Star Trek: Rutledge #001 – “Launching”

Series and Story by S.C. Mollmann

“Welcome to Starbase 74, Captain Maxwell.”

    “Thank you, Commodore.”  Benjamin Maxwell stepped off the transporter pad.  “I assume there’s a reason you cancelled my shore leave on Setlik III?”

    Commodore Samuel Pourge, Starfleet’s attaché to the embassy on Cardassia Prime, nodded.  “I just got back from Cardassia a few weeks ago.  Based on my report, FleetIntCom thinks a war is even more likely.”  He turned to exit the transporter room.  “Follow me.”

    Maxwell did.  “This will be what, the Third Cardassian War?”

    “The Fourth.  After FleetIntCom made their recommendation, Starfleet’s been pushing the completion of the various ships to be assigned to the Eight Fleet.”

    Maxwell understood.  “Including the Rutledge.”

    Pourge rounded a corner and headed down a corridor marked High Security.  “Yes.  She’s done and ready to go, five weeks ahead of schedule.  Do you have a senior staff picked out?”

    Maxwell followed him and ran through the roster in his head.  “All but a chief technical officer.”  He thought for a moment.  “Who was that guy in the transporter room?”

    “I don’t know,” answered Pourge, shrugging.  “I don’t work here.”  He grabbed an ensign wandering down the hall.  “Ensign, find out who’s on duty in…TR3.”

    The ensign nodded and walked off.  “Hurry!” yelled the commodore.  The ensign picked up his pace.  Pourge turned back to Maxwell.  “Why?”

    The captain shrugged.  “It was the best and quickest ride I ever had.”

    The two rounded another corridor and came upon one of the great glass windows that opened unto the interior bays of the starbase.  Maxwell gasped.

    There, surrounding by flittering small workbees and crawlabouts, was a glistening starship.  Her lettering read U.S.S. RUTLEDGE, NCC-57295.  The small New Orleans-class frigate was one of Starfleet’s newest designs, intended to be an escort for the upcoming Galaxy-class heavy explorers.  She looked almost exactly like one, except for the three heavy torpedo launchers top and bottom.

    “She’s a beauty,” commented Pourge.  “And she’s yours.  Computer, log transfer of command of the NCC-57295 from Commander Quinteros of Construction Team C to Captain Benjamin Maxwell.  Effective–” he glanced at his wrist-chrono “–Stardate 32094.1.”

    “Transfer of command logged,” chimed the computer in an Irish accent.  “Congratulations, Captain Maxwell.”

    Maxwell raised an eyebrow.  Pourge shook his head.  “One of our engineers has taken to ‘improving’ the computer.  Says it lacks ‘personality.'”

    “Excuse me, sirs,” interrupted the ensign Pourge had diverted in the corridor, now breathless.  “But the transporter officer currently on duty in TR3 is Chief Lucius Bonsiorus.”

    “Thank you, ensign,” ordered the commodore.  “Go about your business.”  The ensign shot off like a tachyon pulse.

The ensign was one Miles Edward O’Brien — and late for his duty shift.  He nodded at the security guard on duty and clambered into the umbilical connecting the starbase to the Rutledge.  “Bloody commodores,” he muttered.  “I should’ve become a concert cellist.”  His words echoed down the tube.

    He emerged from the umbilical to see a strange-looking bald green woman.  “The commodore does have that effect on people,” she laughed.  “He’s not even assigned here but thinks he runs the place.”  She stuck out a green hand in the human gesture of a handshake.  “Commander Yozika azgn Bem.  Executive officer.”

    Miles grabbed her hand and shook it.  “Ensign Miles O’Brien.  Assistant tactical chief.”

    azgn Bem nodded.  “This One takes it the commodore is the reason you’re late?”

    Miles swore beneath his breath.  “Yes.  I’m so sorry, sir–“

    “It’s fine ensign.  It’s the only excuse for being late we accept around here.  Report the bridge.”

    “Aye, aye.”  Miles left the exterior access port for the bridge.

The security guard standing outside the umbilical glanced at his wrist-chrono and sighed.  Where was his replacement?  He was supposed to be off-duty ten minutes ago.

    He heard footsteps and strained his ears.  A male by the sound of it.  Probably human.  If not, one of the very close species, such as the guard’s own Stratosians or Fabrini.  The rather slipshod sound seemed to imply someone not in one of the military branches, most likely technical or science instead.

    The guard was rather surprised when the bearer of the footsteps entered the room and revealed himself to be in security/tactical by his green collar.  However, he didn’t go through the umbilical.  The guard asked him why he wasn’t.

    “‘Cause I’m on guard duty now,” answered the man.  “Lieutenant Raymond Boone.”  He stuck out a hand.  “What your name?”

    “Makras Rendell.  Chief of Security.  You’re eleven minutes late for duty.  I’m putting you on report.”

