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The shift couldn't have come to an end quickly enough for Chief Engineer Caitlin Barry. She had an appointment with a hot bath; at this point, she didn't really care if she used up a month's worth of water rations on it. A sonic shower couldn't do a thing for the tension across her shoulders and through her neck, and she was glad that she and her staff only had to upgrade part of the drive computer and not all of it.

"All right, that should do it," she started to say, when the intercom whistled. Captain Pike had impeccable timing; she was going to cut the afternoon watch loose, assign someone to stand in for Scott as third watch supervisor, and then call the Captain to update him on the progress. He beat her to the punch; that wasn't surprising.

"Engineering, Barry."

"Status?" Pike's voice asked, ever businesslike.

"We just finished, Captain. In fact, I was about to call you and let you know that once the diagnostics are finished, warp drive will be back online."

"Good work, Commander. How long do you think the diagnostics will take?"

Barry thought about it for a moment, then half-shrugged to herself before replying, "Four hours, give or take. I'm going to stay on call, but I don't see why the third watch can't handle this."

"All right." There was a pause, then Pike added, almost as though it were an afterthought, "When this shift ends, send Lieutenant Scott up here. I have a job for him."

Barry raised an eyebrow, but she didn't comment. Over the years, she had long since learned that Pike never did anything without a good reason, and if he wanted Scott up on the bridge, then so it would be. Admittedly, the timing made her blink, but she wasn't about to argue. "Aye, sir. I'll let him know."

"Very good, Chief. Pike out."

Barry thumbed the button off and went back to what she'd been doing. The third watch was just coming on deck, and everyone who'd been working on the upgrade was obviously itching to get to bed. "All right, second watch dismissed. Lieutenant Scott, the Captain has requested you on the bridge."

Scott stopped with his foot in the air, already halfway to the door. Barry could see him stop mentally, too; hit pause, rewind, play. Apparently, though, it didn't quite click and he frowned. "Chief?"

"The Captain wants you on the bridge," she repeated, unwittingly letting a sympathetic smile cross her face. She had fully intended to let the poor man go to bed, especially after calling him in on about three hours of sleep and working him all day, but hers was not to reason why.

There was another pause while Scott thought it over, a distinctly uneasy look on his face, and he finally put his foot back down. "Uh... aye, ma'am. I don't suppose ye know why?"

"No, and I didn't ask." He probably thought he was in trouble; she recognized that look, too, and used to be the one to provoke it. Scott was a good engineer, probably the best she'd ever come across for raw talent, but it had taken a few months to knock some of his rough edges off back when he'd signed aboard -- that had been a couple of years ago, now, and while she hadn't had any trouble with him since those early days, he still had a few self-confidence issues to work out. "Better get to it," she added.

"Aye, ma'am," he said, going from looking uneasy to downright worried, and headed for the door.

Barry watched him leave, then looked around Engineering. "Delany, you're shift supervisor. If anything goes wrong with the diagnostics, call me."

She barely waited for the reply before she was out the door and headed for her quarters.

He ran over the possibilities in his mind about a dozen times on the turbolift ride to the bridge, and still came to the conclusion that he didn't know why he'd been called by the Captain. And if there was one thing Scotty didn't like, it was uncertainty.

With a distinct feeling of dread, he took a deep breath to get his nerves under control, and stepped onto the bridge. Pike was sitting in the center chair, signing off on the last of the watch reports, and aside from him, the third watch was already at their stations. If not for the fact that the engineering console was being manned by Gunderson, Scott would have thought that was why he was here, regardless of whether it was his turn on bridge duty or not.

He was still wracking his tired brain to figure out why when Pike's voice interrupted him and he actually jumped.

"Lieutenant. Are you waiting for something?"

"No, sir," Scott replied, a little too quickly; he winced internally when he heard himself. He sounded like a cadet, all over again. "I... ye seemed..." then he genuinely winced and finished, lamely, "...busy. Sir."

For a moment, something like amusement crossed Pike's face, then he stood and said, "I'm just finished being busy. The ship is yours, Mister Scott."

