“… and this really is the perfect opportunity.”
To say that Henry Mitchell could act like a child in times of hardship was perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but in this one instance it was almost believable. In fact, if he waved his arms around any more than he was, he’d probably look like a deranged psychopath and be admitted to sickbay for medical examination.
“Come on boss,” the young pilot pleaded with his superior as he followed the Trill Commander along the corridor and towards holodeck one, “there has to be some kind of mistake?” He was trying desperately to take advantage of the fact that he had previously served with the Commander aboard the Adriatic, but failing miserably in the process.
“No mistake this time,” Commander Giarvar Kauhn shook his head in mild amusement at the irritation and discomfort the flyboy felt about the situation he was in. “The Commandant was pretty clear,” the Trill reminded the younger man, taking great pleasure in doing so.
“Someone at the Academy fouled up and there was a miscalculation on your grade for the survival course. Now, if you don’t want to carry on as the flight operations chief here, that’s fine. I can send you back to the Academy and you can resit the course there,” the Trill warned his much younger colleague as he came to a halt, a stern expression on his spotted face. “Or, you can quit moaning and make the most of the opportunity they’ve given you and fix the mess here, with your colleagues,” a raised eyebrow accompanied the arm folding and suggested that he was far from amused at the bellyaching from the pilot.
“Ugh! Fine,” the flyboy pouted, leaning against the wall outside the main holodeck, “but surely the Captain will want to get underway soon? I’d hate to interfere with her plans,” the hope in the Terran’s voice was enough to cause the Intrepid’s XO to shake his head and turn to face the holodeck controls.
“Nice try,” Giarvar smirked, “but the Captain has indicated she plans for us to remain on station until you’ve done this test. Something about not being able to traverse the expanse without you,” the Trill lied in a bid to appease his much younger friend.
“Really? She said that?” the gullible pilot grinned, folding his arms across his chest. “I guess she’s right… I am the best pilot on the ship, afterall…”
“HEY!” a frustrated voice from nearby chastised the man in command red, frowning as she approached the two and slid to a halt.
“Teanne?” the flyboy looked confused, “what are you doing here?”
“Well, we’re not exactly going anywhere right now, so the Commander thought you could use a little help,” the beautiful brunette assistant in Henry’s department smiled, “though I don’t know what help I could be to the best pilot on the ship.”
The scolding was probably more painful than if it had been hot water poured from a kettle., but Henry felt the need to swiftly make recompense for his words. “I didn’t mean it,” he retorted swiftly, retracting his statement in earnest at the offer of assistance. If it meant he didn’t have to do this alone, he’d do anything.
“Ummhmm,” the Betazoid frowned, “you know I can tell when you are lying, right?”
“Of course,” Henry grinned, a bare faced lie if ever he had told one. “Alright Commander, I’ll do it. Let’s get it over with.”
Teanne and the Commander shared a look of mock exasperation with the flyboy, then the ship’s XO passed the flight operations chief the data PADD he had been clutching. “Here are the requirements and your situational briefing. I’ll be observing from holodeck two, so make sure you make it a good show…” the Commander grinned, slapping the younger man on the shoulder and striding away at speed.
Watching the XO stride away, the Flight Operations officer suddenly felt a wave of unease come over him.
“Don’t worry, Chief!” Teanne grinned as she made a move towards the holodeck entrance. “I’m sure whatever it is, the best pilot aboard can deal with it,” she added.
“Hey!” Henry grimaced as he gave chase, “I said I didn’t mean it…”
Mitchell was forced to pause his command to the holodeck computer as the magnetic locks on the holodeck doors parted and the doors opened to reveal two more officers. Waltzing into the room in near lockstep, the two officers in operations gold waved at the Lieutenant on their approach.
“Hey there, Chief!” the tall Andorian male Ashrin Th’killen smiled as they came to a halt. “Leela and I were bored and heard about your little academy disaster, so I thought it would be a great idea to drag her down here and laugh at your misfortune together,” the cocky tactician grinned, folding his arms across his muscular chest.
“Actually,” Leela Bakshi, the Terran assistant engineer threw her hands up in protest, “I was perfectly happy in the mess hall.”
“Laugh all you like,” Henry smirked sarcastically, tapping the nearby control panel, “but you’re here now, so you’re involved. Computer,” he barked before either newcomer could protest, “initiate program.”
Leela turned and scowled at Ashrin and shook her head in disgust. This was not part of her plan for the rest of her off time.
At the behest of the flight controller, the holodeck grid swiftly disappeared and was replaced by the cramped cockpit of one of the familiar Type-12 shuttlecraft, with alarms beeping and controls flashing.
“Well, ain’t this cosy?!” Ashrin joked as the four officers sept into action. Udraa and her senior officer dove into the pilots’ chairs at the front of the cockpit while their yellow-shirted companions stood at the aft controls. Each tried to ascertain the developing situation they were faced with. And it was not looking good.
