Log of the Month for October, 2023
Posted on October 15th, 2023 by Nico Slate
Swafford, Elijah. 1st Lieutenant. 37, blonde hair, green eyes, average build. Day shift weaponry expert.
Bingham, Angela. 2nd Lieutenant. 24, brown hair, blue eyes, skinny and tall. Day shift relay supervisor.
P’lana. 2nd Lieutenant. Vulcan. 97, black hair, brown eyes, poised and collected. Day shift warp specialist.
The names and faces flashed across Nico’s screen. An endless litany of brand-new people, new personalities, new idiosyncrasies, and pet peeves to discover. The list went on. And on. There would be some slip ups, there’d be some bonding moments, and there would be development of toleration for others. Nico wasn’t scared, per se, but he was a bit out of his element. He’d always put his head down and did his work and socialized only with those on his detail and his immediate commanding officer.
Being underway for his first mission made Nico feel as if he was behind the eight ball already. He was versed with the systems and the ship itself – he’d done his research before coming aboard – and he knew those that were ranked above him. It was the command part that set him on edge. The crew of the Minuteman were heading out on an assignment, and he didn’t know anyone. He was using rank when beckoning people, which usually meant three or four people would turn when he called. That was followed up with pointing at someone and moving on through the uncomfortable moment.
His one all-staff meeting had gone well. He was going to try and use his mental skills to search for feelings of emotion from the crew, but it was muddled at best. Had he attempted to hone in on any one person he would have lost track of his speech and his first impression would be put in jeopardy. He decided the emotional deflective dish in his mind had to be activated. The briefing had went smoothly and without interruption and he got a couple of questions from officers who introduced themselves, but hell if he could remember all their names. Truthfully, Nico only remembered one.
Bryant, Bobby. Crewman. 22, dirty blond hair, blue eyes, sturdy and athletic build. Night shift plasma relay technician, second class.
“Should I be prepared to work, uh, longer shifts, or double shifts, or switch to day shift, or on-call…”
The question ran on for what seemed like the first chapter of War and Peace. Nico had to stop him and tell him and the others that questions of that nature were all premature while in transit. Further orders would be delivered as he received them and adjustments would be made as necessary. Even from the podium, Nico could visually tell that his answer hadn’t lightened the mental load the boy was carrying.
The kid was young. Really young. Fresh off the rowboat right into a hurricane-like young. There was an exuberance in his face and a light in his eyes, but a gray hue of uncertainty and nervousness cascaded over all of it. One could tell he wasn’t battled-hardened, hadn’t earned any respect from his fellow shipmates, and his visage showed concern by sitting in the front row at the staff meeting with the newly assigned department leader. Nico assumed that he would need to keep an eye on the night shift.
That was his starting point. Nico intended to spend the first night in Engineering getting to know the graveyard crew. However, with skeletal – pun-intended – staffing levels and still numerous things to do, he was finding it difficult to stop and talk with any of them. He knew they knew how to handle themselves and he knew that opportunities in the future would present itself, so he decided to dive into the personnel records. After all, this was the perfect time to do it.
At warp was always uneventful in the engine room. As a means of calming down, Nico had taken tours of engine rooms on transports between assignments during the evening and always found it to be the same way: quiet and calm. It was the same in his younger years when he was bouncing around from job to job. Even on the deadliest mercenary ships crewed by the most violent and bloodthirsty pirates and scavengers, the engine room was silent at warp at night. It was soothing to Nico.
Czalnak, Provka. Engineer. 71, gray hair, brown eyes, short and stout. Chief Engineer on the Blind Eagle.
She was old and she looked it. Hardened by years of a difficult life, she probably would have moved a lot faster in her younger years. Provka was smart as a whip, comedic timing you wouldn’t believe, and an absolute fury of a thousand suns when she got angry. Nico spent an evening fixing some relay manifolds with her one night while they were in between outposts. The brazen and aged woman softened and he saw a different side of her. A human side. It was a glimmer of hope that maybe one day she, or anyone, would get out. That person hadn’t been taken captive yet by the notorious lifestyle.
