|Intrepid, drydock, planet courtesy of www.startrekdesktopwallpaper.com.|
David Boreanaz, Seven of Nine, text by me.
When the sleek little vessel dropped out of warp, her shields went up immediately and her weapons went hot.
“Target the weapons array of the closest attacker,” Captain Dominic Murphy ordered his tactical officer.
Yvala Hollen acknowledged with an enthusiastic “Aye, sir!”
“Lt. Sullek,” spoke up the U.S.S. Messenger’s executive officer, Lt. Commander Jaarid. “Please establish communications with the Blackfin that we may determine their status.”
The U.S.S. Blackfin, an aging Abbé-class starship in the Federation Border Patrol, had sent out a distress call stating that they were in a firefight and outnumbered 3 to 1. Messenger happened to be the closest ship, but knew the Triumph was also on its way.
Shaking told Murphy that at least one of the three Boslic raiders was now firing at them instead of the Blackfin. He was glad to take some of the heat off the Border Dogs.
“Captain, our phasers didn’t make it through the enemy shields, but they’re down by twenty-five percent,” Hollen reported. “Our shields down just ten percent.”
“Hit ‘em again, and throw a torpedo at the weak point while you’re at it,” Murphy ordered.
“Blackfin reports their shields are down to thirty percent,” Sullek, the Roylan at Ops whom everyone but Jaarid called Sully, reported. “Torpedo systems are offline, and they’ve got numerous injuries.”
“Notify Dr. Nir’ahn to prepare her medical teams, in case—”
“Captain, the Triumph just joined us!” cried Charlaine Tucker from the helm.
Murphy stood and moved toward the flight well. “Perfect timing. Hollen, coordinate with Triumph’s tactical officer—I want to get between Blackfin and the raiders, give them time to recover.”
On the viewscreen, he watched as Triumph’s pilot deftly maneuvered between two of the raiders while her tactical officer fired at both. The Blackfin turned to fly behind her sister ships as Lt. Hollen fired another round at the third enemy vessel.
“Shields down on our friend out there, and his weapons systems are now offline,” Hollen reported a moment later. “They’re turning tail for the Borderland, Captain.”
“Pursuit course, sir?” asked Tucker.
“Not today, Lieutenant. Status of the other two raiders?”
“One of them just followed his buddy and warped off,” said the pilot. “The other seems determined to go down swinging.”
The captain snorted softly. “Or in a fiery ball of stupid,” he muttered as he watched the last raider battling it out with the Triumph. “Clearly this guy’s never gone up against a Defiant-class starship before.”
Moments later, the screen flared brightly as the raider fell to the tactically superior Triumph and exploded. Murphy shook his head. “Fiery ball of stupid it is, then.”
“Captain, we’re being hailed by both Triumph and Blackfin,” Sully called out.
Murphy glanced briefly over his shoulder. “Put ‘em both on, Lieutenant.”
The viewscreen soon showed the commanders of the other two vessels; Captain Imran Rahir on the Blackfin and Commander Aielle Tam on the Triumph. The latter’s captain, Murphy knew, was on leave again as his first child with Starbase Echo's Synnove Natale had just reached his first birthday.
“Commander Tam, thanks for the assist,” he said with a nod in her direction.
“Thank you both for the assist,” said Rahir. “You’d think with eight bloody torpedo launchers that those three little raiders would not have been difficult for us to disable, but they all went after the pod first. Wretched pirates.”
“Is your vessel greatly damaged, sir? What is the status of your crew?” Jaarid asked.
Rahir lifted a PADD. “Shields are holding at twenty-five percent, torpedo systems are still offline, and the pod has some microfractures. Nothing more serious than one broken arm, some scrapes, bumps and bruises among the crew, thank Allah.”
Jaarid nodded. “Indeed, the Great Mother has blessed you all.”
“Captain Murphy, did you take any damage?” asked Commander Tam.
“Our shields took a small hit, but we’re good.”
Tam smiled. “Then if it’s all the same to you guys, I’d like to lead the convoy back to Echo.”
“You just want to go visit with your captain’s baby again,” quipped Tucker.
“I can’t help it, he’s so cute!”
“Well, mine will be cuter!”
“The lieutenant is correct,” agreed Jaarid. “I do not doubt our offspring will have my eyes and his mother’s smile.”
Tucker looked over her shoulder at her husband. “Or her mother’s smile.”
Murphy rolled his eyes at the two faces on the viewscreen. Tucker and Jaarid had been married going on two years, and she was four months pregnant with their first child. Although medical science could have told them the gender of their baby within the first four weeks, by R’naari tradition they would not learn the gender until the little one was born.
He found it amusing that a man who hailed from a matriarchal society, where daughters were preferred over sons, was so sure that his child would be male. Tucker, the captain was certain, argued with him just for the fun of it.
“Ladies, let’s not fight about who’s baby is cuter, okay?” Murphy said. “And you two, stop bickering about whether it’s a boy or a girl, or I’ll look at your medical record, Lieutenant, and announce the gender at the next staff meeting.”
He was teasing, of course, and by her grin as she turned back around Tucker knew it.
The three vessels were well underway and had about 90 minutes before they would reach their home port, Starbase Echo, when Cadet Kavé—assigned to the engineering station for the day—cleared her throat and said, “Lt. Sullek, my sensors are showing that Messenger has developed several microfractures in the hull.”
Murphy, Tucker, Hollen and Sully said “What?” in unison; Jaarid and Takeshi Sulu, another cadet who was manning the science station, as well as the three crewmen at the MSD stations, all turned their heads.
The captain stood and turned so that he could encompass both the cadet as well as his operations officer. “Give me a sitrep, Sully.”
“Kavé is right!” said the diminutive officer. His voice showed his surprise. “Bridge to Engineering, we’ve got microfractures forming on decks three, six, eight and eleven!”
Murphy strode quickly over to the engineering station as Carla Mallory, Messenger’s assistant chief engineer, replied, “What the hell? How did this happen?!”
“That’s what I’m hoping you can tell us,” Murphy replied.
“We weren’t damaged in the skirmish, Captain—we didn’t even lose shields! I don’t understand how this—hold on.” Her voice dropped off, though they could hear Mallory issuing orders in the background.
“Lieutenant, what’s going on?” pressed Murphy after a couple of minutes passed.
“Not good things, sir. One of the microfractures on Deck 11 is going to become a hull breach in a matter of minutes.”
“What the hell is happening to my ship?! I want answers, Lieutenant—I don’t care if you have to put on an EVA suit and examine the damn hole with a microscope!”
“Understood. Mallory out.”
Murphy looked at the monitor on the wall of the engineering station. The unexplained damage appeared to be spreading; it was moving slowly, but steadily. An alarm sounded on Kavé’s panel.
“We have a hull breach, sir,” the young Cayadoran said softly. “Ten centimeter breach on deck 11, section 35. Forcefield in place and holding, but if these readings are correct, the hole will only get bigger.”
“Captain, that location is where the nacelle pylon connects to the secondary hull,” said Jaarid.
“And where the plasma conduit feeds the warp coils, Commander,” Murphy observed. He cursed under his breath, wondering if he ought to risk ordering maximum warp to get them to Echo faster. After a moment’s contemplation, he decided it was a risk they would have to take.
“Lt. Tucker, increase speed to maximum and engage when ready,” he said as he moved back toward his seat. “Sully, contact Starbase Echo—let the yardmaster know we have an emergency situation and need an open dock. Kavé, keep monitoring the fractures and let me know the moment we get anymore breaches.”
“Actually, we just did, Captain,” she announced. “Decks 3 and 6 now showing minor hull breaches, both six centimeters at present.”
“It’s like something is eating the freaking hull!” declared Hollen.
“Feasting is more like it, ma’am,” spoke up Sulu as he studied his own display. “Whatever this is, it’s incredibly aggressive. Reminds me of… Say, Captain, do you recall the last time Messenger had a major repair or complete overhaul?”
Sully snorted. “We haven’t had a full overhaul since before the war. Only time the Mess has been in dock for major repair was after we lost Captain Devonshire—every other time we did repairs on our own. Since the end of the war, we’ve only hit a starbase to drop stuff off and pick stuff up.”
“And even though the war has been over nearly three years, the Federation’s defense budget has been channeled toward cranking out new ships rather than upgrading existing ones,” added Murphy. “Why do you ask, Mr. Sulu?”
“Because the way this…whatever it is…is behaving, it reminds me of something called shiprot.”
“What the devil is shiprot, Cadet?” asked Hollen.
