Universe Alpha 7:

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Chapter 2 - On Display

"Time to get up." Tracey said as he shut off his alarm.

"Five more minutes." RJ muttered into his pillow.

"I'm going to get ready for breakfast, then I'm going to leave. If you don't get up... well, I guess I'll see you again when everyone comes up here together to get you out of bed instead of sitting down in the mess hall and eating breakfast." Tracey said as he gathered what he would need in the bathroom.

"So this must be what it's like to have a mother." RJ grumped as he sat up in his bunk.

Tracey looked at him strangely, then softly asked, "You don't have a mother?"

RJ realized what he'd said, but the words were already out.

"She took off, then divorced my dad. That's really all there is to it." RJ said in resignation.

Tracey seemed to be disturbed by the statement, but didn't question further.

Instead, Tracey carried his things to the bathroom to prepare for his day.

* * * * *

Tracey and RJ arrived in the mess hall together and found that all the others were already present.

They went through the serving line and filled their plates before sitting down with the rest of the cadets.

"How is everyone doing this morning?" Tracey asked casually, before taking a bite of his food.

"My bed was really nice, a lot better than my bed at the academy." Lexi said cheerfully.

"I rested well." Rocky added.

Tracey smiled at the pair, then looked to his other side and asked, "How are you guys?"

Xon and Hart exchanged a look, but didn't immediately answer.

At Tracey's expectant gaze, Hart grudgingly said, "Fine."

"Is something wrong?" Tracey asked with concern.

"I am curious to know, what definition of the word 'Fine' do you employ to reach the conclusion that we are unwell?" Xon asked seriously.

"You're just so quiet..." Tracey began to say when he was interrupted.

"There's Admiral Hanson. Let's ask her to join us." Lexi said quickly.

Tracey looked around the table for any visual cues that anyone might be bothered by the suggestion before responding, "Sure. If you want."

Lexi hopped up out of her chair and hurried to the serving line.

"I am Vulcan." Xon said, drawing Tracey's attention back to him, then continued, "We are not chatty people."

Hart smiled at the statement, then added, "Which suits me just fine."

"Fair enough." Tracey said simply.

"We have an extra seat because Rocky doesn't need a chair." Lexi explained as she led the admiral to their table.

As the admiral approached, Tracey stood, as his mother had always told him was proper.

The others around the table followed his example and watched as Tracey walked behind the admiral and ceremoniously helped her with her chair.

"I don't usually hold with such formalities, but it pleases me to know that you're aware of how to behave in a formal situation." Admiral Hanson said as she got herself settled.

"Growing up at Coffelt, I had to learn about the etiquette of several different species. Of course, that's probably not going to be of much use, out here." Tracey said as he went back to his seat.

"Believe me, you'll be using those lessons more than you'd think. There are some missions where you behave more as diplomats than crew." Admiral Hanson said frankly.

"Do you know what our mission is?" Lexi asked curiously, seemingly not intimidated at all by sitting next to a Starfleet admiral.

"I'll leave it to the captain to brief you on your mission. But what I will tell you is that it's a great honor to be trusted to represent the Federation." Admiral Hanson said soberly.

Tracey didn't want to do anything that would displease the admiral, but he was fairly certain that what she was describing was something that was going to suck.

"While I have you all here, there was something that I was wanting to ask you." Admiral Hanson said as she looked around the table, then down at Rocky, to be sure that he knew that he was included.

"Some of us were thinking that since there's been such an interest in the Starfleet Mentoring Program, of late, that it might be nice if you were to make log entries about your experiences. You could tell about how your expectations compared to the realities that you've discovered. These log entries could then be made available to the other candidates who applied to the program, whether they made it or not, so that they can sort of follow along and share in the experience vicariously, if they like." Admiral Hanson explained.

"So, when we're done with our shifts each day, you want for us to sit down and tell everyone about what we did?" RJ asked cautiously.

"Not every detail, of course. And certainly not anything of a sensitive nature. But I believe that simply making regular log entries will allow those who did not make it, to at least get a taste of what it's like to be out here, actually doing the job." Admiral Hanson said passionately.

"There was something I was wanting to ask you about and this is something like that." Lexi said excitedly.

"What was that, Alexandra?" Admiral Hanson asked curiously.

Lexi paused for a moment at the shock of being called by her true name, then continued, "Well, you know what it's like to be a girl in Starfleet. And I was thinking that if I did like you said and showed people what it's really like, that maybe they'd get it in their heads that girls can be in Starfleet."

"Yes. And I suppose, with this group, that you could also get out the idea that people from colony worlds can be in Starfleet. And that non-humans can be in Starfleet." Admiral Hanson said with a nod.

"That is, if we're good enough to handle it." RJ said anxiously.

"You are." Admiral Hanson said seriously, then added, "None of you would be here right now if you weren't both physically and psychologically capable of doing the job."

RJ reluctantly nodded that he had heard.

"While it's natural to have occasional bouts of insecurity, I believe that none of you have the luxury of being able to revel in such counterproductive, self-indulgent things. You're here because you're good enough. Accept it. Move on." Admiral Hanson said with a spark of the intensity that came with her rank.

Tracey glanced at RJ and was happy to see that he seemed to be accepting Admiral Hanson's words.

"It is nearing time for the morning briefing." Xon said seriously.

Tracey checked his watch and found that they weren't anywhere close to being late, but he agreed that it was a perfectly reasonable time for them to leave.

"Please excuse us, Admiral. The captain ordered us to be at the morning briefing at 07:30." Tracey said as he began to gather his breakfast dishes.

Admiral Hanson looked at Xon, then back at Tracey, before saying, "You have all the makings of a fine team... or staff... or crew. Whatever you're calling it, I see it here. But it's going to be up to you to pull it together... all of you. If you can do that, you will have exceeded the expectations we have of you."

