Chief Operations Officer’s Personal Log, Stardate 76705.7. Encrypted.
Nothing about this mission has been normal or expected, but I can say that our journey to rendezvous with the saucer section has at least been free of incident. We picked up one of the runabouts, the Ausable, a few hours ago. Initial reports show extensive damage to the hull from Kazon weapons fire, which my teams are now fixing with support from Engineering. Luckily there were no casualties, but I have no doubt that their presence in the area is a complication to our current mission rather than being its focus. Captain Lancaster has, as always, remained tight with the details, but despite the lack of communication he seems as pleased as it is possible for him to be with our progress.
The secondary hull’s shuttle bay was tiny compared to the one in the saucer section, but it was still more than large enough to service the compact Volga-class runabouts detailed to the Arcturus. At two-thirds the size of the older and more versatile Danube-class runabouts, they were usually deployed on the smallest starships, but the thinking with their mission was that it was preferable to have a larger number of slightly smaller support craft than fewer large ones. Since the Volga didn’t have hot-swappable modules, that also saved additional deck space for extra shuttles. Some of this loss in versatility was made up by amidships compartments that had been fitted with holographically configurable mission bays to swap out configurations in the field, at the expense of being less capable than “real” equipment.
The runabout Ausable had left the Arcturus a week earlier in perfect, factory-new condition. It had come back covered in blast marks. While there were no casualties, an operations team would take a week to get the tiny ship back into its original condition. As there was little to do on the battle bridge while they cruised to their rendezvous, Commander Alesser had taken it upon himself to meet the runabout in the bay, which the Arcturus had dropped down to impulse for less than a minute to pick up before jumping back to its maximum speed.
Besides boredom, the reason he wanted to meet the runabout himself was that its crew fascinated him: Lieutenant Junior Grade Cooper Robinson was leading a small team consisting of Ensign Cody Knox-Stanton at the helm and Ensign Matthew Belvedere serving as a science specialist. A flag officer’s aide with the son of a vice admiral and the nephew of a rear admiral. That was beyond coincidental, and he wanted to see what they were doing when they managed to catch Kazon interest.
The runabout rotated in the bay before it landed, pointing its ramp towards the shuttle bay’s forward bulkhead. Alesser waited with his arms crossed as the small vessel powered down and the aft hatch opened. The three junior officers were in good spirits, apparently teasing one another as they walked out of their vehicle. Robinson was taller than Knox-Stanton by just a hair, and both of them had athletic builds, and both were a head taller than Alesser himself was, while Belvedere was quite slim and Alesser’s own height. All three were the commander’s type, of course, but the blond lieutenant’s green eyes had a glint of defiance in them before he could even open his mouth to castigate them for the condition of their vessel, so he already had the commander’s attention.
“You three are awfully jovial for bringing this runabout back in a significantly worse state than it was when it was issued to you,” Alesser noted.
The three junior officers came to a halt at the foot of the ramp, the two ensigns looking towards Robinson. As a ‘flag lieutenant,’ i.e., a trumped-up yeoman, the yoke of Robinson’s uniform was operations gold, and he wore a silver aiguillette over one shoulder, attached to a small epaulet to signify his status as the admiral’s personal aide. It was an unusual choice for him to be sent out into the field.
“That tends to happen when you survive a Kazon attack, sir,” Robinson replied his tone barely within the bounds of decorum.
“Why didn’t you send out a distress call, Lieutenant?”
Robinson shrugged. “Because we won?”
The lieutenant’s eyes flashed with annoyance and he clenched his square jaw. Being an aide to a flag officer had likely made him quite used to having the run of the ship, evidenced by the clear aura of arrogance he was radiating. He seemed to be a hair’s breadth away from insubordination, which Alesser would have welcomed if only for the entertainment value.
“Because we won, sir,” Robinson repeated. “It’s all in the report I’m going to deliver to the admiral, and if she sees fit to share it with you, then you’ll have all of the juicy details, Commander Alesser, sir.”
Now that statement was much less amusing. For as much as it was clear things were abnormal under the mission parameters they now found themselves with since when did operational reports from one of the Arcturus‘s own runabouts go straight to the admiral? But putting her own man in charge of the mission was one way for Hayden to keep everyone else out of the loop.
“Are you always this sarcastic, Lieutenant?” Alesser asked.
“The admiral seems to like my sass, Commander. I’m sure it’ll grow on you, too,” Robinson quipped. “Begging the commander’s pardon, but we do need to get our reports filed.”
“Well, I do hope it’s not too hard to settle back into fetching the admiral’s coffee after your thrilling sojourn fending of Kazon attacks,” Alesser drawled.
