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Future Planning

Posted on 26 Jun 2019 @ 5:01pm by Ensign Quinn Mackie & Ensign Kelly Khan

Mission: Truth and Justice
Location: Holodeck One
Timeline: MD 3 || 1915 hours

The attitude on board the Black Hawk, now that it had suffered increasingly difficult and complex missions in the Convergence Zone, was shifting from indifferent to disgruntled. In the last week alone, the ship lost more than ten percent of its hull integrity. Unless the Black Hawk came across a vast supply of tritanium, or even a shipyard to affect more lasting repairs, that ten percent would not be restored until after the Black Hawk returned home.

Despite their losing memories upon entry into the zone, there was very much an apprehension among the crew about returning home. The Black Hawk barely survived its entry, leading most to believe that they'd need even more luck to make it out of here.

Ensign Quinn Mackie, after his trip to Kalisa, brought back a wealth of information. Much of it wound up in the intelligence office where the small team would be working on decrypting and decoding the unknown languages. What little Quinn could keep he hoped to be able to apply to new simulations in hopes that he could find a way out. But he would not be doing this alone. He'd asked Kelly to join him after her shift, though he hadn't said at all what they'd be doing. There hadn't been much time to tell her anything aside from the invitation to join him.

Intrigued at the mysterious invite that Quinn has extended for her to join him in the holodeck, Ensign Kelly Khan had quickly shucked off her uniform and dressed in a pair of black yoga pants, a black midriff t-shirt that had the words 'I'd Rather Be Your Captain" in red letters, and a pair of black running shoes. She debated putting her hair up, but left it down and slightly messed up, then headed to the holodeck.

When she entered, she was surprised to find herself in a simulation of the bridge and looked over at Quinn. "Well, I see you've granted my wish," she said with a smile.

Quinn had been sitting over at one of the science consoles, having tied them into the Black Hawk's actual computer in order to access what information it contained about the barrier that separated the convergence zone from the rest of the known universe. At the sound of the holodeck doors, which had materialized right in front of the master situational display, he turned to see Kelly enter. Unlike her, Quinn was still in full uniform, though his sleeves were partially rolled up, and the undershirt's collar half unzipped. "Your wish?" he asked, somewhat surprised by her comment.

In response, Kelly simply pointed at the front of her shirt. "Yeah. My wish. We talked about it before." She looked around and wondered what he was doing, but figured it was some fantasy he had concocted. Either that, or the Convergence Zone had broken his brain and he could no longer go off duty mentally, but she had a plan for that.

He fought the urge to frown, realizing his mistake. Quinn hadn't fully recovered from the events on Kalisa, but had resisted the urge to rest and recover. The Black Hawk was moving on from its penultimate destination, and that left little time to complete the work he'd begun months ago.

Quinn did, however, wince. "I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in this case, I needed a pilot, not a Captain."

"What's up?" she asked as she headed over to where he was before she shoved her loose hair back over her shoulders and peered at what he had been doing prior to her arrival. HIs lack of humor indicated to her that he was still too uptight and clearly needed to relax more.

"The Captain wants as many minds as he can get on this," Quinn said, not catching that he'd inadvertently misled her. Pointing up at the overhead screen, he showed her the bright blue barrier that surrounded the entirety of the zone. "And I figured your mind might like a chance to scratch its test pilot itch."

"Odd, he didn't say anything about it, but then again, he doesn't run things by me if he wants something," Kelly said, except the Captain had been giving her more responsibilities lately and asked for her input on several things. "And you know that I'm more than happy to help when it comes to piloting but we already have all the information we collected from our first trip through. What more could I possibly contribute in the way of piloting?"

"Remember how we all had our heads knocked around?" he asked, recreating the ship's trajectory through the barrier now with what little data they had. "Something failed during our trip and nearly tore the ship in two. I guess while we were digging around in the Kalisan archive, the Black Hawk's hull integrity was compromised. We need to see if we can actually survive the return trip without flying apart."

The brunette thought for a moment, then gave a half smile that slowly faded to a partial frown. "I have an idea of how we can, but I already have a feeling that it's going to be a fight with Engineering. We don't need extra supplies, either. Just a radical way of approaching things, but at this point, if we don't use radical thinking outside of the box, we're going to all die here."

"Oh?" Quinn asked, pausing his work to look up at the woman beside him. He had a few ideas of his own, but before he could move forward, he had to be sure he was doing the right thing. "What craziness are you thinking?"

