Starfleet Headquarters, Earth: Admiral Paul Joseph Tovol Zammit reviewed the intelligence report on his desk for the third time. He didn’t like what it contained. He was curious how such a theft took place, and slightly annoyed that he was among the last to find out about it. After all, he was now Fleet Admiral of the multi-purpose 20th fleet. As such, he expected to be informed of these events quickly, especially in the region of space he now commanded. He checked the background section of the report: Operation Liberty Ship was the program that updated 23rd century dreadnoughts with 24th century weapons to fight in the Dominion War. While the program exceeded all expectations, many upgraded ships were lost in the war’s final days. Of the refitted dreadnoughts, only 85 remained. This number reinforced a sad fact: Starfleet was terribly short on all types of starships. That one of these 85 dreadnoughts was stolen made things that much worse.
Standing six-foot-three at age 128, Paul Zammit was known for speaking only when he felt something was important. He also took chances that others wouldn’t consider. This often meant risking the lives and careers of his subordinates, so Zammit extended himself for them when necessary, and even when not. His risks often paid off, surprising many in the Starfleet brass. And in the rare cases they didn’t, he learned enough from his mistakes that he later turned them into an advantage.
As for loyalty, Zammit was about as far removed from the likes of Admiral Edward Jellico as one could be. Whereas Jellico’s underlings obeyed him out of obligation, Zammit’s subordinates followed out of personal loyalty. Many of them stated they would willingly sacrifice themselves for him. Zammit reminded these officers that their oath was to Starfleet, not to him. To his frustration, this statement only reinforced their loyalty.
Because of his unique traits, Starfleet assigned Zammit with a crucial task: restablize the region of space known as The Strand. The rationale: protecting the Federation’s outer rim gave the inner worlds more breathing room to rebuild.
Zammit turned to the crew profiles on his PADD, and his next gamble: putting what many considered a mish-mash crew on an untested, never-active Galaxy Class testbed ship, the USS Casey Jones. This new crew would not have time for a pleasure cruise.
Stardate 53249.55 (April 2376): Captain Robert Monteleone looked down at the 4 pips on his collar. He was not yet used to them or his new rank. As he waited in Admiral Zammit’s office lounge, he reflected on recent events.
During the final days of the Dominion War, Starfleet ships fought many unsung battles that were just as crucial as those in the headlines. Monteleone fought in one such battle. His former ship, the Excelsior-class USS Avatar, led a battle group to punch a hole through a weak point in the Dominion’s defenses. With this ‘side door’ open, Starfleet hoped to clear yet another path toward Cardassia Prime. Monteleone shuddered at what happened next. As his battle group approached the lines, dozens of Jem Hadar fighters ambushed them from a nearby asteroid field. The first attack wave damaged one-third of the Avatar’s battle group. The Starfleet ships fired back, pushing the fighters back to the asteroid field.
The second attack wave was far more devastating: more fighters, bigger ships, faster strikes. Chaos ensued; fires and screams erupted. When all was said and done, the captain was out cold with a severe concussion and the first officer lay dead in a pool of blood. Avatar’s smoke-filled bridge smelled of burned circuitry and flesh. Half the bridge crew were injured or killed. As second officer, Lt. Cmdr. Monteleone-himself injured with a broken collarbone-took command of the ship and battle group. Shouting orders from his seat at Conn, he gathered what was left of the Avatar’s battle group (only 35% of the original group), set up a spearhead formation for a fast-attack maneuver, and punched through the remaining Dominion defenses.
The Jem Hadar ships followed them, but were quickly defeated by the Starfleet ships that noticed the hole the Avatar had punched. Afterward, the Avatar barely made it to DS9. Engineers considered the ship beyond repair. So she was stripped for parts and scuttled, her crew reassigned. And Starfleet honored another war hero, promoting Monteleone to Captain.
Great, Monteleone said to himself as he studied the specs on his new command. Just what I’ve always wanted. A testbed ship, complete with broken chairs and untested flight systems. What’s that saying, be careful what you wish for?
His reverie was interrupted when two other people entered the lounge. Monteleone recognized one of them: Lt. Cmdr. Robert Burns, another mountain of a man. By contrast, the man next to him was much shorter, of average build. He went over to greet them.
“Captain Robert Monteleone,” he said, extending his hand. Both men accepted.
“Robert Burns, your new chief engineer,” said the larger man.
“Randolph Phist,” said the smaller man. Monteleone recognized the name from all the science journals he’d read. Phist was both a well-published scientist and an accomplished officer. “I believe I’m to be your first officer.”
Monteleone nodded approvingly. “Wherever we’re going, we’ll need someone who can pick things up quickly. Glad you’re both aboard.”
Soon several other officers showed up and greeted each other: Chief tactical officer Lt. Cmdr Samzol, Betazoid Counselor Valynn Silvestri, and Bajoran Lt. Cmdr Bariel Meru, head of the Starfleet Marines assigned to the Casey Jones. Once all the officers arrived, Admiral Zammit invited them into his office.
Unlike most Starfleet Admirals, Zammit practiced an open-door/open-dialog policy with his subordinates. Anyone could approach Zammit about anything, just be prepared for his answers. Sensing this, the new command crew of the USS Casey Jones quickly felt at ease.
Zammit started off the meeting off. “Thank you all for coming, and congratulations on your new assignment. Each of you has an impressive service record, and what some would consider an ecclectic background, which is why I picked you. Your diverse backgrounds will serve you well in the years ahead while you come together as a crew.”
“Starting with your first assignment,” Zammit continued. He pushed a button and the wide monitor across the room lit up, showing several refitted dreadnoughts. He briefed the crew on Operation Liberty Ship, its success, and that only 85 remained. Then he pointed to a 3-engine Excelsior ship.
“One of these is missing,” he paused to let his words sink in. “To complicate matters, this ship is a battle-tested warhorse, where the Casey Jones is a barely-functioning testbed.”
Thus began the adventures of the USS Casey Jones…