Chapter 1 - Impatient
Kirk turned the plain gray, vacuum-sealed case over once before pressing and sliding the release to pop it open. Inside was an old uniform, a comb and other bathroom items.
"Stuff from the Ranger."
Kirk set the shipping case aside to leave in the dormitory lobby. He shook out the uniform. It smelled vaguely musty and machine-like. "Hm."
Spock lounged in the window with his feet up, his usual spot. Kirk had yet to point out that this penchant reminded Kirk of a house cat.
"Something wrong?" Spock asked.
"Oh. Just thinking how quickly things can change. What time is it? You need to report to the Apollo soon, don't you?"
Spock's brows lowered. "I am keeping track of the time."
Kirk put his new old things away. "Yeah. Of course. Sorry." Kirk sat back against the desk, drummed his fingers. "You likely don't know what time you'll be finished."
"Come back whatever the time. We haven't made love yet today."
"Are we on a schedule?"
"Yes. We are."
Spock bent his head over his work again. "I see."
The USS Apollo hung in her evenly lit bay like an art piece in an earth gallery. Her skin had been removed across the back of the primary hull to facilitate installation of the new impulse engines. It had the same unnatural appearance as the simulated cutaways from Spock's class assignments.
Spock followed a group of four maintenance crew across the wide gangway that attached to the side of the secondary hull. The two hulls were rounded, but with different diameters of rounding. To Spock, who thought ships should give no nod to appearance, it appeared to be a worse than nothing attempt at aesthetics.
Spock showed his pass again, this time to security at the ship side of the gangway. A familiar voice said, "Hey, Cadet."
Crewmember Hully strode up, came to a stop. Her dusty colored hair was cropped short now, buzzed up the back and sides, square like her small jaw. The style accentuated her narrow, and frail seeming body.
"I'm to show you around. Come on."
Spock followed. They made a few turns to get to the primary fore and aft passageway.
"This all right?" Hully asked.
"I'm not certain to what you are referring."
She grinned. "Me taking you around. If I can keep you from annoying Chief, I can hopefully keep helping you with your project which sounds far more interesting than scrubbing and oiling components, which would be my job if this doesn't work out."
They stopped before the storage bays outside engineering. "I'm going to see if there are things in here tagged for your project. The fewer things we have to ask Chief about, the better off we are." She queried the computer and found two baskets full of sensors. "These are yours. Strain gauges?"
"They are that as well as position sensors accurate to a fraction of a proton's diameter."
"You're doing something for the engine install?"
"This ship is being retrofit with the latest version of an older engine design that Starfleet intends to standardize on. A design that is more reliable and powerful, but that does not fit the ship. It will likely not fit any ship perfectly. Hence the significant alteration of the engine mounts, even cutting the ship's structural elements and reworking them."
"Right. And all the swearing going on around here."
Spock pulled his large padd out of his satchel. The screen opened onto a diagram of the new impulse engine in place. The mounting structure glowed.
"The engine mounts are partly floating, and where they are not floating, they are isolated. Some of the simulations indicate that certain waveforms in the impulse engines could induce the entire engine mount structure to oscillate."
"Disastrously?" Her face became brightly amused. "I'm assigned to this ship."
"No. The engine controllers are being programmed to avoid damage. But that possibly results in lower engine performance, negating some portion of the upgrade."
She picked up a gauge, examined it. "They installed programmable dampeners all along the aft beam. Took two days to put them in."
"Yes. And said programming needs data. The ship is going to make a few dry runs, as I understand it, to model the system. Chief Ping wishes to have more data than would otherwise be available, hence the installation of the sensors."
She held up the gauge. "Ever installed one of these?"
"By no means. And your desire to not interact with the Chief Engineer is not practical nor desirable, I'm afraid."
"Just trying to save you. He really doesn't like you."
"Why did he agree to allow me to conduct my assignment?"
She looked unduly amused, eyes shining. "Commander Overlander tricked him. Got him all excited about the project. Then later just happened to say it was you." She laughed. "He was. Pissed. More so than anyone expected."
"I appreciate the warning."
"Well, the stuff is here. We can look at the work orders and the rosters and if we aren't on them, get on them so we aren't in the way. Sound good?"
Spock nodded. "I appreciate your assistance."
"Yeah, well . . ." She blushed.
She pulled the basket out again, tilted her head. "This is mostly crawling around, installing and testing, and testing again. Easy. But that's a whole lot of sensors in that basket."
Engineering was in disarray. Uninstalled components were lined up along the bays, and the port bulkhead had been cut open to get access to the conduits behind it.
Ping stood at a control board with his assistant. Spock walked that way, but Hully made a hissing noise, nodded at the smaller board beside the door to the Chief's office.
She swept her fingers over the board, moving the complex web of dependent tasks around. They were colored as to whether they were completed, or whether the supplies to start them were in storage or onroute on time. She shifted in the Z dimension, showing the personnel.
"Here it is, same baskets. Not sure what the label stands for." She drilled down into the task specifics. "We have a four hour window on the aft area starting in forty nine minutes. TBD on who is supposed to show us the install procedure. We will have to talk to Chief."
Hully turned around and watched Chief Ping talking to his assistant. "I was going to suggest suiting up first, but let's go talk to him now. Brace yourself."
Ping turned at their approach, handed the cutter he held to his assistant, whose hands were already full. The gaze he turned to Spock was dark, displeased. Spock doubted he needed more controls in place, but he settled himself into calm and felt well established there.
"Reporting, sir," Spock said.
"I see that, Cadet. Can't exactly mistake you for anyone else."
"Chief, I see that the aft trusses are open for a decently long block today," Hully said. "Who is assigned to procedure training?"
"Oppo is. He's in the main conduit right now."
"Oppo. Right sir." Hully did not sound pleased to hear this.
Hully stood straighter. "No, sir."
"Get suited up. Make sure this greenie here is suited properly. Fortunately for you, he's human shaped, at least."
Beside Ping, his assistant regripped the things he held. Hully opened her mouth, closed it again. "Right sir. That is convenient." She turned. "Come on, Cadet."
In the locker room, Spock noticed Hully's hands were shaking as he pulled the isolation suit over her boot.
"May I speak to you?" Spock said.
She shaped her face into a more pleasant expression and looked up at him.
"Do not concern yourself," Spock said.
She yanked the foot of the suit over her other boot and jumped up and down to pull the suit up to her waist.
"You don't have feelings, Cadet?"
"I am perfectly able to prioritize what opinions are of value." He sealed up the front of the suit. He immediately felt pleasantly warm. He wondered if he spent most days too cold.
She held off on sealing up her suit front, picked up her things. Her movements were angry. She started to stalk out.
Spock took hold of the spare material of the suit sleeve and turned her around.
She jerked her hand back to make him let go. "You are so out of line, Cadet."
Spock nodded. "Yes, I am. Do not provoke the same with your chief. Certainly not for my sake."
She blinked at him. "You dog." She rolled her eyes. "Fine." She rearranged the things she held, put a few items into her utility pouch. "It's also that I don't like Oppo. He's always hitting on me. Won't take a no. He puts his hands on me using some lame excuse, I'm kicking him off the truss."
"What is his rank?"
"Ensign. Everyone outranks me. Except you." She smiled. "Let's go, Cadet."
They were issued antigrav belts instead of fall harnesses, and filled their belts with cutters of various sizes, electronic spanners, and calibrated measures.
Ensign Oppo was about Kirk's height and coloring, but his hair was straight and long enough to cover his ears, and his features were drawn out, almost slack, and he had a triangle of red beard just under his lower lip.
He scratched his ear and stared at Hully while he talked. "Herme gauges. Right. They're easy. Let me get a belt and I'll show you in place."
Spock had his padd out, checking the positions of the sensor units best installed this session.
"Did you tether that?" Hully tipped the padd to look under it. "Spock, don't be such a numbskull NUB. Tethers are in the bins there."
Spock instawelded a flip-out hook bar onto the back of his padd and strung it to his belt on the ring where the tools were tethered.
Hully had followed him. "Drop equipment in the brand new engine bay and Ping will roast you alive. Nothing goes in without being secured. Got it?"
Spock dropped his voice. "I will try not to embarrass you."
"It wasn't really that. Or. Hell. Maybe it was." She frowned, dropped her voice too. "I don't want to seem like I'm piling on to you."
"You are not. I require correction."
She smiled. "I'm not exactly helping by instructing you ahead of time before you mess up. I don't know what you don't know."
They went up two decks, swishing in their suits. They went up an access tube. Oppo insisted that Hully go first and him second. Spock raised a brow and followed. At the access portal, Oppo had to squeeze up alongside Hully to put in the code for it to open. Hully was red when the three of them emerged onto the sloped deck the foot of the engine structure. Spock thought he could hear her grinding her teeth.
They turned on their belts and free climbed to the upper aft truss, careful of loose wiring harnesses and not yet deburred corners. They climbed three decks high to the upper crossing truss. Spock didn't entirely trust the antigrav belt to engage should he fall, so he did not feel he could free both hands the way Oppo and Hully did.
Spock knew the precise location of the first sensor, but Oppo didn't believe him. Spock pulled out the padd to show him the measurements. Oppo did the measurements, marked, did them again, marked in a second color. He took out a gauge, put marking color on the mounts and pressed it to the measurements to leave yet more marks. "This install today is pretty low tolerance. You have a few on there coded purple. You'll block the installation of something else if you mess it up. You'll need to bracket the gauge and use the lasers. Keep the error below a hundredth of a millimeter."
He used a cutter to make holes, cleaned up the slag with another tool, set the gauge in place and pressed hard to make it latch on.
"That's it. Even a brain damaged noob can handle it."
"And it is already powered, sir?" Spock said, eager to see the data.
"Yes." He touched the side of the small display on the gauge. "It should be pinging. Can you see it?"
Spock changed screens on his padd. There were long lists of devices announcing themselves. He found the gauge, marked it as special, glanced at the raw data stream showing every tiny movement of the truss, every piece of equipment on the ship echoing in the numbers.
Oppo climbed hand over hand around Hully who pressed herself against the truss to let him pass. She rolled her eyes, pressed her lips tightly together.
Oppo insisted on helping for an hour and a half. Hully kept Spock between the two of them as much as possible.
When they were finally alone she huffed and sighed. "And the chief thinks you're the annoying one."
They installed six more gauges before having to climb down due to their work time window closing. Spock's fingers were nicked and raw from the rough metal. Hully had put on a personal pair of gloves from her belt pouch. Spock had not even considered bringing such a thing.
They stopped by the board in engineering again to make sure the schedule hadn't changed. Ping was in his office. He came to the doorway. "Fortunately, didn't issue you any cutters big enough to do any real damage. Anything positive to report?"
"Yes, sir. Fourteen sensors in place. Spock is going to write a summary tech report for practice."
"Give me the telemetry off them and basic stats on the numbers."
"Yes, sir," Spock said.
Ping tossed his head. "When you are out of the bunny suits, see him off the ship, Crewmember. He can work on reports somewhere he's wanted."
As they approached the gangway off the ship, Hully said, "I think I'm going to talk to the commander."
Spock stopped, forcing her to do so as well. "Please respect my ability to see to myself, Crewmember. I will speak to Commander Overlander if I feel it is necessary."
She put her hands on her hips. "Yeah, but you aren't going to."
"Because it is unnecessary."
"You deserve more respect than that."
"I have not earned it." Spock waited for two ensigns to pass. They passed slowly, turned to look behind them at him.
"Chief Ping is justified in his dislike of me, but perhaps not in his behavior."
"What'd you do to him?"
"I inadvertently made a great deal of work for him prior to this. I have no difficulty withstanding his method of getting back at me. I would prefer it to be otherwise, but it is not."
She propped her hands higher on her hips. "You mean the virus? The one that won us the war?" She waited, face determined. "Okay. Your choice, I guess. You have another window on the roster two days from now. Five hour block. I'll meet you right here forty five before, okay?"
"Don't study too hard in the meantime."
"I am afraid I am unable to comply with that."
She rolled her eyes and walked away.
A/N: Will try to post weekly. Usually between Tuesday and Thursday. Something to help get over the hump.