weps?” Boone remarked dryly.

    “Maybe, but it’s still worth a shot…”

    “That’s for the captain to decide, Lieutenant,” Dumont said before sitting back down in the center seat.

    “Of course, Commander,” said the navigator, the fluttering at the edges of her lips indicating that she was having a hard time forcing her continued smile back into the proverbial bottle.

    She didn’t like exercising her authority to the point where it came off as a boot stamping down the enthusiasm of her subordinates, but Fatima in the several months they had known each other had left Dumont with the impression that she had her sights on the center seat and hoped to own one as soon as possible. The present exec of the Essex knew that at some point in one’s career that ambition was often tempered if not mercilessly beaten down by reality; a lesson Dumont learned long ago aboard the ill-fated starship Kongo. And perhaps even after all these years later was still trying to learn…
  17. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Chapter Sixteen

    Back on the planet’s surface, Doc Parker had been making use of the remaining time before returning to the starship Essex cataloguing every single life reading within his tricorder’s scanning radius, even though Thalla and her people was likewise doing the same, although the subordinates did so with more gusto than their superior. Doc supposed he could understand why the science officer was regarding the assignment as routine. Planetary survey missions more often than not were elementary affairs, something taught to cadets during their first year at the academy by beaming them down to a random island in the South Pacific. Even in deep space, it wasn’t all that different than what Charles Darwin did on the Galapagos Islands or A.E. Hodgkin did on Loracus Prime, though tricorders shaved the process down from weeks and months to hours. Eventually the novelty wore off and the cataloguing efforts felt as mundane and tedious as counting blades of grass, even though there wasn’t a blade of grass to be found on the third planet of System G-181.

    Feeling that he had taken as many readings as he possibly could out here, he noticed that Thorton was back on the shore of the river, admiring the view. He had helped out here and there with the scientific contingent of the landing party, but for the most part he stayed back and observed his crew do their jobs. Parker supposed that beaming down without a tricorder limited his ability to contribute to the survey. Then again, while the doctor did head up the ship’s life science’s division in addition to being chief medical officer, he also wasn’t a specialist in exobiology like Lieutenant Gregg and wouldn’t know iron deposits from simple gravel as opposed to Sharif.

    Since it was nearly time for the landing party to return to the Essex anyway, Doc closed up his tricorder and tucked his palm scanner into one of its compartments before heading on over to the captain. Now Thorton was staring downstream towards a bend that turned the course of the river past a tree line to the south and thus out of view. In as friendly a tone as possible and hoping he wouldn’t startle him, Doc said, “Maybe some day when intelligent life evolves on this planet, some native will stand here and ponder the meaning of existence, wonder if there is life on other planets. Or paint a picture that’ll end up on a lot of postcards.”

    “You’re forgetting one thing, Doc,” Thorton remarked as he turned away from the river. “By the time sentient life evolves on this planet, the ice age might be over and this entire valley will be underwater.”

    “Shame to ruin a good view.” Parker stepped up to the shore and gazed out over the river. “Reminds me of…Tyria VI, except two-thirds of the planet wasn’t covered in ice.”

    “And with fewer Orion outposts.” Thorton stepped up next to him with his hands behind his back. While the last time there was a full-on a full on war in Federation was two decades ago against the Klingon Empire, the Potemkin had her fair share of run-ins with other hostile sorts during the captain and Doc’s tour together.

    “Of all the planets in the colonies you all had the outrageous stroke of luck to beam to the one where all the guards were nearsighted.”

    “We had the advantage of them probably being a little star struck by their matrons,” Thorton said a smirk, “and I certainly I don’t mind the change of pace out here.”

    “I bet your wife doesn’t mind you not being in pheromone range of a half dozen Orion maidens,” the doctor pointed out. “All things considered, I’d say this is an improvement.”

    “It’s strange, Doc; we went on exploration jaunts on the Potemkin and I went on one with the Constellation when I was a lieutenant, but this feels…different.”

    “Because this is your show, Sean. You’re not spending most of your time dreaming about what’s next, trying to get to the next level. You’ve reached the mountain top, no where to go but down for you.”