"Thank you, Admiral. We'll do our best." Tracey said formally. Then began to walk away.

Lexi moved close to Admiral Hanson's side and quietly said, "Thanks for having breakfast with us."

"It was my pleasure, Alexandra. Now, go on. You wouldn't want to be late for your briefing."

* * * * *

When Tracey led the group into Conference Room One, he was surprised to find several people already in attendance. He had been working under the assumption that the mission briefing was going to be the captain sitting down with them and filling them in on what their mission was going to be and what was expected of them.

"There's some seats over there. Fill in wherever. You wanna sit, you get here early. You snooze, you lose." Commander Pell said firmly from her seat at the end of the table, beside the captain's empty chair.

Xon walked to the first available chair and sat down, not waiting to see what anyone else was going to do.

A moment later, Hart took the next chair in line.

The rest of the cadets remained standing.

Ensign Lord walked into the room next and took the last available seat.

Tracey had to fight his natural inclination to focus on her and instead, maintained a professional demeanor.

When the conference room door opened again, Tracey turned and saw Lieutenant Okawa walking into the room on crutches.

Since all the seats were filled, Tracey stepped forward and quietly said, "Hart, move."

Hart looked up at Tracey with a classic 'who the hell do you think you are' glare, then he spotted Lieutenant Okawa approaching.

"Lieutenant Okawa, would you be more comfortable sitting down?" Hart asked courteously.

"No. I sit all day. Thank you for asking." Lieutenant Okawa said in an emotionless tone worthy of any Vulcan.

Hart flashed Tracey a slight eye-roll before turning his attention forward.

The door opened again and the captain walked in, looking displeased. Of course, from what the cadets had seen of him so far, he didn't look a whole lot different when things were going well.

Captain Gravf looked around the room, then turned to Commander Pell and asked, "How long before he's late?"

"One minute." Commander Pell said simply, obviously expecting the question.

Captain Gravf turned to look at the door and everyone else in the room automatically followed his lead.

A few long silent seconds passed as everyone waited.

The conference room door finally opened to reveal Lieutenant Fister.

"What?!" Lieutenant Fister asked as he stalked into the room.

Captain Gravf glanced toward Commander Pell to receive a regretful shake of her head in response.

"Pity." Captain Gravf sighed, then looked over the assembled group and said, "I suppose we should get this started."

"Lieutenant Fister, you may have my seat, if you like." Xon said as he started to stand.

"Yeah... thanks." Lieutenant Fister said suspiciously then slid into the chair.

The captain noticed, but continued without comment, "The Copernicus has been dispatched to Tellar to transport a group of doctors and scientists to the Vega colony to corroborate the veracity of some sort of medical breakthrough. If it turns out to be all that they say it is, then we will be returning them to Tellar, and then we will conduct the medical pioneers to Earth to demonstrate their discovery for the Federation."

"And if they don't, we'll be returning to Earth empty?" Commander Pell asked curiously.

"In that event, I'm sure that we'll be asked to ferry personnel or supplies. But our primary mission is to act as honor guard escorts for a bunch of doctors." Captain Gravf said disgustedly.

Tracey and the other cadets remained silent, but their expressions were enough to prompt Captain Gravf to explain, "I don't know how many of you have been to Tellar before, but allow me to assure you that they do have ships there. And it would be nothing for the doctors to take one of those ships to the Vega colony. However, just to prove that they're so important to the Federation, Starfleet dispatched us, from Earth, to ferry them to the next populated star system and back."

"I take it that we'll all need to be on our best behavior during this... experience." Commander Pell said coldly.

"Yes, but thankfully, Admiral Hanson is travelling with us and she has graciously volunteered to entertain our guests. The most we should have to do is host a formal dinner or two." The captain said with a bit of distaste at the last bit.

Then he turned his attention to the cadets and continued, "Of course, our guests will be interested to meet and speak with the Mentoring Program cadets."

There was a long moment of silence, then Tracey calmly said, "We will do our best to represent Starfleet, the Federation and The Copernicus as favorably as we are able."

Captain Gravf laughed aloud with delight, then said, "When I was briefed about the cadets that I would be receiving, I was told that every one of you have the potential to assume the role of leader of this group. Of course, since Cadet Sturgill had the initiative to apply for the lieutenant courses at the academy and had the willpower to follow through on his commitments, I suppose it's no surprise that he would stand forward."

Not only the cadets, but also their mentor officers were considering the captain's words.

"When I feel it is right to do so, it is within my authority to grant field promotions. Cadet Lieutenant Sturgill, henceforth you shall be addressed as Acting Lieutenant Sturgill. What that means is, that you will bear all the rights and responsibilities of any other lieutenant on this ship with the exception that you are not being offered a commission. What that means is that your rank may be rescinded at my discretion. There will be no review or board of inquiry." Captain Gravf said seriously.

"Thank you, Sir." Tracey said as he fought to maintain his professional demeanor.

"Don't thank me yet, Lieutenant Sturgill. Because I'm about to saddle you with a burden of responsibility. I'm officially making you responsible for the cadet crew. If they have a problem, they go to you and you handle it. If I tell you something needs to happen in regards to your cadets, I tell you, and you make it happen." Captain Gravf said firmly.

"Yes, Sir." Tracey said smartly.

"Lieutenant Sturgill, we've still got a couple days before we reach Tellar. I'd like it very much if we could get these cadets trained enough to take the reigns for a while on our journey from Tellar to the Vega Colony. Let me know when they're ready." Captain Gravf said to Tracey. Before Tracey could respond, the captain continued, "Meeting adjourned. Let's take our stations."

