Author: Brendan Chris
“My port plasma vent is still itching,”
“Then scratch it!”
“Perhaps you would like to try scratching something when you don’t have any arms!”
Lieutenant Commander Simon Jeffery rubbed his forehead with one hand as he sat at the pilot station of the runabout Niagra.
“How can ye have an itch when ye don’t have any nerve endings, Sylvia?” he asked, “For that matter, how can ye know it’s an itch? Ye don’t have a real body, for all ye know it could be a tickle. Or a throbbing pain!”
“There’s a charming thought!” Sylvia shot back, “I don’t know how I know it, but I know it’s an itch. And I don’t see the difference between nerve endings connected to a brain and sensor nodes connected to a computer!”
“And ye just happen to have both,” Jeffery sighed. In the back of the runabout sat a fairly large grey duranium box. The box was well armored and included a self-contained power supply. It also contained the bio-neural gel-packs and circuitry that contained the core of Sylvia’s consciousness. She could have spend the voyage strapped to one of the seats in the cockpit and speaking through a small interface unit Jeffery had rigged, but she’d complained that she felt far too cut off. So he’d plugged her into the runabout computer. The runabout was tiny compared to Silverado, but once Sylvia had taken over the computers personality functions she at least gained a body, so to speak.
“Ah can understand how it might be tough for ye to get used to a whole new body,” Jeffery commented. He’d been stuck in Dr. Wowryk’s body for several weeks, following the incident in Matrian space.
“Yes, you would,” Sylvia agreed, “Fortunately, starships don’t have such an attachment to their genders,”
“Hey!” Jeffery objected, “If you actually had a gender I bet you’d get far more attached to it!”
“I do have a gender,” Sylvia replied, “It’s just more in my head,”
“Yer head,” Jeffery said flatly, “Is sitting in a box in the aft cabin,”
“Details,” Sylvia huffed.
“Anyway,” Jeffery said, tapping the console, “We’re going to rendezvouz with our first assignment in half an hour, so ye’ll have a chance to get out and stretch yer…um…”
“Nacelles?” Sylvia offered.
“Legs,” Jeffery rolled his eyes.
“Sir!” snapped the young cadet that had escorted Jeffery from the shuttlebay to the bridge, “The Systems Integrations Specialist has arrived, SIR! Awaiting your commands, SIR!”
“I still haven’t found his volume control,” an attractive, blond woman smiled at Jeffery as she ushered the cadet away, “I’m Captain Hammols,”
“Lieutenant Comander Jeffery,” Jeffery said, accepting the handshake. He started walking around the circular bridge, “Ship looks like she’s in good shape,”
“Oh, the Elfman’s been around,” Hammols sighed, “They found her derelict in the Gamma Peroxide system fifteen years ago. Some kind of sporyte virus killed off the crew. They decontaminated her and left her in the salvage yard-“
“Till Operation Salvage came along,” Jeffery finished.
“Well,” Jeffery said, “Ah need to get me assistant out of the runabout, then we can start taking a look at what’s going on,”
“Your assistant?” Hammols asked, “We only picked up your life-signs,”
“Er, yeah,” Jeffery said, “She’s a, um, sentient computer,”
“Really!” Hammols grabbed him by the arm, “This I gotta see! Uh, I mean, let me escort you to the shuttlebay, this class of ship is easy to get lost on,”
“It wasn’t very nice of you to leave me all alone down here, Simon,” Sylvia’s voice rang out of the runabouts external speakers.
“Wow, expression of emotion,” Hammols said.
“Of course I express emotion,” Sylvia replied, “I’m not a Vulcan you know!”
“Careful,” Jeffery advised quietly, “She’s a bit touchy,”
“Nothing wrong with touchy,” Hammols breathed in his ear, giving his arm a squeeze before stepping into the runabout.
Gulping, Jeffery followed.
Leading her to the aft compartment, Jeffery pointed out Sylvia’s box.
“Her personality is embedded in a few select circuits,” he explained, “We just interface her with another computer and she can link right with the ship,”
“Security risk?” Hammols asked.
“He used to think so,” Sylvia interrupted, “But over time, Simon here has realized just what an asset I am. Why, I’ve helped with repairs, counseled the crew. I even got them out of a rather sticky bind by interrupting a married couple’s marital coitus,”
“Anyway,” Jeffery cut in quickly, disconnecting the data cable connecting Sylvia to the runabout, “Let’s just unhook her and take her to your core,”
Then all hell broke loose.
Jeffery and Hammols were thrown to the deck as the runabout jerked, her port thrusters firing and sending the small ship in to a crooked slide. They were tossed against the wall as the runabout impacted the shuttlebay wall. The lights were flickering and Jeffery barely staggered to his feet when the replicator in the wall came to life, sending an entire pumpkin pie (with whipped cream) crashing onto Hamnols. Staggering towards the cockpit he became aware of alarms blaring. The consoles were flickering as runabout functions activated and deactivated at random.
“What’s going on?” Hammols demanded.
“Ah dunno!” Jeffery gasped, “Everything’s going haywire!”
There was a high-pitched whine as a phaser beam lanced out of the runabouts array, slicing into the bay doors of the Elfman and opening the bay to space.
“Hammols to Parker!” Hammols snapped, “Get a damage control team to shuttlebay one!”
Jeffery had shut down and rebooted the runabouts computer. As he did so, the chaos subsided.
“Well,” he wheezed, “that was a bad idea,”
The Elfman glided through space, the sunlight of a nearby red giant giving her hull plates a hellish cast. A Constellation-class ship, the Elfman was one of the very few starship classes that had more than two warp nacelles. She had four, in fact. Other than that the ship was pretty unremarkable, slightly larger than a Miranda-class vessel. The Constellation was definitely an old design, but somebody at Operation Salvage had apparently decided to try stuffing the spaceframe with new technologies to see what would happen.
“It was my fault,” Jeffery admitted to Hammols and her first officer, a dark-skinned man by the name of Sumtar, “I unhooked Sylvia without giving her time to disconnect herself,”
“When we took her out of Silverado,” Jeffery went on, getting Sylvia’s box secured to the Elfman’s computer core, “It took her hours to withdrawn from the ship. Ah didn’t think she’d integrated that deeply with the runabout,”
“Why would a computer personality profile require such intricate access?” Commander Sumtar asked suspiciously.
“She’s not just a personality!” Jeffery said, “She’s a sentient being! And the ship is her body. Plus, y’know, she does a lot of data processing. She’s half the reason why Silverado’s running pretty well while you guys can’t even get past Warp 4,”
“It’s why they’re here,” Hammol said to her officer, shrugging.
“Ah looked at yer engineer’s data,” Jeffery said, “It looks like she’s done everything right,”
“Course she has,” Sumtar said dryly, “Vulcans don’t make mistakes,”
“So Ah dunno what’s wrong with yer warp drive,” Jeffery went on, “Maybe Sylvia can find something,”
There was a soft ‘snick’ as he connected the box to the core. Lights flickered wildly on the core displays as Sylvia connected to the core.
“Oh my,” she exclaimed, “Your computer personality is even more boring than the one on the runabout!”
