“Captain, you have a hail from Admiral Cullen,” said the communications officer, Lt. Riley. “He says it’s urgent and delicate, sir.”
“Send it to my ready room,” I responded curtly. “I’ll speak with him there.”
“Understood,” Lt. Riley nodded.
I got up from my chair on the bridge of my ship, the starship, Volvo. I nodded to my first officer, Commander Jasper Whitlock. He barely acknowledged me, but then again, he never did. I knew he was bitter about being passed over for the command of his own ship and under my leadership. Striding across the bridge, I used my thumb to open the door of my ready room, the office just off the bridge. Walking a little slower, I sat down at my desk and turned on the terminal. The waiting communiqué was blinking on the screen. Pressing the screen, I saw the face of my father appear.
“I just received your report on the last mission we sent you on,” my father said, looking at the tablet in front of him. “You’re building yourself quite a reputation as a negotiator and a diplomat, Edward.”
“I’m only following the guidelines and rules from my Galaxy Fleet training,” I said, blushing slightly. “It was tough, but the reward was worth it. Seeing the smiles of the refugees from the war as they exited their prison cells, it made me so proud to say that I had a hand in that.”
“You should be proud, Edward. I know I am,” Carlisle, my father, the admiral, said while he gave me a beaming grin. “Anyhow, we have another mission for you.”
“Sir, I mean no disrespect, but my crew is desperate need for some rest and relaxation. The negotiations with the Mesans and Phoenicians was taxing on them and my ship. I was heading to one of the space stations to get the Volvo overhauled,” I said.
“You can still go to the space station, located off the outskirts of Cygnari space. They are quite good at what they do and you’ll be able to spend some time as you prepare for your mission,” Carlisle explained. My tablet beeped and I saw a classified file appear. “Your reputation is going to be your biggest asset, Edward.”
“Did you say Cygnari space?” I asked, looking at our orders. “They have been at war with the Alphans for millennia. They aren’t also a part of the Federation.”
“But they want to be. They’ve been denied because of their ongoing war with the Alphans. Their leader, Emperor Charel, wanted to see it happen before his death. Unfortunately, the war snuffed that idea quickly. He was killed about six months ago in a border skirmish.”
“How do you know all this? The Cygnarians are a very private species,” I said, skimming the information.
“Charel reached out to the Federation. He wanted to end this interstellar war. He wanted a better future for his children, Nirabelle and Charanel. He died before his wish came true. His daughter, Nirabelle, is now the Empress of her people. She wants to see her father’s dying wish come true. Working with our team here on Earth, we’ve devised a plan for her. But there are some very specific rules, per the Cygnarian Council of Elders,” Carlisle said.
“What are these rules?” I asked.
“Empress Nirabelle cannot have any contact with any male member of your crew,” Carlisle stated firmly.
“Uh, dad, I hate to burst your bubble, but eighty percent of my crew is male,” I grumbled.
“I know. However, Rosalie will act as her liaison,” he said. Rosalie was our chief medical officer and my ex-wife. We married impetuously on the pleasure planet, Risa, on shore leave. We didn’t love each other. It was all lust. Rosalie was gorgeous with golden blonde hair, golden skin and golden eyes. We fought merely just to make up, because the sex was phenomenal, but that does not make a strong relationship. After a year, we ended our union and we’re the best of friends. She was also a valued member of my crew, being an excellent doctor and counselor. Rosalie was half human and half Solarian, an empathic species. If it weren’t for her, the negotiations for all of the missions we went on would fall to pieces. She also could control the room with her empathic ability.
“Okay, so Rosalie will work with her. That’s good, but it’s going to be difficult to keep her separated from all the men on my ship,” I said. “Is she going to stay in her quarters for the entire journey?”
“Yes, for the most part. She will have an envoy, Maralice, to act as a go-between. Maralice is a widowed woman who can speak with men and will relay any concerns to you or to Commander Whitlock,” my father explained.
“What about the rest of the rules?”
“It’s all in the file. Now, it will take about a week and half at maximum jump speed to get to Cygnari space. You have to be in orbit of Forx, the home planet of the Cynarians, in two weeks. It will take another week to get to Lapus, the Alphan home world. I’ll let you read the report. Contact me if you have any questions,” he said.
“I will,” I said, pushing the tablet aside. Smiling crookedly, I looked at my father. “How’s Mom?”
“Hating retirement,” he snorted. “She wanted to keep exploring space but I missed my wife.”
“You could have joined her, Admiral,” I snickered. “Or she could have accepted her promotion.”
“You know as well as me that your mother would not want to work at Federation Headquarters. She’s always wanting to learn more. You’re so much like her,” Carlisle said, giving me a wry grin. “She wouldn’t be so antsy if you would give us a grandchild.”
“Dad…” I grumbled. “Kind of single. Can’t have babies on my own.”
“Well, you could,” he laughed.
“I’m not liking where this conversation is going. Bug my sister,” I said, arching a brow. “She lives on Earth and is in a relationship.”
“Trust me, Esme is constantly ragging on Elizabeth,” my dad deadpanned. “I think she’ll be contacting you about stowing away on our ship to get away from the nagging.”
“I’ll gladly take her because I know what a pain in the ass Mom is when she gets her mind set on something,” I chuckled. “Anything else pertaining to the mission?”
“No. You have it all,” he said. “Call your mother, just to give her something to look forward to and after this mission, your crew will get some much needed time off. And that is coming from the admiral and your father.”
“We’ll gladly take it, sir,” I snickered.
“Love you, son.”
“You, too, Dad.”
“Admiral Cullen, out.” The screen blinked black before the insignia for the Federation popped up.
I sat back on my chair, running my hands through my unruly bronze hair. I stared at the ceiling for a moment before getting up to the replicator to get something to drink. “Computer, coffee, black,” I barked to the console. The machine whirred and appearing out of thin air was a steaming cup of coffee. I picked it up, inhaling it briefly before walking back to my desk. I quickly contacted the helm officer, informing him of our new destination. The engines sprang to life and we were on our way to Space Station Seven, on the outskirts of Federation space, near Cygnarian territory.
I spent the next two hours pouring over the orders my father gave me. I had to prepare a briefing for my senior staff so they knew what we were heading into. However, this kind of mission is what I lived for. I was a Galaxy Fleet brat. I was born on starship, lived on a starship for most of my life and will probably die on a starship. Plus, I was the golden child of Galaxy Fleet, graduating with top honors at the age of seventeen. Two years ago, I was awarded my own command and was the youngest captain in Galaxy Fleet history at the age of twenty-eight. I was now thirty and I loved the challenges I faced on a daily basis of being a Galaxy Fleet captain.
Well, except for my pain in the ass First Officer.
Commander Jasper Whitlock was amazing at his job, the best in the fleet. However, he was up for his own command at the same time I was. Galaxy Fleet felt that he wasn’t emotionally prepared to be a captain and he was denied the promotion, assigned to be my first officer. Jasper was a decorated Wing Commander for the Galaxy War Fleet. He was injured gravely and lost both of his legs in the final battle he led. In addition to that, he was scarred both physically and emotionally. He spent a year and a half at Galaxy Fleet Medical on the Solari home world. He had to learn how to use his biomechanical limbs and cope with his survivor’s guilt. He was granted a field commission of lieutenant commander upon his return to Galaxy Fleet. He quickly became commander and first officer for a small research vessel, Chicago.
He put in for a transfer to the Volvo when he heard that the captain was nearing the end of her career. I was the first officer and when the captain resigned from the fleet, I was offered the post and Jasper was given the opportunity to be my first officer. He took it, begrudgingly. The rest, as they say, is history.
Commander Whitlock as a seasoned officer and I trusted him with making tough decisions. But, he was too eager to start a fight, to use our phasers or torpedoes to settle issues. I was always willing to negotiate or solve it diplomatically. Jasper was a hot-head who just like to shoot off his weapons. A lot of that comes from his history in the War Fleet. They didn’t use diplomacy. They used fire power. It was a different frame of mind and he was still learning it.
Shaking my head, I sent a communiqué to my senior staff for a briefing of our upcoming mission at 0800 the following morning.
xx STAR CROSSED xx
Smoothing my black uniform with grey jacket and red shirt underneath, I picked up my tablet from the desk in my quarters. Swiping my communicator from the edge of my nightstand and affixed to my jacket. As I was adjusting it, it chirped. “Halé to Cullen.”
