Author's note: This story begins immediately following the Ireland vignette "Until Next Time".
As expected, when the transporter deposited her on the deck of the starbase, Naoki Sulu found herself on a busy concourse. Civilians and military officers alike were walking or even running in both directions, eager to reach their destinations. Across from her was Docking Port 12; by the door to the airlock was a large observation window where one could look out into the cavernous interior bay of Spacedock.
"Mom, what class of spaceship is that?" asked a small, blond-haired boy who stood on tiptoe to look out the window at the off-white hull of the starship beyond. "It looks really old."
The woman next to him, whom Sulu assumed was "Mom", chuckled and said, "That's because it is old, Barry. That's a Constitution-class Refit starship."
The mother and child moved away from the observation window as Sulu started toward it. Impossible, she thought. There aren't any Connies left.
As it turned out, the woman was right. Though she certainly could not see the whole thing from this angle, there was no mistaking the shape of the saucer above her head as she craned her neck to look up. The ship tethered to Docking Port 12 was definitely a Constitution Refit.
A thin thread of excitement began to course through her, though she tempered it by reminding herself not to get her hopes up. Really, what officer in their right mind would want to command so old a ship in this day and age?
"What do you think?"
The deep, slightly accented timbre made Sulu turn her head to look behind her. Standing a few feet away was a man she'd met in person only once in the last 22 years, but had spoken with countless times via subspace—especially in the years she'd spent aboard the Ireland. His skin was dark brown and his hair a mix of black and gray, but no one could miss the sharpness of intelligence in the eyes of Admiral Elliot Haywood.
Sulu stood at attention. "Sir," she greeted him formally.
Haywood smiled. "At ease, Ms. Sulu. Now tell me…what do you think?"
Allowing herself to relax, Sulu lifted an eyebrow as she glanced briefly over her shoulder. "I think she's beautiful—though I had no idea there were any Connies left, to be perfectly honest."
The admiral came to stand beside her and looked out the window, glancing up as well as he was able. "There are only two," he said. "One is the U.S.S. Gibraltar, which has been given over to the command of a now-former yard engineer from Utopia Planitia by the name of Donald Sandhurst. The other is this one, the U.S.S. Republic—funny how one of the first and one of the last of that particular class are all that remain of it. Everything in-between is gone."
Sulu felt her eyes widen and she glanced at the ship outside the viewport again. There were few of her acquaintance who had not heard of the Republic—although it'd been turned into a training vessel before her own birth and hadn't even been out of the Sol system since the 2350s, the ship in front of her was still technically the oldest active-duty vessel in the entire fleet.
"This is the ship where James Kirk served his first tour of duty?" she asked.
"The very same. Well, the spaceframe and much of the internal deck plating, the walls…" Haywood paused long enough to chuckle softly. "She's been refitted many a time since her very first flight some one hundred forty-one years ago."
He drew a breath. "Despite the belief that ships of that era should be dust in the interstellar winds, Republic and Gibraltar and a few Mirandas from the late 23rd century are surprisingly still in excellent condition. They're old, but they still work."
"Well, we do tend to treat our museum pieces very well, Admiral," Sulu said.
Haywood nodded. "That we do. Which is why all these old ships are being reactivated. We're a little desperate, Ms. Sulu, for ways to keep our citizens from losing faith in the Federation. We need ships out there to prove to them that they still matter."
At last he pulled his hands from behind his back, and Sulu noted for the first time that he held a PADD. He now handed the device over to her as he said, "Congratulations, Captain. The Republic is yours now."
Her heart sped up beneath her breast as she thumbed the PADD on. Immediately it displayed a copy of her orders to report as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Republic, NCC-1371. There was also an engineering report on the ship's status, which she perused quickly. Haywood stood beside her in silence while she read.
"I'm sorry your promotion is something of a back-handed compliment," the admiral said after a time. "For an officer with your record, your legacy, you deserve something better. But I'm afraid that right now, this one hundred forty-one year old starship is the best we can do for you."
Sulu looked up at Haywood with a wide smile, which seemed to surprise him. "I don't mind at all, sir!" she said. "Like I told Captain Callahan, the ship I'm assigned to might be old, but she'd be a ship with history. Republic has a legacy of her own, Admiral—I can only hope that I live up to it."
Haywood offered a smile. "I'm relieved to hear you say that, and personally pleased that at least one person is even remotely excited about this reassignment program. I'll tell you a little secret: there are those in the admiralty who are none too pleased, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Until our shipyards can produce the numbers needed to rebuild the fleet, we can only do what we can do."
"I understand, Admiral. And I've never been one to back down from a challenge."
"Shall we, then?" He gestured toward the airlock door.
Sulu grinned… and eagerly led the way.
"I think I could fit my entire quarters in the living room of my quarters on the Ireland."
Dayna Davis clapped Kenin Tam on the shoulder. "Maybe so, but perhaps you can console yourself with the fact that you're now CMO instead of the Gamma Shift doctor."
Tam turned to Davis with a frown. "Please, do not pull the counselor card on me right now. I'm having an existential crisis here."
A low rumble sounded from across the table. "Such an occurrence is precisely the kind of mental breakdown counselors live for, Doctor."
"I live for a lot more than lapses in mental health and you know it, Cat Boy," Davis retorted.
At that moment, Commander—now Captain—Sulu entered the Republic's conference room, which for the moment was the officers' private dining room on deck three as there wasn't such a room on the bridge. The Human counselor, Betazoid doctor, and Caitian security officer all turned their attention to her.
"Have you all had a chance to stow your gear in quarters?" Sulu asked as she took a seat at the end of the table.
The three officers nodded. "All our other belongings have been transferred over as well, Captain," said Davis. "Though Dr. Tam may need to store a trunk or two in the cargo bay, as the square footage is a little…less than we're used to."
Tam shot her a narrow-eyed look. Sulu nodded with a smile. "I recognize that space on the Republic is more limited than on the Ireland, but we'll have to make do. This is our ship now."
"Speaking of," began Arish D'Puma, "I wish to thank you, Captain, for selecting me as your Chief of Security. The evolution of starship battle tactics was the theme of my senior thesis at the academy—I'm actually rather eager to be working with the Republic's systems."
Sulu looked to him. "I have a fondness for the history of this ship myself, Lieutenant," she said. Then she lifted the PADD she'd carried in and glanced at it for a moment before continuing. "According to this engineering report from the yardmaster here at Spacedock, Republic's systems haven't received an upgrade in quite some time—"
"Fifteen years," D'Puma put in. "And really, from what I gathered—I've actually spoken with the yardmaster, as soon as you notified me I would be your tactical and security chief—most of the minor components and even some of the major ones are decades old. She'll need a major overhaul if Command seriously expects us to make this ship work in deep space."
The tawny Caitian stroked his muzzle. "The only thing I don't like about this ship is that Main Engineering is so forward in the secondary hull—that's a huge safety hazard in a battle scenario. Nor am I entirely comfortable with it being directly behind the main deflector. But as you said, we'll have to make do."
Sulu smiled again. "I have complete faith in your ability to keep us safe if we're ever in a fight, Arish. Admiral Haywood has already informed me that Republic is going to be given every upgrade they can possibly give her. It seems that her status as oldest active duty vessel actually has some measure of metaphorical weight with the brass—some of them want to keep the history alive, so to speak."
"Won't a major overhaul of her internal systems take months to complete?" asked Tam.
The captain glanced down at the PADD again. "The yardmaster estimated no less than four to do what needs to be done. Could take longer if the newer components won't interface with those that can't be replaced without gutting the ship and starting over."
Davis looked to her new captain. "What about the crew? How many can we expect?"
Sulu drew a breath. "As with the younger starships, we'll have a reduced crew due to the personnel shortage. Typically a vessel of this size would have a full complement of four hundred, but we're likely to only have three hundred, possibly less. I have until the end of the week to fill out the senior staff, and Personnel will handle the rest."
"I'll help you with that if you like, Captain."
"Thank you, Counselor. I'll probably take you up on that offer. Now, Mr. D'Puma, I'm sure you'll want to go and have a word with the yardmaster about what specifically will be done as far as upgrades go, so you're welcome to get started on that until we have an engineer. Dr. Tam, I would suggest making a thorough inspection of the medical facilities to see what upgrades may be required there, as I don't believe they were included in the estimate report."
Tam snorted. "Of course not. No one thinks about having the latest medical equipment until they actually have need of it. I'll definitely take a look at what I'll have to work with, as well as begin preparations on an inventory request, as I'm sure this ship has nothing in the way of actual medicines on board."
"They probably don't, considering all Republic's been used for in the last fifty years or so is taking cadets on training cruises around the system," D'Puma pointed out.
"We've all got a lot of work to do to get this ship into top shape," said Sulu. "Let's get to it."
A month had been tacked onto the estimated launch date of the Republic when it was determined that new distributors would be required throughout the ship to interface the old electrical relays with the bio-neural gel packs which had been installed in key command systems. The McMurty Distributors—designed by a gifted engineer on a Border Patrol vessel—were not in Spacedock's inventory and had to be manufactured brand new. Several other systems upgrades had to be put on hold until the distributors were installed and diagnostics were run.
Another factor was the decision to renovate decks one and two in order to "bring the old girl into the 24th century", as one yard engineer put it. Two sub-systems consoles on the starboard side of the bridge were modified into a single station that mirrored the tactical station on the port side, and was designated as the engineering station (the previous engineering station became mission operations, which the XO chose to claim as there was only one command chair). Machinery was moved out of a space on the port side of the bridge in order to make a ready room for Captain Sulu, and Deck 1 was also extended aft from the airlock for the addition of a briefing room. As many of the existing fixtures as possible were used in the construction of the new configuration.
Sulu was adamant about retaining the command chair, as it was the original from back when the ship was first built.
On Deck 2, the systems and fleet status displays were removed, as the updates in computer technology as well as projected mission objectives had rendered them unnecessary. The same was decided of the combat information centers; those on the port and starboard sides were extended and remodeled into senior officer quarters. The larger CIC at the fore of Deck 2 was also renovated, the space re-purposed into two other large staterooms. These changes were made to allow for four of the senior officers to remain close to the bridge during off hours (and to grant more living space to those lucky four).
But now, after 20 weeks of refits, the old starship had been cleared for deep space travel. She had a new engine, new weapons, new deflector, new sensors… Nearly seventy percent of the internal power and control systems had been upgraded, a major feat in so short a time. Minor systems would remain on isolinear circuitry and the new bio-neural relays were designed to accommodate iso-chip backups if it became necessary. Though the new chief engineer had cautioned against doing so for longer than 8 hours, the nearly century-and-a-half old starship could now achieve warp 9.9.
