This normally wasn’t Lieutenant Whetu’s job, but today she was happy to do it.
She stood ramrod-straight, hands clasped behind her back, waiting. She realized after a momentthat she had adopted the stance a little too early, as it was still a few minutes before she heard the soft “thunk” of the inspection pod docking with NX-96400’s hull. Finally, the airlock in front of her hissed as it pressurized. A telltale light flashed from red to green, and the hatch slid open.
Beyond it was a tall Andorian zhen in a crisp Starfleet service uniform sporting captain’s pips. The yoke of the uniform was gray instead of captain’s white, as this ship was not hers to command… not yet, anyway.
She turned to the shorter Deltan officer beside her. “Thank you, Ensign. This is my first time as a plankowner and my first time to command a brand new ship. The hull was as clean as fresh snow drifts on Andoria’s central steppes.”
The stoic Ensign Elyos nodded. “Yes, Captain Th’Pev. I suppose my colleagues and I take it for granted, but it can be a pleasing sight. Please enjoy the tour.”
She grunted a polite farewell and then turned to Whetu, who was still standing in the airlock’s entrance. “Permission to come aboard, Lieutenant?”
Whetu stepped aside. “Yes, of course, Captain. Welcome aboard!” Whetu said all this a little too quickly, and swore that she could feel the butterflies escaping her stomach alongside her words.
Captain Th’Pev nodded and stepped onto the deck of 96400, her polished boots gleaming as they crossed the invisible, but very real, line of where her new responsibility would begin. She stood for a half a second there, hovering in the space between the pod and the ship, and Whetu saw her close her eyes and inhale, clutching the edge of the airlock door a little more tightly than was necessary.
Her reverie was brief, and Whetu almost missed it. But as her feet fell onto the ship’s deck plate, her eyes were clear and her jaw was set. She stepped up to Whetu, and while salutes were very rare in Starfleet, Whetu had to resist the urge to do so in the face of Th’Pev’s martial bearing.
Instead, she smiled a welcoming smile to the captain. “I’m Lieutenant Whetu, one of the systems-integration supervisors on the project. Admiral Hemphill regrets she couldn’t be here herself, but is looking forward to meeting you at the commissioning ceremony next week.”
Her tone dry but sincere, Th’Pev replied, “I’m just as happy to speak with the engineers who did most of the hard work, Lieutenant. She’s a beautiful ship. I’m curious to see her from the inside.”
Whetu’s smile broadened as she gushed “Oh you won’t be disappointed, Captain. We’re still learning new things from Yard 39 and this ship represents some of our most clever advancements. If you’ll follow me, we’ll get started in the main computer core.”
Th’Pev nodded and followed her into the corridor ahead.
Thirty minutes later, the tour continued as Whetu keyed the entrance to the main deflector control room. “We’re about ready to clear this for operational use, but until then we’ve got to make sure only qualified engineers have access,” she said, nervously explaining the tighter-than-average security.
Th’Pev didn’t react one way or another and waited for the door to open. Once it did, she followed Whetu inside.
They were in small alcove adjacent to a huge, cavernous compartment. At the center of it was a chain of exotic particle generators, power linkages, and field tuners that all made up just part of the ship’s impressive main deflector array. Th’Pev took it in quietly. Whetu could see the wheels in Th’Pev’s head were turning, but broke the silence in spite of herself.
“The basic principles behind a ship’s deflector array haven’t changed in hundreds of years, of course,” she said, and felt like she was giving a book report to a bored teacher back in primary school. “Still,” she continued, “with what we’ve learned from Yard 39, we’ve been able to do some really interesting things based on concepts that used to be considered technological dead-ends.”
The captain said nothing, but continued to look around the chamber. Whetu thought she saw the Andorian’s white head make a curt bob as if to bid her to continue, so she pressed on with her monologue. “By extending the focusing array and acceleration chambers of the main deflector into a large spinal assembly, we’re able to create a resonant ionization circuit, among other things. This ship’s deflector array can be an incredibly versatile tool.”
Th’Pev finally broke her silence. “Or a powerful weapon. Is it true that it has the capacity to generate an actual ion storm?” She turned to look at Whetu and take in the answer.
“Well, uh, a small one, yes. You must’ve read Starfleet Tactical’s analysis of the system.”
The other woman nodded. “Yes, it’s important for a captain to know every bolt, every weld in her ship. And while it might not be prudent to see a mace in every hammer, galactic circumstances have taught me that a certain amount of ...creativity can keep you alive.”
Whetu cleared her throat, a little uncomfortable. “Yes, of course, Captain. Certainly someone with your record would have a unique perspective on such matters... Did you have any other questions before we move on?”
Th’Pev cocked her head and her antennae perked up. “You know my record? Do you always investigate the captains who steal your ships away from you?”
“No, ah, nothing like that, ma’am!” Whetu replied hastily. She was starting to blush in spite of herself. “Well, not always, anyway. I just... We’ve met before, a while ago. During the Klingon attack on Utopia Planitia.”
Emerald eyes darkened and Th’Pev’s antennae curled forward at the memory. Whetu could tell the captain was hearing the same alarms, smelling the same acrid smoke, feeling the same heat on her skin. Finally, her eyes focused on Whetu in the present. “Yes, I thought you looked familiar. But that whole attack was a blur. I apologize for not recognizing you more quickly.”
Whetu faltered and thought for a second how to best reply. “No, sorry, I just… after it was all over…” She trailed off, replaying it all in her head. The red twinkle of Klingon boarders materializing in her lab. Fumbling for the phaser she never thought she’d have to use. Petrified in fear as the gleaming blade of a bat’leth rushed towards her throat...
