Saturday, November 10, 2001

Preflight Part 3: Now Boarding

Winter left the Arcadia in the hands of the acting first officer, and made her way to the shuttle bay.  She was on her way to retrieve the captain, Stephen April.  She knew that normally XO's didn't pick up their captains on their first trip to their new homes, but Winter was different.  She wanted to make a first impression, and show the captain that the ship was in capable hands, no matter who was at watch on the bridge.
April waited impatiently at the shuttlepad.  As it touched down, spurring a gale of hot Vulcan air, he squared his shoulders then practically tore the door down trying to get in, almost running over Winter on her way out.  He sidestepped the near-collision and scrutinized her.   "You're late..."  He noticed her pips.  "Lieutenant-Commander... Bauval, I presume."
Winter stammered, "Y..yes sir.  I apologize for my lateness.  I was instructed to pick you up at 2100 hours, was that incorrect?" This was not the greeting she was hoping for.  First impressions were very important to her, and so far, this wasn't turning out to be a good one.
April rolled his eyes.  A first who stammered.  "Commander, shouldn't you be on the ship, prepping her for departure?"
Winter stated firmly, "Sir, I have trained you a good crew.  You don't need to worry about the Arcadia.  She'll be prepped when we get back." Ok, now she was getting pissed.  When Winter got mad she got defensive and mean.  This was not how she wanted her first meeting to go with April.
"We'll discuss it en route, Commander."  April motioned her back into the shuttle, then followed.
Winter tried her best not to storm her way back to the pilot's seat, but couldn't contain all of her emotion. *Sometimes I wish I were a Vulcan,* she thought to herself as the shuttle took off.  April settled into the seat nearby and peered out the viewport toward the sky, as if he could see the ship already.  He sat silently for several moments, rendering an uncomfortable silence.  Finally, he said, "First impressions are most important, wouldn't you agree?"
Winter was taken aback a bit by his statement.  "Why, yes sir I do.  First impressions are very important to me."
"Mm."  April nodded as if expecting that, or perhaps not really hearing--who could tell.  He pretended to find interest in the shuttle controls, then glanced at Winter.  "I realize almost every exec wants to make a good first impression on his or her captain... but you're going to find that I am not the primary focus of your duty.  What would you say is?"
"Taking care of the crew aboard the ship sir.  Making sure that they are safe.  But sir, you ARE a member of the crew.  I was simply seeing to my job.  Making sure that the captain of an amazing ship and crew made it safely to his new home."
"Aren't you the least bit curious why I didn't just use the transporter?"
Winter took her eyes from the controls and met April's glance.  "As a matter of fact sir, the thought had crossed my mind."
Again, the cursory nod and grunt from April, and the craning glance out the forward viewport.  "What's our ETA?"
"Approximately three minutes sir," Winter replied.
"Good.  Now then... not to put too fine a point on it, Commander, but have you ever heard of delegating?"
Winter didn't know where he was going with this, but decided the only way to find out was to go along and answer his questions. "Yes, sir."
"And do you ever want to be captain someday?"
"Yes, I would. Probably not on a ship like the Arcadia, but maybe a science ship."
"Then don't you think your place is on the bridge?"
"All due respect, sir, but don't you think that part of your job is to respect your XO's judgment? My judgment is saying that the Arcadia is in good hands with the bridge staff, many of whom are well on their way to becoming amazing Starfleet officers. They need the experience, and it is my job to see that they get it. I am not only supposed to be on the bridge, but I am supposed to take care of each and every member of my crew; if they need bridge experience, they will get it. And I hardly call orbiting a friendly planet a poor time to allow these officers to train."
"I respect that, Commander. The Arcadia does have many young, inexperienced officers. However..." His voice took a drop in bass pitch. Outside, the red Vulcan atmosphere faded to pink, then black, and the stars shone bright. "I expected a simple yes or no answer." In the distance, against the starry backdrop, an object of indistinct hue appeared and grew steadily. "I'll ask you a different sort of question: what time do you get up in the mornings?"
"Now that depends on if I'm on duty or not. But if I'm on duty, usually an hour before my shift. If I'm off duty, I almost don't get up."
April grinned and clucked his teeth. "Commander... in our line of work, we are ALWAYS on duty. Call a senior staff meeting for 0800 tomorrow. But before that, I would like to see you at 0700, Holodeck One."
Uh oh. That didn't sound good. *So much for trying to lighten the mood,* Winter thought to herself. *So much for having a good day,* she thought bitterly. She sucked up her pride and said a simple "Yes, sir." *If he wants yes or no answers, he's gonna get them.*
"Bring us to a heading of oh-one-eight, then swing around. I want to see her from the front."
"Yes, sir." Winter followed the order and swung around in front of the stunningArcadia. Seeing it almost lightened her mood. Almost.
April saw it and his breath caught.  Slowly, he exhaled a whispered gasp.  Winter took the shuttle over the starboard edge of the oblong saucer section, giving them a wide view, and in a moment he was breathing heavy.  This was why he bypassed the transporter.  He stole a look at Winter as if he had forgotten she was there then reset his composure, indicating the sight in the view port. "Tell me what you see."
Winter looked at the ship and didn't even have to think about what she saw. "I see potential and hope, sir."
"Indeed? Potential and hope... for what?"
"Why, for the future sir. For a better and amazing future."
"Commander, I want you to think about something. That is the test bed for our first, stable, working version of quantum slipstream drive. The only one of her kind. She'll take us over rainbows... but there won't be pots of gold at the end of every one. There's hope for a better future, true... and potential for a dark future. Others want it.  And dangers lurk everywhere... the Borg, the Dominion, threats you might not even be able to imagine. Those dangers can strike anywhere, at any moment. Even here. THAT is your first duty--that ship. Greater than the sum of its parts, greater than you, me or any one member of its crew. That ship IS the future. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, sir," was all Winter could reply.
"I hope so... for all our sakes. If you're going to be my exec, you have to understand. I don't expect any more--or any less--than I am willing to give of myself. Nor will I tolerate any less than the best effort."
Winter brought the ship about and landed it in the shuttle bay. There the crew was assembled. When she and the captain stepped out of the shuttle, a whistle sounded and a voice called out "Captain on deck!" All hands stood at attention, eagerly awaiting what their new captain had to say. Winter knew, they would get the condensed version of what she had just received.
April grinned, and whispered to Bauval at his side: "By the way, Commander, I... appreciate your idealism. I shared it once. That IS why we're here. These days are... well, hard and many. If I ever forget that... remind me."
Winter stared after him, completely taken aback by his comment. It was good to know that somewhere in there, he valued her opinion.
After the speech, he grinned and winked at her. "See you at 0700."
Captain Stephen April
Lt. Commander Winter Bauval
NX-A1 U.F.S. Arcadia

Original post

Friday, November 9, 2001

Preflight Part 1: The Call

This was the very first post published in the Arcadia universe.

The hot red sand burnt her knees and winds spread her veil in an arch as she prostrated before the sun.  Reciting the ancient chant, she sensed it.  A chaotic, unsettling disturbance, mimicking the whirling clouds of dust around her.  A cloud of emotion, raw and uncontrolled.  She paid it no heed.  Traditions must be observed.  Rising, eyes still closed, she opened her hands to the sky of her ancestors and implored them for a measure of strength in dealing with the intrusion, with all the chaotic myriad of intrusions into her life these days.
She recognized the human immediately.  Pale skin, pale, slightly graying hair--too gray for such a young age, but then humans aged so less gracefully, and more quickly, than Vulcans.  For all his underlying emotional turmoil, blaring like some telepathic foghorn from ten meters away, he hid it well, physically.  If she had not known better, she might have mistaken the calm reserve in his eyes for evidence of Vulcan training.  Few Vulcans were adept as she, and few would have detected the contradiction.  However, she was almost two-hundred Terran years old.
"Admiral T'Urla," he said, nodded once and did not come any closer.  Perhaps out of some respect for her prayer--but then, if that were so, he would have waited until she returned to the Admiralty.  He was human: typically impatient, believing the universe revolved around them.  He squinted against a sudden gust of sand.
"Captain April," she said in return, and waited.  Did he expect her to come to him?
Seconds ticked by.  The wind's howl pitched alto.  T'Urla removed her veil and calmly folded it.  To her surprise, he turned and started walking away.  A lesser Vulcan might have had an emotional reaction.
"You wish to know why I summoned you here," T'Urla said.  The wind drowned her rich voice of two-hundred years to a whisper.  He heard, nevertheless, and stopped, looking at her.  T'Urla said, "Let us discuss this in a more appropriate location."  She tucked the veil into the pocket of her Starfleet trousers and lightly touched her com-badge.  "This is Admiral T'Urla.  Energize two from these coordinates."
"I don't believe it," April said.  He stared out the window of the Admiral's office.  An angry red sandstorm plowed over the horizon, tumbling and evaporating to dust before coalescing and descending across whatever lay in its path once again.
T'Urla sat at her desk, hands folded in front of her, not bothering to point out the lack of logic in such a statement.  She had grown used to it with humans, and waited for him to find his own way.  He turned and took steps toward her.  "And you think--" he said.
"I know.  That is why time, as you say, is of the essence.  I have already summoned the Arcadia here as well.  Crew have been called in from other assignments to fill the vacancies on the roster."  Again, the emotional swell behind the neutral mask. April was agitated.
"I wanted--" April started to say, paused, then said, "I had hoped to select my own crew from the available candidates.  Pardon my bluntness, Admiral, but I expect nothing less than the best--"
"'The best', Captain, is a pejorative term.  They are Starfleet officers.  They have finished the Academy, served aboard other vessels and proven themselves.  The fact that they wear the uniform is proof enough.  They do not need to prove themselves again."
"With all respect, Admiral, they do.  They need to prove themselves to me."
"Then to borrow one of your own human colloquialisms: 'The proof is in the pudding'."  T'Urla hoped she had not stated it out of context; human metaphors were so... oblique.  "They cannot do so if you don't give them the chance.  Regardless, your feelings are irrelevant.  You have a mission.  You have a ship for carrying out that mission.  You need a crew."  Sensing his apprehension, she added, "I believed spending the last three of your years in the Diplomatic Corps made you a worthwhile commanding officer for this; the 'ideal choice', some would say."  At mention of the Diplomatic Corps he settled somewhat.  She waited for him to contest her judgment and her wisdom.  He did not.
"Quite right, Admiral.  My apologies."  He thought for a moment, said, "What are the 'official' mission specs?"
"Until you reach your destination," T'Urla said, "you are simply on a routine run to Deep Space Nine.  There is, of course, no official word on the Arcadia's location.  I purged the Starfleet database myself, personally.  From now on, this is on a strictly verbal, need-to-know basis.  I trust I am clear."
"Crystal," April said.  "I will have to inform my first officer, though--who might be...?"
"Lieutenant-Commander Winter Bauval."  T'Urla handed him the padd displaying the new crew-names.  "She has an impressive aptitude for languages."
April didn't respond to the comment; merely scanned the padd.  If he had not been so saturated by his own unease, he might have realized the elderly Vulcan had just complimented a human.  "Jallez... Starr..." he said, reading off the names.  "Tiery... Psapha..."  She could tell the names meant nothing to him.  He shrugged, held the padd beside him and said, "When do we leave?"
"Assuming my engineering analysis reports are correct, you may break dock at 0800 tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?  That doesn't give us much time!  We haven't even tested the ship in slipstream for a full run yet--there are numerous technical issues to resolve, we have to get the bugs out of the EPS relays, and there's--"
"You will have to 'get the bugs out' en route, Captain."  She placed emphasis on the last word, indicating she would tolerate no further upset.  His emotions buffeted her, and she wanted him to leave.
"Sir," April said, "if it were any other ship, any other mission, I'd have no qualms with that.  I just want you to know--"
T'Urla said, voice a little sharper than she liked, "You have made your position quite clear, Captain April.  But now is not the time for debate.  Arcadia is the only ship--the only hope any of us have for the time being."
"I understand.  And if there's nothing else, Admiral, I guess I should get up there, start getting everybody together..."
T'Urla nodded.  "Dismissed."
TBC - Any of you fine people want to take initiative and fly me up in a shuttle?  The Arc's in drydock, orbiting Vulcan...
Captain Stephen April
Commanding Officer
NX-A1  U.F.S. Arcadia