Universe Alpha 7: Pioneer

Chapter 4: Learning the Ropes

The sound of movement woke Hart from his typical light sleep. Growing up on mercenary vessels, he had learned never to allow himself to sleep so deeply that he was unaware of his surroundings.

Remaining still, he listened carefully and could detect the low hum of the ship's engines. From the engine output, he deduced that they were continuing to proceed at the same speed as when he went to bed.

Another sound in close proximity nearly made him open his eyes, but he held himself back, maintaining the illusion that he was asleep until he could more fully evaluate his situation.

When the sound repeated, more distantly, Hart slitted open one eye and caught a glimpse of Xon as he left the room and entered the bathroom that they shared with Tracey and RJ.

Once the bathroom door was closed, Hart cautiously opened his eyes and did a quick visual survey.

The room that he shared with Xon was in pristine condition.

Although Hart wasn't much of a 'neat freak', he had lived on starships long enough to know not to leave anything unsecured. If there should be a space battle, or if the ship were to lose power to the gravity plating for some reason, anything left loose could easily become airborne.

Hart glanced at the time and saw that the alarm was set to go off in two minutes. He reached up and turned off the alarm, then got out of bed and gathered his clothes, including a fresh 'Cadet' uniform, so that he could prepare for his day.

* * * * *

Upon entering the bathroom, he could hear that the sonic shower was activated and assumed that Xon was showering.

After a quick stop at the toilet, he went to the second sonic shower stall to do likewise.

While doing so, he reflected on the fact that it seemed that he and Xon were uniquely suited to be roommates. Before arriving at the academy, he never would have considered the possibility that he would get along well with a Vulcan. But since Hart could not abide mindless chatter, Xon was without a doubt the best roommate for him.

Tracey seemed to assume that when someone was quiet, that they were unhappy or angry about something. Even when Hart and Xon explained that they weren't 'chatty people', Tracey still seemed to harbor a feeling of concern that they were being left out or that he had offended them in some way.

RJ, on the other hand, never shut up. In Hart's estimation, it was good that RJ had been assigned to communications, because he had no doubt that RJ wouldn't be able to perform well in a job that didn't require incessant talking.

Lexi was full of youthful enthusiasm and Rocky was understandably inquisitive about exploring a world with which he was completely unfamiliar. All of them were nice enough and Hart was content to share company with them. But he was nonetheless relieved that he and Xon were roommates. After a long day of work and studying, being able to sit quietly and concentrate on his own thoughts was as close to relaxing as he ever got.

* * * * *

When his shower was finished, Hart dressed, retrieved his sleep clothes from the fresher and returned to the cabin he shared with Xon.

In the whole time that they'd been showering, they hadn't heard a peep from either Tracey or RJ. Hart got the sense that both of them more or less dragged themselves out of bed at the last possible moment.

Hart took all of a minute to make his bed in accordance with Starfleet regulations. It wasn't that he was worried that they were going to have a surprise inspection of their quarters. The fact of the matter was that he understood the underlying reasoning. If you made your bed according to Starfleet specifications, then a space battle or loss of gravity made it far less likely that anything might be dislodged and floating as an obstacle or hazard when you returned to your cabin.

As expected, Xon had already made his bed and was now reviewing correspondence on a Starfleet padd.

It seemed strange to Hart that Xon seemed to get a surprising number of emails.

Although he hadn't shared company with a Vulcan for any length of time before, he never expected that they would be much for writing letters.

Since he had a few free minutes, Hart decided that he would get his study padd out and check his email, too.

* * * * *

The first thing he saw when the email program opened was three separate messages. The first was from Lehman so he opened it.

The letter wasn't really about anything, but was just an accounting of what had been happening at the New Hope colony and at Lehman's school since their last exchange of letters.

The next message was from JonJon.

It seemed strange to Hart that while he had been there, at New Hope, he and JonJon had spent quite a bit of time doing things with Lehman, but never really had much of anything to say to each other. But now that they were apart, JonJon had opened up and would fill Hart in on what was happening with his father at the New Hope Inn and with the colony, in general.

JonJon never spoke of anything personal, but his letters were very informative and relaxing to read.

The third letter was from Hailey Summers.

Hart and Hailey hadn't exchanged more than a few words with each other the whole time he was there, mostly because they really had no interests in common. He got the feeling that Hailey simply enjoyed writing letters.

Her letter was nearly incomprehensible, meandering from point to point without reason. It was more of a 'stream of consciousness' than a letter. But still, as he read it, he could almost hear her speaking the words in her own youthful excited voice.

Toward the end of Hailey's letter was a small paragraph which was written by her newly adopted sister, Cheh. Hart couldn't help but think back to the moment when he had first seen the little Avalla girl and thought that she was dead.

Although the little paragraph didn't say much more than how much she was enjoying going to school, it very nearly made him tear up.

The sound of movement caused Hart to look up and he saw that Xon was putting his padd away.

A glance at the top of his padd confirmed that it was time for them to go to the mess hall to await their classmates.

* * * * *

Hart and Xon waited outside the mess hall door silently for a number of minutes before the first of the other cadets showed up.

"How are you guys doing? How'd you sleep?" Tracey asked cheerfully as he approached with RJ following a step behind.

Hart glanced at Xon, to see if he were going to answer, then looked back to Tracey and said, "Fine."

Before Tracey could respond, RJ quickly interjected, "I got some great news from back home."

Since Xon hadn't verbally responded, Hart knew that Xon would, at most, quirk an eyebrow in question, to prompt RJ for more information. Since Hart didn't feel like playing twenty questions, he quirked an eyebrow as well.

"Loi told me that last night, his mom and my dad went on a date together." RJ said happily.

Hart couldn't think of any possible response to that, so he remained silent, assured that RJ would continue the story until he had a compelling reason to stop.

"They've been kind of seeing each other for a couple months, now. But last night was the first time that they went on a real official date." RJ said happily.

"I take it that you approve..." Xon said in a leading tone.

