The New Fish

by Mylochka

(Standard Year 2253)

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Ensign Caleb Donaldson concentrated every bit of effort he could muster into trying to look like stepping into the Main Engineering section of the legendary U.S.S. Lincoln was already an every day occurrence to him instead of the culmination of almost his every waking moment for the last decade or so of his life.

A short, stocky, orange-haired young woman in Engineering coveralls turned and grinned at him and the ensign escorting him. "Salve, Marcellus!"

"Salve, Michaels!" the ensign - who had introduced himself as Charles Marcus - replied.

Donaldson's cousins had warned him that the Lincoln's Engineering crew had a reputation for eccentricity. The ensign decided that if the worst they did was greet each other in the fashion of Roman Centurions - he could live with that.

"This is Ensign Caleb Donaldson," Marcus, who was a thin, sandy-haired young man with pale blue eyes, introduced.

"Ah, the new fish!" Michaels clapped a hand around his forearm Roman legion style.

"This is Ensign..." Marcus seemed strangely stuck to recall his friend's first name. "...Michaels."

"Theodosia," the flame-haired, freckle-faced ensign informed him. "But you can forget that right away, because no one calls me that. And if you have an ounce of self-preservation, you won't even try."

"Okay." Donaldson agreed easily. "Michaels."

"Donald's son!" His new fellow officer shook his hand again in the traditional manner. "Hail, fellow! Well met! And congratulations on joining the most highly decorated and top ranked - for both superior competence and extreme efficiency -- Engineering crew in the 'Fleet."

"Even if we do say so ourselves..." Ensign Marcus added genially.

"And we do," Michaels admitted.

"Indeed we do," Marcus affirmed, looking a little embarrassed.

The red-headed engineer crossed her arms in mock indignation. "Well if other people would be just a little more efficient and competent in complimenting us, we might not have to do quite so much of it on our own."

"We are a little full of ourselves at the moment because we just got the news this morning that this quarter we're first in the rankings for the most proposals for upgrades and technological innovations incorporated into Starfleet Standards," Marcus explained modestly.

"And that's first including the San Fran shipyards," Michaels pointed out far less humbly.

"...Who are never included," Marcus joined in.

".. Because they usually beat everyone else by so much," his comrade gloated. "But not us."

"Not this time."

The two Lincoln engineers exchanged a little fist-bump of self-congratulations.

"So, welcome," Michaels summarized, picking the laser wrench she'd been working with back up and making an all-encompassing gesture with it, "to the finest contingent of the finest crew in all of the Stars' finest Fleet."

"There is one drawback we should tell you about though, " Marcus said, lowering his voice and glancing cautiously up towards the Chief Engineer's office.

Michaels gave a little half-laugh as she made an adjustment inside the open panel she'd been working on when they entered. "...And it's a doozy."

"It's.... that... the... uh..." Marcus dragged his words out as if anticipating an interruption. He glanced up at the upper gallery again expectantly. "The... uh... Chief... has... a..." The sandy-haired ensign stopped completely and put his hands on his hips. "Hmmm.... Is Pops gonna let us down?"

"Hush yo' mouth," Michaels admonished.

Marcus glanced towards a chronometer. "Didn't the shift just begin?"

"About seven minutes ago."

"And Swanson isn't...?"


"Even though...?"


Marcus whistled a long, impressed note. "Oh, this is going to be a good one."

"Classic," Michaels confirmed.

Behind them, another ensign sauntered in humming to himself.

"Um..." As Michaels hastily gathered up her tools, Marcus put a guiding hand on Donaldson's shoulder. "We're going to need to step back a little here... Get a little out of the direct line of sight..."

"What's going on?" Donaldson asked as they hustled him to the other side of a large piece of equipment.

From the direction of the Chief Engineer's office, strange noises -- growls and thuds as if clipboards were being throw against a bulkhead by some sort of wild beast -- began to issue forth.

"You see," Michaels explained quietly, opening up a new panel and passing tools down the line so each ensign could be seen to be holding something in his or her hand. "The only drawback to being part of our fine crew with our legendary captain is that our equally legendary Chief of Engineering has a bit of a temper..."

