Part Two:
First Impressions
Written by Michael Cloonan


MAIN

THE SHIP

THE CREW

PART ONE
Starfleet's Finest

 


Lea Austin strolled casually along the corridor.  She concentrated on the sound of her bare feet rhythmically pattering along the smooth, carpeted hallway; all else was silent, apart from the regular background throb of the ship’s systems, which to her didn’t sound any different to any other starship.  She hadn’t seen anybody since she left her quarters an hour ago.  Normally the night duty officers would be wandering about, but Lea supposed that since this ship hadn’t even left its construction dock there wasn’t yet an operational routine to maintain, with either technical or security staff.  She was glad of the peace: she hadn’t been able to sleep, and decided that a brief sojourn to familiarize herself with her new posting might calm her apprehensions a little.

          After being assigned quarters upon arrival, Lea hadn’t seen any of her fellow recruitees since.  They were all probably quite exhausted after yesterday’s induction into their new lives.  She had shared the excitement and anticipation of seeing the USS Endurance for the first time, but now she was eager to actually begin work.  Admiral Miles had issued instructions to the senior crew to reassemble at 0700 hours, in just over five hours’ time, but Austin wanted to familiarize herself with the ship a little more first.  As First Officer, it would be remiss of her not to.

          Besides, it kept her mind off the subject of Craig Johnson, with whom she had not spoken in three years and now found herself serving alongside once more.  She resigned herself to deal with that particular problem in the morning.

          Her first impressions of the ship so far weren’t overly remarkable.  Since arriving, and from her current meanderings, she’d only seen the cargo bay (where they beamed in), her quarters (spacious, but the same sort of functional simplicity you’d find on most modern starships), a large, brightly-lit and temptingly inviting arboretum-cum-hydroponics centre of some description (she circled it twice just to get the feel of the grass between her toes and breathe deeply the fragrant, flowery atmosphere) and, of course, the cramped and zippy turbolifts and miles of endless grey-black corridors.

          Oh, and also a lot of doors marked “Authorized Endurance Project Personnel Only”, and some just simply “Keep Out!”.  They all had that weird adaptation of the Starfleet logo on them – the one with the arrowhead split in two.  The same as the communicator badge sitting on top of her new uniform folded on the bedside chair in her quarters.  She had no way to test if the personal comm.-badge was the key to accessing the doors, because there didn’t appear to be any other way of opening them – keycard slots, palm print panels – and they didn’t automatically open when she approached.

          Instead, she followed them around the corridors, up and down levels, into access tunnels and cul-de-sacs, until she could determine what they might possibly represent.  Her conclusion was that the main area being confined was the central control shaft – the primary computer core governing the starship, the hardware and software empire upon which all their lives in this day and age depended.  But there wasn’t usually such a level of extreme security around it.  And there were other areas too – almost one entire deck in the middle of the saucer section, she noticed on one of the turbolift ship-schematic panels.  Entire areas marked in red with the same “Authorized Personnel Only” slogan printed on them.

          She was currently somewhere in the top half of the saucer section, having given up on the mysterious doors partly because of exhaustion, partly because she felt that anything she needed to know about she would hear from the Admiral in the morning – and if not she’d make a point to ask him – and partly because she was getting hungry.  There would be a replicator in her quarters, of course, but she idly wondered if the galley was stocked yet.  It was probably worth checking in on her way through, it wasn’t far.

          She found a turbolift and stepped into it.  “Deck Four,” she instructed.  It instantly sprang into motion, the light panels mounted into the walls swishing sideways.  She felt no motion at all, of course, due to the inertia dampeners – the lights were only there to reassure passengers the thing was moving.  The moments passed in silence.

          “Did you enjoy your walk?”

          Lea had to look around to see who had spoken – she wondered if she was so tired she’d walked right into the lift without seeing if it was occupied first.  It wasn’t.  Surely it wasn’t… “Computer?” she asked tentatively.

          “Can I be of assistance?”  The voice was male – not the usual female one used on starships for generations.  It had been modelled on the voice of the wife of some big-wig in Starfleet’s early inception, or something, but clearly Miles had no qualms in dispensing with tradition to make his ship unique.  And the way it spoke was clearly not the way computers addressed humans – they didn’t ask them direct questions for one thing.  However, while it sounded like idle conversation it also had the distinct ring of being nothing more than pre-programmed sub-routines, designed to make the user feel more comfortable perhaps.  Miles might have incorporated more diverse forms of technology into the Endurance than merely bigger weaponry, she thought.  It made her even more eager to see the bridge – a pleasure she’d left herself until the morning.

          “I, uh…” she stammered, not sure of what to say.  “Yes, I did have a nice walk.  Er, thank you for asking.”

          “It was my pleasure.”

          Lea hadn’t felt it necessary to make conversation with a computer before, Lieutenant Commander Data and various EMH programmes notwithstanding.  “Um, is the galley stocked?  With provisions for cooking or… something?” she didn’t know if you had to be literal for the computer to understand or whether it could decypher the confusing and ever-changing nuances of Federation Standard speech.

          “Affirmative,” the computer said.  “The hydroponics garden has been in operation for eight weeks and a provision shipment arrived at fifteen hundred – ”

          The lift slowed to a stop and the doors swished open.  “Thanks,” Lea interrupted, as she stepped out into the corridor, “I’ll find something.”

          “Doctor Sommers is making use of the facilities now,” the computer said.

          “Thanks!” Lea repeated, and found herself giving a cheery wave to the turbolift doors as they swished closed again.  Feeling extremely foolish, she turned and strode down the corridor.

