Chapter 1 - The Stars Aren't Going Anywhere
Stardate: 3 Years Ago
Almost lost to sight against the titanic architecture of the station, the small, sleek form of the Hornet-class tactical escort USS Bombus waited, glistening under the muted radiance of the station lights. Even at rest, the warship exuded a sense of latent potential. Its powerful nacelles hinted at the explosive speed and agility contained in its compact frame, and its armored hull bristled with cannons and launchers. It was a ship built for another time, when threats like the Borg and the Dominion had harried the Federation into a frightened corner. It was designed for only one purpose: defense against overwhelming odds. But its battles were far behind it now, and it lay at anchor, languishing in the reserve lists, waiting for its chance to be useful again.
Akia glided slowly, limned now and then by a blue witchfire of quaradum micro-jets as his thruster suit corrected his drift, a few meters above the dorsal hull of the vessel that would soon be his first formal command. His suit’s optical sonar allowed him to send and receive acoustic signals through the void between them, not quite the same as through a liquid medium, but similarly enough. He sensed every seam, every patch in its outer armor, the varying density of materials. As he swam, his thoughts were a strange mixture of anticipation and nostalgia.
I used to dream of piloting ships like this, he mused. Hornet-class. All engine. They were the speedsters, the muscle cars of my youth.
His thoughts flowed back through the years. He saw himself, age nine, happily ensconced in the cockpit of one of his family’s training cruisers, the venerable Endurance and Spray. Those were good ships: fast, agile, responsive. Cutting through subspace like a razor, for all their two centuries of age. Excellent ships for anyone to train on. But they had nothing on you, dear Bombus.
This ship was a pilot’s dream, designed for extreme performance and responsiveness. A ship that would heed his every command like an extension of his own body. A ship that could literally tear itself apart with the raw output of its maneuvering systems.
In his youthful aspirations, he had always seen himself in the pilot’s seat of a ship like this, hurtling through uncharted regions of space, pushing the vessel to its limits. As he felt his way along the ship, he was taken back to those simpler times when the only thing that mattered was the exhilaration of flight, the thrill of discovery, and the joy of pushing boundaries.
His thoughts continued on through all the Starfleet vessels he had served on as helm officer: Sevaath, Waijuna, Alcyone. Cruisers, frigates, scouts. Their ghostly images trailed alongside his thruster suit as he swam, phantom echoes of his unguarded sonar musings. All fine ships in their own ways. But they, too, could not compare in flight characteristics to the ship now passing beneath his fins. Somehow, in his journey through Starfleet, he had never found himself behind the helm of a ship like this one. And now, he reflected, he never would.
It was a melancholy reflection. Akia had never aspired to command of a ship. From his earliest memory, he had never wanted to be anything but a pilot. It had been his first love, a love that never faded as he advanced in rank. But with rank comes duty, and duty to clan and Starfleet were not things to be set aside. Not without killing something even deeper within himself than the love of flight.
Still, he knew that he would never stop missing the helm, never stop feeling the dull ache to live again in the connection between thought, motion and space.
Someday, he thought, when both clan and fleet were done with him, when he had enough medals and enough offspring, he would find his way back to the helm. He would demote himself back down to lieutenant, and spend his retirement years piloting some ship, maybe even a ship like Bombus. The fantasy consoled him.
Until then, duty called. He would serve where he was needed, and the powers that be had decided that he was needed in the captain’s seat. The helm was no longer his domain. No longer the swimmer, but the current.
As he finished his inspection, the thought came to him that he and Bombus were not so unlike each other. He, the captain, yearning for the station he held in his early career. It, the battle-scarred warship, malingering in a time of peace, waiting to fight again in battles that would never come.
Or would they?
As he hung nose-to-nose with the vessel, a soft but resonant voice emanated from its hull, as if in answer to his question. It was just another phantom echo, a reflection of his own thoughts he’d been thinking out loud, resonating in the ablative armor and coming back to him, but the word that came through his neural interface had an oddly comforting effect. It seemed to say: