Chapter 33

U.S.S. Aldrin, Spacedock Four

Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards

Mars, Sol System, Sector 001

20:08 Hours, February 29th, 2380

Stardate 57163.494453

 

Cochrane slowly tipped over the gently curved powder horn-shaped glass bottle, partially-filling the fist-sized snifter glass on the table with dark orange Saurian brandy. “Vintage 2363. I won this from Captain Bateman in a poker game. He was not pleased to part with it.” He passed the glass to Kelley, who handed it to Murphy on the other side of her.

Sitting around the coffee table under the tall sloping windows of Clark’s quarters were the Aldrin’s senior officers. Clark and Jensen sat side-by-side on the couch, with Murphy taking the third seat on the end. The couch on the opposite side of the table held R’Mor, Toq’bae, and Cochrane, while Kelley and Vorik sat in single chairs at either end of the rounded rectangular glass table. Half of the bow view out of the windows was filled with the curved red horizon of Mars, with the cradling arms of the spacedock bracketing the edges.

As Cochrane poured another glass, Clark laughed, “Bateman is a brandy connoisseur; I can’t fathom him putting a bottle of 2363 up on a bet.” He held up his own glass, slowly swirling the drink in the dim light of his quarters.

Cochrane passed the glass to Kelley, who this time kept it. Cochrane glanced up at Clark before pouring another glass, “Morgan is a brandy snob. He put the 2363 up because it was the worst in his collection.” He handed the half-filled glass of brandy to Toq’bae and grinned mischievously. “And because I’d already taken all of his chips.”

Vorik looked up from his glass, “I’d be interested in playing you, Doctor.”

Cochrane poured a final glass of the brandy and then sat the bottle on the table. He raised his eyebrows as he looked up, “Vorik, I’ve been playing poker since before you were a gleam in your parents’ eyes. I don’t think that’d be fair.”

“Poker, like every card game, can be broken down mathematically. I am quite good at mathematics and probability,” Vorik replied matter-of-factly.

Cochrane laughed, “They’re your credits, throw them away if you want.”

Toq’bae looked sideways at Cochrane, “Somebody’s confident.”

R’Mor chimed in, “You’ll have to deal me in too.”

Cochrane tipped his glass towards her, “See, I’d expect a Romulan to be good at poker.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” R’Mor asked, not masking her offense and instantly wiping the grin off Cochrane’s face. A second later the corners of her lips began to tick up, unable to sustain the mock outrage.

Clark looked around the officers around him, “I’m glad you were all able to make it tonight.”

Jensen leaned away from him and cast him a puzzled glance as she quoted, “ ‘All of you, my quarters, twenty hundred’?”

He shrugged, “Okay, maybe I made it sound like an order. So, thank you for not questioning my pseudo-orders.” Clark looked down at his glass, and then back up to his officers, “We are all incredibly fortunate. More than a third of our crew didn’t make it back from the Gamma Quadrant.” He swallowed hard, “Did any of you know Ensign Holmes?”

Toq’bae glumly answered, “He was in astrometrics.”

“Did you know him?” Clark asked.

“We’d met,” Toq’bae said, “I wouldn’t say I knew him. Didn’t really get the chance.”

Clark slowly nodded and repeated, “Didn’t get the chance. None of us knew him. He reported aboard on Stardate 57072. Twelve days later he was dead, and none of us knew the better. His mother insisted on telling me about him. He built a subspace telescope when he was twelve. His father was in Starfleet, he survived Wolf 359. He was top of his class in high school. He was planning to ask his girlfriend back in Iowa to marry him.” Clark choked back his voice cracking, the revelation hitting close to home. “And none of us knew.”

He looked up, seeing pained looks on the faces of his officers, excepting Vorik and Jensen. Clark set his glass on the table, “That can’t happen. We can’t expect to be effective leaders if we don’t know the people we’re trying to lead. I… I hardly even know most of you. And we’ve been together for a month now.”

Cochrane skewed his mouth to the side while he slowly swirled his glass of brandy, “During the Dominion War, I was CMO of Starbase 375. Twenty four thousand patients went through my sickbay. And I can’t remember any of their names. Twenty four thousand and you’d think I could remember one, but I just started zoning out so I could get through the day.” He pointed with his glass and sternly added, “No old man jokes.”

Clark grabbed his glass, “The five hundred ninety six men and women on this ship are going to be our family, for better or worse. I can’t promise that we’ll always be able to bring everybody home safe, but I can – and I do – promise that I will do everything I can to keep all of you safe. The welfare of this crew will be my number one priority, higher than the ship, higher than the mission, higher than anything else. That is my promise to you, to this crew.”

Kelley held up her brandy, “I can drink to that.”

Clark held up his glass as well and the other officers followed. He took a slow look around at the seven seated around him. Murphy smiled, “To getting to know our new family.”