Sulu had cleared the bridge so she could take a final walk around in the last moments of peace the crew were likely to have for some time. She thought about the senior officers she had chosen to fill the open positions not taken by her Ireland crewmates: First was Phylomina, a Denobulan female who was now her First Officer. She had been immediately friendly and open, and hadn't complained once about taking the XO position on such an old starship.
"I rather think we've seen enough conflict to last several lifetimes," said the commander who had let her know she was typically addressed as Mina, because her full name was "a mouthful".
Republic's new science officer was a Human by the name of Mitchell Hathaway. He had surprised Naoki by actually requesting the position, having an appreciation for the history of antique vessels not unlike Sulu's own. He had, in fact, forwarded his request to the captains of several of the upgraded vessels, including the Gibraltar and the Trial.
Heading up the engineering department was a Naori named Ayani. The lieutenant admitted she was none too thrilled about being on such an old ship, having hoped her space-duty request would nab her a job on one of the larger capital starships, but the opportunity to be chief was more appealing than the possibility she would remain a junior officer, as she had been for several years right there at Utopia Planitia.
The ship's Senior Flight Control Officer was a Xenexian lieutenant. Irna Sand accepted her offer without hesitation once Sulu had confirmed she was the great-granddaughter of one of Sand's favorite historical pilots. That she would be manning the conn of a starship with a history such as Republic's was a bonus, she said, because "They just don't make starships like they used to. And how many pilots in this day and age can say they've flown a Connie?"
More vocal about not really wanting to serve on the Republic but like Ayani taking the job because of the opportunity for promotion was young Lieutenant Kyle Holden. Sulu had encountered him on the engineering team from Spacedock as well. Holden enjoyed working with computer systems but thought it pointless to "waste precious resources on a ship as old as this one."
Perhaps she should have considered one of the others she had interviewed, but there was something about the kid that she liked, so the captain had challenged the young man to prove the Republic was as worthless as he believed her to be by serving aboard her for at least six months—as Senior Operations Officer. Holden took the bait, though he denounced her belief that he'd become as enamored of the ship as others were.
Sulu felt the presence of her husband in her mind before the lift had even reached the bridge, and she turned to it with a smile as the door swished open. Nikael Sulu's black Betazoid eyes were warm and smiling as he spoke to her telepathically.
I had to come and see you one last time before you left.
She walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. I'm glad you did, she thought back.
Nikael returned the embrace as he said aloud, "Takeshi and Aiko send their regrets—and a promise to call or record a video message for you later."
Trying—and failing somewhat—to not be disappointed their younger children hadn't joined him, Sulu sighed as she stepped back. "I suppose it's to be expected. Teenagers never want anything to do with their parents, and our son has been busy with his internship."
Takeshi, who on learning she would be remaining at home on Earth until the Republic was ready to launch, had managed to secure an internship at Cern and had been home himself since the beginning of May. Sulu had been beyond ecstatic to learn she would be able to spend much of the remaining three months of repairs with two of her three children.
"Well, Kesh is actually out with some friends and Aiko is out on a date."
She raised her eyebrows. "A date? How come I didn't know about this? When did she start dating?"
Nikael chuckled. "Koibito, it's only their second date. She met the boy in her music class."
"So who is he? Tell me what you know about him."
Again her husband grinned. "Zante is Napean, he's fifteen, and he's a very talented piano player. He and Aiko are working on composing a duet together for the summer music festival next month. Also, she thinks he's 'dreamy', as I accidentally overheard her telling one of her friends."
The last he said with a fatherly roll of the eyes, at which she smiled briefly before turning and pacing away. "But why wouldn't she have mentioned him to me? I've been home for five months. I know it's the longest I've been at home since before the war and that I'm to leave again tomorrow, but I thought Aiko and I were close."
Nikael stepped up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Naoki, I wouldn't take it personally. Frankly, what I know about the boy I had to threaten to read her mind to get from her. She's been secretive with me as well, and I suspect would have continued keeping him from me had I not detected she was hiding something."
Sulu chuckled as she turned around again. "Silly girl should have known better to try and hide anything from a full telepath."
"More like the silly girl shouldn't have tried to hide anything from her father," he replied sternly, before dropping his lips to hers.
She responded to the kiss immediately, lifting her arms to lock her hands together at the back of his neck as the kiss deepened. The fleeting thought that it was too bad they were on the bridge passed through her mind and he moaned in response.
Your quarters are a deck below and you're not leaving until morning, Koibito, Nikael reminded her.
Naoki smiled against his lips just as a door at the back of the bridge swished open. A soft throat clearing sounded from the new arrival as the two parted and she saw that it was Phylomina.
"I beg your pardon for intruding," the XO said.
"Think nothing of it, Commander," said Nikael.
"I suppose I had the same idea you must have had, Captain—to take advantage of the opportunity for a moment of peace on the bridge, as after we launch it's not likely to be quite this peaceful ever again," Phylomina said as she came closer.
Sulu nodded. "That was precisely my intention. Then my dear husband surprised me with an unexpected visit."
Nikael smiled down at her, then looked to the other woman. "If you two need me to go, I'll leave you to business."
"No need to go on my account, Mr. Sulu," Phylomina countered.
"I was hoping for dinner with you…and dessert," added Naoki.
