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
NX-A1 U.F.S. Arcadia