Title: Introduction, or, If You Give a Vulcan a Marshmelon...
Series: Tales from the Lower Decks
Written for: LiveJournal's st_20_fics Table, Prompt #18 - "Mine."
Characters: Spock, Kirk, OC Matthew Turner (seen elsewhere such as A Celebration in Infinite Combinations and Insontis)
Warnings/Spoilers: written by me? :P
Series Summary: The adventures of an ordinary Maintenance man aboard the Enterprise, and his observations of the developing trifold powerhouse which is Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
This Bit Summary: Spock learns that his new captain cares more for his crew than for regulations, and Ensign Turner learns why you never leave a cup of coffee unattended in the Enterprise engine rooms.
This Bit Word Count: 3543
A/N: Having abandoned my NaNo temporarily because it had ground to a very painful, very boring halt (and I only do NaNo because I enjoy writing; once I start hating a fic I know it's time to give it a break and plan a little better the second time around), I am beginning this series of ficlets/oneshots for st_20_fics, with the prompt table linked above. They will all be Triumvirate-centric, more so than this introductory one, so just bear with me while I establish an OC POV before moving on to the better ones. I'm just fooling around and having fun here, people, so expect anything from crack to angst and all the universes in-between.
People think that life aboard a starship is full of danger, or full of boredom, or equal parts of both, and I guess that's true - especially aboard this particular ship - but just the same, it's not always an away mission gone wrong, or a planetary emergency, or something else that spells disaster for a lot of people. Yes, the Enterprise has a higher mortality and casualty rate than any other ship in Starfleet, but that's because she's the flagship, and she's the deepest into space, and furthest from outside aid. The death toll would be even higher if she had another commander and command chain, and everyone knows it. Knows it, understands the risks, and dreams of serving aboard her anyway.
Because it's a highly-sought-after honor to serve on the Federation's flagship, and it's an experience every cadet dreams about and only a select group ever get to see materialize. That's why people like myself, who score high enough to be placed in Ops aboard another ship but only in Maintenance on this ship, turn down the higher position just for the chance to serve on the Enterprise. Sweeping the mess hall floor and repairing malfunctioning ductwork on the Enterprise is still more of an adventure (literally, sometimes, because have you seen what tribble fur can do to ductwork!) than overseeing tacticians and navigators on a less spectacular, less iconic vessel.
So yes, the risks are high, that's a given on this ship. You'd think with the high mortality rate, not to mention the frequency with which one or other of the primary command team seems to attract trouble like a supermagnet: with those, you'd think the atmosphere of the ship would be tense, or at least all business and no pleasure. And it is, sometimes (definitely when Mr. Spock's the one doing the department inspections, for one); but it's not like that all the time. No one would be able to thrive in that kind of environment, and so the Enterprise is always humming with energy, and it's the most fantastic atmosphere to work in you could possibly imagine.
This is due, in part, to the fabulous Medical staff the Enterprise has. Dr. McCoy may be a fearsome fellow, with a temper to match his low tolerance for malingering, but he's by far the clear expert in his fields, and a dashed good shrink to boot. He's got a finger on the pulse of the crew, and it's due in part to him and his staff that we have a lower depression rate and a higher efficiency during down time than anyone else. He works with Recreation on a regular basis to make sure there are enough activities to keep the crew entertained, and makes regular check-ups (sometimes using blackmail to do so, but that's a different story) on members of the crew who might be slipping just a tad in their efficiency. Everyone says the brain of the ship is of course Commander Spock; and if that's true, then Dr. McCoy is the blood that feeds every part of the ship's body, keeping it alive and healthy and full of energy.
And of course, there's the captain - the heart of the ship. Captain Kirk's a very strange commander, one of the most innovative and therefore the most shocking among his peers. Gossip travels, fast even across the cosmos, and Kirk's revolutionary methods and brash charisma whirlwinded the Enterprise into newsfeeds everywhere when she was launched. Many of the old captain's crew were horrified at his overthrowing long-standing traditions aboard - like repeating orders across the Bridge, for example. Lieutenant Uhura says Kirk stopped that particular procedure the second week aboard, by scowling at his alpha shift crew and declaring that if anyone on the Bridge couldn't listen to an order the first time around, he wanted him booted down to Waste Recycling for a few weeks, and to for heaven's sake stop making his head spin with the shouting.
Reportedly, Mr. Spock looked a bit horrified at the disregard for decades-long regulation, but the guy apparently learned early that what Kirk wants, he gets. And Spock knows how to pick his battles, believe me.
But Kirk's a strange one. People say he's over-confident, even arrogant - but that's not true. There's a fine line between self-confidence and over-confidence, and Kirk dances that line continually, once in a while falling over one side or the other but usually right on the button regarding his own abilities and his complete faith in his crew. The man can talk his way out of anything, anytime - I've seen him spin ridiculous tales that my daft maiden aunt wouldn't believe, and yet the people he's trying to fool somehow instinctively take his word for it. That's just the kind of confidence the man inspires.
