“You are in command,” Captain Zaliel Sel said to the mirror. “You are in control.” She repeated the mantra several times with slow, deliberate breaths. With care and attention, she examined her uniform for lint, wrinkles, or anything that might suggest the slightest imperfection. With equal care, she tied her hair back into the professional bun that was a staple of her countenance, then further inspected her spots for—she didn’t know—anything out of place.
At long last she checked her boots—inside and out—for scuffs, blemishes, or the tiniest divot that may call unwanted attention. This meeting was critical, she had to be the captain people required her to be; to live up to the expectations of the people above and below her. Leaving her quarters, she felt confident, in charge, like the galaxy belonged to her.
Crewmen stepped aside and moved to attention; such was the determination on her face. She projected a force to be reckoned with and if the doors did not already open automatically, they would have for fear of the fire in her eyes.
Captain Zaliel Sel, Commanding Officer, USS Brahe. “I am in command; I am in control.” She lived it, breathed it, was it.
She entered her ready room.
The subject of her meeting was already there, lounging on the couch, picking at a nail. Chief Engineer Wimini Zolwink: a brilliant miracle worker of an enigmatic, diminutive race, and the terror of Zaliel’s command. Though small of stature, the engineer’s ferocity was meters taller—it could be felt decks away; her wrath and verbal barrages were in of themselves legend, and her abuse was not reserved for her subordinates, but for her peers, and superiors, and most gleefully her Captain.
They locked eyes from across the room. Zaliel’s rich brown against Wimini’s pale blue. “You summoned me?” the engineer said without getting up, without showing respect for her commanding officer. Zaliel allowed her mantra to roll again in her head; she knew this was bait to distract them from the reason Zaliel had called the meeting in the first place.
“Yes,” Zaliel replied confidently as she strode to the other end of the couch. She sat purposefully and regarded the engineer with her most placid, neutral expression. “Regarding our next missi--,” she started, but was interrupted.
“You’re only wearing three pips instead of four, Commander,” the engineer said, looking out the window.
Instinctively, Zaliel’s hand went to her collar, where she immediately recognized both the feeling of four pips and the flush in her cheeks for being fooled. Wimini saw both and laughed, grabbing her stomach as she doubled over in hysterics.
Zaliel repeated her mantra several times before attempting to speak again. “Wimini,” she tried over the unending cackling. It was an unrelenting sound and overwhelmed her internal affirmations. The captain strained under the weight of the incessant mockery. For a brief moment, she imagined strangling the demon, followed by a much-deserved defenestration.
Zaliel had learned, through a decade of torment, that it was best to let the engineer’s amusement die on its own. So, they sat. Zaliel with a placid, patient face while Wimini giggled mirthfully until finally the latter had her fill of fun, and Zaliel could speak again.
“I asked you here because we need to talk about our next mission,” the captain said evenly. Wimini remained blissfully silent, though her attention seemed elsewhere. “Someone from the Daystrom Institute is coming with hardware.”
The engineer held up a PADD she had been sitting on. “Yeah, and you want me to tell you if it’ll work—or blow up the ship.” She looked at the PADD while Zaliel fumed quietly. “I mean,” Wimini finally said after a few moments, “It looks sound, but there are some risks: mostly that the deflector alignment might drift or we’ll run out of power before the materialization sequence is complete.” She lobbed the PADD at her captain who caught it awkwardly.
“I give it twelve percent odds of actually working and only about two percent chance it kills us all in the process,” Wimini commented casually, the expression on her face mischievous.
There was a long pause while Zaliel considered the odds. “Okay, then there’s one part of this I don’t understand—why do they want to replicate the Brahe itself? Why not something else?”
Wimini blinked her eyes slowly, “Are you sure you want me to explain it?”
“Yes,” came the reply, her defenses starting to wane. “Give me the ‘Dummy Captain’ version.”
“Basically, the device will use schematics of this ship, in addition to regular scans of both ships to build an exact replica.”
“And why can’t we make another ship—or a shuttle?”
“Well, most shuttles are already largely replicated anyways,” she said patiently. “And the purpose of scanning the Brahe during replication is like a two-step validation.”
“It’s verifying from the schematics, but also from our ship itself,” Zaliel repeated, trying to follow along.
“Right!” the engineer said enthusiastically. “Also consider that the Brahe has undergone a lot of refits and changes, the deltas of which are not easily understood.”
“That’s your way of saying that you’ve made extensive modifications to the ship over the last twenty years and didn’t properly document them all,” Zaliel replied flatly.
Wimini’s eyes narrowed, “Do you want me to continue?”
“Good, because this is the interesting part—the device isn’t just designed to replicate starships, it’s purpose is to theoretically duplicate any object.”
“Assuming the raw material is there?” she asked.
The engineer shook her head slowly. “Energy only.”
“That,” the captain said slowly, her eyes widening with amazement. “That should be impossible.”
“Bingo,” Wimini replied. “And now you know why this is such a big deal—why the Daystrom Institute and Command are crawling waaaaaay up our Impulse Engine over this.”
“Was this in the briefing? In the specifications?” Zaliel ask. “I didn’t see this mentioned.”
Wimini laughed, “No, but I can read between the lines. They mention us needing a mineral-rich asteroid, but there’s nothing in the documentation about using it; just estimates of deuterium depletion per cubic meter of solid replicated mass.”
“And being away from the station? Or any world?”
“Oh, that one is straight-forward.” Wimini replied, gesturing for the PADD. Zaliel handed it over and the engineer pressed several keys, recalling the relevant information. “They found in simulation that interference caused unpredictable effects, which they haven’t been able to shield against.” She tutted with smug amusement. “Apparently the project is so important they’d rather test the proof-of-concept now than wait a few more years.”
The pair sat in silence for a few moments while Zaliel took it all in; the risks and heavy eyes that were upon them—upon her. She had an overwhelming urge to burry herself in clay, to submerge herself in water and sink to the bottom of an ocean.
“This is too big for the Brahe, Wimini,” she said softly. “I’m going to ask the Admiral to select a different ship. Command has so much riding on this I—"
The Engineer scoffed bitterly and hopped down from the couch. She pointed the PADD at Zaliel angrily. “There you go again! Grow a spine, take a risk, Zaliel!” she chided. “You’re so protective of this ship—you treat it like your baby but let me remind you what this ship can do: the Brahe is a warrior, a fighter, a survivor.” She narrowed her eyes, “At least until you came along.”
Zaliel was startled by the sudden outburst and fought the reflexive desire to shout or defend herself, fearing it would only fuel the fire.
“For nine years you’ve squandered this ship on easy, distant assignments because what? What?” Wimini challenged. “Was the war hard for you, Zaliel?” she mocked, “Did the Klingons make you feel bad?” Her face became hot crimson. “Picking every remote assignment, arguing with any Admiral who tried to recall us, waxing poetic that ‘Exploration is why we’re out here.’” She spat in disgust, “When Palakiko was in command, we boldly went. We challenged the unknown, we fought, and sacrificed, and died for what we believe in, and you’re too damned scared to do a simple hardware test.” She spoke through gritted teeth, “Your meekness disgusts me, your timidity undermines the dignity and respect this ship used to command, your very presence in this office—in his chair—offends me.”
When the barrage was over, they stared at each other, both breathing heavily, both cheeks flushed in red. Zaliel felt sweat on her brow as she held back a torrent of retorts. Wimini was a force of nature, she reminded herself, you can only brace against the storm, it cannot be stopped. She attempted to reply without emotion, to ease Wimini’s exit back into whatever demonic realm she came from, but she failed and her voice was hoarse with anger.
“Get out,” Zaleil she croaked, her jaw so tight it might snap.
The engineer smiled, victorious. She curtsied and started for the door.
“And leave the damned PADD!” Zaliel called.
Wimini dropped it as she walked, letting it fall to the floor. The engineer departed, leaving Zaliel to take her aggression out on a throw pillow, her muffled anguish buried in faux goose-down. Her hatred and bitterness overwhelmed her; she clawed for a PADD and accessed the personnel files.
A few keystrokes later and all she had to do was press “Submit” for Wimini to be transferred. Gone; somebody else’s problem. It would be so easy, so simple. She was going to do it, this time. Too many lines had been crossed, too much bile had been spilled on the floor.
As her finger moved to lance the cancer from her command, she saw it would be Wimini’s 76th transfer. All those commanding officers—none of them knew how to handle her—except one. The only one who ever knew what to do, the only one who ever held the engineer’s fickle respect: Palakiko. Seventy-four failures, and Zaliel would be no different.
She rolled on her back and stared at the ceiling; the pillow clutched to her chest. She held the transfer PADD up and eyed it. “I hate you,” she said aloud. “I hate you more than anything in my life.”
Zaliel reached up to the PADD and deliberately, purposefully cleared the screen.