~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Marine Sergeant McKendrey sipped his coffee, black, while Second Lieutenant Eric Powers, his new platoon leader, went for a refill of his iced coffee. He was still evaluating the young officer. Green. Very green. But shows some promise. He and his twin sister Erica graduated college on the agro-colony Nova Ottumwa during a soft jobs-market. In order to pay off student loans, they both applied for Star Fleet but did not qualify. The Marines accepted them; they were smart, capable, and confident, just what the Marines were looking for. So what if they hadn’t taken courses in high-level calculus or three-dimensional trigonometry, and didn’t understand basic warp-drive physics? Star Fleet flies -- Marines fight.
So after ninety days of Officer Candidate School and four months of Basic Infantry Officer Course, Eric and Erica were assigned to Delta Company, First Battalion of the Fourth Regiment, known as “The Quarterbacks” because it was written as “D - 1/4 Marines”. It was a clerical error at Manpower & Assignments that kept the siblings together; someone thought Eric and Erica were one and the same person. The new lieutenants liked to joke they couldn’t wait to make O-4 so they could be “the two Major Powers.”
Erica was on the Mazza
leading the Second Platoon, while Eric had the Third here on the Gendarme
. McKendrey didn’t know about the other platoons, but the Third was almost as green as its leader. The platoon had five five-man squads, four of which were cohorts, and two of those were straight out of infantry school. They were still E-2 Privates, not due to make E-3 Lance Corporal for several more months, and their squad leaders were only Corporals. The other two cohort squads were composed entirely of Lance Corporals, all nearing the end of their first enlistments. McKendrey had one of these squads, and the other was run by the other sergeant, Reynolds. That man was a real piece of work. Lazy and totally useless, he made E-5 by the skin of his teeth on the third try. The Marines Corps has a strong up-or-out policy: fail to make rank after three promotion opportunities, and the troop must separate from the service at the end of the enlistment or upon mandatory re-assignment or one year after notification of non-selection, whichever comes first.
Four women, three Corporals and one Lance Corporal, made up the technical support squad. Only two of them measured up, in McKendrey’s opinion, and they were both married. He had nothing against women in the Corps; the ones in his platoon were every bit squared away and Gung-Ho as any of the men. Lance Corporal Petrovic’s mission in life was to find and marry an officer; Lieutenant Power let her know in no uncertain terms she should look elsewhere. At least she could do her job. Corporal Valentine was a princess, always needing someone to ‘help’ do hers. McKendrey wondered how Gunny Fields let this platoon get to be such a mess. Gunny Thorns’ words from three days ago still echoed in his head, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’
His data PADD chirped. He read the message; it made no sense to him. Shifting uncomfortably on the bench seat, McKendrey wondered why the Gendarme used booths in the mess hall, instead of tables like on the Magnum. Ever the combat Marine, he noted that the person sitting next to the wall would have to slide across the bench before being able to stand up. That could be dangerous in an emergency. It wasn’t the only difference, nor the only thing he didn’t like, about the Gendarme verses the Magnum.
Commander Christensen was sharp. He liked her. Maybe even more than the Magnum
’s captain, Thomas Isenberg. At first, Senior Chief O’Hara seemed like someone who had been beaten down and defeated, but that was quickly changing. He wasn’t there to see it, but he heard that immediately after officially taking command, Christensen told O’Hara that she was out of uniform. When the chief asked what was wrong, the commander reportedly said, “The Chief of the Boat is a Senior Chief’s job. The next time I see you, you had better be wearing the proper rank.” The rebuke was not aimed at the chief, but rather at the Exec Officer, Lieutenant Commander (select) Pierre Faucheux. Everyone knew he had forbidden her to frock, to pin the rank on before her official promotion date.
Now there was someone McKendrey did not like. Nobody did. The man seemed to go out of his way to make people not like him. Yesterday, the NCO heard one of the troop say, “Instead of a sleeping bag, they issued the Ex-Oh a six-foot prophylactic.” As much as he agreed with the sentiment, he had to put a stop to that kind of talk. The Private gave him some lip, so McKendrey ordered him to clean all the toilets in the gym locker room. Upon appeal to the platoon leader, Lieutenant Powers told the offender to “make them sparkle.” When the squad leader started to argue for his underling, the officer suggested that the Private might not have the proper training, so the Corporal would have to show him how it’s done. The rest of the Marines got the message, five by five.
McKendrey saw Lieutenant Flynn, the ship’s intelligence officer, talking to his platoon leader. If he had to use one word to describe Flynn, ‘unstable’ came to McKendrey’s mind. He wouldn’t trust the man as far as he could throw him. Then again, the man was skinny; the Marine could probably throw him a good five or six meters. As bad as Flynn was, he had nothing on Qiang Baku, the operations officer and third in command of the ship. Baku had a sleazy, slimy way of manipulating people, and used that ability to the full extent with Flynn. He’d shake your hand one second and stab you in the back the next. Where Faucheux would challenge Christensen’s authority directly, Baku would undermine it quietly.
Powers came over to the booth but did not sit down, so McKendrey stood up. “I’m wanted upstairs, Sergeant. As to what we were talking about, I don’t want to make any permanent changes until Gunny Fields gets back on his feet. However, I do like the idea of shuffling the squads. Maybe we can do it as a training exercise to test the theory.” He paused and looked around. “It’s almost lunch time. Don’t we have anyone scheduled for KP duty?”
“Yes, sir. They’ll be here any minute,” he replied, thinking but not saying, ‘if I have to go drag them down here.’ After Powers left, he sat back down and finished his coffee. Something didn’t feel right. He looked around. It was late morning, time for the afternoon shift to grab a meal before reporting for duty. There were only five other people in the mess hall. By the time he drained his coffee, his senses were on full alert.
He read the message on the PADD again. “Arthur, go to where we last spoke. About face, isolate second from the left, blue two reds blue green. I have news. Stephanie.” It still made no sense. He dropped his mug off at the scullery and started climbing the spiral stairs, intending to go up to Deck Two where the barracks was located. The only Stephanie he knew was Ensign Tillman. And the last place that they had spoken was over a week ago ... on the Emergency Bridge, when she showed his team some of the basic control systems.
He got off the stairs after one deck up and walked aft, through the common areas. There was nobody in the break rooms or in the computer terminal room. There was nobody doing laundry. What the ... there was always somebody doing laundry. With a hundred crewmembers to service, the eight machines ran 24 hours a day, every day. He continued aft to another set of stairs and climbed up another deck to Deck Five, and then turned aft through a tools storage area to get to the Emergency Bridge. Thankfully, it was vacant.
This control center duplicated the Main Bridge, but it was arranged differently. Instead of a round room, this was a wide rectangle. It had the same type of main view screen and center seat / helm as the Bridge. There were four control stations facing forward, two on either side of the view screen, and four facing aft. The message said, “About face, isolate second from the left.” He turned to face the back of the ship; the second set of controls was configured as the communications station.
He sat down and looked the controls over. Blue. Main power switch. On. Two reds. Two reds. He looked the board over. He found a red button on the left. It didn’t do anything. He found a second red button on the right. It didn’t do anything either. He pressed them at the same time. A message appeared on the screen, ‘Transferring control from Main Bridge.’ Another blue. Hailing frequencies. Open. Green. Transmit. He pressed it.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Lieutenant Miada suppressed a yawn as she entered the bridge. She held the door open for the Magnum
’s weapons officer, Patrick McShannon. Ensign Tillman noted that the entire command staff was now on the bridge; the only officers missing were Chief Engineer Campbell and his wife Nurse Sarah, senior shuttle pilot Maes Roola, and Doctor Sullivan. The turbolift opened, allowing Chief Szczr and Marine Corporal Ackar to add to the crowded room.
Gunny Thorns told the Prelarian corporal to go round up the troops. Lieutenant-j.g. Naaz asked the commander, “Sir, it is getting uncomfortably crowded. Do you require my presence, or may I please leave?” He told her to go, and she followed Ackar back into the turbolift, still reading her book. Tillman wondered if perhaps Andorians navigate with those antennae, like bats with sonar.
