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Old April 12 2012, 10:06 PM   #1
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Location: Deep Space 9
April Challenge Entry - "Out In The Cold"

Tales From The Cimmerian Cluster

“Out In The Cold”

Brydon J Sinclair

Words: 5628

Fifteen months ago his life had been perfect. Captain of the wrestling and parrises squares teams, dating the class valedictorian and all set to enter Starfleet Academy and become an officer, out exploring the furthest reaches of the galaxy and seeing things no other human had seen before. But that wasn’t to be for Harvey O’Connell. At school he was a mediocre student, though popular and heavily involved in many extracurricular activities, they weren’t enough to make up for his poor grades. So whilst he was forced to watch Stephanie and their friends being accepted and get ready for their new lives, he was being left behind. There was always the option of enlisting—the academic requirements weren’t as strict, as they gave on-the-job training in whatever field recruits opted for—but he wasn’t going to be a lowly crewman whilst everyone else he knew were training to become officers.

After school he’d bummed around at home, not really sure what to do next and annoying his parents for being so mopey. Then one day, three months after his friends had left for San Francisco, he’d caught the latest report on the Federation News Service. They were covering a story on a new star cluster that had been discovered (over ten sectors from the farthest fringe of Federation space), which was reportedly filled with metals, minerals and ores that it could be mined for the next fifty years and still barely scratch the surface of the resources it possessed.

Over the next five days, they had numerous specialists in mining and geology on to speak about the find, what it could mean for the Federation and the rest of the galaxy—there were even a few representatives from the big mining companies, who stated they were very interested to get prospecting in the region (which had since been named the Cimmerian Cluster). It was on the fifth day that Starfleet had a public relations officer on; she was impeccably presented, in her figure-hugging uniform, raven hair piled high on top of her head, and a polite smile on her face. She’d told the interviewer that Starfleet was interested in the region, but that its remote location made it difficult to effectively reach in order to chart and patrol. She added that due to the tentative relations with such powers as the Klingon Empire, Tholian Assembly and Kzinti Authority, that Starfleet was at present unable to commit any substantial force to the region.

As soon as the programme was concluded, Harvey had gone to the computer and submitted his résumé with Jupiter Mining Corp. He may not have excelled academically, but he was hard-working, strong and eager to get out into the unknown, surely he would be of use to them in some capacity.

The rest, as they say, was history. JMC hired him as an able deckhand on one of the survey ships they were sending out to the Cluster, he went to their orientation facility on Titan for six months of basic training, after which he was whisked off to join the other new recruits and experienced staff of the S.S. Epoch.

He hadn’t known what to expect, but the last thing he thought he’d find was an old Intrepid-Class ship from the previous century—he had expected more from a big multi-system company like JMC and, going by the reaction of several other rookies, he wasn’t alone in that assessment. But he’d sucked it up and reported onboard, seeing as how the Epoch was probably his best shot of getting out into deep space without having to settle for being just a Starfleet enlistee. True, as a deckhand on the Epoch he was on the bottom rung of the ladder, he was expected to stack crates, mop floors, check equipment, messenger datapads from section to section, and any other dogsbody work that needed seeing too, but at least he didn’t have to worry about facing his friends.

The journey out to the Cimmerian Cluster took almost four months across unclaimed space, so everyone was a little on edge; aside from the initial scouts and a couple of follow up surveys, the region was still very much a wilderness—some on the crew had even started calling the Cluster and the space around it the “Wild West”. Truth be told, Harvey kind of liked that. He’d be like an early pioneer on a wagon train, or a cowboy making his home on the open plains—which was exactly why he’d signed up in the first place.

He’d even come to overlook the age of the Epoch, despite which, she was still in excellent condition and kept up to date. Much on the interior styling and décor remained unchanged, but that gave the ship character, something lost on modern ships with their smooth finishing. Onboard he had to share a room with one of the ship’s medics, an Andorian who liked to be called Shen. The two got along well and it didn’t take long for them to settle into the living arrangements as well as their duties onboard. He couldn’t say he had the wide circle of friends like back home; he spent every opportunity taking extra shifts or training programmes.

Once they reached the Cluster, they immediately set about their task. It was enormous: four closely grouped systems, including a red dwarf, two G-types and a pulsar; each system had at least one ring of asteroids, as well as multiple planets and dozens of moons—all of which were potentially packed full of the minerals they were there to find.

Harvey had gotten used to a routine when they were travelling, but once they got to work it went out the airlock and he had to get used to a whole new way of doing things. Their work load piled on as they would need to ready shuttles, gather together necessary gear, pack it (only to unpack it later and transport it to the labs), and were often called upon to join teams going out for core samples. It was a lot for them to take on, in addition to all their other duties. It was hard to believe that there were only nine deckhands onboard, yet somehow they always managed to get the work done on time.