 

  

As she advanced around the curved hallway, she could already see light spilling into the corridor from the windowed mess hall doors ahead.  In fact, if she inhaled deeply enough she could even smell the aroma of fried bacon and eggs.  By the time she walked in her mouth was watering.

          “Ah, there you are,” said Sommers as she placed two full plates down on a table.  “You’re just in time.”

          Lea sat down, as Sommers went back to the bar that separated the cooking area from the tables to fetch a tray laden with a plate of toast, some small jars of various spreads, and a pitcher of orange juice.  Through the forward windows, asteroids floated around lazily in the starfield.

          “You were expecting me?” Lea asked as her friend took her seat opposite.  They picked up their cutlery and began to dig in.

          “Well, you weren’t in your quarters so I assumed you were taking your usual morning constitutional whenever you’re assigned somewhere new,” Sommers said through a mouthful of food.  “Mmm…  This is real bacon you know.”

          “Well, what do you think of the ship so far?” Lea asked through a mouthful of toast.

          “Well…” Sommers chewed thoughtfully for a moment.  “It’s all right, I suppose.  I had a quick look in sickbay before, just to see what sort of conditions I’d be working in, you know.  And it’s…  It’s…”

          Austin paused midway through sipping her juice.  “Yes?”

          “…It’s big!” Sommers concluded.  “It’s like a bloody hospital, with all the mod-cons; retracting bio-beds, imaging scanners of each and every magnitude, and various machines that go ‘ping’.  There’s even stuff we had back at Starfleet Medical that hasn’t been put into field service yet!”  Sommers leaned in closer and said softly, “What about you?  Have you had a chance to talk to Craig yet?”

          Austin shrugged noncommittally.  “No, not yet.  I think he’s been avoiding me.  I can’t say I’m surprised he was selected, or that he chose to join.”

          They ate in silence for a few moments before Sommers spoke again, changing the subject.  “So… What did you find on your little sojourn?”

          Sommers listened intently as Lea gave a brief description of her tour around the ship – the lack of any other signs of life, the locked doors, and the talkative computer.  “It told me you were here!” she said.

          The El Aurian threw down her napkin in mock disgust.  “Well, so much for surprising you with breakfast!”

          “What do you suppose it is?  Simple AI?  Or a positronic net?”

          “Why don’t you ask it?”

          Austin glared at her.  “Well, I…”

          “Go on,” Sommers urged.  “It is one of your new crewmates, after all!  Don’t look at me like that.”

          Lea took a breath, and said, “Computer…?”

          “Positronic net,” it responded instantly.  “Artificial personality subroutines constructed to absorb and adapt to any changes in my operational environment and to anticipate the needs of the crew in times of crisis or personal incapacitation – ”

          “That’ll do, Computer, thank you,” Austin said.  “You see?”

          “You know, Computer,” Sommers began, the glass of juice in her hand pausing on its way to her mouth, “it’s very rude to eavesdrop on conversations like that.”

          “That would be inimical to my function.  Theoretically I am capable of ‘eavesdropping’ on any and all conversations aboard the Endurance at any given time.”

          “But because we’re the only ones up and about we’re the only ones to have the pleasure of your exclusive company?” Sommers enquired.

          The Computer seemed to take a moment to consider this.  “That would be a correct assumption.”

          Sommers rolled her eyes.  “Well, a smart-aleck computer has to make friends too, I suppose.”

          Lea mopped up the last of her egg yolk with her toast.  “I suppose I should get to bed, if I expect to be in the right state of mind to take it all in tomorrow,” she said, standing to leave.  “Thanks for breakfast, it was wonderful.”

          Sommers grinned.  “No problem.  See you at oh-seven hundred, eh?  Maybe then we might have a few questions answered.  Not all of them, I expect, but a few.”

 

 

Austin met Captain Tybon, whose quarters were not far from hers, on her way to the turbolift.  Lea had slept soundlessly for the rest of the morning, and now she was bright and ready to attend the Admiral’s meeting.  Her new uniform fitted perfectly, which put her in a good mood to start settling into her new life.

          “Good morning, Captain,” Austin said as she fell into step beside him.

          “Good morning, Commander Austin,” the Vulcan replied formally.

          They walked in silence to the turbolift.  When they arrived, Austin requested the bridge and they stood in silence for a few moments more as they ascended.  In the enclosed space of the turbolift, Lea found herself feeling slightly uncomfortable in the presence of the imposing Vulcan.  She didn’t know what sort of thing was appropriate to say by way of casual conversation in these situations; normally she and her CO would exchange pleasantries and she’d give them progress reports or crew status updates – but she had no such recourse here.

          “Say, Captain,” she said.  The Vulcan turned to fix her with his cool blue-grey eyes.  Trying to keep her voice from trembling, she continued, “what do you think our first mission will be?”

          “Your guess is as good as mine, Commander,” Tybon said.  “I surmise the Admiral will allow the crew to familiarize themselves with the ship before launch, however.”

          Before Austin had a chance to reply, the turbolift stopped and the doors sprang open.  Tybon marched out, barely sparing a glance at the details of the bridge around him, heading straight for the Conference Room door opposite.  Austin, however, took a moment to look around as she slowly crossed the chamber.

          The bridge was quite large in area, but most of the available wallspace was filled with displays or control consoles of various function.  The rear central wall, between the alcoves containing the turbolifts, Conference Room and Captain’s Ready Room entrances respectively, was adorned with Engineering statistics, including a large schematic of the EnduranceAustin noticed that it wasn’t any more forthcoming about the contents of the restricted areas than the simpler turbolift maps.

