Aboard the captain's yacht, Ensign Yvonne Colby continued to tap on the tactical console as the probe/buoys were loaded aboard the craft's small cargo space. Within minutes, they would be packed to the gills with the devices, ready for offloading at command. "Who do you think will be in charge?"
"Me," said Ensign Iris Wu with confidence.
Yvonne wrinkled her nose. "You?"
"Sure. Why not?"
"Because you're just an ensign, that's why. And this is the captain's personal craft. I seriously doubt they would give you command of her gig."
Iris grinned. "All right, then. Who's your guess?"
Yvonne had thought about it. "Not a whole lot of the senior staff are aboard the ship, and we're running way low on pilots. Maybe Commander Elannis?"
"That's what I was thinking," agreed Iris with a nod. She manned the mission operations console located near the aft section of the tiny bridge. Although it was technically referred to as the cockpit of the yacht, the layout belied the name by having a center seat for the yacht's officer-in-command. "Or Commander Kincaid."
With a grin, Yvonne nodded out of sight of her cabinmate. "I would love to be locked up for a while with him."
"Oh, wouldn't we all?" said the voice of Lieutenant Commander Elannis from the door leading out into the corridor. "He's quite attractive, isn't he?"
Iris snickered and Yvonne blushed furiously as Ariel entered and slid into the seat behind the large and curved joint flight controller and operations console. Her fingers grazed the activation sequence and it came to life under her.
"W-Welcome aboard, Commander," stammered Yvonne as she got to her feet. "Are you assuming command?"
A scoff from the door carried into the cockpit. "She wishes."
"Captain!" exclaimed Iris, as she jumped to her feet. Yvonne remained at attention.
Leone smiled. "That's what they tell me. As you were, both of you."
Iris and Yvonne relaxed and returned to their seats.
The captain avoided moving to the command station and stood over Yvonne to peer down at her display. "Status of our buoys, Ensign...?"
Yvonne leaned back to allow Leone a clear look at it. "Colby, sir. We're almost finishing loading a full complement, sir. I'd say another minute."
Leone nodded her approval. "Good." She returned to an upright position. "Ariel, let's wait for our chief engineer to arrive, and then we'll start pre-flight."
"You got it," replied Ariel. "We're still on external power."
"I can see to that for you, Commander." A new voice spoke from the direction of the cockpit door. A small woman wearing the triple slashes of a crewman apprentice on her neck appeared, carrying a padd with her. "Engineer Striker Odessa McComas, reporting as ordered, Captain."
Leone accepted the padd with a smirk. "Welcome aboard, Crewman. You're our chief engineer for this little pleasure cruise. Take your station."
"Aye, sir." McComas nodded and moved to exit the cockpit. "I'll be in the engine compartment."
"That's a little unorthodox, isn't it?" asked Ariel. "Having a non-rate work as an engineer?"
"According to Senior Chief Tallan, she's a bright young woman with a promising enlisted career ahead of her," replied Leone quickly. "I trust his judgment."
The Orion-Terran hybrid grinned at her friend. "Seems like we have ourselves a little Amazonian ship, though. Where's the beef?"
Off of her turn of phrase, Leone held in her laugh for the sake of the junior officers within earshot. "Just a coincidence, I assure you. Next time, I'll do what I can to ensure you have eye candy."
"Thank you, Captain, sir," Ariel replied, not looking back.
Yvonne reported through her smile, "All buoys loaded, sir."
"Bridge to Engineering," called Leone with an unabashed grin.
McComas' voice called back, "Engineering, here, Captain."
"Begin pre-flight, please."
"Beginning my pre-flight checklist, aye, sir."
Leone swiveled around in her chair to face mission operations. "Ensign Wu, signal the bridge we're departing in five minutes."
Iris nodded. "Aye, sir." She activated a communications link with Farragut
's bridge and called, "Farragut
, this is the Lydia
. Pre-flight checklist has begun. The captain is ordering departure in five minutes."
The screen flickered to show the main bridge, sixteen decks up from their present location. Lieutenant Nieves' face appeared in the center with a smile. "Take care of the captain out there, Ensign. You're cleared for departure."