"Swanson!" someone bellowed. "Sweet Mary Mother o' God! Swanson!"

Noel DelMonde, Starfleet's poet-engineer, strode out of his office and gripped the railing of the upper gallery, looking like one of Michelangelo's avenging angels grimly eager to begin driving sinners to their last judgment.

"Swanson!" he bellowed. "Where th'hell you at?"

"Uh, sir?" the offending engineer answered with a weak smile.

The Lincoln's chief engineer frowned down upon him magnificently. DelMonde was now older than the publicity holos of him in his books but the engineer was still much more handsome than any of the actors they'd gotten to play him in any of the bio-vids that were sufficiently fictionalized to slip past the legions of lawyers Dave Calvin and DelMonde's publishers employed to discourage unauthorized celebrations of the Cajun's real and imagined exploits.

"You late?" he growled. "On top o' ever't'ing else -- you got th' balls t'walk you worthless ass in here late?"

Swanson shrugged cluelessly. "On top of what, Chief?"

"Sweet Mother Mary..." DelMonde bowed his head and sighed heavily as if in earnest prayer.

"Okay..." Michaels said quickly as she and Marcus simultaneously pulled Donaldson further out of the anticipated line of fire. "Now, apparently the Chief was taught to swear by Catholic nuns, so the more it starts out sounding like a sermon...."

"Oh, Most Sweet an' Merciful Lord an' Savior Jesus H. Bartholomew Christ th' Third along wit' Mary, Joseph an' fifteen o' th' Disciples' second cousins," their superior continued fervently. "Help me not to kill this boy..."

"Because if it's that DMR report you're wanting..." the hapless Swanson replied.

"IF?!! IF?!!" the Cajun demanded, his dark eyes glowing like coals from the infernal fires.

"... the more likely it is to wind up sounding like this," Michaels finished as she and Marcus braced for impact.

The Chief's noble lips parted and a mighty, rolling river of invective poured forth upon the head of his unfortunate underling.

Donaldson's brain went so numb from the blistering vehemence of his new boss's delivery that afterwards he could not recall precisely what had been said. He only knew that the spewing-forth had been impressive in verbiage, venom, violence, and volume. It had been equal parts cruel, creative, and stunningly crude. It was, in short, a cussing-out for the ages delivered by a high master of the art.

The unworthy Swanson had only sighed and rolled his eyes as if this epic dressing-down was nothing more than a work-a-day inconvenience for him. "If you want me to re-write the report..."

The Chief Engineer's grip tightened on the railing as if he might crush it. "What I want, ya sad, stupid bastard," he said from between perfect teeth, "is fo' you to march your sorry ass up to my office so I not risk splashin' no blood on all this finely-tuned instrumentation as I tear you limb from motherfuckin' limb."

The doomed Swanson cast a piteous look in the direction of his colleagues.

"We should feel sorry for him," Marcus said guiltily as he avoided eye contact.

"Why?" Michaels replied, continuing to fake-repair an open panel. "Have we told him what he needed to do?"


"Has he ever listened?"

"Nope." Marcus shook his head adamantly. "Never even once."

Agreed in their affirmation of their Chief's evaluation of their colleague's worth, the two ensigns turned and waved a cheery farewell to their fellow officer as he began to trudge his way up to the place of execution.

After Swanson had slunk into his office, the Lincoln's Chief Engineer paused to cast a chilling glare at Donaldson and his two escorts. To underline his unspoken rebuke, the Cajun pointed at his own dangerously narrowed eyes and then to them.

"Okay," Michaels said briskly, taking Donaldson by the arm and drawing him even further into the protective cover of machinery. "Let us show you a little of our famous Lincoln I&D routine - Inspect and Diagnose. That's what we are justly famous for. "

"In fact," Marcus said, keeping his back carefully turned to his superior's office. "Most of the diagnostic mechanisms on the warp field equipment that you trained on at the Academy are the Chief's own personal design. Did you know that?"

