Sunday, April 20th, 2155
“Chief Armoury’s star log April Twentieth, Twenty-One-Fifty-Five. Since joining Challenger my duties of ensuring the safety of the crew and ship continue to proceed without any issues. Leading the armoury department though has tested my patience. I still believe my transfer has caused some issues with those inexperienced crewmembers who find serving under a non-Starfleet officer difficult. Nevertheless, I wish for the record to state I am satisfied with Ensign Rachele Cortez’s performance and open-minded approach in having me as her superior officer. She has been highly supportive and helpful through the transition.”
T’Plau saved her log entry and switched off the computer screen that sat to the side of her desk. Within the confines of her personal cabin she prepared herself to perform her daily mediation before she slept. As such the room was dimly lit and lighted candles dotted around it, providing a calm atmosphere to perform her time of contemplation. Originally sat up straight in her chair, the Vulcan woman moved gracefully from there to her usual strong sitting position on the cushion she had placed on the floor. As she began to control her breathing, she closed her eyes and allowed her mind to become as tranquil like the Voroth Sea on her native homeworld of Vulcan. On many occasions she would use the images of Voroth as a way to empty her mind of all of the issues that fogged her thoughts. She found herself entering a stable and calm sensation, until the intercom went off. Unable to ignore it she slowly opened her eyes and stood up to answer it. “T’Plau here.” She said after responding to the disturbance.
“Sorry to disturb you Sub Commander,” spoke Captain Burton, “would you join me and the rest of the senior staff in the command centre at once.”
“Yes captain.” She responded, curious as to why the captain was calling her this late in the evening.
After putting back on her uniform, Sub Commander T’Plau had left her quarters and made her way down E deck towards the lift to take the ride to the command centre on D deck. Typically, as it was the evening, the Challenger’s corridors were less busy then normal and the lighting was slightly dimmed too. When she had arrived on D deck and travelled from one end of the deck to the other, she had encountered eight crewmembers; three engineers, one medical officer and four soldiers from the MACO unit. Except for the medical officer and one of the MACO soldiers, the rest of the crew had been in their uniforms. On previous occasions when she had walked the corridors in the evenings (or on rare occasions late at night) she passed crew mainly in their civilian attire. It was not until she arrived at the command centre did she remember that Sunday evenings were designated “movie night”, a social gathering for many members of the crew in the mess hall to observe dramatically produced motion pictures. As it was “movie night”, many of the crew that would have finished their shifts would not have changed into their civilian attire because it would have not made them punctual for the beginning of the motion picture. She had attended a few of them in the previous month but had found the entire ritual illogical and unproductive. Only when she had been invited by others had she decided to attend to ensure she did not cause any misgiving towards her fellow crewmates that had taken the time to ask her to join their company. Declining an offer such as that would be a social faux pas, as such she knew it would cause tension between her and other members of the crew. She was determined to adapt to life on the Human ship that included having to test her patience with their highly illogical impulses.
Walking into the command centre she had overhead Commanders Levesque and Stanton talking about the film they had observed together, she had caught the end of their conversation. Stanton had been excited over the storyline involving the American President character from fighting terrorists off of his aircraft and saving his family from certain death.
“Ah T’Plau, good you’re here.” Captain Burton remarked after she had stepped through the doorway. She had looked around the room to see else who here with the Captain and the two Commanders. She was impressed to see the rest of the senior staff all present too, they all were in their civilian attire except for the captain who was still wearing his uniform.
“My apologies for my tardiness captain.” T’Plau said, noting the possible social inconvenience her late arrival may have caused.
Burton simply dismissed her apology with a friendly smile and a shake of his head. “You’re not late Sub Commander; I was already working in here and this lot,” He said indicating to the others, “were altogether in the mess hall off duty.”
“And we missed the ending of the film too.” Stanton stated in slight light-hearted manner.
