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Singularity
Posted on September 5th, 2018 by Kathryn Harper

by Alexis Wright and Kathryn Harper

Breathe. You must remember to breathe!

Alexis was seated in the holodeck, her cello cradled gently between her knees, trying to look more relaxed than she felt. She’d set up the holodeck to look just like the small room in which she used to play with her mother when she was a child, which was an intensely private space for her — but the familiar acoustics calmed her nerves.

Even though she’d been warming up for half an hour, she tried to look as though she’d only been there for a few moments when the holodeck doors swished open, heralding Kate’s arrival. Carrying a small case made of lacquered wood, Kate smiled as she looked around, realizing that the room her new friend had chosen for their musical meeting was far too detailed to be random. “Hello, Lexy.”

— That beguiling pair of eyes had transfixed her while they played. Even then, it had been inevitable.

How close had she come to dying today? More importantly, how much closer had she come to losing her best and only friend? When she had seen Kate on the bridge, she had wanted to jump up and hug her, just to make sure she was real and alive and okay. A part of her still wanted to.

Was Kate more than just a friend? Was she developing… feelings for Kate? If she was, would they be welcome? Was she willing to jeopardize their friendship based on these feelings? How serious was she about them? She wasn’t sure. This was uncharted space.

— Those seemingly far-away tears had stung bitterly, but these are infinitely happier. Blink.

“The truth is that I really care about you. Maybe as… more than just a friend. But our friendship is more important to me and I don’t want to lose it even if you don’t feel the same way.”

Kate’s face seemed to light up, and she swept Lexy into a quick hug. After but a moment, Kate pulled back to meet Lexy’s confused look and gushed, “You really feel that way? I had dared to hope so, since I do feel the same way!”

Lexy blinked at Kate, her heart beating wildly as Risa’s ocean crashed upon the sandy shore near where they stood. She took a step closer so that their bodies were almost touching. “Tell me,” she whispered, meeting those tantalizing green eyes as she lifted a hand and tenderly brushed strands of hair from Kate’s face, “is this body language difficult to understand?” She cupped Kate’s cheek softly and tipped her own chin upward, slowly standing up on her toes, and closed her eyes at the last moment…

— She shivers in anticipation of soft warmth, curved into a smile. Blink.

Lexy wrapped her arms around Kate’s trembling form. “But I do need to,” she said softly, “I want to. I choose this. I won’t pretend to understand the hell you’re going through, but you don’t have to do it alone anymore. You have me, now.” She blinked away tears.

Kate’s wild, wet eyes pulled back and found Lexy’s. “But it is my fault that they are all dead! You said yes because of me, and if you die too, I could not bear…”

“It’s not your fault, Kate. And I am not planning to die.” She pressed her lips together into a grim line. “Like I said, we’re going to make it back home together.”

— Meaningful words that pierce straight to the core of her being. Blink. Yet, she still notices the birdsong.

Kate pulled her close into a reassuring hug. “At the time, I thought you asked that because of our reputation as a species, but now I understand.” Pulling back from the hug to look Lexy straight in the eyes, she continued, “Do not worry. I will commit to you, and only you, as I said.”

Lexy gave Kate a pensive look. “Even though I’m moving so slow? That was his complaint.”

“Mmmm, it is nothing,” Kate purred. “Your ex-boyfriend was a pig, you know. I am comfortable with whatever pace you wish to take.”

Lexy smiled brightly, her eyes shining. “Shall we head back to the house? There’s something there I… think I’m ready to show you.”

— Blink. The light, warm breeze is welcome. Everything is perfect, she muses.

“It’s okay if you don’t want me,” Lexy mumbled self-consciously.

“Oh, believe me, I want you,” Kate growled, her voice acquiring an undercurrent of primal lust as the restraint she had been exercising around Lexy began to crumble. She dropped Lexy’s hands and pulled their bodies together with a surprising amount of force. “As for not knowing how to ‘have the sex with a woman,’ do not fret. I will. take care. of that.” Each staccato assertion was punctuated by a light tap of her finger on the tip of Lexy’s nose.

A shiver of anticipation went up her spine at the sudden huskiness in Kate’s voice and the roughness of the embrace.

— She has never felt more beautiful in her life than she does now, standing with her beloved in this magnificent cathedral of nature.

“I’m fine, though I could use a shower.” Giving Kate an appraising look, Lexy’s brows knitted together with concern. “And you? You’re… all right?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” Kate answered with a relieved smile, then added, “Somehow, after all of that.” The STAR mission was finally over, and it was a near-miracle that they were both unharmed.

They walked silently down the corridor together until they reached Lexy’s quarters; Lexy stepped inside and roughly pulled Kate in behind her, drawing her into a fierce embrace and fervid kiss before the door had even finished closing. Lexy’s heart raced as she clutched Kate close to her, kissing her with an urgent need like that for water in the desert. Her sudden passion caught Kate by surprise, startling her awake from the exhausted reverie that had carried them here. This level of intensity from Lexy was something new. Returning her embrace and kisses with equal ferocity, Kate answered with a fire of her own.

After a moment, Lexy began tugging at the fastener of Kate’s uniform while backing toward the bathroom. “Come on,” she purred, her voice low and husky. “I wasn’t kidding about that shower.”

Kate’s breath caught at her tone, also new and exciting. She reached for Lexy’s zipper, whispering against her neck, “That is good, because this side of you is really arousing.”

“Shut up,” Lexy whispered simply, covering Kate’s mouth with her own.

— The moment feels surreal. Exhilaration juxtaposes with serenity.

Kate was unable to suppress her laughter at Lexy’s wholly scientific approach to the future of their relationship. After a few mirthful moments, she finally answered, “Forgive me, please, I did not mean to offend. That was just so… scientific! And yes, I suppose your analysis is technically correct.”