She returned his smile and chuckled. "Will do, sir. Thanks." The display returned to its former state, showing her the yacht's systems and status. "Captain, the bridge has cleared us for departure."
"Thank you," replied Leone. She moved to stand over Ariel. "Ready to take her out?"
"I've been looking forward to this for a long time," admitted Ariel, lowering her tone to keep it out of earshot of the ensigns. She turned her head to glance at Leone. "All systems are go, Ranger One."
Leone chuckled. "You're such a child. I suddenly regret letting you name this gig."
"Don't remind me."
"So say the words."
The captain's face betrayed her pain. "Do I have to?"
Leone sighed, resigned to her fate. "Okay, fine." She slumped into the command chair and raised her hand, with her index and middle finger extended. "'Rangers, away,'" said the captain, in a bored tone.
The ensigns looked toward the captain. Iris' right eyebrow rose higher, while Yvonne's brow furrowed. "Sir?"
Ariel huffed. "You could get into the spirit of it all, you know."
The captain grumbled. "Just... please, launch the ship? Before I start to lose my mind?"
=/\= =/\= =/\= =/\= =/\=
Lieutenant Petra Bartlet stared hard at the data transmitted from Garrovick
. Commander Kincaid stood over her, peering at the same display.
"Forgive my inexperience," said Isira, "but as it is explosive, would detonating it resolve the problem?"
Petra's eyes widened at the thought. "That would have catastrophic effects on space traffic within the lane, Counselor."
"What do you mean?"
Kincaid answered, "Trilithium has long-lasting effects on the subspace interfold layer. It's easier to clean-up in its current state, but to incite an explosion would force all ships to travel at sublight within this region."
Lieutenant Nieves manned the tactical console and watched them move across the bridge. "That would put a serious dent in the freighter business between the two starbases," he told them.
Kincaid turned his head. "Eavesdropping on conversations, now, Lieutenant?"
"Rule of Acquisition number seven, sir. Always keep your ears open."
Isira smiled as Petra chuckled. "Are you a Ferengi, now?"
Wilson grinned. "I like to think of myself as a student of the universe."
"Anyway," Kincaid interjected pointedly. "Tell me about the combination of bilitrium and trilithium."
"I defer to the explosives expert," said Petra, folding her arms.
Wilson cleared his throat. "Thank you. Bilitrium is a pretty powerful explosive on its own. It's also stable when stored for transport. It's given the X-Ray One classification because of its destructive nature. The unstable part of this equation is the trilithium resin, and I will pass this back to our engineering expert."
"Trilithium resin," Petra began immediately, "is the highly toxic and incredibly explosive compound that's produced by the newer antimatter/matter reaction chambers all over the Federation. We store ours in a highly contained environment aboard ship, generally in very small quantities. When we dock at Starbases, it has to be offloaded with all the other waste we get rid of, or else it poses a hazard to the ship."
Isira's brow furrowed. "Don't we have safety certifications for such hazardous duty?"
"We certainly do," confirmed Wilson. "No freighter leaves port without a security and safety clearance from a certified Starfleet inspector. According to the information transmitted by Starbase 310, prior to departure, all three freighters were carrying inspection certifications that were completed just before undocking."
"Assuming that everything checked out back at Three-Ten, what happened?" asked Kincaid.
Petra shrugged. "The problem with transporting trilithium resin is the highly unstable nature of it. It's like... uh... help me out, Mister Nieves..."
He smiled. "Nitro-glycerin."
"Exactly! Thank you. It's like transporting metric tons of nitro. Even if you package it in the most carefully-constructed, super-shock-absorbent crates, there's always that outside chance that it'll still go up on you," she continued her thought.
"You're saying this could've been an accident?" asked Isira.
Petra nodded. "The data collected so far by the shuttles points that way. The biggest problem we're facing here is that the explosive neatly vaporized that freighter into particles. It's really hard to piece together the ship to try and analyze the accident and determine fault. I'm surprised the shuttles were able to collect as much as they have so far."
Wilson tilted his head. "I'm not so sure we should write it off as an accident so quickly."
Kincaid made eye contact with the chief of security. "I tend to agree."
"Gentlemen, no matter how strong a containment field you might have set up on the resin, it only decreases the chance of detonation. It doesn't eliminate it. I think maybe our friends over there got a little too sloppy with their handling, in spite of the inspection, and this is the result." Petra sat on the bench next to Isira, crossing her legs at the knees and putting her hands flat against the plush seat.
Isira looked at Kincaid with a smile. "She's very sure of herself, Commander."
Petra beamed. "Thank you, Counselor."
In the face of Betazoid certainty, Kincaid's resolve faltered briefly within his words. "I'm... reluctant to put the word 'accident' down on the report, just yet."
"I'm putting it down on mine," replied the chief engineer.
Kincaid told her, sharply, "That's your prerogative."
Isira's brow furrowed at Kincaid, while Wilson blanched at the response from their new executive officer. "Commander..."
"Mind your station, Mister Nieves." He settled into the center seat and nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant Bartlet. You may return to your station."
Petra rose from her seat, wearing a blank expression on her face. "Aye, aye, sir," she replied, before moving into the nearest turbolift and asking it to whisk her back to main engineering.
"A moment of your time, please, Commander?" asked Isira, as she stood up and walked toward the ready room.
"Counselor, I really don't have a lot of time to spare."
She did not stop her progress as she replied, "I think you need to make the time, sir." The doors to the ready room parted and closed as soon as she moved inside.
With a heavy sigh, Kincaid's eyes drifted over to Wilson. "You have the bridge, Lieutenant."
"I have the bridge, aye, sir," noted Wilson.
When he arrived within the ready room, Isira sat behind the captain's desk and gestured toward him to sit down. He was immediately annoyed by her presumption to sit there and not allow him the courtesy as the senior officer.
"I sat here to make a point, Commander. In this conversation, you're not in charge," she told him evenly. "Sit down."
"'Sir,'" he prompted her. "You say 'sir' when you talk to me, Lieutenant."
"If I am to address you as 'sir' in an informal private conversation, then you will address me as 'Counselor,'" she replied. "But I don't think that will be conducive to what I want to convey to you."
Kincaid narrowed his eyes at her. "Which is?"
"I sense from you that your response to the Chief Engineer was not typical, that you snapped at her because you're upset about something else. Or was that not regret I sensed from you the moment the words left your mouth?"
He bit back his first response and reformed it before saying, "I have the full confidence of the captain to handle my subordinates as I see fit and that is occasionally going to to entail snapping at them. Counselor."
"No doubt but even you know that response on the bridge just now wasn't warranted. I agree, she seemed to rush to judgement, even if an accident is the most likely probability but I don't think it warranted a rebuke. So why don't we talk about what is actually bothering you so you can make a better impression on the folks you mean to lead?" Isira related this in a calm tone and gave him an expectant look.
Rage swirled within him, just as it had with Commander Elannis, the first time they'd met. He knew she sensed it with her Betazoid intuition and tried his best to calm down. Finally, he asked, "A better impression?"
"Yes. I can assure you that you have definite room for improvement, though having Lieutenant Atherton's approval is helping your cause in the Science Department."
"Abbie's good at convincing people of things," Kincaid allowed, relaxing slightly at the mention of a friend. "I don't have a lot of time right now, so is there some way to distill this into five or ten minutes?"
Isira gave him a wide. "Sure, I'll get right to the point. I'd like to discuss why you've been perpetually angry since I've known you."
"And I thought we were done with the pretense."
"I'm angry, now, because you're wasting my time."
"I'd rather waste your time than watch you throw hostility around when people are trying to do their jobs. Please, answer my question."
He sighed, shaking his head, hoping that a quick admission to a woman who already knew what he was thinking would get him back to the bridge faster. "Ever since I got here, I've felt like I'm trespassing on someone else's lawn and the dog's barking his head off."
"That's a start, I guess. Why do you feel that way?"
"This was not the assignment I wanted."