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Part of Challenger: While The Iron Is Hot


Challenger NX-03
Wednesday, February 5th, 2155
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The lift ride to E deck was pretty short from F deck. The moment the lift doors opened Lloyd could hear all sorts of commotion occurring on the busiest deck on Challenger. His trip to sickbay was a simple straight path from the lift he had taken. On his way down he saw several crewmembers walking back and forth with a number of supplies heading to various locations across the desk. 

Eventually the captain reached the misty blue doors that belonged to sickbay. He tapped the side button to open the door and entered as soon it reacted to his touch. Looking around the room, he saw that sickbay’s supplies were being rearranged into their various lockers. 

“Doctor Ben-Ami?” He called out, wondering where his new chief medical officer was. 

Kefira was bend down placing biomimetic sulphate into one of the more secure lockers in sickbay, she did not turn around when she responded, “Just a minute” she said as she locked the substance away and stood up, she turned and saw the man standing in her sickbay, it was obvious from his uniform and rank who he was, “Captain…” she said with a smile as she walked forward and offered him her hand.

“Lloyd Burton, a pleasure to meet you doctor.” He extended his hand to greet the older woman. 

“Kefira Ben-Ami” she said with a smile shaking his hand, she released it gently, “And please call me Ro-fa, I like the Hebrew term as well as the English term Doctor” she continued to smile as she stepped back, “I’m glad to finally meet you.”

“My apologies for not seeing you straight away when you arrived.” Lloyd stated as he stared at the various medical equipment and supplies that were being put away in sickbay.

“No need to apologise Captain, I know you’ve probably been very busy getting your head around the recent promotion, to go from First Officer to Commanding Officer is quite a jump, it’s going to take some getting used to.” she paused, “I am sure there is a lot of extra work you had to do, I am sure there is with any new ship leaving home, but more so for someone who wasn’t originally planned to be at the helm.” she looked around sickbay, “I also wouldn’t mind talking to the previous CMO, half the basic equipment isn’t even here yet.”

“Our previous Chief Medical Officer as you know resigned her commission after Captain Karim’s death. I’m not sure if she’s interested in taking a call.” Lloyd said, wondering how many times he would be mentioning the fact that most of them weren’t supposed to be in the positions they were in now because of Karim’s death. “When I spoke with Rear Admiral Céline Jacques at Starfleet Medical, she said if I wanted someone who was experienced then you’re my best pick after Doctor Moralez. She said she’s never seen someone go through their officer’s training so focussed on doing whatever it took to be an officer.”

Kefira nodded, “No disrespect meant to Starfleet Training Command, but when you’ve gone through IDF training as well as a medical degree, and a few doctorates, the physical and academic challenges of STC aren’t insurmountable, to be honest it was less arduous than I had expected.” she laughed, “And anyway, someone had to show those kids that having to hand in three assignments in a month was not as hard as they thought, try ten a week” she rolled her eyes slightly.

Lloyd smirked at her remarks before he peered into one of the crates at the various medical supplies in it. “Admiral Jacques also said you served in the Interspecies Medical Program. Did you get to spend a lot of time with non-humans?”

“You’ve done your research Captain; I’ll give you that.” she leant against one of the desks and crossed her hands over her ample chest, “I was with IME for three years where I headed up their Psychiatric and Mental Health Division. During my time there I came in contact with fifteen non-terrestrial species, and I was lucky enough to take part in surgery for ten of those species. It was quite the learning experience, and it has helped me improve my own practice when it comes to humans.” she looked at the man, “Officially I am still a member of the IME, although I am hoping serving on a starship will give me a chance to build upon the experiences I had with IME.”

“I’ve dealt with Vulcans, Andorians and in quite a serious manner with the Denobulans. Quite a comforting race are the Denobulans.” He remarked as he tried to forget the memory of Ros’ death while they were trying to save Denobulan orphans. “You didn’t serve long on the Yorktown, did you?”

“I was there for just over a year if you include travelling to Vulcan when I first got assigned there when their previous second medical officer was killed.” she ran her fingers through her hair, “It was a decent ship, but it didn’t go far enough away from Earth for my tastes, if I wanted to deal with basic medical and psychiatric conditions I would have stayed on Earth. Starfleet is meant to explore, and that’s what I want to do.” she smiled, “That and it’s gravity-plating didn’t sit right with me, until the day I left I still couldn’t manage to walk more than thirty metres without feeling slightly nauseous.”

“Well believe me when I said give it a few weeks for you to find your space legs.” Lloyd said with an assuring smile. “Now I came down here for two things. One was to see if you’ve got anything for this headache I’ve had all day and the second is to lend a hand with your unpacking and rearranging.”

“You’re in luck Captain, I have a deal going on. Come in for some painkillers, go away having a full medical work-up.” she smiled almost teasingly, “Pop onto the slab for me” she said gesturing towards the bed.

Lloyd inwardly sighed to himself, knowing he would have to set an example to the rest of the crew about being punctual with their physical. “Fair enough.” He said as he sat on the edge of the main surgery bed. 

Kefira lifted the scanner from the side of the slab and ran it over him, his vital observations were within the normal range, “Well you’re looking quite good. How many hours of sleep are you getting a night?”

Lloyd winced as he thought of his answer. “Before I became captain it was normally about seven hours, since then it’s been between five or six hours.”

“What about meals and drinks?”

The captain smiled at that one. “Regular healthy meals at appropriate times. Chef Lawson has seen to that!”

“Well my dearest Captain, you have what we clinically term a doozie.” she smiled, “That’s medical for a bitch of a tension headache.” she gestured for him to sit up, “I’m going to give you a mild analgesia for now, but I really don’t like using drugs unless I have to, so tonight you will get an early night and at-least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep, and make sure to have something light to eat every four to six hours.”

“Aye ma’am.” He replied with a mock salute. “So which crate can I help you with first?” He asked as he stood up from the bed. 

Kefira shook her head, “Oh no you don’t Captain, I am not having my patients work in sickbay. I can manage this by-myself. You should go take a nap, or at-least have a quiet sit down somewhere while the meds kick in.”

Not needing to make his headache any worse, Lloyd agreed to the Doctor’s advice and left sickbay feeling better than when he had entered it.

Captain Burton had made certain that before he went down to Earth he would have an early dinner. He had a feeling that his meeting with the top brass at Starfleet Command Headquarters could make his return back to the ship later than he hoped for. As such he had shared his dinner with his yeoman, Crewmember Jamie Harris, and the two had a working dinner. It was also the captain’s attempt at trying to get to know the man who would be responsible for all his business matters for the foreseeable future. During their meal, Burton was pleased to discover that his to-do list for all the administrative side of getting the ship ready had shrunk considerably during the day. He only had a handful matters to deal with, one of which was picking the ship’s new chief communications officer. He had a few more applicants to go over before he went to bed. 

