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Storm in a Teacup

Seeking shelter beyond the reach of the Century Storm, the Archaeology & Anthropology team on the USS Nestus seek to understand the resilience of survivors from the ion storms.

Pay Close Attention

USS Nestus
January 2400

Captain’s Log, Stardate 77040.4

 

I tell them to repeat it to themselves, like a mantra: This is the worst days of their lives. This is the worst day of their lives. This is the worst day of their lives.

 

Always remember that.

 

When they speak to the survivors, they should smile at them (if such gestures are comforting in their respective cultures). They should be considerate in their choice of words; always respect their personal sovereignty. Above all, be kind.

 

We’ve been at warp for more than a day and I still can’t feel in my skin if our mission is a kindness, or a burden, to those survivors.

 

USS Nestus has been assigned a remora mission, following USS Gheryzan to the planet Haven. Gheryzan is ferrying more than eight thousand survivors from what was once a lunar colony on Eldflaugar. Like much of the Paulson Nebula, Eldflaugar is enflamed with wide-spread ion storms. The Gheryzan has escaped those storms and engaged a resettlement operation on Haven. It remains… unclear if the resettlement will be temporary.

 

Nestus is down to skeleton staff to make room for a new anthropology team from Starbase Bravo. A baker’s dozen of science officers and counselors will conduct an anthropological study into disaster management through the eyes of the colonists. By interviewing the Eldflaugar survivors on Haven, we can examine the present-day roles of Starfleet, the Federation, and our citizens, in the middle of disasters like the Century Storm.

 

Interviewing survivors only days after they’ve lost everything can be grim work. Yet, there can be value to the discomfort if the science team on Starbase Bravo can leverage this research to influence Federation disaster management policy.  Perhaps these small steps we take today will save more lives, will bring more comfort, tomorrow.  Starfleet technology is shiny and bright, but we could be better at leaning into the natural resiliency of our people.  Without examining these questions, we risk losing the ancestral knowledge of survival from our myriad homeworlds.

 

This will be my first mission with Lieutenant Yuulik as chief science officer. Her leadership style can be called bracing, at best. I wasn’t prepared for her manner of condescension. As I spend more time with her, I  find it strangely… comforting; she reminds me of my cadet uniform and my grandmother’s cooking. Kellin Rayco, my chief security officer, has been by my side for every one of my five flights aboard this ship; every one since I first took command of the Nestus. Rayco’s counsel will be most welcome if we encounter challenges among the survivors.

 

 

Kellin Rayco cleared his throat. Amid the white noise of the life support system, it sounded like thunder. Aside from Annikafiore Szerda at conn, Kellin was working alone on the main bridge. Szerda couldn’t remember the last time either of them had said something. Like every ship of the compact Raven-class, the flight control console was a sizeable dashboard that wrapped around Szerda’s chair in the shape of a horseshoe. She took a last look at the holographic planes of flight controls ahead of her and then she risked a sidelong glance over her shoulder.

Several paces behind Szerda’s shoulder, Kellin was hunched over the tactical console that was either too short for him, or he was simply too tall for everything. With a little crooked smile on his lips, Kellin was already looking at Szerda, apparently waiting for her to turn around. As soon as he met her eyes, Kellin asked, “How did you do that, ensign?”

Boggling at him very mildly, Szerda expressed her confusion with a shake of her head.  In her Elaysian lilt, she asked, “What did I do, lieutenant?” Now that he had her attention, she swiveled her chair to face him.

The way Kellin’s eyes lit up, Szerda could imagine what he looked like as a child opening presents on Christmas morning — or whatever holiday he would have celebrated on Trill. Emoting with all the verve of a sports announcer, Kellin said, “That ion storm overtook us! Came out of no-where.  We couldn’t out-run it. Captain Taes told me to trust you. Honestly? I was too busy looking for my last will and testament, but you flew us clear of the storm.”

Szerda didn’t immediately react. She wasn’t known for being the most expressive. Some people could read her wrong. She gambled on Kellin not being one of them, when she wryly asked, “Were tears shed? When you had to decide who would get all those tank tops? When you die?”

“Oceans of tears,” Kellin said, riffing with her. Szerda could imagine this wasn’t the first time Kellin had been the butt of a feeble joke. “I almost got dumped,” he said, deadpan for what might have been the first time since Szerda had met him.

“Come closer, lieutenant,” Szerda said, and she beckoned him with a flick of her wrist. “Let me show you.” Szerda raised her hands like an orchestral conductor, while Kellin lumbered to move by her side. As soon as she could feel his golden retriever eyes on her, she hissed, “Pay close attention.”

Stabbing her hands into the holographic flight controls, Szerda used several fingers on her left hand to initiate programmed calculations, while her right hand spun a couple of dials. On the viewscreen ahead of them, the gentle streaks of warp-distorted stars began to spin like a pinwheel. Szerda grabbed hold of a holographic lever, which she punched through the air like a right hook, and continued calculations with her left hand. As the stars changed directions on the viewscreen again, she bumped up three holo-sliders with the heel of her left hand, causing another dizzying spin on the viewscreen.

His jaw agape, Kellin scoffed and he said, “My primary boyfriend claims to be a flight control officer. He’s never used his hands quite like–”

A digital chirp from the communications system interrupted Szerda’s lesson. “Taes to bridge,” said the disembodied voice of their commanding officer. Through the comm system, she practically sounded like she was the one standing over both their shoulders. “Status report?”

Without missing a beat, Szerda affected her formal timbre when she responded, “Course correction complete, Captain Taes. We continue en route to Haven.” She had completed the adjustments to the controls only moments before she said the words. As the Nestus returned to a stable flight path, the stars on the viewscreen resumed their gentle streaks.

The captain’s hesitation was mostly imperceptible over the communications channel. A slight hitch in the ‘th’ sound when she spoke. Nearly immediately, Taes said, “Thank you, Ensign Szerda. That will be all.

By the time the comm channel chirped closed, Kellin had found his way back to the tactical console that was set into the bulkhead. He straightened his uniform and he stood up taller. Szerda returned her gaze to the viewscreen. Without looking back at him, Szerda was the one to clear her throat this time. Most days, she worked as an operations officer aboard the Nestus‘ berth, Starbase Seventy-Two. This flight to Haven would be Szerda’s first mission as flight controller and operations manager of the Nestus; perhaps her only mission. Perhaps her only chance. Crews aboard a little Raven weren’t known for their longevity, not even when the ship’s name sounded like a nest.

Szerda asked, “Lieutenant, have you crewed with Captain Taes before?”

“I have,” Kellin said, affecting his playful tone from before. “Do you suppose she has hairbrushes to bequeath in her will?” he asked. A Dad-joke about a Deltan. Szerda ignored it.

“I’ve seen the Captain on the starbase, you know.  In the arboretum, she lunches there a lot.  I think she studies there?” Szerda said, meandering through a jumble of different thoughts. “She always waves at me, but I never thought to stop. Couldn’t think of anything to say, really. She, umm…” Szerda cleared her throat again, but this time it was for real. Szerda’s voice rang crisply, when she asked, “Is it true she’s from that colony on Nivoch?”

