Chapter 5: The Making Of A Starship Crew and Captain
Humanity knows the names of some of its greatest heroes to this day. Many of them were never the heroes they became in fictional retellings and folklore. It is often hard to believe for people to come to terms with the fact that every human, no matter their rank, position or achievement, are just people. Some people we consider great, others terrible, but they are as shaped by their experiences and the time and culture they live in as any of us.
Prometheus was in more than one way the first modern starship. Take away the deep space exploration mission and you are still left with the ship that pioneered everything we still see mirrored in Spacefleet to this day and that has been adopted by as many real militaries across the Local Quadrant as in the fiction we consume to this day. A starship command crew, or “hero crew” in the terminology of vidmaking and writing, to this day always consists of a captain, a first officer, a chief medical officer, a linguist, a pilot, a weapons expert, a chief engineer, and an alien exchange officer. Prometheus’ command crew was the first to feature this setup and the way this first crew interacted with each other and impacted historical events set a precedent for future procedure and future academy training, for good and for bad.
Jean Mikkelsen, professor for contemporary history at the Humbolt University of Berlin wrote the following after the Actium Crisis was resolved and Prometheus returned home for a major refit in 2179 in defense of the actions that Captain Connors had taken:
The idea that a starship crew and its captain don’t matter in the grand scheme of history, is an outmoded concept of 19th, 20th, and 21st century politics and warfare. Armchair commanders since the Crimean War could command major operations from the houses of power and dictate when and when not to fight and which decisions should be made. It is only with the advent of hyperspace flight and deep space exploration that we have come full circle in the way we need to conduct naval action and foreign policy. Without any sort of faster-than-light communication there is nothing we can do at home but have faith in the commander and crew of the ships that are out there to defend out interests and protect our way of life. The very thought of giving Captain Connors and her brave crew just enough rope to hang herself with is perverse.
Professor Mikkelson’s opinions of the 22nd century contemporary history were often very controversial in the time they were written, yet I cannot deny most of his words still ring true with me to this day. A starship captain must operate less like Admiral Nimitz but more like Admiral Nelson, or Captain Cook. Naval doctrine acknowledged this even back in the days before Prometheus was launched. Therefore, a starship captain and crew must wear so many different hats. Explorer, soldier, police officer, scientist, diplomat, strategist. It is therefore no wonder that a roster of senior officers would be considered odd by the unobservant observer and therefore popular culture once noted. In fact, Spacefleet Command were certain of this when they gave Captain Connors carte blanche in creating a team she would feel comfortable with. Crew wouldn’t be able to rotate out of the ship outside of very few occasions when the ship returned to port every few years for refits after all, so appointments made for political gain or to fill slots to advance sailor’s careers wouldn’t do.
With the declassified documents, we were also able to obtain the logs and journals Captain Connors made in the years and months leading up to the ship’s launch after she had just been named captain of the Prometheus and they give a much needed look behind the mask of one of humanity’s greatest heroes.
Yesterday I was named Captain of the Prometheus. I feel strange. Not just because it’s a weird feeling to be commanding an only 4/5th finished ship and waiting for the day when I can take her out for a spin, but because I didn’t want the job. Didn’t even cast my hat in the ring for it. I suppose I should feel honored to be chosen among so many people, many more deserving than me. Yet I cannot deny the honor and the ego boost this is giving me. Admiral Gibbons told me that I should take a while to think it over before I accept. Deep Space Missions, he said, would be all-volunteer. I had hoped to go on the mission, maybe as pilot or first officer, so going isn’t the question. Might as well command as well. After all, Granny Louisa and the rest of the family would be proud.