“Cullen here,” I responded to my ex.
“Edward, I can’t make it to the briefing at 0800. There was a coolant leak in engineering and sick bay is swarming with injured,” Rose said.
“When can you make it?” I asked. “You are crucial to this mission. You have to be at the briefing.”
“I don’t know. Two hours? I have to triage the patients,” she said. “Once I get through with that, I should be able to make it. I’m exhausted, though. Zero sleep over the past thirty-six hours. We need another doctor or one of those holographic doctors that Galaxy Fleet Medical is constantly trying to install.”
“I thought you were against the holodoctors,” I snickered.
“You try staying up for nearly two days and see how you feel,” she said. “1000 in the conference room?”
“Yeah. I’ll let everyone know. It’ll give me an opportunity to finalize their jobs. Have Lt. Morgainne contact me about the status of the coolant leak,” I said, naming our chief engineer.
“Got it. Halé out.”
I walked to the bridge after I informed the senior staff of the change. I received reports from helm, security and science for my perusal. I thanked them politely, nodding as they were dismissed and first shift came on duty. I went in my ready room, rereading the report and orders from my father. I also read over the overnight reports. Nothing was out of the ordinary. The only thing that caught my attention was a minor course correction that was made to avoid an asteroid, but the ship was traveling smoothly, even with the coolant leak.
Around 1000, I beckoned to Jasper. We left the helmsman in charge of the bridge while we had our briefing in the conference room. My senior staff was all assembled around the table. I took my seat at the head of the table and sent the information from my tablet to the screen. “Thank you all for being flexible with the meeting time, everyone. Dr. Halé was indisposed due to an accident in engineering. Is everything okay?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied. “We had two ensigns with extreme frost bite and one crewman with a broken leg, but everyone is resting comfortably.”
“Lt. Morgainne, what happened?” I asked my chief engineer. He was a full blooded Solari man that was nearly six and half feet tall and was one huge muscle. His hair was a shiny black, but his skin was tanned with a pearlescent sheen and his eyes were golden. He was also involved with Rose.
“One of the pipes was weak and it gave way. Thankfully, it was a smaller leak or it would have been a lot worse. We’ve corrected the problem but we need to get into space dock soon for a complete overhaul, sir,” he said, frowning deeply.
“Unfortunately, we won’t be able to. Not until after our next mission. We are stopping at Space Station Seven, but it’s mainly to pick up supplies and fix any major issues,” I explained.
“Why are we flying to the far reaches of the Federation?” Jasper asked. “Space Station Seven is just outside of Cygnarian space. They’ve been involved in an interstellar war forever!”
“That’s why. Six months ago, the leader of the Cygnarian people, Charel, contacted Galaxy Fleet. They had petitioned to join the Federation but were rejected numerous times due to the war between the Cygnarians and the Alphans, residents of Lapus. Emperor Charel was trying to negotiate a peace when he was killed by an Alphan attack. His daughter, Empress Nirabelle, is trying to make his dream a reality. We are transporting the empress and her envoy to Lapus to discuss and possibly negotiate a treaty between the two worlds,” I explained.
“Why couldn’t the empress take one of her own ships to Lapus?” asked my head of security, a Klaxon woman named Victoria.
“All of the Cygnarian ships are protecting the border,” I answered, showing them the Cygnarian fleet. “One ship leaves the line and the Alphans attack.”
“It seems like the Alphans are monsters,” spat Rose. “You’ve only ever mentioned Alphan attacks, no Cygnarian.”
“The Alphans are a very aggressive species. They’ve attacked planets along the borders of Federation space, looking for supplies and ships,” I sighed. “The Cygnarians are peaceful and don’t want to fight. At least, that’s what Charel told Admiral Cullen six months ago. Empress Nirabelle has reiterated the same beliefs as well. So, we’ve been asked to provide her a transport and act as intermediaries if negotiations fall apart. There are some strict rules in place, though.”
I pressed a button the rules for transporting the empress were on the screen. “The first one is probably going to be the most challenging. She cannot have any contact with male members of the crew.”
