On the Mississippi

Stardate 51288.2

“So, Commander, how’s married life treating you?”

“It treats me fine.  Keep your mind on your task, Ensign.”

“Yes, sir.  Sorry, sir.”

Five minutes before launch and the questions had already begun.  Lieutenant Commander Worf gave off a slight grunt of annoyance for having been asked about his personal life.  It was only two weeks since he wed Jadzia Dax and, although he loved her dearly and for her alone would battle the veqlargh, guardian of gre’tlhor, the place where those who die without honor go, he did not care to discuss such an intimate subject with just anyone.

On top of Worf’s aversion to discussing his personal life while on duty, his current mission lacked the excitement he so craved.  And while he perfectly knew that not all Starfleet missions and assignments promised excitement, this particular one left him wishing he were back in his quarters with his new bride.

As he reviewed the mission objective for the third time this morning, Worf allowed his mind to drift back to the conversation with Captain Sisko last night that lead to him being here aboard the U.S.S. Mississippi, the newest runabout assigned to Deep Space Nine.

 

“Ah, Commander, come in.  Sit down,” said Sisko offering a chair to Worf.  Sisko wore a barely containable grin on his face that made Worf think he wasn’t going to like what his captain was about to tell him.  He sensed nothing was wrong, even though the Federation was still in a dangerous war with the Dominion, but he also knew that whatever Sisko had to say to him was something the captain obviously found quite humorous.

On the Enterprise-D (as well as the Enterprise-E for that matter) Picard always ran a tight ship.  That’s not to say Sisko wasn’t an effective and respected leader, but Worf couldn’t ever remember a time when he was summoned by Picard for a mission briefing to be met by a smile-in-hiding.  The French-born captain had a good sense of humor (a trait the habitually serious Klingon found too often unattainable – most notably when cast as Will Scarlet by the meddlesome Q), but he never let it interfere with his duties as a Starfleet officer.  For the most part, Picard was all business, and that suited Worf just fine.

Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, on the other hand, was more of a working man’s captain, someone who would issue orders but also sit down in the trenches with the soldiers, laughing and joking with anyone.  Perhaps being a commander of a station full of people other than Starfleet officers made the difference.  Perhaps not.  Worf wasn’t quite sure.  Maybe Sisko sometimes operated on the lighter side of life because he was a father, though being a father didn’t help Worf’s demeanor any.  Alexander certainly didn’t turn out to be the son he had hoped for but their recent reconciliation on General Martok’s ship, the Rotarran, was a step in the right direction to Worf becoming a more acceptable parent in his own mind. Worf often felt a greater kinship to Sisko because, while Picard was very knowledgeable about Klingon customs and rituals, he had never had children, and parenthood was an experience that Worf would always cherish.  Also, like Sisko, Worf had lost someone very close to his heart.  Alexander’s mother, K’Ehleyr, had perished at a young age just as Jennifer Sisko had died before seeing her son into adulthood.

In that fleeting moment after Worf entered his superior’s office, it hit him.  He finally came to the realization that he was happy.  Happy to be assigned to Deep Space Nine.  Happy to have found Jadzia.  Happy to serve under this suspiciously smiling man.  After all, Picard would never have taken Worf to a baseball game.

“Thank you, sir,” said Worf with a small amount of trepidation leaking from his stare as he took the offered seat.

“I trust you’ve been informed of the newest addition to our small fleet of runabouts,” continued the captain.

“Yes, sir.  You’re referring to the Mississippi.”

“Correct.  The Thunderchild just dropped her off this morning.  Earlier I spoke with Commander Rickabaugh at McKinley Station.  I worked with her for a time at Utopia Planitia.  She was the Mississippi’s chief designer and wanted to tell me a little bit about the ship before I sent my people out in it.”  Sisko’s grin turned up just a little on both sides of his mouth, causing Worf to uncomfortably shift his weight.  “I have an assignment for you that will take you away from the station for several hours.”  The captain paused, trying to suppress an uncharacteristic snicker.

“Sir?” asked Worf, confusion and annoyance beginning to creep into his voice.

“Yes.  Sorry, Mr. Worf.  Just remembering something funny I heard Constable Odo say on the Promenade the other day.”  It didn’t happen too often, but Sisko did jokingly fib every now and then.  “I want you to take the Mississippi out on a test run.  Push her to the limit.  Make sure you find out if she has any noticeable weaknesses.  Also, since she’s one of the new Missouri-class runabouts, I want to know how well she does at maximum warp velocity.  You’re authorized to exceed warp speed limitations for the duration of this assignment.”  The older Danube-class runabouts were only capable of achieving warp 3.3 while this new class could travel as fast as warp 8, so it was of utmost importance to Sisko that this aspect of the Mississippi be thoroughly tested.  “And make sure you see how she handles herself under stress.  She’s supposed to maneuver better than a Jem’Hadar attack fighter.”  Sisko paused briefly to allow Worf to reflect on the seriousness of the situation.  “Basically, I want to know if she’ll cut the mustard.  Commander Rickabaugh said her people at McKinley Station didn’t have enough resources to give her their full attention before sending her to us, so I’m assigning that task to you.”  Sisko took a personal access display device off his desk and handed it to Worf.

