Tallera anxiously drummed her fingers on the underside of her chair as Commander Zelenko fidgeted with a padd. It had only been a few moments since they’d sat down across from each other at the fountainside table on Starbase Bravo’s promenade, but the brief silence already felt like an eternity to her.
“So…” Zelenko finally said with a slight smile. “You’re certainly one of the more unique junior officers in Bravo Fleet, Tallera of New Romulus.”
“I’m not trying to be unique, sir,” Tallera replied. “I’m just here to do my duty.”
Zelenko nodded and her smile shifted from playful to seemingly more genuine. “That’s a healthy way of looking at your position, Ensign. Though the duty placed upon you is already a good bit more than that of most officers your age. Serving a different nation than the one you trained with, alongside species you’ve never met before and around next to none of your own kind. That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 22-year-old fresh out of academy.”
“It’s nothing I can’t handle, sir.”
Zelenko looked at her with a knowing gaze.
“I’m sure it’s not, but you can drop the bearing and speak freely, ensign. I’m here to get to know you, not interrogate you.”
Tallera relaxed her posture a bit and strummed her fingers on the chair again, not sure exactly where the “military” bearing of Starfleet began and ended.
“Here,” Zelenko said, handing the padd to her with a text document opened. “This is something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.”
Tallera looked at the document, and raised an eyebrow at the familiar title gracing the top of the page.
A Wolf in the Henhouse: The lingering effects of the battle of Wolf-359 on the philosophy of Federation starship design
“This is one of my senior papers,” Tallera said with an amused yet nervous grin.
“That it is. It was one of the files in the dossier the Republic sent us about you.”
“O-oh. I… didn’t know they sent you this. I didn’t exactly write it for a Federation audience.”
“That much is clear,” the Commander chuckled. “I doubt a Starfleet Academy professor would look very kindly on a paragraph opening with ‘Casualties aside, the catastrophe of Wolf-359 may have been the most fortunate thing to happen to Federation vessel design since the Phoenix’s maiden voyage.’”
Tallera winced. Stupid, needlessly incendiary phrasing. Even beyond the callous wording, it just sounded juvenile.
“I didn’t… um…”
“Don’t worry, Ensign. I’m not one to clutch pearls,” Zelenko said with a reassuring hand gesture. “I’m quite glad your superiors saw fit to send this, it’s a rare perspective on our vessels and a great way for me to see how you think. And you’re clearly quite well-informed on Federation ships.”
“Thank you,” Tallera responded somewhat awkwardly. “I’ve always found your starships to be very interesting.”
“In what ways?”
“Well, you approach things in a… different way than we do. In everything, not just ship design. And all of that, er, everything is reflected in your ship design.”
Get yourself together, damnit, she mentally scolded herself. You sound like an idiot.
“What sorts of everything?” Zelenko said, her tone calm and reassuring. Tallera appreciated that, but hated that the Commander felt the need to take such a tone with her.
“Um, take the Defiant as an example,” she said after a deep breath. “As I’m sure you’re aware since you read my essay, I’m a big fan of the class.”
“Yes, I gathered as much.”
“Well, that’s basically the first battleship the Federation designed, right? And instead of a gigantic, imposing behemoth like Negh’vars, Dominion motherships, or our D’deredexes, you built this tiny little slab of weapons and engines wrapped around a power core big enough to power a Galaxy-class. So you get something the size of a Bird-of-Prey that can go toe-to-toe with other powers’ flagships. That’s something only the Federation would design, and something maybe only the Federation could build, too.”
“Why wouldn’t your people try to design something like that?”
“Because for us, for the last few centuries, it’s not just about having power, it’s about looking like you have power. That’s why D’deridex is so massive; it didn’t need to be that big, we just wanted to have a bigger stick than our neighbors. That’s also why it’s just about the only ship we used to interact with foreigners back then. When a D’deridex decloaks, it sends a message. But with the Defiant… the Federation didn’t care about looking powerful. It cared about power.”
Zelenko nodded along with Tallera’s words, seemingly contemplating her points.
“And you think this came about as a result of Wolf 359?” the Commander asked.
“Sort of. That way of approaching things feels like it’s always been there, particularly with the less, er, glamorous Federation ships. When you get to things Galaxy, well, that’s a different story, but Wolf-359 is when the Federation stopped building glamor ships and really started building what it does best: workhorse vessels. Defiant, Saber, Steamrunner, Akira, those are all brilliant designs, even if I think that last one’s a little overrated. Every one of those vessels is what it is, and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Those ships won the Dominion War. You went a little too far with Prometheus, as I went into detail in the essay, but, well. There you go. That’s my take on your ships, I apologize for being a bit long-winded. And I, er, hope I didn’t offend you anywhere.” Tallera strummed her fingers again.
“No need for apology, Ensign,” Zelenko said. “Thank you for sharing your views. It was very enlightening.” She held out her hand, and Tallera returned her padd. “You may be interested to know that I held my first bridge position on a Defiant.”
“Really?” Tallera asked, eyes lighting up.
“Yes indeed. I was a tactical officer on the USS Piorun. The bunks were cramped, there was no privacy, and there was no way to have fun other than play cards… but I loved that ship. I loved how just being near other vessels made their crews feel safer. Defiants really are something special.”
“That’s… all I’ve wanted to do in the service, sir. Help my people feel safe.”
“I know being so far from them must be hard, Tallera. Something tells me that being here probably wasn’t something you picked for yourself.”
“Well, that essay was probably what did it,” Tallera replied. “Nobody else in that class wrote about the Federation.”
“I’m sure they picked you for more reasons than that,” Zelenko chuckled. “But no matter why you’re here, I am happy to have you on my crew.” She reached out a hand across the table, which Tallera tentatively shook.
“I’m happy to be here, sir.”
“Good.” She motioned over towards a smoothie shop a few dozen yards away, where a familiar Vulcan could be seen slurping up a green concoction Tallera didn’t recognize. “Now go fetch Dreval. We have a ship to inspect.”
“Yes, sir,” Tallera smiled, then eagerly made her way over to her friend.
Zelenko smiled back, then gazed down at the essay on her padd, and her smile slightly softened. While she hadn’t brought it up to the young Ensign, she’d noticed something extremely telling about her essay, which meeting Tallera in person had only further reinforced. To the young Ensign, everything was viewed through the lens of power.
“Tallera,” Dreval began after slurping a bit from his smoothie straw after the Romulan had made her way over to him. “Something occurred to me about our previous interaction as I was here consuming this smoothie.”
“Oh?” Tallera said with a smirk.
“Your tone and body language when inspecting the Achana’s information was rather indicative of disappointment.”
“Well…” Tallera chuckled, then chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment. “You have to admit, it isn’t exactly an impressive ship.”
“It is not. But I believe you are missing a key aspect of understanding the Raven class and what the Federation uses it for.”
“Ravens are often used as short-term acclimatization vessels for an officer about to receive his or her first large-scale command. Given Lieutenant Commander Zelenko’s rank and previous role as First Officer on an Excelsior class, it is quite likely that the purpose of the Achana is exactly that.”
“Meaning, we won’t have her as a CO for long?”
“No. Meaning you and I have been chosen to be in a situation where we will be building a personal working relationship with a Commanding Officer who we will soon accompany to a much more prestigious assignment.”
“Ohhhhhhhh…” Tallera nodded, eyes widening in comprehension.
“As such, you need not interpret this assignment as a slight. It is anything but.”
Tallera looked at the Vulcan with a bemused yet gracious smile.
“Thank you, Dreval.”
“Well then,” Tallera said, giving him a hearty pat on the back. “Let’s go meet our ship.”