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Archive for September, 2010

So there I was, standing in Admiral Quinn’s office.

“Sir?”  I’m not often at a loss for words, much to the chagrin of those in earshot, but now, well now that was all I could choke out.

“I said, ensign, that we’ve decided to give you command of a starship permanently.  Not the Kilkee.  We’ve found that battlefield promotions of that magnitude sometimes generate resentment and friction, no matter how much of the crew likes or supports you.  Being a captain is hard enough.  We’re handing her over to Captain Florea.  Instead, we have a different challenge for you.”

“Yes sir.  Well, tell Captain Florea that the turbolift door on the bridge gets stuck from time to time.  Just give it a hard tap and it usually opens.”  I could feel my tongue returning to its usual vigour.

The admiral raised an eyebrow and squared his already right-angled jaw a little bit more.  “We’re giving you the USS Ardent.  She’s a Constitution class.  She’s being refit as we speak.”

“Sir?  I thought all the pre-refit Constitutions were museum pieces?  Why start refitting one now?  Surely there are better ways to use Starfleet’s resources.”

Quinn sighed, I think.  It was a little hard to tell what was going on under his massive frame or within that barrel chest.  “Now that you mention it, ensign, she was a museum ship as of two months ago.  She’s undergone a special process to make her spaceworthy again.  As an engineer, you might be interested…”

“Begging your pardon sir, but are you saying that I’m to be in command of an original Constitution?  Perhaps you’d rather assign me to an old NX-class, if any of those are lying around.”

The admiral gave me a stare.  “I was impressed with your performance at Vega.  I’ve also heard about your tendency to joke.  I’m less impressed with that.”

Wisely, for a change, I said nothing.

“Before you take command of the Ardent, because of the new engineering techniques involved, you’ll need to attend a special workshop.  It will be at the Academy, beginning first thing tomorrow morning.  I expect you there on time and ready to learn.  The details are being sent to your quarters on the Kilkee.  In a week, you’ll be on the bridge of the Ardent—unless, of course, we find an NX for you.”  So the old man has a sense of humour, after all!

When I looked at the official orders, they were for me and for Vala, my new first officer.  So far she’s been an excellent second in command but sometimes a bit of a trial.  She never lacks enthusiasm.  On the way back to Spacedock, she pelted me with a barrage of suggestions about how to improve the Kilkee’s flight parameters.  Only the memorial service provided me a temporary reprieve from herself.  She all but squealed when I gave her news of our new assignment.  I have yet to detect any sense of the barely subdued menace that hangs about so many other Andorians.

At dinner that night, she’d apparently done more homework.  She spoke nonstop about the specs of the old Constitution and what piloting one might be like.

We talked briefly of the Academy as well, and there her spirits dimmed a little.  From what I know, she didn’t have an easy time.  That we share.  I didn’t struggle with the academics, to be sure.  But I entered a little too grown up to act the part of the dutiful and deferential student.  Sure, the instructors knew much I didn’t, but the same could be said in reverse.  I approached them as colleagues, and some took to that and others did not.

And, I have to admit, I had a little devilry in me too and it felt at home in San Francisco.  Practical jokes were a way of life on board the Death Star, but not so welcome by Starfleet.  I won’t say more here, to avoid incriminating myself.  Rather, I’ll say that returning to school—in fact we all gathered in one of the lecture halls I’d sat in once upon a time—brought the schemer in me back to the surface.

The officer leading the workshop was a photonic and, ironically and like many of his people, “light” wasn’t the word to describe him.  I’d also learned the night before that the project to refit the old Constitutions in a new way was called CIRC (pronounced “Kirk”), and while it used some clever nano-scale engineering, the name was about as witty as a Pakled.  They clearly needed a little help in that department.

So, the first morning of the workshop, when our leader stepped up to the podium, he immediately took on the likeness of the original Kirk himself, Captain James T.  I was up a good bit of the night hacking into his outer subroutines and modifying his appearance.  I’d encrypted those changes too.  But he didn’t appreciate all that labour.  Instead, he was none too pleased.  I’ve heard, and got to see that morning, that photonics can be a little sensitive about such manipulation.  I suppose I would be too.