Donaldson's lips formed into an "Oh?" that he still had not recovered enough self-possession to put sound to.

"Oh, most definitely..." The two ensigns paused and listened attentively as their Chief's melodious voice launched into a fresh tirade that the thick door of his office could not completely muffle.

Marcus blew out a long breath. "Well, now that we have Donaldson here, do you think this is finally the end of Swanson?"

"Yes, Marcellus." Michaels nodded sagely as the muted sounds of their fellow officer's blessing-out rose and fell. "This is, at long last, Swanson's swan song."

"I'm surprised he got here at all."

"Well, there is an Admiral Swanson, you know..."

"No, I didn't know. That would explain a lot."

"Unfortunately." Michaels turned to Donaldson. "I suppose that at the Academy you noticed that even though everyone's always telling you that being from an old Starfleet family doesn't mean anything, there were always self-important numskull nephews and nieces of high-ranking nabobs who just seemed to skate through anyway? And all the old hands just shook their heads and said that was only going to get them so far?" The engineer tapped on the machinery in front of her with the handle of her laser wrench. "Well, welcome to the city limits of So Far."

"True, true." Marcus seconded. "Even though, between them, our captain and our chief seem to know everyone who is anyone in Starfleet..."

"Oh, and beware of old friends of the Chief who call him 'Cajun,'" Michaels warned adamantly. "There be dragons, my child..."

"...thinking you're Starfleet royalty goes nowhere with the two of them," Marcus continued

"Absolutely nowhere," Michaels confirmed.

"Worse than nowhere," Marcus expounded. "Worse than..."

Michaels held up an interrupting finger. "Donaldson... Donaldson... You wouldn't by any chance be related to...?"

"Not an admiral," Donaldson insisted uncomfortably. "Not a nephew."

"Oh, well, being from a fine old Starfleet family is not a kiss of death," the red-haired engineer assured him.

"Oh, no, we're not saying that," Marcus hastened to confirm.

"Some grand old Starfrleet families are grand old Starfleet families because talent and dedication are encoded directly into the DNA." The two engineers gave each other a discreet fist bump that indicated they shared such a proud heritage, but did not intend to brag about it.

Donaldson grinned and returned the gesture of solidarity when it was offered to him.

"Even though you may be good..." Michaels cautioned.

"...And we're all hoping that you are good," Marcus added.

"Oh, God, yes." Michaels sighed in the direction of the still-ongoing commotion coming from their Chief's office. "We're depending on you being good. We have the reputation of being the hardest working Engineering crew in Star Fleet because we do more hard work than any other Engineering crew in Starfleet. So, yes, we need you to be really, really good. But as good as you are -- always keep this in the forefront of your thoughts -- you are not yet Lincoln-good."

Marcus sighed a bit wistfully. "This is true."

"You will be informed when you are Lincoln-good."

"Some of us are still waiting..." her fellow officer said sadly.

"Have faith, Marcellus." Michaels gave him an encouraging punch on the arm. "Didn't you get a grudging grunt of approval last week?"

"I did indeed." Marcus looked cheered by the memory.

"And didn't Pater tell you that your work refitting the K-11/J-12 intersection was not half the disaster he thought it was going to be?"

Marcus nodded, smiling. "I'm still savoring the glow from that one."

"I think you also should feel pretty good about being sent to fetch our new fish here," Michaels asserted, then gestured in the direction of the low roar still emanating from the Chief Engineer's office. "Don't forget that you could be getting cut up for bait instead..."

"Well, he did tell me this morning that he was starting to think I might turn out to be only half as stupid as I look," the ensign confided.

"Marcellus, my child!" Michaels threw her arms open delightedly. "Come to my arms, my beamish boy! Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want to jinx it," Marcus replied so earnestly that Donaldson couldn't tell whether or not they were joking.

"Trust me, comrade," his fellow officer said, "In no time you will have worked your way up to, "Mark, you damned moron, I know you can do better than this"."

The ensign held up crossed fingers hopefully.