“It’s a silicon-based lifeform that is a rare metallophagic subatomic bacteria,” Sulu replied. “Shiprot loves anything metallic and seems to have an affinity for duranium and tritanium. Salvagers hate the shit—pardon my language—because it can go undetected for years and destroy a starship, costing them tons of credits. It can take only months to weaken a spaceframe, which is why the SCE made it standard procedure to test for shiprot every time a ship puts in to port for repairs or upgrades.”
“How do you know about this shiprot stuff, Mr. Sulu?” Jaarid asked.
The kid gave a half smile. “Microbiology is one of my minors, Commander.”
“So you’re saying that if this is a case of shiprot, it’s our fault for not making sure the ship got her yearly check-up?” asked Hollen.
Sulu shrugged. “Maybe, Lieutenant, but then as the captain said, Starfleet Command has had other priorities.”
Sully snorted derisively. “Basic starship maintenance apparently not being one of them,” he muttered.
Murphy turned to his conn officer. “Charlie, what’s our ETA to Echo?”
“Twelve minutes to Regulus 8 system border, Captain.”
“Sully, did you get a hold of the station?”
“Aye, sir. Commander McMurty reported he has cleared a dock for us,” reported the Roylan.
Murphy moved to his chair and Jaarid followed, taking his own. To Messenger’s captain, it was a long twelve minutes.
2 hours later
The grim expression on Keel McMurty’s face did not bode well. Dominic Murphy felt a knot of dread drop into his stomach like a stone into water as he stepped into the other man’s office.
“Just give it to me straight, Commander,” he said without preamble.
McMurty, a brilliant engineer that had been pulled from the Border Patrol to run Echo’s repair yards, sighed and tugged at his blue turtleneck shirt.
“Messenger is done for,” he replied bluntly in an accented voice that carried the lilt of his half-Scottish ancestry; Murphy knew him to also be half Capellan.
“Are you shitting me?” he asked.
The other man shook his head. “I’m afraid not, Captain. The damage she’s suffered is simply too extensive.”
A groan escaped him as Murphy moved to drop into one of the two visitor’s chairs. “How in the hell could this have happened? How does a frelling subatomic bacteria so completely infest a 70,000 ton starship that it eats holes in it and turns it into scrap metal?”
The look McMurty now shot him was one of sympathy. “First let me ask ye, has yer ship been exposed ta anythin’ unusual lately, as in the last few days? Odd gasses or anythin’?”
Murphy frowned. “Come to think of it, we did pass through a dust cloud that contained anti-neutrinos two days ago. Power systems blinked on and off for about five minutes or so, but since then no problems.”
McMurty stroked his chin. “That would explain it then,” he muttered.
“The aggressiveness with which the shiprot attacked yer hull,” McMurty replied. “They’re nasty little buggers ta begin with, nae easily detected due ta the presence of kelbonite. Only successful method for getting’ rid of ‘em is ta use a tunnelin’ neutrino beam. Kills ‘em and cleans ‘em off the hull platin’ in one fell swoop—or several, dependin’ on how many passes it takes ta finish the job. It would seem that anti-neutrinos have the opposite affect and over-stimulates the organisms, acceleratin’ growth and reproduction rates as well as how quickly they consume available material. That and the fact that yer ship’s not had a proper overhaul in a fair long time… Messenger picked up quite a lot o’ shiprot in the last few years, mate. Normally a shipyard would scan for traces anytime a vessel puts in ta port for repairs, but—”
“But Starfleet’s had other priorities,” Murphy finished with a scoff. “Yeah, I get it. So now what happens? To the ship, I mean?”
McMurty sighed again. “I hate that this will sound uncarin’, but I’ll need yer crew ta clear personal items and other moveable equipment off the ship as soon as can be done, so that my people can get in there and begin strippin’ her for usable equipment and parts. We’ll save everythin’ we possibly can before the hull is scuttled.”
He couldn’t stop shaking his head—it just didn’t seem real. “I’m having a hard time accepting this, Commander. My ship is barely seven years old, for frack’s sake!”
Murphy left the office soon after, wondering just how in the hell he was going to break it to his crew that they were losing their ship. He wondered what would become of them all—would they be scattered, reassigned to various ships across the 11th Fleet? Or would some of them be assigned to other squadrons?
And what about him? Starfleet had been reluctant to give him command of the Messenger in the first place because of his PTSD, and had only done so out of sheer necessity. He’d proven himself worthy of his captaincy during the last year of the war and since then while the Federation returned to a state of relative peace. Where would he go now? Were there even any ships started in the last three years that were ready for a crew?
As he returned to Messenger, his mind churning, he contacted Jaarid and ordered him to issue a recall notice, as he knew that some of the crew were on the station. Murphy gave it an hour before he engaged the PA system to break the news.
“Attention all hands, this is Captain Murphy. It is with a heavy heart that I inform you the yard engineers have declared Messenger irreparably damaged due to an infestation of what’s known as shiprot. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s basically a spaceborn parasite that loves to eat metal, and the Mess has picked up a lot of it over the last four years. That cloud of anti-neutrinos we passed through the other day apparently stimulated the organisms and caused them to accelerate their devouring of our ship. We’ve been asked to clear her of personal effects and everything that’s not bolted down as soon as possible so that everything else that can be salvaged is removed. I know it won’t be easy for any of you to say goodbye—it won’t be easy for me either—but as an old song says: life’s about changing, nothing ever stays the same. Department heads, make sure you compile an inventory list of each piece of equipment you pack, noting the number of items and where it was located—if we get us a new ship in the next few weeks, we can put it all back in the same place. Let’s get to it, everyone. Murphy out.”
The somber faces of his senior officers, who had gathered on the bridge with him, stared for a moment before they and a few non-coms turned to go about the business of packing up. He watched Jaarid and Charlaine Tucker walk together, his hand at her back, toward the turbolift before his attention was grabbed by his own Blue Angel.
“Dominic,” Calista Nir’ahn, the ship’s chief medical officer, began, “what are we going to do about Dr. Lewis?”
She referred to Dr. Mark Lewis, the Emergency Medical Holographic program. Originally designed to be used only in an emergency, Messenger’s first CMO had proactively combated the reported flaws in the hologram’s programming by adjusting the personality subroutines so he could learn a better bedside manner. She also gave him a name, which helped the crew be more comfortable being treated by a hologram. Over time, he’d become as valued and respected as any living person onboard.
“To be honest, I haven’t even thought about him,” Murphy confessed. “I haven’t really thought about much of anything—I just got the news that Messenger has to be scrapped an hour ago.”
Roijiana, the counselor who had joined the crew a year and a half ago, stepped closer and asked, “Can’t we just download him into a new ship or something?”
Dr. Nir’ahn glanced at her. “I don’t know. His program is integrated into Messenger’s computer core. I’ll talk to one of the engineers, though. Perhaps there’s something we can do—there has to be. We can’t just leave him behind, he’s as much a part of this crew as anyone else. Come along, Counselor—you can help get Medbay packed up, then we can hit our quarters.”
Again Murphy watched a pair of his officers walk away toward the turbolift, Nir’ahn using her commbadge to contact Alvin Temple and Quene—the ship’s two medical technicians—and ordering them to meet her in Medbay. He then stood for a moment watching as a couple of crewmen opened up the various hidden storage lockers on the bridge and gathered up PADDs, tricorders, and phasers.
“Don’t forget to inventory those items, fellas,” he called out. “Clear the other rooms on Deck 1 except for my ready room, then turn the inventory PADD over to Commander Jaarid when you’re finished.”
“Aye, sir,” both crewmen replied, and with that, Murphy turned at last to his ready room to start what was sure to be a very depressing packing job of his own.
Starbase Echo Market Level
He had packed up his office and his quarters in less than two hours, then spent the next six assisting with packing up equipment in various parts of the ship. Murphy then personally piloted one of Messenger’s loaded shuttles to the parking bay assigned to them by Starbase Echo; it was also designated as a cargo bay for all the equipment the shuttles could not hold.
Now he sat at the bar in Isha, Starbase Echo’s most popular club. He was nursing his third Guinness, and contemplating ordering a fourth.
“You must really be feeling like so much targ dung.”
Murphy turned his head as a large felinoid, likely Caitian, wearing a too-small button-down shirt took the empty stool next to his. He recognized him from fleet security briefings as the captain of the U.S.S. Surefoot.