Over her shoulder, she could hear the LCARS telltalles of the tactical station being logged out, the holographic controls winking out. She could hear the footsteps of Kellin retreating to the access corridor at the aft of the bridge. “You have the conn, ensign,” he said. “And I’m sure Nivoch is none of your business.”

What is Space?

Haven
January 2400

Captain’s Log, Supplemental.

 

We have arrived at the planet Haven, where the USS Gheryzan has fabricated emergency shelters outside the town of Composure. Nestus has landed in a clearing, just beyond the settlement. While the First Electorine of Haven has made welcome the survivors of Eldflaugar, they have been invited, politely, to remain within the Starfleet resettlement facilities. The viability of the lunar colony back on Eldflaugar remains an unknown until the ion storms pass. However, the intention remains to return the survivors to their homes.

 

With each passing day, I find myself better acquainted with the capabilities of my new command, this USS Nestus. I’m learning her moods by the sounds of the engines. I welcome her scent when I wake aboard her. As for my crew, a Raven-class doesn’t have the resources for a full crew compliment, nor missions of more than a few weeks. Aside from a couple of my confidants, we make due with emergency holograms and field teams of researchers assigned on a mission-by-mission basis. While some of the science officers appreciate the opportunity to look upon the unknown with their own eyes, I can detect there are others who prefer the predictable schedules and prolonged contemplation of a starbase research assignment.

 

Our crew have embedded within the Gheryzan’s relief efforts. We hope to build trust with the citizens of Eldflaugar by distributing supplies and making necessary improvements to their temporary habitats. From that vantage point, Chief Science Officer Yuulik leads the anthropologists and counselors to document their observations of the survivors. They will canvass for volunteers to participate in ethnographic surveys and interviews. We seek out knowledge of both the survivors’ shared experiences, along with their individual perspectives.

 

My hope is we can better understand the informal efforts being made by the community itself. How might Starfleet’s methods be duplicating or, worse, interfering with the ways communities naturally support one another? The citizens of Eldflaugar hail from homeworlds all over the Federation, including colonies with their own rich histories. When working together, how does the ancestral knowledge from Earth interact with the traditional knowledge of Andorians? How do Betazoid coping mechanisms resonate with Vulcans in times of crisis? Technology can’t solve every woe. Our oral history will be lost if we never pause and aggressively listen.

 


 

Among the clusters of USS Gheryzan operations officers, Kellin Rayco couldn’t tell one yellow-shouldered uniform apart from another. He lost track of Nestus‘ operations manager, Annikafiore Szerda, even after he promised her a crate of hygiene kits. The engineering teams had constructed a archipelago of small kiosks inside one of the great landmarks of Composure, a garden space within a geodesic dome. Several kiosks provided food, water and hygiene kits, while further kiosks offered the displaced Eldflaugar citizens with access to subspace communications. Orderly lines of survivors extended from each of the kiosks, down across the length of the dome.

It was only when Kellin spotted a mass of magenta-crimson curls that he found his way back to Annikafiore Szerda. Lost in a private train of thought, Kellin guided an anti-grav sled of hygiene kits into the kiosk. His head on a pivot, Kellin searched the wide open greenspace for their commanding officer. The very first question he asked Szerda was, “Where did Captain Taes go?”

You would know, lieutenant,” Szerda hissed to the Trill in an undertone, halfway through handing a hygiene kit to a burly Tellarite.  When he stepped away, Szerda added, “You’ve been attached to the Captain more closely than a symbiont since we got here.”

Guilelessly, Kellin shrugged at the accusation. That comment had snuck out of subspace without warning. He dutifully said, “As a security officer, I’m responsible for protecting her,” deeply feeling the weight of that role. He carried a stack of hygiene kits onto the kiosk’s countertop and it felt like lifting feathers by comparison. Kellin added, “Besides, haven’t you seen her? She’s a natural at this. She tailors her words, even her energy, for every person she helps. You can see the shifts in her posture, hear her inflections change. I could stand to learn a skill like that.”

Szerda crossed her arms over her chest.  Her attention was pulled away from Kellin by an elderly Vulcan couple who stepped up to the kiosk and asked her about the chemical contents of the hygiene kits.

At the same time, a diffident voice asked Kellin, “Excuse me, you’re in Starfleet, right?”

A young girl stepped up to the kiosk; she was hardly as tall as the countertop itself. She had the same Trill markings along her hairline as Kellin’s own. If Kellin had to guess, she was maybe six or eight years old. At his 6’5″ in height, Kellin had to crouch to be able to look her in the eye at her level. He leaned against the kiosk, his forearms braced against the counter. He answered her question with a, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Can you tell me what space is?” she asked.

“Space?” Kellin said, echoing her question. The briefings he’d read en route to Haven had prepared him to talk about the habitat structures, the supplies, the status of the Century Storm. No one had warned him he would have to talk about space. Kellin fumbled through an answer, saying, “It’s, you know, space is… away. It’s out there. Space is in between the planets.”

“But what is space?” she asked again, all the more intently.

Instead of gabbing anymore nonsense, Kellin tipped his head at her and it made his ginger-blond curls bounce. As he thought about what to say, a shy smile crept onto his face. Sheepishly, Kellin said, “I don’t know that I have the words, ma’am.”

The girl’s expression was open, accepting that new information as fact. “That’s okay,” she said; “Can I ask you another question?”

“Anything you want,” Kellin replied.

“Do you know if I’m dead still?” she asked.

Kellin’s breath caught in his throat. He couldn’t vocalize anything but a sputtering sound. It had been humid under the dome all day, but only now did Kellin begin to sweat. Images flashed in his mind: he visualised scenarios, as if he were investigating a crime or a dispute. Maybe someone had panicked during the evacuation, had said they were all going to die, and she had sincerely believed it? Maybe she thought the manicured tranquility of Haven was an afterlife? Or maybe she literally died in the catastrophe on Eldflaugar and had been resuscitated by a medical miracle? Those thoughts gave way to a light-headed sensation washing over him, making him feel wobbly. Kellin knew his body well enough that his blood pressure was rising; he could practically hear the throbbing of blood pumping through his ears with the same intensity as the heaviest 0f workouts. So many maybes, and he didn’t want to know any of them. He didn’t want to know.

Kellin turned away and he retreated from the girl at a brisk march. His posture was rigid and upright. Kellin may have been fleeing, but he wouldn’t let his body language betray him. Vaguely, he heard Szerda calling after him with a, “Hey?” and then a, “What happened?” Szerda asked, “Where are you going?” by the time Kellin made it to an exit.

Kellin didn’t answer. He didn’t know the answer to her questions. All he knew was he needed to be away, to be out there. He needed space. Space from the smallest hurts the survivors were feeling, and the knowledge there were thousands upon thousands of them, all feeling hurts, big and small. The automated doors pulled apart. Racing outside, the humidity broke as soon as Kellin escaped the dome and its crowd of pained survivors.