"Yeah. My dad's been alone for a long time, taking care of me and my brother. He deserves to have someone to help him with things and... you know... share it with him." RJ said sincerely.

Hart thought about his own father, who was now single, and wondered if he, too, needed someone to share his life with him.

"Is it going to be weird having your dad dating your boyfriend's mom?" Tracey asked curiously, then smiled and waved as he saw Lexi and Rocky approaching.

"I think that Loi and I are both so glad to see our parents getting the chance to be happy that we haven't thought about it yet." RJ said honestly, then added, "I'm sure the weirdness will happen eventually."

"Probably about the time you go home for shore leave." Tracey said with a grin, then motioned for the cadets to walk with him into the mess hall.

"Even if it's weird, I think it'll be worth it." RJ said frankly as they all started to walk.

* * * * *

After making his breakfast selections, Tracey made his way to a table that would accommodate all of them.

As Lexi was walking toward their table, she noticed Lieutenant Fister at another table, eating by himself.

She broke away from the group and hopefully asked, "Would you like to have breakfast with us?"

"If you don't mind, I think I'd like to be alone to get myself in the right frame of mind for work." Lieutenant Fister said cautiously.

"Alright. But if you change your mind, you can come over and join us whenever you want." Lexi said seriously.

"I'll remember. Thank you." Lieutenant Fister said quietly and finished with a smile at her.

* * * * *

Once they were all settled in around the table and enjoying their meals, Tracey casually asked, "So, does anyone have anything special planned for today?"

"I don't know if Lieutenant Baz comes from a race of super geniuses but he seems to expect me to learn and remember every detail of everything he tells me." RJ said frankly.

"Welcome to Starfleet." Lexi said between bites of food.

RJ looked at her with surprise at the callus statement.

From below them, Rocky said, "If you're looking for sympathy, I think you're at the wrong table. All of us are being bombarded with large amounts of information, just as you are."

Hart nodded, then said, "We're just not bitching about it."

"Are you guys really as overwhelmed as I am?" RJ asked cautiously.

"I am entirely 'whelmed', but I will admit that there is a formidable amount of information that I am expected to not only learn, but to master." Xon said frankly.

"It's apples and oranges. We all have our own stuff to learn, but none of it's exactly like yours." Tracey said informatively.

"Your choices would seem to be to either continue to do the work, or tell your mentor that you are having difficulty and possibly receive suggestions for how to learn and master the information more effectively." Xon said seriously.

RJ looked around the table, then quietly said, "It's no fun bitching and whining when no one feels sorry for me."

Tracy and Hart broke into smiles at the announcement.

"Are you going to ask Lieutenant Baz for help?" Lexi asked curiously.

"Let me see how things go, today. If it gets to be too much, I'll talk to him about it." RJ said seriously.

"Lieutenant Sturgill? When do you think that you'll be able to get the other stations retrofitted so that I may use them?" Rocky asked cautiously.

"I'm Tracey, when we're off duty." Tracey gently told him, then answered, "I'll have to wait until we're all on shift, then I'll see which station we can work on next."

"Thank you, Tracey." Rocky said sincerely, then continued, "I will feel better when I know that if something disastrous should happen, that I will be able to do my part, the same as any other member of the bridge crew."

"We'll get you there, Buddy." Tracey assured him with a smile.

* * * * *

As the cadet crew walked onto the bridge, they could see that the regular crew were all in the process of taking their stations.

Hart walked to the security station and noticed that Lieutenant Okawa was standing with the aid of her crutches, listening to the security ensign who was still seated. As Hart stood at Lieutenant Okawa's side, he listened as she was briefed on the complete absence of any matters regarding security during the previous shift.

As soon as the briefing was complete, Lieutenant Okawa told Hart to take the station and run through the standard security checks.

"Lieutenant Okawa, I was wondering if it would be possible to do the retrofit of the security station today, so that Cadet Ensign Rock can have access?" Tracey asked hopefully as he approached.

"No. That won't be possible. I have a number of things scheduled for today. Let me look at my calendar and I'll send you a text message of when we'll have time for your project." Lieutenant Okawa said firmly.

"Just let me know when." Tracey said cautiously, then went back to the auxiliary station that he had been using.

As soon as Tracey was out of hearing range, Lieutenant Okawa quietly said, "Although the command staff are in charge and can 'order' us to drop everything and do as they say, I've realized that things work out much better when we stand our ground and work 'their' requests into 'our' schedule."

"Do you really have other things scheduled for us to do today?" Hart asked cautiously.

"Yes. And, if I didn't, I would have agreed to do Lieutenant Sturgill's project. What I'm saying is that to do your job, you need to do your job, you can't drop everything and come running every time the captain or a duty officer clears their throat." Lieutenant Okawa said firmly.

"I understand." Hart said professionally, then added, "I'm done with the security sweep. Would you like to sit down?"

"No. Right now we have other things to do. Summon Ensign Ton to the bridge to take over for us. We're going to be attending a meeting, soon." Lieutenant Okawa said seriously.

Hart pressed the dedicated security communication button, then said, "Ensign Ton to the bridge, please. Ensign Ton to the bridge."

"Go ahead and make your log entry, stating that you're going to be in a security meeting for the next hour or so. As soon as Ensign Ton gets here, we're going to leave." Lieutenant Okawa said simply.

Hart immediately went to his task.

* * * * *

"Lieutenant Baz? Would this be a good time for you to retrofit the communications station?"

"Please, tell me that you're kidding." Lieutenant Baz said with an anxious look at Tracey.

"No. Cadet Ensign Rock needs to be able to access all of the bridge stations so that in an emergency, he can step in." Tracey said carefully.

"I understand the need for it, but now is not a good time." Lieutenant Baz said frankly.

"Can you predict when it will be a good time?" Tracey asked simply.

"No. I can't predict that." Lieutenant Baz said, a little combatively.

"I tell you what, Lieutenant Okawa isn't ready to do the Security station, either. She said that she'll send me a text message and let me know when she has time. How about we do that? If you find out that you've got the time to do it, you let me know and I'll arrange for coverage or a free console or whatever else you need to make it work." Tracey offered reasonably.

