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Citizen Soldiers
Posted on May 22nd, 2018 by Rodney Quinn

by Rodney Quinn and Kathryn Harper

Atlantis was finally ready for slipstream flight again after spending several days repairing the damage caused by the quantum filament strikes. While the engineering department was hard at work returning the ship to normal operations, the majority of the crew had enjoyed shore leave on an uninhabited planet that had been conveniently nearby. Thoroughly refreshed from a few vacation days spent swimming in that planet’s ocean, Captain Kathryn Harper entered Main Engineering, and made her way to the chief’s office, smiling in reply to the occasional incredulous look at seeing her here, in person. She rang the door chime, knowing that Chief Quinn would be in.

The captain, it seemed, had her chief of engineering pretty well pegged…or she’d just asked the computer where to find him. Either way, her chime was rewarded with a prompt, if somewhat distracted “Come in” before the door slid away to reveal Rodney Quinn seated at his desk, munching occasionally on one half of a BLT on wheat bread, a half empty glass of chilled pineapple juice off to one side. He’d been hitting the coffee a bit hard the past few days, and while he was still a relatively young man, the stomach would eventually begin to complain…but a bit of sugar may be the next best thing! Most of his attention, however, was reserved for the PADD in his off hand. He’d informed the XO that the ship was ready to go, pending the results of a top to bottom diagnostic…but he was intent on watching the progress of that diagnostic like a hawk tracking its prey.

That was, of course, before he did a textbook double-take and shot up in his seat in surprise as he recognized his visitor. It belatedly occurred to him to feel just a bit naked, having draped his grey uniform outer tunic over the back of his chair, leaving him in only the uniform yellow turtleneck. Restraining the urge the grab at his napkin and wipe away any possible crumbs (That was more of an “at ease” thing, was it not?), he instead gestured vaguely to a chair off to the side.

“Captain! Sorry, I wasn’t expecting…well, anyone.”

“No worries, Chief!” Harper answered, smiling broadly as she entered the office to perch on the offered chair’s front edge. “I just wanted to take the time to personally thank you and your team for all of the hard work you have put in over the past few days, in getting us up and running again.”

“Oh!”

“Surprised?” Kate leaned forward with a mirthful grin.

“Well, I, uh…I guess not.”

He was actually a little embarrassed about the reaction, truth be told. He had no reason other than the ingrained military instinct to clench up for fear of losing something at the unheralded arrival of a superior officer. An instinct which, in the case of Kathryn Harper, was asinine on several levels. He’d never known a more approachable officer; hell, he’d once walked right into her Ready Room to announce his irritation with a decision of hers, and she’d reacted with the utmost understanding. And in this specific case, it wasn’t like she had any reason to be unhappy with their work; he’d checked over every step of it too often to have any possible worry on that score. And yet…here he was. The Chief Engineer of a Sovereign Class starship…hot shit, as the folks back home would put it. Acting like a first year cadet caught by a surprise bunk inspection.

“More like I have a reflex to be surprised, I suppose. Sorry, Captain. We’re just really not used to seeing senior staff down here unless something’s seriously wrong. Captain least of all. But thank YOU! I’ll be sure to pass the kind words along. I’d say we were all just doing our jobs, but I’m sure you know the feeling from whenever you took fire out in your Mustang. Atlantis is our baby. A gigantic, three and a half million ton baby, but still our baby, and she was hurt. Everything that followed…just follows, right?”

“It certainly does.” Content with her Chief Engineer’s paternal instincts in watching over their ship, Kate leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs, lacing her fingers around her knee, before transitioning into the other reason for her visit. “I would say that you have earned a day off, at least, and I imagine that your staff could use some leave as well.” She gestured at his sandwich before continuing, “Rodney, you are working through lunch while we orbit a veritable—how do you say on Earth—Garden of Sweden, yes? Anyway, we can delay our departure to give our engineers time to relax.”

“Technically, not from Earth, ma’am,” Quinn responded with a grin, though he kept the chuckle to a minimum. That was a bit of a cop out, of course. Any human living anywhere in the Sol system was more than close enough to Earth, in terms of both distance and culture, to share at least some of its ingrained idioms. And while Rodney hadn’t spent as much time around Kate Harper as some on this ship, he was still well aware of her ongoing struggle in that area.

“But yes, I believe they do say something like that. And while I’d be very surprised to hear they had bacon trees anywhere down there, I’m sure it’s lovely. It’s just…well, I guess every really good engineer I ever knew was a workaholic. And this ship deserves a really good engineer. If there’s work to be done – And there’s almost always something to be done. – I can’t think of anyone more responsible for it than me. I don’t know if that’s the proper Starfleet way of looking at it, but that’s how Chief Busard did it, and that’s how I’ve always done it, Captain.”

Pausing with a sigh, he took a thoughtful sip of his pineapple juice.

“Still…I guess it HAS been a long couple of days.”

“I am sure that it has,” Kate quietly empathized, noting with a concerned furrowed brow that Quinn did look rather tired. “But as for the ‘proper Starfleet way’ of looking at it? I cannot say that I have ever properly fit within that idealized mold of a military officer, so maybe it is improper of me to insist that my chief engineer take the time to tend to himself. But, despite not fitting that mold and meandering through my career, somehow here I am in command, so at least part of the way I look at it must be right.”

Harper leaned forward so that her chin was over her finger-laced knee to gently add, “And I see a man that needs a day off, Rodney.”

Quinn was quiet for a few moments after that, deep in thought. Not about Harper’s final assessment, of course. He may have been guilty on occasion of treating himself a bit like a hydrospanner when it came to workload versus personal time, particularly in times of crisis, but even a tool required occasional maintenance. No, Captain Harper was right about him needing a break, and it would soon cross the line into outright negligence to pretend otherwise. And while he enjoyed the holodeck as much as the next man, he’d no doubt be kicking himself if he put if off past the point of having a natural vacation spot at his disposal.

No, it was this sudden discussion about personal styles and the like that gave him pause. It was starting to seem as much like a conversation one might have with a friend as with their commanding officer. Odd that she could walk that line as closely as she did and still be effective. Hoping he wasn’t overstepping himself, he decided he’d risk sharing a little more.

