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Two Questions in the Ready Room
Posted on March 1st, 2020 by Linxi Jude

by Linxi Jude and Kathryn Harper

Linxi had quickly tidied herself up, before she walked up to the ready room, after all the festivities with the bears. She exhaled and bleeped the door chime.

“Come in!” came the captain’s cheerful answer. As the doors parted, Captain Harper was revealed to be seated behind her desk, looking expectantly toward the doors to see who was coming to visit her.

Linxi walked in, and took a seat in front of the desk. She nodded slightly, and exhaled, “Sooo, that bear party was… trippy wasn’t it?”

With a laugh, Kate answered, “That is one way of putting it, yes. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced, though, and I am glad they shared that with us.”

“I am used to the telepathy thing, obviously, but all the colors swirling around felt a bit like hallucinations. Logically, I know there was no harm, but I still wasn’t a fan,” Linxi briefly explained. She adjusted her posture, sitting straighter in the chair. “So, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you was that I have been thinking for a while on this, and… I was thinking of perhaps joining the Sharks.”

The captain nodded, taking a moment to gather her thoughts on the young lieutenant’s request. “Alright,” she answered as she stood and moved out from behind the barrier of the desk to take the seat next to Jude. “That is a big decision. Why do you want to be a fighter pilot?”

“I’d like to do more, y’know, increase my own usefulness. I’m not saying that my position as just a science office isn’t useful, not at all. It’s just that I’d like to… expand myself.”

“That is admirable,” Kate said as she tried to put sudden thoughts of other eager, fresh-faced applicants to the fighter wing out of her mind, memories of people she had personally recruited to fly that had died in combat. “I am sure you are aware of the risk. After all, we risk our lives every day out here.” She met Linxi’s eyes before continuing, “But I would be remiss if I did not remind you that the life of a fighter pilot can be a short one.”

“Yes, I’m aware of the risks. I also talked to Suzuki a bit at the party and I’m positive this is something I want to do.”

They had all answered that way. “Okay,” Kate said as she clasped her hands and forced herself to move on. “Do you have any piloting experience?”

“I had in the Academy, yes. I didn’t do bad, if I say so myself,” she smirked.

Flashing a smile at Jude’s assessment of her ability, the captain dipped her head a moment. Of course, Kate already knew about her piloting experience and ratings at the Academy, having read her transcript when she joined the crew, but wanted to hear Linxi’s evaluation of herself, in her own words. “Alright, if that is what you wish to do, then report to Lt. Commander T’Lira for training.” Tapping the gold wings she still wore beneath her commbadge, she added, “I look forward to seeing you earn your wings.”

“Aye! Will do.” Linxi lifted herself from the chair a tad, then rested back down in a more relaxed position. She cleared her throat, “And erm, there was the other thing I wanted to bring up. Considering you are married, I’m assuming you uh, know something about relationships.”

Kate threw her head back and laughed for a few seconds, then answered, “I am, shall I say, a work in progress? Before I met Lex — Commander Wright, my long-term relationships ended disastrously. Even now, I am still learning, so it is fortunate that my wife is so patient with me. Are you sure you would not prefer to ask Counselor Endilev about this?” Without waiting for a reply, she rose and headed for the replicator. “Tea?”

“I’m sure, and no thank you. Well, I… have kind of given up on the whole… Wolfe thing, considering, y’know. But uh, deities I’m so useless, what I’m trying to ask is, how do you actually let another person know you are interested in them. Cause for somebody who’s species is so stereotypically open about literally anything and everything, I am totally useless with this stuff.” Linxi awkwardly chuckled.

After returning to her seat with a cup of tea, Kate settled into it, holding the cup and saucer just below her chin. “You know, Linxi, among those of us not blessed with empathic abilities, that is quite common. On Risa, however, we do not engage in the coy dances of other species, at least not when it comes to romance and sexuality, so body language alone usually does the trick. But that meant that I certainly had a lot to learn when I first got to Earth! Learning those coy dances can help, but sometimes the only universal way is to simply tell them how you feel.”

“I am just worried that something would change in our relationship if she doesn’t feel the same way. We’ve only been talking through subspace comms, and I can’t exactly feel her emotions this far away, so… I don’t know. And not knowing is something that… terrifies me.”

“If she does not feel the same for you, and if she is truly your friend, she will be flattered by you admitting your feelings for her and not destroy your relationship over it.” Kate sat her tea down after another sip and leaned forward before continuing, “Linxi, there is always a risk in laying your heart bare before someone and trusting them not to rip it to shreds. Sometimes, they will take advantage of your vulnerability, and you will get hurt. But other times, you will be rewarded ten times over for your trust. We cannot always know what the outcome will be, but trying is part of living.”

“Yeah, I know… And she knows I wouldn’t do anything to devalue our friendship in any way. I just tend to find myself having a hard time developing any romantic feelings without a… history. Kinda hard to get into a romantic relationship when people who want that don’t really want to take the friendly route first. Gotta say, the whole romance thing is so much harder than the whole… no strings attached thing.”

“I have done both, and you are correct, romance is harder,” Kate answered. She regarded the diamond on her left ring finger for a moment, then softly added, “But, with some luck, it can be worth it.”

Linxi looked down at the floor and nodded. That did sound nice — healthy relationships, that is. It was not until she got assigned to Atlantis that she went to therapy and recognized unhealthy behaviors. If only she knew that as a teenager, when she was being emotionally abused by her boyfriend at the time. Heck, it explained why she had such a hard time opening up to people her first year at the Academy, and still has trouble trusting herself at times.

It wasn’t that she actually wanted a romantic relationship, which she had not yet recognized, but more healthy relationships like the one with her old friend. Although Linxi was still getting to know the crew of Atlantis, their hand in offering positive and supportive relationships had been instrumental in Linxi’s path to emotionally healing.

Linxi stood, and put her hands behind her back. “Thanks for the talk. It was nice.”

Wearing a genial smile, Kate also rose, hoping that she had been of some help to her young officer. “You are welcome, Linxi, and please, feel free to come talk to me anytime.”

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The Second Rule of Refuge
Posted on February 29th, 2020 by Kathryn Harper

Queen Ashexana I of the Free Fleets perched on a plush chair in Venya Kashar’s office suite on Refuge, raven curls arrayed fetchingly around her smiling alabaster visage. “Darling, I just had to come,” she began, taking a sip of tea before placing the cup and saucer on a side table as her smile faded a bit. “It would seem that not only did you ask Starfleet for help without consulting me first, you also hosted a holiday party for Atlantis. Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”

From her couch, the Orion woman smirked and sweetly answered, “Is Her Majesty upset that she didn’t receive an invitation? It’s understandable, since such a marvelous time was had by all!”

“Oh, come now, Venya. I would say that such banalities are beneath you, but we both know they are not.” Idly twirling an ebon lock around an ivory finger, she sighed and continued, “The intricacies of our relationship with the Federation are all very interesting, and I’d love to explain them to you, but I just don’t think you’re capable of grasping the true complexity of the situation.”

Years ago, in another meeting that, like this one, seemed to have been held for the sole purpose of insulting her, Ashexana had said something strikingly similar that had stuck with Venya. That day, Venya swore that Ashexana would learn the First Rule of Refuge: You Do Not Fuck With Venya Kashar. Perhaps it was time to educate her, at least if she wouldn’t stop with the condescending bullshit. “Please, Your Majesty, insult my intelligence again,” Venya mocked, hoping that Ashexana would take the bait.

“An insult? No, my dear, just a reinforcement of the natural order of things, which you would do well to remember.” Ashexana’s eyes narrowed, pools of inky darkness under the accents of her sharp, meticulously-trimmed eyebrows, and her voice dropped the air of cordiality, turning stern. “Regardless, Venya, you will not ask Starfleet for help without my approval again. Is that understood?”

Then again, Venya thought, the Second Rule of Refuge might be more applicable: If You Fuck With Refuge, You’ve Fucked With Venya Kashar. Her response was immediate and direct. “Your inaction on the matter was a threat to Refuge.”

“Ah, Refuge! Of course, the mother must fiercely protect her babies, after all. But after so many years, do I really still have to remind you of the nature of our relationship? All of this,” the Queen gestured at the opulent suite with thin fingers before affirming, “exists at my whim.”

“Does it?” Venya leaned forward, the black leather of her pants squeaking against that of the couch. “You keep telling me that, but I’m not sure that I still believe you.”

Ashexana slightly pursed her lips, their redness a stark contrast with her skin. Venya had resisted before, each prior attempt ending with her submission. This time, however, Ashe could sense something different, but perhaps it could be quelled by calling her bluff. “Well, by all means, if you aren’t sure, please go ahead and test me, Venya dear.”

“What if I do?” Venya quietly answered with an almost predatory grin. Yes, she decided, the time to make her move had finally arrived. “Do you really still think that Refuge exists at your whim? That it is not a crucial center of commerce for the Free Fleets? All of the fleets, I mean, not just yours? That the people here, and those that trade with them the most, are not more loyal to the woman who puts their welfare first?”

Ashexana perked a corner of her mouth up and retrieved the cup of tea, taking a moment to consider how best to deal with this unruly cur. Never breaking her intense stare over the cup’s rim, she sipped the tea and decided to stall for a few more seconds to think, chiding, “You should watch your tone when addressing your Queen, darling. For your own sake.”

“Proclaiming yourself to be a queen over a disparate population that defines itself by having fled various other authorities was not the smartest move. Darling.”

The Queen paused behind the cup of tea, taken aback, not from the statement itself, which was true, but that Venya had grown bold enough to voice it. It became clear to Ashexana that her usual tactics with Venya would no longer be effective, and that it was time to treat this as a business meeting rather than yet another visit to yank Venya’s leash. She took another sip of the tea and returned it to the table, then crossed her legs and stacked both hands on her knee. “Alright, Venya. What is it, exactly, that you are hoping to accomplish here?”

“The Free Fleets need Refuge as much as we need the Free Fleets. I require status and respect equal to that of any other fleet commander. The status for the public recognition, from you, and the respect so that you privately stop treating me like shit. Yes, I almost stole your ship and crew out from under you, but you also thought you were buying me as a slave for their entertainment, so I’ve little sympathy, especially since you marooned me afterwards. Regardless, Ashe, that was over a fucking decade ago! Yet here we still are, forced to deal with each other, so isn’t it about time that it was a little more pleasant?”

With a deep breath, Ashexana carefully considered her options. Perhaps she had, once again, underestimated Venya; despite her personal disdain for the Orion woman and her entire society, she had to admit that Venya had a point. She also was fully aware that Venya must have an ulterior motive, although she sensed no deception at the moment — Venya seemingly had all her cards on the table, and her hand was strong enough to go all-in.

Since Venya’s nearly-successful mutiny, Ashexana had always felt partly responsible for her, perhaps out of guilt for having fallen for her trap so many years ago, or possibly out of respect for one of the few people to have almost defeated her. It would also be much simpler to just grant Venya’s ultimately trivial demands than it would be to take Refuge by force, especially given that she wasn’t entirely certain that anyone would follow an order to attack their favorite port and its popular mistress.

Having made her decision, the smile returned to the Queen’s face. “Done! To address the first part, henceforth, you will be known as Lady Venya Kashar of the Free Port of Refuge, equal in status to the fleet commanders. Consider Refuge and its holdings to be your fleet, which you will continue to run autonomously while being aligned with the Free Fleets. As for my treatment of you… allow me to apologize, Venya. I know that you doubt my sincerity, but perhaps you will believe me as I demonstrate it in our future dealings. You’re right, of course, that it’s high time we put all that unpleasantness behind us! You’ve done well for yourself here, and it would benefit us both to work better together.”

