UES Enterprise. Earth Orbit.
15th April 2151.
"How's it going, Trip?" Archer called out as he entered main Engineering. All around crewmen and technical specialists hustled and bustled to ensure all was ready for tomorrow's mission.
"Keep your britches on, cap'n." The speaker had a strong accent, redolent of America's Deep South, and pronounced it as 'Key-up yoor brie-chees on, cap-en."
Charles Tucker the third, known to friends as Trip, hailed from Texas. His accent reflected his home, with hints of Florida, where his family had relocated when he was eight. With his easy going manner and unhurried ways, many who talked to him were left with the impression that he was a simple man, not stupid, but one whose thoughts rarely strayed from the here and now.
Such an impression was misleading. As a child Trip had excelled at math and science. For his tenth birthday his mother had bought him a biography of Zephram Cochrane. From that moment on he wanted nothing more than to work with engines, to make ships go faster and further than ever before.
With his good grades at school he won a scholarship to Cambridge University, studying high energy physics and warp field mechanics. One of his lecturers suggested he contact UESPA. Trip had originally been thinking of joining one of the warp engine manufacturers upon graduation, but the idea of actually serving on board a working space ship was exciting. He agreed to a six year term with UESPA in return for funding of his post grad studies.
When Trip finally joined UESPA, it was with a Doctorate in physics to his name, plus co-authorship of a highly regarded paper on subspace flow dynamics.
After several years in research and development, he transferred to the exploration division, and had never looked back. On his first mission he'd made friends with the first officer, Jonathan Archer, who was impressed by Trip's expertise.
Trip climbed lithely down from the upper walkway, and handed Archer a pad. "The latest static field test. Two and a half hours, this one."
Archer looked it over for appearances sake, but both men knew that was only a formality. The tests were not being run to ensure the suitability of the engines, they were being run to see if there were any bombs on board, like those on United Earth One.
Trip leaned closer. "Seriously John, if we keep runnin' static, we're just goin' to burn out the engines."
Archer nodded. "All right, I think we've got to assume then that there are no bombs on board. I've talked to Lt. Reed, his marines will provide security at all critical points, to stop any sabotage attempts. I'll have to station a couple in here though.". He gestured around, encompassing the Engineering section.
"Can't say I'm happy about that, cap'n. Apart from anything else, there's going to be questions from the crew. We wouldn't normally have such tight security round here. People'll notice."
"We've got the President coming aboard, Trip, plus his retinue. And, I've just been informed, a group of Vulcan diplomats from their embassy. I'd say a bit more security wouldn't seem that out of place, would it?"
"Suppose not cap'n. I still don't like it."
"I'm not too keen myself."
Trip sighed. "Any word on when the last of the crew get here?"
Archer glanced at his watch "They should be setting off soon."
UESPA Aerospace Terminal Four. Szechuan Province. China.
15th April, 2151.
Hernandez shuffled in the hard plastic seat, trying to find a comfortable position. Beside her Mayweather sat silently, glaring at the UESPA people at the other end of the departure lounge. When she and Mayweather had arrived, they had been greeted politely by a pretty Japanese woman called Hoshi Sato, a Lt. in charge of the ships communications systems.
There was a lingering awkwardness in the air, that Mayweather's bluntness didn't improve. He never said anything or did anything overtly unpleasant, but after a few moments the UESPAs were clearly uncomfortable, and most were instinctively moving back.
"Would you care to join us in a game of poker?" Hoshi had asked. Clearly she was working hard to break the ice. "I'm not very good, but the guys are teaching me how to play."
Hernandez had a sudden image of Mayweather getting into a brawl over a poker game. "We can't play."she said quickly, stressing the 'we'. "Regulations forbid it whilst on duty."
Hoshi recoiled as if slapped. Then she said, very deliberately, "As do ours, Ma'am. We, however, are not on duty, and will not be until after our return to the Enterprise. Now, if you will excuse me..."
Hernandez thought. I spoke too harshly. Now everyone here thinks I'm some rule bound martinet. And that's the impression that's going to carry around Enterprise within half an hour of our arrival.
With no one to talk to, save the uncommunicative Mayweather, she kept her mind busy by keeping track of the poker game. Two things became apparent.
One, most obviously, Hoshi Sato was losing. Losing badly.
Two, and much more difficult to notice, she seemed to be losing deliberately.
All her losses were big ones, major ones, ones that would stick in the memory. Her wins, when they came, were small, unobtrusive. She always had enough in front of her to ensure she would stay in the game, but she never won big.
From her vantage point Hernandez could see at least two occasions when Hoshi folded despite having an excellent hand.
That was curious behaviour, and Hernandez resolved to ask the comms officer about it later.
Intent on the game, she was unaware of the arrival of a newcomer until she saw the UESPAs looking to the door excitedly. Several started rooting through their bags, pulling out books.
Looking round, Hernandez saw the reason for the fuss, at the same time that Mayweather gave a low appreciative whistle.
Some one in the media had once said that if you were trying to prove false the idea that scientists were all boring old men, then Professor Polly Partridge was that proof given form. Hernandez thought that she had the sort of figure men like, all legs and curves and unnecessarily large bumps. With her blonde hair, blue eyes and wide smile, she didn't at all fit the stereotype of what her fellow Brits refer to as a 'boffin'.
Instead of the lab coat that Hernandez imagined all scientists to wear constantly (she knew that was a silly idea, but the image persisted) Partridge was attired in a...garment. Hernandez couldn't think of any other term. It was in one piece, covering everything below the neck, but was so snug it left precious little to the imagination. It was black, supple, synthetic, and it glistened wetly as the light caught it. Hernandez found herself glancing out of the window to see if it was raining.
Within seconds Partridge was surrounded by the UESPA people, holding out books to be autographed, and treating her like some sort of movie star. She seemed absolutely delighted with the attention, asking for names so she could personalise the dedications, laughing and joking, generally getting on with people.
"Professor Partridge? I'm Hoshi Sato, we spoke on the comms earlier? It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
"Pleased to meet you."
"I have to ask, that outfit, that's not a Diva Matrix original is it?"
"Oh yes, I knew Diva back in uni. She still had her real name, and original accent then!" Partridge giggled. Then her gaze fell upon Hernandez and Mayweather. Instantly her demeanour changed, becoming quieter, more subdued.
Hoshi gestured to the two military personnel. "Our first officer, Commander Hernandez, and Ensign Mayweather, our helm officer."
"Commander, Ensign." The Professor's tone was polite, but guarded.
"Professor." Hernandez stood to greet her. "It's...an honour to meet you."
"Yes, it is." There was a hint of a smile as Partridge replied.
This woman does not care for the military
, Hernandez realised, but is too polite to openly show it.
Another matter for later enquiry.
"Shuttle for Enterprise now boarding at gate two." the tannoy boomed, "Now boarding at gate two."
Hernandez clapped her hands for attention. "We better get going. All right people, grab your gear, let's move!"
, she thought, I've alienated the UESPA people, most of the UEMA's don't want to be here, and the top civilian scientist only tolerates my presence because of the social niceties. At least there's no one else on-board I can offend, upset or....
She closed her eyes, and groaned. The politicians. Yeah, I still got plenty of time to get in their bad books. This mission just gets better and better.