Part of USS Challenger: The Old Order Changeth

2. Challenger Squadron

Starbase Bravo
January 3, 2401
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After two weeks orbiting Starbase Bravo, the Challenger was preparing to receive new orders. The crew was well-rested and ready for whatever Starfleet Command had in store for them next. With Forrester’s return, he and Rix were summoned to a meeting with Commodore Stafford, the Fourth Fleet’s Chief of Staff.

To say that Rix’s first two weeks as the Challenger’s XO were uneventful was an understatement; they were downright non-eventful, so he was looking forward to the Challenger setting sail once more into the inky blackness of space. It would allow him to get to grips with the Challenger and her crew better. He’d studied their service records, but now he could get to know them as people rather than just dry career statistics. 

He and Forrester were met by an Andorian lieutenant when they materialised in the transporter room. He introduced himself as one of Stafford’s aides and, after the usual pleasantries, escorted Rix and Forrester to the commodore’s office. The corridors they walked along had large windows at regular intervals, giving the pair a magnificent view of the Challenger as she orbited the station.

They were led to a small room with a desk, where an imposing-looking Bajoran woman sat. Her uniform held the rank insignia of a Petty Officer 1st Class. She fixed the new arrivals with an unimpressed look. “Wait here.” She ordered sternly as she rose from her seat and walked into Stafford’s office. 

Forrester and Rix shared an amused look. She reappeared moments later, glaring at both of them. “You can go in.”

“Thank you,” Forrester replied with a polite smile. 

The Petty Officer glared at them as they walked towards the office. Forrester was unfazed and ignored her. Rix, however, was unnerved. Her manner reminded Rix of the Medusa from Earth’s Greek mythology; if he looked her in the eyes, he would turn to stone. Once he was through the door, he looked back over his shoulder and finally met her gaze.

“She rules over my diary with an iron fist and doesn’t like it when I arrange meetings on my own,” Stafford told them, drawing Rix’s attention back to him. “Anyway, I’ll come straight to the point. We’re sending the Challenger back to the Gamma Quadrant.”

Rix had never been to the Gamma Quadrant; none of Rix’s hosts had. While he was excited about being the first, his memories of the Dominion War gave him pause. Jorell Rix had served during the war and saw up close how ruthless the Dominion could be, so exploring a region in their backyard made Rix uneasy. He glanced at Forrester, who showed no sign of unease. Just the opposite, he seemed excited by the prospect.

“I was hoping you would, sir,” Forrester replied.

By pressing a control on his PADD, Stafford dimmed the lights., “But we’re not sending you alone.” The lights in the room dimmed, and holographic images of three starships appeared; a Galaxy, an Excelsior-II, and a Nova. The three officers gathered around them. “The Inverness and the Higgs will join you in exploring the Riada Sector as part of a new squadron with Challenger in the lead. We’re calling it Challenger Squadron.”

“We’re not returning to the Eden Cluster, sir?” Forrester asked, needing clarification.

Stafford shook his head but didn’t offer any further explanation. Pressing another control on his PADD, the three starships disappeared and were replaced with a star chart. “The Riada sector was under Dominion control until about four years ago.”

“I assume we can expect the same mixture of political instability and reemerging animosities that we’ve seen in other regions they’ve withdrawn from?” Forrester asked.

“You can, and you may see a few more planets like Stakoron Two.”

Rix furrowed his brow. “Stakoron Two?”

“A formerly Dominion-occupied world,” Stafford replied. “They became utterly reliant on the Dominion to supply the fuel used in their power grid. When the Dominion withdrew, that supply dried up. We’ve been assisting them for the past few years.”

Dominion ruthlessness takes many forms, Rix thought.

“We’ll do our best to support those planets the Dominion have abandoned,” Forrester told Stafford before returning to the formation of the new unit. “Who’ll command the new squadron?”

Stafford pointed at Forrester, “You will, with a promotion to Fleet Captain,” he told them. “The Inverness’ skipper, Captain Everett Ashford, will be your deputy.”

Rix smiled and turned to congratulate the captain but stopped when, instead of pride of happiness on Forrester’s face, he saw a frown darken his features. He wasn’t sure what part of Stafford’s announcement displeased the captain, but Forrester wasn’t as happy as he should’ve been.

“You and Captain Ashford were at the Academy together, weren’t you?” Stafford asked, eliciting only a silent nod from Forrester. That silence spoke volumes to Rix, who concluded that Forrester’s relationship with Ashford was the source of the problem, and he would have to talk to the captain about it later.

“The Higgs recently lost several people when she weathered a level ten ion storm, including her captain,” Stafford said. “Her XO, Commander Matheson, has been given command, but that still leaves her short an XO and several other senior officers. We won’t be able to assign replacements quickly, so those positions will have to be filled from within the squadron’s existing personnel.”

Forrester nodded. “I’ll work with Ashford and Matheson on shuffling people around to ensure we have the right people in the right positions.”

“Very good.” The hiss of the door behind them opened, causing all three heads to turn in that direction where they found the commodore’s yeoman standing in the doorway, giving Stafford a look that could kill. “That’s her subtle way of telling me I have another meeting. All the information we have on the Riada Sector will be with you in the next hour so you can begin operational planning. Captains Ashford and Matheson are receiving orders to report to you on board the Challenger at zero-nine-hundred tomorrow. Any questions?”

The yeoman cleared her throat. Rix thought it sounded like a warning to him and Forrester to refrain from taking more of the commodore’s valuable time. “No, sir,” Forrester answered for both of them.

“Then you’re dismissed,” Stafford told them with a sharp nod.

Rix followed Forrester out, avoiding eye contact with the yeoman lest he be turned to stone. They stopped in front of one of the large windows and gazed at the Challenger, “With my new duties as squadron commander, you’ll have to take on a greater share of the command responsibilities, and you’ll need a yeoman to assist you.”

“Just as long as you don’t try to poach Commodore Stafford’s.” Rix joked. Forrester’s smile lasted only a few seconds, replaced by his frown. Rix didn’t know the captain well enough to guess how he would react to his XO’s next question, but it needed to be asked. “How well do you know Captain Ashford?”

He didn’t need to look at the captain to notice his body tense. “Not very well,” Forrester replied. Rix waited for the captain to expand his answer, but Forrester wasn’t forthcoming.

“Sir, if there’s a prob-“

Forrester cut him off mid-sentence, “Don’t worry about it, Commander.” Rix let the matter drop for now, but if there was a problem between Forrester and Ashford, then Commodore Stafford needed to be made aware.

They fell into an uncomfortable silence for the rest of the journey to the transporter room.


Rix wandered into sickbay a few hours later. There was nothing wrong with him, but the new chief medical officer had just assumed his duties, and Rix wanted to check-in. Rix found him standing by a biobed treating a patient. 

Henry Young was a handsome man. Rix caught himself admiring how Young’s uniform clung to his body, showing off his muscular arms and broad shoulders, before quickly giving himself a mental shake. Not only was it unprofessional for him to be ogling a colleague like that, but it was also inappropriate; Young had been widowed only three months earlier. 

Eventually, Young handed the PADD to a nurse, who would deal with discharging the patient, and approached Rix. His smile was friendly and welcoming, but there was sadness in his eyes. Several of his previous hosts had been widowed, and Rix could remember seeing that same sadness reflected back at him.

“What brings you to sickbay, Commander?” Young asked.

“Just checking in. I wanted to see how your first day’s going.” Rix replied. “Though now I’m here, it’s been a while since my last check-up. I guess we could get that out of the way while I’m here.”

Young flashed a sunny smile that briefly masked the sadness in his eyes. “Sounds like a plan. Have a seat on one of the beds,” he motioned over his shoulder, “and I’ll be with you in a second.”

Rix settled himself on the biobed recently vacated by the Ensign that Doctor Young had treated and watched as the CMO retrieved a large PADD. “You started your career on the Challenger, didn’t you?” Rix asked when Young walked over to the biobed.

“That’s right,” Young replied gently, a wistful smile playing on his lips. “A lieutenant junior grade fresh out the medical academy who thought he knew everything. That first tour on the Challenger disabused me of that.”

Rix smirked, remembering his own arrogance when he graduated, “I think we’re all like that when we graduate. Those first few months really puts us in our place.” He watched as Young pressed a few controls, “Has it changed much since you were here?”

“Not really,” Young replied as he studied the biobed’s sensor readouts on the PADD. “There’s been a few upgrades, and the medical facilities have been expanded, but it’s much as it was back then.” He looked up from the PADD. “It’s nice to be back, and it’s kinda like coming home after years away.”

Rix thought that was an excellent way to consider his return to the Challenger. “There must be a few familiar faces too.”

“One of the junior nurses from my first tour is now my head nurse,” Young told him. “And I recognise a few other faces, but most of them have moved onto new postings, been promoted or retired.” 

It felt as if there was an unspoken end to that sentence, but Rix didn’t push. “That’s the nature of life in Starfleet.” He said. “So, how am I doing?”

“All your scans check out,” Young replied, studying the PADD. “Your isoboromine levels are fine, your heart looks fine, and kidney and liver functions are good.” He deactivated the PADD and let his arm fall to his side. “You’re cleared to continue with your duties.”

Sitting up, Rix smiled gratefully. “I appreciate that.” He jumped down from the biobed. “I don’t think Captain Forrester would appreciate his new XO being relieved of duty after only two weeks on the job.”

“I wouldn’t want to be the one to have to explain that to him,” Young said with a friendly smile.

Young walked Rix to the threshold of sickbay. “If you need anything, let me know,” Rix said.

“I appreciate that,” Young replied with a smile, “thank you, sir.”

Rix returned the smile and said his goodbyes. He’d been putting off his next stop since beaming back from Starbase Bravo. Captain Forrester was less than forthcoming about his relationship with Captain Ashford, but if Rix were a betting man and had any latinum to his name, he would bet that it was a frosty one, to say the least. That didn’t bode well for Challenger Squadron.

Since Forrester wasn’t about to answer Rix’s questions on his relationship with Ashford, that left only two other people on board who could. Rix hated the idea of sneaking around behind the captain’s back. Still, if Forrester’s relationship with his new deputy was going to be a problem, then Commodore Stafford needed to know.

The computer helpfully supplied the location of Rix’s intended target, and sure enough, he found him exactly where the computer directed him. “Hey, do you have a minute?”

Comments

  • Don't anger the admin; if they like you, they'll help you bury the body. If they don't like you, it'll be your body. Anyway, ooh, return to the GQ. I really liked the way you were depicting the post-Dominion regions, so I'm excited to see how the Riada sector will add to the region's intrigue. This briefing is also doing a good double-shift in introducing us to Rix; his reactions to the situation, the Dominion, are all very telling. It's a fun way to explore Forrester, too; we're so often in his head that developing this new working relationship from Rix's perspective keeps things intriguing. Especially for the Ashford Mystery. But I look forward to seeing Rix interrogate Mitchell for answers next time - assuming it's Mitchell he's gone to!

    January 8, 2023