The countdown had begun. On the holographic LCARS display projected from the curved workstation, numerals began to count down from ninety. In the systems monitor room, especially, the red and grey holo-interface was eye-catching in its brightness. Beyond the workstation and holograms, the cramped semi-circular compartment was only notable for the racks upon racks of isolinear chip arrays that controlled a mere fraction of the computer core’s FTL nano processors. Synchronised with the visual representation, the computer said aloud, “Ninety-second countdown has commenced. Eighty-nine, eighty-eight–“
Seated alone at the workstation, Lieutenant Junior Grade Szerda jolted in her chair at a hooting sound that transpired behind her.
“Oh! Whoa!” was the first thing Lieutenant Theroh hollered as soon as she set foot in the compartment. As soon as Szerda spun in her chair to see what was happening, what she could see was the way Theroh was struggling to set foot. Theroh tapped the heel of her left boot on the carpeted deck experimentally, but her weight never shifted onto that foot.
“Have I been drinking?” Theroh asked, presumably rhetorically.
Szerda clapped her hands together, her grey eyes widening at Theroh.
“Computer, halt,” was the first thing Szerda said and the countdown on the hologram stopped in response. Szerda’s eyes remained locked on Theroh all the while, and Szerda enthused, “I’m so sorry, lieutenant. I expected to be alone in here. I reduced the gravity to take a break.” To emphasize the point, Szerda tapped on a black metal band on her right arm; it was one component of the anti-gravity exoframe that offered the Elaysian greater mobility in the M-class gravity levels of the USS Olympic.
Theroh shook her head at Szerda. Szerda had observed there was something about the glassy impenetrability of Theroh’s eyes –or the shape of the cranial rides that indicated her Cardassian heritage– that twisted Theroh’s resting face into a haughty pout. Far more self-possessed, Draia stepped into the compartment with a deft stride.
“Don’t mind me,” Theroh said gruffly. “I’ve worked on a refuelling station so old, half the compartments were low-G. Only paying customers were entitled to gravity, the boss would say. Beyond the Federation, one isn’t assured a life of comfort.”
Szerda raised her brow ridges at Theroh in a puzzled expression. In her short time since joining the Olympic crew, Szerda had already heard about how Theroh had been raised on the Federation side of the DMZ, due to a twist of diplomacy in her youth. By no account had Theroh even lived through the fall of Cardassia firsthand. Despite her confusion, Szerda decided against questioning how often Theroh had lived without comfort, while Theroh settled into a chair beside her.
In the end, Theroh didn’t leave any room for inquisition from Szerda.
“When our Chief Operations Officer,” Theroh went on, indicating Szerda with a gesture, “announced she was planning a diagnostic shut-down of one of our computer cores, I assumed you would require the company of our Chief Engineer,” and she placed the flat of her palm over her own chest.
“I’m sorry,” Szerda said; “I didn’t think of you at all.” The twin computer cores of an Olympic-class starship ran in parallel clock sync with each other, providing absolute redundancy. The catastrophic shutdown of one computer core would, as designed, have no effect on starship operations because either core was capable of assuming the total primary computing load for the ship.
Theroh’s lips thinned as she squinted at Szerda. “Mightn’t it be overkill to crash a computer core? We have the power. Our warp core is any flight controller’s dream; it was designed for starships twice our size.”
Annikafiore Szerda’s personal log, supplemental: I’ve heard all the jokes before. Retreating at warp speed. Putting my career in full reverse. When awkward people don’t know how to make small talk, they treat you like your job is your entire personality. In requesting a transfer to the Olympic, I became a chief flight controller running from her life aboard the USS Sarek. No one understands why I gave up a state-of-the-art Sutherland-class starship to serve on the Olympic.
But it’s not the ship I’ll miss. The ship hardly matters. I gave up my best friend, Kellin Rayco. I gave up the show of Yuulik blowing up her life and department. I broke up with my boyfriend; to hell with long distance. Starship gravity is enough of a challenge for me. I don’t want to be tethered by subspace too.
