TUE: USS Pugnacious - “Hubris” Stardate Stardate 2415.4 (1 June 2325) USS Pugnacious NCC-487 Sector 342, Near the Molari Badlands “You've got to be kidding,” moaned Lt. Commander January Sylvest, C.O. Of the Patrol Cutter, Pugnacious. Her Executive Officer, Lt. Pasqal, gave an apologetic shrug. “These things happen, Jan. Who knew Border Service Command would send the Albacore to the Second Squadron? The Growler is down for at least a month after that skirmish with the Tzenkethi, and the Outland Expanse is short on assets already.” “And we're not? That just leaves Bluefin as the only newer and more capable cutter in this sector,” she countered. “The Albacores can run through ion storms like a duck through rain. The last time we went through a force 3 storm, we were laid up for weeks.” “Scuttlebutt has it that Scamp will be coming to the Seventh from the Fourth Squadron,” pointed out Pascal. She snorted. “Scuttlebutt. Command is shifting the more capable ships at random, robbing Peter to pay Paul.” The Denobulan raised his eyebrows. “That's a good one, Jan. Etymology, please?” She rubbed her head, feeling a tension headache coming on. “Look it up, Pasqal.” Sylvest stood from the desk in the ante-room/office of her quarters. “How long is Albacore stuck in the Outland Expanse?” “Hard to say. Figure a month for repairs on the Growler, then prying Albacore away from the Squadron Commander of the Second Squadron.” “All above our paygrade,” she replied. “There's one other thing,” continued Pasqal. “Of course there is.” “It seems we will have Ensign Gralt with us a while longer.” “Oh, that's right. Poor kid.” “You mean, poor Lt. Duntov,” corrected Pasqal. “Gralt is about to drive him crazy, asking questions, making recommendations, adjusting things . . . you know how Zed can be.” “Yeah, he's got his little kingdom down in Engineering and hates for anyone to touch anything. Remind him, XO, that as a Department Head, it's his job to train up his assistants, not scare them off.” “Message received, Skipper. For what it's worth, Ensign Gralt is doing a really good job. I think Zed may be looking over his shoulder.” Ensign Gralt, a Tellarite engineer fresh from the Academy, was assigned to the USS Albacore. Unfortunately, after his leave to visit family on Tellar Prime, the transport to bring him to Star Station Echo ran behind schedule. By the time Gralt arrived, Albacore was already on a three week mission. Not knowing what else to do with the nugget officer, the Squadron Commander assigned him TDY to the Pugnacious. And now, that three-week temporary duty assignment would be extended by at least a month, probably longer. “Break the news to Ensign Gralt before informing Lt. Duntov. For what it's worth, I agree. Gralt shows considerable promise. He just needs to loosen up a bit.” Pasqal's face broke into one of those unnerving, broad smiles peculiar to Denobulans. “I do believe Chief Torsk can help in that regard.” * * * Chief Petty Officer Torsk shook his head and muttered. “I don't think there's any help for that frelling pup.” He listened from his office near Engineering, his sharp ears able to hear the ass-chewing that Lt. Duntov was applying to Ensign Gralt. Torsk had to admit, Duntov's gift for sarcasm was admirable for a Human, nearly at a level worthy of a Tellarite. But Gralt seemed totally mystified and unable to defend his actions to his superior officer, even when his actions were correct. Torsk knew it was really a matter between officers and none of his business. He had enough to stay busy keeping the enlisted crew in line. Still. “Frak.” He stood from his desk and moved to the doorway. In a few moments, Ensign Gralt moved ponderously down the passageway. For Humans, it is difficult to read the expressions of a Tellarite. But Torsk had no trouble seeing that Ensign Gralt was discouraged. The old Tellarite waited for the youngster to get close. “Mr. Gralt, may I have a word with you, young sir?” Startled, Gralt looked up and blinked. His large, black eyes registering the Chief of the Boat for the first time. “Um, sure Chief.” “Why don't you step into my office and we can talk privately.” Ensign Gralt appeard to be puzzled, but he did not protest. Torsk glanced down the hallway, not wanting Lt. Duntov to know he was speaking to Gralt. It wasn't a violation of regulations, but it was out of the norm, and the Chief Engineer did not like the norm disturbed. As they entered, the old Chief closed the door, to which a considerable amount of sound-deadening