The Road to the Stars – Chapter Nineteen

There was only one problem with the first operational cruise of the Enterprise.

I wasn’t aboard.

This would be the problem for many, many months. I had no idea at the time I was setting a precedent it would take a sledgehammer to break, but there you go. 20/20 hindsight.

But the night before was fun. It was my first dining in, and I discovered I really enjoyed them. Haven’t missed one since.

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Chapter Nineteen

“I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling it this morning,” said Alley as she walked onto her bridge. There was plenty of energy and excitement crackling in the air, but it felt fragile. Then again, so did she.

The dining in had lasted far longer than Kendra had probably planned and had involved the entire ship’s complement of the Enterprise. The only place large enough to handle the crew, aboard either Enterprise or Diana, turned out to be one of the as-yet-unoccupied shuttle bays. Mia had ostentatiously covered the outer hatch controls with a sign saying, ‘Don’t Press This Button’.

As was traditional, Kendra had presided, and, after an elaborate meal, had presented each crewmember and officer with an appropriately inappropriate award. Cass, for example, had received the ‘Medal of Nepotism’, while Kiri had been given a coupon ‘Good for one wheelchair (just in case you forget how)’. Tasteless, perhaps, but it demonstrated to all how closely Kendra had followed their progress and that she had gotten to know them all.

When she had presented Alley with her award, Kendra had thought the night about over. Alley, however, had other ideas.

“Crew and officers of the Enterprise,” she said, standing up. “There are two more awards.” Faces turned, trying to see who had been forgotten.

“Admiral Kendra Cassidy, front and center.”

“I thought there’s no rank in the mess?” protested Kendra, standing.

“Only when I have to get your attention.”

“I see.”

“Also, Lieutenant Commander Aiyana Cassidy. On your feet.”

Cass stood and joined Kendra with a quizzical look on her face.

What’s all this about it? commed Cass.

Your guess is as good as mine, Kendra answered.

“Admiral. Commander. You have spoken often, and very nearly eloquently –”

“Hey!”

“- on the subject of family. Nobody could miss how important your girls are to you, just as nobody could miss the obvious affection you and your wife have for each other. But your belief in family goes much deeper than ties of blood. Your family of choice, you might say, includes people who have shared your life and your struggles. It extends to the people sitting in this shuttle bay. It even extends further than that; from what I have seen in these months, your hearts could encompass the whole human race as your family.”

“You always refer to family as ohana. You always say that family means nobody gets left behind, or forgotten. You live your life by that. It drives you, Admiral, as much as anything else in your past. That makes it important for those of us who, willy-nilly, have been brought into your family. But it puzzled me: where did it come from?”

“A long time ago – it must be, oh, six, seven, maybe eight months – you got me interested in the background from which you pulled the inspiration of this ship. A good CO always learns as much as she can about the people she serves with, so I dug into it, and I found something which surprised me. You see, Admiral, I found ohana.”

Alley pulled two small cloth bags from a pocket.

“Admiral, Commander. I hereby award you the Ohana Medal. May you never be left behind, or forgotten.” With that, she handed a bag to each and stepped back.

Hands trembling slightly, Kendra opened her bag while Cass watched. Inside was a small metal object, which she pulled out. As soon as it was out, she broke into a grin.

It was a small, seated, blue figure, with two long ears, arms resting between its splayed legs, a wide mouth full of teeth, and eyes that promised both mischief and loyalty. It dangled from a ribbon of the same shade.

“Thank you, Alley,” said Kendra, voice husky. “Thank you for being part of our ohana.”

“Thank you, Kendra, Cass, for making us part of your ohana. Now stop sniffling.”

“Aye aye, Captain,” said Kendra, echoed by Cass.

“Cass, thank you,” said Alley. Cass nodded, then returned to her seat. She knew what was coming.

“Admiral. You have dreamed about space since you were old enough to turn on a monitor. You never gave up on your dream. And when you were presented the opportunity to pursue that dream, you went after it with everything you had. It is absolutely accurate to state that none of us would be sitting here today, or going wherever our Helmsman takes us tomorrow, without your passion and devotion.”

