Saturday, May 3, 2003

Arapaho: Heading Out

Scene: USS Arapaho, Bridge

Captain Zachary Russell sat in the center chair on the bridge of the Arapaho. Holding a PADD, he went through the final steps in a checklist that had so far taken two days to accomplish. Now, it was only moments from completion.

"Commander Hilani, are all crew present and accounted for?" he asked the XO beside him.

"Affirmative, sir. All three hundred twenty-five have reported for duty," came the answer.

"Very good." He hit his combadge. "Lieutenant Erisoll, are we ready?"

[Ready, sir. Impulse and warp propulsion running well within parameters. She's purring like a kitten, sir,] Erisoll replied.

"Excellent. Ensign James, open a channel to the Starbase Dockmaster."

"Aye, sir," James replied, "the channel is open."

"Epsilon Control, this is Arapaho," Russell said.

[Epsilon control here; go ahead, Arapaho,] a very official-sounding voice answered.

"We have completed startup protocols and are ready for launch. Request permission to depart," the Captain said.

[Arapaho, you are cleared for launch at 2307 hours on stardate 30503. Smooth sailing, Captain. Epsilon control out.]

"Lieutenant Jo'Mal, release the docking clamps."

"Aye, docking clamps released Captain," Jo'Mal reported.

"Helm, engage thrusters, one quarter."

The helm officer complied, and the view on the main screen showed the close exterior wall of the docking ring slowly moving away. The ship had been docked with the front end pointing toward the starbase. All sat in wonder at the thought of their three million ton ship backing out into space.

"Now at one hundred meters," the Captain said. "Bring her about and continue toward the outer perimeter."

The view now showed the starbase turning away as the ship spun to point into space. The inner perimeter beacons were clearly visible ten kilometers out. The ship continued moving, forward this time, straight toward them.

"Full thrusters, accelerate to one hundred k.p.h."

"Full thrusters, aye," the helmsman replied.

So it had finally begun. After weeks and days of waiting, reports, checklists, requisitions, and briefs, they were finally on their way. A combination of excitement and relief filled everyone on the bridge. Knowing it would take a few minutes to get to the beacons, each officer took their chance to double- and triple-check their stations. When they cleared the inner beacons, they were finally authorized to use the regular engines. The outer markers were another 140 kilometers away, but at impulse speeds it wouldn't take long to reach them.

"Helm, one quarter impulse."

"One quarter impulse, aye. Outer markers in 2.3 minutes." The helm officer was a capable ensign, but Lieutenant Jo'Mal was noticed by everyone keeping a close eye on that station only slightly less than the Ops board. It seemed to amuse everyone but the Captain, but he bit his mental tongue, knowing that nothing short of solid mentorship would make for a competent crew. He knew deep down the officers he would be serving with were among Starfleet's best.

"Now at outer markers, Captain," the helmsman reported.

"Acknowledged. Set course 050 mark 112 and engage at warp 2," Russell ordered. "Let's make sure she's nice and healthy before we run her too hard."

Slowly the deep hum of the warp drive filled every space in the ship. It was a comfortable, satisfying sound to the Captain. As seconds passed and the ship accelerated, the other officers on the bridge also seemed to loosen up considerably under the influence of the subtle song.

For the first time in nearly half an hour, Captain Russell looked over to the XO, who was busily working at a PADD just as diligently as when he'd looked last. "Commander," the captain said.

Commander Hilani looked over. "Sir?"

"Please schedule a mission briefing and staff meeting first thing tomorrow morning. We need to explain the situation to the crew and start brainstorming."

"I'm right on it, Captain," Hilani replied with a big Pacific-islander smile, then went back to work on his PADD.

Zachary turned back to the main viewer and watched the star systems move slowly past the ship. He took a deep breath, and resumed his own work.

Friday, May 2, 2003

Arapaho: Official Welcome

Scene: USS Arapaho, Ready Room

Captain Russell and Commander Hilani stood in front of the three officers who had just reported. They looked fresh and eager, and their new rank insignia made one of the reasons obvious.

