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The Adventures of Beer Keg of Science! (Cover)

Chapter 5

The Adventures of the Beer Keg of Science!

XO's Office, NMS Beer Keg of Science!
Nadir Jump Point, Niops System, 22 November, 3157

They gave it a day, and a chance for a corpsman to look her over, but neither he nor Captain Carpentier wanted to go too long without addressing the elephant in the room: the severity of Ensign Shido's TDS. Lea had considered addressing the issue with Shido directly, but conceded that, as much as she might be worried about the girl, and want to see her succeed, this really was a personnel matter, best handled by the XO. Despite her age, Lea was, in many ways, as much a greenhorn as everybody else aboard the Keg. Including him.

Commander James "C, not T, dammit" Kirk sat in his chair, pondering the issue, as the ensign in question floated in. "Ensign Shido, reporting as ordered, sir," she said, obviously nervous.

"Please, sit down," he said, beckoning to the visitor chair opposite him at his tiny desk, inside his tiny office. Despite massing 80 kilotons more than the "smaller" Vincent class corvettes, the Cruiser class was nearly 160 meters shorter, a short, squat cylinder packed to the gills with nine times as many people, a cavernous (but still not big enough) DropShuttle bay, and vastly more equipment. Space was at a premium aboard the Keg.

"I want to start by saying that your job performance aboard the Beer Keg of Science! has been exemplary, and neither I nor Captain Carpentier have any complaints whatsoever about your duties or your job performance. The Academy fast-tracked you for service aboard the Keg, because you showed considerable promise, and everything to date shows that they were correct. There is, however, one striking issue that has both the Captain and I deeply concerned, and that's your TDS."

"Sir, I promise it won't affect my ability to do my job, and..." Shido rushed out.

"Hold that thought," Kirk interrupted her. "I believe you mean that, and I also believe you're probably a point. Unfortunately that point will probably be right around the time your central nervous system seizes up or you have a brain aneurysm. Right now, there's no medical reason to relieve you of duty. We checked with the CMO, who looked at your file, and the report from the corpsman who looked you over yesterday. They didn't share your records, and they won't share your records, but what they will do is tell the Captain and I if they feel anyone is medically-unfit to be here. You're not, and hopefully you never will be."

"Um, thank you, sir? May I ask what this is about, then?" she asked nervously.

"We're going on an exploration mission into areas where there won't always be an inhabited planet we can drop you off at if your TDS gets significantly worse and does become a fitness issue. Your Einsteinian navigation skills are also exemplary, and you'd do just as well on one of the Independence class ships as you'd do here. Hell, you could probably teach the hyperspace navigation class at the Academy. Are you sure you want to keep subjecting yourself to more hyperspace jumps when there are other, less painful or debilitating options available to you?"

James had been in CIC, and not the main bridge, during the last jump, but he'd seen the security video replay. It wasn't just the neurological issues that came with TDS, or just a nosebleed. For a brief moment, Ensign Jamie Shido was doing more than just anticipating the pain that would come with her TDS thanks to their hyperspace jump, but sheer terror. Something about KF jumps scared the hell out of Shido, which wasn't surprising given her history. Giving Shido an out, and not subjecting her to that over and over again, while still protecting the career of a promising young officer.

Which is perhaps why he was surprised when her expression hardened, her face fiercely determined. "With all due respect, sir, I don't need to be protected from jumping," she replied firmly.

"But...we do, don't we?" Kirk replied, in a burst of sudden insight. "From...what, Ensign? What's out there?"

Shido appeared to shrink a little bit. "I'm...not entirely sure how to describe it, sir. They're a...presence. A sense of malevolence. I can feel them every jump, sometimes impossibly distant, sometimes closer, and even before the attack, I felt them. I never actually saw them until the attack, though, when they were right there, and we barely escaped them. I think."

"You...think," Kirk asked flatly. "But you saw them during the attack." He knew immediately which "attack" she meant: the one that killed her parents.

"Sometimes I think they got a bite out of me," Shido shuddered. "It's like they're drawn to information processing, to the reverse entropy that comes with sapient or near-sapient minds entering hyperspace, that they feed on it. Use it to reverse their own entropy, at the expense of increasing ours. Violence in our universe draws their attention, the irreversible entropy of a sapient mind being destroyed, but they're out there anyway, somewhere at the bottom of the Mandelbrot set, so to speak. Very Lovecraftian, I know, but I don't know how else to describe them."

Kirk thought he understood, though. "And, what?" he asked, "you can help us avoid them? Keep them from what, feasting on our..." He found he was at a loss for the right word.

"On our souls, sir. And, yes. It's all in the math. I can teach it, but none of the other jump navigators really have the knack for it. They see the math, see the numbers, see that the jump will work, but not why it will work. Certainly not what we're trying to avoid."

"Who can?"

"Lieutenant Howard, sir. From what I've seen, he's got the aptitude." Shido paused for a moment before speaking again, "What's more is, I think he knows, sir. I've seen him doing similar math before, in the officer's wardroom, for no particular reason. He also...feels funny."


Shido nodded. "I don't know how else to describe it. You do, too, sir. Do you ever get an impending, creeping feeling of doom, sir, or paranoia, or that something is watching you go through a hyperspace jump, Commander? Something beyond the usual vertigo or nausea most people get?"

Kirk blinked. He did, but now was hardly the time to admit that. "Dismissed, Ensign."

"Sir?" she asked, confused.

"I'll talk to Captain Carpentier, but my recommendation will be not to transfer you off the Keg. Dismissed."

Shido, nodded, confused and worried, as she started to leave. "And...the rest, sir?"

"Will be discussed at a later date and time. Go."

"Aye, sir," she saluted, and departed his office.

Once Ensign Shido was gone, James turned to his computer, and checked the duty roster, confirming Bob Howard was off duty. Keying a short sequence into his intercom, he spoke into his mike. "Lieutenant Howard to the XO's office. Immediately."

James C. Kirk didn't believe Ensign Shido, per se. But he didn't disbelieve her, necessarily, either. And, given that they'd never been in the same room together during a hyperspace jump, and that he never outwardly showed any signs of his discomfort during one, for her to know...

"Dammit," he thought, "how the hell am I going to explain this to the Captain?"

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