tagCelebrities & Fan FictionSurefoot 15: Flinch

Surefoot 15: Flinch


USS Surefoot-A, Deck 3 Fore, Alpha Squad Cadet Quarters:

Neraxis Nemm snapped awake without needing an alarm, a trick she'd been able to do since she was a child, getting up to ensure her many younger brothers and sisters were up, dressed, fed and ready for school before their parents were even out of their own beds. She cast aside her bedcovers, eased herself out of the lower bunk, stretched, swivelled her neck about and scratched her pits.

She stayed quiet; Alpha Squad was scheduled for the Afternoon Shift and had a few more hours left to sleep, but she didn't. She turned to the slumbering figure in the top bunk, smirking in the minimal light from the wall clock as she tapped his shoulder, cooing softly, "Come on, Scrappy, get up, time to get your ass handed to you some more."

Jonas Ostrow heard her, responding with a slight groan and a pull of his bedcovers up over his head.

"Come on," she urged teasingly. "You agreed to it, and I've got the ring booked. Don't you want to get all hot and sweaty with me? I'll let you lather me up afterwards in the showers."

"Changed my mind," came his muffled reply.

"Too late for that, Deputy Squad Leader, I'm under orders. Come on, hands on socks, hands off co-"

"Jonas," came the grumpy voice of Squad Leader Sasha Hrelle from her own bunk nearby. "Stroking get up already, the rest of us need our sleep."

"Indeed," Kitirik agreed from his own bunk. "I must respectfully insist on silence."

"See?" Neraxis quipped. "You have Kit swearing at you now."


Deck 3 Fore, Gym/Training Room:

It was quiet at that time of morning, the multifunctional combat ring ready for them. Neraxis and Jonas, wearing identical headgear and gloves, danced around each other, their vests and shorts gradually building up sweat, though Neraxis' blue Bolian skin didn't glisten as much as Jonas' pale human own.

Neraxis grunted with approval as his right glove connected with the jaw padding on her helmet. "Good! I didn't see that coming. The drilling we're doing will build up muscle memory that'll give you instinctive, rapid movements; if you can act and react faster than your opponent, you'll have surprise on your side."

She kept up her guard, jabbing back every now and then, passing up many openings his lack of experience unknowingly gave her, not wanting to discourage him so early in his training. When he seemed to be letting her hit him too much, she eased up and instructed, "Start acting, stop reacting. When you're reacting, you're letting your opponent control the fight-"

She cursed and stepped back when his fist connected with her ample chest. His moment of pleasure at getting a strike in evaporated immediately, and his face turned scarlet inside the framing of his helmet. "Damn! Sorry!"

But she shook her head and slapped her gloves together. "Hey, don't worry, kid, it's nice to know someone onboard's willing to feel me up." She raised her fists once more. "Speaking of getting felt up, has Thykrill asked you out yet?"

Jonas stopped and dropped his guard. "What?"

She grinned. "She's interested in you. I swear, pal, you keep this up and you'll be nominated for the James Kirk Tomcat Award."

He raised his fists again and resumed sparring. "No, it's getting too distracting, especially with all the work we've got in our final year and the new duties onboard-"

"Hold it, Scrappy - are you complaining that it's tough having all this female attention your way?"

"Well, yes. I need a break from it."

"Don't you dare, there's enough of us making our bunks shake on our own without you joining in again." Suddenly she offered a series of jabs that forced him into a corner of the ring, leaving him with his forearms raised defensively. She stopped and stepped back. "I told you: stay decisive, stay focused, stay in control. That's the key to success."


Deck 3 Fore, Enlisted Mess Hall:

Jonas returned to his bunk after the lesson, but Neraxis had a security staff meeting in an hour's time, so she stayed up, showered, dressed and indulged in some breakfast and a letter from home.

The Ktarian scrambled eggs kept falling off her fork, but she ignored it as she watched the letter: a chaotic affair of boys and girls shifting in and out of view, with only Mama as the eye of the storm, narrating on the latest affairs of the family. "So, Myneva is wanting to shave her head because none of the other girls in her class have hair; can you have a word with her about it, dear? Tell her there's nothing wrong with girls having hair?

And Kenoxena and Oshexis are still fighting over who gets your room when they turn fifteen. I keep telling them that they should share, but what do I know, I'm only their mother. Oh, and Neriwira has started dating the youngest brother of that idiot boy that you used to like, remember? Powa? The one with the pit stains?"

Neraxis remembered. Before she left for the Academy, she would have known all about this, every detail of the comings and goings. She had almost gone back home on the last break, but she accepted a request from Commander T'Varik for someone within Security to remain available while the Surefoot was docked at Starbase 154. Neraxis never regretted that decision... except at times like this, when the pangs of longing for her family returned.

Mama continued as she shooed more children out of the way. "Oh, and Maixx and Qhife and Veliwia are doing a presentation at class about their big sister in Starfleet, after Harvest Break ends and-"

A wide, grinning, chocolate-covered blue face suddenly filled the screen. "Hi Ner-Ner! I ate six donuts last night and threw up all over Lyvya! She was MAD!"

The guffawing girl was shifted aside by Mama. "Run along, Alazila. And clean yourself up! Again! Neraxis doesn't want to look at your grubby face!"

Staring at the PADD, Neraxis smiled at her family's pandemonium, missing it so much. "Yes I do..."


Deck 4 Aft, Security Bay:

More alert now, Neraxis still indulged in a Bolian coffee as she attended the briefing with the other cadets and security crewmen around the table, and Lt. C'Rash stood in front of the Status Board and briskly went through the itinerary.

The young Caitian was the very model of efficiency and professionalism, a quadrant away from the mercurial, libidinous character Neraxis first met only a week ago when the new Security Chief first arrived, driven by some personal troubles that she seemed to have put aside, if not behind her. "The big event coming up is our rendezvous with the Iberia tomorrow. I'll want all hands on deck, Standard Security Duty 1. I'll let you know specifically who's covering what tomorrow."

"Lieutenant?" Delta Squad's Security Specialist David Cheung, a beefy, broad-faced Terran with a close crop of sable hair on his head, spoke up. "May I be issued with a phaser rifle for my duty shift, please?"

Beside him, Epsilon Squad's Bronagh Adams, a shorter but muscular Irishgirl with a freckled face and copper hair ponytailed behind her, sat up straighter at that. "Yes, me, too, Ma'am. I think it might be more appropriate, considering we're on the frontier and all."

Neraxis, sitting across from them, chuckled at Adams. "I can see Cheung feeling the need to compensate - I've seen him in the gym showers - but what's your excuse?"

The crewmen smirked at the joke; the new cadets shot her dirty looks, Adams responding with, "I believe we were addressing the Chief of Security, Cadet."

"Yes, you were," C'Rash agreed. "And the answer to your request is No. Who do you intend to impress with phaser rifles, Ms Adams, Mr Cheung? The crew of the Iberia? They're a tough group, they've been through the Seven Hells out here.

But I'm glad you mentioned phasers: after the meeting, I want you two to check out a Type 1 phaser each from the Armoury and meet me on the Firing Range for assessment."

"That's okay, Ma'am," Adams assured her. "We were certified at the Academy before our transfer to the Surefoot." She grinned. "We both received perfect scores, and commendations from our Instructor."

"And you managed it despite being so humble and unassuming?" Neraxis quipped.

C'Rash ignored the Bolian. "Well, I'm absolutely delighted that you two got perfect scores and pats on the head from the instructor, but you don't mind if I get a personal idea of your skills myself, do you? Seeing as how we and everyone else onboard might end up depending on what you can actually do, rather than what your records say you can do?" To Neraxis she added, "Cheung's due to return to complete the rest of his bridge duty; would you go up and take over for him? You were going to be up there at 1200 Hours anyway."

Neraxis nodded, smiling. "Sure, why not?"


She smirked with the memory of the look on Cheung's face when C'Rash asked Neraxis to take his place. Delta and Epsilon Squads seemed so wound up compared with the rest of them, though Kit had helpfully pointed out how much Alpha and the other older squads were when they first assembled: insecure, anxious, arrogant. Still, Cheung and Adams were going to have to settle down and-

She quickened her pace as the Red Alert klaxon filled the corridor, nearly banging her shoulder on the bridge doors as she slid between them before they fully opened. "Sir?"

In the centre chair, Captain Hrelle turned and nodded. "Glad you made it, take your station."

Neraxis glanced up at the main viewscreen, taking in a tactical display, and noting how they had gone into high warp, though she had been too distracted to feel the subtle shift - or maybe the ship was too new for all that? - but she took her place at Tactical, keying in her ID and calling up a status. But still she turned and asked, "What's happening, Captain?"

"Fill her in, Ledit."

Behind Hrelle at Ops, Delta Squad Leader Ledit straightened up, the Hermat's lithe, muscular body as stiff as the creases in hir uniform as s/he intoned, "A Federation passenger liner, the SS Nakatomi, was on a tour of this sector when it was taken by a Cardassian terrorist group. They have sent a message to stay back or they will begin killing their hostages."


"That doesn't matter, Cadet Nemm," Hrelle informed Neraxis. "What matters is that they are taking the ship across the border into Cardassian space, and we have orders to stop them, by any means necessary. We're on an intercept course now."

"Aye, Sir." Neraxis turned back to her station, calling up further information on the situation for herself, planning ahead. Always go in with a strategy, even if you end up changing it; that was true in or out of the ring. She brought up the Nakatomi's specifications, the tactical analysis, crew and passenger manifest - 60 crew, and... 600 passengers - and the cargo manifest, with an Alert flashing highlighting- "Corbormite?" She looked back at Hrelle. "What's that, Captain?"

He looked grave. "Something we can't allow the Cardassians to obtain. That's all you need to know. Helm, what's our ETA?"

At the station before Hrelle, Cadet Simon Utrecht's fingers danced over the displays. "One minute, Sir, but they'll be across the border seconds after that."

Hrelle nodded, his gaze still focused on Neraxis. "Plot us a firing pattern, Cadet Nemm. And hurry; this is serious."

She nodded - it had to be, he hadn't even bothered to delay things before more experienced crewmembers arrive - as she returned to her work, furiously moving over the displays, testing patterns, and then rejecting them as they resulted in the total destruction of the Nakatomi. No, there had to be a way. There was six hundred and sixty lives at stake here-

"Cadet Nemm," Hrelle cut through her growing anxiety. "We need a pattern in place."

She swallowed, her heart pounding inside her chest. "S-Sir, I- I can't find one that will keep the Nakatomi intact."

"I understand. Lock a pattern and be ready to fire on my command."

She looked to him pleadingly, her eyes wide. He couldn't be serious! He was Esek Hrelle, a legend! He had to know a way to stop them without killing them! "Sir-"

"Do it, Cadet!"

She turned back, locked the first pattern she had written, brought a half-dozen photon torpedoes online, and watched the countdown before she had to fire. She accessed the passenger manifest, saw the names. The ages. 660 lives... men, women, children...

"Twenty seconds to rendezvous," Ledit updated.

Children. Children like Myneva, Kenoxena, Oshexis, Nerawira...

"Ten seconds."

Her stomach twisted inside out. Her fingers trembled over the controls. Please, she begged him inside, stop this, change your mind, take over, do something, Holy Hraxor please don't leave this for me to do-

"Cadet Nemm," Hrelle announced, "Fire."

She couldn't move. She couldn't breathe. Her head spun.

"Neraxis, fire!"

Now her hands trembled violently, a spasm that ran upwards, reminding her of the time she accidentally received a neuroleptic shock during a weapons testing class.

"Cadet Nemm!" Ledit snapped in an annoying clipped tone. "You were given a direct order-"

"Stand down, Squad Leader," Hrelle ordered, rising to his feet, more loudly announcing, "Computer: End Simulation Exercise."

Distantly, Neraxis was aware of the cadets at their various stations reacting with shock as the Red Alert ceased, the ship seemingly dropped out of warp, and the viewscreen's tactical display vanished, replaced by a static starfield. She was also conscious of Hrelle drawing up to her, dropping to one knee and taking her shuddering hands away from her station. "Neraxis, calm down, it's okay, it was just a simulation, that's all, a tactical simulation."

Behind him, the cadets looked at each other, allowing Ledit to voice their feelings. "Simulation? Sir, with respect, we were not informed of this beforehand-"

"No, Mx Ledit," Hrelle snapped at hir over his shoulder. "And I'm not under any obligation to do so!" He faced Neraxis again, his voice softer, more sympathetic. "There was no ship. There were no hostages, no terrorists. Do you understand?"

She stared at him in disbelief. No. They were there, she was- there was nothing there. But-

Something like a cry escaped her.


Deck 1 Fore, Captain's Ready Room:

Counselor Kami Hrelle's expression spoke volumes. But her voice still helpfully provided illustration. "Well, I hope you three are happy. You managed to traumatise that young woman out there."

Sitting across from her, a shocked and contrite Hrelle leaned forward. "That was never our intention."

"Indeed, Counselor," T'Varik assured her. "Though the Nakatomi Scenario is by necessity and its very nature meant to help a future Tactical Officer face a potential situation that could inflict moral damage. And unlike the similar no-win scenario faced by Command cadets with the Kobiyashi Maru, Tactical cadets must not know that they are in a scenario, in order to achieve an authentic reaction."

