Trusting the Antennae
Episode 6: War Crimes
Location: Main Engineering
Timeline: MD135, 1600 Hours
The two weeks since the Nogura had arrived at Starbase 72 had been uneventful for the starship’s engineers. At Meibei zh’Khessi’s lead, they had worked tirelessly to undo the sabotage that their former captain had wrought, but upon actually arriving at the starbase, the urgency passed. They could simply shut down the warp core and impulse fusion reactors, turn off the lights and let the starbase staff do their work. With the Sovereign-class starship nestled within the immense structure of Starbase 72, safely docked at her berth, there was nothing for the engineers to do but leave the ship and enjoy their impromptu shoreleave.
Meibei was no exception. The extreme high warp pursuit and subsequent sabotage scare had pushed her to her physical and mental limits. Towards the end, her smiles had come less easily, her eyes growing ever more weary, her bubbly enthusiasm melting into determined effort. Thus, after relinquishing the Nogura to the starbase engineers (with some frank words spoken on how to respect the Nog), she set out onto the starbase to relax, enjoy herself and simply recharge. The starbase itself was akin to a huge city in size and population, so there were endless ways to amuse oneself. A nice refreshing dip into an ice pool, playing some games with some shipmates at an arcade, even a bizarre Vulcan comedy show.
Meibei had been the only one present laughing at the show, granted, but at least she thought it had been a comedy show.
Whatever she got up to, however, the chirpy Andorian always ended back in the Nogura’s engine room afterwards. She couldn't even quite explain it to herself. It was an itch in the back of her mind, a feeling in her antennae that she couldn’t quite shake whenever she looked at the ship’s status displays. The starbase engineers allayed her concerns, patiently showing the eccentric chief engineer that they had found all of the sabotage, and even Meibei had to admit that they’d done a great job. After ten days in dock, the Nogura was as good as new.
So why did she keep coming back?
It was on one of those days that Meibei once again found herself in the virtually deserted Engineering. She wore a strapless white dress, having been out partying with some friends on the starbase, and as had become their custom, the two starbase technicians manning the space paid her no need. Just like before, Meibei gravitated towards the status displays first, her eyes reading the numbers automatically and, just like before, finding nothing amiss. She really should go to bed, she knew, but she just wanted to check…
The doors to Main Engineering parted and the Nogura’s Executive Officer entered. The Trill woman looked around, expecting to find one of the fleetyard Engineers or possibly even Chief Carter doing another inspection, but instead she found the darling Andorian that made her heart skip a beat, especially in that dress…
“Meibei,” Tara said softly as she approached the Master System Display that seemed to have captured the Andorian’s attention. “I mean, Lieutenant… Uh, what are you doing here at this hour, aren’t you still on leave?” Tara asked. Using rank suggested she was distancing herself, but there was still a relaxed, comfortable quality to Tara’s tone around the little blue Engineer.
“Oh, hi Tara!” Meibei said with happy surprise, although her hand flew to her mouth as she realised. “Sorry, sorry, Commander Neprem. I’m...ya know, I was just bored and...um…” she trailed off, her hands working together nervously. It had been a while since she’d seen the gorgeous Trill redhead, after all; Meibei had forgotten just how one look from Tara could get those butterflies moving. “I mean, I was on leave. With my friends, at a dance club. But I just wanted to check on the engines, before I went to bed.”
“No… No, I don’t think so, Meibei,” Tara said, dropping all pretense of formality; after all, they were alone for the moment, so no one would notice! “You forget, I used to be an Engineer and I know an itch when I see one. What’s itching you tonight?” she asked.
Meibei smiled bashfully, glancing at the displays. “Um...it’s silly. It’s really, really silly. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“All the reports I’ve been getting from Master Chief Carter seem to indicate that all is well so far,” Tara said, but she could tell right away that it wasn’t helping to ease Meibei’s itch. “But your gut is telling you otherwise, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, kinda,” Meibei sighed. It felt even more ridiculous to confess this to Tara, especially since her friend looked immaculate (and rather dazzling) in her dress uniform, but the way that Tara looked at her wasn’t something that could be denied. Thus, reluctantly, Meibei began tapping at the console, cycling through various diagnostics, biting her lip as she worked. “So you’ve been really busy, with the fancy official things that have been happening, and I didn’t want to bother you with this. I can just feel it in my gut. I know Andy has been checkin’ everything, but...I can’t shake it, ya know? She don’t feel right. If I can just find the diagnostic...where was it...”
