Stardate 139244.8 (Mon 20 Aug 2300): The Merrimac, an aging Constitution-class starship, has been given a new crew and assigned to one final five-year mission: the typically dull duty of patrolling the border with the Gorn and the Kzin, just as tensions between the two neighboring races begin to rise.
The sanctions had finally been lifted two years ago. They’d been imposed by the damned—but powerful—Federation after the third and failed war against them a century before.
One hundred years of humiliation, the Imperium forced to endure the regulation of its society by a foreign power to prevent a perceived threat. But that was over now. Over time, opinion within the Federation’s corrupt society had shifted to allow autonomy and self-determination for the subjugated Imperium, permitting the reformation of the military. How generous of them.
Circumstances were gradually returning to the way they once were, the way they should be, but the Imperium was still much too weak. It needed time; time to rebuild that which was lost, time to regain territory ceded in wars past, time to find new repositories of raw materials to be utilized for the greater glory of the Imperium. Until such a time as they were ready, however, they must be patient. Above all, they must not let the Federation’s malleable masses to suspect the sleeping beast that was now struggling to awaken. It would require a degree of subterfuge unheard of in the days of emperors past, but it was a regrettable necessity.
Events did not bode well for the Hegemony. For the past three decades, ever since the first encounter with the damnable Federation, the Hegemony had been forced to cede more and more territory to increasingly stronger opposing forces.
Precious resources had been lost with every planet, asteroid and dust cloud ceded, and the Hegemony was forced to barter with the Federation for the very bits of raw materials to which it had once held sovereign right while simultaneously searching for new worlds, with new resources to utilize.
All because of the simple fact that the Federation was stronger than the Hegemony. Strength may prove the victor, but it gave cold comfort to the loser. And the Hegemony hated to lose.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 139244.8
Gone are the heady days of yore, when captains like James T. Kirk roamed the spaceways. Granted, we still have the Enterprise, but, like everything else coming out of Starfleet Command, it’s an Excelsior-class starship—bigger, faster, stronger, better. Even Kirk himself is gone—in a blaze of glory, no less, saving a few dozen refugees three years ago.
No, ships like mine aren’t as exciting as they used to be. Sulu and the Excelsior, and now Chekov and the new Enterprise, have seen to that.
"Constitution-class vessels were for Kirk’s day," they say. "Now it’s time for the next generation—led, appropriately enough, by former members of Kirk’s own crew."
Not if I have anything to say about it.
Robert April Hall
Transporter Room Six
20 August 2300 1410 hrs
Captain Jack Phillips materialized on the transporter pad and the cadet standing next to the control panel stiffened, then smiled. Phillips was just under six feet tall, and his face was beginning to show its age. He was just glad that his dirty-blonde hair helped hide the gray that had been creeping in for the past few years.
"Dad!" said Cadet Fourth Class Daniel Phillips, still smiling, as the older Phillips stepped off the pad. "I’m glad you could get away long enough to beam down." The younger Phillips looked very much like his father, but had quite a bit of his mother’s face as well; his hair was darker, his face rounder, but he was unmistakably Jack Phillips’ son.
"Dan," Phillips said, smiling, "I’ll be leaving for Starbase Twenty-three in a few days, when the refit of the Merrimac is finished and the rest of my crew is aboard. Until then, there really wasn’t much for me to do but sit at my desk and sign reports. Of course I’d come visit you before then."
"Still," Dan said, leading his father into the sunlit hallway outside the transporter room at Starfleet Academy, "I’m glad you could come."
"Me too," Phillips agreed.
"Oh, I got a letter from Mom this morning," Dan said excitedly. "She said Captain Chekov himself requested her transfer to the Enterprise!"
"Oh," Phillips said, a little too suddenly, "that’s great. I’ll have to send her my congratulations."
Phillips squinted as they stepped outside onto the Academy grounds. Too much damned time spent in my ready room, he thought. I’m not used to sunlight anymore.
"Are you two still mad at each other?" Dan asked a few moments later.
"Huh?" Phillips half-asked, half-grunted.
"You and Mom," Dan said. "Are you guys still arguing?"
Phillips paused to consider the wording of what he was about to say. "Dan, your mother and I don’t always get along," he began, "but we don’t always argue, either. I still care about her, but we’ve both moved on; we’re still friends."