“Lieutenant Votaryn Erisoll, Lieutenant Na’Hel Jo’Mal, and Lieutenant Sardra Vol. Welcome aboard. It is my pleasure to congratulate you each on your promotions. Commander Hilani and I have reviewed your records, and we both expect you will deliver nothing less than your best while you are part of the Arapaho crew.”

Captain Russell stood and spoke in an even military tone, devoid of any personality. Commander Hilani said nothing, but at a nod from the CO, he walked across the rank of officers standing at attention before them and handed each a PADD. When he was finished, he stepped back to his position on the Captain’s left, and spoke.

“The PADD each of you has in your hands contains your official transfer orders as well as an introduction of your first tasks on the ship. There shouldn’t be any surprises; if there are, please find me and we’ll get it straightened out. You have each been given new quarters and offices appropriate to your positions; these are outlined as well.”

Captain Russell spoke again. “Before you are dismissed, I have one announcement. While the Commander and I are very pleased with Captain O’Banyon’s recommendations, we have taken the liberty to make one small change.” He approached Lieutenant Erisoll. “Lieutenant, you are hereby assigned the title of Interim Chief Engineer, pending the assignment of another officer by Starfleet. After further evaluation, Commander Hilani and I hope to recommend you for the post, so stay sharp. Congratulations.”

Erisoll, who at first appeared nervous at being approached by the Captain, smiled as if relieved and returned the shook his hand. “Thank you, sir,” he said.

Once again Russell stepped back and regained his perfect bearing. “Again, welcome aboard. It will be a pleasure having you with us. Dismissed.”

Arapaho: Change of Command

Scene: Starbase Epsilon, Docking port A-348

Captain Russell bound his eagerness in as much professionalism as he could muster, but his excitement was obvious. He strode rather than walked down the corridor. His usual stoic visage was replaced by a poorly hidden smile. As he reached the interior perimeter of the docking ring and flashed his ID to the sentry, his heart began to race.

He got on the lift and looked out over the open sides to the cavernous docking structure. Gliding along the track that ran 300 meters above the bottommost floor of the docking ring, he could see the dozens of docking ports below and beyond. He looked to the rows of parallel tracks running beside those his lift followed, and took note of how huge the space was. Designed to dock dozens of ships at once, four stacked levels of at least fifteen docks each could accommodate all but the largest starships in the Federation’s many fleets. Already a variety were parked here for some reason or another, and the alpha docking ring was only one of four at the starbase.

Zachary had been on the lift nearly five full minutes. He looked ahead and could finally make out the flashing red lights indicating the docking protocols were still not complete. It was very early in the morning, and although there was no regular sun or rotation of a planet to alert anyone of designated waking and sleeping times, most of the starbase was still inactive at this time of ‘day’. Russell marveled at how nearly every species in the Federation measured time in almost exactly the same manner, and was ruled internally by the routine existence of ancestors thousands of generations before.

Just as the lift slowed to a stop and began a descent to the first level, right near 349, the docking technicians cleared the ship. In a few moments, the small skeleton crew of Poseidon’s officers would come through a door just fifty meters from Zachary. In so short a time, two men would become instantly responsible for tens of thousands of metric tons of Federation property, hundreds of lives, and the fulfillment of countless hopes and dreams.

A light came on over the door Zachary hadn't noticed. Apparently, it meant the doors were cleared. He approached and they opened. Ahead of him, a long walkway stretched out to a portal on Arapaho's forward bow. He looked to each side, then behind him. With no one to stop him, he walked forward.

Junior officers started coming through the other side. Seeing the Captain, they nodded courteously and respected his rank as they disembarked. Stopping at the end of the walkway, Zachary looked to the side of the portal. The exterior of the ship's hull was exposed on either side, the first barrier between the crew and the void of space. Tentatively, he touched it with his hand. It felt good.

"Cap'n Russell, I presume?"

A strong voice interrupted Zachary's connection, causing him to pull his hand quickly away from the smooth cool duranium alloy. He looked into the ship and saw a large man who looked like he was almost always in a good mood. He wore three full pips on his collar.

"You must be Commander Pritchard," Zachary said. The man nodded and smiled. "Permission to come aboard, Commander?"

"Permission granted, sir," Duncan smiled.

