The moment Annikafiore lifted the hexagonal lid from the cargo crate, she felt a shiver run through her. Her first assumption came in a moment of panic. She grasped for the small control pad on the forearm of her uniform to run a self-diagnostic on her Lieber exoskeleton. The subtly-designed exoskeleton consisted of black metal bands, which ringed the arms and legs of her uniform to provide Annikafiore Szerda with anti-grav mobility assistance. Because she hailed from low-gravity Elaysia, Annikafiore’s musculature and neural motor cortex required the exoskeleton to assist her with standing and walking in class-M gravity fields. When the panel blinked green, Annikafiore felt reassured that her exoskeleton was still drawing power from the Raven-class USS Daradax, where she was itemizing supplies in the cargo bay.
If there was nothing physically wrong, Annikafiore assumed the feeling must have been deja vu. It had been hardly half a year ago when she had been serving aboard the Raven-class USS Nestus, ferrying humanitarian supplies to the planet Haven amid the Century Storm. The cargo bay aboard Daradax was virtually identical to that one in appearance. Through the mission to Haven, Annikafiore had been distracted by trying to unravel the mysteries of her inscrutable commanding officer, then-Commander Taes. Now that she had been promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade and named Chief Flight Control Officer aboard Dvorak, Annikafiore reaffirmed for herself she wouldn’t be so easily distracted this time. Taes and Elbon had trusted her to coordinate the logistics of providing supplies to the people of Kunhri III, amid the immediate food crisis.
Sifting through crates in the cargo bay, Annikafiore was consolidating the supplies that remained across the ships in their impromptu task group, now that the first wave of rations and replicators had been delivered to Remans all over the planet. Ensign Belania, from the Daradax crew, had been invaluable in completing the inventory quickly, even though she had posed distractions of her own. As a fellow pilot, the two had plenty to gripe about the handling of a Raven-class corvette, and as an unabashed Ferengi, Belania hadn’t been shy about the importance of rule of acquisition number 102. It was never too early, Belania had insisted, to begin planning for retirement, and if Annikafiore wanted to go in with her on a side-business, Belania had a cousin who could sell the remaining supplies on the black market. Annikafiore didn’t know Belania well enough to guess if that had been a joke or not.
Almost immediately, Annikafiore was distracted again, this time by a familiar humming sound. In among the cargo crates, two pillars of silver-blue energy swirled into existence. Just as quickly as they coalesced, the transporter effect faded, depositing two Starfleet officers in the cargo bay. The shorter of the two, in the gold-shouldered uniform, took the lead. Leander Nune was compactly built, but sturdy-looking all the same, and his flirtation with pink hair had started to grow out. His dark brown roots better matched his beard. Nune raised his index finger to point out one row of crates and then another.
“If we split up, we’ll get out of here faster,” Nune declared gruffly. “You look for the mark-sixes in that aisle and I’ll look for the mark-sixes in this aisle.”
“Nah, lieutenant,” replied the taller and more willowy of the two Starfleet officers. Science Officer Melchor Dolan explained away his seeming-insubordination, by saying, “Lieutenant Susarla wants more of the Prixus nutrient solution. She says the Remans are learning how to tend to the hydroponic gardens best through hands-on experience. She’s leading a class at refinery three-gee right now, while I’m explaining this to you. That means she takes priority. Sir.”
Annikafiore thought she saw Nune roll his eyes and he wasn’t exactly subtle about it. “Very well,” Nune said tightly. “As you were, ensign.”
As Dolan stalked off to the other end of the cargo bay, Annikafiore strode in Nune’s direction. Her sleek exoskeleton allowed each step to land assuredly. “Don’t you worry, lieutenant. I can help,” Annikafiore brightly made the offer to Chief Engineer Nune. Even she could recognized her eagerness was aggressive –and patently artificial– because she hoped it would distract from the unspoken subtext sparking between Nune and Dolan. “I’ve almost completed the revised inventory aboard Daradax. You said you were looking for a mark-six… what?” Anniakfiore asked.
Nune didn’t immediately acknowledge Annikafiore. He was too busy watching Dolan walk away, until Dolan was out of sight behind another stack of crates. “I… yes… Thank you, Annikafiore,” Nune said, apparently struggling to collect his thoughts. When he met her eyes, Nune said, “I’m looking for mark-six water basins and grow trays. Dvorak is teeming with fives, but the sixes are the only thing that’ll fit in the glorified closet I’ve been asked to retrofit into a hydroponic garden for refinery eight-eff.”
With a flick of her wrist, Annikafiore activated a projector rod, which lit up a holographic PADD screen before her eyes. “We can do this. I can help you with that,” she said, as she began to poke through her inventory list on the holo-interface. Without fully knowing where she was headed, she padded towards one of the shelving units along a bulkhead. “If you’ve moved on to refinery eight-eff, does that mean the proof of concept has been a success?” Annikafiore asked. Between her encouragement and leading questions, she knew it would be a dangerous game to try to intentionally influence the mood of a Betazoid, but she also assumed he could appreciate the effort, as transparent as it was. “Your team have constructed, what? Four hydroponic gardens now? If you’re building more, that must mean the Remans appreciate them, yeah?”
