Tales of the USS Bluefin: “The Old Man and the Stars” Author's Note: This short-story takes place in July of 2376, between my first story, “Semper Paratus,” and “Storms and Shadows.” Captain Joseph Akinola is the veteran C.O. of the Border Cutter, USS Bluefin, and Commander Inga Strauss is Executive Officer, still very new to the Bluefin and the Border Service. Stardate 53561.2 (24 July 2376) USS Bluefin (NCC-4458) Patrolling Sector 342 near the Molari Badlands Commander Inga Strauss, the 30 year-old Executive Officer of the Border Service Cutter, Bluefin, tried without success to adjust her position in the command chair so that her feet touched the deck. Petite, with blond hair and blue eyes, the young woman of German descent was the polar opposite of their commanding officer. Captain Joseph Barabbas Akinola, by contrast, was a tall, dark-skinned Nigerian, approaching his 60th year. The command chair was a perfect fit for the legendary cutter C.O. Not so much for the diminutive Strauss. Strauss and Akinola were opposites in other ways as well. Akinola was a mustang officer, working his way up through the enlisted ranks of the Border Service until receiving a “battlefield” promotion to lieutenant, ultimately rising to captain. Strauss was an Academy graduate, who rose quickly through the ranks of Starfleet due to heavy losses during the Dominion War. Akinola tended to be somber, while Strauss was perky. Akinola was a seasoned veteran; Strauss a novice within the Border Service. Akinola exuded confidence and gravitas; Strauss could be socially clumsy. Despite their many differences, a bond formed quickly between the two senior officers. Strauss demonstrated both courage and cunning in their first mission together, facing off against a renegade Klingon. While the differences remained, Akinola admired the steel that underlay the youthful, sometimes naive woman. The days since that terrifying mission flowed into weeks. The routine of border cutter life settled in, as did Strauss' ongoing education as a very young Executive Officer. She sipped at a tepid cup of coffee as she watched the star-field stream by on the viewscreen. Strauss missed Raktajino, as she also missed replicators, holodecks, and having a cabin where she could reach out and not touch both walls. But Bluefin was from an earlier era, built at the turn of the 24th century. Unlike her previous billet, USS Thunderchild, the Bluefin was designed for short duration missions, not exploration or defending against the Borg. Still, the cutter was up to her calling – a vessel capable of navigating through ion storms, chasing down and interdicting pirates and smugglers, and towing much larger vessels. She had teeth, too, carrying an impressive array of phaser banks and torpedo tubes. While not a war ship, Bluefin could hold her own against ships of equal and larger size. She was also fast and maneuverable. Bluefin's impulse engines provided as much power-to-mass thrust as the much newer Defiant-class ships. At warp, she could attain well over factor nine. Novice helm officers quickly learned that she was a handful and a joy to fly. “Commander Strauss?” Strauss straightened, chagrined that she'd been wool-gathering. “I'm sorry, T'Ser, say again?” The Vulcan Ops officer favored Strauss with a tolerant smile. “We're receiving telemetry from subspace relay 4774-Gamma. Readings indicate power fluctuations and it's going into shut-down mode. I recommend we divert our course to check on it and effect repairs.” “Yes, of course. Mr. Bralus, alter course along the heading provided by Ops.” “Aye, ma'am. Speed?” Strauss mentally chided herself for not providing complete instructions. “What's our ETA at warp 6?” The Bolian made the adjustments and checked his board. “Two hours, twelve minutes.” “Very well, ahead warp 6,” replied Strauss. She opened an intra-ship channel. “Bridge to Engineering.” “Engineering. Gralt here, what do you want?” Strauss silently counted to ten. She was getting a bit tired of the Chief Engineer's attitude toward her. He was churlish, even for a Tellarite. “We're en route to repair a Gamma class subspace relay, ETA just over two hours. Please have a repair crew on standby.” “Acknowledged. Gralt, out.” “Nice to talk with you, too,” she muttered, but not low enough to escape T'Ser's hearing. “Don't mind Gralt,” said the Vulcan. “I think he's warming up to you. He didn't curse a single time.” “I'm flattered,” replied Strauss, dryly. “Honestly, I don't get why he doesn't like me.” “Gralt