Tursk splashed his face with water from the small basin in the First Officer’s quarters. His wide, paw-like hands dragged over his wrinkled skin as he rubbed his eyes. He looked into the mirror, observing the creased corners of his eyes. Dark patches, like graphite smudges, hung beneath the bunched up skin of his lower eyelids. His hand sunk to his tangled beard, smoothing it down against his barrel chest. His morning routine hadn’t changed in years, but he certainly had. Every now and then he’d catch a glimpse of a new mark or blemish. A burst blood vessel or liver spot perhaps; nothing that couldn’t be fixed by the skim of a dermal regenerator, not that Tursk would go to those lengths. For many Tellarites, stubborn as they were, such imperfections were a sign of wisdom. Age bestowed perspective, and an indication that one could deal with all the ups, downs, scratches and bumps that life could throw at you.
There was still a part of him that looked back from that mirror and wondered who another Tursk might have been. The part of him that yearned to climb the fourteen peaks of Miracht, building campfires as he set out along the trails on the Cheschen prairies, and watching the thick rain dripping from the canvas shelter that was all that stood between him and the biting wind. Vordenna was a man of nature too, he mused. In conversation with the captain, he had learned of the extended time the Argosian had spent in the forests of his home planet. Perhaps there was a part of Tursk that envied the kind of lifespan that permitted one to spend a decade in the wilderness, only to pick up a career again from where it was left off.
Then again, age bestowed perspective, and that included a perspective of time. Vordenna had plenty of time. Time to grow attached, time to forget, and time to feel the pain of lost friends. It was a curious life he chose then, among Federation races like Tellarites, Andorians and Humans. Life among them must have seemed like a nonstop rush. Tursk suspected the captain enjoyed it, choosing to value the moments he was given more than any other Argosian he had come across. That, to Tursk, was admirable. He therefore reflected that a life spent among people like Vordenna was a life well lived. What’s more, it was a life in service of the institutions that had allowed the cooperation and mingling of different perspectives. They truly had found a strength in diversity, and all the philosophies, cultural observations, attitudes and expression that held the Federation together had stood the test of time. As he dried his face with a towel, Tursk resolved that perhaps there could be no better use of his time than to help it all stand for a little longer.
“Bridge.” His voice rumbled as, raktajino in hand, he stepped into the turbolift. He briefly wondered if the Hunters of D’Ghor availed themselves of this fine beverage before a hard day of pillaging Federation colonies. He gazed uncomfortably into the mug, frowning slightly, then thought of all the considerably more honourable Klingons who had also enjoyed a drink or two of Kahless’ cupped lightning.
Another sip banished all introspection from Tursk’s mind just as the turbolift doors opened and the bridge came into view.
“Good morning, Commander.” Delfino craned her head, expecting him. The Tellarite ran like clockwork. “We’re about two parsecs out from Starbase 27, one from the Tir Kapov system. All systems operating within normal parameters. Plain sailing, sir.”
Tursk reached out to grab the padd offered to him as he replaced Delfino in the centre chair. The olive skinned Lieutenant stood aside as he skimmed over her shift details. Folding her arms, she patiently waited for Tursk to finish. Her eyes drifted slightly to the space above his head as he took his time. In a tired monotone she added, “Our ETA is 0800 hours. Fleet command reports aid ships have already made the rendezvous, with support vessels still a few hours out.”
“Very good, Lieutenant.” Tursk replied, oblivious until he looked up. “Uh, better get some rack time.”
Delfino said nothing, leaving Tursk to it as she proceeded to collapse in her quarters.
THWOCK, the Ahwahnee dropped out of warp. Approaching the Starbase 27 defence perimeter, the extent of Starfleet’s efforts in the region became starkly apparent. A small squadron of Volga class runabouts curved in through the base’s identification zone. Freighters, support vessels, cruisers and a smattering of capital ships lit up the Ahwahnee’s sensors. Ahead, faint but recognisable onscreen from the bridge, the spinning top of the station glowed like a beacon surrounded by a hundred buzzing, blueish fireflies.
“Ahwahnee this is Starbase 27 port control, approach vector theta six is yours. Bearing six-four mark twelve.”
“Welcome to the fray.”
Tursk raised an eyebrow to no one in particular, “Take us in helm.”
Impulse thrusters fired, propelling the ship into the milieu. The starbase grew bigger onscreen, and before long the vast, cylindrical citadel dominated the starscape. The sheer size of the structures was always an eye opener for Tursk after returning from a long deployment. To him, they also signified a kind of relief. Shore leave or down time was never normally far away once the ship had docked. Now, he felt only apprehension as the Ahwahnee drew closer.
“I see we’ve made good time.” The Captain strode down the bridge, pausing to admire the view.
“Only a little late to the party.” Tursk said. He was briefly distracted by an incoming communication alert. “Command is hailing us, sir.”
“I’ll take it in my ready room.”
“Aye, routing it through.”
Felrak seated himself, activating the viewer to reveal the face of Commodore L’Eral. Her luxurious golden fur framed her face, falling away behind her to highlight her gleaming, feline eyes.