Now after a delicious Chinese orientated dinner (which had included sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice and prawn crackers) created by Chef Lawson, Captain Burton was making his way around E deck towards the launch bay. As he walked into the observation booth of the launch bay he noticed Ensign Ezrah Alcott climbing out the side hatch of Shuttlepod Two. The captain made his way across the gangway above where Alcott was.

Ezrah gracefully swung his lithe body from within the port hatch, the sound of his boots tapping lightly against the metal grate of the boarding egress. The prior twenty-five minutes had been dedicated to working through the mandated pre-flight checks. Under normal circumstances, these checks would generally take anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes at most; however, the recent loss of Karim and Rossi in a shuttlepod accident remained a poignant reminder that a bit more haste and caution could serve to be beneficial. So Ezrah worked slowly, yet efficiently, to ensure that all shuttlepod systems either met or exceeded standard operating levels and safety parameters. 

Ezrah slowly walked around the support craft, running the palm of a hand along the craft’s smooth metal bodes in an attempt to detect any minute imperfections in the hull’s integrity. He loved to feel the cold metal under each fingertip. Unlike many of his counterparts on board, Ezrah had an inherently skilled capability as a support craft pilot. He felt most at home behind the helm of a starship, yet there was something to be said for the swift agility, handling and speed of a small craft. During his midshipman cruise at Starfleet Training Command, Ezrah had worked exclusively with small craft at Starfleet’s cargo and supplies division. He had accumulated a tremendous number of flight hours hauling cargo from one installation to another, both on and off world, most times in a craft no larger than the shuttlepod he was now inspecting.

“Are we ready to go Ensign Alcott?” The captain had called down to Challenger’s young pilot as he leaned over on the handrail.

So engrossed in his inspection, Ezrah hadn’t taken notice of Captain Burton’s arrival; yet, when the tenor of the man’s voice filled the quiet launch bay, Ezrah glanced towards the catwalk above, a broad smile framing perfectly straight and stark white teeth.

He nodded once, the light blue colour in both eyes reflecting the overhead lighting. “Aye, Sir.” He replied simply, finishing the external inspection of the shuttlepod.

Returning to the portside hatch, Ezrah reached just inside of the entrance and removed the light blue field jacket with matching ball cap from where they hung on a metal hook. Slipping either arm into the jackets’ sleeves, Ezrah flipped the collar neatly before adorning the ball cap. The jacket, although made of a lighter weight material, did wonders in regulating a person’s body temperature when on-world and so, had become a standard garment with any landing party. The ball cap, well, that was up to a crewman’s personal preference; Ezrah had grown more accustomed to wearing one during his midshipman cruise, as it was part of the standard uniform while on duty, so adorning one was merely habitual.

Burton returned the smile and made his way over to Crewmember Harris who just entered the launch bay from the same entrance the captain had come through. “Sir.” He said, gaining the captain’s attention as he held up the captain’s field jacket. “You left this in your dining hall.” He said quietly, apparently fearing it may cause embarrassment for the captain. 

“Thank you, Jamie.” Burton replied with a grateful smile as he took the coat and put it on. He was zipping it up as he made his way down the set of stairs that led to the aft hatch of Shuttlepod Two. Ducking his head down to avoid hitting it on the hatch’s door, the captain climbed in to see Alcott already doing up his field jacket as he sat in the pilot’s chair. “Ready to go when you are Ensign.” Burton said as he closed the aft hatch. 

“Beautiful.” Ezrah remarked, pulling up the zip of the jacket to just shy of his Adam’s apple. His fingers flexed and darted across the control panel with a swiftness that further emphasized his comfort in the pilot’s chair. As he manipulated the controls to the craft, a soft hum filled the pilot’s cabin as systems were switched from standby to full power.

Shuttlepod Two came to life as its systems were brought to full operational conditions. Captain Burton had taken the seat behind Alcott’s left shoulder; a place where he could monitor the shuttlepod’s systems and experience first-hand exactly how amazing Alcott was as a pilot. As the ranking officer, it was expected of the captain to make the request for clearance from the bridge. He tapped the keyboard in front of him to open the channel while he could see Alcott warm the engines up.

“Shuttlepod Two to the bridge, requesting clearance to depart from Challengerand dry-dock.” He said down the mic.

The voice of Ensign Habiba, who was currently on duty on the bridge at the science station, spoke up. “Shuttlepod Two you’re cleared to depart.”She said before adding, “safe journey sir.”

Burton appreciated her sentiment, in particular as she was the last officer who spoke with Captain Karim before she and Commander Rossi died on the last shuttlepod to leave Challenger. “Thank you Ensign Habiba, we’ll be back later tonight. Shuttlepod Two out.” Burton replied and looked at his pilot. “Let’s see what this shuttlepod can do then Mister Alcott.”

“Why waste another minute, then?” The question was rhetorical of course. As the shuttlepod was slowly tethered downward, Ezrah rotated either wrist and flexed his fingers on both hands; soft pops and snaps could be heard as a result. It was a morose habit he’d developed, but one that was inherently part of the routine.

Shuttlepod Two was guided out of the launch bay by its tethering arm once the launch doors had opened out. As the impulse engines came to life the retractable wings were automatically deployed and the small craft left the safe harbour of its mother ship.

The shuttlepod shuddered as the tether released. For the briefest of moments, Ezrah could detect the craft’s weightlessness in the vast expanse of space. It sent a visible shiver along the length of his spine, eliciting the softest of giggles as the tickle prickled against his skin. In its briefness, if one had been observing, they’d have noted the reaction; yet it passed just as quickly.

With all systems live, Ezrah made a few slight adjustments to the internal cabin pressure as well as the sensitivity to the inertial dampeners. Depressing the projected course into the computer’s flight plan simulator, Ezrah gently gripped the flight controls to start their smooth descent through Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Burton had remained silent at the start of the journey; he wanted to give Alcott some peace to concentrate on what he was doing. The moment they were away from the ship and making their way across the world towards the North American continent he spoke up. “So Ezrah tell me what do you think of Challenger so far?”

Ezrah’s attention was intent on the various instrument panels, gauges and toggles; paying particularly close attention to that of the in-bound and out-bound craft. “Challenger? Oh, not at all what I was expecting, Sir. Not even in my wildest dreams.” His reply was deceptively articulate. In truth, he was scared out of his freaking mind; he’d be damned, however, if he were going to let onto that, especially with the newly appointed Captain sitting only a foot or two away.