“For what it’s worth, I never said I especially liked the proper Starfleet way. I mostly enrolled at the Academy because, well…my Dad wore the uniform at one time. And back then, during the war…well, let’s face it. Anyone in the uniform was basically a superhero, keeping the bad guys away. But to be honest, there are times I think the only reason I’ve stayed in Starfleet this long is because nobody else has toys as cool to play with. It’s certainly not because I like the military command structure, or fit into it naturally.”

“We do have the best toys, that much is certain,” Kate chuckled with a sweep of her head back toward the windows looking out over main engineering. “On Risa, we never had a culture of uniform worship, but I cannot dispute that there was no better way for young me to get to the leading edge of science than to join Starfleet, and our current mission certainly reinforces that decision. My career path since was undeniably affected by my difficulties integrating into the military lifestyle. So, I can relate to that.”

“Uniform worship.” Quinn had to repeat that one to himself aloud, and once or twice in the privacy of his own head. He instinctively wanted to say that was overstating things…and it was at the very least an example of painting a culture with an overly broad brush. He’d known plenty of people, educated professionals and otherwise, who took a somewhat skeptical view of Starfleet. He remembered stories of Percy’s deadbeat dad, for instance, who had always maintained that the military was no place for real scientists. Even his own aforementioned father had never actually bothered with the Academy. As he’d told it, he “Didn’t need four years and God knew how many hoops to jump through to explain to me why I was out there or what my damn job was.” And even at that, he’d not chosen to become a career man, resigning once his pledged tour of duty was complete and only re-enlisting during the Dominion War when the sheer scale of the crisis became evident.

Even so, there was no denying that the average citizen of the Federation did in fact regard the uniform he wore with a certain reverence. The Starfleet officer represented the values, the tenacity and the strength of the Federation in action. And while the service was far from perfect, just like the men and women who comprised it, he knew firsthand that Starfleet did work damn hard to deserve all that praise. The problem was that some of the people who wore the uniform were all too aware of the praise, and didn’t mind it one bit.

“Honestly, my issues with the military all essentially boil down to some of the people in that very uniform. I, uh…I occasionally think I could be a little more effective at this particular job if I was a little less hesitant to use my authority like a cudgel. But I’ve known too many officers who didn’t have that hangup, and they’ve always spurred the most doubt whether I belong here over the years. I mean, almost anywhere, you’ll have people in charge, and people working under then. And sometimes, that boss is just going to be an entitled, power mad dickhead. But when you’re a civilian, there’s usually something you can do about it, right? You go to HR or something, and you complain. Here, they call that “going over your head”, and you catch high holy hell for it. You’ve got a power mad dickhead here, and they know they’re operating under a system that enshrines their right to be a power mad dickhead so long as their dep…their people get results. Whether that department hates their jobs, succeeds in spite of their CO? Nobody ever even thinks to ask.

“Anyway, uh…I’ve been lucky that it hasn’t been my experience with this department. I swore I’d never be that kind of CO, and I know for a fact that a lot of folks on this ship must breathe a lot easier knowing we don’t have that kind of CO in the big chair.”

“Why, thank you, Rodney!” Kate leaned back in the chair with a delighted smile, clasping her hands as a warm rush of gratification filled her at the notion of her crew thinking of her in such a way. Of course, it was hearsay, but she had no reason to doubt that Quinn was at least somewhat connected among the crew, and he certainly seemed earnest enough. Regardless, it was heartening to hear of any successes in achieving a goal she had constantly pursued ever since command of anyone at all was first thrust upon her.

“You know, I do see it as part of my job to take care of my people, and also to ensure that they are taking care of themselves.” With a jovial chuckle to lighten her concerned tone and expression, she appealed, “So, please do not turn me in to one of those—how did you say, dickheads?—by making me bludgeon you with a cudgel of authority just to get you to take shore leave.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” Quinn replied just a bit haltingly, albeit with a smile, absorbing the reality that he’d just repeatedly cursed in front of his commanding officer. He’d had every reason to expect she’d tolerate it—that was sort of the point of this line of discussion—but it was still a bit surreal. And of course he’d walked right into Harper’s redirect back to the original reason for her visit. Well played, Captain, well played. “Now that you mention it, my hoverboard may indeed have been idling in my closet for too long. And…in about five minutes, I’ll have already run every diagnostic I can think of at least twice. There still needs to be somebody keeping an eye on things down here, of course, but I know there are a fair few officers and crew onboard who’ve taken the engineering extension course. If a few of them could be temporarily reassigned to a skeleton watch, and you promised to give me a call at the first sign of trouble…I would agree to take my hands off the wheel for awhile. No cudgel required.”

With an exuberant clap of her hands, Kate stood, beaming. “Splendid! I think we can manage all of that. Now, get off my ship, Rodney.”

Rising from his own chair, Rodney stood to attention, restraining his grin in all due deference to an official commandment from on high. “Yes, ma’am! Permission to finish my pineapple juice first, ma’am?”

“Granted!”

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Log of the Month for April 2018
Posted on May 9th, 2018 by Kathryn Harper

My apologies for the lack of a thread so far for the 2018 Awards. Congratulations to Ilaihr for willing April with “The Good, the Bad, and The Psychonautic”! The intro reminds me of something from the late Beatles catalog, which then transitions into the foreword for what I imagine to be a cosmic read. Creative and well done!

Here are the winners for the previous months:

March – Command After Hours: Poolside – Kuari, Alexis Wright, and Kathryn Harper
February – Stepping Stones – Alexis Wright
January – An Indelible Smile – Kathryn Harper, with Alexis Wright

Check all of them out in the Featured Logs section!

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ENG2 Ensign Razyn Laner
Posted on April 23rd, 2018 by Razyn Laner

Laner stood on stage, microphone in hand, and a spotlight on him, as he looked out at the small audience in a comedy club in San Francisco, approximately a year before he was assigned to the Atlantis.

“Hello. M-m-my name is Razyn Laner and I am a St-St-St-Starfleet cadet with a stutter. So, I am from B-Ba-Bajora, and I traveled a lot, and I ju-just happened t-t-t-to get back from Ferenginar.”

A handful of the older audience members shook their head.

“Y-Y-You guys been there? S-S-S-S,” he paused,” S-S-Some of you?”

A few nodded.

“W-W-W-Well, you know Ferenginar’s an-an-an an interesting place be-because you can haggle prices like you can j-j-just argue,” he chuckles, “the p-prices. W-W-W-Which means when they say a number you can just g-g-go… no.” There was laughter, and a scattering of clapping.

