Chapter 2 - Engineer aboard the Tanjura
Njessa breathed a sigh of relief, her chief engineer had finally arrived on Equismalt Station and would be aboard shortly. He had an intriguing CV as much for what it did not say as what it did. They were already behind schedule and while she would rather give him some time to settle in . . .
“Computer,” she said, “direct message to Lieutenant Tomaasz.”
“Affirmative,” replied the computer.
“Lieutenant Tomaasz, this is Lieutenant Commander Ajzure, your commanding officer on the Tanjura, please report to me directly as soon as you arrive on board.”
Tomaasz stared out the portal of the small station shuttle, lost in thought. As his future loomed ahead of him in the sleek lines of the Tanjura, his mind was in the past. Specifically, in his call with Admiral Marshall before receiving this assignment. The Admiral had not come out and said that this was the Caitian’s last chance, but the subtext was loud and clear. And his parting words had been thoroughly direct: “Under no circumstances are you to modify the Tanjura’s weapon system without Lieutenant Commander Azjure’s express, informed, permission.”
As if the memory of her name had been a signal, the computer’s voice rang out with the summons. He shoved his reverie aside and straightened in the shuttle’s seat. Getting directly to the point suited him just fine. He would have plenty of time to familiarize himself with the ship that was now his to care for.
As the shuttle docked, he said a silent prayer that this time there would be no catastrophic mistakes. This time no one would die. Not on his watch.
-Captain’s Ready Room-
A hologram materialized on the desk. “Your chief engineer’s shuttle has docked, Captain.”
The Andorian looked up from her review of the latest changes to Starfleet policy, honestly grateful for the distraction. “Thank you, Pan. I am sure you have looked over his file,:what are your thoughts?”
“Talented, inventive, prone to going his own way, at least in the past,” answered Pandora. “I think he has a lot of potential. I am curious to see what es makes of the holographic crew.”
“I am not sure what to make of the holographic crew.”
Tomaasz’ first impression of the Tanjura from the inside was: shiny. Fresh out of the shipyards, squeaky clean, with that new ship smell still lingering in the bulkheads. He longed to get down to Engineering, open some access panels, and really get a feel for what made her tick. Time enough, he reminded himself. For now, the captain called, and it would not do to be late. He might not be in Security any longer (and barely a whisker twitch betrayed how much that still hurt), but punctuality was one of many traits that he retained.
Pausing to ask a passing ensign for direction, he reflected that much of the crew was also shiny. He had known that much of the rank and file crew were holograms, but receiving pleasantly efficient directions from a Trill with no scent and minimal body language brought that fact home. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. But again, time enough. He would see how they handled active situations, and reserve judgment until then.
At the door to the ready room, he straightened his tunic and the tight braids of his mane with automatic movements. Taking a calming breath, he announced his presence to the computer.
“Enter,” said Njessa standing. Her uniform was precise, her posture perfect, the model Starfleet captain or a good simulation there of. “Welcome aboard, Lieutenant. I hope you did not have any trouble on your journey her?”
Tomaasz entered, his own posture reflexively mirroring hers. He might not be the perfect model anything, but could certainly maintain appearances. “No trouble at all, Captain.” The flight had been terribly dull, with nothing to distract him from his memories. And no one had actually seen him disassemble and repair the glitching screen next to his seat.
“May I get you something to drink?” she asked.
The courtesies drilled into him so many years ago by Silas Valentine and his diplomatic team came to the forefront. “Iced ginger tea, please,” he replied. The beverage had a stronger taste than most Caitians enjoyed, but he found it invigorating. And the surface veneer of social pleasantries was as useful a tool as anything in his tool kit.
As the Captain moved to the replicator, Tomaasz automatically assessed her movements and body language. Confident, clearly; she’d have to be, to run this mission. Long, lean muscles and economic grace; a fighter, this one. The way she held her hand suggested sword training, possibly one of the classical Terran styles. He would have to see if she ever deigned to spar with her crew.
He accepted the tea with a small bow and took a sip. It was quite good, and he uttered the expected polite thanks.
“Now, you have familiarized yourself with the Tanjura’s brief. Are there any questions you have?” she asked.
Setting the tea down on the corner of the desk, he straightened back into his official posture. “As I understand it, our primary objectives are patrolling and protection, assisting a scientific expedition, and making sure that any left over Noraxian weapons are properly disposed of.” He could not entirely suppress an ear-twitch of anticipation at the latter. To take apart a lost civilization’s tools, to see how they had dealt death, and to
use those secrets to defend life, that was a rare and wonderful thrill.
He continued, “It seems that the most likely threats are from those same weapons, either as booby traps, or in the hands of scavengers. Piracy and opportunists will be rife in an area like that as well, and…” He cut himself off in mid-sentence.
“And that isn’t my department anymore. Apologies, Captain, old habits die hard.”
“Please continue, Lieutenant, your insight and experience are valuable,” she said, taking a sip of the Andorian The she had replicated. “While Starfleet seems enamored with the possibilities of a holographic crew, I worry about the loss of institutional memory and unusual perspectives that not having people in those roles will cause. We will all have to make up for that as best we can.”
He nodded sincerely. “There is no real replacement for experience, and the intuition that grows from it. I’m more than willing to give the holograms their fair chance. After all, you don’t know what someone is capable of until you face the fire with them.” He paused for a moment, right shoulder twitching with the memory of such a fire. Clearing his throat, he continued. “But I am glad that key positions and bridge crew will be living, breathing beings. Relying exclusively on any new technology that hasn’t been thoroughly tested is risky at best.”
He took a sip of tea, buying time to rally his thoughts from a scrambled mess of reflexive observations into something more useful. “Given the dangerous nature of the area, it’s likely that any piracy will be small-scale and disorganized. Though that same nature would make it a tempting hiding place, so we can’t make any assumptions. Similarly, scavengers will only be as dangerous as the weapons they’ve managed to find and figure out how to activate. In my opinion, the greatest hazard will be the weapons themselves. Either set up as deliberate booby traps, or simply left to rot. Ask any demolitionist, the scariest thing in the world is an explosive that didn’t detonate when it was supposed to.”
He concluded “I think we can handle whatever we run into out there. I’ll know more when I’ve had a chance to run my fingers through the entrails of this lovely ship and feel her strength.” His fingers curled slightly, clawtips peeking out just for a moment. “Though I will, of course, defer to your actual tactical officer. I’m not looking to step on any toes.”
Njessa nodded. “Though I do not think our new tactical chief will mind a few pointers.”
“Yes, my main worry is leftover weapons that are accidentally or deliberately activated, the Noraxians had a real genius for destruction and death,” she paused for a moment reflecting on something from her past. “We at least have knowledge of the main types of mines and other such systems the Noraxians used. But, in honesty, I will be happy if we do not encounter any of them in working condition.”
“It is my belief that the Tanjura is up to the task ahead,” she smiled. “I am glad to have you aboard. It is my plan to take the Tanjura out on her shakedown by the end of the week. There are a few more crew that have been delayed in transit. But let me know if there is anything you need.”
He smiled in response. “A week to get to know the ins and outs of this ship? Challenging. I’d best find my way to Engineering and start sticking my tail into things. If anything becomes needful, I won’t be shy.” He paused, one ear flicking with a sudden thought. “Oh, who do I see about scheduling regular holodeck time? I brought along my exercise sims, and I doubt many crew members would care to share the space when I run them.”
“Our Ops Chief has not arrived yet so I can approve that,” said Njessa. “Operations was my field before command, it was a good training ground, and still something I try to keep up to date on. Just let me know your time requirement and preferred schedule and I will get it done. One of the advantages of the holographic crew is much less demand for holodeck time.” She gave a wry smile.
“If there is nothing else, I will leave you to your tasks,” she said.
He squared his shoulders at the dismissal and nodded. “I’ll have a schedule to you by end of day. Thank you.” Turning to go, he paused and looked back. Yellow-green eyes made contact with violet. “And Captain… thank you.” Several volumes of data passed unspoken between those simple words. He had no way of knowing just how much his new commanding officer was aware of in his past, but even a cursory analysis of his career trajectory would lead to troubling speculation. Yet she had given him a chance; his last, whether she knew it or not. He would not forget that. His loyalty was not given carelessly, but this Andorian with her visionary (one might say quixotic) plans appealed to his instincts. She would have nothing less than his best, no matter the cost. He had walked in the shadows long enough. It would be nice to follow the light again.
With a short, sharp nod, he finished his turn and strode out of the ready room, head held high. Once the door closed behind him, he let out a long, slow breath, easing tension out of muscles that had been coiled tighter than even he had realized. “Well, I managed not to screw that up,” he murmured. “Now to find Engineering and get into the fray.” His ears perked up at the thought of the challenges in front of him.