“Bridge crew to the bridge. Bridge crew to the bridge.”
Apollo looked up as he heard Uhura’s voice over the PA system. He then looked across at his 3-D chess opponent.
“It appears that we are needed,” Spock said from behind the board.
“Quite right,” Apollo replied in the same tone. His mouth quirked up at the Vulcan’s upraised eyebrow, then he stood up and took one last look at the board. He reached out and moved a piece. “Checkmate,” he said, and headed for the door.
Spock intensely studied the board. “Fascinating. You should not have been able to do that in the position I left you in. It was illogical.” He stood up.
Apollo said over his shoulder, “I cheated.” He waited a heartbeat, when he got the desired reaction from the Vulcan, then added, “I’m kidding. I just simply moved in a way that logic would have never seen.”
Spock nodded slowly as they walked through the corridor, pondering Apollo’s words. “Intriguing. Despite my best efforts, I am constantly reminded that there is more to existence than logic.”
“You bet your pajamas there is,” he said, smiling at his chess partner.
While Spock was trying to figure that one out, the turbolift doors opened onto the bridge. A view of Earth slowly grew in front of them. Kirk greeted them. “Welcome home, gentlemen. Yourself excluded, Mr. Spock.”
“I am half-human, Captain,” Spock corrected. “Earth is as much my home as Vulcan.”
It was then that Apollo realized that McCoy was with them. These three seem… complete… when they’re together. He looked at the captain. “It’s been a while, Captain.”
Kirk smiled at the blue orb on the screen. “Yes, it certainly has.”
Apollo returned the smile. “Admiral Komack was always keeping a sharp eye on what I was doing. I wonder what he’ll say now.”
“Probably not much of anything. He’s not an admiral anymore.” He saw Apollo’s startled expression. “He retired two years ago. Admiral Nogura took his place.”
Apollo nodded. “I heard about him while I was in the Academy. He was still a vice admiral, wasn’t he.” At Kirk’s nod, he continued. “I heard he was strictly a no-bullshit person.”
McCoy snorted and smiled wickedly. “I dare you to say that to his face.”
“Careful, Bones… he may just take you up on that dare. Let’s just say he’d be more suspicious of the commander’s… talents,” Kirk said.
Uhura spoke up. “Captain, Admiral Nogura is hailing you.”
“Speak of the devil,” McCoy said.
Kirk glared at McCoy to hush, then turned to Uhura. “Put him on screen.”
The view switched from a view of Earth to an elderly oriental man in a Starfleet admiral’s uniform.
“Greetings, Captain Kirk. Welcome home.”
“Always a pleasure to be able to return, sir.”
“I understand you have an extra crew member with you.”
Apollo stepped into view. “Hello, sir. Commander Racer here.”
“Ah, Commander. It is fortunate to have you with us again. I’m sorry about your ship… it is with great sorrow that none of your comrades could make it.”
Apollo nodded solemnly. “I’m sorry to hear that, too, sir. Would it be proper for me to know what is to become of that ship?”
Nogura looked down at his desk. “I regret to say, Commander, that the damage to that ship was considerable… her crew all but scuttled her in their insanity. I’m afraid we had no choice but to finish the job. If it eases your conscience any, we disposed of her in a manner that reflected our respect of her crew.”
Apollo bowed slightly. “Thank you, sir. I understand fully.”
“As for you, we would like to see you at your earliest convenience. I’m afraid there’s a matter of accountability to undergo. Whenever a ship is lost, the senior officer of the survivors must report to a board of inquiry in order for us to determine the liability for that loss. It’s only a formality… I don’t think you should worry about the outcome.”
“I understand. I have but one request.”
Nogura nodded. “Name it.”
“I need to contact the wife of the chief engineer aboard the Excalibur. He… he was a friend, sir.”
“I understand completely. I’ll have them give you the coordinates. You can go there when you have finished at Starfleet Headquarters.”
“Thank you, sir,” Apollo said with gratification.
“And Captain Kirk,” Nogura continued.
“I would like to have a little talk with you concerning our little ‘chat’ before you went off to confront V’ger.”
Kirk looked from Spock to McCoy, and back to the screen. “I understand completely.”
“Nogura out.” The view was once again replaced by the Earth.
Apollo turned to Kirk, a puzzled look on his face. “Captain? Why do I get the feeling that you’re in trouble for something?”
~ * ~
Things have changed. This was Apollo’s first thought as he walked through San Francisco. He thought buildings couldn’t get more streamlined than when he had left. They had. The older buildings were still there, but it seemed that they added a few new ones, and the differences in architecture was unbelievable.
He was not very happy today. Kirk had accompanied him to his board of inquiry, and it was good that he did. The board took losing a Constitution-class starship very seriously. Then, after calming down Apollo – he was emphatically voicing that he was unconscious at the time and therefore quite unable to affect matters – Kirk told the board what he had witnessed when the Enterprise discovered the Excalibur. The board stated that they merely wanted to listen to Apollo’s side of the story, as was standard procedure.
That was exactly what happened. The brass had listened to his story, and calmly told Apollo that the fault was not his, and that he may be “officially” reinstated to duty. Apparently, his time aboard the Enterprise didn’t count, otherwise he probably would have seen another promotion, or at least, a medal. Apollo shook his head. It didn’t seem to make much sense to him that Starfleet would reward him in the light of tragedy. As it was, during his testimony, he had to recall the events he witnessed before he was so abruptly robbed of his awareness. Then to top it all off, he was questioned repeatedly about his condition; he couldn’t necessarily hide something as obvious as his glowing eyes. He gave a very brief description of the obvious physical differences, leaving out a great deal of information for fear he would be hounded by scientists for the rest of his life. Nogura merely nodded, as though he knew Apollo was purposely abbreviating things, but he made no mention of it. However, before dismissing Apollo, the admiral did have him agree to be examined by Starfleet Medical… as though McCoy’s own records were of no significance… to confirm that his body indeed reflected the fact that it had assimilated his prosthetics.
Now, with the easy part over, he went to face the part of the day he most dreaded. He looked at the padd in his hand to confirm that he was going in the right direction. He then entered a civilian housing complex and found the appropriate door number. As he reached for the touchplate that signaled the occupant, Apollo couldn’t help but think that he had always thought of the touchplate as a “fancy doorbell”.
The door opened, revealing a familiar face. Karen was holding a small child in her arms. She was smiling, but it diminished a little, showing that she was a little puzzled. “Hello? May I help you?” Her puzzled look turned into a broad smile as recognition set in. “Apollo? Is that you? My God, it is! What happened to you?” She paused to let the image of the person in front of her sink in. “Well, come in, come in!”
Apollo walked inside and closed the door behind him. “Let me go put Ethan down,” she said, disappearing. She came back alone and they hugged each other. “So, how have you been doing? Where’s Skip? The last I had heard from him, you were on his ship. I had expected the two of you to show up together.”
As she talked, Apollo realized that she wasn’t told of what happened. Starfleet expected him to relieve them of that burden. The very thought of it only served to reinforce his sorrow.
She stopped talking. There was no longer a discernible “look” in his eyes, but his facial expression was more than adequate to show his emotions. “Apollo, what’s wrong…” She trailed off. Even as she said it, she understood why he was here, why he didn’t share her joy at seeing her. Apollo didn’t have to say a word, yet she knew. The tears started welling up in her eyes. She moved forward expecting Apollo to catch her. He didn’t disappoint her. He guided her close, and she let it out. The child in the other room, disturbed by his mother’s crying, joined her shortly afterward. As Apollo stood there, tears that had been held back for weeks now flowed freely, and he made no effort to stop them.
They spent a few moments crying, a little longer for them to get Ethan to sleep again. Then they sat down, and after a deep breath, Apollo told her, in a quiet, calm, clear voice, everything that happened, from the trip into the barrier, to his removal from the game and subsequent revival, to the records he viewed of the hulk of what used to be the Excalibur. He gracefully refrained from going into too much detail, but it was enough to start her crying again. He thought with anger that even with all these newfound abilities, he was still unable to bring her husband back. He composed his face to reflect nothing but grief, but inside he was seething with anger.
~ * ~
Apollo stayed with Karen for the rest of the day, trying to bolster her spirits. But by the end of that day, he felt emotionally exhausted, and that he somehow failed to help Karen in any way. He headed for the local bar, which was a hangout for most off duty Starfleet officers. He sat hunched over a nearly empty glass of Saurian Brandy, suddenly getting a sense of deja vu. It was in exactly this position, though light years away, that Captain Kirk happened upon him in this condition. There were subtle differences, though. Now he could see his eyes dully reflected in the glass. He also wasn’t affected by alcohol now, and he silently, but half-seriously, cursed his change because of it. What he wanted right now was to desensitize his senses to recent events. Apparently it just wasn’t meant to be.
The seat next to him was suddenly occupied. Since he observed that most people tended to avoid him tonight, this one wanted his attention. He slowly turned, half expecting it to be Kirk.
“Well… this is a far cry from the cadet I used to know.” A familiar face smiled warmly at him.
Apollo’s face brightened a little. “Admiral Komack. What a surprise. I didn’t expect to see you.”
Komack waved him off. “No, no… none of that ‘admiral’ bull. Gives me a bad aftertaste. I’m retired now, so it’s just plain Phil.”
“Okay… Phil then.” Despite his mood, Apollo smiled.
“My God, the changes in you since we last met. I mean, with some people, the changes are subtle; you see them a little more mature than before, a few more wrinkles, a little more gray hair, or a little less hair if you know what I mean.” They both chuckled as Komack ran his hand through his receding hairline. “But you… you certainly went all out, didn’t you. What the hell did you do to your eyes?”