Quietly regarding Kate, her sober expression unchanged, Lexy carefully considered her situation. Her true feelings ran deep and passionate; she suspected she was falling in love, but chose to keep that to herself for the time being, since she was now fairly certain that it wasn’t yet reciprocated. Her heart ached at the sudden realization, but she forced herself to focus on the ‘yet’. Given all of the variables, Kate was right — it would be better to slow down and build a strong foundation. It was just so hard to wait when you longed to be living in the house.

— Tree-dappled sunlight caresses her bare ivory shoulders. The golden hour.

“I’ve told you this before, but let me say it again. I won’t pretend to understand what you are going through, but please remember that you don’t have to do it alone. You have me now. Okay?” Blinking unbidden moisture away from her eyes, Lexy pulled Kate into a protective embrace, feeling helpless in the face of her lover’s despair over the pilots that had been lost in combat.

It was what Kate had been seeking, if only subconsciously, but the sudden offer of help gave her pause. Her instinct, as it had always been during the years since she had last been in a relationship, was to deflect. Now, she actively fought that urge as she began to speak, her voice tremulous. “Lexy, I am sorry that I have ignored you so much lately; it is not what you deserve. But you… you are not what I deserve, yet here you are. No — ” An abrupt sob and upwelling of tears choked off her sentence until her instinct reasserted itself and she finished, “I cannot do this now.”

Torn between a desire to be gentle to her lover and the fear that she was slipping away, Lexy agonized over how to respond. “Then when? Will it ever be the right time?” She shook her head, tearful eyes searching Kate’s stony face. “Please, please talk to me. If not now, soon. I… I’m so afraid I’m going to lose you.”

— Laced fingers, holding tightly. Blink.

Kate pulled back, offering a reassuring smile as she wiped at her eyes. “I am — well, I will be OK. Even Doctor Endilev thinks so. I just need a little time to sort myself out, but I will be alright.” With a gesture toward the intricately carved model of her lost Mustang that Lexy had given to her for her birthday, she added, “Right now, looking at the Boudica makes me a little melancholy, but overall, I am touched at how thoughtful of a gift this is… especially after how I have treated you lately.”

That’s what love is, Lexy thought to herself, but simply smiled at Kate, not wanting to press the issue. “When I said that you have me now, I meant it, darling. On Earth, there’s an old expression — to be there through thick and thin. Are you familiar with that one?”

“No, but I think I get it,” Kate answered quietly as her melancholia was washed away by a wave of warm affection. “Thank you.”

Lexy bubbled with laughter. “Are you sure you want to thank me? It means you’re stuck with me!” She flung her arms around Kate and hugged her close. “I mean it, though,” she continued once the giggles had subsided, “You have me through thick and thin, and that’s a promise.”

— Gifts are special things when replicators exist. Today, so many had been brought by their friends and families.

Lexy looked over toward where her everything slept next to her in the dark, quietly choking back tears of relief that they’d both survived the ordeals of the past year and were now here together. The comfort that this thought provided, however, was no longer sufficient to ease her mind. Kate was the Captain of the whole ship now, and Lexy’s troubles were obviously unimportant compared to that. Though aching for closeness, she rolled to her side and faced away, berating herself for the desire to bother Kate with her selfish needs. She so desperately wanted their relationship to continue, despite the fact that everything was different now and that this scenario was far beyond anything she was emotionally equipped to deal with… she felt obligated to hide her own struggles in order to be a supportive partner, but lacked the strength of will to do so successfully. I am weak and worthless, Lexy thought angrily. Kate deserves so much more than I can give her in her new life.

— No matter who is watching, those eyes are the only ones that matter. Blink.

“No,” Kate interrupted, since her meaning had not come across correctly. She stepped forward to take both of Lexy’s hands in her own and then began to clarify, “I would like it very much if —” Biting her lip as she found Lexy’s eyes looking up at her expectantly, Kate hesitated as a realization hit her. Since she had stopped drinking herself into oblivion and been able to see their relationship with mental clarity, the reason she was now feeling comfortable enough with it that she found herself about to ask Lexy to move in with her came into focus. Her true feelings were probably obvious by human standards, but her own were a bit more rigorous, and even through her mind’s constant issues with the flowery idioms of the English language, the word to describe what she felt was suddenly unambiguous.

In anticipation of what she was about to say, butterflies flooded her stomach with an intensity that she had not felt since her first relationships as a teenager. Willing her knees not to buckle as she fell into those eyes, Kate finally confessed, “I love you, Lexy.”

With those words, the puzzlement on Lexy’s face was immediately replaced with radiant joy, like a flower opening to the morning sun. Thoroughly unable to formulate words, she squeaked with pleasure and threw herself into Kate’s arms, her elated exuberance proving somewhat detrimental to Kate’s balance and ability to breathe. She eventually pulled back her arms, instead reaching up to cup Kate’s face and look into her eyes, wearing the most incandescent smile of her life. Drawing Kate down toward her until their foreheads were touching, she managed a whisper, “…Could you say it again? Please? I need to make sure I’m not dreaming this time.”

Having said it once, she now was eager to repeat it, or even to yell it, but Kate managed to keep to the tender tone of the moment. Her knees were still weak and her stomach continued to flutter as she softly repeated, “I love you.”
— After all, it was inevitable. They had passed the event horizon long ago. Blink.

Kate’s face fell, being as unaccustomed to rejection in romance as she was to nervousness. The sting was also evident in her voice as it grew quieter. “I do not understand, Lexy. We love each other, yes? At least among my people, this would be enough to live together, but perhaps you are not ready?”

The pain in Kate’s tone cut Lexy to the core, and her hands hurriedly scrabbled for Kate’s. “Please, don’t misunderstand me,” she pleaded, panic creeping into her tone with the conclusion that she had indeed said the wrong thing, “I love you, and I want this so badly that it almost physically hurts. It’s just that there has been a lot of change in the past couple of months, and introducing another variable at this stage is simply bad science. It’s so important to me to have this with you that I’m willing to wait until everything else settles down. Do you see my point? It kills me to do this, believe me, but… I think I should say no today. But please,” she begged, willing Kate to understand her, “Please please please. Ask me again in six months and my answer will be different.”