"Uh-huh," Dan said, rolling his eyes. "What was it about this time?"
"What?" Phillips asked innocently.
"Come on, Dad," Dan said. "We play this game every time. You two always end up getting in an argument over something."
"Do you really want to know?" Phillips asked, already knowing the answer. The look in his son’s eyes was all the confirmation he needed. He sighed, then began, "Well, she’s not too impressed with my ship. She said it’s a sign of how much my career is worth when I’m put in command of a forty-six-year-old—Constitution-class — starship and assigned to patrol the Gorn and Kzinti borders."
"Ouch," Dan observed as they entered his dormitory building. "What did you tell her?"
"That, not eight years ago, she would have done the same to get on Kirk’s Constitution-class Enterprise as she has to get on Chekov’s. And that Starfleet needs its best people in that area, not only in case the Gorn or Kzin try something, but also because of the Romulan presence. That and the Merrimac will be almost as well- equipped as any Excelsior-class ship after the refit’s complete."
"I take it she didn’t react well to that," Dan said, opening the door to his quarters.
"No," Phillips said, entering the spartan room. Dan’s roommate jumped to attention when he saw Phillips enter the room. "As you were, cadet," Phillips said. The confused cadet relaxed slightly and looked at Dan.
"Nick," Dan said, "this is my dad, Captain Jack Phillips. Dad, this is Cadet Nick Nettles."
Phillips extended his hand, which Nick hesitantly took.
"Good to meet you, Nick," Phillips said.
"Yes, sir," Nick said. "Good to meet you too, sir."
"Relax, cadet," Phillips said. "This isn’t an inspection. I’m just paying my son a visit while I’m in Earth space."
"Of-of course, sir," Nick replied, embarrassed. "Whatever you say, sir. I’m just not used to having a senior officer in the room for anything but an inspection."
Phillips’ communicator began to beep at his belt. He closed his eyes and sighed in frustration, grabbing it. "Phillips here," he said.
"Ensign Jackson here, captain," the voice on the other side of the communicator said apologetically. "Sorry to disturb you sir, but we just received word that the shuttle carrying Commander Shralev and lieutenants T’Maril and M’Ress will be arriving within the next twenty minutes."
"Well," Phillips observed, "they’re early. I’ll beam back up shortly. Thank you, ensign." Phillips pressed a button on his communicator, cutting the conversation short. He looked at his son. "Sorry, Dan, looks like I’ve got to head back to work. That shuttle is ferrying most of my senior staff from Starbase Five and they’re a half-hour early." Dan looked disheartened. "Well, let’s head back over to the transporter room. Nick, it was nice to meet you."
"Yes, sir," Nick said. "The feeling is mutual, sir."
Phillips and his son left the dormitory building in silence. As they were walking across the grounds, he said, "Dan, look, I’ll try to get away again before I leave. Maybe I can arrange for you to beam up to the ship for a few hours, although you may end up having to write a report on it or something." When his son didn’t react: "Dan, that was a joke."
"Sorry, Dad," Dan said. "I was hoping to be able to spend more time with you before you left."
"Don’t worry, Dan," Phillips said, "I’ll work something out."
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
Docked at Earth Spacedock
Transporter Room One
20 August 2300 1438 hrs
"Captain," Phillips’ yeoman, Melanie Ryan, said after he had appeared on the transporter pad, "the shuttle will be landing in the next five minutes. I’ve taken the liberty of pulling the records of Commander Shralev and lieutenants T’Maril and M’Ress. They’re waiting for you on your ready room desk, as well as an updated report on the refit from Commander Akric." Phillips glanced at the attractive, young London native. She had light blonde hair and a slight build, and she carried herself purposefully at all times. At least, at all times that he’d seen her.
"Thank you, yeoman," Phillips said as they stepped into the corridor. "I’ll stop off at my quarters to freshen up before I head up to my ready room. Have Commander Shralev meet me there in thirty minutes, Lieutenant T’Maril in forty-five and Lieutenant M’Ress in an hour."
"Yes, sir," Ryan said, following Phillips into the turbolift.
"Deck five," Phillips told the computer, "section oh-one-nine- five." The lift began to move. "Aren’t you going to meet the shuttle, or are you planning on going to my quarters, too, yeoman?"
