Disclaimer: I own nothing related to or part of Star Trek. This fan fiction was written purely for fun.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers in the United States and around the world!

A sincere welcome to the several hundred new readers I've picked up since the last chapter and Noodlehammer's shout out in his story! I've been beta/editor for his works for years now, since For Love of Magic first began, and I'm still in awe of how complex, entertaining, and consistently updated his stories have been over the past several years. He's seriously one of the best fanfiction authors out there. In the extremely unlikely event you are reading my story, yet have never read any of his, I strongly suggest you check out his amazing works on FFN.

Several common things people mentioned in the reviews for last chapter, variations on 'show, don't tell' or 'have this information come out in dialog with another character'; well, I hear you guys and agree. There are several reasons why that wasn't really an option thus far. First, unless I start creating a lot of throwaway OCs there aren't a lot of people for him to talk with yet, besides Annika. Second, Gothic doesn't trust anyone. He is paranoid and knows just how far Section 31 would go. He's not keen on sharing his thoughts and plans with anyone. Third, as an Augment, his mind is enhanced, which means he lives a lot in his head. He can think of and explore numerous different lines of thought in the time a normal human would have one. Fourth, while I've done research on topics that I know shit all about, like computer programming and how to pilot anything, I'm just not knowledgeable enough to even fake those scenes well enough. That results in a bit more after the fact kind of stuff.

I promise, though, as the events of the story take him away from Earth and he becomes more competent, he'll have more people to talk with.

There were also questions about the timeline of training. Below is a rough breakdown of it. I'll try to make it easy to follow in-chapter.

Timeline of Training:

0 – 3 Months – Computer Architecture and Programming

3 – 4 Months – Weapons and Tactics

4 – 10 Months – Starship Operations, Engineering, Piloting


The Adventures of Augment Gothic

Chapter 7

Engineering Workshop 31, San Francisco University, Earth.

6 months since arrival on Earth

People on the Enterprise had looked askance at me, then incredulous, then had smirked, practically laughing at how the big bad Augment wanted to work in a library of all places. Well, I was having the last laugh, I thought, glancing around the array of sophisticated technology around me. Advanced diagnostic equipment, a design computer I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, admittedly, advanced fabrication equipment and a small industrial replicator that wouldn't look out of place in the engineering section of a front-line Starfleet ship.

Just like how a music school back in my time had instrument practice rooms for their students to practice their art, San Francisco University, being an old and prestigious school, with a well renowned engineering department, had engineering workshops available for their students. These were well-appointed workshop that students could reserve for weeks or months at a time to practice or work on their own projects for a moderate fee. Luckily, just like with the holodecks, these workshops were open to faculty and staff too and a dozen or so were available in the basement of the library. A privilege I was happy to make use of after I had acquired my Hovercruiser 924M, several energy weapons, a Ferengi design and fabrication computer, and a Cardassian tricorder.

At the moment, all of my purchases from Curious Curios were sitting on the padded surface of a worktable, with the obvious exception of my new bike. It was tucked away to the side for the moment. My plan was to conduct various diagnostics on it to confirm everything was in working order before ever attempting actually flying on the thing. Azad had assured me it was in perfect condition and flightworthy, even providing an engineer's certification of that fact, but I wanted to take it apart a bit and become familiar with all its pieces and parts. Should it require upgrade or repair in the future, that familiarity would be invaluable and could even save my life.

As it was, it'd be several months at least before I was able to acquire my full pilot's license. The license required for personal flight, though, called a personal pilot's license, was significantly less involved and time consuming to achieve than the final one would be, the one that would allow me to take paying passengers and cargo in a ship I was piloting. Taking a non-paying passenger up on the bike, like Annika, was allowed and would not require the higher licensure.

I was very much looking forward to taking my new bike on her maiden voyage. A hot blonde clutching my stomach, her big tits pressing into my back, seemed almost like a requirement.

Hearing the solid, reinforced doors open behind me, I turned to see who was coming in. For a myriad number of good reasons, the person reserving an engineering workshop could secure access to the space and prevent unauthorized entry. Annika, as the head librarian, was on the authorized list by default and could enter any of these spaces.

Looking at my beautiful lover, I was again in awe of her beauty. She was rocking her 'sexy librarian' look today, a white semi-sheer blouse that hinted at the lacy black bra underneath, with buttons only a few inches above her sizable bust and puffy sleeves. Her grey skirt had a thick band from under her bust going to her navel, flowing down to her knees, but emphasizing how fit and trim she was by sitting tight on her hips. It emphasized everything, while showing nothing. The glasses she wore were purely cosmetic, rather than needed, but really helped sell the whole look.

The smile that lit up her face as she saw me brightened the room. What a woman.

Making her way to me without saying a word, she bent down to my sitting level, took both my cheeks gently in her hands, and gave me a sweet kiss, even loving I might say. Our lips parted moments later.

"What was that for?" I asked, a soft smile on my face.

"No reason, just missed you," she answered softly, before taking a seat in my lap, tossing her right arm around my neck. "I heard you reserved a workshop. I was curious what you were doing in here."

She was now looking around the room, taking it in. I hadn't had a chance to tell her about my plans. As I technically worked under her, she must have seen my name flash across her system. The library was her domain and she was its Queen.

"I went shopping, do you like? These are going to be a few of my projects, at least when I'm not working or studying," I explained.

"Gothic, you are seriously the most ambitious man I've ever met," she said, sending me a fond smile to indicate she quite liked that about me. "You're going through Starfleet Academy learning programs that normally take people years to complete, but you're doing it in a matter of months. What's the rush?"

Looking down, I gave her question some thought. What kind of answer could I give her? What answer would keep both me and her safe? Of course, the main reason I wasn't taking it easy was my foreknowledge. This quadrant would be embroiled in war in several years' time. In that sense, I did have some time to relax and take it easy, at least a little, but I also felt the need to take advantage of this opportunity I had been given.

