Friday, May 2, 2003

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."

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