          The Captain’s chair was on a raised dais at rear centre, with its own console mounted on a plinth beside it.  Austin’s own position was at a chair just to the right of it; as she passed by it, she ran the palm of her hand over the smooth leather-like upholstery.  There was another chair to the Captain’s left; unlike Austin’s and the Captain’s it didn’t have its own control panel.

          Not far from Austin’s station, on a landing one step down, was what looked like Tactical.  Symmetrically opposite was Sciences, and Lea noticed that some of the display panels there were completely black, including one of the primary displays on the upper wall behind.  At the front, another step down, were the Astrogation and Helm positions, two chairs framed at the front and sides by a singular console.  Between the chairs was mounted a transparent sphere, about two feet in diameter.  A blue cloudy substance swirled about inside it, but otherwise it appeared lifeless.

          The main viewscreen dominated the forward wall, the asteroid field spattered across it.  There were three smaller monitors on each side of the main viewer, displaying port, starboard, rear, upward and downward views from the ship.  To the sides were smaller alcoves containing more control consoles.  Eight struts around the perimeter of the bridge arced overhead toward a single point in the centre, where another complex item of hardware nestled.  A spider’s web of cable connections congregated around the assembly of opaque panels and steadily blinking lights.  Lea glared at it suspiciously, trying to determine its function: already she felt as though the thing was watching her, and the thought of having to spend a majority of her time on duty beneath it was disconcerting.

          Austin almost felt like she had entered another dimension; everything looked normal enough on the surface, it wasn’t too dissimilar to other bridge designs she’d seen in the past, but the disconcerting blend of new technologies, strange enhancements and unusual modifications to give it the impression of being something far removed from “normal”.  Lea had had the privilege of inspecting enough new starship classes in her time to learn to appreciate radical design changes every so often, and impressed though she was with this futuristic display and the power it promised, it wasn’t far removed from the sort of thing she had been expecting.

          She was keen to sit down in her new chair and tinker with the console, to unleash even a fraction of the ship’s secrets, but the arrival of the young Bolian, Ensign Salk, and his Bajoran friend Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Lanit Joras, reminded her that her presence was required elsewhere.  She turned on her heel and marched into the Conference Room.

 

 

“Wow!” was Salk’s first reaction to seeing the bridge.  “This is just so amazing!” was his second.  He stood frozen in the turbolift doors for a moment while he gazed about, his mouth hanging slightly open.  He had waited all night to see this, barely able to sleep in anticipation.

          Joras whistled his appreciation too.  “What’s that thing?”  He pointed to the globe between their respective stations.  “Some kind of holographic navigational projector, perhaps?”

          “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough,” Salk said.  “Come on, let’s go.”  They walked across to the Conference Room and entered; it was far less impressive, no more than a long, wide table along the centre of a rectangular room with a view of the docking pylons outside the windows.  Figures in spacesuits occasionally drifted in and out of vision, between the starship and the interior of the hollow asteroid on the far side, as construction workers made final modifications and inspections.

          The Captain was seated at one end of the conference table, Commander Austin just taking the customary First Officers’ seat to his right.  Doctor Sommers, Chief Engineer Billich and Tactical Officer Lieutenant-Commander Craig Johnson were also seated at various points around the table.  There were plenty of chairs free, so Salk and Lanit chose two together on one side.

          “Good morning, everyone,” Salk said as he sat.  There were general murmurs of response.  The atmosphere, he felt, was one of barely concealed fervour; everybody wanting to get on with the next stage of the process, the one where they actually got to play with the equipment.

          The First Officer leaned forward and glanced around at everybody.  “I trust everybody is settling in OK?” she asked.  Salk guessed that Austin was just making general conversation to get a feel of her new crew’s social dynamics.  He supposed that somebody had to when the Captain didn’t seem the talkative type.

          “Well,” said a gruff voice, “I asked the computer to give me some tactical operations data about this ship last night.”  All eyes turned to the speaker, Lt-Cmdr Johnson.  Of all those present, he was the one Salk hadn’t really had a chance to talk with yet.  He hadn’t had the courage to approach him; somehow that constant blue flare in his prosthetic right eye was too daunting.  The man was almost impossible to maintain eye contact with.  And he rarely smiled.

          “It refused,” Johnson continued, “it told me I was too impatient for my own good!”

          Salk glared at him, as did most of the others; they hadn’t yet had reason to consult the computer, it didn’t cross Salk’s mind to think it would be any different than any other starship’s.  He made a mental note to never make that mistake again.  The Captain raised an eyebrow.  Commander Austin opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t seem to find the words.  Doctor Sommers started chuckling to herself.

          “I discovered myself earlier this morning,” Austin said at last, “that the computer is an AI with a positronic neural network, so it can learn and adapt.  Makes it integrate more effectively with its crew, apparently.”

          “Quite right,” said a voice from the door.  It was Admiral Miles, with Commander Alicia Newman right behind him.  They all started to stand but Miles waved them down as he strode in.  “And I apologize, Lieutenant Johnson, but I instructed the computer to refuse any requests regarding shipboard operations until this morning.”  He took his seat at the end of the table opposite Captain Tybon.  Newman didn’t take her seat beside him just yet: she had a pile of PADDs in her arm and she started circling the table, passing them out.  Miles continued, “Indeed, you may disregard Program Miles Alpha One now, computer.”

          The computer responded, “Acknowledged.”

