~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Lieutenant Maida returned to Sick Bay and informed Ensign Tillman that the bridge video logs confirmed her side of the story. It was damning evidence against Petty Officer McAllister, who was still sedated in the isolation ward. Doctor Sullivan said that she had poison concealed in her fingernails, and a covert communications device embedded under the scar on her jawline. To top it off, her biological readings revealed she was one-quarter Orion.
The doctor turned to Tillman, “Speaking of scars, Ensign, I believe you have some physiological scars we should deal with.”
“I appreciate your concern, Doctor, but I’ve had all the counseling I can stand. It did help a lot, of course, but I don’t believe anything can make the nightmares go away completely.” She hopped down off the bio-bed and grabbed the nearest thing -- Gunnery Sergeant Hawthorn’s arm -- to stabilize herself.
Sullivan shook his head. “You’re going to be one of those stubborn patients, aren’t you? Okay then, I recommend you go to bed and stay there until tomorrow morning. But seeing as you’re going to ignore me, you’re cleared for light duty.” He waggled his finger at her, “Light duty only,” he repeated before heading for the isolation ward.
Tillman waited for the doors to close, and then turned to the operations officer, “I’m fine, Ma’am. I really am. I’ve been through this before.”
Maida gave her a look that said ‘In a pig’s eye!’ for a long moment. “Okay. I’m going to the emergency bridge with the exec. If you’re not going to take the doctor’s advice, report to Aux-Con and make yourself useful. Gunny, would you please go with her? We can’t have her passing out and falling down the stairs.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” the Marine replied and led the junior officer out of sick bay. “So, you and McKendrey? How long has that been going on?”
“It hasn’t,” the junior officer replied, not even trying to hide the dejection in her voice. “I dug out my antique movie collection for Arthur and his team once. The second time I offered to host movie night, he told me that we shouldn’t be fraternizing. Since then, he’s been ultra-formal, even for a Marine. No offense intended.”
“None taken, Ma’am. He is one squared-away troop.”
“I just don’t understand him. I don’t understand men in general, but Arthur is different somehow. Is he married, or have a girlfriend or something?”
“Well, I know he’s not married. I don’t know about a girlfriend, but I have seen him take a girl out for dinner once or twice. I doubt he’s into ‘or something’. He’s the type that’s married to the Corps,” the elder woman suggested. “However, you should know that officer-enlisted relationships are against regulations. Marine regulations, that is. I understand the police and Star Fleet merely ‘discourage’ such partnerships.”
“No! I didn’t know that,” Tillman was horrified. She could have just sunk his career. They walked in silence for several seconds. “But I know couples who are both officers, one or both in the Marines. So if .... Did you know that Sergeant McKendrey only has six credits to finish his degree? I shouldn’t say this, but he thinks a lot of you. I’ve heard him say he wants to be like you once he’s a gunny. But setting my personal feeling aside, and remember that I am a military brat and know what I’m talking about, I think he’d make a dang good officer. Have you thought about pushing him that direction?”
They reached the Aux-Con. Gunny Thorns give her an impish grin, “I’ll take that under advisement, Ma’am.” Maybe a two-pronged attack will push her NCO down the right career path.
As they entered the auxiliary control center, the first thing that Tillman notices was the speed of the passing planetary objects. There’s a gas giant -- blink -- it’s gone. Senior Chief Quartermaster Roger Guzman was putting all of his twenty-three years of experience to good use. He handled the ship like a finely tune sports car. The Callahan
-class police cutter looked ungainly, but it was actually one of the most nimble ships ever built. About the only thing that could outmaneuver her was an Orion Privateer
-class convoy raider.
“Holy Mother of God,” Ensign Tillman exclaimed in awe. “How fast are we going?”
“We’re maxed out,” Lieutenant Commander Isenberg answered. “Warp-factor nine point two five. As is the Gendarme
Tillman stared at the screen. “I’ve never been above warp eight, except in an express boat. They wouldn’t let us access the view screen.”
Lieutenant Zychowski did a little mental math. “This is, what, eight hundred times the speed of light?”
“Oh no,” Chief Guzman quipped, “closer to five-hundred thousand; about a light-year every minute or so.”
“Keep your eyes on the road, if you don’t mind,” Isenberg requested.
“I don’t understand,” the Marine complained, “nine cubed is seven hundred twenty-nine. Isn’t speed equal to the warp-factor cubed?”
“Yes and no, sir,” Tillman explained. “See, most people think of the warp field as being spherical,” she used her hands to demonstrate, “but in reality it’s shaped more like a football,” she stretched the imaginary ball in her hands.
“A football? Oh, you mean like a rugby ball.”
“American football, not soccer, you pagan,” Gunny Thorns said with a sarcastic grin, “I’ll get you to worship at the altar of Saint Lombardi yet.”
“Bite your tongue, woman,” he answered back, equally in jest.