“I’m in ch-ch-ch-ch-charge here. I-I-I-I-I just ac-ac-a-a-accept it that that’s how you do it in F-F-Feren-Ferenginar. I accept it. But-But-But haggling d-doesn’t work so well for me-me-me. Y-Y-You s-s-see, the key to haggling is-is-is you-you got to sound confident,” he gave an upward squeak, and shrugged, as the audience guffawed.

“Wha-Wha-Wha-What they are hearing f-from-from me, is that, it’s good, he’s n-not fluent in our language… or his.” A few of the linguistics professors let out an uncontrollable laugh. “I st-st-still tried though. I went up to one-one of the-one of the g-guys with the little carts, and I just th-th-threw out a number in th-th-th-th-their currency, and said one strip of la-la-latinum. No,” mild chuckled echoed the walls of the building.

“It was like, n-n-n-no. It’s-It’s-It’s th-three-three strips of latinum. I was l-l-l-l-legging it down. I was like, look, b-buddy, the-the highest up I can go is t-t-t-two strips of latinum. He-He-He was sold on that p-p-p-probably because he was tired. Or-Or-Or-Or-Or hungover.” A hearty laugh escaped a considerable number of people.

“As you kn-know, both are-are-are-are,” he paused to stop his stutter, “are worthless in the F-F-Fed-Federation. Something I did not take into ah-ah-ah-ac-account during this con-con-con-con-conversation. So this con-conversation in the Federation went, how ab-ab-ab-about… nothing?'” He paused, turned to face to his right, “No. It’s for n-nothing.” He looked to his left, “l-l-l-look b-b-b-buddy, the highest I-I-I-I can go, is nothing.” The audience roared, as he landed his final line, “The most I have ever p-p-paid for a malfun-fun-fun-functioning holodeck program.”

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11803.28 New Life
Posted on April 13th, 2018 by Velina Tailor

11803.28 New Life

excerpt from Away team report. Location: Newly discovered m-class planet on mission to center of galaxy. Planet name tbd.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Lunoculus Exolemuriformes (Moon Eyed Lemur)
The closest terran counterpart I can compare this creature to is a Madagascaran Lemur, hence the classification. We observed one small group, likely a family, with young ones present.

[Holoimage shown here]

Observed traits

Physical:
Silver to blue colored saucer shaped eyes
Six toes/fingers
Prehensile tail with long hair, much like a terran squirrel’s tail; provides balance when leaping.
Silver and black fur

Vocalisations:
Trilling call and chitters. High pitched whooping alarm call.

Habitat:
Tree-like vegetation

Diet:
Tree fruits and insects

Mating and Reproduction:
Triplets observed in one family group. Babies cling to underside of mother’s belly. Mating habits not observed. Gestation cycle unknown.

Notes:
This species seems very intelligent. Observed individuals seemed to showed as much curiosity towards being watched as we showed towards them. One youngster came very close, almost within touching distance. Immature individuals in observed family group took apparent delight in teasing each other and stealing each others’ food. Recommend future science teams set up camouflage post for further observation.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Velina put down her PADD. That report was done with finally. She just needed to add a little more spit and polish to the whole batch of them and send them off to the Science department, and to Starfleet. This was exciting. In their short time on the M-class planet, along with watching an eclipse of an alien sun, they’d found several new species of lifeforms, which only barely scratched the surface of the flora and fauna to be found there. She wished they could stick around for more cataloguing, but they had a mission to complete. The center of the galaxy awaited them..

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The Good, The Bad, and The Psychonautic
Posted on April 4th, 2018 by Ilaihr

The Good, The Bad, and The Psychonautic: The Historical Compendium and Technical Manual of Telepathy and Psionic Manipulation
by Ilaihr aam Andor

Message from the Author

Greetings reader; if you have read any of my previous books, you are already familar with who I am. My given name is Ilaihr of Andor. To my Aenar kin I am Zid Ziiih, the Ancient Lord; for I spent a hundred years frozen in suspended animation, as the galaxy passed my ageless body by. To the Andorians and the Vulcans, I am merely the Frozen Child, for much the same reason. The Breen and Tholians refer to me as The Avatar of Ice and Fire, a grand sounding name with obvious reasoning. The Orions call me Purr aam Tum; Andorian for The Keeper of Secrets, and a plethora of races, like the Klingons, call me The Trickster. I have gone by many names and even more titles throughout my days, however, some must not be spoken, and others I simply cannot tell you the reasoning of. The route of all of them though, are the experiences of my long life. For the longest time, and to the many out there, I was a simple trader. I have always thought of myself as an explorer, of the galaxy yes, but also of the mind, and the soul.

Within these page, are contained the sum of my knowledge, coalesced over the course of more than a century of research and intensive training. It is on a subject that is very close to my heart, it is the core of how I perceive the world; the very reason why I choose to experience life the way I have. To some, telepathy is a subject of great misunderstanding, it makes people uncomfortable. Similarly, it can breed distrust, derision and even disgust in some cultures. As such, I have decided to write this book, not only on instructing those of you who are telepathic and capable of manipulating psionic fields, but to inform those who cannot; and even teach them how to resist unwelcome telepathic attempts.

From the Vulcan mind meld, kineticism and the creation physical illusions, to the humble commune between a Trill and their symbiont; we will explore the multitude of telepathic techniques and abilities, as well as the races that bear them, the cultural significance and the history of telepathy as a whole. We will go to the primoridal beginnings, the formations of the organs that regulate it, to the ultimate evoultion of such powers; the ability to defy the laws of physics themselves, that higher plane beings of our universe enjoy. By the end, you will come to know, through the adventures of the mind, that what you think you know about the fabric of reality, is nothing but a drop of water in a boundless sea.

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Command After Hours: Poolside
Posted on March 31st, 2018 by Kathryn Harper

by Kuari, Alexis Wright, and Kathryn Harper

“You know,” Kate remarked, jabbing a bite of fish with her fork and then gesturing with it at the other two women at the table, “we really should do this more often.” After a drink of her white wine, she added, “Perhaps every Wednesday night?”

Kuari, having deleted the fancy Risian chair from her spot at the table in order to sit on the floor, turned her head sideways to bite a potato off of her plate. With her mouth full as she chewed it to pieces, she nodded vigorously in reply to Kate’s suggestion.

