Federation Starbase 23 - Jaeih's Stories

Illustrious 01: First Steps

By Jaeih t`Radaik


Here begins the Starfleet career of 22-year-old Andrea Brown (later Yushikara). This is my first (of many) Andie stories and is just a 'feeling out' one, trying to get a handle on the characters created and fleshed out by La'ra. Only Andie and Bates are mine, and Bates was just a name. Kudos to La'ra for giving these people life.

Additionally, this story first appeared as a vague idea in my head based on Andie getting into trouble with her new first officer and her new captain defending her. A short brainstorming session with La'ra later and I had an outline and the characters. Unfortunately, I fell into a becalmed region of writer's block, only recently to emerge. Suddenly an explosion! A starting point, leading to an opening scene! Two new stories started and an unfinished one humming along. Look for the first chapter of a completed and revised 'Kestrel' at the end of March 2005.

Chapter One

27th June 2272, 1426 hours
Stardate 7428.36
Miranda-class light cruiser U.S.S. Illustrious NCC-1863 [1]
Junior officer's quarters 5B13 [2]

The intercom chimed for her attention and Andrea rushed from the shower to answer it, grabbing a towel on the way. As it was a wet rather than a sonic shower she was now dripping water onto her nice new carpet.

"Lieutenant Brown here," she gasped into the intercom, tucking her towel in so that it held more securely and using another to enclose her sopping wet hair.

"Lieutenant, I have a call here from someone who claims to know you. Are you talking to a Lieutenant Heather Millar at present, or should I tell her you're… busy?"

The lewd sneer in Sergei Malinkov's voice was readily apparent but even though it was barely a month since she'd first met him at the Illustrious' commissioning ceremony, Andrea knew that he was just teasing her. She also knew from that sneer that there were no senior officers on the bridge right then.

It seemed like everybody on board was on maintenance duty.

Regaining her breath, she coolly replied, "I'm never too busy for an old friend, Lieutenant. You, however, can sod off."

"Ooooh! Get up on the wrong side of someone's bed, did we?"

That hit a sore point, but Sergei wasn't to know that. Forcing some joviality into her voice, she said, "Can it, clown, and let me speak to my friend. Patch her through to my terminal screen, okay? And don't listen in, you lech!"

"Now, is that any way to speak to a superior officer? I don't know… cadets these days… tut tut. Transferring though now."

"Thanks, Sergei."

"Say 'Hi' for me. Is she cute?"

"Shut up, you nitwit!" This time the smile in her voice was real.

He finally fell silent and her screen lit up with the smiling face of her best friend Heather Millar. The last month had been so hectic and crowded that she hadn't been able to spare more than a passing thought for the other woman in all that time.

It is so weird not seeing her after four years breathing down each other's necks! Andie thought in amazement, while feeling a pang at not having her friend beside her.

"Hi Andie… hey, nice outfit!" she commented on seeing her friend's attire, and laughed. "Ah see ye were expectin' mah call, and dressed for the occasion."

Andrea grinned and greeted her friend. "Hi Heather, how's it goin'?"

"Oh, tis goin' great. We've got the John Muir [3] all shipshape and Bristol-fashion, as they used t' say, and Ah finally managed tae scrounge up th' time tae give ye a call," the other Scotswoman said, looking pointedly at her long-time friend.

Andrea blushed and ducked her head in acknowledgement of the hit. Still, a half-hearted protest pushed its way out. She also noticed, as always happened when she talked to a fellow Scot with an accent, her own Scottish burr came out on top of her usual precise diction. "Heather! Ah've bin busy!"

"Aye, nae more so than Ah'll have been, Ah'll wager." Despite the stern cast of her face, Heather's warm brown eyes couldn't conceal the smile they held.

The stern look itself dissolved into a snort of laughter when Andie said, in a tone of long-suffering martyrdom, "Yes, Mother. I promise to call more often from now on." Then she grinned. "Ah am sorry for no' callin', Heather, but ye ken whit Ah'm like. It's guid tae hear fae ye, tho'."

"Aye, an' you an' a'. So, how goes things wi' you?"

Andrea leaned back in her chair and sighed.

"That guid, eh?" Heather put in before she had a chance to speak.

"Yeah. We're barely a month intae the shakedown cruise, an' we've had tae fix tons o' stuff!" Andie groaned, stretching in her chair. "Fortunately there's nothin' major, but there seems tae be an endless list o' quick fixes that need tae be done. Ah've jist spent all mornin' runnin' around after a few glitches in the helm console's programmin', an' it's still no' fixed. That's after runnin' after it all yesterday too! As Ah said, nothin' major, but ye want the bluidy thing runnin' right now, don't ye?"

"Aye, cannae have ye warpin' through a star now, can we?" Heather joked.

"Mmmm-hmmm. Tae top it all' off, Ah'm goin' on duty in about an hour-and-a-half. Ah'm gonnae be bluidy knackered when Ah get back tae bed, Ah tell ye!"

"Aye, 'tis a pain, bein' on shakedown. But at least ye get tae ken yer systems like th' back o' yer hand. Ah think it's a trade worth makin'; sleep for a' that know-how."

Andrea nodded, reluctantly agreeing with her friend. "Aye, Ah suppose it is. It disnae feel like it right now, but once we're past this stage an' Ah can get a full night's sleep again, Ah'll be mair inclined tae agree wi' ye. And of course, the first time Ah actually need that know-how in a tight situation Ah'll be thankin' mah lucky stars!"

"Aye, that's exactly whit Ah meant. Of course, Ah can also say that wi' a smile on mah face 'cause our shakedown's jist been completed, an' we've got our orders for our first mission!"

Heather could not contain the excitement in her voice, nor had any reason to. Andrea's face lit up with a big smile for her friend.

"Why, ye lucky cow! On both counts!" she exclaimed, laughing. "Consider yersel' resented, again on both!"

Heather grinned and basked in her friend's good-natured envy. "Sour grapes, little girl," she gloated before adding, "an' it's probably against some Regs tae call a superior officer a 'cow'."

Andrea sputtered in outrage at that, and Heather burst into a full-throated laugh at the other woman's antics.

Recovering herself – somewhat – Andrea squealed, "No fair! Jist because ye graduated above me—"

Still grinning, Heather broke in. " 'Jist because' disnae cut it, lassie!"

Giving up her – mostly – fake outrage, Andie ruefully agreed. She had always been competitive, making up for what she lacked in actual skill in sheer determination. Unfortunately – for her – Heather was just as determined… and smarter as well. She had graduated fourth in her class at the Academy, in the 97th percentile – a full four percent and five places higher than Andrea.

Getting above that magic boundary of the 95th percentile meant your rank upon graduation was full lieutenant. The mark was awarded not just for mere technical excellence or high exam scores, you had to be a certain type of person too – an explorer rather than a warrior. It was this quality that earned you a berth aboard the pride of the Star Fleet: a Constitution-class starship. Heather had fought hard for every course credit she received and so Andie could not grudge her friend her richly deserved award. She knew that Starfleet was right about her, and as much as she wanted to explore she was more of a policeman herself.

No slouch herself, graduating above the 85th percentile meant that Andie had graduated as a lieutenant (junior grade) and got a berth on a front-line starship. Still, Andrea was jealous of her friend. Only the best of the best were given the chance to serve aboard a Constitution straight from the Academy.

"So, d'ye ken where yer headed?"

"Aye, we're off on a deep-space exploratory cruise on the far side of Metron territory. Our last port of call is Deep Space Five, then it's nothing but unexplored space!"

"That's brilliant, Heather! Ah'm so happy for ye Ah cannae say. This is why ye joined Starfleet in th' first place, and yer getting' tae do it on yer first posting!" Andrea shook her head in wonderment. "Yer livin' th' dream, lass. Ah dinnae ken where we're gonnae end up but Ah doubt it'll be as excitin' as where you'll be!"

"There are other kinds o' excitement in this galaxy, Andie," Heather warned. "Be careful what ye wish for!"

"Yeah, yer right. Wi' all this weaponry on board we're gonnae be on border patrol somewhere, now that Ah think about it. That's mainly what Mirandas do, after all."

"Aye, well you be careful no matter where ye go, little girl. Ah'm afraid Ah've got tae go now," Heather said. "The Muir leaves spacedock in a couple o' hours, and Ah've things tae do."

"Yeah, me too. 'Twas good t' talk wi' ye, Beanpole. Take care o' yersel' too, and don't get transferred to Security!"

Heather grinned again at their private joke, and at Andie's use of her old nickname. "Ah'll take that 'Beanpole' remark outa yer hide next Ah see ye, Shrimp!"

She leaned closer to her visual pickup and said, "Blessed Be, Andie. Ah'll see ye in five years or so."

"A' th' best, Heather. Ah'm holdin' ye tae that!" Andrea replied.

Lieutenant Millar nodded, smiled again, and then the platinum-blonde's face disappeared to be replaced by the Federation Seal.

"Be careful, lassie," Andrea murmured at the closed connection.

Bridge, U.S.S. Illustrious
1914 hours

"How about now?"

Commander Donally looked up in surprise at the muffled yell that swept over the bridge she'd just stepped onto. A quick scan revealed that there was no one else on it, which added to her confusion. Stepping around the command chair she finally located the source of the other voice and the very person – she assumed – that she had come to see.

The lower half of a female officer was sticking out from the access panel into the innards of the helm console. Before Donally could address her, however, the officer yelled again.

"Damnit Gransh, are you there?" A pause. "If I have to get up and check this myself, Ah'm gonnae—"

The emerging accent tinting the increasingly angry-sounding voice confirmed Donally's assumption, so she finally spoke.

"Is there anything I can help you with, Lieutenant Brown?"

A resounding thud from inside the console echoed around the instantly silent bridge, and the figure below her began to wriggle out of the access panel. The commander thought about saying it wasn't necessary for the woman to get up, but Brown was a new officer and she'd be all eager to show that she was on top of everything. A comment would only make things worse and confuse her, so Donally stayed silent and let Brown get up.

Just then, a Tellarite in a technician's jumpsuit came running out of the port turbolift. Still doing up his outfit, he obviously hadn't expected anyone else to be on the bridge. Donally made the obvious connection he had just visited the bridge toilet facilities and returned her attention to the officer in front of her.

Andrea – painfully aware of her rumpled and dusty appearance – finally scrambled to her feet to stand at attention, even making an abortive attempt at a salute, which faltered and died half way up.

The Tellarite, now close enough for his poor eyesight to make out the ship's first officer, skidded to a breathless halt beside his companion-in-mischief.

Eileen Donally let all this happen without a further word from her, finally giving an "At ease" when the two stopped fidgeting. The little scene she had walked into had amused her a little, but no one could tell this from looking at her.

Addressing the lieutenant, Donally said mildly, "There was no need to get up, Mr. Brown. I was merely asking you if you needed any help with your current task."

Andrea blinked, thinking, Well why couldn't you have told me this while I was still on the deck, you arse! I just made a fool of myself!

What she said was, "Ah, sorry Sir. I mean, thank you Sir. I… ah… we were just… Crewman Gransh was helping me fix my console, Commander." Andrea was blushing furiously, embarrassed at looking silly and for being patently unable to make a simple report to a superior officer because of it.

"I realise that, Lieutenant," Donally said, almost gently. "Is it fixed yet?"

Gransh chose this unfortunate moment to try and explain himself. "Commander! I was helping Lieutenant Brown track down the source of the data acquisition errors, but nature exerted its pull over me and I had to—"

"Thank you, Crewman," Donally broke in before the Tellarite could expound any further. "I assure you, I can determine the course of events quite clearly. Now, have you managed to repair the console? The log," she explained, "shows that you've been working on this little problem for the last two days and have only succeeded in eliminating what wasn't causing it."

Andrea blushed again, even though it wasn't a rebuke. Commander Donally's whole demeanour seemed to automatically prompt that reaction. Pushing past it, she replied, "Sir, I think we got it this time. I just need to check the diagnostic readouts from the test program."

"Very well then. Lets look it over together."

"Yessir. I'll put the output up on the main viewscreen so that we can all see it," Gransh replied.

They all watched as the lines of the diagnostic logfiles scrolled past. Andrea and Gransh knew what they were looking for, but Donally had to keep referring to their own logs on her PADD as her eyes caught normal lines that resembled the error code.

The log scrolled to the end. They hadn't seen an error.

Unable to suppress all her excitement, Andrea ordered, "Mr. Gransh, have the computer run a search of the logfile for all error messages encountered so far."

"Aye Sir." A seconds' pause. "It's clean, sir!"

"I told you, Gransh! I knew it! I – " Suddenly remembering the first officer's presence, Andrea clammed up.

Ignoring – for the moment – the junior officer's outburst, Donally asked, "So what did you do that fixed it, Lieutenant?"

"Ma'am. As you've read from our maintenance log, we'd tried the usual trouble-shooting procedures all the way up from checking that the cables were plugged in properly to high-end computer diagnostics, and all to no avail. What we've done for the past three hours is test every single cable for conductivity. We managed to isolate the problem down to one optical data line that had been deeply scored during installation.

"Apparently, entirely dependant on the path the transmission took through the fibre-optic cable, random bits of data were being stopped, distorting the data passing through. That was why some of the test cycles came through clean and others were buggy.

"I had just replaced the damaged data line with the one we'd tested to make sure it was clean before you arrived, sir."

"Excellent. Good work, Lieutenant, Crewman. I'll enter this into the logs myself." Before turning to leave, however, she levelled a stare at her two charges. "You are an officer and a crewman working together on the bridge of a starship. Cut out the informality, as it breeds sloppy habits. Clear?"


"Clear, Sir!"

Commander Donally nodded, then assumed her position on the command chair. "Both of you are dismissed from bridge duty; I can handle it from here. We are, after all, just station-keeping in Earth orbit. Get yourselves cleaned up, then report to your next assigned task. I believe it's in the sensory. Snap to it!"

"Yes, Ma'am," Andrea responded for both of them, and lead the crewman to the turbolift.

'Cut the informality'? Ah wiz jist talkin' tae th' man! Andie thought angrily. That woman's so damn stiff she must starch her panties!

The turbolift doors closed but they waited until they were at least a deck down before they even looked at one another. Remembering a more pleasant conversation from earlier that day, Andie summed it up for both of them and damn the protocol regulations.

"She's a stuck up cow!"

Gransh merely snorted.

Chapter Two

2nd July 2272, 1652 hours
Stardate 7428.87
Bridge, U.S.S. Illustrious

Captain Leo Bates smiled in sheer delight as he observed the young officers manning their stations on his bridge.

His fully functional, brand new, state-of-the-art bridge.

Everything was finally working according to how the factory specs said they should, without any glitches. Thus the most frantic, urgent, and downright irritating part of the shakedown was over. The crew could now go about modifying those factory settings to ones that were more suited to the 'personality' of their own ship, which would begin to reveal itself to them over the next couple of months – and indeed, wouldn't stop for years.

Despite the fact that ships of the same sub-class were as identical as modern Federation science would allow, the vessels that now sailed among the stars instead of under them were every bit as quirky and individual as their wet-navy forerunners.

Bates sighed in near-bliss as he looked forwards to putting his ship through her paces over the next two months of trial and error, allowing them to eke out every last bit of upward tuning from each shipboard system. Whether it be modifying the shape of the warp field for more efficient engines, altering sensor configurations for better eyes, or tweaking the food synthesiser so that it might produce coffee that had at least passed by a real coffee bean once, there was always something new to try.

He had just dug himself out from under a mountain of 'paperwork' – cunningly disguised as a small electronic device – dealing with all the tedious crap of the last month. He'd left Commander Donally with the conn less than halfway through the first watch so that it wouldn't be waiting for him at the end of the day.

Six painfully long hours later and he had managed to turn the mountain into a molehill, and then rewarded himself with an early dinner in the mess hall with his off-duty crew. He had given friendly nods and smiles to whomever greeted him, the better to show that the Captain was not an ogre or someone to be terrified of. New crews, especially ones with a high percentage straight from the training schools, needed such reminders. He liked to be seen by his crew and rarely took his meals in either his quarters or the ship's observation lounge, except on official ship's business or if he actually needed time alone.

Anyway, the observation lounge annoyed Bates.

Well, that wasn't strictly true. The lounge itself was fine, but even after barely a month the often-spectacular view usually left him feeling slightly disgruntled. The large, curving high-bay windows at the rear of B Deck did offer a fantastic view aft of the ship, but he found that a large portion of it was framed – or obliterated, depending on his mood – by his vessel's weapons bridge.

The photon pod itself didn't really bother him. Despite being a scientist by nature and by training, it reminded him that the peoples of the Federation only had the luxury to enjoy such awesome natural beauty because of the security he and his Starfleet comrades provided with the very weapons that spoiled his view.

However, bearing in mind his scientific background, he did often wonder how he ended up in command of a warship.

Bates sighed. That wasn't really fair, either to his new ship or the Federation. Starfleet doesn't build warships, and long may that tradition continue. Even with all the little empires out there that don't like us – not to mention the Klingons breathing down our necks – we still haven't given in to it. This class of ship is the closest we've come and even she and her sisters have full scientific and diplomatic capabilities. But she's designed to go toe-to-toe with the more manoeuvrable Klingon ships and beat them at their own game. Only time will tell if we've got it right.

Bates gazed out at the stars flashing past on the main viewscreen, frowning at the chain of thought that had interrupted his good mood.

The stars streaked past…

Bates' eyebrows shot up and his mouth opened slightly as the idea sprung on him.

The 'windows' are programmed to edit out the unnerving subspace distortions so we can 'see out' without throwing up. Why not program the observation lounge windows to edit out the roll bar too, even at sublight? Leo smiled, his humour restored. It'll be far easier than fixing the stars, and I'll have my view back.

The captain leaned back in his chair and activated his log recorder. As he entered the details of his request for engineering to look into, a grin once again creased his face.

Yes, he thought to himself, this is where the fun begins!


Gods, this is boring.

Despite managing to hold it off for nearly an hour, the fiercely-resisted thought finally fell out of her mind and landed with an almost audible crash in her ears. She winced reflexively, but managed to restrain herself from looking about.

It wasn't just today either. Since completing the 'bug-hunt' part of the shakedown, it had seemed like nothing of any importance or interest had happened while she was on duty. Events like finally getting under way, starting to form-fit their warp field – even the discovery of an interstellar asteroid that necessitated a course change around it – had happened during the Alpha-shift's watch.

Hell, even the Gamma-shift had detected some freighters last night! This is not what I was expecting, Lieutenant Andrea Brown thought to herself as the ship headed towards its operational shakedown area. I bet Heather's having a lot more interesting time than we are…

When the captain spoke up behind her, Andrea couldn't help but give a guilty start.

I'm sorry Captain! It's not boring, I didn't mean it! I'm honoured to be on your bridge, please don't fire me!

"Mr. Brown, status report."

"Ah, n-nothing new to report, Captain." Andrea's voice shook a little at first, but quickly firmed up as her training reasserted itself and she checked her board. "We are still on course for Starbase Twelve at warp factor eight and will arrive in twenty more days as planned. No new sensor contacts or navigational hazards detected, sir. Previous contacts have not diverted from their established courses and are where they're supposed to be."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Mr. Rockford, how are the power systems handling the load?"

Andrea settled back into her seat again, only half-listening to the answer that the engineering crewman gave, and pondered her new CO.

It looks like this may become a regular thing, she thought of the captain's appearance during her shift. He seems less like a captain than a… teacher. Maybe a guide – or welcomer? Asking questions we actually know how to answer to… what? Build our own confidence? Get us comfortable with our roles? Get us comfortable with him?

She looked around now, unembarrassed, at the rest of the bridge crew. Everyone seemed calm, relaxed, alert, focused. The atmosphere on the bridge was, if not downright friendly, then at least congenial.


Lieutenant Bertschinger at science noticed her looking around and gave her a friendly nod, which she returned with a smile. The motion caught the attention of her companion beside her at the navigation console, who looked up and glared balefully in her direction.

Andie stiffled a grin and glared right back into the ensign's beady eyes, her own open slightly wider than normal to disconcert her 'assailant'.

Garn snorted quietly in amusement and averted his eyes before mumbling, "Unfair, Human! You know how much I hate that."

