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First Impressions

Posted on Monday, 4 July 2022 - 7:03pm by Captain Pippa Whitley & Lieutenant JG Charles McCullen

Mission: Operation: My Unfair Lady
Location: Ready Room

Charlie McCullen couldn't help but wonder as he walked through the USS Standing Bear. She was a Starfleet vessel, but not, little design details belied the fact that while she was dressed up with all the Starfleet trimmings, underneath the cosmetics she was something else. Fast, aggressive and compact, she reminded him of the Defiant-class in some ways, he had the feeling that she had the same design philosophy. But the Ulaan-class was more aggressive, smarter and bigger. A thoroughbred warship, fast and furious.

He stepped into the turbolift and called for the bridge, looking down at his PaDD again. Captain Pippa Whitley, an Efrosian Human blend, 53 years old. He honestly wasn't sure what to expect. In his career, he'd had only two captains to serve under, and one of those had been his mother. Captain Lynn on the USS Xavier had been steadfast, confident and diplomatic, old Starfleet to the core. His mother... well, she was what she was. The prospect of meeting a new captain was more than a little nerve-wracking, and Charlie's nerves were halfway-wracked already.

The turbolift doors opened and McCullen made his way to the ready room doors, pressing the buzzer for entry and waiting for the doors to open.

Captain Whitley was still in the process of bringing some 'warmth' into their ready room, but try as they might to squeeze in some time to do so, the chairs in front of the Captain's desk and the small sofa offered very little added warmth to the room. Should have commissioned a Bolian for this job thought Pippa as they studied the room with some scrutiny. This was Pippa's new command, a starship taken from the mirror universe which clearly had a wartime feel, cold and militant. Starfleet had done its best to dress it up as to be otherwise, but Pippa knew that underneath the fresh cosmetics and 'new starship scent,' was a warship.

They smear balm on her bow and douse her in cheap perfumes, but she's still roaring to fight The fresh paint and reupholstered furniture was not fooling anyone, certainly not Captain Whitley. "Defaced you is what they did," Captain Whitley said as Pippa heard the buzz and took a few steps over towards the door shaking their head. "Come," Pippa croaked.

The door slid open, and Charlie had a moment to modulate his face, a slight adjustment to the natural smirk he wore without thinking turned it into a pleasant smile. A slight narrowing of his eyes took away the deer-in-the-headlights look. He stepped into the room and was immediately caught off guard by the captain standing near the door, rather than sitting at their desk as he had imagined. He paused for a beat in the door, taking that second to look at them. A lean figure, about the same height as he was, which was both surprising and somewhat of a relief.

The helmsman drew himself up to attention, letting his eyes fall on the captain's forehead just above their eyes, "Lieutenant Junior grade Charles McCullen, reporting for duty as chief flight control officer, si... uh, ma'a... uh... captain." Charlie felt the slight blush creep up his face and the smile slipped back to a smirk unbidden. Misgendering the captain on their very first meeting was not the first impression he had intended to give and he mentally chided himself for not checking what title the captain preferred to use. "Uh... sorry."

Pippa chuckled a bit. "At ease," the Captain said shaking their head. "Captain will be just fine, though I will answer to sir or ma'am if needed" explained Pippa. "No apologies ever necessary. McCullen is it...?" Pippa cocked their head a bit as though there was something that the Captain knew but could not quite piece together.

Charlie made himself relax, automatically clasping his hands behind his back as he slid into an at-ease position. On one hand, he was relieved the captain had glossed over the slip. There were some he had known who would not have so easily let it slide. On the other hand, he knew what was coming next and it grated. The McCullen name was an advantage he strove to never use and a burden he carried, any time someone recognized him as the son of a pair of Admirals, it always sowed the seed of doubt about just exactly how he had gotten to the position he had, and he hated it.

The smirk slid, thinning to a line. "Yes Captain, here are my orders." He held out the PaDD, realizing only after he had offered it to the captain that it still had their biography opened alongside his own orders to report to the Standing Bear.

"I see you were doing a bit of research," Captain Whitley noted having taken possession of the PaDD. Pippa could practically see the look in the young man's eyes as if he had committed an atrocity of sorts. "There's no harm in that, Lieutenant McCullen. I believe in being prepared and a well prepared officer makes for a good officer" stated Whitley.

The Captain made their way back to their desk and had a seat. "This is not exactly going to be a walk in the park assignment, but given you have been assigned to this starship seems to indicate you know that this is an unusual assignment."