“That seems like so long ago given everything that has happened since,” Th’Pev mused softly. “Shall we continue the tour?”
The practical suggestion reset Whetu’s brain and she startled back to the present. “Oh, yes, of course. Let’s head down to Main Engineering.” Thankful to be distracted from those memories, she decided to launch into another technical diatribe. “Usually, when you have an EPS network as complex as this one, you need to install secondary and tertiary power regulators every 20 meters, but we’ve been able to…”
Captain Th’Pev said little as she examined the ship’s impressive main engineering section and its twin warp cores feeding out to four huge plasma conduits. She asked a few questions here and there, but was mostly content to let Whetu ramble about specs that Whetu was sure the captain already knew by heart anyway.
Now they were in the turbolift headed to the bridge, the last stop on the captain’s guided tour. The travel time was slower than normal as the only clear route through the ship’s network of turbo-shafts required it to take a serpentine path through the ship’s impressive volume. After a minute, Whetu decided to break the awkward silence.
“I’ve heard some of the engineers have given her a nickname already,” she said, a little conspiratorially. It was even money on whether any captain actually enjoyed their ship having a nickname at all.
“Oh?” Th’Pev said simply.
“The Battleaxe, ma’am.” Whetu said, leaning it a bit as she did so. “It’s silly, but...descriptive, if you’re familiar with Earth’s military history.”
Th’Pev quirked an eyebrow and scoffed. “We had similar weapons on Andoria. Occasionally they are still used if honor demands it. But it is my hope this ship will be more useful as an instrument of peace, despite my concerns with how it might wage war.”
Whetu reached over to the lift controls and halted the car. Th’Pev turned to face her but did not protest. Whetu spoke. “Listen, I’m sorry, I didn’t get to finish earlier. I meant to thank you. What you did that day, you saved our lives and I know how much it cost. And I know how much you’ve given since.”
Th’Pev took her turn to blush. Her stern, chiseled features cracking a bit as they tuned an even deeper shade of blue. She reached out with her hand and placed it on Whetu’s shoulder.
“It is simply the payment of a debt we all share to live in an alliance like the Federation,” she said, smiling reassuringly. “We pledge to work together for the common good and the common defense. That pledge is meaningless if we are unwilling to do what it takes to settle the butcher’s bill when it comes due.”
Whetu felt the weight of Th’Pev’s hand on her shoulder. It was heavier than it should have been, and the smell of it was of bio-plastic, not Andorian flesh. Whetu felt no morbid curiosity about it. She knew what had happened to Th’Pev’s original hand. She had seen it happen.
Whetu returned the captain’s smile with her own sheepish grin. “Yes, you’re right, of course. But even still, thank you. I had to say it, ma’am.” Th’Pev squeezed Whetu’s shoulder and released it. The two stood quietly as the lift resumed their trip to the bridge.
On arriving, Whetu was prepared to discuss console layout, computer response times, and squadron command/communication protocols, but Th’Pev stepped past her into the oval room and moved to the center, touching the back of the captain’s chair reverently.
“This ship will be named in honor of several other Starfleet ships who have come before her…” she paused and looked back at Whetu, who hadn’t moved very far into the room yet. “Do you know what they all have in common?”
“Destroyed,” the lieutenant replied softly.
“Every ship with this name has had the same fate, lost in action with the enemy. Romulans. Klingons. Borg. Dominion.” She paused, looking at her prosthetic hand. “My grandfather died in service to one of those ships.”
Whetu gulped as she looked around at the brand-new starship she had helped to design and build. If creation was the nobler enterprise, why did destruction always seem inevitable?
“Not too many of my kind will admit it, but Andorians and humans have much in common,” Th’Pev shifted her gaze out past the viewscreen, set to display an image from the fore of the ship. Stars twinkled there, barely visible. Mars burned red beneath them, and insect-sized work bees floated about the yard. “Our ancient sailors were superstitious just as yours were, and while I know it is not rational, I wonder at the wisdom of sending out another ship of the name to tempt that legacy.”
Whetu felt her shoulders sag as she saw this magnificent paragon of Starfleet virtue now vulnerable to her own doubts and fears. Something moved her, and suddenly she remembered one of those bits of useless trivia that she usually relied on Elyos for.
“Captain, do you know where that name comes from, originally?”
Th’Pev shook her head. “I’m sure I read it but I do not recall.”
Whetu smiled and walked over to the tactical station. She brought up an image from the ship’s historical library (downloaded last Tuesday). The viewscreen now showed an obsolete human spacecraft, white and black with a thick fuselage and large delta wings. “It was a prototype vessel built when space exploration was an expression of two competitive powers always trying to best one another. That whole thing would culminate in disaster, but we were able to accidentally make some real progress along the way.”
Th’Pev took in the image on the screen and smiled. “I know we are hundreds of years apart but it is striking how the hull of this ship looks similar to that coloration of that old craft.”
Whetu nodded. “A happy accident of nano-laced duranium mesh and modern materials science. But yes. This ship was an answer to a competing design from the rival power. But to answer the question, the name meant…” here she paused for dramatic effect, “snowstorm.”
Th’Pev’s antennae stood tall in surprise and a bit of delight as she savored the thought. “Snowstorm, indeed! Between the steppes of Andoria and the Iconian Wars, I have survived storms literal and not... and below our feet we have the ability to generate a storm of a different kind.”
“If I can tame a “snowstorm” of my own, maybe it will be enough to defy fate.” She looked around at the bridge, and smiled a bit more broadly than she had before. “Or maybe fate will finally be kind to this newest snowstorm… the newest… Buran.”
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