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Admiral Erin Colleen O'Conner was an uncommon lady in many respects. What some would call petite, at barely five feet tall, she could hold her own regardless of anyone's size, status, or rank. In addition, she wasn't what some people would picture as typically Irish. Put simply, she did not have a fair complexion, pale skin, red hair and blue eyes. Instead, she was what was referred to as 'Black Irish,' having dark eyes, hair and skin. The Irish family tree was shown to have some 'foreign' blood, either from a survivor of the ill-fated Spanish Armada or one of the Spanish mercenaries working for Irish chieftains in the same era. Regardless, the family had a definite Hispanic influence.
Long, long ago, the term Black Irish had implications of a slur or was of a demeaning nature. Now, though, it was worn with pride, a unique heritage and rich with Irish history as much as any other person from that country.
She was also proud of her size. Affectionately called a Leprechaun by her grandfather, she was complemented by her mother as being living proof that good things do indeed come in small packages.
At the Academy, she was given only a 50/50 chance of graduating, but not because of the academics, as her scholastic record was enviable. The physical training, however, was suspect as there were many requirements involving self-defense, survival and other tests that made her a very doubtful candidate for success. But she was ready, having learned all the Academy requirements in advance; she prepared herself before beginning classes. In many respects, she was better qualified than many of the other cadets and gained a well-deserved respect in the process.
Now, many years later, she was an admiral and while she had no desire to return to the Academy, she looked on those years with a certain fondness. A pride in achieving what few thought she was capable of. That reputation stayed with her and no one underestimated her anymore. In fact, they usually counted on her ability to 'get it done' whatever the assignment or task at hand. Her current job fell into that category, to say the least.
To get things started, she was up early and about to enter Starfleet Headquarters Building. As far as anyone at Starfleet Command was concerned, it was oh three hundred thirty in the morning. Of course, in her work, time was definitely relative. She was Chief of Starfleet Yards. That meant she was responsible for all the work done on every ship in Starfleet. That also meant was she was in charge of arranging all the work schedules. That particular aspect of her job was the most frustrating, unpredictable and nerve wracking. Getting a ship built or repaired was nothing compared to getting it done on time or finding somewhere to do it in the first place.
This particular morning, her problem concerned both; reworking schedules and, locating an empty berth for a badly damaged starship, namely Enterprise. The call she received just moments ago indicated the ship was to have the highest priority and although it would be some time before it actually arrived, she would need every minute available to shuffle work schedules and create a hole in the current schedule to make room for Enterprise.
This Enterprise was NCC-1701-E, damaged during an engagement with the Romulans. What the exact details were, she didn't know at this point. That would come in the follow-up reports with lists of specific damage and repair requests. Right now it was a simply a matter of finding an appropriate place to put the 'wounded warrior.'
Yard crews worked an eight- to ten-hour shift and maintained a continuous twenty-four hour schedule. Again, time was fairly unimportant to people working in space. Most yards operated on the standard time synchronized with Starfleet Command Headquarters. It was more convenient having all facilities on one clock and since Command was making the rules, the clock was their own, logical since the convenience was theirs.
High above Earth, the various facilities were oblivious to the various time zones below. The same was true for the huge Utopia Planetia complex at Mars or the ancillary yards at Venus and any one of dozens of Starfleet yards all over the Federation. They were all her responsibility, at least the ones operated directly by Starfleet. There were hundreds more, but they were privately owned and while some of these did perform work for Starfleet, they were beyond her control. That fact was a particular annoyance, but there was little to be done about it. Besides, she had a full plate as it was.
Arriving at Starfleet Command Headquarters building, Erin gained access quickly from the security guards. They were used to seeing her at all hours, day and night. Using her various security cards, retina scans and other such procedures, she finally entered her own office.
"Computer, lighting, normal levels and activate all yard status boards."
The lights came up quickly as did the status boards. "Status boards on display. Progress updated at twenty-four hundred hours," the computer announced proudly.
The status boards were almost unnecessary as she already knew what was going to be displayed. She stared at the wall-sized displays every day for hours at a time, shuffling and reshuffling work crews, repair parties, supplies, parts, equipment and even dining breaks on occasion. Still, updates occurred regularly and there were surprises now and then.
Right now, it was a matter of shifting ships, not an easy task. Moving ships was both a complicated and time-consuming task. So the trick was to minimize what was needed to be done. After all, to create a vacancy, you had to stop work on a ship currently under repair, getting a refit or being built. That meant the supplies, parts and systems that had been delivered would no longer be needed and would require retuning them to the quartermaster's warehouses. The supply personnel loved that! Many 'battles' had been fought getting things on time to keep work on schedule and after 'pulling teeth' to get them, now she would be asking for them to be picked-up and returned. She was already imagining the fights necessary to get it done. Then, she'd need to get the materials and systems necessary for the Enterprise repairs and those she wasn't completely sure of. It was not going to be easy or fun, but that is why she had the job and why she liked it... the challenge!
First order of business was a proper location for 1701-E. It would have to be a dock that was big enough to handle the new Sovereign class starship. That alone would be a limiting factor and she knew by rechecking the board, it was not going to be easy.
All the facilities were equipped with Class A docks, those large enough to handle anything Starfleet had. However, they were all occupied. Also, several of those projects were considered priority or at a critical point and could not be put on hold.
Her thoughts were interrupted by her comm board, which chirped, indicating an incoming message. She took a few steps to check it. It was a 'red flag' communication, therefore she could not ignore it. It would not be a yard crew complaining about an incorrect color on a chair or a work shuttle out of service. This was a genuine problem.
"Computer, display message."
"Message on console viewer, from Captain Picard, U.S.S. Enterprise."
Erin's ears perked up upon hearing the source. "Here it comes!" She said to herself.
Before reviewing the communication, she sat down, figuring it was going to be lengthy and that she might be better off being seated. Anyway, damage reports were usually easier to take sitting down. Sometimes this was due to what would be necessary to repair the ship and other times due to lives lost. A quick review of the latter showed a minimum number of casualties, at least, so far. While any loss was tragic, on a ship as big as Enterprise, it could have been far worse.
The far worse part came with the external scans done with the ship's shuttlecraft. Immediately Erin wondered if the casualty reports were accurate. That much damage should have resulted in many more crew injuries and deaths.
She shook that particular thought from her mind and read the Engineer's report. If the visual scans were bad, the reports were much worse. Enterprise had collided with a Romulan ship and unfortunately, starships weren't built for ramming. Generally speaking, such circumstances rarely occurred, if ever. But somehow in this case, it happened with devastating results. She made a note to herself that once things settled down a bit, she'd review the after action reports on the collision. It should make for interesting reading.
The Chief of Yards was now caught up in the reports from the captain and the engineer of the Enterprise. Right now she wished she had her sister's ability to read quickly and retain everything she read. It was a real blessing, what was referred to as a photographic memory. As a child, her sister was occasionally called a human computer or compared to a Vulcan scholar. Erin wasn't so blessed, but she still had a remarkable ability to retain and recall vital information.
Putting those memories aside, Erin focused on the reports. She admired the persons who wrote them. Not only were they very informative, but they gave her a much better idea of what she needed to prepare for. These were forwarded to anyone who would need to see them. Preliminary repair plans, parts orders and repair crews could be compiled and made ready based on those reports.
After several hours of reading and messaging, she stood up and returned to the status boards. First priority was choosing the facility best suited for the work to be done. This would be an easy choice, the Utopia Planitia Fleet yards at Mars. There were more docks of the right size and a much larger labor force. Also, the Utopia Planitia facility had a more extensive warehouse system and, therefore, possessed a greater chance of having just what Enterprise needed on hand. It was a logical and easy decision, so now the question was which dock, as they were all full. Projects ranged from new construction of Starfleet's latest, to repairs of damaged ships and even major refits. All of these projects were, of course, a high priority. However, Enterprise was to receive an even higher priority as directed by Command. The 'old man' himself had called her, stressing that point. Starfleet needed their best ship and crew on the job as fast as possible. The Sovereign class starship was as popular with Starfleet as it was unpopular with the many hostile or suspect forces they encountered.
"Computer, alter main status board to show Utopia Planitia only."
"Affirmative, Utopia Planitia on main viewer," chimed the melodic voice.
Taking a few steps closer, the admiral looked at the docks one by one. She was looking for a likely candidate, however about half the docks could be eliminated due to size restrictions. The Sovereign Class was one of the biggest and would, therefore, require a correspondingly larger dock.
While doing a visual search, it suddenly occurred to her that there was a pattern forming. She smiled to herself at the realization that a disproportionate number of ships began with the letter E. Eisenhower was in for a refit, as was Endeavour. A new Essex was being built and was about 50% complete. It was long overdue as the fleet hadn't had an Essex for some time. Not far from it was a new Equinox to replace the one lost in the Delta Quadrant. Another new ship, Excalibur, was here, looking more like a ship and less like a construction project every day. Emissary was being repaired following a run in with a particularly violent ion storm. Exeter was finishing up an upgrade on most of its systems. Eagle and Eldorado had just completed their initial shakedown trials and were back in the yards for a few refinements and corrections.
But there were smaller ships, too. In the yards were Elbe, Erie, Erebus, Embro and Euphrates. Erin continued to smile at the E phenomenon until reality returned and she refocused on a more important matter, another E, Enterprise. Actually, it was a double E considering it was Enterprise NCC-1701-E.
Maybe her choice wouldn't be so difficult after all. Thinking logically, it would be easier to use a dock that was already equipped to handle the needs of Enterprise. Not just from a consideration of size, but also from what would be required to repair the ship, specifically the nearly destroyed primary hull.
Double-checking her memory, two candidates stood out -- dock number two and dock number seventeen. Both were in the process of building new Sovereign Class starships. Dock number two held the new Essex. It was in the early stages of construction and seemed like a good candidate. It could be put on hold without much difficulty. The time lost working on the ship could be recovered over the usual year and a half required to complete it.
Dock number seventeen was home to the Excalibur, another ship name with a fine tradition. It was much further along and if she stopped work on it now, it would certainly delay the completion date. However, in its current state, many of the systems that Enterprise would need for its repairs were already on site or in nearby warehouses. In any event, Enterprise was a priority job simply due to the fact that even with its extensive damage, it could be put back into service long before either the Essex or Excalibur would be ready.
Therefore she decided it would be just that, stop work on both Essex and Excalibur, pull the Excalibur from dock seventeen and have it towed to a temporary storage area. Enterprise would be docked immediately and anything needed, whether labor or material would come from Essex or Excalibur, maybe both. A little shuffling of priorities was always part of building and repairing ships. This would simply be one more example.
Now came the fun part, getting the process started. Contact the supervisors at docks two and seventeen, then tell them what she had in mind. Next on her list of things to do was making the arrangements for tugs, redo work schedules and start the process for procuring everything the Enterprise would need. No problem, just ten or twelve hours work to do in half that time. So it would be another normal day.
She returned to her duty desk and started contacting all the necessary people to get things moving forward. There would be a lot of complaining about the early hour and the monumental tasks ahead, but it was an emergency situation and unavoidable. Also, there were the other facilities and their problems to deal with. Captain Petrov, unofficially her right hand man and officially the Assistant Chief of Starfleet Yards, would have to handle those.
Petrov was a good officer. Although he had been assigned to the position, she would have chosen him herself. He had a reputation for cutting through the 'red tape' and getting the job done on time and on budget. She activated her direct comm channel with a flick of the wrist.
A surprisingly alert Petrov quickly appeared, "Good morning, Admiral. I've been expecting to hear from you. I figured you hand your hands full, so I waited for you to make first contact."
Erin got right to it, "I take it you saw the reports from the Enterprise."
"I've been reading them since you sent them, pretty grim."
"I need your help; we need to 'divide and conquer' again, okay? I'll take the EMV group, that way I can concentrate on Enterprise." The EMV designation referred to the Earth/Mars/Venus group of yards. There were other groups such as the Vulcan/Andor/Tellar group known as VAT, the Fringe World Yards noted as FWY and others.
