OK, here it is. Sorry for not jumping right into the action, but still felt there is some stuff to resolve yet. Anyway, I'll probably take a few days to catch up on all my reading and back story of various people. In the meantime, enjoy. I've also got another idea for a vignette concerning Tara, the Green Orion Security Officer, for the August contest.
Same Day, 2115
Lieutenant Commander Ryan Ridgeway felt out of place. After Beverly Townsend had left him at the station lounge he had lingered, perhaps longer than he should have, considering his situation. Walking through the “working” part of the starbase was quite different than the passenger disembarking area where he had arrived. In fact, it was unlike anything he had experienced in Starfleet. This part of the station apparently missed out on the many upgrades and refits the starbase had undergone during its lifetime. It seemed to be of a low priority for even regular maintenance. It probably wasn’t a safety hazard, but appearance definitely was not a primary factor when work was done. The panels lining the walls seemed to represent every trend in Federation design in the past hundred years, often old and new next to one another. Colors did not match, dark panels butted against lighter colored ones. Some were even scarred from plasma leaks or what looked like phaser or even disrupter discharges. Power conduits, visible running on the outside of the ceiling and wall panels showed signs of being repaired. In some cases they were bypassed with emergency damage control lines pressed into service for far longer than intended.
Only two people that he had passed on his way to the docking hub had been in regular Starfleet uniforms. Coveralls were far more common. People actually gave him strange looks as he passed, as if something so bright and shiny didn’t belong in this part of the station.
Then he reached the ship, if it could even be called that. He almost missed the side passage leading to the docking berth because the designator numbers were so faint and smudged with something dark and powdery. Obviously not intended for cargo, the passage was not quite two meters wide, and just as filled with conduits as the bigger corridors. One of the two spacetight doors was blocked open by a damage control hose which bypassed a broken water pipe section.
Two questions bounced back and forth in his mind as he walked down the narrow access. First, how long had it taken things to deteriorate this much? Second, why had it been allowed to get this way.
The open access hatch to the Persepheron was unguarded. Ridgeway looked around for a second before stepping through it. The inside of the warp tug, while clean, also showed a degree of wear and tear that Ridgeway was unused to on any of the vessels he had served.
His footsteps sounding on the metallic deck plating, the Lieutenant Commander made his way forward, or what he guessed was forward. Ducking through a doorway he could only assume provided atmospheric isolation in case of decompression or fire; he wondered how people served for any length of time on such a vessel.
A figure in dirty coveralls rounded a corner ahead and walked towards him. The gruff Tellerite squinted at Ridgeway, made a sound he could only assume was a chuckle and said, “You must be the Commander I’m waiting for. I’m Chief Prak. This is my tug.” The Chief did not offer to take the duffel bag from Ridgeway’s shoulder. “All your other people are aboard. The ‘grand tour’ will have to wait until we leave spacedock. Chief Prak pushed a button on a small intercom panel. A double beeping tone sounded and he spoke into the box, “Bridge, I have the Commander onboard, proceed with underway detail.” A voice answered out of the small speaker, “Yes Chief,” and the box gave a single tone. Chief Prak looked at Ridgeway, “Follow me, Commander.”
A voice sounded over the ships address system, “Now secure all hatches and disconnect from all station services. Notify the bridge when preparations for getting underway are complete.”
Ridgeway followed the Chief through the narrow passageway. At one point they actually came to a steep stairway going down. Instead of walking down the stairs, the Chief grabbed the smooth handrails and slid down them. Ridgeway followed him down, walking gingerly down the steps. Disconcertingly, the Commander noticed that handholds were spaced at regular intervals on the walls and overhead. Were they a contingency for zero-G operations?
“Throw your bag in there. We’re going to the bridge.” Chief Prak pointed through a door into a closet to the left of the passageway. Ridgeway stepped halfway into it and slung his duffel off of his shoulder. Then he noticed a pair of narrow bunks, complete with bedding, against the far wall. A small metal sink, shower stall, and fold down desk with a single chair completed the décor. Ridgeway tossed his duffel bag onto the upper of the two bunks, noticing a similar bag already on the lower. He briefly wondered who his roommate was. Shaking his head, he stepped back out of his ‘stateroom’ to find Chief Prak already walking away down the corridor.
Ridgeway had to actually jog to catch up. Although he had a much longer stride than the shorter Tellarite, the Chief was walking at a quick clip, and had a head start. They walked through what Ridgeway assumed was the mess deck, although it sported only four small tables with six fixed swivel chairs each, and a series of replicators along one wall. Forward of the mess deck the passageway continued for another fifteen meters or so, before terminating in a ‘T’ intersection. A door was set into the far wall. Chief Prak walked up to the door and pushed a button in the access panel before it hissed open.
Stepping through after Chief Prak, Ridgeway saw that the bridge was as cramped as he had expected. What he hadn’t expected was the forward viewing area. While most starships utilized a single large viewscreen, the warp tug had five, set up in a + pattern with the four extra viewscreens. One sat above the central screen, one below, and one each to the right and left respectively, of the central screen. The center viewscreen currently showed the standard view to the front of the tug, but the others showed various views, one towards the starbase, another spaceward from the tug. Currently the top and bottom screens were displaying graphics of what looked to Ridgeway like various power levels and engine efficiency stats.
Chief Prak stomped over to a crewman in coveralls, A human with curly black hair above his tanned looking neck, seated at one of two control stations in the center of the bridge. “Davis, is this pile of Denebian slime devil dung ready to get underway?” He barked his question. Ridgeway was a bit taken aback at the brash demeanor, but realized that it matched that of most Tellarites he had ever encountered. The crewman, in any case seemed unfazed at the Chief’s tone, replying calmly “Yes Chief, all station services disconnected, all hatches secure. We have clearance to transit, flight path gamma.”
Chief Prak went from brash to genuinely angry in an instant. “Flight path gamma? Last I heard they still hadn’t cleared up the debris from that Ferrengi freighter last month, the one that had a plasma enema on final approach. Get me control, I don’t want to be dodging duranium bearings the whole way out.”
Petty Officer Second Class Davis, still calm, replied as he punched buttons on his panel, “Yes Chief, right away.” Then, speaking over ship to station opened a communication channel to the starbase, “Starbase 214 control, this is Warp Tug Persepheron.” The voice from control came over the bridge speakers, sounding monotone and bored. “Go ahead Persepheron.”
Davis answered, voice professional without sounding bored or monotone, “Control, I have Chief Prak here.” He had barely finished when the still irate Chief began talking over him, “What’s the idea sending us out on gamma? It’s still strewn with debris from that freighter explosion. Send us out on Delta.”
The reply came back, sounding a little more alert, “Hold on Chief, I’ll have to check on that.” By the way the Chief started pacing, Ridgeway could tell that patience was not among the Chief’s virtues. “What’s the problem Davis? There’s no traffic scheduled for two hours.” Davis merely shrugged his shoulders.
The laconic sounding voice returned to the bridge speakers, “Persepheron, flightpath gamma was inspected last week and cleared for traffic. You are cleared for transit via that route only.”
Chief Prak clearly didn’t have any spare points with station control. Resigned, he had Davis close the channel. Shaking his head, the Chief said to no one in particular, “Fine, but I’m sending you the bill if I hit anything.”
Regaining his composure he snapped at Davis, “Take us out on thrusters, bearing two-four-nine, zero mark fifteen.” Davis repeated back the command as he operated the helm controls, “two-four-nine, zero mark fifteen, aye.”
The tug bumped slightly as the docking clamps released with a clunking sound that traveled through the tug. The boats thrusters kicked in. Davis announced the obvious as the forward viewscreen began to show motion, “Clamps released, course two-four-nine, zero mark fifteen.”
Chief Prak waited several seconds before ordering, “Ahead one quarter impulse, and Davis, set deflectors to maximum.” Davis pushed a few buttons, answering, “Aye Chief.” An audible humming sounded through the tug as she sped up to the ordered speed. Davis hailed the station without prompt from the Chief, “Starbase control, Persepheron, we are clear from docking clamps and proceeding on flight path gamma.” The voice from control came back over the speakers, bored once again, “Control copies, out.”
They were underway, and soon to be headed towards the Shepard. Ridgeway wondered how much the Chief knew about their assignment, and then realized that he knew little enough himself. He remembered he had been planning on picking Master Chief Rexar’s brain once they were enroute, so he addressed Chief Prak. “Chief, where are the rest of my crew? I’d like to get started on some planning once we get settled in.”
Chief Prak looked at Ridgeway as if he had forgotten that the Commander was even on the bridge, “Planning? You’ve got three weeks, sir. I was hoping your engineers could help me out with some minor problems I’ve been forced to live with on this rust bucket.”
Commander Ridgeway laughed, hoping it wouldn’t be taken wrong as he imagined the kind of ‘minor problems’ the tug might be having. “I promise Chief, I’ll have my people help out in whatever way they can. For now, just point me in the right direction and I’ll get out of your way.”
Chief Prak turned towards the viewscreen, “Fair enough Commander. Just follow the passageway back to the first ladder going up. At the top of the stairs, take a right and then a left into the wide corridor. It leads directly to the cargo area. There’s some stuff there that Admiral Selak ordered stowed aboard prior to your arrival. All of your people except the Marine Captain seemed anxious to examine what it was the Admiral sent.
Commander Ridgeway pondered the curious sensation of being dismissed from the bridge by a Chief. No quick comeback entered his mind. Not wanting to make waves, he let it slide. Turning he walked out of the bridge and followed the Chief’s directions to the best of his ability.
The ‘cargo area’ was just that, no doors separated it from the rest of the corridor. It was demarked by a black line painted on the deck from wall to wall, with the word CARGO stenciled below the line and twin arrows pointing towards a wider section of the corridor. The area contained various crates, boxes, and most of Ridgeway’s assigned crew. Only Captain O’Connell and Chief Marconi were absent.
Folding his arms across his chest and leaning against a bulkhead, Ridgeway watched his crew. A grin grew on his face. So intent were they at opening crates and examining the contents that they failed to notice him.
T’Noor was helping Dulak and Arjal Brak lift a large piece of equipment from one of the newer looking crates. The three set it on the deck. Dulak pointed at the device and spoke while T’Noor nodded.
Ridgeway had decided to join in the inventory and had moved away from the bulkhead when the boat lurched noticeably and a metallic clunk reverberated through the superstructure. He caught his balance with one hand against the bulkhead as the others grabbed crates or just fought to keep upright.
Lieutenant Townsend looked up from the crate she had been examining with Tara, noticed Ridgeway and asked, “What was that Commander?” Before he could shrug, the tug lurched twice more. Each time a clunking noise followed a lurch.
Surprised that no alarm claxons sounded, Ridgeway walked to a wall intercom and pushed the button, “Bridge, this is Commander Ridgeway, what just happened?” The circuit opened and Ridgeway could hear Chief Prak swearing at the other end. “Cleared this flightpath last week? I’d bet my prickly porcine posterior they didn’t.” Someone far calmer than the Chief answered Ridgeway’s question, “Sir, the Chief thinks we just ran into the Duranium bearings that Station Control insisted were cleared out. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Very well, thank you.” Ridgeway clicked off the intercom before walking over to Townsend and placing his hands on his hips, “Just some debris in the flightpath. I think they have it handled. What do we have here?”
Lieutenant Townsend shook her head as she answered. “It seems like we’ve got caseloads of spare parts for an Oberth Class Explorer, Mark One. Most of this stuff has been stored for decades. Pretty outdated if you ask me.”
Ridgeway decided not to mention that the Shepard might very well need these ‘outdated’ parts.
Townsend continued as she motioned T’Noor over to her. “On a positive note, it seems like we also have a portable holo-station and a bunch of data files on Oberth Class operation, maintenance, and repair.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Ridgeway noticed Master Chief Arthrun thumbing through some files on a PADD. Without warning, the Andorian hurled the PADD at a nearby bulkhead with a crack. “Brainless Intelligence lakeys!” Arthrun fumed.
Ridgeway walked over to the upset Andorian. “What is it Master Chief?” Arthrun shook his head. “In their infinite wisdom, the bureaucrats at Starfleet Intelligence have apparently deleted all files on the Shepard’s warp drive. They were deemed perpetually too sensitive for declassification.”
“But Master Chief, according to Lieutenant Townsend, we have extensive data files on the Mark 1 Oberth class.” Ridgeway replied, totally missing the point.
Master Chief Arthrun spoke slowly, as if to make sure Ridgeway heard what he was saying. “Sir, the engines on the Shepard were not like the ones used on the Oberths, or any other Starfleet vessel for that matter.” Comprehension started across Ridgeways face as Arthrun continued. “Those warp drive specs,” he said, pointing towards the portable holo-station, “are worthless.”
Ridgeway’s face got serious, “I think, Master Chief, that we need to have a talk. Lieutenant Townsend, if you would accompany us. The rest of you, see if you can get that holo-station working, and clear some area. We’ve got some familiarization to do.”
Ridgeway walked off in what he hoped was the direction of his ‘stateroom.’ Townsend and Arthrun followed him.
When they had disappeared around a corner, Tara brushed her green hands together, “Well, you heard the man, let’s get to work. If we’re lucky, we might even be able to finish without any more interruptions. The other junior officers nodded affirmatively and continued working.
The engineering section on the Persepheron was, without a doubt, the largest part of the tug. The Persepheron housed impulse engines powerful enough to move a sizeable asteroid. She was also equipped with oversized warp drive systems, including a somewhat unusual variable-geometry, quad-nacelle configuration. Added to that were three tractor beam emitters from locations designed to give a high degree of load stabilization, and a complex array of semi-portable subspace field generators. The tug was a small vessel, but one with a big inertial punch.
Chief Marconi had arrived before the rest of his newly assigned shipmates. Not ever one with a large amount of patience, he had gone straight to engineering and offered his services. Marconi figured that if his new captain, ‘Ridgefield’ wanted to get a hold of him he’d able to figure out where to find him. The tug was a small vessel anyway.
He’d immediately noticed many of the systems were out of tolerance, at least by his book. He also knew better than to mess with another engineer’s configuration without first finding out why the engines were out of spec in the first place. For now, he just made himself useful making sure there were no wild fluctuations in anything, and familiarized himself with the engines. More thorough work would have to wait until they were well clear of the Starbase, and the crew had gained his trust.
Chief Marconi had a remarkably one-track mind. He spent no time dwelling on what trouble might be facing him because he had shoved that Cardassian Ensign. Truth be told, he hadn’t noticed the Starfleet uniform on the Cardassian until Tara had pulled him unceremoniously from the deck. No matter, until he was called on the carpet to face discipline, he simply thought no more about the matter.
As far as actually working with the Cardassian, that would be more difficult. Chief Marconi was not inherently a racist, but years of having friends killed and hearing stories of Cardassian atrocities had taken their toll on his enlightened tolerance. The freshest and perhaps strongest scar on his psyche was a meeting two weeks prior, with his brother in one of the many post-war hospitals set up on Earth. Ben had always been smiling and upbeat, but the hollow eyes and lackluster demeanor of the former Starfleet Ensign, one of the innumerous survivors of an unnamed Cardassian POW camp, proved he had been beaten finally, on the inside. That meeting was after six months of intensive therapy and treatment, when the doctors had actually deemed Ben well enough to have visitors. His mother had left in tears, but Anthony had actually been hardened by the experience.
An alert buzzer one panel to the left attracted his attention and Chief Marconi stepped to investigate. The forward deflector had been knocked out of calibration by the impacts several minutes ago. What made the situation worse was that somehow, a feedback loop had been started in the automatic power shunt, causing a larger than normal power drain from the deflector array in an effort to compensate.
The computer monitoring circuits should have caught this problem and fixed it before it even became noticeable. Chief Marconi made it a point to run some more comprehensive diagnostics once he had the chance. While the tug was still transiting to warp distance from Starbase 214 Marconi knew that Prak wasn’t likely to be in the mood to stop long enough to do a restart on the whole deflector system. Thinking quickly the Chief, who had spend more then fifteen years in and around engine rooms, decided to do a flying restart of just the power shunt in hopes that it would clear up the feedback loop.
Shutting down the power shunt was only risky if they hit something large, and Chief Marconi only planned on having it down for seconds. Besides, Chief Prak had temporarily slowed to a crawl while he made sure they were clear of the debris field. Marconi looked around. The First Class, supposedly in charge, was so busy flirting with a new dark haired Second Class that he hadn’t even noticed the alert buzzer on the deflector panel. Chief Marconi deftly bypassed the alarm signal that should have sounded at the loss of deflector power shunt power and proceeded.
Ten seconds later, an indicator light turned green and deflector power levels all read in the normal range. Chief Marconi let out his breath and walked away to check on other stations.
Unbeknownst to the smug Chief, when he had taken the power shunt offline, the deflector itself had flickered, for no more than half of a second. In that blink of an eye, an errant cylindrical bearing made from duranium, half a meter in diameter and a full meter long, drifted gently onto the surface of the deflector dish and lodged itself between two emitters. The deflector powered back up then, pushing several more drifting bearings out of the way.
Aft Overflow Berthing
The Persepheron didn’t have what was traditionally known as ‘Officer’s Quarters.” Most of the senior enlisted shared staterooms, if they could be called that, with one or two others. The junior enlisteds lived four to a room. Since she was not designed to be underway for more than a month or so at a time, this was deemed acceptable to its designers. Nine square meters of space seems a lot bigger on paper than it does in actuality. The designers thought on paper, the Persepheron’s crew was left with the reality.
On one of four bunks, the other three strewn with duffel and garment bags, Starfleet Marine Captain, and Doctor Shelly O’Connell slept soundly. Learning early on in her career to catch sleep when possible, she had never forgotten that lesson. Besides, after a tour planet-side treating casualties sent from more remote field hospitals and ships, being underway with the gentle hum of impulse engines was soothing. Now that the suspense of what her next assignment might be had been eliminated, she felt a certain sense of relief. The crew of the Persepheron probably wouldn’t start asking her to cure them of various ailments for a couple of days at least. Until then, she figured, there probably wouldn’t be much to do. The impacts against the deflector shield and hull hadn’t awakened her either, being nowhere near as loud as the anti-orbital fire she had learned to sleep through during her first tour aboard a Puller Class Marine Transport.