"It's something any of us could face," C'Rash added soberly. "Not every Security crewman has to take it, just those that man the Tactical Station on the Bridge. And I know it's the Captain that gives the order, but it's still our hands that carry out the act. I remember I didn't fire on my Nakatomi. But the experience still prepared me for the time when the situation was real."

"We wouldn't have put her through it at this time if we thought she couldn't handle it," Hrelle informed Kami. "Your psychological assessment gave no warning signs."

She glared at her husband. "Oh? Are you blaming me now for this?"

"No," he replied sadly. "I'm blaming me. Hurting that girl is the last thing I wanted to do."

Kami's anger weakened at his expression as she leaned back, hand on her bump. "I know. Sorry, hormones are making me more maternal than professional."

"Will she be okay?" C'Rash asked.

"I think so." Kami was scanning her PADD again, seeing the data audit Neraxis unknowingly left in the exercise. "She kept accessing the crew and passenger manifest, seeing the numbers of lives she was about to take. Pausing at details of the children."

She set the PADD down again. "Not surprising. She grew up in a large household, took on responsibility to care for her younger siblings, and she had been reluctant to go to the Academy and leave them behind. She was in a similar state when we rescued those Malurian children from that slave trafficking ring. She has strength. I think she'll get over failing the test."

"One cannot fail the Nakatomi Scenario," T'Varik pointed out. "Any more than one can fail the Kobiyashi Maru."

"I know that; I just hope she knows that. Young people have a simpler worldview, untempered by experience."

"We did explain it to her before this meeting. However..." Hrelle tapped his combadge. "Cadet Nemm, please enter."

The Ready Room door slid open, and Neraxis stepped forward, looking more confident and animated than when he last saw her. She came to attention. "Sir?"

"How are you feeling, Neraxis?"

She smiled. "Fine, thank you, Sir."

"Cadet," T'Varik proceeded, "We have provided you with a briefing on the nature and purpose of the Nakatomi Scenario. Did you understand it?"

"Yes, Commander."

"And you realise that you didn't fail anything?" C'Rash asked.

"I know, Lieutenant. It wasn't my fault."

Hrelle noted the growing look of concern on Kami's face as she studied the Bolian, despite Neraxis' seemingly-confident responses. "It's perfectly natural to hesitate when faced with such overwhelming moral-"

She looked to him. "Excuse me, Sir, but I didn't hesitate."

He blinked. "You didn't?"

"No, Sir. I realise now that there's something wrong with me physically. It might be a virus or some neurological condition or something, but whatever it was, it kept me from doing my job. So, I'd like permission to go to Sickbay so Dr Ling can get it treated."

"Cadet-" T'Varik began.

But Kami held up a hand. "I think it's a good idea." She tapped her own combadge. "Counselor Hrelle to Sickbay: I'm sending Cadet Nemm to you, I want her to undergo a full physical as soon as possible."

One of the nurses on duty responded, "Will do, Counselor, Sickbay out."

Kami looked up at Neraxis and smiled. "We'll get to the bottom of this, Cadet. Dismissed."

Neraxis glanced at Hrelle, the senior officer in the room, and only departed when he nodded in assent. Once gone, he looked to his wife. "You think that was wise? To encourage that denial?"

"I must concur," T'Varik contributed, "It cannot be helpful to allow her to believe that an outside agency was responsible."

"Denial is a buffer to emotional trauma. You don't just rip it off like a bandage. And the physical exam will take several hours, giving her an opportunity to process the truth at her own pace; she knows inside that no external agency was involved in her hesitation." She leaned forward, resting her chin on her fist. "Still, what do I know? I've only been a Counselor for twenty-five years, whereas you three are clearly experts in the field. I should just go and let you manage all my work, you are obviously far better at it than me."

"Sarcastic much, Aunt Kami?" C'Rash quipped. "Or just hormonal?"

"Why not both?" Hrelle smirked - the smirk dropping at the look Kami hit him with.


Deck 3 Fore, Holodeck:

"Forgive me for saying so, Good Friend Jonas," Kit spoke up softly. "But you have let the panel slip again."

"What? Oh, sorry Kit." Jonas adjusted his kneeling position and his grip on the projector panel as Kit, also kneeling facing him, continued attaching the power columns in the correct places. He glanced around; the Holodeck was unfinished when the new Surefoot was delivered to them, but Chief Grev corralled the Engineering and Science cadets to complete the installation. Once done, it will create any spacious environment with virtually total fidelity. Now, however, having ten people in here seemed crowded.

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