“The sounds of the engine room are a symphony. The warp core is the conductor. The steady pulse of the engine creates a beat. If you listen closely, you can hear everything else working in time and rhythm. And when you hear them all come together, in your head and your head alone, that is a serenity that can quiet even the most restless brain or aching heart.”
Of course, in true Provka fashion, it was followed up with some line about: “If it doesn’t, well, then your ship is shit, or your mind is fucked. Hell if I know, I’m 75! Just listen.” It was something like that. He just remembered laughing and that the statement lived on in him. It had worked for him a couple of times, at least he thought he felt it. He wasn’t quite sure on what to focus on, whether his heart or his brain. Now it was just a way to find some peace and take a breather.
There were times in his life where, had he known the secret of night warp shifts, he may not have spent so many years as a fugitive. No, not fugitive: Person of Interest. All the nights that he could have been tinkering with whatever was available, alone, with the quiet of his mind and the tools in his hands; it wasn’t lost on him that he had missed possible episodes of sheer perfection.
Too many years of running, too many years of not knowing where he’d sleep or what he’d eat, to always checking his corners and watching his own back. Evenings of silent solitude was the antithesis of the constant cacophony coming from black markets tucked in the dredges of the industrial district on some backwater planet where poverty, hunger, and oppression is an everyday sight. It wasn’t always that way, but it was often the case. If he knew then what he knew now he would change things for all those people. Or so he kept telling himself.
The warlords reigning over those settlements were the cockroaches of the universe. Too many to squish.
When everyone one of the Minuteman crew, the people of Rylana VII, Klingons, Borg, or whomever, were gone… those systems will still exist or come back. It was a fact shown over millennia. Every civilization has that in their history, recurring endlessly. People routinely fall back onto the ‘desperate times call for desperate matters’ analogy. But it’s a trap. That life isn’t a temporary relief or a transition to something greater. It entices you, it lures you in, it promises you everything. Before you know it, you’re stuck, and you have no way out. Then you rot.
Jarnoth. Grand Marshall of Shinzo. 52, salt and pepper hair, green eyes (even though the man saw red), six-foot-six, burly-bodied, stomp-on-your-throat-while-smiling mentality. Tyrant.
Jarnoth was the overseer of the black-market smuggling outpost on Yuluka Prime. Nico had only met the man briefly upon his arrival after being kidnapped. The ruler was doing an inspection of the processing station and stopped at the fourteen-year-old’s checkpoint. Not yet being fully aware of his empathic abilities and being scared to death of the rundown and dark place he’d been dragged to, Nico only remembered the man smiling a smile that belied years of treachery, ruthlessness, and self-preservation. He didn’t need special powers to see that as blatantly obvious.
Although, Jarnoth wasn’t like a normal tyrant. The public perception of him spread across sectors. He ruled with an iron fist, but it was gilded in gold. While he kept strict arrival and departure guidelines – including he himself personally allowing or refusing docking permission – he always was willing to make exceptions for family members visiting those incarcerated at the outpost, sick parents or kids to be shuttled off-world, and medical deliveries to arrive. Jarnoth the Merciful some called him. Those were the naïve pawns. Jarnoth would always talk about how the people in Shinzo were family to him and he’d do anything for family. Those under his charge were anything but.
Don’t be fooled because it looked good, because it was for the beginning. That was the ruse. The behind-the-scenes side was less bright and shiny and compassionate. The incarcerated person’s family was forced to pay the bail, or the prisoner would be executed. And the one way out was to become a part of his workforce to pay off the bail. Boom! Three new laborers. The poor souls were generally too stupid to realize he wasn’t going to let them go. After years of servitude, isolation, and hunger, slavery would become the one thing one knew and could find comfort in.
Mind-blowing, but that’s how the universe worked. That was only Jarnoth’s first move in the game of political and economic chess he was playing. It wasn’t the only game he was engaged in, either.