“As I said a moment ago, I did research into your past. You wanted me to find out what inspired your vision to create Enterprise and the Terran Federation, to really understand it and not just accept it as the CO’s quirk. That would have been the easy thing to do, but I also know why that wouldn’t work for you. The vision you are trying to realize needs more than just passive acceptance of a goal. Your vision needs the active participation, cooperation, and enthusiasm of the people involved.”

“You’ve created that.”

“Therefore we, the crew of the TFS Enterprise, with the agreement of the crews of the Wolf squadrons and Diana, do hereby request the following: that the organization within the Terran Federation dedicated to exploration, research, and defense be hereby designated Starfleet. Furthermore, we request that the official symbol of this organization be represented by this offset delta.” At this, every member of the crew pulled a gold, vaguely arrowhead-shaped patch from their pockets and applied it to their uniforms just above their hearts. The patch had a triangular notch in the bottom, aligned with the peak of the delta, Kendra saw through suddenly-misty eyes.

“Admiral, what say you?”

Kendra blinked to see Alley holding a badge of her own out to her.

“Alley, how did you do all this?” she said quietly.

“I didn’t, Admiral,” replied Alley, just as quietly. “I might have done the research, but it’s your crew, your officers, that want this. They believe, Kendra. They believe in this mission. They believe in this ship. They believe in you.”

“Di –” Kendra’s voice failed her. She gathered herself and tried again. “Diana.”

“Here, Admiral.”

“Official Federation log.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Effective this date, all space-borne elements of the Terran Federation, along with all personnel and all support installations, are redesignated as Starfleet, by order of Admiral Kendra Cassidy with the concurrence of the personnel and officers of said elements. I tell you three times.”

“I hear you three times, Admiral. Officially logged.”

With that the assembled crowd burst into applause and whoops of delight. Bottles of champagne, hidden away until now, appeared and were popped open. After that, it might have gotten a little bit drunk out.

Which explained both the energy and the fragility this morning.

“Good morning, XO,” said Alley, slipping gratefully into her seat.

“Captain,” replied Kiri.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m fairly certain that we haven’t left the dock yet, Captain, but the ship seems to be moving.”

Alley mostly turned her laugh into a cough.

“How are preparations for departure coming along?” she said instead.

“Nominal, Captain. Fortunately, today was always slated as a ‘double-check’ day; everything’s on target so far.”

“What time do you think we’ll be able to depart? Realistically.”

“I’d like to say ten, but give us until eleven. I don’t think most of the crew is running at full power today.”

“Agreed. Eleven it is. That gives us just over two hours,” she continued after checking her ‘plant. “I want a meeting in the conference room with Engineering, Defense, and Science in thirty minutes. And the Astrogator, as well.”

“Aye aye, Captain.”

Twenty-five minutes later Alley walked behind the bridge to the conference. She had expected to be near the first, but was instead the last to arrive, which brought a smile to her lips.

“Eager lot, aren’t you?” she said, looking at the assembled officers.

“We just want to get into the black,” said Cass, seated next to Dawn. “I don’t know about anyone else, but if getting here early means we get to finish up sooner, I’m all in favor.”

Murmurs of agreement passed around the others.

“Excellent, Commander. Let’s start with you. You asked to set the parameters for the mission, in terms of our planned destinations. Do you have our flight plan worked out?”

“Yes, Captain. I’ve sent it to you, and copied it to the XO, Engineer, and Astro for their input.”

“And I’m sure if there was an issue they would have let me know. Continue.”

“Aye, Captain. Lt. Zihal and I have chosen stars which we are confident have planets, possibly within the life zone, for our first extended cruise. We’re going to start with the Alpha Centauri system; there are two, possibly three planets orbiting Proxima Centauri, and one orbiting the binary pair of Alpha Centauri A and B. From there our plan is to continue to Wolf 359, which is known to contain two planets, then Lalande 21185, which has one planet. Then a long leg to Tau Ceti, but Tau Ceti is fascinating. It has a confirmed debris disk and two confirmed planets, along with three suspected planets and a possible super-Jovian planet. Then we return home.”

As she spoke, Minerva had highlighted the route and the destinations in turn.

“Is Tau Ceti a wise choice?” asked Alley. “Given the distance?”