"Yes. I'd just like to get to the point where I can feel confident that Cadet Ensign Parker is comfortable with all the various functions of inner as well as intra ship communications." Lieutenant Baz said honestly.

"That long, huh?" Tracey said with a grin at RJ.

"Hey!" RJ said in offense.

"I'm not saying that you won't learn it in time, but I'm betting that he won't feel confident in your abilities before we get back to Earth." Tracey said frankly.

Lieutenant Baz appeared to be stunned by Tracey's assessment.

"Let me know when you're ready." Tracey said with a smile at him, then walked casually to the helm.

* * * * *

"Lieutenant Fister, I know that the helm controls have already been retrofitted so that Cadet Ensign Rock can access them, but have you had a chance to check them out?" Tracey asked seriously.

"No. The retrofit was done while we were in dock. I didn't think to verify it." Lieutenant Fister answered honestly.

"If you let me know when you have the time, we could do that, just to be sure that it's functional when Rocky needs to be on the helm." Tracey said reasonably.

"We can do it now. Lexi, will you watch the helm for a few minutes while I get my tools?" Lieutenant Fister asked professionally.

"Sure. I've got this. Take all the time you need." Lexi said confidently.

"I'll be right back." Lieutenant Fister said before hurrying off the bridge.

"He seems different. How are things going?" Tracey asked curiously.

"He hasn't talked to me or anything about it, but I think he's happy." Lexi said frankly.

* * * * *

"The meeting won't be for a few minutes, but I like to show up early, just in case anything unforeseen happens to eat up my time." Lieutenant Okawa said as she led the way into a conference room.

Hart felt the cold stares of all the security officers as they noticed him. Although no one spoke a word, they might just as well have. The sentiment hanging in the air was, 'You're not welcome here.'

Lieutenant Okawa looked around the room, then firmly said, "This is Cadet Ensign Korrigon and he's been assigned to security. I have some matters to clear up before we start the meeting, introduce yourselves."

Without a backward glance, Lieutenant Okawa left the room.

"...weve heard the stories about a bunch of cadets being brought on the ship but i didnt know that we were getting anyone in security because thats really incredible because i didnt think anyone could get into security without a background in criminal justice or military training or something like that because someone in security needs to have that kind of background and youre just a kid and you cant have the experience that theyre always looking for and even if you learned all the stuff that youre supposed to know you have to be good at hand to hand combat and be able to use phasers and know about the ships weapons and the shields and about the security protocols..."

"Cadet Ensign Korrigon, I see that you've met Ensign Emery, but it's not fair if you don't give the rest of us a chance to get to know you." Another Ensign interrupted as he placed a hand on Hart's shoulder and gently guided him to walk away.

Hart's first instinct when he felt the touch was to break the man's wrist. It probably wouldn't be the smartest thing to do, especially in a room full of security officers. But logic be damned, he still had to fight very hard not to do it.

"I'm Ensign Patterson, and in case Seth forgot to say it, welcome to Security." The twenty-something year old man said with a disarming smile.

"Thanks." Hart cautiously responded, and was relieved that Ensign Patterson had removed the hand from his shoulder.

"You don't like to talk much, huh? That's a good trait to have in security." Ensign Patterson said with a grin.

Hart glanced back at the chattering ensign that he'd just escaped from.

Ensign Patterson gave a good-natured laugh, then said, "Seth talks a lot, but he says very little. There have been times that he's been surprisingly effective in gathering information."

Although Hart couldn't conceive of a situation where that would be the case, he had no problem taking Ensign Patterson at his word and nodded his acceptance.

"Just about everyone in security has a specialty, mine's cyber security." Ensign Patterson said, then looked at Hart knowingly.

* * * * *

As Tracey was looking over the schedule for the upcoming breaks and lunches, he heard the captain call his name.

"Yes, Sir?" Tracey said immediately as he turned.

"I have some matters to discuss with Admiral Hanson. I won't be available during that time. I'm going to leave you in command, you can go to Commander Pell if you run into any problems." Captain Gravf said simply.

"Yes, Sir." Tracey said smartly.

The captain walked to the auxiliary station that Tracey had been working on and brought up the command menu and signed himself off.

"I have command." Tracey said as he leaned in and signed on.

"I stand relieved." The captain said easily, then left the bridge.

Tracey did as he had been taught and walked the bridge to verify that he knew what was going on at each station.

When he finally made his way to the Sciences station, he quietly told Xon and Commander Pell, "The Captain is going to be off the bridge for a little while. He left me in command."

Tracey couldn't tell which of the pair was least interested or least impressed by the announcement.

"Xon, I don't want to tie myself down when I'm in command. Will you take care of seeing that everyone gets a break?" Tracey asked hopefully.

"Yes, Sir." Xon said respectfully.

With those two words, Tracey felt assured that it would be dealt with and that he could put the matter of breaks out of his mind.

* * * * *

Tracey turned to go to the command chair but noticed that Lieutenant Fister had returned to the bridge.

As Tracey walked toward the helm, he overheard Lieutenant Fister telling Lexi to go to engineering and assume control of the helm from there.

"I didn't realize that you'd have to take the helm down to test the controls." Tracey said honestly.

"Strictly speaking, you don't." Lieutenant Fister said seriously, then added, "But if you have to make any adjustments, even a small one, then you have to stop everything and have someone take control of the helm from another location before you can do anything more. Doing it this way from the onset just makes more sense."

"I didn't know that. Thank you, Lieutenant Fister." Tracey said respectfully.

The lieutenant let slip a small smile at being treated as an esteemed member of the crew.

* * * * *

After a moment to observe any reaction, Ensign Patterson smiled and continued, "It so happens that just last night I detected signs of a rather sneaky someone trying to gain access to some of our secure files."

"Really? Could you tell if it was someone aboard the ship or someone outside?" Hart asked curiously.

"Well, although the access was coded as coming from a subspace source, I'm reasonably sure that that was a false trail, left for me to follow, leading me nowhere." Ensign Patterson said with a grin.

