– III –
Tazla Star had made an actual effort to get to Owens before Nora Laas had been able to. It was childish, even she had to admit that, but it was important to her that the captain would get an update about the murder investigation from her instead of from the security chief conducting it. She was of course still of the mind that the investigation should have been delegated to her but she didn’t think her motives were purely petty. As far as she was concerned one of her chief functions on this ship was to keep to the captain informed about everything happening on Eagle
, if everyone simply did an end around her, then what exactly was the point of having her around at all?
It was not a question she hadn’t asked herself before in the last four months she had been onboard.
It was perhaps slightly more petty when she suggested to the captain once more that she took a more active role in the investigation itself, that Nora could use her help even after she had successfully lobbied for Lieutenant Clancy to be added to her team. But there was another motive for this as well of course. While she hadn’t mentioned anything to Owens, she couldn’t completely shake the feeling that her own clandestine investigation into a possible spy on board Eagle
was somehow linked to the incident in engineering.
Owens had predictably shot her down once again. He had let her down easy and diplomatically, which if nothing else had been a nice touch. But in the end, no matter how tactfully he put it, it was obvious that Owens was not yet happy to give her the responsibilities she felt she deserved in her role.
With a heavy sigh, Tazla Star stepped onto the bridge just in time for the shift change from gamma to alpha. Owens had not yet signed off on her suggestion to switch to a four-shift rotation. Yet another clear sign of the lack of faith he had in her abilities.
She found Lif Culsten standing near the CONN and apparently cracking jokes with Ensign Aliris who was one of ship’s shuttle pilots but sometimes pulled late shifts at the helm.
The mood changed as soon as they noticed her and the jokes stopped. She seemed to have this effect on people.
“Uh, Commander,” Culsten said. “Anything we can help you with?”
The Krellonian helmsman had a tendency to try and go out of his way to assist the other senior officers whenever he could. At first Star had thought this quality to be excessively obsequious but she had since accepted that it was simply part of his character. Try to be everybody’s friend. She had long since learned that things just didn’t work that way.
She considered the silver-haired officer for a moment as well as the attractive, caramel-colored Risian standing next to him, both looking at her expectantly.
“I’m taking this shift,” she said and then headed for the command chair and took the seat.
She didn’t miss the looks the two junior officers exchanged with each other. “Is there a problem?”
Culsten took a step towards her. “It’s just that, well, you see I was going to take this shift and Ensign Aliris was to take the CONN in my stead.”
She smirked with little amusement, remembering her own days as a young helmsman. If you had joined Starfleet with high ambitions—and everyone knew that every pilot worth his salt wanted to sit in the big chair one day—you did whatever you could to get yourself to that coveted center seat as quickly as possible. That often meant trying to squeeze in command time whenever possible, even when the ship sat idly in a nebula without plans of going anywhere soon. It was still time logged as having been in charge of the ship. And as a pilot even lower on the food chain, you’d always jump at a chance at sitting behind the main controls.
“Sorry,” she said and began to log herself in via the armrest controls. “Not today.” When she looked up, he was still standing there. She aimed him an impatient look. “You are free to stick around and take the helm.”
“We, uh, we kind of made this arrangement with the captain, sir,” he said, clearly uncomfortable at having to bring this up.
Star was feeling her anger rising but did an admirable job at keeping it in check. “That’s too bad, Lieutenant, because I had already decided to take this shift and had you checked in with me first—as you should have done—I would have told you so,” she said, not caring that it was at least a partial lie. But she was determined not to back down to a junior lieutenant. It hadn’t come to that yet, she had decided.
They stared at each other for a moment and Star wondered if he was going to call her bluff and contact the captain. Fortunately for her, Culsten was not petty enough for that and then nodded. “Of course, sir. I’ll take the helm.”
He turned around and made eye contact with a clearly disappointed Aliris who had hoped to be able to take the station for the duration of the shift. When Culsten took that seat instead, she turned and headed for the exit.
“Ensign,” Star called after her.
The young woman stopped and turned around. “Sir?”
Star stood and took a step towards her. She had noticed that the Risian woman, true to the more sybaritic nature of her people, wore both her uniform jacket and the red shirt underneath unzipped halfway down her chest, showing off a hint of cleavage. This was obviously a violation of the Starfleet dress code and Star had every intention of setting the woman straight.
That was until she remembered Katanga and his own peculiarities regarding the way he wore his uniform.
“Is there something you need me to do, sir?” she said when Star didn’t elaborate further.
“Why don’t you go and get some rest and I’ll make sure you get the CONN on the next shift?”
She beamed at that. “Yes, sir, thank you,” she said and left the bridge.
Star smirked, wondering if Owens would approve considering that he hadn’t been too happy about Katanga’s chosen style. It tickled her slightly that he may not have appreciated the liberal dress code starting to take hold on his ship.
She sat back in her chair, pulled out a padd and began to review Lieutenant Hopkins’ report on the explosion in the EPS substation the previous day.
Just as she had already insinuated, the report made it clear that there had been no technical or mechanical fault that could have led to the incident which had nearly flooded parts of the ship with toxic nebula radiation. Even though the chief engineer had put in writing that she could not conceive of Kate Smith having been negligent in her duties or willfully causing the accident, once taking the computer error out of the equation, there really seemed to be no other explanation.
Reviewing Smith’s file did not shed any light why Smith may have done what she did. It was clear that she was a competent engineer, making it difficult to believe that she could have made such a critical error by mistake. Her record was exemplary, she was pretty much a model Starfleet officer ever since she had graduated the Academy and came from a long line of officers who had served in the various Starfleet branches.
But it also didn’t escape her that as a skilled engineer she could have been able to send out secret subspace messages by making them look like nothing more than background noise, exactly what had started her off on this investigation and her suspicions that Eagle
had a spy on board.
“Commander, we seem to be … moving?” said Rachel Milestone from ops.
Star glanced up from her padd and looked at the screen where she found the large frame of the sensor array in mid-construction. Nothing there made it appear as if they were in motion.
“Are you sure?”
The young ensign nodded. “Yes, sir. 12 meters per hour and increasing, heading directly aft.”
“I’m not sure, sir, it could be a thruster malfunction.”
“Colcord to bridge, would you kindly keep the ship in one place please?”
said the voice of the clearly agitated civilian engineer. “We’re trying to do precision work down here which quite frankly is impossible if you move the ship.”
“So noted, Ms. Colcord. We’re looking into this now.”
“What do you mean, you’re looking into it? Just stop the damn ship.”
“We’re on it, Star out,” she said and quickly closed the channel. She walked up closer to the ops station. “Can you shut down the malfunctioning thruster, Ensign?”
“Just did, sir.”
“Good, get somebody in engineering to look into what’s wrong with it and then reestablish our previous—“
“Sir, another one just came online,” she said urgently. “Speed now 44 meters per hour. Wait, three more thrusters are now engaging.”
“What in the seven hells is going on?”
“Sir, I don’t think they’re malfunctioning.”
Star shot the younger woman a puzzled look. “What are you saying? Somebody is purposefully activating them?”
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Milestone focused back on her station. “According to this the commands are coming from…” she stopped herself and then looked to her right. “Lif?”
But Culsten didn’t respond, instead his fingers busily danced over his consoles, activating panels as they went.
Star turned to the helmsman. “Lieutenant, what are you doing?”
“Sir, all forward RCS packages are now online and pushing as backwards at 500 meters per hour and increasing,” Milestone said.
“Colcord to bridge, you really have to—“
“Yes, I know,” Star barked. “Stand by. Bridge Out.” She closed in on the helmsman. “Lieutenant, shut down the thrusters, now.”
But he continued as if she wasn’t even there.
“Mister Culsten, stand down.”
He took no notice.
Fed up, Star reached out for his chair and swiveled it away from his station. Culsten never made eye contact with her, instead he simply swiveled it back and continued his efforts.
He didn’t even stop when she grabbed his shoulder.
“Alright, Mister, you asked for this,” she said pulled back on his shoulder and then delivered a picture perfect right hook to his chin, causing him to flop out of his seat and land on the deck next to his station.
Milestone jumped out of her seat and went to check on the fallen helmsman. She turned him onto his back and checked him over. Then she looked up at the first officer. “He’s out cold.”
Star shook out her bruised knuckles. “It’s like he’s made out of duranium,” she said and then pointed at the helm station. “Shut down the forward thrusters and put us back into our original position. Then get Aliris back up here. Looks like she’s getting her chance to man CONN after all.”
Milestone nodded and temporarily took the helm.
“Star to sickbay,” she said as she looked down at the unconscious Krellonian still lying on the deck. “We need a medical team on the bridge.”