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
“The fact that there are several very lovely ladies in this bar—fellas too, come to think of it—and you’ve got your back turned to all of them. I’m Esek Hrelle, by the way. My ship was recently assigned to the 11th Fleet. You’re captain of the Messenger, right?”
“Dominic Murphy.” He took a swig of his beer as Hrelle ordered one from the bartender. “And I was captain of the Messenger. But there is no Messenger anymore, or there won’t be much longer. A frelling space-borne parasitic bacteria is eating my ship.”
“Shiprot? Damn, Murphy, I feel you there. I lost a ship to that crap about six years ago,” Hrelle said. “I loved that old Oberth like she was a member of my clan.”
Murphy harrumphed. “An Oberth? Those things still around?”
Hrelle chuckled. “A few of ‘em. Not very many—I’d probably still be on that old tub were it not for the shiprot. Have you heard anything from Command about a replacement?”
Murphy shook his head. “You can’t just replace a ship, Hrelle. Not when it feels like a second home to you. I wasn’t Messenger’s first captain, but she was my first command. You can’t just…replace that.”
Hrelle took a swig of his own drink, which had just been set in front of him. “No, you can’t. I wasn’t the old Surefoot’s first captain, either. But I made that ship my own, like I’m sure you did. Just like I’ve made the new Surefoot my own—as I’m sure you will a new Messenger, or whatever ship they end up putting you in charge of.”
A Caitian female sidled up to Hrelle then and nuzzled his shoulder. “I thought you were just getting a drink? Come back out to the dance floor with me, Esek.”
“And continue embarrassing all these squabs with my mad dance skills? Why don’t we make our dance party a private one, Sugartail?”
“Hmm… That actually sounds like a better idea.”
Hrelle slipped off his stool and downed his drink. “Think about what I said, Captain Murphy. See you around.”
Murphy watched the two go, then turned back to his Guinness…and wondered if the fat cat was right.
After finishing his third drink, Murphy decided against the fourth and chose to go for a walk to clear his head. Eventually he had found himself brooding out of the transparent aluminum dome of Echo Park, the starbase’s expansive arboretum, around which there was an observation deck people could walk along over top of the apartments that were around the perimeter. He stood stiffly, his arms crossed, his eyes focused on the drydock where his first command was now being stripped for parts. His lips flickered only briefly into a smile as Calista slipped her arm through his and leaned her head against his shoulder.
“Any word from Starfleet Command?” she asked softly.
“No,” he replied. “Although I spoke briefly with Zabrak a while ago, before I had a couple drinks at Isha. In a way, the timing of this was spot on—he informed me he’s filed for a hardship transfer. Apparently his mom’s not doing well, and he wants to be closer to her for however long she’s got left. So we’re out a chief engineer anyway.”
“I’m sorry to hear about Arkhet’s mother. I’ll have to send him a message tomorrow morning—or later this morning, rather.”
She lifted her head then. “On another note, Dominic…”
He looked down to find a soft smile and sparkling blue eyes looking up at him. “Yeah?”
“It occurred to me that it may be a while before we get another assignment, and even then they might split up the crew—”
“I hope to God they don’t! I don’t want to lose anybody else, especially you.”
Calista’s smile grew. “I knew you would say that. As I was saying, it may be a while, and it got me to thinking. We’ve grown really close in the time we’ve worked together, building on the bond that grew between us on the Apgar. I know that I told you then, and when I came aboard the Mess, that we should remain just friends and keep things between us professional…”
Murphy felt his own smile get bigger, and every morose thought about losing his ship as well as one of his closest friends vanished in an instant. “But that kiss the other night has made you think maybe now’s as good a time as any to see if we could be more after all?”
Her cheeks darkened from sky blue to sapphire and she bit her lip as she gave an affirmative nod, and her antennae quivered with apparent nervousness. Although he had respected the beautiful Andorian doctor’s desire to maintain a professional working relationship once she’d been assigned to Messenger after Maureen Killian had transferred, it hadn’t stopped him from toeing the line numerous times with a remark or a touch here and there. He had invited her to dinner often, to participate in his holodeck adventures, and had even maintained his temper—he was proud of himself for that feat, no small task for someone who was half Klingon—when she had engaged in a relationship with one of Starbase Echo’s security officers. Thankfully it hadn’t lasted more than a few months, given the limited amount of time the two had actually been able to spend together.
Two nights ago, after the cruise through the anti-neutrino cloud, she had joined him on the holodeck for dinner and dancing in one of his favorite cabana club programs. At one point they had slow danced barefoot in the sand, and she had glanced up into his eyes much like she was doing now… and he had thrown caution to the interstellar winds and kissed her. It was something he had wanted to do ever since he could remember, probably from the very first moment he had seen her face even though at the time, she was trying to stabilize his numerous injuries so she could save his life.
Murphy turned and lifted a hand to cup her cheek. “I’ve been waiting almost four years to hear you say that, you know.”
“I do know,” she replied with a grin. “And very patiently, I might add. I’m proud of you for not throwing any PADDS into the walls.”
He laughed. “Who says I haven’t broken a few?”
After a soft touch of his lips to hers, he drew her to his chest and wrapped his arms around her with a sigh. I love you, he thought, but managed not to say aloud. He didn’t think she was quite ready for that, given how long it had taken her to admit she had feelings for him.
“We’ll manage somehow, no matter what Command decides to do with us,” Murphy said softly.
The soft clearing of a throat from behind him made him angry enough to spit fire. Drawing a breath to settle his aggravation, he released Calista and turned around to find Commander Hyasieth, Echo’s executive officer, standing there; she at least had the decency to appear sorry for having disturbed them.
“I beg your pardon, Captain Murphy, Dr. Nir’ahn, but Admiral Savari has just arrived on the station. She’s requested a conference with you, sir,” the Vastran said.
At this hour? Murphy wondered. “You came all the way down here just to tell me that?” he asked.
“Actually, no. After visiting with Captain Natale and her son, I took a walk around the park,” Hyasieth retorted. “Admiral Savari contacted me and asked me to locate you because she’d like to have a word.”
Murphy heaved a sigh. “Sorry, Commander. I’m still a bit worked up over losing the Messenger, I think.”
“I can only imagine what the feeling must be like, Captain,” she said. “Though from the looks of yourself and your crew that I’ve seen today, I gather it is extremely unpleasant.”
“It feels like I’ve lost a friend. A home,” Calista told her. “And I haven’t even been onboard as long as most of the crew.”
“Where does Admiral Savari want me to meet her?” Murphy asked then.
“There’s a ship being towed into Drydock 6 now. She said to meet her on the bridge, sir.”
“Thank you, Commander.”
Hyasieth nodded and turned to walk away. Murphy sighed, though his mood brightened again at the squeeze Calista gave to his waist. “Wanna come with me to see what the admiral wants?”
She snorted softly. “She didn’t ask for me, Dominic. But since you were summoned sort of in person, you’d probably better go now and not keep her waiting. I’m sure the ship will be locked into the dock by the time you make it to a transporter station.”
“Fine, but not before I do this,” he said, then took her head in his hands and kissed her again. Her response sent a thrill through him, and it was with deep reluctance that he pulled away and left her standing there.
Unnamed Starship Bridge
When the transporter beam put him back together, Murphy for a moment thought there’d been some kind of mistake. The bridge he stood on looked almost exactly like that of the Messenger…except for the fact that there were no consoles where any of the stations were supposed to be.
Then he turned his head and noticed that there was only one command position. Beside it stood Rear Admiral Aderyn Savari, Commanding Officer of the 11th Fleet. Her black eyes shown bright and she wore what could only be described as a mischievous smile.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“About what?” he countered.
“This ship,” the admiral replied.
“I don’t know anything about it—not to mention it’s clearly unfinished—so I can hardly give an opinion, ma’am.”
“Yes, this ship is, as you noticed, brand new,” Savari said. “Parts still need to be installed all over. But once that’s done, plus a few other relatively minor tasks, she’ll be ready to fly. We’d like you to take care of that for us.”
Murphy’s eyes popped, and for a moment he was speechless. He’d just lost a ship for crying out loud! “You want me to get somebody else’s starship ready to fly? Are you kidding me right now?”
“No, Captain Murphy, I want you to get your starship ready to fly,” the Betazoid replied. “While it was indeed slated to have been someone else’s ship upon completion in the next couple of weeks, the fact that your crew has an even more immediate need superseded that.”
Savari turned and walked up onto the top level. On reaching the MSD wall, she tapped a few keys on one of the consoles to bring the elongated display to life. The now-backlit panel showed the recognizable outline of a Steamrunner-class starship. In the upper left corner were the words Master Systems Display, the right corner bore the ship’s registry.