* * * * *

The alarm screamed at him. Groaning once again, Harvey’s hand shot out from under the duvet to hit the snooze button for the third time. But this time he slapped the small alarm clock onto the floor, where it continued to wail at him to get up from under his bed.

Admitting defeat, he swung his bare legs out and over the edge of his bunk, his feet resting on the familiar carpet. Slowly, he raised his torso off the matrass and stooped his neck to keep from whacking his head on the bed above his. Shen had been rotated onto second shift, so they barely saw each other awake, one usually getting up as the other went to bed. When they’d been on the same watch, Shen would always get him up and make sure he didn’t fall back asleep—something he’d always had problems with growing up.

He reached under his bed, retrieved the offending clock, switched it off and set it back on its small shelf. Standing he stretched out his tired muscles. The cramped cabin just allowed him to do this, though not by much. The room didn’t contain much, just the bunk beds, a couple of closets each, and a single desk and chair—it was intended for sleep and little else; they had to make use of the mess hall, gymnasium or rec room for their entertainments and socialising. He checked that the bathroom they shared with the cabin next door was available, stripped and hopped in for a quick shower. As the hot water soothed his sore muscles, he couldn’t help but wonder what tortures awaited him. Boatswain Nkosi knew how to deal out the work to keep them all busy for their eight hour shifts, but he always let the deckhands know when they’d done well—as bosses went, he was alright.

Last week, Nkosi had taken Harvey aside and asked him if he was interest in getting his Bridge Certification—which would allow him to cover a station up on A Deck. He’d had to bite his tongue to keep his excitement in check, merely telling the older man that he was very interested in the opportunity.

Though the work was hard and sometimes very physical, Harvey had to admit he loved it. Maybe it wasn’t as glamorous as life in Starfleet, but he was out making an important contribution whilst Stephanie and the others still had three years of classes to endure—if they all managed to pass their exams.

Stepping out of the shower, he wrapped a towel around his waist and moved to the sink to shave. On the mirror, someone (he suspected his roommate) had drawn a smiley face with pair of antennae, which would only show when it steamed up. He chuckled as he wiped it off and continued his morning routine.

Forty minutes after waking up, showered, dressed and fed, he stepped into the cargo office, ready for whatever the day had to offer. He was surprised to find that Nkosi wasn’t there.

“Where’s the boss?” he asked Carla Montgomery, who was seated at the control console, whilst Raymond Gunn (who everyone called Ray-Gun) was perched next to her, looking over a datapad.

“Called into a meeting about an hour ago,” she told him. “He left a message saying we were to wait here for him.”

“Weird,” Harvey muttered.

“Yup,” agreed Ray-Gun. “Whatever it is, we’ll be the last to hear anything though.”

“That’s just the way things are boys,” stated Montgomery, who was once again looking over the console screens.

He chuckled and stepped over to one of the equipment lockers. Nkosi had ingrained on them the need to stay busy, that out of habit, Harvey began checking on all the torches and scanners that were inside the compartment. When he was only halfway through, the door behind him opened—it wasn’t an automatic like on his quarters, mess hall, sickbay or the turbolifts.

Nkosi stepped through and closed the hatch with a muted clang. He looked around approving at them, all carrying out tasks in his absence.

“So what’s the news, Boss?” Montgomery asked—having worked for several years with Nkosi, she had an easy relationship with the boatswain.

“We’re heading for the outer belt of Cimmerian Delta. The assayers’ probes have picked up dilithium signatures, so we’re going to check it out,” he began. They all knew what an important find it would be, given that good quality dilithium crystals were hard to find. “We’ll be there in a couple of hours. Aldridge has asked for a little help with this one, so I’ve offered up your services gentlemen,” Nkosi said, looking between Harvey to Ray-Gun. “There’s a mission briefing in twenty minutes in the ward room, you both need to attend.”

“Yes Boss,” they replied in unison.

“In the meantime, I want you both to get to hold two and go over the zero-g sample containers.”

“On it,” they replied together again, then headed for the cargo bay.

* * * * *

Like most of the other rooms on the Epoch, the ward room was compact and practical. It was the first time Harvey had set foot inside, seeing how it was generally only used by the senior staff. Seeing as how Ray-Gun was the more senior of the two, Harvey let him enter first then followed quickly behind.