After a flurry of effort to try and reverse it, we all had to settle down to a workshop run by the legendary James Kirk.  I even think our photonic teacher grew to enjoy it.  By the end, he had adopted some of the common mannerisms everyone associates with Kirk, though I didn’t touch any of the subroutines that governed his behaviour.  I do have ethical standards, even in the pursuit of mischief.

Though I was never much for sitting still too long, the information our photonic Kirk gave us did pique my interest.  The Ardent and her sister ships had been reconstructed from within using nanoprobes based on Borg designs.  In outward appearance, they were the same ships that the real Kirk flew, right down to the paint job.  Inside, they were modern starships.  I was nearly as rapt with attention as Vala.

My fellow neophyte captains were, by and large, less interesting.  There were about a dozen of us there and most had, like me, been through Vega and come out the other side in command of a ship.  A few I recognized from the Academy.  Everyone was excited and there was a serious threat that unrestrained fraternity might have broken out at any moment—I was too easily able to envision a “Constitution Club” forming in the aftermath of the workshop, with yearly dinners and perhaps even, god forbid, a newsletter.  It was precisely the sort of self-satisfied, self-congratulatory, and exclusive club I avoid like the plague.

I spoke to everyone in the room, of course, despite the danger that I might be elected club president one day.  I’ll remember their names and a bit of their stories, but little else.  I did meet a few participants who seemed more than combadges on legs.  One was a woman named Adalaxia Zeen, though she asked me to call her Brigid, not a usual name for a Trill, which she was.  Her features reminded me a little of my first girlfriend—Irene O’Sullivan from Dublin—and though she was shy—which I’ve always seen as an opportunity rather than an impediment anyway—I could detect flashes of a quiet strength and a buoyant energy in her.  It came out most when we turned to technical matters.  I’ve never seen a woman come alive so much talking about Bussard intake regulators.

The second memorable contact I made was with an Ea, at least that’s what she said the name of her kind was, named Rynwon.  I’d never heard of the Ea before, which is not a surprise since, according to her accounting, there are only three in Starfleet.  She was tall, green, and thin—a consequence of her species’ life in space, often in low or zero-g.  At first, I thought she had all the personal charisma of a Vulcan—something about the way she held herself and the placid, impassionate look of her nearly black eyes.  But she disabused me of that notion as soon as she opened her mouth.  She was full of questions and laughed almost as much as I did.  And we exchanged a few lines of poetry—apparently quite the love among her people.

There was something childlike, though not innocent, in her approach to the world.  A few of her jokes were risqué even for me, though I guffawed at all of them.  And, from what she told me of her history, she’d been schooled in the fine arts of starship combat since she was old enough to reach a console.

I could also tell she shared some of my love of mischief.  When our photonic Kirk appeared—I added a transported effect before the change in form for the sake or artistry—she glanced back in my direction, a broad smile on her face, and twitched the tip of one of her huge ears at me.  Her version, I believe, of a wink.  If I ever run across any of the other three like her in Starfleet, I’ll invite them into my crew in a heartbeat.

Throughout that week, my worst fear came steadily true.  We ate all our meals in the general mess hall together and some of the more evil souls among us began to float plans for keeping in touch.  There were bright spots, too.  The engineering was fascinating.  On the social side, within the larger clan, Rynwon, Brigid, and I began to form a happy little clique.  We talked a great deal and when the end of the week came, I was actually a little sad to say goodbye.  Against my better judgment, I agreed to take a role in coordinating future communications among our “class,” as it sadly came to be called, primarily to keep up with my two new acquaintances.

The next morning, Vala and I beamed up to Spacedock and boarded the shuttle that would take us to the Ardent.  We might have beamed directly there, but the pilot told us that it was a tradition, going back to the first warp capable ships, for a new captain to do a flyby.

As we left the bay, I anticipated my disappointment at my first view of the Ardent.  No matter what clever tech was in her guts, on the surface she was still a 200-year old ship.  But that wasn’t my reaction at all.  When we dipped down, below the top of the drydock and there she was, for the second time in recent memory, I couldn’t say a word.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I always loved Dublin in general, and St. James’s Gate in particular, because the old architecture survived.  Change was a like a river that washed over those places, only making the pebbles of the past more brilliant.

