The Days Are Numbered
In her ready room, Captain Spillane looked up at the door signal's warble. "Come."
The doors opened to the unsteady figure of Ensign Satterwhite.
Great. Spillane had to calm down the youngster fast. She tried being casual. "What can I do for you, Ensign?"
The Ensign entered, but when she stopped before Spillane's desk, her mouth dropped open, voiceless. She held up a padd and pointed to it.
Spillane sighed and gave her a sympathetic look.
"Yes, I know."
"Ma'am," Satterwhite said. The word came out a squeak. "This has to be a mistake."
"No mistake. Everything's on the up and up."
"Not that ship. Not that man."
Spillane scowled. "That man is Captain Sutek to you, Ensign."
"Sorry, ma'am." The Ensign bit her lip and bowed her head.
"I know all the stories," Spillane continued, a bit softer. "All the nicknames."
"People don't get nicknames like 'The Nightwalker' and 'He Who Must Not Be Named' and 'The Executioner' for no reason."
"Oh, I didn't know about those. My favorite one is 'He Who Never Sleeps'. Isn't that silly?"
The Ensign didn't seem entertained. "I'll stop thinking it's silly once I have evidence, ma'am."
A smile crept across Spillane's face. "You're going to ask him if he sleeps?"
"No, ma'am! I don't want to be in the same room with him."
"But you will be."
"Sitting right behind me ready to pounce when the ship drifts off course a millimeter," Satterwhite said behind clenched teeth.
Spillane rolled her eyes. "Ensign..."
"And his expression never changes. Just blank. Except for a raised eyebrow, and when he does that, look out! He's about to hit you upside the head with a laundry list of everything you did wrong since you set the first foot on the floor in the morning. And those eyes! He doesn't look at you as much as look through you. Plus he's at least a head taller than everybody, so he's permanently looking down on you."
"You sure do know a lot about someone you've never met."
"I know all the stories, too, ma'am," Satterwhite said, leaning in as if sharing in a conspiracy.
"I bet you do."
There was no calming down the Ensign at this point. So Spillane tried another tack.
"Do you have a problem with Vulcans?"
Satterwhite's eyes widened at the implication. "No, ma'am! One of my closer classmates at the Academy was Vulcan. Silan. Nice guy. Kind of bland, but nice. Stepped between me and some knucklehead with his nose bent out of shape over me out-flying him in a simulator test. Silan adjusted his attitude to the tune of a dislocated jaw and a couple of cracked ribs. Silan was my hero then. I could relate to him."
"And not to Captain Sutek?"
"Silan was never a threat to me. Except maybe when it came to how we were ranked academically. No matter what I did, he was always ahead."
"So how would the Captain be a threat to you?"
"He'll hold my career in his hands, ma'am."
"And I don't?"
That stopped the young Ensign cold. "Well...uh...that's..."
"Different? I don't see how. I could have doomed you to being Lieutenant Ingersol's third-ranked understudy for your entire stay here. If I had, you probably wouldn't have gotten as much experience at helm as you did."
"I know all that, ma'am, But--"
"But, but, but. Objections noted, Ensign."
This wasn't going well at all. Maybe it was better to let the Ensign spill out most of her anxieties now.
"All right," Spillane began again, "the Captain is not exactly cute and cuddly like me."
The Ensign stifled a laugh. "That goes without saying, ma'am."
"It's hard to relate to him."
"You'll find a way. You found a way to relate to me."
"Yes, ma'am, but you...you're..."
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but you're..."
"...you're...weird...ma'am. I can deal with weird. I'm weird. I sing to the ship. I sniff around people's quarters for good food and beg for some. I dance when there's no music playing! If I can deal with that, I can deal with your midnight galley raids and Kirk imitations and polka nights."
"'Weird'." Spillane rubbed her chin. "That's...the strangest thing any member of my crew has ever said to me."
Satterwhite smiled quickly. "I meant it with all due respect, ma'am."
The smile died, and the Ensign began rubbing her hands together nervously. She wasn't done spilling yet.
"So," Spillane pressed on, "The Pennsylvania. Late model Excelsior. They truly aren't making them like that anymore. I know what you're going to say. 'It's a good thing, too.'"
Satterwhite leaned forward, gripping the front edge of the desk. "But they call her 'the Dragon Lady'!"
"And that's one of her nicer nicknames. Yes, Ensign, I know. She definitely has earned her reputation."
"They want me to fly her!"
"As relief in the beginning. Where you go after that is up to Captain Sutek and Command...and you."
"But that ship--"
"The Excelsiors have proven themselves as excellent vessels for nearly eighty years. You could do worse."
"I've piloted an Excelsior only once, and that was on a training cruise."
"Are you saying you've forgotten how to fly one?"
"No, ma'am. But that ship didn't try to boot me out of a job. I bet there's a running tally painted somewhere on the Penn's secondary hull of all the helmsmen she's managed to get rid of."
Spillane grinned. "You could just let her kick you out of the pilot's seat. Then you wouldn't have to worry about it."
"And let Starfleet know I got beaten by a ship?" Satterwhite said, appalled. "Ma'am, even that's worse than being on the Penn."
"Then what do you want from me, Ensign?"
She got down on her knees. "Please get me out of this posting, ma'am."
Enough was enough. "To be honest, if I could, I wouldn't. I think this will be good for you. Sutek is one of the best at developing junior officers."
"A lot of people don't get past him."
"That's true. But they're not you."
The Ensign got to her feet, her shoulders slumping in defeat. "I'm just a pilot, ma'am."
"Apparently," Spillane said with equal parts compassion and conviction, "Command doesn't think so. I don't think so. And Captain Sutek, the master prognosticator that he is, doesn't think so, either. ETA to Helios Station is four point six days. You'll report to the Pennsylvania when she arrives. Get packing...and Godspeed. Dismissed."
Ensign Sydney Satterwhite, Personal Log, Stardate 33825.5, 2167 hours.
No greater grief than to remember days
Of joy when misery is at hand.
This is the last log entry I'll ever make as a member of Minerva's crew.
Before I enter the bowels of Hell.
I've made several entries before this about my time here, what I did, the people I met, so I won't repeat it here. I've already said all my good-byes, cried all my tears, and accepted all the condolences, even from people I don't know.
I still think up ways I could possibly get out of this assignment, and none of them will work, as far-fetched as most of them are. I guess I'm not as smart as I think I am.
"I think this will be good for you," Spillane says. How can I possibly believe that? You don't serve on the Pennsylvania, you survive aboard her. And if you don't survive?
I don't even want to think about it.