"Ah, now there's a tale," she said as we sat down, grinning broadly and then she began her story ...
Al arrived at the Academy in Marseille and immediately fell into a routine of lectures, tests and exercises, all centred around security.
"All pretty dull stuff," she reported, "even the scenarios. I thought they'd be fun, but one role play situation is very much like another after a while. Assess, address, overwhelm, overpower."
It was at one such exercise where she and a group of students were tasked with the protection of a cargo of extremely powerful weapon fuels that would be of more than passing interest to the Romulans. They were to assume that there was a Romulan delegation on board to complicate the issue, at least one of whom had significant connections to the Tal Shiar. They needed to secure the load and protect it during transit by both electronic and physical means, all the while remaining diplomatically polite.
For the scenario, their tutor, Colonel Stutgard, had taken them onto the USS Ulysses, an old Excelsior type starship docked at a nearby starbase. The group were quite far into their session. They had secured their cargo and were deciding upon their protocols when Al's attention was caught by a couple of donkeys—crewman—who were loading actual cargo on the far side of the bay.
They were known as donkeys because they conveyed cargo from A to B and often weren't much brighter than your average equus asinus. As Al once said, if they had brains in their heads, they would be doing more than just shifting boxes. Strange really, when you remember that Al was a donkey herself at the time, although she was unlike your average donkey. She had an amazing spatial awareness that enabled her to pack a cargo bay to perfection, and she also knew all the substances and materials, understanding exactly what could be placed next to what, all the associated risks and any other requirements of carrying those materials.
It was with professional interest then that she watched as the crewman brought in four large barrels of hydrochlaripane distophate and set them down next to some duroplast containers filled with metabaric alvarium-D. She was used to having to keep an eye on the donkeys from her previous assignments, so her eyes scanned the location they had chosen for them, and her face screwed in dissatisfaction. She was now completely oblivious to her assigned exercise.
"Excuse me," she shouted after the donkeys and broke away from her group. "I take it you're not going to leave those there," she said, pointing to the barrels.
The two men turned and grinned at each other before replying to the cadet.
"Yes, love," which was a mistake to start with. Al wasn't anybody's love, especially theirs. "You stick to playing with toy cargo and we'll shift the real stuff," one of them jeered.
As Al stepped forward, the Colonel placed a hand on her shoulder to draw her back, but she pushed him aside rudely and approached the crewmen.
"Yes, well, when your real cargo is in danger of blowing up for real, it sort of becomes my concern."
The man forced a mocking laugh. "Do your science, love. Both of those substances are perfectly stable."
"Under certain conditions, yes, but open your eyes, man!"
An audience had started to gather, not just her classmates but other donkeys and officers too.
"Just go back to playing at becoming an officer, sweetheart, and leave the real stuff to us, okay?"
"I would, if you were competent that is, but I'm starting to question that."
It was becoming a showdown. The chap strode over and folded his arms as he stood before her.
"I'm not your love."
"Okay, cadet, " he emphasised the word 'cadet'. "I've been doing this job for five years and I've not blown anything up yet."
"Then let's not break that record. Hydrochlaripane distophate is stable as long as it's not exposed to radiuum CB3. Then it becomes highly volatile."
"And there is no radiuum-CB3 here."
Al ignored him.
"Metabaric alvarium-D is stable unless it reacts with celiuum."
"There's no celiuum here either."
"Celiuum can be formed, in minute quantities, by the irradiation of garvium ore by warp plasma emissions. This is an Excelsior class starship. The plasma waste manifolds run behind that wall," she pointed. "This is a very old ship. It's highly likely that plasma emissions, well below normal safety standards but above the one part per trillion required to irradiate garvium ore, are being emitted. If so, your garvium ore will become celiuum. Your celiuum will contaminate your metabaric alvarium-D making radiuum CB3 and your radiuum CB3 will react with your hydrochlaripane distophate making a bloody big boom!"
The man rolled his eyes.
"That may be but—"
"No buts! Move your hooves and shift it!" boomed Al angrily, as though it was her cargo bay. "These are people's lives you're playing with!"
The man baulked and it took him a few moments to find his voice. Then he shouted back angrily, "I have worked for the Academy for five years, and in all that time, I've never had an incident!"
"More luck than judgement. You might not care that you're endangering lives, but I do. These people—this crew—deserve better. This ship carries families as well as Starfleet personnel! That includes children. You want to be responsible for their deaths?"
"The chances of that happening—"
"—ARE TOO BLOODY LARGE!"
I can assure you that Al's voice has all the power of her Klingon heritage. When she bawls, the world shakes.
"Is there a problem?" asked a soft voice with a Scottish brogue. Al turned to find a small man had emerged from the audience. Barely five feet tall and slightly built, he was in his sixties. He had a pale complexion and short, grey hair neatly slicked back. His features were sharp, and his eyes a piercing pale blue.
Before Al could answer, the crewman explained the problem from his point of view. The Scotsman listened intently before commenting.
"Yes, that is a problem," he agreed. The crewman smiled, sure the Scotsman was about to put Al in her place, but then he added, "I'd move them if I were you."
The man's jaw cropped, but the Scotsman didn't care. He had taken Al by the arm and was leading her away. "And in the meantime, chicken, I think you should come with me." His whole manner was warm and friendly, which threw Al.
Colonel Stutgard, meanwhile, stepped forward, blocking their way.
"Hamish McAdam, what do you think you're doing with my student?" he asked.
He grinned, but held onto Al's arm, refusing to relinquish his prize.
"I'm stealing her Henry. Isn't that obvious?" and he pushed past the colonel. As soon as they were out of earshot, Hamish leaned into Al and said, "You're wasted on security. I think we should have a little chat. "
And that was how Al was transferred into the sciences, and she was delighted.
"I didn't choose security. It was thrust upon me," explained Al. "And the best bit is that I know so much of it already—when it comes to the physics and chemistry side of things. I just didn't know I knew it."
I sucked in my bottom lip and I studied her. She frowned hard back at me.
"Oh grief! You've got that disapproving look on you. What's up?"
"Nothing. It's just ..."
"Yes!" she snapped impatiently.
"If you're in the science department now, why are you still wearing operations yellow?"
"What? Aye?" Al pulled at her top. "Oh, nuts!"