Andrea smirked and bobbed her head as she returned her eyes to their normal dimensions. She always won their staring competitions like that. Garn had told her last month – during the seemingly unending bug-hunt when they had been teamed up several times – that the eyes of humanoids always reminded him of a week-old Tellarite corpse. He'd gotten used to them at Starfleet Academy, but Andie found that she could tease the Tellarite in this way. Garn got his own back by calling her "Monkey-Girl", which bugged her for a reason she couldn't fathom.

Garn returned his attention to his console so Andie went back to her musings, gazing at the starfield on the main viewer after a quick scan of her sensor displays.

This was a bridge she wanted to be on, for all the lack of action. Second Officer Arruntha was following the Captain's lead even when Bates himself wasn't around, so there was no atmospheric flip-flopping whenever he 'popped in'.

It was in marked contrast to the shift she had been relieving. The first watch under Commander Donally had an atmosphere she wanted to wear her jacket into. Donally enforced a strict military protocol in whatever endeavour she applied herself to, and expected those below her to do likewise.

Andrea couldn't see why it was necessary. She looked around again. All stations were manned. Any tasks that needed done were all but eagerly pounced on, and anyone who needed a hand could ask and get it, and all without the enforced solitude, stiffness, and attention to rank that protocol required.

Remembering her sole on-duty brush with the commander a few days ago, the young helm officer couldn't see that happening on the Alpha-shift, even with the captain on duty too.

That has to be bad for your morale, right? Andrea asked herself. Just sitting there, glued to your boards, no idle chatter to help pass the time when you needed the distraction – and Gods, was this ever boring!

Her head came up at that. Maybe that was it! You need to be far more prepared. More… Andrea struggled for the right word. More able to switch from being a bunch of people doing their jobs to being representatives of the Federation, a battle-hardened crew, and such like.

She tried to wrap her head around that, but it didn't quite fly for her. A starship is a twenty-four-seven entity, which can be called upon at any moment to do vitally important or life-saving activities. That's why there are separate, fully-manned shifts. Admittedly, so far everything of any importance has happened during the Alpha-shift, but that has to be coincidence. Dear Gods, let it be so! Andie ferverently hoped. All – well, most – of the primary bridge staff are on duty then. Most of the ship's business is scheduled to take place at that time, which I suppose only makes sense. Have your most experienced personnel taking care of business. But that makes it seem like the other shifts are only around as place-holders for them. That can't be right, though!

Lieutenant Brown frowned again, her thoughts forcibly dragged back to the lack of activity on her watch. At first she'd been thrilled to find it exactly like the simulators had promised it to be, glad of the chance to ease in to her first duty shift at the cruiser's helm a few days ago. She'd settled comfortably into a watchful routine, determined not to make any mistakes.

It was now five days later, however, and the more she clung to the shreds of her initial enthusiasm the faster it seemed to leave her. Now, two hours into her shift on the third day of uninterrupted, unchanging warp flight and she was almost desperate for anything to happen, as they still had almost three weeks of this plain sailing to get to Starbase Twelve.

The Academy was more exciting than this! Andrea groaned in frustration. In the simulator you always knew something would happen, and you just had to pay attention to your duties, 'play the game' until it did, never knowing what would set off the 'incident'. Time and resources were too precious to waste loading endless groups of cadets into a simulator for hours and have nothing happen to them. But in the real worlds…

In the real worlds, nothing happens more often than not. At least the scientists and engineers below decks have research projects and maintenance work to do. I need a transfer. Either to Sciences, Engineering… or the flamin' Alpha-shift!

The bridge is where it's all meant to happen. The front line, the first to know.

Andrea checked her board again.


She sighed.

This is going to drive me nuts, I know it will.

Untroubled, the Illustrious sailed on.

Chapter Three

11th July 2272, 0226 hours
Stardate 7429.71
Recreation Deck, U.S.S. Illustrious

"Have you gone nuts?" Markus asked again.

Andrea grinned at her companion and motioned for him to be quiet.

Markus Bertschinger, the Beta-shift science officer, rolled his eyes but complied nonetheless.

The last occupant of the room finally left and Andie turned to her reluctant accomplice. "Okay, now we use the spiral staircase and get down there. It shouldn't take more than half-an-hour before we're done."

She started sneaking towards the far corner of the Rec Deck's upper level, but was overtaken by Markus walking normally.

"I mean really, Andie. If there's no one there, why sneak? And if someone should actually see us, how will you explain that ridiculous pose?"

Markus' scolding was delivered in a playful tone and Andrea could tell that he was grinning. She flushed pink as she caught sight of herself reflected in a viewport and immediately straightened to a normal walk.

"You're right, that did look silly," she acknowledged, bobbing her head in embarrassment and wearing a rueful smile as they descended the staircase to E Deck.

"Of course I'm right. I'm a science officer," Markus explained patiently. "I'm paid to be right," he finished with another grin full of perfectly straight, brilliantly white teeth.

Andrea rolled her eyes at him and quoted a line from an old movie she'd watched a few nights ago. " 'You may be sellin', but I 'ain't buyin'.' "

Markus didn't answer directly, but muttered something under his breath about her "obsession with the past".

Having made their way past all obstacles – both living and not – the pair now confronted the objective of this excursion in the middle of the night.

The light cube that Garn always used.

"Okay, we need to get the access panel off and pull chip…" She paused and looked at the diagnostic tricorder Markus had brought with him from the science lab. "Chip D4710-FFGZ2A. That'll hold the personal settings of the individual users."

"Right. Give me a hand with this, then," he said and they both got down to the fairly simple task of dismembering a games console.

Andie stifled another yawn and knew that she'd be tired for her shift that afternoon unless she slept late, but it'd be worth it to see the look on her navigator's face the next time he played his favourite game.

Ten minutes later and they had the chip they sought. Now it was Markus' show, as he had to hack through the game's not inconsequential safeguards and implant the code script Andie had written herself. As all she could do at this point was wait, she mentally retraced the steps she's taken to get here.

There was finding out two days ago that it was her Tellarite navigator's birthday today, and the subsequent urge to spring a surprise birthday message on him. How the urge had been given into upon learning that yes, Tellarite birthdays were celebrated with family and friends, be it private or public, and that there were no taboos attached.
That little research session had also revealed the correct birthday message to use for Garn, regarding his caste, rank, position, and relationship to the well-wisher.

Next came the delivery method. Announcing it over the ship's PA would be very tacky, but neither could she have it appear on the main viewscreen of the bridge. Numerous ideas kept popping into her head and were summarily dismissed as too overdone, too understated, or just plain too inappropriate. That was when Andrea's own love of the Illustrious' Recreation Deck gave her the perfect idea.

It was less than two months since Andrea boarded her new ship, but she loved the Rec Deck more than the bridge. It had helped keep her sane through the bug-hunt and was now the only thing holding off her boredom during this transit to Starbase Twelve for trials and testing.
She had made a lot of friends here from people sharing some of her interests, but it wasn't until she paid attention to what her shift-mate did while he was here that a plan sprung fully-formed into her head.

She had only started paying attention two days ago, after finally weaselling some personal information out of the Tellarite himself. He had displayed the infamous Tellarite prickliness, but she had persisted and finally got him to tell a bit about himself.

Despite a large number of Tellarites onboard, Garn was lonely. During his Academy years it hadn't mattered as he still had his own friends to talk to. Here on the Illustrious for only two months, with his friends posted to different ships and being somewhat antisocial even for a Tellarite, Garn felt as if he had been set adrift. He hadn't gone into detail, but said that the feeling was brought on more strongly by his approaching birthday and having no one to share it with.

Andrea had almost laughed it off with a joke about Garn's public persona, but held off and merely agreed that it was sad. Since then she'd said nothing more about it, letting her tentative new friend think she'd forgotten their little talk.

She was, however, determined to cheer the little bugger up and offer a huge conversation starter to whoever wanted to take it up among the Rec Deck's population. So, after observing him while he was there and having her plan formed, she discovered that she couldn't reprogram the games cube herself. She had written the sub-program that would have the cube display a huge 3D holographic Tellarite equivalent of "Happy Birthday, you miserable git!" three feet high in the air directly above it, which also happened to be in the centre of the room.

Andrea grinned to herself again, a grin that turned into another yawn. She'd stayed up late past the end of her shift – which ended at midnight – to do this, then had to wait an extra forty minutes for some rabid European football fans to finally go to bed.

The live broadcast of France versus Greece in the Euro Cup Final had went into injury time, and ended with a thrilling 2-1 victory for Greece as they blasted a second goal past the befuddled French goal keeper to win the coveted Cup for another four years.
Much noise, much backslapping, and much heckling of post-match commentary later, they all finally left.

During that time she'd had to listen to a proud, patriotic, but wounded Swiss science officer expound on his theories as to why all referees should be Vulcan and so questionable decisions would be a thing of the past. Like the one that put his beloved team out of the tournament in the quarterfinals.

She'd never liked football, and even if she had done Scotland's national team still revelled in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The centuries may have restored Scotland's culture from the doldrums of the late twentieth century but they'd done nothing for her football players.

So, Andrea had been caught between grinning and bearing it or punching his lights out. Since she needed him for tonight, and that otherwise Markus was a normal, pleasant guy to be around, she'd opted for the former.

Plus, she'd dragged him away from his research project an hour ago – after he'd refused to help when she asked nicely at the end of their shift. If they were caught at it, he'd said, they'd be in trouble for unauthorised computer tampering.

It was a measure of how good a guy he was that even after that, when later confronted with an Andrea determined to do something nice for someone she thought needed it, he gave in to the spirit of the moment and tagged along.

Andie shook her head and grinned at her Swiss friend. He was concentrating on cracking the game so he could implant her birthday message and so was unaware of her regard. She took the time to size up her companion for the first time.

He was quite handsome with his short black hair and Abraham Lincoln-style beard trimmed short and with military precision. His brows furrowed over piercing ice-blue eyes, he had a habit of sticking the tip of his tongue out of the right corner of his mouth when he was intent on something that was incredibly endearing. He also had an easy-going, open, and friendly manner that put you instantly at your ease with him.

Although not so inclined, Andrea had no problem admitting that he'd make quite a catch.

Maybe I can set him up with Ensign Alicia Rio from Engineering, Andrea thought, running through a mental list of her unattached female friends. Or perhaps my fellow JG, Melissa Guzzman from Medical. Guys love a nurse, after all, she smiled.

"Are you space-happy?" Markus suddenly asked, breaking her out of her reverie. "You're grinning like an idiot," he said, and Andrea noticed that even his accent was cute, now that she was paying attention to it.

Andrea waved him off with a "Never mind."

"Nearly done. Then we can put this back together and get to our beds."

"Great. Thanks Markus. It is very good of you to do this, and I really appreciate it."

Markus smiled, almost shyly, and said, "Uh, no problem. If you are free, maybe we could have lunch together tomorr – later today?" the science officer asked hopefully.

Andrea cringed mentally, but scolded herself for it. It could just be an innocent offer, a voice in her head said. What harm could it do to say yes?

She knew fine well what harm it could do but shrugged it off. Not putting too much enthusiasm in her voice she replied, "Sure, why not?"

"Great!" he said, and looked straight into her eyes.

Oh yeah. What harm could it do? Andrea thought sourly. Aloud, she said, "I'll…go keep watch until you're ready to put it back together."

They were safe from this deck as people had to come in through the gymnasium and swimming pool areas and she'd see them coming through the translucent divider. However, with three huge holes in the ceiling as viewing areas for the upper deck, they had nothing to keep in the sound. If someone came into the upper level. Markus' activities might be heard and that someone might come to investigate. That would not be good.

"Oh. Uh, sure thing. I won't be long now," Markus replied, sounding suddenly self-conscious.

Andrea nodded at him, then got up and headed back to the staircase to the upper level, her thoughts in turmoil.

Damn! A perfectly good guy – looks like he's better than most, actually – and he's interested in me. And I can't do a damned thing about it! What a waste. She groaned silently. Why did I have to be the different one? Why me?

The Gods – or whoever – failed to answer, just as he, she, it, or they always did. Andie leaned up against the far wall, the weight of her 'cherry' pressing down on her shoulders, and waited.

For many things.


Commander Donally had had a hard day and it was only now over, a fact that wasn't sitting very well with her. For the third time that minute she glanced at her wrist chronometer, and again mentally scolded herself for it. She'd be tired as hell for her duty shift – which begins in just over five hours! she grumbled silently – but she'd had one final task to complete before she'd let herself turn in for the night.

Eileen walked along the deserted night-time corridors of the Illustrious, heading for the fastest turbolift route home from the aeronautics and aquanautics lab on D Deck to take her to her quarters on E Deck. Any other person might have drooped a little, had their uniform rumpled slightly from such a long day, or muttered mild curses or grumbles at a workload that caused them to be up so late.

Not Commander Eileen Donally, though.

Most people wouldn't have set themselves such a high workload of tasks that simply had to be done, or would have called a halt at 80% and said, "the rest can wait until tomorrow."

Donally was not "most people". The Regulations and General Orders of Starfleet Command and her own adherence to her word dictated her whole life. If she said she'd have something done by a certain time – even if only to herself – then it would be done. Period.

Eileen was also saddled with two jobs: that of First Officer and Chief Science Officer. Science officers were much in demand for exploratory vessels and science/survey ships, but border patrol vessels came fairly low on the list for experienced science personnel. So, while Illustrious did have a full science complement, none of the fresh-faced young ensigns and lieutenants had the seniority, experience, or rank for the Chief Science Officer's billet.

So, Eileen had stepped into the role. During the Alpha shift, while Captain Bates was on the bridge Donally assumed the science station. When he wasn't, Donally had Lieutenant Bertschinger stand in for her while she took the command chair. Markus was the most promising of the science department for promotion into the billet.

Until that happy day, however, Commander Donally not only had to oversee all personnel issues, ship operations aspects, and the massive amount of paperwork that involved. Oh, no. She also got to oversee, requisition supplies for, allocate ship's resources to, and approve all scientific studies and research projects to be run on the Illustrious.

Mr. Spock may have been able to handle all this work with no problems, conflicts, or exhaustion, but Mr. Spock was a Vulcan. As a mere Human, Donally had almost no free time to herself. However, being the kind of person she was it did not bother her too much. Had she the time to consider a social life, she may actually have tried to have one. As it was, however…

It was the many and varied tasks from both her duties that had kept her up so late, but now that was finally taken care of. Eileen was looking forwards to just getting into bed and grabbing four hours' sleep.

And there it was: the Rec Deck, home to Turboshaft Nine.


Andrea ears suddenly pricked up, bringing her out of her morose reverie. She thought she heard…


Yes, a sliding door opening and closing. Then, definitely footsteps traversing the upper deck. She hurried back to the game cube where Markus was methodically reassembling the processor.

"Markus!" she hissed. "Hurry up, someone's coming!"

The Swiss' eyes widened in alarm and he jammed the processor back into its place. Both of them threw finesse to the wind and started slamming cover plates closed and tidying up tools and debris.


Donally's instincts jabbed her out of her tired state as she heard hushed voices and furtive movement in the room below. Since it was the Rec Deck it was not unusual for people to be in there at all hours. However, the nature of the sounds coming from the lower level immediately suggested "suspicious activity" to her.

She quickened her pace until she reached the open viewing area, then ordered, "Computer, lights, 100%!"

Being prepared for it, Donally's eyes adapted quickly to the sudden increase. Not so the occupants of the lower room, who were huddled over a games cube and blinking furiously through splayed fingers. A quick look around revealed only the two people in the centre of the room. "Stay where you are," she ordered them as she made her way over to the spiral staircase.

Donally had immediately recognised Lieutenant Bertschinger, but it was a few seconds before she could place the female officer.

Brown, she thought as she decended to the lower deck. Lieutenant JG Andrea Jane Brown, recently graduated the Academy and on her first posting. Various other details from her personnel file sprang to mind, but Donally dismissed them to give Bertschinger an irritated look.

"What are you doing here, Lieutenants?" the commander asked, volunteering no details as to what she thought they might be up to as the pair stood together.

Brown immediately spoke up, while the science officer – to whom her question had really been directed – just looked back blankly.

"Commander Donally! We, ah, we were just… spending some time alone, Sir!"

It was painfully obvious to Eileen that Brown had just picked that thought from whatever passing cloud had carried it. Looking around the room again revealed nothing amiss, however, and both officers were still properly dressed for duty.

What Donally couldn't see from her position by the staircase was the little pouch of tools and the diagnostic tricorder tucked in behind the game cube, which was taking all of Andrea's concentration not to look at or try to nudge further out of sight.

The reason for Eileen's irritation surfaced as she demanded of Markus, "Lieutenant Bertschinger, what of your research project? I was lead to believe it was fairly urgent that now was the best time to perform it, and I spent some considerable time juggling the other demands on ship's resources to accommodate it – and you.

"If now was the best time for it, why are you here 'spending time' with your girlfriend?" she asked pointedly.

Donally noted that Brown seemed to relax slightly at that. Probably because she's not the one under the spotlight, Eileen thought. Markus, however, coloured quite red as he stammered out his response.

"Ah, C-Commander, the project proceeds as planned, but we are in preliminary data collation for the first set of test results. The computer is crunching that data now, and I…" The embarrassed Swiss officer hesitated for noticeable seconds, groping for something else to say, before finishing lamely, "I decided to take a short break with Lieutenant Brown, who… happened past at the right… time."

Donally was about to nod her acceptance, thinking the hesitation the pair were displaying was due to their embarrassment at getting 'caught', when Brown spoke up again.

"We were hoping to be alone, Sir."

Eileen looked sharply at her for that and had the satisfaction of seeing her confidence slip a little as she swallowed hard. Brown's words could have been taken as a none-too-subtle dismissal and disrespect to a superior officer. From the lieutenant's reaction Donally decided she'd got the point and satisfied herself with a parting remark.

"This room being the most public area on the ship, Lieutenant Brown, next time you may want to consider either of your quarters if it's privacy you desire."

"Yes, Sir!"

"Aye, Sir!"

"Very well. Computer, reduce lights to previous levels." The computer chirped its compliance. "Good night, Lieutenants," she said, climbing back up the stairs.

"Goodnight, Ma'am."

"Ah, goodnight, Sir."


Donally's footsteps receded across the upper level to the turbolift alcove and then the turbolift doors closed, whisking away the ship's second-in-command. Only then did the pair of them relax.

Andie stared up through the viewing area and said, "I was so sure we were busted there…"

Markus sat down heavily and held his face in his hands. "Oh, mein Gott…"

Unheeding, Andrea went on. "She is just so… so…" Struggling for the right word, she tried a few out. "Officious… no. Well, yes, but… hide-bound… no, not quite… Arrgh! It's too damn late at night to be a dictionary!"


"What the hell was that, anyway?" she continued. "What if you and I were here, 'spending time' snuggling, what business is it of hers? And calling you on the carpet for leaving an experiment to 'spend time' with your girlfriend—"

"Damnit woman, will you shut up a minute?" Markus demanded.

Andrea turned to him in surprise. "You don't agree?"

"No. Well, yes, sort of. Ach, you're both right, but as usual you're at extremes. And what the hell was that, telling her to get out? She was all set to leave then you sound off and could have gotten us brought up on charges!"

"What? You've got to be joking! And I didn't tell her—"

"Andrea, you obviously don't know Commander Donally. I do, I work with her all the time. Trust me when I say that if you had been any more insolent or pushy with her then she'd have charged you with disrespecting a senior officer!"

Andrea made to speak but Markus cut her off. "I'm too tired to explain it all now, we an discuss it at lunch tomorrow. Just let it be so I can go check up on my project and then get to bed. It's all but three in the morning now!"

Andrea sighed grumpily, not wanting to give it up but relenting nonetheless. "Okay, Markus. You're right, it is late and we each want our beds.

"Let's wrap this up and call it a night." And I cannot wait to hear this explanation! she added silently.

They resumed their tidy-up operation in silence.

Chapter Four

Officer's Mess, U.S.S. Illustrious
1200 hours

Andrea got off the turbolift at the centre of E Deck and walked into the dining area, looking for her erstwhile dinner date. She spotted him already seated at a table, sans food tray. On seeing her arrive he got up and headed to the food slots, so she followed suit.

"Good morning, Markus," Andrea greeted the scientist expectantly as they arrived at the synthesiser and made their selections.