Captain Kate Connors was born in a world that knew the answer to the old question “are we alone in the universe?”. Born in 2137 into the extensive Jiwe family dynasty as Louisa Jiwe’s eldest granddaughter to her son Mark Jiwe and his husband Gavin Connors, there was no time when she wasn’t reminded of the family legacy. Little is known of her youth to this day besides that it must have been a happy childhood of privilege even in a time when Earth was on its way to becoming a more prosperous planet in general. During those early years she often appeared with Dr. Jiwe on public outings, clearly adored by her grandmother, as many of the publically shot photographs can attest to. Even before her grandmother’s disappearance, her parent’s work with the Prometheus Complex Program ensured that Kate would never know a world in which her family was not important in shaping the future of humanity. Arrogance and laziness would soon follow. Her school records up to and including high school graduation work show an unremarkable student, someone who would sit in class playing video games yet be able to embarrass teachers when they tried to get her to participate in classroom work. From age 12 to 18, the future hero of humanity would change schools five times until no elite school would have her and she was only taken in by public schools. Old classmates and former teachers both draw the picture of someone who would rather fly hovercrafts or jets, or climb high mountains, and race fast cars while dating pretty boys, rather than step into the family business. Indeed, Connors never considered joining Spacefleet in her youth, and only joined up when no university would have her and under the promise that she would get to fly fast ships. As her recruitment officer, would write to his superior officer the day she walked into his recruitment office: “felt like she was interviewing us if we were good enough for her. Arrogant little diva.”
Her career was as unremarkable as her school work. Average grades in all subjects except for flying, where she excelled, scoring top marks behind the controls of the F-101 Hammerhead Gunboat, setting the class record for the fastest stealth sublight journey from the Luna training grounds to the Jovian moons by perfectly timing five slingshot maneuvers. Despite being quickly promoted to Lieutenant junior grade for the achievement, her future promotions would all be within average to below average times for the Spacefleet of her time. At age 30 she was promoted to the rank of Commander and given a a Gunboat wing assignment on the Ganymede colony. To modern day readers this might seem like a steep career, but we most remember that the Spacefleet of the day was a tiny training force that was suddenly expanded. Five years beforehand the Prometheus had been laid down and an expanded Spacefleet meant faster promotions. The Spacefleet of the day didn’t know mandatory retirement for officers whose careers stalled out so mails and vids of her time on Ganymede show little to no ambition for her to advance any further. While she did end up putting her name forward for consideration for the crew of the Prometheus, she did so to be eligible for first officer once one of the other candidates had been picked.
Even before the archives were opened to the public, there was little doubt left within academia that Kate Connors had received the job as Captain through favoritism. While even with the new sources there is no proof that her family asked for the assignment as a political favor, there is record of several admirals and government officials seeing the appointment of a starship captain as little more than a public relations deal.
One policy advisor to Prime Minister McBright wrote in a memo six months before Connors announcement as captain of Prometheus in 2169:
The choice for captain is something we need to consider. We need something young and fresh, something we can market to the public. We need a vid star face and personality, something in the strong jaw, powerful eyes variety.
Vice Admiral Koothrappali, head of Spacefleet’s Bureau of Ships and Personnel (short: BuShips), wrote in response:
I’m sorry, I can’t oblige public relations with a dashing young hero in the role of captain. This isn’t how reality works. A starship captain must make decisions over life and death, plot courses, order crew into harm’s way, get them out of it, make peaceful contact with aliens, establish preliminary treaties, not make good speeches and spend more time with a personal stylist than in the captain’s chair.
The exchange between the Office of the Prime Minister and BuShips lasted several weeks. Many of the later exchanges were, as the last mails indicate, held in public and away from official or unofficial record. The final outcome, however, speaks volumes: Admiral Koothrappali signed his letter of resignation and his replacement sent new orders to 33 year old Commander Kate Connors requesting and requiring her taking command of Prometheus at the next possible opportunity at the rank of Captain.
