Captain David Metlesits looked around all the unfamiliar faces in the room. There were Humans, Andorians, a Caitian or two and some folks whose race he simply did not know. And there was the one familiar figure, standing next to him: Branch Admiral Boccioni, her age compensated by her spirit.
- This meeting of the Inter-Federation Armed Forces is in session, as of now. Boccioni said. Even though she was a First Fleeter, she out-ranked everybody in the room, given that her only two superiors were the Fleet Admiral of Starfleet and the C in C of the Federation. The slight buzz of chatter that filled the room ended abruptly. The time for being official has begun.
- Captain Metlesits. said an Andorian Rear Admiral, his face lined with age and experience As you very well know, this meeting will decide on the upcoming relationship between our separate branches of military.
- Sir, yes sir. Metlesits nodded. He wanted to show himself as an officer of the Federation, and if that required acting like a Jarhead, so be it.
- I, and all of us, have read your report on the operations conducted by your vessel and that of the so-called Section 31, in the wake of the Battle of Kzinhome. Do you wish to amend said report here and now?
- Sir, I do, sir. Metlesits said and stood up from his chair You know me only as a name in the registry. This means you don't know what it felt for me, being out there. Starfleet sent us as observers and we had to take sides. But we did it not as Starfleeters, but as Terran officers. For you, it might mean nothing. For the crew of the Starship Polaris, it meant everything.
- And yet you were the one who raised the Federation flag at the moment of victory on Kzinhome three years ago. a Vulcan Commodore said. Metlesits didn't even see him at first, he was hiding in the backward seats.
- Oh yes. Metlesits said with a small smile But that was a Federation victory. And it wasn't just me, sir, it were the three of us, Captains Talla, Sitek and me. You might know Captain Sitek, he commands the Entente.
- Indeed, I know Captain Sitek. the Vulcan said with a nod And your attitude matches his description.
- Sir, may I ask his description of me?
- He described you as stubborn, loyal and Terran to the boot. the Vulcan said Although this latter term has its origins in your language, if I am correct.
- That's my boy. Boccioni said with a huge grin on her wrinkled face, and patter Metlesits on the back. Some officers in the room smiled, especially the Humans Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know what happened above Kzinhome, with the Omega Molecule device and the man called Anastas Schadenfreud.
- If that was his real name at all. Metlesits interjected The first time I met him, he introduced himself as Indrid Cold. Weird name, sounds more alien than Human
- You don't want to know. Boccioni sighed But the name of this man should not concern us now. We are here to decide on what the Federation Armed Forces should do in the wake of the aforementioned events. And, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to be direct. The First Fleet needs bigger ships, better guns and access to data that is considered classified for non-Starfleeters.
- Admiral Boccioni, the First Fleet is saying this since its inception. a tall African-American man said. Metlesits recognized him, he was Henry Morrow, one of Starfleet's top dogs And so do all other Member Fleets. I don't want to sound offensive, but I don't see the reason for Starfleet to give away our technological assets.
- With all due respect, sir, we bloody well needed those technological assets when the Cats and Section 31 wanted to blast us out of the stars. Metlesits said, angrier than he wanted to You weren't there, you didn't see what those ships were capable of. And while Starfleet is busy re-fitting its capital ships, they don't simply throw us the scraps but call it a treat. The world changed, Admiral, and it's about time the small fleets are being treated as equals. We had our own fair share of the dangers of space. We fought wars and defended our planets and people. Isn't this what our oath is about? But how can we adhere to our oath if our ships are keeping falling apart?
- I have to admit, he's right. the Andorian Rear Admiral said Captain Metlesits, our mutual friend Captain Talla
let's just say, nags us with the same ideas. And she too is right in most of these ideas. Starfleet is busy fending off the Klingons and the Romulans, and I say the time has come to allow the Member Fleets to take a bigger part in our mutual mission.
- Hear, hear. Boccioni said with another of her wide grins Thank you, Admiral Shars, your words are deeply appreciated.
- I still have my concerns. Morrow said with a sour face I don't want to say that First Fleeters are not trustworthy
- Than don't say it. Boccioni said, suddenly cold as ice. Morrow suppressed a throwback, being outranked, he could not tell the Italian woman to go where the Sun doesn't shine, and that doesn't essentially mean deep space.
- All I want to say is that First Fleeters are notorious for bending a certain regulations. he said instead They poke their noses into trouble spots and refuse to take the blame if they get their noses burned.
- With all due respect, sir, if the Enterprise does it, they get a medal for it. Metlesits said. Some Starfleeters hissed in outrage.
- The Enterprise is the Flagship. Morrow said through his teeth.
