Topic: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

They had found him dead in his cabin. An overdose, they'd said, of the opiates that were keeping him from being overwhelmed by pain. A hero of the Star Navy, cut down in his prime by a crippling injury and the intensity of his chronic pain. James Cross' funeral was set for three days hence. A private service for family, friends, and fellow officers. His senior staff was reeling from the sudden loss, and anxious to see what would happen to the Vanguard. For now, the entire crew was on shore leave as the great ship received repairs and a refit over Earth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Congratulations, Commodore Stirling."

"Thank ya', sahr. It's an honor to be commanding such a fine ship."

Newly-promoted Commodore Adler Stirling had just received his rank and his new assignment. After the tragic death of Commodore James Cross, Stirling had been assigned command of the Vanguard. He'd decided to keep the old command crew on if they'd stay, as he didn't know much about the ship.

A man of confused heritage (a German mother and Scottish father, raised in the highland hills), Stirling was known for his dedication to crew, ship, service, and country, his doggedness in battle, his blunt style of command, and his brutal honesty. He was a decorated veteran of numerous campaigns, and a highly experienced commanding officer. He separated his personal and professional lives on duty, but was often friendly with his fellow officers. He was also known to work "outside of the book". At age 43, his new rank had come after many years as a Captain in the Star Navy, and was well-deserved.

Standing only 5 feet, 4.5 inches tall, Stirling would never back down from a challenge and was dogged in finding solutions to problems, even if he had to break rules. Beside his numerous commendations on his record were a small number of letters of reprimand from JAG Corps officers.

"You're free to have your belongings moved aboard. Also, Commodore Cross had a strange request in his will. He requested that you keep his musical instruments on board and keep playing music."

Cross and Stirling had known each other--they were both musicians. Stirling had beaten Cross out for first chair in the Star Navy Band--"The only thing I've ever lost at," Cross had remarked.

"Thank ye sahr," said Stirling. "I shall. I assume I'll be allowed to meet my crew at some point?"

"Yes. Some of Cross' officers will be transferring off of the ship, others will be staying aboard. All officers and crew are required to be aboard within 24 hours after the funeral, you'll be able to meet with them then. Also--will you be attending Cross' funeral?"

"Aye. Gotta pay my respects, sahr."

"Understood. Good luck--we'll be sending you your assignment soon."

Stirling headed out to the shuttle that would whisk him to the Vanguard. He was excited, proud, and anxious to get started. He also couldn't wait to meet his new staff.

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

Some things never changed. Unlike most of the rest of Vanguard the Officers' Lounge was still the same, quiet retreat Jim had come to appreciate during his stay on board this ship. Things were changing all around him it seemed as he sat looking out of the huge portholes onto the sprawling dockyards orbiting the planet outside. Inside, the doctor's thoughts were focused on just one thing.

An overdose. How could he have been so stupid? It didn't make sense. Cross wasn't the man for it. If there'd been so much as a shimmer of doubt about that in his mind, Jim would never have prescribed opiates in the quantity he had. But had he trusted James. He had trusted him to be sensible. To take care of himself.

An overdose, they'd said. But they hadn't allowed him, Cross' personal physician, to inspect his autopsy records. Indeed, as far as the Star Navy was concerned, there'd never even been an autopsy! Jim never better though.

It was Jim who had found Cross in his Sea Cabin, unconscious, barely breathing. His skin was a strange yellowish place, quite unlike Jim had ever seen before. His eyes were blood red.

When he had called for emergency support, it were Star Base doctors, oddly enough, who came first to the call. His own team arrived minutes later, after the Star Base's Chief Surgeon had claimed seniority in the situation and dragged Cross' body to his Infirmary. By the time they arrived, Cross was dead. They kept his body there for a full two days, and Jim was never allowed to see him again. No one of the Vanguard crew was. Until today. Until the funeral.

There had to be an autopsy record. Somewhere.

"You waiting too, huh?" Jim looked to his side, startled, because the female voice seemed to intrude on his secret plans. He found Commandant Rousseau looking down at him and his glass of Scotch. (She probably took notice of the four empty glasses as well.)

"Yes," he said. "There's not much I can do anyway until the new medical crew arrives."

"Mind if I join you?" she asked.

"Why, not at all." He beckoned her to sit down. "Please."

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

So. There was a new Skipper in town.

Izzy Isbell took a cigarette out of her battered cigarette case, flicked the lighter and inhaled deeply. She had not known Cross all that well, but she recognised that the others in the crew held the man to high esteem. At the funeral she sat at the back; at the wake, she stayed away from the cider. It seemed right.

Plumes of smoke wafted about her head. She was mulling over an apple-flavoured stimulant on one of the Vanguard's recreation decks. With her dark-tinted glasses and the safety-pin embellishments to her uniform, Izzy looked more like a rock star of the distant past. Her mind wandered on to what the new Skipper would be like. She then decided she wouldn't care. In a way, although she wouldn't admit it, she was glad not to be transferred again. The refitters had mentioned that they had to replace the Ops console on the bridge again. The touchscreens were gummed up with stickers.

"Excuse me," a voice said. "This area is for officers only. And most certainly not for tramps."

Izzy looked up. She did not recognise the man in front of her. He seemed young, perhaps a newly-assigned junior officer looking to cut his ordering teeth on someone who looked out of it.

Poor bastard.

"Oi." Izzy beckoned to the man, extinguishing her cigarette. He motioned closer.

Izzy's right hand quickly shot out and grabbed him by the lapels, jamming her fist into his chin. She pointed at the pips on her uniform.

"See this? It means Lieutenant-Commander. See this?" she added, holding the middle finger of her left hand up at the junior officer, "It means piss off. Now piss off."

She shook him a few times then let go. She didn't twitch as the man jumped up and quickly left the recreation deck, face blazing like plum pie. All she did was coolly pull out another cigarette, light it, and take a long inhale.

Rousseau and Dr Christian were probably waiting in the Officers' Lounge like a couple of goody-two-shoes, she pondered. Oh well, if she didn't turn up late, they would probably think something was wrong. Psychiatric assessments were so boring.

Sorry, left the Falcon in the Bentley. Right now, you answer to my Ronson T-T.

All hail Kremperpunk.

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

Rousseau took a seat in the chair across from the doctor and ordered a gin and tonic. They waited on it, not speaking, each moving through foggy thoughts in private.

Nothing unexpected had happened at the funeral; the flag-draped casket had been lowered into the ground, shots had been fired in salute to the deceased Commodore, Star Navy officers that had worked with him previously expressed their condolences to Cross' family and officers of the Vanguard. Afterward Antoinette had taken the long way back to base through winding residential streets, paying little attention to the beautiful weather. She was not sure what to make of the Commodore's death. Her feelings towards him had been very conflicted over the time she had served on the ship. He had not been an easy man to deal with, and as she wandered through the streets of Boston, the city he'd loved so much, she couldn't help hoping that the replacement, a certain Adler Stirling who'd put in an appearance at the funeral, would be more amiable.

The Commandant sipped her drink and broke the silence: "What did you think of Commodore Stirling?" she asked Jim.

He swirled the ice in his drink and replied, "I didn't really have much of a chance to speak with him. He introduced himself, but didn't do much more than offer his condolences."

"Same here. He seemed pleasant enough; very... how would you say... enthousiaste? Very eager."

Another long silence laid heavy on the room as the two sipped their drinks.

"Don't lose sleep over it, Jim," said Antoinette, suddenly.

"Huh?"

"Cross' overdose. I know it must be bothering you, as his doctor."

"It just doesn't add up." Jim shook his head slowly and ran his hand through his hair.

"These things happen. Maybe it was an accident, maybe not. Either way, he's gone and there's nothing to be done about it now. You weren't at fault. Just leave it and focus on getting things ready for the new medical crew. The new mission will start before you know it." Rousseau took a gulp of her drink and lapsed into muteness, staring out at the stars.

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

Samuel Mortimer, the new Security Officer, walked briskly down the corridors of the Vanguard, making another series of rounds. He wanted to know this ship inside and out by the time they set off. A few crew members gave him odd, often frightened glances, but he ignored them with practiced calm. These days people looked at him strangely because of the metal and glass fused over one side of his face. Before, he'd always been looked down on as a "filthy Lunie" by Earth-born crew members on various ships and stations. However, his height, quiet demeanor and the ocular implant were usually enough to unnerve anyone with a well placed glance.

Right now, the corridors were still fairly crowded, as new crew members moved to their stations. In the wake of Cross's death there had been a good deal of change. The man seemed to have imprinted himself onto the ship in a short amount of time. Samuel wondered if his presence could ever stop haunting this place. He had heard the talk of the transfers, but hadn't paid much attention. The Fighter Command Officer had apparently left due to "stress and fatigue". He wondered if that was at all connected to Cross dying. There seemed to be a replacement ready, though, who would handle those duties, for the time being.

The medical staff was also getting shifted around. A lot of new specialists and medical personnel hand picked by the Fleet Command. Samuel idly wondered how the ship's doctor would react to that. He wasn't one to dwell on medicine of all things... he was just thinking about it at the moment due to a few strange rumours circulating about how Cross's death had been... "mysterious." He didn't mind the whispers much - but he took note of them. He took note of near everything.

He decided that he would get something to drink at one of the recreation decks, then head to the bridge and report to the Captain. He was about to enter when a Junior Officer, looking rather distraught and embarrassed, bumped straight into him. He stared down at the man, who looked liable to piss himself, then scampered off in an even worse state. Samuel stepped onto the deck and glanced around. He immediately noticed the "odd one out" in the room. Though she looked to be an officer. Still, she seemed to be one to keep the eye on. He went and ordered a drink, ignoring the stares he was getting.

Blessed be Science and her handmaiden Steam;
They make Utopia only half a dream.

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

Stirling hadn't changed much in the sea cabin of the Vanguard. The instruments, cleaned and polished, still hung on the wall of the lounge, and Stirling had already started playing them. It was his private way of remembering Commodore Cross. He sat now, at the piano, playing an old favorite of his own, a slow version of "Red is the Rose." Every time he played it he couldn't help but think of his own bonnie Irish lass--Colleen, dead so many years ago now, still present in his mind. He finished the song and stood, helping himself to a glass of The Glenlivet, his favorite Scotch. His private bar was very well stocked, he thought.

Now that the funeral was over, all crew members and officers were on board waiting for their new assignment from command. Before they left, though, Stirling would meet with his senior staff--he needed to be able to trust them, and to do that he had to talk with each one. He also needed to know what kind of people he was working with. Stirling knew that they were the creme of the crop, but, well, that didn't stop the last fighter officer from having some sort of breakdown, did it?

He decided that they'd meet as a senior staff for dinner in the Captain's Mess. Nothing too formal, but not terribly informal either. A good balance between the camaraderie and professionalism he wanted. He wrote up the announcement and sent it to the bridge to be put over the ship's announcement system.

He stepped into his office where a large cherry desk had replaced Cross' old mahogany one. At his private terminal he read through the various congratulatory messages he'd received, as well as the notes from various departments about their readiness status. As he read a knock came from the outer door. He called for the knocker to enter, and a runner appeared in his office with a large envelope marked "TOP SECRET EYES ONLY"--a high secrecy level. Stirling gave a small smile, signed the sheet pushed at him by the runner and waited till the young man was out of the room before opening the ship's new orders. As he read through them he grinned. It would be a hell of a mission.

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

"Senior officers' attendance is requested in the Captain's Mess tonight at 1900," a soft, female voice announced over the shipwide intercom twice. Jim and Rousseau listened then turned their attention to their drinks again.

"The new mission will start before you know it," the pilot has said. She was right of course. But that didn't mean Jim could simply shut out the past. Something had been fishy about Cross' death and some day, he would find out what it was. For now though, there was little he could do. Except meet Cross' predecessor tonight. They'd spoken just briefly at the funeral but Jim made a mental note to himself to inspect the new skipper's service records this afternoon and learn a little about the man.

He looked up from his drink to have a gaze round the Officers' Lounge and found Commander Isbell wandering in. "Say, look who's there!" he said and beckoned her to join them. Rousseau turned round and raised her eyebrows disapprovingly upon inspecting the Operations Officers' outfit. She did look rather bizarre.

"Hullo, Doc!" Izzy said cheerfully. "Commandant," she added. "I hope I'm not late?"

"Late?" Jim wondered. "Late for what?" Had they agreed to meet her? The whole morning was a bit of a blur and he supposed last night's drinking had had something to do with that.

"Psychiatric assessments," Izzy said firmly. "One of the nurses told me to find you here."

"Right..." said Jim. Now it was his turn to receive a pair of raised eyebrows from the Commandant who evidently understood what was going on in an instant. "I, uh... I'm afraid we're going to have to reschedule that... uh, assessment, Lt. Commander. If that's all right with you?"

Izzy nodded enthusiastically. "Fine by me!" she announced. "Mind if I join you two?"

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

Without waiting for an answer, Izzy plonked herself down inbetween the Commandant and the Doctor on the floor. She pulled out another cigarette and lit up.

"You know they've invented chairs now, Isbell?" Rousseau replied with a irritated tone apparent in her voice.

The Operations Officer shrugged and exhaled a cloud of smoke. Ignoring the Commandant, she decided to change the subject, because in her opinion, whatever these two had been talking about prior to her entry was likely to be of little to no interest to her, even if it was important.

"Right, well, I was up in one of t'recreation desks, mindin' me own business, like, and I've got to say, the new malarkey's a load of cobblers, I'm tellin' you."

Attempting to decipher Isbell's slang was similar to dissecting a mess of electrical cables. Very confusing.

"They've changed t'menu! Shite on a plate! Drinks list is piss in a bowl."

"And you'd know all about that, wouldn't you..." muttered Rousseau scathingly.

"And t'new squad's half-arsed, I'm tellin' you," Izzy continued, ignoring Rousseau, "One of them tried that, what's it called... in submarines or whatever..."

"Insubordination," corrected Jim.

"Yeah, that, so I got the twat by the throat and gave him a right old Cockney bollocking before throwing him out," added Izzy. "You watch out for this new bloke up top, I bet he'll try an' pull the dogsbody card on us."

Sorry, left the Falcon in the Bentley. Right now, you answer to my Ronson T-T.

All hail Kremperpunk.

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

Samuel was early to the meeting in the Captain's Mess. He took a seat by the head of the table and waited. He stood at attention as the Captain entered. Stirling smiled and shook his head, motioning for him to sit.

"No need ta be so formal, laddie." He chuckled. "Just a dinner."

Samuel nodded and took his chair again. "The pre-launch security sweep is done. Everything seems to check out fine. Not as much security personnel as I'd like"

"If'n we did things your way we'd not be able ta brush ar teeth withoot havin' one of 'em watching."

Samuel made a noise of disapproval. "Well, they didn't seem to be secure enough to monitor the safety of their own Captain."

Stirling sighed. "This is space lad. Bad things 'appen and tis the fault of no man. Try an' be respectful an' let me handle that... particular topic."

Samuel made no reply, as the first of the officers entered. Of the first three, he recognized the shifty looking lady from the recreation deck. She reminded him of the poor Moon women, not an officer. He saw the doctor, wondering again what he thought about Cross's passing. And the pilot - he imagined the men fought over her. More work for him. Not that he wouldn't understand fighting for that, her in particular. Soon the room was full. He waited patiently for Stirling to begin.

Blessed be Science and her handmaiden Steam;
They make Utopia only half a dream.

Re: UCS Vanguard Episode VII: The Funeral, The Refit, and The Scot.

Stirling smiled at the officers slowly filing into the mess. He nodded as they each came in and took their seats. The doctor sat just to Stirling's left, the strange Cockney woman next to Samuel. As he turned to greet the woman who'd decided to sit next to the doctor, and smiled as he gazed into the eyes of the extremely attractive pilot. "A pleasure, Commandant Rousseau."

Cross had written Stirling to tell him about his crew. The doctor, a man who Cross trusted immensely and who he'd always considered one of his closest friends. The operations officer who called herself Izzy--a bit strange, Cross had admitted, but damned good at her job. He had wanted to try to work with her to help better integrate her with the rest of the wardroom and crew, but had never gotten the chance. Rousseau, a woman of incredible talent and beauty, but not as sure of herself as she should be Cross had thought.

As the officers made small talk, he noticed things about each of them; he took an immediate liking to both Izzy and Rousseau--Izzy, for her straightforward and amusing antics, and Rousseau for her obvious knowledge and no-nonsense attitude. The doctor was very quiet, Stirling thought. He tried to engage the man in conversation, but to no avail. He talked to Rousseau instead, hoping that the doctor would jump in.

"So, Commandant Rousseau, I hear that ye have a bit 'o skill a' the helm," he said with a small smile as the first course was served. "Is the engine room givin' ye everything ye need to get yer job done?"