Chapter 1

Drydock 4

Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards

Mars, Sol System, Sector 001

08:00 Hours, January 23rd, 2380

Stardate 57061.190388


A shimmering column of aqua energy and matter swirled above the glowing transporter pad of Drydock 4. The glittering particles of energy condensed into the form of a Human Starfleet captain. He stood well under two meters, with a face that bore more lines than his thirty-nine years should have allowed. His wavy brown hair was long enough to have a hint of untamed nature to it, but not so long as to seem unkempt. He closed his dark brown eyes and braced himself against the side of the cylindrical chamber, “I hate transporters.”

The young ensign standing behind the controls looked unsure of what to do as the captain regained his composure and stood upright. The door the corridor slid open and a short, frail, gray-haired two-star Starfleet admiral walked in, “Captain David Clark, I take it your leave was relaxing?” His voice was weak, yet warm. He stuck out a hand.

Clark nodded and gently shook it, “Admiral Russell, it’s good to see you. Honestly, I spent the entire time anticipating coming back here.” He released Russell’s hand, “Sir, you didn’t really have to come all this way just to show me the ship – I’m pretty familiar with it.”

Russell smiled, “As you should be.”

“But I have to ask, why couldn’t I have taken a shuttle?” Clark glanced over at the ensign, who returned what amounted to a glare.

“You remember that plasma fire we had up here a couple of days ago? It damaged the drydock staging bay; the atmospheric forcefields and bay doors for the shuttlebay were in there. They’re installed now, but I don’t think final tests have been completed.”

Clark nodded, “Speaking of which, when can I expect her to be in good enough order to take her out for a spin?” He eagerly rubbed his hands together.

“Uh…” Russell shifted his weight onto one leg and furrowed his brow in thought, “One or two days, provided we can figure out where our forcefield emitters are at.” Clark cringed inwardly, but the admiral quickly alleviated the concern with a gentle punch of his chest, “Kidding, kidding, the Corps of Engineers was able to get us a new set in less than a day, after a bit of negotiating.”

Clark chuckled, “They’re a fickle bunch. I should know.”

“That you should,” Russell smiled and gestured at the door, “Captain, your ship awaits.”

Russell and Clark left the transporter room and walked slowly down a corridor lined with tan bulkheads and a hip-height metal grab bar. The admiral dragged his feet along the carpet and occasionally reached for the bar. “The transporter operator, I can trust he isn’t going to be part of my crew?” Clark asked.

“I saw the way he looked at you,” Russell chucked, “I’ll see to it that he isn’t.” He pointed down a corridor to their right, “This way.” They passed several doors marked as storage rooms and fabrication facilities, a few still bore black scorch marks from the fire.

They came to a portion of the hall lined with large windows that overlooked the expansive docking area below. Cradled inside the thick grid walls of Drydock 4 was a large Akira-class starship. It was a classic design, harkening back to the days of the NX-class starships, though with a decidedly modern take on the concept. A round saucer, with wide notches at the front and back, led the way, topped by a large bridge module. A pair of engineering hulls – catamarans – rose up on either side of the saucer, stretching back in mirrored graceful curves, terminating with a weapons pod perched between them, and two large blocky warp nacelles thrust forward to the outside. The closest nacelle was opened, allowing a small yellow workbee shuttle access to the complex series of warp field coils inside. The top of the saucer, between the bridge and the shuttlebay bow was painted with the black letters of the ship’s name and registration: U.S.S. ALDRIN NCC-89465.

The Aldrin was connected to the drydock at an airlock directly behind the bridge and at two large re-supply ports mid-way along the ridge topping each of the engineering hulls. There were still various points across the ship where outer hull panels were missing, though Clark knew well enough that an incomplete skin wasn’t entirely indicative of a ship far from launch.

While the Akira-class design had been in active service for nearly a decade, what made the Aldrin unique was the experimental technology it carried. That technology came from several decades in the future, brought back three years prior by the U.S.S. Voyager. The exceedingly destructive transphasic torpedoes stored in the weapons pod weren’t visible, but the dark gray ablative armor generators positioned all across the hull were, standing out thanks to their angular design on the Aldrin’s otherwise curving hull. With a moment’s notice they could surround the ship with a nearly impenetrable layer of ultra-dense physical armor.

The ship was Starfleet’s first attempt at integrating this futuristic technology from the start of a ship’s construction. When they had been installed on the Voyager, the weaponry and armor had been grafted on, but with the Aldrin it was permanently wired into the design. The decision to build the ship hadn’t come easily, with fears that the revelation of Starfleet possessing such advanced and powerful technology could lead to an arms race or worse.