“Here, in particular?” Lexy asked, casually indicating their surroundings with a sweep of her arm before smirking at Kate and adding, “Not that I’m complaining, of course. I’d just be somewhat surprised if you, of all people, didn’t opt for variety.” In the spirit of her own humorous intent, she gave Kuari a slight nudge and an exaggerated conspiratorial wink.

“Oh, no, this would not even be my first choice for a spot on Risa, but it was already made, and you know that I do love variety. My point was that we all gather, so as long as the place has some charm, where does not matter.” Kate ate the bite of fish off her fork and held it in the air as she chewed and thought, finally adding, “Perhaps Kuari could even create a program to show us her home planet?”

Lexy immediately brightened, holding up her hand to cover the mouthful of food she’d just taken, too excited to wait. “Ooh, yes! I’d love to see your homeworld, Kuari!”

Swallowing quickly, Kuari straightened up as she considered the possibility. “There are programs already made, actually. Mother told me others at Starfleet were curious and she and Father made them. They remember Ruka better than I do, anyway, so it makes sense that they should design them. Mother did give me a copy.” She looked between the other two, eager to be helpful. “I could load them into the holodeck, if you want.”

“Are you kidding?!” Lexy exclaimed, still covering her mouth before gulping down her bite. “OF COURSE, we want!”

“Oh! Oh!” Kate exclaimed, dropping her empty fork onto the table as she excitedly clapped her hands together. “And on the holodeck, we could fly WITH you!”

Lexy stomped her feet with giddy delight, making incomprehensible noises of glee.

Kuari grinned, their excitement contagious. The fact that she could make them both so happy made her happy. “Sure! I never thought about that before, but yes, you could fly with me!”

“Next week, then!” Kate proclaimed, then pursed her lips in thought as outlandish ideas flooded her mind. “I wonder if I should program myself some sort of wings like, what are those mythological beings from Earth? Valkyries?”

Somewhat abashed, Lexy immediately tried to banish all thoughts of high-tech polymer wingsuits from her mind. “…Right! Something like that would definitely work.” She pondered for a moment, then offered, “Maybe we could each come up with some sort of special setting? Take turns, that sort of thing? Although… most of the places that are dear to me are on Earth, but I’m sure both of you are probably sick of that place.” She laughed light-heartedly before stuffing another forkful of delicious rice pilaf into her mouth.

“Program yourself, you mean like…holo-wings?” Kuari asked, having not considered the idea before.

“Yes! Or I could give myself a holographic flying mount, like a drago—” Kate paused in consideration of her draconine friend. “Wait, would that be rude?”

Kuari cocked her head to the side. “Were you going to say ‘dragon’? Why would it be rude?”

Lexy watched the volley of this conversation move back and forth between her companions as she quietly finished her meal, somewhat baffled as to how they had seemingly ignored almost everything she said.

“I do not know, I just wanted to make sure that it would be alright to essentially create a larger version of, well, you, and ride it around. I mean, you have let me ride on your back on the ground, but, you know…” Realizing that she was rambling a bit, Kate concluded, “I felt that it would be polite to make sure.”

“A larger version of a Rucara would be…unsettling. The idea of riding a Rucara isn’t strange to me, though. I’ve given many people rides on my back before.” Kuari smiled, remembering a holiday party several years back. “Riding one in the air, well if it’s a normal-sized Rucara, it would just look really strong to me. That would be more acceptable. Besides, it is a fiction.”

Feeling a bit like a third wheel, Lexy sighed internally and signaled for the dessert tray with a wave of her hand.

“Then it is a date! Next week we fly on Ruka, and the following week, we will visit a place of Lexy’s choosing!” Kate pushed away her empty plate and triumphantly finished the last of her wine, finding the idea of a weekly standing night of fun with these two to be positively delightful.

“Sounds great! And I’m not tired of Earth.” Kuari looked pointedly at Alexis. “There’s so much of it I haven’t seen. Planets are big, after all. I’m mostly only familiar with the grounds outside Starfleet Headquarters…” Her voice trailed off as her eyes locked onto the approaching dessert tray.

So, they had been listening to her after all, Lexy noted with mild surprise. She’d started racking her brain for some exotic alien planets that she’d visited as soon as she heard Kate’s comments, thinking her own world so over-exposed as to be no longer novel or interesting, but Kuari’s words soothed her anxiety as they so often did. “Yes, okay!” she said, with a bright smile that was only partially attributable to the approaching cheesecake. “I know I’ve taken you there before, Kate, but… don’t you think Kuari would like the hike to Blue Pool?” Lexy was already mentally planning the picnic before either of them could respond.

“Oh, I am sure of it,” Kate nodded, eyeing the chiseled holographic Risian man who was bringing the dessert tray, intent on chocolate of any variety.

Kuari’s nose was almost on top of the tray as it arrived, sniffing for something in particular herself. “Chocolate, please!” A piece of cake was put in front of her, while the cheesecake went to Alexis. The waiter moved around to Kate and offered her a look, and it was not long before the Risan had selected a chocolate éclair. The trio shared jovial conversation throughout dessert and adjourned to the pool without delay, already suitably attired to dive into the refreshingly cool water.

Kate surfaced and slicked her hair back after having swum an underwater length of the pool from her dive in off the board, luxuriating in the sensation on her skin as she slid through the water. “Ahhhhh… That feels wonderful.”

Despite Lexy’s lack of reply, her agreement was evident in the zeal with which she was hauling herself up the ladder, dripping wet, and circling back to the diving board for a second jump into the shimmering pool. She paused, noting Kate and Kuari’s positions in the pool, and took a few steps back before running and springing into a giggling cannonball calculated to hit the both of them.

Kuari, having slid onto the pool’s surface from the edge, was gliding across it like a duck. The splash from Lexy’s jump sprayed all over her, forcing her to squeeze her eyes shut, and the surface carried her up and down as the wave passed beneath her. Other than flinging the water from her face, she acted like it never happened and looked down into the pool to find Lexy, but the water was rough enough that she couldn’t spot her.

Turning her face away, Kate laughed as the splash hit her, and then searched the water for her fiancée, intending to retaliate.

Lexy surfaced a few meters away from her point of impact and wiped water from her grinning face, looking around at her companions’ reactions. She couldn’t help but laugh at Kuari’s waterfowl-like serenity, though the Rucara had obviously been hit by the splash, and began to call out to her and playfully splash water toward her — until she noticed Kate approaching from the other side with a grin and a predatory gleam in her eye. Shrieking with delight and mock dismay, she quickly submerged and kicked toward the relative safety of Kuari.

