Tales of the USS Bluefin: “Survivor” Author's note: This story takes place shortly after the events of “Through a Glass, Darkly.” Stardate 53853.6 (8 November 2376) USS Bluefin NCC-4458 Ship's Gym Commander Inga Strauss watched in rapt fascination as Lt. Commander T'Ser and Senior Chief Solly Brin warily circled each other on the workout mat. Both wore white ghis suitable for freedom of movement and relative comfort in martial arts training. T'Ser and Brin were the two physically strongest members of the crew. Brin had the advantage in overall size and experience, while T'Ser held an edge in speed. Strauss originally planned to work out on one of the grav-cycles, but had become curious when she saw who was sparring. She stood by Petty Officer First Class Steiner, the Bluefin's weapons and ordinance expert, himself a former Marine and master of several forms of martial arts. Steiner was also an instructor, along with Senior Chief Brin and Captain Akinola. He was serving as referee for the sparring matches while also providing running commentary for Commander Strauss. Neither T'Ser nor Brin seemed particularly tired despite having spent nearly half an hour in various forms of martial combat. Strauss was exhausted merely watching them. Steiner explained the various forms to Strauss – Andorian Vershaan, Klingon RaLk'jo bat'telh (which involved several rituals she did not begin to understand), Human Jujitsu, Vulcan Ke-Tarya, and Orion Tatharoc. There were punches, kicks, slaps, throws, hip rolls, and leg sweeps. The moves were graceful, yet brutal. The Petty Officer stepped forward, extending an arm to pause the combatants. “Are you two warmed up?” He asked. Aside from a faint sheen of perspiration on both combatants, they seemed fresh and ready. “I will defer to the Senior Chief, taking into account his advanced age,” replied T'Ser, managing to keep her expression neutral. “Let's mix it up some,” suggested the burly Red Orion. “Any form, any style. First one off the mat loses.” T'Ser inclined her head. “Your proposal is acceptable.” “Should we have a corpsman on standby?” whispered Strauss to Steiner. He shook his head. “No ma'am. We can always beam them directly to sickbay if necessary.” That gave Strauss little comfort. Steiner stepped onto the mat. “Gentlebeings, there will be a six minute time limit. Stepping off the mat, losing consciousness, excess blood loss, or slapping the mat will end the match. Understood?” T'Ser and Brin nodded curtly at the Petty Officer, then bowed to one another before moving to opposite sides of the mat. Strauss leaned against the wall, arms folded, feeling out of her depth and apprehensive. Brin rolled his head, corded neck muscles bulging and vertebrae popping. T'Ser shook her hands, jogging in place for a moment, then took a ready position. Steiner gave a short blast on his whistle, and the match began. Strauss had expected the same, wary approach as in the previous sparring session, but T'Ser flew at Brin, launching a flurry of fist strikes. Brin parried most with forearm blocks, but a few punches caught him on the side of the head and in his mid-section. Strauss had no doubt those punches would have disabled or possibly killed her, if she had been on the receiving end. For his part, Solly barely grunted. He feinted with a kick and a jab, then connected with a backhand that sent T'Ser staggering backward. Strauss could see a trickle of bright, green blood from the Vulcan's nose. T'Ser smiled, nodded, and made a “come on,” motion with her hands. “What style are they using, Steiner?” Strauss asked the Petty Officer, keeping her voice low. “Beats the hell out of me, ma'am,” he replied. “It's mixed martial arts blended with back-alley street fighting.” “Oh.” For the next five minutes, the two combatants traded blows, kicks, punches, throws, and sweeps. Brin managed a head butt against T'Ser and the cracking sound made both Strauss and Steiner wince. The Vulcan shook her head, momentarily dazed, but countered with a haymaker that sent two of Brin's teeth caroming across the deck. Seeing the big Orion somewhat dazed, she charged him, sliding underneath at the last second, turned and applied a choke-hold on the big