Venya could hardly believe her ears. She didn’t trust Ashexana at all, so she naturally assumed that the Betazoid woman was playing an angle she hadn’t anticipated. Making this move took years of planning and networking, and it didn’t seem possible that it could have just simply worked this easily. Venya’s thoughts raced, creating a chaotic jumble that she knew Ashexana could sense as a weakness. After a few long seconds, a smile finally escaped from the turmoil in her mind. “Ashe… I don’t know what to say. Other than thank you.”

“Pay it no mind, my dear Lady Venya. It was long overdue anyway; Refuge is invaluable to the Free Fleets, and it is I who should thank you for that. To be honest, I must confess my gratitude that you handled our little problem by engaging Atlantis; your semi-independent status can make it so that the Free Fleets are not required to directly ask for help.” Ashexana finished her tea and offered a smile that would be mistaken as mischievous by those unacquainted with the austere Betazoid woman. “This calls for a celebration! Wouldn’t you think wine to be more appropriate than tea?”

With a sharp double clap of Venya’s hands, a shirtless well-muscled Orion man appeared with a tray containing an open bottle and two glasses, already filled with liquid gold. Neither woman trusting the other, they nevertheless raised their glasses and clinked them together with friendly smiles. After a taste, Ashe’s face brightened. “Château Picard, all the way out here, darling? Impressive, and a selection befitting the new Lady Venya Kashar!”

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Left Behind
Posted on December 17th, 2019 by Kathryn Harper

by Kuari and Kathryn Harper

On top of her being naked, cold, and covered in scrapes and scratches, the day had begun with fog and rain. She was miserable and wanted nothing more than to be back aboard Atlantis, but complaining about it was a waste of breath that would only serve to remind her even further of her discomforts. The rain was not particularly intense, but steady enough to be annoying, and as Kathryn Harper once more wiped her face and slicked her red hair back, she found herself looking forward to the work involved in making camp and building a fire. After that, she would be warm and dry again, but at least in the meantime, her involuntary shower had made her relatively clean. For now, the only way to endure the ordeal was to make the best of it, so she smiled over at her traveling companion and quipped, “Lovely day for a stroll, is it not?”

For the most part, beads of water were forming atop the Rucara’s plated back and short, smooth-tipped fur, running off when the drops became heavy enough. Water did collect between the folds of her wings after a while, so it had become common practice when Kuari occasionally stopped for Kate to keep walking ahead without hesitation as she would extend her wings to shake them off without splattering her friend. Kuari was aware of the Risian’s cloudy state of mind, knowing full well why most bipedal species wore rain-shedding clothing. Her own experience with evaporation cooling the skin was limited to when she lolled out her tongue for a long time, and she could only imagine what that would feel like across one’s entire body.

The mock tone in Kate’s voice wasn’t lost on her, and over the years she had learned how to play along. “Surely they didn’t design this program this way. The holographic controls must be on the fritz.”

Kate couldn’t keep from laughing, smiling up into the rain despite their unpleasant situation. “I know! We will have to get engineering to look into it.”

They kept walking as the morning progressed, following the nearby stream and at least trying to keep each other’s spirits high with jocular banter, though the inclement conditions made a good mood almost impossible to sustain for very long. After some time, Kate narrowed her eyes as what looked like a structure was starting to become visible through the trees and fog. “Kuari…” she began, gesturing ahead, “Am I seeing things, or is that a building?”

Kuari was spending more time attuned to her sense of smell and listening to the sounds of the forest to notice what was directly ahead of them and immediately looked in the direction Kate was indicating, her ears perked up and her gait slowing. The distant, upright edge of something could be seen through the brush, and it appeared to be far too wide to be a tree. “It might be!” Questions flooded through her mind, but she dare not voice them just yet, her instinctual and trained wariness of unknown danger kicking in. The presence of a building in this place had many implications to consider. Crouching halfway to the ground, Kuari watched and listened for whoever might be home.

As the two carefully approached, it became clear that the structure had, at one point, been a rather quaint house, but had fallen into disuse quite some time ago. The stonework exterior had clearly been neglected for decades, but was remarkably intact beyond what simple mortar would have allowed for. Dirty but unbroken glass still filled the dark windows, and the sloped tiled roof still fully protected the house’s interior. A dilapidated wooden fence partially surrounded the overgrown yard, but appeared much more ruined than the house itself.

From behind a tree, Kate quelled her desire to get out of the cold rain with caution and whispered, “It looks abandoned, but we must be sure.”

Kuari paused a moment longer, taking one last breath slowly through her expansive sinuses. “I don’t smell anyone. By how old it looks I don’t think I would, but I don’t think anyone’s camping out here, either.”

Considering their predicament for a moment, Kate decided that the risk was acceptable, and subconsciously slipped into command mode. “Take the front while I go around back,” she began, still whispering. “See if anyone is visible through the windows, then try the door. Keep quiet until we are sure, but call for help if you need it.” Once Kuari nodded her acknowledgement, Kate slipped away and began to sneak from tree to tree around the perimeter.

Kuari stealthily crept forward, her motions almost unnaturally smooth. She noted the colors around her to allow her skin to match them on the greens and browns of the spectrum, the chosen pigment rising to the top of her skin to show through the clear fur. The grey plates on her back didn’t change, but at least she could keep the appearance of her motion smaller.

It was a simple process to pass over the shortest remains of the wooden fence. The Rucara could comfortably approach at half the height of the lower windowsill, not that anything could be visible through the grime other than a passing shadow. She once again found herself missing the HUD readouts and associated technology of her Marine armor, having relied on it in so many missions and simulations in the past. There was something raw and exciting about this, though, in a way she had rarely ever experienced. Overall, Kuari had found the challenge to just survive deeply satisfying, despite the fear and doubts that they would live through it. It was a side of her she would have to explore further, but now was not the time to get distracted with inward thoughts.

Hunching down under the sill, Kuari carefully peeked over from the corner of the window, but as she feared couldn’t see through it. She brushed her wet paws together, then rubbed one over the corner of the glass. It took more effort than she was expecting, but she was finally able to look inside, and it took a moment of staring at the darkness for her eyes to adjust enough. A technologically advanced species had built this place judging by the furnishings, but she saw no one inside. Dropping down to the ground, Kuari crept along the walls towards the door.

From the nearest tree to the house’s glass back door, Kate quickly traversed the yard in a crouch-walk, and stood on the patio with her back to the wall as she leaned over to attempt to see through the door. As with the front window, the glass was also too covered in grime to get a clear look inside. Kate instinctively started to wipe at it with her sleeve before realizing that she didn’t have one, and after rolling her eyes, starting wiping at the muck with her wet bare hands. At first, all she accomplished was to make a mess of smeared dirt, but continually applying more rain water to her efforts finally allowed her to get a look inside. The visible room was dark with no apparent movement, so she tried the door only to find it locked, with the access panel dead. She pulled harder against the sliding mechanism, but the door would not budge, and Kate did not think this glass was breakable since none of it was broken despite the state of the rest of the exterior.

Half-heartedly smacking a hand against it in exasperation, Kate swore sharply under her breath in her native tongue. Outwardly, she had been careful to at least appear to take all of this in stride, since starship captains shouldn’t complain, instead presenting as a pillar of strength to inspire their crews, but she was reaching the limit of what she could endure without complaint. Right now, while soaking wet and chilled to the bone after over three days naked in the wilderness, Kate Harper wanted nothing more than to be in that room, warmer and dry, and sitting on furniture instead of the dank ground. She gritted her teeth through a sudden involuntary shiver while fighting back tears of frustration, and dejectedly touched her forehead to the glass. Maybe Kuari had better luck, but Kate needed a moment to gather her composure after being thwarted with relief so close.

Kuari reached the front door, finding dirty sealed sliders. It wasn’t something she was capable of breaking into, that was for sure. Looking next to the door just above her lowered head she found the expected access panel, but it was dark and appeared to be unpowered. She scrabbled at the edges with her claws in an attempt to get underneath to pry it open, but the seams were too fine. Being unfamiliar with the technology, she wasn’t able to find a way to remove the panel. Looking back at the doors, she tried to peer between them, but there was no gap that she could identify. She attempted to pull them apart, but she didn’t have enough of a grip on the surface to get either door to move. Giving up, Kuari decided to check in with Kate to see if she had any success from her side of the building and began to make her way around.

Upon hearing Kuari’s approach, Kate quickly attempted to put her Captain’s face back on, finding the rain helpful in concealing that she had teared up. She moved away from the door and toward the side of the house between them, meeting Kuari as she came around the corner. “That door is locked,” Kate stated with a deflecting thumb over her shoulder, “but the place does look to be unoccupied. Did you have any luck?”

“I haven’t seen anyone, either.” Kuari glanced at the glass door Kate had tried. “There doesn’t seem to be any power. I can’t tell if the front doors are locked or not, but I can’t get a grip to slide them open.”

Taking a moment to think, and glad to be working on solving this problem instead of wallowing in self-pity, Kate offered, “If they might be unlocked, then maybe together we can get the front doors to move.” Kuari nodded, turned around and led the way back around the building. Once there, they both set up to push against one of the doors, with Kate crouched below Kuari. In tandem they pushed, fighting to keep a grip on the smooth, wet metal surface with bare hands and paws, both keeping as low as possible to use their leg strength to the greatest advantage.

After considerable exertion, the door finally gave up a metallic screech and started to slowly slide open. Once the crack had widened to a few centimeters, they were able to get their palms against the inner edge, greatly increasing their grip and rate of progress, and soon a gap had opened that they could both fit through. A stale, musty scent wafted out of the house, as if the air inside had not circulated in ages. Kate held herself back from rushing into the dry sanctuary, but first peered inside, then back to Kuari. “Teeth and claws first, just in case?”

It took no more encouragement from her captain for the protective security officer in her to kick in and Kuari poked her head in further, stopping to listen and study the indoor scent, her large eyes watching for any movement. It seemed unlikely at this point, but with their success in getting in, she had to remind herself to still stay cautious. Finally sneaking all the way in and stopping again, Kuari couldn’t help but appreciate the simple luxury of being indoors, despite the mustiness of the air. After being outside for so long it felt excessively dry and warm inside, which was a great relief.

Kate watched Kuari for a few seconds, waiting as long as she could stand it out in the cold rain while agonizingly perched on the precipice of relief before finally giving in, ducking just inside the door. She paused there and listened, but the only sound other than her breathing and Kuari’s stealthy movements was the patter of rain on the roof. On the roof! Not hitting her face! Kate had never in her life been more grateful to simply be inside a building, but she tempered her excitement and remained quiet and still, waiting for Kuari’s all-clear.

When clearing a building, time was of the essence. At a quick glance, Kuari could see the living area and kitchen were probably empty, but it was good to be sure. She spotted Kate just inside the door, so she gestured with her nose at those two areas for her to search and crept down the short corridor. There appeared to be three open doorways, one of which she could see was a washroom. Peering into the first room, Kuari found a spartan but dusty-smelling bedroom, and a quick check in the closet assured her no one was there. She didn’t even have to enter the small washroom as she passed its doorway to see no one could be hiding in it. The last room was not as minimalist in decor, with unfamiliar yet clearly children’s toys decorating the shelves and a small cradle against one wall. Satisfied the house was clear, Kuari took a moment to imagine who these people taking care of their young were, and why they left. A twinge of sadness settled over her at what could have happened to make them leave so suddenly, but her desire to meet back up with Kate led her back towards the main room.