Seeing Lexy go underwater, Kate followed and with a few practiced strokes surged forward, extending tickling fingers toward her target’s abdomen.

Swimming under the floating form of Kuari, Lexy clung to her as she surfaced, protecting her own belly. Laughing breathlessly, she cried, “Save me! Save me! Risians are expert ticklers!” Kuari, reacting more to being grabbed than her words, began to swim, unfortunately right towards Kate. Lexy screamed and kicked away from the grasping, tickling fingers that brushed her skin.

After a couple of seconds of tickling, Kate broke off her attack and surfaced, grinning through wet hair and streaming water. “Got you!” she mirthfully claimed before tossing her head back to clear the hair and water from her face.

Kuari had kept going, dragging Lexy across the water. Going for speed, she was now moving her tail in a fish-like motion, waiting for Lexy to let go. After a few moments she slowed down, realizing her instinct to swim when grabbed was useless in this case as it was only her friend hanging onto her. She grinned and turned to look at them both.

As they streaked through the water away from Kate, Lexy couldn’t help but gloatingly stick out her tongue over her shoulder. Laughing, she turned back to Kuari. “Thanks for saving me!” It was at this moment that she realized she’d been bodily clinging to her friend and released her in a moment of self-consciousness, treading water to back away slightly. “Um. Sorry!” She looked down, still smiling, but her cheeks reddening slightly in bashful embarrassment.

Having unintentionally taken Lexy’s side by rescuing her from Kate, Kuari considered what action she should take next. Her grin grew and she dug her wing into the water like a keel, using it to compensate for the purposeful swing of her tail through the water that sent an impressive spray in Lexy’s direction.

Caught off-guard by the rush of water splashing into her face, Lexy’s embarrassment dissolved into sputtering laughter. There was a part of her that was filled with the nearly-overwhelming sensation of warmth and acceptance that she was so happy to have in her life, but most of her was preoccupied with the playful spirit of the moment. She used her hands, inadequate though they were compared to wings, to retaliate joyfully.

Kate ducked underwater as the giant splash approached with the sudden realization that a water fight with a Rucara was an unwinnable battle. Resolving to go down fighting, she surfaced near Kuari and Lexy, then immediately arced over and dove again, kicking in their direction as her legs disappeared under the surface.

“Computer,” Lexy commanded, turning away from Kate’s churning splash, “create miscellaneous pool toys and water gun props!” She made her way to the edge of the pool both to distance herself temporarily from the splash fight and to collect a powerful-looking gun that had appeared nearby, but changed her course when she spotted the large inflatable unicorn with a water gun slung around its neck over in the deep end of the pool, not far away. She cackled with glee as she commandeered it, clambering aboard and strapping on the plastic weapon before carefully taking aim at her friends. “Now, you two listen up! I’m the law in this here pool!” She belatedly realized that her companions were possibly unlikely to get the joke, but was too lost in her own laughter to care.

Kuari blinked as she came to face Lexy, listening to her announcement. She turned her head towards Kate. “Did Lexy complete her sidearm aiming refresher this month? Wait, I should know that. Hm…I don’t think she did. I don’t know, do you think we should be scared?”

Slicking her hair back again, Kate eyed the inflatable unicorn rider with a feigned wary glance. “I think… that she cannot possibly shoot both of us if we rush her, and that it will be an honor if I go down fighting for the liberation of this pool while at your side.” The gravitas of her voice was absurd in this situation, and it required considerable effort for Kate to keep from ruining it with a laugh.

As they talked, Lexy initially planned to surreptitiously paddle herself closer to the edge to grab a second weapon just in case, but forgot her plans moments later when she had to hide her face in the neck of her noble steed in a fruitless attempt to hide her breathless laughter.

“Right,” Kuari agreed, having no laugh in her voice. She lowered her head to the water’s surface, both eyes narrowing in on her target. “You go for her. I’ll take on her pink squeaky mount.”

With a serious nod, Kate agreed, “That makes sense. On three.” She turned to face Lexy, finally letting a smile bubble through the act. “One… two… “

Lexy grinned in the face of her peril, wondering if this is what bonding experiences and camaraderie were supposed to feel like. She hoped so; it felt good. She leveled her weapon at them and fired, determined to stand her ground — or at least, her pink inflatable pool unicorn — for as long as possible.

“…Three!” the two rebels exclaimed in unison and rushed towards Lexy. Having no qualms about destroying objects created by the holodeck, Kuari opened her large mouth around the unicorn’s head and twisted. It squeaked in dismay as the air quickly escaped and the pool toy began to deflate from underneath Lexy. Kate leapt from the water and scrabbled for purchase on the slippery float, tackling a laughing Lexy in an attempt to dismount her from the rapidly sinking unicorn.

The battle continued until they had all tired themselves out, at which point it was declared a draw and the combatants amicably retired to a more comfortable setting. As they were relaxing in the hot tub, Kate found herself feeling incredibly lucky to be part of a command team formed of those she held so dear. Kuari was content as well, her head lying on the floor at the edge of the tub. Lexy drowsed in the heat, for once allowing herself to exist in the moment, her heart light with the happiness that comes with companionship.

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Stepping Stones
Posted on February 28th, 2018 by Alexis Wright

Lexy was sure she’d be tired at the end of such a chaotic day among the treacherously beautiful quantum filaments, but her mind hadn’t stopped buzzing with possibilities ever since Kate and Kuari had spoken to her of publication. She hurried through a dinner with Kate in a rather preoccupied state and excused herself, against protestations that they’d planned to watch a movie together that night, to depart for her little-used office. Once she had prepared her workspace just so (according to her custom), she settled down to compose her thoughts.

More months than she cared to count had gone by since she’d started thinking about returning to academia long enough to earn her Ph.D., and somehow there had always been a reason to delay. It never seemed to be the right time, although she knew that the obstacles and roadblocks were almost entirely of her own making and in her own mind. She’d always prioritized other things, largely because the process of pursuing that final credential terrified her. Taking the command test had been one thing; it was something she had never aspired to, and so the prospect of failure had not been alarming to her. But this? This was something she’d been working toward since she was a child, and now that she was so close to the end, it was more difficult to muster the nerve to submit herself to her peers and mentors to be weighed and judged and potentially found wanting. More than that, her heart was set on asking someone whose opinion she deeply valued and respected to be part of this process, and something within her trembled at the thought of disappointing that person.

