Author: Alan Decker
Star Traks: The Lost Years #7
Tricks of the Trade
Lieutenant Monica Vaughn didn’t bother to open her eyes as she heard the doors of Transporter Room One open and close. Whoever had just entered couldn’t be that important. The Secondprize was currently parked alongside the USS Asimov while a piece of sensitive scientific equipment was shuttled between the two ships. Dr. Pevzin, the scientist who owned said equipment, had been very adamant that his precious cargo not be beamed from the Asimov to the Secondprize, which would be taking the scientist the rest of the way to his research assignment. Pevzin’s demands were just fine as far as Vaughn was concerned. She had more time to herself…not that being transporter chief was a particularly demanding job anyway.
“What are you doing?” Lieutenant Commander Emily Sullivan demanded. She’d walked in to find her friend sitting on the floor over by the transporter buffer systems, legs crossed and eyes clamped shut.
“Performing a diagnostic on the Heisenberg Compensator,” Vaughn replied dreamily.
“Okay. So what are you really doing?”
“Ha! What the hell are you doing that for?”
“Don’t knock it,” Vaughn said. “Ensign Klodek says it’s the key to unlocking my full potential through Tantric sex.”
“Yeah, but Klodek also believes a herd of sentient astral goats is going to carrying him off to the Pastures of Paradise and Pleasure.”
“Aha. And will he be taking you with him?”
“In his dreams,” Vaughn replied, finally opening her eyes. The transporter chief stretched lazily and stood up. “So to what do I owe the honor of a visit from Mrs. Lieutenant Commander Baird?”
“Ouch. I guess I deserved that.”
“Why would you say something like that?” Vaughn replied, busying herself checking a systems status readout on the transporter console. “I mean, it’s only been two years since you set foot in here to say hello to me.”
“I’ve been in here.”
“How many times, Emily? And going on an away mission doesn’t count.”
Sullivan was silent. There was nothing to say in her defense.
“Let’s see. Two years,” Vaughn continued deep in a sarcastic rant. “Why would that be? Oh, I know. That’s when you married Scott.”
“Hey now. As I recall, you slipped out of my reception early dragging Ensign Woodville behind you.”
“He was new. I needed to welcome him aboard,” Vaughn said. “But that only took a few hours. I haven’t seen much of you in two years. Wow, Scott must be very high maintenance, since you can’t seem to get away to see your best friend, the woman who took you under her wing when you were a green ensign first assigned to this ship, the woman who helped you adjust to life on the Secondprize.”
“I got it, Monica. I’m sorry,” Sullivan said. “But I have been busy. I have a lot of responsibility now. Command shifts. The works.”
“That’s right! You’re little miss up and comer. Ensign to Lieutenant Commander in three years. Now how long have I been a lieutenant?”
“That’s not my fault. You’re the one who chose transporters as your specialty. And you said you didn’t care about rank.”
“Maybe I lied.”
“Maybe you’re jealous,” Sullivan spat.
The room was dead silent for a few moments.
“I’m sorry,” Sullivan said finally. “That was way out of line.”
“Did you come down here for something in particular…ma’am?” Vaughn said coldly.
“Don’t do this to me, Monica.”
“Maybe you should have thought of that two years ago.”
“I wanted to have lunch.”
“Don’t let me stop you,” Vaughn said.
“Fine!” Sullivan shouted. “Just forget the whole f***ing thing!” Sullivan stormed out of the transporter room, leaving Vaughn alone. Vaughn soon returned to her mediation position, seated at the rear of the transporter room. Using the techniques Klodek taught her, she pushed the fight with Sullivan out of her mind and let herself go.
Suddenly she was in a house…a house she knew was hers. Children’s laughter filled the air, then two small figures, a boy and a girl, raced past her, their bodies brushing against her legs. She followed them outside where the bluest blue sky she’d ever seen awaited her. Warm sunshine cascaded over everything, illuminating the green green grass.
An arm wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her close. She felt warm and safe, but, when she looked, she couldn’t make out the man’s features. Vaughn looked out at the children playing in the yard, chasing each other around. She could not see their faces either, but she could just sense happiness. She leaned back into the arms of the man…her husband…feeling utter contentment. Why would she ever want to leave this?
Then, just as suddenly as she’d arrived, she found herself floating up, away from the house and her family. Vaughn watched them grown smaller and smaller as she ascended, and then she was back in the transporter room.
