The USS Gettysburg, an outdated Constellation-class starship, traveled at warp heading for Starbase 86. They had just completed a long-term sensor sweep of the Omarian Cluster and were returning to base for resupply in preparation for their next mission.
Captain Órlaith McClellan was in her cramped ready room completing the latest round of transfer requests. Some of these officers could be easily replaced, others would not be. But, the Gettysburg was hardly the pride of the fleet, and it lacked many of the amenities that so many of today’s officers were accustomed to. Órlaith knew that her ship would soon see the scrappers but until then it was her duty to make it perform as good or better than it did when it left the assembly yards seventy years ago.
In mid-sentence, as she was completing a report, the screen on her computer terminal went black for a second to be replaced by the Greek symbol Omega. She stood with a sigh and crossed the ready room and onto the bridge. She was greeted by confused faces on every officer present since they had suddenly been locked out of their station with no warning.
“Captain, do you know what’s going on?” Her first officer, Commander Peterson asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “but I can’t discuss it. At all.” She went to a nearby science station and entered her command codes, to which the computer beeped and prompted her to enter her voice ID, “Mclellan-411-Mike-Charlie-Red.”
“Voiceprint recognized. Command functions resumed. Follow Omega Directive protocols,” The computer announced.
“Commander, you are in command until further notice,” Órlaith ordered.
“Aye Captain,” Peterson replied with confusion on his face.
“It’s best you don’t ask too many questions, commander. I know you have them, but I can’t give you answers. Please urge the rest of the crew to do the same.”
Órlaith nodded, gave him a sympathetic smile and returned to her ready room, locking the door behind her.
— Terra Alpha —
Terra Alpha was the third planet of a small star system not unlike that of Sol. The system was located along the border of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants approximately 250 light-years from Earth. Terra Alpha and her sister planet, Terra Beta, had been terraformed sometime around 2320. Of the two, Terra Alpha was by far the most populous with a population of 780 million inhabitants.
Ethan Talon kicked his right foot out of the stirrup of his well-worn Western-style roping saddle and swung to the ground outside a large barn made of thick logs. Jake, a buckskin-colored lineback dun quarter horse snorted and started pawing the dry earth. “Stop that,” Ethan chided the horse as he led Jake through the gate and into the yard of his ranch.
Ethan’s five-year-old son, Arthur, had a kid’s rope in his hands and was twirling the lasso trying to rope a red plastic calf head sticking out of a bail of hay. With his tongue out, Arthur threw the open lariat and missed his target. Disappointed Arthur started coiling his rope back up.
“Keep practicing and you’ll get it,” Ethan said to his son. “Where’s your sister?”
Arthur pushed back his grey Stetson with a thumb. The hat was way too big for him since it originally had been Ethan’s. In an imitation of the other cowboys around the ranch, Arthur hooked his left thumb into the belt loop of his Wranglers. “I don’t know. Doing girl stuff I guess.”
“Did you check your pony’s water?”
“Good man,” Ethan said as he tied Jake to the hitchin’ post. “How about her stall? Did you clean it?”
“I forgot,” Arthur replied with a heavy sigh.
“You forgot huh? Well, you’ve been reminded. You better go do that, don’t you think?”
Arthur pouted and dropped his rope heading for the barn.
“Eh!” Ethan scolded. “Don’t just throw your rope on the ground! Pick it up and put it away.”
Arthur ran back and picked up his rope and then ran into the barn. The slamming of the tack room door marked him having completed the task. Ethan chuckled to himself as he unbuckled the cinches and peeled off the saddle and blanket as one and swung it onto the horizontal bar of the hitching post. Ethan was brushing down Jake when his wife Trinity walked out of the house and approached him.
Shading her eyes against the sun with her right hand she spoke, “Hey Admiral T’vir is on subspace for you.”
Ethan sighed, “We must have a mission.”
“Looks like it,” Trinity agreed.
Sighing Ethan led Jake back through the gate he came in on and peeled off the bridle allowing the dun loose. The gelding ran up to the other horses grazing nearby nickering and started grazing with the others. Trinity had already put his saddle away and the two fell in step heading for the main house.
“Should I get Murph and Catarina on prepping the ship for departure?” Trinity asked.
Ethan sighed, “Yeah go ahead. Even if we aren’t deployed we might as well use this as an opportunity to fulfill our monthly training requirements.”
“David should be over on the north pasture. He said there were a couple of cows ready to drop. I’ll take a skiff and get him.”
Ethan nodded, “Sounds like a plan. I should be done talking to the Admiral when you get back. I can brief everyone en route. I just hope Mrs. Ackers didn’t have plans for the weekend.”
“Oh, she’ll be fine. We hired her to take care of the kids for this very reason. Having her on staff has been a blessing and the kids adore her.”
Ethan chuckled, “She’s a walking stereotype.”
“Wynona Ackers may look like a mild-mannered grandma, but she’s anything but. I’ve seen her put blush on a cowhand for not taking his boots off before walking across her newly cleaned floor.”
Grinning, “Like I said, ‘a walking stereotype’.”
Trinity playfully slapped his upper arm, “Just because your grandma was a black-hearted evil cow doesn’t mean all grandmas are.”
