I know I should have written first, but I didn’t really have time – I got a job! That’s right, I’m out of Uni and I have a job as the second engineer on an interstellar freighter!
No need to worry, it’s nothing dramatic, just a supply run from port to port - in established trade lanes! Boring as milk! I’ve attached a ShipChaser file so you can send me mail, but I don’t think I’m going to have much interesting to say because the engines are in top shape and the first Engineer (My Boss!!) has nothing to do but twiddle them, so I’ll probably spend the entire time polishing my new watch...
Honestly, if it wasn’t tempting fate, I’d tell you how dull this place is!
More bang for your buck.
Barks At Moon sits, coffee in one hand, elbow on the work bench, watching Leggy and Murtak going over the report of the electronics and explosives they pulled out of a grain container before they set off from the Chakona system.
The report states that a quick check of the payload revealed it to be a low grade of common explosive in sufficient quantity to at least blow out the shipping crate, maybe the hold, but not enough to do much damage to the ship or the majority of the cargo.
Murtak leans back and contemptuously flips the report off, blanking the display, gropes for her coffee. She shakes her head for the Captain. "It’s not a straight timer, it’s set to blow when it detects a coded pulse or on a timer, set remotely. Not fancy. In fact I think it’s about what you’d expect from a second year engineering student in terms of build – nothing you couldn’t make in a public replicator all in one, or in parts."
Leggy sits back and runs her hands through hir hair. "That explosive wasn’t much... a diversion?" she asks.
The Captain nods. "I think we got lucky. Not in finding it, though that was lucky, but because this is exactly the sort of thing that we’re looking for" she declares.
Murtak taps her claws on her mug and flicks an ear. "Well it’s been activated with a three week delay" she notes, "What’s the delivery on that crate?" she asks.
The Captain grins. "Oh we’re supposed to deliver it in about five weeks" she says letting Leggy and Murtak draw their own conclusions, before continuing, "I want the container replacing, but I want you to put together a warning system and a scanner. I want to know if anyone changes the time or tries to set it off manually"
Widestride nods and makes a few notes. Murtak leans and looks. The Captain holds up a hand. "And, we’ll need some sort of decoy effects so we can look like it blew on command if we need to. I get the feeling we’re going to need it – And let the rest of the crew know, ah, apart from your new girl, Leggy. Let’s try and keep her calm on her first day at work."
Leggy grins. "Sure thing... you know I don't think that girl has even worked out that I'm a Stellar foxtaur? I think she thinks I'm just a run of the mill foxy gal!" she says and wiggles hir eyebrows. Murtak snickers, but the captain seems thoughtful. "Well... go easy on her..." is all she says.
Actually I think the crew find it boring too. So far I’ve met the bridge crew, the Captain (My Boss!), a guy called Dirk and this big wolf morph called Sal. Oh and the Doctor and the first engineer (My Other Boss!), but apparently there’s at least one other person I haven’t met, or maybe "Stripes" is the ship’s computer.
Anyway Sal is the one they sent with me to buy my new gear (Bye-bye paycheck! Oh well, not like I have anything else to spend it on until we hit the next station, and I do look like a real engineer now!). He’s nice. I thought he was a pirate, but he’s actually really soppy. I even saw him snuffling over one of those romance novels!
He has all these guns and knives, but I think they’re just for show. I can’t imagine he’d ever use them unless it’s for stunning mice. We all have vermin-stunners. I think the Captain had a bad trip once with some mice or rats or something.
He IS big though and he looks scary, and he’s got that grey fur that looks like it’s carved from granite, and those scary yellow eyes, but he’s probably just the cargo handler or the ship’s accountant.
Murtak raps on the door to Sal’s cabin. There’s a thump and the door slides open with a chill gust. The air inside is incredibly dry and stunningly cold. Murtak can’t stand it but Sal seems to find it much more comfortable. Sal can’t believe the pages of Sal’s reproduction antique books don’t snap in half when he turns the pages.
She steps in, closes the door, something she’d not normally do – "The Meat Locker" just isn’t that comfortable, though the name doesn’t really fit, apart from the temperature: It's possibly the nicest looking room on the ship. The walls are wood panelled, there’s a carpet, and the fittings are brass. Sal’s spent a great deal of time turning his tiny room into a library too, and the room’s almost literally a third smaller than any of the other crew quarters, with the rows of books hiding the replicated wood walls. It aught to be cozy. It looks cozy, but Murtak's breath is steaming.