— Blink. That six months had seemed like forever, but they had passed… and had led to this perfect day.

“Look. You know that I trust your judgment and I would follow you anywhere. Right? It’s just that I don’t trust Vallero.” At this, she locked her eyes back up to Kate’s, radiating earnest sincerity. “I love you, Kate Harper. And if he betrays you… well, I can promise they won’t take you without taking me.”

With a squeeze of Lexy’s hand, Kate smiled through suddenly moist eyes, the unexpected profession of Lexy’s willingness to defend her catching her off guard. “I love you too, but please, do not ever —”

“Whatever you were going to ask me not to do, I’m sorry to disappoint,” Lexy interrupted, her voice soft but matter-of-fact. “It’s absurd to expect me to do nothing if they take you. If you would do nothing in the reverse situation, then I’ve dramatically misunderstood how this relationship stuff works.”

— She would have pursued her to the end of spacetime itself. Blink.

Bill smiled down at his daughter affectionately, almost as if he could memorize her face in this moment, before brushing the hair out of her face with his hands and leaning down to kiss her forehead. “You know, you’ll always be my little Rosie no matter what, but having spent time with your intended, I think you’re making an excellent choice. I’d be thrilled to have Katie as a daughter-in-law, and I know your mother would agree. In fact…” He paused, considering. “…I’ve been holding on to your mother’s wedding ring, but I think she would want you to have it. You can give it to your love when you’re ready to ask her. What do you think?”

Lexy looked at him in surprise, her eyes suddenly brimming with tears. “Oh, Daddy…”

— Blink. She is stunningly, breathtakingly gorgeous in that dress.

“Oh, really?” Kate jabbed. “Not how you wanted today to go? It certainly was not my plan for an ideal day either, so perhaps you should put more thought into how you treat others, Alexis!

At Kate’s words, Lexy suddenly shrank as if stung. She had tried to make their home together into a pleasant space, and this was the thanks she got? “Fine. Have it your way. I’m done arguing about it.” Brushing past Kate, she walked toward the bedroom, pausing in the doorway to cut off Kate’s immediate protest without turning around. “I’m taking your advice — I’m going to my room to think about what I’ve done, Kathryn.” Her flat tone carried an edge of snark, and further argument was thwarted by her disappearance into the bedroom, the door abruptly swishing closed behind her.

Kate angrily flopped onto the couch with her arms folded over her chest, fuming over what had transpired. A few minutes later, her anger had calmed to mere sulkiness, and she reached for the pillow Lexy had been using. Intending to lie down, she instead paused upon finding a wrapped package, formerly hidden behind the pillow. Opening the attached folded tag, she read the hand-written message: “Happy Birthday to my one and only, with love -Lexy”

“Oh, fuck me,” Kate said aloud.

— She is aware of every breath she draws as she wills this moment to pass both more quickly and more slowly. Blink.

“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.

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. 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.”

“Yes,” Jhnal added, nodding, “You and your Lexy are both special people. It is lucky that you found one another.”

— Lucky, indeed. It has all been more than worth it. She really is special.

“Despite our differences, you and I make a really good team when we actually work together.” Lexy paused, then added, “Maybe because of our differences. I guess that’s why we’re doing this in the first place, right?”

— Trembling smile as rings bind them. Lock gazes with her and speak vows eternal. Blink away tears of joy as two hearts spiral together ever faster. Blink.

Admiral Ian Blackthorne’s sonorous baritone resonates through the crowd. “By the power vested in me by Starfleet Command, and as one of my favorite duties, I hereby pronounce that you are married. You may kiss your bride!”

— A passionate, tearful embrace, somehow finding her lips for a breathless kiss. Eyes pressed shut, amplifying the sound of happy cheers that accompany their shared fall into singularity.

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Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News
Posted on September 4th, 2018 by Emilaina Acacia

Emily arrived via transport at Starfleet Academy, duffle bag slung over her shoulder, her cat Apollo in a small carrier in her off hand. She had, at last, after years of research, received her Doctorate after her thesis had been finalized and published, coincidentally just before the ship she was posted on had been scheduled to arrive back at earth. She hadn’t even had time to tell her new Captain before shore leave had started, but she had already all but forgotten for the excitement of seeing her family. She had planned to visit and thank her professors anyway, but they had contacted her first to ask her to give a series of special lectures in her research area for Starfleet Medical.

She was going to visit her home after her lecture, but she didn’t have time to find a better place for her things, so she found herself and her cat in the lecture hall a half hour early, writing out some DNA sequences on the chalkboard, her duffle bag tucked under the desk– the professor’s desk.

“Emilaina Acacia, Medical Doctor and Doctor of Medical Research… now that suits you,” a voice came from the back of the hall. Emily whipped around, nearly dropping her chalk as she made a running beeline for back, tackle-hugging the source of the voice.

“Tori!” Emily squealed, squeezing her younger sister within an inch of her life, “How have you been?”

“There’s a lot to go through,” Torinessa replied, pulling back to get a look at her sister’s face, “You’re coming to dinner, right?”

“Of course,” Emily scoffed, bemused by the notion of skipping out, “Are you… staying for the lecture?”

“It might be a bit over my head, but I’d love to see you teach,” Torinessa claimed a seat near the front of the class. The two were beginning to chatter when the first of the Starfleet Medical students arrived, and Emily changed tunes to begin acting more upright.

The whole experience was a bit overwhelming. By the end of the lecture, Emily had answered more questions than she even knew she would know the answer to, and shaken hands with half of the professors at Starfleet Medical. Students and professors particularly interested in her research exchanged business cards with her. She stayed for almost a full hour after the lecture was over, waiting for the last of the interested students to speak to her one-on-one. She took one last look at the mostly empty hall, briefly flashing back to attending one of her father’s special lectures. She returned to her sister’s side, and her sister walked with her to the transport that would take them home.

“EMILY’S HERE! AND SHE’S A REEEAL DOCTOR NOW,” Tori shouted into the house as she threw open the door. Emily rolled her eyes as she sat down Apollo’s carrier. She turned him loose, the cat quickly darting off to find something to eat or destroy. Some sort of clanging metallic chaos ensued in the kitchen, Emily’s mother scrambling to put lids on all the pots on the stove before darting out into the foyer to embrace Emily in a tight hug.

Emily’s intuition twinged as she wrapped her arms around her mother. Being half Betazoid, she could sense a familiar, rather distinctive presence in the house. It also wasn’t as hard to detect as her sisters, considering he was a full-blooded telepath.

“…is dad here?” Emily posed, her mother visibly distraught the moment the words left her lips.

“Bah! You girls and your psychic powers, can’t even have one tiny surprise for my little Doctor,” Janessa Acacia lamented dramatically. Emily released her, moving into the living room and hugging her father right through the floor-length curtain he had so vainly attempted to hide behind. The man laughed, lamely brushing the fabric away to escape from his hiding spot. He grabbed Emily by the shoulders, smiling down at her warmly.

“You know, I told you not to go into medicine. And if you did, I specifically said to stay away from germs,” he joked. Emily’s mother scurried back into the kitchen, followed by Tori. Emily gripped her father’s hand, beaming up at the much taller man.

“I recall,” she mused, “I just didn’t listen. You know how I can be.”

“Emily?” Janessa called from the kitchen. Emily made her way in, and immediately covered her face in embarrassment. There was a cake topped with lit candles on the table, and a computer sitting at one of the places with her elder sister Averianna’s smiling face on it. She was in uniform, in her quarters on her posted ship, and she had replicated her own slice of cake. It was rare for her whole family to be on earth at once with three of them being stationed on different starships, and it seemed today was no exception, yet her family still had to find a way to throw her a party.

It took coaxing to get Emily to sit down, but when her mother started bringing out dinner, of course comprised of Emily’s favorite foods, she was able to relax and even somewhat enjoy the attention. She got to have dinner with her father in the flesh, and her family got to do their catching up. She learned about her father’s adventures, including a brief posting on a deep space vessel, and her elder sister’s promotion to Lieutenant Commander. Averi was a Starfleet Engineer, and Tori had just started her sophmore year at a non-Starfleet college with a major in psychology.

The Acacias were a lively, rowdy bunch, laughing unabashedly all evening. After dinner and cake, they played some card games together. That night Emilaina slept in her old bed. It was nice, but still somehow, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars taped to her bedroom ceiling, she already missed the Atlantis. This was the night that she became certain, once and for all, that joining Starfleet was the right choice.

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Unforgotten Time
Posted on August 29th, 2018 by Linxi Jude

‘Thank you,’ Linxi spoke telepathically to the Betazoid pilot. She stepped onto the transporter pad, ‘I’m ready to beam down.’ She clutched her hands together as she was transported to the surface of Betazed. Linxi looked around the room as she appeared, and stepped out, into the street. She started rapidly walking down towards the familiar roads, her boots clicking behind her. It was not long until she reached an old building, with ladders on the side. She jumped up, grabbing the first rung, and lifted herself up, before climbing halfway up. Linxi carefully climbed onto a ledge, and scooted her way to a window, before opening it, and sticking her head in, ‘Hello, anyone home? Jan?’ she telepathically shouted out to nobody in particular.

A woman with long dark hair wearing a bright yellow floral dress ran into the room, stopping in the middle, before telepathically yelling ‘Linxi!’ and running to the window, pulling her out.

“Augh!” Linxi exclaimed as she fell to the floor.

‘Oh, sorry!’ Jan pulled Linxi up, then hugged her, ‘I didn’t hear from you for four months!’

Linxi grinned, ‘Sorry peaches, but it was only a few minutes for me.’ She then hugged Jan back before walking over to her bed, and plopping down on it. ‘You really don’t have any idea how much I missed your bed.’

Jan gracefully climbed onto her bed, laying next to Linxi. ‘I imagine those Starfleet beds are not this comfortable.’ She gets on her knees and bounces around the bed, as Linxi laughed, who eventually shoved Jan to get her to stop.

Jan climbed back on, grinning, then tilted her head, laying back down next to Linxi. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘It’s hard, you know? We’ve been best friends since primary school and we’ve done literally everything together. Went through goth phase, complained about boys, went to prom, got into mischief and shenanigans.’

‘Oh, I didn’t get into shenanigans. You got into shenanigans, then dragged me into it!’

‘True. True. But point being, I’m off playing astronaut and you are here, painting fields of flowers… and whatnot. In your point of view, I went off to the center of the galaxy and then completely went off the grid for four months. I don’t… I really don’t understand how you are not mad, or pissy about it.’

‘Because it’s what you love to do. You love going off and discovering things. I love looking at nature and placing it on a canvas. We are two vastly different people, Linx, by that doesn’t mean our friendship is any less.’

‘Awh, I love you too.’

‘Now, knowing you, you have more shenanigans planned for the next few days… What are you thinking?’

‘Weeelllll, I was planning on…’

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The Doctor at Play
Posted on August 7th, 2018 by Emilaina Acacia

Emily sat in her quarters, sipping from a cup of tea and finishing up her log for the day. The CMO and Captain had both told her that on her first full day off, she shouldn’t do anything resembling work. Neither of them had made it an order, but at this point, they didn’t have to. Emily could tell that her nerves were getting frayed, and she couldn’t treat herself like a student anymore. She had to act like an officer, and that meant keeping herself rested and healthy. So, she’d taken a break from her thesis, and Nurse Darcy was watching her ongoing experiments for her. Ensign Razyn had been kind enough to show her how the holodeck worked, and she’d spent the better part of the afternoon creating a few programs of her own. Razyn had even been kind enough to show her how to randomize program elements, so she could be surprised by events, to an extent.

“I think I’m starting to get along here. I’ll admit, I do miss Earth, but I’m finally getting comfortable. I look forward to going back to my quarters each night. The adventure of it is intoxicating, the science fascinating, and this ship is really something. I consider myself fortunate that I’ve had so much time to work on my experiments, and that I’ve had so few patients so far, but I know that can only be a temporary state of things. I’m… ready for, but not necessarily eager for, whatever’s to come. Acacia out,” the computer beeped once, shutting down the microphone. Emily pinched the bridge of her nose, already feeling stupid for getting so sappy, even in her personal log.