    Boone dropped his hand when the Stratosian chief of security didn’t shake, apparently not familiar with the gesture.  He was not fazed however.  “Come on, Makras — can I call you Makras?”

    “No.”

    Boone went on, nevertheless.  “I was in the Star Port–” Rendell recalled that the Star Port was a local bar “–enjoying a few drinks with a couple of my new shipmates and I lost track of the time.  Give me a break, please?”

    “No.  Regulation 3, Paragraph 9 clearly indicates that you should be put on report for violation of Regulation 3, Paragraph 8.  It will probably be a demerit.”

    Boone started to protest but Rendell clambered into the umbilical.  “No argument.  I have a security briefing to give and I do not want to be late.  Bad example for the junior officers.”

    He left a grumbling Boone standing guard at the umbilicals.

Lieutenant j.g. Angela Nolan began twiddling her fingers.  How she despised bridge duty.  She was the Rutledge‘s chief intelligence officer, not a damn starship commander.  But she was also the highest-ranking officer on the bridge now that Commander azgn Bem had left to greet the new crew and had a duty to fulfill.

    She swiveled around in her chair expectantly when she heard the turbolift doors hiss.

    The officer that emerged was only an ensign.  Damn.

    “Ensign Miles O’Brien reporting for duty,” he said.

    “Very well,” answered Nolan.  “Take your post.”

    As the silence crawled onward, punctuated only by the sounds of O’Brien’s console, Nolan began twiddling her fingers again.  It didn’t look like she was going to get out soon.

    Damn!

Ensign L’frn’lt was not your ordinary Starfleet officer.

    But then, most arachnids weren’t.

    L’frn’lt was a Halmaki from Alpha Atrietis.  He looked like a large glass spider and his voice was described as sounding like cross between wind chimes and a xylophone.  In fact, he had been mistaken for wind chimes on several occasions.  The only clothing he wore was a small “collar” around one of his legs, colored gray for the Sciences division, and a Starfleet emblem and rank insignia on another.

    At that moment, this curious life form was on the turbolift, riding to the bridge.  He had just visited the Rutledge‘s science labs, and though they didn’t have enough extradimensional examination equipment to suit his tastes, they were actually rather good.  Thank the Architechtrix that the Starfleet Design Board had placed the torpedo launchers on the exterior of the ship instead of making room inside by taking out the labs.

    The ‘lift doors slid open and L’frn’lt emerged onto the bridge of the Rutledge.  A human woman in the center seat swiveled around expectantly and looked dismayed when she saw the Halmaki’s rank insignia.

    The other officer on the bridge was a human man with a rank insignia identifying him as an ensign in tactical.  He began to whimper.  “Oh, God,” he whispered.  “Oh, God.”

    The woman frowned at that.  “What’s the matter, Mister O’Brien?”

    O’Brien whimpered again.  “Sp–sp–spider.”

    L’frn’lt was amused.  He often had this affect on humanoids.  “Hello.  Mister O’Brien I presume?  I am Ensign L’frn’lt, chief science officer.”

    O’Brien fainted.

Doctor Sorsak didn’t frown when the call came in from the bridge requesting medical assistance.  It wasn’t because he didn’t feel displeased; Vulcans simply did not express emotion.  Sorsak was no exception.

    “Highly illogical,” he muttered, “for there to be a medical emergency in spacedock after construction has ceased.”  He motioned to a medtech to accompany him with a stretcher and traveled to the bridge.

    On the bridge he saw three officers: a Halmaki and two humans.  One of the humans was lying on the floor behind the tactical console.  “I presume he is the subject of the medical emergency?”

    The human female nodded.

    “What happened?” asked the medtech, unfolding the stretcher.

    “When I came onto the bridge, he fainted,” answered the Halmaki.  “I tend to have that effect on people.”

    Sorsak analyzed that bit of information.  “One can logically conclude that he is arachnophobic.”

    He and the human female picked up the downed ensign and placed him on the stretcher.  He activated the stretcher’s antigravs and pushed the floating device toward the turbolift with the medtech’s help.

    Had Sorsak been belonged to humanity or any other race that did not suppress its emotions, he would have laid a curse on those who dared to experience medical emergencies in spacedock.

    But he was not human.  He was Vulcan.

Chief Lucius Bonsiorus arrived in his quarters on Starbase 74 to blinking signifying a message was waiting.  Opening the message, he discovered that it was a transfer order.  He was to assume the duties of chief technical officer aboard the about-to-be-launched Rutledge.  Alleluia!  For the first time in seven years, the Magna Roman was going to be promoted!

    He stuffed most of his clothes into a duffel, not bothering to take all of them.  He slung the bag over his shoulder and scampered out into the corridor, heading for the high security area where the Rutledge was docked.  His first starship assignment!  He began to whistle a loud and obnoxious tune.

