Stardate 4741.6 (2 September 2268)
Starfleet Academy, San Francisco, Earth
The sun was beginning to set over the bay when Captain McAfee finally returned to the faculty building. She headed straight for Lt. Collins' office which was adjacent to her own. Her ebullient mood was tempered by a degree of guilt over abandoning her assistant. She entered Collins' office to find him calmly working at his computer with a partially finished sandwich on his desk.
“Simon, I apologize for leaving you in a lurch. How did it go this afternoon?”
Lt. Collins smiled. “No problems at all, Captain. When I realized you might not make it back for the final class, I checked the computer to see if any of the faculty had taught the Basic Tactics course. Turns out that Commander Gunthorpe used to teach it all the time and he was available. I gave him a call and he was very happy to fill in, said he owed you a favor or two.”
A smile of relief spread across McAfee’s face. “Great work, Simon. I can always count on you to get my back.”
Lt. Collins waved aside the compliment, though it was obvious he was pleased by her words. “Happy to be of service, Captain. May I ask how your meeting with Admiral Nogura went? No problems, I trust?”
Grace settled into the chair opposite Lt. Collins' desk. “You may ask, and no, definitely no problems.” She paused, still wearing a goofy grin.
Collins raised his eyebrows and made a ‘go-on’ gesture with his hands. “And?” he pressed.
“You are looking at the new commanding officer of the Excalibur.”
Collins' grin widened, he stood and extended his hand. “Outstanding! Congratulations, Sir! This is long overdue.”
Grace shook her aide’s hand warmly. “Thanks, Simon, I appreciate it.” She sighed, “There’s a lot I have to do before assuming command. Let’s get together at 0800 and start making lists.”
“Aye sir,” he paused, his face becoming more somber. “I must say, I will miss working for you. It’s been a privilege serving as your aide these past two years.”
Grace rested her chin on her fist and regarded the young officer from her chair. “Simon, how long has it been since you served on a ship?”
Lt. Collins furrowed his brow and rubbed his chin. “Well, to be honest, about ten years. I served on the Baton Rouge straight out of the academy as logistics officer. After that, I served a similar role on Starbase 12 before coming to the Academy.”
McAfee nodded. “Sounds like you’re due some ship time again Simon. How would you like to be my Yeoman on the Excalibur?”
Simon blinked. “Really? Are you sure, ma’am? There are bound to be a lot of officers with more experience.”
Grace waved him off. “Drop the modesty, Mister. You’re the best damn aide I’ve ever had. You anticipate what I need and exemplify the word, 'efficiency.' Hell, you know how disorganized I can be . . . I really need you, Simon. How ‘bout it?”
The smile returned to Lt. Simon Collins' face. “Just say the word, sir.”
* * *
Stardate 4755.2 (5 October 2268)
Workbee A-922, Earth Orbit
“Captain McAfee, I must warn you, she’s still a mess. We’ve made progress but the old girl took some nasty hits from Enterprise, bloody damn M-5!”
Commander Trevor Phillips, Earth Spacedock Engineering Manager, added his editorial opinion in his distinct Yorkshire accent. The tall man with brown hair and a neat moustache, guided the workbee expertly past open-frame spacedocks servicing vessels of various classes.
Captain McAfee and Lt. Collins stood by, watching other smallcraft and workpods flitting around like June-bugs. Simon winced as their workbee appeared to be on a collision course with a Deuterium tanker, only to have Commander Phillips send the small pod into a stomach-clenching dive under the lumbering vessel before straightening out on the other side.
“Heavy traffic this morning,” commented McAfee dryly, with a sidelong wink at Lt. Collins.
“Really? Hadn’t noticed,” replied Phillips. He gestured to starboard. “The Lady Lex is about to launch. We fixed her up better than new in just six weeks!” he said with obvious pride.
McAfee and Clark stared out the viewport at the gleaming starship, bathed in light from her spacedock berth. The USS Lexington was an impressive sight, her hull once again a gleaming white and her plating pristine. The massive starship seemed to be straining to leap once more into the void.
“Good Lord, it’s huge.” whispered Lt. Collins with genuine awe.
“They always look bigger on the outside, lad,” replied Phillips, “But she is a fair sight, I’ll give ye that.” The engineer couldn’t hide his obvious affection for the starship.
