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 ‘Below Par’

 

Sebastian and Noah moved away from the window some time after Stanley disappeared over the rim. It was as if they almost expected him to come and pop his head back over the edge. It seemed likely in light of everything. Sebastian set a brisk pace and then realised that Noah was keeping in step with him. He looked at the ensign with a frown. Noah seemed oblivious merely content to be walking alongside Sebastian. What to make of that Templar was not sure. Though he supposed the ensign had gotten quite a shock. He frowned more to himself now as he found himself in the position of taking Noah under his wing. It was not something he contemplated easily.

“Where’s your Trill friend?”

Noah shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Templar cursed inwardly. He didn’t need this kid tagging alongside him. He stopped and talked into the ceiling. “Computer, where is Ensign Leoni Jex?”

Noah balked at this. He had no intention of invading Leoni’s privacy or indeed discovering that she was in the messhall with other friends. His jealousy spiked again and he shook his head of the intense feeling. Surprise replaced it though as the computer replied after a moment, “Ensign Leoni Jex is currently in ship’s flight operation centre, Deck 4.”

“Oh.” Noah registered his surprise.

Templar raised his eyebrows at Noah’s surprise. ‘Where did he think she was anyway?’ “There you go. She must be prepping for a flight or something.” Templar tried to act gun-ho about the matter but it struck him as odd that the ensign would be there. What cause did she have? Then he considered his own summons yesterday...

 

“What am I doing here Captain?” He asked of McGregor as he looked around at his surrounds. The room was pretty much what one expected of an airlock staging room. Essentially the staging area, situated just off the portside Docking Port 3 on Deck 8, was a changing room in which crewmembers donned environmental suits for space walks. Cages lined the wall with various components to EVA suits. Helmets, boots, gloves, different sized suits, some modified for the female form, others to better fit various alien body shapes.

One environmental suit that caught Sebastian’s eye in particular was one surely modified for the Kzinti cat. His assessment not based solely because of its sheer bulk but because it bore an inscribed tattoo on its white skin, which read ‘Fang’ with a gory blood soaked tooth. This suit hung in its own compartment and had extra carrying space for small munitions and placeholds to carry phaser rifles slung over the back. Sebastian nodded approvingly at the modifications. McGregor smirked as he noticed what the ensign was looking at.

“You should see Commander Cartwright’s suit. It comes with an extra arm so she can still bitch slap in space.” Forgetting himself, Templar snorted.”Ah good. You do have a sense of humour. That bodes well. Come on then.”

The Captain waved Templar over to himself. Stomping his right foot hard on the deck, the white boot locked into placed and self-sealed. Sebastian cocked an eyebrow at the captain almost completely adorned in his EV. His Helmet lay beside him on the bench. The Captain’s handle emblazoned upon the prow of the helmet.

“What? Haven’t you seen an environmental suit before? I mean I have worries about the Academy training. It’s gotten soft since the days of instructors such as Nagumo,” Sebastian frowned at the name unknowing, “and goodness knows it is nowhere near the testing of ‘The Kennel’ but I thought at least they still did space walk training.”

“They do captain.” He indicated the sturdy EV suits. “I thought Border Patrol was the poor cousin. But these suits are cutting edge. I don’t think these particular models are on frontline vessels yet.”

Conceited and proud, McGregor puffed his chest out. “They aren’t.”

“So how comes?”

“Well it is rather simple. Sometimes, just sometimes, in their ingenuity Starfleet use us as the guinea pigs. That said, we, the Border Patrol, do have more cause to use EVs as part of our extensive brief. From SAR operations to SAWRHs, we are the ones who use them the mostest. That and it’s our tech guys who have forged the way in the design of EVs. Once upon a time, we left that sort of detail to the Fleeters and you should have seen some of the condom suits they came up with. Trust a Border Dog to do a job right and to make something practical and durable. Say what you will about Archer and his cohorts, but they sure got the utilitarian design of these things down to a tee.”

Sebastian with little knowledge of the EV design lineage took the captain’s word for it and just nodded. He understood too that the Border Dogs did have greater need for practical and tough EV suits. From search and rescue operation into highly dangerous zones or into vessels venting or void of atmosphere, to raiding parties on vessels they pulled over to search for contraband. “SAWRHs?”

“I like to call it, ‘Going for a Sarah’. Search and Wreak Havoc! A boarding party that expects to meet hostile forces in other words. Lots of fun.” His face lit up mischievously at the prospect and he rubbed his hands together. McGregor picked up and then tossed a helmet to Sebastian. “Get suited and booted ensign.”

“Where are we going captain?”

The captain gave him a disappointed look. “Outside obviously.”

“I got that,” he said looking down at the helmet in his hand, “but why?”

“As I said to Ensign Jex, I fancied some fresh air. I’ve decided to bring you along for the walk. It’ll do you good to stretch your legs ensign.”

Sebastian frowned at the complete lack of explanation. He however knew he had no option but to comply with the captain’s orders. Dutifully he started fitting himself into an EV suit. With a bit of a squeeze he fitted himself in the hard shell of the upper torso and checked the systems of the life support unit mounted on the front of the chest. The LSPU lit up and displayed that it was in good working order. Warnings flashed that gloves, boots and helmet were not yet sealed. Mirroring McGregor, Templar stomped his feet into a pair of mag boots and cleared a jet of propellant to check the propulsion unit. The LSPU flashed green on this front as he then fumbled his way into a pair of gloves. Like the boots, they clicked into place and self-sealed. Hefting the helmet over his head, he looked up to McGregor waiting by the airlock with an eager grin. He pulled the helmet down over his head and squirmed his head into the tight space. He crooked his neck as a physical check that the helmet was secure. A further flash of green lights and text confirmed it electronically.

Within the helmet misted up initially before cool oxygenated air sighed within, cycling the air clean again. The small intermittent sounds of his surrounds became muffled and the static feel of an open comm. link hissed quietly by his ear. Two ambient lights glowed into existence to illuminate his face and bring light to within the fish bowl atop his head. After a moment to allow him to adjust, McGregor’s voice crackled over the comm., “Check your comm. channel. We’re green?”

Sebastian nodded and with a thumbs up voiced, “Green. All systems read clear across the board.” He looked down once more at the display on the LSPU to confirm. A few eternal lights came up on the suit on vital areas. Sebastian was ready, or as ready as one could feel about walking out into the expanse of space. Especially given that, they were to do so on their own and with the ship at warp.

“Good!” McGregor clapped him on the back as he pressed buttons to open the inner airlock door. Before stepping through, he handed a bulky long black bag to Templar. He tapped the side of Sebastian’s helmet and a head’s up display flashed in front of him. “Carry this won’t you ensign.”

He took it begrudgingly, as like McGregor, he strapped a phaser to his hip before entering the airlock. The golden rule never go anywhere without a firearm sacrosanct onboard the border patrol vessel. “What’s in this?” Sebastian queried as he hefted the weight over his shoulder.

“Don’t worry it will be weightless once we get out there. Come on.” He waved him into the airlock before closing the lock. He then keyed in a code before inputting the decompression control commands. A moment later a call came from the bridge, or seemingly just from Lt. Commander T’Vel, who at this stage Sebastian had not yet met. McGregor explained over his comm. to the cool voice of the Vulcan, “Just heading for a bit of fresh air T’Vel. I’ll be back in an hour.”

Surprisingly, the Vulcan offered no rebuke. Their activity seemed without need, was potentially dangerous and therefore made no logical sense. Sebastian could only infer that this type of behaviour was just another ‘norm’ for the captain.

The outer lock doors clunked then. A fraction of a second later a sliver of light played through the tiny gap that a moment later widened as the doors parted. The scene opened up onto the outer hull of the ship, its dull grey enchanted by the warping star streaks, the kaleidoscope of stars and the rainbow spectrum through which the Kestrel currently travelled at high warp.

Despite his training at Starfleet Academy, his years onboard several ships before he was busted down to ensign again, Sebastian had never undertaken an EV on the hull of a ship at warp speeds. At the ‘Kennel’ the additional training crew assigned to the Border Patrol received before taking up their posting they had trained in simulations for such a procedure. It was thought it might be expected as par the course of the unexpected emergency duties of a Border Service vessel. Sebastian had never expected though to undertake such a risky procedure in such an everyday circumstance as the whim of a captain wanting to go for a walk. Nor did he expect to be rendered so breathless by the sheer sight of passing stars and truly understand how they were wrapped in a warp bubble hurtling them through space and time at incomprehensible speeds.

McGregor intruded upon his enchantment. “Cat got your tongue ensign? Remember to breath. The EV systems can only pump oxygen into the suit you need to do the breathing bit yourself.”

“Sorry.” Sebastian winced at the word as it passed his lips. He was caught unaware and he expected the captain to berate him for his daydreaming. Unobtrusively his HUD displayed a scrolling status of his EV suit and its connection to the ship. it signalled the open comm. link to McGregor.

“Not to worry. It is rather beautiful after all. Come on. This way then.” McGregor beckoned as he with practiced ease abandoned the safety of the airlock and bounded out onto the hull of the ship. He stepped out onto the surface of the hull by stepping down and out. McGregor now stood seemingly sideways on the side of the Kestrel. To someone relatively inexperienced to such a procedure, the perception was mind jangling. Hefting the bag McGregor had asked him to carry over his shoulder, Sebastian followed the exit procedure employed by the captain. As he stepped out over the rim of the airlock and up onto the side of the ship Sebastian felt a moment of disorientation as he processed his new horizon. He felt further off balance despite the weightlessness of the bag. McGregor was already walking towards the rim for the upper saucer section.

McGregor’s practiced gait, though cumbersome looking, reminded Sebastian of the footage of the Apollo mission astronauts on the lunar surface, sped McGregor across the hull happily and efficiently. Sebastian’s progress was more hesitant as he recalled his training and took a much more careful approach to traversing upon the hull. Especially once he reached the threshold of the rim and stepped over and down onto the saucer section. Once again, he gained a new perception of his horizon and was thrown further off balance. And what a horizon! Sebastian in awe looked out over the forward prow of the Kestrel’s saucer.

Exhaling heavily at the sight his helmet’s faceplate misted up before compensating. The kaleidoscopic effect was even more awesome as he took in the ship ploughing through the stars. McGregor pressed on and Sebastian turned to match his progress across the ship. Passing the docking assembly the captain forged his path towards the arboretum.

After a short time, Sebastian found his own rhythm and walked across the hull with a greater assurance. He stopped watching his feet and followed McGregor with greater ease. The captain himself skipped along merrily stopping at different stages to allow Sebastian to catch up and placing his hands on his hips. Initially Sebastian figured his own slower pace frustrated the captain but he soon realised that McGregor was taking the opportunity to contemplate the sight of the ship in warp. He surveyed the ship like a king standing looking over his domain. All within the ship was in his control and at his whim and fancy. That in itself was enough to make Sebastian feel afraid. They were at the beckon of a madman who liked nothing better than to go strolling out in space.

They began then to traverse the incline of the saucer section towards the dome of the bridge module. Until now, McGregor was content to allow Templar to revel in the spectacle but now started to quiz the ensign. Sebastian found himself having to recall the captain’s unorthodox tour of the ship’s hull on their first day aboard in order to answer many of the questions.

From up ahead, McGregor congratulated Sebastian as he skipped onwards. They approached the upper level of the ship. Here the ship levelled out and as Sebastian looked down the length of the ship’s rear, he watched the stars retreating away as overhead the fierce comportment of the torpedo pod stood sentry over the Kestrel’s frame. Captain and Ensign stood at the foot of the command module. Sebastian took in his surrounds, above them he looked up at docking port 1 and immediately in front of them, the large expansive window that provided the senior officers’ lounge with such an impressive view. To this window McGregor stepped up and looked in. He gave a little skip and dance at what he saw within. His curiosity piqued at what made the captain dance with glee, not to mention to gain a look into the inner sanctum of the senior officers’ lounge, Sebastian ambled over to look in.

Peering in he saw an elegant and old-fashioned study, with an upper balcony lined with library shelves. The furnishing within was dark wood and brown red leather.  Seated within one of the high back leather armchairs he spied Chief of Engineering Eddie Gardner relaxing with a glass of some swill on the table beside him. Likewise an ashtray and a plume of cigar smoke.

“Nosey, nosey. Aha ah. Come along Templar.”

The Captain headed off before stopping again and signalling Sebastian over enthusiastically. As the ensign neared, McGregor pointed downwards. They stood atop the ceiling viewing port of stellar cartography. McGregor stomped on the ‘window’ to gain the attention of the cartographers within. As they looked up, he waved down and shouted futilely, “Tally ho!”

He waved Sebastian onwards. They approached the torpedo pod, which stood directly overhead. McGregor quizzed Templar once again. “Tell me ensign, what are we stood over right now?”

Sebastian notated by rote. “The plasma venting station. It traverses a short power circuit that runs off the horizontal intermix shaft supplying direct power to the warp nacelles.”

“Very good. Almost textbook.“ Finally, they seemed to reach their destination, as McGregor stood rooted to a spot awaiting Sebastian. McGregor was grinning from ear to ear Sebastian noted. He seemed to be completely exhilarated at their little sojourn. He declares as Sebastian sets down the bag, “At last ensign!”

Sebastian surly nature reasserted itself as he responded, “Well I’m here now. What’s this all about?”

McGregor smiled. “That’s what I like about you ensign. Sometimes you forget whom it is you are talking to. We are here...” McGregor spun slowly with his arms up in the air to indicate their surrounds, “to consider your performance and assignment to this crew.”

“What, this is my crew evaluation?”

“Well, you’ve only been with us a short while and soon enough you’ll get to prove your worth. So I’d rather consider this an interview.”

Sebastian frowned. Bad enough that he was busted down to ensign; bad enough that he was left with little option but to work within the Border Service in order to try and make amends for his past. However the prospect that he now had to jump through hoops to even have that opportunity rankled within him, no matter how much he deserved the treatment. Worse still he figured the captain was beyond all that, especially given his chat with his security superior Caleb Dexter on Aubrellis. “Hate to break it to you captain but I’ve already got the job. It can hardly count as an interview.”

“You have a posting onboard ensign. That is all!” McGregor waved a hand dismissively before grinning madly as he countered Sebastian’s charge. “What I choose to do with you however remains to be seen. After all, I could leave you to some rather dirty and menial tasks for the duration of our patrol duty. Or I can decide that what I saw in your records proves to me that I can entrust far more exciting duties and missions for you.”

Folding his arms defensively, Sebastian shrugged. “What does this interview entail?”

McGregor pretended to mull on this by stroking the faceplate of his helmet rather than his bearded chin. “Well, I guess my question would be why did you truly join Starfleet? Not the childhood dreams but the actual ‘why’ of why you finally joined up.”

Stooping down to the black canvas bag, McGregor unzipped it and poked around inside. As he did, he continued to speak. “The real reason of course ensign. By that, I can measure your motivations for joining and your cause for continuing to serve. Basically, aha!” he remarked upon finding what it was he wanted and pulling on it to retrieve it from the bag before continuing, “basically, to see whether you are below par or not?”

McGregor smiled then as stood upright with a golf club in hand. “My trusty five iron! I always hit my best shots with this.”

From out of one of the pockets of the EV suit McGregor pulls out a golf ball and a modified tee. The tee attached itself to the hull magnetically and with care, the Captain placed his golf ball on the tee. “Stand back ensign. I wouldn’t want to hit you in the face with a golf club. Judy’s told me if I injure another ensign that way she’ll break my clubs. And being a frontier girl she means it.”

“Golf! You took me out here so you can practice your swing?”

“Oh my swing doesn’t need practice. It’s perfect!” McGregor stooped over the tee looking acutely bent on his hunches as the bulky suit accented his posture. With a wiggle of his ass, McGregor lined up his shot and swung the club through the vacuum to hit the ball and send it flying. He lifted one leg and raised a hand to the level of his eyes to check the flight of the ball through the ‘air’. Pumping his fist, McGregor exclaimed, “Yes!”

Sebastian coked an eyebrow at the sight. He also questioned the actual success of McGregor’s shot. I’m not sure what it is you were aiming for Captain but I think you missed.”

“Oh trust me. The shot was spot on. A hole in one if I dare say so myself. Hee hee.”

Meantime within the senior officers’ lounge, Eddie Gardner reclining in the leather chair, surrounded by a cloud of cigar smoke, puffed on his cigar happily, as he read the latest FedNet news replicated into the form of an old-fashioned broadsheet newspaper. A dull thunk at the large expansive window that looked out on the rear of the vessel brought him to and he crumpled his paper sitting up alert. “What the ...?”

“So Mr Templar. Ensign. Why?”

Sebastian looked towards the lounge window deciphering the captain’s target. “Why what?”

McGregor lifted his five iron and set it over his shoulder as he turned to face Sebastian. “The why of why you really joined Starfleet.”

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