Inside was a long rectangular table, with numerous chair around it, a small cabinet on which sat empty cups and glasses (though he noted there was no water or coffee on offer for their meeting), whilst the smaller bulkheads had large monitors—one was off and the other depicted a graphic of a star system. Around the table sat four people, all of whom he knew in passing but had never said more than ‘hello’ to. At the head of the table, her thick, dark brown hair pulled back into a tight braid, sat the diminutive Janine Aldridge. For a mining company ship, there were only three professional miners onboard, who acted as consultants and extraction specialists for samples—it was the Epoch’s job to determine where best to dig, before the main operation arrived in a few short months’ time—of those three, Aldridge was senior. Though she stood only a little over five feet, she was well known among the crew for her deadpan cynicism and dark, acerbic sense of humour—so no one knew when she was making a joke or really chewing someone out. On her left sat one of the more unusual crewmembers, Haldundresh K'Dentor. The tall, wiry Chezkenite headed up the assay and research team onboard, and from what Harvey had head, he was apparently one of the best geo-scientists in the Federation. Though brought up never to judge another species based on appearance, the native of Monchezke was odd, with his large, bulbous head, angular features, scrawny torso, and long narrow limbs; Harvey wasn’t quite sure how his body could support his head. Next to K’Dentor sat one of his assistants, Sikorra M’Vani. The lithe and sultry Caitian moved with grace and ease, whilst her vibrant green eyes didn’t miss a detail. On the left side of the table, sitting in the chair with his legs dangling in the air, was Farojj, the Girinite first shift helmsman. Everyone thought of him as peculiar, scurrying around, muttering to himself—often carrying out whole conversations, where he spoke for both sides—and turning up in some very unusual places.

Though arriving exactly when they were told to be there, Harvey got the feeling they were late, so he and Ray-Gun quickly took their seats. Aldridge watched them enter and sit down, her face impassive. After a few moments looking at the two deckhands, she then looked at the others in the room.

“Now everyone’s here, we’ll get started. Doctor,” she said, turning to K’Dentor.

He nodded his large, orange-hued head, before slowly rising to his feet; all his movements were measured and considered. He went to the monitor and focused in on the systems outer asteroid belt.

“Our long-range probes have detected dilitihium signatures, though scans show that the level of concentration is far greater than anything discovered previously. If these readings are accurate, we could have enough dilithium for hundreds of new starships—maybe even thousands.”

“Wow,” Harvey exclaimed, realising too late that he’d spoken aloud. He quickly clamped his mouth shut and felt his cheeks burn crimson.

Aldridge shot him a look that was somewhere between annoyance and disdain. Great, he mused, she hates me. Good going Harv.

K’Dentor never noticed the look, but instead nodded his head excitedly. “You are right to be impressed, deckhand…what was your name?”

“O’Connell. Harvey O’Connell, sir.”

“When we first looked at the readings,” he said with a gesture to M’Vani, “we were also excited. However, before we can mark this as a site for future mining operations, we must first confirm what we have found. This means we need samples.”

“Which is where we come in,” Aldridge stated. “We’ve isolated a large asteroid in the outer belt of Cimmerian Delta that looks to contain a significant amount of dilithium. The team will get out there and take core samples. Unfortunately, gravity is very light, which means that this will be a zero-g excavation and retrieval. The belt is also too tightly compact to get the Epoch safely inside, so we’ll be taking a shuttle.

“Mr Farojj,” she continued, looking at the helmsman, “your job is pretty self-explanatory. You’ll get us to the target asteroid and then remain at station and co-ordinate between the team and the ship. Doctor K’Dentor will monitor things from here, so Doctor M’Vani will be on the team.” She then turned to Harvey and Ray-Gun. “Since the two of you are both fully certified for zero-gravity ops, as well as cleared for use of the sonic drills, you will be coming along to help set up the equipment and collect samples.”

A smug feeling came over him. Had he not spent the months of travel out to the Cluster practicing and training for zero-g ops or going over the specs and guidelines for the mining equipment, he’d never have been selected for such an important job. He was being given a chance to make an important contribution, not just to JMC, but to Starfleet and the Federation. He could only imagine his parents’ reaction to the find and his part in its discovery when he sent out his next message.

Aldridge spent the next thirty minutes going over the safety protocols and mission criteria. Harvey listened to every word, taking note of his exact duties. His heart sank a little when she stated that he would be assisting her, whilst Ray-Gun would be working with M’Vani, but he was determined to try and change her first impression of him.

Once she had finished, Aldridge looked around the table at those that would be accompanying her. “We’ve got about an hour until we get there. Let’s get all our gear together and start prepping the shuttle; I want to be underway as soon as we arrive.”

With that, the meeting was apparently over and they had work to do.

* * * * *
Commander Austin Harris, First Officer, Deep Space Nine (by FltCpt. Bossco)
8.01 - Darkest Before Dawn (Chapter 8 added, 12/09/2015)

Last edited by Bry_Sinclair; April 13 2012 at 10:27 AM.
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