Parze blinked once and she blinked twice. First with her horizontal eyelids and then with her horizontal eyelids. Each successive blink got successively heavier and slower. Sat on a work stool, Cadet Lyrakkiton Parze was hunched over an LCARS control panel, idly watching the computer compare current sensor readings from the Eldflaugar star against sensor readings taken prior to the Century Storm. With her scaly pink chin resting in her clawed hand, it would have been so easy for the Saurian cadet to drift into a gentle doze. Truly, the only thing that snapped her awake was the LCARS beeping at her about a discontinuity at the seventh decimal point that required her intervention.
Ignoring the menu options that popped up, Parze sat upright and swayed in the direction of the cadet sitting at the LCARS console to her right. “Why do we devote countless hours looking at the stars?” Parze asked in a hazy undertone. “What do they get out of it?”
Until the numbers became analysis became the endless possibility of the stars, Hargreaves was not entirely content to be dragged through this part of stellar sciences. She had been fighting a doze herself, letting the raw data wash over her with the ambitious expectation that if something important came up, it would stand out and she would miraculously flag it for analysis. In truth, the odds were not in her favour.
So the questions jerked her from her own reverie. Like a startled cat, Hargreaves snapped upright and kept moving to lean on the console like motion had been her intention all along, hand coming up to her chin thoughtfully. Only then did she realise that this was not a question to which she had given any past thought. “I don’t think the interests of stars are in the Starfleet mission statement,” she drawled after a heartbeat. “It’s an entirely selfish undertaking on our part. We’re just in it for what they’ve seen over the eons and never do we ask, ‘what can we do for you?’ to a white dwarf. Totally rude of us.”
An LCARS pop up continued to softly chime at Cadet Parze. The computer had found an inconsistency in the sensor readings. It was minuscule, hardly worth noticing, but the algorithms required sentient input to accept the inconsistency or to investigate deeper. Parze ignored it. “That’s assuming we can control ourselves at all. Maybe our urge to stargaze is subliminal programming,” Parze suggested. Clearly, this unhinged line of thinking excited her far more than her assigned duties. In that regard, toilet scrubbing might have been more exciting the duties the cadets had been assigned. She went on, “If the stars desire our worship, what do they want it for?”
With a beady look in her eye, Hargreaves leaned over. “Hey, nobody told me that a shift in Stellar Sciences was going to be more like being back in Idolatry and Tradition lectures. You sound like you’ve been cooped up in here way too long.” She grinned. “I’m Nia Hargreaves, by the way. Not seen you in any of my classes before?” Odds were good that Hargreaves wasn’t particularly talented at noticing people who didn’t make themselves noticed in class.
“I’m in senior year,” Parze said, not to put a wedge between them. Rather, she stated it as neutral information to explain why they had shared few, if any, classes together. Parze said, “I’m Lyra Parze. I think I saw you at the orientation for Cadet Squadron Bravo. They turned me down in junior year. You must be a star yourself.”
“I mean, I’m trying,” said Hargreaves with a grin that did absolutely nothing to support an attempt at a self-effacing manner. “Isn’t getting into the squadron an achievement whenever it happens? I feel a bit better about that, though, if you’re in the squadron and you’re shackled to a console down here in Stellar Sciences, too. Aren’t we supposed to get some hot training they couldn’t possibly do for us on the surface?” There seemed no real consideration that processing fresh data from the aftermath of the storm was, however occasionally mind-numbing, not the sort of hands-on opportunity a cadet would get on the Mellstoxx campus.
Her mind blown, Parze swayed back on her stool, while remaining perfectly balanced on her perch. “You’re right,” Parze said. Her bulbous eyes widened even more, as if her whole live had been lived on a holodeck and Hargreaves had just shouted: end program. Lowering her voice conspiratorially, Parze leaned towards Hargreaves and she posited, “Maybe this is all a test. Like the academy entrance exam mind-games. But…” –she mimed weighing out each option in her hands– “Are they testing for our obedience, or are they testing for our independence in the face of a bad order?”
There was a pause as Hargreaves processed this. It seemed her current lab partner was not necessarily just tired or bored. Then something but gentle bewilderment sparked in her, and she leaned in with a fresh conspiratorial air and a gleam of mischief. “We are just processing data that nobody’s in any hurry to look at and isn’t really going to give anything more. Maybe this is like those psychology experiments where the point is seeing how long we do it before realising it’s needless and find something more exciting to do.” It was unclear what was a more exciting option that didn’t consist of simply abandoning their posts. But consequences were not particularly high on Hargreaves’ list of considerations.
Taking that in, Parze rubbed the pads of her fingertips over her lips. She nodded gently, as Hargreaves not only acknowledged the theory but appeared to agree with it, theoretically. “But then that would mean our instructors want us to… steal a runabout with metaphasic shields and examine one of these stars up close? We could discover if any of them have been changed by the Century Storm!” Parze proposed excitedly. The words had hardly come out of her mouth when she exploded with a peal of laughter. Shaking her head, Parze said, “No… no… that’s too paranoid. That can’t be real.”
Hargreaves tapped her fingers on the edge of the console, listening with an expression that blended curiosity with amusement and, perhaps, concern. “You’re right. That’s a bit too far. I think we’ve just been cooped up in this lab for too long.” When she leaned forward, it was with a more determined grin. “You’ve definitely been cooped up way too long, Parze. You look like you need a better way of blowing off steam; I’ve not seen you down at Skyglow or any of the clubs. Some of the squad like hitting them; you should come with next time.”
Parze let out a lilting, light-hearted laugh at that. The timing of her laugh left it vague if she was in agreement that she had been cooped up too long, or if she was laughing at the thought of herself going clubbing. “I’ve never been to Skyglow,” Parze said. As much as her words were chosen to be as non-committal as possible, she also sounded surprised at herself. “What’s it like?”
“Oh, it’s great. Great atmosphere, best drinks on the station.” Hargreaves spoke with a worldly air and twist of the hand, as if she were this hardened veteran of great party places and bars, despite arriving on Bravo approximately five seconds ago. “The cocktails are a real ride; hard to tell what you’re getting when you order it, you just have to go with whatever name gives you, you know… vibes. It’s great, you should come down.”
Nodding with rapt attention, Parze ate up every word of Hargreaves’ worldly air. She hadn’t been known to prioritise clubbing when essays were due or she had to study for tests. Upon joining Cadet Squadron Bravo, Parze had promised herself this year would be different. She smiled a toothy smile. “Let me know when you’re going, and I’ll be there,” Parze said. “That’s a selfish undertaking I can endorse.”
Hargreaves smiled impishly, and picked up her PADD stylus to tap it lightly against Parze’s, as if the commitment were a toast. “To selfish undertakings.” Then she sighed and looked at the numbers scrolling across the console before her. “So long as the stars don’t demand our obedience before then…”