- Splendid. Metlesits shrugged his shoulders, just so that the Starfleeters could notice the small badge on his uniform sleeve, that of the Bannership. Although it was originally a Tzenkethi classification, the First Fleet adopted it ages ago, to represent the Number Two vessel of the Terran Defence Forces, the one just under the Flagship of the First Fleet.
- Not to mention their utter disrespect for authority
- Morrow muttered.
- Authority means nothing in space if one has no respect. Metlesits said My former CO told me that. Respect makes you a true Captain, not the stripes.
- Does that mean you consider me a disrespectful man? Morrow said in a tone that suggested immediate danger.
- Not at all. Metlesits said, calm as ever All I'm saying is that the First Fleet has earned its respect over the past few decades. All I'm asking for is to give us a chance to live up to that respect.
- What guarantee will Starfleet have that the First Fleet, or any other Member Fleets, will not abuse the new technology and knowledge? Morrow asked, now deflated.
- This. Boccioni tugged up her sleeve to show a deep scar running across her left arm: an old war wound We gave our dearest blood for Earth and Humankind, and for the Federation as a whole. And as long as the Federation doesn't abuse its power, we'll play fair too.
- I know the Terran way of thinking, and these words speak of sincerity. Shars, the Andorian, said And you'll have my full support in your fleet-wide upgrades. But he raised his finger on one condition. Starfleet isn't about warfare, our primary mission has been always one of exploration. If you want to be our equals, you need to take up this mantle just as well.
- I can agree with that, Admiral. Metlesits said with a smile My ship was the first to have a science team aboard. My science officer even refused to transfer to the Enterprise once we were returned to Space Service.
- And look at the outage it caused. Morrow said silently.
- We had a joint mission with Captain Kirk's crew and Commander Spock held no grudges. Metlesits shrugged his shoulders.
- He's a Vulcan, David, he can't hold grudges. Boccioni said with a chuckle. She turned back to the assembled Starfleeters Can we agree on the following exchange: Starfleet giving Member Fleets technology in return of their usage in dedicated exploratory missions?
- Agreed. Shars said with a nod, his antennae whipping back and forth. Voices of agreement burst out in a chain reaction, ending in Morrow's mournful sigh: "Agreed".
- This settles it, then. Boccioni said Ladies and Gentlemen, from now on, our separate Fleets are equal in both privileges and obligations. May this moment mark the dawn of a new era.
Shars, the Andorian, was the first to stand up for applause.
As the meeting ended, Boccioni led Metlesits out of the conference room.
- I like how you handled Morrow. she said.
- Quite frankly, Admiral, he's a major asshole. Metlesits said in a conversational manner.
- He is, but he's powerful and has good connections. He's not used to the kinds of you and me standing up against him and get away with it.
- Do you mean he'll try to cross our mission, ma'am? Metlesits sighed Order us back to drydock or whatever?
- He can't do that, he has no authority for it. Boccioni displayed a savage grin And even if he tries, I'll override his orders. I won't see the old 782 being kept back.
- You miss her, don't you, Admiral?
- Every day and every night, David. Is it unfitting for an officer to say, I'm damned jealous of you, sitting in what's supposed to be my chair? but she laughed whole-heartedly I have to admit, you did a far better job at commanding the Polaris than I ever could have done. Now don't get flattered, I won't say you're a better officer than me. But you get along with your crew better than I ever did. You're like a first amongst equals, not the man in the ivory tower. And because of this, your crew even followed you through hell and back.
- I never asked them to do so.
- But they did. And this alone shows that you're a good commanding officer. By the way, David, you should go to the quartermaster's. You'll be needing a new uniform.
- Three stripes aren't enough for you anymore, boy. I think we could settle on four.
really? Metlesits muttered, earning another grin from Boccioni.
- You're being promoted to Senior Captain. After the feat you've pulled over Kzinhome, you bloody well deserve it.
- Starfleet'd say, ordering my crew for a suicide run is worthy of demotion, not promotion, ma'am.
- Then again, boy, in this present case, Starfleet can cram it, if you allow me such a poetic choice of words.
The two laughed away the tension of the meeting as they departed from Starfleet Command's central building. The air was warm in this time of the year, with the slight breeze bringing a slight salty tang from the bay, not unpleasant at all.
- I expect the Polaris to fly out by the end of the month. Boccioni said as they strolled down a path between hedges.
- Budapest says she'll be ready in two weeks. Metlesits nodded Give us three weeks so that we can install some of the fabled Starfleet tech.
- You got it. You'll be needing it.
- Are you going to throw us to the dogs again, Admiral? Metlesits asked, a little wearily.