“And yourself, Sir? Unexpected circumstances certainly changed your own perspective, right?” He muddled.

Lloyd hadn’t expected that type of questioning from such a young officer. “You could say that Ensign.” He replied as he watched the sensor readings, checking for any nearby traffic. Luckily though nothing was coming up at the moment as they started their descent into the atmosphere. “Tell me Ezrah, why did you want to join Starfleet?”

“Well, to be completely honest, Starfleet was sort of my back-up plan.” Ezrah replied sheepishly.

Lloyd was pretty much surprised at the ensign’s answer. Ezrah had been Captain Karim’s top choice due to his abilities that he had proven at Starfleet Training Command. “Had you applied elsewhere then?” He asked. 

He nodded to further confirm the statement, “Yes, Sir. I had actually been granted early admission to Julliard’s school of classical dance during junior year of high school. Unfortunately, I only qualified for a few grants or scholarships and my parents couldn’t afford the tuition… so I wasn’t able to continue.” He shrugged; a very minute gesture compared to the passive aggressive mix of emotions that boiled from within. Ezrah had danced for the better part of his life, in fact, since he was old enough to stand and walk. And he was good, damned good; good enough to receive high praise and recognition from several prestigious dance institutions and many of their respective alumni. Unfortunately, his own skill hadn’t been enough to warrant the awarding of a full scholarship, and so, he had to make do with whatever monies that could be graciously be donated by his family and the minimal amount he received through minor scholarships and grants, which, unfortunately, wasn’t much. He’d been wholeheartedly devastated when his Father broached the subject, informing him ever so delicately that dancing with Julliard would no longer be an option. Ezrah’s dream, for at least the time being, had been placed on hold; he hated it, absolutely loathed it… but understood it none-the-less.

“When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to continue with Julliard, I immediately fell back on… Starfleet.” He paused, “it wasn’t because of some perverse need to explore the vast unknown or to make groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Rather, was for something so much simpler.” Ezrah smiled broadly as he made a minor course correction, gently curbing the shuttlepod’s descent as it breached Earth’s stratosphere.

Lloyd couldn’t completely work out exactly where the ensign was going with this. “Which was?” He prompted.

“I get to fly… I get to fly really fast; call it primal, but man wasn’t meant to sit idle… so what better way than to soar through the stars at faster than light speeds.” He paused, glancing back towards Captain Burton, a jovial expression adorning the Ensign’s face, “And hey, the uniforms aren’t so bad, either.”

Lloyd chuckled at the last remark. “Could be worse, we could end up wearing some sort of spandex all in one suit with leather boots!” Lloyd commented on. He looked out at the main port, realising they were breaking through the evening clouds of San Francisco. “Land at the pad behind the Command Centre.” He ordered.

“Aye, aye.” Ezrah replied simply with a swift nod of the head. Fingers danced over the helm controls as he entered the appropriate commands to carry out the Captain’s orders. Deactivating the primary drive system, Ezrah completed the appropriate landing procedures with the use of ventral thrusters. The craft hovered for the briefest of moments until the landing gear extended, allowing the shuttlepod to safely touch down.

The shuttlepod glided over the Golden Gate Bridge and slowly sat down on a large courtyard dedicated to shuttle pods and other vehicles. Burton turned to his pilot. “There’s a great all-night coffee shop nearby Ezrah, called the Night Owl if you want to go and get a drink. I’ll give you a call once I’m done.” The Captain said as he started to take his belt off.

Ezrah nodded, “Thank you, Sir. I hope you have a good meeting.” As the Captain made to disembark, Ezrah remembered something. “Oh wait! Here.” He flipped open one of the forward storage compartments and removed a small clear container. Inside was a bit of fresh fruit such as grapes and sliced apples, as well as a few sesame crackers and chunks of different flavoured cheeses, sharp cheddar, Swiss and pepper-jack. “Just in case; you never know… sometimes these meetings can get a little dull. Or, well, so I’ve heard.” In truth, due to his own inexperience, Ezrah wasn’t completely certain if that was a correct assessment; but he also knew it wasn’t at all fun to be trapped in a long meeting when your stomach was requiring a bit of refuelling.

Burton smiled at the young officer’s considerate act. “Thank you, Ensign. I’ll call you when my meeting is over.” 

Depressurising the cabin, Ezrah released the locking clamps on the port entry hatch before waving off the Captain. Retrieving a communicator from the same forward compartment, Ezrah finished the last remaining post-flight checks required of him before disembarking the craft. The Captain had made a suggestion, and, although he would take him up on such a suggestion, Ezrah had an errand or two to run before grabbing a quick cup of coffee.

Starfleet Command Headquarters, San Francisco, United States of America, North America, Earth

After successfully landing on the pad behind the Command Centre, Captain Burton had left the company of his pilot as he entered the main offices of Starfleet. A slight warm evening breeze met the brief walk, Lloyd wouldn’t expect any less from the great city. As he approached the main entrance to the large building, he had to undergo the routine security checkpoints. The first one was to be scanned and checked over by the guards at the entrance. He then had to register his arrival with a handprint and retinal scan. Once he had been cleared, he entered the main lobby of Starfleet Command Headquarters. The foyer was richly decorated with white and black marble flooring and modern furnishing. He approached the front desk and was informed by the receptionist to head on up to the offices of his superiors with an escort, apparently one of the secretaries.

She had introduced herself as Commander Astley with a warm smile. Lloyd had followed the British middle-aged woman into the lift and was slightly confused when she pressed the button to take them to the tenth floor instead of the eighth, as the eighth floor was where Admiral Gardner’s office was located. He didn’t say anything, and just stood quietly to her side as the lift moved. She was roughly his height, had deep auburn coloured hair that was cut short. She had grey-blue eyes that spoke confidence in her appearance. She wore the standard command-administrative uniform that most people wore if they worked at Starfleet Command; however, her uniform was the female variant. It was a two-piece suit that was the same tone of blue as Lloyd’s jumpsuit uniform. It had the typical yellow-gold trimming on the jacket with her pips sitting under the collar on the right shoulder. 

They arrived within seconds and she walked off the lift and down the corridor. Eventually Lloyd had worked out what was happening, and butterflies appeared in his stomach. The woman was in fact the executive secretary for the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief. The penny had finally dropped on who Astley was. She was the legendary Jane Astley, known as the best administration manager in Starfleet and the chief personal aide to Fleet Admiral Moira Hathaway. Astley, even with the rank of commander, had a higher level of security clearance then most captains and was known to be responsible and a willing confidant to the C-in-C. She was also known for her dry and sharp wit that was complimented with a wicked sense of humour. 