* * * * *

The surge of confidence and pride that Tracey felt lasted only for as long as it took him to step onto the bridge.

"Excuse me, Captain, but how am I supposed to get the cadets trained in time?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"How am I supposed to get them trained in time? Do you imagine that I have some miraculous resource that I am withholding from you?" Captain Gravf asked frankly.

After a moment of thought, Tracey quietly said, "I understand, Sir. I'll see to it."

The captain seemed to be satisfied with the response as he took his seat in the command chair and began reviewing reports from the previous shifts.

* * * * *

"Commander Pell, may I speak with you for a moment?" Tracey asked nervously.

"What do you need?" Commander Pell asked shortly.

"Actually, that was my question for you." Tracey said honestly. He could see that his statement had caught the Commander's interest, so he continued, "I need to know if there's anything I can do to help you in getting Cadet Ensign Xon ready to man the science station."

Commander Pell looked at Tracey appraisingly for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision.

"Cadet Ensign Xon has a reasonable foundation of knowledge, but is lacking the supplemental knowledge to do the job properly. Most notably, he lacks specific knowledge regarding the Oberth class of starship. I will address that lack of practical knowledge today. He may choose to augment my instruction with diligent study, in his own time." Commander Pell said in a firm and controlled voice.

"Thank you, Commander. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help." Tracey said respectfully.

Commander Pell gave him a single nod of acknowledgement, then turned her attention back to the science station.

Xon, who had been standing with them throughout the entire conversation, arched an eyebrow in question.

"The captain made it my responsibility to see that you're ready to man the station." Tracey felt compelled to explain.

"I understand that the captain has made you responsible for my performance. And I believe that you are within your authority to consult my mentor. But please, in future, allow me the dignity of being able to attempt to resolve the matter in my own way before you intervene." Xon asked seriously.

Tracey considered his words, then quietly said, "This all hit me out of nowhere and I'm doing my best to figure out what I'm supposed to do."

"Would you like for me to speak to your mentor in an attempt to resolve the situation without your input?" Xon asked calmly.

Tracey winced at the words and said, "Ouch. I'm sorry, alright?"

"Apology accepted." Xon said calmly, then took a step closer and quietly continued, "My training is not only to be a science officer, but also a first officer, more specifically, 'your' first officer. If you are overwhelmed or uncertain, perhaps I may be able to provide alternatives that you had not yet considered. Or, should the need arise, I could simply listen while you vent your frustrations."

Tracey looked at Xon with surprise, then cautiously asked, "You have experience being around humans, don't you?"

"Yes. Perhaps we will speak more of this in a less public venue." Xon said as he looked around the bridge.

"I'll look forward to it." Tracey said with a smile, then walked to the security station.

* * * * *

"Lieutenant Okawa, is there anything I can do to help you and Hart with his training?" Tracey asked curiously.

"I believe that we have matters well in hand." Lieutenant Okawa said reasonably.

"I could run the station right now, if I needed to." Hart said simply.

Tracey was surprised by the response. After a moment, he turned to Lieutenant Okawa and asked, "Do you agree?"

"May I speak freely?" Lieutenant Okawa asked as she turned her intense gaze on Tracey.

"Yes. Of course." Tracey stammered as he was once again struck by the level of damage done to her face.

"I believe that Cadet Ensign Korrigon is capable of performing his duties as well as any Chief of Security. However, the greatest test for any security officer is to carry out the orders that we are given. I suppose the real question is, when you are embroiled in a situation, will you be capable of giving orders that can realistically be carried out?" Lieutenant Okawa asked firmly.

After a moment to consider, Tracey quietly said, "I guess we'll just have to wait and see."

Lieutenant Okawa seemed to accept the answer as she turned her attention back to the console in front of her.

* * * * *

Tracey smiled as he approached RJ and Lieutenant Baz at communications.

"I'm making the rounds to see if there's anything I can do to help the mentors train their cadets. Is there anything I can do to help either of you?" Tracey asked seriously.

"I think Cadet Parker has a reasonable grasp of the function of the equipment. Perhaps in his off-duty hours, he could run through a few of the training scenarios for communications officers." Lieutenant Baz said thoughtfully.

"Do you need any help with that?" Tracey asked RJ curiously.

"Yeah. I mean, I can go through the scenarios on my own, but I think it'd help if there was someone there watching, so that they can give me suggestions. Sometimes when I'm in the middle of it, I get so caught up that I don't think about what else I could have done." RJ said honestly.

"Just let me know when you need help. Either I can do it with you or I'll find someone who has the spare time." Tracey promised.

RJ flashed him a smile of gratitude before turning his attention back to the console before him.

* * * * *

"Ensign Lord, the captain has asked me to see that all of the cadets are ready to man their stations, once we leave Tellar. Is there anything I can do to help you and Cadet Rock?" Tracey asked, trying to remain professional in the presence of such a remarkably beautiful woman.

"Rocky has an amazing natural talent for navigation. I think that he would have been capable of manning the navigation station when he first walked onto the bridge. The only thing that concerns me is that he only has access to the helm and navigation stations. Every bridge officer should be proficient in all stations. In a crisis situation, Rocky would be limited in his ability to fill-in where he's needed, which could potentially endanger the ship." Ensign Lord said seriously.

"Let me look into it and I'll see what I can do." Tracey said thoughtfully.

"Thank you, Sir." Ensign Lord said respectfully.

Tracey was jolted out of his thoughts by her response.

It hadn't occurred to him that, due to his field promotion, he now outranked Ensign Lord.

* * * * *

Tracey's last stop was the one he was least looking forward to. If he had thought it through, he might have started at the helm, just to get it out of the way.