“Sylvia,” Jeffery wanred.
“He’s really no fun at all,”
“He?” Sumtar asked, “It always sounded like a she to me,”
“Well, you didn’t give him much of a choice when you programmed the voice now, did you?” Sylvia accused, “Really some people have no concept of AI rights,
“The warp drive?” Jeffery reminded her.
“Oh, yes,” Sylvia was quiet for a moment, “Hmm. You’ve increased the diameter of the magnetic fields in the plasma conduits,”
“Well yeah,” Hammols nodded, “The new core puts out a lot more high-energy plasma than the old one,”
“But this is still the original plasma conduit layout,” Sylvia continued.
“Well, that’s no good!” Sylvia exclaimed, “Look at these junctions!” A display of the Elfman’s warp propulsion system appeared on the nearest screen. Two points were highlighted, near the junctions of the two pairs of warp nacelles, “No matter how much you increase the magnetic field size, the plasma is still going to bottleneck at these junctions-“
“And limit our warp capability!” That’s it!” Hammols exclaimed, “We just need to make some changes to the physical layout of the conduits! Sylvia, that’s perfect! Thank you!”
“My pleasure,” Sylvia responded.
“Well, I guess we’ll be going to our next assignment,” Jeffery said, looking at Hammols.
“Pity,” she said, giving him a sly smile.
“Y’know,” Sylvia said, “It’s going to take me more than an hour to unhook myself here. Why don’t you kids go have some fun?”
“Uh,” Jeffery swallowed, “That is-“
“Excellent idea,” Hammols said, grabbing Jeffery by the arm.
“And the Matrian Spatial Interphase Device scrambled the gel-pack, which had already been pretty scrambled to begin with, and POOF! Next thing ye know, Sylvia’s nagging me about keeping the plasma conduits clean,” Jeffery finished, downing the last of his synthale. He was seated with Captain Hammols in Neverland, the Elfman’s lounge. The room was bigger than Unbalanced Equations as the Elfman had only one lounge for the entire crew, where bigger ships like Silverado often had separate facilities for officers and enlisted crew. Still, Jeffery liked the mixed atmosphere although he missed the comfy seats looking out the windows. He couldn’t even see the windows from where he and Hammols were sitting.
“That’s fascinating,” Hammols smiled, “But I was hoping to find out a little more about you,”
Jeffery froze. He knew damned well Hammols wanted to know about him, but he’d been trying to keep her off topic.
“Ah’m Scottish?” he said weakly.
“Really,” Hammols voice turned dry, “I never would have guessed,”
“Ah, why don’t you tell me about yourself?” Jeffery asked.
“Mmmm,” Hammols smile returned as she leaned over the table, “you know just how to treat a lady, don’t you?”
“I guess,” Jeffery muttered, “Uh. Where did you grow up?”
“Slivan to Hammols,” cut in a cold voice.
Sighing, Hammols tapped her comm-badge, “Yes?”
“Your assistance is required on the bridge,” replied the voice, “Also, please advise Mr. Jeffery that Admiral Tunney has revised his travel plans. He is expected aboard the Stallion at 1000 hours tomorrow,”
“On my way,” Hammols grimaced, “Hammols out,”
She stood, shaking her head.
“Vulcans,” she muttered, “Too efficient for their own good. She must have reported to Tunney that you’d already figured out the problem with our warp drive,” she took his hand, “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Simon, but I’m afraid you’re going to be hard pressed to make your next stop on time,”
“Ah’ll manage,” Jeffery gulped.
“So how was your date?” Sylvia asked through the runabout speakers the instant Jeffery climbed aboard, her image appearing on the small monitor next to the pilot seat.
“It wasn’t a date,” Jeffery replied automatically, “It was just a professional, casual drink,”
“Professional and casual are usually mutually exclusive,”
“Now she wants to be logical,” Jeffery sighed.
“You love me and you know it,” Sylvia laughed.
“So ye got yerself fully extracted from the Elfman’s computers?” Jeffery asked, “We’re not gonna cripple the ship or anything?”
“Oh, I was out of their computer systems 3.43 seconds after diagnosing the problem,” Sylvia replied, “I didn’t entwine myself as deeply with their systems,”
“Then why…” Jeffery trailed off, “Sylvia, are ye trying to play matchmaker here?”
“Not really,” Sylvia replied, “I mean, you’re not likely to see her again, so what’s the point. Still, it was good practice, don’t you think?”
“Practice?” Jeffery exclaimed.
“Practice makes perfect,” Sylvia replied primly, “And given your track record with dating, you need all the practice you can get!”
“There’s nothing wrong with me dating!” Jeffery shouted, drawing a funny look from a crewman in the Elfman’s shuttlebay. Jeffery tapped the button to close the hatch, “Is there?”
“Let us review,” Sylvia’s face vanished from the screen as a bulleted list appeared, “For your first date with Dr. Wowryk, you horrified her by trying to wear a tuxedo to a movie,”
“Ah read that in a book,” Jeffery grumbled.
“Then you got her drunk enough that she broke her arm,” Sylvia went on, “Which was a serious, not to mention illegal daing faux-pas,”
“I served my time for that!”
“You both landed in therapy, which ended with you adopting an alien baby which you have now left in Dr. Wowryk’s sole care,”
“Ah actually miss that little guy,” Jeffery mused.
“You attempted to pressure Dr. Wowryk into a public display of affection. Frankly, you were sort of an asshole,”
“Ah didn’t make her do anything!”
“Your date with the plasma conduit specialist of Denria Dry Docks ended with you hiding under the table,” Sylvia reminded him.
“She fed me at least,”
“I would think this evidence would convince you that you need help,” Sylvia’s face reappeared on the display, “And the fact that you are here in the runabout rather than engaging in primitive yet fascinating mating rituals with Captain Hammols indicates that this date didn’t really go any better,”
“She was called away,” Jeffery said, running through the pre-flight sequence, “Besides, Ah don’t think she had that in mind,”
“Maybe,” Sylvia shrugged, “I, on the other hand, had access to the internal sensors. I assure you, that woman was in heat,”
“Bridge, this is the runabout Niagra,” Jeffery thumbed the comm switch, “Requesting immediate, repeat, immediate departure clearance!”
“I’m just looking out for you!” Sylvia went on as Jeffery guided the small ship out the shuttlebay doors, “I’d hate for you to be lonely the rest of your life!”
It was going to be a long trip.
“Time to rise and shine!” Sylvia’s clear, happy voice rang out throughout the runabout, rousing Jeffery from a sound sleep in the aft cabin. Poking his disheveled head out from under his covers, Jeffery groaned.
“I hate morning people,” he grumbled, “And morning AIs,”
“Up and at ‘em, sleepyhead!” Sylvia went on, “It’s 0955 hours and-“
“0955!” Jeffery shouted, jumping out of bed, “We’re supposed to rendezvous with the Stallion in five minutes! Crap! CRAPCRAPCRAP!” he rummaged around for his uniform, sitting back down and somehow managing to jam both legs into the same pant leg. He went over with a crash, landing on the carpeted floor, his Starfleet Engineering boxer shorts (featuring a strategically placed hydrospanner on the front and the Starfleet insignia on each butt-cheek) flapping in the breeze.
