4731J-3 Ch. 01


Chapter 01

Women of Starfleet

The last thing in the Galaxy Dr. Beverly Crusher had any interest in was a conference regarding, 'Women of Starfleet'. The very title represented those females, both human and non-human, who still felt there was a gender issue to be flogged. In her view, the only thing sixth wave feminists were accomplishing was to make women come off as insecure whiners who don't merit attention, let alone the equal rights they already enjoyed anyway.

But Councillor Deanna Troi's tactics of constant persuasion eventually wore Crusher down, and so there she was, sitting in a type six shuttle on her way to Starbase five to waste five vacation days. It went without saying that she would have preferred to spend those five days elsewhere, at least at the Sunspot Spa on Starbase Seven, but sometimes it was just easier to give in to the councillor.

Troi currently sat across from her in the long, green dress she often wore with the plunging neckline. Her face was displaying one of its customary, reassuring smiles as she spoke to Nurse Ogawa, another woman of Starfleet who didn't want to be there. Ogawa smiled back, reacting as was expected, even prudent for a lower rank, and Crusher looked away before Troi could notice her attention and possibly redirect her own.

The one upside for the Chief Medical Officer was the fact that her son, Wesley, had also come along. Obviously, he had no plans to attend the conference, rather to take another Academy entrance exam at the base. Being on the same starship didn't mean the doctor got to spend much time with her son, especially since he'd been made Acting Ensign. At times, with conflicting shifts, Wesley's studies, and all the craziness of life on board an exploratory starship, she felt lucky to even see him in a day, and it was her hope that this trip might at least provide some quality time for mother and son.

But, despite his busy days, he was obviously happy, and Crusher supposed that this was the most important thing. Looking to the front of the small craft where he sat at one of the con stations, she smiled at the young genius who fretted over every exam, right up until he'd ace it like all those others he'd fretted about before that one.

Beside him sat T'vor, a pretty young ensign whose presence was also the result of Troi's persuasion tactics, but more for therapeutic reasons than uselessly informative ones. It happened that both the Councillor and Dr. Crusher consulted one another regarding the twenty-two year old Vulcan/Human hybrid.

Generally unknown outside the medical field was that inter species 'blending' sometimes came with problems for those so 'blended', depending on the specific blending. In his way, Ambassador Spock had put a certain stigmatism of unity to it within the Federation, but Spock had been of the statistically few of his kind that actually did live long and prosper. The fact was that there had long been a 'comfort facility' in the Xenia System that exclusively housed blended Vulcan/Humans who were beyond the help of any medical or psychiatric treatment and unable to cope with the expectations of free society. T'vor was just as fortunate as Spock was to have not already ended up there.

Both Crusher and Troi had noted how she'd sometimes use contractions, extremely rare for Vulcans, however, T'vor's behaviour had been considered by both professionals as 'normal' until almost two months ago when she began acting strangely. It started with moodiness, progressing to wearing her red command uniform in a size that made for a very snug fit, almost to the point of indecency. There was nothing in the regulations that forbade this, as T'vor was quick to point out to her concerned superior officer but, not two weeks later, that same officer had found it necessary to reprimand her for insubordination and conduct unbecoming an Officer. Needless to say, charges such as these being leveled against a Vulcan officer were pretty much unheard of, and it wasn't long before Troi found a reason to visit the ensign. After some effective prying, she was able to learn that T'vor had decided to pursue the teachings of Sybok, Spock's half-brother. Sybok, of course, had been an outcast of his people as his philosophy of embracing emotion had very nearly destroyed the Vulcans at one time, forcing them to adopt the arguably enlightened philosophy of denying and sometimes even purging all emotion completely.

To both Crusher and Troi, this seemed like a crazy game of extremes, a severe problem/over-reaction mindset that entirely missed some middle ground that could make life a wonderful gift instead of a scientifically fascinating experience. And it was for this reason that both practitioners, though completely aware of how easily Ensign T'vor could come unglued during this personal evolution, saw Sybok's teachings as being a potentially positive path for the young woman. The plan was to monitor, guide and mentor the ensign to a happy, productive and successful life somewhere in that middle ground that the rest of Vulcan society was unaware of.

