Chapter 5

U.S.S. Aldrin

Mars, Sol System, Sector 001

07:52 Hours, January 27th, 2380

Stardate 57072.044620

 

The turbolift doors opened and Clark confidently strode onto the bridge, followed closely by Jensen. He could tell from R’Mor’s raised eyebrow and Kelley’s smirk that the gossip mill was already in full swing on the Aldrin, even with only part of its crew aboard. It had only been the morning prior that Ensign Arels had walked in on Clark and Jensen in a turbolift down on Deck 10. Since then the news of their up-until-then quiet relationship had apparently spread all the way to the bridge. Jensen barely lowered her head and glared, prompting R’Mor and Kelley to quickly returned their attention to their stations.

Clark and Jensen sat themselves in the command chairs at the center of the bridge. Clark called out, “R’Mor.”

She looked to Clark, “Yes, Captain?”

“Open a channel to Admiral Russell.”

“Channel open.” Admiral Russell’s face appeared on the viewscreen.

Russell smiled, “What do you want this time, David?” He chucked, his laugh low and rough, almost bordering on a cough.

“Requesting permission to leave Drydock, permanently, Sir,” requested Clark.

“You sure you’re ready?” Russell asked.

“As soon as we pick up the rest of the crew from Earth, we will be,” Jensen said.

The admiral nodded, “Then I’ll suppose you’ll be needing a mission.”

Clark looked around the bridge, “We could just aimlessly wander around the quadrant.”

Russell chuckled again, and then grabbed a PADD off his desk, “Alright, you’re going to proceed to Earth and pick up the rest of your crew, plus a subspace relay station that you’ll take out to Deep Space Nine and install on the far side of the wormhole.”

Jensen blurted out, “The Gamma Quadrant?”

“Yes, Commander, the Gamma Quadrant,” Russell said. “We’ve had plans for some time to install a new relay on the other side of the wormhole, and since you’ll be heading out there to do some preliminary surveys, there’s no time like the present. The engineers tell me this new one’s quite the transceiver.”

“Are we expecting any Dominion activity in the sector?” Clark asked.

Russell shrugged, “I’m not anticipating anything, though our contact with the Dominion has been minimal since the war. You’ve got a full weapons compliment just in case, but this should be a fairly simple long-cruise shakedown.”

“Is that all?” Clark asked, slowly absorbing and processing the information.

“Sure is. I’m sending your mission coordinates. Permission granted to depart Drydock 4. Russell, out.” The viewscreen changed back to the Martian horizon.

“Ensign,” ordered Clark, “Give the ten minute departure warning.”

“Me?” R’Mor questioned.

Clark spun his chair around and asked Jensen, “Did you get demoted?”

Jensen confidently shook her head, “No, Captain.”

“Ms. Kelley?” Clark asked.

“I hope not,” Kelley said from the front of the bridge.

Clark looked up to R’Mor, “Ensign, I believe I may have been talking to you.” He watched her swallow nervously, and then said, “Make the announcement.”

R’Mor looked down and pressed a button on the ops console, “The U.S.S. Aldrin will be departing drydock in ten minutes. All personnel report aboard immediately, all stations report status.” She crisply lifted her finger off the console and turned her eyes up towards Clark.

Clark nodded, “Well done, Ensign.” He turned his chair back around, “Kelley, lay in a course for Earth, go ahead and transmit our perimeter clearance code now.”

Kelley’s fingers bounced across her console; it emitted a series of quiet beeps with each touch. After a few seconds she looked up at the screen, “Course laid in, Captain.”

R’Mor reported, “All decks except seven and thirteen have reported ready. Drydock control reports supply lines closed.”

Jensen shook her head, “The Gamma Quadrant.”

Clark looked back to her, “What about it?”

“Do we really want to be going back there?” she asked. “The last time we did that over a billion people died.”

“These decisions are above my pay grade,” Clark said. He sighed, “It’s a mission, and it’ll give us plenty of time to work any kinks out of the system.”

“All decks report ready,” R’Mor announced. “Drydock also reports ready, all personnel accounted for.”

Clark looked to Jensen, who ordered, “Commence undocking.”

A quiet thump from the aft preceded R’Mor’s report, “Sealing airlocks. Disengaging umbilicals.” Her finger hovered over a button for a second. She pressed it and a there was an immediate loud thump that vibrated the deck, “Docking clamps released. Drydock 4 hails ‘Bon Voyage’.”