“Nice undies,” Sylvia remarked.
“Dammit, Sylvia,” Jeffery cursed, his voice muffled as he correctly arranged his legs in his pants and proceeded to get lost in his uniform top, “I told ye to wake me up early!”
“Well, you had a such a stressful day yesterday, what with being pursued by a beautiful woman who wanted to please you sexually-“
“Will ye give it a rest?” Jeffery growled, his head finally emerging.
“-that I thought I’d let you sleep in a bit,” Sylvia finished.
“This is important, Sylvia!” Jeffery shouted, “The Stallion’s on her way to help the Delta Grenthari colony! Ah can’t delay them-“
“We docked with the Stallion fifteen minutes ago,” Sylvia stated, “Captain Simplot was so thrilled that we were early that she didn’t mind at all when I told her we had a few things to finish up here before we met her,”
“We…what?” Jeffery skidded to the halt as he arrived in the piloting compartment, the windows looking out into the Stallion’s shuttlebay rather than the open space he was expecting, “We’re there?”
“Yup,” Sylvia confirmed.
“And ye took this long to tell me?”
Jeffery crossed his arms.
“Y’know,” he said, annoyed, “Ah really think yer getting a nasty sense of humor in yer old age!”
Stepping out of the runabout with Sylvia’s control box slung over one shoulder and his bag over the other, Jeffery was met by a very nervous looking Lieutenant. His uniform collar had the mustard-yellow color of Operations, and his black hair was buzzed so short he was nearly bald, except for a strange pattern of slightly longer hair. Jeffery wasn’t sure what it was, but he didn’t want to stare.
“C-commander J-J-Jeffery?” the man asked, his voice quivering, “Uh, welcome t-t-to the S-S-S-S-S-Stallion,” one hand shot awkwardly out.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Jeffery smiled,” Ah’d love to shake yer hand, but mine are kinda full,” And, he added mentally, it looks like it’s doing a good job of shaking all by itself.
“Oh!” the as yet unnamed crewman exclaimed, yanking his hand back like it’d been burnt, “S-s-s-so s-s-s-sorry,”
“Ease up, bud,” Jeffery said, trying to remember just what Vonna did with her voice when she was calming down callers, “It’s OK. What yer name?”
“L-L-Lieutenant Shurgoe,” Shurgoe said, “I k-know, it doesn’t sound human. M-my dad was from Alpha Centauri,”
“Really?” Sylvia spoke up, “So is Simon’s mother! Oh, what a delightful coincidence! What was your father’s name?”
“I-I-I..” Shurgroe’s eyes widened in terror, staring at the box of computer components slung over Jeffery’s shoulder. He wavered for a moment, collapsing to the deck.
“Oops,” Sylvia said softly.
“I am SO sorry,” Sylvia said, sounding downright mortified, “I didn’t mean to scare him,”
“It happens,” Dr. Annerson said with a friendly smile, running a hand through her shortly cropped blond hair. She was a shorter Durentian woman with pale green skin, looking to be in her late thirties. Or at least the Durentian equivalent of late thirties. She had a bearing that Jeffery best described as ‘motherly’. Two years with Sylvia had made him somewhat of an expert on motherly behavior, regardless of race, “The poor guy had a panic attack last week during a battle drill. Wound up racing through the corridors stark naked and screaming about evil subspace instabilities,”
“Ah hope he’s gonna be OK,” Jeffery gulped, turning to look at Captain Simplot, “Not much of a first impression, huh? Ah come here to fix stuff and Ah end up breakin’ one of yer crewmembers,”
“Actually, I broke him,” Sylvia spoke up, the speaker grill on her box slightly dented from where Shurgroe hit it on his way down.
“Don’t worry about it,” Simplot shrugged her slim shoulders, tossing her jet-black hair and smiling at Jeffery, “I bet you’ve made more than your share of positive first impressions,”
Oh boy, Jeffery thought to himself. Time to change the topic!
“Still,” Simplot went on, “We’re going to have to get him introduced to Sylvia. He’s going to be working with her quite a bit for the next month,”
“Aye,” Jeffery nodded. Tunney had only scheduled them to be with the Elfman for a couple of days, as their biggest problem was their maximum warp speed. The Stallion, however, had been plagued with so many problems since her launch less than five months after Silverado that she had barely been able to remain on active duty. Prior to shipping them out, Tunney had setup an engineering conference call between many of the Operation Salvage ships having minor problems. Jeffery and Sylvia had managed to give enough tips and tricks to integrating old and new technology to get most of the Chief Engineers pointed in the right direction. The Stallion’s condition, however, had been one of Tunney’s main reasons for starting the project in the first place.
“What does he do on this ship, anyway?” Jeffery asked, indicating Shurgroe as the younger man started to stir.
“Lieutenant Shurgroe?” Simplot bit her lip, “Um, he’s our Chief Engineer,”
Jeffery remained calm as Shurgroe regained consciousness and was carefully informed that the talking box was an AI he’d learn more about at the upcoming staff meeting. He remained calm as Dr. Annerson told Shurgroe that if he kept missing his medication he was going to give himself a heart attack. He even remained calm when he noticed Captain Simplot’s eyes wandering over his body.
After being escorted to the computer core he easily convinced his escort that he could manage Sylvia’s installation on his own. Once he was sure it was just him and Sylvia, he longer felt the need to remain calm.
“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT???” he screamed.
“I thought they were nice,” Sylvia said.
“No wonder this ship is a wreck!” Jeffery snapped, looking for the access panel, “That guy couldn’t fix a wobbly table, nevermind a starship!”
“Didn’t it occur to you that the reason why is Chief Engineer is because his skills outweigh his emotional problems?” Sylvia asked, “I’m sure if I had a talk with him we could settle him down a bit. He really did seem like a nice young man,”
“He’s in one of the most important positions on this ship! Who holds the ship together when yer being attacked? Who’s responsible for keepin’ the entire crew alive? If it’s him then I want OFF this ship!”
“Not likely,” Sylvia said, “Our orders are to stay here ‘until it’s fixed’,”
“DAMMIT!” Jeffery swore, having banged his elbow on the opposite wall, “I can’t believe a ship this tiny used to be the biggest thing in Starfleet!”
“It’s not the size that counts, dear,”
“Don’t you start!” Jeffery grumbled, “Ah have no issues with size! Not that anyone would know, since it’s been two years since I got to snog a-!”
“Ohh, this is getting juicy!” Sylvia giggled, “Sexual tension, much?”
“Why now?” Jeffery said, yanking out connectors and chips, clearing a space for Sylvia’s module, “Ah mean, it’s not over with Noel. We were really getting somewhere. Now that Ah have some space Ah got hot women comin’ at me from all directions!”
“Most men wouldn’t complain,” Sylvia said, “Except for Jall’s type, maybe,”
“Why would he comp-“
“Nevermind, dear,” Sylvia said quickly, “And Simon, I think you need to come to grips with it. You and Noel are finished,”
“It was just a spat,” Simon said.
