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Ensign Sitara Rajagopal managed to find her way to the correct docking port on Upper Pylon 2. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the familiar uniform of the starfleet security officer on the other side of the airlock. Truth be told, the Cardassian architecture of the station gave her the creeps, and it was only worse when most of the corridors were dark and deserted, as they were at this hour.
After confirming her identity and transfer orders, the security officer, a Benzite of indeterminate age and gender, suggested she report to the duty officer on the bridge. Still carrying the gifts from her friends, Sitara found the nearest turbolift and told the computer where she wanted to go.
The ride lasted no more than thirty seconds, but Sitara used the time to take a few deep breaths and steady her nerves. When the turbolift doors opened she at first thought the bridge was deserted. She stepped off the lift just as a young officer rose from the captain’s chair to greet her. Her first impression was that this was the youngest and most handsome captain she had ever seen. He looked to be in his early twenties, with wavy, sandy colored hair, the most alluring blue eyes, and adorable dimples that appeared when he smiled. Sitara was so taken by his appearance that she didn’t immediately notice the pips on his collar that indicated a rank of lieutenant, not captain.
“Ensign Sitara Rajagopal reporting for duty, sir,” Sitara said formally.
The young man stepped up to her from the lower level, his hand extended. “Welcome aboard, Ensign. I’m Lieutenant Matthew Sadler. You must be our new conn.”
“I guess so,” Sitara replied. Then, realizing that might have sounded too casual, she added, “Yes, sir.” She set down her bags and they shook hands.
“Then it looks like we’ll be working together,” Matthew said. “I’ve got ops.”
“It’s you!” Sitara gasped.
“Pardon me?” Matthew said, looking puzzled.
“I mean, it’s you on ops,” she said quickly, wishing she could put out of her mind what her friend Jessica had said. “You’re on ops. So, you’re on ops, then?”
Matthew grinned, still looking puzzled. “I … guess so.”
Matthew motioned around the empty bridge. “As you can see we’re a bit short-staffed tonight. The captain has authorized shore leave for most of the crew. Most everyone is either on the station or planet side on Bajor.”
“I have to apologize for being tardy, then,” Sitara said.
“I was supposed to report aboard at zero hundred hours.”
Matthew laughed. “No, of course not. That was just when your transfer officially took effect. No one expected you to assume your duties then.”
“Oh, no. Of course not,” Sitara agreed. “I just meant, well, I could have. I mean, I’m ready to do whatever’s required.”
Matt touched a few controls on the ops station and displayed the duty roster. “It looks like the captain’s placed you on beta shift. That means you’ll go on duty at zero eight hundred. But I expect he’ll want to meet with you before then. So you can still get a few hours sleep. Have you received your quarters assignment yet?”
Sitara shook her head. “No. I came straight here from the airlock.”
Matthew hit a few more controls. “G12, deck 4,” he read aloud. “Just down the corridor from me.”
“Oh good,” Sitara said. Then, “I mean, um, that’s … fine.”
“You’re fortunate,” Matthew said. “Several of our civilian scientists have just been transfered to other ships. Otherwise you’d probably be sharing a cabin. As it is, you get quarters all to yourself.”
Sitara was about to say something she was sure would have come out sounding foolish. But she was spared any additional embarrassment when a voice sounded over the intercom.
“Engineering to Bridge,” a male voice called.
“Bridge here,” Matthew responded.
“Matt, I need a hand with a plasma injector. Everyone else is either asleep or off ship. Can you come down?”
“I’ve got bridge duty,” Matthew replied, “and there’s no one …” He smiled at Sitara. “Actually, there is. I’ll be down in a moment. Bridge out.”
“You said you were ready for duty?” Matthew asked Sitara.
“What?” Sitara gasped, her eyes going wide as she realized what he meant. “Well, yes, but … but …”
“It’ll be fine,” Matthew assured her. “Most of the major systems are shutdown. It’s just a matter of basic monitoring. If anything happens call me and I’ll come right back.”
Sitara nodded. “Yes, sir,” she replied, trying to feign confidence she didn’t feel.
Lieutenant Sadler left and Sitara found herself alone on the bridge of a starship. It was a situation she had not even dreamed of, and one she really would rather have not had. For a full minute she stood there, listening to the quiet hum of the various consoles, unsure of what to do. Soon, however, she began to relax. She walked over to the conn, the station she’d be manning, and sat down. Of course, she couldn’t actually go anywhere, but she did run through some navigational exercises and she performed a level one diagnostic of the helm and navigation sub-systems, quite capably she thought.
She should have stayed at the conn, she told herself later. Stayed there and run some more exercises. Instead, she got bored. She got up and wandered around the bridge, examining the various consoles. And then, somehow, she ended up in the captain’s chair. If Lieutenant Sadler could sit here, so could she. After all, he had left her in charge of the bridge.
“Comfortable,” she said aloud. She sat back and closed her eyes. “Ops, what’s our status?” she said. Of course there was no response but that didn’t bother her. “Helm, lay in a course for the wormhole and engage at maximum warp.”
“What the devil is going on?!”
Sitara catapulted out of the captain’s chair. A man was standing in the open turbo lift doors. He was in uniform. He had the rank of captain. And he was the same man Sitara had almost given a concussion to a half hour ago.
“You!” the captain exclaimed. His hand going to the bump on his head.
“Ensign Sitara Rajagopal reporting for duty, sir!” Sitara shouted while standing at attention.
“I asked you a question, Ensign,” the captain barked. “What’s going on here?”
Sitara stammered, “I was … I was …”
“You were behaving like a first year cadet,” the captain finished for her.
“Yes, sir,” Sitara replied, choking back a sob.
The captain glared at her for a moment and then sighed wearily. “At ease, Ensign.” He said in a softer tone, “Probably the same thing I would have done when I was your age.” He frowned, “Did do, come to think of it.”
The captain stepped forward and shook her hand. “Captain Angus McTavish. Welcome aboard, Ensign. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you when we bumped into each other on the station. I was a bit preoccupied … and seeing stars.” He rubbed the bump on his head again.
“I am so sorry, sir,” Sitara began.
The captain waved the issue aside. “You’ve already apologized for it once. Besides, I daresay my skull is a bit thicker than yours.” He grinned and Sitara risked a return smile.
“Where’s Lieutenant Sadler?” the captain asked. “I thought he had bridge duty tonight.”
“He was called to engineering, sir. He left me in charge … um … here.”
McTavish nodded. “Well, when he gets back, tell him I’d like to see him in my ready room.” The captain stepped toward the door that led to his private office. Then he paused. “Our new first officer’s shuttle is due in from Risa shortly. When it arrives have the Commander report to me as well.”
“Yes, sir,” Sitara replied.
The captain took another step toward his ready room and the door opened to admit him. He paused again. “One more thing, Ensign.”
“It’s generally not a good idea to enter a wormhole at maximum warp.” He winked and entered his ready room, the doors closing behind him.
“Yes, sir!” Sitara replied. She breathed a long sigh of relief.