    “Now you’re just taking the fun out of it,” Thorton said wryly. “And you’re one to talk; you were a CMO when I met you and you’re one now.”

    “With a few other stops along the way,” said Parker. “Can’t play space cowboy forever, Sean.”

    The captain threw his hands up parallel to his shoulders and turned towards the doctor. “Really? First planet we beam down to and you’re already hinting at my retirement?”

    Doc smirked. “Not in so many words. That mean you’re planning on taking the Essex out again after the five year’s up?”

    “Maybe,” he replied before shrugging and smiling faintly. “Wife and child permitting, of course.”

    “I noticed you said them instead of Starfleet,” Doc said walking a step closer. “Come on, Sean; what was Kelly’s reaction to the news really like? I can’t believe she’d shove you out the door without even a single string attached.”

    “It’s like I said; she wanted me to take the job. Enthusiastically. Wouldn’t even listen to me entertain the notion of passing on her account.”


    “But what?”

    “She may have agreed to one five year mission, but did she agree to two?” Parker commented wryly. “Three? Sure there’d be a year or so layoff in between, but you’re talking about missing about fifteen years with the two of them. Or more if you decide Charlie needs a younger sibling to torment her.”

    “We…I haven’t thought that far ahead,” said Thorton. “I only had a couple months to get the ship ready and the crew assembled. And we had to move back to Earth, she had to get set up at the academy and we took turns minding Charlie when we could. I suppose it’ll come up when it comes up.”

    “And if Kelly says for whatever reason she doesn’t think you should go back out here again?”

    He shrugged. “Then I won’t. We both made it clear that if our careers ever got in the way of our family, we’d make changes in order to make it work, but we both agree that Starfleet’s important to us.”

    “I know,” Doc commented. “You two were just lucky to get posted to the same starbase.”

    “I guess someone in fleet operations was a hopeless romantic,” Thorton said.

    “You know, there is one little wrinkle to all this that you probably haven’t considered.”


    “Starfleet could give her a command,” he replied with a smirk.

    “Well, she does have her eye on the new Defiant,” the captain said dryly before hearing someone behind them cleared their throat faintly. They turned to see Thalla standing there and Parker again found himself wondering how she possibly could not have been the slightest bit uncomfortable in a standard minidress, Andorian or not.

    “Forgive the intrusion.”

    “Report, Lieutenant.”

    “Lieutenants Gregg and Sharif have nearly completed their studies,” she explained, “and I’ve catalogued as much as I possibly could. I believe we can return to the ship at your discretion, sir.”

    “Anything jumping out at you?” asked the captain.

    The Andorian blinked and her antenna curled. Doc knew well enough to know that it was her version of raising an eyebrow. “Sir?”

    “Does anything you’ve scanned seem worthwhile?”

    “Nothing really of note, sir, at least in this area,” she replied. “We’ve observed and scanned multiple new species, but all seem quite similar to species observed on other Class M worlds. Further geology scans have not detected any rare or hypersonic series minerals.”

    “So in other words it’s nice to like at, but it doesn’t have any real practical value,” Thorton concluded with his hands behind his back. Parker was by no means a geologist but he knew well enough that the hypersonic series among other elements contained dilithium, the substance that drove both starships and wars. “I’ve decided against additional survey parties but we’ll remain in orbit to get a couple more scans in before we leave. Unless you think it’s a waste of time…”

    “In regards of being thorough in our survey report to Starfleet, I don’t, sir,” said Thalla. “We do have that protostar to study, Captain, however a delay of a few more hours would be acceptable.”

    “And where exactly are the lieutenants and the chief, Lieutenant?” Doc asked dryly, since none of them were within his field of vision.

    “They ventured into the treeline, Doctor, both to catalogue readings of insect life and a magnetic anomaly that could be the result of non-rare, heavy Earth metals and carbon deposits.”

    “Very well, gather the rest of the party,” the captain said. “We’ll be transporting up shortly.”

    “Aye sir.” The science officer started walking towards the northern tree line where Gregg, Sharif, and Osur had journeyed into.