“Yes, sir” said Worf, hesitantly taking the proffered padd.  “But certainly there are more qualified personnel.”

“Not just you, Commander.  You’ll be taking Ensign Nog with you.”

“Sir!” said Worf as he abruptly stood in a subdued fit of protest.  Subdued for a Klingon, that is.  “I know there are more qualified personnel for this assignment than me.  What about Chief O’Brien?”

Sisko could barely keep from releasing a modest chuckle.  It wasn’t that he was making fun of Worf, or of Nog for that matter, but Worf was behaving exactly as Sisko predicted he would.  That’s what was so funny.  The only Klingon in Starfleet also happened to be one of the most predictable officers ever deposited on his station.

“The chief has his hands full right now with the transporter in cargo bay four,” Sisko said with as straight a face as he could muster.  “And I need that ship tested as soon as possible.”

“Then what about Lieutenant Greene?  She has a lot more experience test-piloting runabouts than I.”

“No, Worf.  I’m giving the job to you.”  A hint of irritation began to escape Sisko’s lips.

“Lieutenant Vilix’pran?  Or Commander Dax?  Certainly she would be better suited –.”

“Are you questioning my orders, Commander?”  Clearly Sisko had had enough of Worf trying to back out of this responsibility and he knew the only reason why Worf would even think to suggest his wife over himself for something like this was Dax’s affinity for Ferengi.

“No, sir,” answered Worf, clearly ashamed of himself for dragging this out farther than he should have.  Realizing he was still standing Worf took his seat again and tried to appear complacent.

“Good.  I’d hate to think you had something against Ensign Nog.”

“No, sir, but may I ask why you have selected me for this assignment?”

“I want all my officers to be as well-rounded as they can be, and that means experiencing new things, working on new tasks, and learning from new people.  Nog has proven himself to be a valuable officer but he’s never tested a new runabout before and most of his work with the senior staff has been with either Dax or O’Brien.  He can learn a lot from you, too.  I want him to be comfortable with all my officers and, frankly, Mr. Worf, you’re one of the most intimidating people I know.  If Nog can work with you, alone for several hours, he can work with anybody.”

Worf took a few seconds to ponder the captain’s reasoning before responding.  “Thank you, Captain.”  He seemed to take pride in his inherent ability to intimidate people.  “Will that be all?”

Sisko reached across his desk and picked up his baseball, nonchalantly tossing it in the air twice before answering.  “One last thing.  This will be a good experience for both of you.  Try and have some fun, Mr. Worf.”  This time Sisko couldn’t help but smile at his Strategic Operations Officer.

“Yes, sir,” replied Worf with a resigned look on his face.  ‘Having fun’ was not this Klingon’s specialty.  He had had his fill of ‘fun’ for the year just a few weeks ago at his bachelor party.

And now he was about to leave the station in an untested, experimental runabout with a newly promoted ensign – a Ferengi, no less.  ‘Fun’ was the furthest thing from his mind.

 

* * * * *

 

Nog sat at his station on board the Mississippi, anxious to get the mission underway.  It was his first assignment with Lieutenant Commander Worf, the greatest Klingon in Federation history.  He had dreamed of this, had wanted it ever since donning the red of a Starfleet cadet’s uniform.  As he waited for Worf’s arrival, he knew he would never forget where he was and what he was doing when he got the assignment to sail away with living history on board the Mississippi.

 

“Hand me a quantometer probe, Nog,” yelled Dax from deep inside the crawlspace at the tip of upper docking pylon three.

“Yes, sir,” responded an over-eager Nog.  He reached into the nearby utility box and almost grabbed a bipolar torch but quickly realized his error and correctly handed her the requested tool.  “Here you go, Commander.” Jadzia grabbed the tool from his outstretched hand.  “But you don’t have to yell.  I can hear you just fine,” he added with a smile just as his communicator beeped.

“Ensign Nog, report to Captain Sisko’s office on the double.”  It was Major Kira’s all too familiar voice on the other end of the comm system.  She certainly wasn’t the easiest person to work for, considering their past encounters shortly after Starfleet arrived on the station, but a professional relationship was taking root.  When Nog became serious about his desire to join Starfleet he decided he would do his best to see that he always remained on his best behavior when it came to Captain Sisko’s first officer.

“Yes, Major.  I’m on my way.  Commander Dax, will you please excuse me?”