Burton remained at Astley’s side as they walked down the corridor and towards the office of the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief. Astley gestured towards one of the leather sofas in front of her desk. “Please take a seat Captain Burton.” She said kindly before she went towards the door to the admiral’s office. 

Burton sat down as he watched her knock on the door and step into Hathaway’s office. There was a brief conversation between them that sounded like mumbles from where the captain sat. The door opened and Astley stepped out. “The admiral is ready for you, captain.” She said with a genuine warm smile.

“Thank you, commander.” He replied as he stood up, trying to push out the creases in his uniform.

He pushed the door and entered another lavishly modern decorated room. The room had an entire wall that was just a series of tall bay windows that looked out on to the city of San Francisco. The room was warm and filled with various items that gave it a personal touch. Sat behind her extravagant glass desk was Fleet Admiral Moira Hathaway. She was signing a few pieces of paper before her.

“Sorry captain, give me a moment to finish these reports.” Hathaway remarked as she tried to hurry her efforts up. “Please sit.” She added pointing with her left hand to one of two armchairs that sat in front of her desk.

Fleet Admiral Moira Hathaway was in her mid-seventies, she had tight short silver and white hair and fading blue eyes. She was of medium build and short stature. Like many women of her age she had a number of lines across her face indicating her years of experience. However, they didn’t make her look older than she was, they gave her graceful appearance. She wore the female variant of the admiral’s suit uniform; instead of having a black tie around a white shirt she had a white blouse that was open slightly at the top. 

Moira Hathaway was an accomplished leader, manager, and Starfleet Officer. She radiated stern efficiency and practicality in her approach to her work. A selection committee of the United Earth Government had appointed Hathaway to the top job back when her predecessor stood down in 2141. She had started her career in the United Earth Space Agency, by being the captain of the Emmette, the prototype for the Emmette-class starship, one of Earth’s first early warp-explorers and was a decorated officer. She had risen through the ranks, holding the previous positions of Director of Starfleet Operations before becoming Commander of Starfleet Headquarters. Her appointment to the Commander-in-Chief position was part of the succession plan that had been in place. 

At the present time Lloyd was feeling a sense of pride in being called to her office while on the other hand he was hoping and praying that he didn’t muck this meeting up by saying something stupid in front of such a legend. 

Finally, Hathaway placed the paperwork away into a leather folder and placed it in a black wooden tray on her desk. She leant back in her leather chair and looked at the younger officer before smiling slightly. “It’s funny captain, that since taking over this job I have met with every single captain we’ve promoted before they take their ship out for the first time. I must have met at least twenty by now, your sister included.” She stood up as she went over to a glass cabinet in the corner of the room. “I’ve always believed that to be an effective leader you need to be seen and everyone you lead should know you. Some advice I want you to take on board when you finally sit in the centre seat in two days’ time.” She remarked as she opened the cabinet and took out two small glasses. “Whiskey?” She inquired.

Lloyd nodded. “Please ma’am.”

Hathaway poured out their drinks before adding two bits of ice in each glass. She picked them up and returned them to her desk. “To the Challenger.” She offered after passing Lloyd his glass and raising her glass.

Lloyd raised his glass with hers. “To the Challenger.” He repeated as they both took a sip.

Hathaway sat up in her chair as she placed the glass down. “Admiral Gardner is currently finalising the details for your first mission which gives me the honour of giving you the briefing.”

“I assume this is the same mission Captain Karim had been briefed about before her death?” Lloyd asked as he took another sip from the glass, hoping the liquor would calm his nerves a bit.

The admiral nodded once. “It is. What do you know about the current status of the Coalition of Planet’s Compact?”

Lloyd was puzzled at the question however answered it. “The document that will bind Earth and its Commonwealth in a mutual defence pact with other powers?” He said and received a nod from his superior that he had gotten that right. “It’s pretty much a certain thing to come to fruition by the end of March if all goes to plan. From what I know it’s currently being pushed by Prime Minister Samuels through the United Earth’s House of Parliament. A huge majority of MPs support it and I believe they’ve got backing from the Senate to get it passed there too. I’m sure by the end of the week President Littlejohn will be signing it into law. ”

“Excellent captain, you get a gold star for knowing domestic affairs well. What about foreign affairs though? Are you aware of where it stands with our other potential allies?” Hathaway remarked.

Lloyd cleared his throat before answering. “It’s pretty certain that the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites are with us on it, however from what I’ve heard the Draylaxians are still waiting for the Compact to be passed through a sub-committee before going through their legislature body. The Rigelians are still on the fence as are the Denobulans and Coridanites. There’s some concerns around trade routes as well as scientific exchange from what I read.”

“Very good, another gold star sticker for you.” Hathaway said as she took another sip from her glass. “Earth representatives have been working to try and convince those last threes to be more certain if they are in or not. In a joint meeting with the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites it’s been decided to send a diplomatic effort to all three nations in hopes of convincing them that signing the Compact will benefit them as much as it will for us.” She leant over and picked up a tablet to pass it to the captain. “Earth has been designated the lead representatives with all three races. As such we are sending teams out to each nation to meet with their leaders using our three NX­-class ships. Captain Archer will be escorting our team to Coridan Prime while Captain Hernandez will be taking a team to the Rigel colonies. You will be taking the Earth representatives to Denobula.”

“Denobula?” Lloyd asked to confirm. Bad memories of being on Denobula a few years ago flooded back for the captain. “How long will these talks take?” He asked next.

“It all depends, but by sending all three of our NX-class ships to help the diplomatic teams in their attempts to convince these worlds to sign the charter, I’m hoping it will convince everyone how serious we take it. And that’s not the only reason.” Hathaway said. “The purpose of why Earth was picked to be the lead delegate is due to the fact the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites believe we are the only neutral species. We haven’t had any difficulties to date with the other three races. However, to ensure everyone is content with proceedings; Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger will be joined by Vulcan, Andorian and Tellarite ships who will have their own official representatives on board too.”

“Sounds crowded.” Burton responded quietly as he tried to skim read over the contents on the tablet in his hand now. “Who’s the lead delegate for the team assigned to Challenger?”

“Foreign Secretary Madilyn Campbell.” Hathaway replied. “She was the former Earth Ambassador to the Denobulans and if there’s anyone we are confident at being able to convince the Denobulans then its Secretary Campbell. You’ll need to extend all the appropriate needs and expectations for someone of Campbell’s authority and support her where necessary. Your service record is an excellent one and you should be proud of how well you’re spoken of by members of the Command Council, so I feel confident you’re the right person for the job. We need to ensure all three summits are successful captain. Am I clear?”

Lloyd nodded, knowing how serious this was all becoming now. “Understood ma’am.” 