“A new Messenger already?”
She turned to him with one eyebrow raised. “You don’t approve, Captain?”
Blinking the shock away, Murphy moved to join her, saying, “It’s not that, Admiral. It’s just…”
He glanced at the MSD. “It’s just that I honestly thought it would be weeks, possibly months, before my crew and I were reassigned. We’ve barely accepted that Messenger was lost to us, and now you’re telling me all we have to do is throw up a few consoles and a brand new ship is ours?”
“It won’t all be brand new,” Savari said, and when he looked at her, she laughed. “Captain what did you expect the yardmaster to do with all of those consoles that were removed from your ship?”
“I had no idea they’d removed whole consoles,” he replied. “You mean to tell me that all of Messenger’s work stations are going into this ship?”
Savari looked around them. “Not likely all, but certainly most of the bridge consoles. Much of the equipment from your science labs will be reutilized—the computer core will get the latest operating software, of course.”
“Speaking of programming, have you any idea if Commander McMurty’s team were able to download Dr. Lewis into a temporary core of some kind?” Murphy asked then.
“I don’t know, but standard procedure for salvaging any vessel includes the download and/or removal of the computer core,” she replied. “This ship already has a computer core, but the content of the first Messenger’s core can be easily downloaded into it, so long as the shiprot didn’t compromise it.”
Murphy nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem, then. Based on what McMurty told me this afternoon, internal systems weren’t at risk so long as the ship was cleared fast enough.”
The admiral nodded. “Well then, Captain Murphy, I’d say you have some calls to make and a crew to get together so you can get your ship in shape.”
Drawing a breath, he nodded and offered her a genuine smile of gratitude. “Thank you, Admiral, for doing this for my people. I don’t imagine it was an easy task to get this ship reassigned.”
“To be perfectly honest with you, it wasn’t as difficult as it could have been. As you’re well aware, the fleet is still monumentally understaffed—so finding a crew for this ship would have been a headache in itself. We’ve actually got more ships now than crews to man them. As regrettable as the loss of the Intrepid Messenger is, the timing is such that we can take advantage of already having a near-full, trained crew ready and waiting. If your crew is as efficient at putting a ship together as they were at packing one up, you should be able to take on your first mission by the end of the month.”
Murphy chuckled. “End of the month would be perfect timing. Messenger’s seventh anniversary is the 31st.”
It had been tempting to give the crew the night to rest, and to mourn. The thought was fleeting, however; as the relief and excitement flooded through him, Murphy found he simply could not keep the news of the new ship to himself. Despite the lateness of the hour, he enlisted the aid of Echo’s Operations center to make a public address calling all Messenger personnel to one of the base’s many conference halls. When the last of the crew slipped into the back (he’d been counting), the captain called up a video of the flyby he’d done in a shuttle on the large viewscreen.
“Everyone, say hello to the new Messenger.”
It was only a heartbeat of silence before the hall rang with a cacophony of voices exclaiming surprise and shouting questions in about a dozen different languages. Murphy gave them all a moment before ordering them to settle so he could fill them in on his meeting with the admiral.
“So, our first mission is to get our ship ready to fly,” he concluded. “We start at 0600 this morning, which I know is not long from now, so I suggest you all go back to your quarters and get what sleep you can.”
“Begging your pardon, Captain,” called out an ensign in the back of the room. “Would it be possible for some of us to get started tonight? I mean, at least those of us that normally work Gamma Shift.”
“Yeah,” said another Gamma Shift crewman. “Why waste time waiting when we can get started now?”
Murphy looked between them. “Hey, you’re all more than welcome to get started tonight.”
There was a chorus of “Hell yeah!” and other affirmations. Several of the Beta Shift and some of the Alpha Shift crew also volunteered to work overnight. Murphy grinned. Damn, but he had good people.
“You’ll likely be working with an engineering crew from the starbase, but the sooner we get this new ship set up, the sooner we get back out there. My thanks to everyone who has volunteered to get started tonight. Commander Jaarid, coordinate with the SCE crew to get this party started.”
Jaarid was instantly surrounded by volunteers; his wife smiled and shook her head, then kissed his cheek and said a few words before standing and making her way out. Murphy suspected that he’d woken them both and felt a surge of regret, given his pilot’s condition.
Calista and Roijiana approached him then. “Captain, may I say that I am very much relieved at what Admiral Savari has done for us,” said Roijiana, who cast a glance over her shoulder as she added, “Understandably, everyone was very upset about losing the Mess.”
She turned back to him. “Although they are certain to still miss the old one, having a new Messenger to focus on will greatly diminish the chances of deeper depression settling in.”
“No doubt about it, Counselor,” Murphy agreed. “I fully admit, the news hit me like an asteroid, and I expected it would be weeks or even months before I got another command. But Savari told me that we’ve actually got more ships than crews to fill ‘em. She was worried about having to find enough people for the ship she gave us and then some.”
He smiled, and glanced at Calista before he replied, “Now I’ve got something to focus on other than my grief. This is one of those instances where work will absolutely help keep me—and everyone else, seeing as how the crew reacted—focused on something positive rather than the negative.”
Both women nodded their agreement. “I would volunteer to get to work tonight, but I am afraid I cannot. I’ve been busy much of the evening with our cadets as well as holding a group session to talk over losing the ship. I really must get some sleep.”
“Go, Roijiana,” said Calista. “Doctor’s orders—no doubt there will be plenty of work waiting in the morning.”
Murphy sighed as Roijiana walked away, then looked to the woman that remained beside him. “Are we still…?”
Calista raised her hands to her hips. “Surely you don’t think I’d take back what I said earlier? Dominic, I care about you—I have since I met you. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but you charmed me from the first moment you called me Blue Angel. I have been fighting a war within myself this last year and a half, my feelings for you as a man and my innate sense of propriety, of not wanting to break the frelling rules, battling each other non-stop. I was already on the verge of telling you how I felt when we got the news about the Mess. And when you told us the ship had been declared a loss, it crushed me to see the pain in your eyes. Admitting my feelings was the only thing I knew for sure that would help you—”
Dominic Murphy didn’t care that nearly his entire crew could see them—they’d find out soon enough that he and Dr. Nir’ahn were an item. Overwhelmed suddenly with the desire to kiss her, he drew Calista to him and crushed his mouth over hers…and ignored the whistles, catcalls, and applause that followed. When he released her after nearly a minute’s passage, her cheeks were blue flamed with embarrassment, but she still favored him with a smile.
He flashed a grin of his own at her then turned to the rest of the crew. “All right you squabs, let’s get to it.”
Before he dropped into his own bed late the next evening, happily exhausted by all the crew had managed to accomplish in their first day of work, Murphy did the one thing that had been niggling at the back of his mind all day. Attaching a copy of his fly-by recording, he dashed off a message to Esek Hrelle on the Surefoot, saying simply:
“Thanks, Captain. You were right.”
Her former shipmates would have facetiously declared it “an adventure” to be cooped up inside a runabout with five other people for nearly two months. To Seven of Nine, however, it had been one of the most uncomfortable journeys of her life.
Annika Hansen, she reminded herself, and not for the first time. Likely not the last. She simply was not used to the name—though it was her own name—even after more than six months’ of its use. She had once told Kathryn Janeway that “Seven of Nine” was the only designation she could remember, but Annika was who she had to be now. Her commission in Starfleet required her to accept that.
Crowds and strangers made Seven nervous; the fact that she had spent the last 50.86 days with the same five people did not mean she was any more comfortable in their presence than she had been upon first meeting them. A Danube-class runabout might be large enough to accommodate six people for the length of their journey from Earth to Regulus 8, but that did not mean the trip was a smooth one. Two of the group were a newly married couple, and as such they frequently made copious amounts of noise in their cabin when they copulated. It was embarrassing (and frankly annoying) to have to listen to it, and then pretend she had heard nothing whenever they emerged.
There was also the fact that her history, while not exactly public knowledge, was nevertheless known by her companions. It was, as Harry Kim would say, “the white elephant in the room”—not openly discussed, but clearly all were aware. She could tell by the way they looked at her, the way their gazes often paused on her visible implants. Most of the group did not blatantly ostracize her—in fact, Tori and David Ward, the married couple, were quite cordial. An ensign that was near as much of a chatterbox as Neelix, a Sivaoan called Sharp Smile to-Catsland, had made a point of engaging her in conversation every day about whatever came to mind. The Vulcan female, Inel, was the only one with whom she felt any sense of peace—for like all other Vulcans she had met, Inel was reserved and spoke only when it was required or she was directly addressed.