Sal’s wearing a heavy red velvet gown with silk cord... his AIS - the Atmospheric Integrity Suit that Captain Barks insists on, is showing below it. Murtak wonders why Sal keeps the room so cold if he’s going to wear a damn dressing gown, but Sal’s giving her that stare of his, waiting for her to explain rather than asking her why she’s stood in his room, steaming gently, no doubt making the pages of his Mills and Boon books subtly crinkle.
"The captain sent me" she says, "On the quiet. Shi doesn’t want our new girl to panic. We found a det-pack in one of the crates. Captain thinks it’s supposed to go off bang so we’ll drop out of warp at a specific point, when we’ll get jumped, but shi’s not ruling out someone blowing it early."
Sal nods. Simple as that. Murtak nods back, leaves. Sal’s been at this long enough that she doesn’t need to sweat the fine details. Besides, if Sal wants to know more, he’d ask. She knows that from previous experience too.
I saw the Doctor too... Just signing all the forms and getting a scan to make sure I’m not going to give anyone the Dreaded Lurgy. She seems nice – like Auntie Meadowgrass! I think they both probably watch the same soap operas even! And get this, when I saw her she was floating in the cabin, with the artificial gravity off, knitting!
Other than that, she’s got the same fur as a marmalade cat. It’s absolutely hilarious how much she reminds me of your cat. How is Tabs anyway?
The other Chakat on the ship is the Captain (My other Boss!). Shi’s called Barks-at-Moon. Shi’s not from Chakona, shi’s from Luna. I don’t know what they feed them down that way but she’s a head shorter than anyone on Chakona! Shi’s got that black and white pattern that makes hir look like shi’s wearing a tuxedo.
Oh that reminds me of the time Snowlight got that bow tie and ran around saying "The name’s Bond, Chakat Bond" for a week! Do you remember that?
Anyway, shi’s kind of odd. The Captain (My other Boss!), not Snowlight... strike that, they’re both weird, but the Captain (My other Boss!) sort of hired me on the spot, but once I’d been around the ship shi was pretty business like. I’ll let you know more later!
Dr. Finetouch finds Rashana tucked into a corner, on Rashana's first day on the job, working her way through a rather large breakfast. She waves and takes a swig of coffee, choking down her mouthful before saying hello. Apparently Rashana is making up for having had to live on noodles for the past eternity.
The good doctor grabs her usual breakfast with an indulgent smile. They're not short of food, and they even have a little replicator unit - The Blind Justice is a bit of a Feeder as far as traders go. One large plate of waffles, bacon, eggs, hash browns and sausage, and a glass of pineapple juice later, shi sits hirself down at the table. Rashana’s watch sits by her plate, counting down the minutes left until her first shift.
"So how are you finding the ship so far?" asks the marmalade and white Chakat easily, picking up the watch, looking at it. Rashana notes that the Doctor has one too, slimmer, but with a larger display.
Rashana, half way through a mouthful of a good copy of some bacon almost chokes trying to answer, repeats her thing with the coffee and grins. "Well so far, it beat living at the student residence back at the Uni!" she says cheerfully. "The food’s better, for a start... Though I doubt I can eat this well every morning," she says. "Or they’ll toss me out the airlock for eating all the bacon..."
The doctor laughs. "Oh no, we wouldn’t do that!" she says and pats Rashana’s hand. "We’d feed you to Sal!" shi states, deadpan.
Rashana grins to show she got the joke, and since opportunity presents, decides to dig into the scuttlebutt. "So, tell me about the crew?" she asks, "I met you and the Captain, and I’ve already met Sal and those three rabbits on the bridge, and I met Le... Widestride, of course."
The doctor settles and nods, working through her waffle. "Oh mm, Leggy is a good engineer, and a people person. Well Captain Barks... That is, of course Captain Barks At Moon, shi’s from the Lunar Colony... You can tell by the accent I think. Sal is an android run remotely by the bridge crew – I’m sure you picked that up right away. I mean you can hear him whirring when he has to carry stuff. The bridge crew... yes well they're a little quiet - they enjoy their job, but it’s a small ship so I'm sure you'll get to see them around." The Doctor says, not changing expression in the slightest. "I’m sure Widestride will fill you in, but really you should just meet everyone." Shi continues. "Oh, there’s also Murtak and the Sergeant, two Caitians, I don’t think you mentioned meeting them?" shi says, and reaches out to tap Rashana’s watch meaningfully.