“Of course, Nog.  I’ll just have to repair this phase-conjugate graviton emitter by myself now,” said the frustrated-sounding Trill with a scowl plastered on her face as she batted away a small lock of hair attempting to block her vision.  Nog looked a tad hurt by Jadzia’s remark, so she added an, “Only kidding,” to make light of the situation and showed him a genuine smile.

Jadzia Dax was just one of the reasons Nog idolized Worf.  Not only was he a decorated Starfleet officer, skilled in several forms of combat, and the most honorable man he knew, he also had the most beautiful woman on the station for his wife.  Well, second most beautiful, thought Nog.  My father thinks there isn’t anyone in the galaxy prettier than my stepmother.

On the way to ops Nog ran into Rom coming from the opposite direction on the Promenade.

“Hello, father,” said Nog.  “How is, uh, mom?”

“Don’t ever get married, son.  Especially to a Bajoran woman.  You’ll regret it if you do.”  Rom seemed uncharacteristically upset with Leeta as he turned 180 degrees and started walking back the way he came, falling into step with his Starfleet son.   As the two hurried to wherever Nog was going, Rom immediately corrected himself.  “No, Bajoran women are truly wonderful, and I do want you to get married, but not until you figure it out.”

“Figure what out?” asked Nog.  The only two Ferengi on the station to steer clear of traditional Ferengi profit-worshipping professions continued along past Dr. Bashir’s infirmary.

“I wish I knew,” replied Rom with a resigned tone of voice.

“What are you talking about, father?”

“The secret, son.  The secret.”  And with that Rom turned another 180 degrees and proceeded along his original heading.  Nog wished he could follow his father to find out what he was talking about but right now he had a duty to perform.

When he arrived at Captain Sisko’s office he saw that Commander Worf was sitting in with the captain, who was in his chair tossing his baseball, so he waited outside to be invited in, hands clasped behind his back.  He wouldn’t want to interrupt them, but he was very curious about their conversation and he had to stop himself from tuning in his extraordinary hearing to their private discussion.  Just then, the door whisked open and Captain Sisko addressed him.

“Come in, Ensign.”

“Yes, Captain,” said Nog and strode in, nodding to Worf.  “Commander.”

“Ensign,” answered Worf, keeping his eyes on the padd containing the classified information on the Mississippi.

Captain Sisko gently put his baseball back on its stand and leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers.  “I have a special assignment for you, Mr. Nog.  I’d like you and Commander Worf to take our newest runabout out on a test run.  The commander has the specific details, but basically I want you to test every function of the vessel, including some experimental features that are new to Starfleet runabouts.  You’ll be piloting the ship and administering the tests while Commander Worf will be there to supervise and assist.   You’ll depart off Landing Pad ‘C’ at 0800 tomorrow morning.  Any questions?”

“No, sir.  I’m looking forward to it, sir.”  Nog’s enthusiasm for the assignment was exactly what Sisko expected out of the young ensign.  Like Worf, he was also one of Sisko’s more predictable officers.

“Thank you, Ensign.  Dismissed.”

“Thank you, Captain.  See you in the morning, Commander,” Nog said with a smile and exited, making his way to the nearest turbolift.

He was truly ecstatic to be given the task of testing a new runabout with Commander Worf.  The former security chief of the flagship of the Federation was one of Nog’s idols.  He looked up to Worf (and not just because Worf towered over his diminutive stature).  He felt a certain kinship to Worf.  They were both the first of their race to enter Starfleet Academy and become officers.  And now they were both stationed at Deep Space Nine, the place where Nog spent the latter part of his youth, first as a thief-in-training, then as a glorified bus boy in his uncle’s bar, and finally as a studious candidate for Starfleet Academy.

As he headed back to resume assisting Dax he found it increasingly difficult to remove his lobe-to-lobe smile.  All he could think about for the rest of the evening was his new assignment.  This is going to be so much fun!

 

* * * * *

 

“Keep your mind on your task, Ensign.”

“Yes, sir.  Sorry, sir,” said Nog as he continued the pre-launch checks.  Some fun this is.

Both officers sat in silence for several more minutes until they were prepared to launch the Mississippi from Deep Space Nine for the first time.  After getting clearance from Dax in ops they were underway and headed toward their first set of coordinates at full impulse power.  Nog swiveled in his seat at the helm to once again test Worf’s ability to socialize.  “You’re a married man, Commander.  What’s the secret?”

“The secret to what?” asked Worf with a sigh that bordered on intolerance.

“You know.  The marriage secret.  My father says that I shouldn’t get married until I know the secret.”

“I do not know of any secret.  What does the warp engines’ magnetic constriction level read?”  Worf did his best to stay away from these annoying attempts at personal dialogue.

“Uh, … point zero three two.  You mean I don’t have to learn any huge secret about women before I get married?”

“I do not know of any secret and I prefer not to discuss my personal life with you.”  Worf was not necessarily angry.  He just wanted to concentrate on his duty.  “We shall first test the warp engines.  Take us on a heading bearing zero-zero-four mark zero-nine-zero.  Warp one.”