No, in this game, there weren’t just two parties involved. Numerous factions across the planet’s surface interacted frequently. Some peacefully and others not. There was a smattering of outposts across the wasteland of Yuluka with regularly scheduled trips from post-to-post for exchanging supplies. Nico would be a runner when he was older and more ‘attuned’ to the lifestyle. Translated: once he had been beaten down enough to know his place and to follow direction.
Ships from all over the quadrant would make trips to the lonely planet due to its fascinating reputation. Travelling crews would fill the marketplace’s shops, businesses would be thriving, and vendors would be overjoyed. Again, not to be hoodwinked, but it all went to Jarnoth. Surprise, surprise. No matter how much of a haul was taken, the Grand Marshall would always instruct his acolytes to give the standard ‘account brought current’ letters to those in his debt. And the food stores that were ‘generously’ given as a sign of a good sale day were merely the leftovers that normally would be disposed of as waste.
That’s how he kept his residents on a short leash: veiled generosity and a façade of selfless leniency and compassion.
The Puppet Master of Shinzo held sway over non-residents as well. Those transients and outcasts that would come and go, Jarnoth would befriend them. All of them. So much so that those he was friends with to their faces he would be enemies to behind their backs. Alternately, Jarnoth’s enemies would be, in truth, friends outside the public eye. Jarnoth pulled the strings. Placing himself in such high esteem with everyone, he would be able to make those friends and enemies either friends or enemies in a different way with each other. It was all confusing. Intricate. Macabre.
Finally, the Bristol Barbarian was the persona of the iron portion of the fist. The encampment of Shinzo sat some 250 meters meter off Bristol Canyon, the deepest trench on the red planet, and the richest vein of minerals that were essential components of the top tech in the galaxy. When discipline had to be restored, or reinforced even if there had been no altercations, Jarnoth would have a criminal or a random person who was a threat to him disposed of publicly and with grandeur.
The presence of the entire population was requested by Jarnoth himself in a transmitted recording to every viewscreen in his territory. Everyone knew it wasn’t a request that they attend, it was a requirement that they be there. On the slated day, after another display of extreme oratory and presentation of power, a final send off would happen. It would come in the form of a stiff boot to a blindfolded captive off a granite slab into the abyss of the canyon. Townspeople would watch as the person screamed and disappeared into the blackness of the cavern below.
Zenith. Salesman. 44, red hair, brown eyes, average build. Best negotiator for the best prices in the sector. Closeted engineer and wannabe arms dealer.
In Nico’s short tenure in Shinzo, he had grown close to the man. Having been placed with him as an assistant, given Nico’s mechanical capabilities, the middle-aged man had become somewhat of a father figure and mentor. Zenith never revealed his real name, but most people didn’t go by their real names in places like this anyway. Safety purposes and all. Nico just went by Nic, or Slate most of the time. Not his most creative moment.
Nico was sixteen when he found Zenith working late in the shop one unusually slow night. Slow nights were rare as that’s when all the scum come out who are afraid of the daytime. When there was one, they’d close up early and take advantage of the extra sleep. This night was different. There were people downstairs that had woken Nico from his blessing of an early slumber. Clamoring to the top of the stairs he heard what sounded like a bargaining session and exchange of goods.
When the door had closed, Nico descended the stairs and found Zenith with canisters of different materials – materials that Nico knew the death crevasse didn’t produce. A long conversation played out where Nico learned of the double-life that his teacher was living. It was a dangerous risk in one of the most dangerous places led by one of the most dangerous people.
“We live our lives the way we choose, Nic. I don’t mind being here under thumb and constantly watched. I choose that. I also choose to live my life the way I want, regardless of my circumstance. If I’m given the Final Fall, then so be it. I won’t be falling to my death. I will be flying to my future.”
Again, the words had stuck with Nico for over two decades. Zenith was eventually found out, captured, tried (if one could even call it a trial), and executed by the heel of the Grand Marshall’s boot. Nico had been forced to watch. Thankfully, in the days leading up to Zenith’s arrest, plans were made for Nico to escape the clutches of his captors. Zenith’s final gift to his protégé was a way to freedom so that the young boy could, too, live his life the way he wanted.
After the harrowing ceremony the somber, but obedient, mood returned. All was quiet again. Checkmate, Jarnoth, good game.
Everyone plays games, though. The citizens of that outpost were no different. Some people claimed to have an inside line to the terrifying leader. Some said that Jarnoth was merely the face of another, more cunning presence that could hear and see all but remained present only like a simple breeze in the wind. Conspiracy theories were rampant. Nico would indulge himself in listening to an exhausting and self-centered tale from a local denizen about the scoop of the week just to hear how outrageous it could get. It was cheap entertainment.
Every now and again one person would say something that might have a glimmer of truth in it that would spark Nico’s interest. Morbid interest, but interest nonetheless. His favorite was that Jarnoth was the servant of his wife, Kitara, who would make irregular public appearances at his side. She was collected, stoic, and beautiful in every way imaginable. The running speculation concluded with Jarnoth committing all those atrocities out of love for his lovely bride.
Nico thought that was crap. How could someone who does such dastardly things be capable of love? Love for himself, yes. Love of money and power, yes. An expression of admiration or commitment to one person outside the confines of material possessions and tangible authority? Never. Kitara had to be a part of the cartel brain for selfish reasons of her own. Enslaved like the rest of the townsfolk at the very least. There was no such thing as love in the world in which Nico resided. Love was weakness. Love was to be exploited. To love meant an untimely demise.
Pride, Telsia. Smuggler. 24, brown hair, hazel eyes, petite frame with an explosive athletic ability and a brain to match. First Officer on the Trigger.
It wouldn’t be until years after he was away from Yuluka Prime that he realized that the love conspiracy could have been true. On the run, moving from world to world, hiding in the shadows, and engaging in less-than-savory activities, was not the ideal place to meet a lover, let alone a partner for the ages. Nico had learned to trust only himself, but had, inadvertently, engrained himself with the same mentality of criminal life. He had fallen into the same dismal outlook as many before him. More people would follow in those footsteps too, no doubt. With that, Nico felt cupid wouldn’t dirty his wings by being caught close to a settlement Nico visited or a ship he worked on.
Telsia was different. She could turn it off. A job was a job. At the conclusion of a stressful run, bad negotiation, firefight, medical scare, what have you, she was able to sit down with a drink in her hand and catch up on the Hoverball Tournament on Risa. She’d prop her boots up on the console and scroll through the latest out of the Federation Council. She’d sleep! In his years of servitude and so-called freedom he had never seen someone so black and white.
That was the attraction. Nico would make up excuses to be on the bridge, but he was a grunt worker. He was contracted to do a job (sometimes a stretch of jobs). He was the grease monkey. He was the guy who could hold his own in a fight. He was just another fish in the pond that got a hook. Stay off the bridge. Telsia, in her infinite wisdom and perception, saw what it was from the start. Nico would admit that he had laid it on a bit thick – and awkwardly – when flirting.
Nico didn’t understand the on/off switch that she had. It was alluring. He thought of himself as a smart person, both in practical logic and street smarts, but that ability eluded him. One night over a makeshift candlelit dinner in front of the warp core, for ambient lighting, he finally confronted her throwaway attitude when it came to the danger that the crew was constantly in. Telsia stared him in the eyes, paused for what seemed like an eternity, then the edges of her mouth perked upwards into a smile.
“My time is my time. Don’t for once think that I’m not prepared to rev back up. There are six different ways for me to kill you now right now, rand that’s just using things in arms reach. But think about what led you to this moment. Think of all the people you’ve met, the places you’ve visited, the shit you got into… that has made you the person you are today. If you let the job become the person, think about all the other things you’d be missing that we, as humans, experience only because of our individuality and life outside of work.”
She capped the speech with a piece of steak tossed into her mouth with a smile and a dainty shake of her head as she chewed. She did almost immediately spit it back onto her plate. That day they found out those off-brand rations did not make a good steak. Nico remembered staring at her face, aglow in a light blue, and hearing only the thrum of the heart of the ship. Otherwise, it was silent. Provka’s voice suddenly echoed in his head as the orchestra of the equipment in the engineering bay raised their instruments and followed the baton of the warp core. It was perfect.
Perfect Imperfection. As Nico had believed before, love meant imminent demise. Telsia learned that lesson the hard way.
Nico was startled out of his mental meanderings and looked to the door. He didn’t know how long he had been drifting off in his head, but it was bit disorienting to be shaken from such specific thoughts. The experiences that lay behind him had changed him, for better or for worse, but he was who he was for those interactions. He smirked to himself as the realization set in. He snapped out of that quick too as he could easily have gone down another rabbit hole with that epiphany. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“I normally leave these on the Chief’s desk for the 0200 report out, but since you’re here I thought I’d just give them to you personally.” The woman crossed the room in a couple of strides and handed the PADD to her supervisor. She placed her hands behind her back and stood at attention, rigid and proper as a Starfleet marine is trained to do. This early in the morning, however, it seemed a bit much.
“Thanks, Lieutenant, at ease.” Nico said, placing the PADD on the table and motioning for her to relax. “I’m going to make sure I’m rotating through days, nights, and swing shifts. If I’m around, I’m available. I feel communication works best when it’s in-person as opposed to light signals of two ships passing in the night.” Nico chuckled at his own metaphor. He stopped when she wasn’t smiling.
She tilted her head inquisitively, “Light signals of passing ships, sir?”
Brubaker, Melinda. 2nd Lieutenant. 32, brown hair pulled back into a bun, dark blue eyes, shorter than most, but slim. Night shift reports and diagnostics specialist. Known for blunt comments and a narrow-focused demeanor. Second in her class at the Academy.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m just saying my door is always open.”
“Unless you’re not here, correct?”
Nico perked an eyebrow, “Well, if I’m not in the office then, I guess, yeah, that’s correct.”
Melinda’s eyes seemed to slightly enlarge as she continued, “So not always open? For my clarity, sir.”
“It’s a figure of speech.”
“What if you’re here, but your door is closed? You say your door is always open, but not if you’re not here, which contradicts ‘the door is always open’ statement you led with. But if you are here, but the door to your office is closed, I now no longer know if the door is always open because we’ve established it isn’t. It’s all quite confusing, sir.”
Bobbing his head, Nico stood up and grabbed the PADD. “Thank you for the delivery and the chat, Lieutenant, I look forward to working with you more in the future. If you see me, I’m available to chat.”
A single blink from Melinda came immediately after he stopped talking. Pause. “Understood, sir, same here, sir.” She gave a curt nod and headed to the door with the same stiffness as she had entered with.
“Unless I’m in a meeting, of course, or something like that.” Nico said off-handedly as he started perusing the reports that he’d received. It was at that moment that he was hit with emotion of confusion, frustration, and a slow bubbling of anger towards him. He looked up to Melinda showing off the most forced smile Nico had ever seen.
“I’m sorry, sir?”
Nico knew that she knew what he said but chose to disarm and de-escalate the situation. “You know what, don’t worry about it, we’ll talk again soon, I’m sure. Enjoy the rest of the evening and give me a call if you need me.” His eyes went back to the PADD as quickly as they could to break eye contact and hopefully end the conversation.
“I will, Lieutenant, thank you.” And she was gone.
That was awkward. It was a memorable first interaction, but it was still awkward. Nico’s eyes followed Melinda Brubaker as she moved into the open area where the core stood and sat down at a console. Another passing crewman stopped, chatted, and laughed with her before giving her a squeeze on the shoulder and moving back to their own console. That conversation had gone smoother, obviously, than Nico’s had. They had a relationship established already. Nico took a breath and ran a hand through his hair. One person at a time.
The faces would connect with names eventually. Personal bonds would develop and working relationships would strengthen as a foundation of trust was laid and performance was proven. Many of the people that had come through Nico’s ‘previous life’ had left an indelible mark on his soul. Sometimes those memories were painful, sometimes happy, and sometimes were only recalled due to the incredulousness he had felt in the moment. Nico stored a database in his mind. It wasn’t full of all faces; it was also the words, lessons, and experiences that he kept.
The marines would be no different.