doesn't like anyone to my knowledge, the Skipper being an exception.” “Well, of course, he's nice to the Skipper, I mean . . . he's the Skipper.” “It's more than that,” continued T'Ser. “They have a long history. It's . . .” Strauss grinned. “For God's sake, please don't say it's 'complicated.'” “More like convoluted. You'll need to ask the Skipper about that.” “Hmm, like that's going to happen.” Strauss was still a bit intimidated by Akinola. Engaging him in conversation about his past with Lt. Commander Gralt was not on her short-list of things to discuss. With nothing else to talk about, the bridge settled back into companionable silence. Strauss gave up on trying to touch the deck with her feet, instead crossing her legs and swinging them slightly to a song that popped into her head. * * * A little under an hour passed before Captain Akinola appeared from his ready room off the bridge. Strauss wondered if he ever slept in his quarters on deck four. The C.O. wore a suede burgundy jacket over a gray turtle neck shirt. It once was a popular combination for Starfleet captains, but the ubiquitous black jumpsuit had made the combination obsolete. However, Strauss had noticed that the Border Service allowed more flexibility in uniform choices for their senior officers. Thus, bridge crews on cutters might see a mix of older Fleet styles, utility coveralls, and the newer jumpsuits. Strauss preferred the new black with gray shoulders uniform. She rose, allowing Akinola to sit in the chair that was really his. Strauss saw herself as the care-taker when Akinola was off the bridge. God help her if she should rip the faux-leather upholstery or spill coffee on it. “Report, XO,” he began without preamble. His rich baritone voice was both commanding and reassuring, but lacking in a defining accent. Though his ancestors hailed from the African continent, she knew he grew up on a freighter and spent little of his childhood on Earth. “We adjusted course to check on a malfunctioning subspace relay. ETA is approximately one hour, twenty minutes.” Strauss handed him the PADD containing her shift report, one of the duties she always enjoyed. The Captain perused the report, scrolling through and making grunting noises of either approval or disappointment: Strauss had not yet learned to tell the difference. Finally, he affixed his thumb to the PADD and handed it back to Strauss. “I have the conn, XO. Get some rest.” “Thank you,” she replied. She was still adjusting to the less formal interactions on the bridge of a cutter. No one announced, “Captain on the bridge,” or followed any formalized rituals. It was different, but perhaps in its own way, more efficient. Everyone seemed to know their jobs, and they just did them well and on time. At that moment, the turbo-lift doors slid open and a harried young officer hurried to the Ops station. “Well, mostly on time,” thought Strauss. “Glad you could join us, Mr. Bane,” remarked Akinola, dryly. “I hope we weren't interrupting anything important for you to get to your station in a timely manner.” “Ah, no sir. Sorry sir. Bit of trouble with my chronometer . . .” “Lieutenant, I don't recall asking for an explanation,” said Akinola, fixing him with a stare that would give a Klingon warrior pause. “No sir, sorry.” Bane quickly busied himself at Ops, logging in and probably feeling the Captain's stare between his shoulder blades. T'Ser wore a smile of amusement as she joined Strauss in the lift. “You may have noticed that our Alpha shift Operations officer has a tendency to be late,” remarked the Vulcan. “Hmm? No, not really.” “Indeed?” T'Ser cast a sideways glance at Strauss. “From my observations, you seem to 'notice' Mr. Bane on a regular basis.” Inga felt her face redden. “That's ridiculous.” T'Ser wore her slight, maddening smile. “As you say.” It was strange to Inga that the first person on Bluefin with whom she formed an immediate connection was a Vulcan. But T'Ser was not a typical Vulcan; she followed the path of V'tosh K'tur. It was a pejorative term used by Vulcan elders, meaning “Vulcans without logic.” It was inaccurate in that T'Ser was quite adept at logic, but she also embraced her emotions. T'Ser was raised on Earth . . . Seattle, North America, to be exact. Her father was a professor, her mother a diplomat. They believed that the Vulcan philosophy of IDIC, Infinte Diversity in Infinite Combinations, should apply to Vulcans as to any other race. Thus, they allowed T'Ser to follow her own path, leading her