Petrov nodded then smiled, "I've already had my third cup of coffee and I'm ready to assume the duties assigned to me." Then he became serious and added, "Take good care of Enterprise and don't worry. I'll hold down the fort."
"Thanks! O'Conner out!"
Now she could relax, at least a little, knowing the rest of her 'domain' was in good hands.
After more than two hours of concentrated messaging, Erin was interrupted by another priority message from Picard. It stated that his arrival time had been moved up. His engineer was able to improve the ship's performance. This was a cause for celebration on the Enterprise, but it put a 'fly in the ointment' with her arrangements.
She was already receiving push back from the various departments and, of course, the usual inquiries from Command's higher echelons. Some were simply checking to be sure all was ready for Enterprise while others questioned her choice of docks and ships to be placed on hold. She was quick to request their alternatives which weren't forthcoming.
By this time, everybody she needed to see would be at their respective duty stations and the Chief of Yards decided to tour the various facilities that were involved with the Enterprise emergency repairs. While more than qualified to pilot a shuttle, the busy admiral preferred to leave that task to her aide, thereby freeing her for work.
Departing from the Headquarters building, her personal shuttle, more properly known as an Admiral's Launch, made the quick trip to the Utopia Planitia facility. On the way, she received updates and inquiries about the Enterprise repairs as well as numerous other projects. Her choice not to pilot the shuttle proved wise as a major problem had arisen concerning the Excalibur.
"Admiral, this is Captain Hendricks. We received your stop work order and to prepare Excalibur for towing. Unfortunately, we were in the middle of setting the warp core package and all the related calibrations. We need at least another forty-eight hours to complete our work. In the meantime, we will continue with preparations for towing."
Erin sighed audibly, "Your warp core work wasn't logged in the status reports."
Hendricks swallowed hard, "Well, we were trying to surprise you by being ahead of schedule, Admiral."
"Normally commendable work, Captain, but right now I'm between a rock and a hard place." She paused briefly then continued. "Make it a 'short' forty-eight hours, Captain, and no more surprises, understood?"
"Understood, sir." Hendricks sounded suitably humbled, "Hendricks, out!"
Excalibur's dock would not be a viable option, but in a pinch, it might be a back-up plan. Sitting quietly for a moment, Erin's mind raced through the possibilities. The forty-eight hour delay would put a bind on her schedule, so another plan would be needed. She studied her console and reexamined the possibility of using the dock now occupied by the Essex.
"Computer, bring up the status report on the Essex."
"Report displayed; current as of oh six hundred hours."
The report was brief and to the point. Main structural bulkheads were in place as were numerous support structures including impulse engine mounts, main dorsal and secondary hull 'ribs'. Many transverse bulkheads had been placed and decking was installed in several locations. All this was good news as far as progress was concerned, but it was bad news for the admiral. She already knew what the answer would be, but had to ask regardless. Tabbing the comm channel circuit, she contacted the number two yard supervisor. In a few seconds, Commander Iris Sutherland's image appeared. "Yes, Admiral; how may I be of service?"
"I need a realistic assessment of the Essex. Is it at a point where it can be moved safely?"
Sutherland lost her smile and pleasant manner. "No, Admiral, not at this time. We still have a considerable amount of work to do before towing would be advisable, at least another week. Otherwise, we could cause extensive damage to the structure." Sutherland sounded apologetic and tried to make amends. "Is there something else I can do for you, Admiral?"
"That's okay, Iris. I'll work it out on this end, but I appreciate the offer. O'Conner out."
"We're approaching the Utopia Planitia complex, sir." Hannah Parker continued, "Was there a particular dock you wished to visit?"
O'Conner was deep in thought, "No, make for the Administration Complex. We'll be staying there for some time." Under her breath she added, "Maybe for a very long time if things don't start getting better."
"How's that, sir?" Lieutenant Parker asked innocently.
"Nothing, just get us to the Administration Complex."
"Aye, sir, our next stop in..." She consulted the console, then, added, "ten minutes, fifteen seconds."
Erin heaved another heavy sigh, then thought. Plan A and plan B didn't work, now for plan C, which was... what? She shut down her terminal and stared out the forward window of the craft. One by one various docks came into view, each with a ship in various stages of work. Even from this distance it was obvious the Utopia Planitia docks were bustling with activity. Workers in space suits and various craft moved about the ships like hungry scavengers on some large, lifeless carcass. However, the carcasses were starships and far from lifeless.
The admiral then returned to her primary problem, where to put Enterprise and how to get her back into service as soon as possible. She made a quick mental note with a list of any dock big enough to handle Enterprise and disregarded the other factors. Enterprise would be appearing soon and needed someplace to go. Time was running out and quickly.
In a few minutes, her personal shuttle docked at the large space facility that housed offices which were a combination of construction management, general administration, procurement, quartermaster, scheduling and supervisory offices. At best, it was cramped. Since its opening day it was never considered too large. With even more docks added and, therefore, more people and support services to accommodate, it was now woefully inadequate. There were plans for expansion, but the same budgets that would permit that also funded new ships, overhauls, refits, upgrades and repairs. So the 'bean counters' kept putting the expansion plans off and had done so since O'Conner had taken command.
Once docked, Admiral O'Conner made a beeline for the main office. As she entered, a junior officer came to attention, "Admiral on deck!"
O'Conner waved it off, "As you were!" She was more concerned with her current problem than Starfleet protocol.
As everyone returned to work, O'Conner sought out the Chief of Utopia Planitia Yards, Admiral Hsu. A very friendly man with snow white hair and matching goatee, he smiled slightly as she approached.
"I guess there's no need to ask why you're here." His smile faded as she stopped before him with a determined look on her face. Then he added, "I haven't read the report yet, I've been 'putting out fires' all morning. How bad is it?"
Skipping the usual pleasantries, she launched into a quick briefing on the situation. "The primary hull of Enterprise is basically a wreck. Fifty percent total destruction and the remainder of the damage ranges from slight to major. I'd say we're looking at a nine- to ten-month rebuild, but only if we can find a place to put her. We can't use number two or seventeen, I've already checked. Both ships are at critical points in the construction process. We need a dock big enough to fit Enterprise and fast. Unfortunately, there are no empty docks big enough, any ideas?
Hsu pondered the problem for a moment the brightened to his old self. "It may not be exactly easy, but yes, I think we can come up with something." The pair moved to a status board, one similar to the one in O'Conner's office.
"What are the operational limits, Admiral?" Hsu was all business-like and more serious than his usual easy going manner.
"We have the highest priority from Command. I suppose, other than shutting done all other projects, we've few restrictions. However, I don't want to interrupt work at this facility any more than necessary. As far as I'm concerned, every ship currently being worked on is a priority itself. Starfleet and the Federation needs these ships, otherwise they wouldn't have been asked for or funded. Also, I'd like to take it easy on our people. They're already overworked, so let's find a way to minimize unnecessary tasks and get a solution that's as easy as possible."
"Understood, Admiral." Hsu studied the board, then, spoke. "Computer, highlight all docks capable of handling a Sovereign class starship."
"Docks shown as requested," the computer noted dutifully.
The overall lighting on the display dimmed slightly. Only a handful of docks retained full illumination and gained an added glow in red.
"Computer, eliminate docks two and seventeen," O'Conner noted.
"Docks two and seventeen eliminated," the computer responded.
"We're now left with fifteen choices, none of them good." O'Conner was thinking out loud, "Of these choices, which can be vacated the quickest, with a minimal effort and the least impact on the other projects?"
The gathered facility personnel were already checking schedules, work orders and the latest updates, handing data padds with various updates to Hsu. He scanned them then spoke aloud to no one in particular. "Docks twenty-one and thirty-four are off limits. They also have critical work being performed as we speak."
"Numbers eleven, thirty-six, nineteen and twenty-four have extensive work crews aboard installing computers, turbolifts, food processors, sensors, weapons... you name it. If we shut down those work parties..." Commander Harris looked depressed after reading his data padd.
O'Conner smiled, "Don't worry, Commander, we won't go there. But isn't there a ship that would be easier to reschedule work on, until another dock became available?"