Robinson shot him daggers in return, which just made Alesser smirk. “Is that Ardanan for ‘dismissed,’ sir?”
“Yes, it is,” Alesser replied, staying where he was to force the three of them to move around him to get to the exit.
Sparring with someone who had the ear of the admiral wasn’t the wisest thing that Alesser had done, but it was at least a diversion. He pulled his tricorder off of his belt and began doing an exterior inspection of the runabout, noting in great detail where the blast points were and if they’d impacted any systems. The more data he collected, the stranger he found it that the admiral’s gopher had been placed in charge. Granted, he likely did have higher security clearance than even Alesser or the other department heads on the Arcturus did. Still, surely there were tactical officers to be spared if combat was likely? In fact, Alesser was sure that Hayden would never risk those three, let alone risk them all on the same mission, especially when it was common knowledge that she was close to the Knox-Stanton family and Admiral Belvedere’s cachet was increasingly important at Starfleet Command. Belvedere was also listed on the manifest as an anthropologist, which only got Alesser’s mind working as he put his team to work. What were they looking for? More importantly: did they find it?
About twenty minutes later, when the appropriate orders had been doled out to his team, Alesser was still contemplating the mystery of the Ausable‘s mission as he made his way to one of the lounges for a meal which was only a few decks up and forward. Just four decks from the bottom of the ship, there were two large lounges just forward of the secondary arboretum which normally didn’t see all that much use except for engineering crews between shifts, but with the ship separated they were now the nicest place around to relax.
On a whim, Alesser picked the starboard lounge. After ordering the special of the day from the replicator—Bajoran hasperat—he found Commander Benjamin Walker eating the same thing near the bank of floor-to-ceiling windows on the edge of the room. His pale skin was quite red, which made Alesser smirk imagining it was too spicy for the Human to enjoy, as he was an especially bland Human even among Humans.
“May I join you?”
“Oh, of course,” Walker replied, looking mildly surprised. That might just have been his face, though, as he always seemed slightly startled. “What have you been up to this afternoon?”
“Runabout repairs,” Alesser replied, sitting down opposite the science officer. “The admiral sent her yeoman out with two ensigns on some classified mission. It came back in pieces.”
“I hope they were all alright?”
Alesser nodded. “Not a scratch on their very pretty heads,” he confirmed. “Ensign Belvedere was on that team. What’s it like having the nephew of an admiral in your department?”
“I’ve never met him, honestly. He’s never been mentioned for better or worse in any reports sent up from the Social Sciences division, either,” Walker replied, with a shrug. “Given the size of the crew and the number of Starfleet flag officers, there is a greater than zero chance someone within your own department has that sort of relative, too.”
There were in fact seven people in the Operations Department who had some connection to a flag officer, as Alesser had checked on that. You never wanted to be the one responsible for assigning an Admiral’s son or daughter to waste reclamation maintenance or to clean the biofilters of the holodecks, after all. No one was within three degrees of separation, though–a great uncle or second cousin were the closest they came.
“Not as closely related as that, no. I don’t let facts like that go unknown,” Alesser replied.
“What possible use could that information have?” Walker asked, beads of sweat running down his face after his latest bite.
“You never know. Better to have information and not need it than the other way around,” Alesser said. “Are you quite alright?”
Walker nodded, though the gesture looked a little labored. “I didn’t think that the special of the day would be quite so spicy.”
“Well, it’s hasperat. That’s like expecting caviar not to be salty,” Alesser reminded him.
“Your sympathy is simply overwhelming,” Walker replied, reaching for his water.
Alesser reached out to grab his wrist. “Don’t. You’ll make it worse. You need something basic. Computer, get the commander a glass of milk,” he said, with a Cheshire smirk.
Walker didn’t seem to mind the contact, and Alesser didn’t mind that he didn’t mind the contact, even if he was a little boring. He let him go when the milk materialized next to Walker’s tray, though. The scientist looked at it skeptically, but took a drink anyway, a cautious sip that turned into more of a gulp after a moment when it seemed to help.
“You know, growing up I always thought it was one of my species’s strangest habits that we consume the milk of other mammals. I was shocked when I learned it was a phenomenon that was common to other worlds as well. Of course, it’s almost all replicated, now, but I just wonder who was the first person who looked at a cow’s udders and decided ‘I’d like to drink what comes out of that,'” Walker said, with a laugh.
Alesser shared the laugh, as that was a genuinely amusing (surprisingly so) thought to come out of Walker’s mouth. “Well, aren’t you the exologist? Don’t you have some answer to that question?”
