DISCLAIMER: I don't own startrek or anything trek
related. I am not making any profit just having fun
Many thanks to Bethany and Meagan for their beta work.
Life always has a funny habit of going in different directions to the one you expect it to. For Ella Tor this was truer than she cared to think about.
Her life had started on the desolate colony world of Kertra, with a mother who barely acknowledged her existence. At least the woman had cared enough to raise her. Her father had left them when she was only six years old.
Kertra, situated on the outskirts of the Hardomian Empire, was a barren planet. Why anyone had ever bothered to colonise the planet was something the young woman could never understand. The planet was nothing more than a bare rock with an atmosphere. It had no natural resources and, because it was located at the edge of the empire, there were no commercial shipping lines anywhere near the sector.
With an unemployment rate of nearly seventy percent, the prospects of its inhabitants were not worth mentioning. Most people wanted nothing more than to leave the poor metropolises of the planet. Basically there were only two ways for a person to leave the colony; buy passage on one of the few trading vessels that did visit the planet or by joining space force.
Only a very few had the means for the former and space force had several requirements a prospective recruit had to meet before being accepted.
The foremost requirement was that you had to be literate.
And on Kertra only five percent of the population knew how to read and write.
From early childhood on, Ella had believed that joining space force would be her ticket off the planet that she had learned to hate. When she turned seventeen - the earliest age recruits were accepted - she had immediately gone to the recruiter's office. According to the recruitment officer she would have been an ideal candidate if it weren't for the fact that she did not know how to read and write.
Although disappointed, this setback had not fazed the young woman one bit. She was fully aware that, considering her circumstances, she was a very lucky person, professionally speaking.
From as early as she could remember she'd had a gift for fixing anything and everything she could lay her hands on. She almost instinctively knew how to repair any broken device or appliance, and even if it wasn't broken she could often improve the performance of the machine.
This amazing ability had gotten her what so many others on the planet did not find - employment. She had a job at one of only two small shipyards Kertra boasted. Her skills not only made her valuable to her boss but also appreciated, if not necessarily liked, by her co-workers.
She was a relatively small woman but, thanks to the genetic modifications some unknown ancestor of her's had undergone, she was stronger by far than any of her male colleagues. She was a hard worker who never shirked her duties and could always be counted on to lend a hand.
Ella was no fool, she realised that if it weren't for her talents her life would have been much harder. Even so she loved to simply tinker with all sorts of devices, learning their uses, and found a simple joy in this action that she found almost nowhere else. It was her escape from everyday drudgery. She was also confident of the fact that her abilities would buy her a life off planet.
All she needed to do was to find someone able to read who would teach her that skill in exchange for jobs he or she needed doing. And since on Kertra everybody was always in need of some job or another she did not doubt that she would find a tutor.
But then Ella's life took an unexpected turn on the path she had mapped out for herself.
Intent on finding an able teacher, Ella arrived home deep in contemplation of her next move. To her surprise she found her mother waiting for her. Her hackles rose and she prepared herself for the inevitable argument. It did not come.
Instead her mother had forestalled any possible argument by coming to the point immediately. She had a job lined up for the two of them, if Ella was interested. It would pay very nicely but they would have to be very discreet. Absolutely no questions asked.
Ella had wanted to snort as her mother told her this. If she had not proven her ability to be discreet she would not have lasted longer than a few days at the shipyard. You did not ask too many questions, on Kertra this was the way of life. However as her mother was actually putting her trust in her daughter for the very first time Ella could remember she too made the effort.
And after hearing all her mother had to say and asking the few questions she could, she accepted the job.
Via a series of roundabout ways they rendezvoused with a silent guide at the edge of the metropolis' slums who then led them to one of the many deserted areas of the planet.
They were actually transported by a silent, smooth-going ground vehicle and Ella had enjoyed the ride, even though the journey had been spent in absolute silence. It was the first time in her life that she had ridden in something other than the ramshackle conveyance system that passed for public transport. The young woman had long since given up on that particular mode of travel, instead walking wherever she needed to go.
After a two-hour voyage, the driver suddenly stopped the vehicle and softly spoke a couple of words into the communicator clipped onto his wrist. Just as Ella was getting a little suspicious a ship suddenly appeared right in front of them. As if by magic, the largest vessel Ella had ever laid eyes on appeared seemingly from nowhere.
The young mechanic had never seen one of the fabled camouflage devices in action but it did not take a genius to figure out that it had to be a camouflager what made the ship appear so suddenly.
As a ramp started to open and they started to drive right into the belly of the vessel it started to disappear again. Only this time with them in it.
As they rode up the ramp Ella could not help but notice the scorching from weapon's fire on the ship's exterior. A bit of apprehension rose in her as she steeled herself for what they would find inside.
The area that they entered was not in too bad a condition. Largely due to the fact there was nothing in the loading bay into which they entered, hence the damage was not too obvious. Only two holes next to the entry were evidence of the ship's unfortunate state.
Their guide motioned for them to follow him and when he led them through several corridors Ella and her mother could see the real extent of the damage the ship had taken.