man. He reached back to apply a double-clap to her ears, but she slid a hand to the junction of his neck and shoulder, squeezing a specific nerve bundle with incredible pressure. Brin's eyes rolled back, and he collapsed to his knees. With a grin of triumph, T'Ser let go to allow the Orion to fall forward. Except, instead of falling, he twisted and caught both of her wrists, rolled, and launched her across the gym. There was a sickening thud as T'Ser impacted the unpadded wall, whereupon she slid down in a heap. Strauss raced over to the Vulcan. Even Steiner appeared alarmed. “T'Ser, are you okay?” Inga asked, anxiously. The Vulcan's eyes fluttered. She rolled to her side, coughed, and spat a wad of green-tinged sputum on the deck. “Yeah,” she breathed shakily. “I'm great.” Solly strode over, his face swollen and blood oozing from a gash over his left eye. He held out a hand which T'Ser grasped and pulled her easily to her feet. “Not bad, Commander,” he said, his grin revealing the gap from his two missing teeth. She wobbled unsteadily for a moment, so Strauss caught her arm. “I thought the nerve pinch worked on Orions,” she muttered, rubbing her head and wincing. “It does . . . on most Orions,” he responded. “But you're not most Orions, right?” “See you in Sickbay, Commander,” he replied, his expression regaining the stoic impassivity that Strauss found chilling. * * * “Why don't you two just duel it out with phasers at twenty paces? It would be less messy and my time wouldn't be wasted patching you back together.” Dr. Octavius Castille moved a dermal regenerator over one of the many lacerations T'Ser received in the slug-fest with Solly Brin. “Welcome to the Border Service, Doctor,” replied T'Ser. “We're not exactly explorers and scientists. When we 'boldly go,' it's often on board a slaver vessel with people trying to kill us. Fighting skills are more valuable than diplomacy when you're dealing with a two-meter tall Nausicaan with a nasty attitude.” “Maybe if you actually practiced diplomacy, you wouldn't have to resort to violence.” “Spoken like a true Fleeter,” retorted T'Ser. Dr. Castille was the Bluefin's new Chief Medical Officer, having transferred (Castille would say, "exiled,") from the Galaxy-class USS Magellan. Castille, although a highly skilled physician and surgeon, had managed to rub the CMO of Magellan the wrong way and found himself transferred from Starfleet to the Border Service. Their previous CMO, Calvin Baxter, was found dead in his home on Earth while on extended medical leave. The underlying cause of his death, initially thought to be a suicide, remained a mystery. Castille stepped back and admired his work. “Just be glad I'm the one who patched you up. I imagine most of the so-called surgeons in this back-water service still use cat-gut and leeches.” Something in T'Ser's eyes caused Castille to pause and take a step backward. “Doctor,” she said, coldly. “Never speak ill of Dr. Baxter or any or your colleagues on the frontier in my hearing again. Are we clear on that?” “I . . . did not mean any offense.” “Yes. You did.” She slipped off the examination table. “Please see to Senior Chief Brin. I would advise you to keep your opinions about the Border Service to yourself. He's not nearly as forgiving as I am.” * * * “Come!” bellowed Captain Joseph Akinola. The door to the Ready Room slid open, and Commander Inga Strauss entered. Akinola leaned back in his chair, an expression of interest on his face. “What did you think of the sparring match, XO?” “Truthfully sir? I was afraid they were going to kill each other.” He chuckled as he gestured for her to take a seat. “They do go after it hard, don't they? Good thing they build Vulcans and Orions tough.” “Yes sir, but . . .” “Go on, XO.” “Is that level of fighting really necessary? Honestly, that wasn't sparring; it was . . . how do I put it?” “Hand-to-hand combat,” he finished. “No holds-barred, dirty, screw-the-rules, close-quarter combat. You've had a glimpse of it already since you came on-board. Two boarding missions so far, right?” She nodded. “Yes sir, but nothing like what I witnessed today.” “Not yet,” he amended. “Trust me, Commander. One of these days, you'll see much