Al was quiet throughout her shift. She threw herself into her work with a vengeance, trying to shake off her anger and relieve her tension. It seemed to work too.
We were both working in the cargo bay, which is particularly full at the moment with a shipment of supplies that are bound for a mining colony on Marcus IV. Some of the crates contain potentially volatile substances and delicate equipment, and our job was to check everything off against the manifests and perform a 'Storage Conditions Check' before we leave the Starbase. This is were you do a full sweep of all the cargo to ensure that incompatible substances are not stored next to things they don't like and stuff like that. Most of that is done when the cargo is loaded, but because we often don't know what's coming aboard until we get it, we have to do a full survey afterwards.
For most crewman, this means logging what is where on a datapad and letting the computer tell you what, if anything, needs shifting. Not with Al though! She not only has a real knack for spatial awareness but an incredible knowledge regarding the materials. She seems to be able to plot things three-dimensionally in her head, instinctively knowing what needs to go where, and shifts them around before the computer has made any recommendations. She knew all about the substances and equipment and didn't need to look anything up, whereas I did! But every single time, Al was right and the computer only served to confirm her amazing ability.
It was all going very well... until Ensign Rutter turned up.
The Ensign is the sort of guy that turns a girl's head, literally. He's tall with dark hair and tanned skin. He has some beautifully chiselled features and whenever he enters a room, all the females turn and look. And yes, I admit it, even I found a flurry of butterflies in my tummy the first time I saw him. It was short-lived though.
He's a bit aloof and only ever hangs around with the prettiest of girls that are as visually perfect as he is. He's also very popular with his fellow Ensigns, but I suspect many of them are just hangers-on that want to be part of his 'in-crowd'. Needless to say, both his parents are Admirals, and don't we all just know it.
Anyway, in he comes, sweeping past us as though we weren't even there and dumps his datapad down on top of the pile of crates that Al has just picked up, seemingly oblivious to her presence.
Al's face filled with her irritation, but fair play, she bit her lip, put the boxes down and wordlessly removed his datapad before continuing with her organising.
Rutter reappeared a few moments later.
"Where's my datapad?" he demanded.
"Over there," said Al, pointing at the thing right in front of his nose.
"Over there, Sir!" he snapped back.
Now, granted. Crewman should address all Ensigns as 'sir' (even if they are complete knobs) so I bit my tongue as did Al, but he couldn't just leave it there, could he? No.
"Well, let's hear you say it then!" he demanded.
Al's eyes narrowed. She straightened her back, thrust her shoulders back and turned to face him square on.
"Over there... Sir!" she spat.
"And what made you feel you should interfere with my equipment, Crewman?" he asked haughtily.
I couldn't help it. A titter escaped at the thought of Al interfering with Rutter's 'equipment'. He could have chosen his words better.
Rutter turned, glared at me and stomped over.
"Anything amusing you, Ensign?" he asked.
"No, no," I hastily backed down, desperately trying not to exacerbate the situation, but also forgetting to say 'sir', which Rutter instantly reminded me of.
"Sir!" he shouted, and a little bit of spittle came to settle on my forehead, but he was oblivious to it.
I felt my lips pucker with curbed irritation.
"Say it, don't spray it... sir." The words tumbled out of my mouth before I knew it. I was also painfully aware that there was not one iota of respect in my voice.
"Do you have a problem, crewman?" he said, his mouth twisting into a snarl.
There were so many things I could have said to that, but I could see Al out of the corner of my eye, shaking her head, so I resisted.
Ensign Rutter then stepped right up to me so that our toes nearly touched. He leaned over me, all six foot two of him towering above me. It was deliberately intimidating and forced me to lean precariously backwards. It's hard to practise what you preach about restraint sometimes.
"Actually, yes sir, I do have a problem."
"What?" he exclaimed and sneered at me as though I were a complete gibbering idiot.
"Respect is earned not demanded. If you want people to address you properly and respectfully, you need to treat them with a little bit of consideration rather than looking down your nose at everybody ... Sir."
"Why would I expect anything more than this from one of the Misfits?"
My jaw gaped.
"I beg your pardon!" I exclaimed.
Al came up to my side, placing a calming hand on my shoulder. I heard her whisper, "Let it go," but the hell was I!
"You heard me! Misfit! Like the rest of your bunch!"
"Excuse me... PAL... but Starfleet is not an exclusive members only club for the Human race, you know!"
"Yes, I have notice standards drop since the Battle of Wolf!"
I gasped. Starfleet and her allies had lost over eleven thousand personnel and thirty-nine starships in the battle against the Borg. It was a known fact that Starfleet was still suffering from that loss, trying to replenish her ranks, but to insinuate that we were second-class!
A veil of red mist descended and before I knew it, I had lashed out. My punch missed as Rutter ducked, but my knee rose up and caught him square on his chin, repelling him backwards. He tumbled, rolled over, quickly regaining his feet and lunged at me. He hit me square in the gut and we plunged into a pile of containers.
"STOP! YOU IDIOTS!" shouted Al and dived in after us, pulling us apart.
Her strength was startling! I had always known she was powerfully built but to feel it first hand was amazing.
Before I knew it, I was on my knees with my right arm locked at right angles to my body, being pushed hard behind my back. Incredibly, she had Rutter in a similar pose! We must have looked like a pair of bookends!
And that was when Bryant entered.
And that is why we are in the brig.