"What?!" When both of the Captain's eyebrows went up, Scott hastily tried to amend that. "I mean, I dinna... don't understand, sir."

"It was a fairly simple order, Lieutenant." Pike stepped up onto the upper deck, gesturing to the command chair. "The ship is yours. Maintain course and speed, and if anything happens, call me. Until then, you're in charge."

Scotty looked between the chair, and the captain, and the impending doom of the situation drove any thought of exhaustion out of his mind for the moment. But he knew better than to protest it; while he hadn't worked alongside Pike himself all that often, the entire ship knew that the captain was not one to tolerate disobedience or hemhawing from his crew. "Aye aye, Captain."

"Very good." And without another word, Pike was in the turbolift and gone.

There was a long moment while the majority of the bridge crew looked at him, and Scott felt like he should have been sinking into the decking. Trying hard not to fidget under the expectant gazes, he cleared his throat and tried to sound confident. "Ye heard him. Maintain course and speed."

There was a smattering of 'Aye sir's' and everyone turned back to their stations.

Scotty closed his eyes, took another breath and let it out slowly.

Please don't let anything happen, please don't let anything happen...

This was going to be a very, very long night.

"Requisition form; the galley wants permission to take extra jam from the stores for the breakfast menu," the yeoman said, handing the clipboard and pen to Scott, who still hadn't had the nerve to step down onto the command deck.

He took it, and briefly wondered exactly why the Captain would have to worry about such things. It wasn't as if everyone on the crew didn't have some understanding about the supply issues that afflicted deep-space starships. He highly doubted that they couldn't ration properly. Why would the Captain need to approve this?

Well, in this case, why would the officer of the watch need to?

He signed the form and handed the clipboard back. The first half-hour of the watch had just ended, and it was only now that he was starting to feel a little less crippled by anxiety. That first half-hour had been spent praying that nothing would go wrong while he was on the bridge, and likewise wondering nervously what he would do if it did.

One bell, he thought, unbidden, then went back to pacing the deck. Most of the crewmembers manning the bridge were older than him right now; he only knew Gunderson, and then not terribly well; certainly not well enough to hold any kind of a conversation. Hell, most of the crewmembers manning the bridge were probably better qualified than he was, too.

Scotty looked back at the viewscreen, but there was nothing there. No enemy ships, no planets, just the stars. They were under impulse power until the warp drive computer was brought back online, so he couldn't even really enjoy the view of flying through space at those speeds. If not for the fact that he was responsible for the entire bloody ship, he might have considered this boring.

"Sir, I need you to sign off on tomorrow's menu," the yeoman said, coming back with another paper.

Scotty raised an eyebrow. That was... fast. But he took the clipboard and signed off on it, not bothering to do more than glance at the menu. If there was any mercy in the universe, he would be in bed by the time breakfast was served, and wouldn't have to step foot on the bridge until he was properly scheduled to man the engineering console.

Two bells.

Three more forms to sign; one more involving breakfast, and two involving the cleanup in the galley. Scotty was almost certain that, if it kept on it at this rate, he would probably end up being more familiar with the operations of the cooking staff than he was with commanding a starship.

"Communications," he said, and was glad his voice wasn't as shaky anymore. "Call Engineering and ask how the diagnostic's comin' along."

"Aye, Lieutenant," the officer replied. And even though Scotty heard the report for himself, the communications officer repeated it anyway. "Three hours or so, sir."

"Thank you," he said, then clasped his hands behind his back to continue pacing. Anxiety had done a good job driving the headache he'd had before reporting up here dormant, but it was coming back now with a vengeance. So far, nothing had happened. That was a good thing. No enemies, no catastrophes, no having to call and potentially wake the Captain up.

He was starting to realize, though, that the relative peace was making the time drag even worse than it already had been. At least if he had been stuck down in Engineering, even running on next to no sleep, he'd be able to keep himself busy with something or another. But up here, what was there to do but sign off on forms and keep an eye on the screen?

"Lunch requisition form, sir." The yeoman looked as bright as ever, and Scotty was starting to dread seeing her come out of the turbolift. Not only did she bring the most pointless paperwork in the universe (and he'd never been a fan of paperwork to begin with) but she was very cheerful and awake about it. "The galley would like permission to use the dinner linens for the lunch time menu."

