They were rookies. All of them. The Admiral had decided for the first shakedown cruise of the Millennium Falcon he'd leave the regulars behind and try to get a better idea which fresh academy graduates should survive the cut to join the regular crew. The Falcon was a good ship, named after Fleet General Solo's little starship, the one that figured so prominently in the defeat of the Empire. Alas, the General's famous ship was small, slow, and now resided in mothballs at the junkyard of old ships on the planet Favre, in the Lambeau galaxy. The new Millennium Falcon was named after her older namesake and was a much larger ship, with a short, but proud history of success. Now it needed new and younger crew members to stay effective.
He looked over the young crew. Most were from the home planet, like Third Officer Renfree, who was going to man the bridge and attempt command for the short shakedown, and Safety Officer Ishmael. But some of them were from off-planet. There were the two hulking Security Officers, Replogle and Huynh, both from star systems in the remote midwestern quadrant, and Ensign Joplo Bartu, a rather intriguing prospect from the Texian star system. The Admiral wasn't sure where Fireman First Class Stansly Maponga was from, and was somewhat reluctant to ask. The Fireman had a compact, powerful build, and a brooding quality about him that didn't encourage small talk.
Starfleet mandated these shakedown exercises, but the Admiral wasn't thrilled. He'd much prefer to select the crew and just get started with a real seasonal assignment. The exercises were usually held at a small starfield near the home planet. Starfleet called them OTAs, or Organized Team Activities, for some obscure reason no one could remember; but the Admiral grudgingly admitted they helped him evaluate the crew. They also helped him pare the crew down to the final fighting unit that he'd wind up taking to the nearby boggy planetary system with its large domed offensive emplacement (but also with historically spotty defensive specifications) or even to planet Kaeperdinck in the remote Candlestick galaxy. He turned to the helm and looked at his young Third Officer, who was standing at attention, awaiting his order. "Take her out, Renfree."
"Aye, Admiral Smith." Renfree snapped a salute, turned to the helm and eased the reverse thruster controls, backing the Falcon slowly out of the berth.
Spero Karas, the ship's physician, stepped out of the elevator onto the bridge. While the Admiral had left most of his regular crew behind for this trip, he'd wanted the man he affectionately called "Doc" standing by in the event one of the young recruits got bumped too hard in the exercises, or suffered an unexpected bout of space sickness. In private, sometimes Karas called the Admiral "Smitty," as did many of the Admiral's peers. But not in front of the crew. He stepped up beside Smitty now, with his hands behind his back.
"You have everything you need in sickbay, Doc?"
"Yes, Admiral," said Karas. "I've insured we're fully stocked."
"Good. You might want to pull out a couple extra cases of Spaceraide. You know how these kids lose fluids in the middle of these drills."
Renfree guided the ship smoothly out of the traffic around the spaceport and headed for the practice starfield. Smitty noted his surehanded way with the ship, and wondered if he'd perform as smoothly under pressure. After reaching the practice starfield, the Admiral turned to young Ensign Doege, who was going to get some time on the bridge to spell Renfree. "Seth, send out the target ships."
Doege looked a little nervous, probably understandable under the circumstances. He wanted this assignment, but was a long shot to join in the upcoming campaign. The ship already had a highly experienced Captain, a sharp young Executive Officer, and even Renfree had been selected from the Academy draft rotation, albeit from a late round. He spoke into the intercom, and a few small target ships, often called "stargets" by the battle-hardened vets, moved away from the Falcon, into the foreground of the starfield. They were soon joined by another much larger, lumbering target ship. The Admiral knew who was piloting the stargets; young Ensigns Moore, Evans, Johnson and Helmick. He was pretty sure the larger target was manned by Levine Toilolo from the Stanfield star system. He looked at Renfree. "Commence firing," he said calmly.
For the next hour, he watched as Renfree and Doege took turns trying to hit the targets with practice loads, and having middling success. They had better success hitting the large target, though several shots bounced uncounted off its shields. Smitty knew that was as much the fault of Toilolo's manipulation of the counting recepters as it was Third Officer Renfree and Ensign Doege. Finally, his patience thin, he snapped, "cease firing," and spoke softly into his lapel intercom. He finished and squared up on his young commanders. "Let's show you how it's supposed to be done."
The elevator door opened and a tall officer stepped forward onto the bridge. He had a casual, self-assured manner, and a hint of crow's feet around the eyes, as if he'd spent several years squinting at particularly bright stars.
"I'll take it from here," said Captain Ryan.