Stardate 4770.1 (15 December 2268)
Starbase One, Earth Orbit
Temporary Office, C.O. USS Excalibur
Personal Log, Stardate 4770.1, Grace D. McAfee recording. I am pleased with the progress being made on the Excalibur. Instead of the wreck I first saw, she’s beginning to look like a real starship again. Commander Phillips says we should be able to take our first on-board look-see this week, though I think he’s reluctant to let us see too much of his work-in-progress. Engineer’s pride, I suppose.
I’m also quite pleased with the progress made in putting together a crew. Kudos to Commander Espinoza in that regard. He’s put in stellar work locating candidates and interviewing officers. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we still have not landed a Chief Science Officer. I certainly hope we can rectify that this week.
Dr. Chang is itching to get in sickbay and begin the process of outfitting her facilities and getting to know her doctors and nurses. In the mean-time, Kim and her staff are staying sharp, putting in hours at Starfleet Medical in Atlanta.
Finally, I received word that we will be assigned to Sector 9 under Admiral Komack, once we launch early next year. It will be good to begin our mission; I’m more than a little sick of this office.
Grace saved her log entry and rubbed her eyes. She looked around the small office, her home for the past three months and likely at least three more. Was the office getting smaller, or was it her imagination? Huffing out a breath of frustration, she stabbed the communicator button on her desk.
“McAfee to Lt. Collins.”
“Simon, I have a severe case of cabin fever. See what you can do about getting me a fighter, failing that, a shuttle, a workpod, hell, a hot-air balloon would suit me right now. I’ve got to get some stick-time or I’m going to go stark-raving nuts.”
There was a chuckle over the open link. “I’ll see what I can do, ma’am. Anything else?”
“I’ll dance at your wedding if you can just get me a fighter, Simon.”
It was her turn to laugh. “Never mind. Let me know if you have any luck. McAfee, out.”
She didn’t have to wait long. Ten minutes later, Collins was back on the communicator.
“Captain, it’s Lt. Collins. I have a little surprise for you. Can you meet me in hangar bay four in fifteen minutes?”
“That was fast. What do you have for me?”
“I’ll keep it a surprise for now, but I think you’ll be pleased.”
“Okay, Simon, you’ve got my curiosity piqued. I’ll see you in fifteen.”
In a quarter hour, Captain McAfee made her way into the expansive hangar bay, one of six on the massive starbase. Numerous smallcraft from workbees to agile fighters to runabouts crowded the deck. McAfee saw Lt. Collins approaching and went to meet him.
“Well, Lieutenant, where’s this surprise you promised?”
“Follow me, Captain,” he responded with a smile. He led her past a phalanx of Star-sabre fighters to a quartet of shuttle-craft, parked side-by-side. Clark made an expansive gesture at the four shuttles.
“There you are, sir. They're all yours!”
She looked puzzled and vaguely disappointed. Flying a shuttle was about as challenging as riding in a turbo-lift. “Well, which one did you line up for me?” she asked with feigned enthusiasm.
Collins' face fell. “Captain, why don’t you take a closer look?”
Noticing the crestfallen expression on the Yeoman’s face, she sighed and moved closer to humor him. A smile spread on her face when she noticed the markings on the shuttlecraft. Each carried the designation, USS Excalibur.
“Our shuttlecraft!” she exclaimed. “When did they arrive, Simon?”
“They were delivered late yesterday. The base flight commander had to certify them before turning them over to us. I received his okay this morning for us to keep them stored here until we can take them on board Excalibur.”
“Well this is a nice surprise, even if Excalibur’s shuttle bay isn’t ready.” She walked around the four boxy ships, noting their names: Pendragon, Guinevere, Lancelot and Galahad.
“I was surprised there wasn’t a Merlin in the group,” opined Lt. Collins.
“If I recall correctly, there’s a cutter named Merlin in the Border Service. Are any of them fueled and ready for flight?”
“Actually, I just wanted you to see these. Your ride is over here.” Collins gestured back toward the brace of sleek fighters that were angle-parked a few meters away.
Her eyes narrowed and the feral smile of a fighter pilot spread across her lips. “Now you’re talking, Mr. Collins. Well done!”
She followed the Lieutenant to the first StarSabre in the line-up, with tail number 0182. It was a two-seat Mark II model favored by the Sol Defense Wing. She favored Collins with a sly smile. “Want to come along?”
Collins shook his head with feigned regret. The young Lieutenant still had nightmares from the last time he went for a “ride” with Captain McAfee in a fighter. He tapped his slate for emphasis.
