“Fire and Ice”
Stardate 74292.7; April 17, 2397
“That was boring.”
Matthew Harrison did not speak in jest. In fact, his analysis of the energy symposium they had just attended—located on some backwater planet called Batares—was so accurate that Alan Christopher could only nod his head in agreement. Half of the information presented was incredibly out of date; the other half was so technical that it put Christopher to sleep. And none of it seemed relevant to life on a starship. Thus, Christopher was forced to assume that the only reason Starfleet sent them there in the first place was as a favor to the Batarians—whom he’d never heard of prior to a few days ago.
“You would think that our status as ‘revered war heroes’ would garner us a mission more interesting than that,” Christopher mused a moment later. “I mean, I’ve had more interesting conversations with a brick wall.”
Harrison grinned. “Perhaps our next mission will be more to your liking,” he said.
“Yeah… maybe we’ll get to patrol Vulcan space or something equally exciting. I’m beginning to wish we had been assigned to help rebuild the Elorg Bloc. Sure, we might have been up to our ears in chaos every day, but at least we wouldn’t get stuck on some backwater world like Batares.”
“I, for one, do not miss the constant tumult of war,” said Harrison thoughtfully. “Though I would not mind having the Starlight assigned to something more interesting.” He paused for a moment and then said, “I hope all is well back on the Starlight.”
“They’ve been conducting some sort of shield enhancements in the Jaltos Nebula for the past week,” said Christopher. “I’m sure Lucas has everything under control. He’s an able commander.”
Harrison raised a curious eyebrow. “I wish I shared your enthusiasm.”
“Oh?” said Christopher. “Why?”
“Commander Tompkins is a bit too…‘gung ho’ for my liking,” said Harrison softly. “I have attempted to become more tolerant of his methods—such as his treatment of females, but—”
“Treatment of females?” repeated Christopher. He wasn’t exactly sure what Matthew meant by that, but it certainly didn’t sound good.
Harrison nodded. “Indeed. He often discusses their aesthetic qualities and his sexual encounters with them in public. It is crude, to say the least, and I attempted to enlighten the Commander several weeks ago, but sadly, my words fell upon deaf ears.”
So it wasn’t nearly as bad as Christopher had thought. Lucas wasn’t doing anything terribly out of line—he was simply being a male. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much, dearest Matthew. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt if you loosened up a little.”
The Commander immediately rolled his eyes. “You know, that is almost exactly what Captain Landsberg told me.”
Christopher smiled, just as a sensor alert began bleeping at the helm “Great minds think alike, I suppose,” he mused, his attention turning to Neelar Drayge up in the Aztec’s cockpit. “Are we going to die?”
The Bolian shook his head. “Not yet,” he said. “There’s a massive M-class planet about six light years up ahead. What’s more, it has a huge ring system that puts Saturn to shame.”
Christopher felt a sudden glint of interest spark inside of him. “It might be worth checking out,” he said. “Do you think it’s worth dropping out of transwarp for, Neelar?”
Neelar gulped. It wasn’t often the Captain asked for his subordinates’ opinion on their course of action, but Alan liked to keep everyone on their toes. Especially Neelar. He had a lot of potential as an officer, and Christopher wanted to ensure that potential was tapped. Drayge consulted sensors for a brief moment, and then turned his bright blue eyes upon the Captain. “If anything, it would give me a chance to brush up on my maneuvering skills,” he said. “But I think there’s also enough scientific interest there to warrant a stop.”
“Then by all means, Neelar, do it.” Christopher grinned and stared out the cockpit windows as the verdant hues of their transwarp conduit streaked out of existence. There was a sudden flash of chartreuse light, and an instant later, a massive blue and green sphere loomed up ahead, surrounded by a majestic halo of auburn rock.
“Impressive,” said Harrison. “I shall begin collecting sensor data at once.” He quickly made his way into the cockpit and assumed the position next to Drayge, leaving Christopher alone to his thoughts.
But given the inanity of the journey to Batares, Christopher found himself with almost nothing to ponder. He sat quietly and stared out the cockpit window for a moment, watching as Drayge weaved the Aztec through the intricate maze of asteroids making up the rings around the planet. In fact, the young Bolian seemed to maneuver the ship with such ease that there was no challenge whatsoever. Perhaps he was holding back?
Christopher shrugged. “Neelar,” he called out, “impress me.”
The statement gave Drayge a moment’s pause. “Impress you?” he asked. “How?”
That was a good question, and Christopher gave it some consideration before providing an answer. “Pretend that we have a Borg sphere—no, wait—a tactical cube on our tail, and they are desperate to add us to the collective. Our only hope for survival is to lose them in this ring system.”
Drayge nodded his understanding, and his deft fingers quickly fell upon the controls with a newfound fury. “You might want to hold on,” he suggested as their speed suddenly kicked up a few notches.
Not feeling compelled to argue, Christopher swiftly planted his hands on the console before him and craned his neck to peer out the cockpit window. They were headed straight for the planet, storming around rocks nearly twice the size of the Aztec before taking a considerable nosedive just short of hitting the atmosphere. The ship shuddered a bit, and rapidly came about in the opposite direction, veering to port, then starboard before plowing through a few small chunks of icy rock and coming to a stop in front of a massive asteroid. Christopher’s stomach joined them a few moments later.
“Very impressive, Neelar,” he commended. “I couldn’t have done better myself. I used to be quite a pilot back in Starfleet Academy, you know.”
“I didn’t know that, actually,” said Neelar.
Harrison raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Neither did I,” he said softly. “I have known you to be an adequate pilot, but nothing more.”
Christopher shook his head and cast a sarcastically disappointed gaze in Harrison’s direction. “Thank you for that overwhelming vote of confidence, Matthew. But I’ll have you know, I was renowned for my piloting skills at the Academy. They were passing out commendations to me by the bucket, and so much skill that—”
Suddenly, Harrison relinquished his seat to the Captain. “Prove it,” he said, his arm extended to help guide Christopher to the helm.
Christopher was very tempted to laugh, but given the look on his face, Harrison was dead serious. Not being the type to refuse a challenge questioning his ability, Christopher slowly took the helm—though simultaneously, he wished he had given himself a little less buildup.
It had been awhile since he had piloted the Aztec, but Christopher knew that excuse wouldn’t be a valid one should he err. In fact, he was quite certain that no excuse would be valid in the event of an unfortunate error. He would simply have to eat his words and endure the rest of the journey home in a somewhat humbled state. But then again, to err was human—and human, Christopher was not. He grinned, and confidently placed his hands upon the interface. “Transferring helm controls in five… four… three… two… one…”
“It’s all yours,” said Drayge a second later.
Christopher nodded, and summarily turned his vibrant teal eyes upon the vast array of controls before him. They were suddenly far more daunting than they had been while residing on Drayge’s side of the console. Nevertheless, he promptly started tapping at the interface, pulling the Aztec away from their parking space before a large asteroid.
He pulled it off without a hitch, and the Aztec smoothly veered away from the massive rock and over its craggy surface. Feeling a bit more comfortable with the controls, Christopher decided his piloting skills weren’t nearly as bad as he had anticipated. He quickly increased their speed and began to charge around the asteroids with ease, his maneuvers easily matching the gracefulness of Neelar’s display.
But Christopher wasn’t out to match the young Bolian. The Captain’s competitive side commanded him to outdo Drayge’s maneuvers—to prove that he really was the best—and he had every intention of doing just that, when the doors to the aft compartment suddenly slid apart.
“What the hell are you doing?” demanded Sarah Hartman as she barged into the cockpit; Erin Keller followed her closely. She remained silent, but had an equally inquisitive look upon her face.
“I’m showing off my piloting skills,” said Alan, bringing their forward motion to a crawl.
Hartman scoffed. “I didn’t know you had any skills, let alone piloting,” she mused.
“He has a few good qualities,” said Erin before Christopher could defend himself, “but I must admit, this one is completely new to little old me.”
Christopher flashed a charismatic grin, and then turned back to the controls. “Then be quiet, and be dazzled,” he said, his voice exuding an extreme sense of confidence. He was certain, now more than ever, that he could pull off an incredible feat—and if he could impress Erin while doing it, so much the better.
As his hands flew over the interface, Christopher decided he would perform a series of barrel rolls while navigating the perils of the planet’s ring system. That would certainly suffice to prove his status as renowned; all he had to do was pull it off, a task much easier said than done.
Alan stared at the sensors for a long moment, mentally plotting a course and heading in his mind. Once he was satisfied they weren’t going to plow into a giant asteroid, he came hard about, increased their speed dramatically, and set the Aztec into a gradual barrel roll as they stormed past a pair of massive asteroids.
With his confidence levels billowing, Christopher increased their speed even more. That, combined with the continuous directional changes and the constant barrel rolling began to place some stress upon the inertial dampers—Alan was beginning to feel a little more of the action. And that, combined with the pinwheeling starfield out the cockpit window gave his stomach some issues that he simply could not ignore.
Alan struggled with the helm for several seconds as he pushed his feelings of nausea into some far corner of his mind, but to his chagrin, it was a distraction that he simply could not ignore—but suddenly, there was a massive asteroid looming dead ahead. Priorities had to change…
Christopher’s fingers danced over the interface in a catatonic frenzy, instructing the Aztec to forget about the stupid barrel roll and just dive! It complied, and the asteroid soared overhead. Christopher didn’t even want to think about how close they had come to—
—Another asteroid suddenly crept into sight. Christopher clenched his jaw in frustration and tried to dive below this one, too, but it rapidly became apparent that he would have no such luck. They were too close. He swiftly pulled out of the dive, hoping he could squeak around the side of the asteroid. Alan quickly made the necessary modifications to their course, but as he did so, the ship began to tremor. An explosion in the aft section summarily rocked the ship, obliterating whatever concentration Christopher had left in him.
Less than ten seconds later, the tremors died down, and the Aztec hung quietly in space near the asteroid that had nearly destroyed them.
“We lost our starboard warp nacelle,” said Erin a moment later. “And to make matters worse, there was some sort of feedback loop in the explosion, and it fried our port nacelle.”
“So we shan’t be going anywhere for a spell,” Harrison surmised.
There was a moment’s pause; then Doctor Hartman cleared her throat. “Like I said, no skill…”