Rashana takes a look and starts clearing all her plates away. "I’m not fooled. If Sal was an android, you wouldn’t threaten to feed me to him for eating all the bacon!" she calls, grabs her watch and leaves with a wave. A few seconds later, Finetouch can see her walking back past the door in the right direction this time.
Leggy is already in Engineering when Rashana walks in, all shiny and new, not even a coffee stain. Leggy waves her over from behind the diagnostics screen. "Come on in, my new minion." She says cheerfully, and taps something. "First job... you need to know how to run the coffee machine..."
Hi again everyone!
Well That’s the end of my first day in Engineering. I learned how to run the coffee machine! Chief Engineer Supreme Overlord Leggy the First (She says that’s her official title but everyone just calls her Leggy for short) says that the coffee machine is important because they clean the engine with it, and if the engine isn't working, we have standing orders to drink five cups, get out and push.
I think Leggy just doesn’t want to have to make the coffee all the time. I even got a new mug! It’s tradition to make one using the tool manufacturing gear as a demonstration, so now I have my own engineer’s mug with "Token human (Hear me roar)" on one side and "Coffee, Cream, No sugar" on the other side It's made out of hull plating! How cool! I think it has to be or the coffee would eat through it.
After that, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I went through the engine diagnostics and some of the logs for the warp core. She got me to diagnose some fluctuations in the magnetic bottle and then let me fix them! So cool! Write you more later!
In fact, Rashana learns more practical engineering in the next two weeks than she learned in the last six months. She’s slightly chagrined to find that all her shiny new gear is the cheapest on the market, only a few steps over the battered old student toys she’d been using, but then, as Leggy pointed out, you have to know what to do with your tools before you know what you want out of them. After the first week, Rashana starts making a list of things she wants to buy when she gets to Omicron. New diagnostic systems are at the top of the list.
The days pass pleasantly, settling into a routine: Up, have breakfast, chat to Dr. Finetouch, down to Engineering for some show and tell, practice on the systems, Lunch with Leggy and Sal and The Sergeant, then back to Engineering. The Afternoons are mostly maintenance and chasing up any problems there and throughout the ship. In the evenings, the crew gathers in the mess hall for a group meal and social evening.
She meets the Sergeant on the second day, and then on the third day, reducing her to laughter by not recognising her due to the Sergeant having washed out the stripes dyed into her fur, and swapping to a rosette pattern.
Wednesday is song night, Saturdays are movie nights, and Rashana learns that there is a tradition that the second movie is always for what Dirk refers to as "Mistykay", with the crew chipping in with sarcastic comments and improvised dialogue.
Mondays are drill practice with Dirk, the Sergeant and the two Caitian crew– first decompression, then warp core breach... the Blind Justice can eject the warp core, and still have power for a one or two light second jump left in the drive buffers, but then she’s dead in the water, just a little generator to keep the life support running and to send out a distress call. Rashana really doesn’t want to think about it.
On Tuesdays, Murtak and the Bridge crew take her through the flight and comms systems. They show her the basics, and how to access them from outside the bridge and pull up the system information. They run a few simulated scenarios for her and she acquires some new scuff marks and stains on her overalls, loses a few patches of skin in maintenance panels, gets patched up by he Doctor, and generally spends the time enjoying herself immensely.
Thursdays, Rashana has to cook the breakfasts and is very surprised to find that not only can she manage it (more or less), but it's also actually more fun than she'd assumed.
Well I finally met "Stripes" – she’s a Caitian with stripes! I was really surprised, I thought they didn’t have any...! Only it turns out they don’t. This morning I went for lunch and there was another Caitian there with rosettes like a leopard (Or is it cheetahs who have rosettes?), and I introduced myself...
Ha ha, big laugh. It was "Stripes" all along. Apparently she dyes her fur, and normally she has stripes because everyone calls her "The Sergeant" and they’re "The Sergeant’s Stripes" (Ha. Ha). But she lost a bet to the captain so she changed to "spots".
She thought that was hilarious. Luckily apart from that and the doc trying to persuade me that Sal’s an android, they haven’t gone in for any teasing...
... Unless you count not mentioning that my Other Boss, the First Engineer "she" who must be obeyed, is a Stellar foxtaur. They let me think Leggy was a normal vixentaur since I came on board. I found out yesterday, and apparently everyone’s been waiting for me to work it out!
And guess what! Leggy is really Professor Widestride! I felt really dumb about telling her about how I’d read the paper shi wrote, without realising it was hir paper, but it’s cool, shi said shi was most impressed I’d found it...
It’s the third week out, and Rashana is looking forward to seeing Omicron station. Rashana’s in the little galley, humming the song from the previous night that apparently the crew has been improvising for a while:"
... Down down, take me to ground,
Where I look up and see:
All the places I’ve never been
And the places I’d like to be.
The Captain’s a steady soul,
The Bridge hir home and rock
Shi hasn’t moved an inch...
Asleep since we left the dock!
... Down down, take me to ground,
Where I look up and see...
A little doggerel that took in every member of the crew one by one. It hardly scanned, but it was catchy and riotous fun to sing. They’d sung it the previous night at the "song night". The Bridge crew and Leggy had chipped in by intercom, and Murtak had popped in with a repeater screen in hand and earpiece for the comms poking out of her ear. Not one of them could sing well, but it’d been a lot more fun that Rashana had initially suspected when she'd heard what was planned.
She’s steadily cooking her way through a stack of pancakes – it’s her turn to cook, and she’s going to make a rather impressive pile, which will be handed out as the other crew roll in, in a few minutes. She doesn’t mind, it’s oddly comforting to her to be part of the little domestic order of things, that and she’s looking forward to her own portion of pancakes...
Which is when the ship gives a soft shimmy and the lights go amber.
Rashana looks up, alarmed, then powers the hob off and puts the pan on a cold ring, pulling her hood up, checking her seals, and only then does she take time out to look at her watch.
Her watch is of course, a modern wristwatch, that's to say, it's a computer that gets information from a time serve, normally the ship, normally time updates, schedules and any reminders she’s set. But it can also display anything else that’s been pushed to the device – video, schematics, maps, and in an emergency, instructions. This time all it says is "Go to Quarters".
Rashana wavers, grabs a handful of pancakes and heads to her quarters. The long passageway is sealed in sections now, so it takes longer than usual, every door having to open up in front of her, closing behind her as she heads to her cabin.
The Cabin door locks solidly behind her, outlined in red, but fortunately the lights aren’t on emergency. She taps her comm. badge and calls in to Murtak. "Engineer’s mate in quarters, as instructed" she says, and Murtak says "Understood. Stay and wait." Back to her – it’s rather brusque but it’s what the ship’s procedure calls for. Stay and Wait is the command. There are others: "Seek shielding" and "Seek Nearest Escape" being about the worst – the first is a radiation warning. There are two places on the ship with radiation shielding, and the instruction is to go to the nearest. The other is the all-purpose command to find the nearest escape pod and wait.
Stay and Wait merely means that the Captain wants her to stay in her assigned location. She eats the pancakes while she waits. And she thinks.
Meanwhile, the Ship is lazily spinning around its vertical axis, a trail of almost invisible glitter showing – frozen atmosphere and flecks of fire suppression foam. To an interested viewer it’d appear thus:
The Blind Justice, en route from Chakona to Omicron, falls out of warp, already out of orientation, the victim of an explosion in the hold. The escaping atmosphere pushing the ship into a lazy spin, while the crew, no doubt panic-stricken put the fire out.
Strangely enough, mere light seconds away there is an interested observer, and they move closer with a micro hop using their warp engines, but alas, instead of offering succor, the message on to the distraught captain is "Surrender your cargo or die". Murtak relays it faithfully, then make sure that the EMP shielding for her equipment is in place, and finishes slipping into an armoured vacuum suit.
When the reply goes out to the other ship, Captain Barks At Moon looks harried, ears flattening, the video showing hir alone at hir antiquated bridge controls a haze of smoke from a panel that has popped due to ill maintained surge suppression.
"Unknown ship!" Shi starts, "We are an unarmed cargo freighter, we've had a blow-out in the hold - we need aide!".
The screens flicker and Barks gets the video feed from the other ship, which has now resolved to being The Direwolf - a pirate's name. The man on the screen has greasy hair, stubble and black painted armour. He leers out the screen at Barks. "'Allo kitty. Tell you what we'll do. We'll take your cargo, and if you roll over for us, we'll let you live. Try anything and I'll gut you, your crew and anyone else you have."
Barks looks terrified, Shi waves hir hands and says "Yes yes, take it, just don't hurt us! You won't get any problems, I swear!". Shi hardly finishes, before the pirate captain flicks the channel off - the last of him Barks sees is his sneer.
Barks looks over and gets a thumbs up. "OK," shi says, "Security to the main airlock. Murtak, keep an eye on them - let me know if they try a spacewalk. Let them dock, then run out the Donkey Guns. I want them disabled, with prejudice."
The Pirate captain sneers at the terrified Chakat, and ends the ship to ship call. "That will do nicely" he says, "Chakats... they really are just huge pussies." He turns to his boarding party and nods. "Kill anyone who’s got a gun, strip the ship, take the females. Been a while since we’ve had any comfort, eh lads?"
The "lads" all grin, and snicker. They’re all dressed in black combat suits splashed with crimson, their helmets painted with fangs and glaring eyes. It’s the only visible care taken – the rest of the ship is grimy and scuffed. They line up by the docking hatch as their pilot brings them around, not to the crew airlock, but to the cargo airlock – the cargo hold is decompressed and they’re all in suits. They can blow the bulkheads one by one and pick the crew off as they want.
There’s a soft thump as they dock, the contact between ships vibrating through their hull, no doubt terrifying the two or three crew on the cargo freighter... all nice and easy as pie.
Which is when things start to go wrong. The outer airlock doors refuse to open. This is not according to plan - it should open and even if it was locked, they have a black market override unit that should force any civilian airlock open wide. Then while they’re banging on the controls there’s a horrific bang that knocks them off their feet, and they start to lose pressure...
Back on the Blind Justice...
Rashana is sat on her bunk, listening. The computer system is tied up and she can’t get any info out of it beyond a repeat of the diagnostics from Engineering. As far as she can tell, everything is fine, even if the stars though her little window (which is actually set in the floor) would indicate they’re spinning. She has her nose pressed to it to see if there’s anything else she can tell when there’s a solid thump, and a moment later an even more solid jolt that bounces her nose tip on the window and makes her eyes water.
It’s odd, but she’s sure she saw some sort of reflected flash...
The pirates are busy patching the bulkhead door to what’s left of their engine compartment. Something horrible has happened to it, that’s turned their engineer into a thin layer of brownish red jelly on the inside of the bulkhead door and caused most of their vital engine hardware to become a large cloud of shrapnel somewhere in the outer dark.
The only option left to them now is to take the ship they’re docked with, but the damn door won’t open. The Captain, not a pleasant or bright man, is starting to think these events are not unrelated, especially when the fore airlock also will not open.
And when a Federation patrol ship drops neatly out of warp and starts beaming his men into the brig, he’s positively convinced...
Captain Barks at Moon waits until shi gets the all clear from the Federation boarding party, before shi calls down to Sal and The Sergeant. They’re in the hold, in combat rated space suits, glued to the floor with Van Der Waals boots, behind a shield barricade. Their airlock door is open and the pirate’s hatch can be seen, with two heavy bars welding it shut... a little notion from Leggy. Each bar has a small thermite like charge that will weld itself to most hulls in seconds. The bars have one charge at each end – merely press them to the hull spanning the door and they’ll weld it shut.
Dirk, in an EVA pack, is outside. He’s welded the other hatches closed and laid a trail of breaching charges over interesting points of the ship’s superstructure. With a tap, Murtak can pop the bridge like a bubble, or blow off the shield emitter or long range comms.
However, things have gone to plan for a change, and the Blind Justice only had to wait for the patrol ship that "just happened" to have been nudged into visiting this part of space at this time.
Captain Barks at Moon has Murtak cut the false video feed of the half wrecked bridge, smooths hir fur and calls in to the Federation Captain, Captain Marvin, a cheerful looking woman who Barks has never met before.
"Thanks for the assist, Captain" Barks says disingenuously. "I’m glad you were in the area! Anything I can do for you?" shi says pleasantly.
Captain Marvin smiles and shakes her head. She’s in her ready room, looking comfortable. "Don’t bullshit me, Captain Barks At Moon." she says pleasantly, "I know a Nightwatch operation when I see one. Glad I could help, though I hear you have a civilian on board?".
Barks puts on a display of irritation, ears splayed. "Yes... I’d really rather not play stalking-horse with crew who haven’t signed up for these little fun and games. She’s under lock down. We blew out the cargo hold in a controlled evacuation so I’ll tell her that’s what happened. Still, the offer stands?"
Captain Marvin laughs. "There are only three things I want captain, and I’m pretty sure you’re not carrying my fiancée, any vintage motorcycles or a supply of decent espresso!"
Barks leans forwards with a wide grin. "Bet you a credit?"
Murtak calls up Rashana who, for want of anything better to do, has ceased trying to hack the ship’s network and is reading. A new chapter of "Knights of Negative Tau" has dropped into her inbox, and she’s devouring it with utter glee.
"Hey wrench monkey!" Murtak says, "We’re going to let you out of your cage!".
"Oh hey Murtak! Speaking to me again, huh? What happened? Did we hit something?"
"Nah. We had a hatch blow out on the cargo deck. Nothing really exciting – Had some of the cargo shift when Sal and Sarge went down to patch it up. Captain wanted you out the way because it’s a two person job and you know how skittish shi is around vacuums."
"Yeah... what’s up with that?"
"You’ll have to ask hir. Anyway, a patrol ship dropped in to check up on us, so the Captain’s trying to poison their captain with Leggy’s coffee. I dunno, maybe shi wants to steal their ship. We’re going to go be convivial, so come on up."
Rashana thinks there’s definitely something up with that. On this ship, there are so many bulkhead doors that she didn’t need to be confined to quarters for a blow out. They wanted her out of the way, but... why?
Talking of letters, the Captain has a hobby. Shi makes hir own paper somehow – I don’t know if shi’s got a little replicator program or if shi does it by hand, and shi writes out notes and letters in ink, using old style ink pens!
I saw hir the other day... shi was using a pencil! At first I didn’t recognise what it was – it’s a little stylus sized piece of wood with a soft graphite core you can use just like modern pencils, but shi was sharpening it using a tiny little folding knife, and I thought shi was wood carving!
I asked hir about it and shi said shi just liked to do things the old way for the "feel of it". Shi even let me try out the old style pencil on a piece of replicated paper. It was weird, the way it drags on the page, and the tip broke, so shi had to sharpen it again. I said I was sorry but apparently that happens all the time! No wonder we don’t use them any more.
Shi also told me that shi knew a man who killed himself with pencils.
"What he did was he got two pencils and a razor, and he slowly sharpened them up into fine, sharp points, so sharp they were like needles. Then he stepped in front of a bus."
I said that’s not killing yourself using the pencils, and shi said that shi never said he used the pencils to kill himself, he killed himself with pencils. I was thinking about it all afternoon. Then I got it. Shi said he killed himself, with pencils, meaning he was just carrying them. I think that’s the sort of joke the Captain (My other Boss!) likes to pull, where you have to think about what shi said.
Also we had a hatch blow out – nothing major, but we had to stop to fix it, and a Federation ship pulled up to check on us... AND I got to meet the captain!
Captain Barks At Moon and Captain Marvin are standing on the mess deck, drinking Leggy’s brew, apparently with appreciation. The room is thick with the scent of it, so Rashana suspects this is their second round, or so.
Captain Marvin turns out to be short, blonde, stocky, and overall capable looking. What is it with captains and being short?
Barks at Moon is wearing a jacket patterned after Old Earth navy greatcoats, though it’s cut for hir form, and a rather fetching hat, though shi’s taken off hir eye-patch, much to Rashana’s surprise. She’d been wondering why the Captain had on one at all and is startled to find that it’s apparently just cosmetic.
There’s a tray of cups, and after a polite introduction, Rashana pours herself a cup – Dirk and Sal are both present, chatting to some of Captain Marvin’s crew, the room quite cosy with so many people. Rashana notes that some of them are eating pancakes - she'd wondered what'd happened with those...
Captain Barks still isn't wearing her eye-patch. Rashana surreptitiously watches, but it looks like both hir eyes are fine, so why wear it at all? Rashana notes that Leggy is chatting with what appears to be some senior Engineering crew from the Federation ship, the Hypatia, and they seem to be very respectful. In fact, Rashana notes that the crew all seem to be warranting more respect than is generally afforded to trade freighters by Federation crews.
This keeps her awake half the night. In fact it bugs her so much that she starts running through the logs of the day, and finds that power was being routed through some of the auxiliary power systems - more power than they're listed as being rated for, and the airlock doors were powered up... Rashana has to ask herself "Where did all that power go? Who went outside? And why, come to think of it, is everyone armed and wearing vacuum suits all the time? What's the deal with the eye-patch?".
After a while she starts to feel very stupid for not thinking any of this was a little odd to start with. It becomes clear to her that she's not going to get any sleep, but also that she's the second engineer not a student, and it's time she started acting like it.
She gets dressed, checks her gear, turns her thermostat up and quietly makes her way down the main passage to the access hatch. She pulls open the wall panel listed on her schematics, slides open the hatch behind, and slides in. It's not quite a Jeffries Tube, more of a large access space in the infrastructure, and it doesn't take her long to get to the power couplings. She expected to find them hot, maybe melted, or at least damaged... but instead of the PC-1445-MR units listed on the schematic displayed on her PADD, the units are huge - heavy duty, more than capable of taking the load shown on the logs. She's still staring at them when the Captain says, "I really wish you'd stayed in bed" from three inches behind her.
Truth and Pineapple.
The captain is eating pineapple, one small chunk at a time. They're sitting in the mess. Rashana doesn't have anything, and the Captain's pineapple is frankly irritating her. "I expect," says the captain, who's back in hir eye-patch, "That you have some questions".
Rashana shrugs. "I might. If I ask, will I get answers, or will I be part of the next "Cargo blowout"?" she asks coldly.
Barks shakes hir head. "I'd say I'm not in the habit of killing people, but as it happens, I am. I will say I'm not intending to kill you though." shi states far to casually. Behind Rashana's facade, Barks can feel the fear. "Look, I'll make his easy, OK?" shi states, toying with hir pineapple. "The ship's armed, the Alexandria was sent here, they didn't just happen to show up, we didn't have a blow-out, we shot down a pirate ship when they dropped their shield to board us, and that's why I wanted you out of the way. We're not an independent freighter, we're... Nightwatch."
Rashana stares. "Nightwatch..." she says. "Wait, Nightwatch? Nightwatch run sensor stations and track space junk! It's where they put people who fucked up their careers in Star Fleet and..."
Barks coughs and holds up a hand. "Mostly right. Nightwatch runs a very large network of monitoring stations around almost every Federation world, and mostly yes, it is crewed by people who... washed out... of the other services, but let me ask you, if Nightwatch have a scanning network that big... don't you think they'd start to pick up more than rocks?"
Rashana shrugs. "So you're saying they also spy?" she asks.
Barks considers. "You could call it that. We definitely pass on any information about ships that aren't on registered courses, anything unusual, and follow up interesting rumours. We're unofficially the Federation's ear to the ground. Officially we just watch for junk. Unofficially we also keep an eye on who's not showing up any more, who's missing, who's new and who's trying hard not to be noticed. We also have a couple of ships that sometimes follow up..."
Rashana says, "Unofficially?"
Barks nods. "Indeed. Which is why we can get away with a large crew, a set of emergency guns, and a top rated engineer, on a ship that by all rights should be held together with rust and bubblegum."
Rashana looks miserable. "And what are you going to do to me now I know what you're up to?" she asks.
Barks winks and munches hir pineapple. "Oh... make you sign a legally binding document saying you won't tell anyone, and drop you off at Omicron if you like." shi pauses. There's a silent "Or" there. "Then again, we do need a second engineer. You could stay. Same deal. You sign away your right to tell anyone, and you stay with Leggy." shi says. "Most of the time we won't be tangling with pirates, we normally run."
Rashana ponders this. It certainly explains why the ship has redundant warp drives and a dual core. She leaves the captain complacently nibbling hir way through the pineapple, and spends the night and half her shift in her cabin, thinking it over.
At lunch, the Captain is talking in low tones with Leggy, Dirk and Murtak, discussing the situation, when Rashana walks in, dark circles under her eyes. Without saying anything, she slides a folded piece of paper to the captain and leaves.
Barks looks at her companions and sits up. She slowly unfolds the paper with a claw, and reads through. She snorts and slides it to Leggy. Written in genuine replicated pencil on the paper in carefully formed letters is:
Second Engineer Rashana Second Night.
Chakats and Chakona are the creation of Bernard Doove and are used with permission.
Characters and story are copyright © 2009 Cuprohastes firstname.lastname@example.org
Return to the Forest Tales main page.
Return to the Chakat's DenTM main page.