Chapter 6 - Organized Worries
Location: Main Engineering
Ensign Teresa Verrez made minor adjustments to the organizational chart on her display, rearranging the priority lists of two holographic Engineering teams for better efficiency. That sort of on-the-fly logistical updating came easily to her, and was a sort of meditation to soothe her nerves. And her nerves were certainly in need of soothing. She was fresh out of the Academy, on her first shipboard assignment. What should have been a routine shakedown cruise had turned into a full-fledged disaster. Flung halfway across the sector, with their dilithium crystals damaged, out of communication with Starfleet…
She took a deep breath to calm herself. Her left hand fidgeted with a small puzzle box, disassembling and reassembling the minute parts with practiced ease. The movements had a familiar rhythm that helped center her thoughts. The shakedown was not a total disaster, she told herself. Teams were already making repairs and working to shore up the crystals. Teams directed by her decisions. She had held together in the crisis, rerouting power flows around compromised systems. And after, with damage control to coordinate, she had been too busy to worry. The Academy instructors had drilled the proper procedures into her until they were reflexes, and her innate knack for seeing how things best fit together had helped immensely.
But now she had plenty of time to worry. Every Starfleet cadet knew they were training to face the unknown, the unexpected. She looked forward to exploring the strange newness and learning how it worked. But was she really ready for this? Were any of them? During her short stay on Esquimalt Station she had heard the rumors about Captain Azjure’s ship of misfit toys. Raw cadets, old lifers, and last-chancers thrown together in a desperate experiment. She had dismissed the rumors at the time, of course. But now, they gnawed at the corners of her mind. Would this motley excuse for a crew be able to pull together enough to survive, let alone succeed?
And then there was the Chief. At the thought of him, her eyes flicked to where the red and grey Caitain was reviewing schematics with one of the organic Andorian engineers. She quickly forced her gaze back to her own display before he noticed. In a moment of self-honesty, she admitted that she was mildly terrified of him.
Ridiculous, of course. He was a Starfleet officer. She had no reason to fear him. But he was so… intense. In her first week on board, she had heard him rant for five solid minutes about Jeffries tubes too small for anyone but a resized hologram. He had seen action in the Dominion War, which made him even more intimidating. And he used some alarmingly predatory speech patterns. He had never threatened her, or even raised his voice to her, but she could not fully relax when he was in the room.
A blinking alert on her console drew her focus out of her own head. The regenerative matrix they were using to shore up the main dilithium crystals was starting to develop a transitive flutter. She locked it down swiftly, cursing inwardly at her wandering attention. For a moment she just stared at the display, paralyzed by doubt. She had to do something to refine the matrix and head off any more flutters. But the procedure would not come to her. She had to remember what to do before someone noticed her frozen panic…
A hand rested gently on her shoulder. Her eyes tracked over to see grey fur and sheathed claws. Because of course the Chief had caught her failure. She managed not to flinch away, but her entire torso was stiff with tension. Her fingers clenched tight around the half-assembled puzzle box. With an effort of will, she turned her head to look up into those predatory yellow-green eyes.
“Breathe, Ensign.” The Chief’s voice was a low, rumbling purr, surprisingly soothing. “You have this. You know what to do. Just relax and step out of your own way.” The half-smile on his face was, for all the hints of fangs, gentle and encouraging.
She nodded awkwardly and turned back to the console. Her fingers were already entering commands and corrections, setting up a rotating variable-phase buffer in the matrix control feed. Isolating that input feed here while consolidating those recursions there would stabilize the matrix feed rate, and increase the regenerative efficiency by 3.1 percent. Her confidence returned as she brought the control pathways into a coherent pattern. The hand left her shoulder as soon as she had resumed working, but she still felt the Chief’s presence behind her.
Once she had the matrix configured to her satisfaction, she stood and turned to face the patiently waiting Caitian. His expression was neutral, expectant. “I apologize, Lieutenant. I froze in the moment. It won’t happen again.”
“Oh, I know it won’t, Ensign Verrez. I expect my people to not make the same mistake twice.” A sudden twinkle turned those chartreuse eyes from the glare of an alien predator into something much warmer. “After all, there are so many new and exciting mistakes to make.” The Andorian engineer chuckled softly in the background as Tomaasz continued. “At ease, Ms. Verrez. As long as you give this ship and your crewmates your best, you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“But… I froze in the line of duty.”
“Correction. You locked down a fluctuation before it became a problem. Only then did you let doubt creep in and tangle your tail.” One of his ears cocked briefly to the side. “Do you know why I put you in charge of coordinating all the DC teams?”
Startled by the change of topic, she blinked. “N… no, sir.”
“During the subspace event you showed decisiveness and efficiency, and an instinct for logistics I’ve not seen equaled.” He gestured to the console display. “You see patterns quickly, and have a knack for aligning multiple elements into those patterns. In short, you are a competent, even exceptional, example of a Starfleet ensign. All you lack is experience, which you will get here. Confidence will come with it.”
“Thank you, Ch… Lieutenant.” Her cheeks heated under the praise.
“‘Chief’ is fine here in Engineering, Ms. Verrez. If you have any more moments of doubt, my door is open. And Counselor Hawthorne is always ready to listen.” He nodded in encouragement. “In the meantime, carry on.” Turning back to the Andorian engineer, he took an offered padd and resumed his own work.
Teresa sat down and re-checked the regenerative matrix display. All elements were well within desired parameters. Relaxing into her chair, she reconsidered her earlier thoughts. Maybe this crazy experiment of a ship was a better idea than it seemed.