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Part of USS Atlantis: Mission 5: Meet the People

“If you’re determined to win this, fly smarter, not harder.”

USS Atlantis, Trent System
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“Five minutes until the edge of the Trent system ma’am,” a rather young ensign said from the helm.

“Very well Ensign Cunningham. Reduce speed to warp three,” T’Val said from the captain’s chair. With Atlantis hobbled to the lower warp speeds, it had taken weeks to make their way to Trent, the nearest outpost of the People. This afforded an opportunity to many young officers to take on extra duties with responsibilities and carefully controlled risks. “That should extend arrival to ten minutes,” she continued as the Ensign went about his task.

“Ten minutes and…fifteen seconds…mark,” he confirmed as the ship decelerated to a paltry warp three.

Clemaru has matched speed. We’re being hailed by Trent System Control,” Ensign Savit advised from Ops and with a nod of her head, T’Val signalled for the hail to be put through. She found it refreshing to be serving bridge shifts with another Vulcan and suspected that Commander MacIntyre had been adjusting schedules based on some reasoning of his own.

The familiar faintly purple skin tone and dark hair of the People was present on the person who appeared on screen, though instead of the typical golden eyes, this woman’s eyes were of a silver hue. “USS Atlantis, this is Trent System Control. Vectors and orbital assignments are being transmitted to your ship presently. Please cease all superluminal drives at three light hours from system primary. As arranged, orbital repair facilities will be made available and docking will be arranged once you have achieved initial orbit.” Her tone was dry, functional even, not the bubbly and curious tone she’d become accustomed to from the other samples of the People Atlantis had run into over the last few weeks, nearly a month now.

“Understood,” T’Val replied without even leaving the command chair, then spoke once more when Cunningham turned to face her and nodded. “Vectors received. Thank you for your assistance.”

“Welcome to the Trent System, may your travels be fair and your endeavours benefit all.”

“Live long and prosper,” she herself replied to what she’d learned was a traditional call and response amongst the People. With that the comm channel closed, the viewscreen switching back to the star scape sliding past the ship at speed, a single brighter light directly in the middle.

“Ensign Cunningham, please follow the course assignments sent to us. Lieutenant Munroe,” she called while standing, “you have the conn.”

Paperwork had been completed days ago. Coursework had been completed over a week ago. Reports were vanquished within the first hour of the day, which left one Commander Charles MacIntyre with free time. To much free time in fact over the last week.

It had been Tikva’s idea for the senior officers to stand back while the ship was in transit, one available each day, but not present on the bridge, or elsewhere in their departments for that matter, to let junior officers accrue independent command time. And while today was his nominal day in command, he’d had little to do besides read a few reports, send some of them back with notes and comments about how to do them properly, and write his own of course, which for the most part wasn’t terribly long.

All this free time, all this new found enthusiasm for work, all this disturbing boredom had resulted in what Old Charles MacIntrye would have found frightening – studying and self-improvement.

Before him on his monitor was a fairly short list of courses offered by the Academy for command level officers, all designed to reinforce skillsets, pad out their resumes and hopefully assist in getting promoted. Which in Mac’s case he’d need if he ever wanted to make Captain one day.

But that dream wasn’t as far fetched as it used to be, his hand absently coming up to rub at the third full pip on his collar, not feeling the ridge that made up the old black and silver pip, just the smooth surface of a full silver commander’s pip.

Commander Charles MacIntrye.

Had a certain ring to it. His mother was so proud he was certain he heard her squeal in joy over the empty vacuum of space weeks before her subspace message came through to Atlantis. A mother’s joy, and anger, was something he was surprised the Bureau of Communications hadn’t attempted to harness for some form of instantaneous communications across infinite range.

A chime from his office door interrupted his chain of thoughts and he dropped his hand from his collar before voicing “Enter.” The XO’s office wasn’t terribly large aboard Atlantis, but it sufficed. It’s proximity to the bridge afforded him a mixture of formality as well as a more relaxed air when dealing with the crew that the Ready Room just didn’t have. And the starboard windows offered him a decent enough view.

Lieutenant T’Val stepped in just far enough for the door to close, her hands clasped behind her back. “Commander, we are five minutes from disengaging warp drive and proceeding to Trent at impulse. System Control has already assigned us vectors and an orbit.”

“Very good Lieutenant,” he said. Then after she didn’t move or say anything, looked at her quizzically for a moment. “Was there anything else Lieutenant?”

“I was under the impression sir you wanted to be present on the bridge when we arrive in orbit to oversee berthing the ship for repairs.”

“Ah…yes I do Lieutenant. Please call me when we achieve orbit. I’m certain you and your crew are more than able to see us safely to orbit in a friendly system. If that’s all then,” he waited for a confirmatory nod, “your dismissed Lieutenant.”