“I’ve discussed this at length, both with Engineer Anderson and Dr. Roberts,” replied Cass. “They are both confident in our warp drive’s ability to stand up to the rigors of the journey.”

“The longest leg is only about twenty-two light years,” added Anderson. “At warp 5.8, that’s a duration of thirty hours. We’ve logged more hours than that on the drive already with no significant issues.”

“Isn’t our top speed warp six?” asked Sanzari.

“Yes, that’s our maximum sustainable warp factor. We can achieve up to warp eight for short bursts, but where we can maintain warp six almost indefinitely, Val, I mean Dr. Roberts, and I figure we can only maintain warp seven for two hours, and warp eight for fifteen minutes, before we risk critical system failures.”

“Thank you, Engineer. The first leg, Terra to Alpha Centauri, should be six hours. Alpha Centauri to Wolf 359, eleven hours. Wolf to Lalande 21185 is a longer leg, fourteen hours. Then the longest leg, to Tau Ceti, thirty hours. And return to Terra, sixteen hours. Total time in transit, assuming we maintain 5.8, is seventy-seven hours, or a little over three days. Even assuming some inaccuracy in positioning, that leaves us ten days plus for system exploration.” Cass’s grin threatened to take over her face. “We’ve been looking forward to this,” she finished.

“I know you have,” said Alley. “Thank you, Commander. Any other comments or concerns about the mission proposal?” When nobody spoke, she continued.

“Engineer, you’ve already given your input. Any other thoughts?”

“No, ma’am,” said Anderson. “We’re ready.”

“Astro?”

“As Commander Cassidy stated, there’s a chance for inaccuracies in positioning. We’re heading into deep space, relatively, based on what we’ve been able to see from Earth. It’s inevitable that our locations will be inaccurate; it’s simply a matter of degree.”

“And you’re confident we can make the necessary corrections?”

“Yes, Captain. Commander Cassidy and Lt. Zihal have increased the range of the sensors –”

“We didn’t increase the range, we just refined how we interpret the data,” corrected Cass.

“- to forty light-hours in real time, with inferred data reaching out to nearly a light-year. No, Captain. No worries.”

“Very good. Commander Sanzari? How are you approaching our system entries?”

“We go to maximum sensors before dropping from warp, ma’am. Once we drop out of warp, all shields go to maximum, and defensive emitters go online. I’ll have one of my staff scanning likely communication frequencies, but we’re going to have a helluva time talking to anyone if we do bump into them. My best suggestion, if any other ships are encountered, is to be ready to run away.”

“Let them take the first shot?”

“They might not take a shot, Captain, and I’m sure they’ll be as surprised to see us as we are to see them. Whatever we do, we don’t allow anything to get within ten light-seconds. It only takes us three seconds to jump to warp; I asked the Eng. Minerva will help Science detect any light-speed weapons, that gives us seven seconds to evaluate.”

“Seven seconds can be an eternity. Good plan, Commander,” said Alley. “Any concerns for the system departure?”

“No specific concerns, Captain. We have nearly a full globe from which to choose our departure vector, and the Union can’t cover them all. They’ve pulled back their observers lately; maybe they’re realized the futility of trying to keep up with us. In any case, you’ve tended to choose a southern course so far, so it may be worthwhile to simply lay in the course for Alpha and head for it. I understand that they’re nearly on a plane from Sol?”

Seabolt nodded. “Close enough for in-system.”

“Won’t that give away our destination?” said Lorelei Stewart. As an expert in lasers, she had adopted the main spinal laser as her baby, which brought her into Sanzari’s orbit frequently.

“If they had anything which could keep up, that might be an issue. As it is?” Alley shook her head. “We could start by heading directly at Luna and they’d have as little chance of catching us. Astro, plot a course for Alpha as Commander Sanzari suggested. Try not to hit any planets. We’re not going to linger at sublight, either. I want us in warp as soon as we’re clear of all potential obstacles.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Very good. Departure in forty-seven minutes. I want us buttoned up tight in thirty. Let’s be about it, people.”

At exactly eleven hundred hours, all eyes on Diana were riveted to observation screens or, for a lucky few, actual ports. Diana piped the comm exchanges throughout the habitat. Kendra, Mikki, and Lisa were watching from a port located above the entrance to the bay.