“Michael you’ve seen the film before.” Burton countered back as he placed his hands against his hips to look at his Second Officer and Chief Engineer. The captain had been standing almost centre in front of the large wall mounted computer display in the room. “Now the reason why I called you all here,” He started with. “I’ve been reviewing our logs of our work since the Romulan skirmish at Archer Four and entering them all into the database. We’ve scanned and catalogued more space than Enterprise and Columbia did in their first fifty or so days, so I wanted to say first to you all how proud I am of our accomplishments. Thank you for all of your hard work. Please make sure you pass this on to those who work under you too.” Burton paused as he now leant against the edge of the wall monitor. “However, you are all aware of the current interstellar political climate. Even with the formation of the Coalition, these are uneasy times for Earth and its Commonwealth. With the attack on Coridan, the Coalition has increased its patrols of our shipping lanes. Enterprise and Columbia have both been assigned to help out with these patrols. In recent days a number of Earth Cargo Ships have been attacked by hostile vessels, mainly mercenary ships. But a combined task force of Coalition ships has been able to defend them.”
“Cap’n please tell me we aren’t being re-assigned to join this fleet?” asked Ensign Conrad from the back of the room. The young pilot looked displeased at the idea of them being moved away from their mission of exploration. It was trait that T’Plau had found fascinating to observe among the Humans on Challenger, they all wanted to explore and preferred to do so instead of engaging in hostile situations. A logical and commendable objective she noted to herself. Their passion to explore outweighed almost everything else; it was an unusual characteristic of a species. Yet, she was surprised that it was Ensign Conrad who had made such a comment. In the time she had taken to become familiar with him she had found him to be quite “pro-Boomer” as Commander Stanton had put it one night. He had served on an Earth freighter for many years and believed the Boomer society to be able to deal with anything without the constant support of Starfleet. Stanton had said he found it ironic that their pilot believed that, especially as he now wore the Starfleet uniform. So for Conrad to display his displeasure at the idea of joining a force to protect cargo ships seemed uncharacteristic, she had expected him to be the most eager to protect the non-military ships.
Burton looked at the pilot with solemn expression. “No, we’re not joining the fleet.” He answered truthfully, however T’Plau noticed another expression creeping across on the captain. Something she believed showed there was something else he had to say.
“We’ve been ordered to Andoria.” He said clearly for them all to hear.
Many of them began talking amongst themselves pondering over what he had just said.
T’Plau now spoke up. “Has Admiral Gardner stated why sir?” She asked directly. She had inferred that Captain Burton would have spoken with Admiral Gardner recently and such a diversion from their current mission to one of the Coalition homeworlds could only have come from a direct order from the admiralty. Logically Gardner was most likely to be one to make the order to Burton.
“He has.” Burton said, appearing grateful for T’Plau asking him and quieting the rest of the senior staff down to listen to him. “It’s for a good thing actually.” He said, trying to convince them. “The new Andorian chancellor has formally invited us to join her as honoured guests.”
“Honoured guests?” Stanton repeated, appearing confused at what that meant.
“I was just as confused as you Michael on this one.” Burton said before beginning to explain what was going on. “Apparently we impressed Chancellor Margerit at Denobula and at Archer Four. For our efforts she wants us to join her in the opening of the new Earth Embassy on Andoria and to be guests at the state dinner she is hosting.”
“Fascinating.” T’Plau said towards what was transpiring. “Not in the history of my own people’s dealings has a newly elected Chancellor ever invited a non-Andorian to the homeworld for a state dinner so early on in their term.”
“Well Admiral Gardner has said this is something we can’t turn down and our own ambassador, Ambassador Agos, is hoping our presence will solidify the strong relationship that Chancellor Margerit has been promoting for between the Andorian Empire and the Earth Commonwealth.” Burton added. He looked at everyone around the room. “I know this is annoying, I want to be exploring as much as you do, but we need the Andorians as a strong ally right now, especially with the Romulan threat and these current attacks on our shipping lanes. Once this is all over, we can get back to what we’ve started, hopefully.”
Commander Levesque cleared her throat before speaking. T’Plau had found it unusual for their first officer to remain so quiet during a meeting without adding her thoughts on the discussion at hand. As such T’Plau had expected Levesque to speak up soon; she was satisfied her estimation had been proven right. “Sir,” Levesque started with. “Has Admiral Gardner stated how long we’ll be at Andoria?”
“We’re simply there for the opening ceremony and the state dinner so hopefully two days, possible three.” Burton answered honestly. T’Plau had noticed that the captain’s tone of voice seemed quite frustrated with the turn of events and was doing his up most best to convince his senior staff that this was a good thing, even if he didn’t quite believe it himself completely. “Any other questions?” He asked looking around the room.
T’Plau looked around at her peers; Major Yu had remained silent, standing still like a statue. Doctor Kefira had stood next to her and was also in a motionless state, arms crossed against her chest. Ensign Hennessey had been sat in one of the chairs by the unusual T-shaped desk in the centre of the room. He had remained quiet too, listening attentively to the exchanges happening between the senior staff. T’Plau had not many dealings with either Kefira or Hennessey to date, but she had yet to see any evidence to consider them to be nothing but excellent officers. She felt the same about Major Yu, whom she worked with almost on a daily basis. She found the counsel of the MACO detachment commander to be refreshing and always logical. The two of them had shared many meals together in the mess hall too. As T’Plau looked at the three of them she was expecting one of them to say something but none of them did.
“Alright, let’s get on with this. Jack lay a course for Andoria, best speed.” Captain Burton said disturbing the short amount of silence that had lingered after his previous question. “The rest of you make sure the crew and ship are fully ready for our arrival at Andoria. We should expect to host a tour and possible reception for Ambassador Agos and possible the Chancellor too. Let’s show them how proud we are of Challenger. Dismissed.” He ordered.
T’Plau grasped her hands together behind her back and turned on her heels to leave the room as ordered. She wasn’t the first one out however as she made her way out, she noticed that her colleagues had headed away in a separate direction from her, as such she was startled at the voice of Captain Burton coming from behind her. “Sub Commander can I walk with you?” He asked in a calm tone.
She stopped in her tracks and turned to look towards him, she answered with a simple bow of her head. The moment they were side by side she continued walking with him. She could not anticipate why the captain would wish to walk with her back to her quarters.
“T’Plau I wanted to say thank you.” He started as they made their way down a corridor. “I’ve been highly impressed with your work ethic since joining us; I know it mustn’t have been easy for you adjusting to working with Humans. I hope we haven’t made it too difficult for you, especially with the smell. I know Vulcan women possess a heightened sense of smell.”
“Not at all sir.” T’Plau told him honestly as she looked at him. “My nasal numbing agent helps with the… aroma.”
Burton snorted at T’Plau’s diplomatic attempt. “That’s one way of putting it.” He said. “Unlike others in Starfleet, who in particular four years ago would be against a non-Human serving on their ship, I believe we need to work on developing strong relationships with our galactic neighbours. I firmly believe in the Coalition and hope it only moves into something greater.”
“An ambitious and bold vision,” T’Plau said without asking permission to speak, “If you don’t mind me saying captain.” She added.
“Not at all.” He answered, still smiling. “As such I appreciate your input on everything to date Sub Commander and I’m planning to use it more, especially with this mission to Andoria.”
“Oh?” T’Plau asked, curious to what he had in store for her.
They turned down a corridor and he answered her. “No one on this crew has been to Andoria except for you. From where I stand that makes you our resident expert on Andoria and its people.”
“Your confidence in my abilities is gratifying sir, however my two visits on Andoria were for classified security matters, as such they were short in their duration and I did not visit the entire homeworld.” T’Plau said quite bluntly. She was impressed that he had read her file and had remembered the information stating that she had been to Andoria.
“However short-lived Sub Commander, they make you more of an expert on Andoria than me. What I’m getting at T’Plau is simple this.” He said and stopped walking, as did she, and looked at her. “I’m going to depend on you to advise me on ensuring I don’t make myself look foolish in front of them. I need you to brief me on everything you know about Andorian society, its culture and customs.”
T’Plau raised her eyebrow. “That does fall into the job description of Ensign Hennessey as Chief Communication and Protocol Officer.”
Burton nodded in agreement. “Yes, it does and I’m sure Ned will do an excellent job briefing me on the official things that the database tells him, but I want an insider’s opinion on it too. That’s where you come in. You’ve moved among Andorians in their own land. You’ve seen how they behave in their surroundings.”
“I still do not believe what I have witness will give you a greater insight into their society sir.” T’Plau said, almost protesting at what the captain was expecting from her.
“I beg to differ. Where is the logic, that when you are preparing a strategy about an opponent that you don’t know about, if you don’t use all of your assets to ready yourself for them?” Burton countered back with.
T’Plau considered the captain’s argument for a second and nodded in agreement. “I see your point. Do you see the Chancellor as an opponent though?”
Burton laughed at that comment and gestured for them to resume their walk. “No, but in my experience so far T’Plau when it comes to politicians, whatever race, there is always something that put them on the other team from you. You just need to know how to work them to keep them friendly!”
Commander Levesque had found that Commander Stanton had followed her out of the senior staff briefing and was now walking by her side.
“Did you see that?” He whispered to her as they turned down a corridor away from the rest of the staff who were departing from the command centre.
She looked over her shoulder to see what he was indicating at and then back to him, confused as to what he was going on about. “See what Michael?” She asked, copying him with a low voice.
“The captain and our Vulcan sub commander!” He uttered with his eyes almost bulging out.
Levesque shook her head, baffled to what he was going on about. “What about it?”
They walked past the door for the atmospheric processing room when he finally answered. “He asked her to walk with him, and during that meeting they were exchanging a lot with each other.” He said, still with a suggestive look in his face.
“Michael,” Levesque said now returning the volume of her voice to normal, “What are you going on about?”
“You don’t see it?” Michael flabbergasted. “The sexual tension between them!”
The first officer now just slapped her palm against her forehead and shook her head in utter disbelief with what Stanton had just said. She never would have thought he would have said such a thing when they first joined Challenger. He came across as the quiet, withdrawn type however the last few weeks he was starting to grow in his confidence – in particular with his relationships with her and Captain Burton. Levesque found herself enjoying their offtime together as well as when they worked together on ship business. “You really are losing it Michael. There is no tension between them! For one thing she’s a Vulcan and I’m pretty sure the captain once said she was married.”
Stanton froze from where they had been walking and looked at Levesque. She had stopped when she had realised he was no longer by her side and turned to look at him. “You’re jealous!” He quickly said.
“What?!” She almost screamed back at him.
“She’s an attractive woman, has great assets and has a high rank.” Stanton replied as he crossed his arms against his chest.
“Michael, you do know you’re completely talking out of your rear end!” She threw back at him. “I am not jealous of T’Plau in anyway, in particular her relationship with the captain.”
“But you do like him!” He now said.
“And what does that mean?”
“You like the captain.” He repeated, emphasising on the word ‘like’ to suggest something more than what it really meant. “I mean I don’t blame you; he is a pretty attractive guy and has a personality you could melt for!”
Levesque frowned in an almost Vulcan manner. “Are you sure it’s not you that fancies him and is jealous of their relationship?”
“Ha!” He replied. “As I said he’s a handsome chap, I can see why the Denobulan people fell for him – he is quite the charmer but I am one man’s man and I’m pretty sure Alex would hunt me down across the Commonwealth if he found out I was involved with the captain! Plus, he agrees with me that the captain is hot!”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation!” Levesque said rolling her eyes as she walked away from him.
Stanton quickly jogged after her and continued walking by her side. “Look Nicole, all I’m saying is he’s free, you’re free and you both get along pretty well. There aren’t any rules against fraternising within the ranks.”
She quickly looked at him. “I’m pretty sure there is Michael when it comes down to those involved in the chain of command, especially the captain and first officer!”
He shrugged his shoulders. “So, what if there is? What’s Starfleet Command going to do about it?”
“I’m pretty sure Admiral Gardner could pull our pips.” Levesque said. “Anyway, I’m not going to have this conversation with you. Nothing is going to happen between me and the captain. End of story!”
“Whatever Nicole! I see the way you look at him on the bridge and in particular how annoyed you were at how much attention he was giving T’Plau in that briefing!” Stanton said in a more serious tone.
At that point Levesque found herself blushing, had she been doing that she asked herself or was Michael just winding her up even more?
“Just stop starring at his bottom when he stands up from the captain’s chair,” Stanton added with a cheeky boyish grin and suggestive wink. “Even if he does have a firm one to drawl over!”
Levesque slapped him on the back of his head for that comment. “I do not do that!” She added.
“Ow!” He exclaimed as he rubbed where she had smacked him. “Okay, you don’t!” He said in surrender. “But you gotta admit it that you two would make an adorable couple!”
Levesque just glared at him and remained quiet for the rest of their walk down D deck, deciding not to engage Stanton any more with what he was going on about. She never thought of Captain Burton in that manner before. Yes, she would admit they got on really well, they always had a similar train of thought on various issues, shared a similar sense of humour and she enjoyed his company off duty too. Stanton was also right that he was quite the charmer too; a characteristic she had decided was why Captain Karim had originally picked Burton as her First Officer. Not only did he have the tactical calculated mind of a fine strategist, but he also balanced that out with a charismatic approach that would have served her well if she was still alive and commanded Challenger instead of Burton now. It was also one of the traits she believed why Gardner had promoted Burton to captain. He always kept an open view on all issues and was one who would want to know everything first before jumping in and making a decision. These were things she liked about serving with Burton. She shook her head slightly, trying to stop herself from thinking about the captain the way that Stanton was suggesting. Captain Burton and her would never be a couple like that…would they?
“Bridge.” Ensign Conrad said after entering the lift with Ensign Hennessey and tapping on to the controls on the side. The young pilot lent against the lift’s wall while the linguistic remained standing with his hands behind his back.
“So much for joining Starfleet to explore strange new worlds.” Conrad mumbled to himself.
Hennessey turned his head to look at the young pilot. “Excuse me ensign?”
“Sorry,” Conrad huffed to himself, almost sulking like a teenager. “When I agreed to join Challenger, I was thinking great we would be going off to explore worlds that no Human has been to before. Not ones that have already been explored.”
Hennessey grimaced at Conrad’s personal predicament before giving him his view. “You may not the like of our new destination Jack, but consider the journey we are about to take. We’re about to be involved in another round of developing this new Coalition we are part of. It’s bigger than us and it’s important we see to the success of this mission.”
“I know that.” Conrad said now uncrossing his arms. “I was just hoping for something more than having to attend another diplomatic function!”
At that remark Hennessey chuckled to himself and looked back to the lift’s door.
“What?” Conrad asked as he stood up from leaning against the back wall. “What did I say that was funny?” He asked confused at Hennessey’s reaction.
The communication officer looked back at Conrad. “Did you not say last month that if we attended more glitzy parties you were happy to return to Starfleet?”
Conrad thought about it for a moment before answering. “Actually, it was Major Yu who described the signing of the Coalition Compact to be glitzy; I just said if we got to attend such events regularly then it was worth returning.”
“I think you’ve just argued yourself out of your strop then.” Hennessey remarked as the lift came to a halt. He gave a smile towards the younger officer before leaving him in the lift alone for a moment to think about what he just said.
Conrad cursed himself and his big mouth before following Hennessey out on to the bridge. He was annoyed for being so green when he joined. He would definitely watch what he said in the future.