“Now passing warp eight point five. Eight point seven. Eight point nine.”
Michael listened closely as Lif Culsten read out their speed from his flight control station positioned at the front of the bridge and to his right, between the star-streaked view screen and the command area.
He felt the ship shudder slightly underneath him. After five years commanding Eagle, he had come to learn the meaning of every shake and tremble, liked to think that he could usually quite accurately predict his ship’s status from the way the floor plating rumbled underneath his boots or from the manner in which his chair vibrated ever so slightly. However, this latest quiver was entirely new to him and it left him puzzled and unsure of what it meant. He didn’t care for that feeling.
“That’s the fastest we’ve been able to make her go,” said Star sitting in her usual chair to his right, her eyes focused on the console to her side.
“Third time’s the charm, is what they say,” Michael said. The last two attempts of pushing the warp sled they had docked with back in the Aldebaran system had ended after the warp field destabilized once the vessel had pushed itself and Eagle embedded within just passed warp eight. Hopkins and her team of engineers had worked on fixing the issue all day and it seemed now, already late in what ordinarily would have been beta shift, that they apparently had found the solution.
“Warp field is stable,” said Alendra who was standing at the aft engineering station and liaising directly with Hopkins and her team in the engine room. “Phase variance is in the green and well below the critical threshold.”
“I’m having a good feeling about this,” said Michael.
“You had a good feeling the last time,” said Deen from her operations console to Culsten’s left without lifting her own gaze from her board.
“I suppose your optimism is rubbing off on me.”
Deen offered no retort which Michael felt wasn’t like her. Of course, she had been much moodier than usual lately, especially since learning that the changed mission to the Amargosa Diaspora and the delay to their expedition had also put a hold on the shipboard concert and its opening act for which she had practiced so hard.
“The ODN connection between Eagle and the sled are within standard parameters,” said Xylion from the science station. “Data transfer rate remains stable.”
Michael acknowledged the report with a quick bop of his head and then glanced towards his first officer. “I say it’s about time we get to see what this sled can do?”
She offered a grin in response. “Agreed,” she said and looked towards the helmsman. “Mister Culsten, if you please.”
The Krellonian nodded eagerly. “Alright, everyone, hold on to your hats. Here we go,” he said and dramatically entered the acceleration commands into his console. “Warp nine point one, point two, point three…”
“Field intensity remains stable,” reported Alendra.
“Warp nine point four, point five.”
Alendra turned from the engineering station. “I’m getting abnormal spikes in the sled’s primary intermix chamber.”
“It’s happening again,” growled So’Dan Leva quietly as he hovered over his tactical board.
But Michael was not willing to give up so quickly. “Can we compensate?”
“Attempting to switch to secondary intermix chamber now,” said the Bolian.
But Xylion had more bad news. “ODN levels are indicating a possible overload in progress.”
The captain turned to look towards his first officer, a dark, almost annoyed frown having replaced his earlier good cheer.
Star nodded slowly, fully cognizant of what this meant. She sighed heavily. “Mister Culsten, shut it down.”
Nora Laas turned away from the viewport with an eye roll as she noticed the starfield, which just moments ago had been streaking by the ship, having once more turned into the endless and star-dotted vista of outer space.
It were moments like these that she was thankful that she had made the decision to focus all her efforts on being a security officer, instead of pursuing the tactical track and spending the majority of her time on the bridge, staring at instruments and more than likely feeling the frustration of having to witness the third shutdown of the warp sled’s warp engine over the last ten hours.
At their current pace of trial and error, she figured that they would have been better off just ditching the sled altogether and head for the Amargosa Diaspora by using their supposedly much upgraded, native warp engine.
Those, however, were considerations better left to the captain and his bridge crew upstairs on deck one. She had her own issues to deal with as she turned to look at the ten assembled men and women who had made themselves at home in one of Eagle’s smaller crew mess halls.
She successfully managed to stifle a yawn. It was already fairly late and long after her normal duty shift had ended, but just like the bridge crew, she too was working long hours today, mostly because this had been the only time she had managed to get all the people who needed to be part of this meeting into a room together.
It was a wild bunch and one that at first glance looked nothing like a regular Starfleet crew. And of course, they weren't.
There was the tall, caramel-skinned, shorthaired and clearly quite muscular woman everyone apparently just called Diamond. Like with most of the people in this group, who seemed to prefer to go by nicknames, Nora had no idea why she was called this or what her real name was.
The short but stocky Tellarite went by Charm and it wasn't hard to guess that the moniker had been chosen sarcastically. It wasn't exactly a common theme for the rest of the group since the imposing Nausiccan was called Grunt, which seemed to accurately describe his preferred manner of communication. One-Shot was human and apparently unbeatable with a sniper rifle, or so she had been told. Violet had surprisingly luminous violet hair which was not uncommon for Boslic women, and Boom, the Andorian was apparently an explosives expert. The largest member of the team, a massive green-skinned Orion was usually referred to as Junior, Nora guessed because he was also the youngest member of the team. She could only guess how Ivory had gotten her name; the statuesque woman had skin as dark as the void of space and her calm and quiet manner seemed disturbing even for a Vulcan. The team of operatives was led by Chief Petty Officer Reynolds Sensabaugh who everyone simply referred to as Sensy. Perhaps more than the others, he could have passed for a regular member of Starfleet, had it not been for his perfectly bald head and thick beard which covered most of his lower face and which was an uncommon sight amongst the usually more clean-shaven crew.
None of these people wore Starfleet uniforms and instead were dressed in a mixture of combat fatigues or slacks and simple vests and tunics. Violet, the Boslic woman wore a particularly revealing and low-cut top which highlighted her well-endowed chest while Ivory wore the most conservative outfit which at least had some resemblance to a uniform even if it seemed a tighter fit and darker in color than the current service dress.
To Laas, the Niners, as they called themselves, or, more officially, Starfleet Special Missions Team Nineteen, looked more like a group of randomly assembled and lawless mercenaries one would expect to find on a pirate vessel than special operations operatives assigned to a ship of the line.
However, in this meeting, it was she and her deputy, JosŤ Carlos, who were the odd-men-out in their perfectly pressed uniforms and regulation haircuts.
The Niners had only recently joined Eagle’s crew and on Laas’ own recommendation to supplement her security team and attempt to fill the void left behind by the Marines detachment which had left the ship after two years of great service and sacrifice and who had been deemed no longer a necessity since the Federation was now officially in a state of peace.
The Niners’ overall appearance and a number of other issues were in fact at the center of the meeting’s agenda.
“I don’t understand the issue,” said a flustered Carlos who was sitting at one of the tables with a padd in front of him. “You are all members of Starfleet. Members of Starfleet are expected to wear a Starfleet uniform. It comes with the job.”
“Not with ours, it doesn’t,” quibbled Violet who was leaning back in a chair casually with her boots up on a table, paying the security officer very little attention otherwise.
“It’s not really a choice,” said Carlos.
“Listen, we’ve never worn regular uniforms,” said One-Shot while he was playing with a particularly large combat knife. “I don’t see why we have to start wearing one all of a sudden just because you wanted us to come here to help you. Just don’t add up to me.”
“That’s right,” said Junior, the massive Orion. “Besides they don’t make those clown outfits in my size.”
That caused a round of laughter from his fellow team members. Ivory and Sensabaugh the only ones abstaining.
"I'm fairly certain we could replicate something that would fit you," said Carlos but was mostly drowned out by the amusement which had gripped most of the operatives.
"Alright, guys, let's all shut up for a minute," Sensabaugh barked loudly enough to cause his team to quiet down. Not immediately but his words had an undeniable effect. "We all knew this wasn't going to be an easy transition for either us or the Fleeters," he said and then focused in on the Hispanic security officer. "But they have a point, Lieutenant. SMTs don't usually serve on Starfleet ships, it's not really what we do. You call us in when everything else has failed and you need a quick, surgically precise resolution to a tactical problem. We are not rank and file."
"Exactly," said Diamond, the tall woman who acted as Sensabaugh's second in command. "So you can't treat us as such."
The team leader held up his hand. “No. But perhaps there are some compromises we can make. This is a new role for all of us but the last thing I want to hear is that Niners are not flexible,” he said and regarded his people who were spread out all over the mess hall. “Least we forget that being adaptable is one of our key strengths.”
“Does this mean we have to play dress up and wear colorful uniforms?” Charm the Tellarite growled. “I look terrible in gold.”
“You look terrible in anything,” Violet said with a wide grin.
Laas felt it was time to interject. After all, she had a significant stake in making this arrangement work since it had been her brainchild to bring the special operators onboard when the captain had mulled over the decision of either keeping a full company of combat-trained Marines on board or rather allow civilians to return to Eagle after the two-year moratorium during the war. The much smaller SMT team had seemed like a perfect compromise since they took up only a fraction of the space of a one hundred and fifty men strong contingent thereby making enough room for civilians and still maintaining a highly-specialized combat unit on board. "Compromise is a two-way street, I've been told. I think I can sell the captain and first officer on the idea that a small group of people under their command do not wear uniforms."
This went over well with the operatives. Carlos shot her a surprised look, however.
“But you will need to wear combadges while on duty. And they must be visible at all times, preferably affixed to your left chest.” She glanced over at Violet and the plunging neckline of her vest. “And you will have to maintain a certain dress standard in line with regulations.”
The Boslic’s grin widened. “There is an old saying I like to go by you’ve probably never heard of before. If you’ve got it—“
“It’s that or standard uniforms,” Laas said, cutting her off. “Your choice.”
“Does Starfleet still have those cute little skants?” said One-Shot, shooting Violet a wide grin. “I think you’d look mighty fine in one of those, showing off those nice long gams of yours.”
“Dream on, buddy.”
“You know me too well.”
"I think we can all agree to combadges and sensible clothing on duty," said Sensabaugh sharply.
“What’s sensible, Sensy?” asked Junior. “I mean, do I have to wear a shirt all the time?”
The team leader rolled his eyes. “Your all grown men and women and this isn’t a schoolyard. I trust you all to figure this out, including you Junior.”
“If in doubt,” said Diamond. “Consult with Ivory, she’s sensible enough to know what proper attire looks like.”
The dark-skinned Vulcan woman offered the barest nod but said nothing at all.
Carlos glanced back at the security chief, looking slightly exasperated by this conversation but Laas simply nodded, letting him know that this was good enough of a compromise in her book. He turned back to the operators. “My next point is joint training and exercise routines. Some of my people have been complaining that you’ve been rather … well, standoffish when it comes to that. Your team acts as an extension of the security department on this ship. We are expected to work together, so it only makes sense that we train together as well.”
Diamond looked at her boss, shaking her head. “That’s not going to work, Sensy. We’re not going to mollycoddle the locals so that they can feel like we’re all together in this.”
“Now wait a minute,” Carlos said sharply, clearly offended by the implications. “We might not be special forces here but we are lead by one of the toughest people I’ve ever known and I’d like to think that it shows in our training.”
“You keep thinking that,” said Charm who clearly didn’t have the word diplomacy in his vocabulary. “I don’t care if your chief is the second coming of Kahless the Unforgettable and Attila the Hun all rolled up into one, whatever little games you and your people play on the holodeck is nothing compared to what we train for pretty much every waking hour of the day. You wouldn’t last ten minutes going through what we do.”
One-Shot winced slightly at Charms gruff tone and aimed Nora Laas a slightly contrite look. “You know, no offense.”
“None taken,” she said quickly. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt insulted by the words of a Tellarite.”
Violet guffawed at that. “Hear that, Charm? Sounds like you really need to up your game here.”
“The point we’re trying to make,” said Diamond, “is that we don’t really play well with others. We’re not like the Marines. We are an extremely fine-tuned machine, each one of us performing a vital role. When we say we train and work as a unit, we really mean that. And it’s a formula that just doesn’t work if you add a whole bunch of other elements to the mix.”
“I have to agree with her, Lieutenant,” said Sensabaugh. “I still think that having us here on Eagle could work for the both of us. If you insist on trying to integrate my team into your security department, I won't stop you, but I will guarantee that you will not get the efficiency and effectiveness you were hoping for when you got us to sign-up to this gig."
Nora nodded slowly. “Very well, we’ll do it your way. As long as I can rely on you and your people to follow my orders and do what needs to be done when you are called upon.”
“Facta non verba.”
Nora aimed the Vulcan a surprised look. It had been the first time she had heard the other woman speak.
“That’s the creed,” said Diamond and all her fellow operatives nodded along silently to underscore the motto by which they lived by. Deeds. Not Words.