Chapter 3

U.S.S. Aldrin, Drydock 4

Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards

Mars, Sol System, Sector 001

19:23 Hours, January 23rd, 2380

Stardate 57062.454830

 

Dr. Richard Cochrane swiveled in his chair, lightly dragging his feet on the deck. The Commander’s head was covered in snow-white hair and deep wrinkles creased his face. He propped his legs up on the curved white desk before him and looked out through the large curved window dividing his office from the main ward of the Aldrin’s sickbay. It was an impressive facility for a starship, though nowhere near as impressive as those of his previous assignments at Starbase 375 and Starfleet Medical. Nurse Jefferson Wright, a cordial young Human man with dark skin and an accent from the southeastern parts of North America, had just given Cochrane a tour of the medical facilities, proudly showing him the multiple private examination rooms, playfully hinting at scandalous activities Cochrane would rarely consider at his age.

Wright continued the tour of the sickbay, pointing out the supply room, still with several containers that required unpacking, followed by a brief look into the expansive emergency overflow ward, then a more detailed stay in the technology-laden laboratories. Cochrane considered himself to be a man of the 23rd century, even though he had lived the majority of his life in the 24th, and even though he already possessed a thorough understanding of the sophisticated equipment, Wright insisted upon explaining their uses and operations. Just trying to be nice to the old man, Cochrane assumed.

Upon completing a circuit of the Aldrin’s medical facilities, Cochrane had retreated to his rather bland office and picked the first PADD – Personal Access Display Device – on top of a stack of seven. The thin tablet computer’s display detailed the current medical staff duty roster, which until now had consisted of just Wright. Several more would be joining when the Aldrin made a stop at Earth.

A sudden bang echoed through the sickbay. Compelled to investigate, Cochrane stiffly stood and walked out of his office. He quickly surveyed the empty main ward, finding no sign of Wright. In spite of his advanced age, Cochrane moved quickly around the bulkheads outside his office to the storage room where he had last talked to Wright, finding the narrow door closed.

He pressed the small control panel by the door and it slid open, spilling medical supplies on the deck, and causing Cochrane to jump back a meter. Glass beakers and vials shattered as a broken shelving unit, no longer supported by the door, fell through the doorway, dumping its contents onto the deck. Cochrane cautiously peered inside, finding that every shelf was on the deck. The burn pattern around a fist-sized hole in the white bulkhead caught Cochrane’s eye. Dark blue bio-neural gel oozed from the opening.

Cochrane pointed at the burn point and then across the supply room, imagining the explosion throwing small crates full of medicine and tools across the room into the shelves on the other side, causing a collapse of the entire shelving system. He frowned, “I’m going to put in a request for mounted cabinets.”

Wright’s deep voice groaned from under the pile, “Doc?”

“Wright, are you okay?” Cochrane gingerly stepped in, crunching glass under his booted foot.

The glass shifted and a bloodied hand wiggled into view, “No.”

“Don’t move!” Cochrane ordered. He began shoving the glass shards aside with his bare hands, ignoring the bits of glass scraping into his soft palms. Cochrane saw Wright’s face, distorted beneath the layers of angular glass. He grabbed Wright’s arm and lifted him out of the pile, glass tumbling off his body. More shards protruded all around Wright’s body.

“I’m getting too old for this,” Cochrane muttered, dragging Wright out of the supply room by his arms. He carefully laid Wright on the deck, and hefted him back up, cradling him under his arms and knees. Cochrane struggled as he carried Wright over to the surgical bay, a large round alcove with glowing red decontamination arrays lining the curved wall, a sophisticated medical bed in the center, and room for a dozen physicians to work on one or two patients together. He gently lowered Wright onto the surgical bed and looked over Wright’s glass-covered body finding that his left hand and wrist were badly burned. Cochrane walked back to the supply room and started digging through the debris.

Wright tilted his head to the left and spit a shard of glass out of his mouth, “Doc?”

Cochrane returned with a hypospray, tweezers, a dermal regenerator, and a small gray bucket. “Yes?” Cochrane pressed the hypospray to Wright’s neck and its aero-suspension system injected a pain reliever through Wright’s blue collar. He set the bucket on the deck by his feet.

“How bad does it look?” Wright asked. He cringed as Cochrane plucked a piece of glass from his leg and dropped it into the bucket.

Cochrane rolled his eyes at the over-dramatic, over-used question, “Shiny. Almost glittery.” He dropped another shard of glass into the bucket, clinking against the first.

“Seriously.”

“It’s not too bad,” Cochrane stated, “Looks like you’ve got several minor lacerations, many, many, small cuts, and probably a bruise or two.” He removed another piece of glass from Wright’s skin and dropped it into the bucket. “I’m not sure, but my ninety years of medical experience tells me you’re likely to survive this,” Cochrane said.