"So.." Donaldson ventured. "The Chief is tough but fair?"

"Fair? Hmmmm...." Marcus deferred to his senior.

"Oh, hell no," Michaels replied unhesitatingly. "He's not fair. Not at all. Fair does not get you the highest efficiency rating in the Fleet. Fair does not even get the DMR reports in on time. He has no interest in fair. For one thing, the rumors are true -- He is a telepath."

"Oh?" Donaldson was sure that at least that speculation had been pure embellishment on the part of the makers of the more sensational bio-holos. "But I thought that telepaths... Well, that there are rules about..."

"Ah, yes." Michaels patted his arm in the same sort of gently patronizing way one would assume towards a child repeating something out of a fairy tale. "At the Academy, they always make it seem like out telepaths are conscientious, restrained, ethical, and only ever use their powers for good. It's only the Other Side's telepaths who would use such an advantage for evil...or to get the better of someone in an argument... or just to embarrass the crap out of a person because they thought it was funny."

Donaldson was a little alarmed at how rooted in experience Michaels' complaints seemed to be... and a little puzzled at who the "Other Side" might be... "You mean... the Romulans?"

"Oh, don't say Romulan!" Marcus hushed him quickly, taking a nervous glance over his shoulder at the closed door of his superior's office.

"Never say..." Michaels mouthed the word instead of voicing it. "Romulan."

Donaldson blinked. "He doesn't like Rom.. The Other Side?"

The two Lincoln ensigns took an uncharacteristically silent moment of head-scratching to figure out a way to describe their Chief's attitude.

"They depress him," Michaels decided at last.

"He knows a lot about them," Marcus added emphatically.

"Weirdly specific things," Michaels agreed.

"Like how to get served in a Romulan bar..."

"...Or what they like to eat for dessert..."

"...Or what they eat while they're watching sports..."

"...Or what kind of music they'd pick for a party..."

Michaels shook her head a little sadly. "When he starts talking about them, just nod and let it drop."

"Don't ask." Marcus was also shaking his head in the same sort of puzzled, sorrowful way. "Just don't ask anything..."

"Because when Pere Noel is in a black mood..." Michaels gestured over her shoulder at the commotion still coming from her superior's office. "Suffice it to say, such things should be avoided to the extent it is within one's power to do so."

"Does any one have any clue as to why...?" Donaldson ventured.

"Nope," Marcus replied and deferred to the apparently more experienced Michaels.

"Nope," she confirmed. "Don't even think about it."

"You are most definitely not allowed to think about it," Marcus agreed with a rueful half-laugh. "That is, if you like keeping your head from being bitten off and spit out he nearest airlock."

Donaldson nodded uncomfortably. "So, he's a telepath?"

"Oh, yes," Michaels replied, as if working for someone with paranormal abilities was more annoying than unusual.

"You have no privacy..." Marcus complained.

"Privacy?" His companion snorted. "I can just hear what Pater would say to that -- 'What you be thinking you needing privacy for, son?'"

"That is very close to exactly what he said to me." Marcus nodded. "Give or take some extra swearing..."

"You see..." Michaels gave Donaldson another pat on the arm. "We are his children..."

"His idiotic, wayward children..." Marcus affirmed.

"...Who have survived thus far without his guidance and constant surveillance only by the sheerest of sheer luck..."

"He gives us his most tender care and avid attention," her fellow rhapsodized sardonically. "Like a gardener pruning his favorite roses with an ax..."

"...And you'll soon experience the warmth of his regard," Michaels joined in kind. "The kind of warmth a martyr might feel when being carefully burned at the stake to gently steer them away from heresy..."

"Oh, yes," Marcus agreed, laughing despite himself, as if the two of them were in an ongoing competition to come up with new metaphors for their Chief's unique leadership style. "Warm just like that... Oh, we should tell him about the coffee..."

"Yes, indeed." Michaels turned to Donaldson and announced seriously. "You now like coffee -- very strong and very black. Doesn't matter how you drank it before. That's what you drink now."

