WHAT IF: A STAR TREK SERIES - [STAR TREK UNIVERSE] - FAR HORIZONS
«Eva, here you are! I've been looking all over for you!» Ensign Thissen Ch'Vatross, a young Andorian Chaan who had graduated the year before hers from Starfleet Academy, joined Ferrari on the balcony overlooking the city of San Francisco, where the Zefram Cochrane Space Flight Center was located.
Any officer fresh out of the Academy with a résumé like the woman's would have been immediately shipped off to serve on a vessel, perhaps first class like the late Enterprise-D, but Eva Ferrari had preferred to devote her early career to test piloting instead. Not that the Zefram Cochrane had been quick to turn her down: she was probably one of the best pilots to come out of the Academy in those years and having her talent at her disposal would have led to above-average results. But even so, people couldn't help but talk.
The two had become friends almost immediately: despite being a human, Ferrari was one of the rather small number of individuals who much preferred the harsh Andorian climates to the much milder ones of her home planet. She was, moreover, very interested in Andorian culture and the two spent hours debating the various aspects that characterized it, also in relation to the enormous differences that could obviously be seen in comparison to human culture.
«I had to get you located by the Center's systems,» he added at the end, almost panting, flanking Ferrari and leaning against the parapet, placing himself to her right, adding: «Why did you put a lock on your communicator, Eva? What happened?»
Only when he took the time to take a good look at the woman did Thiss realize that there was something different about her, not least the uniform, that was not the one normally employed within the Center by pilots, in some ways similar to the one employed at that time aboard ships, but different in some detail.
Ferrari, aware of the interlocutory gaze of his colleague and friend on her, decided to stand almost at attention, turning towards him and allowing him to notice all the differences between the uniforms they both wore. If the Andorian's uniform comprised a black band that encompassed the shoulders and the collar, reaching up to the sleeve in the shape of a point, to then leave room for the white color that characterized the rest of the suit, Ferrari's consisted of two pieces, where the prevailing color was black. Only the upper part of the uniform featured, in the center and surrounded by black fabric, the color of the department to which it belonged, red in this case, inside which, just above the heart, was the combadge. On the collar, resplendent on the black field and to the right of the typical Starfleet delta, shone a rank, indicating the officer as a Lieutenant JG.
«I needed to be alone with my thoughts for a while, Thiss,» Ferrari replied, with an apologetic half-smile that was quite out of tune with a face constantly characterized by a rigid and stern expression. «I have been assigned to the U.S.S. Europa, a Sovereign-class starship,» she continued, indicating her own uniform with a vague gesture of her hands, «at the explicit request of the Captain in charge to take command once the final touches have been completed.»
The Andorian brightened, antennae twitching to indicate his happiness at receiving the news: «But this is a wonderful opportunity, Eva!« He had never been jealous of the skills displayed by the woman, but he felt she was wasted as a mere tester, despite her claims to the contrary. If anyone deserved a frontline assignment, exploring strange new worlds - as the Federation motto stated and as had been done since the days of Captain Jonathan Archer - and making contact with new civilisations, it was her.
In a typically human gesture, Thiss reached out his hands to grasp Ferrari's shoulders, shaking her slightly: «Eva, I know your idea was to continue working here with us at the Flight Center. But your qualities, your skills... here they are a bit wasted. Accept the fact that you are best suited to observe the stars more closely than many other people deserve.»
He smiled at her: he admitted inwardly that it would be painful to see her go, not knowing if and when they would ever see each other again. But he would never have admitted it in front of her. He knew her, consequently he knew very well that admitting any emotional attachment like that to her would have put her in difficulty, in many ways. And it would certainly have ruined the bond that had been established between them.
Her voice roused him: «I thank you, Thiss. But you know how I feel...» The Andorian did not allow her to finish what she was about to say, antennae twitching wildly on the top of his head, as if to express his hilarity as visibly as possible: «... even a vessel like the Enterprise needs someone to experiment, otherwise it will never fly.»
Now they were both clearly sneering: «You say that a lot. But the task of experimenting is up to us now.» Taking her by the arm, he pushed her back, leaving the balcony behind, «You, on the other hand, will have to pilot one of Starfleet's most advanced vessels. You don't know how much I envy you! Just think, they say they're finishing the final touches on another Sovereign-class, which will be given the name of Enterprise!»