However, neither Crusher nor Troi were sure that Starfleet would ultimately have any place in that life. Hence, it was Troi's opinion that they might do well by their patient to prescribe her attendance at the 'Women of Starfleet' conference.

"Beverly," Troi said, bringing Crushers attention back to the starboard side of the shuttle, "You must be happy to get away for a few days. How long has it been since you've taken vacation time?"

Crusher couldn't help but notice the look of relief in Ogawa's features as she activated her tricorder, turning slightly aft in her seat to make busy. It being her turn to face down Troi's pleasant smile, she pasted one across her own lips as she searched for a reply that didn't include any of the many things she'd rather be doing for the next five days.

A sudden and jarring "Bam!" interrupted this mental process, and she found herself being bodily thrown across the deck and into the equally surprised Councillor. Her face full of Troi's cleavage, Crusher strained against oppressive G forces that seemed to like her where she was, her mind frantically scrabbling for some sense in whatever was suddenly going on. After what seemed like an eternity, she found herself sliding down Troi's body and to the deck.

"Is everyone alright?" Crusher asked, getting to her feet and taking a quick look around while unable to help noticing the sound of the shuttle's warp engine.

"Yes," Troi answered, seemingly for everyone as a wide eyed Ogawa nodded.

Wesley and T'vor didn't answer. T'vor was busily searching her console for answers as Wesley, having picked himself up from the deck, scrambled back to his seat to do the same.

"Report," Crusher ordered, her voice weighted with the stress she'd always felt when finding herself in command of problematic situations.

"Main computer is down," T'vor calmly replied. "Diagnostic systems down. Course and velocity are unknown, however, velocity is increasing."

"What happened?" Crusher testify inquired.

"Unknown, Sir," she curtly replied. "Ensign Crusher, we-"

"We have to access manual control," he finished.

His tone was hurried, but calm enough, managing to mask the fear in his eyes as he rushed past the Doctor towards the rear of the shuttle. In seconds, he'd removed an access panel to furiously punch at buttons that did who knew what other than play merry tunes.

"Oh no!" he reported, some of the fear Crusher had seen in his eyes creeping into his tone now.

"What's wrong?" Crusher asked, telling herself she was prepared for anything.

"The computer is locked in a self-diagnostic mode! I can't gain access until the program runs its course and self terminates!"

"What happens then?" Troi asked as Ogawa stared with wide, fearful eyes.

"By the sound of our engine," T'vor explained, "I've projected less than two minutes before our warp core suffers a containment breach. If we do not regain control over the computer by then, we will die."

"Help!" Wesley called, that note of fear just a little heavier now as he physically struggled with something in the tight confines the access panel had covered. T'vor was already out of her seat, calmly drawing a palm phaser.

"Crusher," she warned, the sharp tone sounding a little odd from a Vulcan.

Wesley looked up, eyes widening further as he scrambled out of the way, fretting, "If you hit the-!"

"I will not," she assured, pointing the phaser.

Moments later, both of them were at the exposed workings, Wesley having grabbed an emergency toolkit while the Vulcan finished cutting through a now unidentifiable, twisted and fused module in the space behind the access panel. Throughout their frantic work, Beverly knew better than to disturb the two ensigns with demands for progress reports or situational evaluations. The desperation in their voices and movements were all the information she needed. Instead, she stood and watched them, vaguely surprised that she hadn't marked the time. In the seconds that felt like minutes, she couldn't have said how long she'd even been watching the frantic operations of Ensign T'vor and her son. As unhealthy as it was, Beverly looked possible imminent death in the eye as the young Vulcan Hybrid expressed a small cry of relief upon tearing another component free of the ship.

"It's the red one," Wesley quietly, quickly urged.

"I know, I can not reach the locking mechanism from here."

" ... I got it, go."

"I can't feel it," she said.

"It's to the right- there, you got it, I can see it from here!"

" ... We have control," she informed, prompting Wesley to his feet in an instant.

He sprinted for the Ops console, hope now flying wild in his expression as his fingers raced over its control surface.

"I'm in!" he proclaimed, a smile of relief breaking his features as his fingers continued. "Shutting down Self-Diagnostic routine now. Reducing power to engines... That was close," he stated with a much relieved sigh.

"All stop," Crusher ordered,

"Answering all stop, Sir," T'vor acknowledged while resuming her seat with a quick glance to Wesley.

Wesley didn't miss the glance. Wesley didn't miss much about Ensign T'vor. Unaware of her Human ancestry, to say nothing of her recent personal issues, all Wesley knew was how good the attractive, fit looking ensign looked in her uniform, a commonality that he'd noticed with Vulcan females. It was hard not to stare, especially with how she wore it. He would have thought there would be some regulation on how closely fitting a crewperson's uniform ought to be but, upon looking for himself, it turned out that there wasn't. Wesley had no complaints with this.

T'vor's glance, however, was something different. It was an acknowledgement of what they'd just accomplished. They and the others were alive because they'd won a race against the clock in which there was no second place.

"We've regained control of the shuttle, Sir," T'vor reported, going on to state their position.

"Damage report," Crusher asked.

"We've got a coolant leak!" Wesley piped before T'vor could reply to his mother. The Ensign spun in her seat to take stock of the situation while the doctor again waited, but not for long.

"Sir," she stated, "I estimate we have six minutes and twelve seconds before containment breach."

"Can you fix the coolant leak?" Crusher asked, wondering what Jean Luc would do just then.

"No," Wesley answered. "Not this time. We'll have to dump the core before it breaches."

"Meaning," said T'vor, "we have just under six minutes left to use warp power."

After a brief silence where Crusher, Troi and Ogawa looked at one another for answers, Wesley said, "If we use it to try to get back to our original course, we'll be adrift with only emergency power and rations for... three days," he finished with a quick headcount.

"Can't we open communications?" Ogawa asked.

"Um, not now," Wesley toned, looking at the twisted and fused module on the deck.

"Perfect," Beverly sighed, trying not to imagine what it might be like to suffocate and/or starve to death in a class six shuttle with Deanna Troi. "I need an option. Any option."

"There is one," T'vor said.

As Wesley had been explaining their situation, she'd been quickly searching for the only real option there was. Now T'vor turned to explain as she heard Wesley laying in her coordinates from his console.

"Sir, the option is to land. I have already located a class M planet- the only class M planet- within a four minute range."

"Four minutes?"

"We'll need time to eject the core and then move away before detonation," Wesley explained.

" ... Make it so," Beverly decided, hoping it was the right decision. Deanna's worried and doubtful expression didn't help to instill confidence.

They'd been at maximum warp for a half minute, all available power diverted to engines as they raced yet another clock on their way to their only real option. Deanna and Ogawa had gone back to their seats in the absence of anything else to do as Crusher, the shuttle's senior officer, tried to piece together what had been happening with the two ensigns.

"According to the computer," Wesley replied, "we were hit by... something."

"Hit?" Beverly prodded.

"Yes," he nodded, adding, "It's kinda weird though because the data records an impact, but none of the shuttle's sensors recorded anything."

"Could the computer be wrong?" she asked.

"About the impact data?" he asked doubtfully.

"Well, isn't it either that or the sensors?"

Wesley had nothing to say to this. As good a doctor as she was, he knew his mother was no engineer and had little appreciation for its tricky complexities. Ensign T'vor, however, had a much better understanding of the study's complex marvels. He wished she'd rescue him from having to find some way to finish his report. She may be his mother but, in this instance, she was also his commanding officer.

"Uh, it's possible. I'd need more time to study that."

"Do what you can. I'd like to know what it was that caused all this. Ensign T'vor, what can you tell me about the planet we're headed to?"

"Very little, Sir. It's charted, but has not been surveyed. All we know is that it's a class M planet, designated, 4731J-3."

"Are there dangerous animals there?" the councillor worried.

"We don't know," the doctor spelled out.

"We'll be able to take a scan when we get there," Wesley provided.

"How long will that take us?" Crusher asked.

"Twenty-two hours, forty-seven minutes," T'vor answered.

"You said we had four minutes," Crusher noted.

"We can not get all the way there on warp power before we must eject the core, however, we can get the rest of the way on emergency power with just enough left to land. It was our only option, Doctor."

"I understand," Crusher told her.

She straightened, taking a breath between what had happened and what would. What would happen? As a veteran 'woman of Starfleet', she knew the unpredictable nature of space exploration and was in no way lulled into any false securities. There was simply no way to know what was coming, no way to prepare for the myriad of possibilities one could be confronted with.

"Mr. Crusher," T'vor said, "if we were to activate the shuttle's aft shields after we eject the core, we could remain at warp for twenty-eight point three seconds longer, decreasing our post ejection travel time to eighteen hours."

"But what about the shield's power consumption?" Wesley worried.

"Our reduced travel time would mitigate the power loss. In addition, if we properly timed the core dump while at warp, we could ride the leading edge of the blast wave on our shields, therefore saving more time and energy."

"The exploding core would give us a boost," Wesley summarized thoughtfully. "But we'd have to time the ejection... just right."

"Of course."

"Is there any risk to the shuttle?" Crusher asked.

"The closer we are at detonation," T'vor replied, "the higher the risk of damage, however we gain power on the other end, just in case."

"In case of what?" Deanna asked.

"In case of the unexpected," Crusher answered, then ordered Wesley and T'vor to, "Do it."

Less than two minutes later the successful ejection of the shuttle's warp core was accomplished, the expected blast coming a split second later. The pressure wave rattled the shuttle, but the shields held and the hull persevered.

"Report," Crusher ordered.

"We've dropped out of warp," Wesley answered. "Aft shields at twenty-one percent. Deactivating. Deactivating all systems except the computer, sensors and life support. Emergency power level is ninety-one percent. Our ETA is now sixteen hours, twenty-four minutes."

Beverly only half heard. Like the rest of the shuttle's worried inhabitants, she was looking at the sickly orange face of 4731J-3 from just over sixteen emergency power hours away.

Don't we need life support?

"It's hopeless," Wesley decided with a glum expression.

Sitting aft, he'd been trying to salvage something of the communications module, at least reconfigure it to work with a com badge, but neither he or Ensign T'vor had been in a position to be careful during its uninstallation, and that was the price they'd paid for survival. They'd be depending on the emergency beacon for rescue from a planet that was well distant from their original course, the course that was known to the Enterprise, the one she would search after she returned to the prearranged rendezvous point five days from then. Not only had the mystery malfunction thrown them off this known course at high warp, but 4731J-3 was on a completely different course that took them even further out.

"How soon will it be before the Enterprise finds us?" Ogawa asked.

Though she'd been putting on a brave front, even Wesley could tell she was afraid. It was in the way she didn't ask anyone particular, rather worried the question aloud.

T'vor answered, "I estimate approximately thirty days."

"Thirty days?" Deanna asked, as surprised and dismayed by the ensign's estimate as Ogawa and Beverly were.

"Unless they... get lucky," T'vor amended.

From where he sat, Wesley had a nice profile view of the female ensign. While making himself feel better about the hopeless communications array with a nice long look at T'vor's thrusting breasts, he could have sworn he saw the slightest, fleeting smile on her lips as she informed Ogawa of her rescue expectations. Thirty days did seem a bit long. Was T'vor playing with them? Since Vulcans didn't smile, it had to be his imagination.

"Mr. Crusher," T'vor said, leaving the other three women of Starfleet with her grim outlook, "We're approaching optimal sensor range."

"Right," he said, beginning to pack up the tool kit.

He liked how she respected him, especially after they'd saved the day together. The idea of becoming closer to her in any way was quite exciting and made forgetting about the imagined smile quite easy.

"Do we have enough power for a scan?" Beverly asked.

Crusher wondered how this operation was even happening without her approval, wondering if it was even necessary to use such a style off command in this situation. Shouldn't she just let her people do the jobs they knew how to do? That had been working out quite well so far, but what if that attitude ultimately eroded her authority over the group?

"The scan will use minimal power," Wesley replied.

"And the information may well be worth the small sacrifice," T'vor added.

Wesley nodded in wholehearted agreement, prompting Beverly to decide, "Very well, go ahead with the sensor scan."

It was a small assertion of her position, but hopefully enough to maintain it.

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