Two days at high warp, two days of same old, same old for one Charles MacIntyre. Wake up, study course material for an hour, hit the gym and listen to a lecture for another hour. Breakfast in the Agora, the name which had won the captain’s approval for the ship’s common lounge. A swing by his very own office to check for critical messages, download reports to his padd and then to the bridge to take over Beta watch. But as he stepped out on the bridge, expecting to see someone, anyone really sitting in the centre seat, he saw no one.
Ensign Carmichael was at the helm keeping the ship on course, but even then all he was really doing was monitoring the auto-pilot. They’d be cruising for days and someone at the helm was really there only in case they hit speed bump along the way. Rrr was next to Carmichael at Ops at least and in fact the most senior officer he could see. Of the two. Two officers on the bridge during Alpha shift.
Whoever the captain had left in charge was about to rue the day they lost track of the time and let him see this. Then more so for even letting it happen in the first place.
“Ohh! Come on, come on! Dammit!” came a cry from the mission ops bay, a handful of cheers opposing it and Mac at least had an answer for where everyone was. One more sip of his coffee before he went to investigate, one last taste of joy before he ruined his own day by growling at someone.
What he wasn’t expecting to see was the entire rest of the bridge crew, the captain included, watching something on the rear monitor. Everyone was at a duty station at least, he could see even reconfigured for their assigned tasks, save for Tikva who was closest to him, leaning against one of the pillars that flanked the step down. Ensign Trel, the current engineering bridge duty officer, had his face in his hands, lamenting a loss of some description, Lieutenant W’a’le’ki patting him on the back.
The monitor was showing a black field with a mixture of red and blue symbols on it, moving around the screen at speed. The blue symbols all had names under them, names he recognised from the old crew, while the red symbols were simply listed as Bogey and an appending number. The red symbols, it took but a moment to verify, outnumbered the blue by four to five.
“Kelly, behind you!” came a voice from the monitor, a little symbol next to one of the symbols telling him who spoke, the one labelled Shven. A crew of nearly a thousand and there was only one Kelly and one Shven amongst them.
“Then get him off of me,” came Kelly’s irritated response and the symbol with her name started weaving rapidly side to side, a number beside it rising and falling just as quickly and erratically.
“What’s going on?” he finally asked quietly as he stepped down beside his captain, using his chin to indicate the monitor.
“You know how I talked about my vintage flight program for the holodeck?” she asked, waiting to continue till he nodded after rifling through his own memories real quick. “I goofed and put it in a public directory. Looks like some of the crew found it and have been having some fun with it.”
He nodded, bidded time with another sip of coffee. “And everyone is back here watching this because?”
“Because I was curious when ten people went in at once to play, so I added some aggressor fighters. Then people came to report throughout the shift and migrated their work back here.” She smiled and held up her hands guiltily. “I know, I know, I shouldn’t have let it happen, but I have. I think Rrr’s taken the time anyway to ease Carmichael’s nerves. Kid’s a wreck whenever he’s at the helm.”
“That’s because he’s next to you and flying a starship bigger than anything he’s ever even been near before,” he found himself saying without thinking. “Who’s winning anyway?”
“Shven, Kelly Tabaaha, Matt Williams and Jamie De León are still in the air. Matt’s been hit with gun fire and is trying to bug out,” she pointed at a symbol trying to flee the melee of the others. “The others are trying to buy him time before doing the same. Their thinking is to return to base and hope something there will defend them.”
“Will it?” he asked.
“I’m not cruel. Just mean.” Tikva pointed at a console that was empty, the displays showing a variety of menus for controlling a holodeck program. “SAM sites around the base will fire on the bogeys if they get too close. But those bogeys do outnumber them and they’re hobbled by trying to protect a wounded bird.”
“So Starfleet officers then,” he added, scooting past Tikva to the console, eyes glancing over the menus. “You sent fifteen fighters against them originally? And this says they’re on the lowest difficulty setting.”
“They’ve only had a few hoursss of practissseee at mossst,” W’a’le’ki said in Tikva’s defence, her sibilate tone soft, but always rattling Mac’s primate brain. Or the young boy who ran into a snake in the forest one day that left quite the impression that he still carried with him. “A two three ratio down to four five isss impressssssive yesss?” she asked, turning to Tikva.