“And to keeping them safe,” Clark added. He pulled the glass back to him and took a slow sip, with the others doing the same. Vorik stifled a cough as he swallowed and R’Mor looked into the glass with a bemused look.

Toq’bae looked over at R’Mor, “First time drinking Saurian brandy?”

She nodded and looked up from the glass, “I expected it to be stronger.”

Vorik cleared his throat and questioned, “Stronger?”

Jensen laughed, “You should try Romulan ale. It’ll peel the skin right off your tongue.”

“I fail to see why that would be desirable,” Vorik replied flatly.

Clark laughed, “I do have news. Two hours ago we received new orders: we’re going back to the Gamma Quadrant.”

“Seriously?” Kelley questioned.

“Seriously,” Clark confirmed. “Starfleet Command wants to resume exploration operations in the Gamma Quadrant, but given recent events they’re questioning how safe it is.”

“So we’re going to clear the way?” Jensen asked.

Clark nodded, “Hopefully just making sure the way is clear.”

Murphy took another drink of his brandy, “I’d be okay with it being a long time before we have to deploy the armor and load the torpedo tubes again.”

“Isn’t that your job?” Jensen questioned. Murphy merely shrugged in response, prompting chuckles from Cochrane and Toq’bae.

Clark raised his glass again, “To the journey.” The seven officers seated around him mimicked the movement, lightly clinking their glasses.

 

U.S.S. Aldrin

Denorios Belt, Bajor System

15:24 Hours, April 11th, 2380

Stardate 57277.710673

 

“On final approach to DS9,” Kelley reported from the helm. Stars streaked by on the viewscreen as the low hum of the Aldrin’s warp drive resonated throughout the bridge.

Clark sat up slightly in his chair, “Time to arrival?”

“Thirty seconds.”

Jensen turned her chair and looked up to R’Mor, “Ensign, notify Engineering to have the relay deployment teams on standby.”

R’Mor nodded, “Yes, ma’am.” She started working her console.

Clark sighed, “I feel like I should be quoting Shakespeare or something here.” Jensen gently patted his shoulder while rolling her eyes.

“Dropping from warp in five,” Kelley began her countdown, “four, three, two, one.” The Aldrin streaked out of subspace with a flash, switching to sublight impulse power as it approached Deep Space 9.

“Hail the station,” Clark ordered.

A second later Kira’s face appeared on the viewscreen, “Captain, we’re glad to see the Aldrin back out here.”

“We won’t be around for long, Colonel,” Clark said. “U.S.S. Aldrin requesting authorization to enter the Bajoran Wormhole.”

Kira nodded, “Authorization granted, Aldrin.”

Clark smiled, “Thank you, Colonel. We should be pinging you tomorrow once we get the relay set up.”

“We’ll be listening for you,” Kira returned the smile. “Walk with the Prophets, David.”

He returned the blessing in Bajoran, “Voka a Bentel, Nerys. Aldrin, out.” The viewscreen switched back to a view of the station, growing larger as the Aldrin approached. “Helm, lay and engage course to the wormhole.”

Jensen playfully nudged Clark’s shoulder, “She likes you.”

“Good thing I’ve got you,” Clark replied with a smile.

“Correct answer,” Jensen said sternly. The Aldrin executed a wide, sweeping bank around Deep Space 9.

Kelley reported, “Coming up on the wormhole.”

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” Clark uttered.

“There’s your Shakespeare,” Toq’bae remarked.

The wormhole twisted open in a flash of light, casting a beam of bright white light from the center of the swirling blue whirlpool onto approaching starship. “Take us in,” Clark ordered. The Aldrin thrusted forward into the open maw of the Bajoran Wormhole, which a moment later snapped shut in a flash behind them.

 

Captain’s Log

Stardate 57280.338

 

Our engineering crews have completed work on the wormhole relay station and confirmed a solid subspace link back to the Alpha Quadrant. Honestly, I’m surprised the relay was in as good of shape as it was after sitting out here without shielding for a month.

We’ve received orders to conduct an initial survey of FAS-N433, a nebula a little over fifty light-years from here. It’s just outside of what we know to be Dominion space, though to be honest that’s outdated information. We’ll be treading lightly, especially as the Dominion has closed its borders in the wake of the Aldrin incident. I told myself I wouldn’t be calling what happened that, but nobody seems to be able to come up with anything better.

Additionally, Admiral Ross informed me that their analysis of the data we recovered from the Dominion station has revealed they’re facing some sort of threat towards the far end of their territory. The information was vague, but it seems there have been multiple skirmishes which the Dominion lost badly, but who or what exactly they’re fighting isn’t clear. Needless to say, we’ll be keeping an eye out for whatever is going on out there.

In the meantime we’re going to try our hand at some old fashioned exploration. Starfleet’s data on FAS-N433 has only ever come from long-range observations. What awaits us in the nebula? Well… that’s the question we’re out here to answer.