Hearing the anticipation in her voice, Markus rolled his eyes and gave a small smile. "Good afternoon, Andrea. I trust you slept well?" he asked playfully. "Or were you up all night, imagining all the ways Garn's face can twist in surprise and embarrassment as a result of your little ploy?"

Maintaining a straight face but unable to suppress the excitement in her voice, the young Scotswoman nodded as she replied. "Oh, I slept like the proverbial baby. Slept the sleep of the righteous. The deep, contented sleep of those with clear consciences," she grinned, enjoying her hyperbole. Deciding to twist her friend's tail a little, she prodded, "Speaking of babies, Markus, did you manage to put your science project to bed last night?"

Frowning at her flippant reference to last night's almost disaster – for him at least, if not for her – Markus remained silent as he carried his beef bourguignonne back to the table he'd already claimed and waited for Andrea to join him.

Andrea herself shrugged at his sudden reticence, her own good mood slightly deflated by it, then claimed her own sweet and sour pork and joined him at his table.

Markus was already chewing thoughtfully on his first bite of lunch when Andrea started attacking her own. "So, out with it Markus. Last night is obviously still rankling you, and you promised me an explanation for Donally's behaviour, too."

There, the Scot thought in satisfaction. There's no way we can get into a cloying and awkward romantic moment now that I've reminded him that he's annoyed with me. She briefly considered not actually eating anything during Markus' explanation so that she could immediately refute any silly statements he made, but decided against it. My food will get cold, and judging by last night he'll want his say without me interrupting.

She scooped up a forkful of steamed rice and vegetables and began crunching on them as Markus swallowed his second bite and began his attempt to educate her.

"What's rankling me is directly tied in to the Donally situation. Andrea, the thing you have to understand about Commander Donally is… no, scratch that. It basically boils down to this: Just because you don't see a reasonable explanation for something it doesn't mean that such a reason doesn't exist," he stated clearly. "Not only that, but your interpretation of what is reasonable will – on some occasions – simply not matter and that you'll have to abide by a superior's decision even when you don't agree with it."

Swallowing her own food, Andrea waved her fork about as she made her reply. "I know that, Markus," she asserted dismissively. "Starfleet is a military organisation with a chain of command and responsibilities, not a flaming self-actualisation, 'find-yourself-and-hug-a-Klingon' seminar."

"Good," he acknowledged with a sharp nod, ignoring her sarcasm. "Do you also realise what we did last night was wrong?" Seeing her about to launch a barrage of repudiations he quickly amended, "Okay, okay, maybe not morally or maliciously wrong, but definitely against the rules of this organisation we're a part of?"

Andrea subsided into a glowering silence at his rephrasing before grudgingly allowing, "Yes, I do realise that we were breaking the rules, but—"

"No buts, Andrea," Markus interrupted. "That's all a superior officer needs to hurt or end your Starfleet career even before it's begun. If you find a sympathetic C.O. it won't really matter but there are all sorts of people out there wearing this uniform, with different cultures, mindsets, and codes of conduct, and that's just us Humans and our colonies! Factor in all the alien races and the endless variety that the universe has to offer in terms of social orders and moralities and you can find yourself brought up on charges for any number of reasons! From the all-too-Human superior in question hating your guts and wanting you and your career destroyed to an alien being feeling that following all the way through and seeing you punished as the only acceptable solution to such a situation, there are any number of ways to screw yourself over doing crap like what we pulled last night!"

Markus paused there for breath and to let what he'd said sink in to his friend's mind. He could see the wheels turning as she digested this obviously unwelcome and unconsidered news.

"So, this thing with Commander Donally—" she began, then stopped. Markus took this to mean that she wanted him to spell it out so that there would be no misunderstanding.

"Yes. Commander Donally believes passionately in the regulations and protocols of Starfleet. Couple that to an inflexible personality that will take offence at your rather blunt method of relating to others – such as you displayed last night – and you really are lucky that she didn't put you or both of us on report right there and then."

He watched as she blanched at that, only now realising the possible consequences of her actions, and set her fork down beside her plate. "You mean that you knew all this, and of Donally's probable reaction to finding us there, and yet you still let me talk you into doing it?"

Markus sighed. "I thought that Commander Donally would have been in bed, but yes I did know all that. I am just worried that when your little ploy comes to fruition Donally will obviously suspect us and even if she has no proof, if she asks I will not lie. It will damage my relationship with my direct superior and…"

He stopped there and looked directly into her eyes. "I'm just worried about my career, Andrea. If we hadn't been caught, or if it had been almost any other person than Donally who caught us, I would be fine."

Andrea looked unenthusiastically at her plate and the mound of food she had been enjoying before responding. "I could stop it from happening," she offered. "I didn't realise how bad it could turn out. I only wanted to do something nice for Garn…"

She trailed off and Markus nodded. "I know, Andrea, I know. Like I said, had it been anyone else it wouldn't matter."

They sat in silence for almost a minute, picking at their food, during which time Andrea was swinging towards depression and the decision to cancel her surprise. On the other side of the table, Markus was realising something else that was buoying his mood.

"That being the case," he announced suddenly, "we should take our chances. I'm sure the captain will be fine about it, I've heard good things about him from the crew who stayed on from their last tour."

Andrea became more animated at his mention of Bates. "I've heard that too, and that the reason Captain Bates got so many newly graduated crew is because he's a good teacher. 'Stern but fair', and all that. I didn't just blithely waltz into doing this, you know. I thought the captain would be okay with it, or if he had a problem with me I could explain myself to his satisfaction." She slumped back down at her next words, though. "I didn't expect you to tell me all this, or to have such a horror story for an X.O."

"Actually, I'm feeling a lot better about this now," Markus stated brightly in direct contrast to the rain cloud hanging over his friend's head. "Donally's overwhelming influence in my day-to-day activities made me forget that she still has to answer to Captain Bates, and he'll give us a fair chance. So cheer up, Andrea! Remember why you did this in the first place and let your actions and motivations speak for themselves."

"But what about Donally?" she asked plaintively. "We still have to—"

Markus cut her off gently. "Don't worry about the commander. I'm the one who told you all this stuff about her and I'm realising myself that the circumstances warrant a brighter outlook. Just be sure to treat her with the respect she – or, if you like, her uniform and position – is due at all times, and you won't have a problem."

While not exactly looking as happy as she had upon coming in for lunch, Andrea was feeling better again. The more she thought of the situation and Markus' words the more solidly she believed that even if she got into trouble over this, her motives were pure and good and that just had to count for something.

She finally nodded at her companion. "Yeah, you're right. We've got nothing to worry about," she added with a smile.

"Just be good, Andrea," he replied with an answering smile.

Andrea found that her appetite had returned so she reapplied herself to her lunch, devouring it with gusto. Around a forkful of rice and pork, she almost giggled. I can't wait to see that little bugger's face when he switches on his game!

Rec. Deck Upper Level, U.S.S. Illustrious
1350 hours

"Andie, do you have a date that none of us know of?"

Andrea shot a startled look at the speaker, those words suddenly registering where the previous ones had flowed around her and not been heeded. "Sorry, what?" she pushed out, stalling for time to come up with a plausible answer to what her friend was hinting at none too subtly.

Ensign Alicia Rio, the senior Gamma-shift engineering officer, rolled her eyes in exasperation and blew out of her mouth. "Damnit, girl, you didn't hear a damn word I said, did you?"

"Sure I did, Alicia." Andrea threw out a pleading look to the rest of their table – a look that was easily seen by Ensign Rio – but no one would help her out. Their smirks confirmed for Andie that her friends were enjoying her predicament.

"Well?" the dusky-skinned Latino demanded, her expressive liquid brown eyes holding both amusement and annoyance in what seemed like equal measure.

"Well…" Andrea groped, trying to remember the thread of their conversation before she'd tuned out again. She drew a blank, but Alicia's last words jumped out at her. "To answer your question, no, I don't have a date." But someone else does, she thought, her excitement growing once again.

Somewhat mollified but not satisfied, Alicia posed another question. "Well, if you've not got a date why are you always looking at the doors every time somebody walks in?"

Damn, Andie thought. She had hoped she wasn't being that obvious, but such was her degree of preoccupation she didn't realise that her friends noticed she'd lost track of the conversation at least three separate times. Their curiosity raised, another of her friends posed a question of their own.

"You might not think you've got a date, but does the person you're waiting on realise that?" Melissa Guzzman asked pointedly before Andrea could answer Alicia's question. "Is it Markus again? I've noticed you've been very close with him over the past few days," she asked with a leer.

"What? No!" Andie protested, stared wide-eyed and slightly open-mouthed at the olive-skinned nurse. "I'm not dating Markus!" she insisted, strongly enough that now everyone thought she was lying.

"Yeah, tell me another one, Blue-eyes," Rachel Polanskis chipped in. The sun-bronzed Australian legal officer further observed, "You've been distracted all afternoon, watching that door like a hawk. It's not like you, and it's also not like you to fob us off with these lame excuses."

Andrea stammered a bit and blushed at being so transparent, but of course her friends took this to mean that she really did have a thing with – or for – the handsome young Swiss scientist.

"I knew it! I knew there had to be some other reason Markus turned me down!" the fifth member of their party hissed out. The good-natured clobbering of Andrea stopped dead and everyone turned to stare at Cristina Nicoluzzi wide eyed.

"You never told us—"

"So that's why you've been so—"

"He what? When did you ask him—"

"Now come on girls, that enough," Andrea put in weakly.

"I don't need any defending from you, Andrea!" Cristina snapped back, ignoring the exclamations of her friends.

"Tina, that's not fair and you know it," Melissa chided gently. "None of us knew you were interested in Markus, so how can you blame any of us for stepping on your toes?"

Gathering her wits, Andrea went on the offensive before this spiralled any further out of control. "For the record, everyone, I am not seeing Markus in anything other than a friendly capacity, but I am waiting on someone else making an appearance – for a non-romantic event!" she quickly added as the speculation machine looked set to explode into overdrive.

Addressing at the Gamma-shift doctor, Andrea offered, "I'm sorry about you and Markus, Tina, really I am. I have noticed that he seems interested in me, but I'm not interested in a romantic relationship with him. Admittedly," she added on a second's reflection, "I'm not sure he knows that."

Tina's expression softened, but she still didn't seem happy. "Fine. You'd better tell him though, so he's not pining after you," she all but sneered.

"Oh, get over it, will you?" Andrea demanded tiredly, not wanting to fight with her bitchy colleague. "It's not like I knew about it, so back off! Maybe he's just not that into you."

Alicia cut off whatever Tina was going to say with a brisk question that would hopefully get them back on track and down from each other's throats. "So, Andrea, if you're not waiting on a date, why are you so eager to see this person? And who is it you're waiting on?"

Andie watched Tina slump back and simmer in silence while Melissa and Rachel leaned in expectantly. If it weren't for her rather sudden falling out with Tina, Andrea would have been amused, rolled her eyes, and given them all an exasperated look. Not wanting to alienate Tina further by basically ignoring her and pretending it hadn't happened, she just replied in a reticent manner.

"It's a surprise. I don't want us all staring at him – at them when they come in," she hurriedly corrected herself while mentally cursing her slip, "or it might tip off the surprise."

"What kind of surprise?" Rachel immediately asked.

Andie did roll her eyes at that one. "Well if I told you it wouldn't be a surprise any more, now would it?"

"He still won't know if you're only telling us!" Rachel protested with a lewd emphasis on the mystery person's identity.

"It's a surprise for all of you," Andrea murmured. "I want genuine reactions from everyone or they'll think they've been set up. That probably would spoil things."

Her three non-sulking friends exchanged looks, then leaned back resignedly in their chairs. "You're just not going to tell us, are you?" Melissa asked with a slight smile on her face that definitely did reach her eyes.

"It's a secret," Andrea nodded, noticing some sort of appraisal/approval going on behind the nurse's eyes. "Though as you've all noticed, I'm expecting them through the door at any moment so you shouldn't have to wait too long to have your curiosity satisfied."

That annoying little furry monster better not pick today to decide he doesn't want to play his damn game! Andrea thought with a mental frown.

"Well." It was Melissa again, speaking to all of them after a few moments of silence. She shook her head in bemusement, her glossy brown ringlets bouncing off her face and shoulders as she did so. "What are we going to talk about until this mystery person makes an appearance? Or with this big surprise for all of us hanging over our heads, can we stand the excitement?"

Andrea, Alicia, Rachel, and even Tina rolled their eyes at her, looked at each other, then burst out laughing.

They all managed to settle down again after that and indulge in idle chit-chat and useless speculation with every new person who came into the Rec. Deck. Finally, after nearly twenty more minutes, Garn walked in, seeming almost hesitant.

Andrea tried to give no reaction, but by this time all her friends were watching her and among them were the ship's legal officer and psychiatrist, not to mention an engineer and a nurse who both had an eye for details.

"Garn?" Alicia whispered incredulously as the group of women surreptitiously kept an eye on the Tellarite's progress across the room. "You've set up a surprise for that obnoxious little…"

"I told you, it's not a romantic event!" Andrea protested quietly.

"So, you're going to humiliate him? Take him down a notch? That's not very nice, Andie," Melissa stated with a disapproving frown.

"Wait and see!" Andrea demanded, a bit put out by the nurse's assumption.

They all sat back and waited expectantly, trying not to stare outright at the mildly unpopular bridge officer. Garn walked past their table without comment and made it to his games cube on the lower level without anyone talking to him. It was only now that she was actually paying rapt attention to his daily routine that Andrea could see why Garn was lonely. She'd only recently gotten to know that his irritable exterior was just that – an exterior – because they worked closely together and spent considerable time in each other's company. It seemed that no one else was really willing to make the effort to do likewise and a lot of that was because Garn was so obnoxious, even more so than your average Tellarite.

He sat down and started up the game, entering his own personal settings for Concentrex, a game of skill that helped improve your ability to maintain a 3D picture in your head. It was very useful for navigators and helmsmen to play and it could be a lot of fun too.

Andrea was on the edge of her seat, unashamedly staring at him from the floor above. Her heart was racing and she was very excited, and the length of time it took for Garn to start the game was almost agony for her.

All of a sudden the game's holographic display – which had been doing it's usual job and forming geometric shapes – flickered, the console itself gave an electronic 'burp', and then Andrea's message was displayed for all to see, hanging five feet in the air above the startled Tellarite.

At first displaying it in his native language, the message started alternating the 3D lettering from Tellarite to Federation Standard English every ten seconds. The Rec. Deck, which had been bustling with noise and activity, fell into a surprised silence.

When everyone noticed that it was Garn at the centre of this little display the silence seemed set to continue into a horrifically embarrassing pregnant pause, the end result of which would be Garn fleeing the room practically traumatised. Andie's heart rose into her throat as the one second pause extended into two without the response she'd hoped for. She saw all her good intentions going up in a warp-core breach until finally, blissfully, someone yelled, "Happy Birthday you miserable bastard!" and began laughing.

It was as if a dam had broken, as people started clapping and shouting more "Happy Birthdays" at the terminally embarrassed navigator. Then someone started the Human crew singing a rousing rendition of 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow' and the room dissolved into strenuous back pounding and hoof shaking.

Andrea heard her friends' startled gasps and the beginnings of laughter, and caught a warm look from Melissa that she wondered at. She only cracked up herself when, from amongst the various pastel uniforms at the centre of the room below, a loud, growling voice was heard to yell a single word in realisation and accusation all at once.

"BROWN!!!! "

Bridge, U.S.S. Illustrious
1630 hours

Andrea couldn't keep the smirk off her face. It was hours past now, but she couldn't help but feel smug. Her plan had worked in the way she'd wanted it to and there was no fall out from it.

So far, a little voice commented nervously, but she dismissed it quickly.

Plus, her smirking was annoying Garn.

Managing to keep her eyes on her duties, she still found plenty of time to be staring straight at the navigator every time he sneaked a look at her.

"Stop it!" Garn finally hissed when the Lieutenant Commander Arruntha got up to converse with the science officer.

"Admit it, you're thrilled by what happened," Andrea replied quietly, the smile evident in her voice.

"You are a devil-woman from the deepest of Tellar's Seven Hells!" he growled, not quite managing to hide his own good humour.

"I'll take that as a 'yes', then," the Scot murmured innocently.

Garn quickly checked on the Saurian's location. Seeing that the second officer was still occupied with his questions for Markus, he leaned in closer to the Human and said in a normal tone, "Thank you."

Nothing more was said between them for some time, but Andrea felt the 'smug' part of her smile melt away into a genuine one of pure satisfaction and camaraderie.

The pleasure was all mine, my new friend.

Chapter Five

Captain's quarters, U.S.S. Illustrious
1630 hours

Leo Bates sighed and rubbed his eyes under his spectacles as once again he tried to make his point. "Commander, no harm was done. It did not impact on ship's routine, efficiency, or operations. I do not have a problem with just having an informal word with the girl, to which I'm sure she'll be amenable."

Eileen Donally, who'd gotten up to pace while she made her point, stopped and turned to face him as she frowned down at her C.O. Feeling slightly exasperated herself, she tried again. "Sir, I don't think you understand the seriousness of what was done here! Unauthorised computer tampering—"

Bates cut her off, knowing now that there was no way to make Donally see his position even though he understood hers perfectly despite her protestations to the contrary. He decided to lay down the law to his pedantic second-in-command.

"Commander, I know how serious a charge that is and what it entails. However, I'm almost certain I know the motivations of the officer in question, which is why I've made sure no one's put her on report. Furthermore, that all you have is circumstantial evidence anyway—"

"Sir, with all due respect, it's pretty obvious who did it and if you'll allow me to—"

"Commander Donally, you will drop this matter as of now," Captain Leo Bates commanded. Eileen's mouth set in a hard line but she nodded briefly and said nothing further. Letting the steel slip from his voice, Leo elaborated in the hope that Donally would take at least some of what he said on board for her future dealings with the crew.

"I know that tampering with any of the ship's computer systems is a serious offence, and rightly so. But I also know that ever since James Kirk was put on trial in '67 for the apparent death of his records officer, Starfleet Sciences and Engineering have designed and implemented a much tougher series of safeguards to prevent any tampering affecting other systems. Far more vigorous methods of resisting unauthorised code alteration have been introduced, including," he added for emphasis, "isolating the lab-quality games terminals from the rest of the ship's computer systems."

Pausing there to let that sink in, even though he knew Donally would already be aware of it, Leo took off his spectacles and started to polish them as he continued his lecture.

"In my opinion, and in the opinions of Commander Stocco and Lieutenant T`Mien, the alleged actions of this officer do not constitute a threat to the safety of the Illustrious' computer systems, the ship itself, Starfleet in particular, or the Federation in general. I am convinced that the motives behind this 'incident' were pure and instigated for the sole purpose of obtaining the observed result.

"Furthermore, accusing the officer in question with such a charge will enter a formal and irreversible mark on their permanent record. Bearing in mind that the officer in question is young, high-spirited, and inexperienced, and taking into account that this is the Federation Star Fleet and not the Romulan Imperial Fleet or the Klingon Deep Space Fleet, you may wish to consider the following:

"Why I, as captain, having full knowledge of these events even to the point of consulting our Chief of Security and our Computer Officer on them, have not put this officer on report or interviewed them myself. Also, why I've made it clear to the other command officers that I want this ignored without entering any official correspondence."

Bates stopped there and looked at his X.O. as if expecting a reply. For her part, Donally was smarting from the subtlety of the captain's approach. That is, as subtle as using a photon torpedo to crack a walnut.

Donally had not often encountered this side of her new C.O., but by the very fact that she had Eileen knew that she had pushed the captain to the end of his patience. Bates was now out to make a point: That their respective applications of the regulations were different, and that it would be his judgement that would prevail.

"Well, Commander?" Bates demanded.

I might as well give in to the inevitable here, Eileen thought with an inward sigh, and stated flatly, "You did not want to interview the officer because then it would become part of the official record, which would have meant you'd have to follow through on certain procedures. Also, since these matters fall under captain's discretion anyway, the end result would be the same and it would have saved all the effort involved. By preventing the issue from becoming official, you gained the result you desired without it affecting the record of the officer in question."

"Very good, Commander," Bates said, his normally friendly brown eyes now cold and distant. He finally decided to say something to her that he'd held off from saying twice before in the hope that she'd come round on her own, on the previous instances where she'd exhausted his patience.

