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What's in a Name?

Posted on 27 Jun 2019 @ 1:33pm by Ensign Lex D'Gracefull & Lieutenant Commander Atven Dantarno

Mission: Prologue
Location: Engineering
Timeline: Underway

ON:

Pockets. It was the lament of the 21st Century feminist, a gender-based deprivation that had been resolved in the 24th by the removal of such practicality from everyone. Commander Dantarno felt awkward clutching the PADD as he strode through the ship's corridors towards Main Engineering, wishing that Starfleet had seen fit to provide its officers with more convenient ways to transport such items. There were occasional variations, of course, augmentations to the Starfleet dress code, lab coats for medical officers with pockets deep enough to stow a tricorder, overcoats for engineers with narrow pockets that could store tools: but as so often was the case, the simple every-day practicalities of things were overlooked.

Part of Atven wondered why it was even necessary to transport information around the ship in such an archaic fashion. After all, the ship's consoles were all integrated and networked, and reports could be - and often were - submitted through the main computer, rather than being delivered by hand as the Commander was doing now. But there was also an unspoken, undocumented understanding that sometimes, certain things needed to be placed in a person's hands. Perhaps it was a concession to due diligence, a way of ensuring that the relevant officer was completely aware that the report or data or work assignment in question had been completed and delivered as ordered. Perhaps it was a concession to humanity, and social interaction, a conscious or subconscious effort by Starfleet officers to ensure that their duties never became so impersonal that they didn't take advantage of an opportunity to interact with a colleague face to face. It would have helped if the reasoning was more obvious: that way, it might have been easier to understand which situations demanded that personal touch. Instead, it was more a matter of experience and finesse, something that officers and crewmen learned to intuit over the course of their career. For enlisted men and women, as Atven had once been, it was particularly poignant: for officers, who only had to deal with the handful of senior officers above them, perhaps it wasn't quite such a conscious consideration.

The doors swooshed open, and as the gentle hum of the warp core caressed Atven's artificial hearing, he felt a momentary pang of jealousy that his current duties placed him at the opposite end of the propulsion equation. While Dantarno would never describe himself as an engineer, his duties as a crewman and technician in the years before the Dominion War had brought him to Engineering time and again, both to visit and to work full-time, and Atven had always found it one of the more reassuring locations on any starship upon which he had served. Of course, it was different now. What had once been the soothing dimness of low lights and warp core illumination was now a dizzying blend of thermal and overlayed radiation signatures as his ocular implants struggled to translate the ambient energy into something comprehensible, and though the sounds were all the same as they had always been, like everything else they sounded distant and synthetic, as if he was hearing them as playback rather than live. But not even Atven's moderately cybernetic nature could detach him from the experience completely: his empathic senses still felt the same mix of frustration, determination, and satisfaction that they always did when engineers and mechanics were abundant, and the smells, the movement of the air, the vibration of the deck - it was close enough for his body to flood with a healthy dose of nostalgia.

Sadly, his private enjoyment of the experience was shortlived, the sight of a red shirt amid the territory of gold quickly drawing the attention of a nearby Petty Officer. "Can I help you, sir?"

Atven brandished the PADD he'd been carrying as if it explained everything. "Duty Officer?" he asked as if the query explained everything.

It explained enough: with a gesture, the Petty Officer aimed him towards a console off to the left of the warp core. "Ensign D'Gracefull, sir. You can't miss him: he's the one making everyone around him feel inadequately tall."

Dantarno quirked an eyebrow at the comment. An inch or two shy of two meters himself, feeling small was not a situation he frequently encountered, yet the Petty Officer seemed less phased by him than she was by the Ensign she directed him towards. His eyes turned, expecting to find a Kelpien or Klingon at the far end of her direction, but instead what he found seemed Human. The eyebrow slid downwards to join the other, a brow forming on his features, which deepened as the name rolled around in his mind, sparking a flicker of familiarity from the back corners of his memory. "Thanks, Specialist," he replied, excusing himself from the conversation with a nod, before setting off across Engineering with a few slow strides.

"You got a minute, Ensign?"