"So you think it's someone on the ship? That means that it's one of less than a hundred people. That shouldn't be too hard to track down." Hart said thoughtfully.

"I don't think I'll bother. They weren't able to get into anything, anyway. Our security held." Ensign Patterson said proudly, then quietly added, "I guess I'd just like to know who it was that tried to hack us, so I could be sure of their motivation and that they weren't some sort of a potential threat."

"Yeah. I guess I can understand that." Hart said with a nod, then slowly continued, "Being in security, it's probably best to look into things so you have an idea of how 'secure' things really are."

After a moment, Ensign Patterson finally dropped the pretense and asked, "How did we do?"

"From the outside, things are pretty tight. Inside... not so much. You've got a few holes." Hart said frankly.

"Well, it was good enough to keep you out." Ensign Patterson said with a grin.

"Who said that I ever tried to get in?" Hart asked innocently.

"Right." Ensign Patterson chuckled.

"By the way, not that this has anything to do with anything, but I read somewhere that a Dr. Klineman said that someone named Auren... Auren Patterson is doing well and that if he keeps making significant progress, that he could be released to home care by the end of this year." Hart said offhandedly.

"How do you know about my brother?" Ensign Patterson asked cautiously.

"A little bird told me." Hart said with a roll of his eyes.

"What else did the little bird tell you?" Ensign Patterson asked hesitantly.

"Nothing... Well, nothing important." Hart said slowly, then thought to add, "But you'd better call your wife and let her know that your mortgage payment is due in three days. It hasn't been received, yet."

"Oh, yeah. That's right." Ensign Patterson said quietly.

Hart waited for a long moment for Ensign Patterson's reaction.

"I'll admit that you've got some skills. But even so, I believe that I still have a few things that I can teach you."

"Yeah. I'd like that." Hart said gratefully, then thought to add, "But I'll be sure to keep an eye on you, since you got a C in Systems Analysis, back in college."

"That professor had it in for me. It didn't have anything to do with my academic performance. It was personal."

* * * * *

Tracey was back at his auxiliary station, verifying for himself that the Copernicus was still on schedule to arrive at their intended destination.

A beeping sound drew his attention and he automatically accepted the incoming audio link.

"Captain, we have a 'Cadet' in Engineering, requesting access to the auxiliary helm controls." A woman's voice said with an impressive amount of vitriol behind the word 'cadet'.

Tracey was momentarily shaken by the woman's forceful attitude, but before he could respond timidly, he reflected on what he had observed of his mother's behavior and professional attitude.

"Captain Gravf is off the bridge right now, taking care of other business. I am Lieutenant Sturgill. He left me in command." Tracey said seriously, then paused to give the woman a chance to respond or ask a question, if she had one.

Finally, Tracey continued by asking, "Who is this?"

"This is Lieutenant Commander Angeles, I'm the Chief Engineer." The woman responded cautiously.

"Thank you." Tracey said professionally, then continued, "If the 'Cadet' that you're talking about is Cadet Ensign Gelt, then she has permission to use the auxiliary helm, so that we can do some fine tuning and adjustments on the bridge station."

After a long moment, Lieutenant Commander Angeles slowly responded, "Aye, Sir."

"Sturgill, out." Tracey said before disconnecting the audio stream.

* * * * *

Tracey walked immediately to the helm and said, "I just talked with the Chief Engineer and Lexi should be taking control of the helm in just a minute."

"This shouldn't take too long. If there are no adjustments to be made, we should be done in five minutes. Even if we have to fine-tune some of the inputs, it shouldn't take more than half an hour." Lieutenant Fister said professionally as he kept the majority of his focus on the helm.

"Thank you. Let me know if anything comes up that changes your timetable." Tracey said simply, then went back to the Science station to update Commander Pell and Xon.

* * * * *

It took every bit of self control at Lexi's disposal to maintain a calm facade.

At first, the Chief Engineer had outright refused to allow her access to the Engineering helm controls. But after a call to the bridge, Lexi was finally allowed to do her job.

Lexi pressed the dedicated comm control and said, "Lieutenant Fister, I'm ready to take control."

"It's all yours. I'll notify you when we're finished up here." Lieutenant Fister answered.

"I have control." Lexi said as she signed in and assumed full control of the helm.

"I stand relieved." Lieutenant Fister responded, then the link closed.

"You're really a helmsman?" A crewman asked from the station next to Lexi.

"Yeah." Lexi said absently as she reviewed their course and heading.

"How'd a little kid like you get to be a helmsman?" The crewman asked curiously.

"The same way as anyone else. I just started earlier." Lexi said as she looked carefully at the engine output and velocity.

"A little kid your age should be out on a playground somewhere, not piloting a starship." The crewman said derisively.

Lexi fought to keep her focus on her task, but her rising temper was becoming a distraction.

After a moment to force the anger down and out of her voice, Lexi coldly said, "Listen. Even though I'm officially a cadet, I'm still a cadet ensign. Not only that, but I'm also a bridge officer. When we're off duty, I can answer your questions, but right now I have a job to do."

"Are you saying that you outrank me or something?" The crewman asked cautiously.

Lexi let out a huff of frustration, then calmly said, "No. I'm saying that if you don't stop distracting me, I'm going to bring this ship to a complete stop until you'll leave me alone to do my job."

Before the crewman could respond, Chief Engineer Angeles approached and said, "Man your station, Crewman, and leave Ensign Gelt to her duty."

"Yes, Ma'am." The crewman said smartly, then made a show of going back to his work.

Lexi spared a moment to glance away from her console to look at the Chief Engineer uncertainly.

"Now that they know that I'm on your side, they should leave you alone." Chief Engineer Angeles said quietly.

"Thank you, Ma'am." Lexi said sincerely, then went back to her job of piloting the ship.

* * * * *

"Did you have a chance to get to know everyone?" Lieutenant Okawa asked as she slowly approached Hart and Ensign Patterson.

"No, Ma'am. Not everyone." Hart told her honestly.