“You left her for a new assignment without even telling her,” Sylvia pointed out.
“I left a message,” Jeffery defended himself, “And we might be going back,”
“I’m sure that will reassure her,”
“Ok, all done,” Jeffery said, changing the subject by plugging in the last connection between Sylvia and the Stallion, “Now, don’t do anything until I get a chance to brief the senior staff. We don’t need any more accidents!”
“Party pooper,” Sylvia grumbled. But her voice was still coming from the box, not the ship.
“Did something crap on your head?” Tactical Officer Hurken chuckled, walking past Lieutenant Shurgoe and taking his seat in the Stallion’s briefing room. Where modern ships had conference lounges off the bridge, the Constitution class had it a deck down, meaning the staff had to take a turbolift ride anytime they wanted to meet. It was, in Captain Simplot’s opinion, a major pain in the ass.
“It’s a W-W-Wiccan symbol of g-g-good fortune,” Simplot said, one hand going self-consciously to the shaved pattern of hair on his skull, “I-I-It’s supposed to bring good luck,”
Sighing, Dr. Annerson leaned over and pressed a hypospray to Shurgroe’s neck. He immediately calmed.
“MEDICATION!” Annerson snapped, waving the hypospray in front of Shurgroe’s face before pressing it into his hand, “No more of that homeopathic crap!”
“Maybe he just likes the ‘homeo’part,” Hurken snickered.
“I can get far more women than you can,” Shurgroe said, his stutter and the look of terror both gone, “It comes with being tall slim and handsome, as opposed to being shaped like an egg,”
Lt. Commander Hurken was a Tellarite. Aside from being (in the eyes of most humanoid species) short, fat and ugly, they also considered rudeness to be good manners. While that particular oxymoron played havoc with the revised 24th Century Edition Emily Post, Hurken’s attitude sufficiently annoyed people that they had very little trouble adapting to his mannerisms.
“Tellarite women,” Hurken was saying, “Prefer men that don’t look like vigorous lovemaking would break them in half!”
“There are Tellarite women?” Operations Officer Sinclair asked in clipped Caribbean tones, “So how does one tell the difference between a Tellarite man and a Tellarite woman? They look the same to me!”
Hurken threw back his head and let out a strong belly-laugh.
“Good one,” Simplot chuckled.
“What, mon?” Sinclair asked, “I was serious!” Sinclair was nearly two meters of solid, female muscle. Her dark Caribbean features and long, thick hair had occasionally caused to her be mistaken for a Klingon woman when viewed from behind, but once she turned around it was clear that she was 100% human and 150% woman. And, if she didn’t like you, 100% trouble.
Lieutenant Tereneth, the Hermat assigned to the helm, crossed their arms and grinned.
“What’s so funny?” First Officer Iron Kren, a joined Trill asked.
“I find it very interested when you binary gender races spar over sexist topics,” Tereneth admitted, “We never get arguments this entertaining on Hermat,”
“Hmph,” Hurken snorted, “What fun is it when a planet has only one gender?”
“I agree,” Shurgroe said, “I mean, I think having my own breasts would take all the fun out of it,”
“You do realize,” Kren said, annoyed by the conversation, “That any minute now the expert from Silverado will be here. Do you really want his first impression of us to come from a conversation about breasts?”
“All human men like the booty,” Sinclair said. Simplot laughed out loud.
“Oh, good,” Tereneth smiled, eyeing their own small but properly formed breasts, “He sounds like fun. We need more fresh meat on this ship,”
“You have other parts he won’t like so much,” Science Officer Gonzalez commented. He’d been quiet for the rest of the exchange, stroking his neat beard. Born in Spain, he had strong Latino features that had led to much female pursuit. And just as much female ‘interaction’.
“Hermat anatomy is fascinating,” Annerson said, “But no, it wouldn’t make a good impression,”
“I think it’s a bit late,” Shurgroe said sadly, “His first impression is me passing out,”
“Don’t worry, Josh,” Tereneth assured the slim engineer, “By the time we’re finished with him, he’s going to love working on this ship,”
“I already hate this ship,” Jeffery muttered, waiting patiently for an engineering crew to free him from the turbolift he’d become trapped in.
“Does this belong to you?” Ensign Simko asked, leading Jeffery into the conference room. It had only taken fifteen minutes to get him out of the turbolift, but in that short time Sinclair and Hurken had managed to get into an arm wrestling match over who could beat up who’s mother. Annerson had been cheering for Sinclair when Hurken kicked Sinclair under the table. She’d retaliated by slamming his face into the tabletop, spilling the jug of water that had been set out.
Jeffery surveyed the scene. A big dark-skinned woman with breasts the size of watermelons was shouting at a short, fat and ugly Tellarite while the doctor he had met was lecturing Shurgroe, who had apparently tried to ditch his hypospray in a potted plant during the commotion. A slim alien who’s race he didn’t recognize was eyeing him up. The alien was slim and attractive and certainly had female features above the waist, but he also noticed an un-feminine bulge further down. Gulping, he turned his attention to Simplot. She had just turned her attention away from a Latino fellow in the corner and had been about to speak to a very annoyed looking Trill. All conversation died down as everybody turned to look at Jeffery, the slim alien running their tongue over their lips. Everybody had water on their laps and the puddle of water was continuing to spread from a spilled pitcher on the table.
“He doesn’t belong to me yet,” Tereneth said, “But give it a day or two,”
“As you were!” Kren snapped, “Commander, I apologize for our appearance. I assure you, this is not typical behavior.
Everybody else at the table rolled their eyes.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jeffery force out, trying to smile and thinking of food fights, virtual reality battlefields and Jall’s incident with the supply ship Kleyson, “Ah’ve, er, seen worse,”
“But you’ll never see better,” Tereneth grinned.
“Down girl!” Sinclair cried, waving a hand, “let the poor man be!”
“S/he gets a little excited when we have company,” Simplot chuckled.
“Sha-who?” Jeffery asked, locating a chair without water on it and taking a seat.
“S/he,” Kren explained, pronouncing it ‘sha-he’, “Lieutenant Tereneth here is a Hermat,”
Jeffery looked blank.
“The entire species is dual-gender,” Gonzalez explained, taking up his role as Science Officer, “No men or woman. Just a mix of the two. We’ve got an entire set of pronouns just for them: S/he. Hir. Hish. So forth. They and them work as well, but the Hermats have a committee setup to help facilitate their relations with us two-gender races, and apparently they like their own pronouns.”
“That’s what it’s for officially,” Tereneth said, “Usually they just make fun of the flat chests and pot-bellies your males have. And I’m just fine with they/them.”
Jeffery continued to look blank, a bit of fear entering into his face.
“S/he has a penis!” Sinclair said.
“That was uncalled for!” Tereneth crossed hir arms, glaring at Sinclair, “Now I’ll NEVER get him into bed! Human males are so sensitive about those things!”
Annerson started laughing, shooting water out of her nose as she tried to gently set her glass down on the table.
“As you all were!” Kren snapped, “Commander, perhaps you could begin your presentation? I believe there was something you wanted to tell us all?