"Commander, I don't know your previous captain, either personally or by reputation, so I don't know how you did things on the Coventry. I picked you as my First because of your exemplary record and from how you impressed me in your interview. I thought that our differing styles would complement each other and we'd each provide a necessary balance for the other.

"However, I do expect you to support me once I've made my decision on a matter. This… persistent badgering of me to try and change my mind is not what I expected from an officer of your calibre."

Eileen flinched inwardly at that, though no trace of the hit reached her exterior. She had not expected her competence to be questioned when she began this fight as she thought she was just doing her job. Unfortunately, she could now see that he was right – insofar as her conduct was concerned. Donally herself thought this to be an important matter that the captain was dismissing far too lightly, but in trying to make him recognise this she had overstepped the bounds of persuasion and gone argumentative. To the protocol-minded New Yorker that was every bit as bad as the infraction she was pushing. Nothing else from the captain could have hit home more solidly.

Taking Bates' moment of pause for breath as an opportunity, Eileen spoke up. "Captain, I offer my apologies. You are absolutely right and I admit to overstepping my limits. I assure you, it won't happen again."

Bates raised his eyebrows in surprise at the admission from his X.O. "I'm pleased to hear that, Commander. You are not to take this as censorship, though. I value your candid counsel and expect you to continue to give it, even though I might not always take it."

"Understood, Captain," she replied formally.

Bates suppressed another sigh, then said, "I need to take a break, Commander. We'll continue this meeting after dinner. Could you return at 1900 hours and we'll get the rest of the evaluations done then?"

Although he did mean it as an honest question, knowing the duty load of his First and Science Officer, Donally had no problem in hearing it as an order. "Of course, sir. I can take this opportunity to assess Lieutenant Bertschinger's progress."

"Ah yes!" Bates perked up noticeably as he remembered the Swiss' project. "You can update me on how he and Ensign Shax are doing with their planetary orbit modelling."

"Yes sir. If that is all?" Eileen stated neutrally, still personally irritated and feeling somewhat let down by the young lieutenant at his complicity in last night's 'incident'.

If Bates noticed anything new about her demeanour he didn't comment on it. He had a headache threatening him, lurking behind his eyeballs, and it would only go away when his X.O. took it with her. Carefully putting away his spectacles he stated, "Yes, that is all. Dismissed, Commander."

Officer's Mess, U.S.S. Illustrious
1730 hours

Donally sat down at her now customary table at the forward-most area of the room, setting her tray in front of her and laying a napkin in her lap, as drilled into by her mother all those years ago. The proprieties of civilised eating having been observed, Eileen began precisely and methodically working through her steak-and-kidney pie. It had been an almost unconscious choice, picking her favourite meal, but it reflected her mood accurately. When confronted with the unusual or unexpected in her day-to-day life Eileen retreated into the familiar to regroup and help her analyse what had happened.

So, safely secured in her usual routine of solitude and comfort food, Eileen considered her meeting with the captain and why it had not gone the way she'd expected it to.

Oh, she'd known that Bates would resist her ideas based on his own previous reactions to the incident. She had even entertained the notion that she would fail to change his mind. What she hadn't counted on was Bates' reaction to her.

As first officer of the Coventry, Captain Setlik had appreciated her adherence to the regulations as it coincided with his own approach to command. The "entirely satisfactory" review he'd attached to her file – the highest form of praise from a Vulcan, she'd been told – went a long way toward securing her promotion to full commander.

However, by remaining consistent to those standards she was apparently getting under her new C.O.'s skin. Despite what Bates had said it was quite clear that he didn't like her command style, so it was a mystery to Eileen why he had in fact chosen her for his X.O. He seemed quite sincere about the conflicting styles keeping them both honest, but there was something else there that she couldn't immediately place.

Could he be having second thoughts about me? That he's bitten off more than he can chew? Eileen wondered. She had no rational basis for those thoughts, just the reactions of an annoyed captain and a nebulous feeling grown from that. Maybe he was thinking that a compromise between our viewpoints would best possible solution, but doesn't realise that some things shouldn't be compromised on?

Eileen was proceeding from an assumption, a thing that she didn't like to do – especially from such ambiguous data – so she shut down that unproductive line of thinking until she had something more concrete to base it from. Instead, she wondered at the actual cause of their disagreement.

Why is he so determined to let this girl away with it? Why can't – or won't – he admit that what she did was wrong, regardless of the motives behind it, and have her punished accordingly? Eileen grappled with the questions that assaulted the very structure of her existence, trying to understand the why of it all. Why can't he see that the regulations are there for a reason! All the regulations too, not just the ones we want to obey. Doesn't he see that by not punishing her for it he encourages more of the same? That by fighting me on such an issue he's basically giving the crew tacit permission to repeat her little performance at will? That by doing so, otherwise good officers are tempted into joining in on such contra-regulation behaviour?

With all these dire situations abound in her head, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Donally could envision the fall of the Federation into anarchy from this one incident, related to one junior officer. Although she didn't realise it herself, in her mind she had already exonerated Lieutenant Bertschinger as just being overly accommodating and this entire situation was solely due to a certain Lieutenant JG Andrea Brown.

Her thoughts were brought back to the here-and-now by the clatter of her knife and fork against the empty plate. Eileen looked down in surprise to see that she'd finished off her meal practically unawares, so deeply was this issue troubling her.

She sighed heavily, resigned now to the fact that nothing could be done about it. For the moment, anyway. If she was right about Brown, the young lieutenant would try something else and Donally would be vindicated. Eileen just had to bide her time.

As she got up to head for her next task, with Lieutenant Bertschinger, Eileen Donally comforted herself with a final thought.

Father would tear strips off Captain Bates for this kind of leadership.

Chapter Six

20th July 2272, 1607 hours
Stardate 7430.667
Bridge, U.S.S. Illustrious

Andrea settled more comfortably into her chair and nodded goodbye to Lieutenant Sherak, the Alpha-shift helmsman. He had just finished updating her on the events of his shift and what she could expect on her own, and as a result she was excited.

It had taken almost a month but something was finally going to happen during the Beta-shift. She was going to be at the helm for the Illustrious' arrival at Starbase Twelve.

Andrea checked her helm console databanks and confirmed that the ship was on course at the right speed – as she had been for the past twenty-three days – and that their E.T.A. at the starbase was a bare two hours away.

Finally! Andrea silently celebrated. Finally, a chance to actually do my job and fly the ship. I don't even know how she handles for real!

She ran a thorough diagnostic of her control panel to make sure that all was in working order and that she wouldn't be shown up by faulty equipment when her time came. The power status monitor on the multifunction display was replaced by the diagnostic readout, and Andie was pleased to see that everything checked out.

She cleared the readout and brought up a holographic representation of their projected course so she could visualise any obstacles she might have to manoeuvre around. Their course into the Gamma 400 [4] system was clear though, as the three small, barren, rocky planets this system had to offer were on the far side of the star from the asteroid that housed Starbase Twelve's admin facilities with it's co-orbiting dry-docks.

Good, no planets to hit on my first real turn at the helm, Andrea thought with a small measure of relief, before realising, Oh crap. That just means it'll be a straight warp into the base. A shrug and a quiet sigh. Oh well, at least I'm getting to do something here.

The thought made her brighten again. She looked over to her companion at the navigation console and saw that he too was absorbed in his board, running diagnostics and updating the ship's position in the navigation databanks.

She suddenly felt rather than saw Arruntha's large yellow eyes on her, so she returned her attention to her controls and the astrogator between her and Garn, becoming watchful for sensor alerts indicating foreign objects in their path or the vicinity of the ship.


Nearly two hours later, Ensign Garn gruffly announced, "Lieutenant Commander Arruntha, we are approaching the Gamma 400 system, E.T.A. to system boundary is ten minutes."

"Thank you, Navigator," the second officer replied, then turned to the comm. officer. "Mr. Surok, inform the captain we'll be arriving at Starbase Twelve within fifteen minutes."

"Aye Commander," the slim Vulcan replied and murmured into his intercom. Moments later he informed, "Sir, the captain will be on the bridge momentarily."

"Very good."

The entire bridge crew seemed to sit straighter and become even more alert after this news, with the exception of Surok himself. As good as his word, Bates arrived on the bridge after a few minutes and relieved Arruntha, who updated him on current ship's status before moving behind the captain to stand at the internal security station.

Bates took in the viewscreen, which was locked onto the their destination and now showing the Gamma 400 star as a disk instead of just another pinprick of light, then turned to Garn.

"Ensign, current position?" he asked.

"Crossing system boundary in two minutes, Captain," the Tellarite replied.

"Mr. Brown, slow to warp two when we get there."

"Aye sir," she replied, suppressing the excitement she felt.

The captain then swung his chair to face the comm. officer. "Mr. Surok, hail the base and confirm my 1830 meeting with Base Commander Kellogg."

"Yes, Captain," Surok replied and quietly set about his task.

"Crossing system boundary, sir," Garn updated.

"Dropping to warp two as ordered, Captain," Andrea announced. "E.T.A. at Starbase Twelve ingress point is ninety seconds."

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Bates acknowledged.

"Captain, Commodore Kellogg has confirmed your meeting with her, and is 'looking forward to seeing you'," Surok told the captain.

A small smile was evident on Bates' face at the slight emphasis employed by his Vulcan comm. officer. It's not exactly a JG's place to disapprove of how a base commander runs her affairs, he thought with amusement, but Maria's never been one for formalities unless someone actually breaks her rules.

Aloud, he said, "Very good, Mr. Surok."

At the helm console, Andrea's hands effortlessly guided the cruiser across the empty orbital tracks of the system's planets at eight times light-speed, compensating for the gravitational influence of the M-type dwarf star almost without thought. Under this slight pressure, her thoughts had emptied of anything unrelated to her task and her training had coalesced and crystallised in her head, ready to deal with anything.

The sparse asteroid belt that surrounded the star outside the third planet's orbit loomed larger in the viewscreen, centred on one huge hunk of rock in particular. The distance wound down to the warp ingress point some five million kilometres from the base.

"Warp ingress point in ten seconds, Captain," she called out.

"Go to sublight, full impulse to the base," Bates replied.

"Aye sir. Going sublight… now. Transporter range of the base in sixty-six seconds."

"Very good", he acknowledged. Turning to Markus he asked, "Any other ships in the area, Science Officer?"

The Swiss performed a quick active sensor sweep and reported back. "Yes, sir. There is a police cutter in orbit of the starbase, the science vessel U.S.S. Grissom in Dry-Dock Three, and the destroyer U.S.S. Etzel on patrol around the system. No non-Federation vessels detected."

"Thank you, Mr. Bertschinger," Bates acknowledged genially. "Mr. Surok, pay our compliments to the other vessels and accommodate any requests for information they may make."

"Yes, Captain."

"All stop and hold relative position at 40,000 kilometres, Lieutenant Brown."

"Aye sir," Andrea replied, then after a few seconds added, "Answering all stop, sir."

"Very well. Mr. Arruntha, you have the conn while I go to see the sector commander."

"Aye-aye sir. I have the conn," the Saurian replied in his silver voice as Captain Bates got up from his chair, into which he settled as the captain disappeared into the turbolift.

Andrea made sure that her controls were set for thrusters at station-keeping, then leaned back in her chair to take in the image on the viewscreen of the great rock that contained Starbase Twelve. It was less boring than most asteroids as even though the rock itself contained many tunnels and rooms, the most recent facilities added to the base consisted of a glittering conglomeration of metal that adorned the outer surface facing the ship.

Andrea was envious of Bates at being able to go over there, though she knew that a crew in space for less than two months wasn't entitled to any shore leave. She was put out that she was being denied her chance to see her first piece of alien architecture.

All things in mainstream Federation society – and Starfleet in particular – were designed along the same lines no matter who built them, be they Tellarite, Vulcan, or Andorian. The tunnels and rooms of what had become Starbase Twelve had been carved out of the rock by the Karsids 2, a long gone – and, some thought, now extinct – race that had dominated this area of space several centuries ago. Their once great empire had lasted for centuries itself, until the Orions and Klingons had revolted against their overlords.

And I'm missing out on all that history! Andrea thought glumly. Maybe before we leave for the Klingon border we'll get the chance to come back.

Consoling herself with that thought, she awaited the return of Captain Bates.


The captain of the Illustrious strode through the oddly-proportioned corridors of the base as he trekked ever deeper into the asteroid towards the base commander's office.

Although he'd been here many times before during his twenty-seven years of active duty he always liked returning to this place, being fascinated by it's non-conforming dimensions. It was one of the few facilities that Starfleet used that failed to cater to the omnipresent humanoid form, and as such Bates found it refreshing and invigorating to visit.

Strolling through these corridors was like literally walking through a part of the history of this sector of the galaxy. However, Bates was honest enough with himself to realise that, even though this place was refreshingly different from his standard environment, he wouldn't want to live here as it's very alienness would eventually start playing with his mind.

Such musings occupied his thoughts until he arrives at Kellogg's office, upon which he announced himself to her assistant. "Captain Bates to see Base Commander Kellogg."

"Yes, Captain. One moment please," the Caitian lieutenant told him, and paged her superior. Bates couldn't hear the exchange but after a moment he was told to go right in.

Maria Kellogg was standing in front of her desk to greet him as he entered, and he shook her hand warmly. "Maria," he greeted her with a genuine smile of warmth. "You're looking well."

"Leo, you old space dog. Good to see you," she responded in kind with a grin.

"Hey, look who's calling who old, Commodore," he shot back in mock annoyance.

Kellogg's grin turned slightly wry at that. "Yeah, seems like only yesterday I was ChEng of the Potemkin, until I remember all the crap that's happened to me since I took charge of this base."

"Six years of admin duties and juggling Klingons and researchers from all over known space," Leo said. I can see how that could be regarded as 'crap'," he added with a smirk.

"Yeah, well, now that Starbase Twelve has been formally claimed as Federation space, I don't have to put up with the Klingons so much," Kellogg noted. "During the Sixties we were still a 'Free Space' port. Now everything has to go through 'the proper channels'," she intoned weightily, her eyes smiling, "and I can dodge a lot of extended diplomatic duty by simply refusing to let Klingon warships in."

"Yeah, those were the days," Leo agreed. He'd been the X.O. of the Scovil in the early Sixties before taking command of the Illustrious in '67, when she was still a Surya-class heavy frigate. During that time he'd visited this base several times, most notably just before the defection of a Klingon scientist researching the old Karsid records [5], and had struck up a good working relationship with then-Captain Kellogg. That relationship had grown into the easy friendship they now shared.

"Well, that's enough reminiscing for this visit, Leo," Maria stated, breaking into his reverie. "What's the business end of things like?"

"As you probably know, the Illustrious has been recently re-commissioned and is undergoing her shakedown cruise en route to Starbase 20 on the Klingon/Triangle border," Leo explained, just in case she didn't know. Unlikely, he thought absentmindedly, but she might have been busy. A B.C.'s work is never done. "This is just a little courtesy call that I wanted to make in person rather than by subspace, to tell you that we'll be doing extensive trials and testing in the local area so that if we run into trouble you'll know where to send the rescue ships."

Maria nodded seriously. "Understood, Leo." She knew as well as any Starfleet veteran that shakedowns were fraught with dangers both expected and not, and knowing where you were if you needed help ensured that help would indeed come. "Any specific systems in mind for where you'll be bouncing around?" she asked.

Leo leaned forward in his chair and said, "We had considered the Pollux system as it has two uninhabited M-class planets we could survive on if something went disastrously wrong, but it's unofficially quarantined since the Enterprise found Apollo."

Maria grinned and Leo shrugged. "Who knows if it was actually him, but according to the tricorder logs the Enterprise landing party made he was a being of great power and we don't know if he really is gone for good." He smiled again and added, "Besides, it's almost four days away – back where we came from – and I wanted to see you in person."

Maria chuckled and graced him with a high-watt smile. "Leo, you flirt, don't make me call up Jackie and tell tales on you!"

Leo grinned back at her. "She wouldn't believe you, especially after the way you behaved on Deneva." His friend affected an innocent "who me?" pose, eyes wide, and he shook his head, amused.

"Yes, so, anyway," he continued, eliciting another chuckle from Maria, "we've decided on system s1022 [6]. It's only twelve hours away at emergency warp speed, and it has an uninhabited M-class planet that we could survive on for however long it takes to be rescued. There's also a few more interesting systems with a parsec of s1022 that can give our sensors and laboratories a good workout, plus the Tau Eridani cloud itself, if we're feeling brave," he finished with a smile.

"I'd stay away from the Cloud if I were you, Leo," Maria warned him. "It's been spawning some pretty nasty ion storms of late and our long range sensors and probes have been monitoring severe gravitational distortions for the past two months. It wouldn't be wise going in there with a perfect ship an a top-notch crew, much less a boatload of children."

"Okay then, s1022 it is. Are any of these ion storms heading in that direction?"

"Let me check," she told him. Hitting her intercom tab, she instructed, "Lieutenant, get the latest long range sensor sweep data and weather forecasts for the Cloud and the area around system s1022, and send them to the Illustrious, please."

"Aye sirrr,"she replied.

Snapping the channel shut she addressed Bates again. "That's for your benefit, really. Yours and your science staff, anyway. As far as I can remember there are two storms, both force eight, but both heading away from s1022. No unusual conditions of last report in your target area."

"Thanks, Maria," he acknowledged her information.

"No problem."

"I'd better be going. I'm expected on the border by 32.9 and it'll be around another month's travel time to get there," Bates said, getting out of his chair.

"Okay then," Kellogg replied, coming round to his side of the desk to shake his hand. "You take care of yourself, Captain. I don't want to have to send my ships after you."

"You're not the only one, Commodore," he agreed. "Until next time."

"Until next time. Godspeed, Leo."


Captain Bates stepped off the turbolift and onto the bridge of his ship. It was like coming home, even though most of the faces had changed since her refit. Once again he ousted Arruntha from the conn and took a status report. Nothing had changed in the half-hour he'd been gone.

"Thank you, Commander," he acknowledged the Saurian's report, then ordered, "Ensign Garn, plot a course for system s1022 at warp eight. Lieutenant Brown, take us to the warp egress point at half impulse."

At the Helm/Nav console, both officers acknowledged and got to work. Garn's task was ridiculously easy this time, as all he had to do was find the system in the Navigation databanks to retrieve its co-ordinates and plot a straight line from this system's egress point. Since the destination was a bare 1.37 light-years away, there were no neutral zones or navigational hazards to manoeuvre around and he was finished within seconds.

"Course plotted and laid in, Captain," he announced just as Andrea got the ship moving. "E.T.A. at destination is twenty-three hours, twenty-six minutes."

"Very good, Ensign. Lieutenant Brown, engage on that course at warp eight when we're clear of the base."

"Aye sir," she responded briskly as she swung the cruiser around to face away from the asteroid at 1,000 kilometres-per-second, then gunned the impulse drive to push them up to half impulse, or one-eighth light-speed.

Andie felt a thrill. Ooh, she does handle sweetly, she thought as the cruiser heeled to starboard gracefully under minimal power. As she throttled up to half impulse she – and the whole bridge crew, including the captain – felt a tremor run through the ship. She was checking her readouts even as the captain asked, "Lieutenant?"

Feeling herself blush furiously, she kept herself facing forwards as she searched for an answer. After a few seconds, she replied, "Sir, the helm controls checks out as fully operational, no malfunctions, and the log shows I applied power smoothly," she started, managing a calm tone and forcing the defensiveness out if it. "However, there seems to be a slight fuel flow problem on Impulse Thruster Two. It could indicate a faulty inlet valve or fuel flow regulator."

Captain Bates nodded approvingly, though Andrea couldn't see this. "Very well, Lieutenant. Good work."

As he turned to Surok to order an engineering crew to check the suspect systems, Andrea began to relax again, feeling the blush fade from her face.

Phew, that was a close one, she thought, incorrectly. I'm glad I checked this board out before we arrived. I thought I'd get it in the neck for being clumsy there! Andrea took a moment to wipe her suddenly sweaty palms on her blue uniform trousers before they reached the warp-out point. Instead, the captain accepted my word and congratulated me on doing a good job! YEAH!

Taking note of their position, she announced, "We are free and clear to navigate, Captain."

"Warp speed, Lieutenant," he ordered.

"Aye, sir," she replied, and sent them shooting out of the system toward their next destination.

Chapter Seven

23rd July 2272, 1533 hours
Stardate 7430.965
Junior officers' quarters, E Deck, U.S.S. Illustrious

Andrea stepped into the bathroom she shared with Rachel Polanskis to find the other woman washing up at the sink. The Australian tracked her movements in the mirror but didn't divert her attention from her ablutions as she asked, "Hey Blue-eyes, how are you?"

The Scot smiled at the Aussie's obvious nickname for her as she replied. "Oh, not bad, just in intense pain and feeling good. I'm gonnae take a much needed shower, though, so avert your eyes from my Goddess-like body or be struck to stone for sneakin' a peek."

Rachel rolled her eyes at Andrea's hyperbole and, after taking in the other woman's sweat-stained workout clothes, just commented, "Yeeeaaah, ya do need one, don't ya?" As her friend started to strip off, an unholy gleam came into Rachel's brown eyes. "That must have been one hell of a workout, Andie," she noted, then added with a lecherous smirk, "or is there some lucky bugger now lying exhausted on your bed?"

Andrea almost blushed but tried to cover her embarrassment with a well-aimed facecloth and an offended screech as she stepped into the shower and closed the partition. "You skinny hag, you're just jealous of my ample womanly attributes!"

Rachel grinned and peeled the wet facecloth from around her neck. "Ha ha! Andie's embaa-raassed! Andie's embaa-raassed!" the Aussie chanted like a schoolgirl in a playground. "Who is it? Is he cute? Did you finally bag Markus?" she pestered, thinking she was on to something.

"No!" Andrea protested over the sound of running water. "There's nobody in there, and there never was!"

"Awww, you're boring," her friend complained. "Live a little! Get yourself a 'special friend', there's plenty to choose from on this ship."

"Geez Rachel, you sound just like my mother!" Andrea complained from behind the opaque partition. "Leave it be, will you? I don't have time for anyone right now!"

Rachel threw up her hands in exasperation and her tone matched her feelings. "Fine, Andie. Just trying to look out for you."

"Thanks, but I'll do it in my own time, Rachel," was the reply.

"Okay, okay," she conceded. "Well, have a good shift. I'm off to get a quick bite to eat so I guess I'll see you tomorrow, huh?"

"Suppose so. Have a good one," Andrea called out.

"See ya, Blue-eyes."

Andrea watched the blurry outline of her friend leave then allowed herself a sigh. Damnit, I always overreact like that whenever someone asks about my love life. I've got to learn to calm down! she scolded herself.

She couldn't help it though. Andrea liked other women and thought that it set her apart. This frame of mind was formed as she was growing up, as living in quiet Scottish towns she hadn't met anyone else who'd felt the same way she did. After discovering how she felt in her fifteenth year she hadn't felt comfortable talking about it even to her friends, but two years later she'd finally managed to open up to her two best friends. Despite their positive and supportive attitudes, Andrea still shied away from talking about it and had never told anyone else – not even her mother, and especially not her step-dad. And so she suffered in silence in a self-made purgatory that really only existed within her own head.

Still, her experiences in the wider world – specifically, attending Starfleet Academy – had exposed her to many kinds of beings and lifestyles. Andrea had felt herself pushing at her self-imposed boundaries, like a hungry cat pawing at the closed window of its owner's home. While at the Academy she had totally devoted herself to her studies – earning her a 'swot' designation – but her immersion in a more open and varied environment had stayed with her, and now that she was able to have a life she was determined to live one.

She just had no idea how to start.

She was fairly sure she'd figure it out on her own, she just didn't want to ruin any friendships she had already built by propositioning the women she was attracted to. Fledgling friendships between women were difficult enough to keep as it was without the added knowledge that your friend wanted to bed you.

And besides, she already had a list of women she liked. What would she do if the first one she approached turned her down, as was likely? Just go straight on down the list, settling for whoever consented? Should she go in no particular order as a defence against the inevitable charge of rating and categorising her friends? And once turned down – again, as was sure to happen – how long should she wait before asking another? A week? Two weeks? A month? How long was appropriate? Respectful of others' feelings?

All these questions and uncertainties lashed at Andrea as she finished her shower and got ready for duty. She needed desperately to find out the answers to her questions.

She was not sure how long it would be before she got them.

Bridge, U.S.S. Illustrious
1700 hours

"All systems check out, Captain. We are go for stage two sublight manoeuvres testing."

The helmsman's voice carried clearly across the bridge and confirmed the report made by the Chief Engineer himself moments earlier. There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement on the bridge because of them.

None more so than in the mind and body of the helm officer, as this was their first chance to see and feel first hand what their ship could do, and what they could do with the ship.

"Very good, Lieutenant," Bates acknowledged. "Take us in, Mr. Brown, half impulse."

"Aye-aye, Sir!" Andrea replied, eyes shining.

Junior officers, Bates thought with an internal smile. They're just like children. If I ever feel myself getting old or jaded, all I need to remember is what it's like to see things through their eyes. Everything a source of wonder for seeing it for the first time.

For Andrea, the last hour of updates and equipment checks had been a bizarre form of almost-torture, knowing that she would be flying the ship soon, just not yet.

I just wanna fly her! she inwardly wailed behind a calm, professional exterior – or, more accurately, what she thought was a calm, professional exterior. Everyone on the bridge, including the captain, could see that she was champing at the bit to get going.

Sherak had his shot. Now it's my turn and here we go! she thought gleefully as she sent the Illustrious swooping towards planet s1022-III at one-eighth light-speed.

The Alpha-shift had, of course, gotten first crack at the sublight manoeuvres but they'd had a rough time of it in the combat and evasive tests. After a smooth start on gentle manoeuvres, the whole crew had been treated with increasing violence by the counter force provided by the inertial dampers. This rather dangerous trend had forced manoeuvres to be curtailed until the cause could be found.

It was finally traced to an incorrect entry in the master ship specifications file the main computer used for all its ship-related calculations. Apparently, after comparing it to an independent copy held in the Engineering computer banks, it was found that the mass of the ship in the master file was ten thousand metric tons heavier than its actual value. During plain sailing and smooth manoeuvres this hadn't mattered much, but the computer was compensating for too much mass in the generators designed to cancel out g-forces. Now that those adjustments had been made and checked out, it was time to try again.

And that's why we're here, after all, Andrea reflected. To wring out these little bugs before we get into a for-real situation where one little bug could mean the death of us all.

"Roll the ship, Lieutenant Brown," Bates commanded. "Starboard rotation, slowly at first then spin us as fast as you can."

"Aye, Captain," she replied, powering up the attitude thrusters. Slowly at first, resisting the mass of the ship, the small thrusters pushed the port side of the ship up and the starboard side down. To the people on the ship nothing amiss was noted, but as the roll accelerated the picture on the bridge viewscreen was starting to make Markus turn slightly green. He turned to his station, just as the captain noticed and ordered, "Tactical on main screen, Mr. Bertschinger."

The science officer complied and the spinning starscape-and-planet was replaced by a composite image of local space, showing the Illustrious on a straight course but spinning like a top.

"Maximum rotation on x-axis achieved, Captain," Andrea reported from the helm.

"Very good. Chief Rockford, how are the systems handling the strain?" Bates asked the bridge engineering liaison.

"As you can no doubt tell, Captain, the dampers are working correctly now," the forty-year-old New Yorker replied with a slight grin for his friend the captain. "The momentum is being absorbed fully, and all indicators show systems within tolerance levels."

"Excellent. So far, so good then," Bates commented. "Mr. Brown, cease our rotation and realign us with the galactic plane."

"Yes sir," the Scot replied, finding and locking in her points of reference as she slowed the ship's spinning. "Straight and level, sir."

"Very good. Now perform an Immelmann Turn," Bates ordered.

Andrea blinked. What the hell is that? I've never heard of such a thing! Risking a glance behind her, she asked, "Sir? I don't understand."

Adding to her confusion, the captain smiled. "Very good, Lieutenant."


"You know enough to ask when you don't know something. What's more, you did it right away instead of trying to fake it or pretend you knew," he explained.

Andrea was caught between a 'harumph' and a blush: annoyed at being tested and slightly embarrassed at the praise.

"An Immelmann Turn is a half loop to face back the way you came, then rolling the ship to its previous orientation. Go ahead and try it, Lieutenant."

"Aye sir." Andrea worked her controls and completed the manoeuvre smoothly, if slowly.

"Good, now do it at full impulse in the shortest possible time," he instructed before opening an intraship com channel. "All hands, secure for combat manoeuvres." Then, "Go ahead, Lieutenant."

Thus began the first real work – and all-out fun – Andrea had yet experienced aboard ship. Over the next three hours she performed standard and non-standard orbital insertions around planets of various sizes and hazards, in-system warp jumps with the now finely-tuned warp engines, calculated and implemented intercept vectors, performed various evasive and combat manoeuvres, and basically flung the little cruiser and her three hundred and sixty souls all over the starry sky and around the whole system.

All through the various trials and tasks set to her she maintained a calm, professional demeanour – a real one this time – even though inside she was cheering and yelling her head off.

This is what it's all about! she exulted as the Illustrious completed another in-system warp jump, coming out in near orbit of planet s1022-VI. This is what I joined up for, what I was born to do!

Aloud she announced, "Approaching the gas giant, Captain."

"Very good. Take us away from the planet, one quarter impulse, and into the rings, Lieutenant."

"Aye sir," she acknowledged. Given at the start of this shift, that order would have given her pause. As it was now, she eagerly spurred her charge onwards.

"Orient us ninety degrees to the ecliptic on our port side, Mr. Brown."

"Yes, Captain." Several seconds later and the ship was flying on the left edge of her saucer as seen from the galactic plane. "Entering the rings in three minutes, sir."

"Very good. Your task this time, Mr. Brown, is to pilot your way through the lateral extent of the rings without disturbing anything!" Bates told her.

"Sir, there's no way I can do that! There are megatons of fine debris and dust—" she protested before the captain gently cut her off.

"Understood, Lieutenant. Just try to avoid the larger hunks of rock then, okay?" he said with a smile.

Damnit, another test! she cursed mildly, but then smiled back. "Ah, I'll try, Captain."

Bates' cheeks seemed to be doing a little dance as he said, with a mostly straight face, "See that you do, Lieutenant."

"Entering ring dust cloud boundary," Markus reported from the science station. "Reading particle concentration at one part per thousand cubic kilometres. Particle density increases geometrically beyond this point."

"Thank you, Mr. Bertschinger," Bates acknowledged.

"Particle density now at one part per ten cubic kilometres," Markus stated after nearly a minute.

"Now entering the rings, Captain," Andrea announced. "Beginning evasive manoeuvres."

"Particle density now at two parts per cubic kilometre."

"Navigational deflectors are handling the load, Captain," Chief Rockford updated. "Beams correctly configured for one-quarter impulse."

"Very good, Chief," Bates acknowledged as he watched a fairly large boulder disappear off to port. There were plenty more to take its place.

"Particle density at ten parts per cubic kilometre."

"Easy does it, Mr. Brown," Bates commented as he watched the screen's point of view gently weave a path through the rings.

Andrea was concentrating hard, but still managing to enjoy herself at this test of skill.

That enjoyment ended abruptly.


The ship staggered, yawing to starboard as a specific alarm started blaring. Andrea fought to right the ship from its sideways skid through the thickening dust cloud as Rockford raced to the damage control station. "Hull breach!" he yelled for the newbies.

Bates already knew this and yelled, "Shields up, Yellow Alert! All stop and thrusters to station-keeping!"

With no one at the weapons console Garn slammed a hoof onto his shield activation button as Andrea zeroed her controls.

"Shields coming up, Captain!" he growled, managing to cover his nervousness.

"Answering all stop, Captain!" Andrea barked, not doing quite so well.

Donally burst onto the bridge in full uniform and ready for action. "All sections, report your status to the First Officer on the bridge," she ordered down an intraship com channel.

"Chief Rockford, what can you tell me?" Bates asked.

"Sir, we've got a hull breach and explosive decompression on D Deck inboard of the sensor array, both V.I.P. quarters. Emergency force fields and bulkheads are in place. No other damage detected, sir."

"Very good," he said then switched his attention to his X.O. "Commander, report."

Donally straightened up and turned to face the captain. "Sir, all other sections check in as secure, no damage. We were apparently hit in only that one spot. Sickbay is reporting no casualties, so we've gotten off lightly. No one was in the area of the breach."

Well, we aren't carrying any V.I.P.s, fortunately, Bates noted. "Okay, now I want to know what happened to us. We don't move until we know we are not in danger of it happening again," he announced. "Science Officer, full sensor scan. Chief Rockford, run systems diagnostics and get a damage control team in there to assess the affected areas and set about repairing it."

The acknowledgements echoed back as Bates beckoned Donally over for a conference.

"Situation, Captain?" she asked.

"Helm trials. I was having Lieutenant Brown take us through the rings of the gas giant. All other helm operations had gone perfectly and Brown seems to be a natural there. We'd entered the ring several minutes previously, then all of a sudden this happens," he updated his X.O. "Out of nowhere, too. No sensor warnings, no collision alarms, or even proximity warnings. Even the viewscreen showed no object of decent size close by."

"Shields?" she asked.

"Down at the time, up now."

"Navigational deflectors?"

"Online and active. Believe me, Commander, with the particle densities young Bertschinger was reporting we'd have felt a lot more than we did if the deflectors were offline."

Eileen was analysing the situation furiously. "That leads me to believe there may be a problem with them, sir. If we felt only a single impact…" She trailed off to let the captain draw his own conclusions.

"I see what you mean," Bates nodded thoughtfully.

"Incoming scan report, Captain," Lieutenant Bertschinger called out.

"Let's hear it, Lieutenant," Bates ordered.

"No other ships or manufactured objects detected within range of the sensors, Captain," the Swiss began. "No traces or residue from any known weapons' fire. No gravitational distortions or fluctuations recorded from the start of this shift, and no objects larger than fifteen centimetres across or massing more than ten kilos detected within a seven-hundred metre radius of our current position, none of which were on our projected path, Sir."

"Very well, thank you Science Officer," Bates acknowledged. Speaking quietly to his first officer, he stated, "Well, I think that's the first step in confirming your hypothesis, Commander. We weren't attacked, knocked off course by gravitational eddies, nor hit by a rock our deflectors couldn't handle."

"It does seem that way, Captain," she said seriously, then spoke up. "Chief Rockford, progress on damage assessment?"

"They're just on their way in now, Commander," Rockford informed her. "Lieutenant Ronka and his team have suited up and sealed off the corridor section outside the V.I.P. staterooms. Manually opening the doors to the foremost room. They're inside and the lights are functioning."

Rockford was obviously getting a running commentary from the Damage Control Officer, so Bates ordered, "Put the Lieutenant on the speakers, Chief. I want to hear him directly."

"Aye sir. On speakers."

The naturally gruff voice of the Tellarite was rendered somewhat loud and tinny in the confines of his helmet's comm. system, but he was easily understandable.

"Captain," he greeted his C.O. "I'm looking around now. There's the usual mess decompression leaves behind, but the room is mostly intact. Furnishings have been dragged forward slightly, but there wasn't enough volume of air for a sustained gust."

Bates almost barked at him in frustration but held silent. The lieutenant was only doing his job. Just move it along, Ronka. I don't want an interior décor critique, I want to know how big a hole is in my ship!

"Moving forward to the hulled bulkhead now, Captain," the Tellarite said next, as if he'd heard Bates' thoughts. "Okay, there's a ten centimetre hole in the forward bulkhead. Looks like an unsupervised extra viewport was put in, it lines up so neat," Ronka put in with his gallows humour.

Goddammit Lieutenant, that's my ship you're talking about! Bates mentally upbraided him, but at the same time he realised he'd gotten what he wanted and felt some relief at the apparently minor nature of the breach.

"Tricorder readings indicate no additional stress on the bulkhead, it was a sudden, clean punch through. This will be easily fixed."

"Lieutenant," a female voice came onto the speakers, "I've got a five centimetre hole in the aft bulkhead leading into the second V.I.P. cabin. Another clean punch through with no caving or stress fractures around it. This'll be easy to fix as well," the second member of Ronka's team reported.

"Thanks Al`dena," the Tellarite acknowledged. "David, what've you got?"

"Sir, I'm in the second V.I.P. cabin and I've found our culprit."

Everyone on the bridge turned to the speakers at that little announcement.

"You've what?" Ronka blustered in disbelief. "Say again."

"Sir, I have a roughly spherical object about three millimetres across that the tricorder tells me is almost pure iron embedded in the far wall of the second V.I.P. cabin. It's almost all the way through the wall into the Rec. Deck galley, but it's forming its own airtight plug," Ronka's second helper confirmed in a somewhat awe-struck tone. "Fortunately for the cooks next door it doesn't look like it's going anywhere soon."

"Uh, okay." The bridge crew could almost hear Ronka shake his head to clear it. "Right, I want a repair team on each ruptured bulkhead and I want both brought up to original full-strength structural integrity before we go after David's plug. Snap to it, people," the engineer finished. Addressing Bates again, Ronka stated, "Captain, we still have full structural integrity and manoeuvring capability. As you heard, the damage is quite specific and highly localised."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Keep me informed of the progress of your repairs. Captain out." He closed that channel and opened another to the engineering spaces. "Lieutenant Commander Saran."

Seconds later the calm, modulated tones of the Vulcan chief engineer spilled out onto the bridge. "Saran here, Captain."

"You were monitoring Lieutenant Ronka's team, Commander?" he asked. "And our sensor data?"

"Affirmative, Captain," was the short reply.

"Do you concur with our theory that there's a misalignment in one navigational deflector array, probably the starboard emitter?"

"I do, Captain, and I have already dispatched a diagnostics team to locate the problem," he replied. "However, I am currently at a loss to explain why current safety and diagnostic routines are unaware of this error."

"You're not the only one," Bates muttered under his breath, and was subsequently surprised to hear Saran respond.

"It is gratifying to know that I am not alone in considering this problem, sir."

After the tenseness of the last few minutes and the relief brought on by Ronka's report, most of the bridge crew couldn't help a smile at that.

"Ah, very well, Lieutenant Commander. Keep me informed of your progress and let me know when we can move again."

"Sir, we can move now," the Vulcan protested. "With the shields up the navigational deflectors automatically cut off and—"

"Thank you, Mr. Saran," Bates overrode him, voice firm. "Captain out," he finished and closed the channel. I really wish Vulcans would take up colloquialisms, idioms, and even a slight sense of humour like the Tellarites and Andorians do, he lamented internally. Instead he turned his attention to his navigator and asked, "Shield status, Ensign Garn?"

"Holding at 99% of full strength, Captain. The dust cloud is reforming around us because of the rotation of the rings and this is constantly abrading the shields."

An admirably complete report, if more information than I was looking for, Bates noted. "Very well. We all heard our Chief Engineer, so if you would, Mr. Brown, find the shortest route back out of the rings and take us out at one quarter impulse power."

"Aye-aye, Captain," she replied, sounding ill at ease. Due to the depth of the rings that course was a simple 180° turn to go back the way they came in, so she gently turned the ship around at 100 kps.

"Chief Rockford, boost shield power to 150% until we get clear of the dust. Mr. Bertschinger, call out when we're clear."

"Aye Captain," Rockford acknowledged.

"Yes sir," Markus echoed.

The turn complete, Andrea carefully accelerated the ship up to one-sixteenth light-speed. Bates noticed that the young woman seemed to be walking on eggshells, making every movement with exaggerated care. She probably still feels responsible for us getting hit, even though it looks like it wasn't her fault. I'll have to speak to her later, he decided.

After five minutes Markus called the all clear and Bates relaxed minutely again. "Standard orbit of the gas giant, Mr. Brown," he ordered next.

"Aye sir."

"Mr. Bertschinger, full spectrum sensor sweep of the planet and its rings. I want a detailed breakdown of its composition and suitability for resource gathering," Bates instructed the science officer. Several other tasks were assigned to the various bridge crewmembers while the captain settled into his chair. And now we wait until Engineering reports back. Might as well keep this bunch occupied until we do.


It took nearly two hours and Bates was getting quite tired, having been up since 0700 that morning and been on duty continuously until now. It was not an emergency or urgent situation so he had no adrenaline to keep him going and his fifteen-hour workday was beginning to take its toll.

Seated in the briefing room on B Deck with his Exec, Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Ronka, and Ensign Alicia Rio, he was now getting an explanation on what happened and how, and how it had been fixed.

"…so, the misalignment of emitters five and six in the starboard side deflector array created an open channel, a wedge if you will, with its apex at the place we were hulled," Ensign Rio was saying. "At this 'point' the wedge was twenty centimetres wide, but at its furthest extent it opened up to two hundred metres. [7] We've been very lucky, sirs," she continued, "to be hit by only one particle. We could have been hulled from amidships through to the stern had we been going any faster, or if there'd been more particles, or even just a single bigger one. Its contact with the deflector beams on each side of the channel robbed the particle of a lot of its momentum too, as it was converted to lateral motion each time it was forced out of the side of the beams. It stopped the particle having a straight line run at us, which also would have ripped a hole through the length of the ship." Alicia sighed, and added a final thought. "I dread to think what would have happened if the deflector misalignment had opened a wedge outboard of the sensor housing. It would have hit the Rec. Room and vented those three decks out into space, probably with a goodly number of our people."

"That didn't happen, though, Ensign," Donally snapped. "There is no point in dreaming up disaster situations just to frighten yourself with."

Ensign Rio did look chastised by the X.O.'s words, Bates noted, but there was a slight flash of resentment at being shot down so thoroughly in such exalted company.

"Sorry, Commander," she offered. "Anyway, the gap has been closed. This won't happen again."

"So you claim, Ensign. How can you be sure if the diagnostics were faulty to start with?" Donally asked her pointedly.

The Engineering Diagnostics Officer suppressed her irritation at the X.O.'s question and answered, "Commander, the initial problem was more faulty data entry by the yard techs. They input the wrong deflection angle into the emitter control software but the right one into the diagnostic program. Two teams probably did this at very different times during the ship's refit, therefore even their own simulations and diagnostics were faulty. The difference was only a single degree, but space flight is a very precise science. We've just experienced the results of what happens when some yard contractor doesn't take things seriously enough to triple-check all their work. All it takes is a moment's distraction and some time later several hundred people die a mysterious death in a perfectly good ship."

That thought sent cold shivers down all but the Vulcan's spine, and even he looked concerned.

"That's what shakedowns are for, Ensign. That's why they take a minimum of three months," Bates commented. "I'll make a recommendation to Starfleet Command to have all specifications files held on ship to be cross-checked with and compared to one another to prevent these… stupid errors costing people their lives. Thank you for your sterling efforts, Ensign, that was good work by you and your team."

She nodded her acknowledgement, and changing gears he moved on. "Now, Lieutenant Ronka, how go your repairs?"

The Tellarite had been preparing for this moment, and dropped what he'd been holding onto the table. It landed with a loud, solid thunk and rolled slightly. "100% complete, Captain," he stated dramatically, enjoying the looks on the humans' faces. He added, "However, the interior of the two V.I.P. cabins need some…" Now, what was that human phrase? he wondered. Ah yes. "…some 'room service' to return them to their former glory."

Bates suppressed a grin and noticed Ensign Rio doing likewise. Saran gave no reaction, as expected, but Donally glared at the Tellarite – also as expected.

"Lieutenant Ronka, this is not a laughing matter," Bates said mildly, pre-empting his X.O.'s outraged barrage.

Ronka was instantly sombre. "Of course not, sir. I did not mean to imply otherwise."

How can a furry, porcine being look like the picture of innocence? Bates wondered with an internal smile, before ordering, "Your report, Lieutenant."

"Sir, all three bulkheads have been repaired fully, as has the outer hull surface," he stated. "The repaired sections have been subjected to a full battery of heat and pressure tests and have passed them easily. Commander Saran has confirmed those findings. Even the exterior hull plate has been painted."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Good job. So, we are up to full strength once again, Mr. Saran?"

"Yes, Captain. The damage has been fully and properly repaired, the deflector arrays have all been thoroughly and exhaustively checked and confirmed as properly aligned, and the datafiles for the diagnostics routines have been examined and corrected to actual settings where necessary," the Vulcan confirmed. "I also took the liberty of likewise checking the secondary deflectors on the upper raised hull surfaces. They also are now fully calibrated and re-certified."

"Excellent work, Commander. You all have my thanks." Heads nodded around the table. "Commander Donally, you will instruct the Second Officer to assume command and continue the shakedown. Have all datafiles compared and cross-checked with unequivocal data so that something of this nature is never repeated. I am now going to inform our helm officer that she didn't run into anything and that she can stop worrying, and then I am going to bed. The rest of you may return to your posts. Carry on and good night."

"Aye sir," "Goodnight sir," the acknowledgements came back.

I wonder what else we'll find over the next few weeks? Leo thought as he headed up to the bridge. Hopefully nothing this serious will happen again, but you never know. We can only hope.

Chapter Eight

10th August 2272, 1352 hours
Stardate 7432.758
Rec. Deck Lower Level, U.S.S. Illustrious

"That's check and mate, Andie," Indra Gunawan said from across the Tri-D chessboard, waggling his thick eyebrows at her.

Andrea blew out of her mouth in exasperation, then grinned at the engineer. "Good game, Indra. Well played."

"Gave me a run for my credits that time," he offered in consolation.

"You're just feeling smug about finally having beaten me at something," she commented with a smile. "I used to think I was quite good at this, too."

This time Indra smiled. "You are quite good at this. I'm just better, that's all."

"Oh really?" Andrea asked, a dangerous look on her face. "Care for an arm-wrestling match?"

"Oh, no, no, no!" the skinny Malaysian said, waving his hands in front of him and laughing. "You don't get me back that easily. You either beat me at chess or no deal!"

The Scot grinned at him and backed down. "Fair enough, then. I hereby challenge you to a daily game so that you can enhance that feeling of smug superiority every day until I beat you."

"Challenge accepted, you big bully!" Indra smirked at her.

Andrea affected an air of great innocence and exclaimed, "Moi? A bully? You must be mistaken! I don't bully, I… cajole, encourage, nudge along, and talk people 'round."

Indra sat back and crossed his arms, looking at her askance. "Uh huh. Sure you do. And when these unspecified people aren't cajoled, encouraged, nudged along, or talked 'round?" he asked archly.

Andrea grinned. "I persuade them."

"Ah yes. Persuasion," the engineer commented. "The same kind of persuasion Cristina's been telling me her illustrious Italian ancestors used?"

"The very same," she agreed with another smile. Remembering that she had a small errand to run, she told Indra, "Sorry to dash off and all, but I need to see Ted Johnson for something. He said to come by around now, so I'd better go."

"Okay then," Indra agreed, "but I'm holding you to that challenge! I want to feel smugly superior at this time tomorrow, so don't forget."

"I won't," she said, getting up and making for the spiral staircase. "I see it as being in training to beat you at something else," Andrea added with a grin a she left their games cube.

"In your dreams, Brown!" he called over to her with a wicked grin as she ascended to the upper level.

Andrea shot him a startled look and blushed slightly at some of the looks she got from the other occupants of the room. Ah'll get ye fur that, ya wee runt! she promised him within the confines of her own mind.

She smiled and nodded to her other friends as she passed them on her way across the upper level to the turbolift. Once inside, she instructed, "G Deck, Environmental Engineering," and leaned back against the wall as it took her there.

Minutes later and she was striding into the Environmental Engineering control room on the underside of Illustrious' saucer. A glance around the open-plan room and its wall-mounted control panels revealed no one present, but out of the corner of her eye she caught Ted waving at her through the window of the environmental engineer's office on her left.

"Hey Ted," she greeted the crewman as she stepped through the office doorframe.

"Afternoon Lieutenant," replied Life Support Technician Second-class Edward Johnson with a smile for his officer friend. "So, what is it that is so important it had to wait until the engineering department's Division Heads meeting to talk to me about?"

"I needed to get Ensign Nakamura out of the way," Andrea explained. "I've noticed he's been down recently and I was wondering if you knew why. I want to cheer him up."

Ted's eyes lit up with mischief. "Ah, you want to give him a surprise that'll make him feel better, right?" he asked with a smile. When she nodded, he shook his head and said, "What, are you the self-appointed morale officer for this tub? Far from resting on your laurels after that Rec. Room stunt for Ensign Garn, you're out to put a smile on the face of every sourpuss you see?"

"C'mon, Ted, what's wrong with that?" Andrea asked, putting her fists on her hips and leaning forward slightly over his desk. "You may need cheered up at some point. Do you really want to be left in your funk?"

Ted suddenly felt that there was a very selective problem with the gravity generators for his office, as he kept having to drag his eyes back up to meet his superior officer's. Trying to push aside thoughts of how exactly he'd like Lieutenant Brown to cheer him up right now, he struggled to focus on her question.

"Ah, yes. I mean, no, I'd want someone to notice and…" He trailed off and shook his head, trying to clear it. He was helped immeasurably when Andrea turned away from him and paced to the other side of the office, oblivious to his thoughts.

"Good, I'm glad you see what I mean," she was saying as he got back to her original question.

"Yeah, so, Ensign Nakamura. Well, he's been feeling kinda homesick, Lieutenant, that's why he's been down. Says he's been missing his family and the familiar surroundings of his home in Osaka," Ted told her as she half-turned to him again. "Apparently he's from a very traditional, old-value Japanese household with all the trappings. Why anyone'd miss that I dunno, but everyone has to grow up somewhere, I guess."

At that last Andrea's eyebrows went up. "How very philosophical of you, Ted," she murmured in surprise. "I didn't know you had it in you."

"What?" Ted asked with a grin. "You think only officers get to be philosophical?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I suppose not," she admitted.

"That's a very elitist attitude to hold, Lieutenant," he warned, half-joking. "If you're not careful they'll start calling you a snob!"

Ouch! she winced, feeling the shot hit home. "You're right, Ted. What can I say? Life's a learning experience. I suppose I've learned my lesson for today."

Johnson smiled at her. "Just twistin' yer tail, Lieutenant. So, got any ideas for the Ensign, sir?"

"Actually, yes," she started, her eyes wandering over the office equipment, finally coming to rest on the master status display in the middle of the room outside. "It'll require a favour from the fabricator techs, plus a little research into Japanese culture, but…"

"Something wrong, Lieutenant?" Ted asked, seeing her squinting out of the office window.

"Yeah, there seems to be some amber warnings on the ARS's for G Deck."

"What!?" Ted almost yelped, then looked down at the screen built into the console he sat behind.

From where Andrea was standing she couldn't clearly see what was being displayed on it, but she could tell that it wasn't the miniature status board it was supposed to be. Ted quickly brought up the proper screen and his face paled. He looked back up at Andrea, mouth flapping but no sound emerging, before his training suddenly clicked back into place.

"Confirmed, sir," he said, all business now. "Atmosphere Recycling System Twenty-Eight in compartment 7C01 is showing a malfunction." He got out from behind his desk and raced through to the master display to get the specifics. The console in the office was just a monitoring program designed to alert the duty tech or officer of a problem so that they didn't have to keep walking around the main room's control panels.

Andrea followed Johnson out and watched as he feverishly worked to track down the actual problem and rectify it, moving from control panel to control panel and reporting from each. Andrea stayed at the status board and called out any changes in readings.

"Control routines are operating normally and nothing's changing through computer commands. Must be a hardware fault, a broken scrubber or something. The CO2 levels are 10% above normal on F Deck forward!" Ted updated her, sounding worried. "I'm sharing the defective recycler's load among the others for that area and shutting it down. That'll clear out the excess CO2 and allow us to fix Twenty-Eight."

"Very good, Johnson," Andrea said, glad to see this potential crisis so easily corrected. She held silent while Johnson contacted Main Engineering to have a repair team dispatched, but inside she was getting angry. This idiot could have incapacitated scores of our crew! Most of the Gamma-shift is asleep on that deck! Just how long wasn't he looking at his monitor screen for it to get this bad?

The life support technician had finally completed his tasks and came back over to talk to Andrea. "Got it sorted. The ChEng is sending a team right now to check out the defective unit." He couldn't quite look her in the eye and kept bobbing his head as he spoke, his voice quavering slightly at the close call and its possible consequences.

"Ted, let's step back into the office, okay?" Andrea said in a neutral tone and lead the way back inside. She waited until they were safely ensconced before speaking further.

Feeling hopeful after being address informally, Johnson spoke first. "I'm glad you were here to help me for this, Andrea—"

She cut him off with a sharp question. "How much longer until that malfunction could have started dropping people in their tracks?"

Johnson swallowed hard. "Another thirty minutes, maybe forty-five, before they'd have noticed being short of breath," he answered carefully. "It would have taken about three hours before people would have started passing out."

Andrea nodded thoughtfully before spearing him with an angry glare. "And how long were you ignoring your duties for it to get this bad?" she demanded.

Johnson looked as if he'd protest that, but he closed his mouth without saying anything. Taking a couple of breaths to steady himself, he answered, "For the levels of CO2 to get that high would take about…" He hesitated again, but finally pushed an answer out. "About another thirty minutes."

"The same 'thirty minutes' as before?" Andrea demanded acidly. "As in, thirty to forty-five? "

"Yes," he whispered. He did not look at her eyes.

"Gods-damnit, Ted!" she yelled. "What the hell were you doing for all that time that didn't let you check the monitor for forty-five minutes?"

"I honestly didn't realise how much time had passed!" he told her. "Look, this is a really boring detail, just tending the damn machines, waiting on something – anything – happening!"

That phrase seemed familiar to Andrea somehow, but she dismissed the thought to concentrate on what Ted was saying.

"That's why there's normally two of us here, so that we can be kept occupied or alert by each other. Either through make-work or conversation, depending on the other person, we run checks, service equipment—"

"Ted, enough of this!" Andrea demanded. "What were you doing that soaked up all your attention for nearly an hour?"

"I was… doing some research for our first mission," he stated evasively.

"Ted…" Andrea said, the warning evident in her tone.

"We're going to the Klingon border! I was reading up on the accounts of battles fought against then Klingons in the last war!" he finally blurted out. "There was this frigate squadron up against two Klingon escort squadrons—"

"That's enough, I've heard all I want to," she declared, but Ted kept talking.

"Even if I was working under a console doing checks or maintenance, I still wouldn't have seen this!" he explained desperately. "Andrea—"

"Gods-damnit Johnson, call me 'Sir'! This is official now!" Lieutenant Brown proclaimed.

Johnson snapped to attention and barked, "Sir! Yes sir! Sorry, sir." He ventured, "Am I on report, Lieutenant?"

"I…" Andrea's first instinct was to give a resounding "Hell yes!" but something made her reconsider. He really screwed up here! one part of her mind pointed out. Lives were put at risk because this moron was goofing off! His supervisor is away at a meeting and trusts him to stay sharp on his own, and he betrayed that trust! If the ensign hadn't returned for an hour, what could have happened?

This was very true, but another part of her mind argued for him. The guy was bored, yes, but you came down and distracted him further – looking for a favour at that! And remember what Markus said about Donally? If she hears about this our friend Ted will be booted off the ship, if not out the Fleet! Remember what you were doing a few weeks back? Goofing off, wasn't it? Doing something against the rules? How is that any better than Ted here?

The argument continued inside her head, this time from the other side. It's very different! I was doing that to be nice to a friend. Johnson was being negligent and could have gotten people hurt! He deserves to be punished!

And you don't? Didn't you feel just like Ted on the bridge before we got to Starbase Twelve? "This is sooo boring" you always moaned. That's no better than him and you likely would have done the same thing if no one was watching you!

That struck a guilty nerve, and with it the battle was over. After what seemed like endless seconds for Johnson, Andrea finally answered, "No, you're not on report."

The technician sagged in relief at that, but Andrea was by no means finished with him. "This is not a matter to be relieved about, Johnson! Stand at attention."

Ted's eyes widened at her tone and words but quickly did as he was bid, watching Lieutenant Brown pace about in front of him as she started to dress him down.

"You do realise what could have happened here, don't you Johnson? Life Support Technician Johnson?" she demanded of him.

"Sir! Yes sir!" he shot out.

"Oh do you? Do you really?" she inquired softly. "Then tell me, Life Support Technician Johnson, what could have happened had your grossly negligent behaviour been allowed to continue unsupervised?"

"Sir, it wouldn't have come to that—" he tried to defend himself, but Brown was having none of it.

"I don't want your excuses, Johnson!" she yelled at him. "I want you to realise the magnitude of your mistake!"

"Yes sir! I mean, I do sir! I realise that had I not checked the master systems display again for the same amount of time that I had already… ignored it," he began, the hesitation evident in his voice as he tried to find another, less condemning word and failed, "that the safety of my crewmates would have been placed in jeopardy by my actions, Sir!"

"Or lack thereof, crewman!" Andrea added hotly. "Yours is a vitally important role, Johnson, a safeguard against malfunction in the computers and machines we all depend on for our very lives with the light, air, gravity, and food they provide.

"And you failed in that role!" Andrea condemned him passionately. "Your moment came and you were found wanting, Life Support Technician Johnson! You failed at the very time your attention was most needed, and yes, you placed the lives of your shipmates in danger!"

That did it for the crewman. Despite standing at attention his whole body seemed to droop.

Actually, Andrea hated to do it to him. As she'd previously realised, Ted's situation wasn't a million miles away from her own on the bridge during a quiet shift – and until reaching the starbase, they had all been quiet – and she mentally resolved to make sure that her own attention to her duties never flagged this much.

However, even though she didn't want his career more-or-less ended by what he'd failed to do here, as would likely happen if she put him on report, neither could she let it go uncommented on. The traditional solution was an informal – but very personal – chewing out, and here was Andie giving her first at the tender age of 22.

"I trust that I have made myself sufficiently clear, Crewman Johnson?" she inquired, maintaining her hard tone.

"Yes sir. I now fully realise what happened here today," he replied in a humbled tone.

"Then I can trust that this kind of thing will never happen again where there is any way in which you can prevent it?"

"Yes sir!" he exclaimed almost eagerly, perhaps realising that this screaming session was coming to a close and that nothing official had resulted from it. "I can personally assure you that this will never happen on my watch again."

"Very well then, Crewman Johnson. You may carry on."

"Aye sir," he replied softly.

Andrea nodded, satisfied, then left Johnson in his office as she strode out to return to her quarters.

There was a log entry she needed to make.

Executive Officer's Office, B Deck
2100 hours

Eileen Donally got up from her chair and paced around her office to stretch the stiffness from her muscles and joints. She'd been sitting at her desk for over three hours now, attending her paperwork in her usual methodical style. Stopping on her fifth circuit of the small room, she gazed out of her small forward-facing viewport and just looked.

It's so beautiful, she thought, letting it soothe her tired mind. So peaceful.

Admittedly, at present it wasn't a window to the outside worlds as during warp the ship's computer was programmed to opaque each clearsteel viewport and project a less mentally disturbing image of what could be seen outside the shell of the warp field containing the ship. Such thoughts didn't enter the X.O.'s head, though, due to her long experience with the protocol.

Thus having had her moment of Zen, she returned to the final items awaiting her attention.

Calling up the maintenance logs for the day she scanned through them to see what had gone on the fritz lately. Since finishing the majority of the shakedown and now on their way to Starbase 20, it was expected that 99% of any problems found had been fixed. However, there would still be a few little things that would need adjusting, especially the new parts as they went from being 'brand new' to 'run in'.

Ah good, she thought with satisfaction. That power fluctuation in the starboard nacelle conduit was fixed. Traced to a faulty setting on the power regulator for that section. That had been a running in problem detected at 0407 hours that morning, finally tracked down and repaired at 1122. Good, good, she noted, fabricator repaired, 1202. Feedback interference artefact eliminated from Transporter Room Three, 1349.

Her interest picked up at the next item on he log. Life support malfunction? That's pretty serious, she opined and decided to investigate it more deeply. Elevated levels of CO2 noticed on F Deck, cabins 6B01 to 6F06, at 1415. Diagnostics showed… control functions okay… hardware problem… repair team dispatched at 1420. On site diagnostics confirmed a faulty scrubber unit which was replaced from Stores. Seems fine to me, she thought, yet another example of the efficiency of the crew.

How dangerous was it? she wondered, and checked the specifics. Ten percent over? That's a serious malfunction for it to get so high so quickly. Let's track its progress, I want to see reaction times, Donally decided, and accessed the automatic computer logs for the area in question.

What she found out left her instantly furious. Opening a channel to the bridge, she ordered, "Have Engineering Ensign Nakamura and Life Support Technician Johnson report to the X.O.'s office immediately!" and snapped it off before hearing the acknowledgement.

She stewed in silence, glowering at the report, logs, and duty roster until the objects of her ire appeared in her office.

"Ensign Keichi Nakamura, reporting as ordered, Commander," the engineering officer said as he saluted. Crewman Johnson echoed his actions.

Donally could see that Johnson looked nervous and seemed to know exactly why he was here, but that the ensign was just normally puzzled. Not letting them see her screen, she decided to test that assumption.

"Tell me, Crewman, why do you think you are here?" Just in case it was something else, she wanted to know that too.

"Uh, Commander, I'm not sure—" he gulped out.

"Crewman," Donally said, her tone calculated to inspire the truth, indicating she'd take no stalling or prevarication.

"Sir, I assume it's about the malfunction in the life support system today," he volunteered.

"That's exactly right, Crewman," she replied neutrally. "So, can either of you tell me why it took nearly an hour for the malfunction to be noticed?"

Johnson seemed to sag before her eyes, but the Japanese ensign reacted unexpectedly.

"It what?" he demanded in surprise, turning to Johnson, before returning to attention and adding, "Sir."

Donally was surprised by that and decided not to pursue her original agenda to find out why this was news to Nakamura.

"You didn't know that, Ensign?" she asked. "Where were you during this time?"

"Sir, I was at the Engineering Division Heads meeting from 1330 to 1445 with all the other division chiefs, to discuss final adjustments made since the completion of the intensive shakedown trials," he replied with no trace of an accent. "While there I heard Ted – ah, Crewman Johnson – call in this malfunction, to which Commander Saran sent a repair team. When I returned to my post, Johnson reported to me what had happened from when he detected the problem. I congratulated him on his efforts and for doing his duty well."

"I see," Donally commented thoughtfully. The ensign seemed sincere but what capped it for Eileen was his anger. It was tightly controlled in front of her but she picked up that it was directed at Johnson, possibly for making a fool of him in front of her. "Didn't he tell you when the malfunction began?"

He almost immediately answered "yes" – she could see it in his face – but stopped to actually think about it first. After considering it for a few moments he answered, "No, Commander. He told me exactly when he noticed the problem and his resultant actions, but made no mention of the malfunction's start time. I must have just assumed that they were one and the same."

"Understandable, Ensign, but you see now how assumptions can lead to mistakes," she commented, letting him off the hook. "I hope you have learned something here?"

"Yes, Commander."

"Very well. Thank you, Ensign, you may go now."

"Aye sir," he acknowledged, looking both relieved and angry at the same time.

Once Nakamura had left, Donally's neutral demeanour completely evaporated under the heat of her anger and she let Johnson have it.

"What the hell do you think you were trying to pull here, Johnson?" she yelled at him. "Negligence while on duty is bad enough, but trying to cover it up afterwards? Did you think that no one would check up on you? This goes to a matter of trust, Crewman, and you have just made it very difficult for yourself twice over!" Donally waited on an answer but the man looked to cowed to speak. "Well?" she demanded.

"Sir, I didn't try to cover it up! I—" he began, but Donally cut him off.

"The evidence is against you on that, Crewman. Your own superior didn't know! How do you explain that?"

"Sir, I don't want to—"

"What you want is irrelevant, Crewman! What you've chosen is at hand, and it looks like you're choosing a court martial and dishonourable discharge from the Fleet!"

Johnson sighed internally. He didn't want to do this but the commander was right. If he had any hope of salvaging his career he had to tell the whole truth.

"Sir, I was not covering up my negligence because there was another officer with me at the time," he stated, defeated.

"What?" Donally rocked forward in her chair, surprised. "Who was it? Why didn't they put you on report for your actions?"

"Sir, I was not put on report because the officer verbally reprimanded me and exhorted me to superior dedication to duty in all future endeavours. She was satisfied that I had realised the magnitude of my error and of my future commitment."

At the word "she" Donally had a sneaking suspicion forming at the back of her mind, and she'd had enough of Johnson's stalling and attempts at protection. "Who is this officer, Johnson?" she demanded, voice brooking no further evasion.

"It was Lieutenant Andrea Brown, sir," he stated quietly.

I knew it! That Goddamn–! I knew I was right! I knew that letting her get away with that Rec. Room stunt would only encourage her! Donally mentally raged. The captain has no choice now. Whatever agenda he may be pushing he cannot ignore this… this blatant disregard for the Regulations and the safety of this ship!

Seething with righteous anger, Donally settled back in her chair and tried to calm herself. She steepled her fingers and addressed Johnson again.

"Thank you, Crewman. Your honesty may have saved your career, as you have just lessened the severity of the charges facing you."

Johnson nodded, but inside was bemoaning his fate. Yeah, by dropping Andie right in it after she tried to help me. This has been a really sucky day.

"Very well. You are on report, Crewman Johnson, to appear before the Captain's Mast at 0900 hours tomorrow morning, barring outside incident. You are confined to quarters until that time. Dismissed."

Ted drew himself to proper attention one final time and saluted. "Yes sir," he barked, then spun round and marched himself out of the X.O.'s office.

Pondering her next move as he left, Donally ran a quick check of log entries made by Brown from lunchtime today. Nothing in the official log but a personal log entry was made at 1440 hours in her quarters.

Okay, so she didn't completely disregard everything she's been taught about protocol and the Regulations, Donally thought, slightly mollified. Very slightly. Assuming that the log entry was what she thought it was.

Considering her line of inquiry, she called the bridge again.

Andrea sweated at her post. She had heard Johnson and Nakamura being summoned to Donally's office, and with them went her relaxing day and good mood.

Damnit, will Johnson cave? Andie worried. To save his career, yes he probably will. And with Donally being such a hard-nose she's bound to take it the wrong way, see it in the worst possible light.

She lifted her sweaty hands from her accordion-style control panel and rubbed them on her blue uniform trousers, then nearly jumped out of her skin when Donally's voice sharply but quietly invaded the bridge from Surok's station, demanding Andrea's presence in her office on the deck below.

"Lieutenant Brown—" Surok began, but Andrea cut him off.

"Yes, Lieutenant, I heard. I'm on my way." Putting a call through to her relief she summoned them to the bridge then headed for the turbolift, not wanting to keep the commander waiting. She fretted all the way there – all ten seconds of it – while hearing Markus' admonitions about Donally and strict C.O.'s repeating in her head. It didn't help that the mere presence of the X.O. made her feel intimidated, and the idea that Donally actually had an axe to grind with her made Andie feel positively scared. All too soon, she was standing in front of the X.O.

"Lieutenant J.G. Andrea Brown reporting as ordered, Commander," she stated crisply, belying her inner turmoil.

Donally assessed the woman standing before her and detected traces of nervousness, although she hid it fairly well. Deciding to try the same tactic as before to root out any other misdeeds currently unearthed, she asked, "Lieutenant Brown, do you know why you are here?"

"Sir, I'm assuming it has to do with my role in Crewman Johnson's actions today," the young officer replied, her deep blue eyes fixed resolutely forward on a point above Donally's head.

The commander nodded. "That is correct, Lieutenant," she said slowly, her own ice-blue eyes dissecting the young woman in front of her in an attempt to discern intentions and motivations, letting the silence weigh heavily on Brown.

After watching a nervous swallow, Donally finally demanded an explanation from her and listened to Brown's reply with intense interest and scrutiny.

Okay, that tallies almost exactly with Johnson's account, so they either coached each other or it's the truth. Going by his reactions I'm satisfied it's the truth, Eileen surmised, trying to keep a lid on her anger. She wanted to scream and yell at Brown for what she'd done, demand of her who the hell she thought she was, but that wasn't what the Regs demanded of a situation like this. Instead, through coldly furious eyes she observed this officer's reactions to her next words.

"Lieutenant Brown, those actions are unacceptable. You violated protocol and ignored the Regulations to safeguard a comrade from the full consequences of his actions, when those regulations clearly state that for an error of this magnitude an official report must be made."

Andrea tried and failed to prevent herself from slumping slightly and the colour from draining from her face. Please don't, Commander, please! Good intentions have to count for something –

"As a result," Donally continued, "you are hereby placed on report, Lieutenant Brown, to appear before the Captain's Mast at 0900 hours tomorrow morning, barring outside incident."

Andrea locked herself into a ramrod-straight 'at attention' stance to stop her from having to lean on Donally's desk for support. The Captain's Mast? The captain is going to hear of this? she thought in despair. I'm going to have to explain myself to him?

"You will resume your post so that no one else is punished for your actions by being deprived of their evening," Donally ordered her. "You are dismissed, Lieutenant."

Andrea spun and all but fled back to her station on the bridge.

Chapter Nine

11th August 2272, 0010 hours
Stardate 7432.8
Junior officer's quarters 5B13, U.S.S. Illustrious

Lieutenant (junior grade) Andrea Jane Brown paced about her quarters in something approaching a panicked frenzy. Her mind was awhirl with too many different questions about her current predicament to allow any one train of thought to be completed, and as a result they all bounced around her head just as she bounced around her room, accomplishing nothing.

What am I going to do? What am I going to do? What am I–

I really need to talk to someone! Maybe I should go see Markus–

How can Donally do this to me? Does she hate me? Why would she–

The captain's going to find out! What will he think of me? What will he–

Oh my Gods! OhMyGods! Ohmygods! Oh–

Finally she gave up on anything and just let out a scream. It wasn't very impressive, neither full-throated nor strong and being somewhat high-pitched and screechy instead, but it did give her what she was looking for – a measure of relief. The external sound silenced her inner voices and she was able to think clearly again. She took that moment to reflect on recent events.

Since returning to duty after the meeting with Donally, Andrea had fretted and worried herself to distraction. Fortunately there had been only two and a half hours to the end of her shift, but she was unable and unwilling to talk about it on a bridge designed for acoustics to let the centre seat hear everything. She had submerged her fears behind her duties, keeping her eyes glued to the sensors and the astrogator and running countless varied diagnostics of each panel on her console.

At the end of her shift, instead of going for her usual after-hours gathering with her friends and shift-mates, she had gone straight to her quarters. She knew she wouldn't be good company tonight, and even though she desperately wanted to talk about this and be reassured by her friends, she felt that she shouldn't. Oh, she hadn't been specifically ordered not to discuss it with anyone, but then again she wasn't sure that there wasn't some obscure regulation or protocol that forbade it without Donally having to expressly tell her so, and offending the X.O. by breaking another of those was more trouble she really didn't need right now.

That thought led to a new one that perked her up momentarily. Obscure regulations, she wondered. Here I am worrying myself sick and I don't even know what the hell the Captain's Mast actually is!

Sitting down at her computer terminal, she accessed the files on the generalities of the procedure she'd be undergoing in less than nine hours.

After reviewing this data she allowed herself to feel much better. Being put on report meant that she had to appear before the ship's captain for disciplinary action, and so she was not up for a court martial that could seriously hurt or end her career.

The Captain's Mast – a term that dated back to wooden sailing vessels on Earth's oceans – was for minor infractions on rules or behaviour and the punishments reflected that. Perusing those punishments had worried her when she read that she could be busted down to ensign for this, but she then remembered Markus' words about Bates being an understanding C.O. She was quite sure that Donally would insist she be punished, though, so she could expect to end up cleaning the waste recycling conduits from the inside, or painting the outside of the ship in a spacesuit like in that ancient British 2D space comedy she liked to watch.

The thought made her smile a little and she began to breathe more easily as more reality shone through the haze of her fears. This was her first brush with any kind of military discipline, after all, and the stories told to cadets to keep them in line… but that wasn't important right now. She was a new officer on her first posting, finding her feet and finding out what worked and didn't work for modes of behaviour on a front-line starship. She had broken a seemingly minor protocol regulation – Hell, Ted is the one who was negligent! Andrea's mind insisted. His punishment will be more severe than mine – so she wouldn't be getting drummed out of the Fleet or even put through a court martial.

Andrea shut off her terminal and leaned back in her seat, pondering her situation. She realised that it wasn't that bad. Oh, she was still nervous about it, but now it was more a background worry than an all-encompassing one.

Somewhat reassured, she got herself ready for bed. If I'm going to put my best face on this I'm going to need to be rested, she thought pragmatically. In her sleeping outfit of a loose cotton T-shirt and boxer shorts, she slid under her bedcovers and settled into her favourite sleeping position. I just hope I can actually get to sleep tonight, she griped, and ordered the lights off.

Commanding Officer's office, B Deck
0900 hours

Andrea stood beside Ted Johnson in front of the captain's desk, eyes fixed on resolutely forward as Bates read the details of their transgressions off an electronic clipboard. Despite the quart of adrenaline that was coursing through her veins, she had to fight the urge to yawn. Not only that but she had to hide that fight from the captain's all-seeing eyes, lest he misinterpret it as disrespect, boredom, or her not taking this matter seriously enough.

Despite managing to fall asleep in relatively short order last night – the last two hours or so of her watch having wrung her out emotionally – she'd had a fitful night's sleep in anticipation of this morning's events, tossing and turning all night long.

Bates put down the clipboard and spent long minutes deep in thought. Donally's report was, as always, admirably complete in detail, but he'd noticed that the language was ruthlessly formal. Now, Bates didn't know his X.O. well enough to know what this meant but he could take a pretty good guess. The way Donally had employed language and structure to her report and subsequent recommendations was obviously supposed to lead her captain into believing that these were transgressions of the worst order and that the participants should be punished to the fullest extent permissible by regulation.

And that leads me to believe she was channelling a lot of anger into writing this, he deduced. There's an almost savage enjoyment formality here, no contractions, paraphrasing, or colloquialisms – although that last shouldn't really be in official reports anyway, he admitted to himself, even though many people do it, myself included.

Also, and here he may have just been hearing the echoes of a guilty conscience – his – but the distinct lack of a mention of Donally's previous issues with Brown seemed to ring loudly in his ears.

Unfortunately, it seems that she was right there. I had thought it would be an isolated incident, or even an incident isolated to morale-related issues, but here Brown has participated in the covering up of someone's negligence. Now, I'm quite willing to overlook the former as 'high jinks' can help in setting a friendly shipboard atmosphere, but if she thinks that extends to letting her get away with this kind of inexcusable behaviour, she's sorely mistaken.

So, after letting the two troublemakers stew in silence this long, he suddenly snapped his gaze upward to search their faces for reactions to his first words. "I am not happy with this at all, Johnson, Mr. Brown. I want to hear it from you in your own words why these events even took place."

He kept his tone even and low but both of them still flinched slightly as he broke the silence. Brown actually risked a glance down at him but when she saw that he was watching for it she snapped her eyes back up to where they had been.

"Crewman Johnson, you will go first," he ordered. "Tell me what happened and why it did."

As Johnson told his story, Bates observed them both for their body language and visible reactions. Brown was giving no surprised or guilty starts at Johnson's narration, so Bates felt confident in assuming there was nothing new to her in this iteration. Johnson himself spoke in a flat, defeated tone and his body was neutrally locked at attention.

Seems like he's totally resigned to his fate, Bates noted. What he's telling me is a close paraphrasing of what I've just read, so its not a literal re-reading that he's memorised for me.

"Very well, Crewman," he said after Johnson had finished. Switching his irritated glare to his junior officer, he ordered, "Now you, Mr. Brown."

The young woman began her version of events and Bates could clearly see, even though she tried to hide it, that she was very nervous at being in front of her captain directly for the first time. It must have been especially galling for her to have to appear in this manner, for a disciplinary hearing. Her narration of events was free of stumbles or hesitations and as before was a paraphrasing that mostly matched up to Donally's report, although she obviously put her own motivational slant on her actions. Out of completeness' sake and a desire to be ruthlessly fair Donally had included Brown's own "alleged" motivations in her report, but they were detailed in a separate section after the fact and filtered through the X.O.'s own perspective.

He also took note of Brown finally managing to meet his eyes and hold his gaze, which Bates found impressive given the situation and that his eyes were no doubt showing his less than pleasant feelings on the matter.

She finished telling her story and resumed staring at a point above his head on the bulkhead behind him as he tallied up the points.

No last minute attempts to make it appear less serious. No deviations from previously given statements. Genuine feeling on their part, and acceptance that the responsibility is theirs. All good signs.

"Very well. Have either of you anything to say before punishment is set?" Captain Leo Bates asked them.

The enlisted man nodded and Bates recognised him. "Go ahead, Crewman."

"Yes sir. I readily acknowledge my negligence and accept responsibility for it. I deeply regret that it happened at all, sir, and that Lieutenant Brown got dragged down by it in trying to help me. I can assure both of you that it will never happen again, sirs."

"Very good, Crewman Johnson," Bates nodded at him, then looked at Brown. "Lieutenant?" he asked.

"No, sir," Andrea replied firmly. "My actions and motivations speak for themselves, sir."

Bates raised his eyebrows at her sudden display of feistiness. "Indeed," was all he said, though he was both pleased and troubled by it.

He was pleased at her conviction and self-confidence as that bespoke of a strong character and possibly of an officer whose career would bear watching. However, he was troubled by it as it made her seem almost unapologetic for her actions, still believing that she was right regardless of the outcome.

I think I'd better have a more informal chat with her later on, to plumb her thoughts for her beliefs and goals, Leo thought. She has potential, but I don't want that self-confidence turning into arrogance and self-righteousness. But first things first, he decided.

"Crewman Edward Johnson, for failing in your assigned duties to the endangerment of your crewmates' lives, you are hereby demoted one step in rank to Technician Third-class and will be assigned extra training duties, and placed under direct supervision until such time as your superiors deem it unnecessary," Bates pronounced.

The crewman bore it stoically, putting his best face on it and nodding as he acknowledged his punishment. "Yes, Captain."

"Lieutenant Junior Grade Andrea Brown, for breaching protocol and the chain of command, you are hereby assigned to back-to-back duty shifts beginning tomorrow morning. You will work both Alpha and Beta shifts for a duration of not less than two weeks in the hope that doing so will suck up the excess energy you seem to pour into your extra curricular activities," the captain proclaimed. "During the Alpha-shift you will man the empty bridge stations for the purposes of cross-departmental training, specifically weapons, internal security, and damage control."

Brown blinked at that and an expression passed over her face faster than Bates could decipher it, but she too just nodded and said, "Yes, sir."

"Very well. Crewman, you are dismissed to resume your post," Bates ordered.

"Aye sir," Johnson replied, saluting smartly then marching himself out of the office.

After he had left, Bates addressed his officer. "Lieutenant Brown, due to the extra workload from the shakedown cruise I haven't yet had the time to speak with you privately," he began. "I would like to rectify that situation today."

"Ah, yes sir," Andrea commented when it seemed like Bates expected an answer.

The captain nodded and consulted his clipboard for a few moments before returning his attention to her. "I think that talking to you now would be inappropriate but I do want to speak with you before you go on duty today. I have a gap in my schedule at 1400 hours, so I'd like to see you then. Since this is just an informal, friendly chat, I believe its best to have these things in familiar surroundings, like your own quarters."

"Ah, yes Captain," she agreed a little uncertainly. "Sir, if I may, what is this meeting about?"

Bates leaned back in his chair and gestured expansively. "Lieutenant, it's really just a 'getting to know you' type of thing. I like to formally welcome new officers to my ship, discuss their career plans with them, where they see themselves in twenty years, offer advice as to how to get there, that kind of stuff. But basically, I just want to get to know you."

"Is it some sort of evaluation, Captain?" she asked, sounding slightly worried.

"Oh, no, Lieutenant," Bates replied, even though it partially was. Not an official one, but something on which to judge the suitability of an officer for certain roles and assignments he might make in the future. For the most part he really did just want to get to know his officers, but in Brown's case it would be more of an evaluation. "Like I said, it's going to be a getting-to-know-you thing. It has no official bearing or results at all."

"I see," she replied, though he couldn't tell if there were any other levels of meaning to it. "Very well, 1400 hours in my quarters it is, sir."

"Very good. I look forward to it." Finishing that part of the conversation, Bates became all business once again. "That's all then, Lieutenant. You're dismissed."

"Aye sir."

After she'd left, Bates once again reflected on her reactions to him, post-punishment. It was a curious mix he'd picked up on, some of which troubled him slightly. Yes, I really want to find out what's going on behind those eyes, Bates decided. I just hope this event hasn't pushed her into something one way or the other.


Andrea headed back to her own quarters for some privacy after her meeting with the captain. She had thought about going straight to the Rec. Deck to talk with her friends about it, but realised that she had to sort out her own feelings first. Safely locked in her own room she alternately sat and paced about as she organised her thoughts. The pacing was starting to make her dizzy, though, as she only had 4.5 metres of straight-line space in her room – and that was on the diagonal – so she forced herself to lie on the bed and just think.

Well, that went pretty much as I expected it to. No, actually slightly better, she decided, although assigning me to the X.O.'s watch seems harsh. Or maybe it's poetic justice? The one I've offended gets to be the one to oversee my punishment? She grimaced, then realised something.

Cross training, hmm? That can only look good on my record, especially since no official reprimand has been entered. Did he just push forward my career even as he's punishing me? she wondered in something akin to shock. I've got to talk to somebody about this!

So decided, she left her quarters and set out for the Rec. Deck.

Junior officer's quarters, E Deck, U.S.S. Illustrious
1345 hours

Andrea hurriedly returned to her quarters after spending the morning and her lunch talking to her various friends as they had appeared and disappeared from the Rec. Deck. She only had fifteen minutes until the captain arrived and she wanted to make herself look presentable. Specifically, she wanted a quick shower.

Dashing into her room and stripping off her blue pyjamas – the almost universal derogatory phrase for the most recent Starfleet uniform – she grabbed a robe and headed into her shared bathroom. A quick glance revealed that Rachel wasn't there so she locked the door and dived into the shower, deciding on a sonic rather than a wet one. Five minutes later and she was back out. Another five minutes later and her usual ablutions were taken care of too.

Due to the cramped nature of quarters this close to the centre of the saucer, Andrea had the added inconvenience of her closet being accessible only from the bathroom and not her own room as the outer cabins were arranged. Grabbing her old uniform from the floor, she walked into hers and rushed her decision on what to wear. Since this was an allegedly "informal, friendly chat" she didn't want to wear her uniform, but neither did she want to wear something that showed off her shapely figure, on the premise that Bates could think she was trying to distract/entice/seduce/flirt with him. Sure that time was now running out, she grabbed her favourite 'at home' outfit – a thick, comfy, chocolate brown turtleneck sweater and some well-worn but much-loved dark blue denim jeans, and threw them on.

She padded back into her room barefoot just as her door chime went, making her flinch slightly. With a nervous sigh she called out, "Come in."

Captain Leo Bates stepped inside Lieutenant – no, that's 'Miss', he quickly corrected himself – Brown's quarters to come face to face with a very attractive young woman. She was wearing her long, dark brown hair down around her face instead of her usual arrangement of a single, glossy ponytail, and had on an outfit that just screamed "girl-next-door".

Hoping to break the ice, he greeted her with, "Why Miss Brown, I see you dressed for the occasion!" and smiled his "friendly-neighbourhood-married-man" smile.

It didn't quite work as she looked down at herself, suddenly self-conscious, but she pushed past it. With a small smile of her own and what seemed to be a look of remembrance, she nodded and said, "Yes. Well, you did say it would be informal, ah, Captain."

He could tell she wasn't sure of the protocol for this situation, so he made it easier for her. "No ranks for the duration, Miss Brown. Call me Leo."

He'd surprised her with that, as her eyes widened in disbelief that she could ever call him anything other than 'Sir' or 'Captain', but she nodded again. "Ah, okay then… Leo," she tried it on for size, and apparently liked it. Responding in kind, she said, "You can call me Andrea."

"Fine by me," he replied. "Shall we?" he asked, and gestured further into her small room.

"Oh, yes, of course. You can have the chair, and I'll…" she trailed off, looking around for another chair that she knew didn't exist, before finishing brightly, "…I'll sit on the bed."

So saying, she sat on her standard-issue double bed facing him, then pulled herself fully onto it and wrapped her arms around her knees. She regarded him from over her arms with those deep blue eyes of hers, saying nothing while he seated himself. He noticed for the first time that she was barefoot, and that she liked to paint her toenails. The fire-engine red looked good against her pale skin and dark blue denims, but seemed a bit out of character for what he knew of her – although he admitted to himself that he didn't really know that much right now.

Once seated, Leo had been about to launch into his usual spiel when he noticed her making to speak. Pausing to give her the opportunity, her nerve apparently deserted her and she stayed silent. Noting the little incident for future reference, he asked, "So, Andrea, tell me about yourself. Now, I don't mean about your Academy grades and specialisations, or who your family is," he told her. "Tell me why you joined Starfleet, or what you like to do when off duty. I want to know about you."

Andrea, who had been about to tell him exactly what he'd dismissed, had to think hard for a moment before settling into what she thought would be the right groove. "Well, Cap— Leo," she began, making the obvious slip at which he just smiled, "I'd never intended to join the Star Fleet, originally. I actually had no idea how I wanted to spend my life beyond a desire to protect people," she said somewhat stiffly. "I had considered getting a law degree or joining some kind of police force, but nothing I looked at on Earth really caught my attention in a 'you must do this!' kind of way. Once I started looking off-planet I began to see careers that suited my fancy to a better degree, but even then I didn't consider the military. I was looking at colonial police forces on planets settled for thirty years, or frontier marshalling on planets at the edge of Federation space. They looked like exciting and worthwhile jobs, protecting people just beginning to build lives for themselves and taming new worlds."

Leo leaned back in his chair and let her talk, hearing her get more enthusiastic as she did. He matched what she was saying against what he knew of her from her personnel file. Her desire to protect people must come from her parents, he decided. Mother, Jade Seymour, prosecuting attorney for Cogley and Cogley's Edinburgh branch. Father, Samuel Brown, police sergeant, Borders and Lothian Police Force, Scotland. Killed 2257 trying to rescue occupants of an out-of-control flitter. It seems likely that's where she got her own absolute sense of right and wrong from, too. He listened with interest as she continued.

"So, while these things did seem exciting, they also looked amazingly dangerous. Pirates that could appear from nowhere and haul off unprepared colonists as slaves; Klingon raiders; Mirak and Kzinti on the prowl, Andorian renegades…" She shook her head, dismissing these options. "The survival odds didn't look too good. That's about when my best friend Heather – Lieutenant Heather Millar, Alpha-shift helm officer for the U.S.S. John Muir," she elaborated with obvious pride – "told me that she was applying to Starfleet Academy."

Leo watched her eyes go wide with wonder. She had repositioned herself against a wall with a pillow for support and her hands were gesturing freely as she leaned forwards, elbows on her cross-legged knees. He noticed that her face and whole body seemed to be very expressive with the way she moved, and he smiled at her enthusiasm.

"So I looked into it as well and found a ton o' stuff that interested me, bigtime. I began to see myself as Starfleet Officer Andrea Brown, defender of the Federation, protector of frontier colonies, forcing the ruffians of deep space to toe the line," she told him, grinning widely. "All this data was basically reaching out and grabbing me in a way that nothing else ever had, and it drew me in completely. I was sitting up and taking notice and I decided there and then that I was going into Starfleet. Now, I wasn't too sure about those really short skirts they made the female officers wear at the time, but I think I may have preferred them to these silly outfits they've got us wearing now," she commented, gesturing at the uniform Bates wore.

He grinned at her and replied, "I have to agree with you there, Andrea. I preferred the older uniforms myself, but apparently the Federation Council decided that, as ambassadors for a peaceful galactic superpower, Starfleet officers should look more refined and less intimidating." Leo rolled his eyes and saw Andrea doing likewise. They both looked at each other and grinned again.

Bates continued, "Starfleet didn't really want to, but the Pacifist Bloc had gained more political clout in the peaceful years since the Organian Treaty was put in place, and Starfleet had several hundred front-line starships to put through a Fleet Modernisation refit… and so here we are."

"Looking like we just rolled out of bed," Andrea put in.

Bates chuckled. "Just so."

"What about you, Si— Leo?" she asked. "Why did you join up?"

Since she seemed genuinely interested and not just making polite conversation, he decided to answer in kind. Their conversation passed back and forth like this for over an hour and covering such topics as future career plans and the responsibilities of command, until Andrea finally nerved herself up to ask the questions she'd been holding back since this morning.

"L-Leo, I, ah, don't know if it's appropriate to ask this," she said, still having trouble actually calling him by name, "but I really want to know."

Here it comes, the Big Decider. Conscience or Regulations, he told himself, and was not disappointed. "Go ahead and ask, Andrea."

"Well, I was wondering about the punishment detail you set me," she began, surprising him slightly with the angle she took. "Although double shifts is a hardship for me even if I do manage to train myself to fall asleep instantly, without an official reprimand in my file the duties you'll have me do can only help my career." She paused to look him right in the eye. "Why did you do that? You could have assigned me all sorts of crap details, and yet you gave me this. Why?"

Bates sighed inwardly. She'd seen through it all right, but what he said was, "I'd hardly call a two week punishment shift under Commander Donally's personal tutelage as an easy time of it, Miss Brown. You will be worked very hard indeed and expected to know all the procedures and details of each station's subsystems by the end of the first week. I personally think that this will serve to make you a far better officer than scrubbing the photon tubes with a toothbrush ever will, don't you think?"

She looked confused by that, seeing the sense of what he'd said but not getting the answer she'd expected. "Uh, aye sir," she replied quietly, then went on to say, "About my actions during the incident, Captain, I'd just like to personally assure you that it was not my intention to break or subvert the chain of command."

"I realise that, Lieutenant," Bates said, slipping back into the safety of formality. "That is why there is no official reprimand in your file, and why you're not an ensign right now."

"I was just trying to do the right thing!" she blurted out.

Another sigh from Bates, this time an audible one. "I know, Andrea, I know. But you ignored the regulations to safeguard a friend. An admirable quality, but it wasn't your place to do so. You have to learn that the regulations are there for a reason."

"How do you do it, sir?" she asked urgently, needing to know. "How do you balance doing the right thing against following the regulations?"

"Why do you believe they are separate, Andrea?" he asked back. "There are those who put firm faith in the wisdom of the rule makers and believe that following the Regulations is the right thing to do."

"Not all the time, sir!" she almost pleaded. "Ted didn't deserve to get – "

Bates cut her off gently. "Yes, Andrea, he did."

She wavered, altered her stance. "Well, yes, he deserved to be taken to task, but that's what I did! I'm 100% sure he'd never have let it happen again after the way I chewed him out. I wasn't protecting him from the consequences of his actions, sir, I was waking him up to them! Why did Commander Donally have to make such a huge deal out of it and demand he be punished further?"

"Andrea, Commander Donally did nothing more than the regulations demanded of her."


"Listen to me!" he commanded her. "The commander was quite within her rights to expect the resolution she got out of it, and you have to realise that. What you also have to realise is that there are a lot of different command styles out there that you could encounter in the course of your career, not all of which you'll agree with, but as long as they have the Regulations to back them up they are all just as valid as your own."

Bates paused there to let that sink into his young officer's mind. Andrea, for her part, felt that this speech was all too familiar. She did realise, now, that Bates was right. What's more, that people who fell back on the Regs for everything likely had a more valid command style, as seen by Command themselves, and that didn't sit well with her. She'd have to start refreshing her memory on the Regulations, the better to know which ones she could bend or break and get away with.

Regulations be damned, she thought in defiance. I'm going to follow my own conscience, otherwise how can I look myself in the mirror each morning?

Bates watched Andrea's face as his lesson finally sunk in, seeing comprehension but also a stubborn determination forming behind her eyes. I know that look, he thought to himself with equal parts of pride and frustration. I've worn it myself countless times. But here and now is not the time for a Lieutenant JG to be deciding this.

"Andrea, I can see what you're thinking and you are right. It's just the wrong time for you to be thinking it." She looked up in surprise at his words, and he continued. "These are the issues that a commander grapples with, sometimes daily. In your situation and at your age, my first instinct in dealing with what Johnson did would have been to chew him out, too. However, as a command officer, I know that what he did was serious enough to warrant following through on.

"It does look like you have good judgement, but when it comes to the regulations, you need to follow them. Chewing someone out is a privilege given to senior officers who have done their time and earned their rank by gaining the experience with which to make fully informed choices. You don't have that experience and as a result you opted for an informal reprimand instead of following procedure because you were swayed by your own identification with the culprit.

"Not only that, but you only saw those lives nebulously, the danger to them as an abstract thing that was bad. The consequences to Johnson's career were more real and immediate to you than those lives, and in that you were dead wrong. Until you actually have those people under your command, with their lives as your direct responsibility, you cannot make decisions that affect them directly like the way you decided yesterday.

"That is why the regulations exist: To train young, inexperienced officers who encounter situations that they are ill-equipped to handle – even if they don't realise it themselves – to pass it on, up the chain of command to those officers that do have the experience to make that decision. When you screw up in your duties – and don't kid yourself, it will happen – and you've gone by the book, you can look your C.O. in the eye and tell them so: 'I did was I was supposed to do, maybe more, and it still didn't work', and they will be satisfied with that. If you have the right kind of C.O., they may even go over it with you to figure out why it went wrong and what you could have done – if anything – to make it come out right. If you go off on your own and it blows up in your face, that's it. You're history, out of the Fleet, and maybe into a penal colony depending on how serious it is."

He stopped there to assess her reactions and saw that he almost had her. He just had to find one last telling argument – and suddenly he knew just what to say.

"Andrea, you may be out of the Academy but you are by no means finished your learning or your training. I don't mean technical advancements and new policies either. I mean your junior years of active duty are non-stop training for gaining your own command, be it a division, department, ship, base, or whatever. Think of it as a constant assessment that, if you fail it, forever denies you an independent command. You have to see how things work from all angles to be a good commander, not just your own views. Once you have your grounding in the Regulation way of doing things Starfleet will be far more willing to cut you some slack for your more out-of-the-box methods – if they work – as long as your judgement has been proven sound. If you go all loose-cannon on them right from the start and are deemed wrong too many times, Command will be unwilling to trust you with anything more than your own console.

"The higher-ups recognise instinct and intuition as valuable and sometimes necessary traits in commanders and they will back you up if your instincts prove sound. That is what you must develop, Andrea. You have the potential, just make sure you learn from all sides and don't believe that the sum total of your knowledge on a subject is the be all and end all of it. Keep an open mind."

Andrea had went back to hugging her knees as the captain talked, his words sinking in and being absorbed hungrily by her mind. So that's what it's all about, she thought to herself, feeling gratitude that the captain had seen fit to explain all this to her. She didn't doubt his word, though she was honest enough to realise that the same words coming from Donally would be met with far more scepticism.

Admittedly, I don't believe the X.O. would ever take the time to explain this to anyone. She doesn't believe in the flip side of what the captain is saying, and so doesn't think that such an explanation is even necessary. But the captain sees potential in me! she cheered herself on with a large dollop of excitement. He's letting me in on the secrets he's learned himself. He's safeguarding me! she realised in a sudden burst of insight. He's using his own experience to recognise something in me that he wants to see grow. He prevented me from taking any official censure and used my punishment as a way of helping me in my career by developing new skills!

The realisation gave birth to a huge burst of warmth for her captain, that he would do this at all, either for her or any other officer he felt worth the effort. It must have shown on her face as he leaned back in his chair and folded his hands with a real smile on his face. "That make sense to you, Andrea?" he asked.

"Yes sir," she replied with a genuine smile of her own, and managing to say 'sir' without feeling hopelessly formal about it. "Thank you, Captain, for taking the time to explain this to me. I really appreciate it, and I'll remember what you've said."

"Good, I'm glad to hear it," Bates replied, then checked his wrist chrono. A slight, wry expression contorted his features as he did. "Well, our little chat overran the time I allocated to it, but I'm glad it did. I have to get back to running my ship now, Andrea. You still have almost an hour before your next shift. I suggest a final trip to the Rec. Room as it'll be the last time you'll see it for two weeks."

She grimaced slightly, but acknowledged the truth. "Okay, Leo. And again, thank you," she said as she pulled herself forward off her bed and stood beside him. They stood eye to eye. On an impulse, she offered him her hand. Bates grasped it immediately in a firm but restrained grip.

Clearly, a man in control of his strengths, Andrea thought with an internal smile.

"I look forward to seeing you on my bridge, Lieutenant," he told her.

"Aye, sir. I look forward to being there."

The captain left her quarters and she watched him go with a comforting thought.

No matter what else happens on this cruise, I now know its going to be a lot of fun, and very… educational.

She grinned to herself, then hunted around for some shoes so that she could enjoy her last off-duty moments for some time among her friends.

The End

Afterword by the Author

This was my first story from the point of view of the Federation, and within it are many items taken from some of the hundreds of Star Trek Novels and dozens of technical manuals I'd read before I tried my hand at creating my own stories.

This does not mean I was bereft of ideas myself, was lazy and did not want to create my own entities and their backstories, or was indulging in simple plaigerism; No, far from it, and indeed quite the opposite.

The entities from the novels and various licensed and fan publications that I have incorporated into my stories are there because I loved them, the idea of them, their concept, and/or their characterisation so much that I wanted to go visit them myself, with my own characters.

Usually, with the pace and style of novel writing before the Post-Season Finale Novel Continuity (PSFNC), the entities from one novel were never revisited, or were used only within later novels by the same author.

Many of these I found so intriguing, endearing, cool, or so help me just plain fascinating, that I just had to have them live again. And they do, in countless stories in my head, in my timeline, in my story outlines as yet not developed into fully-fledged stories, and in those stories I've actually managed to finish and publish.

Many of these entities are so ingrained in my own Star Trek Universe's Timeline (what they call "my own personal head-canon" these days) that they are always available for a cameo or indepth appearance. But to make sure I let other people know that these are not my own creations is kind of a new thought; I wrote for myself and the other Trek fan-fiction writers I displayed my wares for. I kinda expect them to know about this stuff anyway.

But taking a leaf from Commander, Starbase 23's book, I think it is past time for me to highlight the work of these other authors within my stories, and maybe get them some more readers for these older novels too.

Credit where Credit is Due

[1] - The U.S.S. Illustrious NCC-1863 is from the seminal fan-published technical manual 'Ships of the Star Fleet Volume One/Revised'.
© 1988, 1991 Mastercom Data Center

[2] - All layouts, interior spaces, and designations thereof of the U.S.S. Illustrious are using Michael C. Rupprecht & Alex Rosenzweig's absolutetly stunning high quality and highly detailed 'Miranda Class Cruiser General Deck Plans'.
© 1999 Federation Frontiers

[3] - The U.S.S. John Muir NCC-1732 is a ship with a Constitution-class registry number listed on an illegible computer display screen in 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country'.

[4] - Starbase Twelve being in the Gamma 400 star system is from the TOS episode 'Space Seed', where we first meet KHAAAAAAAAAN!.

[5] - The Karsid Empire, it's former asteroid base now part of Starbase Twelve's facilities, and Base Commander Kellogg are all from TOS Novel #23 'Ishmael'.
© 1985 Barbara Hambly

[6] - Star system s1022's designation and being close to Starbase 12 is from the TOS PC game 'Star Trek: Starfleet Academy'.
© 1997 Interplay

[7] - Illustrious' navigational deflectors being "beams" of forcefield energy came from a time before this fictional science had been nailed down and set in stone. My personal take on it, with the deflector emitters (having no deflector dish as the Enterprise has) pinned to these twin port & starboard 4-"window" boxes on the saucer's extended hull underside, plus other fanon tech manual sources calling alernate versions "Wide Angle Defletor Emitters", or WADEs, made me think of something being emitted. Like a beam. And these 8 beams pushed a wedge of forcefield energy out ahead of the ship at high impulse and warp speeds to push particles aside so they'd not impact the ship, like the bow of a wet-navy ship cutting its wake through the water.

[8] - From Note [7] above, these eight emitted beams pushed a wedge of forcefield energy out ahead of the ship at high impulse and warp speeds to push particles aside so they'd not impack the ship, like the bow of a wet-navy ship cutting a path through the water. I thought it made more sense than a second navigation "shield" which just let everything hit it and absorbed the kinetic impact.