She found Kate in the kitchen, regarding a piece of yellowed paper. Kate crossed the room to Kuari to show her; it was a crude drawing of the house and its former occupants, obviously created by a child’s hand. Nothing about what species they were could be determined from the stick figures, other than their humanoid form. “I wonder what happened here,” Kate whispered, as if she did not wish to disturb the sanctity of the place. “Everything is so neat and orderly, like they just… left, leaving the front door unlocked, and never came back.”

Kuari nodded, looking at the paper with both eyes causing her to appear cross-eyed for a moment. She then glanced behind Kate at the kitchen, hopeful. “I don’t suppose any food would still be good?”

“After all this time, I doubt it, but it is worth a search,” Kate responded as she reverently placed the drawing on a table. The kitchen contained what appeared to be a food synthesizer, but without power, that would not prove to be very useful. There was no refrigeration unit, which made sense with a synthesizer available, and the cupboards contained no prepackaged food of any sort, but Kate did claim a large kitchen knife, still quite sharp, and there were several utensils, cups, plates, and cooking vessels that looked to be serviceable. When Kuari tested the kitchen faucet, it caused a great shudder in the pipes, but eventually started to produce muddy water, which she let run to see if it would clear over time.

As the water ran, Kate tried the manual lock on the back door that had thwarted her earlier, and found that it released, allowing the door to easily slide open, providing air flow through the two doors to air the house out a bit. “No food and no power, but this is still all quite helpful,” she appraised as she turned back toward Kuari and folded her arms over her chest. “I think we should make this our base, for at least a couple of days. Then again, I could just be happy to be out of the rain.”

Their mission the last few days had kept them focused on finding other members of their crew that may be stranded here with them, and Kuari hesitated in her answer. It was entirely possible they were the only two here, but their sense of duty required them to be certain of that. Kuari stopped in her tour of the cushioned sitting area and sat on the floor, looking over at Kate. They had foregone establishing a more solid camp by constantly moving, and Kuari worried for her friend’s health if they continued to push on without proper rest. She had gotten used to her captain’s nakedness in the wilderness, but it seemed very much out of place in the house, a reminder of the last few days’ hardships. Maybe it was better if they stayed, at least for a little while. She had to admit, staying indoors sounded really nice.

Kuari brightened as a thought occurred to her. “You should check the bedrooms for clothing. Something might fit you, and even if it doesn’t, it would help keep you warm.”

Kate’s breath caught when she opened her mouth to reply, almost as if she should not dare to get her hopes up for such a windfall, thus sparing herself the crushing disappointment when she found nothing to wear. However, the stick figures in the child’s drawing were humanoid, and the house was in surprisingly good shape, so perhaps their clothing was similarly sturdy. Either way, she had to know, and the prospect of some level of succor from the constant soul-shivering chill that had defined her existence for the past three days was enticing. “Oh, please let there be something…” Kate entreated as she darted for the bedroom.

The closet and dresser did indeed both contain clothing, constructed from advanced synthetic fibers that had left them musty, but intact. Their colors appeared to have faded long ago, but Kate hardly noticed as she began to eagerly search for something that she could use, first finding a folded towel in the dresser and drying herself with it. After a few minutes, she sported a thin gray v-necked tunic under a sweater with a similar lack of color, a pair of utilitarian cargo pants, and a pair of thick socks. The fit was not perfect, but close; one of the former occupants had a similar height and size to Kate, with the clothes that had obviously belonged to the other adult being too large as to be unwieldy. “How do I look?” Kate asked with a grin as she spread her arms to present herself, the clothes feeling better than the finest she had ever worn.

Having followed Kate into the bedroom, curious as to what she would find, Kuari stood near the door, smiling. “They look good. You will be much warmer, and better protected! How do they feel?”

With a laugh at her complete and utter relief to have what was normally such an ordinary comfort, Kate gushed, “Better than Risian silk!”

“I’m so happy! There’s nothing like going without to make you appreciate the simple things, is there?” Kuari sat for a moment, watching Kate and appreciating their fortune, when she remembered the sink was running in the kitchen. “I want to check on the water.” As she got up and made her way back down the hallway, she added in a louder voice, “Then I should go hunting and bring back something to eat!”

Kate sighed contentedly in response to Kuari’s sentiment on appreciation, then started to look around the bedroom for anything else useful as she replied, “Not that I do not appreciate the fruit, but I could really go for some meat, I must admit.”

“The water looks good, now!” Kuari yelled from the kitchen, watching the tap as clear water flowed from it. “Do you think they have a well, or it’s pulling from the stream?”

“Probably a deep well, if it is still working after all this time.” Kate paused at the dresser and peered into its mirror, wondering who was the last to do so.

Kuari shut off the water and took a closer look around the kitchen, her voice still raised to be heard in the back room. “I wonder how long it’s been abandoned. It seems like a long time, but the technology is quite advanced. I wonder whose it is?”

“We may never know, but whoever they were, we can thank them for it anyway,” Kate answered, still regarding the mirror and pondering its history. Noticing a hair brush on the dresser, she picked it up and pulled a few strands of bluish-purple hair out of it. “But here is one clue…”

Drawn by Kate’s words, Kuari returned to the bedroom to find Kate looking at a hairbrush. “What did you find?”

Kate held up the strands of hair for Kuari to see. “Not much, but an interesting color of hair, at least.” She shrugged, and looked at herself in the mirror, noticing her own hair to be a disheveled damp mess, and smirked when she remembered she was holding a hairbrush. After habitually raising the brush, Kate stopped herself; it was not important for their survival, but she found her desire for the small luxury to be sudden and strong. “Kuari, with everything that we still must do today, would you think it selfish of me to spend a few minutes brushing my hair?”

Shaking her head, Kuari assured her, “Not at all. In fact, you should think more of yourself right now. You’ve been worried about the crew, but you need to do things to make yourself feel better right now.”

With a smile of thanks to her friend, Kate tried the brush, gingerly at first, but she brushed more firmly once it was clear that it had held up well to the ravages of time. As she worked the tangles out, Kate did start feeling better, and when the job was done, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror, feeling much more like herself. “Thank you, Kuari, I did need that,” Kate said as she put the brush down and picked up an ornately-decorated silver hair clip, pulling her hair back into a low ponytail and securing it.

Kuari sat watching her, still smiling. It was good to see her friend looking more captainly, and her mind had already moved on towards her own tasks at hand. “You’ll feel even better after a full belly. I’ll do my best to find you some meat. We have places to store food now, too!”

“Yes, that will help, but it will be difficult to get a fire going in this rai—” Kate interrupted herself when she noticed something familiar on the back of the hairbrush, which she had placed bristles-down on the dresser. She picked it up and turned it sideways as she held it in front of her face, almost dumbstruck by the engraving on the tarnished silver. “To my love,” she quietly read aloud before turning to Kuari and meeting her eyes.

“It is written in Gencodian.”

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Warrior Woman
Posted on December 4th, 2019 by Emilaina Acacia

Betazed – Past

Ten-year-old Emilaina stood up straight, her chest puffed out and her expression serious. She stared straight ahead into the jungle as her Kreshai, Marhein, took wet clay from the ceremonial silver bowl. The older Betazoid gestured widely with the mud before slicking the hair on the sides of the child’s head back, then carefully drawing a series of lines and misshapen dots down the right side of her face. It had two less dots, then.

Marhein wore a similar traditional dress to Emilaina, though hers was adorned with beads, tassels, coins, and swirling gold embroidery. Emilaina’s dress was plain by comparison, a basic green with leather belt, arm bands, and strapped sandals. Marhein, along with almost all of the women gathered, had their clay marking on the left side of their face. The men wore it on the right, as did Emily and her older sister.

Each person’s marking was different, except for her sister of course, because the symbols represented a family lineage with one’s own generation under the cheekbone. The sisters had a swirl shape to represent their human mother, but it otherwise resembled the top half of their father’s mark. Though they seldom wore them anymore except for ceremonies, it made it easy to tell at a glance how everyone was related. Averianna watched Emilaina closely, trying to suppress her worry for her sister because she knew that everyone around them could feel it too.

Every child that went through this had the benefit of having been in the jungle many times before, but Emilaina had always been a bit different. She’d been through a lot as a child, only starting to walk at six, speaking at eight, enduring countless medical procedures. However, in the two years preceding her trials, she had made a huge turnaround both physically and mentally. The elders might not have allowed the trials if she hadn’t been so insistent, but when the time came, they agreed that she was ready.

She could feel the way everyone looked at her. Worry… pity. Her jaw was set, eyes still fixed on the treeline as Marhein spoke to the gathering in their specific dialect of Betazese. Emilaina knew the prayer by heart, so she didn’t feel the need to listen. She was too focused on blocking out the feeling of the eyes on her back.

As soon as Marhein was done, Emilaina marched forwards past the treeline without ever looking back.

??? – Present

A violent rustle followed by a fearful squeal awoke the Doctor, who immediately rolled right off the branch she was on as she couldn’t feel her legs. She managed to catch another branch on the way down, at least slowing herself enough that she didn’t break anything when she hit the ground. She rolled onto her back to allow her momentum to dissipate, blinking rapidly until her head stopped spinning.

“Fuck,” she breathed out, brow furrowing as she saw the word tumble from her mouth in a cloud of vapor. She felt a tired, prickling fog poke menacingly at her consciousness and groaned, forcing herself to get up and move and flex her slightly greyed hands and feet. She peeled off the two leaves of her camouflage that weren’t dispatched in the fall and retrieved the spear before making quick work of the poor animal caught in her trap. She decided to leave the trap where it was for now and rushed back to the fire, finding Grey peacefully asleep and smiling to herself. She added more wood, curling as close to the fire as she could manage.

She hugged her knees to her chest, closing her eyes and soaking in the warmth.

Betazed – Past

Emilaina quickly filled the small leather pouch hung from her belt with alo nuts and drakberries, already knowing where all the best spots were from years of pie-making. She also knew to visit a nearby cave with a prominent vein of flint to grab a firestarter and of course to find the rock that would be her knife.

She settled near the mouth of the cave at the base of the upper cliffs, somewhere she’d camped with her family before. She picked through piles of chips of deep black volcanic glass, collecting about a dozen arrowhead sized chunks, and a few knife sized chunks. As she sat by her fire on the first night carefully carving a slit into the small stick she’d selected as a knife handle, she was stopped by the sudden sensation of a familiar presence.

“What are you doing here?” Emilaina sounded a bit more accusatory than she’d meant to. The shadow stopped at the tree line, hesitant.

“Still awake?” Averianna asked meekly.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Emilaina pressed, examining her.

“Until you fall asleep, yes,” Averianna admitted. A long silence followed before Emilaina gave in and waved her sister over to sit by the fire.

“Don’t help me,” Emilaina mumbled gravely, continuing work on her rudimentary tools.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” her sister smirked.

Emilaina offered her sister a handful of drakberries but the older girl shook her head, having collected some of her own on the way. Averianna wanted to make small talk, but she also knew she shouldn’t. She watched her sister shift and begin shaping the obsidian arrowheads by carefully chipping them with a harder stone, unable to help a small smile. Emilaina had come a long way–it was nice enough to see her walking, feeling the fire of her childish defiance and determination was really refreshing.

Emilaina wanted to talk just as much. She wondered how many arrows her sister had made, but that would be the last question she could to ask. The night drew on and Emilaina finished her knife, admiring it in the flickering firelight. When she finally dozed off, her elder sister left behind a few ceremonial trinkets before spiriting away in the night.

??? – Present

The Doctor finally stopped shivering, occasionally prodding the fire with a long stick to get the flames to lap in her general direction. She slowly uncurled herself, shifting to sit on her knees. She gathered up the pile of bones from the fish they’d had for lunch and found another, longer rock she could sharpen a bit by chipping it. Once it was sharp enough to work she sighed, setting the bones and the more freshly killed animal in front of herself.