“Excellent, let’s carry on.” Hathaway suggested as she began to reel off the rest of the mission briefing to the young captain.

Nicole slumped back into her bunk relishing in the feel of the soft mattress as it enveloped her body. Since transferring over to Challenger her life had gone from impulse to Warp Seven. Nicole was no stranger to being a department head, having served as Intrepid and later Columbia’s Chief Science Officer for the last few years, but running a single department paled in comparison to overseeing not only her own but every other department aboard ship. But if the way things went today was any indication, things were beginning to look up. Commander Rossi had done an excellent job pulling the Science Department together before he died, so Nicole had very little to worry about in her own section. This also seemed to be a common thread among the other departments aboard ship. The only immediate issue the crew was facing seemed to be the influx and integration of new officers and crew. Luckily that would be solved with time, so Nicole pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind and picked up Captain Proton and the Fish People of Orion III, the newest volume in her ever-growing collection, and started to read. But like every other time she tried to relax today, the comm went off before she got more than a page in.

“Transporter bay to Commander Levesque.” The voice of Ensign Ramya Dey said, more than slightly damaging her calm. Groaning, Nicole stretched up and activated the comm. panel on her end.

“Go ahead.” 

“Sorry to bother you Commander but we’ve run into a slight problem. We were beaming aboard the last of the Bio-Storage units when the transporter seemed to lock up mid-cycle.”

“Have you contacted Commander Stanton?” 

“I thought I would let you know first…you did say to contact you if there were any problems.”

 “Yeah I remember and now I’m starting to regret it…Alright I’m on my way. Contact Stanton and have him meet us there with a repair team in five. Levesque out.” 

Getting out of her nice warm bunk, and as she stared at the crumpled jumpsuit sitting in the middle of her quarters, Nicole briefly debated whether she needed to don her uniform for this most likely minor systems glitch. Finally figuring that this issue would be quickly solved, Nicole instead grabbed a Challengerembroidered zip-up sweater and a pair of running pants. Nicole had always been slightly ambiguous about the reasoning behind somewhat form fitting nature of Starfleet’s PT gear, but she had always chalked it up to some deal about “enhancing performance”. Regardless, the gear was rather flattering on her, so she dismissed her personal opinions about the garment’s practicality. 

Commander Stanton had been availing himself of a late dinner in the mess hall, when the call came in, having spent the majority of the past nine hours checking systems aboard Challenger. Indeed, he had not even found the time to exchange his duty jumpsuit bearing the STC logo for one with a Challenger patch, as he abandoned his pumpkin pie and walked to Main Engineering. He pulled a pair of engineers off of another task, before climbing up to D Deck and heading to the transporter area behind engineering.

Arriving on D deck it only took about a minute for Nicole to jog down the starboard side corridor and reach the transporter bay. Squeezing by a few crewmen carrying supply crates, Nicole came upon Ramya and a crewman wearing service red, whom she assumed was the transporter chief on duty. It was a comical sight to see the petite Indian woman talking “up” to the chief who had to be at least six feet tall. Nicole could tell from the way she was gesturing wildly that the stress of the last couple of days was starting to affect Ramya’s near constant perkiness. Noticing her superior officer, Ramya walked over to Nicole with an apologetic look on her frazzled features. 

“Sorry about this Nic…Commander. I’m not sure what happened, we never used to have problems like this aboard Columbia.” The Chief Chemist said shooting the Chief an annoyed look. 

“That’s because this is a completely different system than what’s aboard Columbia.” The Chief said defensively as he joined the two science officers.

“It’s alright chief, just fill me in while we wait for Stanton.” 

“I’m here; you can fill us both in,” Stanton said, as he came around the corner with his two engineers. He moved over to the control console and began to examine things as the operator began to explain the problem.

“Well, sirs, we were beaming up a chemical-storage unit, when the transporter just stopped,” the Chief replied. 

“The transporter pattern cleared the first few stages of the procedure, but it’s now stuck in the pattern buffer,” Stanton said. He turned to explain that to the science officers but closed his mouth when he appeared to realize that there wasn’t really anything else he could add. “This has been working all day, right?”

“Yes, sir,” the chief responded.

“Is there anything special about these bio-transport units, Commander… anything that might interfere with the transporter?” Stanton asked, turning to the science officer.

“I don’t think so. These are standard containment units for biological samples. They can be modified to hold any number of things; from bacteria to small animals. Some do have shielding but…” Nicole trailed off as she grabbed the inventory tablet from on top of the transporter console. 

“Ramya, could the transporter have activated the polarized shielding of one or more of the secure containment units?” Nicole asked, turning to the other woman.

“You think the polarization interfered with the transporter? That seems a bit far-fetched Commander.” Ramya said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“The transporter is designed not to interact with technology like that, but I guess it could have been activated accidentally, somehow,” Stanton replied, thinking about it. “We’ve beamed aboard other energetic objects, though, so I wonder why this would be different.”

“When I was an armoury officer, we found that, when the hull was polarized, the electromagnetic signature would interfere with the enemy’s targeting scanners. Starfleet started to investigate this anomaly but didn’t come up with results and for some reason shelved the research.” 

“What sort of shielding do the crates use, exactly? Are they designed like our hull polarization system?” Stanton asked.

“Well shielding may be the wrong term…but essentially yes, the shielding on several of the secure units is based on the same technology, it’s kind of like a cross between hull polarization and a solid EM-barrier, and that could be what is interfering with the transporter. I’m just not sure how…” 

“The system may have had trouble locking onto part of the shipment, even though it was within the transport area, and it may be having trouble sorting out the matter that it knows about, and the unexpected matter it couldn’t scan,” Stanton postulated, as he pressed a few controls. “The easiest solution would just be to shut the system down, and purge the pattern buffers, but I’m guessing we’ll need animal cages…,” Stanton added, as he worked at the console.

“They would come in handy, that is unless you are volunteering your quarters as a possible stand in?” Nicole asked, not expecting a serious answer… well, more hoping for at least a slightly less than serious answer, something to get a bit more personality past Stanton’s outer shell.

“If we find a space Labrador retriever, maybe,” Stanton replied, as he looked at the console, again. “The bacteria might want something larger than my quarters, though,” he added, looking back at Nicole.

“The bacteria would probably prefer to make the whole ship their home. The crew on the other hand…well I assume they are against that particular idea.” Nicole said before turning away from the transporter. 

“A little bacteria never hurt anyone… Except the ones that have,” Stanton remarked, mostly to himself, as he resumed examining the transporter control console. Transporters, specifically, were not his area of expertise, but he had a familiarity with the system, after teaching basic engineering at the Academy, and having studied the technical manuals thoroughly before boarding. His last space-borne posting lacked that particular piece of equipment. “If we could force the rematerialization sequence…,” he wondered aloud, looking at the transporter operator.

“Ramya, how long would it take for supply to get us another shipment of containment units?” 

“I don’t know…maybe three hours, to get them assembled and aboard ship, but…” Ramya trailed off looking over at the transporter. 

“If we don’t fix the transporter then we’ll be in the same position.” Nicole said, finishing the other woman’s thought. “Okay that settles that. Ramya, contact Starfleet Supply and have them prepare another shipment of containment units. We’ll let them know if it will be transported or shuttled up soon…” 

“Chief…,” Stanton started, looking at the man, before pausing, and attempting to remember his name. He looked vaguely Greek, and he wanted to guess something starting with a K, but he wasn’t entirely sure. Names had never been his strong suit.

“Katsaros, sir,” the chief replied.

“Yes. Good. Try forcing the system into a diagnostic cycle. It should scan the pattern buffers and attempt to rematerialize anything that’s caught there,” Stanton said, after a moment more thought.

“That might work, sir. The system should at least be able to deal with the patterns that it recognizes, there. It might not be able to handle the extra matter in the stream, though,” the olive-skinned chief replied, before working at the console for a few minutes. “Engaging diagnostic cycle,” he said. Several beeps were heard, as the system began checking itself. After a moment, the characteristic whine of the transporter was heard, as several crates were deposited on the pad.

“We’re still missing one, sir,” one of the engineers reminded him.

“Yeah… That’s the white elephant… which isn’t in the room,” Stanton said, to himself, as he looked back down at the console. “We have some matter, but no pattern for it…,” he said, aloud, before having an epiphany. “Commander, have you beamed any more of these things aboard? Any of them exactly like this one that’s missing?” he asked, excitedly. 

“Yeah the Hydroponics lab received nearly identical units. We beamed them aboard about six hours ago…Why what are you getting at?” Nicole asked, crossing her arms across her chest.

“If we have the exact pattern of the unit, and we have the exact mass of the unit in our pattern buffer, we should be able to use that pattern to re-materialize the object. I started… well I almost finished… reading a paper about theoretical applications of transporter technology in fabrication,” the commander said, as he looked at the console. “In theory, it should work,” he added.

“In theory, what’s our margin of error here?” 

“Forty… maybe fifty percent?” Stanton said, though he didn’t sound confident in that estimate. “It’ll… probably work,” he added, in a more reassuring tone.

“Well it’s better than the alternative; make it happen Commander.” Nicole said moving closer to the transporter console. Stanton moved over to allow her access, before turning around to the Chief.

“Go into the transporter lab, and find the log from that transport,” he ordered. The man disappeared into the adjacent laboratory, before returning with a data-card. Stanton placed it in the reading slot of the transporter console, and then began inputting a few commands. “This should work…,” he said, again.

“Let’s go with, ‘will work’.” Nicole said as Stanton and Katsaros began the rematerialization process. Seeing the transporter in operation was always a bit of a treat, its complexities and almost complete disregard for physics was amazing to say the least. Under normal circumstances the operation of the transporter was definitely more art than science, under these circumstances it was more like a magic trick. 

A few moments later the slight whine and blue/white shimmer of the transporter drew her attention to the now solid containment unit sitting on the pad. Pulling a scanner from her sweater pocket she ran it over the container a few times.

“Well so far so good…” Nicole said, standing up still looking at the results on her scanner. “Yeah, looks like it worked.” She finished unable to hide a bit of the surprise in her voice. 

“I’ll have to write my own paper,” Stanton replied, also sounding rather surprised as he powered down the system.

 “Well one ‘crisis’ averted anyway. The next step is figuring out why this happened in the first place.”

“I’d like to tear apart the sensor logs and do a diagnostic on the targeting scanners…,” Stanton listed, looking at the machine.

“Luckily we don’t have to do that now…as long as you can certify the transporter as safe.” Nicole said eager to get back to her quarters.

“Right…,” Stanton said, looking at the console again. “Well, as long as no one has a personal shield on, it shouldn’t create exactly this problem again. I think it would be best if we limited its use on people until we can completely track the error, though,” he added, after a moment of thought. “Chief, in the morning, I want you to do a full diagnostic,” he said, looking at the other engineer.

 “Yes, commander,” the man said, with a nod.

“I agree, unless there is no other option available then the transporter is restricted to non-biological transport. Chief, if my people can be of any help, they are at your disposal. ” Levesque offered.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Well with everything settled here I’ll leave you to it, Commander Stanton, thank you for your assistance…Oh and Commander, I want that uniform squared away by the commissioning ceremony.” Nicole said, pointing to her shoulder, before turning on her heel and disappearing around a corner.

Michael quickly covered his shoulder after blushing. He moved away from the others at warp speed.

The door to the launch bay sealed behind Ezrah as he slowly traversed the length of corridor in the direction of the nearest lift. Shuttlepod Two had returned to the Challenger about forty-five minutes prior and Ezrah had spent the better part of this time completing the post-flight checklist and a final inspection of the shuttlepod. During the flight from and to the Challenger, Ezrah had acutely observed a few irregularities in how the shuttlepod handled during atmospheric descent and ascent. Upon further inspection, he noted that several pieces of equipment integrated into the craft’s propulsion systems were of an older technology grade. Although the equipment wasn’t necessarily in a state of disrepair, its age was proving to be a factor in the craft’s standard flight operation. Piecing together a small inventory, Ezrah ensured that the needed parts and equipment were, indeed, not already in inventory on board the Challenger or at the Warp Five Complex Construction Yards; this meant that his next stop would be engineering to see if he could submit a requisition for the parts to be directly manufactured.

He’d long since stowed his field jacket and hat. During the inspection of the shuttlepod, Ezrah had once again found himself within the tight confines of the console bulkheads. He’d pulled the upper portion of his uniform jumper down, its long sleeves tied around the waist, leaving the black short sleeved undershirt to conform tightly to his upper body. There were a few dark smudges of oil and grease on his forehead and cheek while his hair was a bit more messed up than usual. Tablet in hand, Ezrah had soon arrived at the open berth to main engineering. Stepping over the threshold to the open hatchway, he observed that, even in this late hour, the department was just as busy as ever.

Engineering was in a state of organized chaos, as officers entered and left going to and from various assignments across the ship to check out its main systems for their upcoming launch. In the early days of the ship’s construction, specific system groups had been brought online in a very specific order, but now the engineers were left to check on the backups, certain rogue system elements, and other miscellanea that would make the ship sputter and stay in her moorings, if they weren’t tuned just so. The centre of the organization, or perhaps the chaos, was a young Commander standing on the reactor control platform, where he was accepting and handing out various data tablets, despite the fact that it was far beyond his actual shift. 

“Make sure that the first stage plasma processing plants are checked tonight, so we can move on to the second stage tomorrow,” the commander said, in a rather quiet voice, as he handed a pad back to an Ensign, before turning back towards the reactor control console. There were so many people in the compartment that he failed to notice Ezrah’s presence.

Since his arrival, Ezrah had attempted several times to garner the attention of any passing crewman. Although polite and courteous, each was much too busy to pay him any particular attention. Sighing loudly, Ezrah noticed a man standing on the raised platform near the warp core reactor; he appeared to be issuing orders and handing out data tablet devices to various crewmen who then, in turn, scurried away to carry out said orders. Ezrah was uncertain of who the man was, as he’d yet to get a good look as of yet, but merely assumed him to be the on-duty supervisor. Well, he seems like a proper place to start. He thought inwardly, swelling with a bit of hope.

Navigating towards the raised platform with some difficulty, Ezrah attempted to speak above the hum of activity and conversation around him while trying to stay out of the way of those who were meant to be there. “Excuse me.” He managed somewhat meekly, involuntarily grimacing at how difficult such a simple endeavour was proving to be.

“Pardon me.” A crewman remarked politely with a kind smile as he accidently bumped into Ezrah but carried on none-the-less.

“Sir, may I have a moment?” He attempted once again. The commander spun around and braced himself on the railing behind him as he looked down in Ezrah’s direction.

“Yes…?” Commander Stanton asked, looking him over for some sign of identification to address him, but finding none due to the way he was wearing his uniform coat. He showed some hints of recognition in his facial expression, but not enough to finish his statement.

“Oh… oh no… Professor McSteamy.” These words were expelled with no conscious thought or understanding of recourse. Ezrah hadn’t been in the presence of Professor Michael Stanton, Professor McSteamy for short, since his first year at Starfleet Training Command. He’d taken several introductory courses pertaining to engineering, warp theory and mechanics, each of which had been taught by Stanton. During this first year at the STC, Ezrah had found the process of socializing vehemently difficult and, to be quite honest, tedious; choosing to focus on his studies and excel scholastically rather than flourish socially. He’d immersed himself in the coursework, dedicating every waking moment to fundamentally understand the information he was attempting to absorb. Stanton’s courses were to say the least, exceedingly difficult, proving to be the most challenging prerequisite classes Ezrah would participate in during his time at the STC. One of the perks though, was that Stanton was so damned attractive. Pleasing to the eye, Ezrah often lost himself in Stanton’s lectures; the man was absolutely captivating, not only physically but also intelligence-wise. For Ezrah’s chosen specialty, he’d exhausted every option of attending another one of Stanton’s classes, which was probably for the best, as it helped him to avoid overtly drooling over the man. Well, and this reprieve had provided an opportunity to seek out other avenues for endearment, namely Carlisle.

“I, um, well… Oh my. Just, gah. What are you doing here?” If it was to the point of sounding rude, Ezrah had not intended this. In his own awkwardness, the words flowed like vomit. He couldn’t help it, nor the expression of pained remorse that now washed across the handsome features of his face.

“I, uh… am… warp core,” Stanton started, stuttering a little bit, as he pointed back towards the reactor with his thumb, and as his pale features became noticeably ruddy. “Wait, Professor Mc-What?” he asked, wheels turning in his mind as he tried to catch up with what had just happened. The commander was not the sort who regularly fared very well in social interactions, and that statement had thrown him. “I am… the new Chief Engineer,” he added, after collecting himself for a microsecond. “Ensign…, um…, something with an A. I remember your face,” he said, his blue-grey eyes surveying him for a long moment. “Also, am I overdressed? Does Challenger have casual Wednesdays?” he asked, apparently noticing the younger man’s style of dress.

Ezrah placed the data tablet he’d carried between his knees to hold it there as he hastily undid the sleeves around his waist. Pulling on the upper portion of the jumper, he zipped up as cheeks tinged in deep red. “Apologies, Sir. I… um, forgot.” He managed, retrieving the data tablet. He had forgotten, so preoccupied with the requisition order, he’d not thought to properly zip up. “Chief Engineer? As in, ‘hey look at me I’m Lord of the Warp Core’ kind of Chief Engineer?” Ezrah shook his head, fruitlessly hopeful that he could circumnavigate the Commander’s McSteamy question while attempting to recover from the initial shock at this unexpected reunion. Ezrah didn’t expect that Stanton would remember him, especially after such a long time and with so many students having attended the STC. Ezrah didn’t often leave a lasting impression, proving to be more of a, how did Angie refer to him? Oh right, a wallflower. Ezrah was nobody special, he’d probably never even stuck out amongst the sea of very young and naive faces. Stanton, on the other hand had left a very decent impression; heck, the fantasies alone had been seared into his memory. “Hey now, don’t go there.” Chiding himself, Ezrah hadn’t realized he spoke aloud until he saw the very confused and oddly concerned look on the Commander’s face. “Oh god… kill me now, just… spoon my heart onto a plate.” Ezrah emphasized this statement by theatrically digging at his heart with the data tablet. There was simply no word that could adequately describe the sheer level of embarrassment he now shouldered.

“I…, umm…, Yes, ‘Lord of the Warp Core,’ Computer Core, and pretty much the whole… deal…,” Stanton replied, still surveying him. His eyes darted back to the control console and the communications panel set into it, as though pondering calling for some sort of assistance, before he looked back at the ensign. “Gold uniform, so probably either the helmsman or Captain… A… Alcott. I remember one of your assignments. You must be the ‘young gun straight out of training’ that Alex… Lieutenant Commander Rodham… mentioned who’d be flying this thing,” he added, as the wheels clicked into place. “Do you need a paper bag to blow into or something? Or a glass of water?” he asked, with a noticeable tone of concern.

Ezrah shook his head; glass of water? How about a phase pistol instead? “No Sir, um, just parts. That’s all, only parts… mechanical parts… no biological pa–wait…” Ezrah countered, recoiling in confusion, “‘young gun’?” He asks quizzically, a faint smile curling up either end of his lips.

“I think the Commander may have meant ‘upstart,’ but I never can keep track of what pilots and their egos mean,” Commander Stanton replied. “He supervises all of the pilots operating out of Starfleet Command,” he added, his attention seeming to drift a little as he went on a slight tangent. “You said something about parts… among other things…though?” he asked, the second statement being somewhat under his breath.