Nune was stone-faced, following Annikafiore around the cargo bay on slow strides. He shrugged at her and he said, “The Remans could be pissing in the hydroponic gardens for all I know. Lieutenant Susarla is in charge of planting the gardens and educating the locals. My team is strictly on installation duty. We assemble the equipment and then we move on to the next refinery, and we do it all over again.”
Swaying towards him, Annikafiore bumped her shoulder into his. The motion was gentle, communicating platonic affection. “Do we still have a… Reman problem, Lee?” Annikafiore asked, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. Nune hadn’t been shy about his ire with past Reman plots against the Federation. With a rambling mien, she went on: “Because I’ve spent the past few days with them, handing out ration packs. They haven’t all been grateful, exactly, but they were respectful to me. They seem like humble, salt of the earth folks.”
“And when the Dominion occupied Betazed,” Nune interjected gravely, “I’m sure the Vorta commanders said my people seemed like humble, salt of the earth creatures.” He said this without looking at Annikafiore. “And the Vorta offered us much finer foods than Starfleet emergency rations.”
Annikafiore winced at what Nune had said to her. She shifted her footing, allowing for more physical space between them. “Okay, that sounds like I should apologise for something now?” Annikafiore said hesitatingly, because she was also asking him to explain what she’d said wrong. Fearful of him icing her out, she kept talking, despite her asking him a question a moment earlier. “But I’m confused, Lee. Are you upset about the Remans or are you really upset about what the Dominion put you through? Did I just unlock repressed memories for you?”
“I’m sorry– I don’t– I wish I knew,” Nune hissed back at her. Keeping his voice low, Nune said, “I’m angry at everything — the galaxy. The fall of the Star Empire is inconceivable. An empire is splintering and collapsing and I don’t understand how that happened. How can I know what to feel until I can understand what’s happening, or what’s already happened, if that makes any sense? There’s too many factions and they’re all drifting apart. It’s like a puzzle, but I only have half the pieces, and they’re all painted black with specks of stars. I don’t understand why everyone is drifting apart.
“…I hate not knowing what I’m feeling,” Nune opined.
“Leander…” Annikafiore said, full of concern. Almost as soon as she said it, she was distracted by a movement in her peripheral vision. “Ohmigod, Leander, it’s right there!” she declared. She pointed out the inventory codes for the mark-six water basins on her holoPADD and then waggled her finger at a stack of crates. Ensign Dolan happened to be struggling with an anti-grav scoop, slowly pulling the top crate from off of that very same rack.
Quick to lean into the change of subject, Nune called out, “Ensign, can you pull down the crate behind that one please? It has the mark-sixes.”
Dolan boggled back at Nune with a figurative deer in the headlights look. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. A second later, Dolan abandoned the anti-grav and the crates. Instead, he scampered out of the cargo bay entirely.
“Oh,” Annikafiore said. This time, she didn’t try to keep her voice down. She poked Nune in the chest. “You don’t have a Reman problem. You have a Dolan problem.”
Nune breathed out a very deep breath, very slowly. His dark eyes darted left and right, and then he appeared to be searching the overhead for all of the answers. Nune leaned across a stack of crates, bracing his elbow against the top. “Dolan won’t talk to me,” Nune said, deflated. “We had sex and now he won’t talk to me. We weren’t entirely friends before, but it was never awkward like this.”
“How bad was the sex?” Annikafiore asked, assuming the worst.
Chewing on his lower lip, Nune fixed Anniakfiore with a you’re-not-going-to-believe-this glare. “I wish the sex had been bad,” Nune told her, and interrupted his own self with an irony-laden snicker. “You forget the bad sex. It’s shocking how much you forget bad sex. I can’t forget the sex with Dolan; honestly, I can’t stop thinking about…” Nune then raised in eyebrows in a you-already-know expression. “But he wasn’t himself.”
Somewhere between a scoff and a scream was the sound that escaped Annikafiore. “You slept with Dolan,” she asked, “while Taes was piloting his body?”
Nodding heavily, Nune straighten up and he rolled his shoulders back. “Taes was assertive and up-front about what she wanted from me,” Nune said. He spoke, conspiratorially, out of one corner of his mouth, as if that would keep the secret somehow. “I sensed no deception in her. Her desire was… intense. She asked me if I’d been with Dolan before, like she wanted to leverage any past chemistry between us. Any other time, Taes would have been bound by her oath of celibacy. Dolan agreed to it all. He said it would be a funny novelty; a classic Starfleet story he could tell his grandchildren. That night was my first time with either Taes in mind or with Dolan in body. I can’t stop thinking about it, and I don’t know if I’m infatuated with Dolan or if I’m infatuated with Taes!”
“Oh no,” Annikafiore said in an animated panic. “A stupid Tuvix problem!”
“A stupid what?” Nune asked, bafflement all over his face.
“Guy, I don’t know what to say,” Annikafiore replied in incredulity. “Has anyone ever told you your problems are not relatable?”
“I have, in fact,” Nune said, “heard that before.