Diana, Enterprise.” Alley’s voice was the first one they heard.

“Go ahead Enterprise,came Knott’s reply.

“That’s Mom’s ship!”

“Shh, sweetie. Listen!”

“Requesting clearance for departure.”

“Roger, Enterprise, you are cleared for departure. No traffic within fifty, five-zero, thousand kilometers.”

“Thank you, Diana.”

“Where’s Mom?”

“Look down there, Lisa. Follow my finger. See where the lights are?” Lisa pressed her forehead against the domed surface.

“Yeah!”

“Her ship should be coming out any second now. Keep watching.”

“I’m watching!”

“Move over, Lisa, I can’t see!”

“Mama! Mikki’s pushing!”

“Mikki, don’t push your sister. Lisa, slide to your left just a little. Good girl.”

“I see it!” squealed Mikki.

The rounded bow of the upper hull was just emerging from the bay entrance.

Love you, Cass. Be safe. Come home to us, Kendra commed.

Love you, answered Cass. Tell the girls to stop wriggling.

How did you – never mind.

“Stop wriggling, girls, or you’ll miss it.”

I’ll be home before you know it.

You’d better be. We’re going to have a little chat about these missions when you get back, though. It’s not fair that you get to have all the fun!

Kendra could hear her wife’s mental giggle.

Yes, Admiral dear. Whatever you say.

Enterprise, Diana. You have cleared the bay. Smooth sailing, Enterprise.”

“Thank you, Diana. See you in a couple weeks. Out.”

The gap between the bay and the ends of the nacelles was visibly growing.

“They’re going awfully slow,” said Mikki.

“They have to get further away from Diana before they can start going faster.”

“Like your car, Mama? You have to get away from home before you can go really fast?” Lisa asked.

“Yes, like my car. Don’t tell Mom about us going really fast, right?”

“Right. Besides, Mom is gonna go faster, isn’t she?”

“Much faster.”

“It’s going faster now!”

“She, Mikki. Ships are always called ‘she’. And yes, she is.”

“I can barely see her!”

“Diana, can you give us an enhanced view?”

“Certainly, Admiral. Flat or holo?”

“Um. Holo. Turn around, girls. Diana’s going to show you what the ship looks like now.”

In the room behind the port the lights suddenly dimmed, and a holo of the Enterprise appeared, filling most of the space.

“Diana, shrink it down so we get a sense of speed.”

The holo diminished and the background of stars came into view.

“How fast are they going?”

“The TFS Enterprise is currently traveling at twenty-two thousand, five hundred eighty two kilometers per hour and accelerating, Miss Cassidy.”

“Who’s that, Mama?”

“That’s Diana, Mikki. She’s the computer who runs the station. Say thank you, Mikki.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Miss Cassidy. Speed is twenty-nine thousand, one hundred eighteen kilometers per hour.”

“That’s fast!” said Lisa.

“They’re going to go faster. Diana, display Enterprise speed.” Numbers appeared above the ship, changing faster than human eyes could follow.

“I will be unable to track them once they enter warp,” said Diana to Kendra via her implant. “I will give the children a suitable visual.”

“Thank you,” subvocalized Kendra. “Keep watching,” she said to the girls. “Something special will happen soon.”

Under the speed in kilometers, another number appeared.

“What’s that?” said Lisa.

“That’s their speed compared to the speed of light. Tell me when you see zero point eight.”

“Yes, Mama. Zero point six.”

“What happens at zero point eight?”

“That’s when they engage the warp drive,” explained Kendra. “That’s faster than light. We won’t be able to see them, then, because they’ll be going too fast.”

“Zero point seven!”

“Bye Mom! See you soon!”

“Zero point eight! WOW!”

Diana, taking liberties with the actual event for the dramatic effect, had suddenly shot the virtual Enterprise across the room in a multicolored streak, culminating in a bright flash of light as the ship disappeared into warp.

“Whoa!”

Enterprise has gone supraluminal,” announced Diana.

“Faster than light,” preemptively explained Kendra. “Come on, girls. Mac’s expecting you for your programming lessons.”

The Road to the Stars – Book 2 – Chapter 19

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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