The USS Astral Queen was the first vessel crewed by the Starfleet Auxiliary to pass into the Delta Quadrant. The Olympic-class starliner had been guarded every step of the way under the watchful eye of not one but two New Orleans-class frigates, armed to the teeth and ready to take a bite out of anything that might have threatened this fast but vulnerable passenger ship. The pair of them now stood guard as the Astral Queen reached her ultimate destination: the starship Arcturus. Though she had a passenger capacity of two thousand in very comfortable accommodations, she was dwarfed by the Odyssey-class explorer as she came alongside to dock. She was carrying just over three hundred passengers for this trip: a hundred or so for standard crew rotations, two-hundred Starfleet and civilian scientists, and a squadron of 20 senior cadets who would be spending all of the year 2400 aboard the Arcturus to finish their academy careers. The rest of the ship had been stuffed with technical supplies and consumables that couldn’t easily be made in the industrial replicators aboard the explorer.
As Commander Dorian Holland walked through the cofferdam connecting the two ships, he felt acutely aware that he was about to embark on something much more significant than he’d imagined, not just because of the physical size of his new ship but because of the way the Arcturus sparkled in the light of Eta Torrensis. On the other side of the Arcturus, the Vulcan ship T’Amandra loomed, taking the other main docking port for its own resupply and transfer operations.
“I have always wondered what would happen if you strapped a pair of warp nacelles to a starbase,” Holland quipped.
His partner let out the same melodious chuckle that always made Holland’s heart skip a beat. The other man’s eyes were filled with stars as he surveyed their new home through the transparent aluminum docking tube, and seeing him marvel made Holland fall in love with him all over again. Carrington was incapable of concealing his emotions, which Holland found incredibly endearing after studying his whole career how to put on a poker face.
“I don’t think that’s quite fair to the elegant curves and raw power we see before us,” Dr. Elijah Carrington noted. “She’s beautiful. This is going to be fun,” he added before reaching over to grab Holland’s hand.
“I think you’re right,” Holland agreed, as the two of them stepped through the airlock and onto the promenade deck of the Arcturus, which wrapped all the way around the ship’s widest deck with lounges, greenspace, and art installations all integrated into one long horseshoe, broken only by the ship’s main lounge, which was far beyond their sight at the docking port.
The commander and the doctor walked up to the deck officer’s station, occupied by a very tall lieutenant in a red uniform. He lit up as they approached, standing up from his stool and offering a handshake to each of them, even as the queue stretched back through the tube and all the way to the Astral Queen. From the threshold, the Arcturus was a temple of sparkling gold, Federation blue, and other refined finishes, looking no more ornate than any other Starfleet ship but rich enough in its color palette to make one think they were in the Palais de la Concorde, or at least that’s where the mind of the ship’s new diplomatic officer went.
“Permission to come aboard?” Holland asked.
“Granted, sir. Welcome aboard the Arcturus,” the lieutenant replied. “Lieutenant Commander Elijah Carrington, Senior Medical Officer. You’ll be reporting to Captain Anjar in sickbay on Deck 7,” he said, looking to Carrington. “Lieutenant Commander Dorian Holland, Chief Diplomatic Officer. The captain has requested that you report directly to him in his ready room.”
“You’re not going to ask for our transfer orders?” Holland replied, arching an eyebrow.
The lieutenant chuckled. “The ship’s internal sensors scanned you before you got halfway through the gangway, sir. If you weren’t supposed to be here, you wouldn’t have made it through the airlock,” he noted, grinning as he turned to the table next to his station. “All members of the crew are issued WRIST devices–Wearable Remote Interface and Scanning Tool–which is a fancy acronym for a holo PADD that can also perform class-1 scanning functions and communicate with every other WRIST on the ship. Once you put them on, the computer will automatically log you in through biometrics,” he explained before handing the two officers their new toys.
To Holland, the devices looked just like a simple exoprene bracelet, but once he clipped it around his wrist, it lit up with his name and the Starfleet delta; he’d heard of them before but hadn’t served on a vessel that employed them. It would sure cut down on the endless stacks of PADDs that tended to accumulate in his line of work. Holding his wrist parallel to his body brought up the display. Carrington beamed as he flicked through a few screens on his own device.
“Neat, right?” the lieutenant said. “They’ve been pre-loaded with your quarters assignment, which is on the starboard side of Deck 11, directly above us,” he added.
“You were able to get all of that information in the time it took us to walk across the docking tube?” Holland asked.
“I memorized the roster of incoming personnel,” the lieutenant said with a shrug. “I’m Lieutenant Nate Windsor, Officer of the Watch. Let me know if you need anything, but I’d hurry up to the ready room if I were you, though, as patience is not exactly one of the captain’s virtues.”
