Part of USS Polaris: Stories Out of Time

The Call of Duty (Flashback)

Starbase Bravo
2399
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[ During the Osiris Initiative conference on Starbase Bravo… ]

Stepping out of the Type 7 shuttle’s rear hold, the fifty year old former officer surveyed the scene before him. It was one described, at best, as organized chaos. Throughout the cavernous Docking Precinct A, Captains, Commanders and support personnel, a sea of red interspersed with flairs of yellow and teal, disembarked from shuttles, queued up to check in and otherwise milled about. He hadn’t been among this many Starfleet officers in an official capacity since the day he was acquitted a decade ago.

Dressed in black cargo pants and a gray long-sleeve thermal, the new arrival looked very out of place. Nonetheless, he strode down the gangway with a brisk, military-like gait and approached a registration desk where an Ensign had just finished checking in a pair of Commanders with way too much luggage for the short stay. Fair weather officers, thought the man to himself as the two walked away. They weren’t about to start roughing it now.

“Next,” the Ensign asked from behind the desk without looking up.

“Lewis, Jacob D.,” he declared. An awkward silence followed, the administrator waiting for him to offer a rank or assignment, but he had neither.

After a moment, the Ensign looked up. “Oh, I’m sorry, but this is a Fleet check in only. Press should report to Precinct C, and civilians to…”

“Then I’m in the right place,” Lewis asserted in a firm tone. “Just get me checked in, Ensign. I’ve got things to do.” His expression made it clear this wasn’t a discussion and that he expected it done on the double.

The Ensign, doubtful but unwilling to argue with the imposing man without something further to back his perspective, quickly keyed the man’s name into his holographic display. To his surprise, the system spit back a registration. The guy was apparently in the right place. Mr. Jake Lewis, listed as Fourth Fleet staff but a civilian devoid of any affiliation or assignment with the Fleet since 2389. The oddest part of the registration though was who had issued the invite, and it put a stop to any further questions the Ensign might have. 

“Here you are, Mr. Lewis,” the Ensign said as he slid a PADD and a temporary security badge across the desk. “This PADD contains your welcome packet, itinerary, and information about Starbase Bravo, and this badge should be worn at all times while you’re here. The festivities begin at noon with an Opening Ceremony in the main conference room, which you are encouraged to attend.” Lewis slapped the badge on his chest and tucked the PADD away in his bag without so much as glancing at it.

“In case you were not already briefed, on account of everyone arriving for the festivities, space is at a premium, and we’re asking attendees to double up in shared quarters,” the Ensign added. “Do you happen to have a colleague you’re willing to share with? Or would you like us to pair you with someone?”

“Really? They invite us all out here for this circus and then forget to arrange enough rooms?” Lewis scoffed sarcastically. “Since she’s the one that dragged my ass out here, tell Admiral Reyes I’ll be bunking with her.” The way he said it with a stone cold stare, the former Commander didn’t look like he’d be taking no for an answer, but the Ensign also knew there was no way a Fleet Admiral would be made to share a room with anyone, let alone this scrappy looking drifter.

After a few moments of the Ensign looking as though he was about to vomit, Lewis’ face transformed from a stone cold stare to a warm smile. “I’m just joking, kid,” he laughed, taking a moment of pleasure in the Ensign’s discomfort. “Don’t worry about finding me a bunkmate. I’m sure there’s an unoccupied bulkhead below deck where I can catch some Z’s.” 

Without another word, Lewis spun on his heels and headed for an exit with a quick, deliberate gait, leaving the Ensign standing there looking dumbfounded by the strange exchange. As much as Lewis had slept in places far less comfortable than a bulkhead, in reality, he’d probably just spend a few credits on a nice room at the starbase’s ritzy civilian hotel. Ten years running private outfits meant price wasn’t really a concern, and it’d give him some space away from all the idealistic young Fleeters.

[ The following day… ]

Leaning against the rear wall of Meeting Room A, Mr. Lewis listened with skepticism as some Vice Admiral spoke of the “final frontier” and “the wildest and most interesting area of space you’re likely to come across.” These platitudes were no different than the welcome ceremony yesterday with all its talk about a “mandate to seek out new life and new civilizations” and “to boldly go, together.” They were designed to energize a fresh new batch of Commanders and Captains, and to sell them on an idealistic vision of exploration and discovery.