“We’ve got a distress beacon…” Udraa told from the co-pilots seat, “heading three-one-mark-two-one-one.”
“According to sensors, it’s the glaciated P-class planetoid… Olea,” Ashrin chimed in with his report. “There’s a Starfleet research outpost on the northern continent, but sensors are struggling to get any readings.”
“It’s the weather system down there,” Leela interrupted from the other side of the cabin, “there’s a storm front approaching the facility. Looking at the concentration down there, we’re going to struggle to get a probe down there, let alone a transporter signal or communications.”
“We’ll have to land and check it out. Teanne, set a course and engage at best possible speed.. Leela, monitor the weather front and let me know if anything changes. Ashrin, break out the supplies,” Henry directed as he sat back in his chair and picked up a data PADD to begin recording the details of the events.
It wasn’t long before the shuttlecraft began to descend into the planet’s atmosphere, only to be bumped and jostled by the trailing edge of the weather front.
“It’s only getting worse down there,” Leela declared, “we’re never going to be able to land close enough.”
“Visibility out there is shock…”
Out of nowhere, the shuttle and its occupants were tossed to starboard, computer consoles sparking and a gaseous substance spewing from the aft bulkhead.
Struggling back to his seat, the senior-most officer in the away team took over what limited controls he could muster and tried his best to steady the auxiliary craft. “We’re going down! Brace yourselves,” he called out to no one in particular, unable to even look around and ascertain if anyone else was alive. According to what functioning sensors remained, the ship had taken a sudden impact on the port side of her nose and had been sent into a spin towards the planet’s surface.
In mere moments, the shuttle nosedived into the planet’s surface before bouncing and sliding violently to a stop courtesy of a mountain rock face. For the time being at least, silence and darkness engulfed the cabin.
Crossing the threshold to holodeck two, a tall Vulcan woman in command red seemed to glide effortlessly into position next to her executive officer, who was so engrossed in what he was watching that he hadn’t even heard the Captain enter the room.
“Status report, Commander?” the Vulcan requested, coming to a halt beside her executive, hands clasped together behind her back.
“They’ve just crashed into the mountain pass,” Kauhn revealed, without so much as taking his eyes off the console he was observing. “They’ve been out for about five… wait, there’s movement…”
Inching closer to her executive officer, the Captain peered down at the console and began to watch with a great sense of interest.
Clambering to his feet somewhat awkwardly, Lieutenant Mitchell used the backrest of his chair to steady himself long enough to shake away the fuzziness he was feeling. When his eyes had focussed at last, he could see his colleagues stumbling to their feet.
“Power’s offline,” Leela winced through the pain she was feeling, leaning against the dead aft console for support.
“I’ve managed to find four coats and a medkit. Other than that, its phasers and food rations,” Ashrin frowned, dragging the belongings to the cockpit. “It’s almost as if someone wanted us to die out here,” his antennae bobbing at the obvious reference to the people who had planned the simulation.
“Well, I can’t get through to the Intrepid,” Udraa moaned as she joined the team in the aft compartment, “we’re on our own from here.”
With that, the three juniors looked towards the mission leader for guidance. Henry, to his credit, was already on with planning his next move. Looking at a tricorder he had managed to grab from the wall panel, he was busy determining a course of action.
“We’ve crashed into the bottom of a valley, about a day and a half walk from the outpost,” the flight controller reported, “since we can’t get in touch with the ship, and communications with the station were non-existent before that, we have no choice. Grab a coat, a phaser, and some rations each,” he instructed, picking up one of the cold weather coats.
“It’s time to get walking.”
Holodeck two had become a hive of activity as news of the ‘away team’’s perilous situation had spread across the ship. T’Prynn and her XO had been joined by several other members of the senior staff who had been off duty, with the Chief Medical Officer the last to arrive, carrying a number of hot beverages with him.
“What did I miss?” Josue asked as he handed out the cups of coffee to the gathered officers.
“According to the simulation chronometer, they’ve been walking for about eight hours,” Lieutenant Okan told, her gaze locked on the four figures fighting their way through the biting winds and swirling snow.
“Feels like I’ve been watching for eight hours…” Mayr Bellurr, the Terran-Klingon hybrid tactical officer frowned.
“Three hours, six minutes and fourteen seconds to be precise,” the Vulcan commander remarked, her trusty attention to detail failing to let her down yet again. “The simulation adapts to change their perception of time,” she added.
“Shush!” Giarvar barked, “they’re approaching the treeline.”