"No, sir," Ryan said, a little flustered. "Computer: deck nineteen, shuttlebay."
The turbolift halted and the doors opened, allowing Phillips to exit a few meters from the door of his quarters, then shut again after he stepped out. He walked the short distance down the corridor, pausing to key in the door lock sequence when he arrived at his quarters. The door slid open with a muted hiss, and he stepped inside.
The lights were dimmed, bright enough only to prevent him from walking into a bulkhead while simultaneously conserving as much energy as possible. He ordered the computer to increase the lighting to half-standard, then pulled off his crimson jacket and threw it on the bunk. He took a seat at the small desk next to the bed, glancing at the images captured in the picture frames sitting on the tabletop. His family featured prominently in all of them: his son; his ex-wife, Ilyana Ivanova, whom he’d met while they were cadets at Starfleet Academy; his parents; as well as his grandparents.
His family had been in one military or another since they’d immigrated to the American colonies in the eighteenth century. They were among the first to join the rebellion against the British Empire in 1775, on both sides of the American Civil War, on the front lines of all three World Wars and had given their lives in the service of their country, believing that they were doing something for the greater good. Five hundred years later, the tradition lived on.
His family was among the first of the Earth military to join Starfleet and dedicate their lives to the exploration of the galaxy more than a century ago. Same family, new military. It was in the blood. For some of them, it was the only thing they knew how to do, and do well.
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
Docked at Earth Spacedock
20 August 2300 1520 hrs
Phillips sat in his ready room, reading through the service record of his new first officer, the Andorian Commander Shralev. He’d been a navigator, then a helmsman, and now, his executive officer. Phillips glanced through Shralev’s previous postings when something caught his eye. He looked up, examining the blue-skinned, antennaed humanoid seated across his desk from him more thoroughly than before.
"Commander Shralev," Phillips said, "You served aboard the Endeavour from 2280 to 2287?"
"That is correct, sir," Shralev said.
"The Constitution-class Endeavour," Phillips reiterated, "under Robert Phillips?"
"Yes, sir," Shralev said. "Is that a problem?"
"Not at all," Phillips said. "I was just reminded at how small the Federation really is, that’s all. Bob Phillips is my father."
"He was an excellent commanding officer, sir," Shralev said. "I regret that I was not able to serve with him longer. However, when he accepted his promotion, it made continued service aboard that vessel under his leadership impossible."
"Well, commander," Phillips said, changing the subject and setting down the datapad that displayed the Andorian’s service record, "your service record appears to be in order; nothing extraordinary like saving a planet, but nothing egregious like blowing one up, either." The Andorian first officer remained silent and expressionless. "That was a joke," Phillips said after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.
"I see, sir," Shralev responded. "Human and Andorian humor is apparently quite different. We have difficulty understanding yours; I understand the opposite is also true."
Phillips looked back at his datapad. "I see your last assignment was as helmsman of the Azrael. Are there any thoughts you’d care to share on your experiences there?"
"Nothing of significance occurred," Shralev said. "I performed my duties as expected, of course."
"Of course," Phillips said. "You do understand that I expect every member of this crew to perform to the utmost of their ability." A statement, not a question. Shralev nodded, almost imperceptibly, as Phillips continued, "You’ll be my liaison to the crew. I’ll still be available for personal meetings, but only after said crewmember has gone through the chain of command. Any questions?"
"None, sir," Shralev said.
"Very well, then," Phillips said, "you’re dismissed. I’m looking forward to serving with you."
Shralev rose wordlessly, leaving Phillips and the assorted datapads on his desk. Phillips scanned through another moments before the chime to his office door sounded.
"Come in," Phillips said. Lieutenant T’Maril, the Vulcan assigned as the Merrimac‘s science officer, walked through the doorway. She carried herself rigidly, but not so stiffly as most Vulcans. Her ears had the distinctive pointed tips of her people, while her dark hair hung loosely around her shoulders, and…
My God, Phillips thought, she’s smiling! "Please, Lieutenant," he said, indicating the seat across his desk that Shralev had occupied only moments before, "have a seat."
"I apologize for startling you, sir," she said. "Apparently you haven’t had the time to read through my file yet."
"No," he admitted, "I’ve only been able to glance at it. Any more surprises?"
"Not really, sir," she said. "I do follow the teachings of Surak, yet my application of logic isn’t quite so… dogmatic as most other Vulcans."
"So I’ve noticed," Phillips said. "You don’t suppress your emotions."
"Not entirely," T’Maril said. "Like others who have studied the teachings of Surak, I have control over my emotions. Unlike them, however, I believe it is illogical to completely suppress them."
"I see what Commander Shralev meant when he said you’re as unique as a Vulcan as I am as a human," Phillips said. "That’s either the greatest understatement in the galaxy, or I’m beginning to understand Andorian humor." He glanced at the datapad displaying T’Maril’s service record. "I see your last posting was aboard the science vessel Planck under Captain Torik. Any thoughts you’d like to share on your experiences there? According to this, you and Torik apparently didn’t agree on emotions."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?" T’Maril asked.
"Granted," Phillips said.
"I’m apparently too liberal for most Vulcans," T’Maril said, "Captain Torik among them. The conditions that led to Surak’s reforms were especially traumatic for Vulcans, as a people, and there seems to be an almost subconscious desire among my people to atone for the horrors committed by our emotional sides by completely repressing them.
"However, I believe that it is possible to control our emotions enough so that we can have the best of both worlds, as it were. Vulcan society would seem to disagree; most of them have nothing to do with me, and those who must treat me with disdain, despite their emotional controls."
"Do you believe that’s why Captain Torik requested your transfer?" Phillips asked.
"It is entirely possible," T’Maril said. "Torik desires control and order. My acceptance of my emotions was something he could not control, and it didn’t fit into his ordered existence. I believe he was threatened by it."
"I see," Phillips said. "Do other Vulcans treat you this way?"
"Nearly every Vulcan I know," T’Maril admitted, "including my father."
"If it’s any consolation, Lieutenant," Phillips said, "I think you’ll fit in fine here."
"I hope so, sir," T’Maril said.
"Dismissed," Phillips said. T’Maril rose and left the room. He followed her with his eyes as she left, then looked back at her record, rereading an attachment by Captain Torik.
Lieutenant T’Maril has become a burden on my crew. Her rejection of the teachings of Surak has brought her into philosophical conflict with several of the other Vulcans aboard, myself included, and has impeded the progress of our work. I believe it is in the best interests of all concerned that she be transferred to a vessel where she will not have such a disruptive influence.
Phillips set down the datapad, trading it for Lieutenant M’Ress’ record, and leaned back in his chair. I don’t want to be caught off-guard like that again, he thought.
A few minutes later, Lieutenant M’Ress entered the ready room. Her felinoid features immediately caught Phillips’ attention. She had a long, flowing mane, with catlike ears poking out at the top of her head, as well as a slightly extruded muzzle and nearly invisible whiskers. Phillips looked down and noticed she wore no footwear, treading instead on her natural pads. Her lion-like tail swayed lazily behind her.
"Please, lieutenant," Phillips said, again indicating the empty chair opposite his, "take a seat." M’Ress gently purred as she complied. "It would seem, lieutenant, that I know more about you than I do the rest of the crew."
M’Ress cocked her head inquisitively. "Sir?" she asked.
Phillips glanced down at the datapad. "Lieutenant M’Ress. Caitian, twenty-seven standard years old. A communications specialist, you placed very highly in decryption of complex message codes at the Academy." He looked up. "You’re also the only officer aboard that I requested by name." M’Ress was, to say the least, surprised by the revelation. "You’re the most logical choice, of course," he continued. "We’re heading towards the Kzinti border. As a Caitian, you’ll have less trouble speaking their language if the universal translator should fail. Also, we’re going into a potentially volatile region. Your decrypt skills will undoubtedly come in handy."
"Sir," M’Ress purred nervously, "I only speak a little Kzin, and even then with a heavy accent."
"You’re one up on me," Phillips said. "Besides, that’s just a backup plan in case there’s a problem with the translator software. In the meantime, brush up on it, just in case."
"Aye, sir," M’Ress replied.