"I'm sure that you'll get to meet everyone else before very long." Lieutenant Okawa assured him, then seriously added, "Take your seats. We're about to begin."

Hart and Ensign Patterson took seats at the conference table, side by side.

Lieutenant Okawa slowly made her way to the head of the table then said in a louder voice, to be heard by all, "I wanted to have this meeting for a few reasons. First off, to introduce all of you to Cadet Ensign Korrigon. Before any of you can speculate as to his fitness as a security officer, let me tell you that he's not here to learn to do your jobs. He's here to learn to do mine."

The announcement stunned all attending into silence.

"I've been assured that Ensign Korrigon has enough fundamental knowledge to at least understand your jobs, if not perform them. Keeping that in mind, he's been sent to us to learn how to lead a security team." Lieutenant Okawa explained.

Hart was as surprised by her words as any of the other security officers. No one had ever explained exactly what he was there to learn.

"So, when you receive an inquiry or an order from Ensign Korrigon, I'm asking you to treat it as though it were coming directly from me. He and I are both going to be depending on your support." Lieutenant Okawa said, then looked around the conference room to convey her seriousness.

After a moment for that to sink in, she continued, "Let's consider that settled and move on to other matters. When we arrive at Tellar, we're going to be taking on a contingent of doctors and ferrying them to the Vega colony."

"So we're going to be acting as chaperones?" One of the security officers that Hart hadn't met before asked cautiously.

"Essentially, yes." Lieutenant Okawa said unenthusiastically, then continued, "We can hope that these medical professionals will behave respectably. But experience has shown me that, more often than not, situations like this are looked upon as more of a luxury cruise rather than a diplomatic honor. That being the case, be prepared to deal with instances of pranks, sexual harassment, drunkenness and other inappropriate conduct."

"And unless they're posing a legitimate threat or causing actual harm, we're supposed to look the other way." The unknown ensign said, completing the thought.

"We'll make our presence known and do our best to enforce polite behavior that way. But if our guests are too thick headed to take a hint, then we'll do what we absolutely have to, to maintain a safe and reasonably comfortable environment to conduct them to their destination." Lieutenant Okawa said frankly.

"This is a good mission to start you out on. If you can handle this, you shouldn't have any problem with anything else." Ensign Patterson said to Hart quietly.

"Next, we're going to do a full diagnostic and physical survey of all the security systems and subsystems. Not only will this be a good opportunity for Ensign Korrigon to become familiar with everything we deal with, but I'd really like for us to see if any undocumented 'modifications' were made to the ship while we were in dock." Lieutenant Okawa said seriously.

Hart looked at her with surprise at the suggestion.

When she noticed, she said as an aside, "It's been known to happen."

Hart slightly nodded that he believed her, then sat back and listened as she outlined the plan to do an in depth security survey of the entire ship.

* * * * *

When Tracey saw Commander Pell leaving the bridge, he casually made his way to the Science station.

"I don't know if you realized this, but we're the ranking officers on the bridge, right now. We're in command." Tracey said with a smile.

"Yes. I am aware of that fact." Xon stated tonelessly.

"I just wanted to be sure that you knew so that you'd be ready to jump in if anything happens." Tracey explained.

"Rest assured, I am prepared." Xon said simply.

Tracey smiled at the reaction, then walked to the helm to check on Lieutenant Fister.

* * * * *

"How's it going?" Tracey asked casually.

"I'm just waiting on Ensign Rock to relinquish the navigation controls so that he can test out this interface." Lieutenant Fister said seriously.

A scraping sound drew Tracey's attention and he watched as Rocky approached.

"You know what to do, right?" Lieutenant Fister asked seriously.

"Do you want me to go through the standard test sequence?" Rocky asked to confirm.

"Yes. First, override the console controls, then run through the test." Lieutenant Fister said professionally.

There was a beep from the helm console, then Tracey could see what looked like a series of course corrections being performed.

"That doesn't look right. Could you go through the docking sequence, again?" Lieutenant Fister asked slowly.

"Yes. Of course." Rocky responded, then another series of calculation scrolled up the console screen.

"Do it again, but this time, deviate twelve centimeters, two hundred twelve degrees." Lieutenant Fister said even more slowly.

More calculations scrolled up the screen and Lieutenant Fister shook his head.

"What's wrong?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"Some pencil pusher at Starfleet must have decided to 'round off' the precision requirements, to make his job easier. This is exactly what I was afraid of." Lieutenant Fister said with frustration.

"Can you fix it?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"Yes. Actually, this is the worst case scenario that I anticipated when I gave you my time estimate. We should be able to get this sorted out in twenty to twenty-five minutes." Lieutenant Fister said confidently.

"Just let me know if there's anything that you need for me to do." Tracey said carefully.

"You'll be the first." Lieutenant Fister said simply.

"Am I done?" Rocky asked cautiously.

"Yes. I need to work on getting this thing really calibrated. I'll need you to test it out again in a few minutes." Lieutenant Fister said as he knelt on the floor and opened his tool bag.

"You know where to find me." Rocky responded in what sounded like a cheerful tone.

Tracey watched as Lieutenant Fister expertly opened the access panel under the helm console.

* * * * *

A beep sounded and Lexi accepted the incoming comm signal.

"Forward scanners indicate a rogue meteoroid at heading 346 mark seventeen. I'm sending updated navigation coordinates to compensate." Rocky said seriously.

"I've got it, Rocky. Laid in and verified. Course change initiated." Lexi responded professionally.

"It is possible that this rogue meteoroid is the result of a more distant impact, dislodging multiple objects. Be prepared for further course corrections." Rocky warned.

"Just let me know as soon as you spot something." Lexi said easily as she reflexively looked at her forward scanners.

"Count on it." Rocky responded in a voice that sounded to be confident.

* * * * *

"Lieutenant Sturgill, I have just initiated a course correction." Rocky said as he continued to scan for other obstacles in their path.

"Why did you do that?" Tracey asked as he walked to the navigation station to look over Ensign Lord's shoulder at the readings.