“Damn Klodek,” Vaughn muttered as she climbed up off the floor and actually did start a system diagnostic.
Being married had honed a kind of sixth sense in Commander Scott Baird. He could tell the moment that his wife entered the room and what kind of mood she was in. Therefore, it wasn’t at all unusual for Baird to sense Sullivan’s entry into engineering and the fact that she was furious about something. What was odd was that she’d come down to engineering in the first place. Unlike the crews of some other ships, the crew of the Secondprize tended to stay out of Baird’s domain unless they worked there. Hell, Baird could count on one hand the number of times Captain Rydell had set foot in the place.
Baird turned off the holovid he was watching in his office and headed out into the main area of engineering to intercept Sullivan before she could interact with any of his people. The last thing he needed was her to start undoing the years of effort he’d put in to get the Secondprize’s engineering staff to understand that he was god.
“Emily!” he called just as Sullivan was about to talk Lieutenant Kearns. “Over here.” Baird waved Sullivan into his office then closed the door, subtly activating a noise buffer in the process. The peons didn’t get to hear about their god’s personal life either.
“I hate her!” Sullivan shouted suddenly.
“What the f*** are you babbling about?” Baird said, returning to his seat and propping his feet up on his desk. Sullivan practically slammed herself into the chair across the desk from him.
“Monica,” Sullivan said. “She thinks I’ve been ignoring her for the last two years, and she’s pissed off that I outrank her.”
“So? Who gives a f***?”
“Why? It’s all true.”
“I haven’t been ignoring her.”
“Right. You two just hang out when I’m not around.”
“She’s right. You’re wrong. Case closed.”
“Scott, you aren’t helping.”
“Was I supposed to be?” Baird said. “Computer, coffee. Black.” A second later, a steaming mug of java appeared on the desk in front of Baird. “You want anything?”
“No. I was supposed to be having lunch with Monica until she transformed into the amazing mega-bitch.”
“Suit yourself. Took me almost an hour to rig my replicator to do that, though.”
“Very nice, hon.”
“You want me to do it to the ones in our quarters?”
“I don’t care. What am I going to do about Monica? And don’t say ‘F*** her. She’s a vagrant!’”
Baird quickly closed his mouth. “That is the obvious answer,” Baird said. “Otherwise, kidnap her and spend a couple days off doing whatever the hell it was you two did before you married me.”
“That isn’t going to get her promoted.”
“Neither is talking to me. She’s the dumbass who went into transporter systems. That’s not your fault. She needs to get over it and move on.”
Sullivan was quiet for a few moments. “Maybe there’s something I can do about it.” Sullivan stood up to leave.
“Whatever,” Baird said. “See you later.”
“Bye, hon.” Sullivan rushed out of Baird’s office and straight out of engineering. Baird lazily got up from his chair and strolled out to the warp core, where Kearns was watching the power readouts.
“Everything okay?” Baird asked.
“Yes, sir,” Kearns replied. “All systems nominal.”
“Good. If you, Wallace, Jenkins, and Hebert want to go practice, it’s fine by me.”
“Yes, sir!” Kearns said excitedly as he and the three other engineering officers raced to lift leading down to the lower core.
“But watch where you’re breathing!” Baird called after them.
“Aye!” Jenkins sang in the high range of her alto voice.
“Aye!” Hebert added with his tenor.
“Aye!” Kearns sang with his baritone.
“Aye!” Wallace finished in his deep bass. And with that, the USS Secondprize Barbershop Quartet/Firebreathing Juggling Team rushed off to rehearse.
“Can’t imagine why they ended up here,” Baird muttered sarcastically and returned to his office to finish his holovid, “Topless Ten-speeders on Titan.”
“So what are you wearing?”
“Alexander!” Karina Durham’s image on the monitor shouted in mock indignation. “Besides, you can see me.”
“Just your shoulders,” Rydell said, crossing his hands behind his head and leaning back on the sofa in his quarters. “For all I know, below that is nothing but you.”
“You keep thinking that,” Karina replied.
“Count on it. So where are you now anyway?”
“Andor. I’ve got to run some royal emblem to a colony of theirs. Evidently, there’s some dispute here about who’s actually supposed to have this thing. The current owner wants it sent to her son before any of her rivals can assassinate her and take it.”
“Gotta love those Andorians. Fun bunch.”
