Apologies for the delay; my muse has a tendency to jump out on me when I'm not looking.

Star Trek: Exodus
Part 2: All I Ask Is A Tall Ship...

From: Vice-Admiral Paris, Star Fleet Operations
To: Commander Rodriquez, USS Exodus (NCC-1685)
Subject: Re; Ships operational status

I hardly feel the need to remind someone who served during the Cardassian War that it is almost impossible for Supply to see to the needs of every ship in the fleet. Or the fact that the Exodus is, for obvious reasons, rather low on our list of priorities.

Still, given you current orders, I will try and find some of the supplies you requested and have them waiting for you on rout.

Yours,
Owen Paris
Director
Star Fleet Operations

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Donnelly silently led MacKenzie away from the civilian parts of the station to the quieter inner core. The old administrative section was almost empty, lending the long corridors an odd sence of abandonment. They passed only one security guard, just outside the hanger deck, and he only glanced up at them before going back to whatever it was on his terminal screen that he found so interesting. One last corridor led to hatch that opened to reveal a Type-6 Shuttle standing in the middle of a landing pad. Someone had taken a lot of time and effort to carefully paint the name Falco on its nose, along with an almost lifelike image of a large Raptor in flight. Behind that, above the micro nacelles, were clearly visible theUSSExodusNCC-1685. Donnelly typed a command code into his PADD, and the rear hatch slowly lowered to the deck.

MacKenzie was surprised to see a tall man dressed in civilian cloths laying apparently asleep on one of the benches that ran along either side of the aft cabin. She noticed that Donnelly hesitated slightly, before making his way up the ramp and into the cramped confines of the shuttlecraft.

"You are late." The stranger hissed accusingly as MacKenzie drew level with his head, and she dropped her bag in surprise, "I don't like being kept waiting."

"The Captain said you might not be coming back." Donnelly replied as he sat down behind the helm, the hatch closing automatically as he started to power up the ships systems.

"I go where I chose, when I chose." The stranger stretched out, reminding MacKenzie of a large predatory cat, "Max knows and respects that."

"That's his prerogative." Donnelly looked round, "Ensign Emma MacKenzie, Miles Dexter, our, moral officer."

"Smart ass." Dexter opened his eyes and examined MacKenzie for a moment, "So, you're the warm body Star Fleet sent out, huh?"

"Sir?" MacKenzie blinked, confused.

"You don't have to call me 'sir' or anything else, Ensign; I'm not and officer, or even crew." Dexter explain as he rested his arms behind his head, "I'm sure the rumour mill will fill you in on the rest when we get back."

MacKenzie looked at Donnelly for an explanation, but the Petty Officer just shook his head as he opened a channel "Flight Operations, this is Shuttle Falco; requesting clearance to depart, over."

"Shuttle Falco, this is Flight-Ops." A bored sounding voice responded, "You are clear to depart on Vector 151 by 267. Please remember to remain at half-impulse until you clear the outer marker."

"Copy that, Flight-Ops; Shuttle Falco now departing." The lights outside turned red as the atmosphere was vented, and a deep thud resounded through the Falco as the massive outer hatch swung open. Donnelly's hands flew across the controls as he slowly brought the engines on-line and guided the small starship out into open space.

MacKenzie caught a glimpse of the transport that had brought her to the station, but her eyes quickly returned to Donnelly and the controls. Despite completing the helmsman course with one of the highest scores ever recorded at the academy, she had failed spectacularly when it came to shuttles and other small craft. She was convinced that this was in part the fault of her instructor, but the fact remained that while she was rated on any ship-of-the-line currently in use by Star Fleet, she could not officially fly so much as a sub-orbital transport.

"How long to the rendezvous point?" Dexter asked.

"Two hours, assuming they finished that last customs inspection on time." Donnelly explained as K7 shrunk behind them and he started to bring the warp drive on-line, "Just enough time for me to go over the technical specifications for that job the Chief wants my help with later."

"Wake me in two hours." The other man grunted, before closing his eyes and effortlessly going back to sleep.

MacKenzie shrugged as the stars outside the window stretched out and the Falco entered warp, then pulled her own PADD out of her duffel and went back to the book she had been reading on the transport.

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**Official Correspondence**
**Pathfinder Project**

From: Dr Isabel,USS Exodus (NCC-1685)
To: The Doctor, USS Voyager, (NCC-74656)
Subject: Re; Your move

Queen to queen's level three: checkmate in two.

Better luck next time,
Izzy

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The slight jolt of the Falco dropping out of warp woke MacKenzie, and she opened her eyes in time to see the night side of what had to be an inhabited M-Class planet come into view. Donnelly worked the controls as expertly as before, bring them in on a wide orbit that brought them out of the shadow and into the first rays of dawn. There, rising up out of the blinding light of the systems star like an ascending phoenix, was the Exodus. Her bone-white hull reflected the light like a shoot of ice, while it was only her running lights that made the registration markings on the saucer section visible in the deep shadows. Looking closer, she could see some of the upgrades added during the last refit. Most obvious were the two phaser strips running almost all of the way around the saucer section, and the newer deflector emitter at the front of the engineering section. There were also obvious sings of repair, including several hull panels that showed unpainted metal, and scorch marks that could only have come from weapons fire.

What ever else it might be, MacKenzie was beginning to suspect that her first assignment would be anything but dull.

"Falco, this is Exodus: welcome home." A woman's voice came over the com system, "You are cleared for docking."

"Rodger that, Exodus; Falco returning to the nest." Donnelly responded as he brought the shuttle along the length of the much larger starship, then out and round towards the shuttle-bay at the rear of the engineering section.

The huge clamshell doors opened, and MacKenzie spotted another Type-6 sitting at the ready as they came in to land. There was a faint click as it mated with the docking clamps, and the doors closed behind them, allowing the cavernous bay to be re-pressurised. Dexter stood, moving without a sound, and hit the controls to lower the hatch as soon as the indicator light turned green. A woman dressed in a golden security uniform with a Lieutenant's pipson her collarwas already waiting from them; her hands on her hips and a pained expression on her face.

"Well look what the cat dragged in..." She muttered, her eyes never leaving Dexter as he stepped out onto the deck.

"And it's a true pleasure to see you too, Meredith." He responded with a smile, "Permission to come adored?"

"Permission... granted, reluctantly." The woman gave MacKenzie the once over, "So, you must be the new Ensign that Captain called in so many favours to get? Well, he's too busy to see you right now. Mr Donnelly, if you would take her down to sickbay; Dr Isabel can see to her orientation. Then I do believe that Lieutenant Commander Iqbal is looking for you."

"Sir." The Petty Officer nodded, then gestured towards the door, "If you'll follow me."

"What was all that about?" MacKenzie asked once she was sure that they were out of earshot.

"Lieutenant Keys doesn't like having Mr Dexter on the ship." Donnelly explained with a shrug, "No one knows why. In fact, no one out side of the senior command crew know much about him."

"I see." MacKenzie nodded, "Or rather, I don't see. What do you know about him?"

"He's a close, personal friend of the Captain's, going back before he was given command of the Exodus." The reached a turbo-lift, and Donnelly pressed the call button, "He tends to keep to himself, although he is known to play chess with anyone who feels like a game in the recreation room. No one has ever beaten him, thou. Not even Lieutenant T'Pau or the Doc, and they're both Grand-Master level players."

"Is there anything else I should know?" MacKenzie asked as the lift arrived and the doors opened.

"Only that you're about the meet the most advanced holographic AI in Star Fleet." There was a faint look of mirth on Donnelly's face, and he suppressed a smile, "After that, anything else you face out here should be a walk in the park..."

To Be Continued...