    “Well, maybe this trip isn’t a total loss,” said Parker wryly. “If there’s gold or diamonds in those woods, we could have anniversary gifts for our wives for the next five years and then some.”

    “It’s a shame; I was kind of hoping for a little more out of our first Class M,” the captain concluded.

    “Is it really for your sake or your crew’s, Captain?”

    “Either, Doc.” Folding his arms again, the captain remarked, “Well, now that you’ve attempted to pry my post five-year plans out of me, what about you?”

    “Well,” he prefaced uneasily, “Let’s just say Natalia wasn’t as eager for me to sign for another romp around the cosmos like Kelly was with you.”

    “So, back to Starfleet Medical?”

    “No,” he said. “Out completely.”

    “Resigning?” said Thorton with wide eyes, almost like this news was one of the most shocking he had ever heard before. “You could still take a ground assignment on Earth. I’m sure there’s a Starfleet hospital somewhere in Russia if she doesn’t want to move back to Missouri with you.”

    “Yeah, but then I’d still be in the uniform and if Starfleet didn’t put me back on a ship, I’d deep down have the urge to go. You’d think after around thirty years of this, I’d grow tired of it eventually, but even after all that I’ve seen, all I’ve managed to live through, that itch is very hard to ignore.”

    “You won’t get any argument from me on that.” He then started looking out across the river again towards the far shore or perhaps looking towards something that wasn’t even on the planet. “But it’s not like you’re pushing mandatory retirement age. You could still help the Service out for a while longer.”

    “Sean, come on, we’re talking five years from now,” Parker said with a slight chuckle. “You’re acting like I’m retiring in a week.”

    “You’re right; I’m probably overreacting,” the captain conceded. “Still, five years is plenty of time for minds to change.”

    “You do know whose wife we’re talking about, right?” That remark caused both men to laugh a little. “Look, I didn’t want to bring this up right away because I knew you and Cass would make such a big deal out of it.”

    “Then I’ll try not to let it slip next time I talk with her. You’ll be missed. Eventually.”

    “Thanks, I think,” Parker said before having another look around. “Well, I’ll miss these lovely little visits to nice, quiet, and boring planets.”

    “They’re always nice, quiet, and boring before something bad, loud, and terrifying happens,” Thorton said, though Doc was tempted to chastise the captain for perhaps putting a jinx on the expedition…
  18. Count Zero

    Count Zero No nation but procrastination Moderator

    Mar 19, 2005
    European Union
    Ooh, that sounds almost like a cliffhanger! ;)

    I have only caught up with the story now. Very well written.
  19. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Sorry for the delay. Might have to go to once every other week for the foreseeable future:

    Chapter Seventeen

    Captain Sean Thorton of the starship Essex realized he probably shouldn’t have said anything, but given the idle and tranquil setting of the cold weather third planet, about the only trouble the landing party could get in was frostbite. And while he was disappointed that there was little of interest on the planet, he still found being here a refreshing change of pace. Since the end of the Potemkin’s five year mission and his time as commander of the Tokyo, Thorton had spent his days closer to the Federation’s core sectors or along the Klingon border, never anywhere remotely this far into the unknown. The planet probably wouldn’t make the short list of interesting locations in this part of the galaxy, but he could at least say that he and his crew were among the first to set foot upon it.

    “What’s taking them so long?” asked Doc. They were standing in the clearing where they had beamed down to and Thorton could only guess that the rest of the party were in the woods as Thalla had indicated a few moments ago. “Don’t tell me they actually found something.”

    “If there was any trouble they would have told us,” Thorton said. He could have beeped them on their communicators, but regulations limited their use to emergency and transport situations only so as to minimize the disturbance to local wildlife. After all, one couldn’t know if the chirp of a communicator could reveal their presence to unseen sentient life or at the very least irritate grazing animals to the point of stampeding. Not seeing either, he pulled his communicator out and flipped it open, saying, “Landing party to Essex.”

    “Go ahead, landing party,” answered Dumont.

    “We’re almost done down here, though our science contingent is checking something out in the woods. Do you have a read on where they are?”