Everywhere, panels were dangling from the ceiling. Cables were visible all over and the place smelled like several fires had made their way throughout the ship.
Ella wondered just what the hell had happened and she could see the same questions running through her mother's head. She had, however, promised not to ask any questions so, like her current companions, she just kept quiet.
One of the questions that was foremost in her mind was what she was doing here? It was obvious the vessel needed extensive repairs and she was only one mechanic. The shipyards on Kertra were much better equipped to make the numerous repairs and, because of their clientele, discretion was pretty much guaranteed.
Finally they reached their destination: the ship's engine room. Several people were hard at work there. Their guide cleared his throat and called. "Captain."
A tall, dark man looked up at this and noticed the new arrivals. He nodded at them and then went right back to work. This obviously satisfied their guide as he nodded in return. He turned to his charges and told Ella to wait where she stood motioning Miranda to follow him, which the woman did.
From her vantagepoint close by the Engineering entrance, Ella had a good view of the entire room. It was compact but still larger than on any vessel she had seen before.
The set up of the engine room was pretty much the same as on other ships. No matter what vessel you were on, propulsions systems were located in the centre of the room, maintenance stations to the left and diagnostic equipment to the right. There were a couple of stations that the mechanic did not recognise the purpose of at first glance. She strongly suspected that this particular vessel would have a few surprises in store for her if only she was given the chance to explore it.
Ella's wandering gaze was met by a woman who was working on one of the workstations in the centre of the room. The woman smiled encouragingly at her and then went right back to work. There was an urgency to her that was apparent in all the woman's co-workers.
The young woman was startled out of her musings when someone put a hand on her shoulder. She looked around and saw the captain gazing at her.
Charles `Chuckles' Atay was a tall man, at least a head and a half taller than Ella. His close-cropped hair had quite a bit of grey in it but what was most distinguishing was the black tattoo he had over his right eye.
The man put out his hand to his guest. "Charles Atay, you must be Miranda's daughter. Your mother told us you are one hell of a mechanic. And as you can probably see for yourself we need all the help we can get."
As Ella shook the man's hand she wondered just when her mother had told him this. As if in answer to her unspoken question Atay spoke.
"Your mother and I are old friends. When I contacted her a few hours ago she immediately offered to help us. Her help, appreciated though it is, is not what I needed. What I need is someone who is familiar enough with propulsion systems to get them going again within a twenty-six hour period. She was quite confident that you would be able to do so."
Ella looked at all the people hard at work in the engine room. Would not one of his regular people be more familiar with the ship's propulsion systems?
"Two of my crew were responsible for the engines. One of them was killed when we were attacked. And Roy is currently in a coma in sickbay." The captain's tone had turned grim. "I have several people who are qualified to perform maintenance on the propulsion systems. Under less extreme circumstances there would be no problem. We certainly would not need your help."
Ella could not help herself as she asked. "What happened to your people?"
"We had a string of bad luck."
Ella could tell by the tone of his voice that that was all the answer she would get. Shrugging it off she decided to have a look at the propulsion systems. As she neared the main workstation she threw a questioning look at the tall captain, asking his permission to proceed.
At his affirmation, Ella accessed the systems and when the computer showed the extent of the damage, she wondered if Atay had gone crazy. No matter how good she was at fixing stuff this was beyond a challenge.
She said as much to the Captain.
"If you cannot fix this, a lot of lives will be lost, kid. Ours among them."
Ella looked up sharply, it did not seem the Captain was making a joke. "Besides, your mother said you'd be able to get the old girl moving again, and she has never lied to us before. Now, you had better get to work, all our resources are available to you. Need any help, it's yours for the asking."
In the end, Ella had gotten the job done. She had needed to recruit four of the ship's crew and it had taken over forty-nine hours. That was well beyond the dead line Charles Atay had given, but it had been the best she could do.
As her free day had long since passed, the girl had needed to call in sick at work, which was easily done with the ship's communication equipment. They had very easily managed to hack into the town's communication network. As she had never called in sick before, her boss had no trouble believing her and all he said was that she would not get paid for the days she missed.
Bone tired, since she had only managed to get three hours sleep in the two days she had been on board the vessel, she made her way to the Captain to tell him repairs were done. After asking directions from a member of the crew she had no trouble tracking him down in his office.
As she walked through the corridors she was impressed by all the work the Carintia's crew had been able to do in the relatively short time. Despite the damage, the loss of several people and limited resources, they had all the key systems functioning again as well as the worst of the debris, that had littered the corridors when she had first arrived, cleared up.
She was actually sad that she would be saying goodbye to the ship. It was remarkable how quickly she had gotten used to the ship and its crew.
As she approached what had to be the Captain's office, she noticed the door was open. Grimacing, she figured that was also a result of the ship's unfortunate encounter with whoever, as all the doors on this vessel would open and close automatically when someone passed through them.
As she drew closer, she picked up the captain's voice and then her mother's deep voice. It was not her intention to eavesdrop, but as she neared the office and she heard her name she stopped to listen what they were discussing.