          “I don’t even need to quote authorization codes,” Miles said.  “It’s voice recognition system is quite superb; it can detect when voice synthesis technology is involved, and we believe we can also distinguish Changeling voice patterns to a success factor of eighty eight percent.  Security aboard this ship is quite infallible.”

          Newman returned to her chair and sat down.  “These,” she said, “are your personal ‘Instruction Manuals’, if you will.  They detail the functions of the ship relevant to your stations and explain anything new you might discover.  You might need to refer to them for a little while before you feel comfortable.”

          “But learn them quickly,” added Miles.  “Because very soon I will conduct you on your first mission.  It won’t be an easy one, either, and I will expect you to know this ship inside out should we encounter any… forceful resistance.”

          The crew nodded their silent acknowledgement, already starting to flip through the pages of their respective PADDs.  Salk barely glanced at his – he decided it would warrant in-depth investigation later, probably when he had the chance to sit at his station and study the functions referred to in context.

          “Forceful resistance?” asked Johnson.  “From whom?  I thought you said we weren’t joining the War…”

          “We aren’t,” the Admiral replied.  “There are far more important things in this Universe than whatever alien menace it is that threatens the Federation’s harmonious stability this week, you know.”

          Salk was incredulous.  Throughout his time at the Academy, students and instructors alike had spoken of alien races like the Borg with humility and guardedness, probably in much the same way people a hundred years ago had with the Klingons, or the Romulans.  Recently the campus-grounds chatter centred around the Dominion and their enslavement of Cardassia, half-baked conspiracies insinuating which high-ranking Starfleet officials might be a Changeling spy, tears and anguish about death tallies and which starships had fallen to the enemy.  Like most of his own peer group at the Academy, Salk had been fearful of what would happen to him after graduation, wondering whether his name would end up buried among hundreds of others, unnoticed and unmourned, in the constant MIA/KIA despatches from Starfleet Command.

          But Admiral Miles’ complacent, dismissive attitude toward the War unnerved him somewhat.  What could be more important than a War that threatened to overpower the Federation, leave it a charred and broken shadow of its former self?  Did Miles even care – could it be that he was just so wrapped up in building super-powered starships to even notice the severity of the Dominion forces against their own?

          “Admiral,” Captain Tybon said, “all of us here are now committed absolutely to this enterprise.  Our services are at your disposal, whatever hazards may come.”

          “Agreed,” added Austin, looking to each of the others.  They all nodded in turn, including Salk.  As the Captain had said, there was no turning back now.

          “Thank you,” said the Admiral, with genuine respect.  “It pleases me to find my faith in each of you is not misplaced.”  He leaned back in his chair.  “I think I need not waste any more of your time, ladies and gentlemen.  You are dismissed.  Commander Newman, please escort Lieutenant Billich to Engineering.  Captain Tybon, remain here a moment.”

          Salk followed the group out of the room.  The last thing he saw before the doors slid closed behind him was Miles and Tybon sitting facing each other from opposite ends of the table.  The Admiral was sitting back in his chair, fingers steepled under his nose, watching them go.

          The Captain, if Salk didn’t know better, almost looked like he had a smile on his face.

 

 

Admiral Miles waited until the doors were closed before speaking.  “Captain, may I take this opportunity to say how pleased I am that you agreed to join my crew.  When I ended up with your name on top of my short list for the Captain’s position – and I mean a very short list – I didn’t quite know whether or not I was even going to ask you.”

          “Thank you, Admiral,” the Captain responded flatly.  “It was an honour to be asked, and I saw no logical reason to refuse.”

          The Admiral smiled.  “Somehow I thought you were going to say something like that.”

          “Admiral,” Tybon said, almost hesitantly, “regarding the command structure of the ship…”

          “Ah yes,” interrupted Miles.  He stood, and crossed to the window.  He looked out, beyond the framework of the construction yard, past the rock wall of the asteroid base, at the glimmering of stars.  “For the time being, Captain, I will accompany the Endurance on its first few voyages, but the vessel is entirely under your command.  Think of me more as… an observer, if you like.  An assessor to the performance of this ship and crew.”

          “Except that I only report to you, and not Starfleet?” Tybon asked.

          “Indeed,” replied Miles.  “No doubt that will facilitate your task considerably.”

          Tybon nodded.  “It does have certain… benefits.”

          Miles turned back to face the Vulcan, still sitting stiffly in his seat.  “Many captains throughout history have flexed the rules to their own liking on various occasions.  Aboard my ship the only rule is that you can’t do anything this ship is incapable of – and you’ll be hard-pressed to encounter a problem like that for a while.”  He ran his hand along the bottom of the window frame, feeling the texture, picking up the faint vibration of the ship’s engines.  “The ship is still incomplete, Captain,” he said, in an almost mournful tone.  “There are still a few vital components we require to make this all worthwhile.”

          “I see,” said Tybon.  “May I ask what they are?”

          Miles considered a moment.  “Captain,” he said suddenly, “are you familiar with the technological development of Earth in the twentieth century?”

          Tybon nodded.  “I understand that was the humans’ most… progressive stage.”

          “Indeed.  At the beginning of the century, defying gravity in flying machines was only a fantasy.  By the end of it, they were well into construction of a major orbital space station.  And how do you think that all came about?”

          “Well, the number of global conflicts was a significant contributing factor…”

          “War tends to push research and development into new and exciting areas, I agree,” the Admiral stated, “and it has been helpful in its own way for us in this day and age, Captain.  Yesterday we travelled here on the Defiant, its own construction a reactionary tactic by Starfleet to the threat of the Borg.  But war is not the only way in which a civilization can advance itself, scientifically speaking.”