Commander Yozika azgn Bem, the Rutledge‘s Pandronian executive officer, cocked an ear when she heard whistling echo down the umbilical.  A few moments later, a Magna Roman male bearing a duffel emerged.  He grabbed her hand and shook it.  “Lucius Bonsiorus, Chief Technical Officer.”

    azgn Bem shook back.  “Commander Yozika azgn Bem.  Finally, someone who can operate a transporter.  Get to TR1 immediately.”  After Bonsiorus skipped into the corridor, the typed her authorization code into the exterior lock and pulled the large lever beside it.  The umbilical began to slowly pull away from the Rutledge.

    The ship’s lights momentarily dimmed once spacedock power was cut and brightened almost immediately when the ship’s warp core cut in.  azgn Bem ignored all this, however and hurried to Transporter Room One to meet her new captain.

    Just as she entered, two bars of light were solidifying into humanoid form.  They were revealed to be Captain Benjamin Maxwell and Lieutenant Commander Karissya Volodzhe, the flight control officer.

    “Welcome aboard, Captain.”

    In response Maxwell grabbed his head and moaned.  Volodzhe did so as well.

    “I’ve got a splitting headache,” he moaned.  “I better see the CMO.”

    That was not the greeting azgn Bem had expected.

Volodzhe entered the ship’s small sickbay, followed closely by Maxwell.  A man was already lying on one of the biobeds.  A Vulcan with a tan Medical collar looked up from a PADD he was reading.  “Your problem?”

    “A little on the impolite side, are we, doctor?” asked Maxwell.

    “Not at all.  However, if you are here, you must logically have a medical problem you wish to have taken care of immediately.”

    Volodzhe gasped as another bolt of agony shot through her head.  “Headache.”

    “I presume you two are Bela Landan and human?”

    Volodzhe nodded.  There was no mistaking her glow-in-the-dark purple skin.

    The Vulcan pulled out a medical tricorder and began scanning the two.  “Now that I have time to waste, I am CMO Sorsak.  Welcome to the Rutledge, captain.”

    Maxwell made an attempt as the Vulcan Greeting of the Raised Hand.  “Thank you, doctor.  Greetings.”

    Sorsak shut his tricorder off and returned it to his belt with one efficient and fluid motion.  “A transporter-related headache.”  He motioned to a medtech for a hypospray.  “I estimate an eighty-seven percent chance that it is due to a poor matter-energy transition.”

    “What would cause a poor transition?” asked Volodzhe as Sorsak injected her with a hypospray.  The pain went away almost immediately.

    “There is a ninety-two percent chance that it was operator error.”

Lieutenant Raymond Boone almost yelped with delight when the umbilical began retracting toward the starbase.  According to his orders, he was to remain on duty until the umbilical was put out of use.  He glanced at his wrist-chrono and realized he had thirty minutes to spare before the senior staff meeting.

    He made his way down to the Star Port, mentally grumbling about Makras Rendell the whole way.  He hardly needed to be put on report before he came shipboard.  What a stickler for regulations that Rendell was.  He probably hadn’t ever even seen combat action, let alone participated in it.

    On that note, he changed his course and decided to head for the Public Database Terminals and investigate Rendell’s service record.

The subject of Boone’s investigation was in the main Security office with his four squad leaders: Meier, Tsao, Lind, and Garcia.  Each of the squad leaders and Rendell himself was in charge of an eight-man squad (including themselves) trained in the ways of ground combat against an enemy, particularly Cardassians.  There were five more squads that could be formed, if the need be, out of those trained in starship security.  These squads would be lead by Volodzhe, azgn Bem, O’Brien, and two other people Rendell had yet to pick.

    Rendell was explaining this set-up to his squad leaders when his communicator beeped.  Excusing himself, he flipped it open.  A short text message was scrolling across the screen:

service record access detected

location: public database terminals, starbase 74

login: boone, r., lt.

A-hah!  Undoubtedly, Boone had decided he was a stickler for regulations with no combat experience and was going to confirm that by examining his service record.  Well, that would show him.

Boone watched as Rendell’s list of commendations came on screen:

Eight Medals of Valor for actions at New Russia, Zayra IV, Helena, Gamma Orididion II, Planet Gibraltar (2), Neutral Zone Outpost Nine

Gold Leaf With Cluster for actions at Tenalp VIII

Gold Leaf With Diamond for actions at Mu Xaridian I, Klaestron IV

Silver Leaf for actions at Deep Space 2

Nebula Medal of Honor for actions at Nu’KTioR, Planet Gibraltar, Regula IX

Commendations for actions at New Russia, Tenalp VIII, Mu Xaridian I, Deep Space 2, Nu’KTioR, Zayra IV, Neutral Zone Outpost Nine, Klaestron IV, Regula IX, Helena, Gamma Orididion II, the Delta Triangle, New Sydney, Bajor, Hagadd…

And the list went on!

