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TZENKETHI COALITION BORDER REGION
September 1st 2371 - 0615 FST
Chariscarpia had retrieved all the survey probes and studied their downloads in depth. The race whose territory she now skirted was a ferocious people and already she had found herself quickly avoiding any vessels that came out her way. None had seen her of course, but she would rather play this game of hide and seek than risk the possibility of a confrontation.
Strangely, it wasn’t that she was afraid of such a meeting, or rather of losing it. Despite the hundreds of turns she had been in flight, the automated weapons were continually serviced and tested by the automatons. No, it was a belief that had crept up on her since being left alone. The thought of unnecessary violence and the pointless taking of life had now become abhorrent to her. In a case of self defence, it may become justifiable, but with her ability to hide herself that should not become an issue.
For now she studied the hissing, mewling sounds captured by her sensors that were the primary language of this race that called themselves the Tzenkethi, and decided that she could afford to rest a while.
USS ANGEL – HANGAR BAY 1
EN ROUTE TO STARBASE 621
September 4th 2371 – 0900 FST
The hangar deck was a hive of activity as crewmembers serviced and prepared the assorted complement of small craft for duty. The port and starboard hangar bays were the sole reserve of the Valkyrie
fighters however, and very much sacred turf as far as Master Chief Petty Officer Spider Tarrant was concerned.
As Lieutenant Eski Martari made her way to her craft, Spider turned with a smile.
“Morning Lieutenant.” He pointed up to the sleek craft. “Hope you like the facelift?”
‘Mo’ Martari was the pilot of the USS Hildr
, the Valkyrie
that was Spider’s pride and joy. Checking the craft, she saw that a brand new trim of yellow had been applied to the cockpit area and down across the swept back wings.
“Lieutenant Richmond got blue. Apparently thought yellow was a little too girly for his liking.”
“Spider, as long as you haven’t put lacy curtains in there, I’m happy. How is she?”
Spider grabbed the omni-present rag from his pocket and dutifully rubbed his hands. Mo noted that the transfer of oil and lubricants always seemed to favour the rag and smiled.
“She’s as sweet as a…” He stopped and looked slightly abashed at what he’d been about to say. While he could curse fluently in several languages, he was old fashioned enough to plug it in front of a lady. “Let’s just say you won’t get that twitch on boost any more, and despite my erstwhile colleague in Bay Two telling me it couldn’t be done, your targeting is pinned at 130.”
Spider was convinced that Dingbat’s continual stream of ‘can’t be done’s' was entirely meant to drive him on to actually do it, though he’d never let on.
“Chief you never cease to amaze me, you really don’t. I do believe the little present from Homer and me was worth every credit.”
She folded her arms and gave him a sideways look. “Chief, I don’t have the years on deck that you have, but I know that when my ground chief performs above and beyond he deserves an adequate reward and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Spider had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Thank you ma’am, me and Dingbat appreciate that.”
“No problem Spider. Anything else you need before we brief?”
“Actually, yes. It’s been bugging me for a while.” He led her around to the front of the fighter and pointed at the bay door.
“That worries me big time,” he said, pointing at the overhead.
“A door worries you?”
“Yes ma’am and it should worry you too. I might be wrong, in which case you can make a note of it in your personal log ‘cos it’s a rarity, but have we made any launches while this ship has been making simulated evasive manoeuvres?” He stood with his hands on his hips as Mo pondered the question. Eventually she shook her head.
“No they’ve all been straight and level shoots, why?”
“Seems to me and Dingbat,” he said, “that if you go for a shoot just as the ship heaves, either that door stanchion or the deck is gonna want to kiss your bird. Structural integrity fields and inertial dampers ain’t gonna matter a damn when she’s off the deck and manoeuvring under her own power, or am I missing something?”
Mo’s eyes went wide. “You know, that’s not even been covered in the simulator rides. I honestly don’t know.”
Frowning, she turned on her heel and called across the hangar deck to Lieutenant Andre ‘Homer’ Richmond, her wingman. “Homer! On me. Chief can you spare an hour?”
“Ma’am, for the pilots who just got me and Dingbat a present, you got all day!”
STARBASE 621 – CREW LOUNGE
TZENKETHI COALITION BORDER REGION
September 4th 2371 – 0900 FST
Winston felt that the old military maxim of ‘hurry up and wait’ was long past its sell by date, and yet it seemed that no matter where he went, it persisted. After Starfleet had rushed him out of his post on the Federation colony Nehru, he’d had to cool his heels awaiting the arrival of the Angel
. It had given him time of course to catch up on his reading, a part of his life that he was more than passionate about.
Medical journals, old science fiction holo-novels, biographies; Winston could lose himself in their myriad worlds at an instant and so the down time hadn’t been totally wasted. He just couldn’t quite get his head around the fact that when Starfleet said hurry, the end result actually required quite the opposite.
Still, the Angel
was due in three days, and after reading all the latest briefing material it was a post he realised he was itching to get into.
“Good grief Anthony, is that another book?” Winston turned in his seat to see the Chief Medical Officer of Starbase 621 enter the lounge shaking her head. He stood and greeted her warmly.
“Kate if I didn’t have a book, my mind would seize up completely; you should know that by now.”