Clark watched as workbees affixed panels to the hull and continued to work on the warp nacelle. For several years as an engineer he had worked just like the pilots of the workbees. He smiled, tracing the lines of the ship with his eyes, remembering the celebration of his design team when the U.S.S. Akira pulled out of drydock for the first time a decade prior.

Russell cleared his throat, bringing Clark back to the present, “So, do you want to actually go inside, or are you going to try and command it from up here?” Clark felt his cheeks flush red. The admiral chuckled, “Come on, let’s go meet your crew,” He smiled and started down the corridor. Clark followed after him, his heart pounding in anticipation. They stepped into a turbolift, which dropped several meters down.

The lift stopped and the door opened into the airlock behind the Aldrin’s bridge. Russell gestured to the airlock, “Go on.”

Clark strode into the airlock and made his way over to the door leading to the rest of the ship. He tapped in an access code and the door slid open to reveal a curved corridor that ramped up, its end not visible from where Clark stood, but he knew it led to the bridge. Clark turned to the turbolift to find that it, and Russell, where gone, replaced by the large, heavy duranium doors of Drydock 4. He shrugged and walked up and around the ramp, smelling the same chemical-like ‘new ship scent’ he had last smelled on the brand-new U.S.S. Akira.

He stopped at the top of the ramp and the door there split open, revealing the spacious and well-lit bridge of the Aldrin. Clark stood there for a few seconds, taking in the Aldrin’s command center. There were two large command chairs in the center of the bridge, and behind them, incorporated into a sweeping brushed steel arc, was a station for the operations officer. The steel arc curved around the outside of the command chairs, providing support for large maneuverable computer panels on articulated arms for the captain and first officer. A shallow ramp curved up on both sides of the bridge, between the arc and the tactical and science stations, elevating the back of the bridge above the front, a typical design for Starfleet vessels.

Towards the back of the bridge was a cylindrical tactical station in the corner on the left, mirrored by an identical science station on the right. In the center of the rear bulkhead was a massive system monitor, spanning more than two meters across, currently displaying a detailed cross-section of the ship. Directly in the front of the bridge was a single helm station and chair, facing a large, curved holographic viewscreen, though at the moment it was dark. The overhead was supported by several thick gray beams that stretched from the edge of the bridge to the center, in which was a meter-wide circular window directly above the command area. Small lights around the edge of the overhead and the window cast a soft glow on the bridge. Along one bulkhead, several panels had been opened to reveal complex webs of circuitry, gel packs, and ODN relays. Half a dozen engineers were working at the open bulkhead, mostly prodding the internal mechanics.

A young-looking Vulcan engineer, with the typical slanted eyebrows, pointed ears, and harshly trimmed black hair of his race, noticed Clark and snapped to attention, “Captain on the bridge.”

Clark absently waved his hand, “As you were.” He surveyed the bridge as the engineers returned to their work, and then asked the Vulcan, “What’s our status?”

The Vulcan approached, but stopped a respectable two meters away, “The ODN relays to the tactical systems are being rerouted due to an overload in the primary EPS taps. Thirty one percent of the crew has reported aboard, and Commander Jensen just left to get an update on the situation in Stellar Cartography. There are several other items that require attention, but they are not of significance at this time.”

“What situation in Stellar Cartography?” Clark asked.

The Vulcan responded, “The holographic map projectors are not functioning properly.”

Satisfied, Clark nodded, “I see that things are ahead of schedule, so I have only one thing to do…” he paused and looked up slightly, “Computer, this is Captain David Clark, assuming command of the U.S.S. Aldrin.”

The computer beeped softly in response and said in its pleasant female voice, “Acknowledged. Transferring command authority to Captain David Clark.”

“Well,” Clark rubbed his hands together, “Since it seems that I’m not needed here, I’ll be going to my quarters. Thank you, Mr.…” he stopped with his mouth slightly open and pointed a finger at the Vulcan.

One of the Vulcan’s eyebrows rose, “Lieutenant Commander Vorik, Chief Engineer, Sir.”

“Ah, yes!” exclaimed Clark, “Vorik, of the Voyager! I do believe it will be a pleasure serving with you.” He put his hand forward.

Vorik nodded passively, ignoring the gesture, “I look forward to serving with you as well, Sir.”