But in rare moments of fortitude like this, Lexy knew that these fears and anxieties could not, should not dampen her conviction or interfere with her goals. On a day like this, she was confident in her abilities, and she knew with complete certainty that her quick thinking in developing the sensor parameters to detect the quantum filaments had likely saved lives. It was because she stood on this solid bedrock of proof of the prowess of her mind that she was able to pass the next hour, and then another, and yet another in her office that night, her eyes clear and her voice strong, dictating her paper on the detection of these anomalies with the precision and clarity that she prided herself in.

When she finally made her way back home and climbed into bed next to an already-sleeping Kate, she did so with the knowledge that she’d created something she was excited to publish upon their return, another step on the path that she knew she wanted to walk despite her fears. She was asleep moments after her head hit the pillow, the darkness hiding the smile of satisfaction that curved her lips.

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An Indelible Smile
Posted on January 31st, 2018 by Kathryn Harper

by Kathryn Harper, with Alexis Wright

Her command of Atlantis had gotten off to a rocky start, but as she reflected on things while looking out the ready room window before the start of alpha shift, Captain Kathryn Harper found herself to be overjoyed with the recent trend. The Federation was slowly recovering from the Section 31 Crisis, and for the first time in months, the ship’s mission had nothing at all to do with Section 31. Instead, they were tasked with perhaps the most exciting mission of scientific exploration of the century; to directly study the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Even her personal life was unimaginably good; she had just recently become engaged, something that she’d never dreamed would ever happen to her except in girlhood fantasies. Given her tumultuous romantic history, Kate thought that nothing short of a miracle.

Kate regarded the diamond ring on her left hand with a curious smirk, tilting it back and forth to admire the gem’s sparkle. Engagement rings were not tradition on Risa, but she could not deny her attraction to the shiny stone. In all the excitement since Lexy had given it to her at the holiday party, Kate realized that she had yet to call her parents to tell them the good news. She sat down at her desk terminal and placed a request for the communication link to Risa, knowing that soon, Atlantis would be out of range of the standard subspace relay network, so her remaining time to easily call home was limited. While she waited for the link to connect across the incredible distance between Atlantis and Risa, her gaze wandered back to the ring on her finger and the scintillating light it seemed to contain.

The viewscreen finally cut away from the Federation logo after several long minutes of waiting, giving way to the image of her smiling parents, as they always were when they got a call from their only child. “Kathryn!” roared her father, Rolik, his face erupting into delight at the sight of her. He pulled his wife close as he continued in their native language, “It is so good to see you, my girl!”

“Papá, Mamá!” Kate answered, also in the Risan tongue. “How have you been?”

“We are well, Kathryn,” Jhnal replied, smiling warmly at her daughter across the vast expanse, “As we are always well. And you? What adventure is our Starfleet captain daughter on today?”

“The greatest yet; a voyage to the center of the galaxy. But that is not even the reason I called!” Each word faded to a smile, the soft expression seeming indelibly carved on Kate’s face.

Jhnal’s eyes betrayed the faintest moment of excitement, but it was masked so quickly that Kate wasn’t certain it had been there at all. “Oh? You do not look worried, so maybe it is something good, yes?”

Raising her hand to show off the sparkling diamond ring, Kate excitedly announced, “Lexy asked me to marry her!”

Jhnal barked a laugh, bringing her hands together in a triumphant clap. “I knew that strange little human would do it sooner or later! And that ring you wear means that you accepted, yes? Your father had begun to worry,” she added, grinning and nudging her husband in the ribs as he grinned sheepishly. “Ha! We are so happy for you, daughter!”

Rolik wrapped his other arm around Jhnal and pulled her into a bearhug, since Kate was out of reach, and his daughter remained respectfully quiet while her father was overwhelmed with emotion. When he finally let his wife breathe again, Rolik wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. “Yes, Kathryn, that you have finally found such happiness in her brings us pure joy.”

“Thank you both. I still can hardly believe it,” Kate gushed, the smile still her resting expression.

“And your Lexy, we worried at first that maybe she was too shy, but when she came to us… she loves you, Kathryn. This is wonderful! Now we will have two daughters!” Jhnal’s excitement was nearly palpable, even through the screen.

“She does love me, yes. Me, of all people! I mean, you two are obviously biased in my favor,” Kate gestured at the viewscreen, “but I had given up on finding actual love years ago. But here… well, here she is.” Kate finished the thought quietly, now having to wipe a tear from the corner of her own eye though her smile remained intact. “I never imagined being as lucky as you two are, in that regard.”

Rolik leaned toward the camera, and although he spoke softly, he still maintained an air of gregariousness. “Kathryn… you were never like the other girls. Always with the playing of the sports, and the studying, and the music… but look what you have done with your life as a result. The first woman of our people to command a Federation starship, who negotiated a historic peace treaty with the Romulans—you have made all of Risa proud, not just us. To do all of that takes someone truly special, since such ability and insight is quite rare, indeed. But when you are so different, it is harder to find the right person to settle down with, though the one you eventually find is likely to be as special as you are. We always knew that you would succeed at this, just like most anything else you have tried.”

“Yes,” Jhnal added, nodding, “You and your Lexy are both special people. It is lucky that you found one another, just as Rolik was to find me, yes?” She favored him with a mischievous smirk before turning back to the screen. “But finding your match is only the first challenge. Marriage is hard, sometimes, and it takes work… so do not think that the hard part is over. The building of the life together is not easy, but if you are both willing to sacrifice for love, then it will be worth the trouble.” Her hand found Rolik’s, and gave it an affectionate squeeze.

“I will remember that. Already, I have learned a few difficult lessons about successfully living with a lover.” Kate snickered, remembering her previous, wholly disastrous attempts at cohabitation. “Another first!”

“We are so glad to see you finally with love in your life. You look so happy, Kathryn! We are proud of all of your accomplishments, but it is your happiness that has always been most important.” The love that filled Jhnal’s smile almost glowed through the viewscreen. “So, tell me,” she continued, looking innocent, “where and when will be the wedding?”

With a hint of red suddenly coloring her cheeks, Kate slowly shrank into her chair as her face slid down into her palm. An exasperated laugh found its way through her unfaltering smile as she lightly reproached, “Mamá!” The joyful sound of her parents’ mirth from the other end of the connection only made her heart feel even warmer.

