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Part of USS Phoenix: Consequences

Chapter 3 – Stumbling Into Command

U.S.S. Phoenix - bridge, Conrad's quarters
August 24, 2288 - 14:06
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At the bridge science station, Lieutenant Commander T’Prana familiarized herself with the planet Mercia VII – geography, atmospheric composition, cultural development, geology, flora, fauna and anything else she thought Commander Conrad would ask when she briefed him on the planet later. Though she was trying to commit it to memory, a pervading thought intruded upon her attempts to assimilate the information.

“Rein it in, commander,” Conrad had said to her earlier on the bridge. To his credit, he said it quiet enough that no one with standard humanoid hearing acuity could discern the words, unless they could read lips. She had not familiarized herself enough with the crew to know if any of the bridge officers possessed that talent.

“Rein it in.” All she had done was recommend selecting a landing party, which was standard procedure for a mission such as the one Phoenix had been ordered to undertake. And based on her research, it was advisable to start thinking about that now. The cultural briefing alone would require at least 48 hours to instruct the landing party on the local customs. Based on the ship’s ETA, they would be arriving in the middle of a monthlong festival designed to celebrate the first harvest of Mercia VII’s calendar year. Maybe she needed to recommend to Conrad that he request another ship be assigned to this mission.

“Rein it in.”

Her first meeting with Conrad had been less than seventy-two hours ago. They had never even spoken via subspace before her arrival at Meridian Station to report to the Phoenix. She had just completed command school at Starfleet Academy, expecting to be assigned back to the Saratoga, when she received orders to report to Conrad on the Phoenix as his first officer. From the moment she beamed aboard, it was very rushed. He greeted her and promptly handed her off to Chief Mort, who grabbed her duffel bag from where it was slung over her shoulder and launched it into the arms of a young crewman. Mort’s guided tour of the Phoenix was perfunctory. It took less than 15 minutes, which she deemed not near enough time to orient herself, but Mort insisted that he had launch preparation duties, and left her at the door to her quarters. To Mort’s credit, the crewman he had assigned to take charge of her duffel had delivered it and set it neatly on her bunk. She had not even begun to unpack it when she was being paged to an officer’s briefing.

That was her first thirty minutes aboard.

It was a marked contrast to the life she had just left at Starfleet Academy’s command school – structured, regimented, and at a measured pace. Indeed, it was the life she experienced in most of her other assignments. So far, life aboard Phoenix was coarse, uneven, undisciplined. As a Vulcan, she was supposed to possess the control to keep her ego in check, but in this moment, she confessed to herself that she was failing. Was the Phoenix a punishment, and if so, for what offense?

“Commander.” It was Lieutenant Rains at the communications console. “The captain wants to know when you’ll be delivering your report.”

T’Prana sighed to herself. “Tell him within five minutes, lieutenant. Convey my apologies.”

At the helm, Red Jarvis snickered.

“Jack doesn’t really care for apologies.”

T’Prana spun around to face the helmsman.

“Mister Jarvis! You’ve been warned about using that familiar tone while on duty.”

“Aw, commander, Jack isn’t even around.”

The first officer rose from her seat and stepped down toward the front of the helm. She turned her icy gaze on him.

“But I am, and right now this bridge is mine.” Her words came out at a rapid clip. “And if you can’t follow simple Starfleet regulations on decorum, I have no reservations about relieving you and confining you to quarters.”

Red appeared unfazed at the Vulcan’s threat.

“C’mon, commander,” he said with a smirk. “He and his wife used to have me over for dinner all the time at Utopia Planitia. He’s almost like—”

“I don’t give a damn!”

The words escaped her throat before she could think about them. Her face felt flush, and she detected the eyes of every member of the bridge crew locked on her. She allowed her gaze to shift over toward Samantha Rains. The communications officer looked shocked. T’Prana suspected Rains wasn’t the only one.

“Lieutenant Rains, you have the conn. I’ll be delivering my report to the captain.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rains answered quietly.

T’Prana rushed toward the bridge egress. When the doors shut behind her, she leaned against the bulkhead, closed her eyes, and took three deep breaths. In her mind, the first officer replayed the events of less than a minute ago, always seeing it from outside her own body. What had happened? She would have to fit in some meditation during her off-duty hours later. In the meantime, she needed to focus. She took another deep breath, turned toward the captain’s quarters and nearly ran into Gilan Fideran, the ship’s yeoman. She gasped.

“Commander, are you all right?” the Zakdorn woman asked.

“Yes, chief, I’m fine,” T’Prana answered immediately.

“The captain—”

“—is waiting. Yes, I know. Thank you, chief.” She gave Fideran a dismissive wave. “Carry on.”

Fideran gave a curt nod and headed toward the bridge ingress.

As the door hissed and T’Prana was sure she was alone again, she composed herself, and walked briskly toward Conrad’s quarters. She touched the door chime and waited. A moment later the doors parted admitting her. Upon stepping inside, she saw the captain seated at his desk, sipping a steaming beverage from a mug and studying an engineering report from Lieutenant Commander Hennessy. His uniform jacket laid neatly on the bunk.

