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‘A Commanding Presence'

The Commander talked little while en route to the bridge. Meaning Cutler could simply follow and take in his surrounds, getting orientated with the ship. As he walked through the corridors, he referred mentally back to the routes shown by the Captain in his tour.

Reaching the bridge, Cartwright entered ahead of Cutler. Sarcastically, as per the regulations when first boarding, she asked permission of the ship's CMO to come aboard. Noah noted the barbed tone to her unusual request. He had the inkling that such protocols were not followed to the tee aboard the Kestrel. He doubted whether the Commander asked simply because the ship was still moored at Spacebase 49. Instead, he reasoned it was because the Commander was making a pointed point, asking permission from the doctor made to hold the conn by the Captain.

Good natured and amiable the reply came. "Permission granted Commander."

This came from a woman in her late forties or early fifties. She had a youthful appearance but her eyes held a serenity and a wisdom quite intangible. With her blonde straw hair brushed straight back, it emphasised the regal profile she cut. Sat ramrod straight in the central chair no one was supposed to sit in, only served to further this impression. Was this just an exemption in the case of the doctor?

"Dr. Judith Monroe, might I introduce Ensign Noah Cutler." Cartwright beckoned Cutler forward. The doctor in turn stepped up towards the young man, smiling pleasantly as she did, to shake his hand.

"Now Judith, with the pleasantries concluded, might I ask of you why it is you allowed the Captain to shoe horn you into holding the bridge?"

"My own fault really, I came on board and thought to introduce myself to the captain the old fashioned Starfleet way."

Molly rolled her eyes knowing the captain would punish the folly of the action. "You mean as per the regulations."

"Exactly, bad habit I suppose. Though in fairness, he did invite me to this shin dig you are supposed to be at."

Hands on her hips Molly countered. "Yes we met him there."

"Well he invited me but I thought, and voiced, that really someone ought to remain on the bridge. To which he replied, since I was volunteering myself I could have the honours. He then waved goodbye with a jolly tally ho."

"Just as I figured."

"We aren't going to let him get away with that though are we? Cutler, you might as well get some bridge command experience. You have the conn Mister Cutler."

"Me? Me!"

"Don't be silly, Cutler. We're docked! Just sit and numb your bum. There's nothing complicated about it." She tried to say it with a little warmth.

The doctor's voice was much more soothing and she achieved better results. "Think of it as one of the quickest career advancements in Starfleet history. Technically, you'll be in command. And as the Commander mentioned, there is nothing to it and it will allow you to familiarise yourself with the bridge systems."

Cartwright hooked Monroe by the elbow and together they wished the ensign luck and farewell before waltzing off. In the turbolift, Molly nudged Judith. "You charmer Judy. Mind you, I always thought you had a thing for the younger male."

In a very Vulcan fashion, Monroe cocked an eyebrow disapprovingly. "Hardly Molly." Molly kept her stare on the doctor. As the door opened onto the VIP deck, her mask of innocence slipped but for a second. "Only on Risa."

"Yeah well you're going to enjoy the medical check of our new security ensign."

"Oh!" Before they entered the lounge, she toyingly asked, knowing the commander could not reply with others in earshot, "You would recommend a full body examination."

Both women smiled mischievously.

* * *

On the bridge, Cutler gulped as the door to the turbolift closed. He was in command and all alone! Oh hell this is going to be bad. I just know it.

He stood on the isolated bridge taking in the soft whirrs and chirps of the different computer systems. He looked to the station that would be his. Then he looked to the command chair and gingerly approached it. He placed a wavering hand on the armrest, when a small voice spoke, startling Cutler causing him to scurry backwards and retract his hand.

"Uh nuh, I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Noah looked over to the corner the voice came from. He was startled once more. She was the most beautiful person he had ever seen or imagined. But more startling, was her attire. It most definitely did not meet Starfleet regulations. She wore skimpy shorts, a tight strap top much too short, and therefore exposing her tanned mid-drift.

Noah stammered for an awkward response. He blushed bright red and tried not to look at the indecently dressed female - in the sense she was indecently dressed for duty. He managed to ask, "Who ... who ... who are you?"

She sidled up to Noah but not with any deliberate attempt to be provocative, even if that was the net result. She appeared to be completely unawares of her hold on him and just how drop dead sexy she was. Which only served to make her even more enticing. She stuck out a hand with a serious expression still painted on her face. "I'm Yeoman Harris."

"Um ... pleased to meet you Yeoman Harris." He took her hand in his own and gave a limp handshake by way of introduction fearing his palms to be sweaty at his nervousness and proximity to him. "I'm Ensign Noah Cutler."

"I know."

"You do?"