- It wasn't me then last time, and it were Cats involved. Boccioni answered in a tongue-in-cheek manner But I found a new three-year mission for you and your crew, something that requires a trained, experienced crew. What do you know about the Taurus Reach, David?
- Taurus Reach
- Metlesits scratched his bearded chin as if it would help him remember I've heard some fishy things from around the place, back in the 60's. New colonies and such but could be a hellhole. Tholians behind every asteroid and whatnot. And that big Starbase, it's the 47, isn't it? Same class as The Glaive at Mizar.
- Vanguard, yes.
- And what's a First Fleet starship got to do at that place, Admiral?
- Protecting colonies, researching for Starfleet, the things we've just talked about with Morrow's lot. Starfleet'll deal with the Klingons if they become too arrogant for their own good, but the Tholians
they were always a Terran specialty.
- I'm already missing the Kzinti. Metlesits sighed.
- Don't you worry, David, the place is much more secure than the Mizar region.
- Well, it was till today. I get a feeling things go on phaser's edge once the Polaris arrives at someplace. Metlesits laughed But she used to be your ship, you should know about this. By the way, Admiral, is there a Gyros stand on this Vanguard?
- A what? Boccioni stopped in her tracks, looking utterly flabbergasted.
- Gyros. Döner kebab, whatever. There is a nice little stand on The Glaive, the crew always liked to eat there. It was our
- I'm sure you'll find a substitute on Vanguard. Boccioni grinned Keep your mind open, David. You know, new places, new discoveries
- You sound like a Starfleeter, Admiral.
- Don't mock me, Senior Captain.
Three weeks later, the USS Polaris was ready for re-launch. Docked in one of Óbuda Naval Yards' drydocks, she was looking better than she did in years. The last few workbees were leaving the flight area, clearing the little light cruiser to fly out.
- All a John Deut. Charlotte Ainsworth said, looking at her new science console instruments How did you get them, Captain?
- After six years, we finally have the equipment for planetary research, courtesy for Starfleet. Metlesits said with a huge grin What's a John Deut, anyway?
Ainsworth did not answer, but burst out in an altogether un-protocolwise laugh.
- Better yet, we finally have two whole Warp nacelles again. Nussbaum said, exiting from the turbolift capsule, handing a padd to Metlesits.
- Seems fine to me. the Captain nodded after checking the repair lists on the padd What do you think, Mr. Jiménez?
- I need to modify the propulsion vector outlet manifolds, but the new nacelle'll work just fine. the helmsman said Or maybe we can nick one of the same type for the old nacelle.
- Don't even dream about that, kid. White Eagle growled This new crap Chicago's coming out with, and they aren't even ashamed for calling it a proper outlet manifold. When this ship was built, Putilov manufactured the engine parts, and those flew you through hell and back. Putilov built the Warp core of the Enterprise, you know, and look what that ship did. And her sister ship, the Intrepid
built by them Asperger lot with pointy ears
killed off by a bleedin' space amoeba! Can you believe that, kid, a gigantic amoeba in space!
He rolled his eyes in utter disbelief and patted the engineering console he was leaning on.
- This gorgeous lady
all the original parts built by Putilov and assembled by your folks, Captain, Hungarians. For a landlocked country, you people sure know how to build these things
- Hey, we invented the ball-point pen, the Rubik's Cube and the hydrogen bomb. Metlesits laughed We are a resourceful people. Találékony a magyar, as we'd say.
- That last part sounded like a friggin' caterwaul. the chief engineer waved his hand in dismissal and returned to his console.
- Some things never change. Metlesits turned to Nussbaum with a smile And between you and me, Vasya, I'm damn happy to be back.
- What, my sister was giving you a hard time? Nussbaum snickered.
- Oh no, not at all. But space, the Polaris
this is my real home, my friend. Ludmila knows that, and she respects it, as much as I respect her fascination with off-world assignments.
- Engineering and all sections report green, Herr Kaleu. Heimann said from his communications console, Feinberg receiver in his ear.
- Wouldn't that be Senior Kaleu now? Metlesits said, earning a laugh. He settled himself in his Captain's chair and sighed with the hope of a new, successful mission Mr. Jiménez, clear all moorings. Take us out.
- Aye-aye, sir. Jiménez activated his helm controls and the Polaris slid slowly out from the drydock's cage Dock cleared, ready for operational speed.
- Set a course for the Taurus Reach. Metlesits nodded Warp 8.
- Let's rip subspace a new one! Jiménez howled in triumph as the Polaris jumped to Warp, leaving the Sol system behind. A new adventure was beginning.