“Give me a hand with this would ya”, crewman Vaan shouted over his shoulder. “It’s heavy.”
Lt. Leon Athalla sighed and helped the struggling crewman lift the heavy crate onto a nearby antigrav.
“Is this what you do all day”, Athalla asked wiping beads of sweat from his forehead.
“Yep. Not all of us are out here for the glitz and glory like you pilots. Besides, my chances for living a long life are far better in this cargo bay than in the cramped cockpit of those death machines you fly. You my friend are getting the sharp end of the stick let me tell you.”
The two men grunted as they lifted another heavy crate onto the antigrav sled. “Is that so”, Athalla stated. “Sorry, I’m not having fun unless the candle is burning from both ends. If you stuck me in a predictable, stable, job like this I’d go insane. No offense.”
“None taken”, Vann replied lifting a smaller crate and scanning it into inventory. “So if all the action and excitement is in piloting then why are you here in the cargo bay?”
Athalla chuckled with a sheepish grin. “Yeah…well let’s..just say I had a disagreement with a certain superior over proper flight procedures. A skilled pilot can safely land a Valkyrie fighter without automation systems. Tractor beams and computer auto-pilots are for trainees and cadets. A true pilot should have no problem correcting for pitch, roll, angle of approach, speed, attitude, and orientation. The Charon sits in empty space. It’s not like this is ship is a carrier pitching and rolling on the high seas – which consequently is also an excellent place to test a pilot’s true mettle.”
Vaan stared at the pilot with a blank expression. “Not following you.”
Athalla sighed. There were too few pilots aboard that could appreciate his prodigious, piloting prowess.
“I landed my bird on the Charon after a practice mission without using the auto-pilot systems. My superior was having a bad day and I got chewed on for it. He kicked me down here to think it over. If he would stop quoting regulation rule books and just fly he might be a decent pilot, but he’s far better at playing the clean marine if you know what I mean.”
“Not sure that I do, but I’ll take your word on it.”
Athalla put his face into his hand. Why couldn’t he have landed a gig on a heavy cruiser or carrier with actual squadrons? Why had Starfleet stuck him on the Charon with a pitiful band of ragtag outcasts with aging fighters and only a handful of them at that. Where was the latest or fastest fighter? He’d kill for a slot as a test pilot at one of the fleet yards and yet… Testing new tech was fun, but if one never got a chance to use it, where was the fun in that?
“What’s this”, Vaan asked brushing off a large crate that was unusually dusty. “This isn’t on any of the manifests. I can’t find it in the inventory anywhere.”
“What”, Athalla responded dryly. “What are you agonizing over?”
“I can’t find this container anywhere in the system. Do you think it might be contraband? Perhaps someone is trying to smuggle something? What do you think is inside? Weapons? Treasure?!”
Athalla slowly closed his mouth which was hanging open. This crewman was getting this excited over a single crate?! Athalla shook his head. This boy needed to get out more or have his head examined…or both.
“It might just be empty”, Athalla muttered deflating Vaan’s sudden burst of excitement. “Why don’t we open it and see what’s inside?”
“OPEN IT? ARE YOU KIDDING”, Vaan shouted.
“No. Not at all. Why?”
“That’s a violation of protocol! What if it is booby-trapped or contains a deadly poison or an alien lifeform. It could endanger the ship! No! We have to report this immediately so that the proper precautions can be taken according to section 134 paragraph 17 of the….HEY!!!”
“Hmm…it’s a Type 2, RNX-72. It’s a Romulan locking mechanism. These babies are fairly good, but if you know what you’re doing…”
“What..what are you doing”, Vaan shouted. “You can’t open that! Step away from the container now!”
“Or you’ll what”, Athalla asked tinkering with the lock and a tricorder he had grabbed.
“I’ll call security on you.”
“Really? Pulling rank on a superior officer, crewman? I could have you put on report for insubordination. You sure you want to call security?”
“You pilots think you own this ship!”
“No…we don’t own it. We just put our asses on the line to keep it all nice and safe for you here on the inside. Until you put yourself and your life in harm’s way for others why don’t you leave the threats to the big boys, eh? Oh, and could you take a step to your left? You’re in the light.”
“But sir, this…”
“Ah! There we go!” The container emitted several loud beeps as the electronic locks disengaged.
“How? How did you do that?!”
“A misspent adolescence I’m afraid”, Athalla replied. ‘Learned a few things I probably shouldn’t have”, he said with a smile.
There was a loud hiss as the container unlocked itself with a satisfying metallic snap. Within seconds a fine, white mist began flowing from the unlocked seals that had been released.
“SEE! It IS dangerous! Don’t breathe in the vapor! There’s no telling what that is!”
Athalla nudged the container’s heavy lid open with his boot as he peered inside. A thick cloud of mist rose into the air before dissipating revealing a chest full of treasure.
“Bottles? What is this? Romulan Ale?!”
“A small fortune in Romulan Ale”, Athalla answered sifting through the various chilled bottles. “Sunnuva, this stuff isn’t just good, it’s fantastic! 2297? Wait, 2265? Athalla’s eyes grew in size. “There must be several thousand credits worth of ale in here! I’ve only heard about some of these vintages!”
“Contraband! Contraband pure and simple. Wait until I tell the bay master about this! Can you believe the nerve of someone trying to smuggle illegal merchandise aboard a ship of the line? Security will want to have a look at this as well. I suspect they will want to know who this belongs to and arrest them for the half dozen crimes they have committed…”
Athalla carefully looked through the bottles until he spied a single symbol that instantly identified the owner of the illegal merchandise.
“Oh, you sly dog”, Athalla muttered under his breath. “You sly, sly dog. Must be nice being able to pull rank.”
“What? What are you mumbling about”, Vaan asked.
Athalla slammed the lid of the container, re-engaged the locks, and lifted it onto an unused anti-grav sled.
“What, what are you doing? Where do you think you’re going?”
“Crewman, I’m taking this with me. You can finish up here without me. You’re far better than I at keeping the cargo hold safe from the evils of disorganization, clutter, and chaos.”
“Just a moment! That’s illegal contraband! You can’t just…”
“Take it”, Althalla replied. “Yes I can. I think I know who this belongs to. They might want it returned. And besides if they knew it was here they might just blame those responsible for watching over it. You did say it was an oversight right? That it had been forgotten? Misplaced? And who around here is in charge of keeping the manifests and inventory ledgers in tip-top shape? Oh wait, that’s you. If I were you I’d just keep this to yourself. The owner of this crate isn’t someone who is typically blessed with copious amounts of patience and understanding. I’d hate to see them storm in here demanding answers or someone’s head – if you get my drift.”
Vaan swallowed. “I thought you were on report yourself?”
“Reports come, reports go. My superior is probably off chewing someone else out for not polishing their flight stick or if he had any sense he’d be drinking the time away seeing as there hasn’t been any action on this tub for an eternity. Just keep your mouth shut, ok?”
Athalla looked at the crewman doubtful the runt would stay quiet.
“Look. Drop by pilot country sometime. I’ll make it up to you. Let ya sit in my fighter or something ok?”
“REALLY?! YOU MEAN THAT?!”
Athalla inwardly cringed. What had he gotten himself into?
“Sure…whatever. Just keep this on the down low. None of us want any trouble. Right crewman?”
“Yeah. Ok. I can do that. When can I drop in? Can I meet the other pilots? You think we could…you know hang out?”
“Yeah…well let’s play all that by ear. Ciao.”
Athalla activated the anti-grav and pushed the container out of the cargo bay thankful to have escaped. Attacking a squadron of Tholian fighters single handed was less demanding than dealing with that crewman. But on to the task at hand. He had a delivery to make and perhaps a small finder’s fee to claim.
Anything bearing the crest of the Federation Diplomatic Corps was sure to have some intrinsic value to a certain individual aboard the Charon…
[ To Be Continued… ]
Lt. Leon Athalla
Combat Pilot, USS Charon
Crewman Vaan (NPC)