She spoke with a slight lisp, her Caitian fangs protruding past her bottom lip, “Captain Vordenna, Fourth Fleet Command sends its regards.”
“Appreciated, ma’am.” Pleasant enough, he thought before adding, “I see Admiral Beckett has decided not to grace us with his presence.”
L’Eral purred, “The Admiral has… Bigger fish to fry, Captain. Tactical concerns in the sector have demanded his full attention. The Ahwahnee has been assigned to logistics and support operations-”
“Ah yes, escort duty.”
“As senior captain, the convoy is under your immediate command. I’m transferring the details of the ships assigned now. Most are from Task Group 27.”
Felrak eyed the feed that appeared in the corner of the screen, “Ma’am, I’m seeing two frigates and a couple of runabouts. The Ahwahnee isn’t exactly outfitted for extended tactical operations. Is this everything?”
The Caitian lowered her gaze for a moment, “It’s all we have, Captain. Forces are spread thin throughout the sector. We’ve got a lot of firepower deployed closer to the Klingon border with orders to intercept and drive the Hunters out of Federation space. They’re doing the heavy lifting. Simulations indicate your convoy has a low probability of attack.”
Somewhat reassured, Felrak relaxed his shoulders a little, “Very well.”
“We can’t waste time,” She continued, “I want the convoy en route to Meronia by 2000 hours. The longer we wait, the more lives we lose out there. If we’ve got any hope of stabilising this situation we have to get those supplies planetside and into peoples hands fast. We do not need people turning to the Orions for supplies that we haven’t distributed in time.”
“Understood. I’d like to brief the convoy COs, Commodore.”
“Be my guest. I’ll patch you through.” She looked about ready to end the conversation before hesitating, “Oh, and Vordenna?”
“Task Group 27 have already had significant contact with D’Ghor. They’ve been through the wringer, and I understand there have been casualties. Morale is in short supply.”
Felrak well understood the shorthand for ‘vastly overworked’, and it stoked his apprehension, “How bad are we talking?”
“I think it’s better for you to assess the situation yourself. I’ll patch you through to them right away.”
“Time is of the essence.” Felrak said, mainly to himself as the Commodore disappeared from the viewer. She was replaced by two captains; one sat in her ready room much like himself, the other appeared to be coordinating repairs on his bridge. Crew scrambled about as he issued orders, clearing away the remains of shattered components and optic cable strewn about as if a typhoon had ripped across the deck.
Felrak overheard background chatter rising above the clanking and scraping of debris, “2000 hours? They want us out of here by 2000 hours? They must be out of their goddamn minds if they think we’re getting-”
“Stow it, Haines!”
Felrak cleared his throat, “Captain Felrak Vordenna, USS Ahwahnee. I’ve orders to assume command of the convoy heading for Meronia.”
“Well Captain Vordenna, you’re not assuming command of much right now.” The seated woman on the right half of the screen seemed a picture of calm, “Commander Kate De Vries, USS Stavanger.”
Through the cacophony of the partially destroyed bridge, a gigantic Bolian lumbered into view. His uniform was frayed around the left shoulder, and a deep blue bruise darkened the cheekbone above it. “Speak for yourself, De Vries.” He boomed, “The Tulwar’s gonna be shipshape and ready to go.”
De Vries eyes rolled far, far back, “I very much doubt that, Commander Thrix.”
“Doubt all you want, every second we’re out of action is more time those animals are flying around out there unchallenged.”
“Captain Vordenna, we know what we have to do.” De Vries was stern, “I would strongly recommend we allow the Tulwar more time for repairs. If we set out at warp six they would have plenty of time to catch up with the rest of the convoy.”
Felrak stepped in, “Commander Thrix, I admire your tenacity. However you are mistaken if you think the Tulwar is going anywhere without all key systems operational. I’m sure Starbase 27 has already got people over there, and I’m willing to send a team over to assist.”
“That would be appreciated, Captain.” Thrix dialled back the bravado.
“We will not be leaving the Starbase 27 defence perimeter without all ships in the convoy present. Command won’t be happy if we push much past 2000 hours, but late supplies are better than no supplies at all. Objections?”
“Very well. Let’s get to it. Regular updates on the hour, Commanders.”
The comm link terminated and Felrak took a moment to collect his thoughts. Small thorstup trees lined the left bulkhead, casting a scattered shadow on the terracotta paneling behind. He gazed into the swirling pattern of their leaves, kaleidoscopic greens and yellows interweaving, reminding him of home. He slowed his breathing. The thick canopies and jungle branches of the Southen Craawn flooded his mind. The birdsong and the humid loamy vapours rolled gently over the leafwork lattice of the forest floor. The door chimed.
“All good, Captain?” Tursk approached Felrak’s desk almost sheepishly.
“Tursk,” The Argosian’s mottled hands rested, steepled on his stomach, “I fear we are between a rock and a hard place.”
“Something I read on Earth. An ancient story, of a man named Odysseus.” Felrak leaned forward, “On his sea voyage he needed to sail between the rock of Scylla the flesh eating monster, and the giant Charybdis whirlpool.”
“I don’t follow…”
“Our voyage is full of risks, Tursk. There is no avoiding them. Our only way through is to sail between adeptly.”