Thanks again guys for the nice comments. But you are both pretty good with in the species-building department yourselves. I'm glad you both are pleased with my decision to let Tai strike out on his own. I had thought about including Juanita Rojas on the ship, but if I had done that I don't think it would've been as much about Tai. If things go right, I'll visit Juanita more in maybe another Refugee Crisis story.
Side note: I always love finding thematic names for shuttles and with the Starship Erickson, since Emory Erickson was a black inventor, the shuttles (and some of the crew) are also named for black inventors. And then the lounge is named for the New York jazz club Birdland (named for jazz great Charlie Parker), since jazz also was a black invention.
The shuttles cut through space like Rigellian dagger fish. Lt. Shashlik restrained herself from hectoring Ensign Fryer to increase the speed to the engines. The shuttle was already going at full impulse. There wasn’t much else the junior officer could do, short of donning an EV suit and going outside to push it along.
These moments, right before the action started, both frustrated and excited her. Her stomach tightened and her biceps flexed as she mentally prepared herself. She didn’t know what the shuttles, or the Erickson on their heels, would encounter with the alien vessel.
So far, there had been some peaceful and not so sanguine first contacts made with the refugees streaming from the Delta Quadrant. And the news she had heard of the taskforce that had been sent into the Delta Quadrant had also had mixed results, some unfortunately tragic.
It was her job to prevent tragedy from befalling Erickson’s personnel. And she would do all that she could to minimize any harm, and Shashlik thought the best way to do that was to put as much time between the shuttles and the starship. If they could scout out the situation first and render whatever aid possible, then it would make things much easier when the Erickson arrived.
And if this was some sort of trick or trap, then the shuttles would be the ones to spring it, sparing the loss of an entire starship. Of course that did nothing for the four lives on the two shuttles. But all of them knew the risks, and she better than most.
Growing up on Rigel VII, among the many nomadic clans, death had always been a present companion. Oblivion no longer frightened her, but failure did, and dishonor terrified her.
Shashlik’s fears of both had been growing ever since Commander Donar had arrived. He was a warrior far above her, a security officer extraordinaire. She should’ve been pleased that such a personage was now her first officer, someone that perhaps could become a mentor for her, and Lt. French had suggested as much, but the Kaylar didn’t see it that way.
She couldn’t help but view it through a warrior’s eyes, and she had to suspect that Tai was taking her measure, and if he found her wanting, she would never be able to earn his respect, and she would never be able to maintain it among the crew. So she had to be better than ever, she had to prove herself, again and again, if necessary.
Rendering aid to the benighted alien vessel would be a good start. “What’s our ETA?” She asked the young man sitting in the co-pilot’s seat.
“Twenty minutes,” Fryer crisply responded, “And Erickson should arrive within the hour, at maximum warp.” He followed up, anticipating her question. She awarded the cinnamon-hued human with a smile.
“So the alien vessel is within range of short-range sensors?” The security officer asked.
“Yes sir,” Fryer said, tapping his companel. The small viewer on the dashboard shifted from the starfield to a dark, hulking shape that resembled a toppled pyramid.
“Can you detect any life sign readings?” Shashlik asked, her eyes narrowing. She didn’t like the absence of even running lights. The ship appeared to be a derelict, dead in space. She hoped that the same fate had not befallen its crew.
“No sir,” Fryer said, concern salting his voice.
“Try hailing them again,” Shashlik ordered. She had long since shut off the repeating distress call. It had been fraying her nerves and she needed to be as sharp and alert as possible.
“Nothing sir,” the ensign replied after a few moments. Shashlik nodded tersely.
“Good job Ensign,” she remembered to add before sending a message to the Oyekan.
“Yes, we are getting the same non-response,” Lt. Ramlo answered back. “And we have been running continuous scans since we got within range, and there’s been no change in our readings.”
“Do you think the ship has been abandoned?” The Kaylar asked.
“That is a possibility, but from what we can tell from our scans the ship has sustained some significant damage. It’s quite possible that the crew died from exposure to the vacuum,” the Arkenite said, with an alarming detachment.
Shashlik knew not to blame Ramlo for his coldness. That was just his way. He was into his full scientist zone. If he grieved, he would do it later, after the scientific mystery had been solved. They had both consoled each other enough during the dark days of the Dominion War for both to know the other’s heart. It was one of the few regrets she had once the guns went silent, that she and Ramlo had drifted apart, back into their work roles.
“Could it also be possible that the ship had been attacked?” Shashlik asked. She had never been one who put too much stock in coincidence or natural occurrences.
“That is a possibility as well,” Ramlo answered, “Though we would need more intensive scans to prove that.”
“And that’s what you’ll have,” she promised. “We’ll get to the bottom of this.”