She paused, glancing back at Tara with a smile that was more like her usual merry self, if still nervous. “I wanted to ask you to come dancing with us tonight, but your combadge was offline. Because of the inquest thing, I guess. But maybe tomorrow night? There’s this really great place up on Deck 110. They do real sensual Earth dancing, but also some Romulan music too. It sounds real nice.”
“‘Sensual dancing?’ Oh my…” Tara said with a blush. “Uh, yes, I have been quite preoccupied with the conferences, so much so I haven’t even had a chance to walk my dog, but if you have a gut feeling about the Nogura, well I have time for it now. What doesn’t feel right?” She wished she could feel for herself, but stations, especially the Nor-class stations where she had spent most of her service, felt remarkably different from starships, so if there was some detectable nuance of the Nogura that was not right, Tara was completely oblivious to it.
“It’s the power distribution,” Meibei said as she finally found the right diagnostic. It had been done only three days prior, and clearly showed that nothing was amiss. “It looks fine, but it doesn’t look right. Like here. The port sensor array says it’s gettin’ a bit more power than it needs, so the EPS manifolds should be perfect, but the conduits there were real stressed before we got to the starbase. And there, that aft phaser emitter? It’s sayin’ that it ain’t getting as much power as it needs, but that don’t make sense either. We never used our phasers, and nothing else is run through those conduits. They should be perfect.”
Meibei’s antennae rolled back and forth in worry. “And these numbers, right now? They don’t...they don’t feel right. I know that they’re fine for a Sovvie, but the Nog ain’t a normal Sovvie like the Enterprise or the Hawaii. She’s not that well balanced.”
“I understand what you mean,” Tara replied with a nod. “Chief Carter once explained to me that two functionally identical ships off the same production line are not nearly as identical as one would believe; there are always minor differences between ships that make them unique, it’s part of what’s so important about a shake-down so the crew can establish what is ‘normal’ for that ship.” And unfortunately, the Nogura never had a standard shake-down, she went right into service immediately out of spacedock. Add to that, the Nogura was a more tactical variant of the standard Sovereign-class as well as containing some of the next generation functional upgrades, so it was no wonder some of these diagnostics had been dismissed.
“Individually, most of these numbers are meaningless, but putting them together, I am definitely seeing the same pattern that you are, and I am concerned,” Tara then said. She paused to watch more irregularities appear on the display. “We never were able to fully discern what th’Zorati was trying to do with his sabotage, but seeing this now as a whole, I think the Chief’s inspections may require greater scrutiny.” With a sigh, Tara turned to look at Meibei. “I believe this should be safe to leave for the next shift, and since the Chief just came off another double shift, wait until the morning to confer with her and then form an investigative team if you have to, but get to the bottom of this. I don’t care who you piss off in the process, we are not leaving spacedock until you feel this ship is ready to depart.”
Tara’s authoritative tone made Meibei grin, even giggling a little at how little Tara cared about annoying others. “Aye Cap’n,” she said brightly. Really, Tara was so hot when she was being bossy! “I’ll just check the manifold up on Deck 6, then I’ll go to bed, promise. It’s right next to my quarters, so it’s on my way and all.”
“No no, not ‘Captain’ anymore, though I was offered a promotion,” Tara said, attempting to suppress a smile. “I turned the offer down, so Drayton from the Ulysses will be taking over. Speaking of which, he wanted me to stop by his quarters to talk crew merger. Before you head up to deck 6, make a quick list of anyone you absolutely do not want to lose from your department, and we’ll take it into consideration. And please be careful while you’re checking the manifold; we don’t know what these irregularities mean just yet, so we don’t want to set anything off,” she continued, her voice growing in concern at the end.
“I’ll be careful, promise,” Meibei replied cheerfully, irrationally grateful that Tara accepted her instincts so readily and without scorn. Taking one last look at the ship status displays, she bounced on her toes with her habitual bubbliness before grinning at Tara again. “Good night, Cap’n,” she said happily, and without a care in the world, she bounced forward and gave her superior a chaste, friendly kiss on the cheek.
“And you’ll always be the captain to me,” she declared happily before turning about and walking out of Engineering, although she was so full of bubbliness that the perky Andorian was almost skipping as she went.
That little kiss had Tara’s heart skipping a beat as her cheeks flushed with color and her spots darkened. Tara raised her hand to touch her cheek, as though to confirm what she had felt was indeed true. Then at Meibei’s parting statement, Tara smiled with a shake of her head as she turned to briefly follow the peskily perky Andorian out of Engineering; Meibei was such a uniquely odd individual, like a force of nature, so beautiful and captivating, and now that a sense of normalcy was starting to return to the Nogura, Tara couldn’t wait to untangle the enigma that was Meibei zh’Khessi.