“Can’t, I'm still working out delivery schedules for ship-board furnishings.” He gestured to the far wall. “The locker room is right over there and a pressure suit is ready for you. Enjoy your flight, sir.”
“I intend to. Thanks, Simon.”
The Captain made her way quickly to the locker room and found the requisite pressure suit and donned it with practiced ease. She walked out to the StarSabre, a glossy white helmet tucked under her arm and made her external inspection of the craft before climbing nimbly up the ladder. Wriggling into the form-fitting seat, she strapped in, connecting communication and life-support umbilicals. The smell of familiar materials tickled her nose, the dry, slightly asceptic smell of the air flow, the polymers in the well-worn seat and the faint tang of transtators warming up. To Grace, they were wonderful, familiar smells.
She lowered the helmet’s visor into place which turned on the internal head’s-up display. Activating the on-board computer, she began to run through the all-important pre-flight checklist. Even though it had been over a decade since her stint as a fighter pilot during the last war with the Klingons, all her actions came as though performed just yesterday. Satisfied that everything was functioning properly, she toggled the communicator.
“StarSabre Oh-one-eight-two to Starbase control, requesting immediate flight clearance and a departure vector for an Earth/Saturn circuit.”
“StarSabre 0182, this is Starbase control. Please taxi to airlock two. Once outer doors are open, you are cleared for vector tango three one. Be advised we have inbound traffic bearing 18 mark 126. Have a good flight, sir.
“Starbase Control, StarSabre 0182, acknowledged and thank you.”
McAfee brought the fighters twin engines to idle, a low hum resonating through the hull. Activating the graviton beams on the landing skids, the StarSabre rose very slightly from the deck. She followed the taxi-line on the deck to the second of three large airlocks that served this particular hangar. Once inside, the inner doors trundled closed and pumps began their job of decompressing the airlock. Momentarily, red lights on the outer clam-shell doors began to flash and the large doors began to open, slowly but inexorably. In fifteen seconds they were open wide enough for her departure.
She reached for the throttle controls, allowing the impulse manifold time to build ionic pressure, before pushing the throttles wide-open. Even with the inertial dampeners and the g-suit, McAfee felt the heavy pressure of g-forces shove her harshly into her seat. Her lips peeled back from her teeth in a grimace as she tightened muscles to prevent vision-fade and a potential black out.
As the inertial dampeners caught up with the sudden acceleration, a smile spread on McAfee’s face as she maneuvered sharply away from Starbase One. The StarSabre was streaking ahead at one-half impulse in mere seconds, rapidly devouring the distance between the Earth and the Saturn.
God, I’ve missed this! She thought, reveling in the fighter’s nimble handling. She pushed the StarSabre to its handling and acceleration limits, exulting in the sheer joy of flying a high-performance space craft.
Maybe just a quick buzz of Titan base before heading back. Too bad there’s no ordinance for target practice on the old weapons range, she thought as the fighter approached one-half light speed.
* * *
Stardate 4770.3 (15 December 2268)
Starbase One, Earth Orbit
Temporary Office, C.O. USS Excalibur
Still smiling after her joy-ride in the StarSabre, McAfee made her way back to her office after grabbing lunch in the officer’s mess. At 1300 hours she was scheduled to meet her new senior Helm and Tactical Officer, Lt. Commander Heath Forester.
She considered snaring Forester in the slot something of a coup. He had an excellent reputation as a pilot and helm officer, and was held in very high regard by his peers and former commanders. Lt. Commander Forester had declined several ship-board billets over the past few years, likely due to the prolonged illness and death of his wife and concern for his teenage son. Thus, he had languished as an instructor at the Academy’s Flight Training Range on Saturn.
Apparently Forester now felt his son ready for a time of separation and he had agreed to throw in his lot with Excalibur for the next five years. At least, McAfee hoped that was the case.
Grace settled in behind her desk, checked her messages, then poured some coffee from a thermal carafe on her credenza. She picked up a data slate from her desk, which obediently activated upon sensing her bio-signature. It opened to Lt. Commander Forester’s personnel file.
The Captain absently stirred cream and sugar into her coffee as she read Forester’s file for the second time. It was an impressive record, yet vague in certain areas. Considering his sterling reputation, she was surprised that he was still a Lt. Commander at age 39. Typically, someone at that age with his sterling record would be a full commander, possibly even a captain. She thought of Captain Kirk, still in his mid-thirties and grimaced.
The enunciator buzzed and she glanced at the chronometer. 1252. If it was Forester, he was a bit early.