The prayer normally began in the old tongue, “We who live of this land,” but that wasn’t quite right now, was it? This certainly wasn’t her summer home, but that did nothing to negate the need to hunt. She thought it over, amending the prayer and substituting Betazoid words for the ones she didn’t know in the tribal dialect.

We who live, though pained as we are to take life, thank you for the sacrifice of your energy. We live on in your memory, to continue the role of life in this great universe,” she mumbled reverently to the backdrop of crackling fire.

She turned, scooting a couple feet to the base of one of the trees holding up her leaf-tarp (somewhat disappointing compared to one made of delkai leaves, but keeping the fire going nevertheless) and dug a shallow hole with her hand, sliding in the pile of fish bones before covering them back over with dirt. She drew a symbol in the dirt, a double swirl with a line through it somewhat like a treble clef.

The Doctor then turned the sharpened rock on the rabbit-like creature, cutting it first from chin to tail before sitting by the fire and taking her time removing the creature’s pelt. She carefully cut skin from muscle, finding herself uncomfortably reminiscing on doing something similar to her crewmates.

She held up what came off in one piece, about the size of a bandanna. She smiled, shaking her head and doing a bit of math–she’d probably have to kill at least ten to get something big enough to use as a blanket, and that would take some time. Time, of course, a part of her was hoping she didn’t have. She hung the pelt from a branch close enough to the fire to dry as she set about butchering the rest of the animal.
Meat she hung over the fire to cook, and the bones and inedible guts she buried.

Betazed – Past

Emilaina felt the strain as her fingers trembled, nearly losing their grip on the steep final incline of Malhari. She could feel her heart pounding with nerves and excitement, her breath ragged. It had taken almost a week to get here alone, but there had been no one to discourage her. No one to pity her. She’d only seen the Meeting Place in pictures, and they were little more than abstracted murals decorating the homes of her neighbors. Now, here it was… inches away.

With a groan and heave the girl pulled herself up onto the lip of the crater, her breath taken by what she saw. Totems of every colored gem the island could produce snaked up the golden steps to the Meeting Place, a tiered temple with a round, ancient wooden table seating seven at the center. It sat in the middle of the crater of the long-dormant volcano, just as it had for thousands of years. The gold was so plentiful and so old that the steps almost resembled greyed stone in places, though the swirling lines of marks and writing snaking all the way up had been more recently polished.

As the girl slid down and disappeared into the crater Marhein stepped out of the treeline, crossing her arms, smirking, and waiting. Emilaina landed at the bottom of the slope, panting with excitement. She ran up to the totem of the Mortani. gently running her hands along the side to find the seam. She pulled the pins, carefully opening the face of the crystal totem to remove the ceremonial bow held inside.

She knelt before the Akosai altar, running a hand over the writing and stones circling her feet. Some of it she could read, some was too obscured or too thick in the old dialect. The phrase, ‘craftsmen of glass and metal’ elicited a small smirk from her. She set down her bundle of arrows and the wad of miki wax she’d collected, carefully rolling the arrowheads in the wax to coat them. She took her flint to the brasier in front of her, sparking to light it.

Emilaina took a deep breath, nocking an arrow and slowly, deliberately letting it light in the flame of the brazier. She sharply angled upward, shooting at the canopy over the Meeting Place, aiming for the spot facing her. Of course, shooting a real flaming arrow for the first time is a great way to make yourself miss. The first one sailed clean over the canopy, landing on the far side of the altar to putter out. She yelped, shaking her hand where it had gotten too close to the flame.

On the fourth shot she hit the canopy, but it bounced right off. Then, as she loosed her fifth arrow, she felt a strange pang hit her. A light haze washed over the sky following her arrow as it embedded itself in the canopy. Emilaina looked right, and saw a hazy figure holding a bow stood at the altar to her right. To her left, another, then all the way around until all seven places were occupied. The altar flickered, each shadowy figure shooting off an arrow as well, each hitting the canopy in quick succession.

As soon as it had come the vision faded, interrupted by the fwoosh of fire snaking first up to light the beacon atop the canopy, then snaking back down to light up the tops of the crystal totems. There was a second brief flicker, and Emilaina could swear she saw people sitting at the Meeting Place, lit by the flames from around the altar.

This time she was brought out of her vision by a raucous cheer. She spun on her feet, looking up to see the women who had trained her, Marhein, Altorra.. then others of the tribe and, of course, her father and sister climbing up to stand on the peak of Malhari’s crater. They began sliding down to meet her one by one, pulling Emilaina into a huge group hug. Marhein had a handful of mud, and she added another dot to Emilaina’s face marking, then did the same to Averianna. Emilaina felt her heart glowing, ready to burst.

??? – Present

Emilaina awoke suddenly as a chill ran up her body, happy tears still in her eyes from her dream. Even so many years later, that memory was quite vivid. She looked around, took a deep breath, and reminded herself… it’s just the woods. She quickly glanced at Grey–yup, she was still there. Emilaina added more wood to the dwindling fire, hoping she could chalk up her reminiscing up to stress, but also finding some comfort in it.

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Reliance
Posted on November 8th, 2019 by Kuari

by Kuari and Kathryn Harper

The forest was unfamiliar, stretching in every direction. There were no nav points, nor were there even any maps. They had no data at all, not even any devices to create any. There was only what one could see and hear, smell and touch. Even so, life remained hidden within the thick brush, peering out at the alien that walked amongst it.

The only similar situation Kuari had been in was years ago, in a randomly-generated simulation in one of her Marine courses. They were given no armor or devices of any kind, with the goal being just to survive. Even then, it was just a simulation, with safeties and a computer that would respond to what was commonly referred to as an “out” command. Here, there were no safeties, no computer. This was real, or at least she had to assume it was.

She was no stranger to the real thing in away missions, however she had always had a commbadge, and usually a ship in orbit above, awaiting her call. When the stress began to get to her, Kuari’s response was to reach for her commbadge, but it wasn’t there. She had to keep reminding herself that as far as she could tell, she and Kate were alone.

The air was colder now as the sun was setting behind the trees. She had no armor as she tended to have as a Marine, not even a uniform. At least she wasn’t without fur like Kate was, but Kuari’s fur had not grown long in preparation for a winter, so it only kept in the heat so much.

The cave they had found had been their first real accomplishment as they had walked for hours through the forest, having yet found no water sources or natural shelters. They could have taken the time to fashion something to keep out rain and wind, but that would take time away from searching, and they had chosen to keep looking for water or other people. She and Kate had reluctantly agreed to stay at the cave only because their remaining daylight hours were few, and the trickle of water they had found at the back of the cave would have to be enough.

Kuari suddenly stopped, catching a whiff of something with fur. She put her nose to the air, turning her head in an attempt to locate the source, listening carefully with perked ears. The steady drone of insects was growing in volume, with more joining the chorus as nightfall approached. So many sounds and smells on this planet were unfamiliar, and she had not actually hunted down something by scent in a long, long time. Kuari felt woefully inadequate as an alien to this environment, one used to life on a starship, warm and well fed, but if the opportunity to capture a fresh meal of meat presented itself, she wouldn’t pass it up.

Some time passed, following the scent as best she could, and her nose eventually led her in the right direction. The pungent smell was stronger now, so Kuari began to creep slowly, low to the ground so as not to be seen. She couldn’t see much through the thick brush, and it was all she could do to step carefully and not make a sound. Unfortunately, she wasn’t careful enough and snapped a twig.

A sudden rustling ahead startled her. As she watched, plants shivered violently in a path leading away from her. Kuari’s lack of experience caused her to hesitate, and she growled to herself in frustration. Desperate to catch up she took flight, but whatever she was chasing was quick to change direction and she landed too far.

Adrenaline was now raging through her, and it was all Kuari could do to watch her footing as instinct caused her to hyper-focus on her prey. She ran, cornered, feinted and leapt in a mad chase, only using her wings to clear large objects, cutting off the animal’s path and forcing it to change direction yet again. Finally, Kuari pounced near where the motion stopped, but nothing moved and all she could hear was the sound of her own labored breathing. Panicked that she had lost it, she bellowed loudly. This worked, as a scurrying started off into a clearing, the animal having nowhere else to go.

Kuari could finally see it. As she gave chase, the form of a small, oversized rabbit-like creature fled with all its waning might, tired and vulnerable in the open space. The Rucara’s much longer gait carried her close to her quarry within seconds. Ready for the rabbit’s change in direction, she cornered with the creature and her long neck gave her the reach necessary to gain a solid grip across its back with her jaws.

It stopped struggling almost immediately. She had bitten down harder than she intended to, but in this case it was probably a mercy. The taste of blood was a shock, and Kuari just stood in place for a while, finding it difficult to calm herself down. She needed to take this back to Kate. The kill still in her mouth, she looked at the sky. If she didn’t go now, it would be difficult to find the cave. Stretching out her wings, Kuari got her bearings, turned in the direction she thought she should go, and took flight.

 

It had taken a while to scavenge the large pile of branches and twigs in front of her, but Kate finally judged it to be sufficient to get them through the night, provided that she could put her survival training to use. Having had no food today, she was tired and hungry from her exertions, but there was no time to rest until the priorities of survival were addressed, and that meant getting a fire going. Kate knelt at the cave mouth and began to stack the largest of the branches, laying two down parallel to each other, then two more on top of that, perpendicular to the first two to form a square, repeating until she had a box a few layers tall. Inside of that, she added smaller sticks and twigs, leaning them against each other, with an opening in the middle that she filled with dry leaves.

Now came the painful part. Kate stood and plucked out several hairs from the back of her head, continuing until she had enough to twist together into a red strand. She tied this to each end of a small curved branch that she had pulled off a live tree, taut enough to cause a slight bow. Kate retrieved another stick she had set aside from the pile, about a half a meter in length, and twisted it into the bowstring one time before placing the completed bow drill on the ground next to the makings of a campfire. As if to remind her of why she was literally pulling her hair out to create a fire, the wind picked up and raised goosebumps all across her fair freckled skin, sending a wave of shivers through her body.

“Alright, I get it,” she answered through gritted teeth, her resolve to succeed strengthened. Picking out a fairly stout dry branch from the extras, she hefted the semi-sharp rock she had found on their journey to this cave and began to hack at the wood. After several strenuous minutes, Kate finally managed to wear a rough groove into the branch, which she filled one end of with more bits of dry leaves. Picking up the bow drill, she placed one foot on either side of the branch to keep it from rolling, then squatted above it and began to spin the drill in the groove, using the rock to apply downward pressure to the top of the spindle.

The mechanical advantage construed by the bowstring caused the spindle to spin faster and with less effort than it would take using her hands alone, and after a few minutes, an ember began to glow beneath it. Kate brushed the tinder closer and began to gently blow, not wanting to scatter it, and her efforts were rewarded with a small flame. Suppressing her excitement, Kate methodically moved the burning tinder to the larger pile inside the wooden structure, then grinned as it too caught fire. Soon, the flames had spread from the kindling to the thicker branches, and Kate was welcoming its heat to her chilled body. Now, she could finally rest and wait for Kuari to return, hoping that her friend would bring something to eat back with her.

Fortunately, it was not long before Kate could hear flapping wings approaching, just as the evening twilight started to deepen. Instinctively, she stood, defensively brandishing her walking stick and sharp rock until she could verify that those wings belonged to her companion.

Kuari approached the fire, its light making it easier to pinpoint the cave mouth in the waning light. She had landed a short distance away, not wanting to accidentally blow out the flames with her wingbeats. Dropping the carcass from her mouth near the fire, she stretched her cramped jaws and gratefully sat near the warmth of the fire.