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
Docked at Earth Spacedock
21 August 2300 0811 hrs
"The refit is nearly complete, captain," the chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Akric, said in the halting voice that belied the intelligence of his people. An Edoan, Akric had three arms and three legs. His orange skin, which bordered on crimson at times, was rough, and the edges of his body were jagged and almost rock- like in their harshness. His yellow eyes were evenly spaced at the front of his skull, and his nose and mouth protruded slightly from under them. His head was connected to the rest of his body by a two-foot-long neck that bowed forward slightly. The senior staff of the Merrimac was seated around the table of the briefing room in the ship’s new bridge module. "Our main computer and sensor upgrades are complete. All that remains are the final tests."
"How long will that take?" Phillips asked.
"They will be finished by twelve-hundred hours tomorrow," Akric replied.
"Excellent, commander," Phillips said. "How’s sickbay, Doctor Kaplan?"
Commander Samantha Kaplan looked up from her datapad. She was human, with dark skin and bright eyes. The oldest member of the ship’s senior staff, she had joined Starfleet during the original Enterprise‘s now-famous five-year mission, nearly thirty years before, then dedicated herself to an Earthbound position at Starfleet Medical when her first child was born. Now that her youngest was leaving the nest, she was returning to deep-space assignments. "Everything’s ready, sir," she said.
"Good to hear," Phillips said. "Lieutenant Pelosi, status of the helm and navigation systems, please."
"Everything’s in order, sir," the young Bolian helmsman said. She had blue skin and a ridge running down the center of her face. Like the rest of her species, she was completely hairless. She was something of an enigma, as she didn’t like discussing her past. "All we need is for you to give the word."
"Again, good news," Phillips said. "In case you’ve been under a rock and still haven’t heard, we’ve been ordered to spend the next five years patrolling the Gorn and Kzinti borders. Barring an interstellar war, we’ll be attached to Starbase Twenty-three, under the command of Admiral Isoroku Naruhito. We’re scheduled to depart in three days, so that gives us time to get settled into our departments tomorrow, if you aren’t already, then a day of shore leave before departure. I’d like those of us here in this room to become acquainted over the next few days. We’ll be spending the foreseeable future together and we’ll need to be able to work well together. Any questions?" No one gave any indication that there were. "Very well, then. Dismissed."
Near Richland Center, Wisconsin
23 August 2300 1613 hrs
"Told you I’d work it out," Phillips told Dan as they sat in an open, grassy clearing in central Wisconsin, located near their family’s home of the past several centuries. Phillips pulled an apple out of the picnic basket between them and took a bite.
"So why didn’t we go to your ship or a museum or something?" Dan asked.
"Trust me, Dan," Phillips said, "when you spend all your time in a starship, you really come to appreciate being able to step out in the open once in a while."
"Oh," Dan said. "Did you hear about the exhibit of the Phoenix at the Smithsonian?"
"What about it? It’s been there for centuries."
"A team of researchers was looking over it recently," Dan said. "They think maybe Cochrane was a time traveler, or that maybe people from the future helped him out."
"Oh?" Phillips asked. "Why’s that?"
"There’s some copper tubing in the warp drive assembly," Dan said, "and it’s got some kind of polymer that no one has ever seen. It seemed pretty well out of place in a two-hundred-year-old warp ship."
Phillips grunted. "I’ll bet Temporal Investigations is loving that one."
"Oh, and I think I known what branch of the fleet I want to go into," Dan said.
"As long as it’s not DTI," Phillips muttered.
"Uh," Dan said, "well, yeah." Phillips rolled his eyes.
New Berlin Colony
23 August 2300 1747 hrs
Sam Kaplan held her husband, Irwin, tightly, tears beginning to fall from the corners of her eyes. She had been Earthbound for so long, she’d forgotten what it meant to be on a deep-space assignment. It would be months before she got a chance to see her family again, and then only if they made the three-day trip to Starbase Twenty-three, on the other side of the Federation.
She released her grip on her husband, wiped her eyes and turned to face her two youngest children, Miranda and Peter. Miranda, now nineteen and studying geology at New Berlin University, hugged her mother fiercely for what seemed a truncated eternity. Peter, eighteen and following his father into a career as an engineering consultant for Starfleet, shied away from an embrace with his mother, but relented after a misty-eyed moment. Kaplan wished her oldest son, Michael, could be with them, but the twenty-two-year- old had graduated from Starfleet Academy a few months ago and was already on his first assignment as an engineer aboard the Starship Korolev.