She let him know with her thoughts just what she had in mind for dessert, and though Nikael smiled benignly, his own thoughts responded in kind. Sometimes she was still amazed, even after knowing him for nearly 30 years, that they could communicate so intimately when she was no telepath herself. He'd explained long ago that once a certain level of familiarity was established between a telepath and someone who was not, the non-path would be able to receive the telepath's thoughts as clearly as if they were also telepathic. However, the telepath would have to choose to send those thoughts, whereas he or she would be able to read the thoughts of non-paths whether they chose to share them or not.
"I'll go and reserve us a table at your favorite sushi bar, then," said her husband, before leaning to kiss her cheek. He bid farewell to Phylomina and then moments later disappeared into a turbolift.
"I hope I didn't scare him off," the Denobulan joked.
Sulu shook her head. "That would not be easily done."
Phylomina studied her a moment, then said, "Might I ask a personal question, Captain?"
Sulu raised an eyebrow but nodded.
Phylomina glanced toward the lift for a moment and then back again, before saying, "Your husband is Betazoid, yet he took your last name instead of the other way around, as is typically done in Human marriages. I've been wondering since you introduced us why that is?"
"Among Humans, though once the cultural norm for a woman to take a man's name as women were considered property of their husbands, for the last four hundred years we've had the choice to take our husband's surname or not, and sometimes the man takes hers, though that is still fairly rare," Sulu said. "Betazoid society is different. The opposite of Human society, they're matriarchal instead of patriarchal, and remain so to this day. Though not considered property, it has long been custom for the man to take the woman's surname upon marriage. They can choose not to, and in some cases the woman will take the man's instead, but again, it's kind of rare from what I understand."
"And in your case, Mr. Sulu chose to honor his culture and took your name?"
She nodded. "That was part of it. He also wished for our children to be able to take advantage of the legacy of the Sulu name, as my great-grandfather is quite well known."
Phylomina's eyes widened. "Really? Who is he?"
Sulu raised an eyebrow. "Have you never heard of Hikaru Sulu?"
"You mean the former C-in-C of Starfleet? The one who served with James Kirk?" asked her companion with eyes widened in wonder.
Sulu nodded again. "The very same."
"I… Well, your name was familiar, of course," said Phylomina with a shake of her head, "but Denobulans don't assume any one person of the same name is related to another—our family structures are too complex for such assumptions. Thus, I thought you simply had the same surname."
"Well, I don't normally advertise the relationship, though I certainly never deny it. People do tend to assume certain things about you when they learn you're related to a person of notoriety," Sulu explained. "I wanted to earn my stripes, to borrow an old expression, on my own merits. I want my children to do the same, though even I admit there are certain advantages to being a relative of Ojiichan Hikaru."
"I can imagine," Phylomina observed. "Look, go down and have dinner with that handsome husband of yours. Then have a lot of amazing goodbye sex. Believe me, if one of my husbands were here, I'd be doing the same."
Sulu's eyes widened. "I cannot believe you just said that."
Phylomina grinned sheepishly. "Forgive my bluntness, Captain," she said. "It's just that intimacy is hardly a taboo subject on my world and I… Well, I thought perhaps you and I had become friendly enough that I could make such a suggestion. If I overstepped, I truly beg your pardon."
"It's all right," her captain returned with a smile. "And a very good suggestion."
Phylomina smiled. "I'm glad you think so."
After taking one last look around the bridge Sulu said goodbye to her new XO, then headed for the turbolift.
She ignored the incessant beeping of the bedroom comm unit for as long as she dared. Sulu hadn't returned to the ship last night as originally planned—her evening with Nikael had been too romantic. And bittersweet.
Aiko had arrived home from her date shortly before her parents, and had at last gushed to her mother—privately, of course—about the Napean boy she had been out with. They'd gone with a group of their friends to a Pareses squares match; dinner and a few hours at an arcade had followed. Zante had put his arm around her shoulders at one point, held her hand at others, and had kissed her cheek when he dropped her off for the night.
Naoki had tucked her daughter into bed with a smile on her face and a promise to share more as she got to know the boy, whom she "really, really" liked.
Takeshi walked in the front door as she was crossing through the living room, and so she'd stopped to spend a few minutes talking with him. His internship was ending in a week, and he planned to spend the rest of his summer break having fun with friends he didn't get to see in person that often. Her son had then hugged her tightly and whispered that he was glad they'd gotten to see each other and expressed his wish that it could have been more than three months.
When Sulu and Nikael were alone again in their own bedroom, her husband had put on some soft music and danced with her slowly, before they peeled off each others' clothes and made love for the next couple of hours. And as had happened more times than she could count in her career, Sulu felt like she had just fallen asleep when the communicator sounded.
"You'd better get that before they send someone to break the door down," mumbled a sleepy Nikael.
"I don't want to," she replied.
Nevertheless, Sulu rolled under her husband's arm and glanced at the antique clock on the bedside table. It read 4:30.
What insanity would prompt a comm call this early in the morning? she wondered as she moved Nikael's arm off of her and stood. Padding across the thick carpet to the closet, she pulled out a robe and donned it before running her fingers hurriedly through her hair as she moved to the desk. Once seated, she took a breath and switched on the monitor.
The screen flashed the Federation symbol moments before a red-shirted lieutenant appeared on the screen.
"Forgive my disturbing you, Captain Sulu," the young man said. "But your presence is requested at Headquarters."
