Once Ezrah had arrived on board the Challenger more than a week prior, it had taken very little time or effort to learn of the reason as to why he’d been recalled so expediently. A shuttlepod accident had stolen the lives of Captain Rani Karim and Lieutenant Commander Alec Rossi. Although he only knew of Rossi on paper, Ezrah had the privilege of speaking with Karim on a number of separate occasions; the Captain had even made it a point to visit with Ezrah and his family at the Alcott residence in an attempt to better place Ezrah and his nuclear family at ease when considering the prospect of Ezrah’s accepting the offer to join the Challenger as its chief helm officer. Although he didn’t know Karim on a more personal level, Ezrah had quickly formed a very respectful admiration for what she was hoping to accomplish as the commanding officer of the Challenger. In their brief discussions, the two had shared similar opinions and viewpoints regarding Earth and the Coalition of Planets; it had appeared that Karim was also genuinely interested in helping to guide Ezrah in his career and continuing education. It had meant a lot having been personally approached by Karim, it meant that she had dedicated a considerable amount of time to researching prospective candidates, hand selecting each member of her staff after relentless scrutiny. Ezrah felt honoured that Karim would have even considered him as a viable candidate, but to have actually extended the offer altogether, well, that caused a swelling of pride.
With the unexpected passing of its first commanding officer, however, the prospect of shelving the Challenger project had become a very real possibility. This caused an uncertainty for any of those involved in the project, unsure of what the Command Council’s final decision would be on whether to persevere through such a strenuous predicament or to focus efforts elsewhere for the time being. With the decision still unknown, the uncertainty caused a shift in the personal timber of those on board Challenger. Ezrah wasn’t immune to this; yet he somehow discovered a way to take advantage of the situation, choosing to rather shift attention to lending a hand and helping wherever and whenever possible. At the moment, the crew was forced to work under the presumption of the status quo; although inflexible in-of-itself, it allowed for each crewman to focus on the task at hand and suppress the discomfort felt in unknowing where their career might shift to next should Challenger not disembark as planned.
In tandem with the discomfort of the unknown also came the sadness and depression felt in losing fellow comrades. Although Ezrah was only just now starting his career with Starfleet, the same couldn’t be said for many of the other crew. For some, they’d served with both Karim and Rossi on several different occasions, enduring the loss of not only a fellow peer, but also dear friends. Ezrah had yet to experience such a loss in his young life, but was also aware that this loss was one such factor of serving in Starfleet. Accidents happened all the time and sometimes those accidents took from us those we cared for deeply. This type of tragedy wasn’t inherent singularly to the professional atmosphere, however; of course, they each knew this all too well. But when you served in such close quarters and the line blurred between professional and personal, it was hard not to shoulder the burden of loss in some collective way.
In the company of peers, Ezrah had attended the funeral services for Karim and Rossi. They were beautifully conducted ceremonies that had amassed an enormous gathering of family, friends, co-workers and even those guests that had never met Karim or Rossi, yet had been moved by their passing in some way. Each individual expressed his or her condolences through grief and pain. In truth, Ezrah felt nothing more than indifference, an indifference perpetuated by his own limited relationship with both persons. Yet, he was there to show support regardless.
Shortly after the funeral services had concluded, Ezrah returned to the Challenger in an attempt to refocus efforts to being productive in some way, under the impression and hoping for the launch of Challenger.
‘So, will you be coming home then instead?’ The image of his mother fluttered about the computer terminal’s display. He watched intently at the words she signed as he continued to unpack several items from a storage container.
Shaking his head in response, Ezrah placed the personal items aside and manipulated his fingers and hands in such a way as to formulate a response, “No Mom, I’m not coming home. I need to stay on board for a little while longer… at least until the Command Council figures out what they’re going to be doing with the Challenger.” He spoke these words as well. His mother wasn’t remotely deaf, but had been born completely mute; sign language had been used within the close-knit family since before Ezrah could remember. Ezrah had, in fact, learned how to sign before ever being able to utter a coherent word; in retrospect, sometimes speaking out loud was more foreign to him.
He hated to see the expression of disappointment that has washed across her face, if there was one thing he disliked the most, it was causing any semblance of disappointment in either of his parents. Yet, Ezrah knew he didn’t cause nor inflict this emotion; it was merely an aspect of his life that his mother would need to learn to cope with.