Their Andorian shipmate, Kematyr ch’Dahni, was the only one who openly displayed any form of hostility. He only spoke to her when required—which was very little—and when he did he was abrupt bordering on rude. Otherwise he avoided her. Seven found she was pleased he did so, for the angry glint in his eyes when he looked at her was unsettling.
“Approaching Regulus System outer markers; slowing to impulse power,” announced Inel from her place at the helm.
Seven keyed a few commands into the ops console. “We will reach Echo Repair Yards in one hour, twelve minutes.”
“Oh boy!” said Sharp Smile with a clap of her hands. “I am really excited to get started on my first mission. Aren’t you guys excited?”
“Vulcans do not get excited, Ensign,” Inel replied.
A scoff sounded from David Ward. “I’d say our first mission was surviving this trip. I mean, come on! Who thought cramming six people into a runabout for two months was a good idea?”
“Apparently, Starfleet Command, Mr. Ward,” Seven replied.
Both Wards laughed, as did Sharp Smile. Inel said nothing, as expected, but then Kematyr ch’Dahni made one of his rare statements.
“I, for one,” the Andorian began, “will be glad to get off this bloody shuttle so that I do not have to listen to the two of you having sex anymore—thank goodness we’re in different departments, because if my cabin on the Surefoot was anywhere near yours, I’d have to file noise complaints daily. I’ll also be glad I don’t have to look at the insult that is a Borg drone in a Starfleet uniform every day. Thank the stars we’re assigned to different ships.”
Seven heard Sharp Smile and Tori Ward gasp. David Ward clucked his tongue and said, “Not cool, man.”
“Is that supposed to be some funny joke referring to my home planet?” Ch’Dahni snorted. “Everyone is thinking it, I’m just saying it! She shouldn’t be here—she probably personally assimilated hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent people!”
Millions, Seven thought unbidden, but she kept her lips pressed tightly shut and her eyes facing forward. Her time as a drone was something she preferred not to dwell on.
“Okay, but, like, why are you bringing this up now?” asked Sharp Smile, whose voice sounded angry. “Yeah, we all know Lt. Hansen used to be Borg—I mean, it’s pretty obvious, kinda—but the operative phrase is ‘used to be’ and she hasn’t done anything to you personally, Lieutenant.”
“I might also point out, Mr. ch’Dahni, that according to Lt. Hansen’s Starfleet dossier, she was assimilated at the age of six,” put in Inel. “She was a child by Human standards. She did not choose assimilation, therefore what actions she took after that incident were not of her own volition. You, however, have had complete autonomy over your own actions since you were relatively that same age. If she is guilty despite having no control over what she did as a drone, I must ask what particular event in your past are we to blame for your being so blatantly rude and uncouth?”
“Here, here!” crowed Sharp Smile.
Seven turned her gaze to Inel. “May I inquire as to how and when you accessed my dossier?”
Inel returned her gaze with one eyebrow raised. “I am a security officer, Lieutenant. It is my business to know with whom I will be working.”
“A junior security officer does not have the level of clearance as would be required to access my file to that degree.”
“Who the hell cares how she got the information?” argued ch’Dahni. “You were Borg, and we are supposed to destroy our enemies, not invite them to join the fleet!”
Drawing a breath, Seven turned slowly in her seat to face him. “I am not your enemy, Lt. ch’Dahni. I have not been a drone for four years, and I have, in fact, earned the right to wear this uniform. If Starfleet Command did not agree, I would not be wearing it. ”
Ch’Dahni stood from his place at one of the auxiliary consoles and glowered down at her. “I don’t have to listen to this bullshit. I’ll be in my bunk. Somebody—other than her—let me know when we arrive.”
Sharp Smile growled softly at his retreating back; her prehensile tail wrapped around Seven’s wrist. “Don’t listen to him. He’s an ignorant fool.”
“Ensign, you are speaking of a superior officer,” said Inel. “I would advise you to keep such thoughts to yourself.”
The Sivaoan snorted. “His greater rank does not make him superior. He’s a jerk. He shouldn’t have talked to her like that.”
Seven looked over her shoulder. “I appreciate you speaking in my defense, Ensign Catsland, but it was unnecessary. Lt. ch’Dahni is not the first person to take offense at my being granted admission to Starfleet, and he is not likely to be the last. Also, Lt. Inel is correct—regardless of your personal feelings, you must learn to control your impulses and display the proper respect due an officer of greater rank.”
The felinoid frowned. “Even if they’re jerks?”
“Even then,” said Tori Ward. “One of the hardest things you have to learn is the ability to remain professional even if you don’t like somebody personally. That’s something I’m going to have to do a lot of, since I’ll unfortunately be working with ch’Dahni in Engineering.”
“Bet you wish you’d gone into Security now, eh?” her husband asked with a grin.
“No, because then I’d have to work with you,” Tori shot back. “I love you, David, but really—if I had to work that closely with you every day, we’d be divorced within six months. Living with you is challenging enough.”
“Honey, you wound me!”
Seven fought not to roll her eyes at the sound of the two kissing, and concentrated on preparing the transporter to send the Wards and their shipmate over to their more permanent residence.
When at last they entered Regulus 8’s flight zone, David and Tori said their goodbyes and prepared to depart, with David fetching ch’Dahni from the back. Minutes later, the three were sent off via transporter beam to the Saber-class U.S.S. Surefoot.
“Just us now,” observed Sharp Smile. “Off to new adventures together on the Starship Messenger!”
Messenger… Seven contemplated her first assignment as a Starfleet officer. Until two weeks ago, Messenger had been an Intrepid-class starship like Voyager. It was a vessel she was more than familiar with. Comfortable, even. But that had changed when the hull was discovered to be infested with shiprot, necessitating the immediate decommissioning of Messenger because the extent of the damage had rendered the vessel NWS—not worth saving. Now, she and her remaining companions were destined to serve on a brand-new Steamrunner-class which was to carry on the Messenger name.
She had studied the schematic of the new ship deck by deck, and naturally had committed every detail to memory. It had been something of a relief when she’d learned her first assignment was to another Intrepid, and a shock to learn a month later that the class of vessel had changed. The discomfiture that accompanied the news had lasted only a few seconds—she would adapt, Seven had reminded herself. The courses she had taken at Starfleet Academy in order to earn her commission were in various buildings, one not always like another. Just like one Federation Starship was not the same as the next.
Seven’s thoughts were interrupted again by Inel’s voice when she announced they were approaching Drydock 6. Pressing the proper controls on her own console, the former drone opened a channel with the ship. “U.S.S. Messenger, this is the Runabout Gladden, requesting permission for docking clearance.”
“Affirmative, Gladden. Vector around to forward hangar bay and park in the empty slot in the back. Then report to Captain Murphy on the bridge. Messenger out.”
She closed the channel and started the initial post-flight systems checks as Inel flew around to the forward end of the ship. The port bay door was already sliding up to admit them, and within minutes they were settled on the massive hangar bay floor. After transporting their trunks to their respective quarters, the three ladies finished the shut-down procedures and at last exited the runabout that had been their home for nearly two months.
Sharp Smile stretched languidly, emitting a soft roar as she did so. “Thank the heavens that’s over—I feel like I can finally stretch my tail!”
Seven glanced at Inel and found she too had raised her eyebrow at the Sivaoan’s declaration. “As I recall, Ensign, you have stretched your tail many times over the course of our journey,” the Vulcan pointed out.
“Come on, you know what I mean!” retorted Sharp Smile. “Being on a full-sized starship with room to roam, and the privacy of one’s own quarters so we can shed the artificial skins we’re forced to wear is something I’ve been looking forward to for six weeks!”
“Just remember to put something on before you go roaming about the ship, Ensign,” Inel reminded her. “While Starfleet protocols allow for you to divest yourself of your uniform in the privacy of your quarters, I do not believe it would be wise to test the tolerance of our commanding officer by walking about in only your fur.”
Sharp Smile waved her tail at her. “No need for that particular lecture, Lieutenant—I heard it when I applied to Starfleet four years ago. Besides, you already know I lived in a dorm and that I spent my last academic year on the Ellesmere as part of the AOP program. I know the rules.”
What neither Inel nor Seven reminded her of was the three times she had forgotten those rules and had lounged in the dining compartment without clothes on. They both knew that it was still customary on Sharp Smile’s homeworld for her people not to wear any sort of garment, and there was nothing overtly sexual or distracting in her appearance without; in fact, she merely resembled an over-large domestic feline from Earth walking upright on her hind legs. Still, regulations dictated she had to wear a uniform while on duty and some form of clothing when not in her private rooms. Sharp Smile clearly did so with great reluctance.
Seven turned and led the others across the bay toward a door she recalled led to a control room, a head, and a turbolift. There was one crewman inside the control room, to whom they issued a greeting (Sharp Smile once more demonstrating how she had gotten her name when she bared her teeth in an attempt to return his smile, startling the petty officer) before making their way through another door to the turbolift, ordering it to carry them to the bridge once they were inside.
The three stepped off moments later onto a bridge that was at once familiar and foreign to Seven. The layout of the new Messenger’s command center was virtually identical to that of Voyager, save for the fact that there was only one command chair (centered with a console on either side of it), and the auxiliary console on the back railing was larger. She also noted that the helm was designed differently, its structure coming to mind as that used on Prometheus-class starships.
The bridge was empty save for the long pair of legs jutting out from under the central console of the Master Systems Display. They were clad in a pair of yellow engineering overalls, with the top half tied around the wearer’s waist. There was an open toolkit on the deck next to the person, and the hum of a sonic device could be heard.
Some part of the inner workings of the console sparked suddenly, and a male voice cursed loudly in a foreign language. When a second string of vicious words erupted, she was able to identify the language: Irish Gaelic.
Stepping closer Seven asked, “Do you require assistance?”
“What? No. No, I’m good,” came the reply as the sonic device was activated again.
“Very well. We were instructed to report to Captain Murphy here on the bridge, but I see he is no longer present. Can you tell me where we might find him? I cannot address the computer myself as it will not yet recognize my voice pattern.”
At last the torso of the crewman revealed itself as the tech scooted out from under the console, showing her a male who was Human in appearance, with short brown hair and dark brown eyes. He appraised the three of them openly.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am Lt. Annika Hansen. With me are Lieutenant Inel and Ensign Sharp Smile to-Catsland. Is Captain Murphy in his ready room?”
The man hauled himself easily to his feet, and now Seven could see that he was tall, broad-shouldered, and in excellent shape. With a clap of his hands he replied, “No, but he’ll be there in a few moments. I can show you the way.”
“That will not be necessary. I have studied the schematics of this class of vessel; I know where it is,” she countered.
He stepped past her and headed for the starboard lower level. “It’s no problem, really,” he said as he walked. “I can even let you in.”
Seven followed; behind her Inel and Sharp Smile did the same. “You have access to the captain’s private office?”
“Yup,” the man replied.
She was surprised when the door opened immediately for him, and a sudden suspicion as to the identity of the individual before her was confirmed when he rounded the desk and sat in the chair with all the familiarity and ease of one who had done so many times before.
Her eyebrow lifted. “Captain Murphy?”
He grinned. “The one and only.”
Seven felt a tap on her shoulder; turning to Sharp Smile on her right, the Sivaoan stood up on her toes to whisper, “I could have told you he was the captain. Didn’t you study the crew manifest?”
She had, in fact, done just that as soon as she’d learned to what ship she had been posted. That she had momentarily forgotten what her new captain looked like was a clear sign she was long overdue for a regeneration cycle.
Captain Murphy cleared his throat softly, and Sharp Smile stepped back behind her. “Welcome, ladies, to the new U.S.S. Messenger. You’ve arrived just in time—we take our maiden flight tomorrow morning. Since you’ve all checked in with me, we’re aces. Your next stop should be Security to have your fingerprints, voice pattern, and retinal scans downloaded, as well as a head and body scan for the ship’s facial recognition software. Lt. Hollen will issue you a commbadge when all that’s done—she can also assign you crew quarters, if our XO hasn’t already.”
“We have already received our cabin assignments, Captain,” spoke up Inel.
“Good to know. Once you’re done in Security, check in with Dr. Nir’ahn in Medbay,” Murphy said then. “If you’ve had a physical in the last three months, she can simply access your file from Starfleet Medical, and if not she’ll do a standard exam. I’m sure someone told you how things would go when you reported for duty.”
Seven nodded, and sensed the others doing the same. The captain next informed them that once they had checked in with the chief of security and the chief medical officer, they should seek their department heads for their schedules. “Settling into your quarters will have to wait, I’m afraid, as there’s still a great deal of work to be done before tomorrow. Naturally, both Starfleet Command and I would like to get this ship in the best shape possible before we begin our shakedown cruise. Lt. Inel, Ensign… How do I address you?”
“Sir, normally my people are addressed by our given or chosen names, but in an effort to conform to Starfleet regulations, I have taken my place name as a form of surname,” Sharp Smile informed him. “Therefore, Ensign Catsland is acceptable. Sir.”
Murphy smiled. “Very well, Ensign Catsland. You and Lt. Inel are dismissed. Lt. Hansen, I’d like you to stay a moment.”
Inel and Sharp Smile departed immediately. Seven remained standing with her hands clasped behind her back, waiting patiently for the captain to speak. He did not do so right away, and instead sat forward to key several commands into his desktop terminal. “Hansen, Lieutenant Annika. Human female, age 28. Former Borg drone known as Seven of Nine, rescued from the Collective by the U.S.S. Voyager crew in 2373. Served on Voyager after liberation in the capacity of astrometric specialist, with an aptitude for cybernetic technology, martial arts, and marksmanship.
“Upon Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant, was extensively debriefed on the Borg and other Delta Quadrant species. Later petitioned for admittance to Starfleet and ordered to complete an advanced training course on socio-politics, starship classifications, as well as Federation and foreign technology, in order to qualify for a commission. Commander Curtis Chaplin, your assigned academic liaison, noted in your record that you are possessed of a brilliant mind when it comes to technology and the sciences, but that you are still lacking in interpersonal skills.”
Murphy sat back after the summary of her record and looked up at her with a bemused expression. “Four years you were on Voyager before coming home, and you couldn’t figure out how to play nice?”
Seven drew a breath. “Commander Chaplin’s assessment is not entirely accurate,” she replied. “I did learn to ‘play nice’ as you say, and I associated with my crewmates as well as could be expected for one becoming reacquainted with individuality after eighteen years existing within a collective consciousness. However I… do find social situations to be discomfiting, especially when surrounded by persons with whom I am unfamiliar.”
She surprised herself by voicing the persistent feeling out loud, though it seemed by his knowing expression that her new captain had expected such to be the case.
Murphy shrugged. “Who doesn’t feel a bit awkward in the middle of a crowd of strangers? Your file notes that you tend to come across as rude and abrupt—but then so do Vulcans, so it’s not like the style is anything we’re unfamiliar with. Just wait until you meet a Tellarite, I’m sure they’re much worse. Otherwise, do your best to be courteous to your subordinates and respectful to your superiors, and you’ll be fine.”
Seven nodded. “I will comply, Captain.”
A second grin broke out as he tapped a few keys on his computer and then stood. “Well, I gotta get back out there—that console isn’t going to fix itself, unfortunately, and I lost a bet with the yardmaster, so I can’t make someone else to do it for me. Just one more question: You don’t still require an alcove, do you? You know, for the Borg parts still in you. Your file said something about you sleeping in Voyager’s cargo bay.”
“I do not. During my training, one of the projects assigned to me by Commander Chaplin was to improve upon the design I once created of a portable regeneration device,” Seven replied. “Naturally, I perfected my earlier design parameters, not only making the device rechargeable but smaller and lighter as well. Standard officer’s quarters will suffice for my off duty hours.”
“Good. Nothing says awkward like walking into the cargo bay and seeing someone asleep on their feet.”
When she raised her eyebrow at his droll attempt at humor, Murphy shook his head and headed for the door. He paused and turned back to her as it opened. “Listen, I think it best to warn you about your department supervisor,” he began. “That you were once a member of the Borg Collective is going to be issue enough with the rest of the crew, but that’s something I’m sure you’re used to already. Commander Ja-Nareth, however, is particularly sensitive about the Borg. His father disappeared after the Battle of Wolf 359, and it’s believed he was assimilated.”
Seven started. Most of Voyager’s crew had had strong feelings about the Borg, and some had lost friends or family in battle against them. Others she had encountered since their return to the Alpha Quadrant had similar reactions to her and Icheb; as she had told her traveling companions, ch’Dahni was not the first to display resentment. But no one she had encountered thus far had lost someone so close to them to assimilation.