She stood, setting her tea aside an giving Apollo a nasty look for biting the corner of her bed. She grabbed the costume from her closet, examining it with a wry smile before donning the long tan trenchcoat, and colorful scarf.

Acacia found herself standing on a cliff, near an ocean. She inhaled deeply, her eyes darting to the glint of the sun off of the white rock making up the cliffs. She then turned her gaze back to the large, solid black starship entering the atmosphere at an alarming rate.

“Doctor,” Emily’s attention was drawn to a nearby middle-aged woman with a tight red ponytail, “They haven’t stopped, they haven’t answered our hails. We need to go up there! Board their ship, get their attention, stop them before they crash.”

“Ooh,” Emily couldn’t help but coo excitedly. She hadn’t even thought of that plan when she’d written the program. She had a gun in her coat, contrary to the character from ancient science fiction she’d drawn from, she had planned to have an all-out firefight on the surface for a little adrenaline, but she actually liked this better, “Good idea, let’s go.”

The two set off running towards their vessel, a nearby blue telephone box from ancient England. Emily leapt inside, wildly and randomly throwing levers at the console. She laughed madly, the flashing lights indicating that her exercise in nonsense was working. With a whoosh, they took off.

Emily awoke with a gasp, sitting up sharply. She groaned, holding her back, where she had been laying on a bent piece of rebar. The redheaded woman was nearby, laying limp, a sharp piece of metal sticking out of her chest. Emily shook her head, grunting, “Computer, end program.”

With a soft sigh, she looked around, re-acquainting herself with the empty holodeck, “Computer, how long was I unconscious?”

The computer bleeped itself to life, replying, “All holodeck safeties are operating normally. You did not lose consciousness. Twelve seconds have elapsed since the last scene change in program Acacia one.”

“Huh,” Emily rubbed her forehead, perturbed. She made a mental note to tweak her program to make it a little easier, and to not program a ship crash into any more of her stories. She laid back down slowly, “Computer, run program… Acacia two.”

A flash of light made her clench her eyes shut, and when she opened them, she was laying in white sand, a holographic sun beaming overhead. With a smile, she let her eyes shut once more, and let her tension melt away, her thoughts drifting occasionally to ways to improve her adventure program.

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Doctor EBT – Everything But Thesis
Posted on July 29th, 2018 by Emilaina Acacia

Emily had been sitting in the medical research lab for an amount of time that she could only count thanks to the ship’s internal chronometer. She had made an effort to stay in her quarters for most of her writing, but the fact that it had windows only served to remind her of her internal clock, and that she would rather be sleeping. However, her tactic of depriving herself of external stimuli had only worked for so long. The CMO had just found her, exhausted and hunched over the computer terminal, and had immediately ordered her to bed. She gathered her PADD, some papers she had scattered around, and the few sample jars she had been examining, and put them all back on her research station.

She pressed a key to bring the computer to life, “Medical Ensign Acacia’s Log, Stardate 11807.29. I’ve just been told… to sleep. That’s probably for the best. My thesis is up to one hundred and sixty pages. It’s a bit of a dry read, if you’re not into exogenetics, so… I’ll tell you about it.”

Carrying her things, Emily began down the hall for the turbolift. As she walked she tucked items into her shoulderbag, which was usually stuffed with research materials. Given the late time of night, she stuck close to the wall, quietly continuing her log, figuring no one was around for her to look crazy to, “It’s well known, and well researched, that different humanoid species have similar anatomical systems, and dozens of species even have remarkably similar immune systems. I’m studying diseases that can infect more than one species. There are actually two-hundred and forty-six known cases of a ‘disease jump’, where an ailment known to one species is later recorded infecting another. The first instance of this in Starfleet record is the Klingon equivalent of the flu being caught by a human.”

She entered her quarters, setting her bag down on the table. Apollo, her hostile, fluffy white cat with bright blue eyes was sitting on her bed, but fortunately, he seemed to be asleep. She began brushing her hair, all the while babbling about disease to the computer, “So I’m studying the mechanisms by which these diseases are able to do this. Diseases that replicate by RNA do it best, for example, our human flu has infected five other species to date. And—well, if you care about the technical side, the paper will be freely available, but the long and short of it is that I’ve found a way to innoculate species against diseases that have yet to evolve to infect them. A vaccine that out-strips evolution by training the immune system against the parts of the disease that can’t change so quickly.”

She stopped herself, by now putting her pajamas on. She realized she was getting a bit too enthusiastic, and she had promised herself she wouldn’t “nerd out” in any of her logs. With a sigh, she sat on her bed, “I anticipate another month and another fifty pages of writing, but it’s almost there. I can genuinely say I’m proud of my contribution to scientific understanding, so I think I have a few letters to write to the professors at Starfleet Medical. Soon, I won’t have to correct anyone who calls me ‘doctor’. Acacia out.”

The computer whirred to sleep, and Emily switched the lights off with her bedside console. She wanted to sleep, but all she could think about was her petri dish in the medical lab containing Bajoran tissue that had, finally, resisted the human flu. That, and the moment when she had actually been invited to stand on the bridge when the CMO was off her shift, and how she’d had to tell the captain herself that she wasn’t a doctor yet. Of course, it was a technicality, but it did bother her. That said, she’d been given this assignment because her professors thought she was ready, and that her research was too important to rush and risk getting wrong. Her ambitious choice of topic meant it had already taken a long time, but when she earned that title, she wanted to really deserve it. That and, of course, it was important that she get this right for a lot of reasons, even some diplomatic. The implications for every field from genetics to exobiology to many more were significant, and future research could draw on her conclusions. The way it should be, she would say.

She laid down, closing her eyes, and making one last note, “Computer, set reminder with tomorrow morning’s alarm—write Doctor Galahar and Professor Jones.”