“The computer cores haven’t been tested, pushed to their limits,” Szerda emphatically said, “since the new holography systems were installed.”
“I can assure you,” Theroh said, blinking twice, “every engineering diagnostic was run after the refit.”
Szerda returned her hands to the LCARS interface on the workstation. Despite her split attention, she said to Theroh, “The computer cores are impressive to keep up with the sheer coverage of sensor pallets across the sphere section and secondary hull. The cores are large, even for a larger starship. But the Olympic is nearly forty years old. She was never designed for ship-wide holographic interfaces.”
“They can handle the load,” Theroh said resolutely. “I joined the refit team in their final phase of the–“
“Take your ego out of it, lieutenant,” Szerda said. Although she didn’t physically roll her eyes, she was sure she sounded like it. “You could tell me you hand-crafted this deck using artisanal Gamma Quadrant duranium. Your word doesn’t mean anything as soon as I’m the one maneuvering a saucer section through a star’s corona to avoid the Devore.”
Shocking her own self with where that sentence ended, Szerda gasped softly under her breath. She kept her eyes locked on the LCARS frame ahead of her, avoiding Theroh’s gaze. It had been equal parts cathartic and embarrassing to unleash that anxiety in a torrent of words.
Clearly understanding that Szerda’s hypothetical had taken a turn for the literal, Theroh gently asked, “Did they… did they catch up to you?”
Maybe I am running. Maybe I am the proto-typical evasive pilot. I’m not too proud to admit the blood dilithium campaign was too much for me. Nune and Taes were basically possessed by ghosts. Ensign Laola was, too, when she tried to kill me. I stopped her from sabotaging the ship and she tried to crack my skull open in return. I remember it too well. My memory is eidetic. I just about put in a transfer to a garbage scow when the operations manager position became available on the Olympic. My predecessor here left the crew because the Olympic was too boring. Too slow. Thrusters only.
Szerda kept her eyes on her LCARS interface. She didn’t look at Theroh, when she said, “No. The Devore weren’t the greatest danger.”
Theroh remarked, “The Olympic wasn’t equipped for a mission in the delta quadrant, but we followed the reports closely from our twin sister in Sarek Squadron. The greatest danger was your telepaths then.”
Szerda nodded slowly.
In a hushed tone, Theroh asked, “Did that ensign really take a swing at you with a phase coil resonator?”
“Laola wasn’t the only–” Szerda started to say and then thought better of it.
All Szerda could hear was the soft hissing of the life support systems and the undertone rumble of the computer core all around them. It sounded like Theroh was holding her breath.
“Huh?” Theroh asked, plainly ignoring Szerda’s discomfited silence. “What were you going to say?”
I’m sure it looked like the perfect life. Captain Taes held us close like we were family, her surrogate family. Placeholders for her family that died. She would prepare buffets for our liking and schedule social duty after our duty shifts. It was a nice story. But I always felt like the parallel computer core. Kellin and Yuulik were like Taes’ duty children. I didn’t get a party when she promoted me to Lieutenant Junior Grade, not even a drink. She didn’t notice when I broke up with Lieutenant Tagaloa.
That’s not a complaint. There’s a certain relief in being the parallel core. Starfleet duty requires an awful lot of us. Frankly, I’d rather not spend my evenings with my senior staff out of a sense of obligation. It’s too much. Blood dilithium was too much. I’m better off without it all. The primary core can take the full computing load without the parallel core.
Szerda sliced her hand through the holographic interface, activating a red LCARS command. For half a second, the overhead lights went out, the holographic projections flashed out, and the shimmering light behind every isolinear chip went dark too. The hum of the computer core all around them went silent. With only the hiss of the life support system, suddenly Szerda could hear her own breathing.
Half a second later, the lighting returned as did every LCARS control panel. Everything on the holographic interface was exactly where Szerda had left it. Szerda began tabbing through the wheel of ship systems in front of her and, at first glance, everything was in the green. No catastrophic errors or failures. The crash test had been a success.
“The Olympic may be heading into her middle age,” Szerda remarked, “but that just means she’s more resilient.”