Apollo shrugged. “I guess you could say… I was a victim of circumstance.”
He nodded. “I remember hearing about the Excalibur. A shame, actually. She was a fine ship. They all were.” Komack paused, lost in memory. “You know… the Enterprise was the only Constitution-class ship to return from her five-year mission? I don’t know if that meant that our ships really weren’t up to snuff, or if space is a lot meaner than we expected it to be.”
Apollo suddenly had a dreadful feeling. I hope Sam had moved on before the Lexington became just another statistic. Despite the thought, he gave Komack a little smile. “No, Phil, our ships were more than up to snuff. And I wouldn’t necessarily say that space is mean. Granted, it’s a tough time out there, but I think more often than not, we hit a lot of unexpected surprises; some were good, it allowed us to expand the Federation with new races, but it was the bad ones that got us.” He shook his head. “That’s the price we pay for determined exploration. We know that what’s out there is largely unknown, but our spirit compels us to go out there; our curiosity demands it of us.”
Komack stared at Apollo for a while. “You’ve been hanging around Jim Kirk too long, with those grandiose speeches.”
The familiarity felt good. “You’re one to talk… sir,” he replied sarcastically.
They laughed, breaking the mood. “But you’re right, essentially. That’s why the Federation exists. People willing to reach out, and people who need to be reached.”
Apollo quickly grew somber. “Sometimes reaching out doesn’t accomplish much.”
“Uh, oh. I hit a nerve somewhere. Care to tell me what it’s about?”
Apollo sighed. “I just came back from a friend’s place. I had to tell her that her husband had died on my ship. The experience was… unpleasant.” He drained his glass, then ordered two more. “I don’t know. I came away from there thinking that I didn’t help her at all. She has a two-year-old child, and I had to tell her that his father won’t ever have the chance of seeing him. I felt like a hole opened in the bottom of my gut, and my soul just drained out.”
Komack simply nodded. “Ah, yes. You’ll hear many starship captains say that it’s the hardest part of their duty, telling next of kin of their lost loved ones. I have to disagree. It’s relatively easy to work up the nerve to tell them. What I find really hard,” he took a drink, “is having to deal with it afterward.” He put his hand on Apollo’s shoulder. “Take it from me, though. The very same drive that compels us to get out there and explore, also allows us to get over our grief. It’s the way we move on with our lives. We accomplish something, then we keep going.”
“Except Skip won’t be going on, except in our memories.” Apollo expected to feel bitter by that statement, but the truth of it hit him, and he felt strangely relieved. “I understand.”
Komack smiled. “I’m glad you see the wisdom in it. Now,” he raised his glass, “instead of brooding about the ones we left behind, let’s celebrate the ones who made it back safely.”
Apollo smiled wistfully as he his raised his own glass and they clinked them together.
~ * ~
He returned to Starfleet Headquarters the next day to receive his orders. First he was ordered to report to Medical for the examination he promised. The doctors, for their part, tried pretty hard to go beyond what Apollo had agreed to, but the commander gently dissuaded them from pursuing their interests any more than necessary. Finally, they had no choice than to give him a clean bill of health and send him on his way. It was a small joy that on his way out, Apollo overheard McCoy’s voice on the comlink, berating the doctors for thinking his exam records weren’t good enough for them.
Upon his return to Command, he was assigned to the science vessel USS Oberth. This was a new class of ship, and Apollo frankly found the design quite odd. The ship’s nacelles were integrated with the primary hull… they were also smaller than those on a ship like Enterprise, and of a different design than what he was used to. The nacelle pylons were reinforced, and doubled as the connecting dorsals to the elongated secondary hull. Apollo walked onto the bridge, expecting to meet the captain.
When Apollo was given his new assignment, he noticed that Starfleet sported new uniforms. Instead of the pajamas they had to wear, this crew was dressed in a turtleneck with the color denoting their department, and a stylish red jacket with black trim. Rank was shown as an insignia pinned on a white epaulet on the right shoulder, and on the left sleeve above another white stripe, on which were pins that denoted years of service. The jacket was fastened by a flap pinned down by a clasp on the rank epaulet, with a wide black belt that circled the waist and was clasped with a large insignia for a buckle. The pants were similar to what he wore on his past ships, except these also corresponded to the person’s department. They matched the turtleneck except for Command’s… the pants then had a red stripe with the white undertunic. It was in this uniform that he reported to the Oberth.
Apollo liked how Starfleet incorporated the department designations into the uniforms. The turtleneck shirt underneath the jacket revealed the new colors of the departments: white for command, green for sciences, and red for support. Apollo didn’t see any white shirts on this bridge; he wore the only one. The others mostly wore green. It’s still nice on the eyes, though. The only thing I have to note is that it has a clearly military look, yet Starfleet has clearly insisted that we aren’t a military organization, but one devoted to science and exploration. He smirked. Yeah, right. Tell that one to the Klingons.