Katherine Pulaski shook her head. “How long have I known you?” She held up a hand to forestall the answer. “It was a rhetorical question Anthony. Please don’t remind me how many years we’ve put in.” In truth they’d spent much of their early career together, first at Starfleet Medical during training and later on a number of ships. “In all that time, I’ve only ever seen you once not having your nose stuck in some book or other. Even then it was only because you were in intensive care.”
“You, Commander Pulaski, are becoming crotchety with age.”
Sitting down opposite him, she sighed and nodded. “You, Commander Winston, may well be right.”
Winston sat forward, sensing an air of despondency about his long time colleague. “Care to talk?” He took a sip of his, by now, long cold tea and wrinkled his nose.
Pulaski favoured him with a wry expression. “Ever the counsellor Anthony?”
“Call it a freebie for old time’s sake.” He pushed the half empty tea cup aside and put his PADD face down on the table.
Resting her head tiredly on her hand, she looked at him. “Anthony, do you ever get tired…I mean in your soul tired, of patching people back together because of conflict? I mean day to day medical problems I can deal with; broken bones, cuts, sniffles, pregnancies. But to see young adults no older than my grand daughter being carried into theatre, their lives on the verge of being snuffed out because some damned idiot claims this or that bit of space and damn the consequences.”
Winston, despite the dig about his counselling, immediately fell into old routines and realised where this was going.
“You’re serious about retiring then?”
Pulaski sat up straight. “Where did you here that?”
“I didn’t, until you just gave it away Kate.”
She relaxed once more. “I’ve given it some thought yes.”
“Then I suggest you rethink Kate, seriously. Even if you weren’t the friend that you are I’d tell you that. In the business we’re in, all those minor ailments can be treated by those just starting in this vocation. It’s the way they earn their stripes Kate, and you know it.” He sat forward again, intensely serious. “But when it comes to saving lives, it’s the experience that years have given us that can make the difference Kate. The profession can’t afford to lose you and those people out there even less so.”
“You’re a good man Anthony Winston.” Her eyes seemed to have regained a little of the vitality he remembered. “A little sickly at times, but it comes with the territory I suppose.”
“I might think about charging if the insults continue.”
They both laughed, the sombre mood temporarily broken.
“Kate, seriously, you’re looking at the symptoms of the problem rather than the cause. We’re all out here serving at our master’s beck and call and it’s only they who can change what happens out there. We, in the meantime, pick up the pieces and make sure that suffering doesn’t become part of the problem.”
“You could have just said snap out of it, but I guess that’s what comes from reading all those books.” She smiled at her old friend, grateful for his counsel. “Thank you Anthony.”
“Oh I didn’t do it for altruistic reasons Kate,” he replied, concealing a grin. “I need the practice before the Angel
arrives. Any cranky old doctor would have been fair game.”
She gave him a hug and said quietly, “Well I’m glad it was this one.” She went to leave, and then turned back. “By the way, if you want to visit an old fashioned MedCentre before you board your shiny new ship, the invite’s open.”
“Love to.” He held up his PADD. “I’ve nearly finished this book.” She shook her head in exasperation and waved goodbye, leaving with a happier expression than when she’d entered.
The bizarre fact was that Commander Anthony Winston III had once had exactly the same thoughts as his friend. Physician, heal thyself
he thought mockingly.
USS ANGEL – CAPTAIN’S READY ROOM
EN ROUTE TO STARBASE 621
September 4th 2371 – 0950 FST
“You can’t be serious?”
Admiral Connors face gave little away but the tone of his voice made it quite obvious that he couldn’t believe this had been overlooked. Dan beckoned for Chief Tarrant to join in at that point.
“Sir, we honestly don’t know if this is a problem right now, but when the computer simulations are complete we’ll know more.”
Connors nodded, stroking his grey goatee thoughtfully. “What’s your honest call on this Chief?”
“Gut feeling tells me it’s gonna be a problem Sir. Back when Starfleet introduced fighters, they were launched from carriers prior to entering a combat zone. Squadrons were out and protecting fleets and convoys before the shooting began. If they weren’t it meant the carrier was in big trouble anyway ‘cos they were the prime target.” He raised his hands. “This whole ship and her mission are a brand new kettle of fish Sir. The places we’re likely to go and the situations we’re likely to face could well force us to launch under fire, or at least while the Angel’s making heavy manoeuvres. Pardon my Ferengi Sir, but it looks like somebody screwed the pooch on this one.”
“Thank you Chief. Dan, keep the simulations going and let me know the results. I’ll kick up a fuss at ASDB and find out just what the score is. In the meantime, see if you can sort out a work round. I will not have those fighters launch when there’s a danger to both them and the ship.”
“Thank you Sir, we’ll work on it.” The screen blanked to the UFP logo and Dan turned to the assembled fighter pilots and ground chiefs.
“You heard it people. If we don’t find a way round this, those nice shiny Valkyries
could end up as so much ballast.”
Spider muttered something that Dan heard and agreed with.
“Not quite how I would have phrased it Chief, but I understand the sentiment. Let’s make this a priority assignment.” He looked at Spider. “Chief Tarrant, contact me when the computer simulations are done.”
With a curt “Aye Sir”, he left the ready room at a jog and Dan turned his attention to the two Valkyrie
pilots. “I’d like you two to grab the combat medic pilots and get down to the holodeck. We’ve been so concerned about launching the fighters, we never gave a thought to the runabouts that might have to launch under the same conditions. Let’s run some extreme training.”
As they left him alone in the ready room, he cursed under his breath. Looks like the other shoe’s finally dropped.