“Attention, a ship-wide red alert has been issued. All personnel report to your duty stations. Attention, a ship-wide red alert has been issued. All personnel report to your duty stations immediately.”
Srena’s eyes sprang wide open upon hearing the computer voice. Her green eyes wandered towards the chronometer even though she had tried to train herself not to do that anymore.
It was still hours until her shift was due to start. The damn Jem’Hadar simply didn’t have the slightest sense of timing.
The young Andorian ensign let out a small sigh. This was not why she had joined Starfleet just about three years ago. Had it only been three years? It felt like a lifetime ago now. And so did the Academy. This was of course ironic considering that she had spent less than three years on Earth to train to be a Starfleet officer. After the war had broken out and Starfleet had decided to graduate her and thousands of other cadets early, she had seen it as her first step of the great adventure she had embarked upon. And why not? That was why she had joined. To be the best pilot the fleet had ever known and to steer a starship to places nobody had ever seen before.
Back then she hadn’t really imagined that the war would last very long or even considered that Starfleet’s decision to not allow her and her fellow cadets a full four years at the Academy had been an action born out of desperation.
She had soon learned the hard way that this was not the adventure she’d hoped for. She had seen friends and colleagues being killed in front of her eyes and had come herself close to such a fate on numerous occasions.
Her only blessing was that she usually didn’t have the time or the energy to think about the war and how badly it was going for the Federation.
This was one of those times.
She jumped out of her bed and found her uniform shirt exactly where she’d left it the night before. On the floor, next to her bed.
As the beta shift flight controller her station during a red alert was on the bridge, regardless what time or shift it was. Protocol demanded that she’d make it up there within two minutes of the red alert being called.
The only problem? She really needed to go somewhere else first.
She rushed out of her bedroom and across the lounge and towards the washroom she shared with her roommate. And found the doors closed.
She could hear the sonic shower running.
“By Uzaveh, you gotta be kidding me, Mikki? It’s a red alert, there is no time for a shower.”
Her response coming out of the washroom was unintelligible however. She was cleaning her teeth at the same time.
Srena banged against the doors one more time and then gave up. Mikaela Besson had a thing about personal hygiene which was perfectly fine. But she didn’t seem to understand that in certain situations it simply had to take a backseat. For example when the lives of everybody on the ship were at stake.
It didn’t help that as a science officer, Srena’s roommate had completely different priorities and duties than she did.
She bit her lips, trying hard not to focus on the urgent reason she had needed to use the washroom. She just had to cope, she finally decided and then grabbed the rest of her uniform and rushed out of her quarters.
She would have to have a talk with Mikaela once this crisis was over.
When she arrived on the bridge she noticed that all senior and alpha shift officers were already at their stations which technically meant that she was late. Probably by a half a minute or so.
It wasn’t that she was required to take the helm, that duty had fallen to Eagle’s primary flight controller, the silver-haired Krellonian, Lif Culsten. She had to be on the bridge as a stand-by and as such she quickly headed for one of the aft bridge stations where she would monitor sensor data and ship logs at Science II until or if she was needed to take the helm.
Everybody was too focused on their stations and their own duties to notice that she had arrived late. Everyone but Commander Tazla Star.
The Trill first officer shot her a disapproving glare before she returned her attention back towards the view screen.
Srena’s antennae drooped slightly before she focused on her own station. Star had it out for her, she was convinced of that. Since she had come aboard as Eagle’s new executive officer she had quickly and deservedly gained the reputation as a hard-ass. She was worse than Lieutenant Commander Xylion, the Vulcan science officer who had temporarily held that position before her and she was in a completely different universe than the late Commander Gene Edison who had been Eagle’s original and much beloved first officer.
Most people speculated that Star was so tough on the crew because she had something to prove. After all she had a rather questionable past, including a stint at the Starfleet stockade after losing her own command and rumor had it that she had come aboard Eagle under false pretenses initially and that she had been involved in numerous illicit affairs.
And yet the captain had decided to keep her on board even if most believed that he didn’t trust the shady Trill one bit and preferred to keep her on a short leash.
Srena didn’t care much for rumors and she had liked Star well enough, especially during those few times she had worked with her in which she had demonstrated a skill for unconventional if not risky tactics. All that had changed after she had been made permanent and now it seemed she was riding her harder than any other officer on board.
The mood on the bridge was tense. The light levels had been dimmed and the obnoxiously flashing red alert strobes reminded everyone that danger could be imminent.
How imminent however nobody seemed to know for certain.
Eagle had been patrolling this sector of space for over a week. During that time they had run into the Jem’Hadar exactly once but Srena had lost count how many times the ship had gone to red alert due to a supposed sensor contact.
And even though they had gone through this exact same routine over and over again it was no different than the previous times.
Commander Xylion was sitting in front of his science station, analyzing every iota of information the sensors were feeding him and trying to get an exact location on the threat. So’Dan Leva, their half-Romulan tactical officer was entirely focused on his weapons systems, standing by to unleash deadly volleys of phaser fire and quantum torpedoes at a moment’s notice. The beautiful Tenarian, DeMara Deen at ops, kept her eyes peeled on ship resources as well as sensors while Lif Culsten made sure the ship maintained optimal maneuverability in case they needed to quickly change course or implement defensive maneuvers.
Her gaze lingered on the helmsman for a moment. Another reason why she hated being on stand-by duty was that she was only really needed if something bad happened to Culsten. She hated the idea of having to replace him in an emergency.
Captain Michael Owens sat in his chair at the center of the bridge, asking for status reports and ship conditions every fifteen minutes or so. She was thankful for that as she feared that the silence and the waiting would drive her crazy.
Srena was not the only one who had noticed that Owens had taken on a tendency to micromanage ship operations over the last few months. Tasks he had usually left to his second-in-command he now, more often than not, took on himself.
The reason for that was apparent.
If Tazla Star was bothered by this clear vote of no confidence in her abilities, she didn’t let it show. At least not in front of the captain. Instead she paced the bridge, making sure to stop by at every station to keep an eye on the instruments.
When the red-headed Trill decided to check on Srena, she quickly turned back towards her station, squared her shoulders and took a small breath.
She could sense the much taller woman step up right behind her where she remained for a few moments.
Srena tried hard to focus on her screens and spot any discrepancies there that may have been the cause for the first officer’s interest. As much as she tried, she couldn’t find anything wrong. Of course Star was not making it easy for her to concentrate while breathing down her neck.
“Are you experiencing a problem, Ensign?” she said just quietly enough to make sure that Srena could hear her while not distracting the other officers on the bridge.
She hadn’t expected to be addressed and now scrambled her brains for an answer.
“I asked you a question.”
“No, ma’am,” she said quickly, keeping her eyes on her console.
“Good. You were late on the bridge. Make sure that doesn’t happen again,” said Star and then quickly moved on to the next station.
Srena exhaled and then looked after the first officer who didn’t grace her with another glance.
Just as Star returned to the command area at the center of the bridge, Captain Owens stood. “I think this has gone on just about long enough,” he said. “Stand down from red alert.”
The flashing red lights ceased immediately and the bridge illumination returned to is normal levels.
“Commander, I’m getting sick entirely of these sensor echoes. This is the third night in a row we went through this. Get this taken care of,” he said, hardly giving Star a chance to formulate a response of her own and then strode towards the turbolift.
Srena noticed the slightly irritated expression on her face. No doubt she felt as if Owens blamed her for Eagle’s recent sensor trouble.