Zachary stepped forward across the threshold onto the ship--his ship, his home. Although the deckplate was the at the same level as the walkway, it felt pleasantly different somehow. He crossed the short distance between himself and Commander Pritchard. The two men shook hands heartily.

"She's a hell of a ship, Cap'n," Duncan complimented. "It was a pleasure bringing her home. Congratulations."

Zachary smiled and did his best to communicate a response through his actions. He knew all the protocols involved in taking command of a ship for the first time...the orders, reports and ceremonies, but being the first of his crew to step aboard, and meeting the Commander personally meant more than any ceremony ever would.

Both men heard the sound of footsteps coming down the walkway and looked. Commander Hilani was coming aboard.

"Commander Pritchard," Zachary said, "there's someone here I'd like very much for you to meet."

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Arapaho: At Last

Scene: Starbase Epsilon

Captain Russell looked out the window of the observation deck on Starbase Epsilon, watching the alpha docking ring about a kilometer away. Dozens of ships of all types and origins were at port there, but he had his eyes on one that was empty. Large painted figures on the outside of the dock were clearly visible even from this far away. They read “348.”

Zachary took a long sip of strong black coffee and looked at his watch. It was almost 0430. He resisted the urge to check with base communications, allowing himself the innocent thrill of waiting. He looked deep out into space, and for the first time in an hour, he could just begin to make out two tiny spots.

They might be light grey ships, but from here they were merely specks illuminated by the nearby star. Still, an excitement rose from within the captain he hadn’t felt in years. There were no other ships due into the alpha ring at this time; these specks could only be the Poseidon and Arapaho.

Forcing himself to sit still and finish his coffee, he waited until he could clearly make out the silhouettes of both the Sovereign and Akira class vessels. Ordering another cup, he waited until he could clearly make out the registry numbers painted across the dorsal bow: U.S.S. ARAPAHO NCC-62629, and U.S.S. POSEIDON NCC-46559. Finally, as he watched the Akira separate from the Sovereign and enter the docking perimeter, he allowed himself to get up and head toward the docking ring. He looked again at his watch: 0458. Commander Pritchard was two minutes early.

Zachary tapped his combadge as he walked out to the corridor. “Russell to Commander Hilani. She’s here.”

[Acknowledged, sir. I can see her now.] *So he had been watching, too,* Russell thought, pleased. *Good.* [I’ll meet you as discussed.]

“Very well. Russell out.” The doors slid open and Russell exited, eager to make a very special new acquaintance.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Arapaho: Roll Call

Scene: Starbase Epsilon

The tasks of command had almost been lost to months of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Rebuilding muscle and bone was arduous work, but nothing compared to rebuilding a mind.

Zachary Russell sat and rubbed his temples. He thought of the past, and the future. He looked out to the slowly moving view outside the starbase, and refocused on the PADD in his lap. Arapaho was due to arrive in less than twenty-four hours, and the crew roll call was the last item on his to-do list.

<Call to order:

<As of stardate 30428, you are hereby activated for duty aboard the USS Arapaho NCC-62629. The following personnel will report to docking station A-349 by 0800 hours.> It went on to give information on himself and Commander Hilani, with the list of officers due to report.

<Ensign Teknaru, male El-Aurian. General Sciences,> Zachary read. He was in awe at some of the details. 529 years old, with over fifty children? This would be the first El-Aurian Zachary knew personally.

<Ensign Zuve, Fileemi. Female joined Trill. Security.> She was on Arapaho when it was sacked by near Crosant IV. She would be a valuable asset on board. Checking her service record further, Russell made a short note and forwarded it to Commander Hilani.

<Ensign Clark, William. Male human. Security.> Just out of Academy, and probably cocky as they come when they're still wet behind the ears. No different than myself, thought Zachary... so many years ago. An easy smile came to the old man's face as a distant memory of his own youth revisited him briefly.

<Ensign Mircea, Grec Lucian. Male human. Operations.> Another officer fresh from Academy. The thought occurred to Russell that so many new officers might bring a special kind of comradery to the ship. Just what an old warrior like Arapaho needs, he thought: new blood and enthusiasm.