“Didn’t you see that Tellarite back there,” Szerda asked, as she caught up with him. With a bit of a sprint, she closed the distance between them. To Kellin’s ears, either running after him in her clunky exoframe, or the Tellarite, had brought an incredulous pitch to Szerda’s voice. “He was snorting Rhuludian crystal. In public. Don’t you have a security responsibility to do something about that?”

“Let him have it,” Kellin replied. Finally, finally, he stopped marching forward. He allowed Szerda to approach, his posture slouched. He spoke to Szerda in a resigned timbre, like he was all hollowed out. She looked at him with inquiring eyes and Kellin said, “I can’t take that on.”

 


 

It was later in the day when Kellin and Szerda materialized mid-stride into Nestus‘ science lab. The moment the transporter beam released them, Kellin marched the rest of the way to the round tabletob hub of LCARS workstations. Ensign Szerda hung back. No matter how many times she had asked him, Kellin still hadn’t told Szerda what happened at that hygiene kiosk.

“Good afternoon, Lieutenant Yuulik,” Kellin said to the mission’s chief science officer. He spoke affably. Szerda could hear not one trace of his meltdown earlier. Kellin pressed a tab on a handheld holo-projector and it activated the interface for his holographic PADD.

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Sootrah Yuulik had been working alone in the science lab when Kellin and Szerda arrived. Even after Kellin offered his greetings, Yuulik behaved as if she were still working alone. She stared intently at her own holo-interface with wide set eyes that reminded Szerda of a shark. Like many Arcadians, Yuulik’s pale scalp was hairless, except for two thin strips of dark hair, from the forehead to the occiput, in a distinctly V-shaped pattern. Eventually, Yuulik bobbed her head in reluctant acknowledgement of Kellin. Her eyes remained on her work.

Scrolling through the list on his PADD, Kellin said, “Today we’re serving up twenty-two more responses to the quantitative surveys–” He sounded much like a pupil delivering a book report, and he wasn’t deterred when Yuulik interrupted him.

“Quantitative,” Yuulik said it like it was a dirty word. She still didn’t look at Kellin. “You can say low commitment,” Yuulik asserted, referring to the lesser effort it would require of the survivors who chose to participate in the study that way. A multiple-choice questionnaire requiring ten minutes or less.

“And seven more informed consent forms,” Kellin said, pressing on, “to participate in the unstructured ethnographic interviews.”

Responding to Yuulik’s touch on the interface, an interview queue appeared on another holographic pane. This one was closer to Kellin. Snatching the list of consent forms from his PADD, Kellin tossed them onto the interview queue. After another double tap on the interface, Yuulik filed the consent forms away. All of the holoscreens shrank away to nothing.

Only then did Yuulik deign to look Kellin’s way. Standing beside him, Szerda felt physical relief in her chest because those piercing eyes were pointed at Kellin, rather than in her own direction. “Do better, lieutenant safety boy,” Yuulik said, sounding disappointed. “I collected fifty consent forms on my lunch break.” Goading him on, Yuulik explained, “If you’re more observant than a palukoo, it’s child’s play to notice which survivors are bored, which ones need a sympathetic ear, or which ones will want to help you out because they admire your… large muscles.”

Kellin stared at her. He stared right at her, and he said, “Okay.” He took a deep breath and he announced, “I should check in with the Captain.” Without asking anyone’s leave, Kellin spun on his heel and removed himself from the science lab.

Szerda cocked her head, making certain she heard the doors hiss all the way shut. With that incredulous edge rising again, Szerda asked, “Lieutenant, have you crewed with Captain Taes before? This is my first.” –She leaned a hip against the LCARS tabletop– “I don’t understand Lieutenant Rayco’s hang-ups about her. He’s wrapped around her little finger, isn’t he?”

Yuulik examined Szerda. She didn’t just look at her; she examined her. Szerda felt a shiver run through her, like she was a behavioural subject in Yuulik’s anthropological field research. Yuulik softened her voice, when she proposed, “Humanoids with endocrine systems are purported to respond very strongly in the presence of Deltans.”

A mental image came to Szerda’s mind unbidden: she imagined Captain Taes as a conniving seductress, bending Kellin’s will to do her bidding. Szerda had hardly imagined it before she let out a barking laugh at the very thought. Shaking her head, Szerda said, “No, I don’t think it’s that. There’s something– there’s something else about her…”

“Well, of course you would feel that,” Yuulik said, and this time, Szerda truly felt like a butterfly under the glass of Yuulik’s lepidopterist’s gaze.  “You’re an Elaysian with an endocrine system, aren’t you, Ensign Szerda?”

Tickled by the implication, Szerda only said, “I’ll admit, I’m curious about Captain Taes.”

Yuulik nodded vaguely, but her expression didn’t say much more. Referring to Szerda’s earlier question, Yuulik said, “This is also my first mission under Taes’ command. As a Captain, I assess her to be unquestionably stubborn. The manner in which she speaks is frustrating. She articulates herself lyrically, rather than factually. Once she’s made up her mind, there’s no reasoning with her. She lacks reason.”

Taken aback by Yuulik’s candour, Szerda’s weight shifted onto the back of her heels. “That’s not–” Szerda started to say. She shook her head and interrupted herself, by asking, “Lieutenant, I haven’t seen anything like that.”

“You weren’t there, ensign,” Yuulik replied. “You weren’t part of the scientific briefings and the mission planning sessions.” Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper, Yuulik admitted, “All that stubborn vigor. She was glorious.”

Szerda chewed on her lower lip, listening to every word Yuulik said. “She grew up with trauma as hot suppers, didn’t she? Captain Taes is from Nivoch, right?” Szerda asked, and now she said it. The question of the hour.

Almost imperceptibly, Yuulik nodded once. “I studied Nivoch in preparation for this assignment. If I’m to be prepared for this research, I need to know everything about colony disasters. I need to know the most,” Yuulik said. She spoke dispassionately, the same way she might present her research at a conference. Yuulik explained, “The Deltan colony on Nivoch endured for generations until their power grid collapsed in 2374. They ran out of power for replicators, and subspace communications, and even doors. By the time the colony engineer’s rigged together an emergency beacon, the Federation was losing the Dominion War. Nivoch was too near the Cardassian demilitarized zone. Starfleet and Delta IV could send no aid to the colonists.

“My head of archaeology served with Captain Taes about ten years ago,” Yuulik went on. “As part of my preparations for this mission, I had a drink with him. (For research purposes only.) He had a couple drinks. He was Taes’ chief science officer back then, a mentor and confidante. He told me about the state Taes was in when a starship finally rescued the colonists on Nivoch. The Starfleet officers found her with a stockpile of rations from the retirement habitat. Taes had stolen all the food from the colony’s elderly.”

I got to give it up, I got to let it go

USS Nestus, Observation Lounge
January 2400

Captain’s Personal Log, Supplemental.

 

Will this be the mission? Will this be enough?

 

Our anthropology team has made intrepid progress in gathering volunteers to participate in our ethnographic interviews. The survivors have responded well to the completion of short, quantitative surveys. The real craft of our science officers will be navigating the unstructured interviews. Gathering data through free-flowing conversations will create as many opportunities as difficulties for the research team. It can be more challenging to identify consistent, comparable data from which to draw defensible conclusions. For all their pitfalls, these interviews offer deep wellsprings of knowledge.  In my experience, that often points the way to insight or further avenues of research. I expect our broad base of questions will cover ground through the historical, economical, political, cultural, legal and social factors influencing our relief efforts to the Century Storm.