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Logs of the Month for Nov/Dec 2017
Posted on January 2nd, 2018 by Kathryn Harper

Congratulations to T’Lira for winning November with “Curiousity Didn’t Actually Kill the Cat, Did It?” and to Alexis Wright for winning December with “Use Your Illusions II”! Check them out in the Featured Logs section!

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Use Your Illusions II
Posted on December 28th, 2017 by Alexis Wright

by Alexis Wright, with Kathryn Harper

The sand beneath Alexis’s blanket still radiated some of the day’s warmth, despite the fact that the suns had long since dipped beneath the horizon. The constant sound of waves crashing against the shore provided the sole accompaniment to her inspection of the foreign constellations that stretched across the Risian night sky. Long, peaceful moments passed before the jarring sound of Kate pointedly clearing her throat prompted Lexy guiltily back to the question she’d been blatantly avoiding. Sighing, she turned her head to the right toward Kate lying next to her on the moonlit beach. “To be honest, taking the test isn’t really something I’d planned to do, but T’Kirr talked me into it. She sponsored me, in fact.”

“Oh?” Kate’s brows rose with interest. “The Commodore would not have suggested that you take the test unless she thought you capable, of course.”

Lexy sighed again, turning back to point her eyes skyward. “She said that it would be good for my career, but that’s not terribly important to me. She didn’t really get my attention until she suggested that I should do it to better support you. I promised them that I would, you know. So, when she brought it up… there wasn’t much choice in the matter. I didn’t mind, though,” she quickly added, “If it helps me support you, then I’ll do it. It was like that.”

They laid there wordlessly until it became clear that Lexy would add nothing further, and Kate ventured another question. “The test is different for everyone… what was it like for you? Or would you rather not say?”

Knowing that this would inevitably come up did not serve to make Lexy feel any more prepared to talk about it, but she knew that she needed to get it off of her chest. “It…” she said, then paused, unsure where to begin. “I didn’t know much about the test going in, only that it would test my leadership abilities. I didn’t really think I had any of those, though, so I was fully prepared to fail a test for the first time in my life.” Lexy rose to a sitting position, gazing out toward the surf; she grabbed a fistful of sand and watched it run out through the hole created by the imperfect seal of her pinky finger. The strong breeze blew the sand onto her clothes, and she clenched her fist to stop the flow. Without looking up, she said, “Computer, reduce wind intensity by eighty percent.”

Once the breeze died away, she allowed the flow to resume and the sand to stream down to form a small pile before her, just beyond the edge of her blanket, idly adding more handfuls to it as she spoke. “The ship I was commanding was carrying a diplomatic delegation, which included my brother Bryan, to some relatively routine…” She stopped abruptly, again clenching her fist to halt the flow of sand, her gaze focused on something that wasn’t there. The flow of both words and sand resumed a moment later with a shake of her head. “No. The details aren’t important. What matters is that I was presented with a seemingly simple decision between two options, one of which was clearly supported by all of the information available to me. But even though I made what was objectively the ‘right’ choice, things began to go wrong. I was presented with an opportunity to choose again, and I reviewed my options with the new information in mind, but came to the same conclusion. And again, the situation grew worse. When the opportunity to change my mind came up a third time, I realized that this must be their test… in other words, would I trust some fabled gut instinct instead of the data in order to get out of a bad situation?”

The neat pile of sand in front of Lexy grew as she continued her rhythmic pattern of taking a handful and then carefully allowing it to stream down from her balled fist. The mechanical motion, combined with the irregular cadence of the pounding surf, provided a somewhat hypnotic accompaniment to the words that seemed calm on the surface, but poured from her lips with an undercurrent of tension. “I decided, in that moment, that I was going to fail their fucking test.” The expletive was rare from her mouth, and she spat it percussively. “That I would show them that it was more important to me to stick to my principles… to follow the conclusions that I draw from the data rather than trusting my so-called gut when making that kind of decision.” Lexy’s body slowly began to betray her growing agitation; the quaver in her voice and tremble in her hands were subtle, but present. “They offered me the choice repeatedly, Kate, thrusting me into a position where I was forced to decide between being objectively right and being potentially more safe. It was easy at first, when the consequences were merely inconvenient, but it was hard when I knew making that decision again would mean that someone would get hurt. That someone important to me would probably die. That continuing along the path upon which the data had led me would mean that my choice would lead to the destruction of the ship, the death of every single person aboard, my own death, a diplomatic incident that could easily lead the Federation into war. When the choices became agonizing, I put as much time into analyzing and reviewing the data as I dared, frantically searching for an objective reason to change my decision. But there was never any reason, Kate. The choice was always clear.”

The last of a handful of sand trickled out of her fist and she opened her hand, blankly regarding her palm before angrily plunging it into the tidy mound she had created, scattering it haphazardly in every direction, erasing its existence in a matter of seconds. This unusual emotional act of destruction and disorder left her feeling cold and hollow, and she hugged her knees to her chest, resting her chin between between them as she stared off at the distant horizon, trying to ignore her awareness of Kate’s concerned eyes silently watching her. When she continued, her voice was quiet. “I wish I could say that I made what I knew to be the right choice with defiance and certainty, every time, to the bitter end… but that’s not what happened. Once the consequences got serious, the struggle was less between me and the test and more between me and my own self-doubt. It shook me, deeply, to see a choice I’d made get people killed. Get Bryan killed. I asked others aboard the ship for input, practically begging for someone to give me a reason to revise my choice, but they all deferred to me… as they were programmed to do. It’s not until then that it really sunk in for me what it would mean to be in command, to have that kind of power in my hands alone, and I was so incredibly glad that I would fail this test, that I would never be asked to make such a decision. Frankly, I actually wasn’t certain that I could even continue to make it during the test, despite my knowledge that it wasn’t even real. When I realized that my next decision would finally result in the destruction of the ship, I was actually relieved. As soon as my death was imminent, the tortured screech of twisting metal drowning out the panicked cries of my friends and colleagues barely visible through the choking smoke filling the bridge vanished, and I suddenly found myself alone in an empty holodeck with an empty voice telling me that the test simulation was complete and advising me to take a moment to collect myself before emerging. I stayed in that empty room for what felt a long time, Kate, huddled much like I am now and trying to put myself back together again. It even occurred to me that this might be part of the test as well, seeing how quickly I could recover, but I didn’t care… I was pretty sure I’d already failed. I wanted to fail.