“Commander T’Prana reporting, sir.”

“T’Prana, when it’s just us you don’t have to be so formal.”

She relaxed her stance, and hoped that in the low lighting that her disappointment was not apparent. It didn’t matter. Conrad had not yet looked up from the engineering report.

“Mercia VII, sir,” she said coming right to the point. The sooner she could push through her report, the sooner she could return – well, the bridge was not likely to be any more comfortable than here in Conrad’s quarters. “It is as Commodore al Rashid described it – decidedly pre-warp. Mercia VII is in the equivalent of your native Earth’s medieval period.”

Conrad slowly looked up from his engineering report, an amused smirk on his face.

“Sir?” T’Prana said, looking confused.

“I’m from Benecia Colony, commander.”

She looked down at the deck and sighed. “I’m sorry, captain. I will commit that fact to memory,” T’Prana said. In this moment she recalled something one of her academy roommates once said. There are some people do don’t need to give a shovel to. They’ll dig their own hole without your help. She did not fully understand the sentiment until now.

Conrad nodded and gestured for her to continue.

“Yes, sir. Rather than a feudal system, the Mercians have a benevolent monarchy. Most of the kingdom is concentrated on one continent. There are pockets of nomadic tribes on the minor continents that, at the present level of technological advancement and migratory patterns, will not encounter the dominant civilization for nearly half a century.”

Conrad stood up from his desk, and began pacing the small cabin, rubbing his forehead with the heels of his hand.

“I’m sure it’s a fascinating planet, but why do we have a cultural survey team there?”

“I’m afraid there are more questions than answers to that, sir.” T’Prana felt herself slipping into science officer mode. “I found a few research papers on the planet written by a Doctor Eric Cox more than 25 years ago. They weren’t of great significance.”

Conrad turned toward her, an inquisitive expression on his face.

“I sense there’s a ‘But.’”

T’Prana nodded. “Affirmative. I can find no trace of an Eric Cox in any database. I’ve checked the faculty lists of all the major universities and science foundations throughout the Federation. There’s nothing. It’s as if Eric Cox doesn’t exist.”

Conrad resumed his seat at the desk. “I will put that on the list of questions for our guest, Doctor Grant.”

“Indeed. From my research into Grant, he is a former Starfleet science officer. Last assignment was the U.S.S. Yorktown, NCC-1704. He mustered out on or about stardate 5901.9. He went on to do doctoral and post-doctoral work at the University of the Federation on Alpha Centauri and was appointed to the Federation Science Council as an advisor to the special projects committee.”

“So, he’s a big wheel.” Jack nodded to himself. “Okay. Have Chief Mort detail him to one of the guest quarters. I’ve gotta get back to this engineering report. Ned’s going to want to spend my entire meal break going over this, so I need to at least be up to speed on the salient points. You’re dismissed.”

T’Prana nodded and turned toward the door, stopping just short of it. Conrad raised his eyebrows.

“Something more, commander?”

The Vulcan turned back around to face her captain.

“You address Commander Hennessy by his first name, sir?”

“Yeah, he and I go back to our academy days and we served on the Lexington together. What’s your point, T’Prana?”

“Ensign Jarvis seems to think he enjoys the same privilege with you. Just now on the bridge—”

Jack shook his head side to side. The expression on his face indicated that he knew where she was going.

“I’m relying on you to maintain good order and discipline among the bridge officers, commander. That’s your job,” he said. “I have honest to God problems to solve, T’Prana. I don’t have time for the cosmetic ones.”

T’Prana was perplexed. She was not certain she understood what Conrad was saying.

“Sir, I—”

“I don’t care if you keelhaul him. This is not a problem I want landing on my desk ever again. Understand?”

She nodded and replied quietly that she did.

“I’m sorry, commander, I didn’t hear you,” Conrad said sternly.

T’Prana swallowed hard. “Yes, captain.”

He cocked his head toward the door. “Once again, you’re dismissed.”

The Vulcan turned on her heel swiftly and was soon back in the corridor. She paused a moment at the bridge egress. She had felt so comfortable delivering her report as a science officer. Why was being first officer so daunting? And what had she done to deserve this assignment?

She stepped through the door and onto the bridge. Rains rose from the conn and announced T’Prana’s arrival.

“First officer on deck!” She was staring angrily at Jarvis as she said it.

At the helm, Jarvis barely made eye contact with her as T’Prana settled into the center seat. Next to him, Ensign Robinson, the navigator, shifted nervously at his station.

“ETA to rendezvous point, Mister Robinson?” T’Prana asked.

“Twelve hours, thirty-one minutes, commander,” he replied. “We’ve had to alter course around—”

“Just do it, ensign,” she said, cutting him off.

He returned his gaze to the navigation console and offered a sheepish “Yes, ma’am” in reply.

She shifted in the chair, trying to get comfortable, unsure if that moment would ever come.

And if it did, would it come on this ship?