Kate relaxed once it was apparent that the approaching figure was indeed Kuari, and she made no effort to cover herself; it would have made no difference since they had awakened in this state, but even then, it had not been awkward for them. Neither of their native cultures had any innate issues with nudity, so Kate’s lack of clothing was nothing Kuari had not seen while they were alone together in the locker room before or after their regular swims over the years, and Kuari generally did not wear anything to swim no matter who was present. Not that their situation gave them any choice in the matter, but at least embarrassment and modesty were simply non-issues for the Risan and the Rucara, their lack of protection against the environment notwithstanding. The day’s work had already left Kate with several scrapes and scratches to add further annoyances on top of the cold, but those became secondary concerns when she saw that Kuari had been successful in her hunt.

Kate’s face brightened as Kuari dropped the dead animal, and she sprang over to take a look, then wrapped her arms around her friend’s neck and hugged. “Kuari! You are back safely, and with food! Thank you!”

Kuari smiled and wrapped an arm around Kate’s back, but she was careful to keep her messy mouth away from her. “And you got a fire going to cook it! The warmth feels really good. It should keep the chill off tonight. Do you have enough wood?”

With a gesture to the decently-sized pile of branches and twigs that she had stashed just inside the mouth of the cave, Kate replied, “I think so. At least, I hope so. I was running out of light, so it will have to do.”

Nodding, Kuari looked back at the dead animal. “If we need more later, I can find some. For now, let’s figure out how to cook this.” Hooking open the pouch low on her belly with one thumb, she reached inside and pulled out three apple-sized fruits. “I also found these in the trees on my way back.”

“Oh, how fortunate! I hope they taste good.” Kate hastily reached for one of the fruits, her rumbling stomach getting the best of her, but a sudden thought of Kuari’s welfare made her pause. “Wait, you do not eat much meat, so perhaps you should have them?”

Kuari tossed her head in a short nod. “You eat that one. The tree is not far. If they are good to eat, I will get more. I didn’t want to be greedy until I knew I would eat them. I doubt they will give the nutrition I am used to aboard Atlantis, though, so…” She looked down at the large furry carcass. “…I’ll eat some of this, but you can have most of it.”

As soon as Kuari had offered the fruit again, Kate took it and hungrily bit into it, finding the flesh to be fibrous and resembling a peach, while the taste was tart with a pleasant underlying sweetness. After swallowing, she nodded at Kuari. “Not bad. I hope it is not poisonous, but beggars cannot be losers.” Taking another bite, Kate indicated their meal-to-be and said through a mouthful of fruit, “Can you, uh, skin and gut that? With your claws, maybe?”

The Rucara pulled a face of distaste, but nodded anyway. “Yeah, I’m sure I can.” Picking up the carcass, Kuari studied it for a moment, then looked around and found a spot further from camp where she could make a mess. She then proceeded to experiment at taking it apart. It wasn’t a fun process, but it was sort of fascinating at the same time. She used the distant light of the fire to see what she was doing, carefully extending one claw from her paw to keep the hide in large pieces in case they could use it later.

As Kuari went to work, Kate devoured the rest of the fruit and, after licking her hands clean of the sticky juice, ventured as far away from the warmth of the fire as she dared to watch Kuari dissect the creature. Her eyes grew wide at how easily Kuari’s claws tore through the hide and flesh; at some level, she knew that the Rucara had formidable natural weapons and was fully capable of using them, but Kate had never personally witnessed the act. Her lovable dragon friend was an effective predator, when she had to be, and Kate found herself even more grateful that Kuari was a trusted ally.

Kuari looked up at Kate as she pried open the ribcage to remove the guts. “Find something to use as a spit and I’ll skewer it. I don’t want you to have to get your hands dirty with raw animal.”

Startled out of watching the grisly display, Kate nodded and ducked inside the cave to find a suitable spit. She selected a long branch that was already broken to a rough edge, and then grabbed her rock to help shape the point. After a few angled strikes, the point was somewhat sharper, but still crude, so she continued to hone it until it was the best result that the primitive tool could provide. Taking a moment to appraise her handiwork, she let out a noncommittal “eh” before carrying the spear out to Kuari.

Taking the sharp stick with approval, Kuari carefully speared the carcass lengthwise, then handed the clean end to Kate with a smile. “Here you are, one ready-to-be-cooked whatever-it-is. With any luck, it will taste like bacon.”

“I hope it does!” Kate laughed. “But I think that if I hope for that, I will only set myself up for disappointment. Still, thank you.” She gratefully accepted the meal-on-a-stick and headed for the fire to cook it.

 

Some time later, they sat by the fire with full stomachs and a pile of bones next to them. “It was not bacon, but I do not think that was half bad,” Kate mused. “It could have used some salt and pepper, at least.”

Kuari didn’t respond, choosing to prioritize chewing on a bone over talking. She eventually managed to splinter one and looked at the tiny column of marrow within, then offered it to Kate. “Here, you should take some marrow, too. It’s good for you.”

Kate took the bone and regarded it with a scrunched nose for a moment before deciding that she was in no position to be picky. With a shrug, she dipped a finger into the exposed marrow and tasted it. Surprised to find its rich taste to be pleasant, Kate let out a happy “Mm!” as she swallowed it. “That is not bad! Thank you.”

“Sure.” Heaving a big sigh, Kuari lay down on her side, her belly facing the fire, and closed her eyes. “I’m exhausted. I haven’t been this physical in a long time.”

“Me too,” Kate agreed as she slurped the rest of the marrow. “Running and swimming and playing sports are one thing, but today was a lot of hard work, and that really can be draining.” The topic reminded Kate of her thirst, so with a glance back into the cave, she stood and added, “I am going to get a drink,” before retreating into the darkness to find the trickle of water.

The thought of playing instead of surviving made Kuari think about their crewmates. Were they all safe aboard the ship, she and Kate being the only two down here? Why were they here? How did it happen? She mulled these thoughts over for a little while, not for the first time this day, before finally speaking once Kate had returned. “I hope everyone else is all right.”

All of the work and the meal had kept Kate’s mind from wandering, but now it focused squarely on her wife. Lexy, like all of them, had received survival training and could take care of herself, but these situations could be fickle; even the most rugged survivalist could run into bad luck and not find anything to help keep themselves alive. Kate hoped against all hope that Lexy was safe and sound aboard Atlantis, commanding the ship and working hard to find them, but she had her doubts and could only wish that her wife was not alone in the wilderness. “Since there are two of us here instead of just one, I would guess that there are more of us elsewhere,” she speculated. “Maybe we will find someone soon.”

“Yeah,” Kuari replied in a sleepy voice, “maybe.” She opened her eyes to help her stay awake. “I would prefer they all be aboard ship, but if others are here, we have to find them and help them soon.”

“Agreed. Anyone else trapped here is not as lucky as I am to have a Rucara huntress with them.” Kate regarded her companion for a moment, noticing how tired she seemed, and then offered, “I will take the first watch. You get some sleep.”

Kuari closed her eyes sleepily. “Aye, Captain…” she trailed off. A couple of hours, that’s all she needed, and then she would be alert enough to take over.

The temperature was falling as the night deepened; a freeze was not imminent, but it was uncomfortable enough as evidenced by their visible breaths. The fire helped ward off a truly miserable night, but by no means could make up for Kate’s complete lack of thermal protection. Once Kuari’s eyes closed, Kate wrapped her arms around herself as an intense primal shiver coursed through her, prompting her to notice that the fire could use a bit more fuel. She fetched several more of the thick branches from inside the cave and decided not to sit back down on the cold ground, slowly pacing around the fire and alternating which side of her faced the heat, still hugging herself to try to keep warm.

The fire popped loudly, stirring Kuari enough to hear what sounded like Kate’s teeth chattering together. Was she still cold? Of course she would be, as it was much colder than she was used to, and she didn’t even have any clothes. Opening one eye, Kuari spotted Kate standing nearby. “Do you want me to keep you warm?” she offered in a murmur, raising the wing not pinned to the ground in an inviting gesture.

“Really?” Kate asked hopefully, the prospect of a warm wing for a blanket being quite enticing at the moment, but she didn’t want to assume Kuari would be comfortable with the close contact. Although she had ridden on Kuari’s back before, and their frequent swims had resulted in a few underwater wrestling matches, Kate felt it best to double-check. “You do not mind?”

“Of course I don’t mind. It’s my duty to protect you, in any way, ‘Captain Harper,’” Kuari assured, amused Kate would even think she had to ask.

Captain of what, Kate idly wondered, but she resolved to not dwell on that uncertainty for now, instead deciding to accept Kuari’s offer, getting the sense that it was made as much out of friendship as it was her XO’s keen sense of duty. Perhaps, in this case, they were the same. “Alright,” Kate answered with a smile as she started toward Kuari, but the hide of the animal that had provided their meal caught her eye. Without being dried and cured, it would not last more than a couple of days, but for now, it could certainly be of use. Kate darted over to retrieve it, then returned to Kuari, spreading the hide furry side up near her wing before sitting down on it, grateful for a barrier against the cold ground.

Kuari was glad to see the hide she had carefully kept intact being put to good use. She waited until Kate settled against her, just behind her arm, and draped her forearm over Kate’s legs. Kuari roused further in shock, her eyes widening. “You’re as cold as a stone!” Settling Kate into the crook of her wing, Kuari cocooned her protectively with its leathery expanse, the warmth of the fire radiating pleasantly across it.

“Believe me, I know!” Kate answered with a laugh as she curled up against Kuari’s side, remaining upright so she could keep watch. The Rucara’s warmth did more than just physically warm her; it was heartwarming as well, inspiring Kate to gaze up at the unfamiliar stars, reflecting on what they had overcome so far. After enduring such a rough day, Kate felt that as a team, they had a good chance of survival from being able to rely on one another. “But I will not be for long. Thank you, my friend.”

As Kate’s temperature warmed up, her weight and proximity became a comfort to Kuari. It wasn’t long before she was again fully relaxed, feeling safe under Kate’s watch, the steady crackling of the fire lulling her to sleep.

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The Captain’s Table – Velina Tailor
Posted on October 25th, 2019 by Kathryn Harper

by Velina Tailor and Kathryn Harper

Clad in white tennis shoes and green running shorts with a matching racerback sports bra, Captain Kathryn Harper tied her red hair into a ponytail, then began to stretch before her morning run on the holodeck. Today, it was set to New York’s Central Park at the turn of the millennium, and she was expecting a guest—Doctor Velina Tailor, the ship’s Chief Medical Officer. In an effort to get to know her crew better, the captain had decided on a series of one-on-one morning meetings with only one rule: no discussion of work would be allowed.

“Hi Captain,” Velina called, hurriedly stepping through the holodeck doors. Her hair was shoved back in a messy bun and still damp. She’d woken up a little bit late, and had just enough time to shower and pull on a pair of black running capris and a t-shirt before hastily exiting her quarters. A morning person she usually was not, but who says ‘no’ to the Captain when she invites you to go running at 0600? She stood for a minute to decompress, taking in the surroundings. “Oh, it’s beautiful here. The fall colors are perfect.”

“Good morning, doctor!” came the captain’s cheerful greeting. The morning air was cool, but still pleasant, and Kate took a few deep breaths of it as she continued her stretching. “I am glad that you like the program; I find the cool air to be invigorating first thing in the morning. Are you ready to go, or do you need to stretch too?”

“I should stretch first, don’t wanna pull a muscle.” Velina found a comfortable spot on the green grass under a particularly spectacular maple tree with yellow leaves, and began warming up with a few toe touches and arm stretches.

“Just what I would expect my doctor to say,” Kate grinned as she continued her warmup.