Clark smiled, “If you need me, I’ll be in my quarters. Or, you know, just call.” He pointed at the Starfleet emblem combadge on his chest.

Vorik nodded and returned to the open bulkheads, unclipping a small tablet-style tricorder from his belt as he walked. Clark headed to the turbolift alcove on the left side of the bridge, stopping to examine the bronze dedication plaque. Topping the plaque was an etching of the Starfleet emblem, a gently bowed triangle with a smaller offset triangular cutout in its base, both of which combined represented the Cochrane Subspace Distortion, the basis of warp drive. This was set of a flattened and rounded hexagon, with a horizontal slot cut through its middle. Below the emblem was the name U.S.S. ALDRIN, followed by:

Registry Number NCC-89465 • Akira class

Launched Stardate 57070.5 • Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards

Sol Sector • United Federation of Planets

Below were the names of dozens of Starfleet officials, among them storied names like Berman, Piller, Jefferies, and Roddenberry. Clark smiled, finding Lieutenant Commander David Clark listed below the obligatory admirals as the Chief Design Architect. At the bottom was a quote from the ship’s namesake, Earth astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin: “Exploration is wired into our brains. If we can see the horizon, we want to know what’s beyond.”

The turbolift arrived and the doors split open, its padded beige circular interior beckoning for Clark to step in. He looked up at the lift’s top, which resembled a miniature version of the bridge overhead, several small supports radiating down from a bright light in the center to the circular bulkhead, with a ring of lights at the edge. He stepped in, “Deck 8, Section A.” The order came without hesitation; the plans for the ship were emblazoned in Clark’s memory from months and months of design work.

The turbolift whisked him away, reaching its destination a few decks down after a few seconds travel. The door slid open, revealing a short corridor feeding into another, with a dark gray door dead ahead. Clark stepped out and walked down the hall, smiling as he read the maroon marker on the door: 08||1067 CAPTAIN DAVID CLARK, CAPTAIN.

He pressed his finger on the control panel to the side and the door slid open to reveal what was to become his new home. The captain’s quarters were easily the largest on the ship, with a wide bank of tall windows that looked out over the Aldrin’s bow. Beyond the saucer and the cradling arms of the drydock were several distant orbital shipyard stations. But it was the massive red horizon of Mars that dominated the view; even with the cabin’s lighting on full the reflection from the planet cast a reddish hue across the quarters.

Clark leaned against the doorway, noting the sitting area with a pair of wide couches, two chairs, and a table, the large curved desk with a comparably large display on the bulkhead behind it, a small kitchen, and the door that led into his private bedroom and head. None of Clark’s personal belongings had arrived yet and, devoid of them, the cabin seemed nothing more than a dull, empty space swathed in neutral grays and tans.

“Won’t doo much good hanging out here,” he muttered. He called out, “Computer, where is Commander Jensen?”

“Commander Jensen is in her quarters.”

“And just where are Commander Jensen’s quarters?” he asked.

“Deck 4A, Section A, Cabin Zero Zero Two Seven.” Clark turned back and walked to the turbolift. When the door opened a few seconds later, a young, blond-haired Human female ensign ran out of the lift, nearly colliding with Clark.

“Oh my!” she stammered, and then tripped and almost careened into a bulkhead, “S-s-s-sorry Sir!” She quickly scrambled down the corridor, turned at the intersection, and was out of sight before Clark could so much as ask her name. He made a mental note to follow up on it later, then entered the turbolift, ordering it to Deck 4A, Section A. It silently complied, only the display on the back bulkhead showing the lift’s position betraying any sign of movement.

The door opened to the corner of two intersecting corridors. Directly ahead was a door marked 04A||0047 MAIN ENGINEERING-A. The Akira-class was designed with two active warp cores, one in each catamaran hull, necessitating that there be two ‘engine rooms’; tradition dictated that they both be ‘Main Engineering.’ Clark confidently stepped out of the lift and made a u-turn to the left into a straight corridor lined with doors every several meters. Clark walked down to the end of the hall to the left and found a door labeled as 04A||0027 COMMANDER JENSEN LOY, FIRST OFFICER.

The companel to the right of the door beeped when Clark tapped the intercom. “Who’s there?” a female voice asked from behind the door.

“Captain David Clark.” He tapped his foot on the deck, remembering now that he had forgotten to even look over his senior staff’s records before coming aboard. At least he now knew his first officer was a woman.

