The USS Blackwell is part of a larger story that is being told in the Par’tha Expanse. The Olympic-class vessel is one of four Starfleet ships that make up the ambitious Andaris Taskforce, a multi-starship campaign being simmed by eighteen player characters.
At the head of the Taskforce is veteran Starbase 118 player Rear Admiral Renos, and his PC, Captain Akinor Onali Zaekia, commands the Blackwell.
Renos pulled together the Andaris Taskforce with the SB118 crew because he wanted to try something different. “I’ve got a large and ambitious crew, with a number of people looking for leadership opportunities as they work along the command path with the ultimate goal of getting their own commands some day.
“Andaris Task Force gives us the flexibility to run two ships IC in a manner similar to having separate away teams, giving potential command candidates the opportunity to hone their skills in a safer, practice environment,” Renos explains. “We’ve shifted the focus from the crew of one ship, to the personnel working for the Task Force and getting this wider sense of having multiple ships assigned to an area, working cooperatively for further the goals of the Federation.”
The Blackwell itself, named after 19th century British medical pioneer Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States, is appropriately categorized as a medical support ship in the taskforce. “The fleet has never had a medical ship before and it’s something that players have shown an interest in, in the past,” says Renos. “The Olympic Class is iconic and has a very distinct design so I think it’s really cool that we have such a ship in the fleet now. The crew seem really pleased with the ship and have thrown them into our premiere mission with great gusto, which is really exciting.”
The crew is currently on shore leave, but Renos was willing to give a teaser as to what’s in store for the crew. The Blackwell is visiting a planet subjected to a highly contagious plague, and is under quarantine. A Navy ship enforcing that quarantine is losing orbit, and so the Blackwell will be investigating both the plague and the failing ship before it crashes. This gives plenty of opportunities for a crew of diverse backgrounds: “What does it take to keep a flying hospital in working order, when you’re on the frontier, and know there are lives depending on it’s equipment in a way you don’t find on other vessels? It takes everyone. The diplomats, the security and tactical officers, the scientists, HCO officers and engineers are all as important too.”
One of the most recent additions, Ensign Sorel Kaidun, joins the Blackwell as a science officer. “I have only been on one mission so far and my duty kept me majority of the time on the bridge, at the science station, but I also had the opportunity to go off the ship and into a cavity filled with liquid rock,” says Kaidun. “It sounds worse than it actually was.”
Having only joined in mid-February, Kaidun admits he can’t say much about the Blackwell’s background, “but the Andaris Task Force as a whole is a very open and hospitable group. As for [Captain] Zaekia… He’s a very eccentric character, which was already revealed in about the first or second sim. I really like the character and the person behind it a great mentor and friend.”
Interestingly, between the two players, Renos and Kaidun are tackling a whole range of racial and gender identities in their characters. Renos (the character) is well known in the fleet as a J’Naii deviant, a gender refugee from nir homeworld, cast out for their genderfluid identity. “Captain Akinor Onali Zaekia is a transgender male Kalean, with an identical twin sister,” says OOC Renos. “He is the Commanding Officer of the Blackwell and comes from a medical background. He is highly sociable and lots of fun to play.” Ensign Kaidun (the character) is a half-Vulcan half-Betazoid transgender man, “He prefers to keep that a secret,” Kaidun explains on his character bio. “Only doctors know because of his medical history and bodily modifications.”
“With both of these characters I have the opportunity to explore gender issues from multiple angles,” Renos says. “Not only is it interesting and important to me on a personal level, as a trans man, to explore these stories, I think it is also important that transgender and non-binary individuals have more representation and visibility.”
The Blackwell may be a single ship in the Andaris Taskforce’s story, but Renos notes that he is grateful for the lifelong friends he’s made in the story of the SB118 community.
“It’s nice to be there for one another when the going gets tough,” he says. “I feel blessed that this community is ram packed full of so many fantastic people with hearts of gold. It’s true what they say: people come for the writing and stay for the community.”