Ensign Tillman stood frozen for a moment, her eyes darting back and forth between the two Marines. That was the first time she saw either of them act like normal human beings. “Right. So, at any rate, as the ship’s speed increases, the warp field becomes more elongated. That’s why an express boat is shaped like a ... rugby ball. The hull fits perfectly into the warp field all the way up to warp-factor ten, which is on the high side of a million times faster than light speed.
“There’s more to the math than speed equals cee times double-you cubed. There’s another variable that kicks in once warp-factor exceeds three point one four one five nine, or pi. It’s there at lower speeds, but is so close to zero,” she paused, “Or is it one?” she asked herself, ashamed that she forgot such a basic formula, “Whatever. It cancels out. Even at warp five, this variably is still fairly small. But it grows exponentially, so at warp eight or warp nine,” she pointed to the blur on the screen. “Right now, we’re going about ten times faster than we were at warp seven.”
“And burning fuel about thirty times faster, too,” Chief Engineer Robert Campbell’s voice come over the intercom. “Sir, you might want to think about doing a scoop and go.”
Commander Isenberg chewed at his thumbnail. “We’ll lose a lot of ground if we stop.”
“True, sir, but the Gendarme
is burning her fuel just as fast. Either she slows down to scoop up some hydrogen, too, or she runs out of fuel,” Campbell pointed out. “We’re down to under half a tank. I know that’s good for a couple of days, but I say get it while we can, sir.”
“Okay. Mister Dupree, start looking for a suitable planet we can scoop from. Miss Tillman, please assist him.” Isenberg pressed a button, “All hands, we’re going to do a scoop and go in the next ten minutes or so. Get yourselves buckled in.” He released the button and turned to the Marines. “Even been on a scoop and go?”
Zychowski looked confused. “I don’t even know what that is, sir.”
The commander grinned an evil grin. “Take a seat and get strapped in. I hope you didn’t eat a big breakfast.”
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Commander Christensen, no longer the captain of the Gendarme
, sat at her desk and glared at her no-longer first officer intently. Outwardly, she projected calm; she was seething inside. It took her a full sixty seconds before she could find her voice. “So, you expected a mutiny?” He tilted his head as an affirmative. “And you didn’t see fit to warn me?”
“Oh, no, of course not,” Faucheux answered. “If I had, you would have shut it down before I could determine who all is involved. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure Baku was the ring leader until just now.”
Flynn laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant laugh. “He’s been three steps ahead of you since the start,” he told Faucheux. “Did you really think your little undercover work went unnoticed?” He opened the door to admit three more people; Chief O’Hara led the way with her hands raised, followed by two junior enlisted armed with phasers. One of them shoved the chief to the couch. “Hey, no need for that!” Flynn yelled at the man.
“Always the gentleman, Jake,” Faucheux noted. “Can’t damage the merchandise, can you? Did Mayra teach you that?”
“Mayra!” Flynn spat, “That flitx! Baku was welcome to her. She could have learned a thing or two from her sister about how a lady should act.”
“Sister? Mayra didn’t have a sister.”
“Irma,” Flynn answered sarcastically.
An enlightened look appeared on Faucheux’s face. “They weren’t sisters; Irma is Mayra’s daughter. So, how long have you been together?”
“Two years, as if it’s any of your business.”
“Ah, good. Another felony charge they can add to your list. Irma is only thirteen.”
Flynn’s face contorted in disgust. “She’s twenty-two. Besides, even if you’re right, she’s Orion. There is no age of consent.”
Faucheux grinned. “I’ll see your legal technicality and raise you one: she’s only half Orion. Her father is human.” He knew he was playing with fire. “At least there’s one charge you can’t be hit with. You’re not the first man she’s been with.”
“Or the second, for that matter. I’d bet you were number seven on the list.”
“Shut up!” Flynn took a step towards him, leveling the phaser at his head.
“I think her counter is up to nine or ten. Maybe twelve. Still pretty low for someone in her profession.”
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Flynn screamed as he jammed the phaser in the ex-first officer’s ear. “Not another word,” he warned, “or I will melt your brain.” The intercom came to life as Physician’s Assistant Ferrari paged Doctor Nikolaidis. Flynn whirled around and pointed his weapon at the doctor. “Don’t even think about it.”
“Jake,” Christensen spoke calmly, “nobody’s been hurt yet. Don’t make things worse than they are.”
Flynn sneered at her. “Things can only get worse for you, Commander. You’re in a lose-lose situation. Why don’t you ask Mister Faucheux the real reason he didn’t warn you of our plan? He had plans of his own.” He looked at the other man. “Didn’t you? Why don’t you tell her all about it?”
“There really doesn’t seem to be a point. You have the ship; it’s going to Mad Jack’s place. What more is there to talk about?”