“Uh, right,” Jeffery gulped, looking again at Tereneth and making a mental note to avoid her. Hir. Them. Whatever.
“Um, well,” Jeffery stood, “As some of ye already know, I have, uh, a sort of strange assistant. And Ah want to avoid some of the, er, misunderstanding we’ve had in the past,” he paused, “Uh, by the way, who are all ye people?”
Simplot quickly made introductions.
“Ah. Thank ye,” Jeffery swallowed again, then related the story of how Sylvia was created: Jall’s tampering with the computer’s personality profile at the start of their mission, the repeated exposure of the gel-packs to the brain-wave distorting Matrian SIDs leading up to the computer’s full immersion in the Matrian Dreamland and Sylvia’s achievement of self-awareness.
“Amazing,” Gonzalez said, “How does it handle the integration of standard isolinear circuitry into its neural pathways? What does it use for memory storage, permanent or-“
“SHE,” Jeffery emphasized, “has explained everything about a dozen times to our Science Officer. And while Fifebee knows what’s goin on, she hasn’t been able to explain it to the rest of us. At least not well enough for it to make any sense.”
“Fifebee?” Shurgroe asked.
“Science Officer Jane 5-B is an experimental hologram,” Kren said, “And you, Lieutenant, need to keep up with current advances,”
“Yes sir,” Shurgroe muttered.
“So what’s the problem?” Simplot asked.
“Why do ye think there’s a problem?” Jeffery asked, trying to keep a straight face.
“There is ALWAYS a problem,” Hurken grunted, “especially when humans are involved!”
“Tellarite etiquette, honey,” Annerson smiled at him.
“Huh?” Jeffery frowned.
“Like so,” Annerson turned to Hurken, “I’d like to see a walking sack of pork like yourself do better!”
“Rabid she-ape!” Hurken shot back.
“Oh, just go take a roll in the mud why don’t you!” Annerson shot back. She smiled reassuringly at Jeffery.
“Right,” Jeffery was, for some reason, starting to feel more comfortable. Annerson had a friendly, motherly attitude that reminded him of somebody. Oh, right. He’d already noticed that.
“What I wanted to warn you about,” he said, “Is how Sylvia integrates with the ship. She kinda, um, takes the place of the computer’s personality profile and integrates herself into the systems. That’s how she’s able to help me find glitches and figure out where repairs and adjustments need to be made,” he swallowed again, “She also takes care of all the computer’s interaction with the crew. She likes it when you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and expects to be treated like another member of the crew,”
Everybody stared at him.
“She’s a computer, right?” Shurgroe asked.
“She’s a self-aware artificial life-form,” Jeffery said, getting annoyed.
“Like Commander Data was?” Sinclair asked.
“No, not like Commander Data was!” Jeffery snapped. He took a deep breath, “Ye know, let’s just meet her so ye can see for yerselves,” he tapped his tricorder, opening a link to Sylvia’s module and sending the signal for her to integrate herself.
Within seconds, Sylvia’s face appeared on the triple display screens on the middle of the table and her voice rang out from the computer speakers.
“Hi everybody, nice to meet you! I’m really looking forward to working with all of you,” she smiled out at everybody.
Everybody looked at Sylvia’s image, over to Dr. Annerson, then over at Jeffery.
“Twice as much nagging,” Shurgroe said softly.
“More insipient female whining,” Hurken grunted.
“Security nightmare,” sighed Kren.
“Juicy gossip!” Annerson and Tereneth exclaimed.
“I would do her,” Gonzalez shrugged.
“You’ve reached the USS Silverado, this is Ensign Yanick speaking, how may I help you today?”
“Trish?” Jeffery frowned, trying to make out Yanick’s face on his screen. He’d checked the terminal in his quarters for problems but couldn’t get rid of the static that raced across the screen every time he tried to make a subspace call, “What are ye doing running communications?”
“Weelll,” Yanick looked embarrassed, “When T’Parief was handling communications everybody kept hanging up, so we tried having Jall do it. But he started hitting on all the hot callers so now it’s my turn,”
“Y’know Noel’s really pissed at you, right?” Yanick said, frowning at him, “That note wasn’t very nice! Not that she told me about it. I had to hear about it from Sage, who heard it from Shwaluk who was talking to Gibson. But anyway. Noel isn’t really talking to anybody right now,”
“I actually wanted to talk to Chris,”
“Chris?” Yanick looked confused, “Oh! The Captain! He’s not taking calls either,”
“Why not?” Jeffery asked.
“I don’t know,” Yanick said, “Everybody’s been acting weird the past week, since we got back from that other universe. If you ask me-“
“Tell Chris I wanna talk to him,” Jeffery cut in, “He’ll talk to me,”
“Uh, he said ‘Ensign Yanick, no calls. Unless it’s something REALLY important from Starfleet’,”
“I’m in Starfleet, and it’s important!” Jeffery snapped.
“What?” Yanick looked at some kind of commotion happening off the screen, “Sage! No! Don’t pull that circuit, I’m trying to-“
The signal cut out.
Jeffery sat staring at the blank screen for nearly a minute.
“Riiiight,” he signed.
Lieutenant Gonzalez tossed his uniform jacket into his laundry basket, having returned to his cramped quarters at the end of his shift. If he’d been on a REAL ship, there would have been a nice window with a view for an officer of his rank, but no. His quarters were deep inside the saucer section on Deck 5. As deep as you could get on a relatively small Constitution-class ship. He stepped over to the food replicator that had been installed in one corner, hoping it was going to work today.
“Computer, random pasta selection,” he ordered, “Something with plenty of meat in it,”
The replicator sputtered, but didn’t produce any food.
“Why don’t you let me try, dear,” the voice of that AI, Sylvia cut in, “Though I could try a lot harder if you said ‘please’,”
“AI, please get my replicator going,” Gonzalez said.
Nothing happened. There was a sound that he was almost certain was the AI clearing its throat.
Grimacing, he tried again.
“Sylvia, please get my replicator going!” he repeated.
“One sec, dear,” The lights on the control panel changed configuration several times as Sylvia directed her full attention to locating the problem, “Um, do me a favor will you? I need a strong young man to yank that lower panel off and turn chip 43-26G around. It’s in backwards,”
Gonzalaz complied, located the offending chip and repositioned it as instructed.
“Much better,” Sylvia said happily. The replicator hummed and a pile of sauce-coated noodles appeared.
“Thanks,” Gonzalez said curtly, grabbing the plate and stuffing a pile of pasta into his mouth.
“My pleasure,” Sylvia said happily, startling Gonzalez to the point where he started choking, “Although if I may say, young man, you seem to have far more images of nude females in your quarters that might be appropriate. I’m a bit surprised, actually. Most men don’t find Klingon or Bolian women to be attractive,”
“Why are you still here?” Gonzalez snapped, having recovered from his strangulation problem.
“I beg your pardon,” Sylvia replied haughtily, “I would have thought that after I helped you with your problem you might actually have some time to chat with me,”
There was an audible ‘click’ as the comm-line went dead.
Shrugging, Gonzalez noticed that his antique erotic portrait of Zeg’nar of Andoria was crooked and moved to straighten it.