 

It’s equally important that we learn what the survivors actually want. Their priorities have to remain centred in any disaster management policy change to come from all of this. However… that won’t be the work of my crew. With the limited resources aboard Nestus, we gather the research, and then we hand it off to a starbase’s science team. That science team will dig into the data to find meaning, and hopefully purpose, while Nestus warps off to our next short-term assignment.

 

Given Starfleet’s faith in offering me this command, I have… expectations of my next starship command, perhaps a light cruiser or surveyor. I expect to seek out new perspectives, while in command of a science ship. This isn’t the first time I’ve led science departments; I’ve even lead the leaders of science departments before. It appears only logical to me, but I can’t always see myself through the admiralty’s eyes. Given how recently I completed my bridge officer training, after decades as an archaeologist and anthropologist, I suppose it might not be… unreasonable for Starfleet to view me as a glorified chief science officer aboard USS Nestus?

 

This one maybe not be enough.

 


 

“What could it mean? What does it mean that I survived?” Liahew asked aloud. When she spoke, a tremor crossed her face, seeped through her words. The greying of her hair marked her as living through her sixth decade, and her dark irises were unmistakably Betazoid. She didn’t spare a look at the man who was sitting opposite her at the conference table. Her eyes remained fixed on the observation lounge’s viewport. With Nestus landed on the surface of Haven, lake Vättern was visible through that viewport. Liahew asked, “Does that make me worthy? Did destiny pluck me from the ion storms?”

The man sitting across from her had introduce himself as Counselor Elegy Weld, from Starbase Four. Although he was a Starfleet officer assigned to the anthropology team, Elegy had made the choice not to wear his uniform during ethnographic interviews like this one. Rather, he wore a plaid jumpsuit in black and beige, with highlights of red criss-crossed through it. Having secured privacy in the observation lounge, Elegy intended to remove any perceptions of barriers between Liahew and himself. “What would it mean to you,” Elegy asked, “if you were right? What if the hand of fate did save you from the storms?”

Liahew’s smile had already been strained. When Elegy asked that question, the smile thinned under more tension. It collapsed into a downturn. “That,” she said, “would be horrendous. It means– it doesn’t mean anything to me, but what would that say about my family? If I survived Eldflaugar, I had a destiny. I survived, but my grandmother was lost to the Dominion. She didn’t make it through the battle of Betazed. After she survived the Mayam Canyon wildfires! As as child! But she was less than nothing to the Dominion. Torpedo fire was her destiny? That’s it?”

Elegy didn’t have an answer to that. In the pit of his stomach, he could imagine her pain, and he offered no pretense that he knew what would help her right now. He took notice that Liahew was still staring out the viewport and he took that moment to glance at his PADD. Elegy had been provided with a list of questions to ask, but the nature of an unstructured interview meant he was supposed to follow the curiosity of his interviewee, and tie in the prescribed questions where it was natural to do so. Deciding to ignore the questions for this moment, Elegy didn’t rush to fill the silence. He watched for Liahew’s breathing to settle, and then he asked, “What was your grandmother like?”

“Grannie was a firecracker,” Liahew said. She didn’t hesitate quite so much to answer that question, and the muscles in her face visibly relaxed. “In the Mayam canyons, she was raised in this commune with an ethos of no schedules, no rules. From a very young age, she was raised to value her own choice. She had to learn to choose when to cook and to sleep. If she didn’t, she went hungry or grew tired. But she got to decide. She was free to discover her own motivation to live as a member of community.”

In telling this remembrance, Liahew looked in Elegy’s direction a couple of times. He smiled at the fond memories she was sharing with him. Even after Liahew stopped speaking, Elegy didn’t say anything. He fostered a silence between them, offering Liahew time to reflect on what she said, and what else she might like to say.

“They understood the truths of life better, back then,” Liahew supposed. “Our bodies are brief glimmers. There’s no changing that; no matter how many hyposprays we put in our necks. Our livelihood relies on our physical environment, our social environment, the cosmos at large. It’s only through that interconnection we can thrive. My grannie talked about hope like it was a living, vibrant thing. She talked about hope like it was a bunnicorn. You have to wait for hope to reveal itself. It’s never missing; you just haven’t found it yet.”

Liahew sighed. She looked down in her lap, and she said, “I haven’t found it yet.”

 


 

“–but why did you become a counselor anyway?” Yuulik asked. She made little effort to hide the disdain in her voice. Psychology was a career Yuulik could respect; by comparison, counselors handed out mental health band-aids to weak Starfleet officers.

It was later in the day when Sootrah Yuulik asked Elegy Weld that question. They were sharing a coffee in the Nestus‘ dining room and their mugs had dipped from half-full to half-empty. Nominally, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Yuulik was the chief science officer for this mission, but Yuulik had never worked with this crew before. Where she hailed from Starbase 72, Counselor Weld was on loan from Starbase Bravo. As the mission drew on, Yuulik wasn’t sure if she would mind very much if this first mission became her last. She had no one to impress –no one to compete with– but herself.

Elegy squared his shoulders and he opened his mouth to answer, but then he paused, appearing to think better of it. He scraped his teeth across his lower lip and he looked Yuulik in the eyes. Yuulik recognized that look. She saw the lawless candour that came so easily with a passing stranger. Elegy smirked, and he said, “Do you want the Starfleet answer or do you want–”

“From your heart, Counselor,” Yuulik said. Her tone was emphatic, granting him permission if that’s what he needed. “Life’s too long already. Only speak from your heart.”

Shifting in his seat, Elegy offered Yuulik his side profile, taking a protective posture as he leaned closer to the table in between them. “I trained as a counselor for the armour,” Elegy said.  “My mother is a sociopath,” he added, but he immediately slapped a hand over his mouth. His eyes widened and then he dropped his hand soon after. “She’s a wounded veteran of the Dominion War, I should say. I became a counselor so I could learn how to speak to her without being afraid.”

Yuulik didn’t know what to say to that, and so she said nothing.

Without any other prompting, Elegy said, “She’d get a look in her eye some nights, after a couple of drinks. Dad would be talking about his day, and she’d stare at a wall. She’d stare right at that wall, but she was seeing something else. …I can’t say I thought anything of it at the time. It was her way.” –Elegy took another sip– “Today, I saw that look in the eyes of one of my interviewees.”

“I’ve seen that look,” Yuulik interjected in solidarity. “Haunted. Like they’re scared to acknowledge something in their peripheral vision. In fact, I’ve seen that look in the eyes of Captain Taes. When I question her too forcefully, she hesitates.” –Yuulik tilted her head to the left– “Captains prefer giving orders. I’ve never found much use for orders…”

Elegy bit his lip. All he added to the conversation was a well-practiced, counselor’s, “Hmm.” The sound was non-committal and yet it invited Yuulik to say more.