“Come on in.” The door slid open to reveal stark, plain quarters similar to – though smaller than – Clark’s own. The overhead lights were turned off, but the bright lights of Drydock 4 pouring through the windows providing enough illumination. A small elliptical coffee table was ahead, with low couches on either side, all positioned under three wide, sweeping windows. To the right were another window and a neat bed with closet doors beyond. To the left were a small kitchen and the open door to the head; the lavatory was lit, though obfuscated by steam flowing through the doorway.

“Make yourself at home, Sir,” Jensen called, her voice coming from the head, “I’ll be out in just a moment.”

Clark stepped in and walked towards the couches. He looked through the windows, looking out across the top of the saucer at the bridge, with Engineering Hull B behind it, and the thick grid wall of Drydock 4 and Mars beyond. He slowly sat on the couch under the windows, noticing a steaming mug sitting on the table. After a few seconds he twisted around to look out through the windows.

“Enjoying the view?” Jensen’s voice came from the head.

Clark snapped around, surprised by remark. He was surprised again by her appearance, finding her standing in the no-longer-steamy doorway. She was about his height and with shoulder-length black hair and distinctly Bajoran horizontal ridges across the bridge of her nose; she wore a pair of standard issue duty pants came up to her waist and a tight sleeveless gray undershirt that exposed her muscled arms. A traditional Bajoran earpiece hung from the lower and back edge of her right ear.

She took a few steps in, “It’s a unique view, I can’t think of any other class that offers a view like this.”

Clark blinked several times, trying intently not to stare, “Commander Jensen?”

She nodded her head, “What brings you up here, Captain?” She walked across the room and opened the closet behind her bed.

“Well, I, uh, I had nothing to do, oddly enough. So I figured I might at least introduce myself, so I came here to, uh, introduce myself,” Clark twisted his mouth to the side as he thought back on how stupid that had sounded.

Jensen reached up to the top shelf in the closet and grabbed a command red shirt and a standard black duty jacket with gray shoulders, “A captain with nothing to do? That’s a recipe for disaster.” She bent her arms back, placed one in a sleeve of the red shirt, then the other, and pulled it up to her shoulders with a quick flick of her arms. “So, now that we’ve completed our introductions?” she prompted.

Clark shook his head, hoping he hadn’t been too obvious in his leering, “Tell me about Commander Jensen Loy.”

Jensen held up her jacket and looked it over, “You mean what’s not in my profile?”

“Let’s go for what’s in it too.”

“Didn’t read it, did you?” Jensen smiled coyly.

“Humor me.”

“Okay. I am Commander Jensen Loy.” She nodded at Clark, “Starfleet Academy, class of 2370, majoring in tactical systems. I was born on Bajor, escaped the occupation when I was seventeen.” She pointed at the kitchen, which was filled with boxes, “I like to cook, I’m horrible at Parrises Squares, and… I once served a week in disciplinary for kicking an instructor into the Bay.” She flipped the jacket up over her head and slipped it on. “Your turn.”

Clark couldn’t help but grin, “You didn’t read the records either, did you?”

Jensen fastened the front of her jacket, “Humor me.”

Clark chuckled, “Class of 2366. I was a civilian lawyer before joining Starfleet; I’m an engineer by trade. I play a mean marimba, I’m a bit of a food snob but I can’t cook worth beans, I get too involved in politics, and I have a strange obsession with building models.”

Jensen tilted her head and looked at Clark, “Marimba?”

“A percussive keyboard instrument made of graduated wooden bars and tubular resonators, from Earth,” he said. “I’m picking mine up when we stop by Earth. I could play it for you sometime.”

“I’d like that,” Jensen’s dark eyes sparkled, “I’d like that. Any other questions?”

Clark drummed his hands on his lap, “Let’s see, what’s your op-”

His combadge suddenly beeped, “Vorik to Captain Clark.”

Clark sighed and tapped the badge lightly, “Clark here.”

Vorik’s voice projected from the badge, “We’ve encountered a problem with the ODN relays on the bridge. Your input on this matter would be greatly appreciated.”

“On my way, Clark, out.” The combadge beeped off. “It seems I’m wanted on the bridge. We’ll talk later.” He stood and walked towards the door.

“Sure,” Jensen walked up to Clark, stopping about a meter away and leaning against the bulkhead, “How about dinner, here, nineteen hundred hours?”

Clark nodded in agreement, “Loy, I think I’d like that.”

He walked out of Jensen’s quarters, and the door closed behind him, shook his head. There was something about Jensen that stuck in his mind. He frowned and quickened his pace.