    OK, so maybe he had been wrong…

O’Brien woke to see the captain and a Bela Landan conversing with a Vulcan doctor.  He jumped off the biobed.  “Miles O’Brien reporting for duty, sir.”

    “At ease, ensign,” advised the captain.  He shook O’Brien’s hand.  “I am Captain Benjamin Maxwell.  These are Flight Control Officer Karissya Volodzhe and CMO Sorsak.”

    O’Brien only nodded at these two, knowing that most nonhumans didn’t shake, especially Vulcans.  “What happened to me?”

    “Tell me, Mr. O’Brien, are you arachnophobic?” asked Sorsak.

    “Yes, sir.  But I’ve never fainted before.”

    “It is common reaction for a arachnophobe to faint when confronted with a giant, talking arachnid.  I can give you a treatment to prevent it from happening again.”

    “Will it cure my arachnophobia?” asked O’Brien.

    Sorsak shook his head.  “No.  It will only prevent your fainting reaction to arachnids such as the Halmaki.”

    “Sure, why not?”

    “I can think of no compelling reason not to,” replied Sorsak.

    O’Brien smiled.  “It’s just a human figure of speech.”

    Maxwell broke in.  “When you’re done Sorsak, please report to the briefing room.  Senior staff meeting in fifteen minutes.”  He and Volodzhe left the room.

After a few junior transporter technicians beamed aboard, Lucius assigned each of them to a transporter room and made his way down to the engine room.  There were already a handful of engineers present and more were constantly trickling in as the Rutledge‘s crew slowly beamed over.

    “Chief!” called one of the engineers.  “We’ve got a flux in the isolinear grid. Half of the LCARS panels are off-line.”

    Lucius scampered over to the engineer and examined the panel he had open.  He had no idea what any of it did.  “Oh, that looks serious.”

The entire senior staff was assembled in the ship’s briefing room except for Chief Bonsiorus and Lieutenant Boone.

    “Good morning,” greeted Maxwell.  “I am Captain Benjamin Maxwell.  Lucius Bonsiorus, chief technical officer, will not be present because Engineering is having problems with the isolinear grid.  As for our tactical chief, Lieutenant Raymond Boone, I have no–“

    Just then the doors slid open and in ran Boone himself.  “Speak of the Entropix,” muttered L’frn’lt.

    “Sorry, sir,” said Boone.  “I lost track of time.”

    “No excuse,” answered Maxwell.  “I’m making a note in the Duty Log.”  He tapped his console and his eyebrows raised in surprised.  “There’s already an incident logged here.  One more, lieutenant, and that’ll be a demerit.”

    Boone glared at Rendell who didn’t deign to look back.

    “Anyway, could we all make introductions, starting with the highest ranking?” asked Maxwell.

    The ship’s Pandronian executive officer went first.  “Commander Yozika azgn Bem, first officer.”

    “Lieutenant Commander Karissya Volodzhe, flight control officer.”

    “Lieutenant Commander Sorsak, chief medical officer.”

    “Lieutenant–” began Rendell and Boone at the same time.  They glared at each other.

    azgn Bem examined her tabletop console.  “Boone was promoted five months before Rendell,” she announced.

    Boone gave Rendell a triumphant look.  “Lieutenant Raymond Boone, tactical chief.”

    Rendell sighed.  “Lieutenant Makras Rendell, chief of security.”

    “Lieutenant j.g. Angela Nolan, chief Intelligence officer.”

    azgn Bem chuckled.  “An intelligence officer?  Does Starfleet fear that the rest of us don’t have enough?”  That sent a wave of laughter around the table — except for Sorsak and Nolan herself.  All were silenced with a stern look from Maxwell, and the introductions continued.

    “Ensign L’frn’lt, chief science officer.”

    “Very good, and welcome aboard the U.S.S. Rutledge,” said Maxwell.  “In a few minutes, we will be leaving dock and traveling to Sector 21749 to join Eight Fleet.  Before we head there, we will make a stopover in the Dorvan System for a brief shakedown.  Any questions?”

    Volodzhe raised a hand and accidentally dropped her stylus.  The various officers bent over and looked under the table in an effort to locate it.

    “Allow This One,” said azgn Bem.  She grabbed her neck and pulled her head off.

    Everybody at the table had varying looks of astonishment, from Sorsak’s quizzical stare to Boone’s gaping mouth big enough to pilot a dilithium freighter through.

    azgn Bem placed her head on the floor.  It skittered under the table on little cilia and grabbed the pen in its mouth.  It ran back to azgn Bem’s body, which grabbed the pen and handed it to Volodzhe.  She picked up her head and placed it back on her neck.

   “This One is a Pandronian.  Like all humanoid inhabitants of planet Pandro, This One is composed of three small creatures: legs, torso, and head.  They integrate common benefit.”