Kelly waved her hands and made a scoffing sound. "It's not so much crazy as necessity born of invention," she said. "All we'd need to do is reprogram the structural integrity field emitter network to operate in a dual-frequency mode, allowing a complete internal forcefield to mirror the shape of the hull. It would keep more of the ship's internal volume available for service rather than closing off large areas with broader forcefields."

Quinn nodded, considering the idea. "That would be perfect, if we didn't have to worry about sudden power loss, like we did when we arrived. I know it wasn't you flying the ship on the way in, but since we've lost Langston and Danth, the Captain will probably have you be the one to fly us out of here. Best we can tell from the fragmented logs, it seemed like we hit a tachyon eddy or some other kind of gravimetric distortion."

"The power shouldn't be a problem," the young woman said. "I checked the records and Lieutenant Di Pasquale had put in a request for portable power generators in the event we did lose main power again. Those should be done by now and in place. As for the tachyon eddy, all you have to do is lean into it and show it who the boss is." Sure, she was good and she was sure of herself, but even she smelled the BS of her statement.

He couldn't help but laugh. Quinn always appreciated how bold and confident Kelly could be in situations like this. "And you're willing to bet that you're right?"

"Do I have a choice?" Kelly asked quietly. "I'm the best pilot left alive on the ship. It's me or no one."

Quinn stared at her for a moment, as if he were quietly conducting some sort of performance evaluation. No matter harsh that sounded, conducting such a review on a significant other couldn't be taken lightly, especially if he would be personally vouching for her to Carmichael. "Let's test it."

A creeping feeling went up her spine when she watched him staring at her like her old Flight Instructor at the Academy right before a major test. That guy didn't think she'd make it and seemed to have it in for her, but this was Tiger. This was her boyfriend. Why would he stare at her like that. "Test it?" she echoed. "We can't exactly test it without Engineering giving us access and then doing all the groundwork to prove it would even work."

He stood and threw both hands in the air, as he gracefully executed a full turn as if he were P.T. Barnum introducing a spectator to the greatest thing they'd ever see. "This is a holodeck. Might not be the real thing, but since it has the necessary data input, the zone's barrier, the ship's flight path, the hull degradation down to the smallest microfracture... we have more than enough for a few test flights."

"What about the SIF?" Kelly asked. "We need that before we can do a test to see if it would work, don't we? I mean, we can test without it, but I want to do at least a simulation or two." She wondered why she was nervous, but shook it off as she went to the helm station and activated it.

"It is part of your plan," Quinn pointed out, approaching the operations station beside Kelly. "We might as well go ahead and test it too. Do you want the computer to set it up for you?"

"You can if you want," she said. "It's just an idea that I had but you know more about Engineering than I do right now."

Quinn looked down at the Operations console, realizing for the first time how small it was. He was going to need a lot more than it provided in order to deploy the generators throughout the ship. He turned for the Engineering station and sat down. "Go ahead and make yourself at home while I get this going."

"I'm already at home," Kelly said as she configured the flight console to her standards. "And ready when you are, Tiger."

The operations officer let his hands fly over the console, accessing the Chief of Security's plan and deploying the mythical generators throughout the ship, cascading their connections to critical systems all over the ship. "There's one thing Lieutenant Di Pasquale didn't factor in," he reported, rising and moving back over to the Operations console. "Those generators will only hold the critical systems for a minute or two. The Black Hawk is massive, and those generators were designed to hold up life support and a few other things for a few hours, not the full SIF or other primary systems."

"It's not like we'll need them for more than that period of time," she said as she looked over her shoulder. "Besides, she wasn't planning on them being used like this. She'll be glad that we were clever enough to test them out in this way."

"Let's just hope it works." Quinn sat at the Ops station and began to input a few commands. "All right," he muttered, taking a good look at the readouts. "Here's our starting figures. Hull integrity holding at eight-four point six percent, the reinforced duranium on the port nacelle holding the lowest at sixty percent. Maximum shield strength computes at sixteen percent below normal. EPS power flow to primary hull is at ninety percent efficiency. And the main deflector is one point two degrees out of alignment, favoring the port nacelle. Simulation restore point is selected, safeties are on, and g-simulators are prepared to deliver rumbles at ten percent normal."

Looking over to Kelly, he added, "You ready for this?"

