Episode One: In Harm’s Way – Part Seven
Lieutenant Matthew Sadler’s shift on the bridge began at zero-eight-hundred hours, but he reported, as usual, a few minutes early. He was not at all surprised to see the captain already in the center seat — he rarely kept normal hours and was on the bridge more often than not. Also present was their new first officer, Commander Kylie Duncan, whom Matt had met briefly earlier that morning, and Ensign Sitara Rajagopal, their new conn officer.
“Nervous?”, Matt whispered to Sitara as he took his seat at ops beside her.
“A little,” she confessed.
Matt smiled. “Don’t worry. You’ll do fine. She’s a lot more responsive since our refit.” He began running through his own pre-flight checklist, co-ordinating a variety of the ships functions, making sure all required sub-systems were online.
In a moment several other individuals entered the bridge: two junior officers whose job it was to monitor secondary consoles and stand ready to take over at ops or conn should the need arise; the ship’s chief medical officer, Doctor Enelya Bandel; and the Chief Engineer, Commander Andrew Nen, a Trill.
The captain had apparently been expecting the last two because he now made formal introductions of their two new officers. When the requisite handshaking was complete, the captain turned to Matt. “Is everyone back aboard?”
“Yes sir,” Matt replied, double-checking his logs. “All crew present and accounted for. All station personnel have left the ship.”
“All systems online. All departments report ready and standing-by. Station control has cleared us for departure.”
“Commander,” the captain turned to the first officer. “Would you be so kind as to take us out of dock?”
“Sir,” Duncan nodded from the station at tactical. “Lieutenant Sadler, signal station control to release the docking clamps.”
Matt opened a signal to the ops station on DS-9 and made the request, confirming completion a moment later.
“Ensign Rajagopal,” Duncan said, “Port thrusters, one second burn.”
“Aye sir,” Sitara complied. The inertial dampeners eliminated even the slightest vibrations and even the forward view screen showed only an imperceptible change in their attitude with respect to the station. “We’re clear of the docking pylon, Commander,” Sitara announced.
“Ahead one-quarter impulse,” Duncan ordered, and when Sitara input the commands they saw the station slide away silently beneath them.
“Lay in a course for the wormhole and prepare to engage at one-half impulse,” Duncan said.
“Aye sir,” Sitara replied. But she never got a chance to complete the action.
“Belay that,” the captain said. Every head turned in his direction.
“Sir?” Both Commander Duncan and Sitara asked simultaneously.
“Lay in a course for the Argolis Cluster and engage at full impulse. As soon as we’re clear of the Bajoran System go to warp six.”
“Aye sir,” Sitara said, her expression one of confusion. She wasn’t the only one.
The doctor stepped closer to the captain’s chair. “I take it this means there’s been a change of plans. We’re not going to the Gamma Quadrant?”
“Not just yet,” Captain McTavish replied.
Commander Nen heaved a sigh. “Well, if there aren’t going to be any fireworks I may as well go back to engineering. At least the warp core puts on a good show.”
“Not just yet,” the captain repeated. “I’d like to speak with the senior officers in the briefing room.” He got up and headed for the door on the starboard side of the bridge. The doctor, Commander Nen, and Commander Duncan followed.
Sitara looked over her shoulder at the departing officers and when she looked back her expression had altered from confusion to frustration.
“Don’t sweat it,” Matt told her.
“You get used to it after a while, being excluded. They don’t do it on purpose. It’s just that,” he shrugged, “they’re senior officers and we’re not. Don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually.”
Sitara nodded. “I just wish I knew what was going on, why we’re not going through the wormhole.”
Matt smiled. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.”
At that moment the door to the briefing room opened again and Captain McTavish stepped out. “Matt,” he called. “I’d like you in here too.”
“Yes, sir!” Matt replied, a little more enthusiastically than he should have. He jumped to his feet and started for the briefing room. After a couple of steps he paused and looked back at Sitara. She looked even more frustrated, almost heartbroken.
Matt smiled apologetically. “Sorry,” he said, and proceeded into the briefing room.
In the briefing room, Matt took the vacant seat between doctor Bandel and Commander Nen. This, conveniently, put him across the table from — and therefore gave him a good view of — Commander Duncan. Matt attempted a casual smile at her but she either chose to ignore it or sincerely didn’t notice, for she shifted her gaze to the captain. She, and everyone else, waited expectantly.
The captain seemed to be deep in thought, his head bowed, while his audience sat silently. Finally he looked up, his expression as dark as Matt had ever seen.