“Yes, Commander.” Ezrah handed the data tablet to Stanton, relieved at the change in topic. “I need to do a few upgrades to Shuttlepod Two and need the following list of parts to complete said upgrades. I’ve checked and it doesn’t appear that we have any of those parts on that list on board or at the construction yard. I was hoping y’all might be able to manufacture them for me?”

“When did the captain add this to the pile?” Stanton asked, mostly to himself, as he scrolled through the proffered list. “What’s wrong with the shuttle? The last I read, the engineering team did a full diagnostic on it, after the accident?” he asked, now addressing Ezrah again. 

Ezrah leaned against the raised platform, “diagnostically speaking, the equipment checks out; but when I inspected these components more closely,” he gently tapped a finger against the devices small screen, “I found them to be aged to the point that they’re affecting the overall efficiency pertaining to response manoeuvrability, specifically during atmospheric ascent and descent. I believe there may be a technical communication error between the older components and those of the newer technologies.” He rattled off, eyes intent in the list of items as he surveyed a spelling error in the name for one of the components.

“Hmm… Maybe,” Stanton replied, as he looked at the list. He sat down on the platform, and then slipped between the handrail supports down to the deck proper, brushing slightly and unintentionally against Ezrah as he walked a few meters over to the engineer’s desk near the equipment lift on the forward bulkhead. He pulled up the schematics of the standard shuttlepod design, and then looked at the list again. “Have you done any computer modelling on how this might affect overall manoeuvrability and vehicle stability? Some of these upgrades would probably be a good idea,” he said, looking at him.

Ezrah blushed crimson at the sudden, yet unintentionally body contact. “I’m s-s-sorry.” He stuttered almost immediately after the contact had happened, believing it to be his fault. He let out a deep sigh in an attempt to steady his breathing at being caught off guard and being so affected by such a very accidental touch; it was moments such as these that he cursed his inexperience and lack of social grace. “I’ve actually not ever done any computer modelling before, Sir.”

“Most of these parts wouldn’t directly affect the flight characteristics of the shuttle on their own, but they will when put together with the existing systems,” Stanton said, as he tapped a few commands into his console, to have the computer apply the modifications to the schematics. “It’s always good to find out how something will work, before you go to town on it,” he added, as the computer processed the input. “The problem with interfacing new and old components is that they don’t always… get along,” he said. 

Ezrah hadn’t considered that improving upon the current technologies employed on board the shuttlepod could actually perpetuate the current problems further; essentially, his attempts could very well duplicate the irregularities already experienced thus far.

The computer began listing off a series of facts and figures of the craft’s new manoeuvrability statistics, along with predicted reliability and maintenance times, after only a few minutes of working. On average, the numbers seemed to be going up, except for the computer linkages, which connected the control systems to the shuttle’s computer to the engines.

“It looks like it’d basically work… so good job…,” Stanton said, reading and offering a small smile.

He raised both eyebrows, “thank you, Sir. The older components currently installed may have reached a point in their life that is starting to adversely affect efficiency in flight operations. I suppose these upgrades could serve to do the same if not properly tested.”

“Though, it also looks like we’d have to replace the main processor for the shuttle and the linkages to the control surfaces, to make sure that the new gyroscopic stabilizers and thrust controllers stay at the right timing with the rest of the craft. The current system’s input doesn’t meet the precision requirements of those guys, so it could lead to glitches when the system tries to deal with a lack of significant figures in the data,” Stanton added, as he took a moment to understand the table of numbers in front of him.

He nodded, “Awesome; so then, what’s the next step in the process?” He asked, genuinely curious to know, as he moved a bit closer to Stanton.

“Well, fabricating the parts is pretty easy, and we can probably get the computer equipment from the station, and adapt it, but the biggest thing would be to convince Captain Burton to put our only shuttlepod out of commission for about a day, while someone installs these upgrades and tests them. We’ll also have to do it to the other two shuttles in storage and to the new shuttle,” Stanton said, looking over at him, and then back to the computer screen. “The reason why most of these shuttles are bare-bones is because Starfleet doesn’t like to have them sitting in the hanger for very long,” he added. “Captains are like that, too. Captains hate waiting… That’s one… uh… ‘nugget’ of wisdom that I don’t think I ever mentioned in class,” he said, laughing a little bit.

Ezrah stepped forward, “I could speak with the Captain and see if he’d be willing to at least entertain the prospect of these upgrades. And well, I could also install the components too; I mean I pretty much know every nook and cranny of the shuttlepods. I don’t think there’s one system and their respective component’s I don’t intimately know and understand.” The statement was spoken with enthusiasm, further emphasized by Ezrah’s signing; when he became over excited, it was often a habitual symptom. He was certainly glad that the Commander was lending such positive and constructive feedback as well as support; it made him feel important and a contributing member of the team. “And well, if you wanted to help, too, I wouldn’t mind.” He shook his head, intertwining his fingers together in an attempt to curb the sudden onslaught of sign language.

“If you can convince him, we should be able to find the time, ensign,” Stanton replied, as he made a note on the data pad, and saved the simulation in the ship’s records. He looked at him for a moment, wondering if he should just have his own team do it or if he should work with Ezrah. He knew very well how pilots were; they liked to be hands-on on their craft. At the same time, he’d also noticed that they were sometimes worse at engineering than they thought they were. “Well… most of my crews are going to be pretty busy until we launch. If we’re doing this, you’re going to have to work on the shuttle, anyway,” he said, whether out of a general weakness for pilots or out of deference to a particular pilot’s ‘order’ that he make new friends. “You’d better know the systems ‘intimately,’ ’cause there’ll be a test,” he added, with a smile.

Ezrah chuckled, cocking his head to the side as he closely observed Stanton for a moment, becoming slightly more than enamoured. Then, shaking his head as if to break the revere, Ezrah held out a hand for the return of the data tablet. “I suppose I should probably go and start working on the proposal to the Captain then… and maybe get a bit of shut eye too.” He started to back away slowly, “thank you for your time Commander. Ouch!” He yelped after inadvertently bumping into the sharp corner of a nearby console. “Ummm, have a, um, good evening then. Dream well!” He rubbed gently at his lower hip before turning on a heel and departing engineering rather quickly as his cheeks and the tip of his ears darkened in colour. Could I have been any more awkward?

Commander Stanton smiled softly at him as he retreated, wincing at the appropriate moment when the young ensign injured himself on the equipment. He had an expression of both concern and bemusement at the entire situation, as he spoke, “Good night, Ensign… And dismissed,” he added, though at that point he was talking just to himself. As he logged out of his computer, a thought came to mind. “Professor McSteamy?” he muttered, as he walked back over to the warp reactor and resumed his evening of preparing the ship for departure.