material was affixed. Torsk's office was not much more than an enclosed alcove. There was room for a desk, and two chairs, plus a small cabinet. It gave the Chief of the Boat a place to “counsel” the enlisted crew when a public verbal keel-hauling wasn't appropriate. Torsk sat behind the desk while Gralt took the chair opposite. “Mr. Gralt,” Torsk began, “It really isn't my place to offer advice to officers. That's the job of the XO and your Department Head. However, I get a sense that you may be having difficulties in meeting Lt. Duntov's high standards. Would I be correct in that appraisal.” Gralt let out an almost Human sigh. “You would be correct, Chief.” “May I ask as to the nature of these difficulties?” “It doesn't really matter; I'll be transferring over to the Albacore in a few days.” Torsk leaned back in his chair, regarding the young Tellarite with an expression of disdain. “Ensign Gralt, with your permission, I would like us to set aside rank for the next five minutes so I can be straight with you, Tellarite to Tellarite.” The young officer looked uncomfortable but he made a “whatever” gesture. “Sure, Chief, I'm okay with that.” “Good.” He stood and leaned forward, his muzzle pulled back in a snarl, revealing yellow tusks as he loomed over the Ensign. “You miserable, sad excuse of a Border Service nugget! You misbegotten spawn from your useless sire's loins! Are you missing your mater's teats, you mewling sack of steamed Yarliq guts? I'd rather gnaw off my own leg than waste my aging eyes on such a poor excuse of a Tellarite! May the whore-mongering deities dry out your celestial mud-bog, you pustulent, ingrown hair on my ass! What makes you think life will be easier on Albacore? Their Chief Engineer eats Ensigns and shits out real officers. He'd take one look at you and vomit, you wretched waste of oxygen!” Gralt merely stared at the Chief, frozen to his chair. “Um . . .” “Don't interrupt – I'm not finished!” Torsk thundered, then was quiet for a moment, staring daggers at Gralt. When he spoke again, it was at a lower volume but equally as sharp. “You have brains but no heart; courage but no soul. If you can't find your heart and soul, you have no future in the service.” Gralt looked stricken. “Chief, I . . .” Torsk shook his head. “No excuses, no apologies, Mr. Gralt. I understand you are to be an officer and a gentle-being, and rightly so. But you're also a Tellarite. Show the grit of your heritage. Be respectful to your superiors, but when you know you're right, stand your ground! Make your case and, by the deities, don't cower!” For the first time, Gralt met the Chief's gaze. “I just want to be a good engineer.” “Noble enough, young sir. Tellarites are the best frelling engineers in the quadrant. But never forget, you're part of an organization that is predominately Human. For all their talk of diversity, they will unconsciously want you to be Human. Learn to work with them, but don't forget who and what you are.” They were interrupted by the sound of the XO's voice over the intraship. “Ensign Gralt, report to the Ward Room.” “Now what?” wondered Gralt, aloud, as he stood. “Away with you, Mr. Gralt. I've had my say. What you do with it is up to you.” As Gralt turned to go, he hesitated and half-turned. “I'll consider it, you dried up husk of a Yarliq's hairball," he growled. As the Ensign left, Torsk chuckled to himself. “That's more like it, young sir.” * * * “Captain's Log, Stardate 2415.4, Lt. Commander January Sylvest, recording. We have successfully deployed three navigational buoys and are continuing on routine patrol adjacent to the Molari Badlands. Stellar meteorology reports no ionic activity within scanning range and no giant dust clouds of doom. Perhaps we can complete this patrol without damaging the hull or scratching the paint. Our current course will take us near the Lesser Riven Nebula, a spectacular sight, but also a haven for pirates and smugglers. While it isn't necessarily dangerous to traverse the nebula, sensors are severely degraded. I hope we won't have to put our array to the test in there.” She closed and saved the log. A soft sound caught her attention. Looking down, she spotted the sole survivor from the ore tug, Roba. A gray and white male cat rubbed against her leg, meowing plaintively. “I just fed you, Chubster,” she chided. Chubs launched himself into her lap and began purring. “Silly cat,” she said, smiling, as she rubbed the Feline's ears, eliciting even louder purrs. There were no explicit