Chief Petty Officer Chan squinted through the magnetic shielding protecting the Buran’s shuttlebay and set his hands on his hips. “That Shuttlepod Two?”
His colleague Braden tilted her head as the small grey dot grew larger. “Coming in a bit fast, isn’t it?”
“They are running late,” said Chan, with all the disparaging judgement of a seasoned deck chief whose schedule was being abused by uncaring officers. “Skipper wanted us setting off in the next -”
“Clear the deck!”
Chan turned, puffing with indignation at anyone else giving such an order on his flight deck. But he stopped in his tracks as the sliding doors admitted Doctor Seong bursting in with a gurney and a medical technician. “Shuttlepod Two’s reported an injury and requested a medical team on standby,” Seong explained breathlessly as she skidded the gurney to a halt.
Chan still urged them a few feet back, fully clear of the landing zone. “Urgent? Do we know who?”
“Ensign Puccio, at least a broken arm and unconsciousness.”
That could have meant anything, from near-death to easily being patched up with an on-board medical kit, but still Chan turned to the fast-approaching dot of Shuttlepod Two with his heart in his gut. “Oh no.”
Braden’s eyes widened. “Puccio will have been flying.”
“Which means -”
“Yep.” Chan turned and lifted his hands. “Everyone step back another two metres.”
Then came Shuttlepod Two. If it were possible to skid to a stop when still airborne, Chan would have smelled burnt rubber and heard screeching at the pace it entered the bay before the impulse thrusters were brought into reverse to match the Buran’s velocity. Technically, it was within flight guidelines. Technically, no safety parameters had been abused.
Technically, Chan still wanted to throw things.
The shuttlepod hatch swung open, and boots hit the deck before the ramp down. “Doctor – oh, good, Doctor, yes, over here. Puccio’s fine, he regained consciousness about three minutes ago and Rodriguez was checking him, but you’d do best to make sure…” The barrage of blunt instructions was echoed by the appearance of a sallow-faced Ensign Puccio, clutching his arm but, indeed, conscious and shakily descending the ramp into the ready and waiting ministrations of Doctor Seong.
Despite himself, Chan stomped up. “Was that velocity on approach really necessary, Commander?”
Commander Leonov was not particularly above average height, but Chan was reminded that she was very good at seeming much taller when her imperious gaze fell on him. “We hit atmospheric interference on the flight up that threw Ensign Puccio from his seat. He broke his arm and lost consciousness so, yes, I assumed the controls. I had an injured crewmember aboard and Captain Sharpe made it clear she expected the surface expedition to be concluded by 1730.” Leonov turned away from him and gestured to the shuttlepod. “There’s nothing wrong with craft or deck, Chief. I’d say my speed was perfectly suitable.”
Doctor Seong had manoeuvred Puccio onto the gurney, and only now looked up. “Where’s Rodriguez?”
At that, the pale, shaky figure of Lieutenant Rodriguez appeared at the shuttlepod’s hatch. “I’m okay, Doctor,” he insisted. Then he threw up.
Leonov arched an eyebrow. “Maybe now there’s something wrong with your deck, Chief. As I said, we hit turbulence in the upper atmosphere. I think the lieutenant doesn’t care for my flying.”
“I’m okay,” Rodriguez groaned again.
“Good.” Leonov clapped him on the back once he alighted, which made the young officer look like he might lose his lunch once more. “Get our data down to Laboratory 2 and begin running analysis. The captain wants me to report in.” At once she turned on her heel and started for the doors, as ever moving at a brisk pace that would force anyone else to run. “And make sure Puccio’s alright, Doctor!”
Chan looked on with frustration as Rodriguez limped off and Seong began to wheel her patient away. Shuttlepod Two gently hissed as it cooled down, Rodriguez’s mess now settled onto the deck.
Braden sighed. “I’ll get the mop.”
As the old NX-class ships began to cycle back to the Sol system for upgrades and refits that resulted in the configuration of the larger Columbia-class, the tight corners and efficient pragmatism of the Buran had become an increasingly rare environment aboard Starfleet’s top-flight assignments. But by the standards of the rest of the fleet she was still positively cosy, and after a year aboard, Leonov moved with confidence around sharp turns, through small hatchways, and between occasionally thick crowds to reach the turbolift, the bridge, and the captain’s ready room.
“I don’t know why you’re complaining,” she said the moment the doors had shut behind her. “You gave me until 1730, we landed exactly on time, and that’s even accounting for the turbulence and Ensign Puccio’s accident – he’s fine, by the way -”
“God, Katya, shut up.” Captain Sharpe was a short, stout, middle-aged woman with a broad Yorkshire accent. “I’ve not said a bloody word and you’re already trying to be right and act like I’d rather chew you out than care about my pilot.”
Leonov stopped short before the captain’s desk. “Your instructions before we landed were for me to report immediately to you.”
“I’d wonder if you’ve got a guilty conscience, assuming it’s because I’m angry with you. But I know you don’t do that.” Sharpe pointed a stubby finger at the chair across. “Sit down and, again, shut up for once.”
Leonov slid into the chair. “If we’re going to warp, I’d hope this could wait until I have my samples in the lab and the analysis started -” But Sharpe glared, and she shut her mouth.
It took a moment for the captain to speak. Leonov knew by now the silence was a pointed gesture, an indication of Sharpe’s power, a demand that the conversation proceed at her pace, not her science officer’s. “Right,” Sharpe said at length. “I don’t give a toss about your botanical adventure on the surface. Let Rodriguez deal with it.”
“Then why -”
“God’s sake, woman.” Sharpe rolled her eyes. “We had word while you were down on the surface. Orders.” She slid a PADD across the desk. “Read.”
Leonov gingerly picked it up. Then scowled. “You’re getting rid of me.”
“You’re getting bumped up, lass,” said Sharpe, not sounding at all like she cared about Leonov’s upward mobility. “Endeavour finished her refit a month ago. More lab space.”
Leonov gave a bitter glance. “Don’t patronise me. Facilities will be focused on studying territory and enemy technology.”
“Fine, you get a bigger bed on a Columbia, I don’t bloody know. Anyway, better than that, someone in Command decided you’re XO material. Congratulations, start packing, we rendezvous with the Poseidon in a few days and they’ll take you to the Endeavour.”
A muscle worked in the corner of Leonov’s jaw as she studied the transfer orders. “It must be going quite badly,” she said in a low, dry tone, “if I’m XO material these days.”
“I know,” said Sharpe. The two women had worked together long enough that Leonov knew the captain held most of her skills in high regard. They had also worked together long enough that Leonov knew that Sharpe was not overly disposed towards gushing emotion in general, and was thoroughly sick of some of Leonov’s antics in particular. “Maybe try to not be a prized arse on this assignment, hey? Wars aren’t won by whether or not Katya Leonov’s the most correct person in the room.”
“…battles are sometimes won by whether or not you listen to my assessment of a warbird’s systems damage,” Leonov pointed out somewhat petulantly.
Sharpe stared at her for a moment. Then sighed. “It’s not like I won’t miss having someone in the senior staff who’ll tell me when they think I’ve got my head shoved up my arse. But I agree with Command that you should be someone else’s problem for a while. Go tell Captain Campbell when he’s wrong and try to help him wield that great ruddy Columbia-class warship as efficiently as possible into Rommie faces, hey?”
Leonov lifted her head, gaze apprehensive. “Command postings were never my ambition.”
“You’ve got a brain and we’ve got a war. Things happen.” Sharpe shrugged. Then her lips set to a thin line, a grimace of a smile, a brutal acceptance of warmth. “Buran will be worse off without you. For the love of God, make the Endeavour better off with you.”
Leonov scoffed as she straightened, that iron imperiousness returning to her posture. There was, mercifully and for once, a drop of self-awareness to her drawl when she answered. “You know me, Captain. I only make things better.”