Feeling oddly sentimental on this day, Captain Taes asked the computer to play ‘Symphony from the New World‘ over the internal comms in the cockpit. In the captain’s yacht, the USS Antonín, Taes had taken the flight controls for herself and framed up a view of the USS Dvorak through the forward viewport. Watching her there, Taes supposed the Springfield-class science ship remained the peculiar stepchild of Starfleet’s extended family. Despite the resemblance of its saucer section to the majestic curves of the Galaxy-class, Dvorak‘s boxy old-school warp nacelles aged her, and her engineering hull was underslung on awkward pylons rather than the more traditional joining between primary and secondary hulls. Although Taes hadn’t yet thought of her first starship command as home, she had grown quite fond of Dvorak, for all her quirks.
Taes was more than a couple of weeks into her mission for food security on Kunhri III, and she was already abandoning ship, if not the mission. She watched those boxy warp nacelles flash with eldritch activity and then the Dvorak had warped away, leaving little more than a starburst flare in its wake.
Humming along to an orchestral phrase, Lieutenant Kellin Rayco tapped a command on the tactical console, to Taes’ right. One hand adjusted the short-range sensors, while his other hand hovered over a chronometer display. “Dvorak has left the Kunhri system, captain,” Kellin reported. “She’s gotten out ahead of First Consul J’mek’s twenty-four hour deadline. …Just.”
Swiping her fingertips over the flight controls, Taes operated the thrusters to maneuver the Antonín towards the globe of Kunhri III. Keeping her eyes on the viewport, Taes asked, “Status of our task group?”
Tapping at the controls further, Kellin furrowed his brow and narrowed his eyes at his scanner readings. He said, “The missions of Ulysses, Temerarie, Daradax and Thyanis have taken them outside the scope of our short range sensors. USS Neptune is gradually adjusting its orbit over our landing site.”
Angling her bald head in Kellin’s direction, Taes started to ask, “Our prefix codes for Kunhri Three’s planetary defence systems…?”
Striking a fingertip on the LCARS panel, Kellin said, “Have,” and he tapped again, “been,” and he tapped again, “accepted! They won’t see where we’re headed, captain.”
Once the Antonín completed its arc towards the planet, Taes watched the runabout, USS August, glide into her field of vision through the viewport. If she squinted, Taes could just about see Lieutenants Nune and Yuulik in the cockpit of the August. “Signal the August to maintain formation with us, lieutenant,” Taes said to Kellin, feeling like the proverbial child with her hand in the cookie jar. She looked over for him, searching his open face for any expression of doubt. Even after Taes’ mistakes and Kellin’s captivity, Kellin looked back at her, clear-eyed with nothing but faith in his gaze. That was all the encouragement Taes needed, and she said, “I’m taking us in for a landing.”
FOUR HOURS EARLIER
The first thing Taes heard when she woke up was Commander Elbon saying, “Captain, I hate how you’ve decorated the place…”
By contrast, the last thing Taes could remember, she had been designing a farming plan with her assistant chief science officer, Sootrah Yuulik. Upon being gently shaken awake by Elbon, Taes found herself laying on the platform beneath the viewscreen in the astrometrics lab. Yuulik was curled up beside her, asleep and snoring like a pug. Elbon had referred to the PADDs scattered around them, as if they had been trying to make PADD snow angels overnight. When she sat upright, Taes saw a young astrometrics officer awkwardly meandering around the lab, pretending not to eavesdrop and trying even harder not to step on even more PADDs littering the deck.
Confidently, Taes replied, “I didn’t want to forget anything.” As grogginess passed into stark awareness, Taes found her footing and she promptly ushered her executive officer out of the lab. Only once they’d entered the corridor did Taes tell him, “I’m transferring command of Dvorak to you, commander. Your orders are to leave the Kunhri System and contact Fourth Fleet Command. They’ll give you new orders from there to support another mission in the Velorum sector.”
