Coming Home Again

By Cassandra Foxx

 

Chapter Five

Adventure Has It's Drawbacks, And Rewards

Cassie polished the new insignia that adorned her collar as she piloted a shuttle up to her new assignment. Making Lieutenant JG after her cadet cruise had been justification to her of everything she'd worked for. Now she was to take on her first ship assignment. After docking, the air tasted unusually fresh and slightly fragrant to Cassie's sensitive nose as she disembarked from the shuttle that she had brought to Spacedock. She had heard that the entire installation had been refitted with the latest in air recycling equipment while she had been away on her tour of duty as a cadet, and the freshness and fragrant nature of the atmosphere, which before had seemed dry and stale to her heightened sense of smell, seemed to prove that out. She saluted the officer sent to meet her group, and followed him as he led them from the shuttle dock through to the docking area of the station.

To a non-spacer or a civilian, the pedestrian traffic that greeted Cassie as she walked from the room would have seemed like chaos. There were literally thousands of people up here: humans, Voxxans, taurs like her and Dawnfire as well as a hundred other species that made up the Federation. But Cassie was well used to it now. The disciplines she'd learned at the academy now filled her head and made sense of all this movement, her mind filtering out everything that didn't immediately concern her. Following the commander through the crowd and travelling up almost a hundred levels, they finally made their way out onto the boarding level of the ship-docking section.

Looking out of one of the huge windows, several levels high, that overlooked the internal docking space, Cassie looked out into the vast artificial cavern that served as shelter, protection and maintenance bay for up to twenty large starships. As they walked along, Cassie realised that this was not just a normal walk to their new assignment. The commander had been droning on in that peculiar and familiar tone that the lecturers used in the academy, and she realised that, while they walked, she had absorbed a complete history and facility breakdown of Spacedock. Cassie grinned. Now she understood why the tone had been used all the time in the lectures. Her subconscious had filtered out the briefing and filed it away in her memory automatically, even through the sometimes unbearable noise levels of the public decks. She admitted it was an efficient way of making sure those who needed to hear what was said did so and remembered all of it.

They passed one of the docks, where a Verne-class ship, the George Lucas, was berthed as she underwent routine minor maintenance. The ship was a thing of beauty to Cassie, a goal to be desired, for a tour of duty on a ship of this class was considered to be a very desirable and noteworthy assignment in a Starfleet officer's career record. They were the deep exploration vessels, going exploring beyond the boundaries of Federation-explored territory, discovering new worlds, charting new systems and extending the boundaries of the Federation. Cassie knew that, if she earned an assignment to a ship of that class, she had made it close to the top. The only thing better would be if she rose her way through the ranks to board her as her new Captain. That goal was one that Cassie intended to reach for.

Soon, they reached the dock where their new assignment was located. Cassie was amazed when she realised that her newest ship was the same class as the one she had served her cadet tour on, a Yeager-class cruiser, the Edward White. A faint reference passed through Cassie's mind as she repeated the name to herself. Ed White had been one of the first astronauts in the humans' space exploration program. She remembered reading how he had been the first American astronaut to walk in space, and had died in a ground fire aboard Apollo One in 1967CE. The name filled her with a sense of pride, to be serving on a vessel with such an auspicious name. Walking down the gangway, she saluted the Quarterdeck, as was customary, and followed the Lieutenant-Commander to the orientation briefing.

Cassie took time to settle into her quarters, which she shared with another foxtaur vixen. Alyssa Blackear proved to be a fairly friendly but somewhat brash young ensign slated for Security, as she had a somewhat aggressive streak that suited that department. Nonetheless, she and Cassie soon found that they could live with each other without friction, but Cassie missed having a kindred spirit like Dawnfire around. "Still," Cassie thought, "It's better than being quartered with a non-taur and finding out they can't adjust. We taurs do have some special needs in space and appliances." Checking over her schedule that she'd be serving, she found that she had a large amount of hours on the bridge, just as she'd hoped. She wanted a lot more time getting used to the bridge systems, and not just at Helm. She wanted to learn all the stations, even Tactical, and gain as much experience as she could on them. Cassie knew that that was what made a good captain, someone who knows all the jobs and can adapt to them.