He turned to the nearest officer. “Has the captain boarded yet?”
The bridge crew smiled at each other. The officer spoken to, however, managed to keep a straight face. “Don’t worry, sir. You’ll meet him soon enough.”
Slightly puzzled by that statement, Apollo was about to ask for elaboration when the communications officer spoke up. “Sir, I’m getting a call from Starfleet Command.”
Apollo frowned. Normally, the captain would take such calls, but since he’s not here… “Well, we can’t keep them waiting. Put them on screen.”
She complied, and Admiral Nogura’s image replaced the one seen from out of spacedock. “Greetings, crew of the Oberth. I’m always proud of a crew that is privileged to break in a new style of ship. We were pleased with her test runs and simulations, so what you’re on now is the end result: a vessel dedicated to science and exploration. Now, she has teeth, of course; we wouldn’t send an unarmed vessel out into deep space. But know that you’ll be playing an integral part of charting our galaxy and making many new discoveries in the future. You are our laboratories in space.
“It also gives me great pleasure to inform you that along with a new ship, I am also giving you a new captain. This man has proven himself in the field time and time again. He’s an officer who has performed many tasks in his career, and I believe that the best captain is one who knows not only his job, but also those who serve him as well. So again let me say that it is an honor and a privilege to introduce to you… Captain Apollo Racer.”
All eyes turned toward Apollo, who was himself more than a little stunned. He wanted to say something, but no words would come out.
“Captain, the ship is yours. I know that you’ll command her with distinction and honor. Admiral Nogura out.” His smiling image disappeared to be replaced with the view from spacedock again.
Applause rang out on the bridge. Apollo was filled with pride. All he could think about was that he had reached his dream. He felt a twinge of regret that Skip couldn’t be there to see this day, but Apollo assured himself that his friend would be proud. He slowly made his way to the command chair, looking at it for a moment in disbelief that it was his, then gingerly sat down in it, getting the feel of its contours as it settled around him. Granted, he had sat in command chairs before, but this one was his. The fact that he was given the honor of taking a new ship out for her maiden voyage made the promotion all that much sweeter.
He felt that he had to say something and stood up again. “Well… this is unexpected. All I can say is that it’s a privilege to get the chance to work with you. I hope we can make this voyage a good one.” He paused, looking at the faces of everyone around him. Some of them were smiling; he had served with them before, so they knew they could trust him. All of them were expectant, patiently waiting for their first orders. “Prelaunch countdown will commence in thirty minutes. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he looked at his left sleeve, where his rank insignia was affixed… it was situated over pins that indicated his eleven years of service. There was a duplicate rank pin on his right shoulder. “I seem to be out of uniform.” He turned and strode off the Bridge.
When he returned, his uniform properly reflected his rank. He walked to his chair and gracefully sat down.
The helmsman turned toward his new commanding officer. “Sir, count is T minus one minute.”
Apollo smiled with anticipation. “Very good. Forward thrusters at station keeping.”
“Aye, sir. Thrusters at station keeping.”
His communications officer spoke up. “Captain, Starfleet has cleared us for launch. They wish us a good journey.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Acknowledge them, please.”
Well, this is it. Here we go. He never felt so excited before. “Helm. Thrusters ahead one-quarter.” He paused, leaning forward in his seat. “Take us out.”
“Aye, sir. And away we go.” On the screen, the interior view of spacedock gave way to open space. After a few minutes, the helmsman spoke again. “We are clear of spacedock.”
Apollo sat back. “Set a course to leave this system, full impulse. Then once we clear the system, come to a heading of 318 mark 4.”
As his order was confirmed, he felt the ship shift under him as it changed direction. Then the planets whipped by as they reached full impulse speed.
“Sir, we have now left the Sol system. New course heading in place.”
Their captain smiled. “Warp one, then.”
The screen erupted in a shower of light. They were under way. Apollo felt that now was the time to make a statement. He thumbed on his recorder.
Captain’s Log, stardate 7460.3:
This is the beginning of the voyages of the USS Oberth, a science vessel dedicated to improve and expand the knowledge of the Federation. This is also the beginning of my voyages, as her captain. I always felt that one day, I would be commanding a ship to the stars. Now, after two hundred plus years, that dream has come to fruition. An awful long time to wait… but it was worth it.
Our first mission is a simple one, but one that promises an increased understanding of our galaxy. The star Wundstadt 129, a white dwarf, is nearing the next transition in its life. We have been sent to study this transition, and its effects on the surrounding region. It is exactly the reason for a ship of this new class.
He thumbed off his log recorder, satisfied with his summary. Feeling a smile come to his face, he sat back and enjoyed the ride.