“Well, you know what they say, you can take the girl out of sickbay, but… I thought we weren’t discussing work today.“ Velina grinned back, stretching out her hamstrings.
“So, what brought you to choose this spot? Somewhere you’ve lived before?” She queried, looking around curiously.

“No, it is just on the holodeck’s list of suggested places to run, but I do like it. And yes, you are right—no work talk!” Kate took another deep breath as she sunk into a lunge and took another look around the scene from Earth’s history. “I have only been to New York once, and never Central Park, but this is Central Park from four hundred years ago! It is like running through a time capsule.”

After a few more minutes of stretching and idle chat, both women were ready to run, and set off at a brisk pace through the park, but not one fast enough to preclude conversation. Ponytail swishing behind her, Kate looked over at Velina and asked, “So, how did you spend your leave on Risa?”

“I chose to do something besides the beaches for a change. I did a tour of some crystal caves, and some hiking. And a few days at a ski resort. It was very relaxing. I almost didn’t want to come back. How about you?”

“Oh, mostly visiting my parents, but they made sure that the entire extended family got together since I was home,” Kate chortled. “After escaping from that — I love them all, do not get me wrong, but there are so many of them — aside from the usual relaxing on the beach, Lexy and I got to go diving, have dinner with Atlantis’s former bartender, and visit a few other nice places, just spending quality time together.”

“I never had a huge family, it was always just me and my dad, so I never got to experience a large family reunion. It sounds like it would be fun, but I could understand if it gets overwhelming. I’m glad you and Lexy got to have some time to yourselves too.” The two women ran over a wooden bridge, swerving around a gaggle of tourists snapping photos of a waterfall, and continued up the wide path through more colorful trees.

“Yes, I am grateful for the time with her, especially with no ship’s business to interrupt it.” Kate unconsciously smiled for a few measures of their rhythmic footfalls, then wondered, “Just you and your father? I imagine you two must be close, then.”

Velina smiled.”Yes, I suppose you’re right. Especially since my mom died when I was small. He kind of had to fill both roles. I mean, there were a few girlfriends here and there, and one fiancée… he actually remarried about three years ago, finally. My stepmom’s nice, but she never really replaced her, you know?”

“Of course. I would not think that anyone ever could,” Kate sympathized. After several seconds of silence that she spent unsuccessfully trying to imagine someone replacing her mother, Kate decided to move on to a less-depressing topic. “So, aside from hiking and skiing, what else do you do when you are not busy looking after our health?”

Velina saw her mother’s absence in her life as just a matter of normalcy, forgetting sometimes that other people saw it differently; as a subject to be avoided so as not to upset her, or even themselves. She was used to that, and wasn’t a bit surprised when the Captain switched the topic.

“Um… well, I read, paint, draw… The occasional holodeck, a few drinks in ten forward sometimes. Oh! And I’ve been checking in on our baby pterosaurs from time to time. The research station that took them on has been sending me holoimages and reports on their progress. They’re almost fully grown now.”

Kate snapped her head sideways to look at Velina as they ran, her face lighting up into a wide-eyed big grin at the thought of the pterosaurs they had saved, still in their eggs, from an asteroid strike. “Really? I had forgotten about them,” Kate confessed, but after only a breath’s pause in which her excitement welled up again, she continued, her usual clipped, rapid speech even faster than usual, “Please send me the pictures! It would really be quite wonderful to see how much they have grown, especially having seen them as hatchlings.”

“Of course! I’d love to.” Velina grinned at Kate as they rounded another corner in the park’s pathways. “They’re with the exobiology division of Daystrom, in a facility which is a lot like a holodeck but much bigger, so they can fly. Later on, the researchers are considering transferring them to an uninhabited world, but it needs to be one which is compatible, of course.” She jumped over a series of rocks across a stream, waiting for Kate to catch up. “And the search will of course take some time to find the right place for them. Meanwhile, I was thinking about visiting the institute next time I have enough leave available.”

Heartened by the news, Kate deftly leaped across the rocks and upon landing, took a deep breath of the faux autumn morning before settling into a broad contented smile. “It has already made my day, even as early as it is, to hear that they are doing so well,” Kate said as she and Velina resumed their run alongside one another. “Velina — may I call you Velina? — thank you so much for keeping track of them!”

“Sure, anytime.” Velina gave Kate a genuine smile. “Yes, you can call me Velina.” They eventually found themselves at the edge of the park where a small cafe stood on a corner, with outdoor tables populated by a smattering of tourists and locals. “Want to stop and grab a cup?”

They had run for over three kilometers, and Kate thought that was good enough for a morning jaunt with a companion, and coffee did sound enticing at the moment, but what was even more appealing was the scent of breakfast in the air. “I could go for more than just coffee since I smell bacon! Oh, and Velina — if we do this again, and I think that we absolutely should — but anyway, whenever we are like this, you may call me Kate.”

“Oooh, bacon. Breakfast does sound good.” Velina flagged down a waiter who showed the two officers to a table. “Thanks for inviting me, Captain…” she hesitated. “I mean, Kate,” she grinned. “It was fun, we should definitely do this again.”

“It certainly is a great way to start the day,” Kate mused, feeling that taking the time to get to know her crew better was off to about as good of a start as it could possibly be. With a smirk, she added, “And the best part about breakfast in a holographic restaurant after your morning run is that no one there cares how sweaty you are!”

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¿Por Qué No Los Dos?
Posted on September 30th, 2019 by Diego Ricardo Navarro

by Jester and Zorro

Kimiko followed as Doc led her away from the bar to a small table on the periphery, away from the crowds. After a moment of hesitation, she took the chair across from him and placed her half-full drink on the table. Although she was intensely curious and somewhat apprehensive about what he had to say, she simply looked at him wordlessly and waited for him to speak. The silence stretched between them for a long moment, and all was still, save for the seabreeze that pulled at strands from her high ponytail.

Diego Ricardo finally took a long pull from his drink and met Kimiko’s eyes. He really needed to talk to someone, and no one knew this aspect of him better than she did, so he decided to get right to the point and asked, “Do you think you could be in a relationship without sex?”

Finding herself at a rare loss for words, Kimiko blinked at him as she processed what she’d just heard. Was he saying that he just wanted to be friends with her? The sincere disappointment that she felt at this thought actually surprised her. She wasn’t one to get attached to lovers, but Zorro had been like no other lover she’d ever had. If he wanted to end their liaison already… that would be truly unfortunate for both of them, in her opinion. But was that what he was asking?

She seemed speechless. Diego Ricardo wondered if he had been unclear, and upon taking a second to review what he had said, he conceded that she might think he meant their relationship. He raised a hand to clarify, “’My lady doctor,’ as you called her, is asexual. It has been a learning experience for me, let me tell you.”

Again, Kimiko found herself stunned, this time so much so that she was unable to conceal it. “…With you?” she blurted loudly before gathering herself enough to provide some context more quietly, “she wants a non-sexual relationship… with you?”

“Sí,” he nodded. “At least, I think she does. But, to her, it would be just a normal relationship, and I respect that.” Diego Ricardo let out a long breath as he tried to compose his thoughts. “You know just how sexual of a person that I am, so I don’t think there’s anyone better to talk to about this.”

“Hmm,” she said, a small frown of thought curving the corners of her mouth downward. She shifted her gaze to her right, watching the waves crash ashore as she considered his predicament. Finally, she sat back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest, again meeting his eyes. “Personally,” she began, “If it were me, I don’t think I could do it. But romance has never really been an important part of a relationship to me, and without sex or romance, what’s the point? …But perhaps I’m not the best person to talk to about this, because I’m clearly biased. You’re right that I know exactly how sexual of a person you are, but my motivations are selfish, because I want you to show me again. And again. And again.” At this, her lips curved upward in a smirk. “So, you see, there are many reasons you should take my counsel with a grain of salt.” To illustrate her point, she reached for her glass and casually licked salt from the rim before taking a drink.

“I like what we have too, and I don’t want it to stop,” Diego Ricardo quickly agreed. Pausing slightly, he then added, “I don’t think that it should have to.”

She did not immediately respond, but her face quickly returned to its customary neutral expression as she set her drink down and folded her arms across her chest once more. “As far as I can tell, that means one of two things,” she responded, also keeping her voice quiet. “Either you’re not interested in pursuing the lady doctor, or you’re proposing that we carry on in secret behind her back. You don’t seem to me to be the kind of person to suggest the latter, but just in case, I should tell you that I’m not the kind of person to agree to it.”

“There is a third option, and it’s the only one I see working out if I do want to continue pursuing her… and I think that I do.” Diego Ricardo found the solace of his drink for a moment before continuing, “I would tell her about us. I can keep your identity out of it, if you prefer.”

Kimiko raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you think she would agree to such an arrangement? I must admit that I am not personally close with any asexual people that I’m aware of, so I don’t know what they consider acceptable. From my own perspective, it seems natural that she would understand that a sexual person like you needs to have those needs met somehow, but perhaps that’s biased thinking.” And, she thought to herself, I’m not sure how I would feel about such an arrangement. She was both interested in it and uneasy about it, and those conflicting emotions tangled beneath her placid surface.

“I have been doing my homework, ever since she told me. It’s not an uncommon arrangement these days, but there is only one way to know if she would agree. I have already made the mistake once of wishing I had her Betazoid abilities instead of just asking her how she felt. That’s getting ahead of ourselves, though—how would you feel about that?”

Again, she turned her gaze to the waves and allowed the silence to linger as she gathered her thoughts. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly, still looking out at the sea. “I would have to give it some thought. I suppose… it depends on what this is to you.” They had had more than one encounter since that first night, enough to know that their initial spark hadn’t been a fluke. Surprisingly, she found herself rather unhappy at the thought that she was just a means to an end for him, but at the same time, she was uncertain about how she would feel if he wanted more from her. Romantic attachment had never come naturally to her, and she preferred to avoid it, but she found herself still wanting… something. Something more than being simply an outlet. Unable to put these feelings into words, she waited for his response.

Hearing that from her came as a great surprise to Diego Ricardo. It was undeniable that he had developed feelings for Kimiko; after the intimacy they had shared and the things they had done with each other, it would have been difficult for him to not feel anything beyond the camaraderie of someone he literally goes into battle with, then has casual sex with afterwards. He had set those feelings aside, though, based on her professed distaste for romance and his desire to not ruin their relationship that was giving him the best sex of his life. Now, it seemed like she wanted something more, something he had not expected from the unflappable Jester, and it caused a sudden turmoil within him as he tried to reconcile his feelings for both Kimiko and Emily. After careful consideration, he quietly admitted, “I only let it be to me what I thought you wanted it to be.”

Great, Kimiko thought to herself, now I have to be clear about what I want when I’m not even sure what that is. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before she began. “I like you, Zorro. As a colleague. As a person. As a playmate. I feel a… connection to you, more than I have with most people. Maybe you could even call it love, but it’s not the romantic love I think you need. I guess, in a way,” she said, finally turning back to look at him, “your lady doctor and I are not that different. She can’t meet your physical needs, and I can’t meet the needs of your heart. Neither of us are enough for you alone.” Pausing, she reached for her drink again and took a long pull before setting it back down. “If you only want me to meet your needs while you belong to her, I don’t like the way that makes me feel. Part of me says it might be fun for a while, but the rest of me says it isn’t worth the drama. If you want me to be a part of your life on equal footing… well, I’ve never done that before. But I’m willing to try it if that’s what you want.” Her eyes were calmly locked onto his, but within, she was nervous as the unspoken question sat ponderously between them; she really didn’t want to lose what they had, but she knew what she was asking for was risky.