The next morning, Jeffery rode the turbolift from his guest quarters in the saucer to the engineering deck, relieved that on this visit to the Stallion he didn’t have to crawl through ten decks of Jefferies tubes to get there.
Stepping out of the turbolift and into the corridor he rounded the corner into the main engine room-
And bounced off the sealed blast door.
“Bugger me!” Jeffery shouted, rubbing his forehead, “Sylvia, why is this door locked??”
“One second, Simon,” Sylvia said hurriedly. After a moment, the door hissed open, “Problem with the control circuits,” Sylvia said curtly.
“Uh, thanks,” Jeffery replied, “Sylvia, are you feeling OK?”
“Oh, I’m JUST fine!” Sylvia said, “Just a little stressed. And overworked. This ship is falling apart! And this computer core just doesn’t have the processing power I’m used to! And this crew is rude and ungrateful!”
“Ye should be used to that, after dealing with us,” Jeffery tried to joke.
“Oh, I’m managing,” Sylvia sighed, “It’s just a pain to have to get people used to me all over again,”
“Bloody hell,” Jeffery muttered as Lieutenant Shurgoe spotted him.
“R-R-Ready to get started?” Shurgoe asked, gulping and cringing slightly away from Jeffery.
“He sure is,” Sylvia cut in, “And he really likes your haircut, by the way,”
“THANK ye Sylvia!” Jeffery snapped. Just what he needed, somebody making nice for him with people he didn’t like, “Look, Lieutenant, we’ve got a lot of work to do, let’s just get it done, OK?”
“Y-Y-Y-Y-Yessir,” Shurgroe ducked back.
The Stallion’s engine room didn’t have an office, but it was big. The chamber took up most of the upper deck of the secondary hull, with the warp core stretching up through the ship’s neck and down to the antimatter storage pods in the lower secondary hull.
“Ye left the original warp core in?” Jeffery was shocked, eyeing the downright primitive vertical and horizontal intermix chamber arrangement. Modern warp cores were basically vertical tubes within which matter and antimatter were forced together within magnetic containment fields, the explosive interaction usually taking place in a centralized reaction chamber with plasma conduits carrying the resulting high-energy plasma to the EPS taps. The taps drew out a relatively tiny amount of plasma to power the ship while the rest went to the warp nacelles. The Stallion’s arrangement of vertical and horizontal intermix chambers stretching back through the secondary hull was so outdated Jeffery had never even seen one outside of a museum.
“I-I-It’s been r-r-refurbished,” Shurgroe tried to explain, “N-new articulation frame, imp-p-proved magnetic constrictors and-“
“Dude, where’s yer hypo?” Jeffery interrupted.
Shurgroe bit his lip.
“I-I-I don’t like drugs,” he said, “I d-d-did a calming chant this morning,”
“Josh,” Sylvia said gently, “I really think it would be better if you took your meds,”
Shurgroe jumped at the sound of Sylvia’s voice, but didn’t pass out.
“Why don’t we have a little chat while Simon takes a look around?” Sylvia offered.
Jeffery was half buried in one of the electro-plasma system control units when Shurgroe returned.
“She’s quite a lady,” Shurgroe said, smiling. Clearly, Sylvia had convinced him to take the hypo.
“She’s special all right,” Jeffery said, yanking out a burnt-out crystal node, “What the hell was this supposed to do? Ah don’t even recognize half of these circuits! Is this some kind of power shunt? But what the hell is it supposed to be shunting?”
“Uh, I don’t know,” Shurgroe shrugged, “Um, but about Syvlia…”
“What?” Jeffery asked, reaching his hand out for a replacement node.
“Is she taken?”
Jeffery banged his head so hard he saw stars. Extracting himself from the cramped space he gripped his throbbing skull.
“WHAT?” he snapped.
“She kinda reminds me of my last girlfriend,” Shurgroe said sheepishly.
“She is NOT on the market!” Jeffery snapped.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Shurgroe backed away, “Are you two…?”
Jeffery’s eyes widened.
“NOOO! Ah have a girl back on Silverado! Sylvia’s just not that kinda girl!”
“And how would you know, Simon,” Sylvia chuckled, breaking into the conversation, “It’s not like I haven’t taken holographic form before. Maybe I’d enjoy a night on the town with-“
“Ah can’t take this!” Jeffery interrupted, “From either of ye! Shurgroe, tell me what the biggest problem is with this ship. Sylvia, we’re going to do our job and get it fixed!”
“We’re dropping out of warp,” Shurgroe said suddenly.
“Well,” he frowned, ‘That’s an odd problem, but I’m sure we can-“
“No, Simono,” Sylvia said, “We’ve arrived at Delta Grenthari,”
Jeffery perked up.
“Right on!” he said, giving his head one last rub, “Lets get to work. At least with the warp engines shut down we don’t have to worry about being fried by the plasma flow!
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58164.6:
“Having arrived at the Delta Grenthari system, we’ve started unloaded the supplies needed by the colony. Uh, there’ve been some problems with the new cargo transporters, so we’re taking a lot of stuff down by shuttle. The cargo deck is a hive of activity.”
“Meanwhile, our cute visiting engineer has the engineering team scrambling. Shurgroe has been doing a great job, but the infusion of fresh ideas and experience that Jeffery and Sylvia bring are badly needed. Oh, that reminds me. They need to fix that problem with the internal sensors…”
Captain Simplot sat quietly in her seat, surveying the bridge. Bored out of her skull. The Stallion didn’t even have a ready room for her to retreat to, just the tiny office in her quarters. Also in line with the layout of older bridges, there was only one command chair. First Officer Kren, while far too professional to complain about it, wasn’t very happy about having to sit way over at the Environmental Control station when Simplot was on the bridge.
“Two more shuttles arriving,” Kren reported.
“Open shuttlebay doors, engage tractor beam, yadda, yadda, yadda,” Simplot sighed.
“You mean shuttlebay door, right?” Hurken scowled, tapping his padd.
“Right,” Simplot groaned. Only one of the two bay doors was actually functioning at the moment, “Any chance Jeffery and Shurgroe can get that fixed?”
“They’ve got their hands full as it is,” Tereneth said, running hir hands over the helm board.
“Full of what, I wonder?” Kren mused.
Sinclair turned around to look at Kren, her eyebrow lifted almost to her hairline.
“I just meant that they didn’t seem to be making much progress,” Kren growled, “I wasn’t implying anything!”
“I wouldn’t mind having my hands full of either one of them,” Tereneth grinned.
“Wake up and smell the hormones!” Hurken laughed.
“Actually,” Gonzalez cut in, leaning over his science console, “You don’t smell hormones. Pheromones, on the other hand-“
“Don’t you people talk about anything other than sex?” Sylvia’s voice cut in, causing everybody to jump.
Tereneth was the first to recover.
“We do,” s/he said, “It’s just that everything seems to lead back to the bedroom,”
“I don’t think it’s very healthy,” Sylvia said, “have you considered turning down the temperatures in your sonic showers?”
