Chapter 4

U.S.S. Aldrin, Drydock 4

Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards

Mars, Sol System, Sector 001

12:59 Hours, January 24th, 2380

Stardate 57064.399532


Clark and Jensen sat in their respective chairs on the bridge, Clark on the right, Jensen on the left. Jensen glanced at the chronometer incorporated into the small display at the end of her armrest and said disdainfully, “They’re late.”

“Not yet,” Clark replied, “They’ve still got fifteen seconds.” A second later the door leading down to the airlock opened and in strode a young Human female lieutenant. Her hair hung down to the middle of her back in long, silky waves of blond, intermixed with streaks of almost white. Her gray-green eyes were set into deep sockets over her cheekbones, sharply defined under her pale skin. Her red-collared uniform clung tightly to her thin body, doing little to ease her starved appearance.

She walked into the center of the bridge, between the two command chairs and the empty helm. She turned crisply, snapping to attention and announcing, “Lieutenant Janice Kelley, reporting for duty, Sir.” She stood as straight as a rod, even slightly rising up on her toes, as if she were trying to look taller and reach a far elusive two meters.

Clark lifted his right hand off his armrest, “At ease, and no ‘Sirs’. Helm officer?”

Kelley visibly relaxed, dropping onto her heels hard enough to shake her shoulders. “Yes, Sir.”

“Please, don’t call me Sir,” Clark again requested, “Take your station.” Kelley turned around and walked to the helm station. She slowly sat in the navigator’s chair and examined the controls along the smooth, meter-wide curved console, her fingers floating delicately over the control surface.

“Is this your first starship?” Clark asked.

“Helm? No,” Kelley swiveled in her chair, her face flushing pink, “I was a helm officer aboard the Prometheus.”

Jensen laughed lightly, “The Prometheus? Well, I’m sure you had some interesting experiences there.” Clark looked at her, not understanding. Jensen silently mouth the word ‘later’.

Kelley twisted her mouth, “No, not really. In three years there I only went on one away mission.”

Jensen asked, “But wasn’t the Prometheus on the front lines of the war?”

“Yes, but I wasn’t,” Kelley with a touch more confidence, “It was part of the Sector 001 Defense Task Force, at least during the war. I didn’t graduate from the academy until ‘75, and by the time I was assigned to the Prometheus, the Dominion had surrendered,” She ran her fingers through her long blond hair, pulling a lock over the front of her shoulder.

The airlock door parted again and a young Romulan woman in a Starfleet uniform walked through. Her pointed ears were full and curved, and her thin, long eyebrows were slanted up from the bridge of her nose at nearly forty-five degrees, with a subtle V-shaped forehead ridge that ran a parallel angle. The shiny black hair that topped her head was cut in a more Human-styled manner, long enough that it was tucked behind her Vulcan-like ears and dropped to just above her shoulders, instead of the traditional Romulan bob cut. She stopped slightly off center from the bridge and announced a little too loudly, “Ensign Nevala R’Mor, Operations, reporting for duty,” she hesitated, “Sir.” She was slightly shorter than Kelley and wore a yellow division shirt.

Jensen glanced down at her display, “Ensign, you’re late.”

“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry, Sir,” R’Mor’s skin turned a darker shade of green as she blushed. She slightly shook her head, continuing to hold it high.

Clark stood, sensing that R’Mor was fresh from the Academy, and looked into her eyes, “May I ask why?”

“I was stopped in the drydock corridor by a, uh, rather elderly admiral.”

Clark smiled and looked down to Jensen, “Russell, he’s not too fond of Romulans.”

R’Mor’s blushing intensified, “So he informed me, Sir.” Her brow twitched.

“No more ‘Sirs’,” Clark said, “I’m ‘Captain,’ understand?”

R’Mor curtly nodded, “Yes,” she added, “Captain.”

“Go ahead and take your station,” Clark said, sitting back down.

R’Mor took a small step back and glanced around the bridge, “Where… where’s the ops station?”

Jensen swiveled her chair towards the center and pointed at the steel arc behind her, “Right there.” R’Mor stepped up the ramp behind the command chairs, dragging her hand along the sleek bushed metal surface of the arc. She came to her console at the apex and paused.

“Kelley,” Clark called.

The helm officer turned her chair, “Yes, S-,” she stopped herself and corrected, “Captain?”

“Are you familiar with the controls yet?” Clark asked.

Kelley nodded her head, “She looks standard enough.”

“How would you like to take her for a spin?” A smile inched across Clark’s face.

“I’d love to,” she returned the smile as she turned back to the helm.

Jensen tapped her combadge, “Bridge to Engineering.”

The conversation was automatically relayed onto the bridge comm system, “Vorik here.”

Jensen looked up, momentarily confused by the communicator hand-off, “Vorik, could you bring the thrusters and impulse drive online? We’re going out for a spin around the block.”

Vorik was silent for a second before asking, “What block?”

“Never mind that, Vorik. We’re going to be leaving drydock soon for a quick shake down.”

“The primary impulse drive should be fully operational in twenty two minutes. Vorik, out.” The speakers shut off.

“Ensign, open a channel to Admiral Russell,” Clark ordered.

A few beeps and, “Channel open.” Russell’s pale, wrinkled face came on the viewscreen. He sat in an office in the drydock, with a view looking over the Aldrin’s bow behind him.

Russell chuckled, “Trying to leave early, David?”

Clark stood from his chair, “Just taking her out for a spin, Sir. I’ll be careful, promise.”

“I see.” The admiral smiled, “Permission granted to depart drydock in, oh heck, ten minutes. Russell, out.” The viewscreen snapped back to the Martian horizon, with Olympus Mons slowly peeking over the hazy pink horizon.