"...And you love late twentieth century Earth music..." Marcus listed, using his fingers to enumerate items.

"...And Martian Drocadic Fusion is the worst musical genre in the history of the Universe..."

"...Most poets are over-rated..."

"...And everything Vulcan is at least slightly over-rated..."

"...And whatever you liquor you drank before, you now drink it straight and prefer the finest brand produced...."

"...All food associated with the city of New Orleans is good..."

"...All other food is barely edible..."

"...Machines cannot produce good food..."

"...Or teach you anything really worthwhile..."

"...You've never seen any holos based on his life..."

"...And if you did, you certainly did not think they were based on his life..."

"...And you certainly did not get into Starfleet after being inspired by any of those vids..."

"...And Rachel Kamens is one of the worst people to have ever lived..."

"...And journalism as it is practiced currently is one of the worst possible professions..."

"...followed closely by psychiatry..."

"I'm blanking," Marcus finally announced, having run out items before he ran out of fingers. "I'm blanking. I know there's more, but I'm blanking."

"That's a good start," Michaels consoled her fellow officer. "That's probably enough for his first sit-down with Pops. We don't want him to glaze. Are you glazing, Donaldson?"

Donaldson felt as glazed as a Christmas doughnut. "I do like black coffee," he managed nonetheless.

"That's the spirit!" Michaels congratulated him with a hearty thump on his shoulder. "Now, when you get into his office, the Chief is going to give you some coffee..."

"Today?" Marcus asked. "Even though he knows we're telling him all this?"

"Yes, because it's a test," the red-haired engineer replied firmly. "He wants to see if you will listen to advice. There will be lots of little tests. This is how to pass all of them -- When he warns you not to do something, don't do it."

"Okay," Donaldson agreed, wondering why this would be hard to accomplish.

"So, he'll pour you a cup of coffee, which you'll take because you like black coffee now whether you did before or not..."

"There's always coffee brewing in his office," Marcus remarked.

"That's how you can tell he's there..."

"...Or will be there shortly..."

"He'll pour you a cup of coffee..."

Marcus held up his hands to mime graciously receiving such an offer. "It's a tiny cup."

"A demitasse," Michaels corrected. "Very small for a coffee cup. Sometimes they double as shot glasses for him... Oh!"

"Don't do shots with Pops!" both ensigns insisted simultaneously.

Donaldson raised an eyebrow. "Is that a test too?"

"No, it's just suicidal," Marcus replied.

"The boss has an epic capacity for alcohol consumption," Michaels affirmed. "You may be able to out drink him. But one or both of you will severely sprain your liver in the process... Where was I?"

"The little cup."

"Demitasse. Tiny, yes..." Michaels re-oriented herself. "A tiny cup of coffee, it is true. But tiny because that's all of Pater's coffee that the Human nervous system can tolerated in one setting. "

"He'll warn you, 'It a little bitty bit strong today...'"

Michaels snorted. "Strong like an Aldeberon mud-ox..."

"Don't get nervous and gulp it down."

"Your eyeballs could pop out," the engineer warned seriously.

"Don't ask for more."

"It takes a minute for all that caffeine to hit your heart..."

"And don't make fun of how small those little cups are..."

"Demitasse," Michaels corrected patiently. "If he gives you a normal-sized cup, that's a bad sign."

"He gave Swanson a normal-sized cup," Marcus recalled.

"It means he thinks you didn't listen to us and you're not listening to him..."

"...And you need to be taken down a peg or two..."

"Trust me," Michaels said adamantly. "You do not want Pops ripping your peg out by the roots..." The red-haired ensign looked passed Marcus and Donaldson at a new entrant into Engineering. "Hark ye, fellows. Our Lady of Mercy arriveth..."

Donaldson turned to see a very attractive young Indiian woman in a yeoman's uniform stop to greet the engineer on duty near the entrance.

"A reprieve?" Marcus speculated incredulously.

"Nope," Michaels replied with the air of an expert. "She has a stat board. She's here for Swanson's walk of shame down to personnel."