Clark smiled, “Lieutenant Kelley: Engage course, one quarter impulse.”

The Aldrin’s thrusters fired and the ship smoothly slid out of Drydock 4’s cradling arms. The powerful impulse engines on the back edges of the saucer and the end of the engineering hulls kicked to life and the Aldrin accelerated across space, weaving between the dozens of drydocks that were Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards.

Clark gripped the arms of chair as the bottom end of mushroom-shaped Starfleet Corps of Engineers headquarters loomed close on the viewscreen. A proximity alarm sounded, but Kelley didn’t adjust the Aldrin’s course. Clark yelled, “Lieutenant!”

More alarms sounded as the station cast a shadow over the entire ship. Kelley didn’t budge off course, but the ship was close enough that the standard bow view from the viewscreen showed engineers in the station scrambling away from the windows as the Aldrin hurtled closer.

A second later the Aldrin slipped past the station, its outboard nacelle passing within mere meters of dozens of offices. The two were close enough that the Aldrin crew felt the gravitation pull of the station for a moment, even over the force of the ship’s own gravity generators. One-by-one, the alarms quickly died, leaving an eerily silent bridge.

Clark cleared his throat, “Lieutenant?”

Kelley quickly tapped a command into the helm and turned her chair around, “Yes, Captain?”

“That was an impressive demonstration of your piloting abilities,” Clark said. “But you are never to do that again. Am I clear?”

Kelley nodded, “Yes, Captain.”

R’Mor’s console beeped with an incoming hail. She read off the screen, “SCE wants to know ‘what the hell we’re doing’.”

“Tell them we’re having some navigational difficulties,” Jensen growled. R’Mor nodded and entered the commander’s response.

“Lieutenant,” Clark asked, “Do you think you can get us to Earth without getting us all killed?”

“Yes, Captain.”

Clark smiled, “Let’s go.”

 

08:10 Hours, January 27th, 2380

Stardate 57072.151192

 

“Good morning, Sir,” said a tall Human ensign with short, spiked blond hair as Clark entered the shuttle control room, located at the back of the saucer. The ensign sat in a wheeled chair at a long console on one side of the long, narrow room. A series of large windows ran along each side of the room, one looking out to the empty space beneath and between the engineering hulls, the other looked into the long shuttlebay. Immediately below were three launch doors high enough for a small craft to enter, with the shuttlebay behind nearly a whole three decks tall.

The shuttlebay stretched nearly two hundred meters from the front of the saucer to the rear. The wide cylinder of the main computer core obstructed the center, ringed by docking terminals filled with a handful of shuttlecraft. Shuttles could come and go through the doors at either end of the bay, but Clark’s design intention had been for the shuttles to be rapidly launched through the front doors and return through the rear, sheltered by the engineering hulls. It had been a design requirement for the Akira-class, as Starfleet at the time was toying with the idea of using small, highly-maneuverable attack craft to complement the brute force of a starship. In the end, that plan was destroyed by the frightening accuracy of the Dominion’s weaponry against the smaller attack ships.

“Good morning, Ensign, uh…” Clark paused.

The ensign finished Clark’s sentence, “Skon.”

“Skon,” Clark nodded. “Are there any shuttles are left?”

“As a matter of fact,” Skon turned to the console and read, “There are six: the Carpathia, Atlantis, Braga, Hawking, Newton, and the Magellan.”

“Is the Magellan ready for launch?” Clark asked.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Okay, I’m taking it down,” Clark said. He began to walk towards a door at the end of the control room.

“Sir,” Skon called.

Clark stopped and turned around, “Yes?”

Skon swallowed, “Please be careful. I don’t want any of my shuttles damaged.”

Clark turned back around and walked back to the door, rolling his eyes. The door slid open at his approach and revealed an open lift down to the bay deck. Clark stepped onto the lift, which had a single curved, hip-height safety bar, and rode it to the deck. The lift jerked to a stop and the bar automatically swung open. Clark stepped off and looked around; the middle aft launch door, one of the three on the back edge of the saucer, was open, the atmosphere held in by an electromagnetic forcefield. Seven new shuttles were parked around the computer core, their chisel-shaped bows facing out. Clark quickly walked across the light gray plastic deck to the docking stations, searching for the Magellan.

