The Hephaestion was an Excelsior-class starship first launched in 2343 which served in Starfleet until her destruction in 2399.
A few days after the funeral, Cadet Cody Knox-Stanton fished the isolinear chip his mother had given him out of his pocket and slid it into the slot on his holographic screen. He had made sure that the bedroom door was securely locked before doing so, as he wasn't ready to share anything he learned there with anyone else. A little over a week prior, his father had been the sole crewmember lost aboard the USS Hephaestion when he'd used it as a missile, coliding with a Breen dreadnought at close the speed of light to prevent it from attacking Guardian Station and hundred-thousand souls aboard her with an enhanced version of the energy dampening weapon that they had used during the Dominion War. He and his ship had been vaporized instantly, leaving the logs and messages on the chip as the only thing Cody would have to remember his father.
A message started playing immediately:
"Hello, Cody. It's cliche, but I guess if you're seeing this message, I am dead. This is probably the hundredth message I've recorded like this and they're all here on this chip for you. This one's a little different, though. Here on the starbase, we're pretty safe, but who knows when or how that might change. We're out here caught between two frontiers and I can't help but live with the fact that I've put all of us in the line of fire just by being here. I am so proud of the young man you have become and the bright future you have ahead of you. I knw sometimes you doubt, but that's OK. So did I. And that's why I want you to have access to all of my logs—personal and otherwise—so you can understand what my life was like. I don't know if it will help you avoid making some of the mistakes that I did, but I hope they will at least be something of me that you can carry with you. I love you, son."
Cody ripped the chip out of the console and tossed it over onto his bed, bursting into tears for the first time since his father's death. Memories came rushing back to him of his very early life on the same ship that had just been destroyed, seeing his father almost as a captain first and a father second, but also of happier times on shore leave. Camping out of the Type-7 shuttles that never seemed to find their way to retirement from the Hephaestion's hanger, and then feeling like he'd made it to Nirvana when they'd moved to the Sirius with its built-in mall and huge arboretum.
He wasn't ready to go sifting through the memories. Not yet. But there were fifty-plus years of things to learn on that chip, about both his father and the first ship he'd called home: Hephaestion.
Episode 1: Arrival
Chief Science Officer's Personal Log, Stardate 39536
It's been an interesting first day to say the least. I was worried the Hephaestion might be a sedate and dreary assignment, but if the trip over from the Galaxy was any indication, we're sure to be in for a wild ride. The biomimetic gel we were transporting over with us in the shuttle proved to be more than the Cardassians could say no to...
When the pilot wasn't looking, Jonathan snuck a peck on his wife's cheek. She shooed him away playfully as she checked the restraint on the crate of biomimetic gel canisters that had been placed in the center of the passenger area of their Type-7 shuttlecraft. Standard protocol was to avoid using the transporters when moving it whenever possible, but Jonathan was happy enough for the excuse to fly over to their new home so he could see it for himself. Both of them were sciences division lieutenant commanders, him the soon-to-be Chief Science Officer and her the soon-to-be Chief Medical Officer. It was a promotion in title for both of them, but he couldn't help but feel a pang of sadness at leaving the pride of the fleet, the USS Galaxy. They had been part of her first crew out of spacedock, helping test systems during the shakedown to pave the way for the Enterprise and Yamato which were still under construction. It had been a tremendous privilege, but to move up both of them needed to take the opportunities as they came.
"It'll be a shame to see you two go," Lieutenant Parsons said from the helm. A junior lieutenant, he'd piloted shuttles several times for away missions Knox had been on when they'd needed to bring astrometric equipment with them. Part of the calibration process for the ship's massive sensor arrays had involved checking their accuracy versus the highest grade shore-based units, which had meant a lot of shuttling down to asteroids in EV suits for him and his team. Parsons was young and eager, the sort of officer who you knew would make captain before 35 easily.
"Well, it'll be shame to leave the Galaxy, but on the Hephaestion I stand a chance of actually being on the bridge more than once a month," Jonathan retorted, sitting down into the co-pilot's station.
"True enough. And she's a good ship. The Excelsiors will be going forever," Parsons replied. He activated the comm system as he completed his final checks on the shuttle's systems. "Bridge, this is Shuttle 05, requesting departure clearance."
"Clearance granted. Safe flying."
The shuttle lifted off of the deck of the Galaxy and proceeded through the blue haze of the forcefield out into open space. The ship's enormous engines stretched out in front of them, concealing for a moment their view of their new assignment. Once the shuttle nosed up and over the starboard warp nacelle, the viewport was filled with the long, graceful USS Hephaestion. About twenty-years-old, she was a workhorse heavy cruiser with tens of thousands of lightyears under her belt. Parsons was right: there was little to beat the sight of such a classic silhouette hanging in space over the blue-green gas giant they were both orbiting.
For the better part of 50 years, the Excelsior-class had set the standard for Federation shipbuilding and had shown the flag in all corners of the Alpha and Beta quadrants. Compared to the Galaxy-class, they were practically obsolete, but they were still of a design that had a lot of life left in it. The ship was highlighted in bands of blue paint—a design trend Starfleet had given up long ago but which Jonathan liked. With her sleek lines and stretched nacelles, she looked like she was going about warp nine standing still and it was instant love.
About half-way between the two ships, the shuttle's red alert klaxon sounded.
"Shuttle 05, return to bay. We have three Cardassian destroyers on approach," came the signal from the Galaxy's bridge. The sensor board lit up to show three warships closing rapidly. They must have used the mass of the planet to mask their approach through the intricate system of rings and moons that orbited it.
It was too late, though, even coming about they couldn't get back to the Galaxy before golden beams of Cardassian energy weapons started streaking past them. Their mothership struck back with dark orange beams of their own.
"Shuttle, make for the planet's atmosphere. We will cover you."
The shuttle dove away from the Galaxy at full impulse, missing a few more blasts. "One of the Galors is heading right for us. They must have scanned our cargo...," Parsons reported.
"Once we get into the outer atmosphere, they won't be able to target us," Jonathan replied. He looked back and shared a small smile with Linda, before returning to the task at hand. "Reconfiguring shields for atmospheric flight," he added, changing the way the shields were being projected to optimize them for pushing through the dense atmosphere of the gas giant. Before they could even graze the surface of the clouds, though, the cabin was filled with a brownish-yellow hue—the tell-tale sign of a Cardassian tractor beam. The shuttle tumbled around until they could see the Cardassian destroyer looming closer to them with its forward hanger open. It would only be a few minutes before they were captured. Or, rather, they would have been had a salvo of photon torpedoes not come from the Hephaestion into the upper reactor of the Galor with enough force to knock out the beam.
"Shuttle, this is Hephaestion. Make a run for our stern. We'll cover you."
Shuttle 05 dove under the belly of the Cardassian ship, the view of the tractor beam replaced with one of the Galaxy devastating one of the other two ships with an alpha strike of phasers and photon torpedoes. The third Galor was limping away from the battlefield with the first one reeling behind them. The Galaxy had never been in many battles during Jonathan's time aboard, as they'd been kept back for systems test, so seeing the explosions and plasma fires first hand made his stomach turn slightly. The Hephaestion was coming towards them with tremendous speed, in a hurry to put themselves between the shuttle and the Cardassians, so her long hull zoomed past them overhead as she applied another few volleys of phaser fire to the enemy. That gave the shuttle enough time to spin around and make just short of a crash landing on the deck of the stern shuttlebay.
"Usually when they give me a milk run, I complain. Not anymore," Parsons muttered. Jonathan grinned and clapped him on the shoulder as he moved further aft to check on Linda and their cargo.
"Where's your sense of adventure, Lieutenant?"