Donaldson couldn't take his eyes off her. "Who is that?"

"That is Yeoman Calaya Wheal," Marcus said, almost reverently. "A very important person."

"Very." Michaels put an arm confidentially around Donaldson's shoulders. "Notice how pretty she is. How young. Think about the fact that she's only a yeoman and how non-coms only have to go through six months of basic training and how that pales in comparison to your four years at the Academy. Think of how little she must know about Engineering and about what great lovers Indiians are supposed to be... Okay, are you with me?"

Instead of agreeing, Donaldson licked his lips nervously and wondered if Michaels were a telepath too.

"Okay." Michaels made a grand flourishing gesture like a magician might employ when making a rabbit disappear. "Now, wipe all that from your mind."

"Completely," Marcus agreed, closing his eyes and sighing. "Totally and completely."

"Never think of any of those things ever again," Michaels warned. "None of them are of any use to you at all."

"At all," Marcus echoed as an amen.

Donaldson frowned. "Who is she?"

"She is your goddess," Michaels announced simply as she once more took up her laser wrench and returned to the panel she was working on. "Crave her indulgence. Fear her wrath."

"I'd say that Miss Wheal is tough but fair," Marcus decided.

"True, true," Michaels agreed. "In the end, it's her fairness that saves us... Except for old Swanson..."

Donaldson still couldn't quite take his eyes off the silver beauty. "She's a yeoman?"

"She's the Captain's yeoman," Marcus explained. "And Pops' girlfriend."

"And between those two positions of trust and authority, she has more than enough power in her perfect little silver pinkie to completely destroy your life and any hopes you had of a career...."

"...Or to pull you from the jaws the looming, unstoppable disaster," Marcus counterpointed.

"A simple 'According to your log, Ensign X seems to have contributed a great deal to the success of this landing party, Captain' is enough to put you in line for promotion. One tiny 'But he's doing his best, Noel' can keep you from being ignominiously booted out of the nearest airlock."

"Swanson isn't going to get that, is he?" Marcus concluded as he watched Wheal begin to make a solemn assent up the steps to the upper gallery.

"Nope," Michaels agreed mercilessly. "I told him to quit staring at her tits..."

Donaldson hastily shifted his gaze.

"I'd forgotten she even has them," Marcus affirmed.

"That's the safest route..."

Yeoman Wheal arrived at precisely the moment the clamor from the Chief Engineer's office climaxed with a final imprecation and the crestfallen Swanson stumbled out looking red-faced and shaken.

Donaldson followed the example of his new crewmates as they silently turned away, refusing their soon-to-be former shipmate even a parting glance as the dejected ensign was escorted out of the Main Engine Room by the fair Yeoman Wheal.

The funereal silence was preserved until the doors swooshed closed behind them.

“All right,” the Lincoln’s Chief Engineer’s strong voice rang out from the upper gallery. “Where the new fish?” “

Here, Chief!” Marcus pulled Donaldson forward. “This is Ensign Caleb Do...”

“Jesus H. Ever-Lovin' Christ.” DelMonde rolled his expressive eyes. “How many o' you black-headed, snub-nosed Donaldson brats are there in Starfleet?”

“I... uhm...,” Donaldson stammered.

“I hope you smarter than your cousins, son.” Half of the Cajun’s mouth hinted at amusement as he beckoned the new arrival forth. “You certainly not no better to look at.”

Before Donaldson could figure out a reply, the chief had already moved on to the next item on his agenda.

“Sister Mike! Girl, where you at? Imma need someone t' fix these damned DMRs so's they can be read.”

“I'll have them for you within the hour, sir,” Michaels replied briskly.

“Hour? What the hell you need an hour for?” Her superior snorted – much in the manner that Michaels herself had adopted. “You have them reports on my desk in fifteen or I gonna come after you wit' a damned stick.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Needin' a damned hour to do a DMR report...” DelMonde grumbled incredulously as Marcus gently shoved Donaldson towards the steps to the upper gallery. “What you plannin' to do? Take a nap? Sis, the day you need an hour to do a DMR, I takin' you to th' Sickbay. Not know what gonna hafta come to pass then...”