"Why?" he asked, then was surprised that he did. He almost didn't hear her answer him; he was too busy wondering why he'd even asked that question.

"They're serving a special pudding for dessert tomorrow in the officer's mess, and they don't believe that the standard issue officer's linens compliment the color of the dessert."

There was a long moment where Scotty stared at the woman, incredulously. "Wait... what?!"

The yeoman blinked. "They're serving a--"

"Aye, I heard that part. That's..." Stupid was the word that came to mind, but he managed not to say it. "Tell 'em that color coordination isn't important, if ye please."

"Yes, sir," she said, looking astonished. Then she took the unsigned clipboard and headed for the turbolift.

Three bells, Scotty thought, and rubbed the bridge of his nose reflexively.

"Lieutenant, I firmly believe that you should reconsider your position on the use of the dinner linens for tomorrow's lunch menu in the officer's mess."

Scott couldn't believe this.

He just couldn't.

The head chef stood in front of him, practically shaking with indignant rage, and Scotty was almost certain that if the chef had brought a knife, there might be a change in the menu. To include him as the main course. The word 'stupid' was now firmly entrenched in his mind.

He squared up to the angry man. His head was pounding, and he was firmly feeling the almost triple shift, and this was bloody moronic. "All right," Scotty said, mentally counting to ten before continuing in what he hoped was a non-offensive tone. "Ye want to use the dinner linens because the--"

The chef interrupted, "Because the orange pudding next to the olive lunch linens--"

"Dinna interrupt me," Scotty snapped back, and the chef not only fell quiet, but actually stepped backwards a pace. After another moment where he had to count to ten, and where he heard Corry correct him with 'don't', he continued, "Are ye fairly confident that the food is good?"

"Of course," the chef replied, raising his chin.

"And the complaint ye have is that it's not color coordinated?"

"Yes. I think that using olive lunch linens with an orange pudding would be disaster! Surely you must see the problem with this!"

Scotty closed his eyes, stood still for a moment, then let out a slow breath. "White. Standard issue is white. Everyone on the ship uses white outside o' the officer's mess. Use white."

The chef eyed him, then frowned. "I suppose that would work."

"Aye. That would work."

"I'll have the yeoman send the proper forms."

Scott bit back a groan.

Please let something happen, please let something happen...

Five bells now, and not only had he approved use of the white, standard Starfleet linens for use in the officer's mess, but he also had to go on to approve the dinner menu. And the dinner linens. And the use of water in meal preparation. And a release from the stores of some lemon tea. And...

Scotty didn't really want anything to happen, but it had only been what, two and a half hours? And he was intimately acquainted with the paperwork required to run the galley of the Enterprise. At least if something happened, he would actually have something else to think about.

The yeoman came back; he heard the doors open and briefly buried his face in his hands, though he somehow, someway managed to keep from thumping his forehead off of the wall. On top of the headache, and the aches from crawling around the guts of a computer all day prior, his back and neck were killing him. This was the last thing he wanted to do right now.

"Sir? I need you to sign the release for the dessert menu for tomorrow evening."

Scott picked his head up, took the form, glanced over it, signed it and handed it back. "Why don't ye just bring all of these at once? Ye'd think that would save on shoe leather, at least."

"It keeps me from getting bored," she replied, with a frank grin. And then she turned and left again.

Makes one of us, Scott thought, glumly.

Six bells.

Three hours. Five more to go. Five hours of... of forms sent from the galley. Five hours of maintaining course and speed. At least two hours, properly, before the warp drive would be fully operational if they went by the book. Engineering said that the tests were fine thus far, but aside from that bit of good news, Scott was fairly sure that this was one of the worst watches he'd ever stood since transferring to the Enterprise.

The yeoman had been back only twice more since last time, and he kept forgetting to ask for a cup of coffee. That would make this far more bearable. A good, steaming mug of black coffee, and he could probably survive it.

As it was, though, he just stood with his hands behind his back, staring rather tiredly at the viewscreen, sans coffee and the motivation to even pace anymore.