“Grandma Sackett is not evil. She just takes no guff. She doesn’t have time for our ‘damned tomfoolery’.”
“Yeah, bet you heard that a lot,” Trinity teased.
“I did,” Ethan agreed as he ducked through the door.
After hanging his black cowboy hat on the hall tree and drew his revolver. Opening the cylinder he shook out the five bullets into his hand and dropped them into his shirt pocket. Holstering the weapon Ethan unbuckled his gun belt and hung it from a hook on the wall.
–Two Hours Later–
Terra Alpha Spaceport is a hive of activity with departures and arrivals crammed cheek by jowl as passengers moved between their gates. Ethan and Trinity were now in their red-trimmed Starfleet uniforms. He a commander and she a lieutenant commander.
Bringing up the rear in a gold uniform was a man who shared Ethan’s flat nose and square jaw. Lieutenant David Sackett was Ethan’s first cousin and Ranch Foreman for the Rafter-T Ranch. He was a powerfully built young man in his mid-twenties.
The trio rounded a corner of the spaceport and turned into the Starfleet terminal. After a quick security check, they walked down the empty corridor to Gate A7. Ethan entered his access code and they walked through the parting doors to the open bay.
The USS Zebulon Pike was a heavily modified Magellan-class scout ship. It was nothing more than a more capable runabout. With two decks and a class VI warp drive, it was just as fast as any ship in the fleet.
They walked up the gangway entering deck two. “I better get to the engine room,” David said.
Ethan nodded, “Sure Dave. When we get up I’ll brief everyone on our mission.”
David smirked, “Nothing good I’m sure.”
Ethan and Trinity turned left as David veered right and they continued down the corridor to the main staircase. The Magellan class was too small to justify a turbolift system. Ethan didn’t know how the fleet ships would deal with a crewmember with disabilities, but perhaps transporters were used.
The doors to the bridge were immediately across from the landing and they entered. Ensigns Patrick Murphey and Catarina Peters were already at their positions. The crew was small, just the five of them, and they didn’t stand on ceremony. They were all handpicked by Ethan for their skills, and due to the nature of their covert status, they had considerable latitude.
“Hey Ethan boyo,” Murphy said in his Irish accent. “Weapons are ready. The yard monkies even gave us those upgrades we asked for.”
“How’s the ranch and kids?” Catarina said from the helm.
“They’re growing like weeds, and the ranch is beautiful this time of year,” Trinity replied as she slid into the operations position. “My strawberries should be ripe this week. God, I forgot to tell Mrs. Ackers to watch them.” She sighed and started entering commands into her console.
“They’ll be fine,” Ethan chuckled as he slid into the captain’s chair. “I reminded her to keep an eye on your garden. I know the drill.”
Trinity looked over and smiled at her husband and then back to her panel. “Dave reports that the ship is ready for launch.”
“Good job you two,” Ethan said to his youngest members.
“It’s not my fault you three live half a planet away,” Catarina said as she entered commands into the helm. “Lower gangway is closed and sealed. Spaceport umbilicals are severed and mooring clamps released.”
“Not all of us can live less than a block away,” Ethan retorted.
“Hey, Capitol City is the Paris of the colony worlds.”
“Catarina, do I look like someone who worries about high heels and designer handbags?” Ethan said dryly.
“I’m sure mom could help you out with that if you wanted,” Trinity teased. Trinity’s mother, Angelica Ryder, was a local fashion designer. Her designs were known for their chic retro 20th and 21st-century influence and were worn throughout the Federation.
“I’m good thanks,” Ethan replied. He pressed the comm button on his armrest, “Terra Alpha Control, USS Zebulon Pike, requesting departure clearance.”
“Zebulon Pike you are cleared to launch heading 021, maneuvering thrusters only. Climb and maintain four thousand until cleared of the Bravo. Once you have left the Bravo you are free to navigate at your discretion.”
Ethan repeated back the instructions, and without having to be told the Zebulon Pike lifted off from the concrete tarmac vertically until it cleared the structure of the spaceport and then rotated before climbing over Capital City. The skyscrapers of the city shrank as they reached their four-thousand meters of altitude.
“We are clearing the Bravo,” Catarina said as the small ship left the city behind and the silvery-blue ocean stretched before them.
“Increase speed to one-quarter impulse. Take us to orbit.
“Sure thing boss,” Catarina said as her fingers danced over the console.
Outside on the viewscreen the ocean quickly disappeared behind clouds, which in turn they started to fade as the ship crossed the threshold from atmosphere to space. “Okay, Catarina set course for the Ya’ter System, maximum warp.”
“Ya’ter system, maximum warp, aye,” Catarina replied in fragmented sentences.
Pressing the intercom this time on his armrest, “Hey Dave can you come up here for the briefing?”
There was a pause and then David replied, “Yeah, give me a second to get these holographic engineers on something.”
“Not yet,” David responded. “Just nipping a potential maintenance issue in the bud.”
“Understood. We’ve got an Omega problem so you might want to get your holographic engineers on that too.”
“Okay Ethan. Will do.”
“See you in a bit. Bridge out.”