“Don’t you think,” the voice in her ear said quietly and clearly with an edge of exasperation to it, “you’ve demonstrated quite clearly your skillset already?”

It was hard to voice a response when under a six-gee load, the fighter’s inertial compensators struggling with the excessive load Tikva was placing upon the craft in the insane turns she was taking. A klaxon started to sound, a structural limits warning, but she ignored it, weaving through the asteroid debris, chasing down her prey.

The prey in this situation was another of her own crew, Ensign Samuel Carmichael, flying the same model of craft as herself. He’d been the one to organise the top gun competition over the last three days, he’d been the one to come forward to his Captain even and ask her to fly. And while she’d kindly declined, it didn’t take long for the rumour mill to deliver news of the young Ensign’s cocky attitude after her refusal.

Yah, she’d likely been played by an Ensign to eventual capitulate and compete, but he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice if she could help it.

“Hold still…” she squeezed out between clenched teeth, struggling to keep his fighter in her cross hairs, for the sensors to gain the weapons lock she so desperately needed. Tone on, tone off, tone on again. She had to give it to him, he could fly.

Tone, steady, lock and she fired, the microtorpedo racing out and chasing Carmichael’s fighter, exploding harmlessly on a rock he flung his fighter around at a reckless speed.

“Tikva,” came the voice again, that lovely, calming voice. “If you’re determined to win this, fly smarter, not harder.”

Now that’s an idea.

Chase! Crush! Conquer!

Oh joy…

She turned the opposite way to the Ensign, loosing contact, opening distance and essentially resetting the furball they’d been in, letting Carmichael go to catch his breath. But more importantly, to let herself catch her breath, to recover from minutes of high gee loads, positive and negative. Warning klaxons still warbled in the cockpit of the Valkyrie, protesting her treatment of the craft. Structural stress, compensators pushed to their limits, indicators the pilot was pushed to her limits.

“Come out, come out Ensign, I’m not going to hurt you,” she uttered to herself as she began to prowl the asteroid field for her prey.

“And so, this is something your people do for fun?” asked Captain Telrin Gulamin, the commander of the Celmaru, who had come aboard ship a few hours ago, along with a few of his officers, to watch the Top Gun finals. He was perhaps the most physically imposing specimen of his species that Adelinde had encountered, nearly matching her height.

“This is something that particularly resonates with pilots it would seem. And those who seem to pursue the command track within Starfleet. It’s a ritualised method for establishing skill and capability.” Admittedly, she was in the process of organise a martial arts tournament for the crew herself, so couldn’t entirely put down a dogfight. But she could still grumble at Tikva’s insistence on getting played by an Ensign to compete, or her unwillingness to settle for anything less then complete dominance of prey.

While the competition was simulated on holodecks one and two, three had been given over to spectators. A spherical space in the middle represented the asteroid field that this particular round was being fought in, with a blip for each fighter. Seats and chairs had been created for people to sit at and watch, while other spectators had ordered up holographic screens showing details of the craft in action, or ‘pilot’s eye views’.

“Ah…it’s a display of prowess, to demonstrate one’s capability to their peers. I don’t mean to pry, but does this also perhaps play into some mating rituals?”

“Some,” she responded, recalling the bragging of flight officers when she was at the Academy. She recalled her thinking them an arrogant breed, but then admonished herself, knowing full well that arrogance wasn’t just limited to pilots, but to a large number of people at the Academy. “While this itself wouldn’t really be part of any sort of courtship, it is a fact that may be raised during such, to try and convince someone of your suitability, attempting to conflate skill as a pilot with other skillsets.”

“Ah…yes yes, now I understand. Much like anyone who makes claims that one of their skills indicates their fitness for mating, when really the skill is at best tangential,” Telrin said, nodding to himself. “Much like sports stars after a game, or highly respected academics at conference parties. Tell me though, your Captain has already achieved a place of social prominence, she clearly doesn’t need to compete, so why does she?”

“Pride. After politely refusing, Ensign Carmichael had started rumours implying the captain was perhaps a little rusty. Nothing direct of course.” She watched Telrin nod in understanding. “She couldn’t let that stand, so she entered the competition to demonstrate that she wasn’t lacking in her skills. Which she suitably demonstrated awhile back and therefore could have taken a graceful exit to let the crew enjoy the competition.”

“So as to not wound their pride?”

“Something like that. It’s why I’m not entering the martial arts competition that will be taking place while Atlantis is under repairs. I don’t need to demonstrate my skill set, nor do I feel I need to show it off. The crew see it often enough. You and your crew are welcome to come and observe that as well.”

“Oh, now that does sound interesting! I shall make all efforts. Oh,” Telrin pointed to the holosphere as action broke out once more. “The young Ensign does seem to be in trouble now.”

The second furball was rapidly descending into a disaster for both pilots as they’d sunk close to the middle of the arena where more debris clustered, making the space a far, far more interesting field of combat. Shield strikes were becoming common as small rocks pinged off each ship, or debris from two torpedoes Tikva had fired without a proper lock and pulverized an asteroid. Finally, she had tone lock and when she thumbed the trigger, nothing happened, save for a delightful little tone informing her of no more torpedoes.

Which she knew was bullshit. She had four more of the little bastards, but something had finally broken with her craft. She switched the phasers and fired, tracing orange light across Carmichael’s aft shields, then rock as he moved, then shields again, more rock. It wasn’t enough to break through, it wasn’t enough to even stress the shields each hit. It would take minutes of such light fire to do real damage.

Then an idea came to mind. An evil little grin on her face and she chuckled briefly before ordering the fighter’s loyal little computer minion brain to give her more power to the engines. She closed, inching then surging forward, bobbing and weaving, turning and banking to close the distance with Carmichael’s fighter. She just needed a few hundred more meters.

A new tone sounded, different from weapons lock and the computer intoned in its calm voice “Tractor beam lock achieved.” The blue light emanated from under the fighter and she threw the craft into a reckless high gee turn, wildly pulling on Carmichael’s craft with barely any warning, adding a new stressor that would be applied to his craft.

Both vessels bucked and fought, their engines applying different thrust vectors, tethered by the tractor beam. “Warning! Structural overload! Engine overload!”

“Shut it!” she barked at the computer, continuing to wrestle with the craft. She just needed Carmichael to focus for a few moments more on escape, not on flying…a few moments more…

And then she shot away, skimming an asteroid’s surface with abandon as the tractor beam had turned itself off, the subject it held onto having ceased to be.

“Ensign Carmichael has been eliminated,” a booming voice announced, not just to herself, but to the observers in holodeck three, and Carmichael as his own simulation ended. “Hostile controlled flight into terrain,” the announcer said, confusion in their voice as they made up the reason for elimination. “That means ladies and gentlemen, your first ever Atlantis Top Gun is none other than the Cap herself!”

Four Forward was not the place for running a gaming session today, especially at this time, but that didn’t stop the Regulars from congregating there as a group. At their table. At their normal time. It had seemed the crew had just started to realise that at given times, two of the tables where just to be pushed together and reserved for one large group of colleagues.

A sort of collective unconscious recognition of established natural laws.

“Well, would you look at that,” Jessica as she looked past Matt and out the windows at the front of the ship. This had the effect of drawing everyone’s attention to the blue and green marble that was now sliding into view as the ship made a final course change on its approach to Trent. This also allowed her the chance to dart out a hand and steal the last slice of people on the platter before someone else tried.

“I mean, it’s no Vega,” Chuck intoned, “or Earth really.”

“No, but it’s still beautiful, and to it’s citizens, Earth is no Trent,” Wy’run countered.

“Yah, fair,” Chuck responded, then sighed when his attention returned to the table, the missing pizza and the sly grin and wink from Jessica as she was eating the slice. “Really?”

“What? I’m hungry. I had an exhausting day,” she countered.

Nerys snorted over her beer. “You entered as a lark and got knocked out by Shven within two minutes. Hardly exhausting.”

“Thank you very much, but I was observing after that. I tell you it was nerve wracking.” Jessica stuffed the slice into her mouth to free a hand, then waved at her face like a fainting lady, before pulling the pizza away, triumphantly chewing away. It was not exactly the dainty lady impression she had hoped for, but it worked well enough.

“Hey Chuck,” Hito spoke up as he arrived at the table finally, a few beers in hand for a couple of the members, “We’re going to be busy for the next few days. Commander Velan just put out the refit schedule. We’re scheduled for exterior work.” His gaze then went to Matt. “Sorry mate, won’t be able to make gaming tomorrow, or for the whole week really.”

“Ah, it’s okay. I figured shore leave here is going to be like a big holiday where no one is around,” Matt said with resignation. Then he chirped up with a smile that took over his whole face. “Besides, Kelly and I are looking at getting off ship for a week.”

That was meant with a round of ‘ooooh’ and ‘awww’ from the table, some gentle gibs from the guys and a singular warning from Nerys. “You hurt Kelly and I’ll break your fingers.”

“Yah, after Kelly breaks him,” Chuck tossed in, earning him a glare from the only Bajoran in the group. “What? It’s true though right?”

The glare didn’t end, just kept smouldering until Chuck offered a meek apology for insulting Nerys’ roommate.

The whistle of an all-ship’s intercom brought quiet to the entire packed Four Forward, then the Commander’s voice filled every compartment of the Atlantis.

“All hands, this is the Commander,” he started with the traditional and wholly unneeded introductions. “Welcome to Trent. Shore leave rosters will be with your department heads in the hour, first away parties can commence beaming down at 0800. Engineering teams, sorry folks, but we’re due for the docking slip at 0600. We’ll make sure you all get leave before we leave though. Bridge out.”