That evening, before Ferrari boarded the runabout that would take her to the Utopia Planitia Shipyard, a small farewell party was organized in her honor. The other members of Team Beta, who besides her and Thiss numbered a Betazoid - Lieutenant Jadet Brid - and a young Terran Cadet - Nicolas Rouest - had undertaken, once duly informed, to make her something nice.
They had done the same thing, not long before, in honor of another team member, whose place had then been taken by Cadet Rouest: Lieutenant Stadi, in fact, had been offered to serve aboard the U.S.S. Voyager, an Intrepid-class vessel on its first mission. A first mission which, if reports and leaked information were to be believed, was not exactly successful, considering that Voyager went in action and there was no telling what had happened to it: one moment it was there, the next it was gone. Until then, nothing further was known about the fate of Voyager and its crew. Only a few years later, with the majestic return of the Federation vessel via a Borg transwarp conduit, would they have certain confirmation of how Stadi had lost his life.
When Eva Ferrari finally boarded the runabout Montenegro a few hours later, heading for Mars, she left behind a trio of individuals she could rightly regard as her friends. She would never have believed, two years earlier, that she would be able to forge such strong bonds with someone, to the point of feeling more regret at leaving other individuals behind than her own work.
It was also true that the project for which she had insisted at all costs to be taken on at the Zefram Cochrane had now come to an end, she would only miss the last bureaucratic steps and the publication of the final considerations by the scientific committee, with interventions by the team members themselves. There were no longer any reasons, alleged or real, to prevent her from taking flight. Which she did.
Captain T'Vok was in her office, aboard the Europa, reading the latest reports she had found on her desk, from the team of engineers who were putting the finishing touches to her new command. A moment later, from the intercom, came the voice of Commander R'Mau, her First Officer: «We are informed that the runabout Montenegro has left Earth's atmosphere and is heading for the Utopia Planitia shipyards, Captain. ETA to destination: five minutes.»
«Very well, Commander. When they arrive aboard the Europa, tell them to report to my office,» T'Vok replied, before breaking off communication.
The Europa was not the Vulcan's first command, as she had had a long career in Starfleet, at least since the Enterprise-B, under the command of John Harriman, the vessel on which she had served after leaving the Academy, starting in Operations as Communications Officer.
Her rise through the ranks of Starfleet had been inexorable and steady, reaching her first command at the turn of the century in the early 2320s. As had been the case in the past, the hardest part was to find the right personnel to create the right alchemy between the command staff officers, department heads, 'lower deck' officers, non-commissioned officers and personnel who had enlisted in the ranks of Starfleet without having taken specific courses at the Academy, but rather at specialized schools.
The right balance was hard to find, T'Vok knew that very well, although she had always tried to choose wisely and logically. But, like all individuals, Vulcans were prone to errors in assessment and judgment, which is why she had personally read most of the profiles proposed by the XO, at least for the more important positions.
That evening, with the runabout Montenegro, some of the key elements of what would be her crew would finally come aboard the Sovereign-class: Lieutenant Commander Françoise Cartier, chosen to serve as Chief Engineer; Dr Katherine Pulaski, Chief Medical Officer; Lieutenant JG Eva Ferrari, the ship's new helmswoman.
Three officers were still missing, two of whom were members of the command staff, who were to be picked up at a later date: the Europa, in fact, was to meet up with the U.S.S. Archer (NCC-44278), an Excelsior class vessel, in order to bring Lieutenant Commander Leeda Sevek, Lieutenant T'Pring and Lieutenant Commander Mearo Igrain (the second officer, the science officer and the ship's counselor, respectively) on board.
The chirp from the doorbell did not seem to disturb the woman, who simply answered «Come!» without looking up from the datapad in her hand, intent on studying the last details. Although, given her long stay among beings of other species, she was accustomed to the smells that tickled her delicate Vulcan nose, part of her mind registered the newcomers inside her office as three humans.
A few moments later, She finally set aside the datapad She had been studying up to that point and looked up at the three women who had clustered in front of her desk, completely different from each other in age and bearing.
Dr Katherine Pulaski, the oldest of the trio, wore the typical uniform of the medical-scientific section, three pins on her collar indicating the rank of Commander, although she was not recognised as a bridge officer. Brusque and edgy in character, she was one of the most experienced medical officers Starfleet had to offer: if a Vulcan could have said he had emotions, T'Vok would have been surprised at the ease with which she had managed to convince the doctor to join her crew.
Lieutenant Commander Cartier, on the other hand, gave the impression of being a much more easy-going person to deal with, despite the fact that she was described as being unwilling to accept even the slightest smear, within her own realm. Typical of all engineers.
Finally, Lieutenant Ferrari was the youngest of the trio. A petite woman of medium height, with short brown hair, she had assumed a rigid pose, standing at attention, arms folded behind her back. Needless to say, she was among the best pilots that Starfleet could boast. Trusting to chance and luck, it could be argued how fortunate Europe was to have gained such skill to navigate in deep space, although the woman might have seemed at first glance an unknown, considering that she had never before served at the front.
«Live long and prosper. Welcome aboard the Europa,» T'Vok greeted them dryly and briefly, standing up and making the typical Vulcan salute with one hand: palm facing the interlocutors, fingers extended to form a V, with a gap between index and ring fingers, and the thumb separated from the rest of the hand.
«Peace and long life,» was the more or less uniform response of the trio, who imitated the woman's gesture, before waiting for her to add anything else: like all Vulcans, and this was standard, T'Vok also preferred to get straight to the point, without too many turns of phrase; no point, therefore, in wasting more breath than was necessary, avoiding useless chatter that would not have been particularly appreciated.
As expected, when the Captain opened her mouth again, it was to dispense orders: «Doctor, Commander, I believe it is logical to assume that Sickbay and Engineering are awaiting your arrival. Commander R'Mau confirmed your taking up duty aboard the Europa the moment you stepped aboard the ship.»
Without taking a breath, the two women prepared to leave the office, not before, however, Pulaski briefly rested a hand on Ferrari's shoulder in a reassuring manner. On the albeit brief ride in the runabout, the doctor had taken a liking to the young Lieutenant, although she would never admit it explicitly, to herself or anyone else. She was not someone who particularly liked to show herself too softly, to others, and this would have led to endless arguments with Ferrari herself, always ready with a witty quip or a sour comment... in short, just like her. But the two would prove, by serving together, to form a dynamic and well-matched team, despite everything.
«As for you, Lieutenant,» T'Vok continued once the office door had closed behind Pulaski's back, «your record should have landed you an assignment on a vessel a long time ago. The fact that she decided otherwise...»
«It's all extensively documented, Captain,» Ferrari interrupted her, very stiffly, unwilling to lose ground on the issue. «Indeed it is,» T'Vok nodded, «Are you going to tell me any more?» If possible, Ferrari stiffened even more and his voice reached a new level of coldness: «Is that an order, Captain?»
T'Vok shook his head imperceptibly, replying, «No, Lieutenant, it is not.»
«Then, Captain, I would prefer to take up duty, if it's alright with you anyway,» Ferrari asked. At a nod from the Captain, followed by a «Go right ahead, Lieutenant,» the woman left the office and, finding herself on the Europa's bridge (which the office overlooked), headed for her station, located immediately in front of the screen, keeping to the right of the operations officer's console, currently occupied by a young Bajoran Ensign.
Commander Jakto Has, the officer in charge of coordinating the Zefram Cochrane Center, was sitting in his office, busy analyzing the updated personnel manifest under his direction, ready to submit a new request for additional staff. With Eva Ferrari's assignment to Europa, in fact, the Bajoran had found himself forced to request, for the second time in a relatively short time, that Starfleet Command assign another replacement to the Flight Center.
Snorting - he really hadn't imagined he'd have to lose Stadi and Ferrari so soon - he sent the form to Starfleet Operations, hoping that his request wouldn't be put in the queue due to more pressing matters or that he'd be assigned another Cadet. There was nothing wrong with young people attending the academy doing apprenticeships, but not all of them shone in terms of skill or competence or, more simply, were not suited to do the kind of work required at the institute.
It was he himself who had approved Captain T'Vok's request for Ferrari's transfer: now that the JAG had finally concluded the trial of Theo Madalore, she was no longer under any kind of constraint that would see her career postponed indefinitely.Which, then, was the real reason Ferrari had ended up serving in the Flight Center. True, there was always that one project she had apparently felt compelled to finish at all costs, but she knew a cover story when there was one. And that was despite the fact that the project was of such value that it was essential to complete it on schedule.
For his part, the Bajoran could only be satisfied to see justice take its course, despite multiple attempts to cover up the situation by the now retired Admiral Madalore, father of the accused. His sense of justice led him to dislike those who hid behind their family name, perhaps respected within the Starfleet hierarchy for generations, versus those who entered quietly, eager to make a name for themselves without necessarily being overshadowed by any prestigious ancestors.
His eye fell again on the updated personnel manifesto, which had replaced, on the monitor in front of him, the form sent to Starfleet Command. When Ferrari had been called to report to his office that morning, he still had no idea how that interview would radically change her immediate future.
«You wanted to see me, Commander?» Ferrari, as usual, had gone straight to the point. She was not a person who particularly liked to beat around the bush: if there was something to talk about, best to do it right away, getting it out of the way.
«Sit down, please,» Jakto had invited her, who had resumed speaking once the woman had taken a seat in front of him: «A little over an hour ago I had a chance to speak with Captain T'Vok, the new commanding officer of the Europa. This is, as I'm sure you're well aware, one of the new vessels launched as a result of the approval of the new class of ships recently built, the Sovereign: it's an Assault Cruiser, and it's one of the most advanced types of ship available to us right now.» The woman was nodding as he spoke: she knew exactly as much about it as he did as, in those years, she had first done some simulator and early prototype tests, strictly in the hologram room, as required by the regulations.
It had been one of the feathers in Team Beta’s cap to be able to offer their expertise in that mammoth project. The Sovereign-class would long be in the vanguard, as far as Starfleet ships were concerned, despite the fact that new prototypes and new classes of vessels were continually being developed - one need only look at the Defiant-class, whose prototype, equipped with a cloaking device, had been assigned to Deep Space 9 and the Bajoran System; the Intrepid-class, of which one iteration, the U.S.S. Voyager (NCC-74656), had vanished into the Badlands, for no apparent reason, in pursuit of a Maquis ship.
The Commander had continued: «I have been formally asked - and here he had indicated the module in question - to have her transferred aboard the Europa. The position you will hold will be that of Alpha shift helmsman, also exercising the duty of department head; you will have the rank of Lieutenant JG.»
«Commander, you seem to be taking it for granted that I will accept the transfer,» Ferrari had pointed out to him, all in all also with good reason. Jakto had rested his forearms on the desk, joining hands in front of him, and looked at the woman: «Lieutenant, you have no reason to stay here any longer. You have undeniably done an above-average job at the Flight Center, helping to take the institute to new heights with your team, but we both know very well that you are wasted here with us. Don't burn your career on what happened at the Academy. It's not your fault and the officers assigned to the Judicial Division made sure everything was resolved in the right way. Don't throw away this opportunity for something you are not guilty of and have been proven clean.»
Ferrari, leaning back in his chair and with crossed arms, had raised an eyebrow: «I guess I have no other choice, since I assume you gave the go-ahead for the transfer.» Jakto had shaken his head: «You would have the final say, however. Yes, I have given approval for the transfer, but it is up to you to decide what you want to do with your future. I repeat, do not throw away your career for faults you do not have.»
«I appreciate the opportunity, sir, but I feel I am more useful here...» Jakto had interrupted her, a wry smile on his face: «Believe me, Lieutenant, you will be more useful up there, exploring the Galaxy. And protecting those who will be left behind to allow you to protect us.» Ferrari had looked at him for a long moment, before shrugging his shoulders and accepting his new assignment, without uttering another word.
And so, within hours of leaving the Europa for her first mission outside the shipyards of Utopia Planitia, Eva Ferrari had taken the runabout that would take her to her future, written among the stars, as it should have been a couple of years before. And Commander Jakto was pleased that this could happen.
Vice Admiral James Leyton, Head of Starfleet Operations, was a man in his fifties, of tall stature, who gave the impression of being much younger than he actually was. During his career, before ascending to the position he now held, he had been a key player in several confrontations against some of the Federation's bloodiest enemies, such as the Romulans, Cardassians, Tholians and Borg.
As Captain of the U.S.S. Okinawa in the mid-century, he had served during the intervening clashes in the war against the Tzenkethi, working hand-in-hand with then-Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Sisko, whom he had made his First Officer, and whom he later recommended for the position of commander of Deep Space 9 in 2369.
Now, after years of honorable service in the field, his duty was to send other ships, other crews, other captains on missions, coordinating them with his staff and the officers assigned to the various sectors that dotted the Federation territories in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
At that very moment, sitting in his office at Starfleet Headquarters, he was in contact with Captain T'Vok and Commander R'Mau, of the U.S.S. Europa, just hours away from completing the final work and updates at Utopia Planitia, the shipyard in orbit around Mars.