"There was a rogue meteoroid near our projected flight path." Rocky said simply.

Tracey could easily see what Rocky was talking about and responded, "Good work. Send the coordinates to Xon so that he can backtrack where it came from and maybe give us an idea if there are going to be any more."

"Transmitting now." Rocky said immediately.

Tracey turned in time to see Xon accept the incoming transmission.

He glanced back at the navigation console, at the forward scanners, simply to assure himself that there was nothing else in their immediate path, before walking casually over to the Science Station to see what Xon was going to do with the information that he had been provided.

* * * * *

From the command chair, Tracey watched Rocky go back to the helm and go through the test sequence again with Lieutenant Fister.

Both of them seemed to be pleased with the results, so Rocky returned to the Navigation station while Lieutenant Fister closed things up and put away his tools.

Commander Pell walked back onto the bridge after what Tracey estimated to be somewhere near double the time of a standard break.

Seeing that she had returned, Tracey decided to make another round of the bridge, just to verify for himself how everyone was doing.

As he approached the Communications station, he could easily see that RJ was once again being overwhelmed with the information that Lieutenant Baz was bombarding him with. Although Tracey would have liked very much to help out his friend and roommate, he knew that this was something that RJ could only do for himself. He would either have to find a way to assimilate all the information that Lieutenant Baz expected him to learn, or talk honestly with Lieutenant Baz and either work at a slower pace or use some other sort of learning technique more compatible with RJ's style of learning. Either way, he felt that there was nothing more that he could do but encourage RJ to make a change.

The sound of the turbolift doors opening caused Tracey to look and he felt a sense of relief wash over him at the sight of Captain Gravf walking onto the bridge.

He stepped away from the Communications station and met Captain Gravf at the command chair as he arrived.

"May I assume that all has gone well in my absence?" Captain Gravf asked as he signed on to his chair console.

"Yes, Sir. We've had to make one minor course correction due to a rogue meteoroid near our projected flight path. I should mention that Cadet Ensign Rock made the correction on his own initiative, when he spotted the problem." Tracey said carefully.

"He didn't notify you before making the correction?" Captain Gravf asked with concern, then motioned toward his chair console.

Tracey quickly relinquished command on the screen, then answered, "No, Sir. But considering the proximity of the meteoroid, I think he took the correct action. If he had notified me and I'd been involved in something else and not able to deal with it immediately, it might have put the ship at risk. He notified me immediately after he had contacted Ensign Gelt on the helm in Engineering to make the course correction."

Captain Gravf glanced at the helm, then said, "Am I to understand that there was a problem with Ensign Rock's helm interface?"

"Not exactly a problem. Lieutenant Fister just wanted to be sure that Ensign Rock would have access to all the controls that he might need. When he tested the interface, he found that the controls had been... crudely calibrated. He thought that Ensign Rock should be able to operate the helm with a much higher level of precision, for docking maneuvers and things like that, so he had Ensign Gelt take the helm in Engineering while he took the time to make those adjustments to the interface." Tracey said carefully.

"What is the current status of the helm?" Captain Gravf asked carefully.

"It's fully operational. When Ensign Gelt relinquished control of the helm in Engineering, Lieutenant Fister told her to take her break before coming back to the bridge." Tracey said seriously.

Captain Gravf nodded, then thought to ask, "Is there anything else of which I need to be aware?"

"Only that Ensign Rock notified Ensign Xon about the course correction so that he can try and trace where the rogue meteoroid came from, just in case there's any chance that there might be more of them heading our way." Tracey said thoughtfully.

Captain Gravf seemed to consider for a moment, then asked more quietly, "How would you characterize Ensign Rock's performance thus far?"

Tracey was surprised by the question and had to take a minute to think about it.

He finally carefully answered, "I think that Ensign Rock not only took the correct actions in regards to regulations, but also in practical application. I can't think of anything he might have done differently to improve his performance."

Captain Gravf made a quick notation on his chair console, then stood.

As he began to walk, Tracey followed along, uncertain of what the captain was going to do.

"Cadet Ensign Rock?" The captain said to gain Rocky's attention.

"Yes, Sir?" Rocky said as he rotated in place to face the captain (despite the fact that he didn't have anything remotely resembling a face).

"In light of your exemplary performance thus far, you shall henceforth be addressed as Acting Ensign Rock, and have the rank and authority of any other ensign serving on this ship." Captain Gravf said firmly.

"Thank you, Sir." Rocky responded respectfully.

"As you were, Ensign." Captain Gravf said before turning to walk back to his command chair.

"Congratulations, Rocky." Tracey said quietly.

"Thank you, Tracey." Rocky responded in what sounded to be a somewhat overwhelmed tone of voice.

Tracey noticed Ensign Lord's beaming smile of pride for her pupil and couldn't help but give her a smile in return before going back to his auxiliary console.

* * * * *

Just as Tracey was looking over his station, Xon walked up to him and quietly said, "Before you become involved in other projects, perhaps you would like to take a break."

"Yeah, thanks. I seem to be able to remember everyone else's but I can never remember to take mine." Tracey said with a grin.

"Commander Pell has chosen to investigate the origin of the rogue meteoroid, so I will remain available should the captain need my assistance in your absence." Xon said seriously.

"Good plan. When Lexi gets back, will you see that Fister gets a break?" Tracey asked hopefully.

"Yes. I have that in my schedule." Xon assured him.

"I should have known that you would. But I just had to check to be sure."

"Seeking verification is logical."

* * * * *

After a quick trip to the restroom, Tracey went to the mess hall to get himself a snack. He wasn't 'hungry' as much as he felt that he needed something to give him a little energy boost.

As he walked through the food service line, he was happy to find that they had some small 'wraps' that were just the sort of thing that he was looking for. They were simply tortillas spread with hummus, filled with deli meats and/or vegetables, then rolled closed.

He took his selections to a table and had just seated himself when he noticed Rocky trundling into the mess hall.

"Hi, Rocky. Breaktime?" Tracey asked pleasantly.

"Yes. Even though I don't have the same biological needs that you do, I still find it nice to get away from my duties for a moment." Rocky said pleasantly.

"That's what breaktime is really all about. We just eat something or hit the bathroom while we're at it." Tracey said comfortably.

"If I may ask, what did you say to the captain to get him to promote me?" Rocky asked cautiously.

"I just told him what happened while he was off the bridge. He came up with the idea to promote you all by himself." Tracey said honestly.

"I did nothing to warrant praise or a promotion. I simply performed my duty, just the same as any other member of the crew." Rocky said thoughtfully.

"That's right. You did exactly what would be expected of any other member of the crew. And now, you've got the same rank as them. You haven't been promoted to say that you're better than anyone else, the captain's just said that you've proved that you're as good as any regular member of the crew." Tracey explained carefully.

"Breaktime?" A familiar voice interrupted.

Tracey turned and smiled as he said, "Hart? Do you want to join us?"

"Sure. I just got out of a meeting. Lieutenant Okawa told me to take a break before I go back to the bridge." Hart said as he took a seat.

"Rocky just got promoted to Acting Ensign." Tracey said proudly.

"Really? Just now?" Hart asked with surprise.

"Yeah. Just a few minutes ago." Tracey confirmed.

"Way to go, Rocky!" Hart said with a smile under the table.

"Thank you, Hart." Rocky responded timidly.

"Do you have any idea of what Lieutenant Okawa has in store for you the rest of the day?" Tracey asked curiously.

"Yeah. She's leaving me on my own on the bridge while she works on some stuff that she needs to get done before we reach Tellar." Hart said simply.

"I don't know how much help I'll be, but if you need my help with anything, let me know." Tracey offered sincerely.

"Don't worry. I've got the whole security team to back me up. If I run into any trouble, I've got plenty of people I can call on for help." Hart said confidently.

"Good." Tracey said honestly.

"Are you guys about done here?" Hart asked as he looked at Tracey's empty plate.

"I am. Are you ready, Rocky?" Tracey asked as he leaned back to glance under the table.

"Yes. I believe so." Rocky said quietly.

As Tracey and Hart stood from the table, Hart said, "Up until now, Lieutenant Okawa has been saying that I can handle doing the job, but she still hasn't left me alone for more than a few minutes to really do it."

"I know what you mean. Today, Captain Gravf left the bridge so that he could have a meeting with Admiral Hanson, and for a little bit, Commander Pell left, too. To be honest, it was a little scary, but it felt good. And it's not like they were doing anything to prove that they trusted me. They just did their jobs and took their breaks, just the same as if it was anyone else doing my job." Tracey said as they walked.

"Ensign Lord still hasn't had enough confidence in me to allow me to work on my own." Rocky said thoughtfully.

"Or maybe she doesn't have enough confidence in herself." Tracey said matter of factly.

Hart nodded his agreement, then added, "If you just got promoted, then it's probably not something wrong with what you're doing."

"Thank you. I probably wouldn't have considered that the situation might stem from Ensign Lord's insecurity." Rocky said honestly.

"I think it's going to be important for all of us not only to take into account what our mentors say and do, but also who they are. When our emotions are already running high because we're under so much pressure, it's easy to misunderstand things or take them personally even when it's something that our mentors are dealing with that has very little to do with us." Tracey said thoughtfully.

"I guess since your mentor's a Tellarite, that's probably a really good thing to keep in mind." Hart said with a grin.

"Actually, for as gruff as Captain Gravf acts, I think I understand where he's coming from the best. I'm a lot more comfortable with him as my mentor than I would be with just about anyone else, especially Commander Pell." Tracey said as he led the way into the hallway.

"I guess I feel the same way about Lieutenant Okawa. I get her." Hart said as they walked.

"I don't get Ensign Lord." Rocky said regretfully.

"I have the feeling that she doesn't really get herself. Maybe you two can figure it out together." Tracey said assuringly.

"Tracey, before we go back to the bridge, could you possibly help me with something?" Rocky asked tentatively.

As Tracey was about to respond, something occurred to him and he blurted out, "This is why you came to the mess hall on your break, isn't it?"

There was a long moment of silence as the trio stepped onto the turbolift.

"Yes. Although, it was not my intention to deceive." Rocky said repentantly.

"That's okay, Rocky. I'm not mad or anything. Just tell me what you want." Tracey assured him.

"Do you recall when you received your promotion? The captain asked you to change into your proper uniform before returning to duty." Rocky said in a leading tone.

"Please enter or verbally state your desired destination." The standard Starfleet computer voice said from the ceiling of the lift.

"Deck four." Tracey said absently in response, then looked down to Rocky and regretfully stated the obvious, "Yeah. I remember that. But you don't wear a uniform."

"When you were promoted, it occurred to me that I might be as well. So I made certain preparations for that eventuality." Rocky timidly admitted.

"Okay. I get that. So what do you need for us to do?" Tracey asked cautiously as the lift doors opened.

Tracey and Hart followed Rocky off the lift and waited for his response.

"I have acquired the proper rank insignia and uniform jacket befitting an ensign. However I do not possess the manual dexterity to be able to fashion a suitable approximation of a uniform for myself." Rocky said quietly.

"Well, to be honest, all I know about sewing is how to fix a little rip or something like that." Tracey said frankly.

"I know how to do some stuff, but what exactly are you wanting us to do?" Hart asked cautiously.

"I would simply like to be able to display the evidence of my rank and duty station, the same as any other member of the crew. I am not seeking to recreate an entire uniform, as such. But I feel that my status as a member of the crew should be visible and easily understandable." Rocky said in an urging tone.

Tracey smiled at Hart, then said, "I think that between us, we'll be able to come up with something."

"I believe that I have everything that we will need in my cabin." Rocky said as he began to lead the way, then paused before adding, "There are breathing units just inside the door."

* * * * *

When the turbolift doors opened, Tracey, Hart and Rocky each went immediately to their stations.

Tracey signed in and confirmed that nothing worthy of mention had occurred during his absence.

He couldn't help but smile as he glanced toward the navigation station and could easily see the command uniform strap with an ensign's insignia prominently displayed on Rocky's back.

Suddenly, the captain's words from days before came back to him and he was halfway to the communications station before he had an inkling of what he was going to say.

"Lieutenant Baz, could I speak to you for a moment?" Tracey asked seriously.

"This isn't a good time." Lieutenant Baz said firmly.

"Yes. I believe that." Tracey said simply, then added, "I'll wait."

Lieutenant Baz looked at Tracey with annoyance, then turned and asked, "What do you need?"

"Would you like to step away so that we can speak privately?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"Whatever you want, just say it." Lieutenant Baz said firmly.

"I need for Cadet Ensign Parker to be prepared to assume full control of the Communications station on our trip from Tellar to the Vega colony." Tracey stated impassively.

"What do you think I've been trying to do the past two days?" Lieutenant Baz asked disbelievingly.

"I don't know. But if I were to guess, I'd say that you're trying to make RJ's training as miserable and difficult as possible so he'll quit before he's asked to prove that he can do the job." Tracey said in an icily controlled low tone.

"You don't have any idea what you're talking about." Lieutenant Baz hissed.

"True." Tracey easily admitted, then added, "But even from across the bridge I can see that what you're doing isn't working. I don't think that giving RJ more to memorize and pushing him harder is going to make him learn any faster. In fact, if I were him, I probably would have given up already."

"If he gives up, it means that he can't handle it. That has nothing to do with me." Lieutenant Baz said seriously.

"Listen. The captain made it my responsibility to see that all the cadets are ready to take their stations and work full shifts when we leave Tellar. I can honestly tell you that I'd trust any one of the other cadets as much as I'd trust their mentors to do the same job. But when it comes to communications... when you leave the bridge to take a break, I make sure that I'm free to jump in if RJ needs me. I have NO confidence in his training. According to Starfleet, he's got everything that he needs to be capable of doing his job... except, maybe, someone who knows how to teach him." Tracey said quietly as he held Lieutenant Baz's gaze.

"I've been working communications since before you were born. I could tear down a console and rebuild it blindfolded if I needed to." Lieutenant Baz snarled.

"Good for you." Tracey said flatly, then asked, "In all that time did you ever teach anyone else how to do your job? Because I'm guessing that you didn't. I'm not saying that you don't know about communications, I'm saying that you don't know how to TEACH. We've only got a few days left. What you're doing isn't working. Do. Something. Else."

After a long pause, which was more of a staring contest than anything else, Lieutenant Baz finally said, "I'm taking my break."

Tracey nodded his acceptance.

"RJ, call me if you have any problems." Lieutenant Baz said under his breath before rushing away.

* * * * *

"Holy crap! What did you just do?" RJ asked in a whisper as he looked at Tracey with wide eyes.

"My job." Tracey said frankly.

The expression in RJ's eyes seemed to say that he had a million questions to ask, but didn't know where to begin.

"RJ, you can do this. I know that you can. I think that if you're really honest with yourself, that you know you can, too. But you're going to need help to be ready in time. I can't do that for you. I think that Lieutenant Baz is probably the only one who can. We just have to convince him to work with you to help you to learn and not just pile tons of work on you and expect you to somehow absorb it." Tracey carefully explained.

"You really think I can do this?" RJ asked cautiously.

"My job is to make sure the cadets are ready to take their stations when we leave Tellar. I believe in you so much that I'm willing to fight for you. But for this to work, I think that you're going to need help, not someone sabotaging you with ineffective teaching techniques." Tracey said seriously.

"I guess I'm not as sure as you are. But if you believe in me that much, I'll trust you and find a way to make this work." RJ said with rising confidence.

"Then you need to communicate with Lieutenant Baz, let him know what's working and what isn't. I bet that if you both really try that you'll come up with something that works." Tracey said assuringly.

RJ seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, then he quietly said, "Back on Earth, Vincent said something about me being a 'Visual Learner'. I guess I should tell Lieutenant Baz about that. Maybe it'll help."

"Talk it over with him. It couldn't hurt." Tracey said frankly.

"Thanks, Tracey." RJ said sincerely, then glanced back to his console to make sure that nothing was trying to gain his attention.

"Yell if you need me." Tracey said as he patted RJ's shoulder before turning to go back to his station.

* * * * *

Tracey made a quick change to the break schedule to switch Ensign Lord and Lieutenant Baz, then began to look over the different department reports to be sure that he was up-to-date on everything that was going on.

"You seem to have had quite the exchange with Lieutenant Baz. Is it something of which I should be made aware?" Captain Gravf asked in a casual tone as he approached.

"No, Sir. I was just doing what I could to make sure that all the cadets will be ready to take their stations when we leave Tellar." Tracey said seriously.

"I have found that it is easy for one to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of the longer term. It pleases me to see that you remain cognizant of your objectives." Captain Gravf said thoughtfully.

"Thank you, Sir." Tracey said sincerely, then thought to add, "I'm just worried that I might have been too forceful with Lieutenant Baz. I'm only an Acting Lieutenant and he has seniority..."

"You were doing the job that I asked of you." Captain Gravf interrupted, then added with a smile, "If your mother had been present to witness what I've just seen, I'm sure that she would have been very proud."

"I've never seen myself as being anything like her, but I guess it's in there, whether I want to admit it or not." Tracey said thoughtfully.

"It appears that the nut doesn't fall very far from the tree." Captain Gravf said frankly.

Tracey tried valiantly to restrain a smile as he said, "Yes, Sir."

To Be Continued…

Editor's Notes:

It looks to me as if the cadets have settled in pretty well, and they have all made some serious progress, albeit with a little help from time to time, as seems appropriate.

Tracey seems to have his priorities in order, and is doing his best to follow the orders he received, and it looks as though he is being treated properly to most successfully bring things into line in the best possible timeframe.

There is a sense of the coming together among the entire crew, adults and cadets alike, they all seem to be learning from one another, which is something one can usually only hope for.

I am ready for more, any time, now.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher