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Star Trek: Adventurer

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Chapter I: How We Deal With Death

“Captain, I’m getting something on the comms.”

“What is it, Lieutenant?” Takala Karizesma Zh’An asked from the command chair, turning to face her Tactical Officer.  From the upper deck and curved Tactical station, the Trill woman seemed to tower over Taka’s smaller, Andorian frame, and her antennae twitched ever so slightly.

“Distress call from a ship in the Neutral Zone,” Tanis Lanul replied.  She looked down at Taka.

Taka frowned and her antennae twitched irritatedly.  She turned back to the viewscreen and stared at the stars.  “Helm, set course for the distress signal and engage, maximum warp.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Straala, her Vulcan Helm Officer, acknowledged.

“Go to yellow alert,” Ricardo Santiago ordered from his chair beside her.

“Do we have any other ships in range?” Taka asked.

“None within any distance to help,” Tanis replied.  “The Courageous and Kirk are an hour away at warp.  We’re the only ones in any capacity to help them, Captain.”

“Inform the Courageous and Kirk ,” Taka said.  To herself, she muttered, “This close to the Neutral Zone, I don’t like it.”

“Definitely something going on,” Ricardo agreed.  He ran his hand through his brown hair. “Damned peculiar.”

“What’s our ETA?” Taka asked.

“15.58 minutes,” Straala replied.

“Tanis, pull up the details of the ship.”

“Yes, Captain.”  The Trill tapped the commands into the console and the details of the ship appeared on the viewscreen.

Taka rose from her chair and stepped up to the Helm, her hand falling on the back of Straala’s chair.  Her eyes darted over the information. Under her breath, she whispered, “300 passengers? On a neutronic fuel carrier?”  She turned back to Tanis. “Verify that information, Lieutenant.” Her antennae leaned forward, inadvertently showing her frustration.

“Information verified, Captain.  Starfleet Command lists the ship with 300 passengers,” Tanis stated.

Taka shook her head.  “The information’s false or something else is going on here.”

“I’ve cleaned up the message, Captain.”

“Let’s hear it.”

This is the …..   We’ve struck …. Gravitic mine…  No power… Need assistance.

“Open a channel, Tanis,” Taka said.  The redheaded Trill nodded at her a moment later.  “This is the Enterprise , Captain Taka Zh’An speaking.  We’re on our way to you. Do you have any means of evacuating?”

Negative , Enter...se .   Hull penetrated...casualties.  Lost...power. Life support failing !” a man’s voice pleaded.  Involuntarily, Taka’s antennae laid across the top of her head in sadness.  “ ...need help, En...prise.  Can...assist us ?   Can you assist us ?”

“Damn,” Taka muttered.  “It’s a trap, it has to be.”  She looked at Ricardo.

“Red alert, all hands, battlestations!” Ricardo ordered.  The Bridge was bathed in crimson as the klaxons turned blood red.  

“Captain, we’ve just entered the zone,” Tanis informed.

“Good thing the Neutral Zone doesn’t mean a damn thing anymore,” Taka muttered.

A nervous sweat on her ridged brow glistened in the light and Taka wiped it off.  The stars on the viewscreen stayed there, unmoving, as though taunting her. Her left antennae shrunk back with the anxiety she felt while her right twitched with the apprehension.  An hour away from help on the wrong side of the Klingon border was not somewhere anyone wanted to be, least of all the flagship of the Federation fleet.

That was enough to put a target on their backs.

“Get in, get out, quick as possible, no one needs to know,” Taka muttered.

“Captain, I’m losing the signal,” Tanis reported.  Taka turned to look at her Tactical Officer, who returned the glance with worry in her eyes.  “Three Klingon ships decloaking!”

Negh’var -class battlecruisers,” Straala reported stoically.

“Tanis, hail them,” Taka ordered.

“No response.  They’ve locked on!” Tanis cried out.

The Bridge of the Odyssey -class starship jerked and Taka’s grip on Straala’s chair tightened.  She tried to remain calm, though her antennae would have betrayed that had any other Andorians been present.  “Report.”

“Direct hit, shields holding,” Tanis said.  “Captain, I can’t get a lock on the distress call.”

“Of course not,” Taka scoffed.  “Damned Klingons laid a trap. Straala, get us out here, best speed!”

“Aye, ma’am,” Straala said, entering the commands into the Helm.

Taka stepped away, back to her command chair.  “Tanis, torpedoes, full spread, Sisko-Alpha-Nine.”

On screen, a barrage of torpedoes flew through space towards the Klingons, exploding against their shields.  The variant ‘X’ shaped head of one of the Negh’var s erupted through the dissipating explosion, disruptors firing.  The Bridge jerked and Taka stumbled into her second officer’s chair, thankful it was empty.

“Captain, starboard nacelle has taken damage,” Straala reported.

On screen, the Negh’Var battlecruisers opened fire in unison.  Shots pelted the shields and the entire ship was jerked around.  Taka grabbed the armrests of the second officer’s chair tightly, opening her mouth to give an order before the Helm exploded in a shower of sparks and debris.

The Vulcan rolled from it and laid on the floor, unmoving.  Taka pushed herself out of the chair and moved over to the her friend.  “Straala?” There was no response and Taka rolled her over, faced with cuts and seeping green blood, eyes staring into oblivion.

“Ric, take the Helm!” Taka ordered.  She rose to her feet And grabbed the Helm as another volley jolted the deck.

“Captain, they’re coming around!” Tanis called out.

“All power to shields!” Taka cried.

They did nothing.  The overhead light erupted in sparks and consoles flickered as many of the officers standing lost their balance.  Ricardo rose from his chair before something exploded behind him and he clutched his back before falling to the ground, still.

Bridge, Engineering.  We’ve got a problem down here.  Mag-interlocks have been ruptured !” M’Akl, the Caitian Chief Engineer, reported.  “ Five minutes to a core breach !”

“Send out emergency distress call.  All hands, abandon ship!””

“They’ve got a jamming signal in place,” Tanis reported.

“Then make sure you survive to let Starfleet know of this,” Taka said.  “Now, clear the Bridge.”

“What about you?” Tanis asked.  She noted that the rest of the Bridge crew hadn’t argued.  They'd headed for the turbolift and waited for her.

“I’ll be fine,” Taka smirked.  “Now, go.”

Tanis nodded and entered the turbolift as Taka watched the doors closed.  She turned back to the viewscreen. “Well then, you Klingon bastards, as the humans say, let’s dance.”  She stumbled as the Bridge shook, sliding into the Helm chair. She tapped commands into the console, the ship shifting its position back to face the lead battlecruiser, which continued firing.  She glanced at the status of the evacuation. All shuttles had launched, but some were still too close. “Come on.” Two shuttles flashed out of existence and the rest reached a safe distance. She hit the command.

The Enterprise-F surged forward, into the fire of the Klingon ships.  Explosions ripped up the saucer’s hull. Hull plates spiralled away before the front of the Bridge disappeared in a blinding explosion.

Chapter Text

A/N: Timeline note: While STO wiki lists the missions as mostly taking place in 2409, I'm disregarding this and having them spread out across years.  This takes place old Earth calender year 2410, approximately one year after the start of the game and three months after the new threat from the displaced Dominion fleet is ended.  

Chapter 2: Aren't You Dead?

The white light was replaced with the black squares of the holodeck.  Around her, Taka’s ‘crew' groaned in irritation at the outcome while she pinched the bridge of her nose.  Her antennae flailed angrily, betraying her frustration at herself and the scenario.

The arch appeared and the door opened.  The stamp of boots on the floor resounded as the cadets came to attention for the Admiral.  He shook his head in disbelief.

“Congratulations, you’re dead,” Admiral William T. Riker stated as he glanced at Taka.  “Welcome to the afterlife, Cadets.”

“Sir, permission to speak freely?” Taka asked.

“Granted, Cadet Zh’an.”

“Even with the odds against us, the shields on the Odyssey- class starship would not have given out like that.  Nor would the warp core suffer a failure that fast, sir.”

“Cadet, you do know the Kobayashi Maru Scenario is designed to provide a no win option, correct?” the Admiral asked rhetorically.  He stepped down the line of Cadets. “Captain Shon was faced with one only three months ago, before taking command of the Enterprise.

“As, sir, were you, above Veridian III,” Straala noted.

Admiral Riker flinched at the reminder of the loss of the Enterprise-D .  “Similar, yes, Cadet Straala.”  He glanced at each of them before saying, “Your marks and Midshipman assignments will be posted within the hour.  Dismissed.”

Taka stayed at attention as the rest of the Cadets filed out.  “Sir.”

“Yes, Cadet?”

“Did the crew make it?”

“A situation you'll never know,” Riker replied.  “Sometimes, the only thing you can do is hope for the best when you sit in that chair.”  He offered a grin. “If you must know, though, they did.”

“Thank you, sir.”  She smiled to herself and stepped out of the holodeck.

“You’re crazy!” Tanis said from beside the door.  She smiled at the Andorian and moved towards her. “But damn, you made sure they'd never forget you.”

“We're Red Squad!” Taka replied.

“We can do anything!” Tanis recited.  The smile broke. “Have you thought about what's going to happen after the Academy?”

“Still worried?”

They stepped into the open air.  Green grass and colourful flower arrangements greeted them, as did the hologram of Boothby giving a Cadet an earful about walking on the grass.  They smiled at each other; they'd been at the receiving end of a similar speech on a few occasions.

“Ever wonder how the first ones did it?” Tanis asked.

Taka looked over at the Trill.  “Left their worlds behind, separated from loved ones for weeks, months, even years at a time?”  They sat on a bench. “I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like.” She took Tanis’ hand in hers.  Even in the warm, San Francisco climate, her hands were chilled.

“Petahl, he was one.”

“Your first host?”

“Second, shenva, ” Tanis corrected.  She offered a gentle smile; four years and she was still correcting her.  But she wouldn't trade it. “I still remember each time he left his wife.”  She sighed sadly.

“Hey, we're not that far apart, not with technology what it is,” Taka smiled.  “Just one message away if you need me.”

“Thank you, Taka.”

“Hey, you two lovebirds coming?”

Tania jumped in surprise with a yelp loud enough even a few Cadets on the opposite side of the Pioneers Memorial were stunned.  Her cheeks turned a bright red and she shifted, embarrassed by her action. She brought her hand up to try to hide it, But it was too late; Taka and anyone else around them had seen it.

M’Akl’s grey fur bristled nervously and her tail sagged anxiously.  “They've posted the Midshipman assignments.”

Taka understood the anxiety.  Though the test was certainly a no win scenario, the marks achieved by those undertaking it often led to desired positions.  As Red Squad, the premier training squad in the Academy, they were unrelentingly scrutinized.

She could feel her own antennae twitch with excitement and apprehension.  She was glad her shenva wasn't Andorian.  Being able to hide her state of mind from Tanis was better.

She pushed herself from the bench.  Tanis’ hand let go of hers as she followed suit.  Though their relationship was hardly a secret on Academy grounds - once Ricardo had discovered it, it had spread like wildfire - it was hardly something they wanted to flaunt.

Measured steps came from behind the trio and they knew who approached without looking.   “Straala,” the three said. Straala replied in kind with each of their names. The four women started towards the administrative building.

The massive throng of people chatting and making small talk as they waited for the annual entertainment.  Taka could remember her first year here. Midshipman cruise starship assignment based off the7 Kobayashi Maru results were always telling about a person.

They pushed through the crowd, seeing Ricardo at one of the five consoles in front of the large screen.  A few seconds passed before his name appeared. Santiago, Ricardo: assigned, Helm Officer, USS Deimos , NCC-84501.

“Congratulations, Ric,” Taka said, giving him a pat on the shoulder.  “Those Luna -class ships are still pretty state of the art.”

“I can’t wait!” he cried out excitedly.  He hugged her. “I gotta go pack!” He sprinted off.

Taka stared after him with a grin on lips and a head shake.  Then she saw Tanis. Her shenva wrung her hands in front of her before seeing Taka looking her way.  She stopped, but Taka already knew.

M’Akl stepped forward.  She let out a purr of approval and her tail stopped moving as it came up on the screen.   M’Akl: assigned, engineer, USS Adventurer, NCC-85662.

“Second batch Vesta -class,” Taka said.  “You earned it. Congratulations.”

“I don't know what to say,” M’Akl said.  Her tail and fur said all that was needed.

“Go on, pack up.  We'll meet at C-42 on Spacedock,” Taka gave her a pat on the shoulder.  “I'll buy the first round.” She stopped. “Humans and their idiosyncratic phrases.”

Next was Straala.  Stoic as always, she entered her requests into the computer, which spit it back on the screen.   Straala: assigned, Helm Officer, USS Adventurer, NCC-85662.

Impassively, she turned.  “It appears I, too, have been assigned to the Adventurer .”

“That's great,” Tanis said.  Her voice quivered nervously and she bit her bottom lip.  “Hopefully we see each other again.”

“That would be agreeable.”

“Your turn,” Taka said.  She smiled. She spoke in her native tongue, “ Vusha anaam. ”   Always together.

Etahl retos ,” Tanis completed in Trill.   Never apart.  She smiled.  “You’re always there for me.”

“And always will be,” Taka reassured her.

Tanis stepped up to the console.  A moment passed, then another and Taka’s antennae moved apprehensively.   Lanul, Tanis: assigned, medical officer/counselor, USS Adventurer, NCC-85662.

“Counselor?” Taka asked.  “All the extra credit courses and late nights,that's what you were doing?”  She pulled her shenva close.  “I'm proud of you.”  Their lips connected.

Tanis broke the kiss.  “Now you.” She stood firm.  “I'm not going until you do it, now.”

Taka shook her head with a smile.  “But if it's bad news?”

“Because that's something that will happen,” Tanis scoffed.  “You’re one of the luckiest people I know.”

Taka chuckled.  She tapped her Academy ID number into the console and waited.  Seconds passed, then a minute. Her breathing quickened.

A chime and she could feel the eyes of everyone on her back.   Zh’An, Takala Karizesma: see Captain Tereza Korolevna.

“Captain Korolevna?  Isn't she…?” the final words to the question trailed as Tanis lost them.

“The lone survivor of the Atlantis ,” Taka finished.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: For Everything, There Is A First Time

Taka stood in front of the office of Captain Tereza Korolevna and breathed a deep breath.  Her antennae anxiously fidgeted atop her head. She reached out and chimed the door.

Come in ,” the Russian accented voice said.  The tone was stern, almost scolding.

Taka stepped through the door and snapped to attention.  “Midshipman Takala Zh’An, reporting as ordered, sir.”

A German Shepherd in the corner lazily glanced up at her before laying his head back down on his paws.  At her desk, Captain Tereza Korolevna looked up. Her iridescent eyes stared at Taka, focusing on her, before returning to the PADD in her hands.  “I've been studying you, Midshipman Zh’An.”

She stayed silent, her hands clasped behind her back.  Internally, she was shaking. Her antennae twitched.

“You’ve been a member of Red Squad for two years, excelled in command track courses, and faltered in the sciences.  Top marks in weapons training...” Korolevna looked up, her ocular implants looking over Taka. She put the PADD down on her desk and steepled her fingers.  “Two reprimands and several warnings, however. You could have been Valedictorian without them.

“Now, tell me, why should I or any Captain take you on as a Midshipman?  Someone who thinks sending her teammate running in fear of a Sehlat on the holodeck.”

“Permission to speak freely?” Taka asked.  Korolevna nodded. “Because Starfleet wants officers who think and don't blindly follow orders.

“Following orders is essential, but they also want someone who can think outside the guidelines and interpret the situation with their boots on the ground.”

Korolevna leaned back in her chair.  A stillness took hold of the room and they stared at each other.  Slowly, a grin spread across her lips and Korolevna chuckled. “You remind me a lot of myself when I was a younger officer.”  She glanced at the dog laying on the ground, “I like her, what about you, Benedict?”

From the corner, the German Shepherd glanced up at Taka, rose from where he’d been laying with a wagging tail, and gave an excited bark.  Without a moment’s hesitation, he entered into the open door not far from him. Taka’s stoic expression broke for a second as the corners of her lips pulled back in a smile.  Then she caught herself.

“He's a nice looking animal,” Taka said as the glimmering smile disappeared.  She was glad Straala wasn't there; the Vulcan’s sensitive nose would definitely have wrinkled up at the dog.

“I became his about ten years ago, we've been inseparable since,” Korolevna said, allowing a flash of human into her otherwise stern demeanour.  “Your take on the age old Kobayashi Maru scenario was interesting.”  She made a quick glance at the PADD.  “You rammed the Enterprise into the Klingons in the hopes that you would destroy them and save your crew.”

“Yes, ma’am.  I reasoned the survivors, my crew, needed to be saved,” Taka explained.  “There was no comms from the ship after ambush, so they were a ruse or already destroyed.  Either way, the Maru was a null quantity.  Getting the information back to Starfleet was essential to prevent further attacks.”  Taka glanced down at Korolevna. “Besides, still plenty of letters left alphabetically.”

Korolevna nodded.  Her stoic nature and expression would have put Straala to shame and, Taka thought with an amused twitch of her antennae, made her a little jealous.  It also made Taka nervous.

She could usually read people well.   Not knowing how Korolevna was or what she was thinking was unnerving.  She waited for a moment.

“Despite what Starfleet Academy might think of your antics, Midshipman zh’An,” Korolevna leaned forward again, “I admit, I’m intrigued.  While I run my ships military and don’t condone your side pursuits, I will say, I’m reminded of myself when I was younger. I see a lot of potential in you.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Taka said, still unsure of what to think.

“I’m sure you noticed that many of your Red Squad compatriots have been assigned to a handful of ships,” Korolevna stated.  Taka nodded. “The Deimos, Adventurer, Palatine, and Aeneid , to be precise.”

Though Taka did not know of the Aeneid , she knew of the others.  She didn’t counter Captain Korolevna.  Her antennae twitched with a nervous tick and she could see Captain Korolevna look up at it.

“Nervous, Midshipman zh’An?”

“I...uh…” Taka stammered, caught off-guard by the question.  There were almost no non-Andorians that understood the subtle complexities of their antenna movements.  Most merely thought they were sensory appendages.

“At ease,” Korolevna said.  She shook her head. “I had an Andorian exec when I captained the Athena .  She was a spitfire,” the other woman sighed and gave a short laugh, “but damned if I’d have anyone else watching my back.”  Her expression broke and her eyes dropped sadly. “I learned a lot of the Andorian culture from her.”

Taka wanted to ask what happened, but thought the better of it.  She was merely a Midshipman, not even an Ensign until after this training cruise, and the Captain was entitled to have her own secrets.  Instead, she nervously tugged the back of her teal Cadet uniform. “I am a little nervous, yes, sir.”

“Because you haven’t received your assignment?”

“Yes, sir,” Taka admitted.  The assignments were the most important part of any Cadet’s career.  Not having received hers, being directed towards Captain Korolevna, was irregular.  

“Understandable,” Korolevna admitted.  “I’ll have my new Tactical meet you by the Founding Memorial.  She’ll explain the position to you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Taka said.  She tried to sound firm, but worried that her disappointment was starting to show.

“And, Midshipman, I expect you aboard first thing in the morning,” Korolevna stated.  “Report to me by 0600.”

“Aye,” Taka replied.  Her voice wavered. If this was the last night they would see each other for a while, it was supposed to have been a good time for a romantic evening between her and Tanis.  Now, to be there early enough to report as Korolevna wanted, she would have to consequently cut that short. “I’ll be there, sir.”

“Dismissed, Midshipman zh’An.”

Taka’s boots clapped together as she snapped rigid.  Korolevna nodded before Taka pivoted and walked out of the Captain’s office.

“How did it go?”

Taka jumped, her hand instantly at her chest, her heart pounding against her ribs.  “Shran’s ghost! Tanis, you scared the Hell out of me.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be omniscient?” Tanis asked with a wink.  It was a common misconception that Andorians were capable of seeing the future, though it was merely the extrasensory granted from the antennae.

Taka took Tanis’ hand and pulled her close.  “I can show you if you want, shenva .”

Tanis laughed before their lips connected.  She pulled back. “Not here.” Taka let out an exaggerated sigh of defeat before releasing Tanis.  “So, how did it go?”

“I have an assignment,” Taka stated, leading Tanis down the hallway.

“That’s great!”

“I don’t know what it is or which ship or anything about it, though,” Taka said.  “I’m supposed to meet with Captain Korolevna’s Tactical Officer to receive my orders.  Then meet her aboard the ship at 0600.” She looked at Tanis sadly. “Which means we’ll have to cut down our plans tonight.”

“I don’t care what we do or how short it is,” Tanis smiled.  “All I care about is how long you’re there with me.”

They entered a turbolift and the doors closed before Taka said, “What did I ever do to deserve such an understanding woman like you?”

“I ask myself that exact question every day,” Tanis winked.

The turbolift opened on the main floor and they stepped out.  Walking through the building, the sea of teal Academy uniforms were broken up sporadically by the white shoulders of officers and trainers.  It felt a little strange to Taka.

She was no longer Cadet Fourth Class Takala zh’An, nor was she Ensign zh’An.  She was in limbo, in between everyone.

Taka knew it was likely stranger for Tanis.  This was not her first, nor her second time through the Academy halls.  Two of Lanul’s previous hosts had been Starfleet Officers and gone through the Academy, serving until their deaths.  Tanis was the third and the assault of memories not her own worried Taka.

The memories that swirled in Tanis’ head, Taka knew, were enough to cause her nightmares.  

Taka had been present for many of them.  Though Tanis refused to talk about it after the fact, Taka knew there were more than a few nightmares of her sixth host’s death at the hands of the Jem’Hadar aboard the Ambassador -class Clemens .

“Oh, no, is that…?” Tanis trailed her words as the purple-haired, half shaven head and ridged nose of one of the other members of Red Squad came into view.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: A Thousand Worlds and Spreading Out

Taka shook her head.  She wanted to imagine it wasn’t.  She wanted to see someone else standing there, but she knew she wouldn’t.  “Netu Erra.” And she was standing right in front of the Founding Memorial, just where Korolevna said she would be.  “It’s no wonder Captain Korolevna didn’t say anything about her.”

“Netu,” Taka said flatly.

“Zh’An,” Netu Erra replied in kind.  “Lanul.”

Sholva,” Tanis muttered.

 “You’re not needed here, Cadet Lanul,” Erra stated bluntly.  The scar along the side of her nose seemed to glare at Taka.

 It was a brutal reminder of what had happened.

 She tried to reign her irritation in, hiding her hands behind her back as they formed fists.  “I've been directed to see you,” Taka said. She doubted her words didn't carry the aggression she was feeling.

 “Yes,” Erra’s voice carried with it annoyance and irritation. “Not sure why Captain Korolevna would bother taking you aboard.”  Taka noticed Erra's glance at the Red Squad insignia on her lapel. “I think she's making a mistake.”

 “What's my assignment?” Taka asked firmly, though she knew it probably sounded more like a demand.

 Erra glanced down the path at Tanis, who sat on one of the many benches.  “Doctor Tanis Lanul, I think she'll do well in that.”

 “Look, Erra, let's get this out of the way,” Taka said, stepping in front of Erra's view of Tanis, “we don't like each other.  After what happened, I get it. Now, what's my assignment?”

 “Report to Captain Korolevna tomorrow aboard the Adventurer ,” Erra paused with a frown and furrowed brow, “as executive officer.”

 “XO?” Taka’s eyes widened.  “Are you sure?”

 Erra sighed with irritation.  “Yes, I’m sure. Why the Captain didn’t tell you, I don’t know.  And why she chose you for the position, I don’t know.” She shook her head.  “There’s nothing else, zh’An.”

 Taka glared before stepping back.  She pivoted and walked over to Tanis, who rose from the bench and stared at her girlfriend.  Taka smiled as Tanis joined her.

 “What was the news?” Tanis asked, finally breaking the silence between them.  Her hand went up to Taka’s shoulder. “It was good news wasn’t it?” She glanced up at Taka’s antennae, seeing it shift slightly.  “It was.”

 “The Adventurer ,” Taka admitted.

 “Helm?” Tanis asked.  “Couldn’t be, Straala was assigned there and she’s the best Helm Officer of the squad.”

 “Not here.”  They walked in silence across the Academy to the transporter.  Taka nodded at the woman behind the controls and the Ensign smiled, knowing the destination even before anyone had said it.  “Did my requested items arrive, Ensign Calvert?”

 “Yes, they did,” Calvert nodded.  She motioned to a storage closet behind her chair and Taka stepped over to it.

 Inside, two extreme weather survival suits stared back at her.  Their cold weather abilities would definitely help Tanis, though the chills of Earth were nothing compared to the frigid environments of Andoria.  She handed one to Tanis, who promptly slid into the pants and jacket. The Trill gave Taka a questioning glance but said nothing; this wasn’t the first time she had surprised her.

 “I have the co-ordinates entered,” Calvert said.  “As soon as you’re ready, step on the pad.”

 The two women stepped on the transporter pad and waited as the familiar sensation took hold and the sunny environment of San Francisco disappeared before their eyes.  As the transporter beam deposited them at their destination, it was definitely a change. Even through her heated jacket and pants, Tanis shivered.

 Taka held her against her body.

 “Wish I had your heating system,” Tanis snuggled in closer.  Taka knew it wasn’t Tanis’ fault; Trill biology just made them more susceptible to cold and an average body heat colder than most humanoid species.  “Where are we?”

 “Centuries ago, humans called this Alert,” Taka said.  “Now, Starfleet uses it to monitor Earth space.” She stepped through the doors of the building and out into the cold wind, gently and patiently waiting as Tanis followed her out.  “We’re at the top of the world, Tanis.”

 Their boots crunched the snow beneath them.  The wind died out and Tanis could see the sparkling white that stretched for kilometers around them, unbroken by human interaction.  What truly drew their attention was the colours of the sky. The dancing streaks of endless light, beautiful in their movements and show.

 Taka glanced over at her love.

 Tanis was awestruck.  “It’s breathtaking.”

 Not as much as you , Taka thought to herself before wrapping her arm around her girlfriend again.  “And so’s space. And we’ll have the chance to see it all, firsthand now.”

 The wind picked up and snow bit into Taka’s cheeks as Tanis buried her face to her chest.  Taka’s hands went up Tanis’ back and rubbed the suit; it wouldn’t do anything to warm her up, but it didn’t matter to her.  She felt it was what was needed.

 “Let’s head back in,” Taka said.

 Through chattering teeth, Tanis asked, “Are you cold?”

 “Not nearly as much as you, my dear.”

 “I know a way to remedy that,” Tanis said with a smirk on her lips.

 Taka returned the smirk.  “I’m sure you do.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: The Moon Is a Window To Heaven

“Tell me again why we can’t just transport up?” M’Akl asked across from Taka.

“It’s an Academy graduation ritual that all graduates arrive to Spacedock and their respective starships aboard a shuttle.  It has been this way since Jonathan Archer,” Straala answered from beside M’Akl.

“Now on approach to Spacedock,” the Ensign piloting the shuttle reported to the five people new officers sitting in the back.  The man whistled. “Would you look at that?”

Taka pulled herself from the seat and moved into the cockpit.  She glanced out the window, seeing what the man had whistled at.

A sleek design emerged from Spacedock.  Its form was elegant and warp dynamic, the saucer blending into the secondary hull.  Its leading edge was sculpted into a curved arrowhead and bright dashes of light glinted  from the countless windows. The one thing that stood out to Taka was the deflector dish glowing a teal rather than the usual cerulean blue.

“That’s the Palatine ,” the man stated.  “Quite a beauty, eh?  Rumour has it she’s assigned to be one of the explorers in the Delta Quadrant.”

“Quite a ways from home,” Taka nodded.  “Why’s her deflector like that? That’s not standard on a Vesta -class.”

The man shrugged.  “I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like that.”  He returned his attention to his console. “Spacedock, this is Academy shuttle Pike requesting vectors.”

A sultry voice came through the communications channel, ” Shuttlecraft Pike , you are ordered to course zero-zero-one-mark-three, reduce speed to maneuvering thrusters.  Hello again, Ensign Valens .”