<Ensign Tal'nah, male Klingon. Tactical.> Russell vaguely remembered a Starfleet bulletin regarding this officer. He sent a quick note to the XO to have him check on it.

<Doctor (Ensign) Astri, Julana Talos. Female half-Betazoid. Medical Sciences.> Arapaho's first doctor. Her credentials were professional enough; given time, she might prove herself an able CMO. Of course, he hoped the best for every one of the new officers assigned to his ship.

Zachary checked back on his requisition for officers to Starfleet Personnel. As it turned out, the captain of Poseidon, the vessel that rescued Arapaho and was escorting her home, had recommened one of her own for a position. Ensign Sardra Vol. The listing for her species surprised him: Vulcan/Romulan mix. There was still enough xenophobia left in the Federation that most Romulan blood was either kept secret or swept under the rug when it came to Starfleet personnel records. The fact that it showed up on his roster gave Russell hope that a new kind of tolerance might be building.

After all, he had seen well enough what could happen when intolerance went too far.

Slowly, Russell read each name and record, and clicked the 'notify' box beside them. Russell pushed the 'Send' button below the list. In nanoseconds, each officer would receive his or her orders, and each would be called to board the ship they all had long awaited. The beginning was now underway.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Arapaho: Poolroom Meeting

Scene: Starbase Epsilon, Officer's Club

The din of the Officer's Club poolroom crawled across the dusty hardwood floor like a heavy fog. It fell onto the feet of each patron, and whether there to drown a sorrow or celebrate a success, every denizen of that dark room knew the weight the fog would carry away from them, and allowed their passions to be swept up like those of all the others.

Zachary Russell was no different. He played alone at one of dozens of tables, a bright lamp forty inches above the slate, each table lit like so many islands in the sea. He looked at the table as he chalked the cue stick, then took a final drink from a tall lager glass before setting it down next to three empty glasses.

The crack of the cue ball sounded like a .45 as it hit the yellow one ball square. The exchange of momentum sent fifteen balls scattering across green felt in every direction. The four and twelve balls dropped into corner pockets.

"Mind if I play?"

Zach heard the voice, but didn't look to acknowledge it for a moment. He hoped his distance would intimidate the intruder into finding another table. But when he looked up, he saw the owner of the voice standing opposite him. It belonged to a young man of dark complexion. His build and bearing showed an officer of considerable experience, and the simplicity with which he carried himself betrayed a hidden complexity. The cool look on his face showed wisdom beyond his apparent years.

"Sure," Russell replied. "You're stripes."

He leaned in for another shot, sinking the red three. The cue ball came to a stop directly in line with the side pocket and the seven ball. He hammered it in easily. As Russell walked around the table for chalk, the stranger spoke.

"Name's Hilani." He stuck out his hand. "Jason Hilani."

Russell finished with the chalk and shook hands with the man. "Zach Russell," he said simply, then leaned in for his shot. It was a difficult bank, but with enough left english, the cue ball would take a sharp turn off the rail and hit the one, dropping it softly into the corner pocket. Russell took a deep breath, and succeeded.

"Nice shot," Hilani complimented. But by the time he finished speaking, Russell had sent the cue ball crashing into the five, knocking it squarely into a pocket.

Russell looked up. "Thanks," he said. He moved quickly around the table and slowly took aim. Looking down his stick, he could see the cue ball, six, and two in a nearly perfect lineup with the corner. He pushed the stick forward. The cue ball hit the two, which hit the six, which fell into the pocket. The other two balls still in line, Russell leaned in again and shot. The six rolled toward the corner, bounced off one, then the other, side of the pocket, and rolled back toward Russell.

"Hmm," Russell said, and walked to a high round table. The waitress had left two clean glasses next to the half full pitcher. Russell filled both with the foaming amber quaff and drank from one.

He offered Hilani the other. "Your shot," he said.

Saturday, April 5, 2003

Arapaho: From Operations to Communications

Scene: XO's Office

Ensign James entered the office just as Commander Hilani finished up one of the many reports he was due to submit before departure. He looked up as the door chime called. "Enter," he said.

"Ensign Daphne James, reporting as ordered Sir!" the young woman saluted and stood firmly at attention. Jason forgot how it was to be fresh out of Academy.