Affecting a sympathetic tone, Yuulik said, “It would be natural for Captain Taes to be emotionally compromised by this mission. The disaster on the Eldflaugar colony emotionally maps onto Taes’ own trauma, except most of Eldflaugar’s colonists survived. Her homeworld, Nivoch, wasn’t so fortunate. Starfleet’s disaster response was even more primitive in Taes’ youth.”

“That’s a serious accusation,” Elegy said. His intonation was flat; his posture had taken on a formal manner. Yuulik categorized all of that as a theatre to hide the fear behind his eyes. He said, “You’re not qualified to make that assessment. I’d be barely qualified.”

Yuulik slumped back in her chair, exhausted at how seriously Elegy was taking this. She all but rolled her eyes at him. Shifting her tactic, Yuulik remained determined to win this debate. In her debate club at the academy, they had crowned her as Yuulik, the undefeated. “Fact: this is Captain Taes’ first command. Fact: she’s essentially a science officer like the rest of us. How can we be sure she can handle the stresses of this command? She’s a pretender in a red shirt.”

While Yuulik spoke, Elegy had similarly retreated his body against his chair-back. He looked like he would sink right into the chair if he could. “If Taes weren’t in command of this mission, who should be?” Elegy asked. He spoke slowly and then his question ended in an accusatory tone. “You?”

“Why not–” Yuulik starting to say, and then she spat out, “Wait!” She snatched the edge of the dining table and she hunched in close to Elegy. She snapped, “I just noticed something. You told me I made a ‘serious accusation’. You didn’t say I was wrong…”

“An emotional response doesn’t equate to emotionally compromised,” Elegy said hotly. It wasn’t immediately evident if he was defending the captain, or responding to ongoing stigmas surrounding counselors on starships. “I’d be more concerned if she was not struck with unpredictable emotions about rescuing people from a colony disaster.”

After gasping in delight, Yuulik declared, “You know something.”

“How could I?” Elegy said defensively. “I’ve barely met the woman.”

“You know something,” Yuulik said with even deeper certainty.

Shrugging helplessly, Elegy threw up his hands and he said, “Gossip. Gossip from an unreliable narrator. Gossip from the nurses’ station on Starbase Bravo.”

“You. Know. Something.”

“I told some of the nurses where I was going,” Elegy said. He spoke at a whisper. The words came out haltingly.  He paused after every couple of words, as if he might abandon the story at any time. “One of the nurses said she served with Captain Taes before.  I don’t know where. She might have been lying. Joking.”

“What did she say?” Yuulik asked, cutting through his prevarication.

“She said to steer the Captain away from kids. …From orphans, really,” Elegy said. The words still came out stiffly, like he was ashamed to be saying them aloud, and yet he sounded deeply relieved too. “She feared for how the Captain might react to seeing orphans. The nurse heard that, when everything went to hell on Nivoch, Taes’ parents ended their own lives to save food and water for her.”

Deep Beneath the Seams

USS Nestus, Deck 2
January 2400

A clamour of raised voices rolled into the Nestus‘ bridge like nimbus clouds.  The noise cast a shadow over Lieutenant Kellin Rayco with the same foreboding as storm clouds rolling overhead.  Almost an afterthought, Kellin locked out his tactical console with a swipe of his hand.  His body was already moving in the direction of the noise.  Stalking out into the passageway, Kellin could hear the words more distinctly now.  He heard an, “I can’t, I can’t,” with the melancholy he’d grown to associate with the survivors of Eldflaugar.  As Kellin rounded the corner, his eyes locked on an Andorian he didn’t recognize.  It wasn’t only melancholy he heard in the Andorian’s voice now, Kellin heard a stab of accusation too.

Counselor Elegy Weld followed the Andorian out of sickbay at a measured pace.  Kellin could see Elegy splitting the difference between showing concern and giving chase.  The latter might have caused the Andorian more distress.  Elegy’s voice reverberated with resignation, when he said, “Our security officer would be more than happy to escort you to the transporter room.”

Kellin nodded without thinking.  Whatever it took to de-escalate the tension between the Andorian and Elegy was good for him.  “It would give me pleasure,” Kellin offered affably, as if they were talking about going to a roller rink.  With that, the Andorian offered no further fuss as Kellin lead him to the cramped transporter room and beamed him back to the resettlement habitat.

When Kellin returned, he found Elegy back in sickbay, dematerializing water glasses in a replicator.  There wasn’t much standing room in the compartment, nor many opportunities for personal space.  To avoid this feeling like an interrogation, Kellin sat himself on the edge of the biobed.  He put Elegy in the position of power.  “You okay, Ell?” Kellin asked.  He made no effort to hide his assumption the answer would be a no.  “He wasn’t even here for five minutes…”

“I’ve been replaying it in my mind,” Elegy said stiffly.  He paced the length of bulkhead from the replicator alcove to the medical operations office.  His limbs were long, almost gangly, and he fidgeted like he didn’t know what to do with his hands.  “There were no signs of distress when I started the ethnographic interview.  It wasn’t until the third question that…  He didn’t like the third question,” Elegy asserted with a shake of his head.  When Elegy turned his eyes to Kellin, Kellin recognized that look.  Elegy looked like a man at confession.

Elegy said, “I’m a counselor.  I haven’t done this kind of work since my first cadet cruise.  I appreciate we’re all hands on deck for the Century Storm, but I’m no expert at this.”

Offering reassurance, Kellin said, “You don’t have to be an expert to see something…”

Elegy stopped fidgeting.  Finally, he was able to rest his hands by his sides.  Elegy shared what he was thinking, when he said, “I think there’s something wrong with the interview questions.”

Kellin shook his head at that and he braced his palms on the mattress behind him.  He was going to have to get himself settled in for this.  Kellin asked, “What does that mean?”

“Don’t get me wrong, they’re well crafted,” Elegy blurted out, a little protectively.  “The questions are open ended and they flow through a range of topics.  But the wording of a couple of the questions is… uncomfortable.  They don’t roll off the tongue.  One of the questions implies… the survivors had some choice over which starship would rescue them from the storms.”

 


 

“We are using the wrong interview questions. That is why,” Yuulik stated matter-of-factly.  She said the words with not one particle of doubt.  Her intonation was definitive.  She didn’t even blink at Kellin.

Kellin had come to Science Chief Yuulik in the main science lab.  He had relayed to her what had transpired with Counselor Weld.  Yuulik offered him no show of surprise, nor even concern.  She knew exactly why that had happened.  Kellin’s eyes seemed to follow her, vacantly, as if he expected something more from her.

“How can that be so?” Kellin asked.  Even children on Arcadia, Yuulik reflected, didn’t sound as naive as Kellin sounded in that moment.  Kellin said, “I’ve read the interview questions.  They ask about everything the Captain talked about in her mission briefings: Escaping the lunar colony and the resettlement efforts.  What they lost and left behind.  How they coped with emergencies in the past…”

“Yes, I did my best to patch up the holes in the questions while we were in flight to Haven,” Yuulik replied, with some small pride, to explain everything that was right with the questions.  To explain what was wrong with them, she resolved to start at the very beginning.  Yuulik flicked off her holographic screen and she looked right at Kellin.  Speaking very slowly, Yuulik said, “Alas, our questions were built on a foundation of Starfleet-approved templates.  One of the templates your Captain selected was designed for citizens who were colonizing a new world, rather than citizens who were being resettled due to disaster.”