The family locked eyes, none knowing what to say. Finally, Irwin broke the silence. "I’m gonna miss you, Sam," he said. "Make sure and write."
"I will," she said. She turned to her children. "Do your homework," she told them, "and listen to your father. He’ll let me know if you’ve been acting up just because I’m gone. And don’t think a little thing like a five-year patrol near the Romulan border’s going to stop me from riding herd on you if I have to." The youths broke into nervous laughter, but the moment was short- lived. A feminine voice announced Kaplan’s shuttle over the spaceport’s loudspeakers.
"I have to go now," she said. "I love you."
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
Docked at Earth Spacedock
24 August 2300 0800 hrs
Phillips strode onto the bridge at the beginning of the morning’s shift. The senior staff comprised Alpha shift, which ran from oh- eight-hundred to sixteen-hundred hours each day. With the exceptions of commanders Kaplan and Akric, who were in sickbay and main engineering, respectively, the entire senior staff was on the bridge.
"Captain on the bridge!" announced one of the crewmen standing her post beside the master situation display monitor at the aft of the circular room. Shralev turned in the command chair to face Phillips, then rose.
"As you were," Phillips said, then looked at his first officer.
"Captain," Shralev said. "All systems are operational. We are ready to depart, as scheduled. The bridge is yours."
"I have the bridge," Phillips confirmed, taking his seat. Shralev stood at the rail behind and to Phillips’ right. "Departure stations. Lieutenant M’Ress, hail the dockmaster."
"Control tower reading, sir," M’Ress said.
"Control," Phillips said, "this is Merrimac, requesting permission to depart."
"This is control, Merrimac," a bored, young male voice said over the bridge speakers. "Permission to depart granted. Thirty seconds for port gates."
"Clear all moorings," Pelosi announced as she deactivated the Merrimac‘s mooring tractor beams.
"Awaiting port gates from this mark," Phillips said.
"All moorings cleared," the control tower duty officer said over the bridge speakers.
"Aft thrusters," Phillips ordered, settling into his seat at the heart of the bridge.
"Aye, sir," Pelosi replied. Within moments, the ship began to crawl forward, inching toward the opening gates as the maneuvering jets fired. Within minutes, the ship exited the dock into the open space over Earth.
"Set a course for Starbase Twenty-three," Phillips ordered. "Warp six."
"Course laid in," confirmed Ensign Julio Mendez, the Merrimac‘s navigator. Mendez, from Veracruz, Mexico on Earth, had recently graduated from the Academy, and had the tanned skin and dark hair typical of the region. He was also extremely cocky, as far as Phillips was concerned.
"Engage," Phillips said. The Merrimac leaped into warp, leaving the Terran sector behind.
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
En Route to Starbase 23
24 August 2300 1818 hrs
M’Ress sauntered into to Merrimac‘s recreation deck, taking in the dozens of crewmembers enjoying a variety of games—tri-dee chess, space combat simulators, even bowling. The bustle of voices and sounds produced a dull buzzing sound that she found extremely satisfying.
She noticed one person sitting alone in the corner, watching the others like she was—Commander Stern. She approached him slowly, but confidently, her eyes staying on him at all times, to the exclusion of all else in the room, as though she were hunting and he the prey.
"Commander," she said as she reached the bench inlaid to the bulkhead at which he was seated. "Isn’t there anything here that interests you?"
"Not really," he said, the boredom evident in his voice. "None of that’s very exciting. I’ve done it all a million times before."
"Surely," M’Ress purred, "there must be something here that strikes your fancy? Do you play hoverball?"
"I was on the team at the Academy," Stern said. "I got bored with it, though. Not exciting enough."
"Maybe you just didn’t have the right opponent," M’Ress said playfully.
"Is that a challenge?" Stern asked, a wry smirk crossing his face as he glanced up at M’Ress for the first time since she’d approached him.
"Take it however you want," she purred.
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
En Route to Starbase 23
24 August 2300 1821 hrs
"Commander Akric, we’re doing fine down here, sir," the olive- skinned Lieutenant Nadine Foster, the assistant chief engineer, said. "It’s not necessary that you stay any longer."
"Very well," Akric said, tilting his orange chin upward. "I will retire to my quarters. Contact me if you have any problems."
"Aye, sir," Foster said. Akric turned and ambled his way toward the turbolift nearest engineering. He passed several crewmembers in the corridor, all of whom were engaged in the most incredible wastes of energy he could imagine—loud, animated conversations, exaggerated gesticulations, and, perhaps worst of all, the cackle of humanoid laughter. He despised such wastes of energy. One could put that energy to much more productive use in the pursuit of one’s work. When not urged into leaving engineering by his own staff, he continued his work in his quarters. Time was as precious a commodity as energy, after all.
The lift doors opened. Several other laughing, animated humans exited. He entered the now-empty turbolift, and began heading for his quarters. There was work to be done. There was always work to be done.
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
Near the Romulan Neutral Zone
26 August 2300 1032 hrs
Merrimac dropped out of warp. In the distance lay a solitary starbase facility, hanging in space without so much as an asteroid for companionship and a dense nebula as a backdrop.
"Take us in, lieutenant," Phillips ordered. "M’Ress, hailing frequencies."
"Open, sir," M’ress said.
"Starbase Twenty-three, this is the Starship Merrimac, Captain Jack Phillips commanding. Requesting permission to dock."
"We read you on our screens, Merrimac," a female voice replied over the bridge speakers. "Permission granted."
"Take us in, Pelosi," Phillips ordered.
Pelosi’s eyes widened. She took a breath, calmed herself and replied, "Aye, sir."
Merrimac‘s impulse engines shut off, forward thrust replaced by the maneuvering thrusters as she neared the starbase. The momentum from the impulse engines kept carrying her at an accelerated speed.
"Merrimac, cut speed to 500 kph," the voice of the duty officer on Starbase Twenty-three said over the speakers. Phillips glanced at Pelosi.
"Merrimac, reduce speed," she repeated a few moments later, more urgently this time.
"Lieutenant Pelosi," Phillips said, "braking thrusters. Reduce speed."
"Aye," Pelosi acknowledged.
Merrimac began to slow, but continued her approach, eventually entering the yawning doors of the spacedock. The edge of the saucer came too close to the edge of the space door for Phillips’ comfort. "Transfer control to the spacedock," he said.
"Systems locked in," Pelosi acknowledged after entering the commands.
"Spacedock, you have control," Phillips said.
"Affirmative, Merrimac," the officer said, her tone of voice indicating that she was paying more attention to her job. The station’s tractor beams took over guidance of the ship into her berth. A few minutes later, indicator lights on status boards throughout the bridge announced that the ship was securely docked.
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
Docked at Starbase 23
26 August 2300 1043 hrs
"Pelosi, what happened?" Phillips asked as the young helmsman stepped into his ready room.
"Sir?" the young Bolian asked.
"During the docking sequence," Phillips explained. "You didn’t fire breaking thrusters after you cut the impulse engines. I shouldn’t have to give an order for a maneuver like that."
"I apologize, sir," she said. "I’m apparently not very good at docking."
"Anything else you’re not very good at that I should be aware of?"
"I have difficulty with complex maneuvers, sir."
"Great," he said, rolling his eyes and glancing at the ceiling in exasperation. "You are to spend your duty shifts in the simulator going over every possible scenario in the computer’s database while we’re in port. I want a report on your performance on my desk every day when you’re done. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Pelosi said resignedly.
Office of the Commanding Officer
26 August 2300 1300 hrs
"Captain," Admiral Isoroku Naruhito said, "I understand there was some excitement upon your arrival." Naruhito’s narrowed eyes seemed to bore into Phillips. The admiral was much older than Phillips, although the younger man couldn’t say by how much. His face was lined with age, and he wielded his experience like a weapon. Part of that experience was how to intimidate other people when it suited his purposes.
"Yes, sir," Phillips admitted. "I’ve already taken steps to ensure it will not happen again."