Instead of Forester, Chief Engineer Trevor Phillips stepped into the office. Grace raised her eyebrows in surprise, for Phillips seldom came to her office except when summoned for a meeting. Nearly all his time was spent on Excalibur.
“Commander, is everything all right?”
Phillips’ epic moustache twitched as his face broke in a crooked grin. “Oh, yes sir, everything is very fine indeed. I was just wondering if the Captain would care to inspect the progress on her ship?”
McAfee blinked. “We can go on board?”
“Yes sir, ‘course there’s still many areas o’ the ship not ready for habitation, but I can at least give ye a look at engineering, the bridge and sickbay. We’ve got the fusion reactors on-line, so she’s got atmosphere and she’s warming up nicely, though ye might want to wear a jacket yet.”
“Mr. Phillips, you’re a miracle worker!”
Phillips snorted. “Miracle worker? I think not!. I just work hard for a living, unlike some engineers I know. Well then, I’ve told ye my news. Let me know when you’re comin’ over so we can get the corridors cleared a bit.”
He touched a finger to his forehead, a rather touching parody of a salute and departed. She could hear him muttering, “Bloody Scotsman and his damned reputation . . .”
* * *
Five minutes later, the door enunciator buzzed again. This time, it was Lt. Commander Heath Forester, exactly on time. The two officers shook hands and McAfee indicated a chair for Forester to sit.
“Thank you, no, I’m fine Captain,” replied Forester. McAfee detected a faint British accent, soft indeed compared to Commander Phillips strong Yorkshire dialect. He was a fit-looking man with short, blond hair and chiseled features. He appeared relaxed and reserved, but not to the point of being aloof. His eyes scanned the small office, taking in minor details: framed citations, models of starships and . . .
His eyes locked on a model of a Consolidated Aerospace Mustang Starfighter. An appreciative smile formed on his face and he pointed at the model.
“Captain, did you fly one of those?”
She turned to see the object of his attention and nodded. “Sure did. Flew off the Ark Royal during our last dust-up with the Klingons. We went up against their early Raptor fighters and a few Hammerheads.”
He turned his gaze back to her, obviously impressed. “I was still at the Academy when the cease-fire was signed, so I missed out on any combat missions.”
Something unreadable crossed McAfee’s face. “Be glad you missed it, Mr. Forester. I’ve never been more terrified in my life. I had two Mustangs blown up under me. The second time, I spent a month on a hospital ship.”
Forester’s gaze caught a significant citation that was nearly hidden behind the assortment of model ships. “That’s the Star Cross, isn’t it?” he asked, quietly.
A small smile reappeared on her face. “Yeah. I said I was scared, but that didn't prevent me from being one hell of a fighter pilot. But enough about me, Commander, let’s talk about you. I’m curious as to why you’ve spent the last eight years as a flight instructor. No offense, but that’s a long time away from a fighter wing or ship duty.”
Forester nodded. “Yes sir, I suppose it is. You probably are aware that I am widowed and have a son?”
“I am. My condolences for your loss, Commander.”
“Thank you. Monica, my wife, developed a debilitating illness when she and Kieran were living on Starbase 15 and I was serving as helm officer on the Kiaga. She would seem to get better, then relapse. I requested a transfer to the Academy so she could continue her treatments at Starbase medical. In the end, though . . .” his voice trailed off and he shrugged.
“She was a fighter, but she died despite the best efforts of Starfleet’s finest physicians. Our son, Kieran, was only ten when she died. I needed to be near him, to help him get through our loss together.”
“You are obviously devoted to your family,” McAfee observed. In her heart, she felt the dull ache that resided there, ever since the day her own mother had left her and her father. A different loss, to be sure, but the pain was still real.
“I have tried.” He said this without bravado, simply stating fact.
“Mr. Forester, if you come on this mission, what will you do with your son?”
“My brother Morgan and his family live on Mars. Kieran will stay with them for the duration; they get along very well.”
“Five years is a long time,” observed McAfee.
“True. Kieran and I have discussed this at length, Captain. He has urged me to accept this billet. I will, of course, visit him whenever leave time allows.”
“Rightly so.” McAfee stood. “Tell you what, Commander, I’m itching to step foot on Excalibur. Our Chief Engineer has okayed a limited tour of accessible spaces. Why don’t you join me and we can continue our conversation.”
Forester stood and smiled. “Thank you, sir. I’d like that.”
“Good! You can meet our First Officer and CMO as well. I want them to come along too.”
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, Captain McAfee, Commander Espinoza, Dr. Chang and Lt. Commander Forester were en route to the Excalibur’s dock via workbee.
