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We’re onto the fifth chapter – still filling in details for those who don’t know the backstory, but also fleshing out the characters. I hope you’re enjoying reading as much as I enjoyed writing!
And away we go…!
“I hate patrol duty.”
Captain Jennifer Martinez, known off-duty as Alley, looked over to her XO, Commander Kiri Stewart, at the blunt, if quiet, statement.
“Getting itchy to get back out?” she said.
“A bit,” admitted Stewart. “It’s tough to be satisfied with staying within a half-hour of Earth when you’ve walked on another planet, you know?”
“Sort of, XO,” agreed Martinez. “You got the away mission, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” recalled Stewart. On the Enterprise’s first long-endurance mission, they had explored four star systems: Proxima and Alpha Centauri, Wolf 359, Lalande 21185, and Tau Ceti. The Centauri systems had yielded three planets: a cold, rocky, super-Earth in Proxima c; a burnt cinder, orbiting Alpha Centauri, which the crew referred to as ‘The Briquette’; and a geologically interesting planet in Proxima b, which might be suitable for long-term considerations but earned the sobriquet ‘The Skunk’ for the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Lalande 21185 had been disappointing; the lone planet was semi-molten. Kendra, hearing this on their return and debriefing, had dubbed it ‘Mordor’.
Wolf 359 had provided a bounty of sorts. There were two planets, a close-orbiting super-Earth which had been blasted into sterility by the star, and a more distant Jovian. The Jovian had been the inspiration for the project Cass was currently working on, the gas mine, after she had guided the ship into the atmosphere to harvest He3, Oxygen, and water. The experiment had been a success, but had placed stresses on the hull and frame which made the Chief Engineer quite unhappy, hence the gas mine.
It was in Tau Ceti that they had hit the proverbial jackpot, after nearly wrecking the ship. Tau Ceti was a relatively young star, and possessed a debris disc thicker and denser than predicted. Only some quick reactions and skilled teamwork allowed them to escape unscathed. Once clear, though, the sensors had revealed the bounties within the system. Tau Ceti f was a super-Earth, orbiting at the outer edge of the life zone for the star. The planet, though, despite being nearly double the size of the Earth, actually had a lower surface gravity. This was a result of the quantities of ices that made up a large percentage of the planet and reduced the density significantly. That, with the presence of a breathable but cold atmosphere is what led Alley to allow an away team mission to the surface, commanded by Stewart.
After exploration, Cass had named the planet Niflheim, and started planning how to Terraform it into a habitable, if watery, world. Meanwhile, the Enterprise had continued to Tau Ceti e, another super-Earth, on the inner edge of the habitable zone. Lieutenant Dawn Zihal, Cass’s second in the Science Division, had been chosen to lead this investigation. She was terribly disappointed to discover that the planet not only had a gravity of 3.71g, which would make walking extremely difficult, but possessed a hot, thin, unbreathable atmosphere. But what redeemed the planet was the widespread presence of platinum group metals ore in concentrations unheard-of on Earth. With a single stroke the Federation was both funded and gained sufficient raw materials for its expansion plans. Recovery would be challenging, but not insurmountable, and Zihal got the opportunity to name it: Lemnos, the home of the Greek god Haephaestus.
“Did you hear what Kendra, sorry, Admiral Cassidy, named Wolf b?” said Alley, interrupting Stewart’s thoughts.
“No, I didn’t.”
“You should check. Keep in mind her hobby,” Alley advised.
Stewart accessed her ‘plant. “Yavin? Where did she get that?”
“A sensie, no, they called them ‘movies’, a movie from the Twentieth.”
“What was it called?”
“Star Battles? Sky Wars? Something like that. Anyways, there were a bunch of them, though Kendra always says that only the first three are worth anything. The first one, the one where the planet called Yavin is found, is subtitled, ‘A New Hope’, and she thought that was appropriate for our discovery.”
“How do you know all this, Captain?”
“She’s the Admiral,” shrugged Alley. “When she goes off on a tangent, I can’t exactly get her back on track by ordering her. Besides, it’s fun watching her get into her hobbies. You and Lorelei ought to take her up on her invitations to dinner more,” she added.
Stewart looked acutely uncomfortable. “That’s not the way things are done,” she said.
“In the NIN, I’d agree. But we’re not in the NIN any longer. They beached me and retired you, so if my new commander wants us to have a little more informal command structure, I think I’m good with that.” Both Martinez and Stewart had served aboard submarines in the Northern Imperium Navy for several years until being removed from their positions. Stewart had been injured in an accident and forced to take a medical retirement. Martinez had done even worse: disciplined a junior officer who had powerful connections to the ruling Daley family. She hadn’t been retired, but removed from her command and placed in make-work positions with no hope of ever regaining a berth aboard ship. Kendra’s Federation, and Starfleet, offered them both redemption.
“It’s just weird,” said Stewart. “Don’t you think?”
“I’ve been in this lash-up longer than you, Kiri. I was the first officer that Kendra recruited. Maybe that makes me a little more blasé about her, yes, peculiar ideas of leadership. But the only metric that matters is whether it works. Take a look around.” She gestured around the bridge. “Listen to the crew. Have you ever served on a ship that had higher morale? Or organization?”
Stewart had to admit she hadn’t.
“And that all comes from the top, from Kendra, as well as Cass.”
“Cass? Commander Cassidy?”
“Exactly. Commander Cassidy. She could have been just as bad as any of the Daleys we had to deal with, right?”
“Don’t remind me. I know you got screwed over by one, but I had my encounters too.”
“Everyone in the NIN did. But not here, not her. You know how she ended up in the position?”
“No, I never heard.”
“It’s not a tale that many people know. Back when the ship was still being built, Kendra had me putting the officers together. I asked her who was going to be my Science officer, and she just about managed to tell me that it was her wife. Well, I thought, here we go again. But Kendra made it clear that the decision to keep her, or not, was entirely up to me, and she stuck to it.”
“Easy enough to do, I guess, but when you’re an Admiral you don’t have to say anything to say everything if you know what I mean.”
“I do. But here’s the funny thing: Cass busted her ass earning her spot. She worked with Lt. Zihal constantly. Dawn’s a planetologist by trade, that’s why Kendra recruited her. Cass is, well, Cass. She could sub in for the Engineer, if she had to, or tear down the laser and rebuild it, probably blindfolded.”
“She is something else, isn’t she?”
“She’s a goddess-loved genius is what she is. And she makes her Division better. That’s why we have two senior officers in her division, because when it came time for me to choose I knew I couldn’t, not if I wanted the Division to excel. And not once did she mention Kendra, not once did she try to cash in on her relationship, during the months that she was juggling learning how to be an officer and running HLC.”
“I didn’t even hear a whisper about this.”
“Like I said, not many people know the story. But everyone knows Cass, sees the effort she puts in, and then goes out and tries to emulate her.” Alley stopped for a moment, then said, “This is just a really long-winded way of saying that you ought to accept their next dinner invitation.”
“I think I will. But that doesn’t change my point.”
“That it’s weird?”
“No, that I hate patrolling.”