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Pep Talk
Posted on July 25th, 2018 by Linxi Jude

by Linxi Jude and Kathryn Harper

Linxi was on her way to the bridge for her shift, when her combadge chirped, “Ensign Jude, please report to the ready room.”

“Crap,” Linxi muttered to herself, not having any idea as to why the captain would call her to the ready room. She quickened her pace and dodged other crew members, “Excuse, apologies, sorry,” as she made her way to the turbolift. Linxi twiddled her thumbs as the turbolift made its way to the bridge.

She stepped off the turbolift and walked to the ready room, and rang the door chime.

Captain Harper looked up from her PADD when the door chimed, expecting it since she had summoned Ensign Jude to her office, and her expression immediately softened in anticipation of handling this meeting. “Come in,” she beckoned as she stood up, leaving her fingertips touching the desk’s surface.

Linxi silently walked in, and stood at attention, “Captain.” Her heart felt like it was beating a million kilometers a second, as she wondered for what reason she was standing in front of the captain.

“At ease, Ensign, and please, sit,” Kate answered with a welcoming smile, lifting one hand to gesture at the chairs.

After awkwardly shuffling over to a chair, and sitting, Linxi scratched her arm, not being able to keep entirely still, as she waited for what the captain wanted to say.

Sensing the Ensign’s obvious discomfort, Kate attempted to set her at ease by moving from behind the barrier created by the desk to take the other chair. She leaned forward, still wearing the welcoming smile, and met Jude’s eyes. “So,” Kate began, clasping her hands, “how are you settling in here aboard our fine ship?”

“Well. It’s uh,” her voice slightly squeaked, “not what I was expecting.”

With a chuckle, the Captain asked, “What were you expecting?”

“Mostly ‘to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations!’ not ‘Ah! The ship might explode! Oh no, we are pulled into a gravitational field and we can’t escape! Crap, we are being attacked by XYZ! The inertial dampers failed for the five hundredth time, be careful not to break your neck!’”

Kate laughed and nodded in understanding. “As strange as it may sound, you get used to that—the risks just come with the exploration. I had similar expectations when I joined Starfleet, and also found the transition to this life a bit jarring.” She leaned back a bit, hands still clasped, and quietly asked, “How are you coping with it?”

“Ah, well, I’m, uh. Not.”

“I suspected as much, and it is why I called you in here. Now please, do not panic,” the Captain began, anticipating the junior officer’s reaction, “but I have both witnessed and received reports of your behavior that is… well, decidedly unprofessional aboard a military vessel. At first, such as in the case of your reaction to meeting Major Wolfe, I chalked it up to nervousness and let it go, since you came aboard that day under strange circumstances. But since, things like sloppy drunkenness at parties, and running into Ten-Forward in your underwear… well, I have to say something.”

Kate leaned forward and placed a hand on the Ensign’s chair arm, hoping to quell any rising anxiety. “You are not in trouble, Linxi. The purpose of this meeting is to tell you that I understand your troubles, or at least, I think that I do. Neither of our peoples, Risians and Betazoids, share the military traditions of the Humans. I also joined Starfleet as a scientist, simply because it was the best way to get out in the field and do science, and did not find myself a good fit for this military lifestyle, not at first, and not really for years to come. I believe in your ability, and with these apparent similarities between us, it is my hope that I can help you to adjust, to thrive, and maybe even have an easier time doing so than I did.”

After holding her breath while Kate spoke, Linxi exhaled. “Not what I was expecting, but… thanks.” She adjusted herself in the chair.

It was hard to tell whether or not her message had truly gotten through to the ensign, but Linxi’s expression of gratitude was enough to at least give Kate hope that it had. “I know all of this coming from your CO is a lot to process, so please, take the time you need to. If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.” With a disarming smile, she added, “Do you have any questions for me?”

Linxi thought in silence, fidgeting her hands, before looking up at the captain, “Will it get easier?”

“With time and experience, yes.” Kate affirmed, then smirked as she added, “Though even after almost twenty years of this, I still sometimes find myself surprised. Space exploration is good at that.” The captain settled back into her chair and crossed her legs as she regarded the young Betazoid woman for a moment, then laced her fingers around her knee and encouraged, “All I am asking is that you demonstrate what you are truly capable of, as both as a scientist and as a Starfleet officer. Now go, and show me what you can do.”

Linxi looked at the floor and nodded. She knew the captain had a point… or a few. She then stood up and tugged her shirt down, “Thanks… And I will.” She gave a slight grin, before leaving the ready room.

Once the doors closed behind Linxi, Kate nodded to herself in satisfaction, optimistic that things would improve for Ensign Jude.

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Latent Wounds
Posted on July 17th, 2018 by T'Lira

by T’Lira and Kathryn Harper

T’Lira held the PADD in her hand, absolutely not almost breaking it, as she reached an office door she’d stood before many times before. After a moment’s hesitation, she reached forward and pressed the chime.

Seated behind the ready room desk, Captain Harper looked up from a report when the door rang. Not expecting anyone, she nonetheless cheerfully answered, “Come in!”

Another moment of hesitation, and T’Lira entered, clasping the PADD behind her, “Captain… do you have a moment for us to speak?”

“T’Lira, certainly!” Kate stood and with a welcoming smile, walked around the desk and gestured to one of the chairs. “Please, have a seat. What can I do for you?”

“I have found myself facing a dilemma for some time now. I wished to… seek advice before making a final determination on my path going forward,” she replied, sitting in the indicated seat.

Concern crossed her face as Kate sat in the other chair, sensing that the matter must have some weight, since T’Lira rarely seemed indecisive. She settled against the chair’s back and encouraged, “Of course.”

“I have recently found myself… becoming distracted in my work. A sense of doubt and… I am not certain what to term the sensation of wishing to change past events, but it has become a constant in my thoughts and I find myself wondering if I could have changed certain events in the past, but struck with the realization that I do not have the necessary training to do so…,” she trailed off, attempting to compose her thoughts into something more coherent.