“At least you always know where you stand with them.”
“Yeah, usually with a big knife sticking out of your chest.”
“Is that concern I hear?” Karina asked mockingly.
“Hey. I know it’s chic for Starfleet captains to lose their significant others to nasty accidents, but I have no plans to participate in that little tradition.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“I know,” Rydell said. “That’s why I’m not worried.” Just then, his door chime sounded.
“Expecting company?” Karina asked.
“The captain is always on duty.”
“Or your ladies of the evening showed up early.”
“You never know,” Rydell replied smiling. “Come on in.” The doors opened, and Lt. Cmdr. Sullivan entered.
“Can I talk to you for a minute, Captain?” Sullivan asked.
“Uh oh. Sounds official. You’d better go,” Karina said.
“All right. See you soon?”
“I’m sure we’ll run into each other again in the near future.”
“We’d better. Be careful,” Rydell said.
“Always,” Karina replied. She blew a kiss at Rydell, then closed the comm channel. Rydell sighed, a big smile spreading across his face.
“You two seem really happy together,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.”
“Monogamy. Who knew?” Rydell said. “Grab a chair and tell me what I can do for you?”
Sullivan sat down in the arm chair catty-corner from Rydell’s sofa. “I’m worried about Lieutenant Vaughn.”
“Monica?” Rydell said, leaning forward. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She needs a promotion.”
“Yes, needs. It’s hurting our friendship.”
“Because you outrank her,” Rydell said, understanding. “But she outranked you when you came on board.”
“That just makes things worse. I’m advancing much faster than she is.”
“I can’t just hand Monica a promotion. She’d know something fishy was going on. I don’t want to sound like your father here, but if you two are really friends, rank won’t matter. Go talk to her. Let her know that you’re serious.”
Sullivan looked unsure. “I was just there. It ended badly.”
“Then go fix it,” Rydell said forcefully. “This isn’t junior high.”
“Yes, sir,” Sullivan said, heading for the door. “But for the record, I predict this will end with one of us visiting sickbay.”
“We’ll start the betting pool now. Get going, Emily.”
Sullivan exiting, allowing Rydell to get back to more important matters…like planning just where and when he could see Karina Durham again.
After making a quick stop at the replicator in her quarters, Sullivan returned to Transporter Room One, lunch bags in hand. She found Vaughn arm-deep in the innards of the transporter system.
“You bring stuff to throw at me this time?” Vaughn muttered.
“You wouldn’t go to lunch, so lunch is coming to you,” Sullivan replied, tossing a ten centimeter square Dillon Enterprises Expando-table onto the floor. The small device activated, quickly extending itself outward and creating four legs. Moments later, a small table had formed in front of the transporter pad. Sullivan busied herself laying out the meal, while Vaughn extricated her arms from the transporter and eyed Sullivan warily.
“Is this some kind of peace offering?” Vaughn said finally.
“Among other things,” Sullivan replied. “Now come eat before I have to get nasty.”
“Little Miss Prissy get nasty? Now that’d be something to see,” Vaughn said with a mischievous glint in her eye and a smirk spreading across her face.
“I am not prissy!” Sullivan retorted. “Just because I didn’t sleep with most of the ship’s crew…”
“You never did know how to have a good time.”
“Scott and I do just fine.”
“Did you try that little trick I told you about with the ice cube and…”
“Can we talk about something else?” Sullivan said quickly.
“Like what?” Vaughn said, sitting down in the expando-chair Sullivan had set up. “The wonderful world of transporters? Conn duty? Your promotion?”
“You’re starting again.”
“I’m just trying to think of what we could possibly have to say to each other now. We lead very different lives.”
“Different? We’re still on the same damn ship together. I got married. Otherwise, everything is almost exactly the same as it was before!”
“Well evidently that’s enough,” Vaughn replied.
Sullivan fought down her automatic reflex to snap back at Vaughn. She took a couple of deep breaths and dove into the unpleasant part: admitting she was wrong. “I know I haven’t really been around since the wedding,” Sullivan said. “I got way too wrapped up in the bridge and my promotion and Scott, and I ended up ignoring you, my best friend. I’m sorry. I want to fix it, though. I want us to hang out like we used to.”
Vaughn was silent for several moments. Honestly, she was surprised Sullivan had said that. Normally she’d never make that kind of admission.
“What do you want to do about it then?” Vaughn said in all seriousness.