Lex'EL was hip deep into a diagnostic on the warp power distribution system, he kept getting harmonic feedback on multiple frequencies. This would not normally be a problem except this was at low warp speeds and there were hundreds of them...

Lex'EL turned in response to the query to the find at red shirt holding a PaDD. Lex'EL thought it's going to be a massacre... He shuddered at the thought of away missions, they were brutal... Lex'EL went to slide his engineering tricorder into one of his pockets only to realize that he didn't have any, this was not his Solarian Navy Coveralls, which had pockets galore and pockets on top of pockets. He missed his coveralls.

Lex'EL said, "Yes Sir, how can I assist you?" The Person standing in from him was a Lieutenant Commander and although they normally had ensigns running errands all over the ship for them, they normally stuck to there own department.

Lex'EL was startled by this observation and dropped his PaDD, Quickly bending over and almost hitting the aforementioned senior officer when his forehead as he bent down chasing the rogue piece of electronics. "Sorry Sir", he said after regaining control of his wayward equipment. Lex'EL stood back up on his feet trying unsuccessfully to regain his composure. The Senior Officer looked familiar, like someone he had known in the past or someone he met in the past, but a side effect of his medical treatments to cure long term radiation damage left holes in his memory. The treatments weren't bad, only once every other year or so did he have to head home back to Solarian Prime to get his whole body treated at the cellular level, this was depending on his symptoms. He was lucky he had good hearty Scottish DNA to carry him through.

The Ensign certainly wasn't what Dantarno would have expected from initial glances that much was sure. But there was something about him, a tug of familiarity that wouldn't stop kneading at the back of his thoughts like an unsettled cat. He held out his own PADD towards the Ensign, a new twin to the apparently flightly device that D'Gracefull already had. "Warp logs from the Helm," he explained, handing the data across. "The Chief and I wanted to compare the sensor records for the day, just to be sure that top and tail are on the same page with what's happening with the engines. Said I'd get my side of things to Engineering by end-of-shift, so she has time to look things over before the start of her day tomorrow."

His head cocked to the side, brow furrowing, as the nagging background curiosity that the Ensign's name stirred became the squeaky wheel demanding the grease. "Sorry, Ensign, but I have the strangest feeling that you remind me of someone. I'm sure I'd remember if you were one of my Cadets from the Academy, and you don't look old enough for us to have served together before. Where are you from? Maybe I've been to your world, or crossed paths with a relative, something like that?"

Lex’EL took the offered PaDD, and waved toward the POOL, the table that was generally used to view and control the complicated systems that made the ship go at faster than light speeds. "Academy class of 89, Then on to the USS Thunderchild, for little over 2 years, then Solarian close escorts, and this week, here. Next week Surfing Supernovas." Lex’EL finished with a smile as they started walking over to the Pool table.

Solarian. Solarian. Something about that stuck into Dantarno's mind like a thorn, but he couldn't quite tell which direction the rest of the branch went in. His brow furrowed as they walked, but he managed to keep the expression from affecting his voice. "You're definitely not one of my kids, then," he offered back. "I was only at the Academy for the last five years, and before that, I did a stretch at Starfleet Tactical. Gotta say, I'm a little envious about the Thunderchild. I served on a carrier during the Dominion War, but nothing quite as fancy as an Akira-class. Always wondered how the other half lives."

Lex'EL replied, "Other half, only the boot ensign's, had to share quarters, and my quarters were so big, could have fit a swimming pool if I gave up the bed. Compared to this place, everything was huge!"

When they got to the POOL table, Lex’EL downloaded the data from the bridge and pulled up a side by side comparison of the data. "EM1 Anderson," he called, and when she came over to the POOL table, Lex’EL handed her the PaDD. "Tell the CHIEF I have her warp data she requested from the bridge and I am doing a comparison at the POOL now, but here is the raw data." Looking at the acceleration curve, and the flight performance data told him more about the person using the helm than it did the warp propulsion, either they had another Benjamin Sisko trainee or their Helmsman was blessed with Captain Sulu genes. "The Helmsman is holding back, they are playing the navigations system like it’s a 9 string quartet, it’s not like this is a slalom course, but still, they are good."