“Okay, we’re all here,” Kingsley stated the obvious, “Anyone care to tell us what’s going on?”
“Might be trouble on the Gendarme
,” Iseberg said, indicating to the tactical plot on the view screen. “We’re trying to get a message to someone we trust.” Just then, the comm station beeped. Incoming hail. “Okay, hush, everyone,” he ordered and waved them to the far side of the bridge.
Ensign Tillman sat down, debating to herself, ‘do I just tell him, or play-act it?’ She knew the Gendarme
’s comm tech could and probably was monitoring all traffic, so to just blurt it out would tip them off. On the other hand, if she play-acted it and McKendrey didn’t understand, she’d blow their one chance. She pressed the transmit button, and the sergeant’s face appeared on the small screen. “Arthur, it’s Stephanie. They figured it out.” She voice trembled in fear and anxiety. Part of that wasn’t acting; she really was concerned for him.
“Who figured what out?” he asked, confused. She could tell he swallowed the word ‘ma’am’. Good. He was as smart as she’d hoped.
“Your lieutenant and the commander. After you came back from that freighter, El-Tee Zee found this,” she held up the fleur-de-lis lapel pin, “and when he showed it to the commander, they figured out who it came from. Oh, Arthur, I think you’re in big trouble. The commander is okay with it, as is the chief, but I think Kingsley will want to lock you away. You understand, don’t you?”
McKendrey paused while he studied the pin. She hoped the camera had it in focus for him. “Yeah, I think I do. I’ll make it right with the el-tee, mon amour. He’s okay.”
She allowed herself a small smile. “Arthur ... just be careful.” The feed ended suddenly before she could add, “I love you.”
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
McKendrey stared at the blank screen, his brain in full overdrive. Ensign Tillman was trying to tell him something -- something that she and presumably Commander Isenberg didn’t want the crew of the Gendarme
to understand. Radio protocol forbids “talking around” a subject, but it also demanded no non-encrypted messages on an open channel. He knew that Zychowski was given something when they “arrested” him on the Santa Maria
; it had to be that pin. He recognized it right away as a fleur-de-lis. When she named “Kingsley” as the one to watch out for, at first it didn’t make sense until he remembered Kingsley is the Exec Officer. And the Gendarme
’s Exec, Pierre Faucheux, wears the same exact style of pin. By calling Tillman “my love” in French, he told her he understood the message.
But now what to do with it? By saying that the commander and chief were both okay with it, Tillman meant that he could trust Commander Christensen and Chief O’Hara. He knew he could trust, probably trust, Eric Powers. The rest of the troops would follow along, hopefully, but half of them were too green. After three second’s thought, he killed the main power on the control station. He looked at the blank screen again and wondered why she closed the transmission so suddenly; he had the feeling she wanted to tell him something else.
He stood up and took just two steps when both doors opened up. Two police force petty officers walked in, one male, the other female, and both had Type-II phasers in their hands.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Tillman stood up and with a grin said, “He got it.” She took a side-step to her right, and then suddenly reached out and grabbed Petty Officer McAllister by her red hair. Viciously, she yanked the woman out of the chair, kicking her feet out for under her, spun her around and slammed her face-first onto the deck. As stunned as she was, McAllister managed to catch her fall and tried to push herself back up. Tillman dropped to her knees square onto the small of McAllister’s back.
“Hands! Hands!” she demanded as she forced the woman’s arms back. Something went skittering across the deck. “Cuffs!” Private DeWitt tossed her his set. Tillman caught them and quickly handcuffed her prisoner. She rolled the woman over and pulled her to her feet by the lapels.
“You didn’t think I’d see that?” she yelled, “Who are you working with?”
McAllister spit in the ensign’s face. Tillman slammed her forehead into the woman’s nose, doubled her over with a hard knee to the mid-section, and rendered her unconscious with an elbow to the back of the neck.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~