"See that it does not, captain," Naruhito said, a hint of warning in his voice, then activated the display viewer in his office, bringing up a map of the region of space immediately adjacent to the starbase. Phillips was able to immediately identify the borders of the Federation, the Gorn, the Kzin, the Romulans and the Klingons. "Now to the matter at hand. You are to patrol this route," at which point Naruhito pressed a button and one of the lines representing a patrol route changed color, "along the border we share with the Gorn and the Kzin. Upon sighting a ship, you are to establish communications. Civilian traffic may pass through unhindered, but military vessels on all sides are to remain inside their respective territories. This includes you, captain."
"Understood, sir," Phillips said. "May I ask why?"
"Tensions between the Gorn and the Kzin have risen somewhat in the past week," Naruhito said. "It seems the two have discovered roughly a half-dozen heretofore-unknown star systems along their shared border. Both sides have claimed all of them, and neither is willing to acknowledge the claim of the other. Our experts are anticipating that, very shortly, the two are going to enter an arms race, which could lead to war between them. If you should encounter ships from either side engaged in combat with the other, you are not to interfere, unless they have wandered into Federation space. If that is the case, you are to order them to cease and desist their combat and return to their home territories. If they refuse, you have the authority to enforce that order by any means necessary. Understood?"
"Perfectly, sir," Phillips said.
"Very well," Naruhito said. "You are to begin your patrol in four days. Until then, your crew is free to use the facilities aboard the station. I understand how dull this patrol can be, and any shore leave is a welcome thing."
U.S.S. Merrimac NCC-1715
Docked at Starbase 23
Docking Port Four
26 August 2300 1529 hrs
"Where the hell is Pelosi?" the dark-haired young German, Ensign Carl Jackson, asked as Mendez approached him.
"Didn’t you hear?" Mendez asked. "Captain Phillips called her into his ready room after we docked and ripped her a new one."
"For what?" Jackson asked.
"She almost crashed the ship into the damned station, man," Mendez said.
"Unbelievable," Jackson said. "So, what, she’s in her quarters, ‘recovering?’ Or is she scrubbing the plasma manifolds?"
"Worse," Mendez said. "The captain canceled her shore leave and put her in the simulator while we’re in port."
"Damn," Jackson whistled. "Guess it’s just you and me, then."
"Right on, ecce," Mendez said as the two stepped into the docking port connecting the ship to Starbase Twenty-three.
"Would it be too much of an imposition if we joined you?" a female voice called behind them.
Jackson and Mendez turned to see lieutenants T’Maril and M’Ress standing a few meters away.
"Not at all, lieutenants," Jackson said, stiffening slightly.
"We’re off-duty," T’Maril said, grinning. "You can call me T’Maril." Jackson’s eyes widened. "It doesn’t mean we’re bonded."
Mendez guffawed. "Hey, shut up," Jackson said, irritated. "I put up with enough crap from you at the Academy. At least I didn’t graduate at the bottom of our class."
"Man, do you have to bring that up again?" Mendez asked.
"Are we going to disembark, or what?" M’Ress asked. The four shipmates stepped through the docking port and into the tunnel to the starbase.
26 August 2300 1918 hrs
"So, what do you think of the captain, T’Maril?" Mendez asked a few hours later.
"He has a strong presence," the Vulcan replied.
"Tell me about it," M’ress said. "When he’s on the bridge, there’s just this almost electric feel about his presence."
"I’ve noticed you’ve been watching him from your station, T’Maril," Mendez said. "What, are you drawn in by his electric presence, too?"
"Well, I must admit," T’Maril said, "he is rather attractive."
"You are ruining my opinion of Vulcans," Jackson said. "I always thought you were stoic, serious and logical."
"I can be stoic, serious and logical," T’Maril said. "I just don’t want to."
"What about Commander Stern?" Mendez asked.
"Well, he’s not bad," M’Ress said. "For a human."
"He seems pretty arrogant to me," Jackson said. "Could explain why he’s 36 and only just made lieutenant commander."
"How about Commander Akric?" M’Ress asked. "I almost never see him, unless he’s on duty."
"He’s pretty introverted," Jackson said. "He’s apparently a great engineer, but he stays in his quarters—alone—whenever he’s off duty."
Docked at Starbase 23
30 August 2300 0809 hrs
"Departure stations," Phillips ordered as he stepped onto the bridge, four days later.
Within minutes, Merrimac was making her way on her assigned patrol route, creeping away from Starbase Twenty-three at full impulse.