"As you were, Ensign. Please, take a seat," he asked. She did timidly.

"I won't keep you long," the XO began, "I just wanted to let get your opinion on something."

"Anything, sir," Daphne replied quickly.

"I've been looking through your service history and aptitude scores..." Commander Hilani glanced up as Ensign James shifted nervously in her seat, and continued. "...and I'd like to recommend to the Captain a change in your position, from Operations to Communications Officer. What do you think?"

Ensign James was obviously very uncomfortable at this level of casual chat between a junior officer and an XO. Her efforts at looking comfortable made it even worse.

"Of course, sir, whatever the ship needs!"

Jason sighed. "Ensign James...look. Captain Russell and I want the officers on Arapaho to do the work that will not only serve the ship best, but satisfy their own ambitions. Based on your past work and skills, we both feel it would both fill a gap that would make you much more valuable to the ship and Starfleet in the future, but give you a chance to learn something new, that you'll probably be very good at."

The Commander's rather long explanation left the already nervous Ensign in a mild state of bewilderment. After a moment, all his words managed to sink in. "I understand, sir," she said, "I'll accept the change." She smiled, indicating her confidence in the decision.

Commander Hilani smiled back. "Very good, I'll notify the Captain and make the appropriate changes. Dismissed."

After Ensign James left, Jason hit his combadge. "Commander Hilani to Captain Russell, she agreed. We have a Comm officer."

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Arapaho: For Better or Worse

Scene: Starbase Epsilon

The bleak neutral grey walls of Starbase Epsilon's guest officer's quarters threw a dull light all around. Even in the small office nook, ambient sounds and natural light coming from local system's sun were cast down and disregarded before reaching the senses of the occupant. The brightest spot in the room was a small potted plant hanging from the ceiling, struggling to survive.

Captain Zachary Russell sat oblivious amidst the barrenness. Feet propped on the edged out desk drawer, he sat back in the grey chair with a large PADD, reviewing its contents for the nth time. He skimmed over dozens of pages of personnel reports, schematics, service updates, technical data sheets, flowcharts, and logic diagrams. He'd seen most of it before; he'd even written some of it, having once been considered an expert on Akira class tactical systems. But that was years ago. What he wanted was at the end, only a few hours old.

Finally he reached the Poseidon's logs. Captain O'Banyon's report on the incident in the Crosant system, a savage, pirate-infested region of the Neutral Zone, was painfully detailed. Holoimages were professionally and technically rendered in blinding 56x128k resolution, showing even the minutest hull fractures. The engineer's report on Arapaho's condition was sterile but impressive. Repairs were underway, and she would be operational upon arrival at Epsilon. Good enough...for now.

Russell sighed inaudibly and set down the PADD. He reached for a stark white coffee mug bearing a faded Starfleet emblem and put it to his lips, only to find that it was empty. He cursed quietly and set it back on the desk, next to another PADD. Eyeing this with a sidelong glance, he scowled and stood. On the display, the face of a middle-aged man stared back at him, a summary of his service record running in a slow-rising column at the left of the picture. As it scrolled, Russell watched until the last item was displayed:

Memories of Gene Cook flooded back into Russell's mind. They had graduated from Academy together. They shared their first assignment on the USS Tiberius. They got matching tattoos on Risa. Their careers were almost mirrors of each other. Until the accident.

Gene's injuries kept him from duty nearly a year. He'd even considered retirement before being offered a sweet spot on a Nova class. By then, Zach was XO on the Deltron. Eventually the war brought them together again. Afterwards, Gene went on to Arapaho as COO, while Russell was in recovery.

Russell picked up his orders, a few weeks old now, and read.

[As of Stardate 30401, Captain Zachary Russell is hereby assigned as Commanding Officer of USS Arapaho. Lieutenant Commander Eugene Gook is hereby promoted to full Commander and is assigned as Executive Officer. (Signed) Fleet Admiral Douglas White.]

But now Gene was dead.

Russell rubbed his temples and stood. The reports would wait. The messages would wait. The dispatches and requisitions and decisions would wait. At least a little while.