Taka smirked before turning back to the rest of her squad.  The smirk turned into a grin; the Palatine was a sister ship to the Adventurer , an older sister, but still the same in all aspects.  Staring at the other vessel was easily like staring at the Adventurer and, while she hadn’t been fully assigned to her, Taka thought of the ship as her home.

“Hey, Chief Engineer,” Netu Erra called out.  Though Erra tried to hide it, Taka could tell the Bajoran woman was sarcastically using M’Akl’s title.

“Yes, Netu?”

“What’s the specs for the Vesta -class?”

“Standard cruising speed is warp seven; maximum cruise is warp nine-point-nine for twelve hours; and, in extreme emergencies, we can use her quantum slipstream  capabilities,” M’Akl replied.

“Dimensions, First Officer?” Netu asked, looking at Taka.

She glared back at the Bajoran.  Anyone else, it would have been bantering or even refresher courses, but this was something that Erra had long held over Taka’s head.  It wasn’t an attack - no, Erra was smarter than that; it was her attempts to make them all look bad.

“First Officer?” Straala asked and raised an eyebrow.  “I admit, I find it fascinating that Captain Korolevna would choose you as her executive officer, Takala.  She is aware of your record, is she not?”

“Yes, Straala, she’s aware,” Taka sighed.  Her glare never left Erra, wishing it would vapourize her into a blackened form right then and there.  It didn’t. Taka mentally cursed her.

“And she still made you XO?” M’Akl asked.  Her tone betrayed her surprise.

“We’re on final approach, Cadets.  Grab your gear,” Ensign Valens called from the front.

“Apparently,” Taka answered M’Akl as she grabbed the duffel bag from the seat beside her.  “She and I had a long discussion about it.”

“Impressive,” Straala said.

Her antennae twitched.  Anger flooded them and she could feel them fold down into her white hair.  She hadn’t wanted them to find out like this; once the final announcements were made by Captain Korolevna, there would be no issues.  But now, with Netu having decided to bring it up, she almost felt as though they were viewing her in a different light.

No, forget almost, Taka thought to herself.  She glanced at Tanis, then over to M’Akl and Straala, both of whom were grabbing their own bags.   They do view me in different lights.  I am their superior now, I can’t be the same friend they knew before.  I hold their lives in my hand now.

It seemed to take forever for Valens to announce they were clear to depart the shuttle.  Taka waited, each of them disembarking quickly, eagerly wanting to get started on their voyage amidst the stars.  Not that she could blame any of them; she wanted to herself.

“Cadets, this way!” a man called out, drawing the attention of the five women from the shuttle.  “Admiral Banacek and Captain Korolevna want to address you right now.”

“Yes, sir,” Erra said quickly.

Taka shook her head.  She briefly wondered if Erra wanted to wash her face off, there was still some brown on her crinkled nose.  But she bit her tongue. Last thing she wanted was to cause trouble so close to the Midshipman Cruise and one of the Vesta -class starships coveted by many - including herself.

They followed the man to an open area of the Spacedock concourse, where Captain Korolevna stood with a man.  The Cadets snapped to attention as they saw the Admiral’s pips on the man’s collar. He chuckled and waved them to ‘at ease’ before stepping in front of Captain Korolevna and inspecting the five.

“These are your top picks for your senior staff, Terry?” Banacek asked, glancing over his shoulder.

“Of course, Paul,” Korolevna replied.  She stepped down beside the Admiral as he continued inspecting the five of them.

“Cadet Takala zh’An,” Banacek said as he came to her.

“Admiral.”

Banacek looked back at Korolevna.  “And Midshipman zh’An is your…?”

“Executive officer, Paul.”

“You’re sure you want her to do that?”

“Why not?” Korolevna asked in response.  “She’s proven herself academically.”

“Aside from the Io Incident,” Banacek stated.

“With respect, sir,” Taka said, drawing Banacek’s attention, “I have worked to put that behind me and I accepted responsibility for it.”

“Removal of your third year course credits, for which you made up over the course of the summer and winter break months, yes, I’m aware of your record, Midshipman,” Banacek stated.

“Permission to speak freely, Admiral?” Netu asked from down the line of Cadets.

“Granted, Midshipman…”

“Netu, sir.  Netu Erra.” She paused for a moment before saying, “I was part of the incident, sir.  I made my objections to Cadet zh’An being placed in the XO position clear to Captain Korolevna after her Kobayashi Maru scenario.  I believe I made a mistake.”

Taka’s antennae curved sharply in surprise.  She had never expected to hear those words come from Erra.  If anything, it would have been the opposite. She expected Erra to cut her down, to expedite her removal from the position with all due haste with her words.  Her left antenna quivered; she knew there was something else going on there, but she didn’t know what it could be.

“The solidarity you stand with your shipmates is applaudable,” Banacek stated, stepping towards Erra.  “Shows good signs of teamwork.” He paused. “And that is something we need for the mission you are all about to embark on.  I’ll let Captain Korolevna explain further.” He looked at her, nodding. “Meet me in my office after, I have some things I wish to discuss with you before we leave.”

“Thank you, sir.”  Korolevna stepped in front of the Cadets.  “You are all members of Red Squad, which means you are all the best Starfleet has to offer.  For that reason and that reason alone, you have been chosen to embark on one of the greatest missions of exploration Starfleet could ever offer any officer.  The men and women of your squad have been split across four starships, including the Adventurer and will be part of a five ship fleet tasked with two objectives.

“First, we are to return to the Delta Quadrant with our sister ship Palatine , the Aeneid , Deimos , and Admiral Banacek’s command ship, the USS Epimetheus .”  Taka’s antennae and interest piqued; the Epimetheus was a Prometheus -class starship designed specifically for combat and the Aeneid was an Odyssey -class, a newly launched starship, used to supplement the engineering and tactical elements of the fleet.  They were expecting combat out there. Korolevna continued, “Second, we are to explore the quadrant for as far out as we can go from the Dyson Sphere, make contact with new species and reestablish contact with those Voyager encountered on her first trip through.

“This is a major undertaking, but one that, as Red Squad members, I have the utmost faith in your ability to do and to do while upholding the very pillars of Starfleet.”

“We’re Red Squad!” Netu chimed.

“We can do anything!” the other four cried out.

Korolevna grinned and beamed with pride at her chosen team.  “Dismissed. Enjoy yourself at Club 47 and I’ll see you on the Adventurer at 0900 hours, ready for departure.”

The five snapped to attention.  In unison, they said, “Yes, sir!”

Taka stepped away from the group for a moment and to the open viewport into the docking area.   Excelsiors , Galaxy s, Akira s, even an antique Ambassador -class vessel were sitting there, waiting for their crews.  There wasn’t a Vesta -class ship lurking within.  Taka felt disappointed. She’d wanted to see the Adventurer before they went to board her.

Tanis took her hand, leading her away from the rest of the group.  Only Straala raised an inquisitive eyebrow, though she said nothing as the other two moved off.  Taka simply followed Tanis towards the Sector 0-0-1 Administrative Offices wing and a large set of windows that displayed Earth’s moon prominently.

“Look,” Tanis said.  She rested her head on Taka’s shoulder.

Against the lighted areas of the moon and the gray surface, a large dot appeared and moved across it.  It took a second before Taka realized that it was a Vesta -class starship’s profile.  Her antennae eased to the side of her head, almost resting on top of her white hair, and she sighed.  

Gently, she moved Tanis in front of her and stared at Tanis.  Her lover's face was silhouetted by moon, a glowing halo around her angelic face.  Blue eyes seemed illuminated more by the glow and Taka brushed a bang of golden hair from Tanis’ face.

Silence surrounded them in the noisy area.  Busy people wandered by, talking and giving orders, but neither cared.  They were too deep in each other's eyes and soul. Tanis’ blue eyes swallowed Taka and comforted her.

“The moon really is a window to Heaven,” Taka said.

“Let’s get that drink, before it all goes to your head.”  Tanis held her lover close to her as they walked back towards Club 47.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Who Threw The First Punch?

“To the finest class of Cadets to have ever graduated the Academy!” Taka said, holding her glass up in a toast.  The teal coloured Andorian Ale rippled as the rest of them clicked theirs against it. She brought it to her lips and the content disappeared like magic.

“All but one,” Erra muttered under her breath as she finished her Scotch.  Her purple hair shone in the light, the stubble on the right showing her natural brown, as she leaned back in the chair.  Her brown eyes glared at Taka. “The vast majority, definitely.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tanis nearly demanded from beside Taka.

“She’s just lucky Io didn’t kill anyone,” Erra answered.  It was a little too curt when talking to Tanis, but she could hardly take it back now.  “It only came too damned close to it.” As if to punctuate her words, her scar seemed to glow under the lights.

A pang of guilt rushed through Taka as her eyes focused on Erra.  She could hear the screams of pain from that day as they echoed in her ears and the image of Erra’s bloody suit visor stuck in her sight.  She’d never forget that. Her antennae mirrored her eyes as they both dropped in sadness.

“Were you not the one who defended Takala against Admiral Banacek?” Straala asked with an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Of course I was!” Erra snapped.  “Do you honestly think I wouldn’t?”  She scoffed. “Why wouldn’t I want her to fail badly?”  She shook her head. “I thought you were supposed to be smart, Taka.”

“Lay off!” Tanis snapped.

Erra glanced at M’Akl, who bared her teeth in the typical warning.  She shook her head again. “Why should I?” She rose from her seat, angrily pulling her glove from her right hand, exposing the scarred tissue, melted from what happened at Io, and threw it on the table.  The burns glistened in the light, as though they were wet. “I’m not going to forget!”

Straala started, “Dermal regenerators-”

“Have been tried and failed!” Erra cut the Vulcan woman off.

Straala cocked an eyebrow.  “Intriguing.”

“Finest in Starfleet Academy?” Erra sneered.  “You,” she pointed at Taka, “screwed up badly enough to injure a fellow Cadet and Squad member.  You make Midshipman Watters and those aboard the Valiant look like a bunch of geniuses.”  

She eyed the rest of the table.  “And the rest of you, you wouldn’t have survived the first thirty seconds in the Kobayashi Maru scenario against mine!  Klingons, ha! Easiest bastards in the entire program!” Her left hand ran through her hair. “The Borg I had to face would have slaughtered you all!  That so-called tactic of yours, ramming the ship, would have been useless against a damned cube!”

The guilt at the pain she’d caused disappeared and Taka felt her hands shake.  Her antennae leaned forward, pointing at Erra with knife like anger that threatened to boil over and erupt volcanically.  A hand slid over hers and she glanced down, the anger dissipated and her hands stopped shaking as Tanis put hers into Taka’s.  She smiled at her girlfriend.

“You and I, Erra, we have to get along with each other for the next six months,” Taka turned her attention back to Erra.  “We need to let it go and be professional as the Adventurer Senior Staff.”

Erra glared at Taka as she pulled the glove back on.  “You think just because Captain Korolevna choose you as her exec that makes us even remotely even?”

“As a matter of position, her being executive officer technically outranks-”

“I was being rhetorical, Straala!” Erra snapped.

Straala opened her mouth as though to correct Erra on the very idea of what rhetorical was, but then closed it again without a word.  Even in Tanis’ calming grip, Taka felt her hand begin to shake again. She knew she was in the wrong when it came to Io; she had admitted it at her hearing, had accepted it when they had stripped her of her Cadet Captain position, even when they had stripped her six months of courses.

If she had been able to, she would have gladly and willingly traded positions with Erra in a heartbeat.

But she couldn’t.

“What do you want, Erra?” Taka growled.  “You want me to say I was wrong doing what I did?  Fine, I was wrong! I messed up badly on Io! I ruined a lot of things, things I can’t ever repair!  But I’m not even going to begin to accept this sehlat shit you’re throwing around at everyone else. You want a piece of me, then step up, throw that punch!  Come on!” Taka rose from her seat, slamming her hands down on the table, people’s heads turning to stare at her. Her antennae angrily whirled on her head. “Come on, you can have the first one!”  Taka unconsciously brushed Tanis’ hand from hers and moved around the table.

“You think me stupid, Taka?”

“Takala, I would recommend-”

Taka’s glare stopped anything else Straala was about to say.  “You want me to make this official, then?” She stared at the few heads turned her way, “Even ground, no one’s superior here!”  Taka turned back to Erra just before the Bajoran’s fist slammed into her cheek. Taka twisted with the force before she dropped to her knee.

Taka spit out a wad of blue blood before she sneered at Erra.  She lept to her feet, her own fist in motion. Erra countered in before Taka’s other hand lashed out in a quick thrust that drilled into the other woman’s side.  Thanks to her Andorian heritage, her thrust was enough to cause the other woman to double over in pain.

“Had enough?” Taka snarled.

The only answer she received was Erra’s frame launching itself at her and taking her off her feet.  They crashed down on the table behind them, several of the glasses shattering under their weight and everyone but Straala reacting with a cry.  They rolled off the table, dropping to the ground with grunts, as Erra’s knees drummed into Taka’s side and Taka’s elbows hammered Erra’s ribs. Erra grabbed Taka’s head and brought it down, slamming her forehead against the ridged blue one.

In retaliation, Taka’s right elbow crashed down on Erra’s ribs, a resounding crack erupting from the Bajoran’s body.  Erra wheezed out a breath before grabbing at Taka’s antennae. The Andorian screamed as Erra’s grip tightened around it, pain circulating through her with each ounce of pressure.  Instinctively, Taka pulled back, trying to alleviate the pain, but it only added to it and the shriek only escalated before she fought through it and rammed her head down against Erra’s.  

Red dots exploded in her vision as Erra’s hands released the antennae.  The Bajoran woman stared into nothingness, her eyes looking directly at the roof as Taka felt a hand on her shoulder.  She started to turn, thinking it was Tanis, before blackness blanketed her world.

*****

“You were both supposed to be the shining achievements of this voyage, of your midshipman cruise,” Korolevna paced angrily in front of them, each word sounding like a curse from her.  She stopped and directed her glance at Taka. “This was supposed to be your chance to redeem yourself and prove, not only to everyone else, but yourself, that you were command material and deserved to be out there, exploring the galaxy.”  She turned to Erra. “And you, this was supposed to be your chance to show you could work with someone you had consistently stated you hated.” She returned to pacing. “Instead, now I have to explain to Admirals Banacek, Riker, and Quinn why two Red Squad graduates were involved in a bar fight on Spacedock.  Admiral Banacek’s already questioning my decision to put you,” she glared at Taka, “as my exec on this cruise. This isn’t helping anyone!”

Taka’s head swirled with colours she hadn’t thought possible.  And pain. Lots of pain.

The light of the Adventurer’ s briefing room seemed to glare and pierce her soul and the head-splitting after effects of the fight did nothing to quell that.  Instead, they only added to it. And reminded her of what an idiot she had been.

“Permission to speak freely, Captain?” Erra asked from beside Taka.

Denied !” Korolevna snapped.  “If you two want to be idiots out there in C-47, you both can deal with the consequences of it.  Including the lights being up too bright.” Those words only cemented Taka’s thoughts that the lights had been turned up brighter specifically because of what had transpired.

“You are both members of my Senior Staff on this ship, you should both be acting like it, not like a bunch of drunken monkeys on DS9!  All that aside, you are Starfleet officers! You are supposed to act like Starfleet officers , not a bunch of thugs you find in the middle of Klingon space!” Korolevna continued pacing.  She stopped in front of Taka. “Who threw the first punch?” Taka stared at her without a word before Korolevna stepped in front of Erra.  “Was it you, Midshipman Netu?”

“No, sir, it was me,” Taka snapped to attention.  “I threw the first punch.”

“Actually, Captain, I threw the first punch,” Erra announced.

Taka sharply glanced at Erra before snapping back to attention.  “With respect to Midshipman Netu, I think she’s forgetting events.”

“I believe Midshipman zh’An is forgetting events, sir,” Erra said.  “I threw the first punch.”

“You both don’t remember who threw the first punch?” Korolevna scoffed incredulously.  “And if I threatened you both with confinement to quarters when not on duty?”

“Sir, I’m telling you, I threw the first punch, it’s on me,” Taka said firmly.

“With respect to the Cadet XO, but I threw it and I’ll take responsibility,” Erra said.  She glared at Taka, hoping the other woman would get the hint and give up.

“Well, it seems you both have found your camaraderie again,” Korolevna stated.  “Confined to quarters for seven days unless on duty.”

Taka and Erra snapped to attention.  “Yes, sir!”

“Dismissed,” Korolevna said and the two Midshipman stepped from the room.

As the door closed behind them, Erra turned to Taka.  She stopped and pulled the other to a standstill as well.  “What was that?” Her eyes burned with anger. “I took responsibility, then you…  Do you always have to be better?”

“A Captain’s responsible for the actions of their crew,” Taka replied.

“You're not a Captain!  You're not even Cadet Captain anymore!” Erra angrily snapped.

Erra pushed Taka out of her way and stormed past.  

“She's right,” Korolevna’s Russian accent came from behind her.

Taka pivoted and snapped to attention.  “Sir?”

“You're not a Captain, Midshipman.”  Korolevna nodded and motioned forward.  Taka joined her walk. “A good Captain knows when to take responsibility for her crew, but a great Captain, they allow their crew to learn from their mistakes.  Just a thought, Midshipman.” They stepped into a turbolift. “Bridge.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Second Star To the Right and Straight On ‘Til Morning

 

“Captain on the Bridge!” a man stated from the command chair.

 

“I have command, Mister Walker,” Korolevna stated.

 

“Logged, Captain is in command,” Walker stated, rising from the chair.  He headed directly for Tactical, where Erra stood.

 

Captain Korolevna stepped over to command chair and motioned for Taka to take the seat off to its side.  Taka did without hesitation; a rush of emotion flooded her mind. She was here; she was really doing it. All the courses at the Academy she had taken had not prepared her for the fact that she would, on her Midshipman Cruise, be sitting in the executive officer’s chair of one of the prestigious and coveted Vesta -class starships.

 

Hell, after Io, she had doubted she would ever get a chance to make a Midshipman’s cruise.

 

Or graduate for that matter.

 

“Captain, Sector 001 Control says we are clear for departure,” Erra relayed.

 

“XO, would you care to do the honours?” Korolevna asked, motioning with her hand.

 

Anxiety gripped Taka.  The sudden awareness that everyone on the Bridge was watching her, was waiting for her commands, came to her.  She swallowed and rose, tugging on her Academy uniform, pulling it tight against her and subconsciously fidgeting with her collar.

 

You can do this, Takala.  You can do this , she thought to herself.  She glanced at Captain Korolevna.  “Destination, Captain?”

 

“Andoria, then Vulcan.  We have two passengers to take on before we head to our final destination.”

 

“Aye, sir.”  Taka swallowed again.  She ran the checklist in her head.  They weren’t in Spacedock, no need to worry about the moorings and umbilical lines.  “Ops, ensure shuttlebays are closed and secure. Engineering, bring the engines up to full power, we’ll be going to warp very soon.  Midshipman Netu, confirm path clear to Luna. Helm, once verified, set course for Andoria, full impulse until we’ve cleared Luna. Once clear, maximum warp.” 

 

“Aye, XO,” they said in unison.

 

“Shuttlebays are secured,” Midshipman Kirby stated from Ops.

 

The core is at full power ,” M’Akl reported, her voice flowing from the armrest on the executive officer’s chair.

 

“Path confirmed clear,” Erra said.  Her tone carried her acidic feelings and Taka frowned.

 

If everything went wrong, Erra would be confrontational throughout the entire cruise.  Six months was a long time to spend with anyone cooped up on a starship, but that would only be worse when that someone hated you.  And Erra definitely hated Taka.

 

“Course set, engaging impulse engines,” Straala said from the Helm.  “Time to destination, one day, two hours, three minutes-”

 

“Understood,” Korolevna cut her off.

 

On the viewscreen, the stars shifted as the Adventurer came about on a course for Andoria and Taka’s homeworld.  She couldn’t stop staring, though. They twinkled like a thousand lights in a black snowfall and they were beautiful.

 

“Captain, Luna control asks that we hold at Copernicus Fleet Yard outer marker for the launch of the Aeneid, ” Erra stated.

 

Taka glanced back at Korolevna, who nodded.  “Helm, hold at outer marker and await further orders from Luna Control.”

 

“Aye, sir.”

 

On the viewscreen, the image of Copernicus Fleet Yards appeared.  It was a strange juxtaposition as the Adventurer moved forward to the outer marker; lights shone from the surface of Luna - New Berlin, Tycho City, Aldrin Habitat, even the waters of Lake Armstrong - and the metal floated in space, reminders of human interference.  Yet, much of the surface of the moon was still its natural appearance, cratered an all. Taka smiled at the image; there were some that said they could see it from Starfleet Academy on a clear day, but she’d never been able to.  Being out here and seeing it - though not for the first time - was enough to remind her that beauty existed, even in the midst of the conflict Starfleet was fighting.

 

Then the Aeneid began moving from its dock.  The massive hull glowed in the sunlight and what illumination was cast on it from the facilities in Luna orbit.  She turned sharply and began following the Adventurer ’s original course before the Vesta -class vessel was cleared to continue, trailing behind the Odyssey -class Aeneid .

 

“Now that’s a ship,” Erra said absently from behind Taka and Korolevna.  “Weapons systems abound; type XIV arrays, torpedo bays port and aft. She’s made for the year the galaxy’s been having.”

 

“Not everything is a combat situation,” Walker stated from beside Erra.

 

“Now, now, Commander, let’s not stifle the enthusiasm of our young officers,” Korolevna stated with a smirk.

 

On screen, the nacelles of the Aeneid glowed blue before she streamed into the distance and disappeared.  

 

“Course set, sir, awaiting orders,” Straala said.

 

“Engage,” Taka ordered.  She sat down in the executive officer’s chair again.

 

“‘Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning’,” Korolevna quoted under her breath.

 

“Sir?”

 

“A novel from the 19th century,” Korolevna answered.  “Characters who never age in a place called Neverland.”

 

“Feeling old, sir?”

 

“Maybe a little around all this youthfulness and excitement,” Korolevna smiled.

 

On screen, the stars streaked as the Adventurer jumped to warp and headed into the final frontier.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

 

“Captain, we’ve arrived at Andoria,” Straala announced.

 

“Standard orbit,” Korolevna ordered.  She turned to look at Taka. “XO, if you’d be so kind to welcome our guest aboard.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Taka said.  She rose from the chair and headed to the turbolift.

 

A sense of pride overcame her.  For a moment, she forgot she had been part of the Io Incident and felt like the Cadet Captain she’d been before.  Being asked to greet any passengers aboard a starship was a task usually overseen by the Captain, as to make a good impression, of both the crew and the ship in itself.  That task now fell to her.

 

The doors to the turbolift closed around her.  This was a chance for her to show that Korolevna’s faith and risk was not done in vain and, potentially, make up for the error in judgement that had been the bar fight.  “Deck thirteen.”

 

She took a deep breath and focused on keeping her antennae still.  These were her people, they would see the fear translated on the antennae movements, the anxiety that permeated her.  She could not let that happen. Andorians saw it as simple as the people reflected the name and the name needed to be held in good standing, otherwise it would fall into obscurity and oblivion to them.

 

It was why names like Kumari and Shran would appear in ship names throughout Starfleet and, in Kumari ’s case, the Imperial Guard.

 

The doors opened, but not on deck 13.

 

“Tanis?” Taka asked surprised as she stepped onto the lift.

 

“Needing your eyes checked, shenva ?” Tanis laughed.

 

“You changed your uniform.”

 

Rather than her teal Academy uniform, the Trill now sported the black pants and solid blue of a standard Starfleet officer, complete with a gold pip on her shoulder - signifying the rank of Ensign.  She looked stunning, Taka had to admit, and her heart raced at the sight. Tanis’ new uniform accented her blonde hair and the lines of spots on her side even more.

 

Taka chuckled.  “It’s all your fault.  You and your radiant beauty.”

 

“Keep it up, dearest, you’ll-” the turbolift doors opened.

 

“Yes, I’ll be sure to check in with Doctor T’Pril ASAP, Ensign Lanul,” Taka said, cutting Tanis off.

 

“Are you two going to be long or can I get on here to the Bridge?” a man wearing the gold of Operations and the pips of a Lieutenant Commander asked.  His red hair looked like a fire atop his head and his green eyes levelled themselves at Taka. “Well, Midshipman? I don’t have all day.”

 

“Sorry, sir, I’m heading that way,” Taka motioned past him.  He stepped out of the way and motioned rudely down the hall. She stepped around him.  “Thank you, sir.” Tanis followed her out as the man rolled his eyes and stepped into the lift.  The doors closed behind him and Taka muttered, “Arrogant shek’to .”  Taka stepped through the doors to the transporter room.  “Master Chief, any time you’re ready.”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” the man behind the console replied, his hands darting over it.  “It’ll just be a moment. Apparently they’re having an issue with our guest.”

 

“Issue?” Tanis asked.

 

“That's all they said,” Master Chief Caldwell replied.

 

“Maybe they're secretly an Undine,” Tanis chuckled.

 

Taka shuddered at the thought.  Formerly referred to as Species 8472 from Voyager’s logs, the fluidic space natives had infiltrated several high ranking and important positions in many of the interstellar governments.  With the disappearance of Chancellor Martok just before the Klingons’ surge in conquering expansion, many believed he was one of them.  

 

Though she couldn't remember his name, the Vulcan Ambassador had been exposed at P’Jem.  He'd destroyed several Starfleet vessels before being killed himself. The exposure had been a major reason for Federation and Klingon diplomats attempting to sue for peace.

 

“I don't believe so,” Caldwell stated.  “Our guest is an Aenar.” He glanced at Taka.  “Apparently, she doesn't like transporters.”

 

“Unsurprisingly,” Taka replied.

 

Many of the Andorian subspecies didn't like the transporters.  Though Taka didn't understand it, she also wasn't as uniquely gifted with telepathy as the Aenar and she wasn't connected to the community at large in the same manner.  Being ripped away from family on every level in a manner of seconds was definitely not something Taka wanted to experience first hand.

 

“Okay, I have a lock.”

 

“Energize.”

 

The sparkle of the transporter beam appeared on the pad and, a moment later, the pale white features of an Aenar woman appeared.  Taka’s eyes widened in surprise, her antennae going rigid like metal. The new arrival seemed to take in her surroundings, quick glances at the walls and even the three officers in the room.  Taka knew she couldn't see them; Aenar were blind. Still, the woman seemed to be staring at each of them again.

 

“Cadet,” the Aenar stopped.  “No, still unsure of yourself, but not Cadet.  Not quite Ensign either. Midshipman Takala Karizesma zh’An.”  She stopped again and a sad look of regret came over her. “My apologies.  I shouldn't have read your mind.”

 

“Accepted, Ambassador,” Taka said, still surprised.

 

“I admit, I didn't know any Andorians had telepathy,” Tanis said, glancing at her lover.

 

“Most people don't,” Taka said.  “The Aenar were-”

 

“A myth until 2205, when an Andorian ice cutter came across us.”  The pale Aenar stepped off the transporter pad and up to Taka, as though she knew where the Andorian was.  “I'm being quite rude, aren't I?” Her attention changed to Tanis. “Ambassadorial Attache Renhana sh’Alala.”

 

“Midshipman Tanis Lanul, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Attache sh’Alala.”

 

“Even without the telepathy, I could sense your curiosity,” Renhana smiled.

 

“Midshipman Lanul is quite curious,” Taka glanced at the woman beside her with a grin on her face.

 

“As medical officer, I believe that's part of my duty,” Tanis returned the look.

 

Renhana sighed.  “The optimism and joyfulness of youth, I'd forgotten what that feels like.  I've been around too many old Ambassadors and politicians, plotting political ploys and schemes, jaded by their time; it's refreshing to feel the surge of youthfulness again.”

 

“You'll feel a lot of that here.”  Taka instinctively motioned Renhana forward, before scolding herself.  “Attache, if you would like, Tanis or myself can lead you.”