“Valuable information to have. Thank you, Lieutenant Nate Windsor,” Holland said, with his’ diplomatic smile,’ which was just one percent shy of flirting.
The lieutenant smiled back, and the two newcomers cleared the way to allow the next officer to check in. Carrington continued to look around in pleasant surprise at how nice the ship was. Holland never went into any situation blind, so he’d looked over the ship’s specs. Given Starfleet’s tendency to describe things in dry, technical language, he wasn’t expecting the ship’s promenade to be quite so impressive.
“There’s a whole mall aboard as well, with actual restaurants. Talk about luxe,” Carrington said as they walked towards a bank of turbolifts. “We have to explore later. Better not keep the captain waiting, though,” he noted.
Before they stepped into separate turbolift cars, Holland leaned over to kiss Carrington on the cheek.
“See you later, Romeo.”
When Dr. Carrington stepped through the doors to sickbay, he was unprepared for the sheer scale of the operation, even having gone over the briefing materials meticulously. Seeing a four-deck medical department in person was dramatically different than reading about it. He entered through a spacious and well-appointed ready room which nearly made him need to adjust his eyes at how bright and white the walls were, relegating the rich Federation blue and gold to the furniture and accent lines and clearly communicating that it was a clean, sterile space.
“Dr. Carrington?” an ensign in blue asked, standing up from the reception desk.
“A very lucky guess, Ensign…?”
“Lewis Gardner, sir. Nursing officer.”
The other man was about 10 centimeters shorter than Carrington was, with an athletic build and a square jaw. While Carrington wasn’t usually one to pick up on flirting until it was very obvious, even he was able to see that the nurse was rather nakedly checking him out as he extended a hand.
“Nice to meet you, Ensign Gardner,” Carrington replied politely. He accepted the handshake but kept it as short as was socially acceptable. “Did you also memorize the crew rotation list, like Lieutenant Windsor?”
Gardner chuckled. “No, sir. But you’re the only new doctor coming aboard, so it wasn’t that much of a leap. I can take you back to Dr. Anjar now,” he said, gesturing to one of the doors that led further into sickbay. “Windsor really memorized the list? It’s amazing how a man that hot can also be such a dork,” he added with a laugh.
Carrington followed Gardner, not entirely sure what his read on him was yet, but at least for the moment, the needle was pointing to ‘amused.’
“You know him?”
“Not very well. We both go to the Plowman’s Tap for shows, so we’ve chatted some. It’s a big ship, but everyone still pretty much knows everyone around here,” Gardner replied. “Oh, and I mean, the whole crew saw him get the Medal of Honor a few weeks ago, so, there’s that. He dragged two officers out of a burning room and then blew up a couple of Kazon carriers as a party trick,” he added, almost as an afterthought.
The new doctor hadn’t heard that story about the Arcturus’s adventures yet. How often were they going to end up tangling with the Kazon?
“That’s very impressive,” Carrington said. “To have a Medal of Honor recipient working as the deck officer… It must mean that everyone on this ship is above average at the least.”
Gardner looked him up and down again. “Yeah, I’d say that checks out, sir,” he said, with a wink, before they stopped at the open door to the Chief Medical Officer’s office.
The room had a large window on the corner, which gave the CMO a good view of anyone entering or leaving sickbay through the front entrance. When Carrington stepped inside, he saw a Bajoran captain leaning against the desk, facing two officers bearing the insignia of full commanders, a Human man, and an Orion woman. The Bajoran turned and smiled, but it was the Orion who spoke up first.
“I see the captain is still using the same mail order service. Another pretty Human. Really?” she said, looking from the man sitting next to her on the sofa to Gardner and then to Carrington himself.
“He claims it’s a coincidence,” the Bajoran quipped. “Welcome aboard, Dr. Carrington. I’m Alenis Anjar, Chief Medical Officer. These are my two assistant chiefs: Dr. Hertane Tenesh, who is only teasing, and Dr. Luca Sheppard.”
Carrington chuckled at the observation; he couldn’t entirely disagree with it based on only having met Lieutenant Windsor, Ensign Gardner, and the three people in the room before him.
“Happy to be here. And, no, I’m not related at all to that Carrington, to get the other elephant out of the room,” he said, giving them all a genial smile.
“I was going to ask, actually,” Dr. Sheppard said, matching his smile. “That’ll be all, Lewis,” he said, leaning over to look past Carrington to shoo away the curious nurse who seemed to be hoping to avoid further work by lingering at their meeting.