"Now?" she couldn't stop herself from asking. Republic wasn't scheduled to launch for another three and a half hours.
The lieutenant swallowed. "I believe so, ma'am."
Sulu stifled a groan. "Might I inquire as to who has issued this request?"
"Admiral Necheyev, Captain."
Well, shit, Sulu thought sourly. She could hardly argue against reporting in at the ass-crack of dawn when the command came from the C-n-C. It then struck her that it was still technically yesterday in San Francisco, and the admiral probably wanted to get this impromptu meeting over with before going to lunch at some fancy Bay Area restaurant.
That she was talking to a kid who was literally hours behind her on a different day of the calendar nearly made her laugh with sleepy giddiness, but Sulu fought the urge.
"Inform Admiral Necheyev I will be there shortly," she said at last.
The lieutenant replied in the affirmative and the transmission ended. Sulu released the aggravated sigh she'd been holding in before standing and heading back over to the closet. After selecting a clean uniform from her meager wardrobe (most of her clothing was aboard the ship), she turned toward the bed to find Nikael watching her.
"Recalled early, I see," he said.
"I'm sorry," she replied. "I'd hoped for another ninety minutes or so of your snoring lulling me to sleep, but—"
"Pardon me, Ms. Sulu, but I do not snore," her husband retorted softly.
They both knew he was being facetious, as Dexon had once recorded him on video to prove him wrong. Nikael's snores weren't loud, though, and she'd long ago grown used to them. In fact, she usually found it difficult to sleep the first couple of weeks of a deployment for missing the soft rumble of his chest beside her in the bed.
"—but, unfortunately duty calls. Or at least, Admiral Necheyev's office does. No idea why, though. Republic's as good to go for launch as she can be, and that's not even until oh-eight hundred."
"Last minute mission information, I would imagine," her husband suggested.
"You're probably right," she agreed. "I'm going to grab a quick sonic shower before I kiss everyone goodbye."
Nikael threw back the comforter and sat up. "You'll eat something before you go," he said as he stood.
"I don't know if I'll have the time," Sulu countered.
His hands came up and rested on her shoulders. "What do you always say about time, Koibito?"
Naoki smiled, the old saying her great-grandfather had appropriated from his former captain having become something of a Sulu family motto. "If something's important…"
"…you make the time," Nikael finished. "And breakfast is the most important meal of the day."
"Fine. If you can prepare something by the time I'm showered and dressed, I'll eat it."
Her husband turned her around and gave her a little push toward the bathroom. "Thank you. If Starfleet Command can be brazen enough to wake you far too early, they can damn well be patient enough to wait for you to have breakfast. I'll arrange your transport as well."
"Appreciated, Nikael," Sulu called out as she hung her uniform on the back of the bathroom door. "But do me a favor, will you?"
"Put some clothes on before you make that call."
Naoki grinned as she heard her husband's laughter over the sound of the sonic shower.
After a quick breakfast of coffee, a bagel with cream cheese, and a small cup of tropical fruit, Sulu went into her daughter’s room and kissed her brow—Aiko didn’t even stir from her peaceful slumber. She then stepped across the hall to Takeshi's room. She stopped in the doorway and put her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing aloud at how she found him: laying diagonally with one arm hanging off the side of his bed and one leg drawn up. As she stood there, he rolled over in his sleep to flop onto his back and now lay spread-eagle in the center. With a smile and a shake of her head, she returned to Nikael’s side in the kitchen.
He gathered her into his arms wordlessly, holding her tightly and conveying with his thoughts and emotions the depth of his love. She responded in kind and had just drawn back her head to kiss him when her commbadge chirped.
“Tokyo Transport Control to Captain Sulu.”
Stifling a sigh, Sulu stepped back as she pressed her badge. “Sulu here, Control. Go ahead.”
“We have received coordinates for your transport to HQ, Captain. Ready when you are.”
She looked to Nikael. I love you, she told him silently.
I already miss you, he replied with a small smile, before leaning forward and softly touching his lips to hers.
Sulu smiled, then said, “Ready, Control. One to transport.”
Raising her hand to wave as the transport beam took hold of her, Sulu blinked, and then found herself standing atop the dais of a transport hub inside Starfleet Headquarters. She had received no further word as to precisely where she was supposed to go, but as it was Admiral Necheyev’s office that had called, she stepped down and headed for the nearest turbolift.
As she was reaching for the call button, a familiar voice called her name.
“Naoki! I see you got called in too,” said Elliot Haywood II.
Sulu smiled warmly at the Ireland’s former tactical officer as he came up beside her. “Indeed. I wonder if our first officers have been summoned as well, or if whatever this meeting is about is for us to relay.”
The lift arrived and they stepped inside. “How’s it going on the Grosvenor?”
Haywood snorted. “It ain’t,” he replied after ordering the lift to the top floor. “I was due to deliver a final report to Dad and Admiral Necheyev this morning anyway, so I guess this meeting’s as good a time as any: That ship isn’t going anywhere—take a look at why.”
Sulu wordlessly took the PADD he offered her and perused it. "What the devil is shiprot?" she asked.
"Some kind of silicon-based lifeform," Haywood replied as she looked through the engineering report on the Grosvenor. "These nasty little subatomic bacterial punks have a taste for duranium and tritanium—"
"Which is what Starfleet vessels are made of," Sulu replied, handing the report back to him. "That says they've weakened virtually the entire space frame."