Kelly listened to his technical monologue and made small adjustments on her console that she would need to compensate and took a deep breath. In her mind, she selected a sound track that she had always listened to before a big flight test and gave a nod. "Let's rock and roll," she said as she positioned her fingers and prepared for split second adjustments while still being human. The time for thinking was over with. It was time for all of her training to take over and let instinct do what she didn't have time to figure out herself.

Quinn smiled, looking down at her fingers and then to the viewscreen. "Computer, engage program." Before them, the viewscreen activated, filling the bridge with the powerful blue light of the barrier. "Once more unto the breach..." he muttered.

"Tally ho!" the Ensign bellowed, which she never would have done if she were on the actual bridge. Her cockiness from the days of Nova Squad rose up in her but was tempered by her experience since that time and she activated the impulse engines and thrusters. "Approaching Convergence Zone at one quarter impulse, range ten thousand kilometers and closing," she stated as she began to feel the distortions coming from it. She made quick course adjustments when she felt the sheer and stabilized the ship as it continued forward. "Five thousand. Four thousand. Three thousand. Two thousand. One thousand."

It felt like a kick in her gut as the Black Hawk-A entered the Zone, but she didn't waiver from making adjustments as the tetryon eddies attempted to throw her off course while it did its best to deny the ship egress. "I need more power to the port RCS," she said in a surprisingly calm voice.

He quietly tapped a couple control studs, shifting power from non-essential systems to the port thrusters. "Power transfer complete." Quinn then looked down at a set of readouts. "Structural integrity is dropping on the port nacelle pylon at two percent a minute. Adjusting SIF and IDF fields to compensate. Short range sensors are limited to five kilometers in either direction."

"All my life I wanted to fly, like the birds that you see way up in the sky," Kelly sang softly as she made adjustment after adjustment. The ship rocked and rolled and she felt her body attempting to sway in the opposite direction as she compensated. "Making circles in the morning sun, flying high in the sky 'till the day is done. I can't break away." She looked at her console as the sensors shielded the worse of the blue nightmare from her vision, but small stars still appeared briefly.

As Quinn gave her the power, she surged the ship forward and opted for a combination of brute force mixed with finesse and willed the technology that powered the ship to produce magic. "Magic is only science to those that don't understand it," she muttered. "So give me the rabbit, baby."

In all of their months together, Quinn had never seen Kelly in her element. Sure, they'd been vectorboarding and experienced several other extreme sports, but he hadn't the chance to truly see her fly. Were this more than a holodeck simulation, he wondered if he'd be able to feel the mighty Black Hawk maneuver beneath their feet. "Gravimetric distortions are increasing to one wave every three thousand kilometers. Sensors are also detecting chronoton particles. I think we've got a temporal distortion up ahead."

"Three thousand meters, confirmed," Kelly acknowledged. "Compensating." She cut back power to the impulse and locked the RCS thrusters on a steady course at one eighth impulse. It was a gambit that if she didn't force it, it wouldn't hurt as bad. However, she kept her fingers on the controls and was ready to make rapid adjustments as needed.

"Confirm temporal distortion," she requested with a frown as they reached the wave and the ship shook like a giant had grabbed it and was violently shaking it. She increased the thrust but tried to go in the direction of the shake to reduce damage to the ship, simulated or not, and set her jaw so she wouldn't bite her tongue off in a particularly bad moment.

Alarms sounded from Quinn's console and instantly the center of his console was replaced with a modal displaying a dorsal schematic of the vessel surrounded by a broken outline. "Nacelle pylon hull integrity has dropped below twelve percent. Sheer is imminent. Engineering hull primary power is offline. Backup generators six through nine are non-responsive. Reduce speed to one-tenth impulse."

"What?!" Kelly exclaimed as she double checked and saw he was right. They weren't going to make it but she cut the speed down to one-tenth and waited for The End even as she tried to think of alternatives. "What if we vented the cargo bays to give us a push?" she asked.

"There'd be no telling which way it pushed us," Quinn fired back over the sound of new alarms. Suddenly, everything stopped. The viewscreen's holographic projections vanished, and the alarms stopped.

"End simulation. Mission failure," droned the computer.

The petite brunette uttered a particularly vile Klingon oath that the translator refused to translate. "I knew that I shouldn't have been cautious," she said. "We should have gone in full tilt and tried to muscle through it. Now we're dead. Reset it."