Wright slowly nodded, “I feel like hell.”

“You look better than the supply room, which is saying a lot.”

The pain reliever took hold Wright slipped into blissful unconsciousness.

 

19:37 Hours, January 23rd, 2380

Stardate 57062.457490

 

The young female Human lieutenant squatted next to Vorik, asking with a southern Appalachian accent, “So, where ya from?” She was a fairly attractive with a head of red hair pulled into a tight bun, but her accent grated at Vorik’s nerves. He decided it would be best not to let her know so in the contained environment of the Aldrin’s mess hall.

“I was born in the T’plana-Hath City on Vulcan, but most recently I was in the Delta Quadrant aboard the U.S.S. Voyager,” Vorik pulled a gel pack out of the replicator in front of him, noting the sickly blue-gray color of the bio-neural gel, which when healthy was a deep blue-green.

“You were part of that whole Voyager thing, huh? I’m from Arkansas myself,” the technician rambled, “Ya ever been to Arkansas?” She took the gel pack from Vorik.

“No,” Vorik finished removing the infected gel packs from the replicator.

“Well, you should go there sometime. It’s a beautiful place, the mountains, the forests… I tell you what, I’m goin’ to take you to Arkansas someday, just so ya know what a wonderful place it is. What do ya think of that?”

“I think I need another gel pack,” Vorik said, attempting to steer her conversation to a different subject. He turned to face her and she placed a fresh blue gel pack in Vorik’s hand.

The technician fell silent for a few moments, and then said, “I know that you Vulcans don’t have any emotions, but it seems to me that you’re irritated about something.”

Vorik brusquely inserted the gel pack into a receiver at the base of the replicator, “That is incorrect, Lieutenant. Vulcans do experience emotions, and I am not irritated.” After years with emotional species trapped aboard the Voyager, Vorik’s understanding of emotions was such that he imagined sighing at this point, betraying his irritation that his plan to change the subject had backfired by tracking into sensitive territory.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“About what?” Vorik pulled his hands from the replicators and replaced the panel cover over the inner workings.

“The emotions thing,” she said. Vorik stood and she did the same.

“Yes, Vulcans suppress their emotions with rigorous mental discipline and meditation,” he leaned over and picked up the cases of bio-neural gel packs, “Now, if you will excuse me, I believe I will not require your assistance to complete this task.” Vorik stood and left the mess hall, leaving the perplexed lieutenant behind.

 

07:00 Hours, January 24th, 2380

Stardate 57063.815562

 

“The time is Zero Seven Hundred hours,” the computer’s smooth female voice announced. Clark rolled over in the bed and opened his eyes. He blinked a few times, and focused on the closed eyelids on either side of a ridged nasal bridge in front of his face. He shifted back, taking in the view of Jensen’s sleeping face. She lay next to him under the sheet, on her side and facing towards Clark.

He picked his head up and glanced over at the couches, finding two empty glasses, an empty bottle, and two half-finished meals surrounded by a spread of discarded clothing. He sighed quietly with the stark reminder that Romulan ale and beautiful women were always a potent combination.

He pulled his arm up from his side and gently ran it down the side of Jensen’s body, confirming his suspicion that she was unclothed under the thin gray bed sheet. Clark lifted the sheet to satisfy his visual curiosity, verifying that both he and Jensen were completely nude, then took a few seconds to stare. He dropped the sheet and tried to recall what had happened over the night, but came up blank on the events that transpired after their brief dinner. Jensen’s dark eyes slowly opened, glistening in the light from the drydock. “Good morning, Captain,” she whispered.

Clark’s hand found its way into her tussled brown hair, “Good morning.” He laughed lightly, “You wouldn’t be able to recall what exactly happened last night?”

Jensen smiled, “I remember you spilled some ale, I got a towel… and then I woke up and found you in my bed.”

“That’s all?”

“Well,” she looked up to the overhead as she thought, and then turned her head back to Clark, grinning, “I’ve got a few flashes of the night.” She picked up the edge of the sheet and looked down at Clark, and then back up, “Now that I remember.” She mischievously canted an eyebrow.

Clark laughed, “You seem to recall more than I do.”

Jensen kissed Clark and then rolled smoothly out of the bed. She stood, letting the gray sheets slip off her thin body. With her bare behind facing the bed, she opened the closet and pulled out a towel, which she tucked loosely around her waist. She turned around, finding that Clark had managed to get up, find his pants by the bed, and was in the process of pulling them up. Jensen walked around to the other side of the bed and pulled on Clark’s unfastened belt. They stood that way for a moment, then Clark tilted his head and kissed Jensen, one hand holding her head and the other pulling her in at the small of her back.