"Lieutenant Fister, the captain..." Tracey began to say when he was interrupted.

"I heard him. Don't worry about Lexi. I'll see to it that she's ready when she's needed." Lieutenant Fister said firmly.

Tracey was immediately offended by Lieutenant Fister's abrasive attitude. As he was about to say something, he flashed on Lieutenant Fister's expression when Xon had given up his chair at the morning briefing.

Completely abandoning what he was originally going to say, Tracey instead calmly said, "Thank you, Lieutenant. I'm sure that Lexi appreciates your help, and so do I. But, if there's anything I can do to help you with her training, please let me know. I'll be sure to make it a priority."

Lieutenant Fister looked away from the helm console with surprise, then said, "Yeah. I'll do that."

Tracey nodded, then looked to Lexi and quietly said, "You, too. If you need anything, I've got your back."

"Thanks, Tracey." Lexi said with a sincere smile.

* * * * *

When Tracey returned to the command chair, he quietly asked Captain Gravf, "Who would I talk to about getting the rest of the bridge stations retrofitted for Cadet Rock?"

"Each department is responsible for their own equipment. Pick one and let them know what you expect of them. But, be aware, to make such a modification to a bridge system will most likely require that station to be taken offline and manned from another location. Therefore it will be necessary to schedule and coordinate the outfitting of the stations." Captain Gravf warned.

"Is there anything else that I need to be doing before I work on that?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"Do you know what our course and speed are?" Captain Gravf asked seriously.

"Yes, Sir." Tracey responded immediately.

"Are you aware of the status of each of the bridge stations?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Are you fully cognizant of our mission?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Then, I believe, that you are at a point where you can attend to other projects." Captain Gravf said simply.

"Yes, Sir." Tracey said respectfully, before walking to the Science station.

* * * * *

"Cadet Ensign Xon, it will be necessary for the Science station to be modified so that Cadet Ensign Rock will be able to access and control it." Tracey said formally.

"I understand." Xon said simply.

"Let me know when you have determined at what time the modification will be complete." Tracey said seriously.

"Yes, Sir." Xon responded without a hint of emotion.

Tracey nodded once, then walked back toward the command chair.

* * * * *

"Captain, I have an incoming transmission directed to you, coded as private." Lieutenant Baz called out.

"In my off... conference room one." The captain corrected himself.

As he stood, he looked around the bridge before his gaze stopped on Tracey.

"Next time." The captain said to him, then turned his attention toward the Science station and said, "Commander Pell, you have the bridge."

"Yes, Sir." Commander Pell said efficiently, then got up from the Science station.

Tracey noticed that as soon as Commander Pell stood, Xon took her seat and took over whatever she had been doing.

As the captain left the bridge, Tracey suddenly realized what he had meant.

The next time the captain was called away from the bridge, he was going to ask Tracey to take command.

* * * * *

When the captain returned to the bridge, he was smiling.

As he approached the command chair, Commander Pell went back to the Science station, but rather than move Xon out of the way, she stood over his shoulder and watched what he was doing.

The captain motioned for Tracey to lean in close, then quietly said, "I've just received approval for my wife and my youngest son to join us when we reach Tellar. They will accompany us to the Vega colony and back."

"Oh? How old is your son?" Tracey asked with a smile.

"Tobar is twelve. If you have no objection, I would like to include him in with the cadets while he travels with us."

"It sounds like he's close to Hart and Xon's age, maybe he'll get along with them." Tracey said speculatively.

"Getting along isn't really one of Tobar's strong suits. Let's just say that while I attempt to fight against the commonly held Tellarite stereotype, Tobar seems to embrace it." Captain Gravf said regretfully.

Tracey thought for a moment, then fought not to smile, to no avail.

"What amuses you, Lieutenant?" The captain asked with interest.

"I was just imagining how Tobar will get along with Hart and Xon. I think it might end up being good for all of them." Tracey said with a grin.

"I'm interested to find out." The captain agreed.

* * * * *

"Lieutenant Sturgill." The captain said, drawing Tracey's attention from the ship's manifest.

"Yes, Sir." Tracey said as he approached the command chair.

"I believe that I would like to take a moment to have a quiet cup of tea. I am going to leave you in command during that time. Remember that you have Commander Pell at your disposal, should you need her advice." The captain said seriously.

"Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir." Tracey said respectfully.

"I'll be back in a few minutes." Captain Gravf chuckled before walking away.

Although Tracey intellectually knew that he wasn't expected to do anything, he still felt the weight of responsibility fall on him.

His mind went back to the captain's words from the day before and he thought about all the cargo and personnel that had been entrusted to their care. He was now directly responsible for the life of every person on the ship.

As Tracey tried to set his nervousness aside, he walked to the Science station and asked, "Any progress on the interface for Rocky?"

"We have located all the equipment that will need to be installed. I am currently estimating the timetable for installation.

"Will you need to set up sciences on one of the auxiliary stations?" Tracey asked curiously.

"Yes. Commander Pell has stated that she will oversee the operations of Sciences while I install the interface." Xon said seriously.

"Do you know what you're doing with the installation?" Tracey asked cautiously.

Rather than give a verbal response, Xon quirked an eyebrow in his direction.

Tracey smiled at the reaction, then muttered, "Yeah. Silly question."

"Commander Pell has suggested that she and I each take a break. Upon our return, we should have a significant amount of unstructured time that will allow me to complete the installation." Xon said seriously.

"Let me know when you're going to do the instal. I'd like to see that." Tracey said with a smile.

Xon considered for a moment, then said, "I will factor additional time into my estimate to compensate for your... assistance."

"Right." Tracey said, his smile now less pronounced.