Even as Sylvia simultaneously bickered with the bridge crew while helping Jeffery and Shurgroe identify and repair glitches, another plot was brewing. As the shuttlecraft Pinto was being loaded, a single figure casually walked out dressed in a neat, clean and fake Starfleet uniform.
Checking to be sure her hair was in the prerequisite bun, she made her way into the vast cargo bay of the Stallion. The retractable deck plates that covered the lower cargo deck had been retracted to allow for shuttle loading and the divider between the hanger bay and cargo bay had been dropped. It was really too bad, she mused, that Starfleet had moved away from the huge cargo and loading facilities of the early refit-Constitution-class in favor of scattering smaller cargo bays across various parts of the ship. It might be a waste of space, but it was impressive.
But she had a mission to accomplish. Enough sightseeing.
“Another backwards chip?” Shrugroe frowned, scratching his head.
“Aye,” Jeffery said, tapping the control to open shuttlebay doors. This time, both of the huge clamshell doors slid smoothly open.
“This is really getting annoying,” Sylvia complained, “This makes 212 backwards isolinear chips, 98 defective data shunts and 324 hardware incompatibilities,”
“We get it,” Shurgroe said, “ there were some errors when the ship was refurbished,”
“It ye’d replaced these old chip slots with the newer versions,” Jeffery suggested, “they would have automatically readjusted, no matter how ye inserted the chips,”
“And it would have taken ten times longer to do the refit,” Shurgroe said glumly, “Lose-lose scenario,”
“Well, another day, another problem fixed,” Sylvia said happily, “Simon, Josh, good work!”
“Thanks,” Shurgroe sighed, smiling weakly and heading out.
“Yer being awfully cheerful about a shuttlebay door,” Jeffery grunted, tapping the control to close the doors and preparing to follow the other engineer.
“Somebody has to encourage him,” Sylvia said softly, “Considering we left Delta Grenthari yesterday and had to do the entire supply transfer through one shuttlebay door, I really doubt the Captain is going to be the one doing it,”
“Ye think Simplot’s gonna take it out on him?”
“She’s not happy about it,” Sylvia sighed.
“And so this is another problem that we should have spotted months ago?” Simplot said archly, one eyebrow raised as she regarded the two engineers. Normally she’d prefer to have this conversation in her ready room, but the closest equivalent meant a very awkward turbolift ride down with the two of them.
“In Shurgroe’s defense,” Sylvia started, “It would be very difficult to spot without manually checking each bank of chips-“
“Which we wouldn’t have had to do if they’d been installed properly in the first place!” Simplot replied hotly.
“True,” Sylvia said, the shrug evident in her voice.
“And you managed to find it with little trouble,”
“Well, yes,” now Sylvia was sounding uneasy, “But even on this ship I have many times the processing power of a humanoid brain,”
As everybody on the bridge looked up, somewhat startled and just a little offended Jeffery couldn’t help but smother a chuckle.
“Even on this ship?” Simplot asked.
“Oh my,” now Sylvia sounded downright embarrassed, “I didn’t really mean it like that-“
“Smaller computer core,” Jeffery jumped in, trying hard not to laugh, “Less processing power and all. Cuz, y’know, sometimes size does matter…”
Simplot stared at him for a moment, then chuckled. The tension on the bridge eased noticeably.
“No offense taken, Sylvia,”
“He’s right, after all,” Tereneth purred.
“Here we go again,” Kren sighed.
“Captain,” Hurken said suddenly, “I have a vessel approaching. Orion in design. They’re hailing us!”
“Why didn’t we see them sooner?” Simplot asked.
“They managed to slip past our long-range sensors,” Hurken said.
“On screen,” Simplot said.
An Orion male appeared on the viewscreen. The last Orion Jeffery had seen had been one of the ugliest things he could have imagined. This one must not have fit that bill, judging by the way Sinclair and Tereneth’s attention were suddenly captivated by the viewscreen.
“Speaking of size…” Tereneth trained off, moistening their lips.
“I’m Captain Simplot of the USS Stallion,” Simplot said, remaining seated in her chair, “What can we do for you?”
“I am Krunts,” the Orion stated, “You have something very valuable that we want. Give us the hologram. Now.”
“Hologram?” Simplot asked, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,”
“What is he talking about?” Shurgroe muttered to Jeffery.
“I have no idea,” Jeffery shrugged.
“Do not lie!” Krunts snapped, “The hologram arrived on your ship two days ago. Surrender her, now!”
“Captain, I’ve muted the signal,” Gonzalez broke in.
“Does ANYBODY know what the hell he’s talking about?” Simplot asked.
“He thinks Lieutenant Fifebee is aboard,” Gonzalez replied immediately.
“What?” Jeffery frowned, “how do ye figure that,”
“Obviously, they heard that we were receiving an artificial intelligence from the Silverado and assumed it to be Lieutenant Fifebee,” Gonzalez explained, “She is common knowledge, while Sylvia is not,”
“Let’s not correct them,” Kren suggested.
“You think?” Simplot asked, arching an eyebrow, “How many hundreds of years of experience did you need to figure that one out?” She ordered Gonzalez to restore audio.
“By hologram do you mean Lieutenant Fifebee?” Simplot asked.
“YES!” Krunts snapped, obviously not pleased by being placed on the starship equivalent of hold, “Turn her over to me at once or I will destroy you!”
“You’re welcome to try!” Simplot said firmly, “End transmission!”
“Uh,” Jeffery looked uneasily at Shurgroe, “Can you guys fight an Orion ship in this thing?”
“I-I hope so!” Shurgroe gulped.
“We’ll be in Engineering!” Jeffery said to Simplot, grabbing Shurgroe and hustling him into the turbolift.
“Raise shields!” Simplot ordered, “Arm weapons!”
“Shield generators three and four are not responding,” Hurken stated, “Aft and ventral shields are only at 40%”
The ship shook as the Orions opened fire.
“Forward shields down to 80%!” Hurken reported.
“Enough with the commentary!” Simplot shouted, pushing her ponytail back, “Shoot back! Evasive maneuvers!”
The Stallion ducked as Tereneth tried to keep the stronger shields towards the Orions. Weak phaser fire spat from her upper emitters and splashed against the Orion’s shields, doing little damage.
Jeffery grabbed a support as the ship shook again.
“We need more phaser power!” Simplot’s voice came over the comm.
“We’ve never been able to get the phasers above 70%,” Shurgroe said.
“Why not?” Jeffery asked, “Ye’ve got the power levels and the emitters, what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know!” Shurgroe said, “But the power just doesn’t make it to the emitters!”
“It’s gotta be something with the circuitry in between,” Jeffery snapped, tapping on his console and pulling up diagrams and power flow charts.
“We’re taking a beating!” Hurken snapped, “Just like any poorly designed human-“
The ship shook again, sparks exploding from one of the consoles.
“Hurken, this really isn’t the time!” Simplot snapped, “Fire torpedoes!”
One lonely torpedo shot out of the Stallions launch tubes, slamming hard into the enemy vessel.
“That shook them up,” Sinclair reported.
The ship crashed again.
“And made them mad!” Tereneth shouted.
“Engineering!” Simplot thumbed the comm switch on her chair, “What’s the story on those phasers!?”