The ensign bit his bottom lip but dutifully retreated.
“He’s certainly… friendly,” Carrington noted once he heard the door to the reception area close.
“Oh, definitely. He’s mostly harmless, though. Very talented, as well,” Anjar said. “I hope the trip was uneventful?”
“Thankfully, we didn’t need any of the protection Starfleet sent with us. I heard that the Arcturus has gotten into some scrapes here, though.”
Dr. Anjar grimaced for a moment. “That’s putting it mildly. We’re reasonably sure that the rest of our mission in this region will be uneventful, but our support ship was heavily damaged in the last battle, and we lost two runabouts. There were seventeen casualties,” he explained.
Carrington nodded. “How is the crew coping?”
“I would say well, but the counseling department is keeping a close eye on everyone,” Anjar replied. “And don’t worry–you’re not replacing anyone.”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Carrington admitted. “As I said, I’m happy to be here. The Princeton was a good assignment, but I can already tell that the Arcturus is something special.”
Anjar smiled. “No disagreements here. You were one of two doctors, right? Things are a little more complex here. When the ship is integrated, Dr. Tenesh generally oversees our specialists, and Dr. Sheppard oversees our generalists, such as yourself. When we’re separated, Tenesh handles things here, and Sheppard goes with the stardrive section. I go with whichever section the captain’s in.”
“Right,” Carrington said as he processed that. “Does that happen often?”
“More than you’d think,” Anjar replied. “I’ll let Sheppard show you around, as I have the great privilege of attending what is sure to be a very tedious reception with the captains of the Astral Queen and the T’Amandra in twenty minutes, so I need to go find a dress uniform. The party tonight should be a lot more fun, at least,” he said.
Anjar just grinned. “I’ll see you later. Welcome aboard, again,” he said before leaving the office with Tenesh.
Dr. Sheppard stood up as well and ushered Carrington back out into sickbay. “Most of the time, this is the only deck that sees a lot of use,” he explained as they walked into the starboard ward. “Both wards on this deck have six standard ICU biobeds and one advanced biobed which can be isolated.”
Carrington nodded, seeing that the space was basically identical to the whole sickbay of the Princeton. As they walked the other way, they passed a nursing station, situated in the center of the deck, across from three exam rooms and a small lab.
“There are always three nurses and three nursing assistants on duty. A nice feature of this ship is the private exam rooms, which the crew tend to prefer to being poked and prodded in the ward,” Sheppard explained before leading Carrington to a larger-than-usual turbolift which was big enough to hold a gurney quite easily. “This lift only goes within sickbay, and there are stairs on the other side.”
They went down one level to the long-term care wards, which featured a full-on mess hall just for medical personnel and patients. Carrington was surprised to see that his name had already been put on one of the five office doors, considering he didn’t have one at all as Assistant Chief Medical Officer on his other ship.
“My office is in the stardrive section, with the other four generalists. Specialists are on the next level, with suites for everything from ophthalmology to dentistry to physical therapy. We can do anything a starbase or a hospital ship can do, and we can probably do it better,” Sheppard said with a grin. “We have a full pharmacy and three surgical suites on that deck, along with another long-term ward. Below that is the morgue and two isolation wards.”
“‘Sickbay’ doesn’t seem to be a grand enough term for this facility,” Carrington noted.
Sheppard nodded. “If it weren’t tradition, yeah, I’d call it a hospital. We have ward space for 60 patients here, and the complex in the stardrive section is identical. Both facilities have a dedicated transporter room, their own redundant life support systems, and holographic systems to support up to ten instances of the EMH at once. In terms of starship assignments for medical officers, it’s hard to beat this ship,” he explained.
“So, with a hundred and twenty beds… around 300 staff members? That’s larger than the whole crew of the Princeton,” the newcomer marveled.
“With you, 303. 22 physicians, 120 nurses, 120 nursing assistants and corpsmen, and 40 lab and pharmacy techs. At any given time, there are about a hundred people either on call or on duty,” Sheppard replied, a tinge of pride creeping into his voice. “My first few weeks, I got lost every other day, it felt like. My husband and I were on the Opportunity for several years, and it had a nice facility, too, but the novelty of being in a hospital within a starship 70,000 light-years from Earth still hasn’t worn off for me.”
“Oh, who’s you’re husband?”
Sheppard grinned. “The captain.”
“That’s ironic because that’s who my husband is meeting at this very moment,” Carrington replied with a chuckle. “The old cliche of command and medical officers falling for one another, I suppose.”
“They usually need people like us to take care of them or talk them out of their bad ideas, so it’s a natural fit.”