The more Yuulik said to him, the deeper Kellin frowned.  He crossed his left arm over his chest and cradled his right elbow.  As if he was just waiting for her to stop talking, Kellin interjected, “But if you modified the questions, doesn’t that make the templates moot?”

“Words are important,” Yuulik said emphatically.  “Nuances matter, implications matter.  When you ask leading questions, you don’t cut to the heart.  Just you wait, security boy.  When we deliver this data to the research team on the starbase, they will tell us the data is tainted.”  Yuulik twirled a hand at Kellin, saying, “Look at it this way: If you fire five torpedoes” –she said the word like it was from an unfamiliar language– “and you hit only one wrong target, that is still a very bad day.  Failure.”

“Why would you use that template?” Kellin asked.  “If you knew it was the wrong one?”

“I fought it.  I fought with the Captain for more than an hour,” Yuulik affirmed.  Any pride or condescension in her tone had burned away.  Yuulik’s eyes were ablaze, staring into Kellin with all the indignation this mission had heaped upon her.  This was supposed to be her chance.  This was supposed to be Yuulik’s opportunity to prove her mettle.  And now it was tainted.  “I gave the Captain every reason she needed to choose another template and she out-ranked me in the end.  She chose the colonization template.”

No matter what Yuulik said to Kellin, he still looked back at her with the wide eyes of a believer.  His body language, his tone of voice, they all made him look like he was clinging onto a mythical lionization of Captain Taes.  “Are you sure that was the one?” Kellin asked.  “Are you sure she wanted exactly that one?”

 


 

Squeezing a holographic projector in the crook of his palm, Kellin thumbed the tab to activate his holo-PADD.  At chest level, a simple LCARS interface confirmed he was approaching the coordinates Captain Taes had sent to him.  This simple scavenger hunt to find the Captain was coming up empty.  Kellin found himself pacing across a grassy park area, behind the Nestus.  The wide open clearing was a distance away from the lake and the copses of trees.  Some small part of of Kellin appreciated getting off the ship and feeling the warm sunlight on his face.  Even so, the feeling was dampened by the need to wear a mostly black uniform from neck to toe.  Worse, his conversations with Weld and Yuulik still weighed heavily on him, and he couldn’t solve that problem by taking his shirt off.

A scream pierced the air and Kellin looked up instinctively.  He immediately saw the source of the scream was no living being.  Rather, the noise came from microfusion thrusters carrying a Starfleet shuttle through atmosphere.  The type eight shuttlecraft settled down for a landing in the clearing ahead of Kellin.  In the time it took Kellin to flick off his PADD, eight Starfleet security officers beamed in through the rapid sparkle of the transporter effect.  The security officers were neatly scattered in formation around the shuttle and every one of them had their phasers aimed at the shuttle’s aft hatch.  The security officers were shouting things like, “Step out of the shuttle”, and “Approach slowly with your hands visible.”

As he was the only security officer assigned to Nestus, Kellin deduced these security officers must have beamed down from the USS Gheryzan in orbit.  He eyed them one by one, and made the choice to slowly approach the nearest ensign.  Not only did Kellin out-rank the ensign, but the ensign was the one with the sloppiest grip on his phaser.  Affecting his formal timbre and his full height, Kellin made no pretenses of introductions. “Status report, ensign” Kellin requested.

The ensign hesitated long enough to look Kellin up and down.  Returning his eyes to the shuttle, the ensign replied, “The shuttlecraft launched without logging a flight plan, Lieutenant.  When attempts were made to communicate–”

The ensign tightened his grip on the phaser as soon as the aft hatch of the shuttlecraft hissed open.  The hatch lowered into position as a ramp.  From within, a woman in a command-division uniform stepped out onto the ramp.  Plainly of Deltan origin, Commander Taes’ scalp was completely hairless, aside from her eye lashes and eyebrows.  She descended the ramp with her hands hanging loosely by her sides; she only raised one of them to offer a wave in Kellin’s direction.

“Lieutenants, ensigns, you can stand down now,” Commander Taes said, and her timbre made it an order.  She projected her voice theatrically to ensure they all heard her.  Taes sauntered away from the shuttlecraft, as if she didn’t have phasers aimed at her.  Another heartbeat or two later, and the security officers lowered their phasers in unison.  “I am Commander Taes from USS Nestus.  I understand you’ve experienced a misunderstanding.  The colony leaders from Eldflaugar required assurances we were beyond the reach of the Century Storm.  I simply took them on a tour in orbit.  I allowed them to operate the sensors with their own hands.”

As Taes neared Kellin’s side, he swallowed hard and tried to blink away the dumbfounded look on his face.  Without pausing, Taes snatched him by the elbow and dragged him on her summer stroll towards the Nestus.  Tilting her head in Kellin’s direction, she added under her breath, “And I finally, finally secured their informed consent forms to participate in the ethnographic interviews as a result.”

His face scrunching up, Kellin shared a cringe with Taes, but she only had eyes for the Nestus.  Slipping into a hang-dog delivery, Kellin said, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Captain.  One of our research participants quit in the middle of an interview.  He was hot about it.”

“That’s not unheard of, lieutenant,” Taes replied reassuringly.

“Yuulik thinks there’s something wrong,” Kellin said furtively.  He lowered his voice when he spoke, even looked back over his shoulder.  It reassured him to see none of the security officers had followed them.  None of them were close enough to hear him.  Stealthily, Kellin said, “She said we’re using a template that was designed for colonists instead of emergency evacuation.”

Taes made no effort to lower her voice in response.  “That’s laughable,” Taes said, but she certainly didn’t laugh.  She still didn’t laugh when Kellin activated his holo-PADD, and presented her with the ethnographic interview questions side by side with the templates Yuulik had showed him.  Kellin held his breath.  He watched Taes’ eyes study the words, line by line, column by column.

Kellin didn’t see it coming when Taes slapped the holo projector out of his palm.  Taes threw her head back and she shrieked into the sky like it was the end of the world and she wanted all the gods to know it.

Loyal Opposition

USS Nestus, Briefing Room
January 2400

Seated behind the desk in her briefing room, Commander Taes invited her two senior officers to sit across from her.  Taes had made them wait for her, in silence, while she replicated a pot of strong tea.  She knew Sootrah Yuulik preferred her drinks bitter and Kellin Rayco took it with four sugars.  Despite their differences, the Science Chief and the Security Chief were united in declining Taes’ invitation.  Kellin mumbled something about tight hips and he flattened his back against a side bulkhead.  Yuulik, instead, clenched the back of a chair as if it was going to shield her from the Captain.

Yuulik sniffed in Kellin’s direction, asking, “What is he doing here, Captain?  Did we leak prefix codes in the interview questions too?”  Listening to those words, Taes had rarely heard Yuulik make a snide response before.  Yuulik was far more prone to slide a figurative sword into your chest, head on.

“The Nestus is a platform for learning,” Taes replied, even if it was mostly aspirational at this point.  Taes tilted her bald head at Kellin, but she kept her eyes on Yuulik.  “He’s here for his education,” she said.

A hint of a smirk curled the edges of Yuulik’s thin lips.  It may have been from latent empathy, or it may have been from their long nights of mission planning, but Taes felt a premonition that Yuulik was going to say: and what do you have in store for your education, Captain?  But it didn’t come to pass.  The look faded from Yuulik’s shark eyes and she said nothing in the end.  Yuulik blinked heavily and then she poured herself a cup of tea.  She didn’t drink it.

Taes released the breath she was holding.  Gently, she prodded Yuulik with the question, “Do you know why you’re here?”

As if she couldn’t find the energy to think about it, Yuulik shrugged half-heartedly.  “Not really,” Yuulik said.

Pivoting her questioning gaze in Kellin’s direction, Taes suggested, “He said you don’t believe in our ethnographic interview questions, Lieutenant Yuulik.  You said they were wrong.”  She locked eyes with Yuulik again.

“They are wrong,” Yuulik said in sardonic agreement.  Her head bobbed every time she emphasized a word like a knife-strike: “By asking leading questions, we’ve wasted precious time from those poor people who lost their homes.  Lost everything.  Not to mention the time wasted for my science team, pulled away from our own research.”

Breathing in through her nose, Taes said a silent mantra to herself to defer her emotional reactions until later.  The idea the Nestus crew had spent days asking muddled questions made her feel like she was trapped in an EV suit, slipping off the hull of a starship.  Worse, if Yuulik had known about it the whole time, it was like Yuulik had cut Taes’ tether.  “Help me understand,” Taes said, circling back to the start, “Why would you allow our science officers to ask interview questions you don’t believe in?”

“Because you ordered me to use those stupid questions,” Yuulik blurted out, throwing her hands up in the air.  She blinked and she added, “Captain.”  She blinked again, and then she added, “Respectfully.”  It didn’t take long before Yuulik was looking down at Taes with that incredulous look on her face again.  “We argued about it for over an hour.  You ordered me to use the colonization questions, Captain.”

Taes responded too quickly to hold back her own pettiness.  “There was no argument.  We discussed options, but we never argued,” Taes said calmly.  Admittedly, she was parsing Yuulik’s words, using them as guideposts towards understanding.  Worse, she suspected Yuulik bristled anytime Taes responded to shouting with anything but shouting.

“We were in constant opposition and you defeated me.  What else could that be, but an argument?” Yuulik asserted.  

This framing of their interaction wasn’t new to Taes, but she still searched for her own course to navigate it.  In her days as a science officer, Taes had participated in anthropological studies on Yuulik’s homeward of Arcadia.  There were continents in the north that didn’t believe strength came from repetition, or discipline, or force of will.  Like Yuulik, some Arcadians believed strength could only come through competition.  The simplest of procedural debates would escalate to wrestling matches for dominance.  

“That’s not how I remember it,” Taes said, deciding to shift the conversation away from definitives.  She framed her recollection as her own subjective experience of time and memory.  To emphasize it, Taes raised her hand to her scalp, pressing her forefinger against her temple and her thumb beneath her chin.  Replaying the events in her mind, Taes said, “We sifted through many templates together.  A template for colonists wasn’t among them.”

Scoffing out a breath, Yuulik took a step back as if Taes had struck her.  “Are you calling me a liar?” Yuulik demanded.

“No,” Taes was quick to answer.  She lowered her palms onto the desktop and she softened her voice even more than before.  For all she may have wanted to sneer or roll her eyes, Taes mustered her mindful practices to maintain a serene expression.  “I can only describe my own memories, Yuulik,” Taes said; “I don’t remember reviewing any question templates for colonists.  I only remember emergency management templates.”

Taes could see Yuulik’s breathing had gone shallow; her eyes were darting left and right, studying Taes for any sudden movement or threat.  Bracing her palms against the desktop, Yuulik leaned in closer to Taes.  When Yuulik spoke, she sounded chilled through and through.  She sounded defeated.  Yuulik said, “You already told the director of social sciences this was my mistake.”

“I haven’t–” Taes started to say.

Yuulik’s posture went rigid; she stood upright.  She accused, “Oh, you wrote a letter of reprimand to my permanent file already?”

“No one is getting reprimanded,” Taes snapped back.  No matter how many times she had resolved to discuss this matter rationally with Yuulik, something about Yuulik’s martyrdom complex had inflamed a nerve deep within Taes.  Frankly, Taes had been surprised by the heat of her own reaction.  At another time, she would have to reflect on that.  In this moment, she took another breath.  Taes aimed to speak in a neutral tone, but it came out mildly authoritarian. 

“I must have looked at the wrong templates during our mission planning.  Either we were talking about two different sets of templates without realizing it, or I made a typo when I sent you the final templates.  It was a fateful miscommunication,” Taes said.  “Nestus is my command.  This is my responsibility.”

Taes had lost track of her own emotional state, it left her with no ability to read Yuulik’s expression.  There was a tightness in the Arcadian’s jaw and she rolled her shoulders back.  Yuulik closed her eyes for only three seconds exactly and then she cracked her knuckles.  In her own formal timbre, Yuulik asked, “What do we do now, Captain?”

As she formulated her answer, Taes licked her lower lip and studied the teapot on her desk.  Idly, she supposed the tea had grown cold, forgotten.  Once her mind was made up, Taes nodded to herself, and she said, “Tomorrow morning, I’d like to read your proposal for an audit methodology, along with go/no-go criteria.  No more guessing and gossip.  We’ll assess the data we’ve collected together.  I’ll decide if we can proceed or if we start the study again from the beginning.  I trust you’ll be thorough.  Lieutenant Yuulik, you’re dismissed.”

Only then did Yuulik lift her cup to her lips, drinking deep the tepid, bitter brew.

Storm in a Teacup

USS Nestus, Briefing Room
January 2400

Standing at parade rest, Security Chief Kellin Rayco was overcome with a feeling like déjà vu.  The face-off between Science Chief Yuulik and Captain Taes reminded him of when his younger sisters would get into fights.  Kellin was nominally considered to be the peacemaker then and now, but he had long ago learned when to hold his tongue.  In this instance, he recognised it wasn’t his place to say anything.  All he could do was listen and, figuratively, use his broad back to hold up the bulkhead.

Kellin spotted paradoxical changes in Taes’ body language simultaneously.  Her shoulders slumped in a defeated manner, and yet she sat taller at the briefing room’s desk.  Her hands crossed in her lap, while her chin jut out before she spoke.  “I must have looked at the wrong templates during our mission planning,” Taes said in an authoritarian timbre.  “Either we were talking about two different sets of templates without realizing it, or I made a typo when I sent you the final templates.   It was a fateful miscommunication.  Nestus is my command.  This is my responsibility.”

Sootrah Yuulik closed her eyes briefly and then she cracked her knuckles.  She re-set her posture and then she asked, “What do we do now, Captain?”

Taes offered a brisk nod and she said, “Tomorrow morning, I’d like to read your proposal for an audit methodology, along with go/no-go criteria.  No more guessing and gossip.  We’ll assess the data we’ve collected together.  I’ll decide if we can proceed or if we start the study again from the beginning.  I trust you’ll be thorough.  Lieutenant Yuulik, you’re dismissed.”

Yuulik snatched up her cup and downed her tea in a single glug.  After draining the cup, she bowed her head to Taes in a formal presentation of a nod.  Without saying anything more, Yuulik turned on her heel and stalked out of the captain’s briefing room.

Seated behind her desk, Taes slowly swiveled her chair, turning her back on Kellin.  Her movement was quiet and composed.  All Kellin could hear from her end of the briefing room were the LCARS telltale chirps from Taes scrolling through a menu screen.

Taking one tentative step closer to her desk, Kellin said, “We all make mistakes, Captain.  Yuulik may not be familiar with that concept, but Starfleet will understand…”  When Taes still didn’t say anything, didn’t look at him, Kellin could feel that gnawing pit in his stomach growing.  He could only imagine the regret Taes felt, between the mistakes she’d made, the jeopardy to the study itself, and her friction with Yuulik.  The three of them were meant to be the senior staff of this little ship of science nerds, and a day had hardly passed without secrets or outbursts.

“I hate to see you this way, Captain,” Kellin said, all sympathy.  Taes didn’t reply to that either; rather, she tapped a command into the LCARS panel behind her desk.  Kellin had a worrisome second thought, and he said, “Oh!  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to make you feel bad for making me uncomfortable.  That’s on me.  That’s my older brother baggage.  I can just… be here, if you want.  I’m a good listener.  Use me as a receptacle.”

In a whizz of light, two glasses materialized in Taes’ replicator alcove.  She rose from her chair and she handed a glass to Kellin.  The tumbler was mostly filled with a deep amber synthehol, an ice cube and an orange peel.  Offering him the drink, Taes retorted, “Is that your line on Risa then?”

That did the trick.  Kellin barked out a laugh at the Captain’s unexpected wisecrack.  Trying to answer through his bleating, most of the words came out garbled.  “No, the Risians, they–” Kellin said; “What do they call me?  It translates to something like… dummy thick?”

Taes raised an eyebrow at that and she raised her glass to him.  “We can toast to that,” Taes said through a knowing smirk.  “Can’t toast the mission, but I’ll toast to that.”

After they both sipped at their drinks, Taes rounded her desk and she started to pace across the briefing room.  Kellin tried to cheerlead for Taes again, with a “Captain–“, but Taes looked away and she raised her hand to him in a gesture that asked him to wait.

“Humility.  Humiliation,” Taes said, starting in her Academy professor timbre.  “It burns in the chest like no other bodily sensation.”  There was a kind of ecstasy rippling through her words.  Taes moved across the briefing room, moved to stand directly across the room from Kellin.  After bracing her back against the bulkhead, she said, “It’s good for me, Kellin.”

“Only Yuulik would see this as humiliation, Captain,” Kellin said encouragingly.  “This was a simple mistake.”

Like a mantra, Taes said, “This is where I find myself.”  Her knees went soft and she slid down the bulkhead until she was sitting on the floor.  She loosened the flap on the front of her uniform tunic, as if it had been constricting her breathing.  “I lay no judgement on myself,” Taes said, “but I do recognize my mistakes.  I should have made the crew feel more important to me.  I should have listened more aggressively.”

Taes stretched out her legs and she took another sip from her tumbler.  “We rushed the mission planning, obviously.  It sounds morbid, but we couldn’t waste the opportunity the Century Storm presented.  We moved too quickly to prepare an anthropological study of this complexity.”  Appearing lost for words momentarily, Taes waved her hand through the air like she could shake the right words out.  “Even assuming my oversight with the interview questions was not caused by haste, the real mistake could have been avoided if I’d known the crew better.  If I’d listened to the science team more, listened for how deeply they understood the purpose of the mission.  I might have caught the mistake sooner.

“The crew followed orders they didn’t believe in.  That’s the sin,” Taes said.  Her recitations, thus far, had sounded removed to Kellin.  If anything, Taes sounded like she was delivering a lecture.  But there came a shift in her energy.  Her throat, and her voice, were tightened by the guilt.  These words, she squeezed them out: “They would have spoken up sooner if they’d understood the mission’s purpose in their bones.  The crew didn’t trust I would listen.”

Kellin crouched down to the deck too.  He stretched his legs out in front of him, as he said, “The crew will understand.  Starfleet will understand too.”

“They’re not the ones I answer to.  I owe my loyalty to the survivors,” Taes said darkly.  Her eyes had become wet, look at Kellin with deeper intensity.  “I’m disgusted at the thought of the distress we’ve caused them.  This is the worst day of their entire lives.  We should be caring for them, and  we probed at them.  We asked them to open their hearts to us.  We can’t have done all that and then discard the data.  I can’t allow it.  I won’t betray them like that.”

Taes tilted her head back in a way that looked like she was about to retch.  That moment quickly passed and Taes finished off her drink instead.  She explained, “Anthropologists in a disaster area is an ethical mine-field to begin with.  The opportunities for learning are gargantuan.  The insights we gather could revolutionize a more survivor-centric approach to evacuations of this scale.”

Through a brittle laugh, Taes admitted, “I keep telling myself that, even thought I believe we should be giving them time to grieve.  What we’re doing is ghoulish.  It’s grave-digging.  When the Starfleet crew came for me, when they rescued me from Nivoch…”  The moment, the literal moment Taes mentioned her home world, she turned her head away.  She covered her face with both her hands and she sucked in a startled gasp at her own words.

Stiffling a gasp of his own, Kellin’s eyes widened and his mouth hung agape.  In the months he’d served with Commander Taes on Starbase 72, and Nestus, he never heard her so much as say the word Nivoch.  In all the mission briefings about rescuing survivors from a decimated colony world, Taes had never drawn comparisons to her own adolescence, trapped on a colony with limited technology and food.  Members of the crew had asked Kellin about Taes’ experience, and he’d been able to shut them down honestly.  He didn’t know anything except for the abbreviated notations in Taes’ service jacket.  Leaning forward, Kellin reached his hands out and he clasped his knees.  He wondered if this was the moment?  Would this be the moment she described the inhumane living conditions the Starfleet rescue crew had found her in?  Was she about to confess the desperate things she’d done to survive?

“My nickname at the academy was spongey,” Kellin said softly.  “As big as I am, I’m soft and I listen aggressively.  I can soak it up, but if you squeeze me, I’ll forget every word,” he promised.  Self-deprecatingly, he added, “I don’t think I know half the words in your vocabulary anyway…”

With her face still in her hands and her voice hardening, Taes said, “The Starfleet officers didn’t ask me any questions.  There were no anthropologists or counselors hovering around me, watching me, lying to me that I’ll be okay.”  Taes took a breath and it appeared to calm her.  “They gave me soup.  They let me take a bath.  They promised me this was all real.”

Taes dropped her hands into her lap and she made eye-contact with Kellin again.  Taes said, “That was my favourite day.”