   The staff stopped staring and Volodzhe managed to ask her question.  “Why the rush?  With the launching, I mean.”

   Nolan answered.  “FleetIntCom believes, and I agree, that war is about to break out with the Cardassians.”

A few minutes later they were all on the bridge, even Sorsak.  “Lieutenant Boone, signal Spacedock Control and signify our readiness to depart,” ordered Maxwell.

   “Aye, aye.”  Boone tapped his console.  “Spacedock Control gives clearance to depart.”  On screen, the kilometer-wide bay doors began to slide open.

    “Clear all moorings.”

    azgn Bem flipped down a row of switches.  “All moorings cleared.”

    “Take her out, Lieutenant Commander.  Full thrusters.”

    The Rutledge began to slide forward out of her berth in the massive starbase.  Under Volodzhe’s careful hand, the ship did not bump any of the hundreds of flittering shuttles or the several dozen starships also berthed.

    The Rutledge emerged from the bay doors and for the first time, sunlight touched her polished hull, lighting it up in pristine glory.

    “We have cleared spacedoors,” announced Volodzhe.

    “Bring her up to full impulse power,” ordered the captain.  “Slowly.”

    Volodzhe flipped two switches and began pushing a lever on her console forward.  “One-tenth impulse…one-eighth…one-fourth…one-half…three-fourths…full impulse power.”  The Rutledge cruised through the Tarsas System at nearly the speed of light.

    “Prepare for warp drive,” ordered Maxwell.  “Plot a course for the Dorvan System.”

    “Plotting course, aye,” responded the flight control officer.

    azgn Bem tapped her comm console.  “Chief, bring the warp core to full power.”

    Rendell had activated the intraship.  “All hands, prepare for warp.  Brace yourselves.  Repeat, all hands prepare for warp.”

    Maxwell watched as his crew went about their duties.  They were a skilled lot — but then, every starship’s senior staff was.

    “Intermix formula programmed.”

    “Warp core at full power.”

    “All hands report ready.”

    “Course plotted and laid in.”

    Maxwell leaned forward in his chair, savoring the moment.  Everyone looked toward him and waited for his command.

    “Engage!”

Captain’s Log: Stardate 32094.4.

    System checks complete.  All systems are “go.”  We will arrive at the Dorvan System shortly and run a few tests before proceeding to our rendezvous with the Eight Fleet.  This should be a routine matter.

“Now entering the Dorvan System,” announced Volodzhe.

   “Drop to impulse power on my mark,” ordered Maxwell.  “Mark.”

    With a heave and a jolt, the ship dropped out of warp space.  Several officers were thrown forward out of their seats onto the floor.

    azgn Bem sprang up and began examining the fallen bridge officers.  “Nothing serious,” she announced.  “A few bruises.”

    Maxwell nodded and tapped his console.  “Engineering, what the hell was that?”

    The voice of Lucius floated up from belowdeck.  “Uh, it wasn’t supposed to do that.”

    “I know that!”

    “Oh.  Um, it seems that the gravity generator– oops, no, that’s the inertial dampeners were at 75% efficiency.”

    The captain was not pleased at that news.  “Why?  They were working fine when we went into warp.”

    “I’m not sure.  Once I find out, I’ll call you back.  Engineering out.”  Maxwell heaved a gigantic sigh and muttered something under his breath.

    “What was that?” asked azgn Bem.

    “Nothing.  Volodzhe, set course for Dorvan V.  L’frn’lt, begin full sensor sweeps and scanner probes.  Once you’re done, transmit the information to Astronavigation Central.  I don’t believe a detailed analysis has ever been done of this planet.”

    “OK.”  The Halmaki began punching commands into his console.

    “Sickbay to Bridge.”  It was Doctor Sorsak.

    “Yes, doctor?” asked Maxwell.

    “What was the reason for our difficulties when we dropped from warp?  Several seriously wounded officers have reported in here and I don’t wish it to occur again.”

    “The inertial dampeners weren’t at full power.”

    “I see.”  There was a brief pause.  “May I suggest you acquire a new chief technical officer?  Between transporter conversion problems and this inertial dampener failure, there have been twenty-eight crewmen in sickbay, including yourself, sir.”

    “Doctor Sorsak, if you have problems with ship’s staff, I suggest to take it up with me in private.”

    “Suggestion noted, sir.  Sickbay out.”

Sorsak turned to his patients and heaved a mental sigh.  He would not have been here, but there were no opportunities for promotion to CMO on any ships with all-Vulcan crews.  Now he was subject to most illogical ineptitude on the part of the ship’s staff.

    He examined one woman with his tricorder and realized she had a concussion. “Medtech Regersif,” he called.  “Bring me a skeletal integrator.”  Once the Mathenite medtech had done so, he activated it and pressed it upon her head.  Most illogical, he thought to himself.

