Chapter Three

Previously: Chapter Two

Ensign Gaya's personal log; supplemental.

Lieutenant Commander Pranay Bhatnagar is Human with a demeanor which just exudes calm. A staunch scientist, he wears a blue and black uniform which hugs his tall, strong build and gives a him a commanding presence. Upon entering his lab, I knew right away not to let his slow, quiet voice fool me. I remembered the type from the Academy. They 
seem gentle and quiet, but step out of line once and they'll have you working waste extraction for a month.

Lab 6 was a small, dark room with a giant monitor covering one wall almost entirely, and a single computer console on a platform in the center. It specialized in astrometrics, and upon arrival, the ensigns found Lt. Cmdr. Bhatnagar working at the console.  Without even turning he called, "Ensign Marlowe, you're up."

Drelle's mouth immediately began to work as, bewildered, she looked to her fellow Ensigns. Hapless, they looked back her. As she turned miserably and walked towards the console, Morana suddenly recalled an old Bajoran funeral dirge from her childhood. Her mother had sung it they day they brought home her father's body.

"Ensign," Bhatnagar spoke calmly, "you have thirty seconds to plot a course through an enemy fleet while your ship is under fire." He tapped the screen once and massive fleet appeared onscreen opposite a single ship. Morana immediately wondered how in world anyone could plot a course through that moving minefield in thirty seconds.

"Begin," Bhatnagar softly ordered, his words sending a giant ripple through the terrified Ensigns.

That's impossible, Morana panicked. Not in thirty seconds. Not without orders from a commanding officer and updates from Engineering. Not without a Tactical Officer stating the shields' status.

"This is gonna be cake," Sillia yawned, comfortably folding his arms across his chest.  "I heard about this exercise while I was at the Academy. My record was forty-four seconds, but I think I can break it now."

Meanwhile, Drelle was toiling away, obviously trying to calculate algorithms and recall basic stellar cartography. Her ship was blown to smithereens halfway through her chosen course.

Morana's eyes went wide as Drelle's jaw hit the floor. Sillia merely chuckled and shook her head.

Bhatnagar neutrally dismissed Drelle from the console, who turned and descended from the platform with her head hanging down, while Bhatnagar calmly called, "Ensign Rix."

Sillia tightened her jaw and resolutely climbed the steps to to the console. She didn't even wait for Bhatnagar to reset the exam; she tapped that console herself and began moving her fingers rapidly.  Morana's eyebrow went up. Sillia's strategy was surprisingly daring.  She didn't try going directly through the fleet; she took a detour, using a nebula to deflect enemy sensors.

Morana glanced to Bhatnagar.  His own eyebrow had gone up, and she could swear the corners of his mouth tugged slightly, as though resisting a smile.

Despite her clever strategy, Sillia's ship was surrounded upon exiting the nebula, and blown up in under a minute.

"Ensign Gaya," Bhatnagar called, coolly disguising his amusement as the Trill stormed for the console.

"I had it!" Sillia snapped as she as stepped off the platform. "I totally had it! They couldn't see me inside the nebula!"

"No," Morana murmured, "but eventually you had to come out, and all they had to do was signal their friends to arrange a welcome party for you on other side."

Sillia blinked. "Oh. I hadn't thought of that."

When it was Morana's turn, she gambled by trying to fly above the fleet and going to warp. It didn't work, of course, and she ended up faring no better than her fellow Ensigns. In fact, she wound up scoring the worst.

Bhatnagar nodded, neither surprised nor disappointed. "I see we've got our work cut out for us.



"Battle stations."

Lieutenant Commander Damian Silent River was a lot like Pranay Bhatnagar, in that he wasted no time starting his simulation. This time, it was on the holodeck in a simulation designed to mimic the bridge of the USS Defiant.

At the sound of his deep voice, Drelle snagged the tactical console before Morana could even move. Sillia took over the Captain's chair, while Morana hesitantly took the helm.

"Report!" Sillia called suddenly, clearly comfortable in her practice role.

"Shields at maximum," Drelle cheerfully announced. "Hell yeah--we've got photon torpedoes!"

"Ensign," Silent River called softly, eyebrow raised.

"Sorry, sir!"

"Helm?" Sillia demanded, ignoring them.

Morana responded haltingly as she tapped her console.  "We're headed towards the...Ubrauwa System at half impulse." She tensed, despite this being only a simulation. "That's in the Neutral Zone."

"Scan for enemy ships," Sillia ordered without blinking.  Apparently she and Drelle were perfectly at home.  After all, they knew what they wanted to do with themselves.  This was exactly what they'd spent the last few years studying for.

"Romulan warbird decloaking off the starboard bow!" Drelle called.

Morana gritted her teeth. "Well, now," she murmured, "isn't that convenient?" Out the corner of her eye, she saw the lieutenant commander raise an eyebrow.

"Evasive maneuvers," Sillia commanded without thinking.  "Pattern omega."

"Omega?" Morana actually turned to look over her shoulder. "Isn't that a bit ambitious?"

Drelle snickered. "Need me to take the helm?"

Morana rolled her eyes and turned back to her console. The ship sharply turned hard to starboard, narrowly missing phaser fire from the warbird.

Sillia turned to Drelle.  "You didn't mention they were powering weapons!"

"Uh...hello?" Drelle retorted.  "We're a Federation ship coasting through the friggin' Neutral Zone. I'd think 'Captain, the Romulans are powering their weapons' is automatically implied!"

Morana distinctly heard Silent River snickering in the corner before he softly cautioned, "Ensigns...."

He spoke just in time, because despite Morana's maneuvering, their ship took a hit.

"Damn it!" Drelle slapped her console. "Shields down to 93%!"

Sillia demanded, "What the hell happened to my pattern omega?"

"I followed it to the letter!" Morana exclaimed.

"She did," Drelle confirmed with a nod.  "The Romulans just aren't impressed."

"Commander Sisko perfected pattern omega to use against the Jem'Hadar," Morana  suddenly heard herself say. "Switching to pattern theta and changing our heading to 212 mark 864."

It gave them much needed distance from the warbird, and helped them dodge three more shots.

"Another warbird decloaking 800 kilometers away!" Isi announced.

"Pattern delta," Morana said hurriedly, fingers moving with lightning speed.  "Changing heading to 217 mark 829."

"Ready photons," Sillia nodded, adopting the stern voice of a seasoned professional. "We don't want to be here all day."

Morana inwardly chuckled. She had to have heard that somewhere.

"Photons armed," Drelle practically relished.

"Fire at will."

As it turned out, the infamous party girl was an excellent shot. She destroyed the first warbird in seconds.

"Good job!" Morana cheered, before she could stop herself.

"Let's celebrate later, children," Sillia tried to maintain order. "We still have another --"

The second warbird fired a direct hit, blasting through the shields and causing an small plasma rupture at Drelle's console.  Sparks flew as her teammates heard her shriek.

"My hair!" she cried. "Stupid Romulans burned my hair! They've punched a hole through our fucking shields!"

"No shit!" Morana yelled back, as another shot from the warbird rocked the bridge. "Shouldn't you be blasting them a new one?"

"Fire!" Sillia ordered, still determined to be the captain.

"Weapons are offline," Drelle announced. The entire bridge turned to stare at her.

"Really?" Morana blinked. "Seriously?"

"It's not my fault!" Drelle protested.

The final blast from the Romulan warbird ended the simulation. The lights brightened on the bridge as the program reset itself and then paused. Commander Silent River casually strode forward, clearly amused.

"Review time," he smirked. "Ensign Rix, have you the level head and the fortitude of a captain-in-making. You even have the attitude. But you neglected protocol. Upon sighting a warbird, you're supposed to raise shields, go to red alert, and then hail the Romulans, reminding them that their presence in the Neutral Zone is an act of war.

"Ensign Gaya," he continued, "you are one hell of a pilot. You clearly know your maneuvers. You also follow orders well, but I want to see you the Captain's chair the next time.

"Ensign Marlowe, there's a reason why the dress code encourages officers to tie back long hair," he went on with a raised eyebrow. "Burned flesh can be healed in moments.  Burned hair, however, has to grow back on its own.

"This concludes today's simulation, Ensigns.  Dismissed."

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