“Aye, sir.  Warp one, full ahead.”  Nog’s fingers danced across the controls like an expert Bolian harmonium player.  Try as he could to keep things serious and business-like, he couldn’t resist the urge to continue trying to start conversation.  It meant so much to Nog to be here, on this mission, alone with his idol and he wanted to learn as much from the honorable Klingon as he could.  Before the Dominion/Cardassian fleet took DS9, Nog had earned an unexpected respect from some of the Klingons assigned to the station by Gowron, Chancellor of the Klingon High Council.  Most notable to Nog was General Martok, Worf’s new “foster” father, and now he hoped to earn the same amount of respect (if not more) from Worf himself.  He thought the best way to achieve this goal would be to exhibit his proficiency as a Starfleet officer and his competence at the helm of a runabout and, most importantly, to show Worf he was a good person and a good conversationalist.

As the Mississippi shot ahead at warp speed, Nog again turned to Worf and revealed something about himself that he had never told anyone.  “I want to marry a Betazoid woman some day.”

Worf thought for a second, smiled, then laughed a resounding, “Ha-ha-ha!”

I made him laugh, thought Nog.  I actually made him laugh! But Nog was quick to confront Worf’s unusual behavior as the Ferengi’s natural defense mechanism kicked in.  It was a defense he built up from years of being ridiculed and chided by just about everyone he encountered.  “What is so funny?” he asked.

“You do not want to get involved with a Betazoid woman,” replied the rarely jovial Klingon with a hint of waning amusement in his voice.

“Why not?”  Nog was smiling now, too.  I can’t believe I made him laugh.

“I pursued a Betazoid while on the Enterprise and…” Worf paused, trying to find the words.

“What happened?”  Nog anxiously waited to hear this tidbit from his idol’s past.

Worf was straight-faced again and spoke with a hint of irritation in his voice. “It did not work out.”  He was annoyed with himself for allowing Nog to surreptitiously creep into his personal life.  “Proceed to warp eight.”  Worf immediately went back to business.

“Aye, sir.”  Nog increased the Mississippi’s speed to its maximum velocity and they immediately noticed the difference.

They were both used to the older Danube-class runabouts traveling at a maximum of warp 3.3 but in this new Missouri-class vessel they felt more like they were on the Defiant.  The ride was smooth, like the aerodynamic-looking starship permanently assigned to Deep Space Nine, and the Mississippi’s hull design was similarly shaped with only slightly taller warp nacelles.  Despite its speed, the faster ship was considerably smaller than the Defiant and wasn’t much larger than the more familiar Danube-class runabouts assigned to the station.

During their renewed silence, Worf resumed his study of the Mississippi’s specifications and was reminded that, besides the increased warp capability, it could also travel at a faster impulse speed than the original runabout class even though it had the same engine size as its predecessors.  Worf also remembered remarking to Jadzia the night before that the Mississippi had shields equal to those of the Defiant and boasted Type IX phaser arrays on the fore and aft sections of the hull.  He was quite impressed with the strength, speed, and durability of this tough, little ship and he chuckled to himself as he recalled Commander Riker’s similar characterization of the Defiant.

Worf then took a moment to study the inside of the Mississippi.  Everything seemed as it should, the standard for Starfleet vessels, but he did notice that throughout the interior of the ship were located several holoemitters, though for what reason he wasn’t sure.  The padd had given him didn’t mention them and he didn’t want to take the time to search the ship’s database for an explanation.  Perhaps they are for a newer type of holocommunication system, Worf thought and easily turned his thoughts back to his list of systems on board still needing to be checked.

As they sped along, the two officers remained silent for several more minutes, both contemplating their recent discussion of marriage, until finally Worf decided to break that silence to offer a piece of advice.  “Captain Sisko once told me something, just before my wedding, that I believe you should also know.  I was considering calling it off when he said to me, ‘We are not accorded the luxury of choosing the women we fall in love with.’”

Nog pondered that for a moment and was about to reply when he was interrupted by a change in the Mississippi’s speed.  “Sir, we’ve just dropped out of warp!”

“Why?” was Worf’s instant response.  “Did you take us out of warp, Ensign?”

“No, sir.  Checking on engine status.”  Nog’s blue-tipped fingers danced across the controls, actively looking for an explanation for the runabout’s unexpected behavior.  A few seconds later he reported his findings.  “There seems to be no reason why warp power was cut.  Permission to run a level-four diagnostic on the propulsion systems?”

“Proceed.”  Worf checked his own control panel for any noticeable malfunctions in the ship’s systems and, like Nog, found nothing in error.  He then decided to check the cold of space itself for any physical anomalies that might have led to their sudden slowing.  As was habit for a Starfleet officer, he immediately reported his findings, what little there were, to his partner at the conn.  “External sensors show no spatial anomalies or other known phenomena that could have caused our loss of warp power and no foreign bodies large enough to force the ship to power down below the threshold were detected entering our warp field.”