Connors’ assignment as Captain of Prometheus did not frame the project, which was already on the brink of another delay, in a positive light. Many senior officers handed in protests or threatened with their resignation if Connors wasn’t removed from the position. The next three years until the launch of Prometheus, or back then hypothetical launch, would consist of giving the brand-new captain a crash course in diplomacy, protocol, xeno-psychology, and xeno-anthropology, to which Connors, surprisingly, took very well as her teachers would later report. Still, there was no way to make up for a lacking basic education with a brilliant higher education. It is the equivalent of building the most beautiful architecture on an uneven foundation. Throughout all of this she kept a private journal she eventually handed over to the Naval Archive, to be released after in due time, which paint a different picture of the situation. In her journal, Connors at that time was still bursting with optimism and confidence about her role in the operation.
I am now learning more about life and the world and reality than I have ever thought possible. Had these amazing people taught me in my youth, I am certain I would not have been a controversial appointment among my peers.
For the heir to a family that so far has come the closest to being considered a human planetary treasure, Kate Connors had never shown signs of delusions of grandeur or a streak of human exceptionalism. The notion of human exceptionalism was still going strong at the time and Spacefleet especially was full with individuals believing in the notion, but Connors had always been different, or rather indifferent, as her closest friend and confidant, Prometheus’ future chief engineer Senior Chief Warrant Officer Isambard “Isy” Stevenson declared in his debriefings and private notes:
Ya see, Kate was never one to believe in propaganda or whatsama call it. Now me on the other hand? Shit, I dug so deep into the whole human exceptionalism thing at the time that I should have been billing someone for a prostate exam or two. Now, I’m just a simple country starship tinkerer though. Just a cog in a machine. I fix machines and that’s it, don’t care about much more. Kate always seemed like way better at everything, but not really driven, I guess that’s why we bonded. That and I knew how to turn our gunboat’s engine into a distill, so that didn’t help. But she was always kinda indifferent. She had actually met some Vaude mind you, not many people had met aliens back then. The Vaude were still keeping us down, trying not to get us to advance to quick, I suppose. I like cool tech shit so that always felt kinda iffy to me. And you know those Vaudes, arrogant sons of bitches. I mean they seemed to be, and our exchange officer didn’t help much. More nanny shenanigans. But yeah, what was I talking about? Shit, yeah, Kate… yeah, things got weird over the few years before launch. She was learning more about all of this stuff that you’d think she’d have learned in childhood about her family dealings with the Vaude and how her granma’s engine could have been modernized faster or something when the Vaude hadn’t asked for restraint and shit. Like, that always seemed weird to me too, I mean they always shot down any fun we could have had, like visiting Alpha Centauri, or tell us more about what was out there. Seemed suspicious to me. Now Kate started questioning that stuff too. Got some fancy schooling during that time that didn’t hurt, so she said basically what I’m trying to lingo here but like all fancy and shit. But yeah, not a big fan of the Vaude.
While Prime Minister McBright’s government has overall gone down as a success story for Earth, promoting many progressive politics and encouraging space travel and colonization, many political analysts, opposition leaders, and historians have critizied his ideological rhetoric over the years. One of his former Chiefs of Staff, Conny Arendt, later called her former employer “The Hyena” for his tendency to embrace xenoskeptic rhetoric at home while openly courting good will from the Vaude like any other Prime Minister before. The Vaude didn’t really care of course. As long as humanity stayed contained in their Solar system for as long as possible. From their point of view this was, of course, part of a containment strategy to acclimatize humanity to the idea of life outside their own limited horizon. After all, they never forced us to stay in the Sol system, the just encouraged it. When the time came and we wanted to leave so we did. Connors made the same observations at the time, yet came to different conclusions.