Lucius scrambled over to the inertial dampener control.  The knob was turned to 75%.  So it wasn’t a mechanical failure.  “Computer, who set the inertial dampeners to their current level?”

    “Chief Lucius Bonsiorus.”

    Huh?  Had he done that?  Oh, yeah!  He had needed extra power for the isolinear grid.  He turned the knob back to 100%.  “Engineering to Bridge.”

    “Bridge here,” answered azgn Bem.

    “The inertial dampeners have been repaired.”

    “Good job, Chief.  I’ll want a full report.”

    Uh-oh.

Angela Nolan watched as the bridge crew went about their tasks.  At the moment, there was nothing for her to do.  She simply sat at the captain’s left hand, across from azgn Bem.  In a typical day, there probably wouldn’t be much for her to do.  Intelligence just didn’t factor into day-to-day ship operations.

    The idea of a permanent Intelligence team was a novel one in the Fleet.  Other than the Rutledge, only four other ships had such teams — excepting vessels designated to FleetIntCom, of course.

    Technically, she didn’t have to take a bridge shift and she probably wouldn’t have if today hadn’t been the Rutledge‘s first mission.  Most days, she would be down in the ship’s only holodeck, running simulations with the other four team members.

    “Scans complete,” announced L’frn’lt at Science.

    Nolan glanced at Maxwell as he digested that information.  “Report on sensor operation?” the captain asked.

    “They were at 100% efficiency except for three times when Engineering diverted power to maintain the isolinear grid,” the Halmaki reported.  “They were operating at full speed and full detail with no problems.”

    The captain nodded.  “Now for the shield test.  Volodzhe, take us toward the Dorvan Primary.  Mr. Rendell, raise shields.”

    Nolan watched as the Dorvan Primary grew larger and larger on the main viewscreen.  Once her eyes could no longer take it, she ordered, “Filter on.”

    Rendell glanced at Maxwell.  When he nodded, the security chief tapped a few buttons.  “Filter on, aye.”  The light on the screen dimmed.

    “We are now entering the outer gas shell,” announced Volodzhe.

    “Shields are holding at 99%,” reported Rendell.

    “Take us in deeper,” ordered Maxwell.

    azgn Bem flinched at the order but held her tongue.

    “Shields at 97%.”

    Suddenly, the lights flickered and went dead.  The console and viewscreen went black.  The only source of illumination was Volodzhe’s glow-in-the-dark purple skin.

    Nolan yanked out her specially designed Intelligence tricorder.  “All main systems appear to be offline, even auxiliary lighting.  Stationkeeping thrusters are operational, so are shields.”

    azgn Bem leapt past the captain and grabbed the tricorder.  “This One estimates thirty-five minutes until shield failure; twenty-three until thruster burnout.”

    Maxwell pulled his communicator out.  “Maxwell to Bonsiorus.  What the hell just happened?’

    “That’s a really good question, captain.”

    “‘A really good question!’  What in the name of all that is good and holy is that supposed to mean?”

    “It means that…uh…I don’t know what happened.”

    “You don’t know!  In twenty-three minutes–“

    “Twenty-two, now,” interrupted azgn Bem.

    “–the thrusters will burn out and we’ll fall into the sun!”

    “How did figure that out?”

    “Aren’t you an engineer?  My exec, who has no engineering training, figured it out.”

    “Maybe she should replace me.”

    “She will if you don’t fix the damn ship!  Maxwell out.”  He flipped the communicator shut and stared at the blanked viewscreen.

    “Uh, captain,” broke in L’frn’lt, “actually the most imminent danger is superheating.  With the shields slowly failing, all life aboard will be incinerated in nineteen minutes.”

    “Shut up!” snarled the captain.  He stalked off into his ready room.

    Nolan watched him leave.  “What was that?”

    azgn Bem dipped her head and didn’t answer.

Benjamin Maxwell sat down at the desk in his ready room and slammed on his fists tabletop.  Outside his window, the sun was burning brightly.

    The sun that had sealed his ship’s doom.

    Goddamn!  How could his ship, his brand-new top-of-the-line ship, be destroyed on its first mission without even engaging the enemy?  At least they could have gone out in a blaze of glory or something.

    Well, they were going out in a blaze.

    His first mission was a catastrophic failure.

    He was a catastrophic failure.  Not fit to command.

    He exited the ready room, prepared to relieve himself of command.  As he stepped onto the bridge, his bridge crew gazed at him expectantly.  Nolan gave him a reassuring smile.  Boone snapped off a mock salute.  L’frn’lt nodded in his arachnid manner.  “Your orders, captain?” asked azgn Bem.

    He opened his mouth to utter the words.

    Damnit, this was his crew and he was their captain.  If he was a catastrophic failure of a captain, so be it.  But he would do his best to not let them down.