“Working on it!” Shurgroe’s voice came back.
“Now isn’t the time to be hunting for backwards chips!” Simplot said, cutting the channel.
“Ah don’t get it,” Jeffery said, “The power conduits for the phaser banks are designed to handle a lot more plasma then they’re getting, the warp core has the excess plasma capacity, but the EPS taps just can’t pull it all out!”
“T-t-t-there’s gotta be something we’re n-n-n-n-ot understanding here,” Shurgroe said.
“Mate, take yer hypo!” Jeffery snapped, “This isn’t the time-“
“I-I-I did!” Shurgroe snapped back, “B-b-battles just really make me nervous!”
The ship crashed again, a direct hit to the secondary hull nearly breaching the engine room hull.
“Reinforce that area!” Shurgroe shouted, pointing at the deformed section of wall. Immediately two crewmen ran over and started phaser-wielding reinforcements over the deformation.
“Sylvia,” Jeffery called out.
“I’m a little busy, Simon,” Sylvia replied.
“Ah need ye to examine the old Constitution-class refit designs,” Jeffery shouted, “See if there’s something with the phaser power systems we’re not getting,”
“Quick, take us into that asteroid field!” Kren suddenly spoke up.
“Asteroids?” Simplot snapped, “Are you crazy?”
“Our shields are failing,” Kren said, “We need to buy time! We’ll be harder to hit if we’re dodging between rocks!
“He’s got a point,” Hurken said, “For a slimy slug,”
“Take us in,” Simplot nodded.
The Stallion’s impulse engines pulsed to life, sending the ship gliding towards a rock roughly the size of Newfoundland. Using the asteroid’s weak gravity to help maneuver, she curved around it just as the Orion ship fired. The shot hit the edge of the asteroid, blasting lose a spray of shattered rock which glanced off the Stallion’s shields. Still, the impact was much less than the disruptor blast would have been and the weakened shields held.
“How’s that shunt coming?” Jeffery called. Shurgroe and three of his engineers were working frantically on the EPS control circuits that had so confounded Jeffery earlier, just past the EPS taps, connecting a series of cables and plasma conduits.
“A few more minutes!” Shurgroe said
“Engineering to bridge!” Jeffery called up, “We’re on to something! Just buy us some time!”
“We’re working on it!” Kren’s voice came back, “And, by the way, if you could do something about our shields it would be much appreciated!”
“On it!” Jeffery replied. He started tapping at the warp core control console. One of the disadvantage of the old intermix chambers was that they were so much bigger. This meant twice as many magnetic constrictor segments and much more power needed to run the containment fields. But it also meant that if you siphoned off some of the power from the magnetic fields while still keeping them strong enough to contain the matter-antimatter reaction, you could get a very nice little power boost. Doing exactly that, Jeffery fed the extra power in the shields and programmed the constrictors to slowly build back up to their previous charge. It was, he reflected briefly, similar to the method he’d used to power Silverado’s phaser cannon. If somewhat more risky. A lot more risky, actually.
“Shields back up to 60%,” he informed the bridge.
“W-w-we’re ready over here!” Shurgroe called.
“Give the phasers a try too!” Jeffery added.
“You heard the man!” Simplot called back to Hurken, “Get us out of this asteroid field and open fire!”
The Stallion soared out from behind the asteroids, surprising the Orion ship, which veered abruptly out of the way. This time the phaser beams that shot out and hit the Orion ship dead center did very noticeable damage.
“Phasers at 110%!” Hurken called, “Their shields are down to 50%!”
“Keep firing!” Simplot ordered, “Don’t give them time to recover!”
The Stallion shook as the Orions returned fire.
“Hull breach on Deck 20,” Sinclair reported.
“Firing torpedoes,” Hurken reported.
Again, only one torpedo soared out to hit the Orion ship. But it was enough.
“They’re retreating,” Hurken reported.
“Let them go,” Simplot ordered, letting out a sigh of relief and pulling her hair back into place, “Start on repairs,” she smiled, looking around at her crew, “Hey, we did pretty good!”
“Our first fire-fight!” Hurken laughed.
“And we survived!” Tereneth pointed out.
“It’s good to know that now we have teeth!” Sinclair laughed.
“I don’t like women with too many teeth,” Gonzalez said thoughtfully, “it just causes problems sooner or later,”
Nobody asked what he meant by that.
“So you see,” Sylvia explained, her face displayed once again on the briefing room’s triple display screens, “When the Constitution-class was redesigned, they increased the phaser power by channeling it through the warp engines. They had some trouble with it when the first refit vessel was caught in an unstable wormhole, but beyond that the system worked fairly well,”
“Except that it hasn’t been used in starships for over a century,” Jeffery added, “We use a much more efficient and reliable system now. Except-“
“E-E-Except our refurbished warp core i-i-isn’t designed to work that w-w-way,” Shurgroe cut in, “W-w-w-w-w-“
“MEDICATION!” Dr. Annerson bellowed, smacking Shurgroe upside the head with one hand while the other injected him with calming drugs.
“I think you both need to be medicated,” Hurken grunted.
“Anyway,” Jeffery went on, grinning, “Ye shouldn’t have anymore trouble with yer phasers,”
“Good,” Kren said flatly, “Then you can take a look at why our torpedo tubes aren’t firing properly,”
“Having some trouble with the old torpedo tube, are you Commander?” Sinclair asked, her large bosom bouncing as she laughed.
Kren turned beet read as his expression darkened.
“Can’t get the torpedoes to fire, huh?” Tereneth giggled.
“Can’t penetrate your opponents shields?” Sylvia added.
“Oh! That was a good one!” Sinclair slapped one big hand on the table, “I like this girl!”
Even Kren had to crack a smile.
“What the hell did you think you were doing??” Penelope snapped quietly at the image on her viewscreen, “Do you know how much trouble it was to track down the AI and find a way to stow away on this ship when she was transferred! And you decide it’s a good idea to sic the Orions on her before I have a chance to make my move? Now everybody here is on guard!”
“We didn’t put the Orions up to this!” Penelope’s controller answered, “They got wind of the bounty on the hologram’s head and took matters into their own hands. You’re just going to have to do what you can to salvage the situation!”
Penelope was quiet for a moment.
“Who else knows about the bounty?” she asked.
“At this point?” the controller shrugged, “I don’t know. But given the amount of latinum we’re talking about, you can bet that the USS Stallion isn’t going to be a very safe place to be until that hologram is captured,”
“We’re sure the hologram is the AI they want, right?” Penelope asked.
“Pretty sure,” the controller answered, “She’s the only artificial intelligence listed as being attached to Silverado, and the contract was for Silverado’s AI. Why?”
“I don’t know,” Penelope said, frowning, “There’s something that’s just off with what I’ve been hearing on this ship,” she shook her head, frustrated, “But this crew is too tightly knit. They’d notice me in a second if I started asking questions, and computer access has been almost impossible to crack for some reason,”
“You’ll figure it out,” the controller said, “For the amount of latinum we’re talking about, you better!”
“I’ll get the AI,” Penelope vowed, “even if I have to kill the entire crew to get it!”