I was a huge Star Trek fan placed in the Star Trek dimension! I was made an Augment, made the peak of the natural human form! I suppose part of me was thinking the other shoe was going to drop at any moment, that it could all be taken away from me if I didn't live every day here like it was my last, just like it had been randomly given to me, at least that's how it seemed. Another part of me was itching for adventure, but I knew that, as I was, with just how much I was still ignorant about, it would be stupid, dangerous, and irresponsible of me to leave the relative safety of Earth before I was ready.

The siren call of adventure was hard to ignore. As much as I enjoyed Earth and even being with Annika, I wanted to get out there and experience what this dimension had to offer. None of the shows showed someone just chilling on Earth, after all. I also wanted things that were mine and mine alone, a starship that would let me travel the stars freely, with no one to ask permission of, and a home that was all my own. My apartment was awesome, and I was grateful, but it was a handout, a gift, and therefore it would never truly be mine.

"I genuinely don't feel like I am rushing, Annika. You know my story, I wasn't born an Augment, I didn't have these incredible natural abilities in my native dimension. What I did have, though, even then, was ambition and a desire to improve myself to the best of my abilities. The best of my abilities is night and day different for me now, and I'm still in awe of how amazing and different this time is," I answered passionately. "This is literally the future for me! I wake up every morning thinking this has all been a dream. I can't help but want to learn everything, especially now that my mind makes everything seem so easy."

She looked thoughtful now, "I guess I can see how exciting and new this all is for you. If I woke up one day as an Augment, so much more than I was before, I suppose part of me would want to take advantage of that as quickly as possible, devouring knowledge on a wide range of topics. Everything I didn't feel capable of before or wasn't naturally inclined to, or just didn't have the time to learn… I get it," she said, looking me in the eyes. "So, what are these projects you're working on?"

Dislodging her from my lap, I took her by the hand to lead her to my workbench.

"Take a look for yourself."

She took it all in, looking intrigued at the Ferengi computer and Cardassian tricorder, an eyebrow raising at the weapons and the Hovercruiser.

"What do you need an old type-2 phaser, and a Romulan and Klingon disrupter for?" she asked.

Color me surprised. "You know what these are?" I asked.

"Of course, I do," she answered, laughing at me. Obviously, some of my surprise had shown through. "I could probably field strip and clean each of them. I'm an excellent shot too," she mocked, sticking her tongue out at me, real silly-like.

I raised a single eyebrow, Spock-style.

"I think you forget that I spent age 4 to 20 living on a starship, Gothic, traveling from one end of galaxy to the other with my parents on their research expeditions. We didn't always have the luxury of staying in Federation space, where it was mostly safe. We needed to be able to protect ourselves, so my parents made sure I knew how to use and maintain weapons like these," she answered, obviously delighting in stupefying me. "Once I was old enough, I was in charge of logistics and purchasing for our ship, the Raven. My parents were not always the best planners in that regard. Long voyages, oftentimes far from a Federation starbase, required a lot of supplies to keep us fed and the ship operational, which meant regularly doing business with unscrupulous people. I, we, had to be tough and not act like easy marks that they could take advantage of."

Sometimes I forgot just how unusual a childhood she had had and why she was keen on staying on Earth. There were hidden depths to this beautiful woman, a life that 7 of 9 might have had if she hadn't been assimilated in childhood. She probably knew many times more about business, negotiating, and life on a starship than I did.

"I don't think I've ever been more attracted to you," I said, totally straight faced, and I meant it. Her reticence to leave Earth and her library made more sense now.

Her peal of laughter was delightful.

"You're such a man."

"You better believe it, baby!" I replied, giving that fine ass of hers a spank, to which she just rolled her eyes. "To answer your question, it's a combination of wanting to study the weapons and for personal protection. I was in my nation state's military," I explained. "I suppose I just don't feel comfortable without a weapon of my own, yes, even here on Earth. And I did it right! Class-1 license and everything! As for everything else, well, I was an engineer and I love to tinker. These things caught my eye. The Ferengi computer and the Cardassian tricorder are going to help me deepen my understanding of alien computer programming. There was nothing on either races' programming techniques in the Academy training program."

That was mostly true, though I did have plans to design my own weapons and armor in time…amongst other things.

"And that thing?" she asked, pointing at my new bike.

"Well, you did say I'm a man," I said with a wink. "It was just so cool I couldn't leave without it! This is not your dad's hovercar, it's over a hundred years old, but in perfect working condition. It even has an ion propulsion engine for exoatmospheric flight! They don't make 'em like that anymore," I gushed.

She looked intrigued, but dubious. To be fair, it was akin to riding a motorcycle into space, which sounded pretty insane now that I thought it.

"Don't worry, I won't take it out before I get my personal pilot's license. I'm not a purist either, so I plan on upgrading it a bit to modern standards to increase its safety. Care for a ride in a few months' time?" I asked with a grin. My smile was infectious.

She nodded and gave me a kiss, "Are we still on for dinner tonight?" she asked as she turned and walked to the door.

I nodded, eyes locked on those swaying hips. She laughed at how I was so obviously checking her out, before she was out the door.

XXXXX

Cardassian programming was interesting, and rather distinctive once you became familiar with it. Somehow, looking at the lines of code scrolling on my smartboard display in my engineering workshop, it was like I could feel the race was militaristic and totalitarian, emphasizing the collective, valuing the good of the State versus the individual.

The programming was hierarchical, ordered to an extreme, forcing the user to conform to its rules, expectations, and design, rather than being adaptable and responsive to requests that fell outside normal operating procedure or established rules, which was likely why Chief O'Brien on DS9 had such a difficult working relationship with the station's computer systems.

Some of the methods were rather cunning and harsh, insofar as such a thing was possible in a programming language and methodology, but was far too rigid for my tastes outside of a handful of specific circumstances. In those limited circumstances, though, the programming was more efficient than anything I'd seen so far.

I had learned a lot from the programming of the Cardassian tricorder, copying some of the more ingenious little tricks and security concepts in a few programs I was writing. Thankfully, a nifty little security program I had written during the doctoral portion of my training had already spotted some questionable coding in the device and immediately quarantined the programming, thus preventing it from working, flagging it for my attention and review. My program was designed to go through every line of raw code, searching for those little bits and pieces that couldn't be fully hidden. In this case, as I later determined, there was background logging of all the tricorder's activities and notable sensor data.

Essentially, when the tricorder came into range of another Cardassian computer, which all had the receiving program built into the base operating system, it would automatically initiate a download of flagged activities via a subtle short-range transmission, which would then eventually make it back to the Cardassian government and the Obsidian Order most likely. Thankfully, being on Earth, rather than a Cardassian world or installation, there were no Cardassian computers in range. It was a nifty little program, quite subtle in many ways. God knows how much worthless data was sent this way across the entirety of the Union, but the Cardassians were known data packrats. Totalitarian governments often spent a lot of time and resources watching and fearing their own citizens.

Right now, though, this Cardassian tricorder was intensely scanning a Starfleet engineering tricorder that I had just replicated in this very workshop and paid for from my personal account. The replicator pattern used was the one approved for use in Starfleet.

I heard a 'beep, beep, beep' after an hour of intense scanning, indicating its scans of the device were complete. The tricorder's hardware was clean, with no additional nefarious components detected. On further reflection, though, maybe that made sense. Federation engineers were always futzing around with their tricorders, modifying them left and right to solve whatever problem had presented itself to them. It'd only be a matter of time before someone found something, purposely or accidentally.

Hardware replacement was also not on a standard timeline, even in the Federation. Not everyone had access to a replicator that could produce them or wanted to waste the energy on such a thing when tricorders were built to be hardy and last a long time. But there were regular updates to a tricorder's software for various reasons, like adding some new function, or to fix bugs, just like how Windows was regularly updated in my time with some new patch or service pack. Unless something went wrong with that update, no one gave it much thought; they were practically invisible. These updates were distributed across the Federation and were mostly automatic. Very few people had the skill or inclination to do such a deep dive in the operating software to find anything.

My security program finished minutes later, isolating several thousand lines of code. Looking at the flagged code, the best I could determine was that it was designed to change the way the Federation tricorder reported sensor readings, or in this case didn't report them.

"You clever, sneaky fucks," I whispered to this empty room. Not worrying at the moment about being overheard. These workshops came standard with advanced shielding to protect the rest of the University from an accident taking place inside. The shielding could also be adjusted to act like a 24th century version of a Faraday cage, essentially isolating a room by excluding external electrostatic and electromagnetic influences. Delicate experiments and advanced technology in development needed controlled environments. Many an experiment, technology, or research result had been thrown askew, failed, or were outright destroyed because of some external influence or unforeseen interaction. It wouldn't even look unusual for me to have activated this shielding.

What that meant was that this room was isolated, self-contained, and the only energy signatures present were created by the things that were in this room. If I was looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, isolating this room would be like I had radically reduced the amount of hay. Therefore, if the needle is there, it would be much easier to find, or, alternately, to prove that it's not there at all.

Section 31 had hidden from Starfleet and the Federation for centuries. In this advanced society, though, that presented unique difficulties, especially with how many tech geeks there were around. Sensors were ubiquitous and advanced. The only way you'd ever really live 'off the grid' would require a move to a brand-new colony, and unless that colony eschewed technology as a philosophy, good luck on that lasting long. Section 31 were part of the Federation government, in a sense, but their secret existence meant they couldn't exactly move around freely and openly. If they traveled in ships of their own or transported aboard a Federation ship or got into places they shouldn't be, sensors would pick them up. In this case, the Federation tricorder's software was instructing it to not display certain sensor readings, even if they were detected. Who knows what other hacks Section 31 had built into the operating systems that controlled Starfleet assets.

Since I had arrived in this room I had both the Federation tricorder and the Cardassian tricorder running a continuous broad spectrum scan, before and after I had turned on the shielding, even when Annika had opened the door to enter and to leave, thus breaking containment. A close comparison of the scan results, side-by-side, showed some discrepancies between the two results, specifically an anomalous energy reading the Cardassian tricorder reported that the Federation tricorder hadn't. As the Federation device was, on the whole, a superior piece of technology, that made no sense without more to explain it. The more in this case, though, was the hidden coding which instructed the Federation tricorder to not report those readings to the user.

I could have isolated that nefarious coding from the outset, but I wanted to know what those energy frequencies were, to see it at work in how it prevented the sensors readings from being revealed to the operator. And that's how I found three surveillance devices in my workshop, and their energy frequencies.

How had I detected them? Did Starfleet Intelligence or Section 31 only expect me to use or have access to Federation technology, tech which they had already circumvented? What good was a 'bug' like this if it could be detected by an alien device? Did they not think I'd be advanced enough with the computer technology of this time to detect them?

I tried to give this more thought. If I was designing a 24th century bug, advanced technology all around, I would make it adaptive, to perfectly hide from the relevant scanning technology using its counter, or inverse, or whatever you wanted to call it. In this case, I hadn't used one scanning technology, I had used two, from two very different races with two very different technological bases and methodologies. That was much harder to counter and thus hide from.

But, whatever, my suspicion was confirmed; I now had a choice to make. What should I do now that I knew I was being spied on? Destroying the bugs was an option, but that would be provocative and any sufficiently paranoid intelligence outfit would assume I had found them and had a lot to hide. That would cause them to wonder what I was hiding and force them to up their game, perhaps in ways that I couldn't easily determine. Worst case, they might even bring in the evil Augment for interrogation. If it was Section 31 that was doing the interrogating, it would likely be an 'enhanced' interrogation with Romulan mind probes or outright torture.

No, the safest course of action was to do nothing, but that would seriously stifle my activities. I had no plans to do anything truly illegal, but designing new weapons and armor might raise some eyebrows and I didn't want the attention. But I also didn't want to live in fear like this, constantly afraid of how something 'might look' to the Federation powers-that-be. If you weren't moving forward, you were moving backward. I wasn't going to waste this time and the resources I currently had access to. It'd be a long time before I had these resources again.

Tapping away on both my tricorders, I played on a hunch. No matter how advanced the technology, things still broke, adjustments needed to be made, etc. That meant these devices probably had some kind of remote linkup for diagnostics, updates, or new instructions. The trick was to figure out how to do that. Possessing the equivalent of a doctoral degree in computer engineering and programming was a great help in this endeavor, with my personally designed hacking program getting me into the command level of these devices. From now on they would see only what I wanted them to see and would look to be in perfectly normal operation. If they were ever retrieved, the programming I added would self-delete. There was no way to hide my legitimate purchases I'd made at Curious Curios, the weapons and the hovercruiser both required active licenses to possess and pilot and Azad had had to make an official inquiry about my license status, so that's what they'd see me doing, tinkering with the things they already knew I had.

Whether I was truly successful or not was unknown, but everything looked good on my end. I had a feeling that if they had realized I would be able to complete years and years' worth of education in advanced computer engineering and programming in only a few short months, they'd have been far more cautious in using tech to spy on me. Live intelligence gathering would have been safer.

XXXXX

Even in the 24th century, working under your bike was a dirty job. Of course, in this case, the bike could fly through the air using anti-grav technology and go into space.

My bike was now in pieces spread all over my workshop, the main frame of the bike sitting on a lift. In my old life I hadn't actually had all that much experience working on vehicles like this. That just hadn't been part of my job as a combat engineer (and thus not part of my training) nor something I was all that interested in, but it was strangely satisfying now, something I was figuring out as I went along, though the starship engineering courses I was currently taking were helpful.

No, in my old life as a combat engineer I had constructed fighting positions, fixed/built floating bridges, obstacles and defensive positions, placed and detonated explosives, conducted operations that included route clearance of obstacles and rivers, prepared and installed firing systems for demolition and explosives, and detected mines visually or with equipment.

In Iraq and Afghanistan my skills were in high demand. In Iraq I helped breach buildings and homes with explosives, destroyed captured enemy munitions, and helped build obstacles and defensive positions around bases. A good design there could stop a suicide bomber in their tracks, even if they were in a vehicle rushing the main gate at high speed.

In Afghanistan, I built fighting and defensive positions on mountaintop outposts in the Valley of Death, as it was called, in the Korangal Valley. Unfortunately, I also had to deal with the thousands of active mines leftover from the Soviet occupation of that same country, something I always worried would one day be my end.

From every diagnostic I had run so far, this bike was in excellent condition. In fact, I'm not sure it had ever seen any use beyond the flight checks done in the factory. That wasn't terribly surprising. Militaries often bought more than they needed and in this case there were other factors at work.

A swish of a door opening behind me indicated someone had entered my workshop.

"Gothic! Can you turn that down!" Annika yelled, obviously not liking just how loud I was playing my music. Listening to loud rock music while working on your ride was practically a requirement in my mind.

"Computer, pause music," I yelled, throwing a smile at Annika.

The music playing had been 1968's Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf, a perfect song for working on your bike. The speakers of the 24th century were amazing and I felt like had been in front of the band as they played on stage. Like so many other things, this song and this band hadn't existed in this world, for whatever reason. It was from my own database, from the music I had had in my apartment and on my computer when I had been taken from my old world. This song had actually been on vinyl, something I had inherited from my father when he passed. If I had known that the only music from my world would be what was in my apartment that day, I'd have made more of an effort to acquire more. Thankfully going to college in the era of illegal music sharing, I had a lot stored on my computer when I was grabbed. Lucky for me, I had always insisted on the highest quality format for these ripped songs, rather than the more compressed and memory efficient mp3 format. If I was going to listen to pirated music, it'd be the best it could be.

"What brings you here, babe?" I asked, cleaning my hands on a towel I had replicated for the purpose. When I was done, I'd just toss it back in the replicator for recycling. That certainly helped keep my workshop clean and organized.

Looking around at the bike pieces I had on practically every surface of the shop, she answered, "You received a delivery that I had to sign for."

"Why did you have to sign for something?" I asked, honestly confused. "Do they still do that in this time?"

"High-value non-replicable items typically require a signature to prove delivery," she answered, obviously enjoying teaching me yet another thing about this time that no interactive learning program would ever teach you. They were just too mundane. These little things were the things I often struggled with, as no one really thought of them till some situation came up. These were just the things you picked up by living in a society. "What did you order?"

"They're here already!? Wow, they move quick," I answered, as I moved to remove the formed packaging around the items. I guess when you could easily replicate protective foam packaging molded to fit the item perfectly, that's how you sent things. "Uh, I ordered a new power core, a micro life support unit, and a small modern shield generator for my hovercruiser."

"Why did you need that? I thought you said everything was in working order," she asked, but now sounding intrigued at what I was doing. She knew I liked to tinker and many of the ideas I'd shared with her were rather fascinating to her; she often expressed wonder at how someone hadn't already thought of this or that. My outsider perspective on things actually seemed to turn her on a bit, especially when I had ideas that made her practically facepalm.

"I am keeping many of the original components. Anti-grav technology hasn't changed all that much in a hundred years, same with the ion engine, so I kept them. The older designs are actually more robust and less finicky than the newer versions because they're a simpler design," I explained continuing to carefully remove the items I'd ordered. "I took detailed scans of everything after the tear down so I have the data to reproduce parts, as needed. As for the new parts, this was a military model, and it was overpowered for its time. The engine was just too strong and its top speed posed a genuine danger to the operator if they weren't cautious."

"I still don't understand," she said.

"This isn't a hovercar where the driver is enclosed in a compartment, surrounded by a bunch of safety equipment. On this thing the driver/operator is exposed to open air and the top speed is much, much higher than on a standard hovercar because of the ion propulsion engine. Even with protective clothing, the buffeting air and air friction at such high speeds is dangerous. That's ignoring the dangers of leaving the atmosphere, with the air thinning to nothing and the risk of your blood boiling due to the air pressure dropping."

When she didn't respond, I looked up. She was looking a little dubiously at the bike now. Maybe I shouldn't have just blurted that out.

I gave her a hug to offer her some comfort, "That's why I'm adding these parts. Shielding technology has come a long way since the 23rd century. The new shield generator will provide a small shield envelope around the bike, and one on the operator. And a micro life support generator will provide air and heat even in space," I explained. "The old power core was actually pretty strong for its time, but I'm adding a lot of power-hungry tech with the shields and life support generators."

That was mostly true. Those devices were power hogs and the old power core just wasn't cutting it anymore. The modern power core would provide ample power for the bike and this new tech; it would also provide the additional power needs of any energy weapons I added to the bike in the future. At least when I acquired them; that wasn't going to happen on Earth.

"That makes sense," she whispered into my shoulder, before pulling back to look me in the eyes. "Please promise me you're being careful, Gothic. I know you're an Augment, that you can take more punishment than a normal human, but you're not invincible. This thing could kill you if you're not careful," she practically begged.

Leaning down, I kissed her softly. "I promise, Annika. I know I'm still mortal," I said. All my actions, all my efforts to improve myself, my plans to build personal armor and better weapons for myself, all of it was because I was fully, painfully aware of that fact.

"What's that last item in the box," she asked, pointing to the small rectangular block with controls that could fit in the palm of my hand, almost like a thick smart phone.

"Oh, that," I answered with a smile. "Want to hear a history lesson?"

Her response was blowing a raspberry at me. Now that had no meaning in this current time, but I had once told her a funny family story and had explained what it meant. She was very sweet in using it. It was like a little piece of home.

"That, my dear, is a personal force field," I answered. "You know I'm a bit of a history buff, which is ironic, I know, because I'm talking about history in the 22nd and 23rd century and I was born in the 20th. Anyways, in the 23rd century, Starfleet personnel used life support belts[i]to emit a personal force field which supplied the wearer with the appropriate atmosphere and protected them from the elements in hostile environments. Shield technology has come a long way, since it's no longer the size of a freaking belt with a bulky power unit," I joked. "This will protect me on the bike even if there is a catastrophic system failure. Since its entirely separate from the bike's systems, it won't be affected. I learned from Data that the guy who kept me displayed like an antique vase had one of these too."

That was almost entirely true, even the historical component. Life support belts, the precursor to personal shielding technology, had actually been used in the 23rd century. I saw that in an episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series and had confirmed it later. What I wasn't telling her was that a modern personal shield would even protect me from being shot with energy weapons. Since my bike was capable of such ludicrous speeds and altitudes, it was the perfect cover for buying one, even though this little device had been stupidly expensive, costing even more than the entire bike had been, to be honest. Thank God my holo-programs were selling rather well and providing a steady stream of income or I would be having a cash flow problem, though I still would have bought this device. Anything that could potentially save my life was money well spent.

"I've never heard of such a thing! Why doesn't Starfleet outfit all their people with one of these? They could save lives!" she asked, seeing the implications of such a device. Her facial expression turned thoughtful, "Would a shield like this stop a phaser or disrupter bolt?"

Fuck.This was the problem with dating brilliant women. They were smart enough to see and realize things you wish they didn't.

"I don't know if this device has been tested for that, but probably," I hedged, acting like I hadn't considered that. "As for why it's not issued to all Starfleet personnel onboard a starship, why does any government not do things that would otherwise protect their people and save lives? Money, Annika, money. The Federation's citizens might turn their nose up at the thought of making money and money issues, but it certainly plays a role in their government's decision making. This little device is extremely sophisticated and has some very expensive materials required to make it, materials that require traditional mining and a lot of time to refine. In other words, while it would almost certainly save lives, it's just too expensive to provide to that many people, especially without a large enough war to justify the exorbitant spending."

"You can't be serious, Gothic, we don't think of things in those terms anymore. We're beyond that! If something would save lives, we'd do it!" she protested. Maybe this was an opportunity to open her eyes a bit. Of all the indoctrinated, 'drink the Kool-Aid every day and love it people' in the Federation, I suspected she would be able to see the truth.

"But they don't," I answered earnestly. "Why spend so much money to protect personnel when they could build new ships instead or conduct scientific experiments? Or spend it on far more important things in their opinion? That's the way of governments, though they'd couch it in more politically correct terms, like 'priority resource allocation', or 'limited production and manufacturing capability', or 'cost/benefit analysis.' Supply and demand, micro and macro-economic theory…money matters, all of it still influences decisions in the Federation, even if it doesn't fit the propaganda. I think you already know what I'm saying is true. You dealt with the logistics of your family's ship for years, supplying it, dealing with Federation resource allocation limitations, dealing with alien traders and governments to buy what you needed."

She went quiet at my answer, looking thoughtful.

"I've got to get back to work. We'll talk later," she said, before giving me a kiss and then leaving.

Challenging someone's long-held beliefs was a tricky thing and fraught with dangers. I think she just needed some time to think about what I'd said.

Bonneville Salt Flats. Utah. Earth.

8 months since arrival on Earth

It had taken a few months of work, and more diagnostics, scans and simulations then I would care to admit, but I was satisfied with my new bike and thankfully so was Annika. The components had gone in with minimal trouble and everything checked out as of yesterday. Who knew she was such a worrier?! That worry had resulted in a few, admittedly, good changes to the bike.

The original Hovercruiser 924 had come with a full body flight suit, including a metal face mask which enclosed the head and had numerous sensors and visual recording devices on it. The cop in the 2008 Star Trek movie had worn one. Whatever flight suit the 924-M, the military model had had, was lost to time, as Azad had not had it and I couldn't find anything about it in the records. The information on the civilian law enforcement flight suit I had found, though. That was insufficient considering the much more powerful engine and higher rated altitude for the military model, though it was certainly possible the two flight suits had been the same. Riding leathers, no matter how more advanced the equivalent material might be, just weren't going to cut it.

Thankfully, I hadn't needed to reinvent the wheel. An orbital skydiving flight suit, which I'd seen B'Elanna Torres use in Star Trek: Voyager, had many of the features I needed already. It was made from a material that could withstand atmospheric re-entry after all. The additional life support it came with was just overkill at this point, considering the shielding, the bike's onboard life support unit, and the personal shield emitter, but whatever.

I had kept the metal face mask/helmet from the original 924. It was badasslooking. A line stretched from one side of the eyes to the other, with an optical sensor over the left eye, two large speakers built into the cheeks for talking to others, and one large camera surrounding by four smaller radiating cameras and sensors centered on the mouth. The HUD software was in a historical database, which I had updated. I added a subspace communicator to the system and the ability to give verbal commands to the bike's onboard computer, which I had also upgraded.

"You look sexy as fuck right now, Annika," I complimented. She looked damn sexy in the flight suit I'd bought specifically for her. That it was skintight, well, that was for aerodynamic purposes or what not.

"Thank you," she said, smiling. "You couldn't have picked a prettier day for the first test flight," now looking around.

It really was a beautiful day, the sun was shining brightly in the sky, it was a nice 75-degree Fahrenheit, with thick cumulus clouds spread out all over the sky. There was a light fog on the ground, befitting how early in the morning it was with the mountains visible in the distance.

"Thanks for coming with me today, I think it'll be fun," I said. We were completely alone on the flats, not a soul visible in any direction as far as the eye could see.

"I don't think I've ever been in Utah before, why do the test here?" she asked, still turning around in place taking in the pretty sights. In the age of transporters there was no scenic route, no journey to the destination, you simply arrived where you meant to.

"The Bonneville Salt Flats were where many land speed tests were done in my time, since it's long and flat. This entire area used to be a lake, at least it was two and half million years ago. I'd never come here in my old dimension and it seemed fitting to test my bike here," I answered, feeling a bit embarrassed by my nostalgia. It hadn't been a huge inconvenience though, just a few minutes to get to the transporter station and a second to arrive. That was fine, I had plenty of transporter rations issued to me that I had never used and so had Annika, not traveling all that much.

"You do know you have a hoverbike right? It doesn't need a flat surface," she joked, looking at me pointedly.

"Hey, I get it!" I snarked back. "Nostalgia is one of the most powerful forces in the galaxy!"

An eye roll was her only answer.

"So, do you like the changes I made?" I asked. "You had some good ideas."

And she actually had. The non-military model bike did not have the potential to reach the speeds or altitude mine did. The flight suit I had designed would protect me from atmospheric friction and lack of air, but I was pretty embarrassed when she pointed out that the bike did not actually have anything to keep the rider on the bike. Gravity wasn't totally negated while it hovered over the ground, else you'd float off, so gravity was keeping the rider in the seat, as well as their grip on the handlebars. But go too fast, without shielding, make a maneuver too quickly or aggressively, go upside down, and you could go flying right off the fucking thing. I practically facepalmed when she pointed it out.

Seriously, there were a couple of foot pegs and some handlebars to keep the rider on. What were the designers thinking? After she had pointed this out, I added an inertial dampener, a locking mechanism for a specially designed boot to lock the feet in place to keep the rider on (with quick detach release if necessary, for emergencies), and a super magnet in the seat which gripped a corresponding magnet in the flight suit's butt. The magnet basically kept you in the seat even if you went upside down or took a turn too hard.

"It's good, much safer now," she replied, looking over the changes. "Did you add a second seat and put in a second set of retractable foot pegs?"

"Yep! You can't ride a badass Hog like this without a hot blonde hugging you from behind," I snarked, wiggling my eyebrows.

"Is that all I am, 'a hot blonde?' she complained, though I could tell she was pleased by the compliment. "And what is a hog in this context? Is that more slang from your time?"

"Ah, yes, slang for a motorcycle," I answered. "So, let's do this!"

"Yes, I've got my PADD linked to your bike's systems so I'll be able to monitor your progress and let you know if there are any issues detected," she said, getting her PADD out and running some system checks. "If I call for an abort of the test, you return to the ground, agreed?"

"Agreed." I was just fine with that. Any issues could be fixed on the ground or back at my workshop, but I was confident it would be ok.

Taking a moment to look over the bike one final time, I thought the bike looked pretty badass even just sitting on the white, salt covered ground. Walking up to it, I gripped the handlebar and lithely threw my leg over the side, locking my boots in the pegs a moment later. Annika watched on from a few hundred feet away, PADD in hand.

"Beginning ignition now," I said, knowing she'd hear me over our communication link.

There was no roar, like a jet plane starting up, but an electronic hum got louder and louder as air was displaced a bit and the bike came to a hover, rising in the air to about five feet above the ground.

"All systems are green," Annika reported dutifully.

"Commencing flight."

Toggling the propulsion, I slowly and gradually increased speed, flying/hovering over the white salt flats at 30 then 40 then 50 then 100 miles per hour. This was my bike and I was an American, so the bike's display, built in between the handlebars, had a speed indicator that could be set to MPH.

The terrain was moving by me quickly now; I was doing a freaking 100 mph! And yet the area didn't look blurred to me. The Human visual systems could process 10 to 12 images per second and perceive them individually, while higher rates were perceived as motion. It was this rate of visual perception that allowed modern video/movies/television to exist, essentially faking motion instead of just displaying a series of images at high speed. A modern television in my time could display video at roughly 60 frames per second, I had learned that while shopping for my last HD television. Now, though, I obviously was not visually perceiving my surroundings at a standard 10 to 12 images per second. In fact, I don't think Dr. Crusher had noted anything about this in her report.

"All systems are green," Annika reported.

"Attempting a few turning maneuvers now," I reported, before pulling on my right handlebar slightly. Each handlebar, while separate from each other, was like a joy stick, though sitting parallel to the ground. They could be pushed forward, pulled towards me, pulled right, and left, all to change the orientation of the bike. Each movement triggered different power distributions in the thruster nozzles and reaction control thrusters on the bike. It kind of reminded me of the two hand controls on a zero turn lawnmower, with differences obviously in the sense that in the air you needed to think 3-dimensionally.

The bike handled my right turn smoothly. With the aerodynamic shielding and inertial dampener set to normal I could barely feel anything, not even the wind on my face, even though I was cruising at 100mph.

"All systems are green," Annika reported. "5 percent power usage."

"Confirm: I'm only using 5 percent power?" I asked.

"Confirmed: 5 percent power," she responded, quickly and efficiently. Obviously falling back on old habits from her time onboard her parents' ship when it came to reporting mission critical information.

That was interesting. It was a toss up which system was the biggest power hog on the bike, the shields or the engine. Both systems ramped up in power as they were put under strain.

"Reducing shield strength and inertial dampeners by 5%," I reported. Flight at these speeds without any of the feel of flight was no fun.

Reducing both systems power I started to feel something, a bit more air, a bit more of the feel of high speed turning. At 75%, though, things were fun. I was flying at 100 mph, though I probably wouldn't toggle it down any lower without more time on the bike.

"Gradually ramping up speed," I reported, before taking the bike to 150 then 170 then 200 then 230 then 300, 400, 500, 700, before leveling off at 1,000 mph, over the course of 5 minutes, turning the bike around when I got too far from Annika. The salt flats were only 12 miles long, but were 5 miles wide, but luckily Utah remained a sparsely populated state even in the 24th century and I obviously didn't need to travel on the ground.

"All systems are green," Annika reported. "Are you at max speed?" she asked.

"Negative, negative at max speed," I reported. This was exciting, but fucking scary! During my ramp up I had turned the shielding and inertial dampeners back to maximum. In space a thousand miles per hour was nothing and felt like nothing, you didn't have to deal with air resistance or see the surroundings blur to incomprehensibility, but in atmosphere it was scary! The shielding negated the air flow, and maybe it was mental, but it was still scary. A thousand miles per hour meant you were traveling 10 miles every 36 seconds.

"I'm taking her up," I reported, girding my loins for this trip up to the edge of the atmosphere, before deciding I didn't want to take this final step alone.

"Annika, I want you with me when we leave atmosphere, will you join me?" I asked.

"I-I'd love to, Gothic," she said over the comm link, sounding pleased that I wanted her to be with me for this experience she knew I'd been looking forward to.

XXXXX

I pulled up hard on the handlebars, my speed climbing quickly to about 5,000 miles per hour, Annika's squeals of excitement in my ear, which, in my opinion, was the perfect soundtrack for this trip.

At 5,000 miles per hour we were going about 2.5x the fastest fighter jet from my time, but that was a pittance compared to the speeds a true shuttle could travel at impulse, at least in space, but an ion propulsion engine, capable of fitting on something the size of a bike, was not going to reach the speeds of a true shuttle. In terms that would be understood from my world, my bike was like an attack helicopter, while the shuttle was like a fighter jet. In atmosphere, with the ability to come to a stop and hover, I'd take my bike every time. Wargames from my time had proven that over and over again. The attack helicopter beat the fighter jets nearly every time.

Escape velocity was a little over 25,000 miles per hour, the needed velocity decreasing the higher you were from the ground, since gravity's pull decreased with altitude. When you were manipulating gravity already, as my bike did to hover, the needed velocity was even lower. The shortest distance from the ground to space is about 62 miles straight up. I wasn't going straight up, but covering 62 miles took about 45 seconds at 5000 mph. For me, it took over a minute to reach space before slowing my speed by reversing my thrust.

As I came to a stop, it was as if time stood still, and I was flooded with both emotion and awareness. I was stunned by the Earth's beauty, and all those quotes I'd heard from astronauts in my time, upon seeing Earth for the first time from space, suddenly made sense. They all described a cognitive shift in awareness after seeing the planet 'hanging in the void.' They called it the 'overview effect', when you became totally overwhelmed and awed by the fragility and unity of life on our blue globe. It's an uncanny sense of the 'big picture' and of feeling connected to and yet bigger than the intricate processes on Earth. This feeling might seem strange to the people born in this time, who could travel between worlds so easily, much less reach space, but it still affected me powerfully, even though I had seen the planet onboard the Enterprise when we arrived.

Right now, I sat on a bike, with nothing between me and space but a flight suit and a transparent shield. I felt Annika squeeze my middle, not saying a word.

"I'm glad I could share this with you," I offered softly squeezing her hands around my waist, my words being carried over an active comm link.

"Me too," she replied back, just as softly. "I spent a good part of my life in space, yet this might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

We spent several minutes in silence, our eyes fixed on the Earth below us, before we were interrupted.