Mr. Lewis, however, didn’t buy the sales pitch. Starfleet was a mess. It had been only a few months since they’d cleaned out a cabal of corrupt Flag and Command staff from within the ranks of the Fourth Fleet. While Teylas Ramar and his new guard of Admirals painted an optimistic picture of the future, as if everything was good now, Lewis felt there still remained shadowy forces at play in San Francisco, Paris and elsewhere across the Federation. Some would say he was paranoid, but he’d say he was realistic. The pattern repeated again and again. Starfleet’s idealism made it uniquely suited to be influenced by bad actors, whether it was the Changelings, Tal Shiar and Obsidian Order, or its own Dougherty, Jameson, Banda, Morgan, Leyton and Cartwright. The list just went on and on.

As the Vice Admiral handed things over to a pair of underlings, Lewis pondered why he was here. He wasn’t a Starfleet Officer, nor had he been for the last ten years, and he didn’t give a damn about all this feel good crap. He was a realist who’d spend his career doing what had to be done to let everyone keep on living in their optimistic, idealistic bubble. He’d gone so far as to give up his career for that, resigning in disgrace rather than telling the truth and damaging the Federation he swore to protect. But even after his separation, he continued to work, from the outside, to protect the Federation. It’s why he’d linked up with Allison Reyes last year. But why she’d invited him now to this event, he still had no idea.

[ The last night of the conference, outside Vandorin’s Bistro… ]

For the last three hours, the Fourth Fleet brass had feasted on the finest dishes of Esterra Vandorin, Starbase Bravo’s premier restaurateur. While a Rigelian mollusk set atop a katterpod purée was delightful enough, fine dining and formal events had never really been Admiral Reyes’ cup of tea.

She was relieved as things began to wind down. The Fourth Fleet’s wayward explorer had no direct responsibilities for the kick off of the Osiris Initiative, but somehow she’d managed to make herself constantly busy these last few days. She’d met with foreign dignitaries who’d been invited by Starfleet as a courtesy, connected with a number of colleagues over Initiative logistics, and even found herself below deck, whiteboarding in a science lab with a group of physicists from Starfleet Science on how they might adjust the Barzan verteron array to increase the stability of the wormhole. She was ready to get out of her formal attire and back to that whiteboard.

“A pleasure to see us truly stepping back out into the stars, isn’t it?” offered a Commodore next to her as they stepped through the threshold of Vandorin’s back into the corridors of the starbase.

“Our twelve year slumber was such a disappointment,” Admiral Reyes replied with a tinge of bitterness at what she believed was one of the Federation’s most regrettable choices. “But on our return to the great unknown, you’ll hear no disagreement from me. It’s well past time.” This was a belief she shared with nearly everyone in attendance at Vandorin’s tonight. Each of them had played a part in getting to where they now were, ready to take Starfleet back to the stars through the Osiris Initiative.

“Admiral, the lift is this way,” the Commodore gestured as he turned left and she turned right.

“It’s alright Commodore. I think I’m going to walk off that Ktarian foie gras.” The Commodore shrugged and headed for the lift without her. He certainly wasn’t feeling a walk after gorging out at the banquet.

A walk was exactly what Admiral Reyes needed right now though. She’d been busy non-stop, admittedly of her own doing as was so often the case, and, with the hallways chock full of staff and the holodecks backlogged with reservations, she’d foregone her morning exercise routine. A walk might also give her a bit of time to sober up. She’d had one too many glasses of that Château d’Yquem.

As Admiral Reyes wound her way through the topside corridors, she got this feeling that she was being followed. She told herself to relax. It was probably just the alcohol. The conspiracy was over. The traitors had been outed. The Fourth Fleet was embarking into a new era of exploration. This was a happy time. She stopped in front of a wide viewport to marvel at the grand view of Mellstoxx III below.

“They built the first station in this system as a bastion against Klingon hostility and Romulan deception,” a voice said, cutting through the silence of the otherwise empty corridor. “It’s ironic you all chose this place to launch Starfleet’s new ‘mission of exploration’.” The tone was somewhere between doubt and distaste.

Admiral Reyes didn’t need to turn. She knew the voice. “Why is it that everywhere you go, you see shadows?” she asked, continuing to gaze at the planet below.

“Because every collimated beam occluded by an opaque object creates an umbra.”

The Admiral kinked a smile at the smart ass response. “I’m glad you decided to attend,” she said, turning to face the new arrival. “How have you enjoyed the event so far, Commander Lewis?”

“I think you’re all ignorant to think we can somehow just get back out there like it’s the sixties all over again,” replied the skeptical man dressed in civvies who’d been a guest at sessions the last three days. “And it’s mister Lewis, by the way. I may have helped you with your little mess, but I’m still on the outside.”

“You want to change that?”

“In the decade since I lost my pips, I learned I can serve the Federation better without the Starfleet shackles,” Lewis replied. “So no.”

