It wasn’t every day that a Starfleet team was allowed aboard a Romulan ship, let alone a D’Deridex-class warbird, even one in such a dire state as Cardinal 1. Lieutenant Sarcaryn’s hazard team had been assigned to assist and escort several of Commander Slater’s Starfleet Corps of Engineers team members during their efforts to repair the old warbird’s propulsion systems. It was a wonder that the Romulans had managed to get across the border in the first place, with the engine room in the state it was. The ship had been in the process of being stripped for raw materials, and when they ‘acquired’ it, they’d failed to bring along any engineers with enough know-how to keep the engines going.
With a scientist leading it, Sarcaryn’s team was tasked mainly with handling scientific missions in particularly hazardous conditions. They had been able to help some with the repair mission but had more or less been acting as bodyguards, and it had the young Risian quite bored. He had assigned himself to keep a lookout while Lieutenant Galan helped the engineers translate the ship’s engineering records, looking for any clues that might help them get the propulsion systems back online more quickly. Romulans were notoriously detail-oriented, so they hoped that even the salvage yard engineers would have kept logs. They’d been at it through the night.
“What kind of scientist are you again? I don’t suppose you could help me go through these records?” Galan asked, rearranging his messy black hair to fall over one of his pointed ears.
“Biologist. I also can’t read Romulan, so I can’t really help. Besides, I can’t keep an eye on our surroundings if I’m also helping you,” Sarcaryn replied.
“Are you here to keep an eye on the people on this ship or an eye on me?” Galan asked in a tone that fell somewhere between a joke and an accusation.
“I’m definitely your bodyguard, not a minder,” Sarcaryn replied, chuckling as he hopped up onto the counter next to the console where Galan was working so that they could have a somewhat face-to-face conversation even as the Romulan read.
“I suppose I don’t mind your utility being limited to being muscular and imposing,” Galan noted.
The communications officer’s face was lit dimly in green from the text of what he was reading. With his natural viridian complexion, he looked almost like an Orion in the tiny records room that they were ensconced in off of the main engine room. Sarcaryn decided to take that observation as a compliment as he sized up Galan.
“Well, I’m glad you think I’m muscular and imposing. The illusion is complete,” he offered, winking at the slightly more superior officer.
“I’ll grant that being imposing is a state of mind, but unless Risians have physiological characteristics that I am unaware of, you are objectively muscular,” Galan pointed out, blue eyes glancing away from the screen for a brief moment. “You must… exercise frequently? The results are not unnoticeable.”
Sarcaryn chuckled. “Sara,” he said, thanking him in his native language. “You Romulans are such masters of circumlocution. I remember reading about an order that practices so-called ‘absolute candor,’ which is a little closer to my own cultural sensibilities,” he teased.
“Well, given that I am a man, I’m not a member of the Qowat Milat, so I don’t practice the Way of Absolute Candor,” Galan replied, shaking his head at the very idea. He paused in his reading and turned to Sarcaryn, leaning in closer. “I’m one of those cunning, devious Romulans I’m sure you’ve heard so much about.”
The Risian found himself blushing slightly. “I shouldn’t paint all Romulans with the same brush. I apologize.”
Galan shrugged. “I’m not offended. If this were a Vulcan ship, you wouldn’t have been sent along with a phaser on your hip to guard me. Most cultural stereotypes are based on truths,” he offered, seeming genuinely unbothered as he turned back to his work.
Lieutenant Sarcaryn knew that better than most people, being one of the few Risians in Starfleet and among those few being among the even fewer that weren’t serving in medical or counseling roles. Emotional intelligence, the desire to serve, and an openness towards intimacy were all stereotypical traits of Risians that most of them adhered to. He personally felt as though he did as well; he just didn’t think being Risian meant that he had to conform to a particular performance of Risianness.
“After several hours of close observation, you don’t seem devious to me,” Sarcaryn whispered as he reached over to push some of the other man’s obsidian-colored hair back behind his ear. The Romulan didn’t flinch, but Sarcaryn could see Galan’s nostrils flare with a sudden intake of breath. “I understand why you seem so reluctant to show this part of yourself.”
“Are you a counselor, too, now?” Galan quipped.
“No, but I sometimes think about taking off my ikaran,” he added, pointing to the symbol above the bridge of his nose engraved in gold. “Pass as Human.”
“Why? Everyone loves Risians.”