Met the new Vaude ambassador today. Thugut. Not sure what to think of him. Like most Vaude I’ve met so far he has this aura of arrogance around him and acts like he’s just there to do us a favor. Yeah, as if. They’ve been holding us back since day 1. My granny, God rest her soul, had plans for the near future when she designed that engine, no this new way of life she opened up for humanity. These days, when I visit the construction dock for Prometheus I can’t help but stand there and think and dream of a time and place in which the Vaude hadn’t found us immediately. How quickly would we have gone to Proxima Centauri, Rigil Kentaurus, or Sirius. One hundred years we stalled. Humanity hungered for a mission to bring us closer together. Local colonization efforts are great, but the scope is much to small for what we can accomplish as a species. We have accomplished so much in so little time, granted, but we still could have achieved more. Maybe that is why I never strifed for more with my life. I always thought “Why bother? It’s not like that we are still going somewhere.”. Prometheus is the ship we should have been building ninety years ago and granny should have been there to see it fly. She was the last human that still had drive to push our limits. It killed her, sure, but she went down fighting. Life is a constant struggle and we have remained stagnant for too long… two years is still too long to wait.
Ironically, the period before Prometheus’ launch was considered by many contemporary culture critics and historical experts on the era alike the most xenoskeptic period since First Contact. The main factor being the constant effort by the Vaude to get the Humans to delay the launch by a couple of more years. A sentiment shared by many security experts and analysts within the DoD at the time, but unlike the Vaude they were under top secret clearance and executive order to never voice their concerns in public. Slowly but surely a narrative began to develop among many groups of people and political parties that humanity’s exploration of the stars was not to be stopped under any circumstances. As an aside: as a life-long student of history and the concept of irony, it does amuse me to no end, that the closer humanity seems to be getting to a milestone in their development, the more we seem to succumb to delusions and paranoia. In the case of Captain Connors, Prime Minister McBright, and others this even makes sense. Once you have been working towards a certain goal for long enough, there is a tendency to shut out other sensory input and outside logic to single-mindedly focus on achieving that goal. Connors career was on the line, as much as McBright’s, even though Connors had found herself with a career where there hadn’t been one before, and thus might have even stood more to lose than a political legacy. Connors was handed, out of nowhere from her point of view, an easy chance to continue the family legacy. Mild paranoia, especially when we have previously exposited that there really was a grand plan by the Vaude to keep humanity contained for as long as possible, seems reasonable from that perspective.
While I do not imply under any circumstances that Captain Connors had dangerous delusions about her mission, it does seem relevant to consider her psychological profile before we embark on the next step on our journey to clarity about this period in time. Which brings us to Connor’s choice for senior officers. While the crew itself was assigned by BuShips, the senior officers, as previously mentioned, were personal choices of the Captain. It seemed only fair that Earth’s premier because first interstellar ship should have its choice picks from the entire fleet. Unfortunately for BuShips, who provided Connors with a huge list of potential officers, Connors had her own ideas of how to run a starship.
As chief engineer, Connors quickly appointed her previous gunboat engineer and long-time friend Isy Stevenson. Stevenson had graduated High School after his second attempt at age 22 and never applied to college, instead enlisting in Spacefleet as Spacer Third Class. He consistently came close to the bottom of the bottom ten percent of any theoretical class he had ever taken. Initially on the energy weapon’s specialist track, his near-perfect marks in applied engineering and maintenance landed him on a technical track on way to Warrant Officer. As one of his superiors once wrote when asked about him, Stevenson put the “special” in “technical specialist”. Eventually Isy Stevenson reached the rank of Petty Officer First Class after 16 years of service and was transferred as a crew engineer to then-Commander Connor’s gunboat on Ganymede.
While Ganymede today is one of the crown jewels in human civilization, often called “The World of Tomorrow” for the technology companies and intellectuals that have settled there, a hundred years ago Ganymede was far from it. It was an outpost established barely 20 years prior after more interesting spots, it served mainly as a supply depot for the squadrons of gunboats and low gravity training facility the Marine Corps operated there. So the assignment there was undemanding and few ranking officers ever visited, but on the flip side there was nothing to do and morale was chronically low. Isy Stevenson was already stationed on Ganymede when then Commander Connors arrived on base. In any given vid this would be the point where the new commander and the ring leader of the layabouts and small time criminals, Stevenson in this case, would be at odds with one another. In this case Stevenson and Connors quickly became fast friends and bonded over their love of flying and technology, as well as Stevenson’s distill. During this time Stevenson helped Connors upgrade her gunboat to beat her own academy record for the Luna-Jovian moons route, in turn Connors promoted Stevenson to Warrant Officer the moment she gained command over Prometheus, taking him with her. He has been often characterized as an old retainer ever since, old and wise about technical matters, yet not a good influence on his captain at the same time when it came to enabling a recreational drug habit.