He hadn't looked back once since he'd been transferred (booted) out of Command School, and he was more glad than ever that he'd ended up an engineer. He couldn't even begin to fathom standing watches like this one for years, until he had enough rank and experience to climb higher; far better to be an engineer, where at least he could--

Hell broke loose.

One moment, he'd been standing there and the next, he was picking himself up off of the deck, trying to figure out what in the name of all good and holy had just happened. "Status?!"

The navigator had held on and called back, "Two Klingon warships! They just... appeared out of no where, astern!"

"Get the shields up! Helmsman, evasive maneuvers!"

Twin 'aye aye's' answered him, and Scotty grabbed hold of the railing. "Communications, get the Captain or the Exec--" another volley rocked the ship, but not nearly so violently and he was able to keep his footing, "--and I need a bloody damage control report yesterday!"

Gunderson answered that one from the engineering console. "Forward shields are at full, aft shields are at 80%, damage control parties report large scale structural damage to the hangar deck, but no casualties."

Scott only had a moment to think, Oh God, the captain's gonna have my head, before he had decisions to make. "Helm, bring us about; ready phasers and torpedoes."

"Sir, communications to the habitation areas are down; turbolifts are out," the communication officer reported, at the exact same time that the helmsman said, "Phaser and torpedo bays are unresponsive."

"Ye've gotta be kidding me," Scotty muttered, jumping down onto the command deck to stand behind the helm and navigation console. "Can ye raise Engineering, Lieutenant?" he asked Gunderson, but didn't get a reply before another round of fire landed him back against the command chair.

"Yes, sir, they report that the diagnostic was interrupted, but impulse engines are still in fine shape."

Scott pulled himself up and dropped into the chair, eying the two ships that were now finally on the viewscreen. A brief moment passed while he thought about it. "Tell 'em to knock off the diagnostics and proceed with restartin' the drive computer, with all haste. Helm, continue evasive maneuvers. Gunderson, get damage control parties on figurin' out why we don't have weapons. Communications, send a hail to the Klingons..." There he paused. What exactly would he say? He couldn't imagine that, "D'ye mind? This is the first time I've commanded a starship outside a simulator and ye're makin' the experience really damn unpleasant," would be the ticket. "Tell 'em that they're in violation of treaty, and this can be considered a declaration of war."

"Sir, damage control reports that phasers are now back online," Gunderson said.

"Any response from the Klingons?" Scotty asked, turning to look at the communications station.

Another volley rocked the bridge.

He held on until it passed, then turned back to face the viewscreen. "Aye, that counts. Helm, target those ships and fire at will. Communications, try'n get the Captain or anyone else bloody qualified on the line."

"Aye, sir."

"Engineering shows twenty minutes to restart."

It wasn't a cold restart; they'd just taken the drive computer offline and powered the engines down to idle. But they needed warp drive, and they needed it now. "Tell 'em to skip the checklist, and that I need those engines."

"Aye aye," Gunderson said, though he looked rather doubtful about it.

The next volley nearly pitched him right back onto the deck; the navigator landed on the floor, but was back in his seat fairly fast. "Shields down to 20%."

"Helm, take us..." Scott paused a moment. "Take us straight up, fast as ye can. Continue firing."

Even with the inertial dampeners, there was a moment of almost vertigo as the Enterprise answered to helm and went straight upwards, rather than the more flat plane forward or backwards motion that the ship was built for. For a moment, though, the disruptor fire fell off as the Klingons attempted to compensate for the unexpected move.

"Report?" he asked, to anyone who had an answer at this point.

The answers weren't exactly inspiring.

"Unable to raise one of the senior officers."

"Engineering reports four minutes until warp drive is available through warp factor 2."

"Klingons are compensating, coming back into range."

The navigator damned them, though. "Sir, we're showing three more Klingon ships approaching fast!"

There wasn't even time to swear about it; their only hope now was to stay alive until they could jump into warp speed. Scott nearly froze up at that last report. This was like the Kobayashi Maru all over again; the bad part was, if he lost this one, it wouldn't be simulated death. It would be the real thing.