‘Okay… will you let your father and I know if and when you might be leaving?’She requested.
“Of course!” He replied simply before snapping the lid onto the storage container, removing the object from the mattress and placing it on the carpeted floor. “I promise. I’m sorry Mom, but I need to go… but I’ll be in touch.” He said finally, glancing towards the digital chronometer recessed into the wall above the door to his personal quarters.
‘I love you very much.’
“I love you too Mom… tell everybody the same for me, too, will you?” He leaned against the metal surface of the desk.
She nodded before kissing the palm of her hand and pressing it against the camera lens. Ezrah did the same before terminating the communications channel. They never said goodbye. Goodbyes were too… permanent.
Her stuff had arrived in a plastic cargo box a week previous, but Major Viktoria Yu had yet to open it, instead it had remained in her office in the depths of Deck F, seal still intact.
At first her reasons were professional; she had spent most of the time getting to know the nineteen people under her direct command, as well whipping them into shape. Some of the younger privates and corporals had only just left basic and aside from training on Titan, Luna, and Mars colonies, they hadn’t left their home world. She had also been lending a hand to the engineering crew, helping debug some of the code that made up the Challenger state of the art ship software though that was about being helpful, and more about making sure they cleared out of the main computer core faster. She could hear their footfalls right above her head when she was in her office and her special forces training already made her jumpy enough when she could pick up someone coming from behind.
Since the accident however, Yu had kept it unopened more for personal and pragmatic reasons. She wasn’t sure if she would be staying. The captain was dead, which meant the Starfleet would either pick a new captain or promote the First Officer, Lloyd Burton. It was hard enough in the past month to avoid him since he was the Armoury Chief and First Officer, but she had always figured out a way to weasel her way out of it though she was told that it was most likely he would be promoted making a near-impossible task, completely impossible.
She could still remember that fateful day last year, when she and her MACOs had accompanied Burton on a relief mission to the misfortune-stricken Denobulan Colony and the further tragedies that had resulted out of it. Between those lost on that day, and the recent loss of Rossi and Karim, it seemed like her old comrade’s recent life had been tragedy after tragedy and he didn’t need a reminder of that serving under him.
As she leaned back in her chair with a status report of the MACO equipment being sent in by Quartermaster Chief Singh, when the door to her office beeped. Yu placed the report down on the desk and walked over to the door and pressed the open button on the panel to the side.
With a whoosh, the door opened to reveal her first sergeant, Staff Sergeant Rupesh Iyer in gym clothes with sweat still on his brow. “Sergeant Iyer, can I help you?”
“No, Major Yu.” The Pakistani-born sergeant said. “I am here to inform you of what I just overheard during my physical training in the gym. It’s the ship’s business, not rumour or gossip, I assure you.”
“Staff Sergeant Rupesh Iyer, always the recon man.” The Major said as she stepped out of the doorway and gestured to a nearby chair, before returning her own by the desk. “Come on in and make your report.”
“Yes, Major.” Iyer sat down and adjusted his brown uniform undershirt. “Roughly an hour ago, First Officer Lloyd Burton received a visit from the top brass from Starfleet Command. I was able to make out most of the conversation. He’s been promoted and is now Captain of the Challenger. Admiral Gardner is going to announce it to the crew in a moment, but I thought you would like to know in advance.”
“You definitely keep an ear to the ground, Sergeant.” Major Yu replied as she leaned back in her chair, momentarily lost in thought. “Are we still on schedule for the Challenger’s launch date?”
“As far as I can tell ma’am, yes.” Sergeant Iyer answered.
“Good. I need to take a brief trip off ship. Have the teams run through CQB drill sets during alpha shift, then go through theoretical tactical scenarios in the training room.”
“Aye Major!” Iyer said with a salute after quickly sitting up. “Will that be all?”
“Yes, thank you Staff Sergeant. Dismissed.”
After he left with a respectful nod, Yu hit the comm button. “Shuttlebay, this is Major Yu…I need to take a little trip.”
Wednesday, February 5th, 2155
Red Oak, Texas, United States of America, Earth
The alarm bleeped and blasted its way to shatter the peaceful silence of the cosy bedroom, only to be smacked into silence by a flailing hand a few seconds later. There were a few moments of quiet before a groan of an unhappy mutter rumbled around the room, and slowly one of the figures in bed sat up.