The next appointment to her staff came almost as instantaneous as that of Isy Stevenson: Chief Medical Officer Karl Troughton, also previously of the Ganymede Outpost, and better known under his nickname “Pill”. Troughton was the third in the “Ganymede Three”, consisting of himself, Isy Stevenson, and Captain Connors. All exiled to an unimportant outpost, the three quickly bonded over their lack of ambition and oversight, which was easy since Connors was the ranking officer on the base. Troughton had once been an ambitious naval surgeon and xeno-expert, but he eventually left Earth disgraced after an assassination attempt on the Vaude ambassador to EarthGov left him as the physician in charge of treating in the ambassador for a minor arm wound. Troughton managed to stabilize the ambassador eventually but left the arm so mangled in the process that the ambassador had to return home to have the arm amputated and regrown. Troughton was reassigned shortly thereafter to Ganymede. Unlike Connors, Troughton did not just pick up a recreational drug habit on base, but eventually helped Stevenson create chemical drugs for their private use, something Connors was never aware of as far as testimony and records show, but this still meant that she wasn’t aware what her closest confidants were doing for about five years behind her back. Regardless of that, Connors eventually made Troughton go through rehab once his habit had impaired his limited medical duties enough. His appointment as CMO on Prometheus was considered a second chance by Connors, seemingly forgetting that it was his third.
As tactical officer, Connors dug deep into Naval Special Operations files to dig up one Lieutenant Nuo Yuedan. Much of Yuedan’s personnel file is classified to this day, but the few information that was released to the public, characterize the then 29-year-old as a dedicated professional. Augmented as a cyborg as part of the Orion program and later assigned to special ops, Yuedan was one of only twelve first-gen super soldiers ever commissioned by Spacefleet. Shut down over questionable morality and hawkish characteristics in a peaceful organization, Yuedan transferred back in the regular fleet after pioneering the concept of Orbital Dive INsertion (codename: ODIN). When asked by Connors chose her for the position of tactical officer, Yuedan rarely spoke on the subject matter. Only once did she say: “Because I always finish the fight”. Connors herself never commented on Lieutenant Yuedan in public, but wrote in her journal simply:
I hope that all beings we meet out there are good people, but sometimes we might stumble on some bad people and then an operator like her might come in handy.
While my previous thoughts on the subject might have characterized Connors as a crazed, paranoid xenophobe with tendencies to appoint friends to have a good time bumbling around the galaxy, she was far from this characterization. Connors was Vaude skeptic, not scared of anything foreign. Connors was fascinated by anything new, as long as she got to grow and chance before her. This is how Lieutenant Commander Prisha joined the roster. A whole book could be written on Prisha herself. Prisha, a PRSA Mark IX companionship bot, was the third ever synthetic being created on Earth to apply for full sentience in 2143. While the rights of synthetics and their place in society was still being negotiated, Prisha decided to join Spacefleet. Not really human, not just a human, she was determined to make more of herself and explore what she was. Joining a service dedicated to the exploration of the unknown only seemed logical, she later would say. Applying herself to linguistics, her unique voice box and physiology was able to process more and varied alien speech patterns than any human could. And while Spacefleet was still skeptical about non-humans joining the fleet in those days, Prisha was able to join but wasn’t really considered a fully fledged officer during those days, her rank being regarded as honorary by many members of Spacefleet. It was not until Connors was visiting the Orbital Naval Academy in search for xeno-linguists, that the two of them met. Originally Prisha was assigned to help Connors find a suitable senior officer, but eventually proved herself so valuable and competent during the search that Connors eventually decided to hire her outright and promoting her on the spot.