How many people? he thought.

"Track their headings, try'n find a gap we can slip through. Helm, take us straight down now," he swallowed hard; tricky, tricky, they'd be in prime firing range passing the Klingons on the way downwards, but four minutes... well, three... "Fast as ye can get 'er to go."

"Straight down, aye."

Sure enough, as they passed the two ships, another round of fire hit and rocked the bridge. But it was over in short order, leaving the communications officer and Scott to pull themselves off of the decking.

"Shields are down, sir," Gunderson reported, shaking his head. "Two minutes, fifty seconds."

"Klingons are following; the other three cruisers are closing in on us and will be in range in under two minutes," the helmsman reported.

They were rapidly running out of places to run at this point. "Any damage to the first two?"

"No, sir, none."

That made no sense. That or some divine being had it in for him. Scotty cast about, trying to find something, anything that would buy them time to retreat. He was coming up woefully short on ideas, though. "Divert any extra power we've got into the phasers. Helm, I need ye to..." This was insane. "Ahead full impulse, and I need ye to put us belly-up; when ye get a lock-on, fire full phasers at the nearest ship."

"You want me to..." the man at the helm eyeballed him for a split second, then blinked and turned back to his console. "Aye aye, Lieutenant. Ahead full."

"Engineering?" Scott asked, hopefully.

"Two minutes."

A particularly salty bit of language crossed his mind, but he didn't say it, just held on tight. Shields were out, and they were playing bloody ballet with five... five... Klingon cruisers. This wasn't just madness. This was some word that hadn't even been invented yet. Though, there hadn't been any more hits; the Klingons were probably wondering what the Hell a Constitution-class starship was doing upside down.

"Any gaps we can slip through?"

"No, sir. None."

"One minute, forty-five seconds."

"C'mon, c'mon," Scotty said, under his breath.

"We've got a lock; I'm firing," the helmsman said, and fired phasers at the first ship above the Enterprise. With the extra power, it didn't take long for that one to break off, limping away; without being told, he targeted the second.

"One minute, thirty seconds."

"The three Klingon cruisers are now in range," the navigator said, then yelled, "They're firing!"


It was too late.

Hell unbroke loose and no one was more surprised than Scott.

He looked at the pair of black boots from his vantage on the floor, his ears still ringing a little from where he'd been thrown in the last attack from the Klingons. Then he looked up at the owner.

Captain Pike wore that same look of quiet, perhaps wry amusement, and offered a hand down. "Not bad, Lieutenant. The Enterprise is space dust, and you forgot to launch the log recorder to tell Starfleet that we're space dust, but otherwise..."

Scott looked at the hand, looked at the Captain, then took the hand and dragged himself to his feet. "...sir?" His brain stopped working sometime around the same time he'd landed on the deck, realizing with a real sense of horror that he'd managed to kill a few hundred people, destroy the ship he was devoted to, and himself all in about what, five minutes? Before that, he'd managed to keep a cool head -- no time to panic. But those last awful moments drove the point home.

Pike stepped back, looking around the bridge. The other third shifters who had been there looked somewhat less dazed and confused than their officer of the watch. Then he looked back at Scott. "You did well. You acted quickly, and for the most part correctly, and as a bonus, you managed some fairly creative orders."

"A test?" Scott asked, both eyebrows pegged up, partly in disbelief, partly in numb shock.

"A battle simulation," Pike corrected. "You have some command school experience, and your records show a knack for leadership. I wanted to see how you would do under the gun."

"Aye, sir," the engineer replied, not really able to find it in himself to say anything more. He almost dropped into the command chair; his legs felt like jelly. The headache was now amplified ten-fold, too. But with the captain on the bridge, he didn't dare.

Pike eyed him for a moment, then addressed the crew in general. "I'll go over your performances with each of you tomorrow. For now, at ease."

It took them a moment, but they relaxed. No one was hurt; just a few bruises, and now that the computer was done telling them that the Enterprise was under attack, the the Enterprise was done simulating the attack, every board showed things were in perfect condition. Most of them, at least, were already battle tested on the bridge. Most of them had undergone simulations like this in the past.

