A Circuitous Path
Posted on Sun Sep 16th, 2018 @ 11:21am by Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox
Edited on on Sun Sep 16th, 2018 @ 8:35pm
Location: Runabout Flemming, en route to the Kabul system
Timeline: 2395, Stardate 72675.0
She laid back on the small, tight cot in the aft of the aging runabout. There were three other passengers all fast asleep while the crew at the helm struggled to keep their eyes open on the long journey. They were three days in of a 7 day trip from Starbase 17 to the U.S.S HERA to join its crew as a junior Flight Control Officer, but Lieutenant Junior Grade Melanie Dox was too wound up to sleep.
The warp nacelles on a Danube class runabout were roughly ten feet from her head on the other side of the bulkhead and there was a low-frequency hum that vibrated through the hull that she couldn’t make herself ignore. It was too familiar for her, having grown up on frigates and freighters. She was used to the steady groan of warp engines but hasn’t heard it much the last few years living in one Starbase or another. This felt more like home, out in the vastness of space.
Melanie quietly crawled out of her upper bunk and slid slowly to the floor, doing her level best to not wake up her fellow passengers. They were on their way to DS7 as engineering crew and would be staying on the runabout for a few days longer then her for their destination. She took a seat along the port bulkhead on a short padded bench seat where she could look out the window. Seeing the stars streaking past the window put her at ease. She watched as the colors of the streaks of light shifted along the visible spectrum, glowing from a warm blue to red as they drifted away in the runabouts wake. She figured that the ship was moving at roughly warp 2, maybe 2.5.
At top speed, such a ship could travel at warp 5 for a while but it’s never a good idea to cruise at maximum velocity and Starfleet wasn’t in a major hurry to deliver her to the Hera. But still, she was beyond excited. After spending the last 6 years since she graduated the academy piloting cargo shuttles and ferrying the occasional passenger from the starbase she felt trapped in, she was finally moving to a STARSHIP. A recent mission bringing a delegate from the Starbase to a nearby planet dealing with an internal civil war let to her small shuttle being stranded in an asteroid field, their engines blown out by a hidden gravimetric mine. But the then Ensign Nox got her delegate to their destination with some clever piloting that involved using the shuttles limited tractor beams to push and pull off of the nearby asteroids until they were close enough to be safely rescued. It was a clever bit of problem-solving that earned her a promotion and the eyes of a few higher-ups at Starfleet that decided to end what she felt was an exile in "starbase limbo". And now she found herself a Lieutenant Junior Grade and on her way to the HERA.
The Hera was a massive Nebula-Class starship, one of the largest and most spacious ships in the fleet and Melanie was still running the deck maps over in her head hoping she didn’t get lost. She knew that the Hera frequently patrolled the Klingon-Romulan border but beyond that, the young Lieutenant knew very little about her new assignment. What she DID know was a fact that few people did: That a chunk of her childhood was spent on ships that went places that they weren’t supposed to. Places like the Romulan Neutral zone, for example.
The daughter of lifelong spacers, Melanie Nox was piloting the frigate she lived on by the time she was ten . It came naturally for her. Living on ships gave her an easy comfortability around them and she could navigate often with little more than a fixed star in the window.
The aforementioned spacers, Melanie’s parents, could also be described by another title: Smugglers. Her father was a human with an extremely low opinion of the politics of Starfleet and the Federation who was never shy about expressing it. Her mother was a half-Romulan with little love for the empire and a strong desire to chart her own course in the universe. They were hardly master criminals, but they had just enough contacts to allow them to slip through the border to run supplies from Remus to various outposts in Federation space. Nothing particularly epic, but Romulan Ale didn’t end up all over the quadrant by accident and frigates like the one Melanie grew up on helped that supply chain along. Nothing lasts forever, however, and their ship was stopped by a federation patrol when Melanie was only 14. The ship was confiscated and Melanie’s parents were taken into custody by Starfleet. Melanie was questioned for 3 days by Starfleet officers in Black uniforms she had never seen before or since and told them about everything that she knew. She told them about her time navigating Romulan space by the stars and what she knew about their culture. Satisfied, Starfleet did everything they could to help her assimilate to regular life on Earth. She was sent there to live with her grandparents, but being trapped on Earth just wasn't the life for her.
The life of a smuggler wasn't what Melanie wanted for herself, but she desperately wanted to be among the stars again and see the universe. Starfleet seemed like the best path to get there and be the person she wanted to be. And finally, she was on her way for real. Melanie Dox didn't know what awaited her on the U.S.S HERA, but she was a good pilot and she was ecstatic to possibly be able to finally show it. Just three 17 more hours until her life began again.
Suddenly, the ship lurched vilolently to Port. Having grown up on rickety freighters as a child, it was a sensation all too familiar to her as she found herself rolling to the opposite side of the runabout. The ship was still in a tight turn and she was pushed against the starboard side bulkhead where she had to partly crawl along the wall to the front of the ship. But as quickly as the action began, it ceased and the ship straightened up its path and began moving forward normally again.
The other passengers were roused violently from their sleep and began panicikingly asking what was happening. "Not sure, but... It's safer if you just stay put while I check, okay?" Melanie responded tersly.
Righting herself, she made her way to the pilots to check on what had happened. In the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot were frantically doing a system check and diagnostic and instructed her to go back to the rear of the craft. She had spent six years stationed on starbases doing their exact job, piloting shuttles and roundabouts with cargo and crew transfers and was finally moving up to an actual Starship. So she was damned if she was going to not pull her new and EVER so slightly elevated rank now. "Pardon me, Ensign." with just a little more emphasis on his rank then was probably necessary. "Sorry, but I've got some experience with this kind of situation and think I can be of assistance here. At least more help then just sitting in the back of the ship like cargo. What happened?"
"We've got the situation under control, Lieutenant. It looks like a momentary failure in the port engine is all and we're running a diagnostic now to see what happened. We DO have everything under control, I can assure you." The pilot responded.
Slightly frustrated as her gaze shifted momentarily out the forward window to space ahead, Melanie replied "Fantastic, so why if we're still running a diagnostic are we still moving? I'm just snowballing here, but shouldn't we find out why the engine malfunctioned from a stationary position? Isn't that standard protocol here?"
"Oh my god, did I just cite protocol?" the young Junior Lieutenant thought to herself as the pilot begrudgingly stopped the ship.
"According to the diagnostic, it looks like we have a small fuel leak in the port nacelle." The pilot reported. "Nothing too serious. We can patch that internally, reroute additional power from the starboard nacelle and be back on our way in... 45 minutes."
"Does the diagnostic say what caused the... hold on. Scooch over a second." The increasingly impatient young woman followed up. "You did an internal scan, but what about external? Maybe we ran through something out here our sensors didn't pick up." Nox's fingers ran across the consoles running a number of external scans of the space they had just passed through while the pilot shot her a harsh stare. Melanie noticed the stare but ignored it.
"Yeah. We just passed through a super dense, spacial anomaly. They bend space so our sensors don't see it until you've hit it unless you do a level two or above scan. Essentially it's like a pothole in space that popped a hole in our nacelle. Way too small to be a problem for a larger ship, but we weren't so lucky. And we wouldn't have been so lucky if we kept moving." Melaine gestured to the heads-up display to show a field of similar anomalies dotting space in front of them.
Staring at the display, the pilot stuttered momentarily. "Uh... Yes. Yes, thank you, Lieutenant Nox. I... I think we should contact the Hera and apprised them of our situation. Once the engines re-calibrated, we'll proceed at impulse until we're clear." Immediately, the pilots began to work hurriedly on their consoles. Melanie awkwardly backed out of the cockpit, noticing the irritated looks on the pilots and beginning to feel embarrassed by her own behavior.
The other passengers were milling about the back of the runabout, talking amongst themselves when Melanie returned to the back. "Uh, everything's... It's all under control. So, yeah, so we can all get back to sleep."
They were confused and looked annoyed that she didn't offer up and more information as she quickly walked past them.
"Brilliant move." She thought as she slid back into her bunk. "You can never just let people do their jobs." She knew she was right to intervein but still felt terrible that she couldn't have resolved the situation better. She was going to be reporting for duty on a STARSHIP tomorrow, and that kind of attitude wasn't going to be making her any friends.
Suddenly, tomorrow seemed a lot bigger in her mind.