“Now that’s what we’re doing?” Elbon remarked. Between his intonation and widening eyes, Taes could see the dawn of alarmed recognition run through Elbon. He nodded at Taes in a vigorous affirmative. “Fourth Fleet Command have defended our actions, while Acting-Govenor Resak has remained silent on the matter. Kunhri’s First Consul J’mek has spoken the final word. He will permit the rest of the task group to defend the Kunhri system and refine the planetary defence systems. Because Dvorak doesn’t serve those purposes, we are expected to leave within… four hours now.” –With that formality communicated, Elbon’s eyes softened and his shoulders rounded– “I’ll keep watch over the crew for you. No matter where Dvorak is assigned, I’ll remain in contact with Neptune until they track down the kheet’agh who poisoned Suz.”
Taes offered her thanks. While she tried to think of something comforting to say, Elbon cleared his throat. Lowering his voice to a whisper, Elbon asked, “Does Fourth Fleet Command know you intend to take my senior staff and a science team on a field trip to Kunhri Three?”
Looking right at him, Taes cocked her head. “They’ve been… informed,” was all Taes would say about that. Moreover, she informed him, “Yuulik and I have selected two proof-of-concept sites in the Kunhri swamps. If the Remans don’t want to farm, we can show them how it’s done by ourselves. You understand… I need to show Kecene they can do this. When Ulysses picks us up, we can leave Kunhri Three with a turn-key operation from which they can harvest crops. Once these are successful, they can duplicate our efforts in other locations. I need to do this with my own hands, Jakkelb. I’ll never regain Kecene’s trust with words alone.”
Although he frowned at Taes, Elbon said, “You don’t have to convince me why you need to saddle up, captain.” Taes smirked at Elbon’s turn of phrase until she recognized his Bajoran euphemism had been slightly mangled by the universal translator. Elbon said, “I understand the importance of the Remans reaching true self-sufficiency.”
“Are you sure, commander?” Taes asked, her mien open and inviting. For all her earnestness, there was a hint of smirk to her too. “This is your last chance to challenge my thinking or file a formal complaint. Would you say imposter syndrome is causing me to shirk my duties again? I am flying down to Kunhri one last time to become a farmer. If that’s not a folly, I don’t know what is.”
“Maybe it is!” Elbon said in a pique of excitement. “Let’s find out.”
FIVE HOURS EARLIER
“There’s no utility in seriously considering the arid, desert regions,” Lieutenant Junior Grade Sootrah Yuulik said in her most common tenor: dismissive. On the map of Kunhri III, which dominated the astrometrics viewscreen, the land masses Yuulik described faded to muted colours. “Even with personal protective equipment,” Yuulik said, “That direct, sustained sunlight would be too harsh for Reman farmers.”
“Agreed,” replied Captain Taes. Standing beside Yuulik at the central LCARS console, Taes tapped another command on the interface. Green circles spun around the locales on the planet that had been surveyed by Dvorak’s away teams. Amber circles designated further locations they had intended to survey for farming and livestock purposes, before Taes’ negotiations with the provisional government had struck a forcefield.
Although this food security mission required little to do with the stars, Taes had invaded the astrometrics lab because of the sheer number of screens it provided. Something she knew about herself was that she processed information faster when it was visual, and Dvorak’s aging EPS system was incapable of handling holoprojectors on every deck. The computer workstations circling the lab displayed images and flow charts and texts summarizing the learnings of every science team on the ship. Those displays offered reminders about reman biology, edible kunhri flora, and ancestral reman food culture, among others. Additional PADDs were scattered on the platform beneath the viewscreen, containing the farming solutions that had been devised by the various science section heads, but had ultimately been rejected by Taes. She wanted to keep an eye on those rejected options, to preserve the leanings and avoid repeating any mistakes.
Sometime around 0200 hours, the last of the science section heads had wandered off to bed. Because only Taes and Yuulik remained, Taes had to assume Yuulik was in some perverse competition with her to see who could stay up the latest. Not that Taes’ own motivations for obsessively working the problem were any more pure: she feared dreams about her failed negotiations with Kecene, let alone dreams about the corpses of poor, sweet Susarla and the Reman youths. Any activity was preferable to sleep.
“We left the survey team’s base camp at this location,” Taes said. Looking up at the viewscreen, her ministrations on the LCARS panel caused the map to zoom in on a peninsula protruding into a river. “Our study of these salt-water swamps confirmed it a viable environment to transplant seaweed.”