“I am sorry to hear that,” she said, though it was hardly enough.
“I believe that you are; you’ve been Human again long enough for that side of things to affect you.” Murphy drew a breath. “Listen, if Ja-Nareth—or anyone else, for that matter—gets out of line, you come directly to me and I will deal with it. Otherwise, try to take his attitude with a grain of salt. It will take time, but he and everyone else on board will eventually get used to having you around.”
Seven nodded. “Thank you, Captain. I will take your recommendations under advisement.”
The two then departed the ready room, Murphy heading back to his repair work and she for the turbolift. As it descended to deck 4, Seven decided that at the first opportunity she would read the crew manifest again, paying special attention to the dossier of the ship’s senior science officer.
In the Security office, she was met by an ensign who informed her that Lt. Hollen was in the armory with the other new arrivals, utilizing the drill holosuite to conduct the body scans. Seven gave her thanks and went out again, turning to the left. Inside the armory she found Sharp Smile waiting.
“Lt. Hollen has Inel in there now,” said the ensign, pointing her tail at the closed holosuite door. “They should be out any second.”
Her prediction proved accurate, as the door opened even as she finished speaking. “You must be Lt. Hansen,” said the brown-haired Trill female who walked in front of Inel.
“That is correct,” Seven replied. “You are Lt. Yvala Hollen?”
“Also correct,” Hollen replied as she gave her the once over. “Let’s get your body scan done.”
Inside the smaller version of a holodeck, which she estimated to be about the size of Neelix’s kitchen, Hollen told her to stand still with her arms at her sides, then instructed the computer to begin the scan.
“So,” the Trill said. “Your file says you were liberated from the Borg.”
“That is correct.” Naturally, she thought, the Chief of Security would have viewed her entire file.
“Can I ask what that was like? Coming back to yourself, I mean. Learning who you really are.”
Seven drew a breath; she’d prepared a short speech for the immeasurable number of times she was bound to be asked that very question. “For as long as I could remember, I had been Borg, had heard the voices of millions of others inside my mind. The ensuing quiet after my link to the Collective was severed was…unsettling. I admit that my first instinct was to rejoin the Collective as soon as possible, and I did make an attempt to contact them when presented with an opportunity to do so. However, my efforts failed, and over the next several weeks, Captain Janeway and the rest of the crew did their best to help me adjust to being an individual again, alone with my own thoughts. They helped me to regain my humanity, though it was not an easy process.”
“No doubt. Having been just a kid when you were taken probably made it a lot harder on you,” Hollen observed. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience assimilation, get used to being Borg for nearly twenty years, and then suddenly be a scared little girl again, but now in the body of a woman.”
Although acceptance of who she was now versus who she had been was more common than angry resentment, Seven was nevertheless taken aback by Hollen’s apparent comfort in her presence, as well as her eerily accurate summation of what she had gone through. She had been frightened, very much so. Very much like a child who had become lost and had found herself alone even though surrounded by others. Coming to terms with her experience, with the fact that she was a little girl in a grown-up body, had been more difficult than she had ever let on, even to the counselors who had conducted psychological evaluations after Voyager’s return.
She’d been forced to mature—to in essence grow up—very, very quickly.
“It was not an experience I would wish to repeat,” she managed at last.
The computer signaled it was finished with the scan and the two returned to the control room. Hollen used a medical scanner to take detailed images of their retinas and hands, downloaded the information gathered, and then took three commbadges out of a storage drawer. After scanning each ID chip, she assigned and presented the badge to each of them.
“One more thing before I turn you all loose,” Hollen said as she keyed another set of commands into the control console. “Computer, complete personnel registration for Hansen, Lt. Annika.”
“Voiceprint verification required to complete personnel registration.”
Hollen gestured to her; Seven drew a breath and said, “Computer, verify voiceprint, Hansen, Lt. Annika. Serial number 624 dash 2350.”
A series of beeps sounded, and then, “Voiceprint confirmed. Personnel registration of Hansen, Lt. Annika complete.”
The process was repeated for both Inel and Sharp Smile, and then Hollen dismissed them to check in with the ship’s doctor. As the medical facility was on the same deck, it was but a short walk to get there. Seven was startled for perhaps the third time that day—confirming the need to regenerate, as she had long prided herself on her ability to adapt to the unexpected—when the three of them stepped through the doors. It was not the fact that Messenger’s sickbay resembled that of Voyager (though it was twice the size) that threw her, however…
It was seeing a familiar face, one she had thought she would not see again except over subspace.
“Doctor?” she said to the balding man in science teal who was counting hyposprays.
“Ah,” he said as he looked up. “The last three new crewmembers we were expecting have arrived at last. Welcome to Medbay. I am Dr. Mark Lewis, Assistant Chief Medical Officer.”
Seven raised an eyebrow. “You have a name? Are you not a Mark I EMH?”
Dr. Lewis smiled. “Indeed I am, though in truth I am much more than that now. In any case, the first Messenger’s first Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Maureen Killian, believed that a name would help make me…more relatable to the crew. So she gave me one. Mark is derived from Mark I, of course, and Lewis from the EMH creator, Dr. Lewis Zimmerman.”
He snapped his fingers then. “Ah, I bet you were expecting the Mark IV EMH, am I right?”
“Not precisely,” Seven replied. “I served onboard a starship with a Mark I EMH program. He was our chief medical officer, as Voyager’s had been killed in transition to the Delta Quadrant.”
Lewis’s eyes widened. “I know him! Or rather, I know of him. He is quite the trailblazer for sentient holograms, helping us to earn the same rights as organic species—foremost among them the right to be recognized as an autonomous individual, allowing us to choose our own destinies.”
“Are you able to leave Sickbay?” she asked.
“I wasn’t on the old Messenger, except to spend time on the holodeck, but on this new one they’ve installed holo-emitters in key areas such as the bridge and Engineering, so I’ll be able to help out more in a crisis. And it’s Medbay, Lieutenant, not Sickbay. That’s another holdover from Dr. Killian’s tenure, as she disagreed with the designation.”
“Why’s that?” asked Sharp Smile.
“Because doctors do more than treat the sick and injured, Ensign. We also maintain good health and help bring forth new life,” said an Andorian female who entered then. Beside her was a tall man with curly hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and exceptionally bright blue eyes. He tensed immediately when they fell on Seven.
“I’m Dr. Calista Nir’ahn, CMO,” said the Andorian as she stepped forward with an outstretched hand. Seven and Sharp Smile both shook it, then she held it up in the traditional Vulcan salute when she turned to Inel. The security officer mirrored the gesture, then Dr. Nir’ahn regarded them all with a smile.
“Welcome aboard,” she said. “I’m sure the captain told you to report in as per procedure, but you’ll surely be pleased to hear that an exam won’t be necessary today. I received and reviewed each of your medical files not long after you were assigned to Messenger a couple of months ago, and since you’ve each had a medical scan in the last quarter, I don’t need to do another. As you’ve clearly been checked in by Security and I assume have seen Captain Murphy, you’re all free to report to your department heads. In fact, our senior science officer, Lt. Commander Tyrone Ja-Nareth, is this fellow right here.”
She gestured toward the man she had come in with. He inclined his head toward Inel and Sharp Smile, the gesture clearly—to Seven, at least—becoming reluctant when he turned his attention once more to her. She recalled Captain Murphy saying that he had a particular sensitivity about the Borg.
“Thank you for the welcome, Dr. Nir’ahn. As my presence is no longer required, I shall report back to Lt. Hollen,” Inel told them, then after a dip of her head at each of them, quietly quit the room.
Ja-Nareth turned his gaze to Sharp Smile. “I recall studying your file, Ensign. I believe you’ve elected to be called Ensign Catsland?”
Sharp Smile, whom Seven knew to be an astronomer, a rare calling on her homeworld, had drawn herself to attention when Dr. Nir’ahn had introduced him. “Sir, that is correct, sir.”
The barest hint of a smile formed, and Ja-Nareth replied, “At ease, Ensign. I just wanted to make sure. If you don’t want to spend the next couple of weeks instructing everyone you meet on what to call you, I would suggest sending out a general memo. Believe me, it helps a lot in situations like this to nip a problem in the bud before it starts.”
He drew a deep breath, then said, “The Astronomy and Astrometrics labs are both on this deck, forward section. The former is shared with Stellar Cartography, the latter with Astrophysics—according to regulations, Lt. Hansen is your immediate supervisor. Between them is a shared lounge, so you can take your meal breaks there if desired, without having to take a lift up to the mess hall on Deck 3.”
