By Christina Moore
Jerome Callahan took a sip of his hot coffee as he opened up the communiqué from Starfleet's Department of Personnel. It had been sent to every captain in the fleet, he noted, and came with an attachment.
To: Commanding Officers, All Starfleet Vessels and Facilities
From: RAdm. Penelope Roquefort, Dept. of Personnel
Att: Officer and Enlisted Recalls
As you are well aware, the Federation's military branches are suffering a dangerous shortage in the areas of personnel and starships. As such, we have been forced due to circumstance to upgrade and reactivate a number of our museum-status vessels, most of which will be reassigned to the Border Patrol Service due to their age and low-level combat capabilities.
The attachments each of you have received are individualized lists of officers and enlisted personnel deemed eligible for promotion to command positions, as well as those needed to fill out crews for these ships. Upon review, report to the designated starbase to offload these personnel at your earliest convenience.
Callahan, naturally, was curious as to who from his ship Personnel had decided to pull. The entire fleet was already short-staffed—not a single ship or starbase had a full crew compliment. Ireland had already lost two pilots in the last year, though both were due to family obligations.
He noted that neither he nor the crew members in question were being given a choice in the matter.
Drawing a breath, he opened up the attachment. He should not have been surprised to see his first officer's name at the top of the list. Naoki, in truth, ought to have received a command of her own by now. She was a gifted diplomatic officer and would make an exceptional captain. But while he held no prejudice against the Border Patrol like so many of his Starfleet peers, he felt very strongly that her talents would be wasted there. She deserved better than to be shuffled off to some cutter squadron stopping smugglers from carrying their contraband into Federation space.
With a sigh of resignation, he tapped his commbadge. "Callahan to Sulu… Commander, would you come to my ready room?"
"Of course, Captain. Be right there."
Moments later, the smiling face of his XO was walking into his office and directly over to the replicator, where she ordered herself a cup of coffee. Callahan briefly entertained the notion of suggesting she order something a bit stronger, given what he had to tell her. Sulu's dark brown, almond-shaped eyes were curious as she studied him over the rim of her cup after sitting in one of his visitors' chairs.
Wordlessly he turned his desktop monitor around so she could just read the message for herself. It took only seconds for her eyes to widen in shock.
"Is this for real?" she asked.
"It would appear so," Callahan replied as he reached to place his own mug on the desk. "You and another twenty-one of the Ireland's crew, as you can see, have been automatically reassigned. This most recent culling of the herd will take me down to five hundred fifty—and that's not including whomever I get saddled with to take your place!"
"With the losses across the fleet—including our own—I suppose you should be glad they're not taking more than twenty-two of us," Sulu observed. "I hate to admit it, but it does make sense to take larger numbers from capital ships like Ireland to fill the smaller ones most of these old ships are likely to be."
"That I can agree with, Naoki, but if they keep cutting large crews like this, capital ships like Ireland will be down to skeleton staff before the next decade starts," Callahan muttered.
She scoffed. "Something tells me that's what we'll have on the old ships—skeleton crews, perhaps a few extra bodies. The question is: how much upgrading are they actually doing? Can any of these old ships actually handle the power some of the newer equipment requires? And if they're not upgrading all the systems or control panels, will any of the crews even know how to operate the systems?"
Callahan chuckled. "You should make a list of questions to ask when we get to Spacedock, Commander—though I doubt you're the only one with those questions." He studied her a moment. "I've also little doubt you'll be given command of one of these mothballed vessels, given your service record and time-in-rank. How do you feel about that?"
She took a drink of her coffee, clearly considering how to phrase her answer. "Well, you know I have always had my mind set on sitting center chair someday. Given I've been a Starfleet officer for two decades it's about time I receive a command—or would be, under normal circumstances. And even though these are not normal circumstances, I have to admit the prospect is a little exciting. Not only will it be a command of my own, but on a ship that undoubtedly has a great deal of history to its credit. Where I serve—in Starfleet or Border Patrol—matters very little."
With a smile, Callahan said, "Ever the diplomat, Commander."
Sulu shrugged. "What else can I be, sir, but diplomatic? It is clear by the communiqué that none of us have a choice. They're taking Haywood as well, I see—likely he'll be given a command too."
Callahan nodded. Elliot Haywood II was the Ireland's tactical officer, and he'd not been surprised to see his name on the list, either. "I don't doubt it. I'll likely have Rafaeli take over as tactical officer, as chances are I'll not get another one—she can do that as well as run Security, I'm sure. Reensek I'll move to Engineering to take over as Chief there since I'm also to lose Brang."