“Efficient.” Yuulik nodded slowly at the data scrolling onto the viewscreen. “Low maintenance to grow and harvest,” Yuulik said, referring to their discussions earlier with the science team. “Seaweed won’t require a massive labour demand from the refinery workers.”
“Eh,” Taes vocalized, hesitating to commit to this being a truly low-labour option. If they were to aim for lasting self-sufficiently, it would require a certain scale. “That depends on the quantity of seaweed they decide to grow,” Taes said. “Where this type of microalgae will be efficient is in meeting their caloric and protein deficiencies.”
Rolling her eyes, Yuulik added, “If they’re determined to live off replicators, seaweed would be their best option to use as raw food stock without monstrous energy consumption. Until they acquire a taste for seaweed chips, that is.”
Taes breathed out a sigh of a “tt” and she pivoted on her heel to face Yuulik head-on. “Speaking of. What’s your plan, Yuulik?” Taes asked. “If the science department can’t acquire a taste for Yuu.” Taes emphasized that last word in Yuulik’s Arcadian accent. Settling in, Taes leaned against the horseshoe-curved console and crossed her arms over her abdomen. “You see the big picture without losing sight of the details. For all your bravado, you knew where to apply different pressure to different departments. Judging by the questions you ask me, I can tell you’ve seen the way they interconnect and interdepend on one another. But fewer and fewer of our science officers want to work with you.”
Taes eyes narrowed in grim emphasis when she said, “I’ve received five transfer requests to quit Dvorak. All of them after Suz died. …Almost like it was the very first thing they did.”
In response, Yuulik silently examined Taes. It was that expression so many of the junior science officers had described to Taes before. Yuulik looked down on Taes as if Taes were a pinned butterfly under glass. As much as Yuulik appeared to be considering her captain’s question, she didn’t exactly answer it. “I haven’t denied it,” Yuulik said, defensively. “I expected you to promote me to science chief after Holmgren went… on leave. I was your chief aboard Nestus. When you came to tell about Holmgren, I though you had a rank pip in your hand, but it was only popcorn.”
A small huff of a breath escaped Taes’ lips. Reluctantly, she said, “For where you are in your career, you are due some form of promotion. Even so, I have hesitations. I’d like to see more humility from you.” –Taes’ maternal considerations for Yuulik turned suddenly deadpan– “…Honestly, I have been plotting how to humiliate you publicly. Just once.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Yuulik barked.
Laughing lightly, Taes threw an arm around Yuulik’s shoulders. She hoped it would serve a tactile demonstration that Taes hadn’t intended it to push Yuulik away with that. Taes tugged at her, guiding Yuulik to the anthropology report displayed on another workstation.
“We can’t forget our north stars,” Taes said, pointing to an image of a farm on the display. “One of Starfleet’s first humanitarian efforts to support Bajoran refugee camps outside Cardassian space. After studying their biological needs and energy expenditures, the USS Appadurai‘s botany department decided planting soybeans in the Bajorans’ community would close the caloric and protein gaps in their nutrition. What they never accounted for is how much soybeans look like Cardassian canka nuts and the cultural barriers those created. Because the Bajorans found soybeans unpleasant, they never grew them in the volume the required to feed the entire encampment.”
Blithely, Taes went on, “Yuulik, you’re a canka nut.” Taes smiled faintly before she took on a more serious mien. “You want to be chief science officer and you know what you’re talking about, but the department doesn’t want to eat what you’re serving. We can’t all work in silos, aiming for individual achievement. The only meaningful solutions can come from inter-disciplinary collaboration. If we don’t work together, we all fail. I’ll admit, there’s a fine line to walk there. Starfleet encourages you to bring the entirety of your your authentic self to your duty, but a leader will always treat her team the way they want to be treated. You want them to want to follow you, don’t you?”
Yuulik nodded soberly. “Yes,” she admitted.
Wincing in mild frustration, Taes said, “I’m telling you this because I believe it. …It’s also true that I genuinely don’t want you to give up too much of yourself.”
“Then how did you do it?” Yuulik asked.
Taes smiled faintly again. “I don’t know that I have. Might have given up too much already.”