Carrington laughed; that much was definitely true, though as a diplomat, Holland generally wasn’t rushing into danger the same way a starship captain might. He did have a way of concocting overly elaborate negotiation strategies that Carrington was usually able to talk him out of, though.
“So, what’s this about a party?”
Meanwhile, Holland had just been shown into the captain’s ready room. Lancaster was facing away from him, pulling at the cuffs of his white dress uniform, but turned to face him after a moment. Though still relatively young, Lancaster definitely fit the part of ‘Starfleet Captain.’ Handsome, but not distractingly so. Fit, but not bulky. Well-groomed, but not obviously made up or garishly attired. In Holland’s estimation, he was the sort of man who looked good on a viewscreen when making first contact.
“Lieutenant Commander Dorian Holland, reporting as ordered, sir,” Holland said, coming to attention briefly.
“At ease, Mr. Holland,” Lancaster replied, gesturing to one of the seats in front of his desk. “I’ve never needed a diplomatic officer before. Tell me why I shouldn’t send you right back to the Princeton,” he said, once Holland had sat down. “Speak freely.”
Holland’s jaw dropped. 15 seconds in, and he had to audition for his own job after crossing the vastness of space and spending two weeks at high warp to get there. He quickly pulled himself together, though, the wheels in his mind turning for a suitable answer. In a flash, he decided to not just fly close to the sun but straight into it, in an Icarian gamble that had a strong chance of getting himself hauled off the ship.
“We don’t ‘need’ these WRIST bands, sir, but they make our jobs easier,” he started, holding up his wrist for effect. “I studied your record before I accepted this assignment. You’ve been involved in seventeen first contacts, including two as captain, but you’re a scientist. Well-educated and knowledgeable, but not a diplomat. Neither is the Admiral, though fifteen of those first contacts were under her command. What you two have learned through trial-and-error and instinct, I spent six years studying at Starfleet Academy to earn a juris doctor in interstellar law. I have written six treaties, created over five-hundred briefing books, and organized more cocktail receptions, banquets, and welcome ceremonies than anyone on this ship, all without killing even one person via misunderstood dietary instructions,” he said, looking Lancaster straight in the eye.
“More importantly, I look at least as good as you do in a dress uniform, but I’m shorter than you are, so I won’t draw focus while telling you how to pronounce the Devore ambassador’s polysyllabic and polytonal surname. I also have the advantage of being married to a gorgeous doctor–a quality which I believe we share–who looks better than either of us dressed to the nines and who is more than willing to be used as a prop at receptions to stroke egos and mollify objections, and so I am, as they say, more than the sum of my parts, sir.”
Lancaster leaned back in his chair, shaking his head for a moment as a slight grin spread across his lips. “That’s not a very deferential answer, is it?”
Holland smirked, though his heart was pounding and his back was already sore from sitting so perfectly straight. “When dealing with a hostile party in a negotiation, I find that it’s generally most effective to match their tone rather than risk appearing weak,” he explained. “You didn’t look like you wanted a metaphorical blow job consisting of me telling you how much I wanted to serve under you, how much I hoped to learn from you, or how exciting it was to be on a ship of this size. But if that was not the right answer, the good thing is that I haven’t unpacked yet.”
The captain stared at him for a moment. “I was worried you were a lightweight, Commander, but I obviously was mistaken. I don’t need a fawning sycophant; I need an advisor. The first officer has a diplomatic background, but you have significantly more experience with first contact scenarios. That’s why I chose you,” he explained, which made Holland relax ever so slightly. “Based on our long-range sensor data, the area of the quadrant we are moving into is likely home to at least 30 or 40 inhabited M-class planets, and we expect at least a dozen may meet the requirements for first contact. A few will go to the cruisers accompanying us, but you’ll have your work cut out for you over the next year.”
“Promises, promises, sir,” Holland replied with a chuckle. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
“Good. The administration section has assigned you a yeoman and office space on deck 10. As needed, you’ll be able to requisition personnel from the social sciences department. Whatever problems we run into out here, a lack of resources won’t be one,” Lancaster said, before standing up, which forced Holland to his feet as well. “I will spare you attending what is sure to be the most boring reception in the history of receptions with the command crews of the T’Amandra and the Astral Queen, but there will be a welcome reception for senior officers at 1900. My gorgeous doctor suggested it, so attendance is mandatory,” he said, with half of a smirk, though he conveyed absolute sincerity about the essential nature of the gathering.
“Of course, sir. I’d offer you small talk suggestions for the Vulcans, but I don’t think such suggestions would even be possible,” Holland replied.
“Dismissed. And welcome aboard, Commander.”