    “One moment, sir.” Perhaps if Thorton had brought a tricorder he wouldn’t have needed to ask even though he could have had Doc use his, though its range was limited in comparison to standard tricorders. Readings indicate they’re closing on your position now. Less than thirty meters.”

    “I think we’ve found them ourselves,” said Thorton as the rest of his landing party entered the clearing. “Anything to report?”

    “No sir,” Thalla replied. “Readings briefly indicated an unusual magnetic anomaly however our tricorders were unable to isolate it. Recommend we return to the ship.”

    “Did you catch that, Essex?”

    “Yes, sir. Transporters standing by.”

    “Beam us up on your next pass,” the captain concluded. “Landing party out.”

    “Magnetic anomaly?” asked Parker. “Is that good or bad?”

    “Debatable, Doctor,” said the science officer. “We were not able to localize the source since it was beyond the radius you ordered, Captain. Readings detected the signs of a rare metal deposit, though readings do not indicate that it extends into the hypersonic range. We will need the ship’s sensors for verification.”

    “Well, I’m no geologist, but that precludes the likes of dilithium.” The hypersonic series of the Periodic Table of Elements included the very crystals that made matter/antimatter reactors aboard starships like the Essex function and if they had been on this planet, it would have gone from being forgettable to being worth fighting over and Thorton might have found himself thankful if there weren’t any such readings here, anyway.

    “Did you find anything else worthwhile?” asked Thorton.

    “Negative, sir,” Thalla replied. “More life form readings, but nothing too dissimilar from your Earth, Captain.”

    “And just how many Andorian species do they resemble, Lieutenant?” Parker asked wryly.

    And the answer was rather blunt. “None. In the recorded history of Andoria, no large surface-dwelling species, mammals or otherwise, have ever existed. Surface conditions on my birth world precludes the evolution of such creatures, Doctor.”

    “Ask a silly question…”

    “…Get an accurate response…” Thalla said with a smirk.

    “Smart ass,” quipped Doc.

    “Would you two mind saving the doctor/science officer routine until we get back to the ship?” asked the captain as he gazed up to the blue sky, hoping the delay in transport would not take too long…
    Back on the starship Essex in orbit of System G-181’s third planet, Astrid Dumont also eagerly awaited the return of the landing party. Once they were aboard, then the ship would move on to its next destination; something that would hopefully be more fruitful than the planet below. And then she wouldn’t have to worry about the fact that the captain along with a landing party that included two of the ship’s senior officers were not aboard.

    She had been kept abreast of the findings from the planet, both by the landing party and from Lieutenant Sarkeesian’s orbital scans. So far, everything discovered had fallen in line with all the observations made earlier from space and on the planet’s surface. A world in the midst of an ice age whose life forms had or was in the process of adapting to the new conditions, one that may some day support a sentient species but was many thousands of years away from such an occurrence. Some might see the results of this survey as being ultimately pointless, but Dumont saw the value in giving the crew a change to study even a so-called boring planet like the one below. Sarkeesian took a data slate over from the science station over to the first officer in the captain’s chair.

    “Latest updates from the science section, Commander,” she stated, handing over the report to her. “Very little of note, however meteorology reports large storm activities over the southernmost continent, similar to cyclone activity on Earth.”

    “Odd given that hurricanes and typhoons are fueled by warm oceans,” noted Dumont as she casually glanced over the report. “Do you really think more scans are necessary, Lieutenant?”

    “It would depend on what Lieutenant Thalla concludes, but I’d say we can’t find out anymore about this planet than a surveyor would.”

    “And since I used to be first officer of a surveyor, I tend to agree with you, Lieutenant. I’ll make the same recommendation to the captain. How soon before we’re in range to beam the landing party aboard?”

    “Twelve minutes, Commander,” she replied before taking the slate back to her station. While the Essex could have taken a geosynchronous orbit over the landing party’s position, which would rob the ship a chance to conduct further scans across the entire planet, scans that clearly had informed Sarkeesian’s recommendation on how to proceed next. The Essex had done what a starship was meant to do at a planet such as this one and it now was best to hand further studies off on dedicated vessels designed to study strange uninhabited new worlds at length.