She tightened her grip on the ends of his belt and pushed down, throwing Clark’s pants and her towel onto the floor. Jensen grinned playfully as she slowly rubbed her hands up and down Clark’s naked hips and pulled her body close to his. In one smooth motion she hooked a leg around the back of his calf and upset his balance, knocking him back onto the bed and pulling her down with him.

Clark laughed as Jensen got up onto all fours over him, her hair cascading down around his head, “What are you doing?”

She whispered as she lowered her lips towards his, “I want to remember.”

 

07:53 Hours, January 24th, 2380

Stardate 57063.825632

 

Clark walked onto the bridge a few minutes before the start of his scheduled shift, finding no other personnel in the Aldrin’s command center. Outside of drydock that would be a problem, but with the ship not even launched there was little reason for a full complement of command, security, and science staff to be manning the stations. The engineers had successfully replaced the damaged technology and reactivated the bridge’s stations, now emitting colorful lights from all directions. He comfortably positioned himself in the plush leather command chair and gazed at the nighttime Martian horizon filling the left side of the viewscreen. The lights of sprawling Utopia Colony glittered on the edge of the horizon, illuminating the pink, dust-filled atmosphere.

He picked up a nearby PADD and called up a status report; Vorik had managed to replace all of the infected gel packs, both warp cores were now back online, new forcefield emitters and launch doors had been installed in the shuttlebay, and Lieutenant Jefferson Wright had been injured in, and was recovering nicely from, a small gel pack-triggered explosion in sickbay. The helm officer, operations officer, and several other crewmembers were due aboard at 13:00 hours.

Clark balanced the PADD on his armrest and contemplated the Martian vista. He began vigorously drumming his fingers on his lap and the chair in a classic Human musical style called ‘rock’. While drumming, he decided he’d go visit sickbay, engineering, the shuttlebay, and then roam the ship for a short while. He finished his drumming with a grand finale, at least it seemed grand in his head, hitting the corner of the PADD as if it were a large splash cymbal, sending it flipping into the air above his head. Clark tried to snatch the spinning PADD out of the air before it landed on the deck, but he only succeeded in batting it away towards the helm. He rose from the command chair and headed towards the fallen PADD, picked it up off the deck, and tossed it back onto his chair before heading back to the turbolift.

 

08:04 Hours, January 24th, 2380

Stardate 57063.930874

 

Cochrane sat patiently in the sickbay office, wishing for something to do. It had taken him two hours last night to clean up Wright, removing nearly half a kilogram of glass shards from the lieutenant’s skin in the process. Cochrane had also reviewed the coming week’s medical staff duty roster and requested a replacement crate of supplies and new cabinets. He’d spent the night in sickbay so he could keep an eye on Wright, who was doing fine and protesting being kept for observation for mostly superficial wounds.

Exhausted by the unexpected overnight shift, Cochrane leaned back in his chair and propped his legs up on the desk, his artificial left leg hitting with more of a thud than his organic and original right leg. He decided to relax with a quick game of dom-jot on a PADD he had loaded with several games, a mainstay on his desk since he was assigned to Starfleet Medical nearly sixty years prior. Seven games later, he was still playing the computerized dom-jot when Clark walked into the main ward. Cochrane quickly changed the display to the incoming supplies list and had set the PADD face-up on the desk by the time Clark had reached the office entrance.

Clark rapped his fist against the doorframe, “May I come in?”

“Certainly, it’s not my ship,” Cochrane said, spreading his arms in a welcoming gesture. He pulled his feet down from the desk and leaned forward, “How can I help you, Sir?”

“Relax,” Clark smiled and extended a hand, which Cochrane took, “David Clark, Captain.”

Cochrane gave Clark a strong shake, “Richard Cochrane, CMO.”

Clark pulled back the chair on the other side of the desk and sat, crossing one leg over the other, “Nice to meet you, doctor.”

Cochrane nodded, “You as well, Sir.”

Clark held up a hand, “Please, no ‘Sir’s. I may be the captain, but we don’t need to rest on those sort of formalities to get the job done.”

“I think I like you already,” Cochrane smiled widely.

Clark returned the smile, “That’s always good. I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the crew profiles.”

“Oh?”

“Not one,” Clark shook his head, “Probably lost them.”

Cochrane grabbed a PADD from a rack to the side of this desk, “I’ve got them right here, if you’ d like.”

“You read them?”

He nodded, “Skimmed over most of them. Gave the medical profiles a thorough reading, of course.”

Clark nodded with mock seriousness, “Of course.”

Cochrane set the PADD to the side, “You’ll be pleased to know that I see nothing in your records that is indicative of any long term health issues.”

“Glad to hear it.” Clark uncrossed his legs, “What do I need to know about you, Doctor?”

“For one thing,” started Cochrane, “I’m one hundred twelve years old, so don’t just bring me along on any old away mission. I lost a leg at Tomed, so I’ll probably use the transporter for emergency calls. I’m a great-great-grandfather, and I’ve been accused of having the best bedside manner this side of the Neutral Zone.” He smiled and adjusted his duty jacket, “I also try to keep up on the latest events galaxy-wide, so don’t be surprised when we start receiving news transmissions from Romulus.”

Clark stood and smiled, “Excellent. I’ll stop in later for more… talking. You have a nice day.”

Cochrane smiled back, “You too, Captain.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Clark said, “I’ve got places to go and people to meet.” As he walked out of the office, he stopped and turned back to Cochrane, “Oh, and don’t let my being here keep you from your dom-jot.” Clark grinned as the smile faded from Cochrane’s face, to be replaced a second later by a bemused smirk.

 

08:17 Hours, January 24th, 2380

Stardate 57063.933344

 

Clark stepped through the wide double doors into Main Engineering-B and was greeted by a wide cylindrical warp core that dominated the two-deck-tall space. He stopped a few meters in, marveling at all of the power swirling in almost iridescent blue-green waves of reacting matter and antimatter inside the transparent cylinder. A thick band wrapped around the core, just over two meters off the deck, holding the dilithium matrix that harnessed that raw power and sent it as pulses of plasma to the warp nacelles.

Unlike most Starfleet vessels, however, this power was not sent straight to the warp nacelles. Because unlike most Starfleet vessels which had just one warp core, the Akira-class was designed with two active power plants, one in each of the catamaran engineering hulls. Thus necessitating two engineering departments to keep the ship operational. The added complexity had the benefit of greatly increased power, more so than a single doubly large warp core could have achieved.

The twin engine rooms were set up in the typical crucifix arrangement, with the core at intersection, surrounded by open space. The bulkheads along the long arm between the entrance and core were lined with shallow alcoves filled with wide concave consoles that displayed practically every aspect of the Aldrin’s physical management, with an engineer or two working at each.

The warp core at the center of it all was framed on the lower deck by the engineering chief’s open-air office on one side and an enclosed lab and testing bay on the other. A pair of grid-decked platforms, linked by short flights of stairs, wrapped around the core to provide access to the dilithium chamber and upper deck.

Clark quietly listened to the warp core’s pulsating hum as Vorik stepped down a flight of stairs from the upper platform around the warp core, stopping on the lower platform still more than a meter off the deck. Either unaware or uncaring of Clark’s presence, the Vulcan called over the railing to a young Andorian man at the back of Engineering, “Lieutenant Man’tA’el, please realign the EPS taps in junction 3A, correctly this time.” The Andorian quickly picked up a nearby engineering kit and scrambled out through a door in an alcove to the left. Vorik lifted a PADD off a console attached to the railing. He studied the PADD for several seconds before looking down at the console and checking something else.

Clark walked over to one of the display alcoves and pulled up a systems status chart. He squinted at the numbers then said loudly enough to get Vorik’s attention, “You might want to try re-routing the ODN relays through system bank number four instead of three.”

Vorik turned to Clark, looking at him over the railing, “I was not aware you were here, Sir.”

“No ‘Sirs’,” Clark said without turning away from the screens, “You can increase transfer efficiency by rerouting through bank four.”

“Bank four is designated as an auxiliary bank,” Vorik stated.

Clark grinned slightly, “Yes, it is. As the auxiliary, bank four was designed to handle larger data streams in the event of emergency rerouting. Switching to four should net about fifteen percent increased throughput.” Clark looked up at Vorik, whose eyebrows were rising in a mix of confusion and apprehension. Clark added, “It’s an oversight the computer engineers try not to let anyone know about.”

Vorik put the PADD back down on the console, walked down the steps to the deck, and approached Clark’s alcove. He stood next to Clark and studied the computer systems charts and schematics on the display, “Captain, I do believe you are correct.”

Clark smiled, “Of course I am.” Vorik started out of Engineering, to rectify the error, but Clark decided to stop him, “Vorik, are you familiar with chess?”

The Vulcan struggled to repress the humor he found in a Human challenging a Vulcan to a game of chess, “Traditional, three dimensional, or cylindrical?”

“After this shift, in the mess hall.” Clark’s smile grew, “I could use the challenge.”

Vorik nodded cordially and quickly walked out the Engineering doors. Clark smiled to himself and turned back to the display screen, tapping a few controls and chuckling to himself.