He then reached for a PADD sitting on the corner of his desk. "Well, Commander, we might as well break the news and get it done with. I'm copying the list of personnel onto this—gather all these people together into… Let's go with Holodeck One. Pick a nice, soothing environment."
She chuckled as she stood and took the device from him. "You want calm and relaxing because you're assuming some feathers will be ruffled." She paused on her way to the door, looking over her shoulder as she said, "Come to think of it, you're probably right. Soothing environment it is, Captain."
"Indeed. Have T'Lanis set course for Earth while you're at it."
The reveal went better than either of them expected. There were some grumbles about getting stuck on "garbage scows" and "old rust buckets", but for the most part the greatest concern was whether or not any of them would be transferred to the Border Patrol. Sulu, Callahan, and Haywood all made sure to point out that while the Border Patrol wasn't Starfleet now they used to be, and that the rules were virtually the same. Rank and uniforms were the same save for divisional colors—the Border Patrol, like the Federation Marine Corps, had chosen a single color designation. Theirs was blue (the Marines were in green), which was likely why someone in the chain of command had chosen to take Starfleet's medical divisions and put them back in teal, to show there was a difference in which branch of service the officer served.
Sulu and Haywood also declared that if given the authority, they would split the twenty juniors between them and take them onto whatever ship they were assigned. Haywood also told the XO and captain that he would see if he couldn't get his father to give him any clues as to what their assignments were before they reached Spacedock, quipping, "Maybe I can take advantage of some of that nepotism people say got me this job to pull some strings and keep us somewhat together—and in Starfleet."
The Sovereign-class Ireland was six hours out from the Sol system when the soon-to-be former tactical officer asked to meet with Sulu and Callahan. When he arrived to the captain's ready room, he said he had some good news and not great news.
"Do please give us the good news first, Commander," Sulu told him.
Haywood grinned. "First, Jerome was right about one thing—you and I are both being assigned command of one of these ships. So congratulations are sort of in order for both of us. Dad said we'll get to choose our senior staff officers ourselves, so if there's anyone in the twenty juniors you want, better pick 'em now. He said otherwise he can't guarantee we'll get to do like we talked about, but he'll see what he can do."
Sulu glanced at Callahan, then back to Haywood. "Is that the not great news?"
"That's part of it," Haywood replied. "The other part is, Dad couldn't tell me which ships we're being assigned to or if we'll be staying in Starfleet—that we apparently have to wait to find out when we get to Spacedock."
"Elliot, you know I respect your father a great deal," Callahan began, "so I hope you'll forgive me wondering whether he was bullshitting you. After all, if Starfleet Command has already decided who they're pulling from what ship, how can they not know who is going where?"
Haywood snorted softly. "I wondered the same thing, Captain. Having a parent in the admiralty does not mean I got the inside scoop on everything that's going down, despite what people think."
Sulu led the way out when she and Haywood departed the captain's company a few minutes later. They each now had with them a PADD containing the list of crewmembers that would also be departing the Ireland at Spacedock, and she thumbed hers on as she took the command chair. Haywood took the seat to her left, where the ship's counselor often sat.
"I already have an idea who I'd like to take senior staff positions on my ship," she said. "I'm looking at D'Puma, Davis, and Tam."
Haywood nodded. "Good picks, Commander. They're all ready for command-level positions. I'm thinking about Reese, Cromwell, and Da-Grevis myself."
Sulu returned his nod, then sighed. "I so wish we could just take the ten each, like we want to do. I think it would be easier on us and them—this whole process just feels…strange to me."
"It is not difficult to understand why, Commander," spoke up the woman standing at Tactical 1. Amaura Rafaeli had already been informed she'd be taking on extra duties by this time tomorrow.
"The whole thing feels wrong to all of us," Rafaeli went on. "Not that I'm saying Command is being underhanded, it's just… It's so sudden. When we woke up this morning, we were all one crew. In another six hours, we won't be."
Sulu offered the lieutenant commander a smile, swallowing down the emotion that suddenly seemed bent on overwhelming her. "I will miss you, too, Amaura."
"She got a point, though," said Haywood. "All this is happening kinda fast. Federation Council must be feeling rather desperate if they're reactivating starships that have been floating museums who knows how many years."
"But they haven't much choice, have they?" Sulu countered. "We lost thousands of starships, hundreds of thousands of personnel, during the war. If they're going to be shuttling these floaters to Border Patrol, chances are they're also planning to pull some BP ships to serve Fleet duty. I think they want as many newer vessels in the core and in deep space as they can get, while the shipyards turn their focus to turning out as many ships as possible in the next few years."