“Spend some time together. What else?”
“Fine. We’re taking this Pevzin guy to Argelius for his research. Let’s take a few days and hit the hot spots. I heard there’s quite a night life in Argelon City.”
Sullivan shifted uncomfortably. “Days?”
“Yeah. Days! What’s the problem?”
“I knew it!”
“Monica, I am married. I can’t just run off for days at a time.”
“Why the hell not?” Vaughn snapped.
“He’d get lonely.”
Vaughn suddenly jumped up from her chair and stalked over to the transporter console.
“What are you doing?” Sullivan said.
“Fixing your problem.”
“Wha…” The light dawned. “Monica, no!”
Down in engineering, a napping Commander Baird suddenly started to feel a bit tingly. It took him another second to realize that he was in the grips of a transporter beam.
“What the fu…”
He was dematerialized before he could finish the profanity, a fact that would have pissed Baird off even more if he hadn’t been in a zillion pieces at the time.
“There,” Vaughn said. “I’ve stuck him in a loop in the buffer. Problem solved. Go pack.”
“He is going to kill you,” Sullivan said, an unstoppable smile spreading across her face as she headed toward the door.
“I’d like to see him try,” Vaughn replied. She tapped a couple of buttons on her console. “Our ETA at Argelius is two hours. We’d better get packing.”
“What should I bring?”
“Something sexy. You can torture some poor Argelians by being the untouchable yet irresistible married temptress.”
“And then you’ll make them feel all better about it, right?” Sullivan said.
“Sounds like a great plan to me. Now let’s get moving.” Vaughn touched another control, grabbing herself and Sullivan in another transporter beam and sending them back to her quarters the fast way.
After coming on board, Dr. Pevzin, a stoutly-built elderly Alpha-Centaurian, had immediately noticed a big difference between the crew of the Asimov and the crew of the Secondprize. During his voyage on the Asimov, he couldn’t find a moment’s peace. Yeomen seemed to pop out of every door and jefferies tube hatch to ask if he needed anything, if his quarters were satisfactory, if he was sleeping well, or if the engines were too noisy. The Secondprize yeoman who’d taken him to his temporary quarters, however, had pretty much just opened the door, said “here you are,” then left mumbling something about only missing the first three minutes of something.
Pevzin found it refreshing that this crew had bigger things to worry about than him. He certainly wasn’t concerned about them. His only worry was the functioning of the Pevzin Protilator, the new device he would be testing in a remote region of the Argelian wilderness on the far side of the planet, well away from the developed tourist areas famed throughout the Federation for their beauty and entertainment value.
In all honesty, Pevzin didn’t have a clue what the Protilator did. Like many other top Federation scientists, he’d been given access to technology captured during the Dominion War in hopes that he could invent something to benefit the Federation. Having already invented the self-shining shoe (the boot version of which had been Starfleet standard issue for years now), Pevzin was anxious to come up with some new creation to immortalize him in the annals of science. So, after tinkering with bits of this and that in his lab Pevzin had developed the Protilator, a device his scans revealed possessed enormous energy, more than he wanted to risk releasing in his lab.
Therefore, he did what any self-respecting scientist would do: he got a grant. That had actually been the easy part. He’d loved Argelius when he’d visited several years earlier, so he decided he wanted to go there. And the Argelian authorities were thrilled at the prospect of being associated with a scientific breakthrough. A few bits of Federation red tape later, Pevzin was on his way to an all-expenses paid “research” trip to Argelius.
But now, with only three hours until his arrival, Pevzin was feeling nervous. What if the Argelians expected results? What if the Protilator was dangerous? What if it didn’t do anything at all?
With those thoughts in his head, Pevzin headed into engineering, transporting the small Protilator in its carrying case which was slung over his shoulder. Much to Pevzin’s surprise, absolutely no one was there. Was this standard Starfleet procedure?
“Hello?” he called.
No response, but he thought he was faintly hearing singing from the vague direction of the warp core. “Hello?”
This presented another dilemma. With the engineering staff absent, there was no one to consult about his invention. Well, there was always the ship’s science officer, but Pevzin’s ego couldn’t stand the thought of possibly looking foolish in front of a colleague. Engineers were the much better choice. They’d just want to make it work, not ridicule his scientific ability.