* * * * *

When the captain returned to the bridge, he took his seat in the command chair, then asked, "Any space battles while I was gone?"

"None worth mentioning." Tracey said with a contented smile as he felt the weight of the awesome responsibility being lifted from his shoulders.

"Normally, during routine operations, the first officer would go to break when the commanding officer returns. All the while, a backup crewmember would begin manning the stations so that the other members of the bridge crew can take their breaks, in order of their seniority." The captain said seriously.

Tracey nodded his understanding.

"However, since we have the cadets on the bridge, I believe that we can allow each of the mentors to go, in turn, and allow the cadets to man the stations while they're away... that is, if the mentors believe that their pupils are ready for that responsibility.

"Would you like for me to see to that, Sir?" Tracey asked cautiously. He had the feeling that that was what the captain was leading up to.

"Yes." Captain Gravf said simply.

Tracey nodded once, then walked to the Science station.

* * * * *

"Commander Pell, would you be comfortable with Xon watching the Science station while you take your break?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"Of course." Commander Pell said immediately, then suited actions to words by standing and calmly walking off the bridge.

"How are you doing?" Tracey asked Xon with concern.

Xon considered for a moment, then quietly responded, "I was not sufficiently prepared for the tasks that I have volunteered to undertake. I believe that I will be able to complete the required tasks, but the margin for error is far greater than I would like."

"You've got the captain, Commander Pell and me here, if anything goes wrong." Tracey said seriously.

"Thank you, Tracey. It pleases me that you were the first of us to be given a field promotion." Xon said honestly.

"Thanks." Tracey said with a blush, then schooled his expression and continued, "I'll leave you to watch your Science station."

Xon let slip the slightest hint of a smile before turning his full attention toward his console.

* * * * *

When Commander Pell returned, Xon went to take his break. At that time, Tracey walked to the Security station and said, "Lieutenant Okawa, if you're comfortable leaving Cadet Korrigon in charge of security for a few minutes, he can cover your break."

Lieutenant Okawa glanced at Tracey uncertainly for a moment, then turned to Hart and quietly said, "My breaks can sometimes take a while. Are you in urgent need of a break?"

"No, Ma'am. Take all the time you need. I'll be fine." Hart said seriously, then went down on one knee to retrieve Lieutenant Okawa's crutches.

Tracey stood out of the way as Lieutenant Okawa slowly made her way to standing, then across the bridge toward the turbolift.

"How are you doing, Hart?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"Don't worry about me. I got this." Hart said confidently.

"I believe you." Tracey assured him, then quietly added, "But remember if you do have any problems, I'm here."

"Got it." Hart said shortly.

As Tracey walked away from the Security station, he found that he actually believed Hart. If some situation were to arise that involved security, he honestly believed, deep in his bones, that Hart would be able to handle it.

* * * * *

"Lieutenant Baz, before Lieutenant Okawa gets back, I was just wondering if you think that Cadet Parker is to the point where he'd be able to cover your break?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"What if I say 'no'?" Lieutenant Baz asked curiously.

"I'd call a backup crewmember to take your position while you're on break." Tracey said simply, then smiled as he added, "And then I'd have to tell my mother that the Lieutenant she sent to watch me isn't a very good trainer."

"Spies don't necessarily have to be good at the jobs they're pretending to do." Lieutenant Baz said with a grin.

"True." Tracey said, then waited expectantly.

"Right here, right now, I would feel comfortable allowing Cadet Parker to man the station. In another circumstance, such as travelling with other ships or in close proximity to inhabited worlds, I would be reluctant to do so." Lieutenant Baz said frankly.

"I'll keep that in mind..." Tracey began to say, then noticed Lieutenant Okawa stepping off the turbolift. "She's back if you're ready for a break."

"Thank you, Tracey." Lieutenant Baz said as he stood, then quietly added, "I'm really not reporting back to your mother."

"Neither am I." Tracey said with a smile.

Lieutenant Baz laughed as he began to walk away.

"How are you doing, RJ?" Tracey asked with concern.

"There's an insane crazy lot of stuff to learn over here. I've got the 'big picture' view of it without a problem, but the deeper you dig, the more there is. I could study this isolinear circuitry for the rest of my life and never figure it all out." RJ said seriously.

"I know. I covered your training courses when I was going for my lieutenant rank. It's pointless to memorize specifications past a certain point of precision, that's why you have computers, so that they can remember all those little details for you." Tracey said honestly.

"Lieutenant Baz has memorized it all." RJ said frankly.

"Yeah, well, that doesn't count. He's a spy." Tracey said simply, then walked away.

* * * * *

When Lieutenant Baz returned from his break, Tracey waited for RJ to leave before walking to the helm and asking, "Lieutenant Fister, do you think Cadet Gelt is at a point where she's able to watch the helm while you're on break?"

"Yeah." Lieutenant Fister said shortly, then turned to Lexi and said, "Don't run us into anything."

"You're no fun." Lexi said with a mock pout, then took his place at the helm.

As soon as Lieutenant Fister had left the bridge, Tracey quietly asked, "How are you doing, Lexi?"

"We've only had to do two drift corrections. That's it for the whole day, so far." Lexi said frankly.

"No. I mean, what's it like working with Lieutenant Fister?" Tracey asked seriously.

Lexi thought about the question for a moment, then carefully answered, "It's like he's one of those... I don't know what you call them. One of those really stupid people who has an incredible gift to do just one thing."

"A savant?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"I guess so. I get the feeling that he doesn't really mean to be such a jerk, but he doesn't know how not to be." Lexi said as she glanced back at Tracey with concern.

"Do you remember all that stuff they told us about 'proper conduct' when we were testing at the academy?" Tracey asked thoughtfully.