Quinn knew better by now than to argue with Kelly. "Computer," he called out, a smirk creeping onto his face. "Reset simulation." Instantly, the viewscreen reconstituted the image of the barrier. "On your order, Captain."

"Do me a favor...well, not a favor, but can you give your Captain a kiss for luck?" Kelly asked him. "I could use it."

His left eyebrow arched. "You're not ordering me to kiss you?" Quinn asked, his tone falsely aghast. "Supreme Captain Khan never asks!" Hoping he'd caught her enough off guard, he leaned over to kiss her.

She wrapped her arms around him and returned the kiss with hot passion before she broke it. "Now back to your station and give me flank speed!" she ordered him with a wink before she released him and turned back to the console.

"Aye, aye, mon capitan!" Quinn practically declared as he turned back to his controls. He could not and would not, however, stop the smile that threatened to tear his face apart. "Flank speed, aye."

"Damn the torpedoes and all that jazz," Kelly said as her fingers danced across the console and the Black Hawk surged forward like a racehorse. "I want every damned bit of juice you can give me, then I want you to give me more," she said. "I don't care where you have to steal power from. We can survive without life support for a few minutes if we have to."

He considered jesting that with only two people on the ship, they could take all the power from life support they wanted. However, this was a simulation, and that simulation required the fictional seven hundred plus souls to take this trip with them. "All nonessential systems are offline. Phaser energy has been redirected to SIF generators and the main deflector. auxiliary generator is online and that power shunted to the impulse engines only, with warp power boosting the shield grid and IDF."

"Take two, action!" Kelly called out as her fingers danced over the console in front of her. She gave it full power and the ship surged forward like a strange alien fish and headed towards the blue barrier that was keeping them prisoners in the Zone. "Tallyho!" She cried out. "Entering the horizon in three, two, one!"

Quinn glanced down at his controls as the ship entered the barrier. With the holodeck absorbing the brunt of the forces sustained in this navigation, he knew it would be impossible to feel the typical shudder of the deck plates. His console, however, registered that the impact was thirty percent below normal compared to their last experience. "Smooth and steady," he reported. "Sensor range limitations are again at ten kilometers."

"Ten kilometers, confirmed," the Ensign said as she narrowed her field of vision to the console and tuned out everything else out of her visual range. Her fingers skittered over the helm controls, making minute adjustments as they entered the Zone barrier. "We have entered the barrier. Keep an eye on the port nacelle and let me know if those chronoton readings escalate," she said.

"Stress levels nominal," Quinn remarked before an alarm told him he spoke too soon. "Standby. IDF fields fluctuating in the forward sections. Transferring to auxiliary power." His fingers danced along the console as he kept an eye on the sensors. "I'm showing several quantum filaments in our path. We'll have to go around. Bring us to zero-eight five mark zero six two. There looks like a tachyon eddy we might be able to ride there."

Kelly altered the course of the ship, but didn't reduce the speed of the Century class ship. "Zero-eight five mark zero six two and holding," she called out as she kept her eyes on the console. "We're in the eddy and holding steady."

"Gravimetric forces are steadily increasing," Quinn remarked. "Our shields are being bombarded by multiple types of radiation. Theta. Gamma. Antiprotons. Shifting as much power into the generators as I can. I might have to switch to MLSS and disable the regenerative."

"Do whatever you have to do, because we're going through," she said as her fingers moved over the console like a mad pianist. "If we don't, we die again."

"And you don't want to see zombie-Quinn?" he joked, manipulating his controls. "I think I'd look rather dashing with my jaw hanging by a thread."

"Nah, then you couldn't bite me," Kelly said as she made correction after correction. "ETA to emergence?" she asked as she eyed the shields and wondered if they'd be dead as a result of them instead of the ship blowing up. She was grateful it was a simulation or knew she'd be feeling the effects already. "Computer, make a note to have Medical treat everyone before entering the Zone for radiation poisoning."

“Three minutes,” Quinn stated, speaking over the computer’s acknowledgement. “Sensors are picking up some turbulence. IDF is unable to compensate.”

"Increasing speed by one half impulse," the brunette said as she felt the ship rocking and fighting her. She used every trick she knew, but it seemed like they were being buffeted from every side at all with differing degrees of power. "Did you say three minutes or years?" she asked as she fought to keep her seat and her fingers in the right place.