Trawling their way through the howling winds and the bitterly cold snow that encircled them, the away team had practically huddled together for warmth. Each had their hands on the person in front, ensuring they didn’t lose one another in the blizzard. It seemed like an eternity since they had last seen shelter (in the form of the shuttlecraft). But, just as all hope seemed lost, the flyboy narrowed his eyes and focused on something ahead of them. At first, it was unclear, but with each progressive step forward, he could make out a little more of what was to come.
“Treeline!” he hollered back at his team, willing them on with one last push to reach the threshold of safety. They were weak, struggling for breath and not having eaten in hours, but finally a sanctuary had presented itself in their hour of need.
Passing through the first trees, the team felt an instant relief from the blizzard they had come to know and hate. Snowfall had almost halved thanks to the canopy above, but what snow did make it through continued to pelt their bitterly cold skin. Only Ashrin felt any kind of comfort from the surroundings, but even to a native of Andor, the blizzard had been freezing.
Continuing on, and fighting their way through the forest, the team happened upon a clearing of sorts, made by fallen trees.
“Judging by the splinters protruding from the break point,” Leela began as the team come to a halt and composed themselves, “I’d wager something big has knocked these down.”
Henry stepped up and removed the glove on his right hand, carefully running his hand across the tree bark. “The lack of any rot on the wood suggests it happened recently.”
“Maybe it’s not safe to stay here?” the tension in her voice betrayed the anxiousness Teanne was feeling as she glanced around their surroundings, phaser gripped tightly in her palm.
“We have no choice,” Henry shook his head in response to his departmental colleague. “Ashrin, Teanne; gather some dry wood if you can. Leela, you and I will make a camp. We’ll start a fire and get some rest. You lot take the time to get something to eat and I’ll take first watch,” the Lieutenant instructed his junior colleagues.
Giving everyone something positive to focus on would be essential in the coming hours. He had to keep them going, keep them safe. Especially as they settled down for the night and he gladly watched over them. They were his priority, just as much as the people in the outpost were, if not more so.
Several hours later, a piercing shrill echoed its way through the forest clearing, startling all awake and causing them to sit bolt upright, including the Lieutenant, who had seemingly succumbed to exhaustion and got a few hours of rest himself.
“What was that?!” Teanne asked, grasping for her phaser, hands shaking in fear.
“No idea,” Henry remarked, grabbing for his tricorder. “I’m not detecting any life signs out there.”
“It’s possible that the indigenous of this world have adapted their lifesigns to be masked by the raging storm,” the Andorian tactical officer remarked, offering his words of wisdom to the group. It was enough to stir Henry on.
“We’re not far from the outpost, and the storm seems to be dying down. Sooner we can get there, sooner we can get off this rock,” he advised the team, reaching for the rest of his belongings. Soon, they were all on their feet, resuming their trek towards the outpost.
Indeed, it wasn’t long into their resumption of their journey that the snow slowed to a slight flurry, and the sun crept out from behind the clouds that had previously obscured it. With the rising temperature came the rising hope that the away team would locate the researchers and return them to the ship.
A blood spattered door with three large indentations that could only be described as some form of claw marks soon put paid to any hope the team might have had. Drawing their phasers from their holsters, the four Starfleet officers moved into a standard search pattern and formation. As the tactical officer on this particular mission, Ashrin Th’killen took the lead, followed closely by their team leader. Teanne followed the two men inside next, while Leela Bakshi pulled up the rear, making sure nothing took them by surprise from behind as they entered the dark facility.
An eerie sense of foreboding overcame the team with each step they took inside the seemingly abandoned facility. Their presence did nothing to wake the apparently dormant systems; no lighting activated, no security systems declared their presence. Nothing but the odd flicker of seemingly damaged consoles nearby.
With a wave of his phaser-wielding hand, the Lieutenant dispatched the group’s engineer to take a look at the facility systems, and then ordered his security officer and command counterpart to scout the nearby area. To say that he was anxious about the source of the bloody marks on the door was an understatement, but there were other matters that he had to consider, such as the…
“Lieutenant!” the Andorian security officer called out from behind a partial bulkhead, “you’re going to want to see this.”
Swiftly making his way across the floor of the facility, Henry exchanged glances with Leela, before motioning for her to stay where she was, and to stay on task. Rounding the bulkhead a few seconds later, the sight before him caused his breath to catch in his throat. Three lifeless, mutilated bodies, piled in a corner, illuminated by the Ensign’s light beacons.
“I think we found the researchers…”
Shredded uniforms and identification pins in the pile seemed to back up the Ensign’s conclusion, certainly enough to satisfy the Lieutenant. “I don’t even want to consider what could have done this…”
In the midst of their conversation, the lights in the facility flickered on and consoles hummed into life again. “Hey, you did it Leela!” Henry called out, stepping around the bulkhead with Ashrin to look in Leela’s direction.
“It wasn’t too hard actually. All I did was realign… LOOK OUT!”