"I think Lieutenant Fister needs help with that. When we're done on the bridge, I'm going to talk to everyone about how we might be able to help him." Tracey said seriously.

"What can we do?" Lexi asked curiously.

"When he does something wrong, we tell him the right way and ask him to do it again. If he goes along with it, maybe we can show him the stuff that he hasn't been able to figure out on his own."

"I can see him getting really crabby about something like that. I mean, it's not like he's nice, even when he doesn't have people telling him that he's doing stuff wrong." Lexi said frankly.

"If he gets that way, we'll just need to remind him that we're not doing this to put him down. We're doing it so that he can keep his rank." Tracey explained carefully.

"He's probably still going to be a whiney little titty baby about it." Lexi grumbled.

"Sorry about that. But I seriously think that this is the right thing to do." Tracey said honestly.

"I guess it won't hurt to try." Lexi finally conceded.

"Actually, it probably will." Tracey said regretfully.

* * * * *

When Lieutenant Fister returned to the helm, Tracey went to the Navigation station and quietly asked, "Can Cadet Rock watch Navigation long enough for you to take a break?"

"Actually, he's been running the Navigation station for the past hour. I've just been watching and making suggestions." Ensign Lord said seriously.

"Good. Then you're free to take your break whenever you're ready." Tracey said professionally.

"Thank you, Sir." Ensign Lord said, then stood.

Tracey watched her go.

"I noticed a change in your physiology." Rocky said seriously.

"What's that?" Tracey asked as he focused downward.

"Previously, when interacting with Ensign Lord, your pulse rate would increase, as would your body temperature. Now those physiological responses seem to be absent. What's changed?" Rocky asked curiously.

Tracey thought about it for a moment, then carefully said, "When she called me 'Sir', I think it snapped me out of... something. All of a sudden, she wasn't the most beautiful woman that I'd ever seen, she was an officer under my command. I realized that I was responsible for her and that any of those... feelings that I was having were inappropriate. That kind of stuff doesn't belong on the bridge."

"While we've been working together, Ensign Lord has told me a little about herself. Due to her appearance, she's often had problems with unwanted advances and inappropriate behavior directed at her. She requested duty on this ship, so that she could work under Captain Gravf, knowing that he would not find her appearance distracting." Rocky said frankly.

"Well, she won't have anything to worry about from me. And if I see anyone else treating her disrespectfully, I'll do my best to stop it." Tracey said seriously.

"Thank you, Tracey. I was worried when I noticed your physiological reactions, before. I wanted very much to respect you." Rocky said honestly.

"I'll do my best not to disappoint you." Tracey said with a smile, then walked back toward the command chair.

* * * * *

"If I've counted correctly, nearly everyone has had their break, have they not?" Captain Gravf asked seriously.

"Yes, Sir. Ensign Lord will be back soon, then Cadet Rock will go." Tracey said professionally.

"What about you?" Captain Gravf asked curiously.

"Um, no, Sir. I haven't gone, yet. I forgot." Tracey said sheepishly.

"Go on. When you return, I have an entire manifest to go over with you; all the equipment and personnel we will be taking on at Tellar." Captain Gravf said firmly.

"Yes, Sir." Tracey said smartly.

As he was turning to leave, the captain said, "While you're out, be sure to stop by quartermaster-supply. You should be wearing the proper uniform as befits your rank."

"Yes, Sir." Tracey said with a smile, then left the bridge.

* * * * *

When Tracey returned to the bridge, he was wearing a new Starfleet issued command officer's uniform with a lieutenant's rank insignia prominently displayed on the shoulder strap.

As much as he felt the stares of the others, cadets and officers alike, what he felt more was the depth of the commitment that he was making.

"A captain needs to be aware of every aspect of the mission he embarks upon. I cannot stress this enough. I have sent you the mission briefing along with the manifest of what we will be carrying. Study these. You may be called upon to know any or all of these facts at a moment's notice." Captain Gravf said firmly as he led Tracey to the auxiliary console he had been using earlier.

"Yes, Sir." Tracey said firmly.

"You'd better get to it, then. It won't be long before it will be time for everyone to start taking lunches." Captain Gravf said as he walked back to the command chair.

"I am beginning the installation, if you wish to witness the procedure." Xon said from the Science station.

"No. Go ahead. I've got a lot to study. But, thanks." Tracey said before turning his attention to his viewscreen.

* * * * *

When the installation was complete, Xon went to the Navigation station and asked Rocky to check to be sure that the interface gave him all the access that he might need.

Xon watched the console curiously as Rocky went through a rigorous series of tests, confirming that he had access to every conceivable control.

When it was done, Xon remained silent.

From what he had just witnessed, he suspected that Rocky's level of intelligence was far greater than he was letting on.

* * * * *

"So, how was everyone's day, today?" Tracey asked as the group walked off the bridge together.

"Compared to yours, pretty shabby." RJ said with a teasing smile.

"Yeah. Congrats. You did it." Hart said sincerely.

"How does it feel?" Lexi asked curiously.

"Mess hall." Tracey said to the ceiling of the lift, then turned to Lexi and answered, "It feels like I'm being tested, every minute of the day."

"So, much like the rest of us." Xon speculated.

Tracey laughed, then said, "Maybe. But I feel like the test that I'm taking is one where if you get one wrong answer, at any time, that's it. It's done. It's over."

"Do you think the captain is going to make you a cadet again?" RJ asked with concern.

When the lift door opened, Tracey led the way out and toward the mess hall as he said, "I think the captain is giving me a chance. And, I think that if I screw up that chance, I might not get another one."

"We will endeavor to see that you do not 'screw up'." Xon said reasonably.

"Yeah. Just let us know what we have to do and we'll help you." Lexi volunteered.

