Mother Starfleet Calling
Posted on Sun Jan 30th, 2022 @ 2:07pm by Senior Chief Petty Officer Fordyce Kirschler
1,290 words; about a 6 minute read
Ninety-Nine Bottles of Swill
Close your eyes and you were there: the roaring crash of the waves, the smell of dimethyl sulfide, the taste of aerosolized salt. With enough imagination, you could even feel the wave action transporting immeasurable amounts of matter one grain of sand at a time. If you made the right fine-tuned adjustments to the environmental systems, you could probably feel the warmth of the midday sun on your skin. You could forget altogether that you were in a small flat inside a sizable structure orbiting Earth, that you were one of many Starfleet personnel being housed there while awaiting transfer orders. This generation's holo-emitters were unparalleled; you could imagine and believe that you were standing in the surf on a beach in the Maldives.
Until the unmistakable, nagging technological shrill of a PADD alert cut through the illusion. Nails on a chalkboard, Mother Starfleet was calling - be a dear and answer the subspace call from mummy, won't you? When he managed to shift his body weight enough to grab the PADD from the low table without getting off the sofa, Fordyce Kirschler found not an incoming call but a soulless communique from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) urging him to meet a liaison at 1600 hours at the following coordinates.
His eyes rolled to the indication of time in the upper right corner of the PADD - 1542 hours, the bastards - and then back to the embedded coordinates link. A heavy thumb press brought up a live map directing him to a cafe at the Nyhavn waterfront, not too far from the Office of Personnel Management office in Copenhagen. More accurately, given the micron precision of 2395's earth-observing satellite network, it directed him to a specific window seat at a specific table within that cafe. He wondered whether they meant for him to sit down at that table. Knowing bureaucrats, probably.
It was a little disorienting to stand up and look like you were about to wander out into the middle of the ocean even though you knew you were just heading to the sonic shower, so, for the sake of mental clarity, he gave a quick command to the computer to disable the simulation. The stark gray walls of the room came back - paradise lost. He had enough time to mourn it between the shower, uniform change, and mental pep-talk about the end of leave.
Ford beamed down quayside in Nyhavn to be greeted by the icy blast of Danish January. It was a far cry from the Maldives, even though his uniform insulated him against the worst of it. Despite the salt, sea, and remnants of yesterday's snow whipping through the air, he suffered only a moment or two in it before ducking into the designated cafe. The well-preserved historic yellow storefront gave way to an equally well-preserved interior - warm, well-lit and walls filled with inviting looking tins of various teas from across the Federation.
He turned toward the window table and made a show of shock, grasping at his heart and shuffling in place a bit. Sat waiting for him was an old acquaintance, a relic of comparable age. As he approached, Ford rolled his eyes even as he grinned and extended a hand in greeting.
"I'll be damned, they must be shippin' me off into deep space if they sent out ol' Ironsides Ikhwan," Ford said and laughed as he was pulled from a handshake into a warm embrace. "I thought they mothballed your crotchety ass seven years ago?"
"Do I look like a Miranda to you?" shot back his companion as they each eased into their seats.
Ford made a show of patting his stomach and gesturing to Ikhwan's legs. "Well, I could see some similarities between that big saucer section on those spindly little pylons…"
"Hey, man, this is flagship material right here," Ikhwan replied with a grin. He let out the sort of sigh that was supposed to make a long story short and said, "Ah, they took me off active duty, but I couldn't stand retirement. Grandkids are on Cestus, wife's still working… So, I set myself up pushing papers and deciding where old timers like you need to go."
"Tell me you got a liaison gig for me on Risa."
Before Ikhwan could reply, they were interrupted by a server. Ford let his companion take the lead on ordering - he'd never been to Denmark and didn't know a rabarberhorn from a hindbærsnitte. Service was quick, which gave them a little chance to catch up before tea and some kind of little poppy seed buns arrived. By the time Ford was polishing off the last one, Ikhwan was finally rolling around to the reason for the meeting.
"You remember those subspace relay stations we worked on?"
He did, but it took Ford a while to reassemble the memories into something coherent. There was a lot of time and a lot of substances standing between him and that particular point in his life. "Vaguely. I think I was on raw materials acquisition the first part of that before Phloben moved me over to actual assembly and construction. Out by Izar, right?"
"Some of 'em, yeah," Ikhwan confirmed. And then stayed silent.
As it hit him, Ford's head tilted slightly to the side to level a cutting look of consternation. "Come on now, Ikhwan. Don't mess with me." When his companion only shifted in his seat, Ford let out a great gust of air and pushed back in his chair until the front legs came off the floor. "You have got to be kidding me. Those things are…what? Forty years old?"
"A decommission job. Well, it's been a while since I've…" Ford let his words drift off as his mental focus turned to picking apart the look on his companion's face. Consternation turned to abject disbelief as he leaned forward, unperturbed by the sharp clack of the chair's legs hitting the floor again. "It's not a decommission job…is it?"
"Listen, Ford, there's hardly anybody left who knows those stations-"
"For good reason! Do you know how outdated those comm protocols have got to be?"
"There's a great need-"
Ford cut him off with a sharp wave of his hand. They'd already reached the decision without him, and he didn't want to suffer either one of them to go through the motions of a done deal. At 62, he wasn't sure he could sit through another "greater good" speech anyway.
He sipped tea and stroked his beard in quiet contemplation; to Ikhwan's credit, he gave him the time and space to do it. The background buzz of the cafe gave him white noise and a group of men climbing over the rigging of a sailing ship in the harbor provided him with an ultimately meaningless activity to watch while he walked himself through the new assignment.
He did know the relay stations, even if half of that was buried beneath an avalanche of the Grazerite hallucinogens and Saurian brandy that constituted his youth. They weren't likely to be around much longer, which meant a relatively short rotation. He might even get in on the decommission project, the prospect of which had earlier excited him. And in the final analysis, was there much difference between a private tropical island and a lonely subspace relay station? (There was, he knew. But he also reckoned he was up to the mental gymnastics needed to lessen them.)
"If you tell me I gotta leave tomorrow, I'm gonna throw you in that harbor," Ford said, pointing a meaty finger out the window.
Without meeting his eyes, Ikhwan grinned into his teacup. "Good thing I can swim."