UES Enterprise. En route to Departure Zone.
16th April 2161
"Are you quite sure it is safe?" said a voice behind her. "This observation dome does seem....somewhat exposed."
Professor Polly Partridge took a deep breath, let it out through her teeth. She managed to put on a bright smile before turning to address the speaker. It wasn't that it was a stupid question. On the contrary, it was something that a Presidential Bodyguard ought to be concerned with.
It was, however, the fifth time in the last half hour that Agent Muldhoon had asked her that same question. It was getting rather annoying.
"Agent Muldhoon. The windows here are a composite, layers of transparent aluminium" (she pronounced it the British way, al-yoo-min-ee-yum) "and ultra high density polymers. A high velocity sniper bullet could not penetrate them. Once we are travelling at warp a piece of space debris would potentially
be able to do so, but that is what we have a navigational deflector for.
"There are circumstances under which this dome is significantly less safe than other areas on this ship. If we were in a combat situation, for instance. But in those cases, the dome would be evacuated."
She regarded him steadily for a moment, before adding "Rest assured, if I thought that there was any significant risk to life or limb, I wouldn't be hanging round, talking to you. I'd be through that door like a rat up a drainpipe.". She gestured to the main hatch.
Muldhoon made a non committal grunt. "Well, there's radiation"
Polly folded her arms. "What about it?" she shot back.
"We're less shielded here, aren't we?"
And there it was. That slight strain at the corners of her mouth she felt when she had to force a smile, rather than let it come naturally.
"It's nothing to be concerned about. We are protected from all the usual background radiation. Should the levels spike, there are sensors in this room that would detect it and trigger alarms. The windows will polarize to slow exposure. You yourself saw that happen just a few minutes ago, during our little fireworks display. And that was just to prevent us being dazzled by the glare."
And now she could hear the tenseness in her voice. She was getting beyond annoyed, getting angry.
It wasn't Muldhoon's fault, well, not entirely. The fact was she was getting stressed out anyway. She knew, both from the accounts of others and from her own in depth understanding of the science involved, that warp travel was not merely safe, but also smooth and comfortable (though transition to or from sub-light could get a bit bumpy). There was no way it could trigger her travel sickness.
And yet...there was a nagging doubt. It was silly, she knew, but that just made it worse. The idea that she would spend days at a time enduring intense dizziness and nausea scared her, even though all reason told her that it could not happen.
Professor Polly Partridge, holder of six doctorates, co author (with Trip Tucker) of a revolutionary paper in sub space flow dynamics, widely regarded as the most brilliant scientist in the world, had never been to warp. Not once.
She'd only been in space three times before. Twice to visit Enterprise, once to the Plait Observatory at the L2 point.
Up until now she'd been managing to keep a lid on her concerns. She was just as excited and curious about the experience as she was worried. But now this irritating little man (she knew that was unfair, but she couldn't help it) was droning on and on about possible risks. It was getting to her.
She glanced round the room, seeking a way out. The President and Soval, deep in discussion, surrounded by the President's assistants and security. No help there. A few off duty crew members sat in groups, chatting excitedly. There was no mingling between the blue uniformed UESPA personnel and there black clad military colleagues.
Two of her fellow civilian scientists, Ericsson and Lampart, shared a table. Despite her desire to get away from Muldhoon Polly didn't want to intrude. Both had just come out of bad relationships, and were getting close. It'd be unfair to interrupt.
Then, at the bar...Ahhh. She might do.
But first she'd have to get away. She tried to spin him a line. "If you are really interested in warp field theory, then you are welcome to join us next Tuesday at seven. The Captain has asked me to give a few lectures during the journey, to keep us all occupied. Full details on the ship's BBS."
"Er...well, it's more that I..."
She didn't give him a chance to finish. "Any way, I'd love to stop and chat, but I've just spotted T'Pol over there and I simply must talk to her."
Polly had half turned. The question took her by surprise. "Oh, er, you know. Stellar evolution, Vulcan philosophy and...er...make up tips." she finished weakly. Before he could question her further she forced out a cheery "Bye!", spun on her heel, and sauntered away.
She put a sway in her walk, an exaggerated rolling of her hips. It was, she'd be the first to admit, a crude tactic, but it had worked for her before. Muldhoon, mesmerised by the motion, momentarily lost concentration and stood watching her leave rather than attempt to stop her. By the time he snapped out of it she was too far away. If he chased after her, he felt that people would wonder why he'd just stood there for so long.
Besides, under the circumstances he thought it best to sit down for a few minutes. With his legs crossed.
If T'Pol had heard Polly's approach, which seemed likely, she chose not to respond, instead standing perfectly still at the bar.
"Crewman Daniels not around?" asked Polly.
"He left in the direction of the men's room one point two minutes ago."
"Well, probably nervous, poor thing. Perhaps I shouldn't have teased him so much. Although he did make it easy. And fun."
Hopping up to sit on the bar, Polly swung her long legs over and dropped nimbly onto the other side. "So. What can I get you?"
T'Pol's right eyebrow lifted minutely. "Water."
"Well, let's have a look-see. We've got tap water, of course, various bottled types, spring water from..."
"Tap water will suffice."
"You like to live life to the full, don't you?" Polly grinned. Her smile faded somewhat as the Vulcan woman completely failed to respond.
She fetched T'Pol a glass of water, and a lemonade for herself.
"Professor. Am I correct in believing that the current Earth month is April?"
"That's right, April the sixteenth."
"Yet the calender behind the bar still displays the month of March."
Polly looked. It was one of her calenders. "Ah. The image for that month is rather popular."