"Thanks." Tracey said sincerely as they got into the serving line, then he thought to say, "There is one thing all of you can do that might help. It's not exactly what we were talking about, but Lexi and I talked about it earlier..."

"What?" Hart barked.

Tracey looked at him with surprise.

"What do you want us to do?" Hart asked seriously, obviously impatient with Tracey's rambling.

"Treat Lieutenant Fister with respect and if he's disrespectful to you, tell him the right way to say whatever he's saying and ask him to do it again." Tracey said in a rush.

"Tracey thinks that Lieutenant Fister just needs to be shown how to behave the right way." Lexi said simply.

"Yeah. Some people don't learn things well by reading about them. I don't know if that's his problem, but it's possible that, no matter how hard he tries, he can't get all the stuff about 'proper conduct' to translate into real life situations. So, I was thinking that if we showed him the right way, maybe we could help him keep his rank." Tracey explained.

"When are we doing this?" RJ asked carefully.

"Whenever we get the chance." Tracey said seriously.

"But only when there's no one else around. It'd be wrong to embarrass him." Lexi said thoughtfully.

"I don't see how someone with any sense of shame could behave the way he does in public." Hart said frankly.

"I think he doesn't know any better. He knows that he's doing something wrong, but he can't seem to figure out how to do it right." Lexi said seriously.

There was a momentary pause as everyone filled their plates, then carried them to a table.

"Okay. We'll try." RJ said, once they were all seated.

"Good. Now, everyone, don't forget about the log entries for the admiral. She hasn't really asked us to do anything else for her and she's been good to us." Tracey said firmly.

"I forgot about that. I should probably do that as soon as we're done eating." Lexi said, obviously thinking aloud.

"Who has studying to do for their mentor?" Tracey asked as he looked around the table.

Xon, Hart and RJ all raised their hands.

"Me, too. But we've also got stuff to do for the Vulcan Academy of Science." Tracey said seriously.

"But that stuff can wait. It doesn't have a deadline." RJ said cautiously.

"Vincent told me about that!" Lexi interjected. "Part of being here, doing this, is us having to motivate ourselves. We can't let things slide. No one's going to follow behind us and see that we're doing what we're supposed to. We're all we've got."

"Right." Tracey agreed, then looked around the table before continuing, "If we start off doing things wrong, then we're going to keep on doing them wrong. That's just how it works. So, we need to figure out the best way that we can all get all our log entries, school work and mentor assignments done without totally stressing out."

"The log entries should only take a short time. However, the mentor assignments and school work could conceivably expand to fill the entire evening." Xon said thoughtfully.

"We can do our log entries, then all of us start on our school work, since all of us have that to do. After a certain amount of time, those of us with mentor assignments can break away and work on those." Rocky said reasonably.

"Yeah. And maybe we can get, like, a snack or something in between." RJ said speculatively.

"Yeah. We should probably take breaks." Tracey agreed.

"If we do it like this, we're not going to have any free time to do anything else." Lexi said with concern.

"Like what?" Hart asked curiously.

Lexi looked at him with confusion.

"If you didn't have any school or mentor assignments or log entries, what else would you be doing?" Hart asked seriously.

"I... don't know." Lexi reluctantly admitted.

"Right." Hart said decisively, then added, "If you do think of something that you'd rather be doing, then you can find a place in your schedule to do it. If it's something good, maybe some of the rest of us will want to do it with you. But, until then, we can work hard and work smart and stay on top of everything that we need to."

"I don't think I've heard you say that many words since I met you." RJ said with a grin.

"I usually don't have much to say." Hart said honestly.

"I think Hart's right. If no one has any better ideas, we can finish this meal, and then get to work on our log entries." Tracey said seriously.

"If you will excuse me, I am going to have to go to sickbay. I will join you as soon as I am able." Rocky said regretfully.

"Is this that treatment thing you were talking about, yesterday?" Hart asked curiously.

"Yes. Your atmosphere erodes my shell, so I need to have frequent treatments to reenforce my shell's integrity." Rocky said seriously.

"Is it something private? I mean, is it one of those things that you don't like to talk about and wouldn't want for anyone to see, or can I come with you?" Lexi asked cautiously.

"It's not something I care to discuss often, it's simply a fact of the life that I have chosen. But there is no shame involved. You may accompany me if you wish." Rocky said honestly.

"How long does it take?" RJ asked curiously.

"Typically, ten to fifteen minutes." Rocky responded.

"Yeah. I can be thinking about my log entry while you're getting your thing done." Lexi said simply.

"I believe getting my thing done would take closer to half an hour." Rocky said in a teasing voice.

Lexi looked at Rocky with confusion as Xon quirked an eyebrow. The others at the table howled with laughter.

* * * * *

The cadets walked into the ship's sickbay to find a single man sitting at a computer terminal, engrossed in his reading.

All of them remained silent until the man looked up from his work and asked, "How may I help you?"

"I am Cadet Ensign Rock. I have come for my treatment." Rocky said in what seemed to be a calm voice.

"Oh, yes. I've been looking forward to this." The man said with a smile, then gestured to an open area at the back of the room before continuing, "If you'll just move over here, I'll get the compound."

"Do you want us to stay over here?" Tracey asked cautiously.

"You may watch if you like, just stand far enough away that you don't get any of the compound on you. It won't harm you, but you'll probably have to replace anything that accidentally gets sprayed." The man said before walking out of the room.

"Are you really okay with us being here, Rocky?" RJ asked cautiously.

"Yes. I'm glad you're here." Rocky responded quietly as he moved himself into place.

A moment later, the man returned with a canister that had a sprayer hose attached.