    “Volodzhe, Ensign L’frn’lt see you can get the manual steering column online and redirect the stationkeeping thrusters to push us away from the star.  Mr. Rendell, Nolan, get your squads to stage an evacuation of the outer sections of the hull.  Get the crew deeper inside the ship.  That should buy them some time from incineration.  Boone, have your guys drain the atmosphere from the evacuated sections to slow down heat transfer.”  He flipped open his communicator.  “Sickbay.”

    “Sickbay here.”

    “Do you have anything like old Earth sunscreen but extremely better.”

    “You mean for burn prevention?”

    “Yes.”

    “Tau Cetian dlarkiamentosium.  A recent invention, it uses T-cells to–“

    “I’ll take your word for it doctor.  Have your medtechs get it to all crewmembers.  Out.”  He returned the communicator to his belt.  “azgn Bem, you’re with me.  We’re going to see if we can get the upper section of the shield generator working — they’re almost no technical officers on this half of the ship.”  As the two began heading for the Jeffries tube, he stopped.  “Is anybody here proficient in the technical disciplines?”

    Boone raised a hand.  “I’m not, but my assistant, Ensign O’Brien, is.”

    “Get him down to Engineering.  Chief Bonsiorus needs all the help he can get.”

The subject of Maxwell’s sentence was running all over Engineering, trying to find something he knew how to fix.  “Chief!” called one of his men.  “I think I’ve found an error in the plasma shielding on the nacelles that might account for our problem.”

    Lucius glanced over the man’s shoulder.  “It might.  Uh, you get on it.  I’ll investigate the other options.”

    “What other options?’  Lucius ignored the man.

    A human male dropped out of one of the Jeffries tubes.  “Chief Bonsiorus?” he asked in an Irish accent.  “Miles O’Brien.  I’m here to help.”

    The technical chief eyed O’Brien’s red collar warily.  “A cadet?  I don’t need you’re help.”  He stalked off to hit the isolinear grid controls for the umpteenth time.

   “With all due respect, sir, you do.”

   “Go away!  I know what I’m doing!”

Volodzhe tried to pry the panel open.  “I can’t get it.”

   “Here, let me,” said L’frn’lt.  He reached under the edge with his claws.

   Volodzhe was puzzled.  There hadn’t been claws on the end of his legs a moment ago.  She voiced her puzzlement.

    “That’s because I didn’t need them.”  L’frn’lt wedged his claws under the panel and pried.  It popped open.  Volodzhe tossed the panel aside and began pulling the manual steering column out.

    Once it was out, L’frn’lt quickly moved several relays around.  “That should do it.”

    Volodzhe grasped the joystick on the top and pulled it backwards.  The deck shuddered beneath her.  “Well, I think we did something.”

Boone watched as Lieutenant j.g. Tsao, one of Rendell’s squad leaders, exited the bunkroom with five officers in front of him.  Tsao turned to Boone and gave him an “all-clear” sign.  Boone turned to the bunkroom pressure controls whose panel he had yanked open and switched an isolinear chip.

    Almost immediately there was the sound of hissing as the air was sucked out of the ship into the void beyond.

Sorsak fiddled with the isolinear chips in the replicator again with no success.  Even if he could get the terminal working, the main mattergy bank computer was offline as well.  A most illogical pursuit.

    “Nurse Mosk,” he called.  “Do we have any of the following?”  He rattled off a long list of chemicals.

    The nurse turned to the inventory and examined it.  “Yes.  All of them.”

    “Bring them to the Biochem Lab.”  While she gathered up the bottles in her arms, Sorsak jogged down the corridor to the Biochem Lab and grabbed a small vat off the shelf.  He placed the vat on a Bunsen burner and fired it up.

    When the nurse arrived, he began adding chemicals to the vat, hoping that he had correctly recalled the formula for Tau Cetian dlarkiamentosium.

Maxwell crawled through the Jeffries tube that went above the bridge; azgn Bem trailed behind him.  “Tell This One, sir,” she began, “did you plan out this whole course of action while in your ready room?”

    “No.”

    “Where, then?”

    “On the spot, just after I opened my mouth.”

    “What were you going to say, then?”  It was clear that azgn Bem was puzzled.

    “Oh, nothing much.”  Had he been facing her, Maxwell would have smiled cryptically. His communicator chirped three times.

    “L’frn’lt to Maxwell.  Volodzhe has succeeded in pushing the ship somewhat away from the Dorvan Primary.”

    “Rendell to Maxwell.  All outer sections evacuated and Lieutenant Boone reports that that the atmosphere’s been drained from those sections.”

    “Sorsak to Maxwell.  I have successfully created the compound and am distributing it to the crew.”

   Uh, very good, everyone.  Maxwell out.”  His crew hadn’t let him down and he was going to return the favor.  He continued up the tube, scraping his knee on occasion, until he arrived at the upper shield grid.  “Give me a hand,” he ordered azgn Bem.

    The two began tinkering with the controls as the heat grew more oppressive, this close to the outer edge of the hull.  azgn Bem wiped a bona fide wave of sweat off her forehead.  She was breathing heavily and apparently having trouble focusing.

    “Pandro is cooler than Setlik, isn’t it?” asked Maxwell.  “You’re probably not used to anything close to this level of heat.  Get back to the bridge.”  A few beads of sweat ran down his nose and plopped onto the control panel.

    “This One is fine, sir.”  She gasped and coughed.

    “No you’re not.  Get back.  That’s an order.”  When she didn’t move and continued to tinker with the controls, he gave her head a shove.  It fell off her shoulders and rolled down the tube.  The rest of her body considered staying, but wisely decided to follow.

    Maxwell began panting more as the heat grew.  When he touched a circuit, he yelped in surprise when it burned him.  He was feeling so…

    …exhausted.

    Sleep, he thought.  Sleep.

    He began to nod off.  So…

    …tired.

    He cleared his head with a quick shake and continued working.  The panel was actually glowing red now.  Never mind that.  He reached in, ignoring the pain that shot up his nerves, and worked with the circuitry.  He wrinkled his nose when he smelled burning flesh but thought nothing of it.

    A blue light began to blink on the console.  “Yes!”  He hit it and it stopped blinking and stayed on.

    He passed out.

Maxwell awoke to Sorsak’s elegant Vulcan face floating in front of him.  His body was covered in foam.  “Wha–” he tried to ask.

    “Don’t try to talk,” ordered the CMO.  “You’re in sickbay, in a burn bath.  Mr. Rendell found you slumped over the shield grid controls above the bridge.  You had severe second and third degree burns.”  As he walked away to tend to other patients, he continued talking.

    “You saved the ship.  When the shields returned to full power it gave Chief Bonsiorus the time he needed to identify the problem — a leak in the nacelle heat shields — and restore power.  You saved us all.”

    Maxwell nodded and slipped back into peaceful oblivion.

Captain’s Log: Stardate 32095.8

    I have been released from Sickbay and the Rutledge is now en route to Starbase 74 for repairs.  It appears we will not be joining the Eight Fleet for another month.  I now have some business to take care of: the status of our chief technical officer.

The captain watched as the ready room doors slipped open and Lucius entered.  The reprimand he had prepared died on his lips.  “You’re not the one,” he murmured.  He tapped the comm button.  “Ensign O’Brien to my office.”  Lucius looked at his CO in puzzlement.

    “Mr. O’Brien, was this the man on duty in TR3 when you checked?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Then why is he not the man that beamed the commodore and I to the starbase?”

    “I don’t know, sir.”

    “That man gave me the smoothest transport I ever had.  This man gave me a headache.  Do you have an explanation, chief?”

    Lucius gulped.  “I had just come on duty when the ensign arrived to ask my name.”

    “Who was on duty before you?”

    “Lieutenant j.g. William Kayden.”

    “Will Kayden.  That‘s the man I want.  Chief, go tell Commander azgn Bem to requisition him for our new chief technical officer.”

    “Yes, sir.”  Lucius exited the ready room, his head hanging down in shame.

    “Sir?” asked O’Brien.  “Why didn’t you notice it before?”

    “I only saw the chief once: when I beamed aboard the Rutledge.  I was so overwhelmed with my headache I didn’t even notice him.”

    “I don’t mean to butt in on any command decisions, sir, but I suggest you keep Chief Bonsiorus aboard.  He does have potential, just not the training.”

    “Thank you, ensign.  I’ll take that under consideration.  Dismissed.”

    Maxwell was right behind the ensign as he left the ready room.  He assumed his seat in the center of the bridge and watched as the stars streaked by.  azgn Bem, sitting at his right, muttered something.

    “What was that, Commander?”

    “This One was just thanking the Integrator that we didn’t fall prey to the stereotypical situation of being attacked by the enemy on our shakedown cruise.”  The bridge crew laughed and Maxwell watched.  This was his crew and he had not let them down.

    He would not let them down.

    His moment of internal resolution was interrupted by Lieutenant Boone’s frantic call.  “Sir, a Cardassian transmission is coming on screen.”

    “Source?”

    “Relay Station 14.  It appears that its Starfleet authorized.”

    “On screen.”

    The warping stars were replaced with the sight of a Cardassian.  His rank insignia identified him as the Lord Admiral of the Cardassian Fleet.  “I am Lord Admiral Narok Blattrik, head of Cardassian Central Command.  I regret to announce that, in response to unprovoked aggression on the part of the United Federation of Planets, we must take desperate and unwanted action.

   “As of today, the Cardassian Union declares war on the Federation.”