“I am sorry,” Kate began, furrowing her brow, “but I do not follow. Is it that you are wanting additional training to prevent something that has happened to you from happening again?”

“Forgive me, I find it strangely difficult to voice what I wish to… I have found my concerns beginning to expand to what would happen should I be unable to aid my crewmates should anything happen and I find myself less and less focused on my work and on sciences in general. Instead, I seem to be doing more and more research into subjects such as combat methods and defensive tactics… in short, I do not believe that Sciences is… the correct place for me to be, given where my recent thoughts and studies have turned to over the past several months,” T’Lira tilted her head slightly, as if trying to assess whether she had managed to accurately phrase what she wished to.

Given the turmoil of the past few years, it was a sentiment Captain Harper could empathize with. After the Tzenkethi War, the events that led to her taking command of Atlantis, and the Section 31 Crisis and its aftermath — it seemed that things were just now returning to a semblance of normalcy. She had even required counseling to come to terms with the consequences of some of those things, and despite their stoic reputation, Harper did not find herself surprised that even a Vulcan’s fortitude could waver.

Kate leaned forward and clasped her hands, her mien one of compassion as she softly answered, “After all that we have been through, I certainly understand. Though it feels like that the turbulent times have passed, vigilance is always necessary against their return. However, our current mission is not just one of pure science, but the greatest opportunity for it to date, and as CAG, you already contribute a great deal to the defense of your crewmates. What else would you like to do?”

“I am uncertain as to what my next move should be. The only thing I am certain of is that I do not belong in Sciences for the foreseeable future. That is why I am here, seeking your advice,” T’Lira resisted the urge to clasp her hands together. It was an old habit, one she thought she had rid herself of long ago.

The captain settled back in her chair, considering her officer’s request for advice, not only from the standard CO’s perspective of what is best for the ship, but also from an attempt to guess what would be best for T’Lira’s career and well-being. Her lips pursed off to one side for a few moments as she thought, finally answering, “I see a few options that I can offer you, T’Lira, based on your stated interest in tactics. The duties of CAG are not enough to constitute a full-time position without supplemental assignments, such as navigation, but Lieutenant Navarro has that covered. However, navigation is not the only additional job opportunity available to a pilot. Your tactical abilities are already well-developed by your time in the cockpit, and further combat training under Major Wolfe could earn you a spot in his department, depending on your performance. As a long term assignment, that could potentially require a transfer to the Marines, but it is something you could try first to see if it suits you.

“Your other options would involve transfer, such as applying to take the command aptitude test in search of such a position on another ship.” With a supportive, hopeful tone, Kate finished, “Although I hope that you will choose to remain part of my crew, you have my support, whatever you decide.”

“I have no desire to leave the Atlantis, I have come to see this ship, and its crew, as… home. I would be interested in combat training. I believe I could better serve the crew in that way,” T’Lira paused as she spoke, arranging her thoughts into something more coherent, “I do understand the… inconvenience of this, but I believed this was a matter better resolved sooner rather than later.”

Kate leaned forward and, knowing their cultural preference, placed a hand on the Vulcan woman’s chair arm, stopping short of actually touching her. Making direct eye contact, she firmly asserted, “T’Lira, ensuring the physical and mental health of my crew is never an inconvenience.” Keeping her eyes locked on T’Lira’s to confirm that her point had gotten across, Harper paused a moment while retreating to her own personal space, then continued, “While I am certain that Commander Wright will be dismayed to lose you, Science will be fine. If this truly is what you want, then report to Major Wolfe for temporary assigned duty.”

T’Lira nodded, some part of her immensely grateful for the reassurance, “Thank you, Captain. I will report immediately.”

Optimistic that the duty change would turn out to be a positive move for T’Lira, Harper sincerely offered, “Of course, and please do not hesitate to ask if there is anything more I can do.”

“I will. And Captain…,” she paused, for just a moment, “I do not believe there is a way for me to sufficiently thank you for your help.”

“There is no need,” Kate replied with a warm smile as she stood, one hand’s fingertips lingering on the chair arm as her eyes once again met T’Lira’s. “You said that you see this ship and her crew as your home, and this is what we do for one another at home — as a family.”

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Event Horizon
Posted on June 27th, 2018 by Alexis Wright

by Alexis Wright and Kathryn Harper

The white cat’s claws dug into the low carpet, repeatedly trying and failing to catch a holographic mouse. Giggles erupted from one end of the couch as Anna’s paws passed right through her quarry with each pounce and lunge. The mouse was controlled by a tiny emitter in the hands of the ship’s captain, who also happened to be the source of the giggles. After several minutes of play, Anna seemed to tire of her failures and wander away, prompting Kate to put down the emitter and turn her attentions to her fiancée at the other end of the couch, whose face was mostly obscured by a PADD.

Wearing a playful expression, she crawled down the couch and tugged at Lexy’s sleeve. “You know,” Kate began, biting her bottom lip, “the cat has paid me more attention than you have this evening.” She tapped on the top edge of the PADD that had so thoroughly transfixed Lexy. “What is that, anyway? Can I help you finish it up so we can do something more… fun?”

Normally, Lexy would not have required much more in the way of persuasion than the promise in Kate’s tone of voice, but the urgent nature of her work made her focus unshakeable. Her eyes were serious when they finally slid upward to meet Kate’s over the top of the PADD, brows raising as she inquired, “You really want to help? Well, I could actually use your opinion deciding between these.” She turned the PADD so that Kate could see the screen, which was displaying four location profiles. “Which one do you like best as a venue? We also need to book a holographer and a bunch of other stuff like that,” she explained, her voice carrying undertones of anxiety.

Having expected that the PADD would be full of science relating to the black hole they were studying, Kate found herself surprised and almost annoyed to see wedding details. To her, the event seemed so far away to bother with when they were surrounded by once-in-a-lifetime science. “That is what has been occupying you all evening?” she asked, trying to prevent the annoyance from seeping into her voice. “Our wedding is over half a year and almost half a galaxy away! Surely there are more interesting things to spend your time on? Like, I do not know, maybe a supermassive black hole?” Kate stopped herself before she could petulantly add, “Or me?” Instead, she pulled again at Lexy’s sleeve and whispered, “Come on, let me help you relax.”