McCullen squeezed his eyes shut and let out a slow breath while he compartmentalised, making a mental effort to take anything unrelated to the job and shove it into a mental box labelled 'later'. "I'm sorry to say, Captain, that I don't know anything about the assignment. My week-long shore leave that I'd been waitin' on for eighteen months got cancelled after one day about 52 hours ago an' I was ordered to report here." He shrugged one shoulder, having to take another moment to choke down that particular mess of feelings and opinions. Again.

"The research I've done has been, uh... limited." He continued, "anythin' related to this ship is classified way, way above my clearance level, but it's easy to see she's not Starfleet-built. Close - but not, and she's been modified later to look the part. It's also easy to see that she's a purebred warship, an' Starfleet doesn't make those, so uh... unusual, yeah, I guess I do know, Captain."

Pippa smiled a bit. He had something that Captain Whitley liked a lot in an officer especially a young up and coming one. There was determination and gumption in those veins. Behind his baby face, something dormant that experience would awaken in time. "The Federation and Starfleet do not usually design warships. The Defiant was an exception to that, but there had been others lost to time and as you put it, 'way above your clearance level, Lieutenant."

"She was salvaged from another universe, one that does not have a Federation exactly. The starship was best described as a light frigate when it came into our possession. We've brought it back, taken it apart, examined it, and they dressed her up like this. You are looking at a one of a kind starship for the time being" stated Pippa. "The Standing Bear will be a blockade runner and perform reconnaissance from time to time. There are a lot bells and whistles to this compact starship."

One-of-a-kind, light frigate, blockade runner. Charlie was many things - a Starfleet Officer in a family of Starfleet Officers, a half of a pair, an amateur engineer, a lover of music, but below everything else, at his foundation, Charlie was a pilot. Each word from the captain was a delicious morsel of information which warmed something deep in his soul. "When," he asked, his mind already turning to performance-curve simulations and thruster calibrations, "can I access her systems?"

Pippa nodded in approval. "Of course, Lieutenant. You are not just going to be an officer aboard this starship, you'll be a department head, and more than that, a member of my inner circle. You will routinely have a seat in the Briefing Room and access to the Senior Staff's lounge. Some pompous asshole..." Pippa stopped themself and blushed slightly. "Excuse my colorful language. The former Commanding Officer from the mirror universe had a private dining room. I opted to transition it over into a space reserved for my senior staff plus my aide-de-camp and logistics officer."

The Captain had taken the PaDD to sign off, approving of his coming aboard in doing so had just increased his security clearance. "Now that this is taken care of," Pippa said placing the PaDD down. "This starship is more unlike anything you are likely used to, Lieutenant McCullen. You are now privy to know that there is a cloaking device aboard the ship that can be activated to equip a cloak. This was already on the starship when we recovered it, but the Federation Council has instructed us not to use it at this time for clear political reasons."

It was interesting to get a tiny window into who the captain was underneath the professional veneer. More interesting was the cloaking device, it made sense that a ship designed without the restrictions of the Treaty of Algeron would be equipped with a cloaking device. The young lieutenant suppressed a smirk. But as interesting as the cloak was, he was much more aware of the responsibility of being both a department head and of being a member of the senior staff of a starship.

"I, uh... I'll do my best, Captain," He told them. When it came to piloting he was confident that he was one of the best. There wasn't a ship he couldn't fly the nacelles off of. Leading other people was something he was less confident in. His experience as assistant chief on the USS Xavier had been limited. Defiant-class vessels only had a flight operations team of four. "How many personnel will I have in my team?"

"You will do just fine, McCullen. You are one of my officers now, and I don't believe you would be given this assignment if you did not show a lot of potential. You are a young and this will be a big step for you in Starfleet" noted Captain Whitley.

Pippa went through the numbers in their mind. "You are likely looking at overseeing no more than about a dozen individuals when all is said and done. A few of those will be helmsmen. The rest will primarily work in the shutllebay. You have one of the smaller departments aboard this starship, but there's still a lot resting on your shoulders, lieutenant."

A dozen. And the shuttlebay personnel probably had their own chief he could delegate to. That was, he thought, manageable. As long as they were decent people. He gave the captain an affirming nod while his brain churned out mostly white noise. ~Questions, Charlie. Ask. Questions.~

He produced a smile that was more confident than he felt and less confident than he was aiming for. "How much," he began, having no real idea where his line of questioning was going, "latitude will I have to, uh..." ~shit~ ", to uh..." ~ooh!~ "To play with the performance curves of the thrusters and the impulse engines?" The helmsman's grin grew as the idea took hold, "if I can take the standard Starfleet thruster'n'engine output charts and throw them away, I bet could make this ship dance."

"Lieutenant, I have not been privy to see what your piloting skills are like firsthand nor am I acquainted with what your preferences are in the seat; however, I like to believe in my helmsmen and their capabilities. Personally, I like to give them leeway to be creative and imaginative...expressive even," Pippa replied. 'So long are you are not putting the starship and its crew in unreasonable danger, I am open to whatever you wish to do to make the starship dance. Now, our Engineering department may not be as fond of your choreography, but as my grandfather would say 'everyone is a damned critic'" added Captain Whitley.

Pippa picked up the PaDD once more and started tapping away. "I'll just make to sure to inform Sickbay to have a good cocktail for motion sickness on stand by for hypospray delivery in case you decide to barrel roll the starship" Pippa stated with a small wink at Charlie.

A little bit of levity went a long way and there was a small but visible change in Charlie as a band of self-imposed tension lifted from him. Finding out that his new captain likely wasn't going to be the overbearing, stifling regulation-only type was a relief he hadn't known he was waiting for. His shoulders shifted slightly downwards, his knees unlocked as he rolled up slightly onto the balls of his feet and the stiffness in his legs eased. He laughed, it made the bridge of his nose wrinkle slightly and somehow gave him, for a moment, an even younger appearance. "I promise not to give the crew any rollercoaster rides unless it's called for, Captain."

The Captain smiled slightly. "Alright, Lieutenant McCullen. That sounds good to me, but do me a small favor would you?" inquired Captain Whitley. "My First Officer who is presently on extended leave is Commander Soral, as you can probably presume, Vulcan," Pippa elaborated, but did not feel anyone needed to know the more intricate and private details of Soral's heritage. "When he's back aboard, and the next time he's in command of the bridge, if you are at your station, give him a good ol' vomit inducing roll or few."

Charlie snorted, an image in his head of a Vulcan, his tenth-grade math teacher, in particular, attempting to maintain that stoic Vulcan exterior while being hurled around. It was almost a challenge too good to resist. "Yes cap'n," he grinned, "if you could just put that it writing so I don't get thrown in the brig afterwards."

Pippa shook their head. "Sorry, I can't go around putting incriminating orders on PaDDs" Captain Whitley said. "Though at least you know who your 'call' should be if you should find yourself in the brig or held in a cell somewhere," added Pippa. "If he has you in the Brig, you'll be out of there before you know it. Captain's prerogative."

"Noted," Charlie replied, feeling the moment coming to an end. He pushed the grin aside, taking a breath and holding it for a second before continuing. "speaking of prerogative, I should, uh... warn you, that you might get a call in the next couple of days from, uh... my mother. Admiral McCullen, out of Starfleet Operations." He shook his head, hating having to bring it up, "please, don't let her influence your opinion of me, 'cause I've gotten this far under my own steam but-she-thinks-she's-helpin'-an'-I-don'-know-how-to-make-her-stop-an'-all-I-want-you-to-do-is-judge-me-by-my-performance-an'-my-service-record, an', an', and... I'm rambling... sorry."

"That's it," Pippa said with a bit of an a-ha moment. "McCullen. That is why you sounded familiar. Your mother is Admiral McCullen. Yes, I have met her a few times in my career. "If she tries to influence my opinion of you then we will conveniently have some communications interference, and the channel will just drop her. These things happen" added the Captain reassuringly.

"Thank you, Captain," Charlie replied, not trying to hide the relieved tone in his voice, staying one step ahead of his parent's influence and the idea that he got where he was because of who they were was practically a second career. He was adrift for a moment, unsure of where to take the conversation next. "I'll, uh... report to sickbay as soon as I get my belongings aboard. They're being sent over from storage, from the Xavier, and a few bits from my home in New Bajor. When are we, uh... scheduled to depart?"

Whitley nodded and checked the time as they were constantly wrestling with it in recent days, a losing battle for sure. "Approximately eight hours," Pippa said a little disturbed by the thought. "I know," the Captain added. "Cutting it a bit close we are with this last batch of crew arrivals."

Eight hours, eight HOURS!? Charlie stood, "cutting it a little close? Captain? It'll take me six hours to get a performance map laid out an' another four to calibra... aaah, if I use the base map and just tweak it for now... permission to be dismissed?"

"Permission granted, and welcome to my life," Pippa replied. "Do yourself a favor, stay young and when they offer you a command of your own one day, decline it."

"Aye Captain," Charlie replied as he was heading out of the door, pausing only to flash the captain a grin, and then he was gone.


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