Out of nowhere, a roof panel above the two males in the team gave way and an enormous, cat like creature pounced from above, barrelling the two officers to the floor with a yelp as it landed. Trying their best to stand, a swipe of its tail sent Ashrin flying into the nearby bulkhead, the Andorian crumpling to the floor. Another swipe of its claws saw the Lieutenant scurry into safety behind the same console as Leela, the two emerging from cover to fire off three blasts of their hand phasers.
Despite taking the blasts to its upper torso, the beast kept coming. It loomed larger with each step, its growl magnified the closer it got. The two officers fired off their phasers repeatedly, each impact seemingly ineffective. Then, just as it reached out to swipe the heads clean off their shoulders, another phaser blast, this time from behind and at a much higher power setting given the change in noise, felled the beast.
When the cowering officers rose to their feet, their junior colleague stood proudly, hand on her hip and waving her hand phaser. “You might be the best pilot Lieutenant,” Teanne Udraa smiled, “but you clearly aren’t the best shot.”
“I’ll concede defeat…” Henry nodded, making his way to his feet and brushing his uniform down, “…just this once.”
A stirring Ashrin drew the attention of the three officers, each rushing over to their fallen comrade, just in time for the outpost around them to dematerialise and be replaced by the trademark orange lines of the holodeck. For a minute, the four officers looked at one another in a state of confusion, forgetting their ordeal had all been a simulation. Their confusion gave way quickly upon the sound of the holodeck doors opening, and the emergence of the XO and a number of officers.
“You survived then?” the ship’s scientist, Akaria Okan, quipped as they approached the team.
“That was the point,” Henry smirked.
“You nearly got my assistant killed,” the Chief Tactical Officer countered, a glare at the flight controller, before she, too, relented and smiled at the team.
“How long were we in there?” Ashrin queried, shaking his head in an effort to bring himself round from the impact of being flung against a bulkhead. Holographic or not, the pain felt real enough.
“Five hours, three minutes and sixteen seconds,” the familiar voice of their commanding officer answered, the Vulcan emerging from behind the small crowd that had gathered.
“Is that all?! Felt like days…”
“It would if you were in your company all that time…”
“Well?” Commander Kauhn queried, arms folded, glaring at the Lieutenant. “Are you going to ask or what?”
“Oh!” the sudden realisation of the whole point of the last five hours, three minutes and sixteen seconds dawned on the flyboy and he snapped to an ‘attention’ of sorts. “What is your verdict, sir?”
Dropping his arms, the Trill reeled off his mental notes. “You could have conceded piloting duties to your able assistant, to let yourself focus on the command side of the mission,” the XO began, “but you all survived the crash. You successfully navigated a snow blizzard and found safety in the form of a clearing in the forest. You, Lieutenant, fell asleep and put your team at risk,” the senior officer chided the man.
‘Well, this is going just great…‘ the Lieutenant chastised himself inwardly.
“But, again, you all survived and made it to the safety of the outpost,” the Commander continued, “where you swiftly reactivated power, located the scientists and got yourself into a brawl with a lochnar cat. Ultimately, it was the actions of your colleague which helped you survive on that occasion,” the Trill looked less than pleased, hands on his hips as he regarded all four of the team, but his gaze ultimately falling on the Lieutenant. “Lucky for you, the team survived, and that was the point of this exercise. Therefore, I’ll be recommending to the academy that they register you as having passed the course.”
“So… I won’t be kicked off the ship?” Henry asked, already truthfully knowing the answer.
“Not today, Lieutenant,” Captain T’Prynn shook her head, then took her leave from the holodeck, swiftly followed by some of the others.
“That’s disappointing… I was looking forward to carrying him off the ship…”
“I know, right?! Kicking and screaming and everything!”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys!” he waved after the departing officers, then looked back at the XO.
“You’ve got a lot to learn about command Henry,” Giarvar warned him, “but you have some excellent role models here.”
And with that, the XO nodded in appreciation to the Lieutenant’s colleagues, then slapped the flight controller on the back on his way to the door, leaving the flyboy and his away team to take stock.
“I owe you all,” Henry smiled to his team.
“And you can repay us in the form of drinks at the station bar!” Ashrin nodded, smiling as he put his arm around the Lieutenant.
“Now?!” Henry asked, looking sheepish at his team. In unison, the three Ensign’s nodded in confirmation that now was the time.
“Alright, let’s go…”
“Oooh! I do fancy a Romulan ale…”
“Isn’t that stuff illegal still?”
“We’ve been on a mission of survival with Henry Mitchell and lived to tell the tale. I think some illegal brew is the least of our worries…”
Their laughter slowly faded as the doors to the holodeck closed and left behind the tales of yet another trial faced by the best and brightest of Starfleet. At least for today.