“Jessie…,” he began, reaching across the table to squeeze her hand, “I wish I had known this before now, but I must confess that I have feelings for you, beyond just our physical intimacy. I never spoke up because I thought you didn’t want an emotional attachment to what we do together. Now, things are more complicated, but not impossible. You mean a lot to me, so if we can somehow arrange things the way you said, then I’m also willing to try it.”

Kimiko looked down at their joined hands, but did not pull hers away. “So… you wish to openly pursue relationships with both of us at the same time?” Again, her eyebrow perked up, indicating her surprise.

“It comes as a surprise to me, too, but yes.” Diego Ricardo smirked, then squeezed her hand again, the gesture feeling somehow more intimate than anything they had done before. “I certainly always imagined being the knight in the fairy tale that sweeps the fair maiden off her feet after their wedding and carries her away to the bedchamber for a night of passion, but if it’s possible, this could be even better. That is, if I possess the ability to give both relationships what they need to flourish.” He let out a long breath, but smiled. “If both of you are willing, then I will give it my best. Either way, I’m a lucky man to have the attentions of two wonderful women.”

“You know your charming words work better on her than they do on me, right?” She said with a wry smile, returning the squeeze before pulling her hands back to her lap. “It sounds like we have the beginnings of an agreement, then. Let’s hope your lady doctor is also on board. But what will you do if she isn’t?”

“I don’t know, and I hope I don’t have to figure it out,” he chuckled. “I’m lucky, though, remember? Shot down twice and still alive to be in this situation, so maybe it will work out.”

“Well. You’ll let me know what she says, won’t you?” She looked out over the surf again, suppressing thoughts of what could happen and instead turning her mind back to the train of thought she had had when she initially approached him at the bar. “In the meantime, the ocean looks awfully inviting.” Turning back to him, she gave him one of her secret smiles that only those close to her got to see. “Just for the record, I know we didn’t plan to get together until tomorrow, but my other plans for this evening have suddenly been cancelled.” Because they worked different shifts, their time thus far had been limited to the occasional stolen evening and was almost always limited by his shift or hers; she’d been looking forward to the two days they had planned together, but running into him today had been a bonus. The idea of more uninterrupted time with him was extremely appealing to her. “Care to go for a swim? I’m already dressed for it,” she added, indicating her simple board shorts and bikini top.

Diego Ricardo finished his drink and stood, flashing a wry grin. “Sure, if nothing else, it gives us something to do until we shower off later.”

Kimiko finished her drink and stood as well, casually remarking, “Oh, I think you may find it quite invigorating. But only if you beat me there!” With that, she took off at a dead sprint toward an unoccupied stretch of beach nearby, and Doc was quickly on her heels, hastily shedding his shirt and slam-dunking it in a recycler as they passed by.

She was fast, but his advantages in height and muscle mass made him faster; he splashed laughing into the surf with her only a heartbeat behind. Together, they waded deeper into the water; once it was up to Kimiko’s chest, she fumbled for his arm under the surface. “Wait. You’re taller, so you can carry me.” She pulled herself to him and wrapped her legs around his waist. “This is much more the conversation I’ve been aching to have,” she breathed, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing her lips against his. “Much nicer. Less complicated.”

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Surreptitious Craftsman
Posted on September 10th, 2019 by Emilaina Acacia

Doctor Acacia found herself scrutinizing her every movement far more than she normally would. She’d never had much cause in her life for lying or hiding anything, so it definitely wasn’t one of her strengths. Despite not actually doing anything wrong, she felt like everyone she passed in the hallway on the way to the holodeck was looking right through her, a heavy and perhaps mildly suspicious burlap bag slung over her shoulder.

She was relieved the moment the doors swished shut. She quickly locked the door behind herself, then paused a moment as she forgot what the program was named, this one not being one of her own. Something with the same letter…

“Acacia.. fake farm,” she decided, and computer bleeped in reply. The ground and sky of Iowa materialized around her, her childhood home just ahead. She made her way around to the back of the house, unzipping her uniform jacket as she walked, and found herself once again glad that her sister had included the workshop in her simulated recreation.

Between the house and the nearest patch of woods was a concrete slab on which the open-air workshop sat, complete with a hefty furnace that took up a quarter of the slab.

The doctor stepped up onto the concrete, letting her bag of supplies fall onto the scuffed-up wooden table with a metallic thud. She slid off her jacket and discarded it next, quickly double-checked with the computer that the door was locked, then put on some country music and put up her hair.

She described a template to the computer, two types of beads. One would hold half-pearls and both would be carved to look like waves. The computer produced holographic beads made from wood and the Doctor sat with a dremel perfecting the angles of the metal waves, smoothing out the sides and getting it to the right thickness.

“Computer…” Emily wondered aloud, wanting to curse herself for not having thought to ask Wright, but also suspecting it might be in the database, “Do you know the Captain’s wrist measurement?” Of course, it did. She measured her wooden beads, did a bit of math, then shortened the non-pearl-holding one a bit.

With the beads done she set up a wooden frame and began tamping loose clay into it with a piece of 1×4. She set the beads in the middle, then used a thin rod to poke pour holes through the mold. She put the top half of the frame on, and repeated the process by tamping more clay down over the beads.

She flipped the apparatus over and told the computer to teleport out the wooden beads, gleefully retrieving the chunk of pure silver from her bag and tossing it in the firing bucket.

Fortunately the holo-furnace was always going so she didn’t have to wait for it to heat up like the real thing. She stuck the silver right into the furnace rack, wielding long metal tongs and industrial oven mitts.

While waiting on that the Doctor took a seat at the table to retrieve the other real item from the bag she’d brought with her, a satin pouch full of precious nacre pearls from a ‘particular’ Risan beach, or so she was told. She carefully laid them out, thinking aloud, “I’m gonna have to cut these in half..”

As she was trying to think of what to use, she wondered, “Computer, can you do that?” It replied with a beep, and the pearls flickered before reappearing in halves. How… unsettling. Humbling, maybe. Definitely convenient. It was hard not to imagine what it would look like if the computer bisected a person that cleanly, but the Doctor managed to distract herself by switching to the next song.

She slipped back on her oversized oven-mitts, this time also donning a pair of protective dark glasses. She retrieved the bucket of molten silver with her long tongs, carefully pouring it into the clay mold with a cheerful whistle. Feeling alone, she found herself talking to her tools, and told the bucket it was doing a nice job.

After enough time had passed Emily cracked open the wooden frame of the mold, dusting away chunks of clay until she could pull out the silver beads. She examined them thoughtfully before setting them aside, then began the process again by tamping down more clay over the wooden beads. While one set of beads would cool she worked on the one before, shaving off the pour hole lines while also individualizing the choppiness of the waves on each bead.

When she had enough of the beads she sat at the work table with a note of finality, everything gathered in front of her. She took one of the beads meant to hold the pearls and carefully shaved away at the inside of the setting with the dremel until she could pop the pearl in. She pinched the wave-shaped prongs down around the pearl, careful not to mar the metal while also ensuring the pearl would never escape.

When the beads were done the Doctor pulled another item from her bag of tricks, a spool of flat silver wire. Using a wire cutter and some pliers, she made small loops to connect the beads of the bracelet together. All said and done it laid flat and was about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick, with the finished product looking a choppy silver glimpse of the ocean offering up its pearls. It clasped with a magnet, and Emily was pretty proud of it.

“Computer, create a piece of paper and a pen,” she flipped the bracelet so it sat back-up, and tapped the pen thoughtfully to her chin. She carefully wrote out, in her best calligraphy, Love ~ Alexis + Kate ~ Forever, with the date that made the pearls so ‘particular’ in a heart-symbol in the center. She had the computer project the engraving onto the metal, then carved it out by hand across the 5 center beads with a diamond-tipped pen so she could touch up her own handwriting.

Finally, she carefully set her creation in the last real item in her bag of tricks–a white satin-bottomed jewelry box. She then set the box in the bottom of her burlap craft bag which she tucked under her arm. The program faded out and metal walls reappeared. The Doctor unlocked the door, heading out to find Alexis.

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Duty to the Xov
Posted on August 31st, 2019 by Kathryn Harper

The Xovul officer, formerly a prisoner aboard the Federation starship Atlantis, now stood on the bridge of the Ykavosh’s flagship, holding the weapon of his dead commander. At its essence, the weapon was simply a spear, but technologically, it was much more than that, a highly-advanced device containing several ways of killing an opponent. Symbolically, the spear was an honor only afforded to decorated field commanders, and the officer still did not find himself worthy to hold it. The human that insisted he take it said that the Ykavosh demanded that it be delivered to him, so that duty he would perform, and here he stood, about to complete it.

Something was not quite right, though. He knew that he did not really feel like himself, but attributed it to his capture and imprisonment, which was a blow to his morale despite the good treatment he had received aboard Atlantis. He could have done without seeing that traitorous heretic scum that now called himself Vance, though; that human had worked among them for years, claiming to follow the Xov, and only now revealed himself to have never believed, likely to endear himself to his own kind again to save his skin during the battle. Pathetic.

Vance… the encounter with him was short, but he remembered waking up in a small room, possibly an interrogation chamber. It would make sense that the Federation would want to question him, but why had he been asleep in the first place? Had they drugged him?

The Ykavosh nodded with pride and extended his hand, expecting to be given the spear. “You have done well to survive and deliver this weapon to me, away from the unwashed hands of the Federation. They do not comprehend its worth or significance, and allowing them to keep it as a trophy would be an unforgivable insult.”

This defeat was his fault, and he leads you into ruin. The best thing for all is to kill the Ykavosh.

The officer blinked several times and took a deep breath, tightening his grip on the spear, wondering where that thought had come from. He could no more kill the Ykavosh than he could kill himself; such thoughts were against everything he believed. Straightening his posture, he started to raise his arm to place the spear in the Ykavosh’s extended hand and fulfil his duty.

The Xov itself has failed you. Kill the Ykavosh with the spear, now!

His arm stopped moving as he gasped in surprise. Whose voice was that in his head? It was not his. And questioning the Xov? He had never done so before.

The Ykavosh’s eyes narrowed as he asked, “What is wrong? You have done the Xovul a great service today by returning this to us. Give it to me and complete your duty.”

All Xovul will benefit if you run him through!

He fell to one knee, suddenly breathing heavily and astonished at how much he now wanted to kill the leader of the entire military sect of his society. Fighting the intense urge took every ounce of willpower he had, and his breaths acquired an undercurrent of guttural growls. One of the bridge officers, a doctor, rushed to his side, but he pushed the doctor away and regained his feet, then spoke through clenched teeth, “I try to obey.”

“You will obey,” came the Ykavosh’s assertive reply. “You have not yet earned the right to wield that weapon.”

What are you waiting for? Kill him, now!

“NO! TO BOTH OF YOU!” he roared. Security officers drew their sidearms, but hesitated as he waved the spear at them, fully aware and respectful of the weapon’s capabilities.

“You overstep your place in the world,” the Ykavosh asserted. “That is an irrational act, so you clearly need help. The Federation must have done something to you. Give me the spear, and you will be helped.”

Yes, give him the spear! RIGHT IN THE FACE!

“Help… yes, I need help,” he panted, still brandishing the spear, turning it to slowly point at the Ykavosh. A war raged in his mind between his usual self and this new insurgency that sought to topple everything he held dear, and he started to wonder if he had the strength to win it. “Help me, please.”

“I will. Put the weapon down, and I will personally see to you getting the help you need.” The Ykavosh took a step forward.

Fire the lightning! KILL THE YKAVOSH.

“No! Stay back! BE QUIET! The re-education camps are not help!” The Ykavosh and the security officers paused as he waved the spear at them, eyes wide and wild as his chest heaved. The voice in his head thundered, and his will began to falter. Perhaps the voice was right, and the Ykavosh had brought this defeat upon them. But how could the Xov have failed them in this way? The code of beliefs that governed every aspect of their lives was infallible… or at least he had believed it to be up to this moment in his life.