"Of course, Commander Cartwright introduced you to Doctor Monroe but a moment ago."

"Oh of course." Cutler inwardly berated himself. Did he really think she somehow had prior knowledge of him? As if!

"That and I had read your record before you came aboard."

His eyes widened in surprise. "You did?"

Levelly she replied. "Yes. I was helping the Captain. I act as his ... his steward."

"Oh." Noah marvelled at the lack of emotion the girl seemed to possess. She appeared confident and self-assured but unwilling to show any kind of emotional response, as if it were a weakness. She was a quandary who managed to both unsettle and beguile Noah.

"I was just finely calibrating some of the stations. Checking to ensure the new systems are compatible with the personal set ups of the bridge personnel. I believe you will primarily be stationed at Ops."

"That's right."

She turned from the Captain's chair and took the few steps over to the station Noah would staff. Harris stood behind the Navigation / Operations station, placing a hand on the back of the chair as if inviting Cutler to seat himself. He did so, easing himself down onto the chair and the station post that would be his responsibility.

He looked around the bridge now devoid of the welcoming party that had received them earlier. It now allowed him to take in the details of the various stations and the bridge's layout. Much had remained the same since its very first construction Noah saw. Looking at the design and many of the components, he saw that the bridge module conformed mostly to the design of a Constitution class phase II refit.

Like the Galaxy and Nebula classes that followed, the Miranda and Constitution class shared many attributes and design parameters; thus making their construction cheaper and allowing new technologies to be bedded into both classes with ease. The bridge modules were also replaceable though Noah noted the Kestrel bridge module had never received a full module replacement but had new systems updated and installed. It appeared the old bird had never registered as a priority for a major refit.

To his immediate left at the shared command console, was a seat for the Helm officer. The station was situated in a shallow well at the centre of the bridge. Around this well, a railing encircled them in a protective embrace, with divides providing access to the other various stations that hugged the curving bridge walls. However, one had to step up from the well to the station as it stood upon a slight raised dais. Behind the helm/operations station, atop a further slightly raised dais, thronelike sat the Captain's chair.

Immediately in front of him was the main view screen, presently dull and lifeless. Harris saw his look at the viewscreen and leaning over him, giving Noah an embarrassing view of her cleavage, she depressed a button on the helm station. Noah then saw the viewscreen ebb into life. In front of them, the viewscreen acted like a window to show the prow of the Kestrel docked to the spaceport. A dull silver of the Starbase's hull filled the remainder of the vision.

"Not much to look at, is it?"

"Em ... I dunno ... I mean what sorry?" Cutler shook his head to clear the vision of her ample bosom from his mind.

She leaned over him again, her breast just ever so slightly brushing his cheek as she pressed another button and the visage in front changed to a rear view from the docking port behind the main bridge. The view showed the roll bar and an expanse of space busy with travel shuttling between the various hangers of Starbase 49.

She smiled sweetly at him, causing further anguish to Cutler, as she stepped away and approached the viewscreen. He watched her move gracefully and catlike along the centre of the bridge. She stopped short of the viewscreen at the station to its right from his view. She pressed a few commands on the board and it lit up. As it did, the transporter pads immediately to the left of the viewscreen lit up. Cutler knew it to be the control station for the bridge transporter. Now a rather defunct station on most ships of the line, but yet another throw back to a by-gone era on this ship.

She sensed what he was thinking and replied to his unspoken thoughts. "Because of the number of SAR operations we conduct and boarding sorties of hostile craft we find it useful to maintain a transporter station for the bridge. The Captain also believes it to be more efficient for when he has to transport somewhere." Conspiratorially she included him in a whisper, "Meaning, he's too lazy to walk to the main transporter room. It's only really designed as a three person transporter but it often suffices."

Harris beckoned Cutler over to her. He stood warily hoping nothing gave away how attracted he was to the yeoman. She didn't watch him approach but rather moved up the bridge to the next station. From his station's seat, it was at his two o'clock and though he was versed with the layout of the bridge, he duly went along with her tour of the bridge stations as she pressed buttons and controls as she explained their purpose.

"Not to worry though, you will receive ample training and exercise on the station from Dexter. Likewise, he will give training not just on the main security station but most importantly on the station just opposite us." They traversed the bridge to the station she spoke of. "This is the main defence and weapons station with the holographic tactical display just beside it."

The attractive female brought the tactical display up for him to see before shutting it down again and then went through some of the main operations of the tactical board showing weapons lock, phaser controls, torpedo launch and shields. She then moved him quickly away over to the next station on the left of the bridge. Nine o'clock to his usual seat.