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP.

A human face now appearing in the display built into the center console of my bike.

"Private Hovercruiser, this is the Federation starship, USS Ohio, do you require assistance?" I heard from the communication system built into my head piece. Turning around from the sight of Earth, I looked up and found a huge starship hanging in space, visible to the naked eye, practically right on top of us. That was quite a sight.

"Negative, Ohio, we are just taking in the view. Hope you can understand. It's rather breathtaking," I responded, eyes fixed on the ship practically right on top of us.

"It certainly is. We often take that for granted," the unnamed captain said. "If you do not require assistance, we'll be on our way. Enjoy the view. Ohio out."

With that the massive starship turned away and proceeded back to its patrol. It was quite a sight in its own right.

"Well, I think that's enough excitement for now. I think we can declare this a successful test, wouldn't you?" I said to Annika.

"Let's get back to the ground safely first, then declare this a successful test, Gothic," she snarked back, squeezing me again.

"As always, the voice of reason and rationality, my dear."

Bay Harbor Arms Apartments. San Francisco. Earth.

Present Day

10 months since arrival on Earth. Day after achieving his Class-1 Pilot's License

I was woken up in the middle of the night by an annoying beeping sound. As an Augment I didn't need much sleep, and often slept only two hours a night. Why sleep when my body didn't need it and there were so many better things to do, like learning valuable skills that could save my life? But I'll tell you one thing, when I was sleeping, I was no different from any other dude in that I didn't want it to be interrupted.

"Yes, what is it?" I asked sharply, trying to rub the sleep out of my eyes, once I was in front of the large communications screen built into one of the glass walls of my apartment.

Given the late hour, it had to be something important that just couldn't wait. If it wasn't then someone would pay dearly because I'd just been forced to climb out of a bed that had a very naked and smoking hot Seven of Nine in it, well, sort of.

"Sir, this Earth Spacedock control, your ship has arrived," a voice informed me.

While I could have activated the visual of the person calling, I hadn't this time, since I was currently rather nude. According to Data's Earth/Federation/24th century culture lessons from back when I was still on the Enterprise, it was perfectly acceptable to choose to use voice-only when accepting a communication, especially if the timing of the call was unusual.

"What ship? I didn't book passage on a ship," I said, pretty confused. My Augment mind didn't let me forget anything these days, so I certainly hadn't forgotten something like that. From the moment I'd woken up in sickbay onboard the Enterprise, it was like I had an ultra-high definition recording of every moment of my life since. And not just image and sound, thoughts, smells, touch, impressions too, everything. That did lead to moments of intense internal reverie that stretched on for much longer than was usual at times, but I was getting that under control.

And right now, I didn't want to go anywhere except back to either sleep or waking Annika up to tap that fine, fine ass again. By round 3 of Augment-level sex last night she was pretty much totally out of it and was acting like a very content and overly large kitten, totally non-verbal and almost animalistic insofar as instincts seemed to be the only thing driving her at that point. I really might have overdone it celebrating after I had achieved my class-1 pilot's license. And that was after a couple rounds of sex with my instructor in the shuttle on the way back to Earth.

Now that she'd gotten a bit of sleep, I suspected Annika would be up for another round, assuming I hadn't fucked her comatose.

"No, you misunderstand, sir," the voice explained. "The ship belongs to you. It's undergone inspection and has been cleared for delivery to you."

I was still confused.

"Wait, are you telling me someone sent me a starship?" I asked, genuinely confused. "Who?"

There was a long delay before I got a reply.

"The records don't say, actually," he said, but not sounding overly concerned either. "It's not from Mars, but everything seems to be aboveboard, the inspection passed without issue. I guess someone with a lot of influence and resources likes you."

How ironic that on the same day I receive my class-1 pilot's license, that I receive a starship out of the blue, one that, somehow, the folks in Starfleet don't seem concerned about. Seriously, an unknown party sends a starship to an Augment like me and they don't seem concerned? They hadn't even identified who built the ship or described it beyond calling it a 'ship' or 'the ship', which suggested it wasn't known either. It was all so uncharacteristically vague.

For some reason I had a feeling that some ultra-powerful being would find me more entertaining if I had a ship of my own, now, rather than later. Wait…where did that thought come from? Sure, I had always wanted my own ship and much of the intense training I'd undertaken had been in pursuit of that ultimate goal, but I didn't think it would happen for a good long while yet.

I had to find out more, because suddenly the whole galaxy was my playground and my plans for the future were suddenly happening much sooner than I had ever anticipated. That presented some potential for heartache, given how close I'd gotten to Annika over the last ten months.

"Is it currently at the Spacedock?" I inquired, once my inner monologue had ended. The mind of an Augment was always moving at warp 9, resulting in long moments of introspection. I was quickly supplied with all the information I needed, and a whole lot more that I didn't.

"I'll-I'll be there soon," I told the person up in orbit, eager to see my new ship, but also not looking forward to the conversation I needed to have with Annika.

Should I wake her up and tell her that I was heading back into space? I had no intention of leaving without letting her that I was going, that would be a seriously dick move and she didn't deserve that. She been nothing but supportive when it came to all my ambitions, but this might be a bridge too far.

I was honestly torn. I'd kept things with her unofficial and open, but she'd still wormed her way into my heart. Was that enough to give up my dreams of adventure? Would being together change the fact that war was coming to this quadrant?

I had my answer, but this was still going to suck.


Author's Note:

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[i] See Memory Alpha entry for "Life Support Belt": The life support belt was a device worn around the waist that emitted a personal force field which supplied the wearer with the appropriate atmosphere and protected them from the elements. Life support belts were used by Starfleet personnel in the late 2260s and the early 2270s aboard the USS Enterprise. (Star Trek: The Animated Series).