“Dawn already?” he grumbled.
The shape next to him made a small sound of protest, rolling over and wrapping themselves around him. “S’not. It’s a trick.”
He glanced down ruefully. “Afraid it’s not, sweetheart. I gotta get up.”
Warm hands played across his back, and his rueful expression turned to a twist of a slow smile. “Not yet for…”
“Roger’s pickin’ me up for a ride to the shuttle station,” he said with regret, and slid out of bed, feet stomping on the bare floorboards. “At oh-seven-hundred. I better not keep him waitin’, I know he’s got a lot to do in town.”
Another grumble of protest. “John Callahan, you always know how to ruin my fun.”
“Now that,” he said, padding back across the bed towards his wife and bending to kiss her on the forehead. “Is just downright untrue.”
He didn’t wait for a response as he ambled about the well-furnished, cosy master bedroom at the top and front of the spacious ranch house. There wasn’t much to do; he had fastidiously packed the night before, and left out a tidy and folded uniform ready for the long day ahead. He didn’t want to waste time in the morning before leaving. Didn’t want to linger.
“It’s so soon,” Laura Callahan said with a sigh, watching him. “You only heard yesterday…”
“An’ it’s an emergency,” John said, keen to avoid a repeat of the conversation, even as he felt a pang of guilt at cutting his wife off.
“An emergency that changes everything. Who do they think they are, pulling you away for months at a time with barely twenty-four hours’ notice?”
As she sat up, he returned to her side and caught a hand, waving in the air in irritable gesticulation, and lifted it to his lips. “Starfleet,” he said sadly. “An’ I swore an oath. Where’re the kids?”
“What am I, psychic?” Laura asked tensely, before giving a twist of a smile. “I heard them on the stairs about half an hour ago. They should be up. I didn’t want to wake you. Go say goodbye, I’ll be down in a minute and we’ll have breakfast before we go.”
He left the room with guilty relief, straightening and adjusting his uniform on his way down the stairs, and braced himself for a whole new world of accusation and regret. So he gave a small sigh at the reprieve that greeted him at the kitchen table, a glass of juice and a book by its side, the member of the family most likely to take everything in stride and not make him feel like a dog slinking off with his tail between his legs.
“Mornin’, Lizzy,” he greeted his daughter, sauntering over to the high kitchen table and drawing up a stool. “You’re up awful earlier than I figured.”
“Morning, Pa.” Ten year-old Lizzy slid off her stool with a smile and wandered over to wrap an arm around him. “I wanted to be up to see you go.”
“What’re you reading?” He reached for the book and grinned. “‘Charlotte’s Web’? Didn’t I read that to you when you were little?” Were little? When’d she stop being ‘little’?
Lizzy took it back a bit defensively. “I like it.”
“Hey, I’m just glad you’re readin’,” John said, kissing his daughter on the top of the head and letting her go. “Keep it up. Speakin’ of which, where’s Johnny?”
She made a face. “Speaking of reading made you ask for Johnny?”
“Books make me think of Junior, in that he’ll never touch them. He out back?” John got to his feet.
“He’s getting the stalls ready for the day.” Lizzy sniffed a little derisively, going back to her stool.
“Ma’ll be down to sort out breakfast in a minute,” he told her, heading for the back door to the yard.
The yard just outside the ranch house was wide open for work, flanked by the stalls for the animals who’d be used over the day to be brought in. A few nickers from inquisitive horsey heads poking over the doors greeted him, these animals ill or pregnant or just being kept close to hand overnight for some other reason. But the rest were out in the fields, left to roam when they weren’t being tended to or trained. His wife and the staff reared and sold them, usually just solid working animals for the area, though one of their Quarter Horse stallions had produced a rodeo star or two in the past few years.
This time of year the chill hit him in the face, not biting but certainly not the balmy warmth of summer, and he noted that his son – raking straw out of the way in the yard – had been smarter than him, and slipped on a jacket. The back door squeaked with a need of oil, and it was impossible his arrival hadn’t been noticed, but still the boy didn’t look up.
“Breakfast’ll be soon,” he said, standing on the porch and folding his arms across his chest. “Then you an’ Ma can go bring them in.”
John Callahan Junior paused and straightened slowly, deliberately. “I figured on that, Pa.”
Carefully, the elder Callahan approached his son, as if any oncoming verbal lashing would be bad enough he’d need to stand some way back. “Just lettin’ you know to finish up.”
“I work here on vacations and weekends all the time. When you’re gone. I don’t need you to tell me how to do this.” Johnny bent over and returned the raking, young features twisted into a scowl.
Callahan shifted his feet. “I’ll be going after breakfast.”
Johnny just grunted in response, and silence hung between the two of them for several long moments. The song of morning birds twittered and echoed across the yard, ethereal and just drawing attention to the tension. “I guess, then, it’ll be down to me an’ Max to bring down that old ash tree.”
“I guess. I reckoned I’d be around for a few weeks more -“
“But you ain’t gonna be.” Johnny straightened and turned. “They call, an’ like that, you gotta go.”
“It’s an emergency,” Callahan said, feeling like he’d had this conversation a hundred times in one day. “It’s an important mission. They wouldn’t call me up so suddenly if it weren’t.”
“Right. Important. Go talk to some folks. Real ‘saving the Earth’ kinda thing,” Johnny said derisively.
“Officers are dead, and they need me to step up to the plate. Nothin’s even confirmed yet-“
“But it will be. You’ll go to San Francisco, then you’ll go to your ship, an’ you won’t be back for months.” When Johnny frowned, Callahan thought he looked rather more like his mother than like himself. Or he was seeing that same pain and reproach in both their eyes, only the boy’s mother did a better job of hiding it. Because she, at least, accepted and understood the situation, even if it hurt.
The boy didn’t want to understand or accept it.
“This is what I do, Junior,” Callahan said, forcing his voice to go flatter, more authoritative. If he couldn’t win the argument, he could at least shut down the accusations.
“Yeah.” Johnny ran his fingers through his hair, and looked up towards the gate out of the yard. “You know, I reckon I’ll go saddle up College Boy an’ make a start on the work. I can have breakfast after.”
“I’ll be gone by-“
“I know.” Johnny glanced back at his father, and his mask of cool detachment only wavered briefly. “You go save the world, Pa. From, I dunno, bickerin’ diplomats or the like. Hey, maybe they’ll name more schools after you than Captain Archer.”
Then he was gone, wandering out through the gate before Callahan could summon the will or the words to stop him, and he was left alone in the yard, resting on the porch railing, brow furrowed. But he didn’t go after the boy, didn’t go to say goodbye properly, didn’t go to correct him or just let bygones be bygones before they were separated for months at a time.
Just turned, and headed back inside where the rattle of breakfast being made greeted him, to spend the last few minutes he had with a fractured family.
Burton’s first day of command so far had gone well. Rear Admiral Gardner had returned to Challenger to carry out the official command appointment ceremony on the bridge. He had then completed an inspection tour with the admiral to determine exactly how far away they were from launching. From Burton’s own estimations the ship would be ready for launch in three days if all went to plan.
The captain and admiral were now making their way down on E Deck towards the mess hall to grab a late breakfast. Burton led them into the room that was devoid of any one. Eventually they reached their destination in the captain’s dining room. It had been days since he had set foot inside this room and at first he was hesitant in pressing the button and entering it. However he could feel that Gardner was watching him to see if he would falter, so he reached out with his hand and tapped the button to open the door.
Minutes later the captain was enjoying a mug of tea and some breakfast with his superior officer. Gardner had been waffling on about the latest developments in Atlantis and Discovery’s construction efforts. The latter was to be commanded by a former classmate of his. On some level, Burton was feeling sort of smug that he had beaten him to the centre chair. When Burton had finished a bite from his bacon roll he was caught off guard when Gardner had posed a question towards him.
“So have you decided on any of your senior staff replacements yet?” Gardner asked in between mouth falls.
Placing his mug down on the table, Burton answered. “I’ve shortlisted my chief armoury officer to one name.”
“Whose?” Gardner enquired.
“John Callahan.” Burton responded as he picked up his mug of tea and took another sip. “He was the armoury officer on board the Gemini. His records are exemplary in law enforcement and tactical analysis.”
Gardner chuckled. “That’s high praise coming from a fellow armoury officer. Will you make him your third officer?”
Nodding once the captain answered. “He’s an experienced field officer and Captain Rostami was initially quite adamant that he wasn’t going to lose Callahan.”