A few minutes later the regular duty shift returned to the bridge and Srena beat a quick retreat, not wanting to be in Star’s immediate vicinity when she began to grill the crew to get to the root of this problem.
The red alert situation had lasted nearly three hours during which time she had been forced to stay on the bridge. Srena couldn’t get back to her quarters quickly enough.
She ignored her roommate who was already napping on the couch and rushed into the washroom.
She felt icky, tired and hungry.
Taking a quick sonic shower wasn’t a difficult choice and once she was done and changed into a clean uniform she was looking forward to a bite to eat and then maybe follow Mikki’s example and try to get some more sleep.
She got as far as the replicator.
“Flight Ops to Ensign Srena, report to the main hangar deck for an immediate ESO.”
She hit her combadge with a sigh. “This is Srena, acknowledged. I’m on my way.”
An ESO or an emergency shuttle ops meant that she was needed to get to the hangar bay without delay and prep a shuttle for immediate take-off. With ESOs she wouldn’t learn the ins and outs of the mission usually until well after the shuttle had launched.
She found the timing odd, after all she had only just arrived from the bridge and at the time there had been no indication that a shuttle mission would be required anytime soon. Of course during a war this meant nothing. She had since learned that any situation could change in a heartbeat.
She shot a quick and longing look at the replicator, then at her roommate, once again asking herself why she hadn’t decided to pursue a science track instead before she half ran out of the door.
She managed to get from her quarters on deck twenty-five to the main hangar on deck six in just under two minutes.
Even though Srena was a passionate pilot the main hanger on Eagle was one of her least favorite places on the ship. The massive cavernous deck right underneath the main shuttle bay was filled with rows of shuttles of various size and configuration, ranging from the Nebuchadrezzar, the Danube-class runabout, all the way down to an array of workbees, the one-seater maintenance crafts.
And unless Eagle was in the middle of a major shuttle operation, the hangar was poorly lit, casting huge shadows across the deck. The fact that her footsteps reverberated loudly made this place downright spooky.
Her standard vehicle for an ESO was the Osiris, a bulky, Type-8 medium-sized shuttlecraft. Unless Flight Ops told her otherwise, she needed to proceed immediately to the Osiris and get her ready to launch within three minutes.
She found the craft with practiced ease.
The shuttle appeared to be in immaculate condition and showed no signs of the crash landing she’d had to make a few months earlier when she had been shot down over an urban area during a rescue mission. Srena hadn’t piloted her and thankfully Ensign Michael Lely and his co-pilot had survived the crash. The fact that the small vessel didn’t need to be replaced was a testament to the efficiency of the engineering crew which had managed to fix her up like new.
There was no deck crew required for take-off. The processes were nearly entirely automated and as the stand-by vessel, it was kept always ready to go.
Srena ran her palm along the white hull of the ship as she headed for the ramp at the back, she liked the feel of the cool duranium against her skin.
She was not surprised to see that her co-pilot hadn’t arrived yet.
She didn’t let that slow her down. Instead she jumped into the pilot seat and began to run through the pre-launch sequence.
Run start-up diagnostic, check. Engage main power, check. Confirm structural integrity at operational levels, check. Activate impulse engines and thrusters, check. Life support systems, check. All systems check: Go for launch.
She was ready. The only problem: Unless it was a dire emergency, she was not allowed to take off without her co-pilot.
That’s when Crewman First Class Dinkins finally showed up.
“Come on, Darren, hustle.”
But Dinkins barely seemed in a hurry at all as he took the co-pilots chair. Dinkins was a tall, dark-skinned, broad-shouldered–some would have said, slightly intimidating–enlisted man. He was at least five years older than Srena which usually wasn’t much of a problem. But he was also the kind of person who wasn’t particularly interested in what people thought about him.
“Relax, Blue,” he said. “I’m here. Let’s get this started.”
She rolled her eyes. She didn’t particularly care for the nickname he had decided to give her.
“Ready for pre-flight check?”
“Already done,” she said and stabbed a panel on her control station, causing the ramp to close.
Another few taps activated the elevator and opened the ceiling to the bay above. Srena thought that they were being lifted into take-off position far too slowly. She was tempted to speed things up by activating her vertical thrusters early. An urge she wisely suppressed. Flight Ops would have ground her for life for trying a stunt like that.
“My, aren’t we an impatient one today. You do know what’s going to happen, Blue.”
She also suppressed a sigh. Her stomach was rumbling and she didn’t want to have this conversation now.
Then the lift finally positioned them in the almost entirely empty shuttle bay which easily rivaled the below hangar deck in size. The huge space door was beginning to rise, accompanied by a warning siren.
“Osiris to Flight Ops, we are ready for immediate take-off and clearing of Eagle airspace, flying straight out,” said Srena.
“Flight Ops, Osiris. Acknowledged. You are cleared for Eagle airspace, straight out departure. Stand by for take-off clearance.”
The Andorian ensign was impatiently tapping her fingers close to the controls which would engage the thrusters. She ignored the look and the knowing smile on Dinkins’ face.
“Flight Ops, Osiris. Please be advised that this has been an exercise.”
“You know I hate to say I told you so,” said Dinkins.
Srena buried her face in her hands.
“Flight Ops, Osiris. Please acknowledge my last.”
Dinkins activated the comm. “Osiris to Flight Ops, this is Crewman Dinkins, we acknowledge. Powering down and returning to parking. Catch you guys next time. Dinkins out.”
The rating was already on his feet. He gave Srena a clasp on her back and headed for the ramp which was beginning to come down again. “Don’t worry, Blue, I’m sure one of these days we actually get to fly this bucket.”
Srena turned around. “Is it too much to ask for you to try and make it here in time?”
He shrugged. “What’s the point? It’s always an exercise.”
“Next time it may not be one. Besides we get graded on our times and right now we don’t look so good.”
He seemed to consider that for a moment. “Always the ambitious officer, huh? Straight out of the Academy and already looking for those lieutenant pips. I wouldn’t worry my pretty little head, Blue. To me you always look great,” he said and then jumped out of the shuttle, not even waiting for it to be lowered back to its parking spot.
Srena uttered a heavy sigh. Her stomach was killing her but before she could even think about her first meal of the day, she needed to make sure the shuttle was back in the same place where she had found it.
She hadn’t gotten the chance to grab that much desired meal.
In fact Srena hadn’t gotten a chance to do much of anything after the shuttle exercise had ended.
And now that she sat on the floor, leaning against a bulkhead in one of Eagle’s countless corridors, she wasn’t quite sure if she ever would.
She gripped her phaser rifle tighter and looked over the faces of the dozen or so crewmembers who were looking at her for leadership.
Like Dinkins, they were all enlisted personnel which wasn’t a big surprise. The majority of Eagle’s crew consisted out of enlisted men and since the war had started the number of officers had decreased while the number of ratings had gone up sharply. But unlike her mouthy co-pilot, these crewmembers were young, inexperienced and impossibly greener than herself. Most of them had only just completed a few months of basic training.
The flashing red lights that lit up the corridors reminded her that they were still in danger. They couldn’t stay here long, they’d be easy prey for the Jem’Hadar who had boarded Eagle a few hours earlier and were now running around the ship almost unrestricted, causing death and destruction in the process.
Srena wasn’t the person in charge. She had to look for leadership somewhere else herself. Usually that would have been a relief, had it not been for the fact that Mikaela Besson was in command of their little group of novices. Her roommate.
As it so happened she and Mikaela were the only two officers in the bunch and the blonde-haired human technically had seniority. Besson had actually enjoyed a full four years at the Academy, to Srena’s three and had been in rank almost eighteen months longer.