But in the absence of engineers, Pevzin was going to have to take matters into his own hands. The Protilator had to be tested. He approached the warp core and found an access hatch to one of the conduits leading off to the nacelles. Opening the hatch, he saw exactly what he was hoping for: a receptacle for a power cable. With a silent prayer to the Five Deities of Centauri, Pevzin plugged in the cable, causing the Protilator to spring to life.
Up on the bridge, Captain Alexander Rydell had just come on duty and was in the process of deciding what event he’d be entertaining the bridge crew with today. As it was, they only had two hours of travel time before Argelius (where Rydell planned to enjoy some shore leave along with the rest of the crew. It was time for his new-found monogamy to see if it could resist temptation anyway), so whatever Rydell chose had to be relatively brief. That seemed to rule out the songwriting competition and Jaroch’s suggestion of Name that Molecule.
Rydell was not so wrapped up in thought, though, that he didn’t notice the slight flickering of the lights followed by the distinct feeling of slowing down. On the viewscreen, the stars decreased from streaks to steady points of light.
“Uh…why did we just drop out of warp?” Rydell asked.
“I don’t know,” Lieutenant Andrea Carr replied nervously as she pored over the conn console. The ship lurched to a halt.
“Uh…why are we stopped?” Rydell asked.
“I don’t know,” Carr said, her voice growing more frantic.
Suddenly, a blinding white flash washed across the bridge. When his vision cleared, Rydell saw something on the viewscreen floating in front of the ship that definitely shouldn’t have been there: their own warp nacelles.
“Uh…why is my ship now in three pieces?” Rydell said.
“I DON’T KNOW!” Carr cried.
“Jaroch?” Rydell said, spinning around to face his science officer.
“I do not know either,” Commander Jaroch replied. “However, we are actually in four pieces. The saucer and stardrive sections have also separated. Emergency forcefields are in place, though. And I see no bodies floating out into space.”
“Well, that’s comforting,” Rydell said. “Now how about finding me some answers?”
“I would be more concerned about our warp core. Evidently the sudden event, whatever it may have been, has destabilized it.”
“Rydell to Baird…Rydell to Baird!….Computer, where is Commander Baird?”
“Commander Baird is not on the Secondprize,” the computer replied flatly.
“Bridge to engineering! Hello? What the hell is going on down there?” Rydell demanded.
“Unknown,” Jaroch replied.
“Um…Captain,” Carr said hesitantly. “I know you’re upset right now, but our pieces are starting to drift.”
“Fine. Lock tractor beams, and try to keep us together long enough for the warp core to breach.”
“Is that a joke, sir?” Carr asked.
“We can only hope.”
Nothing! It did nothing! Not a damn thing had happened when he activated the Protilator.
Pevzin shook his fists in the air, cursing the Five Deities. “I never liked you guys anyway!”
“Warp core breach in three minutes,” the ship’s computer said suddenly. Oops, maybe it did do something.
“Sorry about that,” Pevzin said to the air. “I take it back. Really. Please don’t blow me up!”
Several corridors and one deck away, Lieutenant Commander Sullivan and Lieutenant Vaughn had been on their way to ship’s stores to replicate some suitable accessories for their planned trip to Argelius when the ship lurched, then was bathed in white light. As soon as their vision cleared, Sullivan and Vaughn noticed the flashing red alert beacons along the hallway. They’re kind of hard to miss actually. I mean, it’s a dim corridor and there are bright red lights flashing. How do you miss that? Well, anyway, they didn’t. Instead, Vaughn rushed over to a nearby status panel to see just what the hell was going on.
“What?” Sullivan demanded.
“We’re in pieces!”
“I don’t know! F***!!!”
“We’re heading toward a warp core breach!” Vaughn ripped off a nearby Jefferies tube hatch and crawled inside.
“Where the hell are you going?” Sullivan shouted, crawling in behind her.
“Engineering. I’ve got to stop it.”
“Can’t you rematerialize Scott?”
“No time. Besides, the buffer may have been damaged. I’m not going to risk it.”
A minute and a half later, Vaughn kicked out the hatch, sending it clattering into Engineering. She leapt out herself, barking orders as she went.
“Try to shut down the core. Freeze the injectors if you have to. We’ve got to…where the hell is everybody?”
Other than her and Sullivan, Engineering was deserted…well, almost deserted. Vaughn saw what appeared to be a figure crouched down on the far side of the core.
