Down the Rabbit Hole
Episode 5: Better Angels
Location: USS Defiant - CompSys Labs & Mess Hall
Timeline: MD4 1430hrs
"UGH!", PJ said shoving his chair backwards away from the terminal. He was sitting in the darkened CompSys bay, a huge screen glowing a pale blue before him, with millions of lines of code scrolling slowly from bottom to top while he analyzed it. Reaching out he hit the button to pause it scrolling and stared at the screen for a while. He felt like Alice after she fell into Wonderland. Everything he'd seen so far looked right, but the update just wasn't installing. It had been nearly a week since the update had been shunted through the down-link from the Corps of Engineers update server, and in theory it should have installed flawlessly, but he'd learned a long time ago that just because something should do something doesn't mean it will do said thing. Two days ago he'd even reached out and talked to a friend of his on another ship and asked if he'd had any similar issues. His answer wasn't exactly heartening, since he'd only spent two days working the kinks out.
"Screw it, I need to take a break.", he said, and locked the terminal before leaving the lab.
Ten minutes later he walked into the mess hall and scanned the room, hoping to see someone he recognized. Oddly enough he found himself fairly well alone. Only one person was sitting by themselves, and it was someone he'd never even seen before. After he'd grabbed a mug of coffee and a warm raspberry jelly donut he made his way across the room and looked down, "This seat taken?", he asked.
Ephraim rarely made time for social interaction, he typically avoided the mess, but being an officer in the fleet came with certain expectations. "Not at all, feel free to take a seat," he said with a gesture to the seat in question.
With an exaggerated sigh PJ put his tray down, flopped into the seat and scrubbed his hands over his scruffy face. Reaching up he took the band out of his hair and ran his fingers through it, letting the curly locks free and tousling them so they laid more naturally. "I'm P.J., engineering.", he said, holding out a hand to shake.
Ephraim regarded P.J.'s hand for a moment before taking it, "Ephraim Deveraux, Intel Liaison" he introduced. Even now, after years of service, he only shook hands for the benefit of the other person.
"Nice to meet you.", P.J. replied, not seeming to even notice that the other man had been a little bit uncomfortable. "Intel, huh? Spooks can be some of the most interesting people.", he added as he grabbed his coffee, and settled back, arms crossed, mug held up to his face so he could smell the soothing scent of the dark liquid.
"I suppose, but that's only representative of the few. The majority of us spooks are analysts. I spend a majority of my time sifting through massive amounts of data" Ephraim replied, his tone matter of fact, "Engineering, however, has always impressed me. I'm afraid I'd break the ship in frustration if I came across something too difficult"
Taking a big bite of his jelly donut, and somehow managing not to get any of it in his beard, P.J. nodded, "It is an interesting field. And you are right, there can be some damn hard nuts to crack down there, but thankfully I work mostly with computer systems, so it isn't often a brute force type of problem, more of a finesse type of problem.", he replied.
"You ever taken any of the engineering extension courses, since you find it interesting?", he asked as a follow up a few moments later.
"No, my work keeps me busy enough and maintaining the CICs sensitive systems gives me the experience, albeit it fleeting and short lived" Ephraim answered with little consideration, "what's your specialization?" He asked conversationally.
"Computer systems maintenance, and deep level programming.", P.J. replied. "Keeps me pretty busy, as I'm sure you could guess. A ship like this, with such an advanced computer system is a lot of work to keep up with.", he added.
"We dabble in a little programming ourselves in intel," Ephraim shared, "mostly for espionage purposes but we're required to have a basic understanding of the skill"
"Makes sense when you get down to the brass tacks. If you are going to be breaking into other people's software it helps to at least understand how software works, even if you will be infiltrating a system from an alien civilization. I've studied a few different examples of programming languages from other species, and honestly, the only one that just really blew my mind was Vulcan. For a species so dedicated to logic and simplicity their programming is super complex.", P.J. replied, effortlessly slipping into the zone of comfort that was created whenever he started talking about his passion for programming and computer science.
"Their finesse is renown," Ephraim agreed. He'd never personally worked with it, but he'd had Vulcan colleagues. "Have you personally worked with it?" he asked curiously, he'd learnt a long time ago to appreciate small talk.
"Oh yeah, it was a pain in the ass.", P.J., replied. "I spent three months training at a special facility that was set up to assist those of us in the comp-sci division with learning about alien technology and computer systems. Vulcan was by far the most elegant, but also the most confusing and took the longest to learn. I had Andorian programming down in a day and a half, and Tellarite was less than one afternoon, but Vulcan, I think it took close to two weeks before I even grasped the basics.", he added.
"Interesting" Ephraim concurred, "Personally, I've worked mostly with non-federation languages. For all their warmongering and aggression, the Klingon's style of programming is definitely my favourite. Very straight forwards and functional" Ephraim shared, feeling himself drop the tension he'd been holding in his shoulders as he relaxed into their conversation.
P.J. nodded, "Yeah, but if you think about how they run their lives it makes sense. Not a lot of comfort, or art, it's all just utilitarian, so the programming goes along with that. A lot of people think the Vulcans are cold, and passionless, but if you've ever listened to a Vulcan etude, or visited the more venerated places, you will see a rich, and beautiful history of art, and beauty. It comes across in the programming as well.", he replied, noticing that the other man had started to relax and seemed quite a bit more comfortable in the conversation than he had been.
Ephraim smiled at P.J.'s enthusiasm, "Perhaps. I can't say I enjoy coding enough myself, much happier analyzing data. What you can piece together out of seemingly non-consequential data never ceases to excite me," He admitted with zero shame.
"Not gonna lie, that actually would be something I'd find incredibly interesting as well. But I'll still always be a coder at heart.", P.J. admitted. "So, what sort of stuff do you do for fun? You know, when you aren't working.", he asked.
"I'm a practitioner of Aikido, I train 4 times a week", Ephraim shared easily, "I'm also fond of psychology, it's very helpful in my work, what about you?" He asked curiously.
"I run, I cook, and I watch horror movies. That's my life outside of work. Never been a big group person, don't really like parties, and I suck at making small talk, so yeah, that's me...", P.J. replied with a laugh.
"You did exceptionally well in this instance" Ephraim complemented. He took a beat to check his watch, "I'm afraid I have work to do, perhaps we could meet up during our down time to conclude our conversation?" He asked whilst stacking his utensils on top of his tray.
P.J. thought about that for a moment, but only a moment, before smiling broadly, "I think I'd like that, actually. Let me know when would be good for you!", he replied.
"Fantastic," Eprhraim said as he made to take his leave, "I'll send you a message next time I have some free time" he promised, taking a pause to let P.J. get in his farewells.
"Sounds good. And I should probably be getting back to work myself. Been struggling with an update that's giving me trouble.", he said, standing and smiling. "Have a good one!", he added.
"You too, P.J." Ephraim said with a nod before making a sharp turn and made his departure.