regulations against small, domesticated animals on board ship. Such matters usually fell under “captain's prerogative.” Of course, Commodore Munson could over-rule her at the next inspection, but she would deal with that later. Her gut told her he wasn't a pet lover. For that matter, he didn't seem to have much love for people, either. * * * “So that's the story, Ensign. It seems your temporary duty aboard Pugnacious will be extended at least another month.” Ensign Gralt listened stoically to the XO's explanation regarding the Albacore's temporary deployment to the Outland Expanse. “Any questions, Mr. Gralt?” “May I be allowed to continue to serve in Engineering?” Lt. Pasqal lifted a bushy eyebrow in surprise. “You may. However, I thought you might wish to work in another area for the duration of your time aboard.” “Why, sir? I'm an engineer; it makes sense that I work in my area of expertise. Have I failed in my duties?” “Not at all. But I realize that Lt. Duntov can be . . . demanding. If you feel that you cannot serve under him . . .” “With all due respect, sir, he's the Chief Engineer, so I will defer to him as to how the section should be run. I have it on good authority that the Chief Engineer on the Albacore is equally, if not more, demanding. As a junior officer, I must learn to function under pressure. Sir.” Pasqal leaned back in his chair, studying the young Tellarite. “That's a very mature outlook, Ensign. I'm impressed. Very well, you will continue to serve in Engineering.” “Thank you, sir.” “For what it's worth, I'm glad you'll be with us a while longer. You've shown promise, Mr. Gralt. Dismissed.” * * * After feeding Chubs and making sure he had adequate water, Sylvest made her way to the bridge. Lt.(j.g.) Heath “Sparky” Tatum had the conn. Ensign T'Las was at Ops while Petty Officer Gorpa was at the helm. Tatum rose and handed Sylvest a data slate with the gamma shift report. “A quiet night, ma'am. We're approaching the Kryla system and will pass it off our portside by 4 A.U. All systems operating within normal parameters. Holding our previously ordered heading at warp six.” Sylvest sat in the command chair, scanning the report, noting fuel consumption had improved since the Deuterium tanks were flushed the previous month. She affixed her thumbprint. “Thank you, Mr. Tatum. I have the conn. Enjoy your breakfast.” “Yes ma'am, I will,” replied Tatum, with a grin. For the next hour, all was quiet on the bridge. Some found bridge duty to be tedious, but Sylvest enjoyed the quiet routine. It provided opportunity to think, to plan, to contemplate the vastness of the universe. But in the Border Service, quiet moments were typically short-lived. “Captain, I'm picking up a distress signal,” reported T'Las. Sylvest sat up straighter in her chair. “Where away, Ensign?” “It's coming from the Kryla system . . . the freighter Moon Shadow . . . they are under attack from two vessels. They are attempting to evade by entering the upper atmosphere of the sixth planet, a gas giant. . . The rest is garbled; the attackers are jamming the signal.” “Helm, plot an intercept course, maximum warp. Ops, set material condition red throughout the ship.” As the lighting on the bridge shifted to red, Lt. Pasqal stepped off the turbo-lift to take his place at tactical. “What do we have, Skipper?” “Freighter under attack by two vessels. They're trying to hide in a gas giant.” Pasqal winced. “That's either very smart or suicidal.” “Here's hoping for smart with a side of lucky. It may buy some time. Helm what's our ETA?” queried the Captain. “At maximum warp, we'll enter the system boundary in twenty-two minutes. Once in-system, it will take us another thirty minutes at full impulse.” Sylvest glanced at Pasqal, who shook his head and spoke quietly. “No, Jan, please. I know what you're thinking.” “Helm, if we cheat in and stay at warp until we get inside the seventh planet?” she asked. To his credit, Gorpa didn't flinch. “We would cut twenty minutes off our time. But it might get rough if we catch the edge of a gravity well.” “Do it.” She turned to Ensign T'Las. “Are you able to I.D. the attacking ships?” The Vulcan Ops officer shook her head. “Negative. Still out of range to make a positive identification.” “XO, bring phaser cannons on line. What's loaded in tube one?” “Tube one has a Mark 9.” “Very well.” “All stations manned and ready,” announced T'Las. “Thank you, Ensign,” Sylvest replied, forcing her voice to remain even. And now, we wait. * * * To be Continued.