Srena adored her roommate. She was a great friend, an occasionally smart girl and apparently quite gifted in the field of exobiology. She had however a lousy tactical sense and no skills whatsoever in fighting an enemy with the kind of training and purpose as the Jem’Hadar.
“Damn it, Mikki, we have to move.”
But the human woman didn’t seem of the same mind. She was sitting up against the opposite side of the hallway and kept looking up and down the corridors as if she wasn’t quite sure which way to go.
They had been stuck in this position for nearly ten minutes, ever since they had barely escaped a Jem’Hadar boarding party which had taken over the transporter rooms and were now threatening to take control of the rest of the deck. Everybody knew that it be suicide to try and fight them off, they were far larger in number and much better armed.
“We need to head to the rallying point,” said Besson finally. “It’s just a few sections down this corridor. I think.”
But Srena shook her head. “We need to get off this deck and regroup with security or the Marines on nineteen. If we stay here, we’re dead.”
The human shot her an angry glare. “I’m in charge here, Srena. I say we head for the rallying point. It says so right there in the ship’s operational manual. Have you ever actually read the thing?”
The Andorian rolled her eyes. “I know about the rallying point but if we follow the book on this one, we’ll walk right into the Jem’Hadar. Use your head.”
“I am. And I say we head for the rallying point. Now,” she said and got onto her feet.
“Mikki, this is a mistake, just trust me on that.”
But Besson didn’t want to listen and took a few steps down the corridor.
Half of the crewmembers hiding out in the corridor got onto their feet to follow Mikaela while the other half looked at Srena.
“Come on,” she told the group.
But before she could make another move or say another word, her eyes went wide.
Srena didn’t understand immediately why, only that she must have seen something disturbing down an intersecting corridor.
“Mikki, what –”
And then the shooting started.
The young human ensign was directly in the line of fire.
She went down hard even before she could try and defend herself.
“Mikki!” Srena cried and tried to get to her prone form which was now sprawled out in the middle of the corridor a few feet away.
But she didn’t answer.
Srena didn’t make the same mistake as her roommate and instead pushed her back against the wall, trying to spy around the corner.
The poloran blasts nearly took off her head.
And the Jem’Hadar were already moving down the corridor.
She took a deep breath, brought up her rifle and squeeze off a few shots towards the approaching enemy. It did not have the intended effect. If anything, it only made them madder.
“Mikki, can you hear me?” she shouted.
But her body simply refused to move.
Srena looked back at the rest of the group which had wisely decided to move away from the corridor. Most of them were not even armed. One of them, a male Grazerite wearing a blue uniform was holding a medical tricorder which he had pointed towards Mikaela’s motionless body. He looked up at Srena and shook his head slightly.
The ensign immediately understood what this meant.
She fired a few more rounds by sticking out the rifle passed the bend of the corner and then hastily gestured the group to retreat.
Srena allowed herself one last look back at Mikaela’s lifeless body before she quickly followed suit.
The turbolifts had been deactivated in order to slow down the intruders but Srena managed to lead her team without further incident, or enemy encounter, to one of the Jeffries tube access points.
She ensured everyone was through before she went in herself and then quickly took the lead in climbing upwards.
She knew that they were exposed in the cramped space if the Jem’Hadar decided to target them. There was little opportunity for cover here and a single, well-placed shot could have taken out her entire team. They needed to move fast and Srena made every effort to spur her people on.
Climbing up six decks as quickly as possible without even having had a chance to get some breakfast wasn’t an easy task for her either. But Srena hadn’t been a two-time All-Federation track athlete for nothing.
A thick layer of sweat covered her face when she finally reached her destination and just as she was about to open the hatch to lead her onto deck nineteen, somebody on the other side removed it for her.
She instinctively grabbed her phaser rifle and pointed it towards the opening.
But instead of the pebbled, reptilian face of a Jem’Hadar, Srena was relieved to see a smooth, blue visage of a fellow Andorian looking down at her.
He held out his hand and lifted the short ensign almost effortlessly out of the Jeffries tube. She didn’t know the man by name but she was scarcely surprised to find him wearing a Marines uniform. Her people had a deserved reputation as a warrior race, maybe even more so than any other member of the Federation. And while she had never truly felt the kind of aggressive urges of many of her kinsmen and had found a different calling in being a pilot, she knew that many Andorians preferred to work in security or join the Marines.
Her rescuer was not alone and the rest of his outfit quickly helped the other crewmembers out of the maintenance hatch.
“Am I glad to see you guys,” she said and turned to the highest ranking Marine she could find, an Efrosian sergeant. “Deck twenty-five has been taken over completely by Jem’Hadar. We didn’t all make it out.”
The sergeant nodded. “Understood. We’re here to escort you to the checkpoint, ma’am.”
“Thanks,” she said and let herself slide down a bulkhead to wait until they were ready to move out again. Track star or not, she was exhausted from the power climb she had been forced to endure. She quietly counted down all the crewmembers which had followed her as they were helped out of the Jeffries tube.
They were all there. All but Mikaela.
She didn’t get the chance to rest for long.
The shooting started so suddenly, she couldn’t even find where she had put her phaser rifle. A handful of Marines who had stood guard went down immediately.
Srena tried to jump on her feet but instead clumsily ran into another crewmember.
It was then that she saw the Jem’Hadar. They were approaching from both sides, with her and her people and the Marines trapped in the middle.
She heard orders being shouted but it seemed a futile effort as most of the Marines weren’t even able to get off a single shot before they went down.
By the time she had finally found her footing and had her phaser out of the holster, the Jem’Hadar were already practically on top of her. She managed to squeeze out one shot, neutralizing an opponent before he had a chance to dissect a crewmember with his polearm but then felt a large hand grip her shoulder.
She was spun around and pushed painfully back into a bulkhead. The large Jem’Hadar who had her pinned was not going to let go and his dark, empty eyes were looking down at her with merciless determination.
She wasn’t strong enough to free herself. Nor could she stop the razor-sharp blade that he was driving into her chest.
Srena never felt any pain.
That was because the polearm never penetrated her flesh.
Instead the blade simply vanished out of existence as soon as it made contact almost as if she was protected by a magical force field. It wasn’t magic. The blade simply didn’t really exist and neither did the polearm to which it belonged nor the Jem’Hadar who was wielding it.
And just like that they disappeared, along with the slain crewmembers and Marines and the corridor itself.
Srena stumbled slightly, now that the pressures were gone but managed to steady her footing before she could fall onto the black and yellow gridded floor of the holodeck.
Just a few feet away she spotted Mikaela lying on the floor, the only other real person who had been on the holodeck. She walked over to her. “It’s over, you can get up now,” she said.
The young woman didn’t move.
Srena walked all the way up to her and put her boot against her shoulder to rock her slightly. “Hey, you fallen asleep or something?”
Besson began to giggle and then slowly picked herself up.
But Srena was not amused and shoved her as soon as she was back on her feet.
“What was that for?”
“You being stupid and getting yourself killed back there,” she said. “I told you not to go that way.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I was just trying to follow the rules.”
Srena rolled her eyes.
The holodeck doors parted to allow security chief Nora Laas and two deputies to enter the holodeck.
Both ensigns quickly jumped to attention.
“At ease, ladies,” Lieutenant Nora said. She was going over a padd but somehow seemed to be able to keep an eye on the junior officers at the same time. Judging by her facial expression, she wasn’t particularly happy. “You realize that you’re both dead.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they responded in unison.