worse. Better to prepare here, where we can patch up the combatants quickly and, yes, keep things from going too far.” Akinola paused, studying his young Executive Officer. “Why do you think I allow Senior Chief Brin and Lt. Commander T'Ser to fight like that?” “Well, sir, I suppose it's what you just said . . . the need to be ready for the real thing.” He nodded. “There's also the fact that Brin is the most capable fighter on this ship. If we know we're going to deal with close-quarter fighting, he will be part of the boarding party. He needs to go all-out if he's to stay sharp. Sarnek has the Vulcan strength but lacks skill. Steiner is very good, but he's primarily a weapons man and Human. T'Ser always gives him a challenge.” “But sir, I've seen you and the Senior Chief spar.” Akinola smiled thinly. “At half-speed, XO. I may know a few tricks, but if Brin were to really come after me at full speed, I'd have to take him out with a phaser on the heaviest stun setting. T'Ser has the Vulcan physiology that can handle his strength, plus she's well-trained herself. And, I think she enjoys the challenge of going up against the big guy.” “Has she ever beaten him?” “In a fair fight? Once or twice.” She didn't ask about when Solly Brin didn't fight fair. * * * The Bluefin glided through Sector 342 at a leisurely warp 2. They traversed one of the major space-lanes with two-fold purpose: deter piracy and stand ready to assist any vessels in distress. There were other jobs, of course, but some of the more mundane tasks such as servicing nav-buoys and subspace relays were now relegated to old ships refitted for such jobs. Bluefin herself was three-quarters through her design-life, having been launched 75 years earlier. Captain Akinola sipped a cup of coffee, ensconced in the familiar command chair of the cutter. His stewardship as commanding officer of the Bluefin was approaching ten years, although his actual service aboard the cutter went back decades to when he was still an enlisted man. He had grown up on ships, first aboard his family's L-Type freighter, the Eku, then many years aboard Border Service vessels, the Albacore, then the Bluefin. He was born on a ship. He supposed that one day he would die on one. Not that he was in any rush for the latter. Akinola noticed that Lt. Bane and Commander Strauss were focused on something at the Ops station. Bane was staring into the vintage sensor hood while the XO was adjusting controls and frowning at a display. He stood and made his way over to them. “Anything of interest, XO?” She glanced up. “We're not sure, sir. There's an intermittent signal coming from within the badlands. It doesn't match any Federation signals, but it seems too regular to be a natural source.” “Got it again,” remarked Bane. “Definitely an object comprised of processed materials, not an asteroid.” Akinola frowned. “A ship?” “No sir,” replied the Aussie Ops officer. “Much too small. Might be a marker or a drone of some sort. Not one of ours.” The Captain pondered this information. “Helm, adjust course along the bearing that Lt. Bane will provide. Maintain current speed and intensify shields.” “Aye, sir,” replied Ensign Bralus, the Bolian helm officer. “Any ideas, Skipper?” asked Struass. “Not really. There shouldn't be any kind of markers or relays in the badlands. We need to make sure it's not a hazard.” Strauss frowned. “Such as?” “I have a vivid imagination, XO.” The bridge crew returned to its normal, quiet routine, save for Nigel Bane, who kept his eyes glued to the sensor hood. Solly Brin stepped off the turbo-lift, nodding at Strauss and Akinola, before taking his position at tactical. Strauss stepped over to Brin. “Did Dr. Castille patch you up?” The big Orion bared his teeth, showing the replacements for the two T'Ser knocked out during their bout. Strauss noticed with some discomfiture that his canines were exceptionally long. “Good as new, Commander,” he rumbled, before turning to his station. “Crikey!” exclaimed Lt. Bane, causing the bridge crew to turn in his direction. He jerked up from the sensor hood and faced Akinola. “What, Mr. Bane?” “Skipper, I'm picking up a life-form reading on that object.” * * * To Be Continued.