Gardner was perplexed on how the young captain had gotten his way in getting Callahan. “How did you convince Daryush to let Callahan go?” He asked, mentioning Rostami by his first name.
Burton put on his slight boyish grin as he retold how he got his new armoury officer. “We had a lengthy discussion on Challenger’s need for having an experienced tactician and security officer in charge of its armoury’s department. Rostami believed that with me in command the need wasn’t great, but when I reminded him of what Captains Archer and Hernandez have reported back since they left space dock in regards to hostile species he finally understood why it would be a good idea to have someone with Callahan’s calibre with me. Plus it turns out he was good friends with Captain Karim, he felt he needed to do something to provide some stability to Challenger.”
“Well it seems your negotiation skills are developing Lloyd.” Gardner stated, amused at the anecdote. “How about getting a new chief engineer, chief medical officer and chief communication officer?”
A slight pain hit Burton in his chest as he remembered what had happened for them three spots to be made empty recently. Lieutenant Commander Caspar Slater, Challenger’s German chief engineer had requested a transfer off Challenger after Rossi’s death. The two of them had been romantically involved and the death of Alec had hit Caspar hard, to the point he was depressed and unfit to be on duty. Lloyd had sympathised with the engineer and had agreed to it, leaving Challenger’s engineering department without a leader.
Lieutenant Calista Moralez had been Challenger’s Spanish chief medical officer, and she too had been a good friend with Captain Karim. In fact the two of them had served together on the Daedalus-class ship Yeager (NCC-76) for years. She had told flat out to Burton that she would feel cheap if she remained on the Challenger and had handed in her resignation, citing she needed time away from Starfleet. Again he had reluctantly accepted the doctor’s decision.
Then that took them to Ensign Mattias Hansson. The young linguist was a nervous man before he joined the ship. How he got through his officer’s training and how Captain Karim convinced him to become Challenger’s chief communication officer bewildered Burton. Within two hours of the shuttlepod accident the Swedish officer had arrived at Burton’s door requesting to return to his previous post at Starfleet Research & Development in Tokyo. He felt that space travel was far too dangerous, and the accident had spooked him enough. He stated he would prefer to remain on Earth and wanted to return to his last job as he felt he would be of more benefit to Starfleet in developing the universal translator. Burton had asked him to reconsider and give it a few more days before he made his final decision. Again Burton was faced with having to deal with another officer resigning if he didn’t accept Hansson’s request. He knew Starfleet couldn’t afford to lose such talented officers, so he once again granted the communication’s officer request to return to his old position.
Eventually Burton answered the admiral’s question. “I’m still going through the candidates and I’ve asked for references from all of their current commanding officers.”
“And what about an executive officer and chief science officer?” Gardner asked next.
Burton wiped his mouth with the serviette that was sitting on his lap prior to responding. “Captain Hernandez has helped me out with that one. She suggested her current second officer and chief science officer; Nicolette Levesque.”
The admiral appeared stunned by Burton’s reply. “Erika offered her own science officer? Wow, that is impressive. She was reluctant to give Commander Tucker back to Captain Archer last year. What prompted the gesture?”
“She felt that Levesque needed the, excuse the pun, challenge of being the Challenger’s First Officer. Hernandez believed that she would develop here more than on Columbia.” Burton explained before going on, “Plus she said that there was no way she would imagine Captain Archer offering any of his crew, she wanted me to tell you that in hopes of getting brownie points!” He added with a grin.
Gardner chuckled. “I think Hernandez is trying to beat Archer in becoming a Commodore. Well sucking up to the boss isn’t such a bad thing anyway!” He stated before finishing off the scrambled eggs on his plate. “So when do Levesque and Callahan join you?”
“Hopefully later on today if not by tomorrow morning at the latest.” Burton answered as he too finished his breakfast.
The admiral placed his serviette on his empty plate. “Well thank you for the tour and breakfast captain. I’ve got a meeting with the Foreign Secretary in an hour, but I would like to see you tomorrow afternoon to go over your first set of mission orders.” Gardner said before standing up.
Burton rose as well as a mark of respect for his superior officer. “Of course sir.”
Gardner signalled for him to sit back down. “Finish off your breakfast captain. I’ll see myself out, you’ve got a lot to get done and I can’t have our newest captain going hungry before his ship is launched.”