"Yeah. Nothing left for the old girl but to be salvaged for parts and melted down."
Honestly, Sulu was surprised. The Excelsior-class Grosvenor was six decades younger than the Republic—she’d have thought of all the ships being reactivated, her own and the Gibraltar would have caused the most trouble. But surprisingly enough—although they’d each had a few setbacks—both of the Connies had withstood all the work done to them, and their spaceframes and outer hulls had been kept in nearly pristine condition. Lt. Ayani attributed Republic's astounding longevity and relative ease to upgrade to the yard engineers at Spacedock. They’d been the ones keeping her running the last thirty or forty years.
“I’m sorry to hear that your first command isn’t going as well as you’d have liked,” she replied at last, just as the lift came to a stop.
“You and me both. No telling what Command will do when they find out that yet one more of the Museum Fleet is good for nothing but parts.”
Sulu thought about his words as they headed down the corridor to Necheyev’s office. Of the 26 “mothballed” vessels deemed suitable for reactivation—which had jokingly come to be referred to as the Museum Fleet—five had already been determined to have given up the ghost. They could still serve as floating museums for now, or as Haywood suggested could be broken down for parts and metal.
But they would never again see service as deep space starships.
On reaching the outer office of Starfleet's commander-in-chief, where her administrative aide did her work, they were directed to a conference room and told "Help yourselves to a beverage, the admirals will be along in just a few moments."
"Admirals" meant more than one, Sulu mused; she asked Haywood if she thought his father might be a part of this meeting. "Good possibility, since the Museum Fleet project is both a Special Projects and Operations venture. So we'll probably see Admiral Dodge as well."
Most of the captains already gathered in the large conference room Sulu did not know, though a few she nodded to in greeting, having recognized them from the Fifth and Eleventh fleets. Haywood offered to get her a drink from the replicator while he got one for himself and she requested an Irish crème cappuccino, an alternative coffee beverage their former commanding officer had favored and gotten her used to drinking. As he was returning to the table with their drinks—Haywood's smelled strongly of straight black coffee—Jerome Callahan himself came into the room.
"You too?" Sulu asked as he took the seat to her left, Haywood sitting on her right. "Any idea what this is all about?"
Callahan shook his head. "Not a clue, I'm afraid. Ireland was only in the system because we'd transported the Napean ambassador to Earth for a meeting with the Federation president—I guess a subspace conversation was not good enough. I thought the call was our new orders, but clearly I was mistaken."
They chatted for a few more minutes about how well the refits had gone on the Republic and how the Grosvenor was likely to be scuttled, before all three shot to their feet when Necheyev's aide walked in and called out, "Admirals on deck!"
Alynna Necheyev walked into the conference room followed by Elliot Haywood Sr. and Harrison Dodge, as well as a tall woman with short auburn hair and black eyes; her collar was blue and she had five golden circles on her rank insignia. Sulu surmised that the woman could only be Gloranna Savari, head of the Federation Border Patrol. One captain quickly stepped aside for Dodge, who took the position to Necheyev's left, while Haywood Sr. moved to sit on her right. Savari took the seat to his right, scooting a second captain further down the table.
"As you were, Captains," said Necheyev, and everyone returned to or took a seat at the long table. Besides the admirals there were about 20 captains gathered.
"I want to thank you all for coming in on short notice—I know some of you were probably still in bed asleep, and I regret having to wake you," Necheyev began. "However, it was necessary as we've some important matters to discuss regarding your fleet assignments. This information will be distributed fleet-wide, but the twenty of you were in the system, and we do like to have face-to-face meetings with our starship commanders on occasion. For those of you unaware, this is Admiral Gloranna Savari, my counterpart with the Border Patrol."
Sulu was pleased she hadn't been wrong about the woman's identity; Savari nodded politely as several heads turned her way. Necheyev's aide then stepped up to the table with a case Sulu had not noticed before. She set it down and opened it, pulling out a stack of PADDs that she began to distribute to each captain. The lieutenant returned to the case once to gather a second stack, so that everyone had one of the devices, before retrieving the case and quietly departing from the room.
"Your thumbprint will activate the file specific to your ship," spoke up Harrison Dodge, at which time Haywood II spoke up.
"Begging your pardon, Admiral, but given the condition of the Grosvenor, I'm not certain how any of what's on here will apply to me," he said with a gesture toward the PADD he had received.
"Why don't you give us your report, Captain?" prompted his father.
The younger man nodded and thumbed on the PADD he had brought with him. As he spoke about the discovery of the shiprot and the damage it had left behind after being purged with tunneling neutrino beams, those in attendance with engineering experience groaned and nodded in sympathy. There were a number of whispered comments about the organisms and how devastating their appetite for starship metal could be.
The four admirals looked to one another. "We'll figure out something for you and your crew, Captain Haywood," said Necheyev. "For now, let us focus on why you all were brought here, as I'm aware there are schedules to keep."
Dodge cleared his throat. "I wish it were not necessary to say it, as I am sure we are every one of us aware, but the Dominion War was a crushing blow to Starfleet and the Border Patrol. We no longer have the personnel or the ships to protect and patrol all of Federation space—more than one of our starship units were wiped out completely, and there's not a single fleet left that has full numbers. There is not a single ship with a full crew complement. Some have been doing the work of two or three units because there just aren't enough ships to go around."