          Tybon stood and joined the Admiral by the window.  “I understand that you refer to the… extra-terrestrial influences on some human organizations at the time.”

          Miles smiled again.  “Absolutely right, Captain!  Yes, scientists of the time hijacked technology from any source they could – crashed UFO’s, captured extra-terrestrials, the presence of time-travellers…”  He looked back out at the stars again.  “Back then they had to wait to be given these little gifts from the stars.  But now… now we have the ability to reach out and take it!”  He made a grabbing motion toward the stars with his hand, holding his clenched fist in the air for a moment, his teeth gritted ambitiously.

          “This ship is a result of that,” he said after a moment, turning back to face Tybon.  “The Federation has become complacent.  They are so bound by rules and protocols that they think they are safe in their own little ordered universe.  They forget that there’s seventy percent of the galaxy left unblemished by their antiquated ideals, populated by races who care nothing for the self-made utopias of other species.  The Dominion War has proven that despite all its preachings of peace and good intentions, the Federation is weak and useless without the willpower to make something of itself.”  His voice was becoming more animated, his features twisting almost into a snarl.  “Four hundred years of amassed power and technology, and they are too afraid to use it!  With this ship, Captain, I intend to bring about a new age for the Federation.  One that shows we are not afraid to match the strength and convictions of those who dare stand against us!”

 

 

[NFN NMI] SALK

Officer’s Field Manual, USS Endurance

ASTROGATION / OPERATIONS

Starting with the Astrogation/Operations station aesthetics, you will notice that all function categories are operable under an intuitive menu interface.  Command interfaces are designed to provide the user with adequate facilities for fast and smooth operations, or switch command functions quickly and easily at will.  There are also provisions for tailored, user-specific control panels or program sequences (see Appendices A-C).

          The Hologlobe situated between the Astrogation and Helm positions is a tri-D geo-spatial navigation aide designed to allow the vessel pilots a more accurate representation of ship orientation and placement within three-dimensional space.  This is particularly useful in situations of close combat, precision flight, or an indication of the ship’s movements when the Auto-Pilot function is engaged (Appendix G)…

 

Salk stopped reading and looked up at Lanit, who was equally engaged with his own manual, however instead of simply reading it he was just pressing buttons on the console and then consulting the Index to see what they were for.  Austin and Johnson were the only others on the bridge, at their respective stations behind.  With a quick glance to see that they weren’t watching, Salk leaned over to whisper in Lanit’s ear.  “How do you turn this globe thing on, then?”

          Lanit obligingly stabbed at a few controls on his panel, and the globe lit up.  Within it appeared a crisp image of the ship, right at the centre, and around it pylons and rocks formed as the globe holographically formed the ship’s surrounds.  Faint lines dissected the image, with figures appearing at the edges of the globe to denote galactic chart positions.

          “So, theoretically,” Salk said as he scanned his PADD and tapped more controls on his console at the same time, “I can do something like this…”  A blue line stretched forward from the nose of the holographic ship.  The image zoomed back as the line stretched forward, the ship berthed in its asteroid shrinking to a smaller speck in the centre of the globe as more asteroids appeared at the edges, until the blue line reached the outer edge of the asteroid belt into clear space.  “There, I’ve plotted our course out of the asteroid field.”

          “These controls are so easy to use,” Lanit said as he started prodding rapidly at his console.  The displays flashed and changed as he cycled through menu structures and command sequences.  “If only all starships were configured like this.”  He threw his PADD down on the panel dismissively.  “This isn’t telling me anything new.  Impulse engine controls here, warp drive functions there…  I wonder what this one does?”  He pressed down on a big red button and the panel went momentarily blank, then the words “SYSTEM FAILURE: REQUIRED FUNCTION NOT YET OPERATIONAL” flashed across the screen.

          Lanit pulled a face.  “Oops.”

 

 

Austin sighed as the young Bajoran picked up his PADD guiltily and started reading it again.  She’d watched the whole exchange without giving herself away to the two junior officers, but felt that to berate them for their rashness would be spoiling their fun somewhat.  The Bolian, Salk, seemed respectable enough, but Austin was wary of the Bajoran, given his chequered history with Starfleet.  The Admiral might have full confidence in the abilities of his crew, but it was Austin’s job to make sure the personalities didn’t become obstructive.

          Austin settled back again into the First Officers’ chair.  As with most new ships, the seating was very comfortable without being too invitingly relaxing (one didn’t want the bridge crew nodding off whilst on duty).  She picked up her own manual and started reading again, also content to absorb all information before blundering blindly through the computer systems.

          …Many vital shipboard functions are monitored by the computer, giving the First Officer immediate access to a variety of status reports or condition updates as required.  The primary computational node is situated on the Bridge, giving the computer the facilities and processing power required to deal with operational necessities as and when required…

          Austin looked around.  Primary computational node?  She didn’t see anything that might look like…  Her eyes drifted upward.  The ominous mass in the centre of the ceiling continued to sit silent, lights blinking, panels still deathly black.

          “Big Brother is watching,” Austin commented.

          Johnson, standing at his post close by, looked up.  “Sorry?”

          Austin pointed up at the ceiling.  “The computer,” she said, “it’s everywhere at once, it knows what we’re doing at any given moment, listens to our every word, and now they’ve given it rudimentary intelligence and a degree of autonomy.  Doesn’t that scare you a little?”