“Get whoever that is,” Vaughn snapped as she raced to the core status panel.
“Yes, ma’am,” Sullivan muttered as she headed around the core where she found Dr. Pevzin curled into a fetal position and whimpering. “It’s that scientist we picked up,” Sullivan called.
Vaughn’s eyes darted around engineering searching for…yes! There was only one reason she could think of that a scientist transporting an experimental device would be cowering in engineering. She raced over to the Protilator, which was still connected to one of the power conduits branching off from the warp core. After giving the device a quick visual examination to assure that what she was about to do wouldn’t make things any worse, Vaughn ripped the Protilator away from the conduit, causing the mysterious invention to immediately power down. Unfortunately, the core’s situation was unaffected.
In a fury, Vaughn turned on Pevzin, who Sullivan was physically dragging toward the transporter chief. “WHAT DID THAT DO?” Vaughn roared, hoisting Pevzin into the air by his collar in a surprising show of strength.
“I don’t know,” Pevzin squeaked weakly.
“Monica, we don’t have time for this,” Sullivan said.
“Warp core breach in thirty seconds,” the computer added helpfully.
“You’re the only one who can stop this,” Sullivan urged.
“All right!” Vaughn snapped, tossing Pevzin aside. “But I’m not finished with him.” She rushed back to the core status panel and quickly scrolled through the readings. Somehow Pevzin’s device had caused feedback in the core which had affected space and subspace around the Secondprize, which explained the ship being in pieces. The sudden separation of vital components, such as the nacelles, had then led to the possibility of a breach. She shut down the core as best she could, but there was still enough of a reaction running through the dilithium crystals to obliterate everything in a five kilometer radius, which unfortunately would include the entire Secondprize.
She frantically typed commands into the console, trying to override the dilithium chamber’s control circuits and shunt the excess energy away from the core, but her every attempt failed. Damn it! This was an engineer’s job, and she wasn’t really an engineer. Sure she’d had the training, but she was just the one who ran the transporter. If she hadn’t dematerialized Scott, none of this…wait a second.
A smile crept across Vaughn’s face as she pulled up the transporter control systems in another window on the console. In the background, she vaguely heard the computer sound the ten second warning.
“What the hell are you smiling about?” Sullivan demanded.
“Because I am good,” Vaughn replied, smashing her finger down on the execute control. In an instant, the dilithium crystals vanished in the cascade of the transporter effect. An instant later, the core (and everything else) went dark only to be illuminated almost instantly by the emergency lighting.
“You did it!” Sullivan cried.
“Oh thank the Five Deities!” Pevzin said.
“They didn’t have anything to do with it!” Vaughn said insulted. “That was all ME!”
“And you are all woman,” Sullivan said smiling.
“You know it.”
On the bridge, Rydell had found himself thinking how annoying it was that these were to be his last few seconds of life as the computer counted down to the warp core breach.
Rydell clamped his eyes shut and grabbed onto the arm rests.
“One…core breach halted. We now return you to your regularly scheduled crisis.”
Rydell opened one eye hesitantly…then the other. Hmmm…evidently they wouldn’t be blowing up today.
“All right, Scott!” Rydell said.
“Commander Baird is not on the Secondprize,” the computer said, reiterating the point.
“Then who is in engineering?”
“Lieutenant Commander Sullivan and Lieutenant Monica Vaughn.”
“They aren’t engineers,” Rydell said. “What happened?”
“Let’s go to the replay,” the computer said, bringing up the engineering internal camera view on the viewscreen. “Vaughn looks left. She looks right. She types a command. No go. And another. Denied! Things look grim for the home team. But wait. There’s an opening. She bobs. She weaves. And BAM, she dematerializes the dilithium and ends the game. It’s AWESOME, BABY!!!”
“Jaroch, have you been making any computer modifications I should know about?”
Jaroch’s eyes narrowed. “Most likely, the sudden fragmentation of the ship corrupted the computer’s personality interface. And I resent any implication to the contrary.”
“Forget I said anything.”
Back in engineering, Pevzin gingerly scooped up the Protilator and headed toward the exit. “Well you fine officers obviously have this situation under control, so I will leave you to your important work.”
“What’s your rush, big boy?” Vaughn said, sauntering over to Pevzin with her patented come hither stare that had reduced males on planets across the quadrant to quivering blobs of goo. She reached Pevzin and ran a fingernail along his cheek. “Wouldn’t you rather stay and…” She leaned in close, her lips almost brushing against his ear. “…chat?”