"Several, Admiral; unfortunately they're all in smaller docks, not much good for our current requirements." The lieutenant who called the office to attention when O'Conner entered had his arms folded across his chest, studying the board closely.
Hsu was being unusually quiet and O'Conner moved closer to him to see what had captured his attention. "Cat got your tongue?" She finished on a weak smile, then followed his line of sight.
"Not exactly, but Endeavour is about ready for its shakedown. All it needs is matter/antimatter fueling, provisioning and final static testing. It could be put off until work on the Excelsior is completed and then take that space."
Erin shook her head, "I can hear Command now. 'You're pulling Endeavour just days before it's due for trials?' We'll hold that idea in reserve, just in case."
The lieutenant cleared his throat and stepped forward. "What about the new dock, number fifty-three?"
"No good, Ng. It's not fully operational yet," Hsu said. "We need a dock that can begin work as soon as Enterprise goes in."
"What's left?" O'Conner sounded discouraged.
Hsu's Vulcan aide, T'lan, spoke quietly. "Eagle, dock thirty-eight, is already behind schedule due to a late delivery of major systems. We have crews scheduled to work overtime to catch up, but they could be shifted to Enterprise."
"That's great, but Eagle is in a smaller dock." Commander Harris tried not to sound too discouraging, but it seemed like an obvious point.
"Right, sir," Ng was smiling broadly. "I see what Commander T'lan was thinking. The Endeavour could be shifted to that location. It's not as big as Enterprise and we could squeeze it in. That would free up a larger dock while minimizing the loss of time on either Endeavour or Eagle."
The room became quiet as the two most senior officers looked at the board and checked status reports. Then they turned to each other and smiled.
"I'll contact the Eagle's teams and you contact the Endeavour group", Erin said loudly.
Hsu had a bounce in his step as he moved to the main comm board, "My pleasure, Admiral!"
He then turned to T'Lan, "Contact the Space Tug Director. Have him send teams to docks thirty-nine and forty-two immediately, with orders to move Eagle and Endeavour as soon as they are ready and Commander... good thinking."
T'lan nodded, "I shall see to it right away, sir, and thank you."
In short order, the plan was forwarded to the respective dock teams. Other groups hurried with preparations as the two starships were readied for their moves. First order of business was getting both ships out of their current locations. This meant powering down internal systems, removing any work crews and their tools or equipment, and disconnecting the dockyard service umbilical. All these tasks were undertaken simultaneously and with great speed. Eagle was ready first as it was nearly completed. Space tugs gently moved her into a position between docks thirty-nine and forty until a more suitable location could be determined. Then a work party installed a much-needed set of space anchors.
Meanwhile, the Endeavour was quickly turning into a full-fledged nightmare. In record time, crews had scrambled to move the ship, but it seemed the fates were against them. Anything that could go wrong, did. Dockyard workers fell behind and O'Conner was getting nervous. In her mind, Enterprise would be 'coming over the horizon' in short order and Endeavour was nowhere near ready to be moved.
If that wasn't enough, Eagle was in trouble. The temporary space anchors had failed and several tugs were diverted from the Endeavour to rescue the wandering starship. Eagle was brought under control just prior to becoming a first class disaster, but not before a lot of fingernails were sacrificed and the collective blood pressure of Utopia Planitia rose a good fifty points above a healthy level.
Barely had they recovered from that crisis when the yard crew working on the Endeavour reported the service umbilical was frozen. Actually it had shorted, which had in effect, welded it to the ship. The hurried crew had attempted to disconnect it before power had been shut down. That brought to mind the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying, 'The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." In the interest of speed, the Chief of Yards decided to simply cut it. A replacement could be installed once Endeavour was gone and while Enterprise was being docked.
Space tugs reappeared at dock forty-two, ready to move starship Endeavour one more time. She started to relax when Hsu approached her. "I know you don't want to hear this, but... Enterprise is early. Guess they're in a hurry to get home, can't blame them. They just contacted Pluto traffic control and are on final approach at sub-light speed."
The admiral threw up her arms in exasperation. Enterprise wasn't just early, it was several hours early.
| >> PART 2 >> |
© 2019 Brad McDonald / U.S.S. Kitty Hawk