          Johnson’s never-blinking cyborg eye turned upward and stared long and hard at the computer node.  “Not really,” he said.  “Technology has its place.  So long as it remembers that, too, we’re OK.”  He looked back down at his console and continued working.

          Austin watched him for a moment.  Clearly, her attempts at conversation thus far were proving fruitless.  She wondered what had changed him so much: the Craig Johnson she had befriended in the Academy was a charming and outgoing person, never one to shy away from a good fight.  This was the first time she’d had a chance to talk to him practically alone since yesterday and he remained as impassive as ever.  Not only was he actively not talking to her, but she was stuck for something – anything – to open a conversation with.  “So, what have you been up to in the last five years?” was a bit too forward, she thought, and “That artificial optical implant suits you” probably wouldn’t have done her any favours, either.

          “So what kind of armaments are we packing?” Austin asked.  She could just as easily have brought up that information in her manual, or on her own terminal beside her chair, but it was the only excuse she had to try and get him talking.  If there was anything Johnson was enthusiastic about, it was heavy weaponry, and his being on this ship was akin to letting a kid loose in a candy store.

          “Well…” he became animated again as he consulted his console.  “Multi-channel phaser banks, torpedo arrays, a phaser cannon, proximity mines… a warp harmonics disruptor field generator!  I didn’t think that had gone beyond the theory stage yet.”  His gaze lingered on hers for the briefest moment – and in that moment, Austin saw the Craig Johnson of old somewhere beneath that lump of metal and plastic on his face.

          He tore his eyes away.  “And then there’s this,” he said.  “I can’t for the life of me figure out what the hell an ‘Omega Torpedo’ is.  There’s nothing in the manual.”

          “You’ll find out,” Austin said.  She returned her attention to her own PADD: clearly she wasn’t going to get much further with him today.  Still, serving together on a starship once more, there would be plenty of time for nostalgia later.

 

 

Chief Engineer Aarus Billich liked to think he was good at his job.  He liked to think that there wasn’t a single starship in the fleet he couldn’t disassemble even down to its component molecules and put back together again, probably better than before.  In fact, it was comforting to remember that Admiral Miles had selected him for the Endurance precisely because of these very qualities.

          As he and Commander Newman rode the turbolift to Main Engineering, he was quietly confident of his abilities to rapidly assimilate to a new environment.  After all, the principles of warp mechanics hadn’t changed that much in nearly three hundred years, and the accumulated knowledge of his symbiont spanned most of that time.  After the joining, when the lifetimes of expertise of the symbiont had been merged with his host body, incorporating his twenty-odd years’ experience as a technician tinkering with all forms of gadgetry, Billich joined Starfleet and put his talents to use aboard whatever space stations and starships he’d been assigned to.  He had dutifully worked as part of many an engineering team, patiently waiting for the day he’d be offered a job as Chief Engineer.

          And here he was.

          The turbolift doors sprang open and he found himself struck with awe at the first sight of the ship’s Engineering deck – his Engineering deck, he reminded himself with a slight smile.

          The chamber he found himself wandering into was huge, dominated as always by the imposing edifice of the warp core.  It pulsated gently in the centre of the chamber, surrounded by control stations and guard railings.  A strengthened ring, which contained the articulation frame within which the dilithium crystals that powered the ship nestled, enveloped the core at a point high above their heads, a catwalk providing access.  Large branches split from the core at either side higher up again, disappearing into the walls to eventually connect with the nacelles.

          Workstation areas branched away from the central chamber, where a few technicians were moving around studiously.  Billich noticed the heavier-than-standard shield doors suspended above each of the alcoves, ready to drop down in case of an emergency, such as a warp core breach or a coolant leak, or any other of a multitude of possibilities for danger when dealing with matter-antimatter propulsion engines.

          Newman indicated various consoles as she guided him around the chamber.  “These are the main reactor controls, this is the intermix chamber monitoring panel, and over there are the diagnostics stations.  Most of the functions are quite straightforward, of course, but there are a few… embellishments to the system you should look out for.  There are still some systems disabled, but we hope to have them up and running before too long.”

          “That’s what the blank panels are for then, I suppose.”

          “You got it.”  She led him toward the large schematic of the Endurance displayed on one of the main wall panels.  Just like the smaller representations in the turbolifts, it too had blackened areas throughout.  “There are entire sections of the ship cordoned off until we have some of our additional systems installed,” Newman added.  “I can’t tell you what they are yet, but the ship will operate normally without them.”

          Billich nodded.  None of this was too far out of his league, he mused, but admittedly he had never expected to see such a display of power and sophistication aboard a Federation starship, least of all one that was conceived, designed and constructed outside of the regular bureaucracy of Starfleet.  “I take it that you were pretty heavily involved in building this thing,” Billich commented.

          Newman smiled radiantly.  She was a nice-looking sort, Billich thought to himself.  He felt a pang of sorrow for her: she was too young and attractive to have wasted the last three years hidden in deep space building intergalactic juggernauts.  She only seemed vaguely aware that the Federation was at war with anyone.  “Well, mainly with the theory work and outfitting various integral sub-systems,” she said.  “At the Academy my final year thesis was about the limitations and flaws inherent in contemporary starship design.  That drew Admiral Miles’ attention and he employed me as his personal aide for his Project.”

          Billich looked again at the Endurance schematic.  “So why construct an entirely new class of starship?  Why not just modify an existing design?”