“I prefer men,” Pevzin replied flatly.
“Oh, give me that!” Vaughn snapped, swiping the Protilator out of his arms. “I swear. I try and make this pleasurable and what thanks do I get?”
“Hey! That’s mine!” Pevzin protested. Sullivan stepped in between the doctor and Vaughn.
“And if you take one more step, you’ll also be the proud owner of two shattered kneecaps,” Sullivan said.
Pevzin quickly backed away. “I can share.”
“Good boy. Now stay.” Sullivan followed Vaughn over to the core, where she was examining the Protilator. “What do you think?”
“I’m not sure,” Vaughn replied. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” She pulled up scans of the Protilator on the status console. “The computer isn’t sure either. This is really way beyond me.”
“You just single-handedly saved this ship. I don’t believe that this hunk of junk is beyond you. Think!” Sullivan cried frantically.
“Fine!” Vaughn shouted back.
“Just think,” Pevzin said, creeping up behind Vaughn, his voice almost a hiss. “What does it do? What is its nature?”
“Get the hell away from me, you freak!” Vaughn slammed a control on the warp core status console, causing Pevzin to vanish in the flurry of the transporter. “Much better. Okay…this thing somehow affected space and subspace around the Secondprize. The effect was fairly uncontrolled and chaotic since it was just plugged in, but if I were to…move it!” Vaughn pushed past Sullivan.
“Where are you going?”
“Oh yeah. That helps.”
“Just make sure that thing doesn’t go anywhere.”
Vaughn returned a few moments later with a few spare parts, which she quickly cobbled together and attached to the Protilator.
Sullivan looked over the expanded contraption. “And this would be?”
“Fine tuning…I hope,” Vaughn said. “Now all we need is to plug this is and…oh sh**.”
Vaughn pointed at the dormant warp core. “No juice.”
Sullivan thought for a moment. “Do we actually have to use the ship for this thing to work?”
“I guess not…”
“Beam us to the shuttlebay then. We fortunately have a few spare cores.”
Minutes later, the Runabout Chattahoochee pulled out of the Secondprize’s shuttlebay and took up position just over the secondary hull. A few hundred yards away, the saucer section drifted slowly around in circles as the warp nacelles lazily flipped end over end.
Inside the Chattahoochee, Vaughn watched the scene outside on a monitor and she double-checked the Protilator’s connection to the runabout’s warp core. “No bumps, Emily,” she said to Sullivan. “And try not to let any of the ship bits hit each other.”
“Funny, I was under the impression somehow that I outranked you.”
“Don’t make me beam you off this ship.”
“Sorry. Damn you’re testy when you’re saving the ship.”
“That’s why I don’t do it very often. Now pipe down.” Vaughn activated the Protilator, keeping her hands on the controls she’d rigged up. It was no coincidence that they resembled the controls of her beloved transporter. As she watched the ship sections floating around her, Vaughn manipulated the distortion field created by the Protilator. The slightest movement caused vast changed. In one flash, the nacelles stretched to almost a mile long. In another, the saucer inflated into a sphere. In another, the saucer connected itself to the port nacelle pylon on the secondary hull. With intense concentration, she slowly made the intricate shifts needed to put things back where they belong.
And an hour later…
“Beautiful!” Vaughn exclaimed, gazing at the gleaming hull of the reassembled Secondprize. “Ow!”
“What?” Sullivan said.
“I stood up too fast. My back is killing me!”
“No doubt. You were hunched over that thing forever.”
“Can you do something other than criticize?”
“That was fantastic.”
Vaughn smiled. “Thank you very much. Can we go home now?”
“Captain’s log. Stardate 53646.8. There are days on this job when I feel like the center of the universe. I know everything that is happening around me. I have my finger on the pulse of my ship. I see all. I know all. I can handle anything. Today was not one of those days. I know at some point we picked up a scientist, and my helm officer and transporter chief were arguing with each other. Then all of a sudden, my ship’s in pieces, my warp core is breeching, and my chief engineer is missing, all of which is resolved by my transporter chief and helm officer who are now best friends again. In short, a bunch of stuff happened that I had absolutely no control over. If I were the philosophical type, I might say that this is simply an elegant proof of the idea that the universe is bigger than any one person. As it is, I’d just like to think of it as a day off. Even so, I now have the pleasure of doing one of the perks of my job: rewarding a member of my crew.”
“I still don’t think she deserves this,” Commander Baird grumbled as he slouched against the wall in Seven Backward, wrinkling his dress uniform in the process. The tables had been cleared, over the strenuous protests of the Guinanco employees, to make way for a raised platform for the promotion ceremony. Commander Dillon was still fussing over the final details, leaving Rydell and the rest of the bridge crew to wait for the guest of honor.
“She did save the ship from destruction,” Rydell replied as he idly flipped the jewel box containing a hollow pip over in his hand.
“None of which would have happened if she hadn’t stuck me in a f***ing transporter buffer!”
Meanwhile, in the corridor, Vaughn and Sullivan were just exiting the turbolift. “I don’t know why you’re dragging me here,” Vaughn said. “The food’s sucked since Trinian left.”
“It’s out of the same replicator,” Sullivan said. “How can it be different?”
“Atmosphere is everything,” Vaughn said as they approached the doors, which slid obediently open. “This place is now so…you bitch!”
“Surprise!” Sullivan said, shoving Vaughn forward into the waiting throng of dress uniform clad well-wishers.
“Lieutenant Vaughn, a moment of your time please,” Rydell said from the platform near the viewports.
“I was hoping to get you somewhere a little more private,” Vaughn quipped, recovering quickly from the shock of the surprise ceremony.
“Guess I’m too much of an exhibitionist,” Rydell replied as Vaughn stepped up beside him. Sullivan slipped up beside Baird and nudging him to stand up straight.
“I’m far more fond of the parties after ceremonies than the ceremonies themselves, so I’ll make this brief,” Rydell said. “Monica Vaughn, for outstanding service to this ship in the most adverse of circumstances, it gives me great pleasure to promote you to the rank of lieutenant commander.” He removed the pip from its box and attached it to Vaughn’s collar.
“Thank you, sir,” Vaughn said with a seductive smile.
“Oh don’t think you’re getting off that easy,” Rydell continued. “Your performance has shown me that there’s a lot more to our transporter chief than we originally thought, and I refuse to let that potential just sit there. Therefore, you’re getting a new title. Assistant Chief Engineer.”
“What?” Vaughn and Baird shouted in unison.
“Starfleet has a long tradition of transporter chiefs becoming great engineers. Who am I to stand in the way?” Rydell said. “Think of it as having a protege, Scott. You can impart your knowledge and skills on to her.”
“I already know how to say f***, so I’m halfway there,” Vaughn said.
“On that note, I believe we should adjourn for the real reason we’re all here. Bring on the food!” At Rydell’s command, several waiters rushed out of the backroom of Seven Backward carrying trays of all sorts of cuisine. Most of the bridge crew leapt off the ceremony platform to head to the buffet that was being assembled, leaving Vaughn with Rydell, Sullivan and Baird.
“One more thing,” Rydell said, sliding up beside Vaughn.
She wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled in close. “Name it, loverboy.”
“Bring back Dr. Pevzin from wherever you stored him. I can’t drop off a guy who isn’t here.”
“Is that all?” Vaughn pouted playfully.
Rydell grinned. “I’ll get back to you,” he said with a wink, and headed off for the food.
“Well, I’ve got something else for you,” Baird groused.
“And what would that be?” Vaughn replied cloyingly.
“Fix the f***ing computer.”
“What’s wrong with the computer?”
“It’s AWESOME, BABY!” the computer shouted suddenly, scaring the hell out of most of the people in the room.
“Have fun,” Baird said, walking past her to get to the food.
Vaughn moved over to Sullivan, who seemed to be enjoying the entire spectacle. “Let me just warn you now, I may have to seriously hurt your husband before this is all over.”
“There are more subtle ways to torment him,” Sullivan replied.
“Come by for dinner tomorrow night. I’m sure he’d love to see you after your shift as well as during. I can tell you all about all the quirky little things he does, and you can tell me ALL about your conquests of the last couple of years.”
“We really do need to spend more quality time together,” Vaughn said.
“It’ll be just like old times.”
“Hmm…do you think Scott would let me give him a manicure?”
Sullivan smiled. “We’ll do it when he’s asleep.”
Several feet away, Commander Baird shoved a Centaurian sausage into his mouth, blissfully unaware of the hell was life was about to become.