The Bajoran gave them both expecting looks. “And? Don’t you have anything to say about that?” she said, focusing on the more senior officer first.
“I followed the book to the letter, ma’am. I don’t understand why I got killed.”
“I see,” said Nora. “I suggest you remember to tell that to the Jem’Hadar if you should ever be unfortunate enough to run into them in the real world. If you only explain to them that you are following the book to the letter, perhaps they will show pity on you and just leave you be.”
Besson had nothing to say to that.
Nora shot her a glare and she stopped instantly. “And you? You got yourself and your people off the deck. Well, congratulations. But you didn’t get very far now, did you?”
“With all due respect, ma’am, but even with the Marines, the Jem’Hadar must have outnumbered us two to one. How was I expected to get out of that alive?”
The security officer smirked at that. “I’m going to leave you to ponder that on your own,” she said and used her padd again. “Now, your results will be added to your file and I suggest you put a little bit more effort into this the next time. Otherwise we might as well give up to the Dominion now and take our chances,” she said, spun around and left the holodeck with her deputies.
Both women exhaled.
“Oh, no,” said Srena her antenna sagging slightly. “It’s going into our files. Which means Star is going to see it. She already hates my guts enough.”
Mikki pushed her playfully. “You worry too much.”
“That’s easy for you to say, you don’t have her breathing down your neck.”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“And why for Uzaveh’s grace did you not listen and follow me off the deck?”
“I’m sorry, alright. I thought that with Nora watching and all she would want me to show initiative as the more senior officer. Following regs seemed like the right thing to do at the time. If it makes you feel better I promise that if we ever get boarded for real I’ll let you make all the decisions,” she said and snickered again.
“I’m famished, let’s go get something to eat,” she said and headed for the exit.
Srena followed. “I really should try and get some rest before my shift starts.”
They exited the holodeck and stepped onto the corridor.
“If you don’t get to eat now, you’re not going to make it through your shift.”
Srena knew that her roommate was right so she begrudgingly followed Mikaela towards the Nest. But before they even reached the turbolift, they ran into the last person Srena had wanted to see.
Commander Star stood in the corridor in conversation with another officer and as far as Srena could tell there was no way to avoid her, all she could do was carry on and pray that the first officer wouldn’t spot her.
Unfortunately for her, Tazla Star was the kind of woman who prided herself at being completely aware of her surroundings at all times.
“Ensign Srena, I’d like a word.”
The Andorian froze and looked at the first officer. Then she looked back at Mikaela.
“I’ll save you a seat,” she said. “Be strong,” she added sotto voce and then quickly went on her way in order to avoid having to answer to the Trill exec herself.
But Star wasn’t quite done with the other officer yet. “Lieutenant, I don’t care how many people you need to bring in on this and how many double shifts it will take. I want you to get to the bottom of those sensor glitches and have them ironed out.”
The Trill was talking to Louise Hopkins, Eagle young chief engineer who seemed somewhat embarrassed to be taken to task by the commander in such a public place. But she simply nodded. “I’ll have it taken care of, sir.”
“Excellent. I expect a full report by 2000 hours.”
Hopkins understood that the conversation was over and beat a quick retreat towards her engine room.
Star turned towards the waiting junior officer. “Ensign.”
“Yes, ma’am,” she responded immediately, stepping up to the commander and standing up straighter.
“I’ve had a look at your recent ESO results and I have to say I’m not pleased. Your response times have been lacking.”
“I know. I’ve been having some troubles with my co-pilot. He’s –“
Star raised a hand, cutting Srena off. “To be honest, Ensign, I’m not really interested what kind of problems your having. I need your ESO times to improve or I’ll have to take you off the active piloting roster for shuttle missions.”
That was the last thing Srena wanted. True, being on both helm and shuttle duty was extra work but it was also the kind of challenge she wanted. And it was the kind of extra effort that would ensure her recommendations and promotions down the line.
“I think maybe you’ve put too much on your plate, Ensign. With the war going on I need you to be good at one position and not mediocre at two.”
“Ma’am, I believe I am one of the best pilots on this ship. And not making use of all my abilities would be a waste, especially as you say, during these times of hardship.”
She immediately knew that she had come on too strong and wished she had phrased that differently. Srena wasn’t really the boisterous type but she was certain that she’d been right.
“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?” she said with a tiny smile.
“I’m just trying to perform to the best of my abilities, ma’am.”
“Well, right now you’re not. I’ll give you one more chance to prove to me that you can handle the workload. But if you can’t deliver, I’ll ground you. Carry on,” said Star and spun on her heels to head down the corridor.
When Srena entered the upper part of the Nest on deck eleven, she found her roommate at a table with a few of their friends and true to her word she had saved her a seat.
But somebody else in the room caught the Andorian’s attention.
At a table close to the forward facing windows sat Darren Dinkins. He was laughing and enjoying a meal with a couple of his own acquaintances. When Dinkins spotted Srena he winked at her and then turned back to his friends who quickly broke out in laughter again.
She didn’t know what he had said but for whatever reason his attitude was bothering her greatly.
She made the unusual decision to walk over to his table.
Unusual because enlisted crewmembers and officers didn’t mix much on Eagle, especially not socially. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule; the two groups simply remained mostly separate unless it was work related.
Dinkins didn’t appear surprised to see the short ensign stepping up to his table.
“Hey there, Blue, what can I do for you?”
His friends tried hard not to laugh at Dinkins’ rhyme.
She looked the three men over. It was quickly apparent that Dinkins was their unquestioned leader. “Could I speak to you for a moment?” she said after she focused on him again.
“Naturally, my dear.”
“Surely I don’t have to interrupt my lunch for this conversation. Besides, whatever you’d like to discuss with me you can do so openly and in front of my friends here. I have no secrets,” he said and smirked again.
She took a deep breath. “Very well. I’m concerned about our ESO performance. Commander Star is riding me hard on this and I just need us to perform better.”
“You need us to perform better.”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“And that’s because of Commander Star?”
“Yes, because of Commander Star,” she said, beginning to feel exasperated by this languishing conversation.
“See, now this seems to me like an officer’s problem. You and Commander Star and the whole spit and polish officer corps being concerned about figures and statistics which have no real life application or value whatsoever. I’ve been around a little while and I know when things are serious and when it’s all for show and I’m not really one for show. Catch my drift here, Blue?”
One of his friends snickered.
“You’re saying that you don’t care about the exercises.”
“No, that’s what you’re saying. I don’t believe I used any of those words.”
“Whatever,” she said. “What makes you so sure that you’ll know for certain when it’s for real, anyway? You’ve got a sixth sense for that or something?”
“You could say that. And now that we’ve established that, here’s an idea. Why don’t you let me enjoy my meal and go back to your officer friends and next time Spots gives you a hard time about your performance in another meaningless exercise, you’ll tell her when the Jem’Hadar come knocking we’ll get those shuttles flying out of here faster than she can get her panties in a bunch.”
Srena didn’t know what else she could say. So eventually she just turned around and began to do just as Dinkins had suggested.
“Was nice catching up with you, Blue. We should do it again sometime.”
His two friends couldn’t hold it in anymore and broke out in laughter once again.
Srena froze with her back towards the group of highly amused crewmembers. It was quite clear what was happening here. Dinkins and his friends enjoyed being able to push around junior officers who had perhaps half the experience that they had. They knew perfectly well how valuable they were. And during a war perhaps even more so than a little Andorian ensign who had been called cadet until very recently.