The petite Asian physician was speaking softly with Forester. “I understand your wife succumbed to Brelais’ disease.”
Forester nodded. “That’s right Doctor, though to this day we’ve no idea how she contracted the disease. She never visited Delta IV. For that matter, she never encountered any Deltans, to my knowledge.”
Chang wore a sympathetic expression. “Apparently there are other species that can carry the virus without being affected. Unfortunately, we still don’t understand how it is transmitted, much less how to treat it in a non-Deltan. I know it must have been a very difficult time for you.”
Forester nodded, appreciating Chang’s kind words. “It was, but the passage of time helps.”
They were interrupted by the Captain’s voice. “There she is!”
Forester and Dr. Chang moved forward for their first glimpse of the starship.
Excalibur now was a gleaming jewel, her new hull plating a vivid white. She was a lovely sight despite a few gaps that remained to be filled here and there. Her new nacelles stood atop straight and pristine struts. The updated Bussard collectors lacked the spikes of the earlier units, but otherwise the nacelles looked very much like the originals. The ship still lacked her name, registry and pennants, but those would be added in short order.
The Captain maneuvered the vessel under the massive saucer, lining up the workbee with an airlock on the engineering hull. The tiny pod slowed, contacting the starship with a faint kiss as magnetic grapplers held the workbee fast to the hull.
“Cycling airlock,” announced Espinoza. They waited a moment for the lock to pressurize and a green light illuminated by the hatch.
McAfee felt butterflies in her stomach. She was about to board her new command for the first time. Espinoza turned and smiled.
“After you, Captain,” he said, gesturing toward the hatch.
Grace finally breathed. “Thank you, Commander. Let’s do this.”
The hatch slid open with a muted hiss and the interior lights from the starship spilled into the small workbee. McAfee walked through the hatch and the airlock into a well-lit corridor. Lining the corridor was an honor guard festooned in red shirts. A bosun’s whistle piped shrilly and Commander Phillips stepped smartly forward.
“Attention on deck!” Phillips roared in his distinctive accent. “Excalibur actual, arriving!”
“Permission to come aboard, sir?” she asked, following time-honored tradition.
“Granted! Welcome aboard the starship Excalibur, Captain McAfee,” said Phillips, who appeared quite pleased with himself.
The Captain looked around the spotless corridor. “Nicely done, Mr. Phillips, I’m impressed!”
“Thank you sir. Unfortunately, much of the ship is still a bit ‘o a mess, I regret to say. But I believe you will find the accessible areas in acceptable shape.”
Looking at the gleaming surfaces in the corridor, she had no doubt it was clean enough to eat from. “Show us what you can, Commander. I know Dr. Chang is anxious to organize sickbay.”
“Right then,” he turned to the assembled engineers. “Well done, lads. Dismissed!” The honor guard moved off, presumably to don coveralls once more and get back to work. Phillips turned to the quartet of officers.
“If you would follow me, please.” He led them around the curve of the corridor to a turbo-lift door, which opened at his approach. Stepping inside, Phillips barked, “Engineering.”
McAfee was surprised by the speed of the lift, far faster than those on the starbase. Phillips caught her surprised look. “I took the liberty of boosting the velocity of the lifts by 15%. No point in crew members lolly-gaggin’ around between decks.”
“I see,” said McAfee with amusement. “That’s very, uh, efficient.”
Phillips nodded smartly. “That it is, sir.”
The lift car slowed and came to a smooth stop on the engineering deck. The Chief Engineer led the officers through the cathedral-like space of main engineering. Work was still underway as workers moved purposefully about up ladders, floating on a-grav disks, crawling inside access panels and waving about diagnostic instruments. Phillips beamed with paternal pride.
“We’ll have the warp core in place within a week, and the engines ready for a test start in two. Impulse engines are already installed and the fusion generators are functioning. I’d wager we’ll be buttoned up and ready for trials in six weeks.”
Six weeks! Thought McAfee with amazement. That was nearly a month and a half earlier than the original six-month projection. She folded her arms and grinned.
“Now you’re talking, Mr. Phillips.”
“That I am. Come along then, let’s have a look at sickbay and the bridge,” said Phillips, before glancing at one of the engineering snipes hovering overhead.
"Halverson!" he bellowed. "Mind the flux polarity or I'll be sending your besotted ashes home to your mum!"
* * *
To be continued
Chapter Notes: Captain McAfee enjoys some stick-time in a starfighter and meets Lt. Commander Heath Forester, their new Senior Helm & Tactical Officer.