"It has to be El's choice, Charles. I have not made a decision for her since she was seven. She did not need it. We are not exactly what you would call close." A pause, before Miranda continued, "You are asking the wrong person."
"I did not want you to think I was asking her this behind your back," he replied.
"Like I said you are asking the wrong person. I'll miss her though. She would not believe me if I told her that, but I will miss her." Miranda's voice had a definite touch of sadness in it.
"Do you think she will take my offer?" he questioned
"Oh yes. Ever since she was little she has been trying to get off planet. She was exactly like me when I was her age. Anything to get off this rock, and out to the fabulous worlds we so often hear about here. She wants to join space force."
"Just like you," he said laughingly.
Ella was startled by what she was hearing. She hadn't known her mother had wanted to join the military. She almost missed the next bit.
"We are more alike than either of us likes to admit. We are both too stubborn for our own good and too proud to admit when we are wrong.I know I should tell her about all the mistakes I have made in my life, but it would do no good. Ella has to make her own mistakes and learn from them, just as I did."
"There would be a place for you on my ship as well."
"Thank you Charles, but you know I can never go back into space again. I just cannot handle that anymore." Ella could detect a small tone of wishfullness in her mother's voice.
"Just promise me you will take good care of my daughter. She is all I have left. I need to know you will protect her."
"You have my word on it." Atay sounded almost solemn as he made that promise. "You know she really is one of the best engineers I have ever seen. I truly believed the engines were beyond repair but she has nearly gotten it done. Just like you said."
"Yes, that girl of mine has quite a talent." Silent, honest pride was evident in Miranda's voice.
Ella thought her tiredness had taken its toll on her. Never had she heard her mother talk about her like this. For a moment Ella felt anger surface, why had her mother never told her this? But a little voice answered that question, `because you never gave her a chance.'
Yet old habits die-hard and Ella simply did not know how to deal with this new information. She filed it away for later contemplation even as part of her was warmed by the knowledge that her mother might care for her after all. That was more then she had known a few days ago.
As she heard someone approaching in the corridor, she quickly knocked on the doorframe of the captain's office. After receiving his permission to enter, she did not let on that she had overheard the conversation that had been going on inside.
The Captain asked a lot of questions on hearing her report, but finally seemed satisfied with the answers he had been given.
"I'll be giving the order to depart then. We really have been here too long, and we need to get going. I don't suppose you would consider coming with us?"
So that was what that conversation had been all about! Uncertainly Ella looked at her mother, silently asking her advice. This in turn seemed to surprise Miranda.
"You have wanted to leave Kertra for as long as I can remember. And I strongly believe this is better for you then joining space force."
"What do you mean?"
"I was in the space force once." Miranda noticed her daughter was not surprised by this news. "You may have all the skills necessary for a long career in the force, but you have to be able to deal with following orders Ella, even those that make absolutely no sense to you. You don't tolerate stupidity and you rarely keep your opinion to yourself."
A small smile crossed her mother's face. "Trust me on this, I know. for we are very much alike in this and it happened to me. Learn from my mistakes." Miranda half expected her daughter to throw her words back in her face but the young woman only asked.
"Why did you never tell me this before?"
"I didn't think you were ready to listen to me, and I think it would only have made you more determined to join the military. Now, Charles here is an excellent and fair Captain. He will teach you everything you could ever hope for and you will get to places worth seeing."
Both women looked at Captain Atay then. The man had respectfully remained silent during their onversation, but it was with some urgency he finally spoke.
"I realise this offer comes out of the blue, and since we really have to leave in a few hours it does not give you much of a chance to think about it, but I could really use you. You did more than good work here and with both my engineers gone for the moment, I could use you more then ever."
"Does your vessel often get in this kind of predicament?" Ella dared asking now. "No offence but I have no interest in joining a smuggler's ship. I have been offered positions on those before, but I really don't have any interest in signing on to such a ship."
Atay laughed, he could understand where this question came from and quickly reassured the young mechanic.
"Actually I run a very respectful ship, I really cannot tell you what happened to us, I cannot even assure you it won't happen on the first flight you take with us. However, once we offload our cargo we can go back to our regular business."
"What is that?"
"I am an independent transporter but I have a contract with Way Industries to deliver to and from several outlying colonies. It's all very legal."
Ella could see the man had trouble keeping in his laughter and thought he was mocking her. It must have shown on her face for the man added.
"I was just thinking how much trouble I would have believing me. After all we land here in secrecy, and Carintia has more holes in it then my dad's shower head."
The youngest woman looked at her mother again for advice. This trilled the older woman more then she thought possible.
"Ella I really believe you won't get a better offer than this."
The mechanic and her mother talked things over for a little while longer, and Atay respectfully left his office to give them some privacy. In the end Ella took his offer.
She did not have any time to pack her things but there really wasn't anything she wanted to take with her. Clothes and food would be provided and, aside from her precious tools that she had acquired over the years, she did not have any personal possessions she wanted to take with her.
In the end, she promised her mother that she would be back to pick them up.
And so Ella's life took the turn that would lead her to space, having no idea where she was heading next.