Smiling in gratitude, Burton spoke up. “Thank you sir.”
Gardner left the room and the moment the doors had closed behind him Lloyd sat back down in his chair, wondering just how busy his day was going to be.
Shuttlepod C-32, Earth Orbit
Ben-Ami’s hands gripped the sides of the shuttlepod’s bucket seats. She disliked flying in small vessels such as the one she was currently in. She had spent a lot of time flying around in space, but she always preferred the larger, more spacious ships to flying tin cans. In the window she could see Challenger looming larger with every passing moment: it held snuggly in the framing of the dry-dock facility.
The shuttlepod suddenly lurched to the left and Ben-Ami let an obscenity escape her lips, “Harrah!” from the corner of her eye she saw another shuttlepod’s engine section pass-by extremely close.
“Shorry abo’ut dat shir” came the sheepish voice of the young Ensign, his thick Russian accent giving his English pronunciation a heavy feel to it, “En-shine Daff-iss doesh like to play games.” he laughed slightly.
“He won’t like it when he has to clean my vomit from the decking” she said in a controlled tone, loosening her vice-like grip on the chair, “Have you been flying long?”
“Yesh shir, I voss ray-shed on an Eee-See-Shh ship, I voss flying da ship by da time I voss ter-teen.” his voice echoed with pride.
“Oh so about three months then…” came the sardonic reply from Ben-Ami as she pushed herself forward in her chair to get a closer look at the ship. This time yesterday she was preparing herself for a long wait at Starfleet Command until a billet on a ship came up. She had expected to wait six months or so until a NV-class ship post became available. She was shocked when she had been called into Commander Blakley’s office yesterday morning and informed that due to a change in command of Challenger, the CMO had decided to no longer serve there. While she was sad about the loss of the previous CO over the English Channel, she could not help but feel lucky to get such a plume assignment as a NX ship, let alone the newest one. She had expected to do a few tours on a NV before getting a NX.
“Excush me maarm?”
“Nothing Ensign.” she said with a small smile playing on her lips, now the Challenger was almost touchable. “She’s smaller than I expected” she mused more to herself more than the pilot. She watched in silence as the pilot set about docking the small shuttlepod with Challenger. She knew they could not use the normal docking area of the NX-class ship as that would be filled with the ship’s own, they were assigned to the port docking hatch. A few seconds later she heard a loud clunk, “What was that?” her voice was raised slightly, the modicum of alarm obvious.
“Ve have docked shir.” Came the Russian’s response as she spun around in his chair to look at Kefira, his face barely containing the smile that was threatening to break out across his lips.
“Thank you Ensign.” she said as she stood up and grabbed her bag and made her way through the airlock. She waited for the familiar hiss, before the door opened to reveal a very busy corridor, as she stepped onto Challenger properly a Petty Officer stepped towards her.
“Welcome to Challenger Lieutenant, I am Petty Officer Williams, do you have your orders?” Came the pleasant voice of the young woman, she was polite, efficient and quite a pretty young woman.
Ben-Ami nodded and took the computer tablet from her bag and handed it to her, “I’m the new saw-bones” she said as the Petty Officer read the tablet, “If you can point me in the way of the sickbay I can get my bearings and head off to meet the boss.”
Petty Officer Williams smiled and handed back the datapad, “If you follow this corridor around, and then it is the third left.”
“Thank you very much.” She replied equally as chirpy, and made her way down the corridor, feeling that as much as she had wanted this assignment, she was not sure if life on a Starship was for her.
Finally finding sickbay, Ben-Ami walked through the frosted glass doors by playing her hand on an activation panel; she had no idea the logic behind the use of these access panels, since it served no real purpose. Once inside sickbay she looked around, there were three treatment beds, and a central bed that also doubled as the trolley for the full body scanner. There was ample space for storage, but she wasn’t sure how it would handle a major incident, after all the other ships of this class had undergone lots of problems, and four beds didn’t really seem like enough to tend to their needs. Then again the ship only had one Doctor, a few nurses and a few medical assistants. It was hardly the staff and equipment she was used to working at major hospitals.
She ran her hands over the smooth surfaces, leaned over and opened a cupboard, she placed her bag in it and slammed it shut, “Best go meet the beast then.” she sighed as she took another glance around what was going to become her life.