Captain McAfee thought back to the dinner she had shared with Commodore Wesley and Captain Voorhees the other night. She had been pleasantly surprised by the warm reception she had received from her new colleagues. As they were about to depart, Wesley had given her a word of advice. “Trust your instincts, Captain. The rulebook was written by desk-bound pad-pushers. And be sure to take good care of your ship and crew. They’re the most important things in your life for the next five years.”
Grace had pondered the advice from the legendary starship commander. Robert Wesley was very different from James Kirk, yet, there were definite similarities, qualities that enabled them to command a starship and her crew. She hoped she had the same stuff.
Her reverie was broken by Commander Phillips. “Here we are. Like I said, a sorry mess, but I promise ye, she’ll be the best Connie in the fleet when I’m done with her.”
For the very first time, Captain McAfee gazed at her new command and she had to reluctantly agree; Excalibur was indeed, a sorry sight.
“My God,” Grace breathed, taking in the devastation.
“Don’t blame the Almighty,” reproached Phillips, “’Twas that devilish M-5 computer that did this. It knew exactly where to hit her, used Enterprise’s phasers at full power punching through her hull like it was wet paper. The poor blighters never knew what hit ‘em.” He gestured to the primary hull, the forward third having been mostly cut away.
“The first salvo likely depressurized most of the primary hull. The power surge overwhelmed the back-up systems, causing a cascade failure of the integrity field and emergency bulkheads. Add to that the energy that was crackled through her, the one’s that didn’t die of asphyxiation burned to death.”
McAfee had seen holo-pics of the damage, but they didn’t convey the utter savagery that had been bestowed on the starship. In all honesty, she now understood why the admiralty had wanted to scrap her.
Excalibur was a pitiful shadow of her former self. Much of her hull-plating was gone, as were her warp nacelles and pylons. Teams of space-suited engineers crawled over structural members, removing damaged components as workpods with tractor beams lugged materials around. The view reminded her of flies swarming over a dead carcass.
“Commander, when will she be ready?”
Phillips pursed his lips in thought. “Well now, seeing as how we’re still taking things apart, I’d say nine to ten months, minimum.”
“I see,” said McAfee. She continued to gaze at the mangled ship for several moments as Phillips maneuvered the workbee around, allowing them to observe the ship from all angles. She spoke again, maintaining her gaze out the viewport.
“I suppose you can do just about anything with all of this equipment, the tractor gantries, spacedock facilities and all.”
Phillips snorted. “Most certainly. We could build a starship from scratch, given the opportunity.”
“A lot easier than serving as a shipboard engineer, though. I mean, on a ship, you don’t have all of the support facilities, no orbital factories, no nice-cushy starbase. Seems like it takes more . . . I don’t know, ingenuity, to serve as a chief engineer on a starship.”
The Commander’s neck was growing nearly as red as his shirt. “I’ve done time as a chief engineer, Captain. I’m no bloody greenhorn.”
“No, definitely not, Mr. Phillips. I’ve read your personnel file. Seems you were transferred to your current billet against your will.”
He turned his head sharply to face McAfee. “Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but what the hell are you playing at?”
“Just this, Mr. Phillips. I need a chief engineer. You have served as a chief engineer . . . at least until you told Captain Fesaan to, and I quote, 'Sod-off you blue-skinned idiot.'”
Phillips’ jaw muscles twitched, but he did not immediately respond. Finally, he muttered, “Bloody fool nearly got the lot of us killed.”
Grace nodded, still looking at the work underway on Excalibur. “So it would seem. At least, the board of inquiry agreed with that assessment. But somehow, a very capable engineer got lost in the shuffle, to languish in a repair facility.”
“I’m doing alright,” he replied, stiffly. “It’s important and rewarding work.”
“I’ve no doubt it is,” replied McAfee, evenly. “But let me ask you, Commander, do you want to spend the rest of your life as a mechanic in a glorified repair shop, or would you like to take another shot as chief engineer on a starship?”
Phillips remained quiet for several minutes, as did McAfee and Collins. They continued to orbit the damaged ship, when the Commander finally spoke.
“I would need the freedom to pick my own engineering team.”
Grace glanced at Collins with a wink, then looked at Phillips. “I have no problem with that, as long as it’s understood I have final say.”
Phillips nodded, as he deftly guided the workbee between the spacedock’s framework. “And I don’t need some tight-assed first officer looking over my shoulder. I have my ways about calibrating engines. My methods may not be regulation, but they by-God work!”
Grace glanced at the braid on his arms. “Well, you are a full Commander. I think we can allow you to run engineering without supervision, so long as you understand that my word is by-God law.”
Phillips turned again, staring at McAfee. The Captain held his gaze with equal intensity. They maintained their stare-down to the point where Lt. Collins' eyes were beginning to water. Finally, the Commander broke eye-contact and stared out the viewport.
“She’ll be ready in six months, Captain. You have my watch and warrant on it as Chief Engineer.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Mr. Phillips,” replied McAfee as she returned her gaze out the viewport.
* * *
Stardate 4757.7 (7 October 2268)
Starbase One, Earth Orbit
Temporary Office, C.O. USS Excalibur
“What about Pyotor Bruscalion?”
Lt. Collins shook his head. “He just received his promotion to Captain.”
“Damn. Any word on Commander Cho?”
“He took a medical discharge. Apparently he never recovered from that case of Denebian Fever.”
With a sigh, Captain McAfee tossed the data slate on the desk of her temporary office and leaned back in her chair. “How hard can it be to find a first officer?”
Lt. Collins wore a sympathetic smile. “Just bad timing I guess, what with the new promotion list just coming out and several prospects retiring. I’m sure you’ll find the right candidate soon.”
“Too bad you’re not ten years older,” she groused.
“Captain, I haven’t even been through command school yet, I don’t think I’m qualified.”
“Hell, Simon, I know that. I just need someone I can trust . . . like I trust you.” She stretched and stifled a yawn. “Let’s take a break, we’ve been at this for hours.”
“Yes sir. Look at the bright side, at least you have your Chief Engineer and Chief Medical Officer. That should count for something.”
“True, true,” She was still pleased with herself for landing Commander Phillips, despite his crusty personality. Then, as a bonus, she was able to acquire the services of her friend and former CMO on the Ranger, Dr. Kim Moon Chang, who was currently on assignment at the hospital on Starbase 15. Kim had been very pleased to accept the billet on the Excalibur.
“Can I bring you anything, Sir?”
“No, Simon, but thanks anyway. Take the rest of the evening off. Catch a holo-flic or take a trip planet-side. I’ll grab something in the officer’s mess in a little while.”
“Yes sir, goodnight Captain.”
“Goodnight, Simon.” McAfee stared at the stacks of data-slates containing personnel files on dozens of Starfleet officers.
“How hard can it be to find a decent first officer?” she muttered to herself. She considered moving on to the other senior slots: Science Officer, Security Chief, Tactical, etc., but she really wanted to involve her exec in the process.
She reached for her coffee cup, finding it empty. Grimacing, she considered a refill, but the acid churning in her stomach made her put aside that consideration. Too much caffeine and too little food were a poor combination.
Glancing out the viewport of her office, she could make out the framework of several spacedocks. Unfortunately, Excalibur’s berth was too far distant to see, hidden beyond the curvature of the Earth. She had thus far resisted daily commandeering a workbee to check the progress of repairs. No point scaring off Commander Phillips. She would limit her visits to once per week, at least for now.
The buzz of the door enunciator caused her to turn back from the viewport. She supposed that Lt. Collins had forgotten something.
“Come!” she called, stacking the slates and tossing the coffee cup in the ‘cycler.
To her surprise, her guest was not Lt. Collins, but a tall, dark-haired man wearing a red tunic and commander’s stripes. She could not help notice he was quite handsome, with chiseled features, broad shoulders and an engaging smile. This made her think of James Kirk and she immediately went to yellow alert.
“Captain McAfee?” inquired the Commander. McAfee thought she detected a faint accent, Mediterranean, perhaps.
“That’s right. And you are? . . .”
“Espinoza, Commander Raul Espinoza, sir. I understand you are seeking a first officer for the Excalibur?”
Her brow furrowed. “That’s right. What does that have to do with you?”
“Captain, I’m here to apply for the position. I’m your man.”
* * *
Chapter Notes: Captain Grace McAfee is now the first female C.O. of a Constitution-class starship. But USS Excalibur is a mess following the M-5 incident, requiring months of rebuilding, and McAfee has to assemble a new crew from scratch beginning with the senior officers.