    “Mr. Ortiz, advise the transporter room to beam the landing party aboard once we’re in range,” Dumont ordered.

    “Aye, Commander,” he replied. “Transporter room, stand by to beam landing party aboard.”

    “Acknowledged, Bridge.”

    “I don’t suppose we could send another landing party or two down, Commander?” asked Boone.

    “In a hurry to get your man bits frozen off?” Yang countered.

    “Well, no; of course not. I’m no fan of the cold, but can anyone guarantee the next time this is going to happen?”

    “Oh, I think that’s something we definitely can’t guarantee, Lieutenant,” Dumont replied wryly. “But I suppose if hypothetically we run into an uninhabited Class M planet with favorable climate in the next couple of months, crew health and morale would demand we’d look into possibly sending down more than just a general survey party.”

    “Shore parties, Exec?” asked the navigator wryly. “But the odds of find one are…”

    “…astronomical, but it’s something we might want to look into. Will that do for now, Lieutenant?”

    “Thank you, Commander,” Boone said in what sounded like a sly tone, but then the master caution light between his half of the console and Fatima’s started to flash with the accompanying and synchronous beep for each one. “Whoa…!”

    “Deflectors just kicked on,” said Fatima. “Object on approach.”

    “Confirmed, Commander!” warned Sarkeesian while looking into the sensor scope. “Sensors have picked up a space vessel at extreme range.”

    “What do you make of it?” asked the first officer, who sprang out of her chair and moved to the railing adjacent to the science station.

    “Currently traveling at warp speeds, on course to enter the system…” The acting science officer then turned her head towards Dumont, adding, “And on a direct course for this planet.”

    “How soon before we’re in range for transport?” she asked sharply.

    “Not for another five minutes!” Boone answered loudly.

    “Whoever it is has a convenient sense of timing. Mr. Ortiz, try hailing the other ship; Linguacode friendship messages. And warn the landing party to stand by.”

    “Aye Commander.” Linguacode was a basic language developed for transmission to alien ships and planets that was supposed to be easily interpreted in the event the receiving party lacked an equivalent of a universal translator. “No response to hails, but the captain’s signaling.”

    “Put him through!”

    “Landing party to Essex, what’s going on up there?”

    “We have a vessel approaching on an intercept course, sir,” she explained. “We’re less than five minutes from being able to beam you up.”

    “Belay that, Commander,” Thorton said. “Get your screens up in case they’re not friendly.”

    “Aye…” Around a thousand thoughts and objections popped into the first officer’s mind, some of which centered on the present circumstance she found herself in and some second-guessing past decisions like the one to let the captain lead the landing party. However, Dumont was only in a position to alter one of them. She jabbed a button on the chair and added, “All hands, go to yellow alert. Repeat, yellow alert. This is not a drill.”

    “Commander,” Sarkeesian warned. “Intruder vessel is continuing to close at warp speeds, now within the limits of this star system heading directly towards us.”

    “If they’re not careful, they’ll overshoot the planet,” remarked Boone. “Or slam right into it.”

    “They’re slowing. Dropping to sublight speeds…”

    “Put them on screen,” Dumont ordered. On the view screen there was only a view of space and the distant stars, but then a bright flash briefly lit up the bridge followed by a large gray shape suddenly coming to a screeching halt (relatively speaking) from interstellar velocities. Instead of it being an unknown, it was chillingly familiar though the first officer had only encountered a vessel of that type once before during her career…one month ago.

    “Again with the bloody Klingons?” Boone half-whispered.

    The acting captain jabbed the same button on her chair again, this time with more force. “Red alert, all hands to battle stations…!”
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006
    Again with the Klingons. And here I was expecting to see some sort of threat coming from the planet, never occurred to me that it might come from somewhere else. Curious to learn what the Klingons are doing so far out in unclaimed space, they'real not exactly explorers.

    This is bound to become a tense situation and a great test go Essex and Dumont's in particular.