Her choice for first officer, in comparison to the assortment of characters she chose for the rest, the appointment of Commander Kara Arroway seemed out of character for both the pop cultural perception and real life person that was Kate Connors. Kara Arroway was a no-nonsense “officer and a lady”, as friends and fellow officers characterized her. Older than Connors by almost ten years, she seemed like the shadow copy of Connors in many ways. Risen from humble origins as the daughter of luddite Californian farmers, Arroway joined the academy on her first attempt with the maximum possible points at a time when Spacefleet washed out 70% of applicants, a rate not seen in over 80 years. Arroway cross-classified in advanced tactics and advanced physics, earning a PhD in astrophysics in the process. At age 35 she was promoted to the rank of Commander and was on the short list for command of a spaceship, but this was also the years of the independence strikes on Mars. Arroway, a proponent for Martian independence, and Arroway had been made garrison commander in the Mariner Valley colony. Refusing an order to break up the illegal strikes, Arroway instead single-handedly negotiated terms between the independence movement and EarthGov officials, building a solid foundation for Martian independence talks which began five years later. Mars made her an honorary citizen, Spacefleet asked for her to resign. Years later, Kate Connors, apparently on a mission to crew her ship with misfits and redemption stories, asked for Arroway’s return to active service and made her her number two without more than one hour of talking to her in person.
While today most fleet command teams operate on the “wise captain, energetic first officer” principle, the situation on Prometheus was reversed: while Connors had eventually severed longer in the fleet because of Arroway’s resignation, Arroway was in many ways the more experienced and intellectual of the two. Where Connors was extroverted and charming, Arroway was introverted and stoic. As Lieutenant Yuedan mentioned in one of her debriefings when asked about the captain and first officer:
One was self-loathing, the other pretty dense. Guess which one was which.
Nevertheless, the two managed to form an effective partnership in hard times, with Arroway serving both as moral compass when they disagreed and the captain’s enforcer when both were on the same wavelength. As CMO Troughton put it:
The idea that the captain was just Arroway’s puppet is such bull. The two of them had this bond that bond that is hard to describe. Like someone had taken a functional, brilliant, flawed person, at a young age and split them up to form two complementing personalities… anyway, where’s my scotch?
The last member of the crew was the only one Connors had no control over: Vaude exchange officer Commander Cobenzi. Assigned as Chief Science Officer (CSO) before the ship mere months before the ship left dry dock, Cobenzi was added to the roster last minute as a way to appease the Vaude for what they considered a reckless act of human barbarism when EarthGov decided to launch on schedule instead of waiting the proposed ten additional decades. Little is known about Cobenzi to human researchers as he spent his entire life in Vaude space and returned home shortly after the ship returned home after the completion of its 12 year mission. Originally disliked by most of the crew except for Commander Arroway, who had nothing but positive feelings about the CSO, calling him “a credit to the uniform… of his navy”, the rest of the crew eventually warmed to him by most accounts, though the relationships remained strained for the most part, a professional working relationship could be established. This finds room here mostly because the existence of Cobenzi, despite the lack of research about him, is still necessary for some of the adventures of Prometheus to be explored in future chapters.
The following ten chapters will deviate from the rest of the book as they consist of interviews with the senior officers of Prometheus, Spacefleet personnel, government officials, alien eye witnesses and others. Some of these interviews were conducted by myself, others are archival material from Rear Admiral Chen, Commander Hobbs, and other colleagues who are too numerous to mention one by one but are greatly appreciated for allowing me to present them here in an edited and commented fashion presented as one interview by one interviewer. I highly recommend reading and watching the originals, which will be linked in the bibliography.
To be continued…