"Structural integrity is falling rapidly," Quinn reported, silencing alarm after alarm. "Shields are down to twenty percent. Bringing portable generators online to provide additional power." Quinn's station continued to display a schematic of the Black Hawk, showing its stress points that were soon to tear apart under the pressure.

Kelly took a deep breath as she listened. They had to do it or die trying; there was no other way to get through as the first test had proven. "Who wants to live forever?" she asked the air before she increased to full impulse. "Come on, Tiger, give me everything you've got!" she said as the ship surged forward again and she rode every eddy and open space she could find like she didn't have a care in the world.

Quinn grimaced as he started to shunt everything he could towards engines and the ship's integrity. Moments later, the lights on the bridge went dark before being replaced with emergency lighting. Quinn's console, however, remained active while the computer registered the result. "We made it through," he reported. "We lost the nacelle, and there's a sizable tear in the Engineering hull. Computer estimates over two hundred casualties, including the entirety of the engineering department."

"That's not very good," she said. "We seem to have really bad luck about losing Engineers. Also, you need to stay in Ops where you'll be safer." She paused and sighed. "Still, two hundred dead isn't good even at an estimate. Neither is losing a nacelle. We need to do something else. Brute force go us through, but we need more finesse."

"Third time's the charm?" Quinn asked with a shrug. "At least we made it through unlike other species who were turned inside or or into biogenetic goo."

"It isn't like the holodeck could actually do that to us," Kelly pointed out. "Third time, or brainstorm session?"

"Either or is fine," Quinn remarked. "Depends on how you feel. Based on the computer models, you did far better than it's ten thousand simulations its been running for the last few weeks."

"If I've done better than ten thousand, then it's time to brainstorm," she said before she turned around to face him. "We've proven that we can brute force our way through it, but even with power diverted from everywhere and my idea for the Structural Integrity Field, we still need more shielding. You're better at Engineering than I am, so would you advocate redlining the warp core to get maximum output?"

Quinn paused for a moment. He, of course, realized that redlining the warp core greatly increased the risk on the vessel, jeopardizing the entire engineering section should the coolant fail to keep containment within the dilithium reaction chamber. "It is possible," he mused, "but we would have to limit it to specific areas only. The nacelles, the bridge, elements of the saucer section."

"Hmm. Would it be possible to reconfigure our shields into a sort of scoop so we can streamline the profile of the ship more?" Kelly asked. "I've heard it's been done, but not for this purpose."

"It's worth a shot," Quinn said, turning to look through the library computer for an example. "We also seem to be tearing on the nacelle in the same spot each time. I wonder if we can add some trussing and extra hull plating to hold it together longer."

"Do we even have the materials for something like that?" the brunette asked as she frowned. "We're low on everything and the only resources we have is those derelicts floating around the minefield. We could try to harvest them, but there's no guarantee."

Shrugging, Quinn added, "Every little bit counts, right? Structural integrity is really only a guesstimate anyway, not matter how sound your science and engineering prowess is. And, it operates on an exponential curve. The higher the number, the better the chances of survival."

"True," Kelly admitted. "I think that's all we can do here for the moment unless you want to add in a fix for the nacelle and the streamlined shielding, Tiger."

Quinn took a look at the ship's schematic before answering, "What the hell, right? It's just a couple more minutes." He started to program in a few fixes to shore up the nacelle. "Structural integrity is now at eighty-nine percent. Shields..." his fingers hit a couple more buttons, "are ready."

The petite brunette turned around and cracked her knuckles. "Ready for action in three, two....one," she called out as she headed for the huge blue anomaly at full impulse. "Computer, play something exciting," she requested as they closed the distance to it rapidly.

Beeps and whirrs were the first response before the computer's random selection began to play a very fast and complicated electric guitar riff, firing more-than-average notes per beat. Quinn looked up from his station and glanced at Kelly, his eyes widened by confused surprise. He closed his eyes a moment later, shook his head and looked back at his console. At least it isn't Beastie Boys this time.

Kelly cocked her head and listened to the first beats of the song and gave a nod of approval. "How're we looking, Tiger?" she called out as she felt the ship enter the horizon of the blue anomaly and made rapid fire corrections to the course to try to compensate for every minute change that was affecting the ship from the outside. Of course, there was no way she could match everything, but she was playing the console like a mad concerto pianist who had a grudge against it.

“Projections are looking better.” Truthfully, he was impressed. Both he and Kelly were benefiting from more than ten years of projections, tests, and attempts. Had they had far less information, it would take them years to do this. “Integrity is holding fine, but I am again detecting different chroniton and gravimetric distortions. Looking for an eddy to ride.”

"Hang on, Quinn!" she shouted as she took the ship into a hard sideways turn to port as the sensors indicated a large distortion about to slam into them. As soon as they were past it, she jerked the ship back to starboard without reducing speed, which set various alarms off. She decided to ignore them because they would live or they would die and no alarm could tell them anything more useful than something was off. All of that could wait until they succeeded or failed.

He fought a sigh. “We lost twenty percent integrity on the nacelle! Boosting all power to SIF. Dampeners above the deflector are failing, and we are now three degrees out of alignment. Shift forward momentum oiling five degrees port, and that should even us out.”

Kelly made the course correction. "Sorry," she said. "I wasn't given much notice ont hat one, but twenty percent is better than eighty," she pointed out as the filters struggled to make out everything through all the exotic radiation. "Any good eddy's coming up?"

"Twelve kilometers ahead," he answered, taking a close look at the sensors before throwing the projections up on the view screen. "It's through a narrow passage, surrounded by quantum filaments. It'll be like diving through a funnel until one reaches the end. It's a pretty narrow end too."

"Define narrow," she requested. "If we get tangled in those things again, we may get split into a thousand different time periods and never find our way out of them like the last time and I have no desire to get my hand trapped in Lieutenant Geisler's hair again and end up treating her skull like a marionette." The memory brought a shudder that went all the way through her small frame.

"Two-eighty. Maybe two-ninety meters." The increased distortions made it practically impossible to read the sensor readouts.

"Then it looks like we'll be doing it sideways to give ourselves plenty of room," Kelly said as the distance closed to the eddy. She locked her eyes on the console in front of her and swallowed hard. "If anyone wants to abandon ship, now's the time." She made fractional course changes as the Black Hawk headed for the funnel and she wished she could close her eyes. You were Nova Squad, she reminded herself. You can do this.

"Watch the port side! The aperture is shrinking. Two-seventy-five, each direction." Quinn kept one hand on the controls and another hand to the frame of the console, as if he were holding on for dear life. "Boosting shield output to maximum," he announced, hoping that the feeble effort would be enough to save several sections of the saucer."

"Oh shazbot!" the brunette flight officer exclaimed and braced herself as she prayed to every deity, real and imagined she could think of when the diameter closed to inside the width of the ship. It felt like her eyeballs were going to rattle out of her head and she really wished the holodeck would be less realistic. She managed to keep her fingers on the console and struggled to find a happy medium that kept the majority of the ship intact without veering to port or starboard and wiping out even more should the shields fail. It was a challenge of her piloting skill and she made a mental note to check her uniform after the simulation ended due to the feeling of her stomach being shaken like a martini by an angry bartender.

The bridge rocked upon impact, despite the buffers that had been built into the simulation. "The filaments sheered off a good portion of the saucer's port side. Our width has decreased by five meters overall. Emergency forcefields are holding. No casualties since those sections had been evacuated due to the transit protocols."

"Well, that should shave down down the requirements for getting through the end," Kelly quipped but knew it was a major thing that she would be called on the carpet for if it had been real. She fought to compensate for the new width of the ship and brought it back on course. "ETA to aperture end?" she asked.

"Twenty seconds." Quinn checked his other readouts. "But we've still got another minute of flight time at least. Structural integrity is holding at sixty percent, and power output is twelve percent above normal."

"If we make it," she said as she made more adjustments and urged a bit more speed out of the impulse engines. She knew they'd be redlining soon, but she couldn't slow down with part of the ship now missing. "We have the power and we're going to use it," she declared as the ship got closer and closer to the ending. Her fingers twitched over the console as she entered in correction after correction and hoped it would be enough.

Quinn's eyes remained fixated on his readouts, making adjustments wherever he could. Several decks lost power, yet the emergency generators kept everything critical online. Alarm after alarm continued to sound. Quinn remained focused. They were almost there, just a few more seconds...

"Egress in five...four...three," Kelly counted down as she kept the ship steady and on course as well as she could. Her nerves were shot and she knew she'd probably trade Quinn for a shot of Romulan Ale if it were real once they got out of the Zone, but shook her head free of the thought. He was her Tiger and she wouldn't trade him for anything. With that in mind, the Black Hawk-A exited the blue nightmare and reentered normal space seconds later. "Are...are we free?" she asked.