“Maybe you having to write your own reports, Pater?” Michaels speculated impudently.

The Cajun shook a warning finger at her. “Today not the day to be gettin' smart wi' me, girlie.”

“No day's a good day for that, Chief!” his subordinate returned smartly.

“You say that,” the Chief scolded, but Donaldson was near enough to see the twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “I wished I could believe you know’d it... Mark! Marcus! Get your awkward ass out here!”

Marcus stuck he head out from behind the tall machinery where he’d taken refuge. “Yes, sir?”

“I gonna be movin' you up from M'raal’s assistant to havin' you work th' coolant intakes by your own-self.”

The ensign blinked incredulously. “Yes, sir!”

“An' you best be sharp about it too, hear me?” The Chief waved a warning finger at him. “You done proved to me you capable o' doin' some acceptable work when you not got your head up your ass -- as seldom as that happens -- so I not gonna be puttin' up wit' no sloppy shit from you no more, mister, hear me?”

Marcus’ eyes brightened as if they were suddenly filled with tears of pure joy. “Yes, sir!”

Muted congratulations from the engineers surrounding Marcus rose in volume as he made his way to his new station. Michaels stopped her co-worker for a quick hug. Several engineers began to applaud. A large black-furred Caitian engineer added to the din with a delighted yowl.

DelMonde allowed the cheering to go on for several minutes, making a half-apologetic 'What can I do in the face of this craziness?' gesture at Donaldson.

“All right now,” he reproved his troops gruffly after he felt sufficient celebration had taken place. “Enough o' that. Playtime over fo' today. We...”

“...Need to Get Some Work Done Up in Here!” the engineers cheerfully chorused in unison.

“Smartasses,” their superior officer growled with a hint of something that could broadly be interpreted as affection. "I'd fire 'em all and run the place on my own. But you never believe how much paperwork that entail.”

In that moment Donaldson knew that he had never wanted anything more in his life than he now wanted to be delivered just such a backhanded compliment from Starfleet’s satisfyingly larger than life poet-engineer that would signal to this collection of ingenious eccentrics that he too was Lincoln-good.

The tilt of his new Chief’s head let him know that he had caught every embarrassingly hero-worshipping impulse that had shot through his fevered brain. The Cajun took in a deep breath and shook his head – looking very much the hard-working father shouldering the responsibility of adding one more idiotic, wayward ensign-child to his already teeming brood. He gestured Donaldson into his office -- where strong black coffee was on the brew. “Come on in, Cousin Donaldson. Let’s see if we can’t get them stars out your eyes an' get your ass into gear.”

Donaldson hastily schooled his thoughts – as much as that was possible.

DelMonde stopped him short of the doorway and pointed towards the big Caitian who was now playfully cuffing Marcus with one of his huge paws. “You see that furry fellow there? That your new boss. You gonna be replacin' Ensign Marcus as his assistant. An' if you know what’s good for you, cher, you gonna listen to him. An', son…” The Cajun gave him an emphatic thump on the chest to underline his point. “I mean really listen to him. Hang on ev'ry purr an' growl an' twitch o' that big ol’ tail. A) Because that there is one o' the best engineers I ever had the pleasure o' workin' wit' an' he got a lot o' true wisdom to share an' B) 'Cause o' his success in mentorin' young Mark there an' my complete an' utter damned failure to make even a glancin' impression on th' thick head o' that sad sack o' crap you jus' seen get th' boot, I done agreed to give ol’ M’raal a free hand in implementin' what he call some special Caitian trainin' methods – which, befo' you ask – I have no clue what that means – but, son, you should probably assume it mean that ev'ry time he t'ink you not payin' attention or you givin' him too much lip, he might be likely to jus' haul off an' bite the shit out o' you…” The Cajun gave him an encouraging slap on the back as he ushered him into his office. “Not sayin' that gonna happen – jus' that it probably be a lot safer fo' your ass to assume it a distinct possibility…”

The End

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