"With that in mind," began Savari, "it has become vital for both organizations to put aside their long-standing rivalry, at least for the time being, and work together to keep both the borders and worlds of the Federation protected. To that end, a number of strategically advantaged starbases—most notably those along the borders of Federation space—will for the foreseeable future be home base to both a Starfleet unit and a Border Patrol unit."
"This means that, if you are assigned to one of those fleets, you may on occasion be called upon to simply police the borders of our space," Haywood said. "Patrol ships may have to be tasked with completing missions on behalf of Starfleet, and there may even come a time that you will be required to complete a mission in partnership with a Border Patrol crew."
"Given the number of starships we have left," Necheyev took up the commentary, "we have little choice but to reorganize and redistribute our assets in order to cover the most space. This means that some of you will be receiving new fleet assignments."
A murmur went up amongst the captains at the table and the admirals let it go on for a moment before the meeting continued. Sulu glanced first at Callahan and then at Haywood II, wondering what it would mean for them. She'd known, of course, that it was unlikely she would remain with the 5th Fleet—had, in fact, assumed that the so-called Museum Fleet would be a separate unit, tasked with doing all the little jobs larger capital ships couldn't be spared for.
That's what I get for assuming, I suppose, she mused.
She turned her attention back to the briefing. At that moment, Haywood Sr. was announcing that the past year had shown that simply graduating cadets early was not doing most of those young officers any favors, as their educations were being neglected in order to increase the number of personnel on each ship and space station. As such, an old program that had been abandoned in favor of short-term work studies was being reactivated. Called the Accelerated Occupational Placement program, cadets in their third and fourth years would be assigned full-time positions on starship and starbase crews, but would also be required to complete 16 hours of classroom study each week in order to fulfill the academy's graduation requirements. Cadets that excelled in the program would be rewarded by being granted lieutenant, junior grade rank upon completion.
Naoki Sulu could not help thinking that Takeshi would certainly qualify for the program, and hoped he would say yes if it was offered to him. Her son was already a brilliant young scientist, and he would be an asset to whatever crew he was assigned to.
Following the announcement about the cadet program, each captain was asked to give a brief report on the status of their ships and crews. Sulu was the last, and she stated that all the final diagnostics had been run and each system had checked out. The Republic was ready to head out into deep space again.
"Which—if memory serves—you are due to fly out in about two hours, correct?" Necheyev asked when she had finished speaking.
Sulu nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
The admiral flashed one of her rarely seen smiles. "Then I should probably let you get to it, Captain. In fact, we all have our work to do for the Federation. Dismissed."
Each of the captains stood as she and the other admirals did, and waited until Necheyev, Haywood Sr., Dodge, and Savari had left before each man and woman lifted their PADDs and thumbed them on to check their orders.
"Flagship of the 11th Fleet," said Callahan. "Based out of Starbase Echo, located in the Beta Quadrant in orbit of Regulus 8."
He looked to his former shipmates. "I am honestly not sure if that's a promotion or not."
"Well, the 11th was a small unit formed mostly to serve as couriers in Cardassian space," said Haywood. "My brother's now captain of the Veritas, their former flagship. Wonder where they're going now..."
"What about Republic, Naoki?" Callahan asked her.
She looked at the orders on her PADD and found herself grinning. "Looks like you're not going to be able to get rid of me that easily, Jerome—we're assigned to the 11th as well. The Columbia, Messenger, and Triumph are all staying with the 11th, as are a couple of the others from that unit, and we're getting ships from other units, like the Thunderheart."
"Grosvenor would have been in the 11th as well, according to this," put in Haywood, gesturing with the PADD he'd received. "You know, if she were still good enough to fly out. I'd better go track my dad down and see if he and Necheyev have any idea where they're gonna put me."
Sulu and Callahan nodded and their friend left them then. They looked to each other again and on silent agreement followed close behind.
"Hey, did you notice? There's a list of the cadets assigned to the ship at the end of the mission statement," Callahan said suddenly.
Scrolling down, Sulu scanned for the list on her own device, and found herself hard-pressed to keep from crying out with joy to see Takeshi's name. "I can hardly believe this! I knew he was good enough for something like the AOP, but to be working with him…"
"Care to clue in your former captain?"
"My son," she replied. "Takeshi has been assigned to my ship."
Callahan blinked in surprise. "And you're okay with that?"
"Why wouldn't I be? He's a good kid and has a brilliant mind."
Her friend paused and turned to her. "But will you be able to separate the captain and the mother? The cadet from the son? Will you be able to order him into a potentially dangerous or even life-threatening situation knowing that he is the most qualified for the job despite the fact that he happens to also be your child?"
Callahan offered a rueful smile. "I do not doubt your ability to command a starship or a bunch of raw cadets, Naoki. Nor do I even truly question your ability to give your son orders. I only suggest that you must be certain you can order him to risk his life as much as the next member of your crew. If you cannot, you should request he be reassigned so that the burden is not on your shoulders."
Sulu knew he was right, it was something she needed to think about. She could not let her excitement for this opportunity for Takeshi to cloud her judgment.
Could she do it? she wondered as they continued on to a turbolift. Someone in the admiralty must have trusted that she could, or they would not have assigned him to the Republic—unless, of course, there had been some sort of mistake. She wondered if she ought not simply request reassignment for her son, so that she wouldn't have to be in the position to ask him to risk his life for ship and crew. To avoid any appearance of favoritism.
