“Servo lock five. Locked. Servo lock six. Locked. Servo lock seven. Locked. Servo lock eight…”
As Chief Wolowitz intoned the checklist, Commander Jack Conrad and yard engineer Ned Hennessy hovered over the communications panel, listening anxiously for Wolowitz’s next word.
Jack let out a hoot and pumped his fists in the air as he danced triumphantly around the drafting room of Meridian shipyard drydock facility four. He looked over at Ned, whose response was more reserved. The engineer heaved a sigh of relief and collapsed onto a nearby stool, sliding his hands in the pockets of his labcoat.
Another stool toppled to the deck, a victim of Jack’s awkward gesticulations, pausing to catch his breath. He stepped over to the communications panel again and looked out into the drydock where a team of spacesuited engineers stood on the flat plate of hull between the U.S.S. Phoenix’s warp nacelles. They, too were celebrating.
Ordinarily the Oberth-class starship’s saucer would rest on that plate, but it was currently undergoing final checkout in drydock facility three. It would be mated home to the rest of the Phoenix later in the day. The servo check was the final readiness test for the docking procedure, and it had been a tough journey getting the docking system to this point. Phoenix should have launched three days ago, but this setback proved challenging for the yard engineers and shipwrights. The decision to make the saucer section separate from the rest of the hull for independent operation in space or planetside came down from the top leadership at the Advanced Starship Design Bureau. Typically, those decisions came with no ideas for how to accomplish the task. That had been left up to Ned and his team of engineers at Meridian shipyard. It had been an odyssey of trial and error, but the obstacle had been hurdled. Once the saucer was docked, Phoenix would be ready to sail.
Jack waved through the transparent aluminum window at Wolowitz and the engineers on the Phoenix hull, as they boarded a workbee personnel carrier. In another few moments, the workbee powered away, carrying the engineers to nearby Meridian Station.
“I’m amazed,” Ned said as Jack turned away from the viewport.
Jack chuckled. “Why? It was your design.”
“Yeah. And let me tell you I was running out of ideas, Jack.” He looked over at the commander. “But we did it.”
“You did it, Ned,” Jack corrected. “I really wish you were going out there with us.”
“I told you. I’ve done my time.”
“Yeah,” Jack said quietly. “I know.”
Twenty years ago, Jack and Ned served together on the U.S.S. Lexington. Jack was the ship’s helmsman and Ned was a computer scientist. The Lexington had been selected to be one of four starships to fight against the U.S.S. Enterprise as part of a wargame exercise. The battle was meant to test Richard Daystrom’s experimental M-5 multitronic computer, which had been installed on the Enterprise. The M-5 took over most of the Enterprise’s major systems, including weapons. When the M-5 malfunctioned, it perceived the Lexington and three other starships as real threats and activated the Enterprise’s weapons at full strength, opening fire on the unshielded ships. The Enterprise attack killed the entire crew of the U.S.S. Excalibur and caused massive casualties on the other three ships, including Lexington. The incident took a toll on Ned, who put in for a transfer to a teaching position at Starfleet Academy. A few years later, he mustered out, and started his civilian life by enrolling in the University of the Federation to study engineering. The closest he’d gotten to Starfleet in recent years was working for the Advanced Starship Design Bureau.
“Besides,” Ned said, trying to inject some cheer into his voice. “I have other projects here that need my attention.”
“Won’t Babish detail you back to Utopia Planitia?” Jack asked.
“I hope not,” Ned answered quickly.
“What?” Jack said laughing. “I figured you’d jump at the chance to get out from under his heel.”
“Well…” Ned seemed to be searching for words. “I mean, it’s not like he can order me around. I’m not fleet personnel.” He began shuffling through blueprint hardcopies on one of the drafting tables, and quickly changed the subject. “So, are you going to pilot the saucer during the docking procedure?”
Jack was perplexed. Ned and Commodore Seymour Babish had locked horns since day one of Project Phoenix. The only times Jack had heard Ned swear were after meetings with the commodore, when Babish would offer his own passive-aggressive suggestions, which were rarely helpful. So, it surprised him that Ned wouldn’t hop the first transport to Mars the second after Phoenix left drydock. But he let the topic die and answered Ned’s question.
“No. I’ll supervise from here. It’ll be fine.”