"Well, even if they do that, where they gonna get the people to crew 'em?"
"Border Patrol, most likely," she suggested. "Not to mention the chances are that the academies will be graduating D-grade students just to fill the ranks."
"God help us if they put a D-grade newbie in the engine room," Haywood said.
"Or give one of them a phaser," Rafaeli added with a shudder.
Sulu had spent much of the morning and afternoon packing up her quarters. She'd thought she didn't have much, but ended up filling three trunks with all the trinkets she'd picked up over the last four years. She stood now in the middle of her empty quarters, a duffel bag hanging from her shoulder, looking around one last time at her home away from home.
It's just a cabin, she told herself. It's not as if I'm leaving a good friend behind.
But she was, in a way. Ireland had been her assignment for nearly half a decade, and so much had happened in these rooms. She had been rewarded and dressed down, had laughed and had cried. She had raged alone in the darkness when she was angry, when she was sad, when she just didn't understand. She had missed so much time with her husband and children throughout her career, and wherever she was going next was not likely to rectify that anytime soon.
Nikael and their youngest, Aiko, lived on Earth in Tokyo. Their 15-year-old daughter had been accepted into the Tokyo Academy of the Arts for her accomplished piano playing. Dexon, the eldest at 22, had attended a civilian university and was now studying marine life on Pacifica, while her second son, Takeshi—who was 20—had followed his mother into Starfleet, and was currently enrolled at the Noza Campus on Betazed. Since her grown sons were out of the question for an in-person visit, she hoped that there would be time to see her husband and daughter before she shipped out again.
Heaving a great sigh, Naoki Sulu turned around and exited her quarters on the U.S.S. Ireland for the last time.
"Bridge to Sulu."
She paused in mid-stride at the sound of Elliot Haywood's voice. "Sulu here. Go ahead."
"Commander, we've just received a request from my father for you to meet him at Docking Port 12."
Not wasting any time, is he? Sulu thought. "Thank you. If he's waiting for a response, tell him I'm on my way."
"Yes, Commander. And good luck in your new position, ma'am."
"Thanks again, Eli. Sulu out."
Waiting for her in Transporter Room 3 were Callahan, Rafaeli, Reensek, Dr. Vinazzo, and Counselor Arsov. She looked at the gathered officers and tried not to cry; in the next moment Rafaeli had wrapped her arms around her in a tight embrace. "Voy a extrañar tu cara," she whispered in her ear.
Sulu fought the tears pricking the backs of her eyes. "I'll miss your face too, Amaura. But come now, it's not like we can't talk to each other via subspace."
Rafaeli released her. "Aye, but it's not the same as our late night talks during one of our sleepovers."
"What sleepovers?" asked the ship's CMO.
"Ladies only, Carlo," Sulu said with a laugh as she embraced him next, before turning to Reensek and bending to give the Roylan a quick hug.
Next in line was Ireland's counselor, who kissed her cheek rather than hugging her. "Dayna will make a fine counselor for your ship, Commander," he said.
"Of that I am sure. She's had a fine teacher, Cas."
The senior staff then filed out of the transporter room, leaving her alone with the non-com operator and the captain. Callahan took her into his arms wordlessly and held her as tightly as she did him. For all the protocols and regulations regarding fraternization, theirs—like many a ship's crew, Sulu had no doubt—was a team that had become like family to one another. Some were closer than others, certainly, but that didn't mean they cared any less.
She and Jerome Callahan had clicked almost from the first day she'd stepped onto the Ireland. He'd taken command just the day before, and so they'd learned all her ticks together, had developed the crew together. He was so much more to her than just a friend—he was like a brother. He was someone she had long ago come to look up to, whom she'd counted on being able to turn to for advice when she was troubled.
"Whatever will I do without you, Naoki?" he asked softly.
"Carry on, as we all must do—though I, too, dread not having you to turn to when I need someone to listen," she replied. Then she stepped back and drew a breath as she blinked another wave of tears away.
"Well, at least we'll have something to commiserate over on subspace for the next few months: breaking in a new first officer," Callahan said with a smile.
Sulu laughed. "I will definitely take you up on that, Jerome." With a sigh, she turned and stepped up onto the dais, facing forward reluctantly.
"Set the coordinates for Dock 12, Chief," Callahan said over his shoulder.
"Yes, Captain," the operator replied.
"Until next time, Captain Sulu," said Ireland's captain.
Sulu smiled. "Until next time, Captain."
She lifted her hand in a little wave as Callahan gave the order to energize.