“Commander, does it feel warm to you?”

“I have sensed a rise in temperature, yes.  What do the environmental controls say?”

Nog swiveled to the panel that housed environmental controls and confirmed what they were both feeling.  “The temperature has increased from 21ºC to 32ºC since we left the station and it appears to still be climbing.  The computer won’t let me change the temperature.”  Growing up on Ferenginar, Nog was used to hot, humid summers, but there was no humidity inside a runabout.  It was all he could do to keep the sweat from dripping down his lobes.

As the computer signaled that his check of the warp engines was finished, Nog wiped away some perspiration from his forehead and reported his findings.  “Diagnostic complete, Commander.  Warp engines and related systems operating at normal.”  Nog hesitated briefly before continuing.  “Except there seems to be a point-zero-two percent deviation in warp efficiency, but that’s well within safety parameters.  I can’t find a single thing wrong with the warp engines.  They just quit working.”

The Mississippi cruised along, its forward momentum carrying it further and further away from the station, but at a steadily decreasing speed.  “Do we have impulse power?” asked Worf.

“Checking,” responded Nog.  “No, sir, impulse engines also off-line.”

“Bring us to full stop, Ensign.”

“Aye, sir.  Full stop.”  Nog keyed in the command to bring the runabout to a halt but found he couldn’t do that either.  “Sir, braking thrusters also off-line.  Maneuvering thrusters, too.  We won’t stop until we hit something.”

“Hail the station,” Worf ordered.  “Tell them we need,” he hesitated, disgusted that they had to call for help so soon after the mission began, “assistance.”

“Aye, sir.”  Nog opened a channel to the station.  “Mississippi calling Deep Space Nine.  Our runabout has lost all power to propulsion systems.  Requesting assistance.”  They waited a few seconds for a reply.  As soon as they got one, Nog informed his commander.  “They’re responding, sir.”

“On speaker.”

Nog complied and they were immediately puzzled by the response.  “Mississippi calling Deep Space Nine.  Our runabout has lost all power to propulsion systems.  Requesting assistance.”

“Why did you play your outgoing transmission, Ensign?”

“I didn’t.”  Nog couldn’t understand it.  “I played the incoming transmission.  The signal I received says it came from the station, but it’s the one I just sent.  I don’t understand.”  Frustration was even more apparent in the young Ferengi’s voice.

“Are there any communication relay stations in close proximity that might have bounced our signal back to us?” asked Worf.

Nog called up the information on his display and answered.  “No, sir.  We had a straight shot to DS9.”  Nog re-checked environmental controls and informed Worf that, since the first time he checked, the temperature had increased another 11 degrees, though they didn’t need the computer’s thermometer to tell them.  They were both becoming more and more uncomfortable the warmer it got.

Just then the computer’s neutral, female voice spoke.  “Warning.  Jem’Hadar attack vessel entering sensor range.  Enemy weapons in range in thirty seconds.”

“Jem’Hadar!” Nog’s frustration turned to dread as he looked to Worf in hopes that the Klingon warrior would know how to best handle the situation.  Neither man could see the ships through the Mississippi’s front windows, but that didn’t mean the attacker could be coming from behind, above, or below them.

Worf quickly and naturally took control.  “Raise shields and transfer auxiliary power to phasers.”

Nog still felt a little frightened, but his years of Academy training and time spent on Deep Space Nine as a cadet prepared him for situations such as these.  And since he was with Commander Worf, he instantly felt safer than he would feel if he were with someone like Jake Sisko, an untrained civilian.  “Aye, sir.  Shields up and – wait, shields aren’t responding either.  And the phaser banks won’t come on-line.  What do we do?”  The question wasn’t necessarily intended for Worf, but was asked more as an admittance of defeat.  They had no propulsion, no weapons, no shields, and if they had tried to surrender by hailing the Jem’Hadar they would have only received their outgoing transmission for a response.

“Photon torpedoes?” asked Nog, hoping they still had a chance to make it.

“Negative,” answered Worf.  Their last hope for mounting an offense crumbled at their fingertips and when Worf spoke next it was to himself.  Nog didn’t need superior hearing to know what Worf said.  “It is a good day to die.  It has been an honor serving with you.”

Before Nog became completely overcome with the thought of his own demise he heard a soft, familiar, electronic hum from the rear of the cabin.  He turned around to see a Starfleet officer standing at the rear of the cabin.  He was dressed in the gold of either Engineering or Security and seemed quite at ease.  Nog was taken aback by the abrupt appearance of a complete stranger – especially when just seconds before it was only he and Commander Worf on the doomed runabout.  Nog alerted Worf to the stranger’s presence with a tap on the shoulder.  “Uh, sir.  We have company.”

Worf quickly swiveled and produced a look of utter surprise when he saw the intruder.

“It looks like you two could use a little help,” said the newcomer.

Worf instantly recognized the man.  “Commander LaForge?”

“It sure is hot in here,” said Geordi LaForge.  “Let me turn down the heat.”  He stepped over to the

environmental control panel next to Nog and tapped in a few commands.  Nog watched the famous engineer’s fingers glide across the controls, achieving with ease what Nog had been unable to do himself.  Immediately Worf and Nog could feel a decrease in temperature as cool air forced itself into the sweltering confines of the Mississippi.  Worf also noticed a lack of sweat on LaForge’s brow and the absence of rank insignia on LaForge’s collar.

The Klingon and the Ferengi sat in stunned silence, staring at their surprise passenger, as

the computer’s colorless voice again reminded them of their impending demise.  “Enemy weapons in range.”

They expected that to be the last words they heard.  They expected explosions and fire and, if they

were lucky, a quick death before possibly suffocating in the cold of space.  But there was no explosion.  The runabout didn’t rock with the pounding of enemy weapons.  No Jem’Hadar vessel appeared in front of them.  It was as if the computer had been fooling them.  If so, that could explain the loss in propulsion and the increase in cabin temperature.

“What is going on here, Commander?” asked Worf of LaForge.  “How did you get on board?

Why have all our systems failed?”  He didn’t know if LaForge had anything to do with the systems failures, but his arrival was too coincidental.

Geordi walked back to where they first spotted him, faced the two, arms spread wide, palms

upward, smiled.  His eyes seemed like those of a normal-looking human.  No VISOR or ocular implants were apparent.  “I am here to help,” he offered.

Worf and Nog looked at each other in confusion, then turned back to LaForge.

“But I am not Geordi LaForge.  I am the Mississippi’s Holographic Engineer, LaForge Prototype.

Or, HELP for short.  I have been programmed with the knowledge and skill of the best engineering minds in Starfleet.  Commander LaForge’s physical appearance and personality were utilized in my creation.  He was selected for being the most genial engineer in the fleet.”  HELP smiled as only LaForge could and addressed the situation at hand.  “Your ship has a lot of problems, doesn’t it?  The computer activated my program after a certain number of simultaneous failures occurred and I’m here to fix everything.  That’s my job.”

So that’s what all those holoemitters are for, thought Worf.

The HELP program continued.  “The malfunctions you’ve experienced have all been real, not

simulations.  And the Jem’Hadar attack was a pre-programmed sensor error.  There was no Dominion vessel bearing down on you.  The Mississippi’s failed systems are part of a field test for me.  A training exercise, if you will.  It looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me.”  HELP’s speech and mannerisms were identical to Worf’s old shipmate and it was disconcerting for him to think of the Geordi he saw in front of him as a hologram and not as the human he knew.

Nog was very interested in the new holoprogram, not at all annoyed at playing the part of guinea

pig.  He was doubly delighted to be chosen for this assignment, even though it had meant momentarily fearing for his life.

Worf, on the other hand, was notably irritated with what was occurring.  With a sneer on his face

he remembered Captain Sisko specifically choosing him for this assignment, probably with the full knowledge of what was going to happen.  After all, Sisko did speak with the Mississippi’s chief designer the day before.  He no doubt knew the problems Worf and Nog would encounter, and he most likely knew about the holographic LaForge, too.  This whole assignment is probably his revenge for the suffering he endured at my “bachelor party,” thought Worf.

HELP continued, despite Worf’s demeanor.  “I’m normally activated by the main computer only

in times of emergency but I can also be brought on-line by verbal request like the EMH program found in most of today’s newer starships.”

“It sounds like you could replace the Chief Engineer of a starship,” said Nog.

“No, I was only designed for short-term use, like if there was a radiation leak in a closed-off warp

core where it would be unsafe for a biologic to enter.  I could go in and repair the damaged areas without endangering lives or harming my matrix.”

“Well,” said Nog and rubbed his hands together.  “Where do we start?”  His engineering training

took over now and he wanted to do what he could to get the Mississippi running again – at least enough to get them back to the station in good time.  They were still drifting along under their own momentum, about two days travel away at full impulse.

“You don’t start anywhere.  This is my job,” asserted HELP.  “Like I said, I’m here to fix

everything that needs fixing, and I’m here to do it by myself.”  The LaForge lookalike wasn’t being rude, just matter of fact.  “This is my time to shine.”  HELP said with an ingratiating smile programmed onto his face and directed his attention to Worf, the senior-most officer present.   “If you’ll read the Emergency Procedures manual, section 47, paragraph AA-23, you’ll notice that when I am activated, it’s assumed there are no engineers on board able to initiate repairs, so I take over.  Think of it as the computer using me as a physical entity to help repair itself.  I won’t quit until all power is fully restored and all systems function normally.  So just sit back, relax, and let me do what I was designed to do.”

“Could I at least assist you,” pleaded Nog.  “I scored second highest in my class at the Academy in

runabout propulsion theory and I could use the experience.”

“Sorry, Ensign,” said HELP apologetically.  “I wouldn’t be of much use as a last-resort engineer if

I couldn’t do it by myself.  Take a load off, have a drink, entertain yourselves.  Just stay out of my way.”  Again, the hologram wasn’t trying to sound rude, but the more he insisted on doing things alone the more he got on their nerves.

“So, HELP does not need any help,” said Worf sardonically.  “How ironic.”  The holo-engineer

ignored him, turning around and heading off to affect repairs to the ailing runabout, leaving Worf disappointed that one of his old friends was not really here after all.

Nog looked at Commander Worf and smiled a jagged-tooth smile.  “So, Commander, how’s

married life treating you?”

 

* * * * *

 

Several more minutes passed in uncomfortable silence before Nog tried, yet again, to strike up a

conversation.  “Well, at least the replicator is still working,” he said, taking two full glasses from the receptacle and handing one to Worf, who was not paying attention to the young Ferengi.  “Here you go, sir.”

“What is it?” asked Worf, looking up from a padd he was intently studying.  After HELP had left them alone Worf decided to read the newly revised Emergency Procedures manual found in the computer’s operations library.  He didn’t want to be caught off-guard again by any procedures only a hologram knew.

“Klingon blood wine,” replied Nog.  “Don’t you like it?”

“Of course I like it,” said Worf.  “But now is not the time.”  He sighed, disgusted at Nog’s

ignorance of Klingon cultural tradition.

“Uh, sorry.  Do you want something else instead?”

“I’ll get it myself,” said Worf and trudged over to the replicator.  “Prune juice,” he ordered and seconds later a glass of extra-pulpy juice shimmered into existence.

“That’s what I’m having,” announced Nog, happy that he had chosen the same.  “How about that?  My Uncle Quark gave it to me once when I ordered something a Klingon would drink.  I guess he wasn’t kidding, huh?”

“It appears not.”

Nog thought for a second, trying to think of something else he had in common with his idol.  “I tried gagh once at the Klingon restaurant on the Promenade.  Reminded me a little of tube grubs.  Not as musty as tube grubs, but good and squirmy going down.  I could replicate some if you’d like.”

“I do not want any tube grubs,” stated Worf with disdain as he took a sip of prune juice and resumed studying the manual.

This time an entire hour passed without either of them speaking.  After Worf finished reading the Emergency Procedures manual he began working on his official report of the day’s events, paying no attention to Ferengi shipmate.  Twice, Nog tried to go help the holographic engineer, but was politely rebuffed by the hard-light LaForge both times.  He resigned himself to his chair at the Mississippi’s helm and thumbed through a couple of Starfleet reference books found in the main computer library.  He found it difficult to concentrate on any one article because he couldn’t get Worf’s standoffish attitude out of his head.  I made him laugh, thought Nog.  Him!  And he treats me like I’m nothing.

“Permission to speak freely, Commander?” As soon as the words left his mouth, Nog immediately wished he hadn’t asked, but he was determined nonetheless.

“Go ahead,” answered Worf, looking at the young Ferengi with genuine curiosity.

“Do you hate me, sir?”  The confrontational nature of the question made it extremely uncomfortable for Nog to ask.

Worf’s answer came easily, but it didn’t sound genuine to Nog.  “I do not hate you, Ensign.”

“Then why do you act as if you don’t like me?”

“What do you mean?”

Nog could tell that this time Worf’s response appeared sincere.  “I mean that it seems like you would rather do anything else than talk to me.  I’ve tried making conversation with you, as a friend, but you don’t want any part of it.”  He had finally gotten it off his chest and there was no stopping him until he had said everything he wanted to say.  For Worf, this was an eye-opening experience.

“When we thought we were about to die, you said it was ‘an honor serving with me.’  Did you really mean that or were you just saying it because that’s what all good officers say?”  He didn’t expect an answer, nor did he get one.  Worf seemed to be respecting his permission for Nog to speak his mind.

“When I was at the Academy,” continued Nog, “I was given several assignments by my Starfleet History professor, Khee Shelev.”

“The Andorian.  I had him for that class, too,” said Worf, recalling his own days in San Francisco.

“Right,” said Nog.  “Some of those assignments were to read log entries made by several captains in the last century or so.  I remember them all.”  Nog began counting them off on his fingers.  “Pike, M’Ral, Kirk, Sulu, Rixx, Valrik, Picard – they were all great captains.  I read about their missions and the officers they worked with – Spock, T’Kembi, Mantilla, Riker, Data – they each thought of in the highest regard.  But one officer I read about impressed me more than any other and I hoped that I would one day get the chance to meet him.”

Worf shifted uncomfortably in his chair, but didn’t interrupt.

“You can’t imagine what it is like for me to remember being a child on Ferenginar, not knowing that our part of the galaxy was being saved from Borg assimilation by an android and a Klingon.  When I read about that mission in class, I knew then that I had made the right choice by joining Starfleet.”

“I was simply doing my duty,” Worf said with modesty.  It had been a long time since he last thought about what Starfleet historians now referred to as the “ingenious” Operation: Retrieve during the first attempted Borg invasion of Earth.

“I know,” agreed Nog, “but you did it.  You transported over to the Borg cube.  Data couldn’t have been assimilated, but you could have, and you did it anyway.  I think that’s one of the bravest things anyone has ever done.  You didn’t just save a man.  You saved Earth, the Federation, and probably the whole galaxy, from becoming Borg.”

Worf didn’t respond.  Instead he simply stared out the Mississippi’s front window at the stars streaming past.

Nog kept on with his adulation.  “And now I’m a Starfleet officer, the first of my kind, just like you, and I not only did I get to meet you, I get to work with you, too.  Do you have any idea how great it is to be on an assignment with you?”  No, of course he doesn’t, stupid, Nog scolded himself.

“I’m… not sure what to say,” said Worf.  He was caught completely off guard by Nog’s hero-worship.  He was also backed into a corner.  Short of ordering Nog to stop talking, there was no way out of this uncomfortable situation for Worf.

But Nog continued as if Worf hadn’t even spoken.  “You’ll think I’m even more of an idiot if I tell you this, but why stop now.”  It was not a question.  He took a deep breath, and confessed.  “One day I want to be First Officer of a starship with you as my captain.”  Nog bowed his head and waited for his companion’s response.

And before Worf finally responded, Nog could only think that Worf would never want to work with him again.  He’ll probably ask to have me re-assigned, thought the young ensign.

Worf straightened in his seat, kept his gaze past the Mississippi’s nose, and cleared his throat.  “I have never met a Ferengi who did not anger, annoy, irritate, repulse, or offend me . . . until now.”

Just then, they both heard the familiar hum of a hologram materializing behind them.  “I’ve gotten communications back on line.  Audio only,” said HELP.  “But it will be a few hours before I can even give you impulse power, and shields and weapons systems won’t be functional for another couple hours after that.  It’s a mess back there.  We’re probably gone be here for a couple days.”

“Thank you,” said Worf and HELP shimmered from view, returning to his work back in the engine room.  “Hail the station, Ensign.”

“Aye, sir.  Mississippi calling Deep Space Nine.  Please respond.”

After a few seconds a response came in, and this time it wasn’t Nog’s voice.  “Hello, boys.  What can I do for you?”  The unmistakable sound of Worf’s wife was a relief to them both.

“Ah, Jadzia.  Nog and I, . . . we need . . .”

“What the commander means,” interrupted Nog, “is that we have experienced some unexpected system problems and would appreciate a tow back to the station.”

“Sorry, guys, but you’re stuck out there.  Captain Sisko’s orders.”

“But we have no engines, no weapons, no shields,” complained Worf.  “Are we expected to just sit here?” he asked with an exasperated huff.

“’Fraid so,” was Jadzia’s response.  “Benjamin said you had all the help you needed.  You’ll be okay.  I’ll be waiting for you when you get home, Worf,” said Jadzia with a lilt in her voice and she closed the channel, once again leaving them alone with each other.

Worf decided then that it would do him no good to complain any more.  He was stuck.  Help had arrived, but not the kind of help he had hoped for.  So, resigned with the situation, he turned to Nog and said, “I have spent a lot of time studying the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition since coming to Deep Space Nine.”  Worf’s interest in Ferengi culture was grounded in common tactical thinking – know your enemy before they become your enemy – but he didn’t let Nog in on that secret.  Worf continued.  “And I think you will find that the answer to the secret of marriage, as well as the situation we are currently in, is the 200th Rule of Acquisition.”

Nog thought for a second, remembering how he used to study the Rules like scripture before concentrating his knowledge intake on joining Starfleet and becoming an officer.  When it finally came to him, he nodded to himself but still said it out loud.  “‘If you’re going to have to endure, make yourself comfortable.’  A good rule to live by.”

“Indeed,” agreed Worf.

“And I will never go against the 192nd Rule of Acquisition,” said Nog.

“Never cheat a Klingon,” said Worf with an ever-present glare in his voice.

“Unless you’re sure you can get away with it,” added Nog, completing the Rule Worf started.  Nog smiled and grabbed his prune juice, taking a relaxing sip as he made himself comfortable at the helm of Starfleet’s newest, most advanced, broken-down runabout.

I knew this was going to be fun.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.