This she announced, was the main environmental station, a station he as an operations officer would often have to man. Beside the station was an access to a maintenance corridor reflected on the opposite wall too. She went through the system's controls and pointed out some of the areas still causing the Chief difficulties. Noah safe in the systems he knew well and had trained for asked pertinent questions and tried some of the controls himself. Harris indulged him before shutting the system down to standby.

She explained her actions. "Normal practice, when docked at a spaceport and especially since Mr Gardner is trying to conserve power as he goes through the power outputs and energy displacements."

He did not really take notice of the explanation, her voice for some reason hypnotic to him "Oh right."

She took the next steps over to the bridge's Engineering station. This was the station Gardner had been working on earlier but she did not stop overly long at it and instead brought Noah over to the station at the very aft of the bridge. They passed the pocket doors giving access to the turbolift.

As he approached the science station he mentioned. "The Captain didn't introduce the ship's science officer earlier."

"He wouldn't as they are on currently on leave. Dr. Monroe too, was on leave and has only just returned today. We will pick them up en route."

"Oh." He walked away from the science station over towards the station at his position's five o'clock. He recognised it as a communications station. Yet another station he would routinely operate. However, he noted too several changes to the station and enquired about these.

"Commander Cartwright when on duty with the Captain often utilises this station as her Exec station as well as communications. It therefore gives an overview of the vessel, from weapons, shields, engines and warp core, to navigation and operations. She can effectively run the ship single-handedly from there."

Noah smiled, quite impressed by the Commander and it was obvious that she had made her way up the command chain through Operations. Whilst she was the ship's Executive Officer, she was also its head of Operations and so his department head. Cartwright was an imposing woman and she scared him as the Captain did. However, Noah reckoned her to be a stellar officer and obviously very capable and effective. He went to give the station a closer look, intrigued by the modifications. Harris held out an arm blocking him.

"Unfortunately, it is undergoing repairs. It is something of a pet project for the Commander and she is taking personal charge of its repair. No doubt she will have you assisting her in its repair soon enough."

"I guess so. I suppose this last station is damage control."

"Correct. Though it too is under repair."

"Under repair? I thought the Kestrel was simply scheduled for a recertification and repair stop. But there seems to be a lot of repairs required. Why is that?"

"We've had a recent close shave with some Fien pirates. It was pretty dicey. The Fien have a habit of forming personal vendettas against those who cross them. And the Captain makes a habit of crossing them."

Cutler grimaced at this news, and then asked. "Who are Fien pirates? I mean I know all about Orions. But I've never heard of the Fien."

She walked back to the command console in the centre of the bridge and Cutler followed suit. She seated herself in the Operations seat leaving Cutler to settle himself in the Helm seat.

Without meeting his gaze she explained. "The Fien are a rather ruthless faction of pirates quite like the Orions. But there's no love lost between those two, a fact we often exploit to our advantage. The Fien, thanks largely to Orion reprisals, are fairly limited in their scope of operations and mostly operate in an area we regularly patrol. It's called the ‘Wash'. They believe it to be their back yard and conduct any number of highly illegal trade practices within its confines."

"The Wash? Never heard of it."

She merely shrugged at that. "You will come to know it very well. It is the back of beyond, arsehole of the Quadrant with enough spatial anomalies to make you sick. It affects sensors, weapons, communications and warp drive. Oh and impinges upon the effectiveness of the shields."

Glibly he added, "Just for good measure."

"Just for good measure. Just the kind of place suited to conducting all sorts of dangerous and illegal practices. The fact it borders slightly on Klingon territory only further increases the dangers of operating in the region. It is also a hotly contested area of influence between the Orions and Fien."

"I didn't realize the Orions had competitors. I thought they didn't tolerate anyone crossing them or rivals." Cutler frowned and realised his earlier assertion was erroneous. "Actually to be honest, I probably don't know too much about the Orions."

"Most people don't truly." She added a quiet and ominous, "Unless you've had dealings with them."

Noah gathered from her tone not to follow her statement up with any questions. The security station chirped to break the silence that had fallen over the pair. Harris shrugged her shoulders. In unison, the two of them stood and approached the station. Cutler reached it first and with a quizzical look on his face, he stooped over to activate the console and read its findings.

As he took in the readings, his eyebrows knitted in consternation. Over his shoulder, he expressed in a worried voice, "I don't think I like the look of this." Harris quickly grasped his shoulder pulling his attention to the front of the bridge where the whine of the transporter sounded. He looked aghast as an unauthorised transport was occurring on the bridge.

He went to tap his combadge as a small spherical object started to materialise. The object was fully coalesced and suddenly a bright light flared from its epicentre. Noah saw no more than that as the blast floored the ensign sending him into a pit of darkness

* * *

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