T'Pol regarded it silently for a moment. "I do not recognise the species you are with."
Polly took the calender down and handed it across for a closer inspection. "It is a Hutt. One of a race of crime lords and gangsters."
"Then why would you associate with him?"
"Not through choice. You'll notice the chain with which he prevents my escape." Now this
was more like it. After dealing with that bodyguard, messing with a Vulcan's head was much more fun.
"Forced upon me by his lackeys. He likes the humanoid female form, but has no regard for individual rights."
T'Pol looked grave. "Under the terms of the knowledge share agreement between our governments we should have been informed about this species through proper diplomatic channels. If humanity is neglecting it's duties, either through negligence or a deliberate attempt at deception, the consequences would be most severe."
Polly leant forward, elbows on the bar, chin supported in her cupped hands. "I don't see why." she said, then waited for T'Pol to begin to reply before adding "It is a fictional
species, after all."
"Fictional. That puts a different light on the matter.". She looked at it the calender silently for a moment. "Why would a non humanoid entity, apparantly of the gastropod class or near equivalent, like humanoid females? Even in a work of fiction?"
"Ah, well, that's a good question." said Polly, thinking quickly. "The fictional work in question was a carefully crafted examination of a xenopsychological hypothesis, the so called 'Mars Needs Women' theory."
"'Mars Needs Women'." T'Pol repeated. Her right eyebrow was slowly crawling up her forehead.
"Oh yes." Polly went on, struggling to keep a straight face. "As you must be aware, there is a small but significant correlation between intelligence and incidences of paraphilia, unusual sexual interests. Before first contact, it was speculated that such an effect might occur in non human species."
T'Pol nodded slowly. "Go on."
Polly thought. Hook, line and sinker!
"Now whilst paraphilias have many forms, for dramatic purposes it was decided to explore the potential consequences of gynophilia. An attraction to the humanoid adult female form. Now of course in human men that is the statistical norm, but in non humanoid species it would definitely count as, to use a pejorative word, a perversion. A fetish, perhaps."
"I see. So this...Hutt is intelligent by the standards of his species, and is unnaturally attracted to humanoid women."
"Correctamundo, got it in one!" she said, enjoying herself.
T'Pol considered this. "I am unaware of any data that may support such a hypothesis."
"Ah, well, as I say this idea developed before first contact. There was no hard data to it, only speculation."
"Though I have spent only a little time on Earth, many of your people have felt the need to complement me on my physical appearance. Perhaps this would support the validity of the concept."
"Perhaps so. More likely it is because the Vulcan form is sufficiently close to the Human one, at least in appearance, for the same sort of visual cues to apply. Tell me, are you considered attractive amongst your own people?"
T'Pol thought about this. "On occasion such opinions have been stated. It is not a subject of much value, so little time is spent discussing it."
That's Vulcans for you
, Polly thought.
Leaving T'Pol to examine the calender further, Polly noticed Crewman Daniels approaching, wiping his hands on his uniform.
"Ah, Crewman, can I get you anything?"
"Er, no thanks, miss. Er, I think, um, I should be on the other side of the bar, miss, and you, er, you should...."
"Be over there? Quite right."
There was a hatch at that end of the bar. He opened it and they swapped places. He was clearly nervous about being in such close proximity to her.
"Now, er, can I get you a drink? Or something?"
She drained her glass. "Another lemonade, thanks."
He spilt a little refilling her glass.
"You're not a professional bar tender, are you?" she asked.
"No miss. General duties miss. I normally would work, er, in the ship's laundry. They thought they could spare me to help out here. After all, we've only just launched. No dirty clothes yet."
"Oh, I don't know about that." Polly pondered. "After that last course correction I'll bet there'll be a few trousers in the wash tonight."
A high pitched whistle signalled a ship wide message. "Ladies and gentlemen. This is the Captain speaking. All systems are in readiness and we have arrived at the Departure Zone. We will go to warp speed in...thirty, that's three zero seconds, from my mark. Please make sure you are seated. You might want to strap yourselves in. And...mark."
A digital display began it's countdown.
Ignoring the closer seats, Polly dashed forward to the very front of the observation dome, her sudden movement alarming a few of the Secret Service agents. Despite her earlier qualms she now felt more excited than anything else. Yes there were nerves, but they were of anticipation rather than fear.
Hurling herself into a front row seat, she fastened the safety strap tightly around her trim waist, popped her half full glass into a cup holder and closed the lid. Just in time. The manoeuvre warning chimed out, five times instead of three. And then...
A sound, so low it was felt as much as heard. Rising steadily to a triumphant howl. A strong, steady vibration.
Ahead of her, the long strut that made up Enterprise's primary hull suddenly stretched into the distance. It occurred to her that Captain Archer and the bridge crew were technically further away from her than she had travelled in her entire life, yet they were still on the same ship, which was no longer than it was before.
That was absurd. That was fantastic.
The stars in the heavens leapt forward to welcome her, stretching out towards her. She knew that was an illusion, an artefact of the warp field. Didn't make it any less beautiful though.
And now the primary hull snapped back into shape. More accurately, she had caught up with it, but there was no real sense of acceleration. Trip Tucker had done his sums right, ensuring the inertial balance was maintained.
She threw her head back, watching the streaks of starlight passing over head. Fumbling at the safety strap, she pulled herself free, stood and turned.
And there it was. Far behind. To the left of the main fin. Fading into the distance already. Blue and green. A hint of white.
She found herself speaking aloud. Had she been a believer, it would have been prayer. As an atheist, but with no less reverence, she quoted Sagan.
"'It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.'"
She fetched her drink, held it up toast her home world.
"The pale blue dot."