          “We did consider that for a while,” Newman said.  She called up a display screen on one of the consoles.  A Sovereign-class vessel appeared in green outline, with modifications highlighted in yellow; they included, Billich noticed, a phaser cannon on the front and torpedo launchers mounted on the sides of the saucer section.  “We plotted our initial ideas when the Sovereign-class starship design was first mooted.  It had the strength and stability that we were looking for to withstand our enhancements – unlike, say, the Akira class which just flew itself apart in the test simulations.”  She pulled a face.  “Besides, I think the Akiras look more like waffle irons than starships – and the less said about the Norway, Sabre and Steamrunner classes the better!”  She pressed a button and the image of the Sovereign faded.  “Anyhow, it wasn’t long before we realized that the basic shape of most current standard Federation vessels was completely wrong for our purposes.”

          “How do you mean?”

          Newman tapped a few buttons and a wire-frame representation of the Endurance appeared on the console screen, a circular warp bubble wrapping itself around it.  “As you can see, the warp field generated by a ship this shape is smoother – more spherical than with regular starship designs, allowing a better warp matrix for greater speed and navigation, and also a few other benefits which will become apparent in due time.”  Another tap at the controls and that image, too, disappeared.  “Hence we now have what is effectively the one and only ship of the Endurance class!”

          “Well,” Billich said, “I just hope I don’t push a wrong button in an emergency.”  He looked around the room again, then down at his PADD manual still hanging limply in his hand.  “As excited as I am about all this, I really don’t know why I was chosen above yourself or one of your own guys here for this job.”

          Newman shook her head.  “I’ve got other things to do.  My station is on the bridge, at Sciences – I can monitor everything and give you help from there, if you need it.”  Her cool blue eyes fixed his for a moment.  “The Admiral has every faith in your ability to maintain control, and that means that I do too.  We don’t just want someone who knows where every nut and bolt fits, Lieutenant, we need someone with the intuitive skill to implement practical solutions when everything else inevitably goes arse-up in a major way.”

          Billich gulped.

          Newman smiled.  “You’ll do fine.”

 

 

Some hours passed.  Doctor Sommers tossed her manual onto her desk, having only skimmed through it.  There was nothing within the confines of this sickbay, no matter how technologically marvellous it was, that she couldn’t deal with.  Most of it she’d been involved with the development of at Starfleet Medical anyway, and everything else was just a new-fangled version of the same tools she’d worked with for the last two hundred years.  She lounged back in her chair, planted her feet up on the desk, and wondered what to do next.

          Her nursing staff – all two of them – had left Sick Bay in order to fetch more supplies from Miles’ base, inside the asteroid.  Sommers stretched a hand out toward the desk computer, and called up the personnel files.  She began flipping through them, one by one, familiarizing herself with the medical history of the ship’s compliment.  In due time, she would need to perform a full physical examination on everyone, being standard Starfleet procedure for all officers in the care of a new MO.  But that would only be a formality: the entire crew was absurdly healthy, and until this ship saw some action the best thing she could hope to treat would be a few tummy bugs before the replicators became worn-in.

          The only remotely interesting aberration amongst the crew records was Lieutenant-Commander Johnson’s prosthesis.  Sommers had been at Starfleet Medical when Johnson had been brought in, she still remembered recognizing the broken man even with bandages and regenerative equipment covering half his face and head.  Johnson’s skull had been heavily damaged, beyond anybody’s ability to repair it, and he was extremely lucky for his brain to have survived serious injury.

          Johnson’s file was appended with a counselor’s log entry, dated several months ago.  “Johnson has proven time and again his unerring devotion to duty in the field – to the detriment of his social and personal wellbeing.  He no longer interacts freely with his crew, preferring instead to remain resolutely focussed on issues of shipboard security and mission strategy.  I believe that, since acquiring his prosthesis, he has begun to abandon all aspects of his humanity entirely, perhaps blaming himself for his loss, or some other personal failure.

          Sommers idly wondered whether Lea was having any luck talking to him.  If anyone would have been able to, it was her.

          Sommers sighed and deactivated the terminal.  She yawned.  She fidgeted.  She was bored.

          “Computer,” she drawled, “activate the Emergency Medical Holographic program.”

          The air in front of her desk shimmered as a middle-aged balding figure phased into existence.  It didn’t even move or blink before the words “Please state the nature of the medical emergency,” came tumbling out of its mouth.

          “Oh,” Sommers sighed.  “It’s you.”

          “Well, who did you expect?” the EMH asked tersely.

          “Well, I had rather hoped you would have been upgraded as well.”

          “Upgraded?” the EMH scoffed.  “How do you upgrade something that already operates at perfect efficiency?”  It began to look around itself, noticing for the first time the ultra-modern surrounds.  “Although, this equipment somehow makes me feel my age.”  It reached for a medical tricorder, but Sommers was quick to snatch it out if its reach.

          The EMH glared at her.  “Well?  Is there a medical emergency or not?”

          “I was bored,” she said.  “I needed company.”

          The EMH heaved a deep sigh.  “I advise that you do not make frivolous use of my program – I am intended only for…”

          Sommers waved a hand dismissively.  “Oh sod it.  Computer, deactivate EMH program.  I want a conversation, not a lecture about software depreciation.”  Looking offended at being cut off mid-sentence, the EMH faded away.  “No wonder half the doctors in Starfleet can’t stand the bloody thing,” Sommers muttered to herself.  “And to think we could have had that nice Julian Bashir instead…”

          The sickbay doors swished open.  A broad grin broke across Sommers’ face as she waved Commander Austin in.  “Hi,” Lea said.  “I was just giving myself the proper tour this time, now that I have the hitch-hiker’s guide on me.”  She held her PADD up.