When the man had everything placed where he wanted it, he asked, "Are you ready?"

"Go ahead." Rocky said slowly.

Everyone watched as the man proceeded to spray a fine mist over Rocky, being careful to get every nook and cranny of the uneven exterior.

When the man finished, he said, "Flex for me."

Rocky twisted himself in one direction, then another, displaying surprising flexibility in his movements.

"Good. One last time." The man said, then began to spray Rocky, front to back, all over again.

When he was finished, he set the canister aside and said, "I'll see you again, day after tomorrow."

"Yes. I'll be here. Thank you." Rocky said simply, then turned himself and started toward the door.

The rest of the cadets followed silently, not knowing what to think about what they'd just witnessed.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Alexandra Lorraine Gelt - 20050411-17:48:56

This is my first log entry, so you probably don't know who I am, except for my name, it's right up there ^. But I'm from Maryland, then we moved to Texas and now I'm here.

Here is on the USS Copernicus heading toward Tellar.

I'm here because I'm being trained to run the helm.

I guess that's not weird because I haven't told you, I'm a nine year old girl.


Now it's weird.

I spent about an hour running the helm today. Not all at once, but while my mentor was on his lunch and breaks.

I didn't really have to do anything while he was gone, but the crazy thing is that I was there.

It was ME on the HELM.

I don't really know what else to say except that if there's a girl out there somewhere who thinks that she can't do what I'm doing... well, she probably can't.

This is really tough.

But it's not because she's a girl. Girls can do this! I'm proving it every day that I'm here.

So, either do it or find another excuse.

Ball's in your court,

Lexi, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Hart Korrigon - 20050411-17:52:20

I'm in security.

I can't talk about it.

Hart, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Robert Anthony Parker Jr - 20050411-18:01:12

Tracey's a Lieutenant now! Not a Cadet Lieutenant but a REAL Lieutenant!

I started this with nothing but a dream.

I left my family and my home and everything that I'd ever known to follow a dream.

Now, here I am, on the USS Copernicus as a member of her crew.

I could tell you about all the incredible things that I'm learning (and if you're like me and remember pictures better than words, search for: Visual Learning, it will change your life).

But, at least in this first log entry, I think the most important thing I can share with you is the importance of friends.

I can talk about this because I know what it's like when you don't have anyone who likes you, not even you.

I also know what it's like to have really good close friends who care about you and push you to be the best person that you can be.

Now, here on the Copernicus, I've made new friends.

Right now, we're all working on our log entries. After that, we're going to work on our school work.

Yeah. That's what I said. Even though we're out here, working on a Starship, we're also in school.

But, the thing is, no one told us that we have to help each other.

No one told us that we have to 'play nice'.

We're all really different people.

Different ages, different personalities, different species.

But still, we're here with a common dream and we're working together to make it come true.

We work together. We help each other. We care about each other.

Knowing how to work a console and all of that is important, but knowing that the people around you have got your back, no matter what, that's what being here is really all about.

That's it.

Maybe next time I'll tell you my recently discovered feelings about isolinear circuitry.

Loi, I miss you.

RJ, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Rock - 20050411-18:03:30

Not human.

Not humanoid.

Not carbon based.

All of these, I am not.

What am I?

A Starfleet cadet.

A member of a crew.

A part of a team.

So can you be, too.

Rocky, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Cadet Ensign Xon s/o Sufaal h/o Sukaan - 20050411-18:05:00

Cadet crew assembled @ 17:30 fst, TerraMain, Dock 4

Meeting with Admiral Hanson

Meeting with Captain Gravf



Communal Ingestation

Assisted School Registration

Further Communal Ingestation

Return to Quarters


Communal Ingestation

Mission Briefing


Interface Installation

Communal Ingestation

Log Entry

Independence does not mean loneliness.

Cooperation does not impede independence.

Contributions to a collective undertaking may yield unexpected rewards.

Callie, Be well. My thoughts are with you.

Xon, out.

* * * * *

Log entry: Acting Lieutenant Tracey Ephram Sturgill - 20050411-18:06:13

How can the most wonderful, incredible day of my life be so full of so many completely terrifying things?

I've been made responsible for all the cadets.

I've proven that I'm not even good at being responsible for myself! What if one of them gets hurt? What if one of them gets killed? If anything happens to any of them, how will I survive? Will I survive? Will I want to?

So, that was the BEGINNING of my day.

Oh, and I got promoted to Acting Lieutenant. It's a big deal. I know it is. But all I can think about is that the others, the 'cadets', are depending on me.

Who am I kidding? They're my friends!

Considering what happened to my friends before, maybe what they need to be protected from is ME.

I'm just being hysterical. You don't need that. I don't need that.

Captain Gravf told me that he wanted for the Cadets to be capable of working their stations for an undisclosed period of time during the trip from Tellar to the Vega colony.

I said I would handle it.

Captain Gravf told me that he wanted for the Cadets to cover breaks and lunches for the Mentors.

I said I would handle it.

Breaks and lunches went off without any incidents. I handled it.

From what I saw of the cadets at their duty stations, I believe that they will be ready when the time comes.

I could understand if any of the cadets were upset that I was put in charge of them. But none of them are. They are willing not only to trust me, but also to help me and offer me advice.

There is no one in the universe that I would rather have on my team.

From this point on, anything that I accomplish is due to them, and for them.

Denny, Price, I miss you, you're not forgotten.

Tracey, out.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

I really think this team of Cadets is going to be very well suited to work together, and their differences will only serve to enhance their collective and individual skills as their mission continues. Each of them has skills that will benefit the whole mission, not just the Cadets, but everyone aboard the ship, and perhaps others as well. The whole is much greater than the sum of the parts, just wait and see if I am right.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher