I lifted my head so quickly that the top of it connected with the bulkhead above me. Swearing, I rubbed it and carefully pulled myself out from inside the Jeffries tube, turning to look up at whoever was addressing me.
She was short, maybe only an inch or so taller than me, and her hands were on her hips. A stern expression was written across her face, though the corner of her mouth looked as though it was trying hard not to smile at my little mishap. She was wearing a red-shouldered Starfleet uniform, and I noticed captain’s pips on her collar. I had never seen her before in my life.
“Yes … can I help you captain?”
I stood up, brushing the dust off my pants and passing a hand in front of my face to push the loose pieces of hair out of the way. A steady throbbing had begun to sound in my temples, probably from my head making a rather hard connection with the bulkhead.
“Kathryn Janeway,” she said quickly, extending a hand. I rubbed my palm off on my thigh before taking it. “I was hoping to speak with you about a position on my ship.”
I know I wasn’t able to hide the surprise from my face. “A position on your ship?” Why couldn’t I do anything but echo what she had already told me? That makes me sound so eloquent. She may have wanted me on her staff before, but now I doubted it. It was just hard for me to believe, as I’d been stuck refitting ships and refurbishing warp cores on Caldik Prime for six months – the worst six months of my life. Ever since the accident, all I’d wanted was to get off this chunk of rock, but to no avail. I decided it would be a good idea to restore some faith in myself and not have the captain suddenly renege her offer. Shaking my head, I tried again. “Of course, captain. I’m all yours.”
She nodded curtly and moved her hands behind her back, turning away and heading off, clearly expecting me to follow her. I looked down at the mess of phase emitters and plasma coil inducers scattered about with my tricorder and engineering kit on the ground next to me. I’d have time to clean up later, after talking to Captain Janeway. Either that or I’d get lucky, and one of my co-workers would finish the job and clean up for me. I wouldn’t have bet on that though.
I followed the captain into Commander J’tok’s private office and heard her authorize a security lock down as the doors slid shut behind me. She offered me a seat, which I took, eyeing her suspiciously. I’d never known a captain to require a level 5 security lock down for a job interview. I tried to make myself comfortable, but it something wouldn’t settle right in my stomach, and I ended up perched on the edge of my chair, looking eagerly at Captain Janeway.
“I’ve heard some very good things about you, Ensign.”
I wondered off-handedly if she meant that remark to be as sarcastic as it sounded. Not to mention, I wondered if she included my standing by my fiancé six months ago after the accident, even when it turned out he had lied and had been the cause of it. Though, even so, she hardly knew I was the only person he had confided the truth in from the beginning. I played a major part in the entire unorthodox affair.
“I’m glad to hear that, captain.”
She settled into J’tok’s chair and folded her hands neatly in front of her on his desk. She looked up at me expectantly. Was I supposed to say something else? “My chief of engineering recently took a position at Headquarters, to work on the Millennium project,” she explained. I had an idea where this was going, but I couldn’t be sure. Four years out of the Academy and I was still an ensign. I’d never had a starship posting before either. Just my first instructional out of the Academy when I’d done my interning on the USS Civilization. I’d been on Caldik Prime since. “I’d like to offer you that position on my ship, along with a promotion to full lieutenant.”
I could feel my eyes grow wider, and the lighting in the room seems to get brighter suddenly. It also seemed to get rather hot, and I tugged at the neck of my uniform. Was this really happening? Did I really have a chance to finally get off this planet and leave this nightmare behind? Just as I opened my mouth to enthusiastically accept, she held up a hand. I shrank back a bit, swallowing my excitement.
“There’s a catch.” There always was. I waited for her to continue. “I’m sure you’re aware of the band of freedom fighters along the Cardassian border who call themselves the Maquis.” I nodded; I’d heard of them. One of my Academy friends, Ishmael Boxer, had grown up on one of the planets being disputed, and last I heard, he had turned in his resignation from Starfleet and headed home to join the cause. “Starfleet is looking for individuals willing to infiltrate them, gathering information. Their forces have been growing in the past few months, and the threat of a second war erupting on the border is also growing.”
“Are you asking me to be a spy?”
Janeway seemed to hesitate for a moment. “Yes, I suppose I am. Your mission would cover a vast array of tasks. Getting right down to it, you would join their cause, right at the heart of it, and gather information. Such information would be very beneficial in our attempts to disband the Maquis.”
I looked down at my lap for a moment before I spoke again. “I’m afraid I’m confused, captain,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “How am I to join the Maquis if I’m your chief engineer?”
After taking a deep breath, Captain Janeway rubbed the back of her neck. She had obviously anticipated my question, but it didn’t seem that made a response any quicker in coming. “You would join my crew immediately,” she said, “and your mission would also immediately begin. We have a few people inside already, and they have given us enough information that we can provide you with an inside contact. You would be responsible for sending encoded transmissions to your contact, which will result in your capture and dismissal from my ship, and also from Starfleet. That will leave you open to locate your contact personally and join the Maquis. A skilled engineer such as yourself will be a vital assett to their cause. Not to mention you will have already thrown away your career to aid them.”
That was a lot for me to take in. “I’ll be kicked out of Starfleet?”
She nodded slowly. “To the public, yes. There will be only a handful of individuals who will know of your true intent. When your mission comes to an end, however, you will be returned to full service and rank and your name will be cleared.” Janeway stopped talking for a while. I could feel her watching for a reaction. “I don’t want this to come out wrong, but with your background, it will not be extremely difficult to convince everyone that you are betraying Starfleet.”
She was talking about Tom and the accident, of course. He was already out of Starfleet, and many people had probably assumed it would simply be a matter of time before I left as well. Never mind the fact that I hadn’t spoken to him since he packed his bags and left. He hadn’t even left a note. No good-bye, nothing. I didn’t even know where he was.
“You have some time to think about it, of course,” Janeway was saying. Her voice sounded far away though. “You don’t need to have an answer right now. This is a very dangerous mission, ensign.”
She was wrong. I needed to decide now if I was going to take this opportunity to get my life back on track. I didn’t want to be stuck here, at the very site of the accident that tore my life apart in the first place, forever. I hated refitting warp coils and polishing new ship consoles before they were built into starships. I had always dreamed of my own warp core, my own engineering team, of life on a starship and not this dry bed of land I was trapped on. Even if this was dangerous, even if there was a chance I might not make it through to the end of the mission, I still needed to do it. I needed to escape the haunts and ghosts of the past still living and breathing on Caldik Prime, and I needed to forget about Tom and what could have been. All that my position now was doing was cementing my and strengthening my hold on the past. I needed away from that.
Trying to keep my voice steady, I lifted my gaze and nodded. “I accept, captain. I would be honored to do this job for you, and for Starfleet.”
Captain Janeway smiled then, and it seemed to brighten her face, making her appear younger than I’d first thought she was. She stood up and offered me her hand. “Thank you. And, congratulations … lieutenant.”
I found myself smiling as well, for the first time in months.