Is it effective? Obviously. Is it annoying? Definitely. (Don't ever play poker with the captain, trust me.) Is it hilarious? Absolutely. The fellow can bluff his way in and out of a bar full of drunk Klingons without a scratch (and has done), has fooled Romulan and Orion and who-knows-what-other ships into fleeing us in terror, without firing a single shot. Everybody at Starfleet Academy now uses the phrase Corbomite Maneuver in tactical classes and common usage, to mean a so-masterful-it's-almost-ludicrous bluff that pays off big - and for good reason. I mean, who else can yank a Vulcan's chain with some ridiculous yarn and not get himself killed (metaphorically or otherwise) in the process?
Kirk's one-of-a-kind, that's certain. Any other commander would have had my head (and Mr. Scott did, figuratively at least), for the stupid mistake I made my second month aboard.
Working in Engineering and Maintenance does become a bit tedious after a while. Mr. Scott's so protective of his engines that you'd better not touch one without his expression permission and a signature in blood; and if it's a slow week aboard and no one's going around breaking hatchway hinges or clogging up drains there's not much a maintenance worker has to do around the department.
I would say I could be excused for being the blundering fool that I was…except that it's really not true; I was a moron and everyone knew it.
Engineering on the Enterprise is a bit of a relaxed place, due to Engineer Scott's unique influence. He believes people work better when there's not someone hanging over their shoulders waiting for them to make a blunder, and so he implements rigorous training routines which everyone has to complete - on their own time - before they're allowed to touch the transporter or the warp engines. It's a good way to weed out the serious engineers from the ones who landed there because their psych scores didn't qualify them for Security. And because Scott knows that the people who pass his muster are then completely qualified, he basically lets them be when we're not engaged in battle mode or making major repairs. This lot all get along famously, due to the friendly atmosphere and the knowledge that we all have enough blackmail on Scott to ensure he will always treat us fairly (as if he wouldn't anyway).
I could say it was due to the fact that the entire department was panicking over a surprise inspection, courtesy of Mr. Spock's latest determination to make certain everything was functioning at peak capacity…but really, it was my own stupidity. We'd only just finished replacing the panels in the engine room, the ones which conceal storage areas for smuggled goods (then empty, thank goodness), when we heard Mr. Spock's unmistakable voice verbally eviscerating…that is, interrogating our poor Chief Engineer about some irregular readouts. Ensign Riley and I made a quick final sweep of the room and then made a hasty getaway, scooting past what looked like a nervous Montgomery Scott and a quietly amused Captain Kirk as we returned to our stations on the upper deck of the primary Engineering work area.
None of us were quite sure what to think of Kirk, or Spock for that matter, at that point in the game; it had been only six months since the ship's initial departure on a shakedown cruise, and only three months since the final personnel changes and the real departure for deep space had begun.
"Mr. Scott, these modifications do not fall into line with Starfleet regulations for warp flux capacity," I heard Mr. Spock drone, not unpleasantly - just firmly.
"Ah…well. About that, Mr. Spock." Bless his heart, Scotty was making a desperate attempt to look nonchalant and failing miserably. "Y'see, the Enterprise…well, sir, she's a very particular lady! Needs a…personalized touch, so to speak."
"Really, Mr. Scott." Spock looked totally unimpressed, though the captain was paying far too close attention to his fingernails in a failed attempt to hide a boyish grin.
Riley gave me a raised eyebrow, and we both relaxed a bit.
Just a bit.
"Really, sir!" Scott's earnest face was slowly growing red with nerves and exertion. "I can promise ye that -"
Expressionless, Spock interrupted as if he had never quite finished his previous thought. "Lieutenant-Commander, your promises will not negate Starfleet Command's questions regarding these highly irregular modifications."
"But sir! Mr. Spock, y'see they are most necess-"
"Spock," the captain spoke up for the first time, in a quiet undertone. He gave his First an undecipherable look, and then turned his full attention to our poor quailing Chief Engineer. "Mr. Scott knows these engines better than anyone aboard. Scotty, as long as you can get us from resting speed to Warp Five in less than thirty seconds to get my crew and my ship out of danger if and when I call for it, that's pretty much all I care about."
"Captain. To move from resting speed to Warp Five in that amount of time is not only highly improbable, but definitely against design regulations, as the ship's schematics clearly state," Spock answered, a twitch of a frown creasing his brow.
"Like I said." Kirk's sharp eyes flicked back to Scott, who was staring at his superior as if the man had suddenly grown a second head. "If you can do such a thing, and it will save lives when I call for it someday, well. That is the result I expect and demand from you, Mr. Scott."
Our poor chief's face lit up like a holiday tree, as he bounced on his toes in sudden comprehension.
"Captain," Spock was still protesting, bless his logical heart (if he has one, which according to Medical is debatable). "This is highly against all protocol, and as such I -"
"Mr. Spock," Kirk sighed, patting the stiff blue arm gently. "Go to that precious idiomatic dictionary of yours and look up the phrase plausible deniability for me, would you?"
Scott was grinning so wide his head was pretty much neatly divided in two, and at Spock's puzzled frown and subsequent typing away at his data-padd our gallant superior might have lost it entirely - except for the fact that a sudden drain of power and wailing of alert sirens filled the room, followed by the sickening moan of the Enterprise's powerful warp engines screeching to an unscheduled, and therefore highly alarming, halt.
"What i' the name of the devil!" Scott exclaimed, diving for the nearest readout screen.
"Are you still of the same opinion regarding these…unusual, modifications, sir?" Spock asked innocently, with what I would swear was a Vulcan eyebrow-smirk of wicked irony.
Kirk's scowl was answer enough, as he looked over Scott's shoulder at the readout. "Total engine shutdown for security reasons?" he read incredulously. "Due to what?"
"I dinna know, Captain. But you can be sure I'm gonna find out."
And find out he did, unfortunately for me and all of us poor fools in Engineering. There was no great harm done, thankfully, but that didn't stop Scott from lining us all up in front of our not-so-genial-anymore captain and explaining in gruesome detail precisely what had happened to cause that engine shutdown.
Captain Kirk's eyes got wider and wider as Scott explained, until finally he was just blatantly staring at our CE, eyebrows halfway up his forehead.
"Let me get this straight," Kirk finally interrupted Scott's tirade (a feat of bravery in itself). He pinched his forehead between a thumb and forefinger, slowly raising his eyes to look up and down the line of nervous personnel. "You're telling me that a constitution-class starship's warp engines had to be shut down by the ship's safety computer, because….someone left a cup of coffee on the warp coils, and it melted?"
When put like that, it did sound a bit like a grammar school lad blowing up a pot noodle in the mircrowave, and I couldn't help but blush in utter mortification and the wish to simply disappear into the flooring.
"That's about it, Cap'n," Scott growled, accompanied by much dramatic arm-waving.
Kirk stared at the gathering of us poor sods who were unfortunate enough to be within earshot when the Horrible Event happened. "And exactly whose cup of coffee was that, gentlemen?"
I was never so proud as I was then, to be part of so loyal a group. Scott's primary rule, after safety, was Unity within departments; no one was ever to give Engineering's secrets away.
"Gentlemen, I have no compunction about putting you all on report for dereliction of duty and delaying our mission, if you refuse to produce the culprit," the captain continued after a silent moment, and though his face was still calm the voice now held chilled steel, a warning of danger to come should the order not be obeyed.
I swallowed, and decided facing the music was better than having the music come find you later and transfer you to a garbage scow. "Um. It was mine, sir," I spoke up and stepped forward before I could lose my nerve, though I wished my voice wasn't quite so loud in the now eerily silent department.
"Mr. Matthews," Kirk said, not an inquiry but a statement - everyone knew he could name each crewman on sight, unlike many starship captains. His voice was stern, but not yet to that pants-wetting-inducing tone that indicated one was about to be booted out an airlock or, worse, subjected to one of Mr. Spock or Dr. McCoy's infamous serial Safety Lectures, and so I took heart (very feeble, very weak heart). "Care to tell me why you even had a cup of coffee near the warp coils?"
"Um." I coughed lightly, and tried not to squirm or give myself away with any nervous tells, like rubbing the back of my neck. Or running for the door. "Was…I was just warming it up, sir. On the coils. It'd gone cold, y'see, sir. And in the rush I guess I just…forgot to pick it back up." A chorus of groans rose up from behind me at my stupidity, and I looked down at the floor briefly before trying again to meet the captain's eyes.
Kirk just blinked. "You were reheating your coffee on the warp coils."
"…Aye, sir." I cringed, hoping I would not be beginning my Starfleet career in utter disgrace for a mistake no rookie even would make. "Normally it's not such a big thing," I tried to mitigate by explaining, "it's just that the cup was made of plasticene, naturally…and -"
"Matthews, just shut up while ye can," Scott groaned, face planted in both large hands.
"No, no," Kirk interrupted, to my surprise, waving a hand impatiently. "I take it this is a regular activity down here?"
"Ah…" I glanced sideways, and found my fellow Engineering mates uneasily looking around the room, shuffling slightly. "On occasion?" I had been brought up never to lie to an authority, but upon extensive retrospection I believe perhaps I should begin that habit for the protection of my own stupidity.
"Fascinating," Spock averred, in a tone which clearly said ye-gods-why-must-I-live-amongst-these-morons-and-can-I-get-away-with-dispatching-any-of-them-in-unfortunate-transporter-accidents.
Some brave - or stupid - fool in the back of the crowd evidently saw something in the captain's face that I was too new, and too unfamiliar, to discern; for he suddenly piped up cheerfully with a blithe, "We make some mean shish-kebabs on 'em too, Captain."
Another chorus of groans and a swat or two to the head punctuated the idiot's comment, and I glanced warily at Kirk to see his reaction.
To my shock, the captain was actually grinning at this point. I stared at him for a moment, and then felt my knees go weak with relief.
"Gentlemen," Kirk finally said, both hands upraised in a gesture of peace once the disgusted chaos had died down a bit. "I would prefer that the equipment in this department be used for its intended purpose and no other from now on." Half the personnel looked guiltily at each other. "Am I understood?"
"Quite, sir," Scott vowed fervently, glaring murder at all of us.
"Then, as we fortunately are running three days ahead of schedule on this next mission, I see no reason to belabor the point by reprimanding anyone," the captain continued, oblivious to Spock's eyebrows inching upward by degrees with every word. "Including you, Mr. Matthews." A glint of humor sparkled in Kirk's piercing eyes, as he grinned in my general direction. "Tell me, were you one of those children who forgot to take the fork out of the takeaway before putting it in the microwave?"
"Sir," I muttered (not about to admit I had been), ears flaming, as the entire department erupted into half-hysterical laughter borne of relief and adrenaline. Still, I could tell the jibe was meant in a good-natured way, rather than a desire to humiliate; Kirk's companionable grin and a gentle elbow as he passed me on his way out of the engine room only confirmed that.
"Oh, and gentlemen," the captain called back over his shoulder, pausing in the entryway. Spock, still obviously in shock over the illogicality of humans, automatically stood back in deference, head tilted to one side in an attempt to analyze our irrational human ways.
"Sir?" Scott asked warily.
"If you ever have a marshmallow-toasting party, make sure you invite me," Kirk quipped, flashing one more brilliant smile. "I make a great s'more."
And then he left, followed closely by a very mystified Commander Spock. Riley and I stared at each other for a second in incredulous amazement, slowly shaking our heads at the fact that I hadn't just been torn a new one for endangering the ship with my own idiocy.
"Sir, I am unfamiliar with the concept of a marsh-mellow?" We then heard Spock's puzzled inquiry.
"Oh my gosh, are you serious?" Kirk's mock-horrified outburst rang clearly through the department. "You guys, make sure you invite Spock too!" he called back through the open doors, obviously grinning.
"Captain, I assure you a personal demonstration will not be necessary -"
"Oh, but I assure you, Mr. Spock, this is an experiment that most definitely requires hands-on participation to gather the full spectrum of pertinent details necessary to formulate and test your hypothesis."
"…Captain. Your logic is…"
"Ah. Well, we can't all be perfect. Mr. Scott, let me know when you've scraped that plasticene off the coils, will you? We've got a medical convoy to catch at Beta Centauri."
Scott looked more resigned than anything else at this point, which was a definite improvement upon murderous fury at the moron who violated his precious engines. "Aye, Captain," he called back, sighing. Then his eagle eye fell upon me. "And as for you, Mr. Matthews. I believe you have several hours of unpaid overtime to get started on?"
"Aye, sir." I was not at all unhappy about the fact, either; just being forced to scrape the melted plasticene off the coils was small enough punishment for an offense that could easily have gone on my record.
"Y'know, the marshmallows are a really good idea, though," someone said thoughtfully from behind me.
"I bet pancakes would do pretty well, too," another chimed in.
"We could have waffle Mondays!"
"An' ye could all be transferred inta Mr. Spock's stellar cartography labs!" Scott bellowed above the rising hubbub.
"Gee, Scotty, that's harsh," Charlene Masters muttered, swatting the man on the arm as she went back to her station.
"Yeah, nobody deserves that," Riley chimed in, grinning.
"Ah…you do realize we're both still in the department making computer checks, gentlemen?" Captain Kirk's amused voice suddenly called from the other room.
"Awwww, crap. Vulcan hearing," Riley hissed in dismay, peeking warily around the edge of the doorway.
"Indeed, Ensign," came the deep voice, and Spock came around the corner, clipboard in hand. Riley squeaked and stumbled backwards, tripping over his own boots and an oversized hydrospanner in the process and promptly knocking one of the dilithium crystals out of alignment.
I, conversely, performed what was perhaps the most intelligent action of my career to that date.
I used a Jefferies Tube and ran for it.
Consequently, I live to tell the tale, and to host marshmallow-toasting nights when the captain has had a particularly stressful mission.
But that is another story.