When I saw the Ardent, all I could think was that, despite so many things lost in the past few weeks and years, at least there was one pure, simple, beautiful thing left in the sky.

I sensed a similar awe in Vala, and I couldn’t let the moment pass without ruining it.  I leaned over to her and said, “That looks like a new paint job.  Scratch it and you’re fired.”  She looked shocked for a moment, then we both laughed.  Here was another tradition involving new ships that went back to the earliest days of warp flight: a captain tells the helmsman “don’t scratch the paint on the way out.”

The motto of CIRC was “Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made,” which is, along with John Masefield’s Sea Fever, the most overused bit of verse in the galaxy among spacefarers.  Instead, as we completed our first pass and came around to dock, I found myself thinking about another, lesser used, quotation: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”  Such were those who made the Ardent.

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Starfleet psych evaluators have seen individuals similar to Cadet O’Kennedy in the past. Some have been unable to pursue a successful service career—though most of these are eliminated in the selection process. Those that eventually achieve a commission frequently become some of the finest officers.

Cadet O’Kennedy has several traits that bode well for his career. He is extremely good with others and tends toward a leadership role in most situations, not by force but through group consensus. He has many friends, particularly among his female classmates. Even those fellow cadets that display some jealously about his abilities tend to like him as a person and enjoy his company.

At the same time, though Cadet O’Kennedy is unfailingly friendly and charming, he is not prone to deep relationships. In our experience, the most challenging lesson for new commanding officers is that while a certain sense of camaraderie is necessary on a starship, a captain cannot consider the crew close friends. Command requires difficult choices—and it appears from recent galactic events, that Cadet O’Kennedy may face many of these in his career—that are made all the more difficult by personal entanglements or charges of favoritism.

During his time at the Academy so far, Cadet O’Kennedy has also demonstrated considerable creativity. Many of these instances have not been associated with conduct becoming a Starfleet officer, but, if directed correctly, they predict adaptability in the field. We point in particular to the recent gender-reversing reprogramming of the Academy transporters. Cadet O’Kenndy was never definitively identified as the prankster in this case—his evasion of detection is all the more indication of his potential.

Finally, Cadet O’Kennedy has displayed, both in formal interviews with evaluators and under more informal observation, a considerable degree of self-knowledge. On occasion, he articulated conclusions about his own personality that evaluators were only beginning to formulate.

Cadet O’Kennedy also faces a number of challenges to a bright career. His outward charm is often a cover for deeper anxieties. He worries about his capacity live up to the reputation he has crafted for himself and is afraid that, in a moment of crisis, his vaunted abilities will be revealed as little more than a sham. He often feels he needs to prove himself. As a command officer, the wild side that he cultivated (and was often tacitly awarded for) in the Academy will likely lead him into rash decisions and overly heroic actions.

This self-doubt, coupled with his frequent self-reflection, could lead to exaggerated remorse, particularly after difficult decisions. Questioning their own decisions has led more than a few Starfleet captains into very dark places from which few have ever returned with their command ability intact.

Also despite appearances, Cadet O’Kennedy is a very private and sensitive person. Particularly since the death of his mother last year, his light-heartedness hides occasional bouts of melancholy. We do not currently know for certain how Cadet O’Kennedy will react to his next encounter with death, which, once again given recent events on the Romulan and Klingon fronts, as well as elsewhere, is likely to be sooner rather than later.

Finally, while Cadet O’Kennedy’s prior experience in space was a major factor in his admission to the Academy, his time outside the traditional command structure has nurtured a strong independent streak. He is less bound to strictly following orders than other cadets and more likely to act on his own initiative. He frequently believes that he knows best how to handle situations (despite his self-doubt after the fact).

We do not believe that any of these challenges would surprise Cadet O’Kennedy and we suspect he is already privately aware that he will need to mature as a person to realize his full potential as a Starfleet officer. Evaluators are reasonably certain that he will eventually fulfill his promise. We therefore recommend his graduation and assignment.

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