Clark turned to Jensen, “Make a station and ship-wide departure announcement.”

Jensen tapped her armrest control and announced, “This is the bridge. The U.S.S. Aldrin will be departing drydock in ten minutes. All hands should report aboard by that time.”

“All crew already reporting aboard,” R’Mor immediately said, standing behind the arc.

Kelley spoke from the helm, “Thrusters are operational.”

“Good, let’s give all the station personnel a chance to get off,” Clark said.

Jensen turned her chair to face up at R’Mor, “I’m curious, Ensign, what brought you to Starfleet?”

R’Mor thought for a few seconds, “It’s a long story, Commander, and it doesn’t end with the Empire and I being friends.”

“So you’re not part of some officer exchange program?” Kelley asked.

R’Mor shook her head, “I’m one hundred percent Starfleet. Let’s just say that there’s an awful lot of exploitation in the ranks of the Star Force and it’s a system I was tired of being a part of. So I stole a shuttle, nearly provoked an interstellar incident, and sought asylum with the Federation. But I just couldn’t fathom staying on some planet for the rest of my life, so here I am.”

Her console beeped, drawing her attention down. She looked back up to Clark, “Captain, docking control reports all station personnel aboard. And Admiral Russell wishes us luck.”

Clark kicked his chair to face forward, “Who needs ten minutes? Seal airlocks.” A low thump came from the back of the bridge and he ordered, “Close supply ports.”

Clark paused before his next command, “Release docking clamps.” The Aldrin shuddered as the drydock’s powerful docking clamps released their hold and the ship’s inertial dampers kicked online to compensate.

“Docking clamps released, umbilical cords disengaged,” R’Mor reported.

Kelley reported from the helm, “Station-keeping thrusters are working. Full thruster power and secondary impulse at your command.”

“Lieutenant, take us out,” commanded Clark.

“Yes, Captain,” Kelley smiled. Her fingers lightly bounced on the helm console and the Aldrin quietly slid out of the cradling arms of Drydock 4. The ship drifted past a large, spider-like drydock wrapped around the skeleton grid of a Galaxy-class saucer.

“Put us into standard orbit,” Jensen ordered. The Martian horizon dove off the left side of the viewscreen as the Aldrin turned its belly down. The Akira-class ship smoothly glided down towards the Martian equator.

“Bringing us even with the equatorial plane,” Kelley said. The forward thrusters fired and the Aldrin slowed near the equator, using its momentum to rotate so that its port side was again facing Mars and the ship was parallel to the equator. The horizon was again visible on the left side of the viewscreen. “Standard orbit achieved,” announced Kelley.

Clark leaned forward in his chair, “How much impulse power do we have right now?”

Kelley looked over her console, “With the secondary reactors online, five hundred thousand kilonewtons.”

Clark nodded and ordered, “Set a course for Jupiter Station, one quarter impulse.”

“Aye, Captain, course laid in.”

Clark’s eyes remained fixed on the viewscreen as he sat back up and pointed a hand forward, “Engage.”


17:38 Hours, January 24th, 2380

Stardate 57064.968302


The red light of Mars shining through the mess hall windows made Vorik’s transparent bishop chess piece seem to glow, casting reflected and refracted light all around the lowest platform on the three-dimensional chess tower. The Vulcan sat placidly, his eyes fixed on the bishop, as he ran through dozens of scenarios in his head. He reached up and grabbed the bishop, moving it from the lower tier to a small four-square landing sticking out from the middle platform. He looked up at Clark, who was oddly smiling in this third hour of their chess match. Vorik’s fingers lingered on the bishop for a few seconds before he released it and announced, “Check.”

Clark contemplated the chess tower for a few moments, then snatched a frosted white pawn from the highest level and placed it in the bishop’s place, handing the discarded chess piece back to Vorik. “I haven’t told you that I was on the analysis team for the Voyager.”

Vorik’s eyes darted around the platform as he considered his next move, “I recognized you.” He moved his hand forward for a moment, and then retreated it back to his lap. “Had I known you would become my future commander, I would have introduced myself.”

“The armor and weaponry were interesting,” Clark said, “But honestly it was the seven years of duct tape and chewing gum engineering that was really fascinating.”

Vorik looked up from the game, “Duct tape… and chewing gum?”

“It’s an expression.” Met with a blank stare, Clark added, “Working with what you’ve got, using components for non-design purposes… like how you took a phaser rifle compression matrix and used it as a subspace transceiver alignment coil. That’s genius work.”

“That was the work of Lieutenant Torres.” Vorik grabbed a clear knight from near the pawn and moved it into the spot occupied by Clark’s piece, taking the pawn and handing it to Clark.

Clark smiled, “I thought you would do that.” He reached up and switched the position of his king and a rook, castling. Vorik’s pawn was in jeopardy from the newly positioned rook, but it was all that stood between his wedged-in-place king and Clark’s rook. The Vulcan’s dark eyes darted over the platforms, analyzing and discarding hundreds of possible scenarios in seconds. He finally picked his other bishop from the bottom platform and placed it behind his knight, creating a wall between Clark’s rook and his king.

Vorik nearly sighed as he looked back up to Clark. His eyes followed Clark’s hand as he reached up to the highest platform and grabbed the lone frosted pawn. Vorik’s eyes barely flinched as Clark moved the piece down to the middle of the tower, pushing aside the bishop and putting the clear king directly in the line of fire of a lowly pawn.

Clark smiled as he let go and the bishop toppled over, clinking against the glass platform, “Checkmate.”