 

“No need.  Please, lead the way and, if you will, Renha will do fine.”

 

The three left the transporter room and Taka glanced back to ensure Renha was still following.  She'd never met any Aenar, but the stories abounded about their supernatural senses. The clouded eyes ardently stared ahead as the Attache's antennae seemed to focus at Taka.

 

“If I may,” Taka started.

 

“You'd like to ask why I would become involved with the Diplomatic Corps.”

 

Though the finishing of her thought caught her off guard, Taka recovered.  “Yes, actually. I haven't seen many Aenar off Andoria.” She paused, then continued, “You're actually the second.”

 

Tanis shot an inquisitive glance, but said nothing.

 

“Do you know of the Romulan Cold War?” Renha asked.  They entered the turbolift.

 

“Deck 7,” Taka said.  Subconsciously, she looked at Renha.  “I know it's a period of time given to the Earth years 2152 through 2155 and ultimately led to the formation of the Coalition of Planets, direct predecessor to the Federation.”

 

“And in 2156, the Romulan War was declared,” Tanis said, “turning the Cold War hot.”

 

“Ah, the quick and easy history,” Renha said.  She muttered something in Andorii before returning to Federation English.  “Aenar, through Romulan coercion, aided in the start of the Romulan War. I wish not to see that happen again.”

 

The turbolift opened and all three stepped out of it in silence.  There was a strange understanding of Renha's motives and yet more questions swirled.  She hoped she'd be able to ask later.

 

“Your quarters, Renha,” Taka said.  The door opened with a pneumatic hiss before Renha looked at Taka.  It was a little unnerving to her as sightless eyes looked into her.

 

“Midshipman zh’An, may I request Midshipman Lanul remain for the time being?” Renha asked.

 

Taka looked at Tanis, who nodded.  “Granted.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9A Leap Of Faith

As soon as Taka stepped onto the Adventurer’s Bridge, Captain Korolevna said, “Helm, set course for Vulcan and engage.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Straala replied as Taka sat in the executive officer's chair.

“I take it our guest is comfortable,” Korolevna stated, her focus remaining on the viewscreen.  It wasn't that far to Vulcan from Andoria, a matter of hours at maximum warp.

“She is.  Midshipman Lanul is with her right now,” Taka answered.  She caught the subtle raised eyebrow from Straala as she turned to face Korolevna.

“At current speed and heading, we will arrive at Vulcan in 6.5 hours.”

“Thank you,” Korolevna nodded.  She opened the intercom system.  “Department heads to the briefing room.  Midshipmen Lanul and M’Akl as well.”  She closed the channel.  “Zh’An, Straala, Netu, you too.”

Straala slid from her chair as the relief Helm Officer took over.  Netu stepped aside at Tactical and Taka followed Korolevna through the doors at the back left of the Bridge.  They entered the briefing room and Taka was taken back by the sheer size of it.

The room was curved.  Windows stared out at the swept back nacelle struts and glowing nacelles as streaking stars disappeared in the distance.  The curved table was a faux wooden creation, easily capable of seating twelve; five on each side, Captain at the head, and someone on the end.  On the wall, images of former ships named Adventurer stood out to Taka, who looked at it intently; a long lineage.  NV-, Miranda-, Excelsior-, Challenger-, Nebula-, and the Vesta-class starships all looked back at her.

The doors opened and Doctor T’Pril, the Vulcan Chief Medical Officer Chief Engineer McMaster, the red haired man who'd been irritated at the turbolift, and M’Akl stepped in. T’Pril sat at the end of the table.  Senior Helmswoman Lieutenant Mackenzie Palmer sat next to Lieutenant Commander Watson, who sat on Korolevna’s left.  Taka, on the Captain's right, watched as M’Akl sat two seats down from her, leaving one for Tanis.  The doors opened and Tanis and Renha entered.

Tanis sat beside Taka as M’Akl moved to allow the Attache to sit beside Tanis.  The Captain glanced over each of her people.  She made eyes contact with them, holding it long enough to ensure they knew she was serious.

“Welcome aboard the Adventurer,” Korolevna started, steepling her fingers.  “Midshipmen, these are your officers.”  Each officer rose for their chair.  “Show them the respect they deserve and they will return it.  Bridge staff, you know XO Watson, also our Tactical Officer.”  Watson dipped his head in acknowledgement.

“As with our Captain, I expect nothing less than your best.  You're all the elite Starfleet Academy has to offer, after all,” Watson stated before taking a seat.  He stared at Taka, a reminder he was watching her.  

She shifted uncomfortably, glad he wasn't the one to give her final marks and determine future.

Korolevna glanced at Taka.  “Our Midshipman XO, Takala Karizesma zh’An.”  Taka nodded from her chair as Korolevna continued, “Acting Tactical Officer Netu Erra.”  Netu nodded.  “Second Officer and Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander Daniel James McMaster.”  The redheaded man nodded, still looking irritated, as though Korolevna had interrupted some hot date.

Though her outward appearance remained stoic, Taka mentally laughed at the thought of McMaster rushing from the meeting to the holodeck to finish a date.  If someone was desperate to date a hologram, Taka could imagine it was him.

McMaster sat down while Korolevna said, “Midshipman M’Akl, our Acting Chief Engineer.  Science Officer, Lieutenant Pamei.”  The blue uniformed Rigelian woman nodded and returned to her seat.  Taka knew there was no Cadet from Red Squad as a science officer, though another Midshipman in blue was there.  “Midshipman Jena Hiland, science officer.”

The ebony skinned, blue uniformed Midshipman beamed, “Hello.”  There was an accent to her that Taka couldn’t place.

“Helmsman McKenzie Palmer,” Korolevna motioned to the woman who had been watching Straala.  Streaks of vibrant pink flashed through blonde hair and the Lieutenant didn't look much older than the Midshipman.  Palmer nodded as Korolevna announced Straala and turned her attention to the final officer at the table.  “And Chief Medical Officer T’Pril,” Korolevna said.  The Vulcan Commander remained impassive as she sat down.  “Her main protege will be Midshipman Tanis Lanul.”

Taka grinned.  She worried the pride she felt for her lover was glowing her her face, but then she realized she didn't care.  She loved Tanis.

“As you can see, we have a guest from the Diplomatic Corps,” Korolevna leaned forward.  “This is Renhana sh’Alala, Diplomatic Attache to Ambassador T’Rela, who we are en route to Vulcan to collect.  We'll have one more passenger to take on once we get to our destination.”

“Captain, forgive my interruption, but who is this passenger we're to take on in the Delta Quadrant?”

“Upon arrival, we will be required to take on a member of the Republic as oversight,” Korolevna stated.  “Lieutenant Pamei has graciously offered to exchange herself as liaison to the Republic or Empire.  This is a joint operation by Allied Command and this officer will be treated with all respect due an officer of their rank, is this understood?”

“Yes, sir,” echoed around the room.

“Good,” Korolevna said.

“Captain, I'm not a Xenosociologist, so i may be out of the loop right now, but the Romulans suffered horribly with the Hobus Supernova, millions dead and Romulus and Remus destroyed.  The Republic was still in its infancy, they have been embroiled in a war against the Tal Shiar for its survival, and readily allied itself with both the Empire and the Federation-”

Korolevna cut McMaster off, “I assume you have a point here, Commander.”

“How in the Hell are they part of the Allied Command?”

Korolevna sighed irritatedly.  “Last year, stardate 56995.3, an Iconian gateway was discovered on New Romulus.  The exact details are classified above me, but its discovery led to what is known as the Solanae Dyson Sphere, which in turn led to the Jenolan Dyson Sphere, now deep in the Delta Quadrant.”

“The Jenolan Sphere?  Isn't that the one found by the Enterprise-D not far from the Norpin Colony?” Taka asked.

“The Vendor sector, to be exact, with the crashed USS Jenolan on its surface,” Erra said without hesitation, as though trying to out perform Taka.  “One survivor, Captain Montgomery Scott.”

“How did it get there?” M'Akl asked.  “None of the investigating ships reported engines of any kind.”

“Borg vessels have no signs of propulsion, yet, as we are all keenly aware, they move,” McMaster stated sarcastically.

Korolevna shot the Chief Engineer a glare before she said, “It would seem, from reports filed by the T’Pol, trapped inside at the time, it would seem a massive slipstream event happened.”

“Incredible,” Jena said.

Taka agreed.  The notion of something with a diameter of 200 million kilometers making a 50 thousand light year jump was astounding.  It was nigh unimaginable.

“No argument,” Korolevna said.  She leaned forward in her chair.  “Our assignment is to explore an unknown sector of space and carry out First Contact missions as well as establishing any reconnections with those Voyager visited.”

“Are we expecting any encounters with those Voyager came across?” Tanis asked.

“We may encounter Talaxians or even, according to some reports, wayward Ocampans,” Korolevna answered.

“Ocampans live nine years,” T’Pril said matter-of-factly.  “I find it intriguing they would be that far from home.”

“Many are second generation crew,” Korolevna nodded.  “Some are just seeking a new home, others are trying to find Earth, from the tales of Voyager.”

“That's a long time to be searching,” Taka said.

“Wouldn't you if you heard tales of wonder?” McMaster muttered.  “Isn't that what we're out here for?”

Lieutenant Commander Watson leaned back in his chair, “That's why we're heading to the Delta Quadrant, the tales of wonder.  Lighten up a little, DJ.”  McMaster glared at him but said nothing.

“What about the possibility of hostiles?” Taka asked.  She felt all eyes turn to her and her antennae shrunk back on themselves.

“As we all know, hostilities exist,” Korolevna stated.  “Voyager, herself, made several missteps during her trip and Janeway did not always see eye-to-eye with those she came across.  That’s a valid question to ask.”  She sighed.  “We have reports of some Borg activity in the quadrant, unsurprisingly.  Other than that, however, all information seems to indicate open and friendly relations, even curiosity, from the native inhabitants.”  She glanced across the table at each of the people in attendance.  “That said, I expect you all to keep your teams ready for anything.”

“Yes, sir,” the table said in unison.

“Good,” Korolevna nodded.  “I believe that’s all, unless anyone else wishes to add anything.”  Everyone shook their heads.  “Okay.  Dismissed.”

Each of the men and women around the table rose and headed for the door back out onto the Bridge.

Save for two.

Taka stayed sitting and stared into Korolevna’s eyes.  She could see them move, the cybernetics adjusting to focus on her and adapt to the lighting.  The Captain cocked an eyebrow, but remained silent in her own chair.

“Captain, I’d like to read the reports and any new ones coming in,” Taka said.

“For what purpose?” Korolevna asked.  “Commander Watson and myself have already read them.”

“As your XO, I’d like to know what we’re up against, Captain, and plan accordingly,” Taka said.  “My apologies if that’s being too presumptuous, but I like to think of it as having foresight, sir.”

Korolevna smirked.  “Thinking like an exec already, are you, Midshipman zh’An?”

“No, sir,” Taka replied.  “Like a Starfleet Officer.”

Chapter Text

Chapter  10: Never Joke With A Vulcan

The atmosphere in the Adventurer’s lounge was a mixture of excitement and concern.  Word had spread throughout the ship that they were heading deep into Romulan territory, where the Tal Shiar still preyed on starships, Republic and otherwise, and that had weighed on everyone.  Without self-proclaimed Empress Sela in control of the Tal Shiar, several factions had become bolder and had struck at any ships, regardless of allegiance.

Most people on the Adventurer had made the tension thicker as they continued to carry out their duties.  Within Pioneer’s Lounge, conversations ranged from the blatantly obvious worry about the Tal Shiar to more personal reflections and discussions.  The waiters were walking throughout, keeping people filled with their drinks and delivering food.

“Ensign zh’An, one helping of steamed redbat with fried tuber roots and an Andorian ale,” the waiter said, delicately placing the plate on the table in front of her.  He turned to look at Tanis, “And, for you, Ensign Lanul, one Grakizh salad with a side of Galzak toast and Klah.”  He placed the plates down on the table in front of the Trill.  He stepped away, leaving the two women to devour their meals alone.

Taka glanced over at the yellow, leafy salad and shook her head.  “I think you’re going to just shrink away if you keep eating that.”  She grinned.  “What I need to do is get you to eat some redbat.”

“And I think you need to eat more leafy, yellow salads,” Tanis replied.  She returned her lover’s grin.  “I think the last medical exam you had back at the Academy said your chastohva was a little high.”  She patted her girlfriend’s stomach.  “And you’re gaining a little weight there, shenva.”

“You love me just how I am,” Taka shot back, her grin widening as her antennae twitched cheekily.

“Maybe,” Tanis said sheepishly.  She glanced over at Taka, who leaned over to kiss her.  Quickly, Tanis picked up a forkful of salad and stuck it up to Taka’s lips.  “I’d love you more if you eat this.”

Taka shook her head and sighed before taking the leaf from the fork and leaning back in her chair.  She chewed and swallowed before she said, “Love me more, now?”

Tanis’ grin grew.  “You, my love, are incorrigible.”  She forked more of her salad and ate it, leaving Taka hanging for an answer.  She glanced at her beloved.  “Do you really have to ask that question?”

“No,” Taka admitted.  She carved up her redbat.  She picked up some of the redbat before glancing at Tanis.  “I never have to ask that seriously.”  She took a bite of it.  “Not nearly as good as mother’s, but I guess fair considering it’s replicated.”

She turned in her chair, looking out the windows at the front of the lounge.  Swirling blues illuminated the room from the warp tunnel they were travelling through and Taka sighed.  It was beautiful and, considering the state of the galaxy lately, quite a juxtaposition; after the Second Klingon War and the appearance of the displaced Dominion fleet from forty years ago, everyone needed to see this.  Yet, it was overshadowed by the potential of being attacked.

“Thoughts, my love?”

Taka shook her head back to reality and looked at Tanis.  “It’s beautiful,” she paused, waiting for the raised eyebrow from Tanis before continuing, “but not as beautiful as you.”

“Nice catch, XO,” Tanis said, chuckling as she ate more of her salad.