Which left the one person who hadn't.

"Walk with me, Lieutenant," Pike said, just before Spock came out of the turbolift. He gave a nod to the third-in-command and didn't look back to see if Scott was following or not.

After a moment, the now very stupefied Scotty did follow, and couldn't help but put a shoulder to the wall of the turbolift as the door closed. If he was actually capable of doing much thinking, he still wouldn't have known exactly what to think about what had happened. When the lift went into motion, he only thought that it'd be nice to sit down.

"How do you feel?"

It took a moment for the question to filter through the daze, but Scotty frowned a little and looked at Pike. He didn't quite have it in him at the moment to get anxious, so he just replied frankly, "Very tired, sir."

Pike nodded, thoughtfully. He didn't say anything right away, but when he did, it was steady. "It's not standard procedure to put an engineer on the bridge as officer of the watch. Nonetheless, I think I'm going to schedule you in for a command rotation, every couple of weeks."

"I'd really rather ye didn't, sir," Scott replied, and prepared himself to beg if he had to.

"For good reason." Pike raised an eyebrow. "The only bridge you ever commanded was in a simulator, back in the Academy. But according to Chief Barry's reports, you handle your position as third watch supervisor well; though, as she puts it, you still need a little more work in dealing with people and not machines. Your performance this morning has been thoroughly impressive; there are Lieutenants on the command track who faced similar simulations and died far more quickly. So, while the mere idea of taking charge of the bridge again might be concerning..." he paused there, as though he were thinking of how to word what came next.

Scott didn't interrupt. It did occur to him, though, that this was probably the longest conversation he'd ever had with Pike. It was certainly the least nerve-wracking; that, he was willing to chalk up to exhaustion. And dying, even if it was only in an again simulated manner. Scotty had gone through more than a few nighttime simulations since boarding the Enterprise, on-duty and off. Just never from this side of it, in command and without any prior warning. In retrospect, he wondered a little why he hadn't expected it.

Pike nodded, as the turbolift doors opened, revealing the night-lit, already again quiet hallway. "You did well, Mister Scott. You have a lot of natural talent, and I think it would be a loss to the fleet if you didn't have the opportunity to develop it to its fullest potential. So, get some sleep, then take some time to think about it, and we'll discuss it further."

"Aye, sir," Scott answered, not quite sure how to deal with the compliment.

Pike nodded, stepping out. Then he paused, looking back; the often cool captain had a certain expression of warmth. "I'm proud of you, Lieutenant. Sleep well."

The doors closed.

The shock was mostly gone, though not forgotten, by the time Scotty managed to drag himself back to his quarters. It was only about three and a half hours after he took the bridge, but it seemed more like an eternity, and the five minute walk back to his own cabin was just as long.

The simulation, as well as the brief talk with Captain Pike afterwards, played on the edges of his thoughts as he dropped into the chair by his desk and started unlacing his boots. The distance from the event, even though it wasn't much, helped him put it into a little perspective. Not much, admittedly, as tired as he was. But enough that he could be a little more critically honest about it.

No warp drive, no sensor warning, no communications with the senior staff and initially, not even phasers. It was the first time he'd been standing as commanding officer on a bridge in a long time, and this wasn't in a simulator. Two Klingon ships out of nowhere, and three more coming in.

Maybe with some time, he'd learn to beat odds that were so stacked against him.

He pulled his boots off and left them right there, then noticed for the first time the cup of tea and the biscuit sitting on his desk. And wondered why he hadn't noticed it before.

Scotty frowned in brief puzzlement and stood, picking up the cup to read the note underneath.

The white linens were a perfect match.
-Yeoman Langley

Despite himself, he grinned; tired as he was, he still took the tea and biscuit, sat on the bed and did his best to appreciate it. In the times of sailing ships, this was the middle watch; he wondered, a little, how often it ended up being this... different. Maybe how often it would be this different.

Maybe if having tea afterwards was some kind of age-old trick to make things seem a little less stressful.

The middle watch ended with him dead to the world, still dressed, with an empty cup of tea sitting beside the bed.

Eight bells. All was well.

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