Natalie Harris had taken a long shower after being seen in sickbay. She’d felt her muscles loosening and her stress slowly leaving her shoulders as she scrubbed, washed, and cleaned. It was something Harris had told her about the Mackenzie – there were a few water-based showers and bathtubs on the ship. The memories of the experience of coming to the Delta Quadrant, however, were still with her. You couldn’t wash those away. They remained entrenched and would take time to remove. She’s been assigned quarters down the hall from her brother, and she stood in the massive apartment as she adjusted her cadet uniform. Ambrose had made the decision to field assign her to the USS Mackenzie. Partially because she was an engineer in mind and heart together with she had traveled with the Harris cousins. She knew as much as anyone about what had happened…and what was going to happen.
The door chime trilled, and she called out, “Uh…enter?”
Jordan Reid entered and gave her a light hug, “You look better, Cadet Harris.”
Natalie smiled weakly, “It feels odd to be in a uniform…but it feels good too? It feels good to be clean. The smell of transport life isn’t for me.” She waited as Reid slipped out her medical tricorder and took her readings. “Please tell me it looks better. I need better today.”
Reid gave her a comforting smile, “You’re plenty better, Cadet. You’ll need to do a check-in with me later tonight, but you’re fit for duty. The captain asked for you on the bridge.”
Harris chewed on her bottom lip, “How does this work? My brother is the captain…I’m just used to calling him Amb.”
“Start with Captain. It may feel weird to call him sir. He’ll help you with it as you go.” They talked for a little while before Natalie asked her to walk her to the bridge. Jordan led her on the way.
Bridge – 0945
The doors opened to an active bridge, and Natalie felt her mouth drop open. It was incredible and different from anything she had seen before – an Excelsior II class ship was the biggest thing she’d stepped foot on. The consoles glowed while various officers worked on and together. Her brother turned in his chair and jumped up to meet her at the turbolift.
“Welcome to the bridge, Cadet Natalie Harris.” He extended his hand with a wink, and she gingerly shook his hand, feeling awkward and in awe at the same time. Ponting to a station beside Okada, he said, “Our assistant chief engineer is out on injuries, and Chief Katsumi could use an extra set of eyes. You’ve been entered into the computer with access restricted to Cadet level.”
She felt the warmth from the XO’s smile as she turned in her station. She thanked her brother, “Thank you, A…Captain.” He returned to the center chair, and she found her seat next to the Chief Engineer. She waited for a beat before whispering, “What do I do?”
Okada pointed at the console, “Sign in to the LCARS. It’s set to respond biologically to you.” She waited and watched as Natalie awkwardly tapped at the glass, and the computer recognized her, displaying her name.
=^=Welcome to the USS Mackenzie, Cadet Harris. First sign-on complete. You may begin.=^= She tapped once more at the console, and the engineering LCARS displayed master situations monitors, power levels, and various other statuses and commands. She was in wonder, “Wow. This is…is amazing. Our transport systems are nowhere near this smooth.”
Katsumi chuckled, “Well, we’ve got an aesthetic in Starfleet. LCARS have always had a feel. Lots changed, but lots stayed the same.”
Harris glanced over the PADD and turned to Fowler, “What have we found with the Hazari shuttle?”
She took a deep drink from the coffee she held in her hand as she turned in her station to face her CO, “It went where they said it went. The interesting thing is, it didn’t follow the same path as the other ship.” She took another long pull from her cup and put it aside as she tapped the console, bringing the report up on the main viewscreen, “Using the sensor readings, they gathered together with what we could reconstruct. It was headed towards the original track but then here,” she tapped, and the image zoomed in on the map, “it suddenly shifted in another direction. They tracked it until the signal faded. Our scans turned up something similar.” She hit another keypad, “Something else. The Hazari have voice recorders installed in their ships that transmit data packets every half hour or so. They wouldn’t tell me why, but I suspect it has to do with making sure everyone’s holding to the contract and whatever else. You can’t just turn it off or disable it. To get the thing shut down, you have to take apart the entire ship to the bones…their words.”
Prentice had been listening and chuckled, “They do not mess around.”
Harris agreed, “The more I learn about the Hazari, the more I want to steer clear of anything beyond waving as we pass by quickly, having gathered all our lost and found people.” He returned his attention to Fowler, who had refilled her coffee in the interim, “I’m guessing you got some audio?”
Sadie took a long drink from her cup and nodded, “Yessir. It’s hard to hear as he was getting farther and farther away, but as far as my team and I can extrapolate – he got a message from someone and took a hard turn in response to that message.”
Okada was working with Natalie on her console and turned to the CO, “So both of them are now deep in Devore space.”
Kondo rumbled from his seat, “A place that tested our defenses as an opening act.” He shook his head, “Captain, I do not recommend we take the Mackenzie into Devore space. We are a significant target.”
Ambrose felt he was starting to agree with his chief tactical officer, “Even if we take the Mackenzie in, we’d have to clear our course with them…and we don’t know where, past a certain point, either of those ships went. Couple that with their habit of boarding, impounding, and whatever else…I’m inclined to agree. Thoughts?” He turned to his senior staff on the bridge.
Cardamon was deep in thought as he sat next to the captain. “Devore space is a risky endeavor on a good day.” He glanced around the room, “You bested them once only because they were just playing with you. I’ve seen them when they’re done playing. A smaller profile might be able to slip around the nets they would spring on us.”
Atega joined in the conversation, “I did some reading on our shuttle loadout. Don’t we have at least one New Atlantic-class runabout?”
Okada smiled, “Two. I used a few favors up.”
The communications chief shrugged, “They’re big enough…and small enough.”
The CO thought for a moment before deciding, “Well, it’s the best idea so far. Chief Okada, get your team working on prepping both ships ready for launch. Have them equipped for search and rescue. Cadet Harris, you’re with the XO. Kondo – work with engineering to make sure shields and weapons on those ships are operating well. Mr. Tir – you’re on securing the Mackenzie from another incursion in case they decide to come find us. Let’s get to work.”