          “Well I’m glad you stopped by,” Sommers said.  “I was beginning to think I was going to live in social isolation for the rest of my natural, yet illustrious and highly-acclaimed, career.”

          Lea smiled as she took a seat on the other side of the desk.  “An El Aurian with no-one to talk to,” she said.  “Is there a cure for that?”

          “I don’t want a cure, just a temporary remedy,” Sommers commented.  “Speaking of talking to people… did you have much luck with our tactical officer?”

          Austin sighed and shook her head.  “No.”

          Sommers patted her friend’s hand consolingly.  “It’ll take time.  He’s been through a lot.”  She couldn’t mention anything about what she’d seen in Johnson’s log – despite being friends, the two were still bound by rules of privacy regarding fellow officers.

          “I just wish I knew what,” Austin said.  She pointed through a doorway to a smaller room, where soft-coloured tapestries hung from the wall, and a number of padded chairs were dotted about the area.  “I take it you’re doubling as ship’s counselor?”

          Sommers nodded.  “Yes, but it doesn’t mean I’m getting paid any more.  I gave up a chance to study the spotted treefrog virus on Ophiucus Eight to work on this ship, so I’d better get some enjoyment out of it.  Personally, I think the crew will start to develop some form of techno-psychosis within a few weeks, and that’ll probably just be from trying to figure out how to flush the toilets!”

          The bleeping of a communicator interrupted them.  Captain Tybon’s voice emanated crisply from the comm-system.  “All senior staff report to the bridge immediately.”

          Austin groaned.  “I don’t think we’re going to get a moment’s peace from here on out.”

 

 

“Looks like were on,” Billich said, upon hearing the Captain’s summons.  He and Newman were still in Engineering, where she was demonstrating some of the finer points of the ship’s function.  As they started to head back toward the turbolift, Billich continued, “Sorry, what were you saying?”

          “A self-maintaining infrastructure,” Newman repeated.  “A combination of nanite technology and an intelligent iso-neural computer network has enabled this ship to perform self-diagnoses and repair in an emergency.  Anything from hull fractures to fused circuits.  Bridge,” she added, as they entered the turbolift.

          Billich whistled appreciatively.  “Just like the Borg!”

          Newman seemed to shudder at the prospect.  “God, I hope not.  Everything aboard this ship has its origins in various discoveries, however small, made by Starfleet over the years.  Nanite technology, neural-net processors, and also the self-replicatory awareness of a hardware ‘consciousness’ developed by the Enterprise-D not long before it was destroyed.”

          “I read that report.  I thought it was an alien infestation.”

          “It was, but at first it appeared as though the ship took control of itself and for no apparent reason would pilot itself to safety if it was in danger,” Newman explained as the turbolift slid to a stop, and they emerged onto the bridge.  “We were able to analyze the data concerning the alien entity’s interaction with the ship’s systems and hardwire the Endurance’s own circuits with similar mechanical fundamentals.  That way the ship can repair minor damage to itself while you or I look at more urgent matters in the heat of a battle, for example.”  She took her seat at the Science console.

          Billich headed for his own Engineering monitoring station at the back.  He spent a few more moments staring at the displays.  Strangely enough, now that Newman had explained a majority of the ship’s functions the read-outs were starting to make some sense.  He was glad to finally discover that he wasn’t as out of his depth as he initially suspected.  He even felt confident enough to touch some of the displays, and thankfully they didn’t blow up in his face.  He grinned broadly as he settled into his position.  He was going to enjoy this!

          The turbolift doors slid open again and Commander Austin entered, followed by Doctor Sommers.  Austin crossed to her seat, while Sommers stood by surveying the surrounds.  Ensign Salk and Lieutenant Lanit were already at their stations.  The Conference Room doors opened and Captain Tybon emerged, followed by Admiral Miles.  The Captain stood beside his chair, but did not sit down.

          The Admiral remained at the threshold for a moment, surveying the scene.  “I can’t tell you,” he said softly, “what it means to me to see you all here, like this.”

          Tybon surveyed his crew.  “Prepare for launch,” he ordered.  “After consulting with Admiral Miles, I have decided to commence our first mission as of now.”  There was an almost imperceptible intake of breath from everyone on the bridge.  Miles’ smile grew a touch wider.  Tybon looked expectantly at Austin, who realized she was still staring agog at her Captain, looked down at her console.

          “All stations report ready, Captain,” the First Officer reported.  “All personnel are aboard, and all systems are go.”  Billich detected the tension in her voice.  He felt it himself, the atmosphere was charged with nervous anxiety as everyone began to realize that this was the proverbial it.  Showtime.

          Tybon took his seat.  “Ease us out of the asteroid field, Mr Lanit,” he instructed.  The background hum of the ship increased as the sleek, powerful vessel surged slowly forward.  The docking pylons of the construction yard retracted from the image on the main viewscreen.  Billich checked his console and grinned with delight as he watched the power distribution charts flowing rhythmically.  He glanced at Newman: and she even smiled warmly back at him.

          The crew of the USS Endurance waited in silence as Lanit expertly eased the ship through the path in the asteroid field.  Soon enough, the viewscreen cleared and all they saw was a wide vista of twinkling stars, almost expectantly waiting for them.

          “Set course for Lazon II,” Tybon said.

          Ensign Salk summoned the relevant data on his console, and gasped in astonishment.

          Tybon sat, and clasped the arms of his chair.  “Engage.”

Part Three: DISTRACTIONS
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