“Ultimately, I decided that I should recapture some of the defiance that I’d had initially; it had been very difficult, but I’d shown them how committed I was to trusting data above all else. I wanted to gloat in their faces, when they saw me defiant in the face of failure because my principles were more important to me than whatever they wanted to turn me into.” The bitterness in Lexy’s voice was almost palpable, and she paused to compose herself before proceeding. “So, that’s the state of mind I was in when I went out there to receive my glorious failing grade.” She laughed, a harsh and humorless sound. “But my fragile smile of triumph died the moment I saw them, Kate. I don’t even remember everything they said to me, their congratulations and words of praise for my success. Success!” She laughed again, surreptitiously raising a hand to swipe away tears. “They called that a success. I was wrong, Kate. The test wasn’t what I thought it was at all. No, they were impressed that I never second-guessed myself, and said that I’d demonstrated that I have what it takes to be in command. My stomach dropped; I felt sick. Getting myself and everyone else killed because I was too damn stubborn to abandon my own stupid principles is what passes for success?” Swallowing hard past the lump in her throat, she fought to keep it together long enough to finish her thoughts. “I was so shocked that I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t even tell them that I didn’t want to pass their stupid test. I just stood there limply while my hand was shaken and tried to nod in the right places until they sent me on my way, a newly-minted command officer.” Her vision blurred and she dropped her head, giving in to something that wasn’t exactly sadness, but rather the sheer overwhelming emotion that she was not equipped to hold at bay any longer.

Kate watched as Lexy buried her face in her arms and quietly shook, the soft sounds drowned out by the wind and the waves. Kate tried to speak, but was stopped short by a firm gesture. With hesitant uncertainty, she finally offered Lexy a brief but comforting touch before retreating to remain quietly present nearby in accordance with the troubled woman’s apparent wishes. Time passed in silence, apart from the wind and the waves, and the stars slid some distance across the great dome of the sky before Lexy lifted her head again to speak again.

“I haven’t been able to talk to you about any of this,” she began, her tone matter-of-fact, “because essentially what I’m saying is that I think anyone who wants to have command-level responsibility has something wrong with them, not to mention that I think the concept of a ‘gut’ that one should trust is silly. I would be insulted, if I were you. But I also know that neither of these things make me think less of you, and I don’t know if you can understand. I never wanted this responsibility, Kate. I think there would have to be something wrong with me to want it, and the concept of me trusting my gut is silly. But you’re not me, and these things work for you, and that’s okay. Do you see? It’s just that we’re different. I love Kate Harper, even the parts of her that make no sense to me. And I don’t want this responsibility, but I’ll accept it to support the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, even if I’m going to have to do a lot of thinking to figure out whether I’m even worthy of it in the first place. I passed the test, and what’s done is done. So… we’ll just move forward from here.”

Kate spoke softly from her position reclined on her beach blanket, her eyes pointed toward the stars. “You said you did not know much about the test; would it comfort you to know that it is designed to put you in one of the worst situations you could possibly face in command?”

Her brow furrowing slightly in surprise, Lexy looked back at Kate over her shoulder. “Really?”

“Really,” Kate confirmed, tipping her chin down to meet Lexy’s eyes, dark and unreadable in the dim moonlight. “If you think about it, it makes sense. They test you at your worst, with the understanding that if you succeed, most of the other decisions you must make while in command will be comparatively simple.”

After a moment’s thought, Lexy sighed and released her legs, shifting to recline similarly on her own blanket. “That makes sense, logically. I say that I would have to be crazy to want the responsibility, and I still think that’s true, but I know logically that the responsibility isn’t always such a heavy burden.” She glanced over at Kate, wondering briefly about the differences between them and admiring the strength that she knew she didn’t possess, before returning her gaze to the heavens. “Don’t worry. I’m not saying that I hate it or won’t do it. I’m just saying that I have some thinking to do about it.”

Rolling to her left and propping herself up on an elbow to face Lexy, Kate smiled. “Of course. Thinking is what you scientists do, is it not? Take your time. But I think you should be proud of yourself.”

Again, Lexy couldn’t help but turn to look at her with a slightly furrowed brow. “What, because I passed the test?” The incredulity in her tone was unmistakable.

“No,” Kate laughed, shaking her head. “I mean you should still be proud of yourself for sticking to your principles. They are an important part of what Starfleet stands for. Your approach may be somewhat different than mine, but the principles are the same. You have seen me make decisions based on my principles, have you not?”

Lexy studied her, considering her words. This conversation had certainly gone in a direction she hadn’t anticipated, but she wasn’t particularly surprised, as similar conversations had done the same in the past — it was, in fact, a large part of why she sought them out. Turning her thoughts to the events of the past months and years, she found herself drawn to Kate’s perspective in the decisions to not fire upon the Romulan refugees, to disobey orders and steal the ship, and a variety of other decisions Kate had made as a matter of principle and that Lexy had heartily agreed with, both at the time and through the lens of hindsight. In her mind, she held these emerging realizations up against the negative experience she’d had with the test, but found it beyond her ability to reconcile at that moment. “You… make a compelling point, but again, I’ll need to think about it.” She turned her eyes back to the sky and stifled a yawn; the movement of the heavens meant that this simulation had been running for some time, and it was getting quite late. “I’m too tired to think about it much more right now, I’m afraid.”

Stretching, Kate made understanding noises and rubbed her eyes, then gave Lexy a look that was discernibly affectionate, despite the dim light. “You say that coming here helps you to relax. Hopefully that has been accomplished?”

Lexy had already noted the fading of the stars, as the sky was just beginning to lighten with the streaks of the approaching dawn. “Yes,” she said, nodding, “I do love this simulation. It always helps me think, as well… but it’s not the same as the real thing. I think I’m ready to go now,” she added with a glance toward Kate, who seemed to be pleased enough by the positive change in Lexy’s state of mind to respond with a smile and a nod of apparent agreement. With one last look around the comforting setting, she took a deep breath and said, “Computer, end program.”

Taking a moment to collect herself, Lexy blinked to readjust her eyes to the blank walls before finally rising to her feet. “Thanks for the talk,” she said with a faint smile, and then walked out of the empty holodeck. Alone.

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