Having a crew on the ship, even while in Spacedock, was necessary. As the newest transfers, Cassie and her fellow graduates got the bulk of the duties, while the crew that had just returned took their long-awaited and badly-needed shore leave. Cassie didn't mind, though. It gave her time to get used to the controls, and inspect the ship all over, learning where everything was. Like most ships in Starfleet, the Edward White was slightly different to others of her class, due to upgrades, customising and repairs made through her operational lifetime. She could see where the Edward White differed a lot to the James Lovell, the ship she'd served on during her cadet days. It was faster, with a newer reactor core and bigger nacelles, and was more heavily armed as well, with a bigger small-ship bay in a slightly-extended hull. The Edward White was a proper front-line vessel, while the James Lovell had been a training ship. Cassie grinned as she returned to her cabin for her off-duty time. "This is going to be a truly great experience" she said to herself.

It was three days later that the Edward White left Spacedock and headed out on her first mission, a routine escort of a large cargo carrier ship convoy to the newest colony on Deneb 5. The freighter had been assigned an escort due to the sightings of pirate ships in the area, and the captain of the Edward White was hoping to find and follow one to it's base. Cassie was one of three main helm officers working in the standard three-eight-hour-long pattern of duty shifts. The feel of the Edward White was totally different to the training vessel from the same class. It was responsive, fast and feedback-friendly. She found it a joy to fly, rather than a chore like the Lovell had been. She soon became very familiar with how her new vessel reacted in various situations.

*               *               *

Several months out, on course for Deneb 5 with the freighter convoy in sight, Cassie was at the helm when the sensors operator called out "Captain, the convoy has something on their long-range sensors. The leader of the convoy seems to think it may be something important."

"Very well. Concentrate our pinpoint scanners on that area, and all other sensors on full alert. Commander," he turned to face the Chakat exec officer, Starfield, "Get the ship ready for silent running. I want us invisible if and when this proves to be what we're waiting for."

"At once, Captain." She replied, and Cassie could feel the tension in the ship shift up a notch as they went from watchfulness to high alert, running with passive sensors only and engines baffled to hide themselves from whatever it was that was approaching the convoy. Cassie slowly maneuvered the cruiser until it was on a parallel intercept course with the intruder, heading to pass by the anomaly before it reached the convoy.

"That's it, Mr Whiteclaw. Easy goes it." the commander commented. Cassie knew it was both order and approval of her very smooth and slow maneuver. She watched the convoy slide underneath them as they headed out to intercept. As they got closer and closer, the anomaly revealed itself.

"Captain," the pinpoint sensors operator informed, "I have a reading of a group of small but fast-moving craft heading on an intercept course with the convoy. They seem to range in size from something akin to a Geelong-class runabout, to a ship barely smaller than we are."

"That could prove troublesome, Sir." Commander Starfield added. "If they pack the firepower to engage us, the smaller ships could cause a great deal of trouble to the convoy."

"Indeed, Commander. That's why we have a carrier ship in the convoy, disguised as a cargo vessel." The Captain grinned at his first officer. "If she is reading our sensors signals, she should be preparing to deploy any minute now, as soon as we engage their lead vessel." The captain stood and said loudly "All hands to battle stations! Stand by to engage!"

Cassie was ready, a special maneuver plotted in, so that as soon as the Edward White passed her adversary, she could reverse the ship's momentum and, swinging her around, she would be back beside the enemy ship, ready to disable her and hold her for boarding. She knew that, down below, hardened troops of the Marine Corps were readying their armor to thrust over to the enemy vessel and take her, capturing any prisoners they could. Gathering information about the pirates and their base of operations was even more important, in a way, than protecting the convoy. She watched the two ships close closer together.

The tension onboard the ship was almost palpable as the first raider ships passed them by, the special stealth equipment onboard the Edward White masking her from their sensors. Then, the enemy cruiser closed. "Alright people, Stand by...Fire on my command.... Here she comes... FIRE!!"

Massive blasts from the Edward White's main turrets opened up as the two ships neatly slid past one another. Cassie was already firing the braking thrusters as the two ships passed by one another, separated by less than five hundred metres. The ship swung around as the enemy cruiser passed them, all guns bore down on the engines of the damaged cruiser as the Edward White turned end-for-end, then sped up to pursue her prey. As they closed, Cassie could see the impulse drive was holed right through it's bay, and the ship's weapon positions were severely damaged, reducing her ability to return fire. The damaged cruiser was drifting slowly on, unpowered, on her last course as the Edward White locked her tractor beams on her prey and secured it, like a hawk with a pheasant in it's claws. When they were alongside, Cassie secured the engines as airlocks opened and the Marines jetted across to the enemy ship.

The captain divided his time between watching the marines at work, and the battle going on around the convoy, whose other guardian seemed to have things well in hand. As the Marines reported that they'd captured the ship and began interrogating it's navigational and computer systems. Cassie noticed something happening in the ship's engineering section. "Captain, the enemy ship's reactor is starting to go critical!" She cried out.

"What the...?" The captain replied as he checked her readings. Cassie was already powering up the Edward White's own engines in preparation for escape. "Marines, Emergency evac! Helm, get ready to get us out of here, maximum thrust! Cut the tractors!"

Cassie saw most of the marines power their way to either the airlocks, the fighter bays, or just the side of the hull, where they locked on with magnets, working their way to the open airlocks. Seeing the overload reach critical, she slammed the engines into full thrust, the ship shoving herself away from the doomed vessel, but she was not quick enough. With an incredible blast, the enemy vessel detonated, sending energy and shrapnel from the hull out in all directions, including towards the Edward White. "Brace for impact!" Cassie heard Starfield order, as she tried to turn the ship to avoid the biggest pieces. Then came the impact.

If not for her safety straps, Cassie would have been thrown out of her cradle. As it was, she couldn't maintain control as the ship's engineering section was smashed into by the nose section of the enemy ship, breaking the back of the Edward White. Alarms sounded all through the ship as system after system broke down under the strain. Cassie heard the captain order "Abandon ship!" as he saw that the reactor core was about to repeat the performance of her enemy twin. Cassie unbuckled to find other officers racing off the bridge. Keeping her head, she began heading to the one place she knew she was needed: the Captain's Runabout, nested right in the nose of the ship. Grabbing one of the recorders from the sensor station, she raced down the corridor to where it was. She arrived to find no-one else there. Settling herself into the pilot's cradle, she immediately powered up all systems, then waited. Only when she heard that the last lifeboat has launched with all others onboard did she blast her way out of the jammed bay doors and shoot out into space. Thirty seconds later, the Edward White's reactor blew.

Cassie rode out the energy storm from the wreck as she raced away. Then, turning the little ship around, she searched for other survivors, knowing that they were short-ranged and short-provisioned in the lifeboats. A runabout would mean that they had a renewable power source for their systems and a tug to tow them to safety. Cassie scanned through the fading cloud of debris for the beacons of the lifeboats. Hour after hour she searched, seemingly in vain. Then, as if cloaked, they appeared, the cluster of lifeboats slowly gathering together to form a joined structure capable of supporting their precious cargo much better than a single lifeboat could. The cheers she heard on the communicator as she came into view was like song to Cassie's ears as the count of lifeboats grew. Soon, the lifeboats were locked onto the rear module of the runabout in the proper formation as Cassie started to head for the other beacon position. It took less than eight hours to have all the lifeboats locked together, and Cassie then piloted the assembly towards the nearest starbase at just over half light-speed.

Cassie found Captain Alexander and Commander Starfield in one of the lifepods and, using her initiative and the on-board transporter, she beamed them over into the runabout.

Alexander smiled at Cassie as he stepped off the transporter pad. "Thanks for that, Lieutenant." He moved over to her as Cassie locked on Starfield and beamed hir over as well. "So, where are we?" He asked as Starfield stepped down.

"Here, sir." Cassie brought up navigational charts and plotted their position. "We're about a month away from Starbase Four, at half-impulse. Should I head for it, Sir?"

Alexander nodded. "Indeed. Make your way there, Lieutenant." He looked over at Starfield, who was at the Runabout's auxiliary station, checking the crew roster. "What's the count, Commander?"

"Sir, all Star Fleet personnel accounted for, and the few marines who were still outside the hull at the time we abandoned ship are making sure the connections between the lifeboats are secure, then they'll use the pods we just left to enter and de-suit. Meanwhile, everyone's settling in for the long haul, sir."

Alexander nodded. "We'll rotate crew out of their pods at intervals, to let them shower, freshen up and stretch as we head for Starbase Four. That will keep conditions from deteriorating too badly. Make up the schedule, Commander, and we'll start as soon as we can. Have four of the Marines come in here instead of their pods, and they can de-suit in here first. Then the other marines, and then ship's crew. If there are any injured, then have them notify us and we'll bring them on board and treat them." He ordered.

"Yes, sir." Starfield replied. Cassie meanwhile set her course and began accelerating slowly, to make sure she didn't dislodge either the marines outside the pods or the pods themselves. It took her the better part of six hours to accelerate to Half-lightspeed, but when she reached that speed without losing a single pod, she relaxed somewhat. Behind her, the Marines that had been outside the pods and ship were coming in through the rear airlock and stripping out of their armor, and she could hear the sighs and groans of bodies glad to be out of the confining suits.

Captain Alexander had welcomed them, then Cassie heard him come up behind her. "It's just a shame that we lost all the data that they managed to collect before the enemy ship blew." He muttered to himself.

Cassie smiled. "Actually, Sir, we didn't." and she held up the recorder module she'd grabbed before she'd raced down to the runabout.

Alexander grinned widely. "Lieutenant, that's worth at least a commendation for quick thinking. At least the loss of the Ed White wasn't in vain. With this data, we'll be able to finally find the pirates' base and stop them. Well done, Lieutenant." He patted her on the shoulder, then moved off.

"Thank you, Sir." Cassie replied and, with everyone else busy elsewhere, no-one saw the blush that crept through her ears.

*               *               *

It was a month later when the assembly came into range of the starbase's sensors, and it was met by an escort that swiftly disassembled it and recovered the marooned crewpersons. Cassie waited until all the lifeboats were safe, then she piloted the runabout into the base by itself, carrying the pride of the Edward White with it.

The inquest afterwards went on for close to three months, but Captain Alexander and the rest of the crew were exonerated of any wrongdoing in the destruction of the Edward White. Cassie was commended for her quick thinking of grabbing the recorder, which contained valuable information from the pirate ship, and recovering the runabout which allowed her shipmates to reach safety with swift assuredness. She was promoted to Senior Lieutenant and received an official commendation. Later on, as they waited for reassignment, Cassie was talking with Starfield. "I'm glad that's over. The inquest was worse than the trip back."

"I agree. They never seem to take a statement at face value." Starfield added. "They seem to assume that all of us are hiding something vital behind every word we say, and they try to assign blame so easily to anyone who seems even slightly out of place."

"I'm just glad they didn't give us desk jobs. I want to be out in space." Cassie replied. She looked up at the stars through the observation deck roof, and sighed longingly.

Starfield smiled and spoke her mind. "I sense there is more to your love of space travel than just a fascination with the outer reaches. Maybe there's something else...?"

Cassie blushed. "It's... almost as if I belong out there, somewhere. I never feel quite comfortable here, in the central systems. It's as if something is calling me..."

Starfield looked at Cassie strangely. "Then I hope you find whatever it is you are searching for. I just hope you're not disappointed." Starfield rose and walked away. Cassie looked up, and knew she would find the answer to her inner questions in time, and it would be out there.

*               *               *

It was less than two months before the crew of the former cruiser Edward White found themselves boarding their new ship, another Yaeger-class ship just out of drydock, known as the Gus Grissom. She was the latest in the Yaeger-class series, and she was the most up-to-date. Cassie was delighted as she surveyed the much-improved control layout at her helm station. She moved the ship out of it's dock, as the captain seated himself into his new chair, and Starfield sat beside him. "Mr Whiteclaw, take us out, course heading 125. Let's give our new ship a good shakedown."

"Yessir!" Cassie replied as she flew the ship away from the confines of the shipyard and into open space. Then, as they surged away, Cassie felt at home once again. This was where she belonged.

*               *               *

To be continued in Chapter Six

 

Chakats, Garrek Redfox, Purteshka, the Mountain Glade community, and The Stellar Federation, Star Fleet and Star Corps (as related to this story) are copyright © 2002 Bernard Doove, and used with his permission.

Voxxans are the creation of, and are copyright © Brian Miller and are used with permission.

The Quange are the creation of, and are copyright © Roy D. Pounds II and are used with his permission.

The Furrderation is the creation of, and is copyright © Terry Knight and is used with permission.

All the rest of the story and names are copyright © 2002 Cassandra Foxx.


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