The impatient chiming from an incoming hail were already waiting for Holmgren when he stepped into the ready room. On this morning, that noise sounded like a crying baby and, just like a crying baby he knew to be safe and well-fed, the sound gave Holmgren no impetus to hurry.
Holmgren puttered around the small compartment to replicate a glass of Altair water and make himself comfortable behind his desk. He smoothed down the front of his red and black uniform jacket and he picked off a thread of lint. Through the wide viewport beyond his desk, Holmgren thought he spotted the tail-end of a passing runabout.
When he was about to accept the hail, Holmgren became disturbed by a soft noise behind him. He looked back over his shoulder and all he saw were the closed door panels separating him from the USS Olympic‘s main bridge.
“Computer,” Holmgren said, “Remind me not to forget to put in a request with engineering. I hate the layout in here. Having my back to the door makes me think someone is sneaking up on me.”
“Yes, captain,” the computer replied.
Holmgren cleared his throat. He said, “All right, computer, accept the runabout’s hail.”
A holographic LCARS frame projected from Holmgren’s desk. Over the subspace communications channel, a runabout cockpit appeared in the frame, with Lieutenant Junior Grade Annikafiore Szerda sitting in the pilot’s chair. She was all freckles and side-swept red hair.
“–repeat, this is the runabout Acheron, requesting landing approach,” Szerda said blandly. Her grey eyes lit up, evidently noticing that she had a real-time audience one again.
“Oh! Captain. I didn’t expect it to be you who would–” Szerda said.
Holmgren locked eyes with Szerda.
He insisted, “You’ll set course for the USS Sarek and take to the stars if you know what’s good for you, lieutenant.”
“Uhhhhh?” Szerda intoned. “Pardon me?”
Jeffrey Holmgren’s Personal Log, Stardate 78009.0: I shouldn’t have welcomed Szerda like that. I’ve always looked up to Captain Taes as my leadership role model. On my first day as her Head of Archaeology on Starbase 310, Taes replicated a cake based on a recipe my mother had crafted. On my first day as her Chief Science Officer aboard the USS Dvorak, Taes nearly killed me.
“I don’t know who lied to you, lieutenant,” Holmgren said, “but somewhere along the way, someone lied to you about this assignment.”
Szerda smirked back at Holmgren. “Those lies I loved, captain,” she remarked.
“This is the job, Szerda,” Holmgren said. He spun his index finger in a circle through the air. “The last fifteen minutes of your life. That is the job.”
“I’danian spice latte?” Szerda sardonically asked in clarification. She raised her transparent mug within range of the comm’s visual sensor.
I died. For a minute, technically speaking. Almost a year ago, I died. On my first away team mission as Chief Science Officer of the USS Dvorak, I was subjected to an accidental body swap. My Human mind was unprepared for living within the non-humanoid body of a Phylosian. I lost my way in a comatose state, even after Taes managed to swap me back into my own body. I was shipped back to the infirmary aboard Deep Space Seventeen. My wife and daughters watched my goodbye holo-message. I shouldn’t have told them which one of them was my favourite. Cringe. But then I got better.
Holmgren raised his eyebrows at Szerda’s image. As if it held the same import as Szerda’s pilot certification, Holmgren asked, “How are your tablescapes, lieutenant?”
“Ah-ah-ah,” Holmgren sing-songed in a chiding tone. He waggled a finger at Szerda while he said it. “Hospitality is our game. Tablescapes are a top priority! Starfleet classifies the USS Olympic as a research cruiser, but we’re a cruise ship at heart. We don’t do the glamorous science: no time loops or stellar nurseries. You’ve accepted the role of chief operations officer aboard a fully-automated Olympic-class starship. That means most of your days will consist of venue management for an academic conference centre in space.”
After taking a breath, Holmgren added, “You’re joining us after serving as the USS Sarek‘s chief flight controller. There are no navigational challenges aboard the Olympic. Since I began our shakedown, we fly the same ferry route between the Romulan Free State border, Deep Space 17, the Federation border onto the Typhon Expanse and back again. Once we’re fully operational, I’m told to expect no different.”
Captain Taes is to blame. Starship command hasn’t really appealed to me since I was a fourth-year cadet. Through the eyes of a child, I coveted the mythological combination of the Science Officer and First Officer roles. It’s all I ever wanted. I studied to be a bridge officer at the academy. I did all that training, but once I got in the uniform, it was the scientific research that spoke to me. I didn’t really want to leave my archaeology department aboard Starbase Three-Ten, but Captain Taes needed me. She was nervous. The USS Dvorak was her first starship command. She was nervous and I got killed. Does that seem fair?
Szerda shrugged at Holmgren. She retorted, “I’danian spice lattes sounds about right to me. I’m looking for an assignment on thrusters-only. I could use a minute to breath and think about my career without worrying if I’m going to wake up to–“
But Szerda snapped her mouth shut, plainly deciding not to share that thought. Then her eyes widened, unable to hide as another haunted came to mind.
“If you wake up at all,” Holmgren said, referring to his coma.
“I’m glad you did,” Szerda emphatically said. She had served with Holmgren briefly, during the body swap crisis aboard the USS Dvorak.
Holmgren smiled at Szerda’s affectionate comment, but he didn’t know what to say in reply. He sipped at his water instead and looked at the ceiling.
Before the silence became prolonged, Szerda said, “I appreciate you taking a chance on me, captain. I worked in starbase logistics for a spell and I managed starship operations on a Raven-class, but nothing like all of this. You called the Olympic a cruise ship, but even that will be an all-new challenge for me. I don’t know if I’m ready, if I’m honest.“
“Don’t doubt yourself, lieutenant. I hand-picked you for this role,” Holmgren said. “When Task Force Seventeen was preparing their diplomatic strategy with the Romulan Free State, the Olympic‘s captain was promoted to an explorer and took her senior staff with her. The ship underwent a refit of its deflector and holographic systems. Task force commanders Mek and Kohl took the opportunity to re-assign the Olympic to a new formation. They paired up the newly-commissioned USS Sarek with the USS Olympic as Sarek Squadron.
“While the Sarek works with their Romulan crew members to solve imminent science mysteries in the midst of diplomatic and humanitarian crises,” Holmgren continued, “the Olympic is a joint effort with the Romulan Free State to work together in all of those quiet moments in between. Once it’s time to communicate and publish the findings of Sarek Squadron, our mission is to discover if Starfleet and the Free State agree on an article’s contributor taxonomy.
“Taes nominated me to command this starship,” Holmgren said, drawing a comparison between them. “I didn’t think I was ready. Task Force Command didn’t think I was ready. Although I offered leadership to the social sciences department on Three-Ten, I had little starship command experience, especially given my rank. Taes fought for me. She told me she wished someone had fought for her dreams earlier in her career. She promised to mentor me. Besides, how much trouble can a fully-automated Olympic-class cruiser get into? We hardly leave Federation space. The crew is a glorified science and hospitality department anyway.”
There was something I never told Taes. When she found me working in the first contact department on Deep Space Seventeen, she said she was going to fight for me, fight for her dream. She was prepared to lay a path for me, if I wanted it. I told her I wanted it, but I didn’t tell her why I had changed my mind. I didn’t tell her what had changed within me. Would she have fought for me, if she had known?
Szerda said, “Taes was always telling us the work of the Olympic is the real work. This is the work she misses.“
“Isn’t it funny,” Holmgren asked, “In our four-month shakedown, Captain Taes hasn’t visited in person once?”