"Not sure if that's a compliment or not, but I'll take it as one," he chuckled. "I've spent enough time serving alongside fighter jocks that I think their collective dismay would tear a hole in spacetime if I couldn't at least manage to steer a starship in a straight line."

Lex'EL stuttered "Ok, you have the best handling skills I have seen in a long time, I refuse to step back into the cockpit, I am safer just fixing things. But Damn you have excellent driving skills."

There was a lot to unpack from that response, and the stumbling manner in which it was delivered. It was easy to forget that, as obvious and comprehensible as he believed his own old man sense of humor to be, he now found himself on a new ship full of new crewmates whose backgrounds were unknown to him, and who he was unknown to. "Back in the cockpit, huh?" he echoed, latching onto one particular aspect of the Ensign's response, hoping he wasn't about to tug on a sensitive memory. "Was that during your time on the Thunderchild, or with those Solarian escorts you mentioned?"

"It was the Thunderchild. We were coming back from an away mission, and the medic was operating on one of the two injured parties, and I just happened to be back-up pilot. The medic was deep in the chest of the pilot trying to remove several critters that decided that her chest cavity was their new home. We or I took off in a Force VI storm, and I had to dodge several twisters while the medic is screaming for 30 seconds of stable flight. My flying would have been ok, but we were also dodging disruptor blasts from an orbiting pirate ship, that had decided the Thunderchild was not as fun target as we were, since we had half of the senior staff on board. I took a hit to the port nacelle and down we went, down in a spin. The impact injured the rest of us... it took 45 minutes for the Thunderchild to drive off the three cruisers. Then we were beamed direct to sickbay and Rhodesia’s, everyone’s favorite shuttle pilot was medically retired..."

If the Ensign's words and the emotional context that came with them had been water, Dantarno would have found himself swept downstream, shins slashed to pieces by the sharp rocks that lurked beneath the rapids. As it was, they were just words, and feelings, but the tidal wave hit him just the same, only poise and practice preventing any kind of outward sign as the part-Betazoid struggled through. As the current subsided, Atven found himself frowning, just faintly, searching for some words to offer in reply, some way to verbalize his solidarity with the trauma that the Ensign had just touched upon. Dantarno's own tsunami of memories came with a different narrative, but the lasting effects were the same breed. Many of the officers Atven had served with over the years had such stories of their own; too many, especially for those in the Dominion War generation.

"Sounds like you did what you could in an impossible situation," Atven offered, small comfort such that it was. "We all face our Kobayashi Maru eventually; only some of us aren't lucky enough for our no-win scenario to be only a simulation."

Lex’EL shook his head with a start, “Sorry to be so morose, I have not thought of that incident if a while and it was worse than my Kobayashi Maru, I walked into that one knowing that it was a lose/lose situation. This was paradise turned into hell...” Lex’EL shuddered and said “The Simulator at the Academy was always; no one could get killed, mildly bruised, but no deaths. No matter how realistic they tried to make it, you never had to worry…But that mission was real, Death was hot on our heels, so close you could taste it.”

"That's kind of my point," Atven countered, fighting past the hesitance that usually kept him from any kind of emotional sharing. "Not everyone's No-Win Scenario happens in the simulator. Mine was during the Dominion War, and it cost me my sight and hearing. Even Jim Kirk, for all his creativity and cheating, had to face the real thing eventually, and in the end it wound up costing him his friend, his ship, and his son. At the Academy, the simulation is never supposed to feel real: but it is supposed to test you, and how you perform under pressure when faced with impossible choices. Kobayashi Maru situations really do happen, to you, to me, and to many other Starfleet officers: that's why the Academy has the simulation in the first place. But what the holodeck can't prepare you for -"

Atven trailed off and frowned, his gaze shifting away from the Ensign to the moment, ocular implants peering at the kaleidoscope of overlapping colors as they tried to make sense of the electrical, thermal, and photon emissions from something as mundane as the nearby console, the auditory counterparts picking up distant conversations, footfalls, heartbeats, and more than his mind constantly needed to filter out. He glanced back to the Ensign. "What it can't prepare you for is the aftermath. The test doesn't end when the situation is going. It stays with you through the repercussions, the recovery, and onwards."