“Man, that’s gotta kill you, Jack. I can’t believe—” Ned stopped short, and then turned toward Jack, a concerned expression on his face as a realization settled upon the engineer. “No.”
“No. You aren’t putting my ship—”
Jack cocked an eyebrow.
“Your ship,” the engineer corrected himself, “in that maniac’s hands.”
“Yes, he’s a troublemaker. Yes, he’s brash. Yes, he’s a bona fide jackass at times, but Red is the best pilot I’ve ever trained, bar none.” Jack let his words hang in the air between them for a moment. “And if he gets out of line, I’m sending him back to the Earth-Saturn transport shuttle he was flying before I reassigned him.” He smiled at the engineer. “You can always join us and help me keep an eye on him.”
“Not interested.” Ned replied, as he began rolling up blueprints and putting them in storage tubes.
“Right,” Jack said. “you’ve got ‘other projects.’”
“Plenty to keep me busy right—”
An alarm cut Ned off.
“Yellow alert. Yellow alert in the dockyard.”
Jack and Ned exchanged confused expressions. The commander stepped to the communications panel and thumbed the unit on.
“Conrad to Meridian Station ops. What’s going on?”
“Stand by Commander,” the station’s communications officer answered. Several seconds passed before she spoke again. “Uncontrolled traffic in the yard, sir.”
As the communications officer said the words, Jack looked out the viewport and saw a Starfleet shuttle zoom through the drydock past the Phoenix. The shuttle was rolling, bobbing and weaving as it attempted to escape the tractor beams that were attempting to reach out and capture it.
“What was that?” Ned asked, pointing out the viewport.
Jack sighed and grabbed his uniform jacket off a drafting board.
“I’ll be back. That,” he said, cocking his head toward the viewport, “is our maniac.”
Ensign Jimmy Robinson gripped the arms of the co-pilot’s seat in the shuttle as Red Jarvis gleefully guided the craft haphazardly through the shipyard. Proximity alarms blared in protest as the shuttle came dangerously close to hitting the traffic buoys. Over the cacophony, Jimmy heard a voice filter through the shuttle’s communications system.
“Unidentified shuttle, stand down at once and prepare to be tractored in! You are in violation of shipyard traffic speed and navigation regulations!”
Jimmy looked over at Red, who appeared oblivious to the orders they’d received. Either that, or he just didn’t care. Jimmy couldn’t tell. When Jimmy met Ensign Red Jarvis at Starbase 11 and they both discovered they were heading to Meridian Station for assignment to the Phoenix, Red assured him that taking a shuttle without signing it out was the way things worked “in the real fleet.” When Red went in the back and changed into shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, Jimmy asked him about Starfleet regulations regarding uniforms during travel. “Not in the real fleet,” Red had replied.
Now Jimmy was sealed in the shuttlecraft, holding on for dear life while Red was flying like a madman through the dockyard.
“Repeat! Unidentified shuttle, you will stand down at—”
Jarvis reached for the communications control and shut the unit off. Jimmy looked at him in shock.
“Relax, Jimmy. They don’t really mean it. We’re all on the same team.”
Outside the forward viewport, Jimmy could see blue beams emanating from Meridian Station. What have I gotten myself into? He jerked his head around to face Red.
“You stole a shuttle, Jarvis! If they don’t really mean it, how come every tractor beam in the dockyard is aimed at us?” He clutched his head in his hands. “Why did I listen to you in the first place?”
Jimmy rose from his seat and pushed Red aside, attempting to wrestle control of the craft away from Jarvis. Red pushed him away, but in his distraction, one of the beams caught the wayward shuttle. It wasn’t long after that the cabin lit up with the shimmering light of transporter beams that deposited three shore patrolmen in security armor, phasers trained on Jarvis and Robinson, inside the shuttlecraft.
The lead security guard stepped forward.
“Hands on your heads.”
Jimmy obediently put his hands atop his head and stepped away from the console. Red, scoffed.
“Jarvis, get up!” he hissed.
“Jimmy, lighten up. Jack’s an old friend. He’s not gonna let me—”
A stun beam from the lead security guard’s phaser lanced out at Red, and he fell limp to the deck.
Jimmy managed a weak smile as the shore patrol moved closer.
“I’m not with him.”
As the other two shore patrolmen took Red’s limp form into custody, the lead guard put binders on Jimmy’s wrists. The young ensign shook his head and groaned.
“My father’s going to kill me.”