«Captain, your orders are to make your way to Deep Space 9, and then use the Bajoran wormhole to go to the Gamma Quadrant, where you will remain for 18 months to explore the sector, so that we can find out more about the populations that dwell there, given the scant information we have. But,» he added, before T'Vok or R'Mau could intervene, «we need you to acquire as much information as possible on the Dominion as well. If what Commander Sisko is claiming is true, we are in serious danger of going to war with a power that could destabilize us, especially considering how the Cardassians and Romulans are acting as vultures over our borders and the instability with the Klingon Empire.»
«We are scheduled to depart at 0600, Admiral,» T'Vok replied to him, going on to point out that «Before we head for Deep Space 9 and the Celestial Temple, however, we have a rendez-vous with the Archer so that the last missing crew members can join us.»
«The Archer has been diverted to the Badlands at last, Captain. Every effort is being made to understand how it is possible that not one, but two Starfleet vessels have vanished so close to each other. It is believed that the Archer can be a vital asset in trying to find as much data as possible. You will make a brief stopover at Deep Space 9, where you will be able to retrieve the missing personnel, then on to the Gamma Quadrant without further delay.»
DEEP SPACE 9 - BAJORAN SYSTEM
«Captain, we’ve entered visual range with Deep Space 9,» announced Eva Ferrari from her station at the helm, as she maneuvered the Europa at full impulse to approach the Cardassian mining station now under joint Federation and Bajoran control. At his side, Ensign Rebim - who was replacing Lieutenant Commander Sevek, the department's head, until his arrival on board - remarked: «We are informed that we are clear to dock at one of the upper pylons.»
Ferrari echoed the Bajorian's words a few moments later: «Coordinates received.»
It was Commander R'Mau who intervened at that point, ordering: «Lieutenant, reduce speed to maneuvering engines only and let us dock. Carefully.»
«Yes, sir. Reduced speed to maneuvering engines and Europa docking. The operation will be completed in the next five minutes.»
Nearly three years after its discovery, several ships had passed through the tunnel to begin exploring an area of the Milky Way that was otherwise difficult to reach; the Europa would be the first UFP starship to spend more than a few weeks there, even though the Defiant, recently recovered from the hands of the Maquis led by Thomas Riker, had already had the opportunity to collect data and telemetry of various kinds.
«Live long and prosper, Captain,» was the reply from Europa's commanding officer, before communication was cut off. Commander R'Mau, after one last glance at the stream of information flowing on the mini-screen attached to his station, ordered, «Lieutenant Ferrari, lay in the course and clear our departure with operations.»
A few seconds later, Ferrari announced, «Course entered, Ops has cleared us.»
«Ready thrusters,» was the next order.
«Initiate launching sequence.»
«Engage.» With that final order, uttered by T'Vok, the Europa headed in all her majesty towards the Bajoran tunnel, ready to be tested by the unknowns that would unfold before her.
A few hours later, at the end of her shift, after a short reconnaissance tour of the Europa corridors and familiarizing herself with some colleagues at ten-forward during dinner, Eva Ferrari found herself, alone, in her cabin, lying on the bed staring at the ceiling.
Because of the position she held, as well as her rank, she could boast of her own quarters, despite being much smaller in size than those of the senior officers' quarters, belonging to the command staff.
For a moment, she thought back over the past few years. She had entered Starfleet Academy with all the good hopes typical of the younglings, eager to prove herself and prove herself equal to the difficulties she would find before her, first as a Cadet and later as an Officer. What she did not expect, however, was to find love, in the figure of Theo Madalore, assistant to Professor Gregorio Bardoni - holder of the Advanced Aerospace Flight Techniques course - and previously a prototype tester.
It was he who directed her to further improve her piloting skills and to take extra credits at a specialized school, where Ferrari would later obtain her licence as a Level 5 pilot. However, her growing skill (which had quickly made her better than Madalore himself) had created tension between the two, to the point where he had tried, almost successfully, to discredit her by creating false evidence accusing her of damaging an experimental vehicle, putting the lives of an entire team at risk.
That was the reason why, having graduated with honours as valedictorian of her year, she had preferred not to embark immediately, despite some very unrewarding proposals: the trial that would have exposed, once and for all, the actions of Madalore, whose father, who still held the rank of Admiral at that time, had tried in every way to cover it up, was still going on. Ferrari did not want the trial to take place while she was away, and he did not want the outcome of the trial, should it be negative precisely because of the Admiral's interference, to prevent her from pursuing a starship assignment. Which would have tarnished her record even more.
Instructing the computer to dim the lights in the room, Ferrari told herself it was finally over. And her new life could finally begin.