His expression adjusted into a small, sympathetic smile. "Some friendly advice, from someone who has lived with the aftermath of their Kobayashi Maru for twenty years? Avoiding the cockpit, and hiding away in Engineering fixing things? That might make you feel better, and it might make things a little bit easier, but that's not an escape. You haven't completed the test by doing that, you've just paused it, and the longer you go without confronting things, the worse it will be the next time life throws a no-win scenario at you. Recovery is a battle. Flying away at full speed may seem like a solution, what you're running from will always be there, firing into your aft shields. You'll never get away like that. Sometimes, the only thing to do is come hard about, fly at the problem head-on, and hope that you're able to destroy it before it destroys you."

Lex’EL replied “Yea the Doctors said mostly the same thing, so I went down to the hanger bay and said “I need to take a fighter out….DOCTORS orders.” Lex’EL smiled at that memory of that particular conversation. “You can imagine how that was received until the report made it back to the chief of medical, and after 15 or so very extremely intense flight physicals, I was summoned down to the hanger deck and told to take have a seat in the flight simulator. It was a pain, it took longer to get shoehorned into the simulated cockpit than it did to take my check out flight. I did have fun once I finally got out and the wing commander had unlocked his remote handicap. They had limited my flight profile to 5 percent thrust vectors. Just how much fun can you have, only goning like a grandma in a wheelchair? It was not until my third trip before they actually started to loosen up and let me have fun. After a week I was allowed to practice in their dog fights. Once I shot the wing commander a few too many times. The ride was over… but once again, it was just like a training simulator. Other than a few bruises there is no danger… the fact that I had argued for three days while my limited thrust handicap would not let me do anything but snore in the cockpit.”

Lex’EL stopped waving his arms around and relaxed a bit then said “The fighter is a comfortable chair sat on-top of an inertial dampening system, strapped to an anti-matter powered rocket. It is not designed for a family vacation. Every square inch of the space and mass is used as efficiently as possible, Some times more than once. Now I am a big guy, how those fighter jocks enjoy sitting in that cigar box is a mystery to me. It was not the confining space that bothered me, it was the anti-matter feed system. It’s only 4 feet away from your chair. But if it failed, you would never know what happened. I did make a few friends, and several of my ideas made it into their playbook as they call it. I am not a pacifist, I realize our job is to break people’s toys and sometimes that involves killing. So I don’t need a lecture on why Starfleet is so important, my people were forced marched from planet Tau Cygna V due to the Sheliak Corporate and their agreement with Starfleet to give them all the class H worlds out there. So there is a bit of that is a dual-edged sword in my history.”

Lex’EL paused a minute and said “Sorry, Sir ... I get agitated when I think back at that particular bit of history.”

Lex’EL paused for a second then said, "After the USS Thunderchild, it was a year in the hospital then on to Solarian Escorts...that was boring anti-piracy patrols or freighter escorts, you know the so boring, the crew looked forward to the drills just to break up the monotony. The crab nebula only has so many things to do in it, and was mostly visited by tourists… Mostly.”

Lex’EL looked at the Commander and smiled, “You know you are better at this than my last 4 counselors, are you working undercover? Never mind you could not tell me even if you were!”

Lex’EL and his couch time was interrupted by several alarms going off. Hurriedly jogging over to the distribution panel where three different major systems were blinking /flashing red, Lex’EL turned to look back over his shoulder to yell back to his new possible friend/ or maybe secret counselor and said “Sorry, I just got busy, 1900 mess decks? “ Not waiting for a reply, Lex’EL yelled at EM2 Davidson, “ Davidson, we have grounds is the feed system, somewhere there is a real fireworks display… Isolating now.”

Lex’EL wondered what could possibly go wrong next.

OFF:

Lt. Commander Atven Dantarno
Chief Flight Control Officer
USS Mark Miller
&
Ensign Lex D'Gracefull
Engineering Officer
USS Mark Miller

 

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