Ja-Nareth spoke of Seven being a supervisor as though he opposed the idea, and the last he said with a pointed look at her. She knew instantly that it was his way of telling her she was not wanted, but she refused to be intimidated. With a lift of her chin, she replied to him though he had not directly addressed her, “Thank you, Commander. Ensign Catsland and I will go now and familiarize ourselves with our respective work areas.”
After inclining her head toward him, she said goodbye to both doctors and departed, stepping around Ja-Nareth smoothly with Sharp Smile on her heels. In the corridor, the Sivaoan’s tail shot out and grabbed her by the wrist.
“Yikes, Lieutenant. Looks like we have another ch’Dahni to deal with,” she said.
“As I said on the Gladden, it was inevitable that I would meet with another who disapproves of Starfleet granting me a commission,” Seven replied smoothly, choosing not to relay the particular reason why Ja-Nareth clearly did not like her. “Regardless of his feelings towards me, however, I expect you to treat him with the respect he is due as our superior. I would not have you risk your standing on this vessel on my account.”
“Yes, ma’am. But… He said you were my supervisor. So I go to you before I go to him, right?”
Seven nodded. “That is the correct procedure, Ensign. I have been appointed the head of stellar sciences, but Commander Ja-Nareth is the head of all sciences onboard Messenger. You will report to me, and I will report to him.”
“Works for me, but I sure bet it won’t be easy on you,” Sharp Smile said as they came to a horizontal passage. Seven recalled from her study of the ship’s schematics that Astronomy and Stellar Cartography were in the lab to the left of the battery compartment they faced, with Astrometrics and Astrophysics to the right of it.
“So, um, guess I’ll be seeing you around, Lieutenant,” Sharp Smile said then, taking a step toward the astronomy lab. “You probably wouldn’t be interested in spending time together outside of work now that we’re here.”
As she regarded the younger female then, Seven became acutely aware of the fact that Sharp Smile liked her, and already counted her as a friend. For a moment she contemplated whether she desired to do the same, and considered their interactions over the course of their journey. Sharp Smile was energetic and peppy and chatty, traits of former crewmates that in the past had proven irritating. But she had also proven eager to serve Starfleet, was quickly learning to follow orders, and had been the first to speak in her defense to ch’Dahni.
She had proven herself a friend. Seven was mildly surprised, and in truth pleased, to have gained one without any real effort on her part. She knew it would be foolish to dismiss the only friend she had among her new shipmates, and so offered a slight smile as she said,
“On the contrary, Ensign. Your company has proven…intriguing. I would be pleased to continue our association during off-duty hours.”
Sharp Smile beamed her toothy equivalent of the expression and bounced on the balls of her feet. Her tail swished rapidly behind her as she said, “Thanks a lot! It’s so nice to say I know at least one person here. I mean, I know Lt. Inel as well, but Vulcans aren’t exactly chatty.”
“That is because they tend to speak only when they have something meaningful to say. While it is true that Vulcans do not engage in small talk, when there is a purpose to the conversation, their insights can prove exceptionally enlightening.”
Her companion grinned again. “Kind of like you—guess there must have been some Vulcans on your old ship.”
Seven nodded. “There were three.”
“I can see their influence. Well, see you later, Lieutenant—maybe we can eat together in the mess hall for dinner?”
“I will meet you there at 1900 hours.”
One more grin flashed on Sharp Smile’s face before she whipped around and headed toward her laboratory. Seven turned and walked the short distance to her own, and when she stepped inside she paused—it was virtually identical to the Astrometrics lab on Voyager. Drawing a deep breath, she felt her back release some of the tension she’d been feeling as she started for the main control console that stood before the enormous wall screen and holographic projector stage.
It was fascinating how familiar surroundings could put a person at ease, she thought as she signed into the unit, then dismissed the notion as she got to work.
Murphy told himself he had not been startled by the announcement from the bridge that Admiral Savari had just arrived. He stood from behind his desk and moved to the door of his ready room to greet her.
“Welcome aboard, Admiral,” he said as she stepped into the office.
“Thank you, Captain,” she replied. “I can assure you my visit will be brief—I know you and your crew are eager to get back to space.”
She lifted a PADD and he took it from her. Thumbing it on, he saw that they were official orders. “Your first assignment is a very simple one, quite possibly mundane,” Savari went on. “The annual Paulson Nebula survey is due—in fact, it hasn’t been conducted since the year the war broke out. We’d like Messenger to take care of it.”
“The Paulson survey? Really?” Murphy replied, just managing to contain a roll of his eyes. “Command doesn’t have anything a little meatier for us?”
“Looking to test your new ship’s defensive systems already, Captain?” the admiral said with a grin.
“Not precisely, but… This survey, normally done every year, is practically a waste of time,” Murphy replied. “Why send a ship to spend nearly two weeks skirting the perimeter every year when you could have one just drop some long-range multi-spatial probes around it and leave them be until such time as they register a change—which isn’t likely, by the way. The readings of the Paulson haven’t changed in years.”
Savari raised an eyebrow. “And how would you know that, Captain Murphy?”
Murphy scoffed. “Because I was senior science officer on the last ship assigned to survey that nebula—the Sherwood. Every ship that’s conducted the study examines the records of the previous surveys. Nothing ever changes.”
“Well, you won’t know until your team does their own survey, now will you? It’s been five years since the last one, after all.” Her smile made Murphy wonder if he was being patronized. Irritating to begin with, but even more so coming from a woman who was only three years his senior.
Suppressing the urge to accuse her of it, Murphy drew a breath and released it slowly. “Very well, Admiral. We’ll take care of it.”
She nodded. “Good. Perhaps by the time you return, we’ll have something a little ‘meatier’ for you.”
He waited until Jaarid informed him that Savari had beamed back to the starbase before he made his way to the bridge, needing those few minutes to settle his temper. While as a science officer he understood the value and necessity of conducting surveys of nebulas, the fact that the Paulson literally had not changed in years—at least not to any significant degree—made the new Messenger’s first assignment seem…well, a waste of time. How were they to truly test her systems without going on an extended flight or patrol?
Murphy drew another steadying breath as he stepped through his office door and onto the bridge. He liked that it was both familiar and different—Operations, Tactical, Engineering, Science, and Helm were all in the same place and all consoles but the helm were from the original Messenger (the helm had been upgraded to a Prometheus-class design, which Tucker loved). The auxiliary console on the back handrail was larger, and because there was only one command chair, his XO had claimed the station for himself.
As for the command area, Murphy had admitted to Calista that he rather liked the return to classic design with only one chair, thereby putting the captain right in the center. The layout still included a bench seat at each end like on the Intrepid bridge as well as two small storage compartments, but the captain’s chair was now in the middle, situated in a cut-out that included two Defiant-class command consoles, one on either side.
To his mind, it gave his bridge a more tactical feel to it, which again he liked considering that the Steamrunner class was primarily a carrier escort. In Messenger’s case, however, the ten fighters had been traded out for four mission-specific runabouts, extra Type-11 shuttles, and a couple of Type-10s. And of course, in the lower rear parking bay, there were the usual number of Type-8s and -9s.
“Attention all hands, this is Captain Murphy,” he said as he approached his seat. “As you know, we suffered the unexpected loss of our ship, the Intrepid-class U.S.S. Messenger, just two weeks ago. Despite that loss, fortune still smiled on us, and we were assigned to a new starship in less than a day. We’ve got us a Steamrunner-class now, with more power in the engines and weapons, enabling us to get where we’re going quickly and defend ourselves and others when necessary.
“But let us not forget our primary mission: to seek out new life and new civilizations. The original Messenger was a science vessel, and both Starfleet and I intend for this new Messenger to carry on that legacy. Also of note, we launch the second Messenger on the fourth anniversary of the launch of the first—may her predecessor’s legacy live on through our efforts from this day forward. Mr. Jaarid, if you would give the orders to get underway.”
Jaarid stood near his wife, who was already in the midst of preparing the helm. “All departments, secure systems and prepare for in-flight operations. Lt. Tucker, clear our departure with Docking Control and lay in a course for…”
“The Paulson Nebula,” supplied Murphy as he sat down in his chair.
“Aye, sirs. We are cleared to leave drydock. Course laid in.”
“Mr. Sullek, ready thrusters.”
“Thrusters ready, Commander.”
“Initiate launch sequence,” Jaarid went on, then turned his gaze to Murphy.
The captain gave in to the urge to smile as he gave the final order. “Let’s get to it.”
To be continued…