“Too shy?” Flynn laughed. “He wanted to take this ship to Rio Verde.” He laughed at the surprised look he received. “Oh, yes, we know all about it.”
The intercom came to life again. “Commander Christensen, this is P.A. Ferrari. Sorry to bother you, Ma’am, but Doctor Nikolaidis isn’t answering the page. I have several patients up here and could really use a hand.”
“Don’t,” Flynn ordered.
“She’ll get suspicious if I don’t answer,” Christensen point out.
“What can she do? She’s only a doctor.” Flynn retorted snobbishly.
“She can quarantine Sick Bay, seal herself in,” Faucheux suggested. “I don’t know what other options she has, but I’d bet she has some. Why take the chance? Let the commander talk to her.”
Jake Flynn considered this for a moment, “Okay. But be very careful in choosing your words,” he backed his warning up with a wave of his phaser.
‘Oh, believe me, I will,’ Commander Christensen thought as she pressed the button. “Ensign Ferrari, the doctor is unavoidably detained. You may have to handle the situation alone. What is your status, Ensign?”
“Ma’am, I’ve done triage. Mostly minor injuries, classified as green, but I have one phaser-burn patient that might be a yellow case. I’m not sure what to do, Ma’am.”
Christensen put her hand up to stop Doctor Nikolaidis when he opened his mouth to speak. “Ensign Ferrari, you know that Doctor Nikolaidis and I have the utmost confidence in you. Remember our discussion the other day? I believe you have the ability to make life-or-death decisions. You have the potential locked inside you to be a great doctor. You just need to find a way to let it out. Trust your instincts, Ensign; I think you’ll make the right call.” She closed the connection.
“Very good, Commander.” Flynn backed away. He turned to his two henchmen. “Cuff them. I’m going to go talk to the boss and find out what he wants to do with them.” He marched out the door.
As the doctor was being handcuffed, he said, “I’m afraid I must concur with your diagnosis, Commander: an obvious case of bi-polar disorder, enhanced by extreme stress. Not much help now, is it?”
The commander smiled at him, “What was it you told me the other day? Where there’s life, there’s hope.” She stood up to be handcuffed. “Where there’s life, Doctor, there’s hope.”
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Janet Ferrari replayed the commander’s words in her head. She was sure the words were chosen with care. First, Christensen called her ‘Ensign’, and not ‘Doctor’ or by her first name. The ship’s captain told her that she felt that the title ‘Doctor’ commanded more respect than any military rank. Second, their conversation from the other day had nothing to do with her being a doctor or physician’s assistant, but rather had to do with the key hidden on her person.
Additionally, she knew that Commander Christensen was well-versed with triage codes: green, blue, orange, red, and black, in order of severity of the injuries. There is no yellow. She knew what she was asking of the commander, and she was sure the commander picked up on it. The commander said she had ‘potential locked inside’ and that she needed to ‘find a way to let it out’. How else do you let something locked up out than to unlock it? With a key, of course.
She had her orders, not as a doctor but as an officer in military service. She would comply.
When they gave her the command key, they briefed her on all its features. She knew that Commander Christensen was the only other person on-board who knew she had a key. She knew that the key was required for many of the ship’s functions, such as powering up the photon torpedo. She knew it had other functions, ones that only those on the command staff were aware of. They told her there are many key-slots hidden around the ship. One was in her quarters, and another in her office (and Doctor Niklaidis’s office, she confirmed). She couldn’t get to those, obviously. There were two more here in Sick Bay. One was too open for observation to be of any use.
Ferrari applied some quick-set to Welck’s nasal ridge and told her to lie still for ten minutes until it set the bone in place. She then moved over to check on the still-unconscious female, and applied a neural stimulator to her forehead. The patent’s vital signs were acceptable. She started walking towards the door when the Orion jumped down and demanded, “Where do you think you’re heading?”
“Nature call. Sit down. I’ll be with you in a moment.” She used her best drill sergeant voice, which wasn’t saying much.
Instead of doing as she said, he went to the door and inspected the restroom. Satisfied, he allowed her entrance with a gentlemanly wave of the hand. She turned to find him still standing there. “Are you going to watch?” He backed away, and she locked the door.
First, she took care of her biological needs and then watched her hands. Next, she twisted the ring where the grab bar mounted to the wall and at the same time pulled on the paper dispenser. It swung open to reveal a keyhole and a small number pad. She reached into her bra and removed the key. She examined it; what a neat little device. It had a built-in contact sensor that would verify the holder’s DNA signature and life signs, rendering it useless to all save the person it was issued to.
They made her memorize this process, all the while assuring her that it had never been used in over twenty years since the system was installed on all police cutters. She inserted the key and twisted it one direction, entered a six-digit number, push hard and twisted the key the opposite direction before entering a second six-digit number. She closed the compartment, leaving the key inside.
Ensign Janet Ferrari sat down and starting counting backwards slowly from fifteen.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~