“‘Why do you consume substances coming out of that creature?’ is generally not one of the questions that we’re trained to ask in my field, no,” Walker replied, shaking his head.
“Evolution on Ardana followed some relatively peculiar paths compared to other worlds. We’re the only mammals on the planet, and there are few varieties of other land-dwelling vertebrates, so we didn’t develop that same habit. There’s a plant, though, that produces a substance that is chemically similar to milk that’s designed to lure animals in to drown them. Of course, once you have opposable thumbs, the threat is pretty minimal, so we cultivated it for the juice.”
“Fascinating! Carnivorous plants are also a feature of Earth’s ecosystem. Parallel evolution is fascinating, isn’t it?” Walker replied, with a grin.
The other man’s enthusiasm was endearing, even if it came across as a bit… sacchrine for Alesser’s taste. He studied the Human for a moment across the table, wondering which would provide more sport: the glaring flag lieutenant or the doe-eyed science officer, but before he could contemplate that much further the bosun’s whistle sounded.
“Set condition blue. Prepare for starship reintegration. Senior officers to the battle bridge,” the computer reported crisply. They were early for the rendezvous, which was generally not something that happened in interstellar travel—the saucer must have picked up speed along the way.
“I guess you’re saved from finishing the rest of that, Walker,” Alesser said, grinning as he hopped up and clapped the other man on the shoulder before the two of them rushed to the turbolift.
Alesser relieved the ensign at the operations station a few moments before Lieutenant Tellora took her seat next to him. Despite the long-standing alliance with her race, it still took him a moment to get used to sitting next to a 6’7″ Klingon woman at the helm of a Federation starship. Captain Lancaster was in the center seat and the other stations were quickly filled with the rest of the senior staff who had come along for the jaunt on the stardrive section. Alesser was still very curious at the absence of the ship’s first officer, but he doubted he’d get any answers on that anytime soon.
“Now approaching the saucer section, Captain,” Lieutenant Tellora reported.
“Slow to one-quarter impulse,” Lancaster ordered.
Alesser felt the tell-tale shudder as the ship dropped from warp to impulse power, as the stars on the viewer went from moving streaks to stationary lights. The saucer immediately showed up on sensors and he brought it up on screen. After a week in temporary quarters, Alesser was looking forward to being back ‘home.’ Their logistical processes were also more complex with half of the ship disconnected, so he was relishing being back to standard procedures across the board.
“Ready for reintegration at the captain’s discretion,” Alesser announced.
“Signal to the saucer that we will begin as soon as we are in range, Commander,” Lancaster ordered. “Tellora, plot a course to these coordinates. We’ll engage as soon as systems are synced,” he added before the helm console beeped with the receipt of new information. No rest for the wicked, it seemed.
Alesser sent the message via text through his console, which the saucer section immediately confirmed. The wedge-shaped upper hull of the stardrive section got closer and closer to the matching flat surface on the bottom of the saucer section, its tiny impulse engines going dark as they approached to avoid scorching the hull with plasma as they reconnected.
“We’re in range for automatic recoupling sequence,” Alesser said.
“Execute sequence,” Lancaster replied.
Alesser noted that Lancaster rarely used the friendlier ‘engage’ that most officers did, preferring the blunter, more aggressive ‘execute,’ for no reason that he’d ever shared. The operations officer voiced his acknowledgment of the order and then handed control over the ship’s systems to the main computers in both hulls. They watched on the viewscreen as the two halves of the ship drew closer and closer together before contact was made with a thud. Magnetic latches from the stardrive section extended upwards into the matching sockets on the saucer section before expanding horizontally and pulling back down to assure a complete and total lock, while umbilical ports all around them reattached and resumed the flow of life support gasses, power, and information between the two sections of the ship.
“Reintegration sequence complete. Synching inertial dampening and structural integrity fields,” Alesser reported.
“Course plotted for your coordinates, Captain,” Tellora reported.
“Execute at maximum warp, Lieutenant,” Lancaster ordered.
They’d been at sublight for less than three minutes before the engines roared back to life, sending the ship at tremendous speeds to yet another unspecified destination with no explanation. Alesser was sure that Captain Okusanya would be fuming in the engine room at the stress and mileage they were putting on the ship’s engines, an argument with Lancaster he’d love to be a fly on the wall for.
“I need to see the admiral. Commander Alesser, transfer command back to the main bridge and then provide Captain Rakan with any relevant information you two will need to synchronize operations,” Lancaster ordered, leaving the battle bridge before Alesser could even get out an ‘Aye, Captain.’
“Welcome home, I guess?” Alesser muttered, after the doors had safely closed behind the captain.