Lexy blinked at her, dumbfounded, beginning her response more than once before finally committing to one that flatly ignored the subtext evident in Kate’s pout. “I…would dearly love to be spending time on that, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, but… Kate, do you even know what day it is? We’re getting married in two months. At this point, I’m not even certain that we’re going to make it back in time, much less with all of the arrangements in place!” She waved her arms and raised her voice as she spoke, obviously exasperated and narrowly missing Kate’s nose with the PADD. “Or… wait. Did you…?” She dropped her hands suddenly, slowly turning her head to pierce Kate with a wide-eyed, incredulous stare. “Don’t tell me you forgot about this when we did the whole time dilation thing!?”

Kate had, indeed, forgotten. Her mouth had already opened for a defensive reply before the realization that Lexy was right that their wedding date was suddenly four and a half months closer dawned on her, and it stayed that way for a long moment as the time caught up to her, punctuating itself by replacing her retort with a simple Risian expletive, “Zok.” The whole concept suddenly seemed more real, and her happy-go-lucky air evaporated as she plopped back down on the couch, unsure how to feel. “I did not think of it in all of the excitement lately,” Kate quietly confessed before turning to face her wife-to-be. “I am sorry, Lexy.”

In the seconds that followed, Kate watched as Lexy’s features rearranged themselves from incredulity to skepticism — eyes narrowed, lips bunched into a wry rosette and pulled to one side — as the latter came to terms with the reality of the situation. She gave Kate a long, hard look, then closed her eyes and covered her face with the palm of her free hand before the contrition in Kate’s expression could get the better of her. Drawing a deep breath, she held it for a few moments while internally wrestling with the tangle of stress, disappointment, and other emotions, only exhaling when reason began to prevail. “You’re the Captain,” she said stoically, “you have more important things to worry about. On a rational level, I understand that.” Her palm slid down her face and into her lap, and she allowed herself to look as tired as she felt. “I’m sad and I feel like I’m not important to you, but those feelings aren’t rational. I still have them, though. I know it’s stupid,” she added wearily, staring down at her lap, “and honestly doing science sounds like more fun to me anyway. Let’s… I’ll just take care of the wedding stuff. Or we can just forget it and simply do the paperwork.”

“It is not stupid, Lexy, and there is no way that we are forgetting it,” Kate began while trying to pull Lexy to her. “I am sorry that all of this does not seem as important to me as it should, and I am even more sorry to have made you feel unimportant.” She let out a long sigh, mentally berating herself in a few languages before continuing, “On Risa, at least among the traditional population, we do not place so much importance on the wedding itself, when there is one at all. Formal marriages are actually somewhat rare — and I am still slightly surprised to find myself involved in one — but I am not telling you this as an excuse, only as background. I absolutely owe this a higher level of care and thought than my cultural instinct initially provided, because we decided together that this was what we wanted. So, give me that PADD and let me help plan our wedding.”

Although she initially put up a token resistance, Lexy quickly sighed and allowed Kate to pull her closer, tentatively handing the PADD to her before snuggling into her shoulder. “I picked out a few potential locations for the ceremony and the party, but I wasn’t sure what you’d like best. I should have just asked you for help sooner… Despite our differences, you and I make a really good team when we actually work together.” She paused, then added, “Maybe because of our differences. I guess that’s why we’re doing this in the first place, right?” She chuckled lightly, a picture influenced by the fields she’d been studying during her on-duty hours forming in her head. “We’re like magnets, with the power to force each other away or form a powerful bond, depending on how the poles are aligned. It’s getting that last bit right that’s the hard part.”

With relief that her insensitivity had been put right without any great harm to their relationship, Kate took a moment to consider the comparison. “Stacked magnets are almost twice as strong together as they are apart… yes, we really do make a great team, Lexy. You are not the ship’s second officer because of your pretty face, you know.” Kate grinned, cuddling Lexy close with one arm while starting to gesture at various options on the PADD in her lap with the other. “Mmm, now, let me see, I like that spot, and that one too…”

Lexy turned her face up to impishly grin at Kate. “So, this means I’ll have more time for chance-of-a-lifetime science instead, right?” She was only partially kidding; now that she no longer bore the stress of sole responsibility for planning the wedding, her idle thoughts about fields and polarities were colliding with other idle thoughts and creating the sparks of unintentional ideas.

“Wellll,” Kate purred, “if that is really how you want to spend the rest of the evening, I suppose I could play with kitty some more…”

With that, the new questions about the magnetic properties of various things — the magnetar, Sagittarius A*, and the even mysterious sphere sitting in the cargo bay — that had slowly been coalescing in Lexy’s mind were temporarily banished in favor of more pressing matters.

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A Fork in the Road
Posted on June 26th, 2018 by T'Lira

Never in her life had she felt so… useless.

It was, perhaps, an illogical notion to believe of oneself, but it held more truth than T’Lira was willing to admit.

Far too often as of late she had found her mind wandering, distracted by thoughts of what she should have done and could have done to prevent so many things from happening. There was much she wished she had acted to prevent, but either found herself unequipped for such tasks or unprepared. Neither was a situation that she cared for.

In front of her sat an innocuous PADD, with a completed form. It had been saved in her files for some time now, but had not been acted upon as of yet.

T’Lira had spent these past months considering and debating what would be best for her personally and for her career and this seemed to be the only viable option. She was… fond of flying, rather enjoyed it, if one wished to be emotional about it. It was an experience like few other she had ever known and she was unsure if this change would force her to give that up or not.

Yet, on the other hand, this choice would grant her that sense of purpose she was so seeking, that she needed almost desperately. It would require much training and practice, but she was familiar with the basics and could see herself in this path.

Regardless, she remained at an impasse within herself and knew of no way out of it other than to talk to someone she could trust to lead her in the right direction.

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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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