QUIT STALLING! Kill him now now NOW NOW NOW NOW

“SHUT UP!” No one else in the room had spoken, so the Ykavosh gave his security officers a quick glance. As they started to raise their weapons, he lifted the spear and extended it straight toward the Ykavosh. Its tip trembled in the air as his arm shook. “Weapons down! I will kill him!” he yelled, and they complied.

“You will not kill me,” the Ykavosh confidently stated as he stared down the length of the deadly weapon. “Your duty is to the Xov, and you will perform it.”

It is your duty to the Xovul to kill him kill kill kill KILL KILL KILL

“My duty,” he quietly confirmed through haggard breaths as he lowered the spear and turned its tip toward himself, “is to the Xov.” The Xovul officer pressed the button to activate the lightning.

A white-hot flash, then merciful oblivion. The voice was finally quiet.

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Blue Clouds
Posted on August 28th, 2019 by Kathryn Harper

by Kuari and Kathryn Harper

In the aftermath of the battle at the Xovul station with sufficient repairs made, the USS Atlantis sailed smoothly through slipstream towards Trondheim. First Officer Kuari had the bridge, having caught up with reports and the status of repairs since being released from sickbay. She lay prone across her backless seat to the right of center, staring ahead at the slipstream tunnel on the main viewer. It wasn’t at all like warp with the stars streaking by. Even though they were going exponentially faster than warp, the effect seemed slower and more relaxed, a calm passing of blue clouds. A freeze-frame of it reminded Kuari of looking into the detailed irises of Lt. Commander T’Lira’s eyes.

Kuari shifted an elbow on the firm front edge of her seat. Further back the seat was softer, and she was especially glad for it with the discomfort in her belly from her injury. Starfleet’s top doctors had healed her up and this gave her peace of mind, but it would take some time before it stopped reminding her of what had happened on the Xovul station.

Her right eye shifted to the ready room door. Captain Harper had disappeared beyond it some time ago, and Kuari thought it a good time to check in with her. She turned her head towards Commander Wright, carefully stepping over and off her seat. “You have the bridge, Alexis.” She was aware of Wright’s professional confirmation in the back of her mind, but her thoughts were already on their captain as she made her way a bit slower on all fours than usual towards the ready room door.

In the ready room, Atlantis’s captain was also watching the slipstream effect out the window behind her desk. Her mind had wandered away from the after-action report she was preparing for Admiral Blackthorne, and the serenity of the view was a welcome diversion from worrying about her injured crew members and what she had been forced to subject them to aboard that Xovul shipyard, along with the pending task of writing letters to the families of those they had lost. Captains tended to stare out their ready room windows in thought, perhaps searching for an answer out in the void, but Kathryn Harper was no closer to whatever she sought when the door chime startled her. With a deep breath, she turned to the door and answered, “Come in!”

Kuari’s practiced eyes were already focused at Harper as the doors swished open. Seeing her looking back told her it was probably a good time, so she walked in all the way to the desk so the door would close beyond the length of her tail. Sitting on the floor, the tail wrapped tightly around her paws. She was still eye level with Harper and she offered a small smile to her friend, a contrast to her professional greeting. After Kuari’s last mission, she knew Kate had worried about her, and they hadn’t yet had a chance to speak in private. “Captain.”

Still grateful to see Kuari back on her feet, Harper subconsciously smiled back and lowered the formality with her reply. “Hi, Kuari! How are you feeling?”

Carefully taking in a deep breath, Kuari’s thoughts turned inward. “Not my best, but good, considering. I still need time.” Her eyes met Harper’s. “I’m no stranger to battle, but being trapped in that room, outnumbered with the Xovul against our Marines…well, I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it out alive.”

Kate’s face sank at seeing her usually unflappably optimistic friend in such a state, and Kate found herself fighting suddenly misty eyes with several quick blinks. “I am sorry, Kuari,” she quietly began, her tone having shifted considerably from her hopeful greeting, “I never want to send any of my people into such hellish situations.”

The Rucara’s heavy eye ridges lowered in a frown, and her chest puffed out a little. She didn’t expect Kate to feel responsible for what happened. “I hope you’re not apologizing for sending me. I would have rather gone through that over another of our Marines. I’m strong, and I’m proud to have brought the Federation’s justice upon the Xovul!”

That was a bit more of the Kuari she knew, and it did actually help Kate to see it, if only slightly, but her voice remained resigned. “No, sending you gave us a better chance of success, and I hate that it sometimes just comes down to cold, heartless numbers. But it never gets easier seeing your people get hurt, or worse… and having to send them anyway, knowing they may not come back. It just pains me to see one of my best friends suffering, regardless of your willingness to do so.”

Kuari nodded her understanding, her posture and expression softening. After a few moments of gazing at Kate’s face and studying the pain she saw there, she added in a resolute tone, “Put the blame on the Xovul where it belongs, not on yourself.”

She had always admired Kuari’s way of putting things right into perspective, but in this case, it was not a new one. Kate did blame the Xovul, and as someone who prided herself on her diplomatic acumen, that was not a welcome thought. She even now accepted that no level of diplomacy short of total capitulation to their strict belief system would have avoided this confrontation, but doubt occasionally surfaced as she replayed their first contact in her mind’s theater. With a deep sigh, Kate answered, “Oh, I do blame them. They have put us both in sickbay now, after all. I just hope this was enough to convince them that an all-out war with the Federation is a bad idea for both of us.”

In a perfect universe, Kuari would want to avoid war, too. Her species in general was peaceful, and their ideals matched up well with the Federation’s. Some species were driven by instinct and were bred into a culture that praised aggression, however, and they could only view peace as weakness to be preyed upon. Kuari had to learn this fact as she grew up, and she imagined Kate and most other peaceful people had to as well. Still, they had to try. “I hope so, too.”

Kate looked down at her desk and, remembering the experience of seeing the bloody battle play out on the bridge’s main viewer along with its deeply unsettling effect on her, quietly confessed, “Watching that battle through Colonel Wolfe’s helmet cam, the sheer brutality of it… I do not know how you Marines cope with it, Kuari.” Marine, in this case, being a mindset, since Kuari had transferred to regular Starfleet when she was promoted to XO, but they say that there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine. “I have taken lives, of course. Shooting down another fighter usually kills the pilot if they are unable to eject, but it is so much more impersonal than what you have to go through.”

Nodding again in full agreement, Kuari found herself recalling her training. “Yes, it is. Not only do Marines train in physical routines, we do it with a specific mindset. When ordered to attack, the enemy has no value, and simply must be neutralized.” Kuari smiled a little, attempting to soften her statement. “An even greater challenge is being able to switch that off and resume your normal life, full of compassion.”

Kate wasn’t sure whether she should be envious of Kuari’s ability to compartmentalize that aspect of herself, or grateful that being properly horrified by the realities of face-to-face military combat had never been trained out of her. Regardless, she was thankful that there were people like Kuari who could maintain that duality and still somehow remain well-adjusted and moral, so that was worth reinforcing. “And you succeed admirably, Kuari. Thank you.”

This time Kuari’s grin was broad, stretching back behind her big eyes. It was brief, though. “Someone must protect those I care about. It might as well be me. It’s do or die, sometimes. I have to keep that scary image of my friends dying from becoming a reality. Despite my training though, this was very real, and if the Marines didn’t put everything they had into this battle, our mission could have failed.” Kuari dipped her head to Kate. “I’m the one who should be thanking you. Just talking to you has helped.”

“No thanks are necessary, and it has helped me, too.” Adding a hopeful smile, Kate added, “You will let me know when you feel up to going for a swim together, yes?”

Kuari brightened and opened her mouth wide, but she stopped herself. She was going to say that now would be a great time, but when she thought about how carried away she tended to get in the water, swimming would probably not count as “light duty”. Smiling sheepishly, she replied, “I definitely will.”

Turning to gaze at the ready room window, Kuari watched as the clouds of the slipstream vortex wall floated by for a moment. The view had come to make her feel safe, and she still marveled at the power the technology granted them, being able to travel so much further than many species could. Even with that power, they were still mortal and could die. Opportunities they never believed possible were presented to them now though, and their decisions could have an even greater effect because of it.

Taking in another careful deep breath, Kuari’s head swiveled back to Harper, her eyes turning down with curiosity at her desk. “How goes the report?”

It took Kate a moment to remember the unfinished work on her terminal after the heavy discussion. “It is… strangely difficult to write for a successful operation. It feels like every sentence should have a footnote containing a caveat, even though that is not true. But, we accomplished our mission, and I know the Admiral will be pleased with our performance.”

Kuari nodded. “I read the reports, what happened while I was in sickbay.” She smiled proudly. “T’Lira handled the situation on the station well. We secured it and captured all the civilians. Mission accomplished, even though neither Wolfe nor I were conscious to see it through.”

“You did your part, nonetheless.” Kate turned toward the terminal and tapped the screen a few times, making minor adjustments to a couple of things that caught her eye. “Everyone did wonderfully, and part of writing these reports is conveying that fact to command. We have four ships full of Starfleet crews that gave their all for this result, and four captains making sure that the admiralty knows it.”

The proud posture returned to Kuari’s sleek form. “We did good. Judging by the Xovul’s behavior and what we’ve heard of them, it’s about time someone showed them decency towards other species. Our alliance will grow with others in the region.”

“Yes, from the Kvolir to the Free Fleets, and perhaps to even those we have yet to meet, it must be good to see someone standing up to the Xovul. And as for the Xovul, I hope that our sparing of their civilians will not go unnoticed.” Kate refrained from mentioning that she also hoped that the aggressive species would not see that as a weakness to exploit in potential future conflicts, and instead offered, “If all goes well, perhaps more peaceful missions await us.”

“We can only hope,” Kuari replied. She was happy to see the more positive side of her friend and captain. Her eyes dropped again to the report. “Also…unless we’re ordered somewhere new, I think the crew could use some leave after a battle like this.”

It was one of Kuari’s duties as XO to report on crew morale, and she was right; it had been a significant length of time since their last shore leave, and the crew had been through a lot of stressful situations. As she leaned forward and pinched her chin, the captain’s mind briefly wandered to thoughts of spending vacation time with her wife, or to hosting one of her beloved crew functions. Kate admitted to herself that she could certainly use some true leisure time, and if she was feeling that way, then the crew must be long overdue for it. “I will include the request in the report. It depends, of course, on the Xovul reaction to our mission, but Atlantis has been away a long time, and we are not the only ship in the fleet.”

Kuari nodded, considering. “We could start at Trondheim. Communication has mostly been war talk, and we could use time to catch up with them. Celebrations of victory together are good at uniting peoples. Atlantis would be in orbit in case the Xovul decide to come back, and we could quickly mobilize if necessary.”

“Trondheim would be a start, yes,” Kate nodded. “But it would hardly be a real vacation since we have been out on the frontier for almost eleven months. I would like to see us get some time closer to home.”

“Yes!” Kuari agreed whole-heartedly. The idea of being in the heart of secured space was very attractive to her in her compromised condition, and comforting thoughts of her family back home made her smile. “That does sound very good.”

“Then, I should get back to this report,” the captain stated, gesturing at her terminal screen. “For some reason, the idea of including a request for shore leave has renewed my enthusiasm for completing it.”

The Rucara stood back up on all fours. “I’ll let you get to it, then.” Dismissed, Kuari left the ready room and returned to the bridge. With a smile, Kate regarded the serene cerulean slipstream effect for a moment longer before diving back into her work.

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