“Maybe, but they also underestimate us. We come from a society that places an extreme importance on pleasure; ergo, we can’t be serious scholars or officers,” Sarcaryn explained. “I derive great pleasure from science and doing well at my job.”
“Then why keep it on?” Galan asked, placing a tentative finger on Sarcaryn’s ikaran.
“Why not surgically alter your ears?” the Risian countered.
“Because I’m Romulan. They’re a part of me.”
“Well, I’m Risian. This is a part of me,” Sarcaryn replied. “I just get that sometimes it would be easier to appear a little more ‘standard,’ in the interests of being taken seriously. I’m more than just an excellent practitioner of jamaharon, after all,” he added with a wink.
Galan gave him an actual grin for that. “In addition to being devious and cunning, as a linguist, I have a very talented tongue,” he offered, surprising even the Risian with the tiny dose of flirtation he’d thrown into his voice.
“Prove it,” Sarcaryn insisted, glancing over his shoulder to confirm that they were in an isolated enough spot not to be seen by the rest of their colleagues or any of the vessel’s crew.
“My Risian is pretty rusty, but I did study—,” Galan started.
“I’m impressed you know any at all, but that’s not at all what I meant,” Sarcaryn said, leaning in to close the distance between them and kiss Galan firmly on the lips.
The Romulan kissed the Risian with an unexpected level of enthusiasm; he was less of a novice than Sarcaryn anticipated. Spending close to twelve hours on an alien ship packed with desperate people had been stressful, and Sarcaryn could feel both of them working through that tension through another emotion.
“We left out a descriptor in the list of Romulan characteristics: passionate,” Sarcaryn said, putting his thumb on Galan’s chin.
“Thank you for that. Being here… around other Romulans… it’s stressful,” Galan said, smiling at him.
“What’s mine is yours,” Sarcaryn offered, in the traditional Risian response, though he was pretty pleased that his intuition about the other man had proven correct.
Galan looked as though he were about to explore the boundaries of that phrase before his commbadge chirped. The two of them reflexively straightened up and put more of a respectable distance between themselves, even if the call would only be audio.
“Slater to Galan,”
“Galan here. Go ahead,” the lieutenant replied, clearing his throat.
“We’ve isolated the primary engine failure to the plasma distribution systems. What we’re seeing down here doesn’t match our available schematics of this class of ship. Can you check the records to see what they did to it?” the commander asked.
“Affirmative. Stand by, please,” Galan said, tapping his badge to mute the call for a moment.
Thanks to both damage and purposeful stripping, the terminal he was working from was no longer connected to the ship’s main computer. He put in the appropriate search terms, but it was taking quite a bit of time to index the logs and then search them. Keeping one eye on the progress display, Sarcaryn hopped down from where he was sitting on the counter and kissed Galan again. They locked lips for several moments before Galan pushed Sarcaryn away playfully but firmly to read the relevant data files.
“I like the way you taste,” Sarcaryn noted, wiping spit off of his mouth.
“We are going to get into so much trouble,” Galan muttered. “You’re trouble,” he emphasized.
Sarcaryn smirked. “Nothing I haven’t been told before by members of less permissive cultures,” he quipped. “Anything in the logs about the EPS grid?”
Galan nodded and tapped his badge. “Sorry about that, Commander. The records recall was slow. It looks like the second-stage plasma impeller was removed in the 2380s. They bypassed it, but I’m having trouble understanding the schematic,” he said as he pulled up a diagram.
While Sarcaryn wasn’t an engineer per se, he had enough training to recognize the rudiments of an EPS flow schematic. Clearly, something was different and weird about it beyond the fact that it was hooked up to a singularity core and not a matter/antimatter warp core.
“What’s this say?” Sarcaryn asked, pointing to a label near to what he assumed was the warp core.
“Primary EPS tap,” Galan translated.
“So, this would be where the secondary impeller should be,” Sarcaryn said, pointing to an entirely different part of the schematic. With his other hand, he reached up to the nape of Galan’s neck to play with his hair but was quickly swatted away. “What does this label say?”
“S72K-3000,” Galan read out. “Does that mean anything to you, Commander Slater?”
“Cross-referencing on my end,” Slater replied. There was a pause, and it was Galan this time who took the initiative to risk a reprimand being added to his file by kissing the Risian. “It’s an EPS flow regulation system from a civilian Romulan ship. It has a different frequency than the military-grade system.”
“The computer system that they were using to regulate the frequency differential is offline,” Galan reported after switching to a diagnostic view. “It looks like its power source was diverted to life support.”
“Thank you, Lieutenants. That should give us the last clue we need to get warp power back online,” Slater replied, sounding relieved. “Stay there in case we find any other issues that need explaining. Slater out.”
“I’m a little disappointed that we’ll no longer have an excuse to be all by ourselves,” Sarcaryn said once the call had ended. “Not that we would necessarily need an excuse back on the ship if you ever wanted to continue this cultural exchange.”
The communications officer grinned. “I’m certainly interested in exploring the linguistic nuances of the term you used earlier, ‘jamaharon,’ as it doesn’t neatly match any of the other euphemisms for intimate behavior that I’m familiar with in other languages. If you are as talented as you say, you seem like you would be an ideal candidate to… educate me.”
Sarcaryn laughed, and Galan’s face fell.
“Was that not the right thing to say?”
“No, it was. I… I guess I wasn’t expecting you to be as receptive to the idea as you seem to be. I’m pleasantly surprised,” Sarcaryn admitted. “A misconception about my people is that we are attracted to everyone. We might have a broader standard for attraction, but we still have standards. You’re quite exceptional, Galan.”
“That’s very high praise coming from you, Zaos,” Galan replied, his cheekbones tinged slightly in green blush.
“Friends—and lovers—call me ‘Z,’” Sarcaryn replied with a wink.
Before either of them could continue—or escalate—there was a gentle hum throughout the ship as the EPS grid realigned itself. For a moment, the lights in the room even got brighter. Whatever Slater and his team had done, they’d prepared the ship for the last leg of its journey into Federation space.
“Slater to Away Team. We’ve restored warp power. Please stand by for further instructions,” the commander said through both of their badges.
Sarcaryn reluctantly led Galan through the short passage that connected the library computer access bay to the engine room, where Lieutenant Hidalgo was monitoring the singularity core, and other members of both the SCE team and the hazard team were assisting forlorn Romulan engineers. No one seemed to notice as they entered the room, which just made Sarcaryn smirk, as he found having secrets to be quite thrilling.
“Warp power, yes, but I don’t trust it to hold for the whole trip without some substantial breaks for cool-down,” Hidalgo said.
“How long can she hold warp six?” Captain Lancaster replied.
“I wouldn’t want these engines going that fast for more than four hours at a time, and even then, not without at least half an hour to recycle the systems in between legs,” Hidalgo replied.
“That seems like a very conservative estimate,” Captain Okusanya chimed in.
“There are thousands of people on that ship. There’s no point in being reckless,” Dr. Anjar interjected.
“Fine. We’ll take it slow. Commander Slater, I want you to stay with both teams on Cardinal 1 for at least the first leg. Once we’re sure things are stable, we’ll bring you back and send over relief at the first break,” Lancaster ordered.
“Understood, Captain,” Slater replied, weariness evident in his voice; they’d already been working through the night, so what were four more hours? As he said that, he walked into the engine room, done with his work on the EPS grid elsewhere. “Did everyone hear that?” he asked.
Galan’s badge chirped. “Lancaster to Galan. I’d like for you to return to Arcturus. There’s been… an emergent situation… and we need you back,” the captain ordered.
“Understood,” Galan replied, looking both stoic and annoyed simultaneously.
“Here I was, looking forward to a shower and a warm bed after a job well done,” Sarcaryn muttered once the call had ended.
“I’m not likely to get either of those if there is an ‘emergent situation’ to be dealt with. But perhaps once the two ships rendezvous and you come back aboard in four hours, we’ll be able to rectify that… together?” Galan whispered.
“Oh, that’s just the incentive I needed to make sure this ship’s singularity core doesn’t collapse with me still aboard,” the scientist replied with a chuckle. “See you on the other side.”
“Galan to Arcturus. One to beam up,” Galan said before vanishing a few moments later in a column of sparks.
Lieutenant Sarcaryn was left with many pleasant thoughts as he went to regroup with Commander Slater to figure out their next few steps in getting Cardinal 1 where it needed to go. Slater and the rest of his team had forgone their more formal duty uniforms for coveralls, which the slender engineer was practically swimming in.
“I’m sure that can’t have been a very thrilling task, monitoring Galan reading a databank,” Slater offered.
“Oh, it had its moments.”