“Uh, Captain, you do realize that out of a crew of nearly six hundred people, four hundred fifty are men,” Lt. Morgainne said, arching a brow.
“I know,” I sighed, scrubbing my face. “This is where Rose and Victoria are going to be very valuable. Rose, you are assigned to the Empress as her liaison.”
I pressed another button and a picture of Empress Nirabelle appeared on the screen. I’d never seen a more beautiful woman, honestly. She had long flowing, mahogany hair with a few strands that shone, almost iridescent. Her skin was pale but she had these light brown, almost like, leopard spots going down the sides of her face and disappearing into her gown. Her hair was clipped back, held off her face by silver crown. Her ears were lightly pointed and very dainty. Her true beauty and her ultimate sadness were held in her face, specifically her eyes. The empress had pretty, pouty lips that were full but pulled into a frown. Her face was heart-shaped but her eyes, which were electric blue, held all of the pain of her people. I wanted to pull her into my arms and hug the shit out of her, but strict rules prohibited men from interacting with her.
“Captain, do you know why she is not allowed to speak with men?” Commander Whitlock questioned.
“It’s not clearly stated in the report. The explanation is vague at best, saying it was culturally unacceptable,” I responded. “In addition to that rule, we have a week to get to Lapus, but we are to remain in orbit for a day and pull out the empress and her envoy if there is any trouble.”
“Will we be sending a security team?” Victoria asked. She took her job very seriously and the fact that she could kill any one of us with one swipe of her talons, we listened to her intently.
“No,” I said, trying to hide my distaste. “We’re sending the empress and her envoy down with a communicator and that’s it. They didn’t want to cause the Alphans any reason to doubt their sincerity.”
“I don’t like it, Captain,” Victoria growled, her red hair beginning to glow in anger. Her eyes also began glowing.
“Calm down, Commander,” I said curtly. “I don’t like it either, but it was what the Cygnarian Council of Elders wants.”
“Can’t we give her a phaser or bomb or something?” Victoria almost whined.
“No, Victoria,” I answered. “Now, we’re en route to Cygnarian space. We have a brief stop at Space Station Seven for some repairs and then to the Cygnarian home world, Forx.”
“Sir, with all due respect, why were we chosen for this mission?” Jasper asked snidely. “I know that the Enterprise is closer to the Federation border.”
“Our recent work with the Mesans and Phoenicians have made the Volvo the go-to for diplomatic missions,” I answered. “This is a very delicate situation and the admiral knew that we had the finesse to handle it.” Jasper harrumphed and muttered something under his breath. I growled lowly. “Do you have something to add, Commander?”
“No, sir,” he spat.
“Well, you all have your jobs. We have a week and half until we get to the space station. Make as many repairs as you can so that we have to dock for as little time as possible,” I hissed. “Everyone but Commander Whitlock is dismissed.” They all left except my first officer. I glared at him. “I’ll repeat my last question, Commander Whitlock. I’m pretty certain that you don’t want another letter in your file for insubordination.”
“Permission to speak freely, sir?” he asked, his hazel eyes blazing. I nodded. “It’s bullshit that your ‘daddy’ the admiral gives you these missions. You’re not ready for them.”
“And you are?” I scoffed. “You’d want to blow up the Alphan home world. You fire phasers, ask questions later. And who are you to question my authority? I became a captain on my own merits, not riding on the coat tails of my father, the admiral.”
“You keep telling yourself that, sir,” Jasper snarled.
“You’re treading a fine line, Commander. I gave you permission to speak freely, but I’m still your commanding officer,” I said, standing up. “Your boss.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I just don’t agree with the admiral’s orders,” Jasper said, crossing his arms.
“It doesn’t matter if you agree or don’t agree, only that you follow them,” I said, walking to the door.
“You’re assigned to engineering today. They need some extra help due to the coolant leak.”
“I can’t move around in the Jeffries tubes, sir. You know that,” Jasper growled.
“You have your orders, Commander,” I said coldly. “You don’t show up and you’ll be relieved of duty for the remainder of this mission.” I turned on my heel and left him in the conference room. I hated to be a hard ass, but Jasper constantly questioning my authority was getting on my last nerve. He had to learn that I was the captain and that he was not.