“I’d call it three five with Matt out of the picture which is technically worse then when they…”
Tikv was interrupted by more comms chatter. “Kelly, dive for the ground!” came Jamie’s sudden cry over the comm feed, their icons racing right towards each other, the red dot chasing Kelly still there.
No reply came before what he in his infinite wisdom had deduced was an altitude figure started to drop on Kelly’s icon rather rapidly and breathing could be heard over the comms.
“Guns!” Jamie shouted over the comms as his icon raced headlong for the enemy that had chased Kelly’s, the red silhouette disappearing. “Shit!” came his surprised cry right afterwards. “Dammit! I’ve lost both engines. Controls dead.”
“Get out,” Shven commanded, his tone calm and cool. Looking at the other names the program was keeping track of, Mac noted that only Shven was an actual pilot amongst them all. Even then an air-breather was different to an aerospace fighter, but perhaps there was something to a universal pilot mentality? Sounded to him like a discussion for later with Gavin over a beer.
Soon enough Jamie’s icon disappeared off the display as well. “I see a chute,” Jamie announced. “Shit Shven, it’s just us against four of them.”
“Two on four. Not terribly, not great,” the andorian replied.
“I think,” Tikva said with a wry smile, “that some of you are going to have to enter the talent contest after all.” Then she turned on him and gave him that look that he knew meant trouble. “When Mac gets around to organise one.”
“Oh no, I’m not doing that,” he laughed. “You people started betting on some talent contest, not me. And besides, some of us have real work to do.” He could hear the turbolift doors open, a number of footfalls afterwards as the rest of Beta shift started to arrive, expecting to find their colleagues for hand over briefings and instead finding what he did – a near empty bridge. He shook his head and climbed the two steps and waved his people to their proper stations before stepping backwards next to his captain. “Maybe next time watch from the conference room?”
“Who are you and what have you done with my first officer?” she asked in jest, handing over the keys to the ship after giving them a shake for all to hear. “You have the conn XO.”
“I have the…”
“Someone call for a doctor?” came a voice over the comms that got Mac’s attention, turning to see a new silhouette on the screen labelled ‘Pisani’ racing past Matt’s limping icon. While the others had been manoeuvring for gun runs in those ancient air-breathing deathtraps, Pisani’s immediately blossomed in smaller icons, racing for a couple of the bogeys, then another set of tracks two seconds after the first ones, chasing the same targets. One was wiped out by the first missile, the second evaded the first but died on the second. Now it was three against two.
“Oh, now it’s interesting that Doctor Pisani is involved?” Tikva teased, noting his failure to depart.
“Oh shut up,” he whispered to her.
The fight, the chatter, it was all hectic but Mac quickly gathered that while Shven might have had some skill and training overlap, likely more a mindset thing, and Kelly was entirely new at this but with some natural talent perhaps, Blake Pisani knew what she was doing for some reason. Less than two minutes later the last two bogeys had been destroyed and the survivors were all patting themselves on the back over comms, Blake offering to show them some tricks.
The officers present on the bridge however all looked at Tikva, smiling, their faces slightly down when he arrived totally reversed. “I think that means you’ve got to enter the talent show now captain,” Trel said, smiling like a kid who just raided the candy store.
“I believe Ensign, that Doctor Pisani was not part of the original bet,” Tikva said. “Without her unexpected intervention, they’d have all been shot down, I’d wager.”
“How about,” Mac interrupted, “we call it a draw and everyone here enters the talent competition, which now I’ll happily organise because I mean everyone.” His wicked smile turned on his captain and he waited for her to concede the point. “You should all know your captain has a lovely singing voice” With that he finally left the ops bay and circled around the arch for the centre chair.
“Lieutenant Petrov,” he addressed the man taking over the helm from Carmichael, “care to update me on our course and speed?”
“Aye sir,” the young lieutenant spoke up, Carmichael stepping away as quickly as he could. “We’re on course for Daloon and holding at warp nine point five one six. We’ll be crossing the border in three hours thirteen minutes sir.”
“Excellent. Lieutenant Michaels,” he said to Samantha at Ops, Rrr long gone by now. “Let’s keep an eye out for anything suspicious shall we? And perhaps we can be professionals unlike those layabouts on Alpha shift.”
“Aye sir!” came a ringing endorsement as he could hear everyone filing off the bridge behind him. He wouldn’t give Tikva the courtesy of watching her leave, smiling to himself like an idiot.