But that would be taking the easy way out, she realized. Sulu believed herself capable of working with her son, of treating him no better or worse than any other member of her crew—she even looked forward to it. She wanted to see how he got on in a professional environment, how he handled being given actual orders that could have an impact over more than just his grade. Having realized that, the question then became whether or not Takeshi felt the same. Looked like she was going home to Tokyo before heading up to the ship.
At least she'd get to say a proper goodbye to Nikael and Aiko.
"Mom, you're back! You won't believe what's happened!" was the first thing Sulu heard when she materialized in her living room. Takeshi was in the midst of fastening his uniform jacket, a wide smile on his face.
Nikael came into the room from the kitchen. "Give your okaa-san time to materialize, son, before you bombard her."
Her husband then stepped up to her and gave her a kiss. "I figured you would head to the ship after your meeting."
"I had figured the same, but I found I need to have a few words with Kesh before I go," she replied, then looked to her middle child. "Am I to understand you've been made aware of your assignment to the Accelerated Occupational Placement program?"
"Yeah—woke up to the message like, twenty minutes ago. I'm so stoked; have already spoken to my internship supervisor at Cern, and he said the academy credits I was earning there would be applied to my transcript even though I'm leaving a week early," Takeshi replied.
"And did you take note as to which vessel you've been assigned?" Sulu pressed.
Takeshi grinned. "Yup. I'm on the Republic with you. Ain't it cool we're going to be working together?" His smile faltered then. "Unless… unless you don't want to work together. Do you think it will be a bad idea or something?"
"No, Takeshi, I don't. I know how mature you are, how smart you are," she said. "I know that you are going to make a fantastic Starfleet officer. But a question was put to me that I feel the need to put to you: can you separate the captain from the mother?"
Her son frowned. "I don't get it."
"From the moment we step onboard that ship, I won't just be your mother, Kesh," Sulu said. "I will be your commanding officer. I will have to give you orders and you will have to follow them. I will have to treat you the same way I would treat any other member of my crew, which means there will be times you will get assignments you don't like. There may even come a time when I will have to ask you to put your personal safety at risk in order to help someone else—God knows I hope that day never comes, but there is a chance nonetheless."
She paused and drew a breath, and locked her gaze with that of her son. "Do you think you are capable of handling that?"
Takeshi was silent for a moment as her words sunk in, and then he squared his shoulders and nodded his head. "I am if you are," he said. "And really, Mom… if it's not you asking me to risk life and limb for the Federation, it's gonna be some other captain. It's a chance we accepted when we signed on the dotted line and put on the uniform, right? As for taking orders from you, I've been doing that my entire life. You'll just be getting paid to do it from now on."
Sulu could not help but smile—he really was a brilliant kid. And he was right about one thing: no matter where he served, there was a chance his life might one day be put on the line. Perhaps it was better that such an order come from someone he knew would not risk his life lightly. Stepping up to her son, she wrapped her arms around him and he returned the favor. She held him tightly, knowing this might be the last time for a long time she would get to hold him like this.
"Hey, you're home!" said Aiko as she came from the hall, her words immediately followed by a yawn. "Aren’t you leaving this morning?"
Sulu broke away from Takeshi and walked over to his younger sister. "I am, but I had the chance to come back for a few, so I took it."
"And guess what, sis? I'm going with," Takeshi added.
Aiko blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Kesh, why don't you go and pack while your mother explains things to Aiko?" Nikael suggested.
"Oh, right! Good idea, Dad," the younger man said, and dashed away in the direction Aiko had come from.
Nikael then prepared some food for his children while Sulu and Aiko sat at the table and the new captain explained to the teen what was happening. Aiko was happy for her brother's opportunity to excel, and thought it humorous that he could be ordered to do something like keeping his room clean.
"As if that's gonna be any different than living at home," her brother said as he returned, dragging a large trunk with one hand and a duffel bag slung over one shoulder.
Aiko laughed then, agreeing that it would probably be no different than what he was used to, and then laughed harder when their father ordered him to sit at the table and eat his breakfast.
Sulu smiled as she stifled a sigh. It was times like this that she enjoyed being home the most, seeing her family together and enjoying each other. Such memories sustained her during the long months until she saw them again.
It was time, Sulu mused, to get this show on the road.
All members of the crew were onboard, save for those they would pick up on the way to the Alpha Leonis system. There were some enlisted crew and a few officers they would take on at Starbase 74 first, and then a group of cadets from the academy on Efrosia were due to join the crew before they reported in at Starbase Echo.
Pressing a button on the arm of the command chair, Sulu prepared to address the crew.
"Attention all personnel, this is your captain speaking," she began. "A moment such as this deserves more pomp and circumstance than we can give it—the oldest active-duty starship in the Federation fleet taking her first deep space voyage in more than twenty years is quite the significant occurrence—but we will just have to throw a party some other time. Some of you want to be on the old girl's crew, and some of you do not…"
Lt. Holden fidgeted in his seat before her, but he wasn't the only one on Sulu's mind when she said those words.
"…but whether your choice or no, you are a member of the U.S.S. Republic team. To me, that means something extraordinary. It means we are literally surrounded by history."
She moved to sit down in the 141-year-old command chair then, and allowed for the smile that she felt lifting her lips. "Now, let's go make some history of our own."