A shuttle lifted off from the docking ports and roared over Clark’s head. He instinctively ducked and covered his head. Realizing that the shuttle posed no danger, Clark stood and watched as the forcefield flashed and let off a static crackle as the shuttle passed through and escaped into space. The shuttle’s engine noise echoed throughout the bay for a few seconds longer.

The name Magellan caught Clark’s eyes, and he walked directly to the shuttle, right in the middle of a semi-circle of shuttles and facing directly towards the open launch door. It was a new Type-XI shuttlecraft, almost eight meters long, five meters wide, and four meters tall. The shuttle was highly aerodynamic, sloping gently to the front and the rear. The warp nacelles were mounted directly against the base of the hull, and shaped to form small lifting wings for more efficient atmospheric flight without bothering with shield geometry. A pair of impulse engines were mounted high and to the rear, with large black intake scoops at their fronts.

Clark looked over the shuttle for a few seconds, smiling as he imagined the smooth ride down to the surface, safely ensconced in its duranium shell, as opposed to the nauseating sudden shift that was the atomic disassembly and reassembly of the transporter. He tapped a small control panel to the right of the side door on the shuttle and after a quiet hiss the door slid up into the hull. Stepping up onto the raised deck on the shuttle, he surveyed the surprisingly spacious cabin as the door closed behind him.

The front of the shuttle was dominated by a runabout-influenced sweeping double-cove console with two seats, tucked under a full-width forward viewport that arched up overhead, with two elongated triangles on either side permitting vision to the port and starboard. A small transporter pad was embedded in the deck two meters behind the seats and storage cabinets and access panels lined the bulkheads to the rear. As with most Starfleet shuttlecraft, the aft end was a large hatch, though on this new shuttle design the steeply-angled hatch slid down and out instead of hinging at the bottom.

Clark stepped forward and slipped into the left chair. With a single tap the dark control console illuminated and the shuttle’s systems activated. The matter-antimatter chamber embedded in the dorsal hull began to hum, the impulse reactors quiet rumbled, the air recirculator faintly hissed, and the gravity generator let off a barely-perceptible whine. A symphony of beeps sounded as the computer ran through its automated diagnostics.

Skon’s voice came on the shuttle’s speakers, “Captain, you’re clear to launch.”

“Thank you, Ensign.” Clark tapped the console to direct the shuttle to disconnect from the docking ports, and a low thump reverberated through the Magellan. He lightly fired the thrusters and the shuttle lifted a few meters off the deck and slowly drifted forward. The Magellan glided through the expansive bay towards the rear launch doors.

The ends of the nacelles and the inner sides of the catamaran engineering hulls were visible through the open middle door. The forcefield sparked brightly as Magellan coasted through the entryway. Clark slowly piloted the shuttle under the cradling arms of the Aldrin.

“Computer,” Clark said. “Set a course for Toronto, Canada.”

The computer’s pleasant female voice said, “Course set.”

“Engage.”

The shuttle floated down below the Aldrin’s saucer and spun around, entirely on computer control. The impulse engines fired and it shot forward beneath the starship and began a casual descent towards Earth’s surface. It turned its ventral side down towards Earth, the vast Pacific Ocean a thousand kilometers below. The curve of Earth was clearly visible through the Magellan’s forward windows. With the western coast of North America approaching, the thrusters fired and pushed the shuttle deeper into the atmosphere, almost immediately fiction-induced plasma started licking at the bow.

After a few seconds the shuttle was engulfed in a streak of yellow and purple plasma, executing a series of wide banking S-curves to bleed off the speed. The inferno around the Magellan died as it slowed even further, gliding over the cloudless nighttime border between the northern United States and the southern edge of Canada. A blanket of white snow covered the wide open plains, though the sparkling lights of Calgary and New Winnipeg still shone brightly. In just a few seconds time the Magellan passed through the red lights of dusk and flew straight on into the rising sun.

Just as the CN Tower began to peak over the horizon, the computer beeped, announcing that it was approaching its destination. Clark took over the controls and piloted the Magellan around the circular pod at the top of the tower, pointing towards a tall residential tower near the shore of Lake Ontario. He slowed the shuttle to a stop over the snow-capped building, and then slowly descended to the landing pad, kicking up a cloud of glittering white snow.

Clark powered down the shuttle and opened the side door. He was immediately shocked by the bitter coldness of the winter wind, which pushed against him as he stepped out onto the roof. He held his arms against his chest to maintain some measure of warmth against the wind as he quickly walked around the shuttle to the lift door sticking up over the edge of the tower.

He stood there and shivered for several seconds before remembering to push the small round down arrow button to summon the elevator to this level. He reached down and tapped the button with his shaking hand, immediately withdrawing to under his arms to shield them against the cold wind. It took a few more seconds for the lift to arrive, then the metal door slid to the side and emptied its warmth onto Clark all at once. He quickly stepped in and pressed the round button labeled ’10.’ The doors closed and the lift began its smooth descent.

Clark turned to watch the smooth steel and glass facades of Toronto’s business district slide by, but the lift slid to a stop a few seconds later. It chimed and the door slid open, revealing a Human girl, no older than five years, with olive skin and straight black hair. Her puffy coat was clearly warm, but the beagle dog on the leash she held wore nothing but its fur. She smiled at Clark and stepped in, “First floor, please,” eliciting an immediate whimper as the dog looked out the lift window.

Clark smiled and pressed the button. He glanced down at the girl, who was looking up at him with squinting eyes. She asked, “Are you in Starflight?”

“Starfleet?” Clark questioned.

She nodded vigorously.

“I am,” Clark said. He looked back out the window.

“What do you do?”

He returned his attention to her, “I’m a starship captain.”

“Oh.” She briefly turned her head down to her dog, and then looked back up to Clark, “I don’t know what that means.”

“I’m in charge of the ship. I make sure we are able to perform our missions and that nobody gets hurt.”

The girl’s lips parted slightly, then she said with confidence that startled Clark, “Aren’t you that guy on the tenth floor that makes music?”

Clark smiled, “That’s me. But I’m going to be leaving for a while.”

“Why?” she asked.

Clark crouched down and scratched the dog’s head. It rewarded him with a lick on his palm. “I’m taking my starship and my crew and we’re going to go explore the galaxy,” Clark said.

The girl nodded her head lightly, “Okay.” The elevator stopped with a ding and the doors opened. The floor indicator read ‘10’.

“Looks like this is my floor,” Clark stood and stepped out of the elevator into the hall.

“Bye, Mister Captain,” the girl waved as the lift door closed. Clark gave her an awkward wave in return, and then straightened his uniform. He walked down the hall and stopped at an old riveted steel door with the number 104. He placed his hand on the control pad to the right and the lock clicked. The door swung open with a gentle tug, revealing Clark’s apartment.

The two-story space was spacious, but not large by any measure. He was the only one living here, and his pursuits during his times planetside didn’t really require that much space in the apartment. The lower level was about eight meters square, with worn wood floors that ran out to the floor-to-ceiling wall of glass that provided an unimpeded view of the iced-over lake. The open kitchen, and areas for dining and entertaining, along with a small enclosed bathroom filled the lower level, while an open steel spiral staircase led up to the half-depth loft that served as both bedroom and office.

Clark headed up those stairs, pausing at the top to look over his low white bed on the left and the PADD- and paper-covered desk to his right. A bank of drawers ran the length of the back wall, with open wood shelves covering the walls on both ends of the loft.

He stepped towards the bed, opening a drawer and pulling out a stack of neatly-folded civilian clothing. He dropped them and a few more stacks of clothed onto the bed, disturbing the taut white sheets. Clark kneeled and pulled a duffle bag from a lower drawer, set it in the bed, and put the clothes inside. He grabbed several small decorative items, including a small velvet jewelry box, off a shelf above the bed.

After carefully placed the trinkets in the bag, Clark stood for a moment with the jewelry box in his hand. He rubbed his fingers over its soft black velvet surface and then flipped open the top. Two silver rings, one slightly larger than the other, sat in the box and glinted brightly in the morning light. They were the only physical reminder he had of Majel; everything else had perished with the Cairo. He felt the wave of emotions coming on and quickly snapped the box shut and dropped it into the duffel.

After taking a moment to compose himself, Clark grabbed the bag and walked it over to his desk, where he grabbed several PADDs and stacks of hand-written manuscript paper. He tapped the edge of the pile against the desk, then slipped them into the bag and headed back down the stairs.