==Viridian Expanse, Bridge ==
There wasn’t much more boring than transiting deep space. Shiren had always held that opinion, even during his time in the Star Navy. No planets, no nebulae or gas clouds, not even a monochromatic asteroid to look at. Just the infinite expanse of black accented with spots of light. The route they were taking along the Federation border didn’t even present any interesting navigational challenges. So all in all it was an extremely boring transit for the Viridian Expanse’s pilot.
Just the way he wanted it.
The thing was, on a civilian ship that was always operating on the edges of the laws of several governments, even down time was liable to be a bit hectic. You never knew when you’d have to up and leave a place quickly or otherwise have to make your self scarce. The same could have been said about being in the fleet, but Shiren found it much worse on the Expanse. The scum of the universe were much less polite when it came to people’s schedules. If that wasn’t enough, being an older ship, the Expanse could be finnicky at times and develop mechanical and technical issues at any time. Thus, downtime was often interrupted by surprise repairs or having to scrounge for a part, despite the twin Naussican engineers’ best efforts.
Out here in the black though, life was much easier. True the ship could still burst in to flame at any time, but the likelihood of being stabbed in the back by whatever client the captain pissed off this week was much less. Thus, Shiren had time to ponder, be it the most efficient way to get some place, the events going on in the area, or what trouble was waiting for them at the next port.
The last two are what had him worried this time.
While sitting on the bridge, Shiren has been rapping his fingers nervously against the navigation console. This job had him anxious, more so than usual. While it wasn’t odd for the captain to take on an unknown cargo from someone he barely knew, there was something about this particular circumstance that got his attention. While Shiren had been on a couple runs to Bajor and surrounding systems, it was unusual for the ship to be operating on this side of the quadrant. They were used to the area around the Romulan successor states, despite their instabilities. They knew the players there, they knew who be wary of. Same for the systems on the Federation and even Klingon side of the border. Heck, they even knew their way around Orion space. The same couldn’t be said for this side of the galaxy. Cardassian space was a political minefield these days, you never know who you might run afoul of as loyalties shifted. Ferengi space might not be as cutthroat as it used to be, but you never knew who still practiced the old ways. The Breen, to put it mildly, were the Breen. It was hard to tell what you might get out of them, but it was sure to be bad. And that was before current events.
One of the things Shiren had been doing to pass time on the bridge was to listen to the local comm traffic. There wasn’t much good coming out of the Deneb sector, where they were headed, right now. The Breen had been raiding and occupied Federation worlds along the border. Rumors even suggested that Dominion ships were sighted in the area and were supporting the Breen invasion. There were competing theories on what was going on. Some say the Dominion left a stay behind force to strike at the right time. Others say the Breen found a cache of Dominion ships somewhere after the war. The most wild rumors suggested that the Dominion fleet was made up of reinforcements that were sent through the Bajoran wormhole during the war but never reached the Alpha Quadrant. It didn’t really matter what theory you believed though, one thing was clear. The Breen were more dangerous than they had been in decades. And the Viridian Expanse was headed right to their borders.
As he was staring out into the black on the viewscreen, Shiren could hear someone sit down on the bridge behind him. He didn’t react at first, figuring it was probably Timek or the Boss coming in to check something and move on. They did that regularly and Shiren thought it best not to disturb them. He did glance back though when he heard someone speak.
“Well, you look tense.” The voice was that of Livanna, the newest addition to the Expanse’s crew. Shiren hadn’t interacted with her much as she kept to herself most of the time. Still, she seemed capable if a bit naïve at times.
“I guess.” Shiren answered. “Can’t help it I’m afraid.”
The pilot wasn’t really interested in a conversation at the moment and preferred to be alone with his thoughts. Besides, he tended to avoid idle chatter anyway, a habit he’d gained while in the fleet since the wrong talk could get you in trouble. Livanna, on the other hand, did want to talk.
“Me too,” Livanna said.
Shiren turned his chair to look at the younger woman and crossed his arms at the wrist. “First time doing a mystery job for a mystery client?”
Livanna nodded. “Yes, but that’s not what has me worried.”
Shiren looked puzzled for a moment. “Flying into a volatile area without knowing who you’re dealing with or what you’re doing for them doesn’t concern you?”
Livanna plopped down at one of the sensor stations on the other side of the bridge and continued. “Well, it kind of does. But diving into the unknown is what I always did as a scientist. It wasn’t always safe and there were several times I didn’t realize what I was into until it was already getting dangerous. I don’t see this as much different.”
Shiren scoffed. “I think the fact that we’re both here proves that once you add people into the equation things can get far more complicated and chaotic than even the deepest scientific mysteries.”
“What do you mean?” Livanna inquired.
“Did the boss ever tell you how I ended up on his crew?” Shiren asked. When the woman shook her head in the negative, the pilot continued. “It’s not a story I like to tell, but here goes. I once had a promising career in the Imperial Star Navy, well before the latest incarnation of the Star Empire destroyed itself. I was a Centurion on the Warbird Velal and its chief pilot. My commander frequently said I was likely to get my own command in the not to distant future and was actively looking for ships that needed a first officer. Then one day our ship was being reviewed by some Senator and her entourage. One of her staff asked me a question about some political matter and I stupidly gave an honest answer, one the Senator heard and didn’t like. She confronted me, I stubbornly defended my position, and there went my career. A few weeks later I was drummed out of the service on some trumped up charges.”
Livanna simply nodded along with the story, finally commenting at the end. “I wish I could say that was my first time hearing such a story, but sadly, it isn’t. And I do see the parallels to my own life I suppose.”
“Taking a stand and ticking off the wrong people is always dangerous,” Shiren responded. “You did it because it was the right thing to do, I did it because I was young and arrogant. I don’t think either of us knew the consequences of it when we did it, but in the end it bit us back ways we didn’t expect.”
“Thankfully the captain made it hurt less, at least he did for me.” Livanna responded. “But I wonder, what does that have to do with our current situation?”
The pilot thought for a moment as it was a good question. After a few seconds, he responded.
“Well, I guess I worry he’ll make the same mistake.”
“I suppose you have a point there.” Livanna answered.
“Boss only takes contracts like this when he thinks he is confident the profit is worth the risk.” Shiren added.
“The riskier the road, the greater the profit,” Livanna interjected. “That’s what the Ferengi say at least.”
“Never figured you for the type to quote the Rules of Acquisition.” Shiren said with a smile. “You might have a future in this business. What I’m hoping is that the boss also remembers them because the one I’m worried about is Number 125 I think.”
“You can’t make a deal if you’re dead,” Livanna replied quickly. “Good point. This is a particularly volatile situation and being in the dark could put us at a disadvantage.”
Shiren nodded. “People get jittery in a conflict zone, trust me, I know. Everyone is on edge and assumes the worst right off the bat. Even the most logical Vulcan might not think a situation through when they feel threatened. Us being out of place in the area just makes a dicey situation more likely if something goes wrong, even more so if the Breen or even the Dominion are involved. For all we know could be delivering weapons or the like to one side or the other and I think you can science out what happens if the other side catches wind of it.”
The pilot’s voice got increasingly more anxious and agitated as he spoke. This job terrified him more every time he thought about it and he just wanted it to be done. Livanna, on the other hand, seemed remarkably calm as they talked.
“I have to believe the captain knows what he’s doing,” the woman stated. “There’s a good chance he knows more than he’s letting on about the situation.”
As Livanna spoke, Shiren saw someone enter the bridge and walk up behind Livanna. Shiren was trying to make a motion to interrupt, but Livanna didn’t notice and kept talking.
“He always seems to be one step ahead of a situation. Besides, from what I hear, Timek is the captain’s sitter so to speak. He would never let the captain take a job that was beyond his abilities.”
“And where exactly did you hear that, might I ask?”
Livanna turned around to see the distinctive figure of Keren behind her with a quizzical look on his face. She stopped suddenly and looked up at him with a bit of shock. She stammered a bit before replying.
“Captain, I didn’t mean. I meant you have my full confidence.”
Keren scowled at the young woman. “I heard what you said and know what you meant.”
Livanna started to get a bit flush. “I, I didn’t offend you, did I? If so…”
Keren cut the science officer off, “No, you did not. Your words were totally accurate. Timek would stop me for sure if he thought I was putting the ship and crew in undue harm. That’s a first officer’s job. But ‘sitter’? Where’d you hear that sort of talk from?”
“Not me.” Shiren interjected from the flight control station as he turned around to face the viewscreen again.
“You know better,” the captain answered. “Was it Grokka? I bet it was Grokka.”
Livanna’s eyes darted about in confusion. “Is Grokka the tall one or the taller one? I keep getting the Naussicans mixed up.”
Shiren couldn’t help but chuckle at Livanna’s answer, but the captain wasn’t amused.
“Knock it off up there Shiren, I’m not convinced it wasn’t you anyway.”
“Sorry boss,” Shiren replied, stifling a grin.
Keren then turned his attention back to Livanna. “I know you’re a bit new here and probably a bit nervous about this whole mission. I would be surprised if anyone is feeling good about it. Just stay sharp and we’ll all get through this and get paid, go find a pub somewhere, and wait for this whole mess to blow over.”
Livanna smiled and nodded. “I understand sir.”
Keren returned the nod. “One last thing, on this ship, hear all, trust nothing.”
The woman smiled and turned back to her station. “One hundred and ninetieth rule.”