“What we’re about to discuss must not leave this room,” the captain began. “There is to be no discussion with the rest of the crew.”
Matt suddenly became aware that every face had turned to him. He sat up straighter. “What? Why is everyone looking at me?”
Nen smirked. “Could it be that we know you?”
“What’s that suppose to mean?” Matt asked, aware as he said it that his tone was plainly defensive and … inappropriate. “Sir,” he added.
“It means,” the Chief Engineer explained, still smirking, “that a certain young lieutenant might want to impress a certain pretty young ensign with his inside knowledge.”
“I would never do that!” Matt protested, again plainly defensive. He wondered if doctor Bandel could sense his guilty conscience with her half-Betazoid abilities, since that had been precisely what he had been thinking of doing.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” the captain spoke, fixing Matt with a piercing gaze. “You’re a lieutenant now and you understand that with that position comes responsibility, and a need for discretion.”
Matt swallowed nervously. “Yes sir, I do.”
The captain smiled slightly. “As do we all.” And then his expression clouded again. “The Federation is in trouble. We may have won the war with the Dominion — if you can call the losses we suffered winning — but it’s left us weakened. There are factions from outside, from non-aligned worlds, who won’t hesitate to take advantage of those weaknesses.”
“Not to mention,” Nen spoke up, “of factions within the Federation itself.”
Captain McTavish nodded. “Aye, from within as well. To protect against this threat, Starfleet has stepped-up its intelligence profile and assembled a number of covert operatives. Each team will be led by an officer who will answer directly to Starfleet Command. Their task will be to monitor and, where necessary, intervene in matters affecting Federation security.”
While the captain paused, the first officer asked, “Where do we come in?”
Nen responded immediately. “We’re a taxi cab,” he said, the bitterness in his voice evident.
“Or baby sitters,” the doctor added, no less bitter.
“Not quite,” the captain insisted firmly. “Each team will be assigned to a support vessel. The Symphony is to be such a vessel.”
“Taxi cab,” Nen repeated.
“Baby sitters,” Bandel said.
“No!” the captain emphasized. “Look, I’m not happy about this either. I’d rather be exploring the Gamma Quadrant. But we’ve got a job to do, a responsibility to the Federation. And right now the Federation needs us. Besides there’s plenty of exploring to do right in our own backyard. We’ve only chartered a fraction of the Alpha Quadrant, and we’ve only thoroughly explored a tiny fraction of that. The Symphony is still primarily a research vessel. Our mission is still to seek out new life and new civilizations. We’ll just be doing it a little closer to home for a while.”
Nen spoke up again. “Are you implying we’ll still get to the Gamma Quadrant?”
McTavish nodded. “I have no doubt. It won’t be immediately, but we will get there.”
“Why us?” the doctor asked. “Why not one of the new Sovereign-class ships, or a Galaxy-class? Surely they’d be better equipped for a support role like this.”
Nen snorted. “Isn’t it obvious? They’re too valuable.”
“Nonsense,” the captain insisted. “The Symphony was chosen because it won’t draw as much attention as a larger ship. We’ve got a reputation as a science vessel that will help to deflect suspicion.”
Matt cleared his throat. “Um, sir? By being involved in covert operations, even just in a supporting role, don’t we risk damaging our reputation?”
The doctor patted him on the shoulder. “Out of the mouths of babes,” she said. Matt appreciated the compliment but wasn’t sure he liked being referred to as a babe.
The captain fixed Matt with that gaze again and Matt had the distinct impression he had overstepped his bounds. “The mission will require discretion,” he said slowly and deliberately. “But the Symphony is, and will remain, a research vessel.”
The room was quiet for a moment. Matt certainly wasn’t about to say anything else. Then Commander Duncan spoke again. “When do we receive our … team?” she asked.
“One of them is already aboard. The Vulcan astrophysicist, Captain Sovor.”
“He’s a captain?” doctor Bandel queried. “This should be interesting.”
McTavish frowned. “Sovor is in command of the intelligence team only. The command structure of this ship remains the same.”
Nen said, “I assume we’re picking up the others in the Argolis Cluster.”
“Correct. I haven’t received their personnel records yet. But I’m told they each have a strong science background,” McTavish said. “Which is how they will be presented to the crew, as scientists.”
“Speaking of the crew,” Bandel said, her hand back on Matt’s shoulder. “There are bound to be questions.”
McTavish nodded. “Within limits, tell them the truth. Our mission to the Gamma Quadrant has just been delayed a little.”
When Matt returned to the Bridge and sat down at ops, he avoided Sitara’s questioning looks.