to explore the paths of logic and emotion. In the end, she found she could follow both. They arrived on deck four and made their way to the Officer's Ward Room. This was another anachronism that both troubled and charmed Strauss. On Starfleet capital ships, eating areas were integrated with no separation between officers and enlisted crews. Yet even that was something of an illusion, as officers often met in special conference rooms. T'Ser had quoted some obscure Vulcan philosopher when Strauss first broached the subject. “A difference that makes no difference is not a difference.” The Ward Room was across the passageway from the crew's mess, another anachronism, in that there was an actual galley and cook. Cullinary Specialist First Class Tony “Cookie” Marino was an artist when it came to tempting food. Inga had stepped up her workout routine to avoid gaining weight. She followed T'ser into the mess, where a few crewman coming off shift had stopped for breakfast. Cookie was behind a serving table, laden with breakfast items from four different worlds. Strauss chose Rigellian Funti-melon and toast. T'Ser loaded a plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast with butter and jam. They crossed back to the Ward Room to find Dr. Calvin Baxter, the ship's CMO, in conversation with the Bluefin's Assistant Engineer, Lt. Delta Simms. Strauss liked the kindly physician and had been surprised to learn he was once the head of Starfleet Medical at Atlanta on Earth. He'd retired from Starfleet, only to seek reinstatement when the Dominion War began. Rebuffed by the Fleet, he threw his lot in with the Border Service. Simms excused herself, leaving Baxter with T'Ser and Strauss. “It strikes me as patently unfair,” began the CMO, indicating Strauss' breakfast selection, “that you can choose a sensible diet, exercise regularly, yet you won't live half as long as T'Ser, who insists on eating the most unhealthy diet imaginable.” T'Ser smiled and lifted her mug of coffee in salute. “Here's to a high metabolism and excellent genes.” Strauss smirked. “Aren't you pushing your luck, eating all that? I mean, that's a lot, even for a Vulcan.” “I'll let you know when I hit my two-hundredth birthday.” * * * “Skipper? Transient contact bearing 12 degrees, mark 20,” announced Lt. Nigel Bane. “Can you get an ID?” “Stand by . . . definitely a vessel . . . Galdax-class freighter, ID code MV Moon Shadow.” A smile played on Akinola's face. “Lindy Beauchamp's ship? Hail them, Mr. Bane.” It took a few moments, but soon the image of a Human woman with silver hair appeared on the main viewscreen. She smiled when she saw Akinola. “Captain Akinola, my goodness, I am so happy to see you.” “Alana, this is a pleasant surprise. Where's that scoundrel of a grandfather of yours?” Her smile faltered. “In has cabin. Joseph, he's not doing well, though he'd have a fit if he knew I told you that. The old cuss won't go to a medical facility and he's starting to decline . . . won't eat hardly a morsel, can't sleep worth a damn, and he's getting awfully forgetful.” The Captain nodded. “Where are you headed, Alana?” “Molari IV. We're hauling a load of industrial replicators and atmospheric scrubbers.” “How about we rendezvous. I could beam over with our CMO for a quick visit and Dr. Baxter could check Lindy. How old is the cranky goat, anyway?” “Just turned 115. Joseph, I hate for you to go out of your way . . .” “Nonsense. It's part of the job, besides, you and Lindy are old friends. We'll head that way and hail when we're in transporter range.” She smiled. “I would be grateful. See you soon.” With the channel closed, Akinola opened an intra-ship channel. “Bridge to Engineering.” “How can I get any work done with all these frelling interruptions?” “Change of plans, Gralt. Get your repair team to the hangar deck. I'll have Lt. Fralk ferry them to fix that relay. We've got a minor emergency on a freighter we need to check out.” “Some Yarliq-brained pilot come down with Andorian hemorrhoids?” “Not quite. Lindy Beauchamp is having some health issues. We're going to rendezvous and have Dr. Baxter check on him.” The channel was quiet for a moment. “Lindy Beauchamp you say? Master of the Moon Shadow?” “The same.” Another pause. “I'm going with you. These youngsters can handle fixing a subspace relay with their eyes closed. A ride in a Stallion will build character. Let me know when we're in transporter range. Gralt, out.” Akinola smiled. “I thought you might say that.” * * * To be Continued.