“Then why’d you come?”

“Because you asked, Allison.” It was a simple statement, but one uttered with deep sincerity and a sort of vulnerability opposite every other aspect of his rugged demeanor. The former officer, for all his faults, was loyal to his core, both to the Federation and to the people with whom he’d served. But, as was often the case for guarded individuals, this softness showed but for an instant. “And I figured we might as well get this conversation over with,” he added gruffly, “or you’d come bother me at my place of work. We both know that’s not a place a holier than thou protector against corruption wants to be seen.”

“Quite to the contrary Commander,” Reyes replied to deaf ears. “We need officers like you.” 

Lewis crossed his arms. That pitch did nothing for him. He’d seen the picture in Docking Precinct A where the smiling face of the Chief of Staff looked like he was personally trying to recruit each of them. He’d heard the rallying call of Fleet Admiral Ramar, the cliche describing them as the best and brightest about to embark on a foolhardy mission to seek out new life and new civilizations. And he’d listened to the Admiralty as they sold their optimistic vision of the future to the bright, bushy-eyed Commanders and Captains assembled on Starbase Bravo. It was quite a show, but it left a lot out.

“No bullshit soldier,” Reyes continued, taking a more direct approach. “Why do you think I came back from my wonderful adventure on the rim? Because I want us to get back to creating our future, but I am not naive enough to think all our problems are past us.”

“And let me guess… you want me to renew my commission and join you on this fool’s errand?”

“In not so many words.”

The former Commander shook his head. “In what universe does me serving on any ship, let alone the ship of a Fleet Admiral, make any sense unless I’m in the brig? The hearings that put an end to my viability as an officer were streamed on every network across two quadrants.”

“You were acquitted…” the Admiral began before he cut her off.

“Due to a lack of evidence proving my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Lewis interrupted, continuing to tear into the idea. “In the court of public opinion, I killed those Romulans.” Only a handful, outside of the two in the otherwise empty corridor, knew the truth. “And let’s not kid ourselves. The optics of your new Osiris Initiative are important. Dowd’s been schmoozing with the media at Vandorin’s late into the night every night, and these quadrant briefings have been more about getting the troops fired up than providing real intelligence. In that context, I’m the last thing you need.”

“Really Commander?!” Reyes snorted bluntly. “You really think you’re so important that as you’ve walked these halls, everyone’s looked at you and recognized the butcher of Algorab?”

No response.

“Many years have passed,” the Admiral continued, stepping closer towards Lewis. “Ten years in fact. A lot of these kids were still chasing tail at the academy or repairing EPS manifolds below deck during your hearings, and the rest have long forgotten your little footnote in history.”

Still no response.

“In reality, this is about you and your guilt that you lost at your own game, that you had to resign, that you weren’t there when you believe we needed you.” His face was unmoved, but she knew her words cut into his psyche. “But we made it, and you helped get us in the end, even from the outside.” Her tone softened and a warm smile crossed her face. “Now I’m just asking for you to sign back on officially.”

“In what capacity am I qualified?”

“You were a Starfleet officer for nearly twenty years, and a CO for five.”

“You’ve not gone so senile as to ask me to babysit a whole ship, I certainly hope? Especially not one they’re calling a premier frontline explorer.”

“Jake, I’ve gotten old, not stupid,” the Admiral laughed. “I’m offering you Chief Intelligence Officer with a split between external intelligence, internal investigations, and counterintelligence. Plus, you can lead the Hazard Team.”

The former Commander couldn’t lie to himself. Something had gotten him to make the trip to Starbase Bravo. He could have ignored the invite, but he didn’t. Somewhere deep down, he longed to serve again in an official capacity. Ryssehl could manage their private operation just fine without him, and who knew, having an outside contractor at his disposal might even turn out useful down the road.

“I have some affairs to get in order, but send me the details, and I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

The intelligence officer spun on his heels and departed swiftly without another word, leaving Admiral Reyes standing alone at the viewport with the vastness of space before her. She’d gotten her answer. It was a gamble, but then again, so was this entire thing.

NOTE: Story originally part of Campaign 0: Osiris Initiative and is included here as backstory for the Polaris.

Comments

  • Love how this slowly opens up the reader's knowledge of the situation between the characters - there's a sense of seriousness going on here and a familiarity about it all that just really kept pulling me along as I read. Great story and great characters!

    April 27, 2023
  • Allison Reyes

    Squadron Commanding Officer
    ASTRA Director

  • Jake Lewis

    Squadron Intelligence Officer
    USS Serenity Commanding Officer