She turned around very slowly to see Dinkins’ expecting gaze fall upon her.
She took small but determined steps back towards their table, placed both her hands on the edge of the top and then lowered her head slowly. “That is ensign to you.”
“Beg your pardon?” he said, still with a wide grin on his face.
“I hear you call me by that nickname one more time and I will go and have a conversation with Commander Star. And I’m sure Spots would just love to hear about the imaginative name you’ve come up for her as well. And trust me when I say that it doesn’t matter how good you are or how long you’ve been in the fleet, once you are known to them as a crewman using racial slurs for his own enjoyment, you’ll be pulling the nastiest, dirtiest and most mind-numbing assignments for the remainder of your depressing Starfleet career.”
Dinkins wanted to say something else but she didn’t let him.
“You will start showing more dedication and professionalism when you work with me or I promise you, I will make it my mission in life to make yours as miserable as I possibly can.”
His friends had long since stopped laughing.
“If any of this is unclear to you, tell me now.”
He needed a moment to find words. “No,” he said with a lot less confidence in his tone than he had shown just moments before.
Srena nodded with satisfaction. “Great,” she said and pulled herself back up to her full height, her antennae seemingly standing at attention. “Nice catching up with you. We should do that again sometime,” she said and walked away, leaving Dinkins’ table to the dead quietness that had fallen over it.
“What was that all about?” said Mikaela when Srena had finally come over.
She shrugged. “Just work stuff.”
“Right,” she said. “Well, you better get something to eat.”
Srena would have loved nothing more than doing just that. Unfortunately time was not on her side. She shook her head. “No can do,” she said and snatched a bright green apple from her roommate’s plate. “My shift is about to start,” she said, bit into the fruit and headed for the doors.
After a detour to her quarters for a much needed yet much too brief sonic shower and a replacement for her sweat soaked uniform, Srena arrived on the bridge just in time for the start of beta shift.
She took her station from Lif Culsten who gave her a pat on her shoulder. “Don’t forget, we have a department meeting at 1800,” he said before he darted off towards the turbolift.
He did not get a glimpse of her stunned expression. She had indeed forgotten that all of the ship’s helmsmen were due to hold their semiweekly meeting that day.
So much for early dinner.
There was no point in dwelling over it and she swiftly took her seat in front of the flight control console. Her first order of business was to check their current course as well as speed, position and destination. Once she was certain that Eagle was not going to crash into a planetoid, she brought up the logs and quickly familiarized herself with all the events that had taken place during the previous shifts. She found that besides the red alert that morning, nothing of any consequence had transpired.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Lance Stanmore, the beta shift operations manager, or how she liked to think of him, her partner in crime, was an easy-going, blonde and shaggy haired human who even though older and more experienced than her had never treated her like anything but an equal ever since she had come aboard. He was also an endless source of jokes, usually making bridge duty during beta shift a lot of fun.
And more importantly it helped to pass the time when nothing else was happening.
The mood on the bridge also depended on the person in command. It was rarely the captain himself, sometimes the first officer but more often than not one of the other members of the senior staff had the bridge during the second shift of the day.
Today it was Lieutenant Commander Leva, the chief tactical officer. The half-Romulan didn’t mind a jovial atmosphere while he was in charge maybe because he spent most of his time at the tactical board, running simulations or analyzing tactical data.
“Did you hear the one about the grieving Ferengi?”
Srena was still recovering from the last joke Lance had told but she definitely needed more. Very little of her day had given her reason to laugh.
What she failed to realize however was that the bridge had fallen dead silent while she had been looking at her instruments. “No I haven’t,” she said, unable to stop herself from giggling. “What happened to the Ferengi?”
When Lance didn’t reply, she looked up from her station and towards the human to her left. He was giving her a surprisingly serious look, shaking his head slightly.
She didn’t understand why. Not until she ventured a look over her shoulder.
Her cheeks flushed and turned to periwinkle when she spotted Tazla Star who had only just stepped onto the bridge. She was looking straight at her. Srena bit her lip and quickly turned back towards her station, hoping that the chastising look was as far as the first officer was going to take it.
Srena was in luck when Star turned to Leva instead. “Commander, I think I’ll take over the rest of your shift.”
“If you wish,” he said. “But it is not necessary.”
“Maybe not, but truth be told, I’m not crazy about the idea of the ship’s most experienced tactical officer pulling double shifts while we’re fighting the Dominion. Go get some rest,” she said. “I want you on the top of your game when we need you.”
The Andorian felt completely put off by the way Star was coddling Leva. It stood in stark contrast to the way she had been riding her all week. She wisely kept those thoughts to herself.
Moments later the tactical officer had left the bridge and Commander Star had taken the center seat. Srena couldn’t help but feel as if the Trill was keeping her focus firmly on her alone. She wasn’t brave enough however to spy over her shoulder to confirm that theory.
This feeling lasted the better part of the next few hours during which barely a single word was spoken.
It was a beeping sound coming from Lance’s station which first heralded trouble.
“Commander, sensors are picking up a faint energy signature at two-seven mark seven. Distance approximately two hundred fifty thousand kilometers. The signature appears consistent with that of a Jem’Hadar attack ship.”
Srena immediately sat up straighter in her seat and went to work to try to corroborate his report with her own navigational sensors.
She already knew exactly what was going to happen. Star would call a red alert, the captain and the alpha shift would return to the bridge and she would hand her station back to Culsten. They would try to find this supposed contact for the next couple of hours until a frustrated Owens would call the whole thing off again and it be declared as yet another sensor malfunction.
She nevertheless went through all the motions. She couldn’t afford to skip a single one, not with Star on the bridge.
“Tactical: I can confirm sensor contact with unidentified object at previously established coordinates. Computer analysis: Chance of contact being a Jem’Hadar attack vessel: 58.56%,” said Junior Lieutenant Trinik, the young Vulcan manning the tactical station in Leva’s absence.
Srena was getting the same results from her instruments as well. “Helm concurs,” she said and then braced herself for the red alert.
It never came.
“Ensign, check those coordinates,” said Star. “Are there any stellar anomalies in the area that could throw off our sensor readings? I want to know why we can’t get a 100% match.”
She quickly did as instructed. “According to our star charts the sensor contact is in the middle of an asteroid belt orbiting the Gamma Tauri star.”
She had to at least call a yellow alert, Srena thought. It was protocol when detecting an enemy vessel. When she didn’t, Srena and Lance exchanged quick, surprised glances.
“Helm, change our heading to the Gamma Tauri system. Tactical, stand by shields and weapons.”
Irritated as she was, Srena nevertheless executed the new orders immediately. “Yes, ma’am, adjusting heading to two-seven mark seven. Estimated time of arrival at current speed, twenty-five minutes.” She didn’t like this one bit. Sure, there was a chance this was another sensor glitch but if it was not, then she really preferred for Culsten and the rest of the senior staff to be back at their stations instead. She had fought the Jem’Hadar before and she knew she could do it again but she couldn’t help for her palms growing sweaty and her heartbeat accelerating. She couldn’t stop wondering why Star wasn’t calling the captain.
“Weapons and shields are on stand-by,” said Trinik. “Shall I initiate yellow alert?”
Clearly the Vulcan was as confused as Srena.
Srena dared another glance towards Lance at her side to see if he perhaps understood what Commander Star was up to.
“Ensign, mind your station,” Star said sharply.
Srena’s antennae twitched in embarrassment and she promptly focused on her own panel again. “Aye, ma’am.”
For the next twenty-five minutes no words were exchanged.
“We’re approaching the Gamma Tauri asteroid belt,” she said when her console told her that they had arrived.
“Drop to impulse and raise shields. Lieutenant Trinik, do you have the sensor contact? Any changes?”
Srena had Eagle back to sub-light speed within a couple of seconds.
“Shields up. The sensor contact is unchanged,” said the tactical officer.
Srena felt Star stand up from the captain’s chair and move towards the screen which now showed a massive asteroid field with a multiple times more massive, bright white sun burning in the background, causing a marvelous blend of long shadows and lens flares.
She seemed to just stand there for a moment, studying the image almost as if she could spot the Jem’Hadar ship, supposedly somewhere within the tight asteroid belt, with her naked eye.
“Ensign,” she finally said, causing the Andorian to flinch slightly. “Do you think you could safely take us into the field and within visual range of the sensor contact?” she said without taking her eyes off the screen.
“Yes, ma’am,” she replied without thinking about the question.
This caused Star to smirk and she glanced down at the pilot. “Are you sure? You need to get us through there without so much as grazing a piece of rock.”
She felt the urge to swallow. That was asking for a lot. She looked down at her instruments to double check on the density of the asteroid belt and the average size of the rock fragments. It could be done, she decided but it wouldn’t be easy. She looked back up at the first officer and gave her a firm nod. “I can do it. But not with the shields up.”
Star seemed to consider that for a moment. Then she turned to head back to the command chair. “Mister Trinik, drop shields. Transfer auxiliary power to inertial dampers,” she said and sat in the chair again. “Ensign Srena, take us in, thrusters only.”
And so she did.
As a pilot she was excited about the opportunity to test her skills and trying to squeeze a three million metric ton starship through an asteroid belt. At the same time she was petrified of messing up and driving Eagle right into one of those huge rocks. And all the while a Jem’Hadar ship was lingering by closely, hidden somewhere within this moving maze she was to navigate.
She put all those thoughts out of her head and instead tried to imagine that it was just her alone piloting a small and nimble one-man interceptor like she had done countless times before when she had flown for Nova Squad at the Academy.
“Distance to sensor contact now fifty thousand kilometers. Signature is still too faint for a complete identification,” the Vulcan at tactical reported.
“Bring weapons online,” said Star, her eyes remaining glued to the screen.
For the next few minutes silenced reigned on the bridge yet again with nearly every single set of eyes closely watching the screen where asteroids passed by at what seemed to be mere inches but in reality were many meters. Still, if one of those rocks were to come too close to the hull, without shields, it could have caused significant damage.
“We’re getting a visual of the sensor contact,” Lance said.
Srena couldn’t afford to look at the screen however.
“Sensor contact confirmed as a Jem’Hadar attack vessel,” the Vulcan tactical officer said. “However I’m not reading an active power source or life signs on board. It appears heavily damaged.”
“It’s a wreck,” Stanmore said. “No wonder we were not able to identify it sooner, its warp core has been destroyed and its been running on battery power. Sensors were probably having a hard time distinguishing it from the rocks surrounding it.”
Star seemed to agree. “It must have been caught in the asteroids belt’s gravity field after a battle. We’ll tow it free and investigate it once we have cleared the belt again.”
“Engaging tractor beam,” said Trinik.
“Ensign, reverse course and take us out of the field. Just as before.”
“Reversing course,” she acknowledged. She had listened to the conversation taking place around her but she hadn’t been able to take her eyes of her instruments for even a second. Eagle and more importantly the asteroids surrounding them hadn’t stopped moving and she had to make sure that they would stay well clear of them.
This task had become even more challenging when she had been given the order to make a u-turn. It didn’t help that Eagle had become about a million pounds heavier as soon as it had taken the Jem’Hadar vessel in tow.
She managed to turn the ship around but couldn’t avoid their payload to be slammed into two small asteroid fragments.
“Careful with the goods, Ensign. A destroyed Jem’Hadar ship won’t have a lot of intelligence value,” Star said sharply.
“Yes, ma’am, sorry, ma’am,” she said quickly but again couldn’t risk making eye contact. Her fingers were now racing over her console, making constant and miniscule course corrections to keep Eagle as well as their load out of harm’s way. She desperately wanted to wipe the perspiration off her brow which was threatening to drip into her eyes.
“Srena, there’s a big one at one-four-two mark one-four,” said Lance. “It’ll cross your flight path.”
“I see it,” she said but didn’t make any major course corrections to avoid it.
The operations officer shook his head. “Still coming.”
Srena nodded but didn’t say anything.
Apparently the first officer was seeing it as well. “Ensign, you need to adjust your course.”
“With all due respect, ma’am but right now there is no place for us to go but forward or that Jem’Hadar ship will be crushed to pieces.”
“Find another way.”
“Only one way, ma’am,” she said. “Hold on.”
Eagle plunged sharply at the last moment, dropping underneath the large asteroid and pulling the Jem’Hadar vessel along with it. The ship shuddered noticeably as the inertial dampers were not able to compensate in time for the sudden maneuver.
“We’ve cleared the asteroid belt,” Lance said and then shot Srena a beaming smile.
“We have sustained no damage to the hull,” reported the tactical officer.
All in all Srena felt pretty good with herself. She finally managed to wipe the sweat off her forehead and then turned to find the first officer.
She did not look happy. In fact she looked surprisingly tense.
It caused Srena’s antennae to droop with disappointment. There simply was no pleasing her.
“Owens to bridge, what the hell is going on up there?”
The young Andorian could see the pained expression on the first officer’s face upon hearing the captain’s voice. It took her a moment to find words. “Sir, we have located a disabled Jem’Hadar vessel within an asteroid field and have just finished towing it back into open space.”
“I’ll be right there. Owens out.”
Srena finally understood why the first officer had never called out an alert. She had not wanted to alarm the captain unnecessarily. If it had indeed been another sensor malfunction, he may have blamed her for it. But judging from the tone in his voice he was not pleased at having been kept in the dark.
The young Andorian quickly turned back to her station when she noticed that the Trill’s glare looked distinctly accusatory as if this had all been her fault.
Owens entered the bridge no two minutes later. He shot a brief glance towards the screen where he spotted the Jem’Hadar ship still being held in a tractor beam and the asteroid belt from which they had liberated it. He focused on his first officer next. “Commander, my ready room if you please,” he said and left no doubt that it hadn’t been a request.
Lance turned to his Andorian crewmate after the ready room doors had closed behind the two senior officers. “Think somebody may be in trouble,” he said with a smirk.
She nodded but took little joy at the revelation. “Yeah. And guess who she’s going to let it out on?”
“You have nothing to answer for,” he said quickly. “You did a remarkable job getting us through that without so much as a single scratch to show for.”
She appreciated the nice words but she knew that a certain Trill would not see it that way at all.
Star remerged from the ready room some five minutes later. Srena had no idea what exactly had been discussed behind closed doors but to her credit the first officer kept her chin up even as she headed straight for the turbolift, not acknowledging a single person on the bridge.
Thankfully a little while later her bridge duty came to an end and she promptly handed over her station to the gamma shift helmsman. She nearly ran off the bridge to find a bite to eat before she had to report for her department meeting.
Srena found herself in Eagle’s observation lounge for the routine department meeting with the rest of the ship’s flight controllers, minus of course the person currently manning CONN. That position was meant to rotate in order to make sure that nobody would ever miss more than one meeting a week.
Including Lif Culsten, the Krellonian primary flight control officer, Eaglehad six helmsmen whose main duty was to pilot the starship. There were also numerous other officers and crewmembers with sufficient flight experience to take over the controls if necessary but the department meeting was just for the dedicated controllers.
Srena was lucky to be the beta shift pilot, a position she had been given not because of her experience and certainly not because of seniority but because of her stellar grades at the Academy and the fact that they had lost at least half of their more experienced pilots to personnel reassignments due to Starfleet’s desperate need for qualified people. But she had long since earned the respect of both her boss as well as the other helmsman in the team.
And she got on with everyone.
Her relationship with Lif Culsten had started out rather well after she had come aboard. The silver-haired and earless Krellonian was an immediately likeable guy who wasn’t so much concerned with proper protocol but instead tried to be a friend to those who served with him.
Things had changed between them somewhat after a shuttle mission during which he had ordered her to sacrifice herself by crashing her craft into an enemy ship. Thankfully it had never quite come to that but no matter how hard she had tried, she hadn’t been able to see him quite the same way afterwards. And he had become more distant as well as if he had realized that being a close friend to a subordinate could be a liability during times of war.
The meeting was informal and mostly an outlet for Lif to explain any new practices, regulations or orders he had been given by the first officer. They discussed how one of the portside thruster units was becoming more sluggish and how the inertial dampers needed to be recalibrated in order to smooth out the effects of sudden warp acceleration.
And everybody was cursing their recent problems with the sensors which would create phantom images of Jem’Hadar attack wings and throw them out of bed in the middle of the night. Everybody but Petty Officer Waldorf who was on night shift duty and up late anyways.
She wasn’t particularly focused during the meeting which lasted nearly an hour, still lamenting the lack of any substantial nutrition. She also couldn’t deny that her day had sapped most of her energy. She remembered days at the Academy in which she was allowed to sleep in until the late morning, have a relaxed brunch, attend a couple of classes and spend the rest of the day and part of the night with friends. Those good old days when she tended to be amply fed and full of energy were but a distant memory now.
“Srena, could you stay a moment?” Culsten said after the meeting was done and everybody was heading for the exit.
The Andorian nodded and kept her seat.
“I’ve got about half a dozen outstanding reports I’m still waiting for you to complete,” he said.
Her antennae sagged noticeably. Srena rightly thought of herself as a skilled pilot but she was dead awful when it came to paperwork. And Starfleet loved its paperwork. An outdated term in the twenty-forth century as paper had become near obsolete, it was still used to describe the myriad of reports required by Starfleet officers to complete.
“I have to submit these to Star by the end of the week or I’m going to be in big trouble,” he said and sounded meekly apologetic about it. He wasn’t doing this out of spite or because he liked to work her but because it was being asked of him.
She buried her face into her hands.
“She hates me, Lif.”
He shook his head. “No she doesn’t.”
She freed her face and looked at him. “Oh yes, she does. And now more than ever after she blames me for getting her into hot water with the captain. She’ll find any excuse to criticize everything I do. And you know how bad I am at those reports. That’s just what she needs to kick me off the ship.”
“I’m sure it’s nothing personal. She’s just overcompensating. Nobody fully trusts her after the things she’s done in the past and now she’s trying to reestablish herself as a trustworthy and capable officer. Right now she’s facing a lot of adversary from the officers under her command and it will take some time until we’ll all get used to each other. Give her a chance.”
“Well, that’s great but why does she have to let that all out on me? I’m all for giving her a chance but she isn’t giving me one. It’s as if I have the words whipping girl tattooed on my forehead?”
“I tell you what, we’ll get together tomorrow and I’ll help you with your reports. We’ll make sure she won’t find a single thing to complain about.”
Srena’s frown was replaced by a beaming smile and her antennae twitched excitingly. “Thank you, Lif, I really appreciate that,” she said and stood.
“Don’t mention it.”
She headed towards the exit but halfway there she stopped and turned around. “And how about you talk to her about what you’ve told me? That whole thing about her trying to establish herself and us all getting used to each other. Maybe she’ll go easier on me.”
Culsten didn’t find the right words straight away and fumbled for a moment. “I don’t think so. I like her and all but I’m not suicidal.”
Srena gave him a mock salute. “Your courage is inspiration to us all, sir.”
“Get out of here,” he said with a smirk.
“Main power is up and running. Structural integrity at one-hundred percent. Impulse engines hot and on stand-by.”
Srena looked over her own instruments. “Life support systems are showing green.”
Dinkins finished up the pre-launch sequence. “All systems check. We are go for departure.”
The elevator platform had already lifted the Osiris into take-off position and the bay doors had fully extended, only a force field now separating the shuttle bay from the cold dark vacuum of outer space.
“Osiris, Flight Ops. We are ready for immediate ESO. Request permission for take-off and clearance of USS Eagle airspace, straight out departure,” said Srena after toggling the comm.
The response was immediate. “Flight Ops to Osiris. Acknowledged. You are cleared for Eagle airspace, straight departure. Please stand by for take-off clearance.”
Srena was relaxed this time around, confident in the knowledge that both she and Dinkins had worked as quickly and as efficiently as possible to get the Osiris into position for take-off. She knew Star would find a way to disagree but she didn’t know what else she could possibly do different.
She stole a glance at her co-pilot but the crewman was entirely focused on his instruments, a serious expression on his face.
They had barely said more than a few clipped words to each other after they had met up on the hangar deck and boarded the shuttle. The truth was that she had taken no enjoyment in speaking to him in the manner that she had earlier. But if she had to sacrifice their comfort in order to do her duty properly than that was a price she was willing to pay.
“Flight Ops to Osiris. Please be advised that this has been an exercise. Power down and return to parking.”
Srena was barely surprised. “Osiris, solid copy on all. Returning to parking.”
“Shutting down engines,” said Dinkins.
The space doors were beginning to close again but before she could see them fully shut, the elevator lowered the shuttle back into the hangar deck. Once the shuttle was back in place and its main power shut down, Dinkins turned to look at Srena.
“Permission to be dismissed, Ensign.”
She was taken aback by the coldness in his tone. “Permission granted.”
He got out of his chair with little delay but had to wait until the ramp was fully lowered before he could leave the shuttle.
Srena swiveled around her chair. “Listen, I’m sorry if I came off like a bossy shrew in the mess hall. We were both off duty and I didn’t have the right to take you to task the way I did.”
He turned around and looked at her for moment. Srena felt tiny when she saw his cold eyes staring down at her from his large six-foot-four frame.
“No,” he said. “You have nothing to apologize for. It was me who was out of line and you were right about the nicknames. They were inappropriate.” He relaxed his shoulders slightly. “The truth is I’ve become so indifferent over the years that I’ve lost perspective. I’ve gotten so used to pushing around fresh-faced and clueless officers simply because I could get away with it, never realizing how much trouble I was causing for them. I am the one who needs to apologize and I promise, I won’t give you anymore problems.”
Srena stood. “Apology accepted. And I know some of those officers. They can be a real pain,” she said with a smile, a mental image of her sometimes-dizzy roommate appearing in her head. “Don’t stop torturing them on my account.”
At that Dinkins laughed.
She was on her way back to her quarters feeling a lot better about herself and a nice hot Andorian style dinner was the only thing on her mind when the call interrupted that pleasant fantasy.
“Commander Star to Ensign Srena, please report to my office.”
Srena wanted to scream in frustration but then decided that perhaps doing so, in the middle of a busy corridor no less, may not have worked out in her favor.
“On my way, ma’am,” she said instead and came about.
As she headed towards the dreaded lion’s den, she tried desperately to go through everything that had happened today, from the red alert in the night hours and her late appearance on the bridge, her poor performance in the ESO in the morning, her death in the holodeck simulation to her rattling the ship during their trip through the asteroid belt. They were all fodder for Tazla Star’s ultimate goal and if she wanted to survive the day in one piece, she’d better have a good justification for all her actions ready.
It turned out she was only second in line to get chewed out.
Once again she had to wait for Star to finish off with Louise Hopkins.
“We have identified the anomalous sensor readings and traced the problem to a faulty subroutine in the navigational deflector array. We believe this was caused by damage we took during the battle in the Illirium system last week. Preliminary findings show that the wrecked Jem’Hadar vessel in the Gamma Tauri system may have created sensor shadows, aggravated by an increased solar flare output from the Tauri star and the misaligned subroutines in the deflector array.”
Star was paying close attention to the young engineer. “Solutions?”
“We can realign the fault subroutine to reduce the chance of sensors picking up ghost signals but to fully repair the damage we need to install new parts we can only get from Starbase 224. But since we have located the Jem’Hadar ship which has been the primary trigger for the sensor echoes, I think we will see a sharp reduction of false alarms until we can reach the starbase.”
“Very well, Lieutenant. I will discuss rerouting to 224 with the captain as soon as possible. Dismissed.”
Hopkins nodded sharply and then turned away from Star’s desk to leave the room. She mouthed the words good luck to Srena before she managed to slip out of the room.
The Andorian quickly stepped up to the desk and stood at attention. “Reported as ordered, ma’am.”
She put her feet apart and placed her hands behind the small of her back to stand at parade rest.
The first officer looked over a bunch of padds spread out over her desk but then put them all aside and glanced up at the ensign who made sure to keep her own glance fixed to a point on the wall behind the commander. “You think I’m riding you too hard, don’t you?”
Srena panicked. Had Culsten talked to her after all? If he had told her that she was in anyway unhappy with the way she had been treated, she may as well have thrown herself out of an airlock right away.
She hesitantly made eye contact. “No. No, ma’am. Not at all, ma’am.”
The red-haired Trill couldn’t quite suppress a chuckle. “Ensign, I was a junior officer once, too. I know exactly how you feel,” she said and stood. “Point in fact, you should consider yourself lucky you weren’t in my shoes. My superiors back in the day worked me so hard I was seriously considering resigning my commission. And back then we weren’t even at war. Which, coincidently, means that you don’t have that luxury.”
Srena nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“That brings me to my point. Surely you understand that while we are at war we need everyone to perform to the maximum of their abilities. We cannot afford any weaknesses.”
“I understand, ma’am.”
The exec picked up a padd. “I’ve had another look at the results of your recent exercises. You did much better in the holodeck simulation than your roommate but as a bridge officer that is to be expected.”
Srena fought the urge to swallow. The fact that she had survived longer than Mikki had been her only true accomplishment.
“I’ve read Lieutenant Nora’s assessment of your performance. What do you have to say for yourself?”
She thought about that for a couple of seconds. “I did my best, ma’am.”
“No, you didn’t,” came the prompt reply.
Srena’s eyes opened wider, her blue antennae twitching slightly.
“You let your guard down. You did a decent job to withdraw from a deck that was clearly lost and you got your people out of harm’s way initially but once you met up with the Marines you simply stopped paying attention to your surroundings. You became complacent.”
“There was nothing I could’ve done. We were surrounded, even if I had kept up my guard, we would have been overrun in a matter of minutes,” she said, her words now flying out of her mouth. She immediately regretted the outburst. “Sorry, ma’am,” she added after a moment.
“So maybe you could have given yourself a few more seconds. Maybe a rescue party was on the way and would have gotten there in time to find survivors. The point is, you don’t know what could happen. But your duty is to ensure your subordinates’ survival for as long as you possibly can.”
Srena hesitated for a moment. “I think I understand.”
“Good. Lucky for you, you were never meant to survive the simulation.”
The ensign was at a loss for words.
Star smirked and raised her padd. “You never took the Kobayashi Maru test at the Academy. You did now.”
“This was a no-win scenario,” she mumbled mostly to herself.
The first officer nodded and took her chair again. “And you got further than most other officers I’ve put through it. Well done.”
The compliment had been delivered so quickly that Srena had almost missed it. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Don’t even think about resting on your laurels. Your ESO times have improved quite a bit but I think you can do even better.”
“Now let’s talk about what happened during your shift on the bridge.”
Srena couldn’t help avoiding the urge to swallow. Star was doing the good news, bad news spiel and surely would let her have it now.
“You did a pretty good job getting us through that asteroid belt without taking any damage. Not an easy task with a Jem’Hadar ship in tow.”
The air was pregnant with an unspoken but and Srena braced herself for it.
Star wasn’t looking at the ensign anymore. Instead she appeared busy while attending her padds. “But you managed to get me into trouble with the captain,” she said after a short pause. “If you had gotten us out of there without that little bump at the end he would have never been the wiser and I could have spared myself a very unfortunate conversation,” she added and looked straight into her eyes.
Srena had no idea how she was supposed to respond to that.
“Do you have any thoughts on that, Ensign?”
She didn’t. She wanted to tell her that it had been her job to get them through the asteroid field in one piece while keeping their cargo safe, not to make sure that the captain would not be alerted to Star’s unorthodox mission. But she didn’t quite have the courage to do that.
“I’ll come clean with you,” she said. “I was not happy and I would have loved nothing more than have you removed from your current position after that. But then I realized that it wasn’t you I was angry with. I take it you know about what has been said about me?”
“I’ve heard stories, ma’am.”
She smiled. “Some of them, I’m afraid are true. I have a difficult task on this ship, Ensign. I have to find a way to make the captain and the crew trust me, something they don’t at the moment. And maybe going after the Jem’Hadar ship in that asteroid belt was the wrong way to do that but I’m not willing to sit back and let things continue the way they are now.”
Srena mustered all her courage for her next question, one she had never asked any superior before. “Permission to speak freely, ma’am.”
The Trill seemed as surprised by that request than the ensign had been of asking it. But she nodded. “Go ahead.”
The young Andorian hesitated. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was allowed to say in a situation like this. Where was the line? Could anything she said be used against her? She was certain there were protocols about this kind of thing but they escaped her at the moment. “I think that maybe you’re trying too hard. I can’t imagine that the captain would have agreed to keep you on as a first officer if he didn’t believe that you could be trusted. Somebody told me today that all I needed to do is give you some time to get used to the rest of us. Perhaps that’s true. Maybe we all need is just a little bit of time and perhaps then trust will follow,” she said but didn’t dare to look her into the eye. If anything she tensed even more.
For a moment nobody spoke and Srena felt unbelievably uncomfortable, immediately regretting every single word she had said.
But eventually Tazla Star laughed. It was so odd to hear her do that that Srena couldn’t help but look at her. She had never seen her laugh before.
“So now it has come to this, has it? I’m getting advice from a junior officer?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” she said quickly. “It wasn’t my place to –“
“Do me a favor, Ensign.”
“Stop calling me ma’am and start calling me sir. It’s been driving me crazy.”
That didn’t help putting her at ease at all. “Yes, sir. Sorry.”
“I’m going to tell you something I probably shouldn’t,” she said, this time keeping her eyes on the short Andorian. “I think you have the potential to be a pretty damn good officer. If you keep things up you’ll