Taka was about to say something, but her antennae picked up something behind her.  Two people, from the electrostatic misplacement in the air, coming up behind her.  She strained her ears, listening to the footsteps as they approached her; one soft footed, fur covered nearly silent step, one rigid and precise.  “M’Akl, Straala.”

“Look at who we happened to find, Straala,” M’Akl stated from behind Taka.  “What a coincidence.”

Taka looked over as she ate more of the redbat and the two women sat down around the chair.  “Was there something we can do for you two?”

M’Akl smirked.  “If I was to invite you to play an old Earth game, what would you say?”

“I’d ask what you’re thinking,” Tanis intervened.  “So, what are you thinking?”  

Taka pursed her lips as she looked over at her lover.  She gave a sarcastic smile in Tanis’ direction before returning back to M’Akl and Straala.  “Yes, what do you have in mind?”

“Hiland gave us one of her holodeck programs,” M’Akl stated.

“An old Earth game known as volleyball, which is apparently played on a hardened floor indoors,” Straala stated bluntly.

“Or on the beach,” M’Akl interjected.  “That’s where we’re going, to the beach!”

Taka finished her redbat and crunched on one of the fried tuber roots.  She shook her head.  This was supposed to be a point in time that she and Tanis could spend together - especially since it seemed that they weren’t seeing any of the other since being on the Adventurer.  She swigged down the Andorian Ale and glanced at Tanis.

“What do you think, shenva?” Taka asked.

“Why not?” Tanis shrugged, finishing her salad.  She drank back her Klah.

Taka took the napkin off to the side of her plate and wiped her lips before looking at M’Akl.  “Lead the way.”  The four rose from the seats.

“I think you’re going to enjoy this, Taka,” M’Akl stated.  She chuckled with a soft purr only Caitians were capable of doing.  “Even Straala enjoyed it.”

“Really?” Tanis asked, looking back at the Vulcan with a raised eyebrow and the curl of smirk on her lips.  “I find that hard to believe.”

“M’Akl is exaggerating.  I was intrigued and found the event fascinating, but I did not enjoy it,” Straala replied stoically.

“She’s being modest, can’t let that Vulcan stoicism fall apart.”

“I have no reason to be modest, M’Akl,” Straala countered.  “Nor would I be in this situation.”

“It’s not nice to tease the Vulcan,” Taka chuckled.  She patted Straala on the back.  “You’ll hurt her feelings.”

“To ‘hurt my feelings’ would imply an emotional state that Vulcans do not possess.”

“Never joke with a Vulcan, it doesn’t end well,” Tanis smirked.

They entered the turbolift.  M’Akl stated, “Deck six.”  The computer acknowledged before M’Akl flicked her tail, “It’s why Vulcans trying poetry is just…” she trailed.

“Terrible?  Boring?  Drawn out with all the logical descriptions of what we,” Taka glanced at Straala, “highly emotional races call love?”

“Should I count this as another attempt to elicit the same highly emotional responses from myself that you would consider the norm?” Straala asked impassively.

The turbolift opened to the sight of Ensign Hiland waiting outside it.  “I was wondering if you got lost on the ship.”

“Not in the least,” M’Akl said as she stepped from the lift.  “We couldn’t get lost, not with our resident map beside us.”  She patted Straala on the back to make a point.

“The benefits of a highly ordered, logical mind,” Straala said bluntly.

“I’d almost say that was a defensive tone,” Tanis joked.

“Nah, that was pride all that way,” Taka stated.

“Maybe with a touch of hurt in there,” M’Akl snickered.

“It is extremely questionable why I remain with you three,” Straala interjected.  The four women stepped down the corridor towards the holodeck.

“Was that a joke?” Tanis asked.

“I can’t tell with the usual emotional inflections,” Taka snickered.  

It was, she knew that for sure.  It wasn’t the first time Straala had pulled that joke out and she doubted it would be the last time.  They’d been drawn together by their respective differences, standing out against the predominant human population of the Academy, and their bonds had formed and remained strong in light of the Io Incident.  A moment of sadness struck her; only one bond had broken that day: Netu Erra.

Not that she could blame the Bajoran woman.  The incident had taken far more from her than just untouched features and scars that would never heal.  It had taken what innocent youthfulness the other woman had carried with her.  Those wounds, Taka knew, would never entirely heal, nor would the friendship they’d had before that damned moon.

“I just realized, we’re an odd number, how do the rules work?” Tanis asked, breaking Taka’s thoughts.

“Two per team, and don’t worry, Erra’s waiting for us there,” Hiland replied.

Taka flinched at the mention of Erra.  Though she tried to keep the peace between them on the Bridge, fighting with herself as much as she imagined Erra was fighting with her own hatred of Taka, she doubted that the same would happen on the holodeck.  Indeed, she knew that Erra held a very simple idea; who she spent her free time with was her business and she had no intention of wasting it with Taka.

She felt Tanis’ hand in hers and looked over.  The others were further down the hall and Taka realized she had been standing still for several seconds.  She held Tanis’ hand.

“This will be good.”  Tanis looked up with reassuring eyes.  “I’ll be here, right beside you, and you can show Captain Korolevna you were the right choice for her acting XO.”  She kissed Taka.  “And you can be the woman I fell in love with.”

Taka smiled lovingly at her girlfriend before they both resumed walking down the corridor.  They entered the holodeck, greeted with a sandy beach, water stretching off into the distance, and waves breaking against rocks.  A warm wind rushed through Taka’s white hair as a gust picked up.  A net suspended between two poles shook with the breeze.

Then she saw Erra.  The Bajoran woman looked stunning in the sunlight and two piece bathing suit that left nothing to the imagination, the only exception being the gloves that covered her hands still.  Erra bore the scars along the side of her abdomen and along her right arm from Io, but they weren’t as noticeable as her nose; much of them had all but disappeared in the last two years.  The red colour choice of swimsuit may have had something to do with that, as well.

Jena Hiland motioned to the side, Taka following her motions to a set of six tiny, one person shacks.  “I would have had everything set up before we got here, but privacy is something to be respected.”  She started towards the shacks.  “The computer will ask you specifications for your own swimsuit to create.”  She looked over her shoulder.  “Just remember, have fun everyone.”

Taka entered one of the shacks and stared at the wall panel.  She tapped in commands, deciding on a swimsuit and the colour red, not unlike Erra, as a sign of her department.  She stripped from her uniform, placing it in the replicator slot, watching it vanish, stored for when she wanted it returned to her, before the red swimwear appeared and she slid into it.  The colour clashed with her tone, but she wasn’t worried too much.

She left the shack.  Her eyes widened at her blue-clad lover standing off to her side, her hands brushing the brown hair off her shoulders and letting it slide down past them.  It had been a while since Tanis had allowed her hair to fall from the regulation style she kept it in and Taka found the flowing brown to be an amazing sight.

“Wow, I guess we know how far those spots go now,” Jena’s accented voice stated from beside them.  She was dressed in blue as well.  M’Akl and Straala were dressed in gold and red respectively, and Jena laughed.  “Everyone’s in their department colours.”

“There is no logical reason why we need to be dressed like this,” Straala stated.

“Quit sucking the fun out of everything, Straala,” M’Akl countered, patting the Vulcan on the back.  “Enjoy yourself.”  Straala opened her mouth to say something, then closed it, realizing that it was illogical to argue with the Caitian.  M’Akl didn’t notice, instead addressing the rest of them, “What teams are we going with?”

“Well, you and Straala seem to get along, so you two can be one,” Jena suggested.  “And you and Tanis are good, so you can be another.”  She looked at Erra.  “And I can be with Erra.”

“A logical break up of teams,” Straala agreed.

“Do a quick show of play and then, what do you say to you and Tanis against Erra and I?” Jena asked.

Taka wanted to say ‘Hell no’, but what came out was, “That sounds fair.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 11An Incident

The entire breakdown of how to play took only a couple mock playthroughs by holodeck characters, which amounted to only about fifteen minutes, before Erra, Tanis, and Taka agreed they understood the rules.  Taka wasn’t sure about how well that would turn out, but it was a fairly simple game, this volleyball.  Through the computer, it was decided that Tanis would be the one to start the game off with the serve.

Taka looked over her shoulder as Tanis threw the ball up and smashed it.  Taka’s eyes followed it as it sailed over the net into Jena’s arms as she set it up.  Erra knocked it back in the air as Taka jumped up to block the hammered ball from Jena.  It bounced back and Erra dived into the sand, saving them from losing the point.  Jena set it back up for Erra to slam it down, narrowly missing Taka’s fingers.  Tanis dove for the ball but didn’t make it.

Tanis rose, covered in sand.  “Damn, damn, damn.”  She slapped the sand off herself as she retrieved the ball.

“So, Jena, your accent, I haven’t heard it before,” Taka said.  “At least, not that I recall.”

“It’s a strange blend,” Jena replied.  She accepted the volleyball from Tanis.  “I’m Nigerian by birth.”  She passed the ball off to Erra.  “My mother was Nigerian, I was born in Lagos, fluent in both Hausa and English.  My father was English, though, born in Manchester, England.  I caught a little of both accents, I guess.”  She nodded at Erra to serve.

The ball sailed over the net and Taka moved to set it.  Her force was apparently too much, the ball flying high and backwards, causing Tanis to have to back up and knock it forward for Taka, who spiked it over Erra’s fingers.  For a moment, it looked like it was going to be a point.

Then Jena seemed to appear from nowhere, drilling into the sand and keeping the ball in the air.  Erra bounced it back over the net, giving Jena enough time to rise from where she dove.  A bloody streak along her left arm.  She shook her head, bouncing the ball of her forearms to Erra, before painfully spiking it off Erra’s set.  Taka’s blue fingers deflected it back, bouncing it off Jena’s head.  It landed on the ground and the computer controlled scoreboard registered a point for Taka’s team.

Jena shook her head, gave a curse, but offered a smile to Taka.  “Not exactly the way it’s supposed to go, but that was good.”  Erra retrieved the ball and handed it off to Jena.  “I’ve been wanting to ask, what happened at Io?”

Silence gripped the beach.

“Why do you ask?” Tanis finally broke the silence.

“It just seems that there’s a lot of bad blood regarding it,” Jena said, glancing between Taka and Erra.  “Especially…” she trailed, realizing she didn’t need to say anything.

“The situation was an accident and creation beyond anyone’s control,” Straala stated from the sideline.

“Can we continue?” Erra snapped.

Jena nodded at Tanis and Taka.  Taka took the ball and stepped to the back of the ‘court’, rolling the ball around in her hand as the guilt of her actions on Io took hold of her again.  There was nothing that she could do about it, but the incident aways came back to her, like some bizarre rubber band that wouldn’t let go.

She served the ball.  It was a weak one, barely over the net, perfectly to Erra, who reacted quickly and easily, bouncing it up to Jena’s set.  The Bajoran slammed it back over the net, to Tanis’ forearms.  The ball bounced off as Taka hurried to set it back up for Tanis to spike it over the net.

Sand kicked up as Jena hurried to get the ball, sending it over to Erra, who set it up for Jena, who slammed it over the net.  Taka bounced it up, over to Tanis, who set it for her to spike it over the net again.  The exchange continued, back and forth, over the net in a strange rhythm, their spectators impressed with the display - especially since only Jena had known what the game was about.

It ended with a quick smash from Taka, the ball sailing into the ground in front of the net as Erra and Jena were near the middle.  Erra cursed angrily as she grabbed the ball.  The fact that Jena had brought up the Io Incident had irritated and pissed her off.

“What actually happened?” Jena repeated her question.

Erra’s eyes glared at her as she angrily stormed up to the net.  She handed the ball to Tanis without throwing it at her, before moving back to the other side of the court.  Taka’s eyes fell sadly as she turned to Jena.

“Red Squad was out on Io in a training course, survival in relative zero-G,” Taka said.  She swallowed uncomfortably.  “During the course, two Birds-of-Prey surprised the Poltava in orbit.  She managed to fight them off with severe damage to herself, but one of them crashed into Io’s surface.”  She swallowed uncomfortably again.  “I was Cadet Captain at the time and I made a call, trying to impress the Admirals, thinking with eyes for the rank and not the brains I needed.  I ordered Erra to get us into the ship, which she did, but the damage done to the Bird-of-Prey rendered the consoles all but unusable and-”

“I ended up having the skin on my hands melted and, when the console exploded, I ended up with the scars you see and some you don’t,” Erra growled.  “All the while, no one else suffered the fate.  And all because of your hubris.”  She shook her head.  “There should never have been any question of it, we shouldn’t have tried getting into the ship, we shouldn’t have gone close to it.  We should have gone back to the Poltava, contacted Starfleet, and let them take care of it!”

Silence enveloped them as they moved back to their positions.  The ball was served and Jena deflected it upwards to Erra, who set it back to Jena, pounding it down at the ground.  Taka slid under it, bouncing it back to Jena, who knocked it over the net to Erra.  She sent it to Jena, who set it to Erra.  She took milliseconds to glance in the direction of the net as she jumped to intersect the ball in the air.

Her lips curled into a cruel smile as she saw Taka there.  She slammed the ball down, over Taka’s outstretched hands, directly into Taka’s face, the ball bouncing off her as blood splashed across it and the back of the Andorian’s hands.  A cry of pain split the scenery and the game was forgotten as the Acting Executive Officer dropped back to the ground, blue blood trailing down the front of her face.

“The Hell was that?” M’Akl growled, hurrying over to Taka’s side.

“You broke her nose!” Tanis snapped.  She leaned Taka’s head back and glared at Erra.

“I said have fun, not break someone’s nose!” Jena snapped.

“It was an accident,” Erra said, raising her hands.  “That’s all.”

“And my name’s Nirak!” Tanis snapped.  She shook her head.

“Nirak?” Erra ask, cocking her head.

“Fool in Vulcan, from-”

“Be quiet, Straala!” Taka wheezed.

“Computer, arch!” Tanis said, continuing to glare at Erra as she led her girlfriend towards the door and out of the holodeck.  “Come on, let’s get you to Sickbay.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 12Serpents in the Garden

The brisk pace she set for herself was just right as she jogged along the path beside the open field.  It was a little faster than the standard run Academy instructors enforced, but that didn’t bother her; she hadn’t quite adjusted to the slower pace of Starfleet, meant to give everyone, including Tellarites, an equal footing.  There was a cool breeze that rushed across her skin and Taka was glad the holodeck had supplied that.  It was a gentle, soft reminder of home.

Though Andoria was a chilly place, most Andorians had an average temperature higher than humans.  A benefit from the Andorian evolution on their homeworld.  She would’ve passed out, she was sure, had the holographic environment not included that.

Not to mention she was wearing heavier sweatpants and the Academy sweater.

Sure didn’t help her nose though.  It still hurt like Hell, as though it had just been broken.  And that, she was sure, wasn’t going to disappear soon.  It stung, but no worse than her own anger.

Not entirely directed at Erra.  It had been her decision to ultimately attack her with the volleyball, but that wasn’t entirely it.  No.  That had simply been the endgame of a situation long played out and the devastation wreaked upon their friendship.  The same damage that she had caused on Io by ordering Erra to investigate that Bird-of-Prey.

Her antennae flinched.  Someone was there.

“You know, you’ll pass out if you keep that up,” a familiar voice stated from behind her.  Taka glanced over her shoulder before feeling her feet slip from under her.  As she tumbled to the ground, Renha laughed.  “Or you’ll do that.”

“Damned rock,” Taka muttered before standing.  “Attache.”  She patted her sweatpants down and sighed irritatedly.

“Renha, Ensign.  Please, it’s Renha.”

“Then I’m Taka, Renha.”  She dusted her sweater off before shaking her head.  She stepped over to the pale Aenar.  “How may I help you?”  She looked into the dull, unseeing eyes.  “I’m assuming it’s not just to see me fall on my ass, now.”

Silence fell over them for a moment.  Taka swept her hand across her ridged brow, cold sweat coating her fingers as a gust of wind blew over her skin.  It was cold enough to make her forget it was on a holodeck and not back home.  Almost.

It was strange.  She hadn’t been homesick in her four years at the Academy, she hadn’t thought about the visiting at any point in time, and now she was thinking of it and reminded of it with everything she did.  She pursed her lips and knitted her furrowed brow.  She didn’t want to let on  about her homesickness; it wasn’t Andorian, Hell, it wasn’t even Starfleet officer material.

“Reminds me of home,” Renha said.  Her clouded eyes and antennae dropped sadly.  “I know it’s not, though.”  She shook her head.  “I’ve been tasked with announcing we’re approaching the Jouret System.  Captain Korolevna wishes myself and T’Rela present as well.”  Her eyes looked up at Taka as though she could see her.  “Your homesickness is hardly surprising, Ensign zh’An.  You would be surprised how many other men and women aboard the Adventurer feeling the same.”  She sighed.  “It’s intoxicating, to be sure, and wafting off everyone in waves that I needn’t use my abilities to know.”

“That’s at least somewhat reassuring,” Taka smiled to herself.  “I was starting to think I was the only one missing home.”

“Your Vulcan friend has been,” Renha paused, searching for the right word, “yearning for Shir’Kahr.  Ensign Netu has been missing Hathon.  Tanis,” Taka noted Renha’s use of Tanis’ given name, “wishes to return to Mak’ala and the Tenurial Ice Cliffs.  Ensign M’Akl, too, has been missing Cait and Istara.  No one aboard this ship doesn’t feel some sense of homesickness.”  She paused.  “My apologies, I didn’t mean to tell you things you’re well aware of.”  Her antennae twitched, silently passing her apologies on to Taka.  “We should hurry, Taka.  Ambassador T’Rela is likely to be on the Bridge already and I don’t think Captain Korolevna wants to wait too long.”

“I don’t trust T’Rela,” Taka stated bluntly.  She regretted the words as soon as she did, but there was nothing she could do.  Once they were out there and all that.  “I don’t know why, there’s just something I don’t trust about her.”  Taka watched as Renha’s antennae drooped, then curled upwards; she knew something about T’Rela she didn’t want to share.  “You know something, Renha?”

The Ambassadorial Attache went silent.  Her antennae curled back onto her head, against her skull, acknowledging she knew about T’Rela, but something that she couldn’t say.  Her eyes fell, as though there was something else, information that could ultimately hurt Taka if she knew about it.

“She’s Section 31,” Renha admitted finally.

And that was exactly why Renha hesitated.  The hate and pain Taka had long suppressed rushed to the surface and she wanted to punch something - someone.  Her anger had to roll of her like waves, Renha recoiling in fear, as though she believed Taka would strike her.

“That Terran-centric, defenders of truth and justice, secret organization?” Taka scoffed.  “They’d let her in?”

“You know of them?” Renha asked surprised.

Taka admitted Renha’s reaction wasn’t much of a stretch.  There weren’t too many people who even knew about the ultra-secretive organization and fewer still who even knew what strings they pulled behind the scenes.  The Federation was supposed to be a true paradise, the Aktanaslaas, or Garden of Eden to Humans.  

But every garden has a snake.

Section 31 was but one.

Her hatred hadn’t been without precedence, though.  Her mother had had dealings with them; dealings that hadn’t ended well for either member of Section 31.  Taka breathed deep, trying to calm herself.

“My mother had dealings with them aboard the Jonathan Archer,” Taka said.  “They tried to coerce her into destroying the ruins on what eventually became New Romulus.  She refused.  They tried to… remove the issue.  We Andorians don’t surrender easily.”

Renha cocked her head.  “She died.”

“Murdered,” Taka corrected.  She turned away, “Computer, arch.”  She waited before continuing to Renha.  “By those arrogant, self-serving, Terran pricks!”

“They employ drastic means, yes, but they’re not entirely Terran-centric, Taka,” Renha stated as the Andorian Ensign stepped over to the arch.  “They enlist anyone willing to put forth the defense of the Federation as the ultimate goal.  And they have defended the Federation from itself on more than one occasion.”

Taka sighed as she tapped commands into the computer interface.  “And what?  You’re one of them too?”  She shook her head.  No, she was a good judge of character and she couldn’t find the same level of distrust as she did with the Vulcan Ambassador, not in Renha.

“I’m not,” Renha confirmed Taka’s thoughts.  They did little to ease her mind, though, as Renha continued, “T’Rela isn’t the typical Vulcan.”  Taka raised an eyebrow and her antennae showed her piqued interest as they stood rigid.  “She served two full terms with Starfleet, through Hell and back.

“She’s seen and lived through some of the worst times in the Federation’s history.  She knows what the Federation can do to itself, she knows the worst Starfleet has to offer.  She was a Cadet aboard the Enterprise in 2285 and survived the Battle of the Mutara Nebula.  She survived both encounters with the Borg, at Wolf 359 and the Battle of Sector 0-0-1.  She lost the Toronto during the Battle of Cardassia Prime.  If she joined them, I sincerely doubt it was an illogical move on her part.”

“Computer, end program,” Taka ordered.  The holodeck landscape dissolved into the black and yellow panels.  “Whatever her reason was, it doesn’t excuse her joining Sector 31.  If they were willing to murder my mother, how many others have disappeared because of them, brushed under a conspiracy at the highest levels?”

They were harsh words, but they were true.  In Taka’s mind, there was never a good justification to join something that actively approved the murder and deaths of innocents to further any goals.  The idea that Section 31 operated with that wide scale, open ability scared her - she would gamble it would terrify anyone who knew of them.  How many plans had been enacted through the course of the Federation’s history that ultimately led to the slaughter of countless lives in order to push an agenda no one knew about?  Had they been responsible for the death of Chancellor Gorkon and the ambush at Khitomer that nearly plunged the Federation and Klingon Empire into war a hundred years ago?  The Tomed Incident and the deaths of 11000 men and women about countless starships?  Had they been the reason the reports from Archer’s Enterprise regarding the Borg had been ‘forgotten’ and ‘lost to time’, deemed far too much fantasy than a truthful report, only to have it come back at Wolf 359 and bite them in the ass?

How many situations had Section 31’s hands in them?  Shinzon?  The Hobus Supernova?  The Second Klingon War?  The destabilization of the Empire leading to this subsequent re-alliance the galaxy found itself it?  Had that just been pawns on the board to Section 31?  Had they known about the Undine threat and pushed it under a desk?  Had they planned or even allowed the destruction of Romulus that had begun this entire decline?

She pushed the thoughts from her head.  “Computer, uniform, Takala zh’An.”  In a flash, a solid red top and black pants appeared in front of the arch.  The single gold pip on the right side of her uniform’s shoulder glistened in the light and Taka beamed with pride.  Though it had been a few days since she had changed from her Academy uniform, each sight of that pip was a reminder of what she had fought to attain.  She turned to Renha.  “If you’ll excuse me, Renha, I’ll be out in a moment.”

“Ah, yes,” Renha said, “though we’re blind, we still make people uncomfortable changing around us.  I will be waiting, Taka.”

The door closed behind the Attache and Taka ordered it locked before turning back to the uniform.  She slid from her training attire and into the red uniform with haste, tugging on the bottom, pulling it tight against her.  Gold would have looked better, she absently thought to herself, but I’m no engineer or operations; Helm is where I wanted to be.  She moved to the arch, placing her Academy training stuff in the replicator slot.  “Transfer to my quarters, computer.”

“Yes, Ensign zh’An.”

Taka tapped the commands into the computer and the door opened.  Renha turned to face the sound as Taka walked from the room.  She placed her hand on the Aenar’s shoulder and Renha nodded, following the Andorian as they both headed towards the turbolift.

It was done in silence, the trip seemingly taking longer than it actually was.  Their conversation regarding Section 31 had soured the mood and, while Taka regretted that much, she knew the rest of her words were true to her.  She held nothing but hatred and contempt for them, regardless of what they truly stood for.  It didn’t matter they were there to ‘protect’ the peoples of the Federation; their methods were abhorrent.

“I heard what happened to you, Taka,” Renha said.  It was obvious she was trying to break the angst between them, Taka’s delivery of her words sounding like an attack rather against her rather than against the organization.

“It was an incident,” Taka deadpanned.  She knew it wasn’t.  Hell, anyone could see it wasn’t, but she needed to keep the peace.  She was the Acting Executive Officer; the crew needed her right now.

“An incident?” Renha repeated.  Her antennae twitched angrily.  “I find it hard to believe that a broken nose was simply an accident.”

“That’s the official report I entered.”

“And I doubt it’s true.”

Taka shrugged.  “Doesn’t matter.  The crew must have a cohesion.  Erra’s not wrong about the direction of her anger.”

“I asked people about the Io Incident,” Renha countered.  “That was years ago.  Both of you need to forgive yourselves and each other and move on, both of you.”  They stopped at the turbolift.  “It was a horrible accident, but you were both young and stupid.  Both of you.”

“And she took the worse end of that stupidity,” Taka said as the doors opened and they both stepped in.  “I’m to blame.  Not just for her physical scars, Renha, but also for her psychological, her mental ones.  She never deserved any of that.”  She stopped, looking upwards at the roof of the turbolift car.  “Bridge.”

“And neither do you,” Renha said.  “You made a mistake.  If you were human, they’d say human nature, live and learn from it.  But you’re not.”

“No, I’m not.”

“And we Aenar and Andorians, what’s our saying?”

Shala sein horla kep,” Taka stated.  “The winds clear the ice.”  She sighed and her antennae curled.  “The ice needs to be cleared between Erra and myself.”

The door opened to the Bridge of the Adventurer.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: All The Things To Come

“Glad you could join us,” Korolevna stated, turning to look at the new arrivals.  “We’ve entered the Jouret System and are on course for the gateway.  We’re being escorted by a Mogai-class warbird, the N’Ventar, under the command of Subcommander Esha t’Raen.”

“ETA to gateway, 20 minutes, five seconds,” Straala reported from the Helm.

“This will be a most intriguing mission,” T’Rela stated from beside the Captain’s chair.  Taka glanced at the Vulcan Ambassador before returning back to the viewscreen.  “Romulans, Starfleet, Klingons, even the Cardassians are requesting permission to explore the Delta Quadrant.”

“And we’ll be one of the first to make contact with new races,” Renha said, some youthfulness coming back to her.  “It’s going to be quite exciting.”

Taka stepped towards her chair, her eyes unmoving from the Mogai leading the Adventurer on the viewscreen.  Though a Mogai was capable of standing up to the Vesta-class, the Adventurer lacked the edge to overtake the warbird without substantial damage.  Theoretically, a Mogai could destroy the Adventurer.

She slid into her chair, dragging the console around in front of her and tapping commands into it.  She studied the information pertaining to the N’Ventar.  Firepower and shield schematics rolled up the screen in front of her and Taka’s antennae shrunk slightly at the realization that the Romulans had further upgraded their weapons systems, augmenting them with Klingon disruptors and Federation phasers.

Though the Romulans were allies to both powers, it still made Taka uncomfortable knowing that Starfleet was trading weapons with them.  Especially with the significant mistrust between all the powers present only a year before.  She looked at Korolevna, her concerns written on her face.

“The Romulans are our allies, Ensign zh’An,” Korolevna said without Taka saying anything.  The use of Ensign still felt strange to hear for Taka.  “They’re also the Klingons’ allies, too.”  She shook her head, “Not that I completely understand that.”

“They chose logically,” T’Rela stated.  “The Federation and the Klingons offer strength and defense.  The Romulans have also forced a treaty between them, not unlike the Organians 151 years ago.  In doing so, they have secured their existence.  Anyone attacking them would have the combined forces of the Federation, Klingon, and the Republic, not unlike during the end of the Dominion War.”

“Doesn’t mean I have to like it, does it?” Korolevna asked rhetorically.

“No, Captain, that is true.  One does not have to like it,” T’Rela replied.

“Captain, I’m receiving a hail from a Romulan ship,” Netu announced.  “The RRW Lleiset.”

Korolevna sighed and nodded as she rose from her chair.  “Put it on screen, Ensign Netu.”

The viewscreen changed, showing the symbol of the Romulan Republic before disappearing, transforming into the Bridge of a distinctly Romulan vessel.  A woman appeared on screen with the ridged forehead indicative of the so-called ‘Romulan nobility’.  She wore the uniform of the Romulan Republic, which Taka was still unused to seeing; most vids she had seen and holorecordings still showed the Romulans with their older, Star Empire style.

Welcome, USS Adventurer, I am Admiral Tiaru Jarok, commander of the Romulan fleets in the Delta Quadrant,” the woman stated.  It took a moment before Taka remembered where she’d heard the name Jarok before.

The ‘Defector Incident’, in 2366, and Admiral Alidar Jarok, who had been more than willing to sacrifice everything to prevent a war that would devastate both sides.  While it had turned out to be a ploy, his sacrifice had spurred others into action, thus laying the groundwork for the alliances that would come to pass during the Dominion War and even now.  Still, Taka mused, it was a strange situation that this Admiral Jarok, whom Taka believed was his daughter, would actually have command of any vessel, even in the Republic.

“Admiral Jarok, I’m Captain Tereza Korolevna and I extend sincere thanks on behalf of the entire Federation to be allowed to participate in the exploration of the Delta Quadrant alongside yourself and the Klingons,” Korolevna said.  Taka could tell being diplomatic was not the Captain’s strong suite.  “I believe we have an officer exchange that needs to be completed.”

We do, as stated in part by our three governments,” Jarok stated.  “I will beam aboard your vessel with our exchange officer and two others, if that suits you.”

“It does,” Korolevna replied.  “I will have Ensign zh’An meet you at the transporter room to lead you to the observation lounge.”

That is acceptable, Captain Korolevna.”

The viewscreen reverted to its sight of the Mogai leading the Adventurertowards a glowing shape in the distance.  Taka looked at her Captain.

“We’ve got a few minutes, Ensign, I wouldn’t hurry too quickly,” Korolevna stated, taking her seat again.

“Captain, might I remind you that all diplomatic actions should be taken by the commanding officer of a starship,” T’Rela stated.

“Ambassador, I appreciate your candour in situations like this, but I have total faith in Ensign zh’An’s abilities as acting first officer to perform her duties,” Korolevna answered.

“Captain, I’m reading a Scimitar-class dreadnought orbiting the gateway,” Netu stated.

“Calm down, Ensign,” Lieutenant Commander Walker stated before his Captain could.  “The Romulans have been using Scimitars for a few years now.  They’ve generously removed the thalaron emitters to correspond with the Khitomer accords and now they’re just like the Odyssey and Bortesqu’ dreadnoughts.”

“Doesn’t make me any less uncomfortable.”

For the first time in a long time, Taka found herself agreeing with Netu Erra.  She did not feel comfortable.  Not with one of the fiercest dreadnoughts created floating around out there, waiting to attack and destroy whatever it wanted to.  And she wasn’t sure she trusted the Romulans to keep with their word.

The thalaron weapon was what the Scimitar had originally been designed to employ to begin with.  Removing it was a drastic weakness that the Romulans had never been one to allow.  They were nothing if not pragmatic and always seeking that one way to improve their chances against the other races.

“I’ll head down to the transporter room, sir,” Taka said.  She preferred to stay on the Bridge for the moment, but she had her duties to carry out and that was more important than her own, personal curiosity.  Korolevna nodded.

Taka stared at the doors to the turbolift as they closed.  She told the computer the destination and waited as it descended into the ship.  The grey walls seemed to close around her, tightening and suffocating her as it dropped.

The doors opened and she stepped out onto the deck, passing several of the Adventurer's crew on the way to the transporter room.  They separated and let her pass.  Taka glanced at their pips as she walked by, seeing the black insignia of the enlisted personnel; she held herself back from smiling, though beamed on the inside.  She was an officer now.

She stepped through the doors, seeing the Benzite transporter Chief behind his console.  “Chief Rihka.”

“Ensign zh’An.”

“Are we in range of the Lleiset?” Taka asked.

“Coming up on range in a few minutes, sir,” Rihka stated.

“Good,” Taka said.  She folded her hands behind her back and waited.  “As soon as we're within range, confirm with their transporter chief and initiate.”

“Yes, sir.”

Time flew by; what seemed like seconds were really minutes.  Rihka announced commencement of transport and Taka hardly believed it.  It couldn't have been that long.  But the four beams on the pad only proved it had been.

Taka recognized one.  The brown haired, brown eyed features of Admiral Tiaru Jarok formed in front of her, standing there waiting for the beam to dissipate.  The other three were unknowns to the Adventurer's acting first officer.

“Permission to come aboard?” Jarok said.  She paused.  “That is what you ask when someone comes to your ships, no?”

“It is,” Taka answered.  “And permission granted.”

The woman standing next to Jarok looked around curiously.  Fiery red hair crowned her head and sharp, green eyes darted across displays as the Romulans stepped off the pad.  Even Admiral Jarok glanced across the room, a little more surreptitiously than her compatriot.  Taka was not surprised; she would've been more surprised if they hadn't been scoping the room.

“My wife would love this technology,” Jarok stated.  “She'd spend hours looking it over, dismantling it, working through it, and finding a way to integrate it into our ships.”  She glanced at Taka.  “That's not to say we need it, Ensign.”

“I'd never think otherwise,” Taka smirked.  The Adventurer was still one of the more advanced ships in the fleet, even with the Odyssey-class ships rolling from the shipyards.

“Quantum slipstream drive?” the fiery redhead asked.

“The Vesta-class does have slipstream, yes,” Taka replied, motioning for them to leave the transporter room and follow her.  “I have yet to experience it yet, as the time traveling from Vulcan to Jouret didn't warrant it.”

“Achieve warp 9.9 for how long?”

“We would prefer not to push it,” Taka stated as they stepped up to the turbolift.  She turned to face the redhead.  “The engines have been known to hold it for ten hours on other ships of the class.”

Taka stepped onto the turbolift as it opened.  The four Romulans entered, too.  Taka waited until it closed before announcing, “Bridge.”

It ascended in silence.  Despite it, so much was spoken.  Jarok glanced at the redhead when she thought no one was looking, the redhead shot a scolding look back.  A gentle movement from the redhead, brushing against Jarok's hand.

Then the doors opened.

And the redhead pulled back.

“This way, please,” Taka motioned.  She didn't mention what she saw, preferring not to put any unnecessary issues to start on this exchange.

Netu Erra glanced up from Tactical.  She pursed her lips, saying nothing, then returning to her duties.  Taka motioned towards the conference room before glancing at Erra and shaking her head.

She followed the Romulans into the room before snapping to attention.  “Captain.”

“At ease,” Korolevna said.  “Admiral Jarok.”

“Captain Korolevna,” Admiral Jarok stated.  She looked at Lieutenant Pamei.  “This is our exchange officer?”

“Yes, Admiral.  Lieutenant Pamei is our Chief Science Officer,” Korolevna said.

“I'm honoured to serve aboard a Republic vessel,” Pamei said.

“We'll see after you've been aboard the N’Ventar for some time.”  

Jarok didn't sound condescending in her tone, just realistic.  Taka could imagine, with the differences between cultures, that many personnel didn't lasted long.  She stayed behind the redheaded Romulan, arms folded behind her back.

Jarok motioned to fiery haired woman beside her.  “Commander Ariatha Remora, Chief Engineer aboard the N’Ventar.  As per our agreement, she will monitor and report on activities.”

“Of course,” Korolevna nodded.  “We all wish to maintain proper and upstanding relationships between not just our governments, but those of the Delta Quadrant as well.”

Jarok nodded in reply.  “Shall I take my leave?”

“If you will,” Korolevna answered.  She nodded at Pamei, who handed her commbadge to Ariatha.

“Jarok to Lleiset, four to beam aboard, one Rigellian.”

Aye, Admiral.”

The four people disappeared in green beams.  Korolevna looked at Ariatha.  “Normally I'd make a speech about what I expect from you, but Romulans have a reputation for being strict in training and performance.”

“We continue to pride ourselves on our service, but under D’Tan and the teachings of Ambassador Spock, the Republic is less rigid,” Ariatha said.

“You'll fit in quite well, then,” Korolevna nodded.  She turned to Taka.  “Show Subcommander Remora to Quarters 1072.”

“Yes, sir.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Trained in Deception

“You’re not well-versed in this, are you, Ensign zh’An?” Subcommander Remora asked as they rode the turbolift to deck 10.

“Hmm?” Taka asked, glancing at the Romulan next to her.

“Diplomacy, greeting people from other governments as exchange officers,” Remora elaborated.  She looked back at Taka.  “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a talent to be honed and developed as time goes along.  Indeed, Ensign, it is a talent we Romulans have excelled at through…” Remora paused, “necessity.”

Taka raised an eyebrow, her antennae laying back on her white hair.  “And you, Subcommander, you have honed these skills?”

“One does not leave them out under the watchful eye of the Tal Shiar,” Ariatha answered matter-of-factly.  “But yes, I have.  I am 45 Terran years old, after all, I have witnessed much and have had to change much in my time.”

“And hide yourself?” Taka asked without thinking.

“Excuse me?” Ariatha asked.

“You weren’t very subtle earlier with Admiral Jarok,” Taka stated bluntly.  Ariatha’s eyes widened before she caught herself and looked away from Taka.  “I’m an Andorian, Subcommander, I do have some extrasensory abilities.”  Taka offered a reassuring smile to Ariatha.  “I’m not judging.”

“Judging what?” Ariatha asked as the doors opened.

Ariatha received several questioning glances from the men and women serving aboard the Adventurer as she stepped down the corridor.  Seeing Taka behind her, they stopped, though the tension was still there with some of those just from the Academy.  She could hardly blame them; though things had drastically changed and shifted in the quadrant, the Romulans and the Klingons were still considered by many to be the enemy.  Having one of the Federation’s longtime foes wandering the decks of a state-of-the-art explorer could make some feel unease - especially those who had served in Starfleet for much of the last thirty years.

Ariatha ignored her own question and Taka’s lack of answering, replacing her question with, “I understand their apprehension and inquisitive glances.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Taka stated.

“No, you didn’t.”  

Silence descended between them, awkward and heavy as it did.  Taka could hear hushed whispers from down the hall and she was sure that Ariatha was hearing them as well.  She made a note to mention it to Captain Korolevna and, perhaps, she could do something about that.

“You should head back to the Bridge, Ensign zh’An,” Ariatha broke the silence, stopping in front of the quarters assigned to her.  “We should be departing for the Delta Quadrant rather quickly and I wouldn’t recommend missing the sight for anything.”

“Are you sure?” Taka asked.

“Positive,” Ariatha answered, stepping into her quarters.  “I’m sure your computer can help if I do.”

The doors closed behind Ariatha and Taka stepped back towards the turbolift.  Though thousands of questions swirled in her thoughts, she didn’t stop to return to Ariatha, resigning herself to the realization the Remora was not going to talk to her.  She entered the turbolift and told it to head back to the Bridge, exiting only a moment later on the nerve center of the Adventurer.

“Ah, Ensign zh’An,” Korolevna said, turning to face her as she entered.

“Captain,” Taka replied, sliding into her chair.  She left the console off to the side of it, keeping herself free to move around.

“The Lleiset has sent us our position,” Netu stated.  “Sending the information to the Helm.”

“Information received,” Straala acknowledged.  “Assuming position behind the Aeneid.”

The shape of the Odyssey-class Aeneid slid onto the viewscreen, centering itself.  They could see the four-nacelled design of the Prometheus-class Epimetheus immediately in front of the massive explorer, dwarfed by the enormous Scimitar-class Lleiset.  Taka couldn’t see any of the other ships that may have been in formation ahead of the flagship of the Romulan Republic.

“What’s our position, Ensign Straala?” Korolevna asked.

The ankh shape of the gateway took over the screen.  It looked like a strange mirror, reflecting distorted images in front of the ships, showing what seemed to be a planet on it.  Taka had read about the Dyson Sphere and knew that the sight wasn’t a planet, but the interior of a structure designed by beings far more intelligent than any of them ever knew.

The turbolift opened, drawing everyone’s attention to it as Commander Ariatha Remora stepped onto the Bridge.  She stared around it at the men and women before stepping down to the lower level and taking a position beside Taka’s chair.  The Andorian looked up for a moment before returning to her console.

“We are sixth in line behind the Bortasqu’, Kor, Lleiset, Epimetheus, and Aeneid,” Straala replied.  “Estimated time, 15.56 minutes, sir.”

Korolevna looked at Taka.  “Ensign zh’An, how would you like to do the honours?”

“Sir?”

“Give the order to take us into the Delta Quadrant?”

Taka felt heat rush to her cheeks.  If she was human, they’d be turning a bright red; instead, they were likely turning a light purplish colour.  In all her years, she’d never once thought that she would be given the option to take a starship deep into the Delta Quadrant on a six month tour.  Even then, to be the one offered to give that order had never crossed her mind.

“Um,” Taka bit her lip.  “Yes…  Yes, ma’am, I would.”

She rose from the executive officer’s chair, pushing away the console, and stepped up between the Operations and Engineering consoles.  She glanced at both of them before stepping down to the level with the Helm.  Anticipation and anxiety ate at her.  She wanted to make this the best impression she could, yet all she could feel was everyone’s eyes on her.  She placed her hand on Straala’s chair.

On screen, the USS Aeneid slipped into the portal, the tips of her nacelles vanishing in front of the Adventurer.  Taka turned to look at Erra at Tactical.  “Ensign Netu, do we have clearance to depart to the Delta Quadrant?”

“Romulan command has given us authorization to enter,” Erra said curtly.

Taka took a breath as she turned back to face the viewscreen.  She tapped the Helm console.  “All hands, we will be entering the Jouret system gateway.  Prepare for nauseas feelings.”  She wasn’t sure what to expect from the Iconia gateway.  “Helm, maneuvering thrusters only.  Take us into the unknown.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Straala said stoically.

The saucer of the Vesta-class starship slowly moved forward towards the gateway.  Taka stared at the shimmering gateway portal, wondering what she would experience, her mind ablaze with questions very few would know the answers to.  Time slowed down to a non-existent crawl; minutes to hours, hours to days.

The tip of the Adventurer plunged into the shimmering portal and it slowly seemed to eat away at the hull, the saucer disappearing foot by foot into it.  In front of Taka, the viewscreen disappeared, replaced by the glimmer, before it encompassed her.