He didn't reply immediately. In fact, he didn't reply at all, partially purposely to keep Kelly in suspense while he performed a full systems check on the simulated damage and casualties. The computer was taking its time with the calculations, and he was taking a few notes of his own.

She double checked the controls, then brought the ship to a full stop after getting some distance between them and the Zone. "Quinn!" she nearly shouted as she got up and turned to face him in case he had become a casualty. When she saw him taking notes and not looking up, she muttered under her breath. "What's the damage?"

Quinn looked up at her, almost a bit surprised at her anxiousness. Of course, he should have expected that from her by now. Ignoring his own foolishness, he calmly stated, "Forty-one casualties, only three of which were fatal. Structural integrity is holding at thirty-eight percent, main power's offline, and so is the warp drive. But, we made it."

"That's better than all of Engineering and a nacelle, but we also took off a few meters off the port saucer section," Kelly said. "Is there nothing else we can do?"

"Given the past circumstances, this has been the best attempt to date," Quinn pointed out. "The last time, the ship barely made it through and everyone lost their minds when the power cut out. Since we made it with some power, it stands to reason that we'd be able to do this without memory loss. Look at the bright side, Kelly."

"Your logic is faulty, Tiger," she said. "We're in a simulation and it couldn't take our memories. We have no guarantee that won't happen again. Everything else is a bonus."

"Where'd the optimism go? The fresh outlook on life?" he asked, surprised slightly by the downturn in her attitude.

"Don't get me wrong, Quinn," Kelly said. "I love the fact that we made it through with minimal loss of life and ship and I'm really hoping the real thing turns out even better, but this is a holodeck. Granted, it factors in everything possible, but when we go back through, it could be totally different. Still, we made it!" she added and gave him a kiss to boost his spirits.

He happily returned the kiss before pulling back an inch. "I knew you could do it. I don't get to see you in action very much. I can see why the Captain breveted you before graduation."

"That was for taking the Chimera into battle against the Valdore," she said with a shudder. "No one else was available for Command." She paused, then giggled. "I don't think I actually told you this, but when he came to tour the ship and we were coming back to the Black Hawk after scuttling the Chimera, he saw I was wearing a Command uniform instead of my cadet uniform. I thought he was going to dress me down for being out of uniform, but instead, he pulled a pip off his own collar and promoted me in the shuttle." The pride in her eyes shown through at that memory and indeed, the slightly tarnished pip was still firmly in place on her collar.

"You might have told me that," Quinn remarked, smiling at her confession. "Still, he's a smart man. It's a shame others don't see the value in you like both the Captain and I do." His smile lessened slightly as he recalled the last conversation he had with Carmichael.

"Who doesn't see the value in me?" Kelly asked as she narrowed her eyes and visions of busted kneecaps filled her mind.

Quinn sighed, looking in her hazel eyes. This was it. No turning back from this moment. If this didn't go well, then it would be time for drastic action. At least he was prepared for that. "I... I have a confession to make, Kelly." He sighed again, wondering how he was going to say this.

"You're breaking up with me..." A combination of rage and sorry went through her eyes and she didn't know if she wanted to break his knees or cry. She hardened her nerves and gave him a steely look. "What do you want to confess, Quinn?"

"No, no..." Quinn stammered. "Quite the contrary, really. You. Me. Us... I think it's time we take our relationship to a new level."

Now Kelly blinked and she swallowed a few times as her mouth went dry. Was he asking her to marry him? Butterflies did somersaults in her stomach and she licked her lips to try to moisten them. "N-next level?" she managed, her voice barely above a whisper. Had he found the images of her in a wedding dress that she had the computer create? Did he love her that much?

Quinn smiled, pleased that he had played his hand perfectly. Well, almost perfectly. There was still one card left to play, and this was his most valuable. "It's something I have to show you, Kelly. I think you'll find it... quite incredible."

She deflated when he didn't propose but managed to keep any biting words from coming out. Whatever he had in mind had to be incredible if it would take their relationship to the next level. "What is it?" she asked.

"Turn around," Quinn said in a playful voice, rising from his chair as he picked up a small case from underneath the Ops station. He hadn't carried it up there when they first started the simulation, rather he had placed it there when he first engaged the holodeck.

Kelly turned around in anticipation of whatever it was that would take their relationship to a new level. She began to imagine what it could be when a minute later, her scream filled the holodeck.

 

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