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Part of USS Dvorak (Archive): Exes and XOs

A New Star to Steer Her By – 3

USS Sarek, Grayson Lounge
Stardate 77622.5
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Two servers, dressed in identical asymmetrical jumpsuits, approached the table from opposite ends of the lounge, carrying white bowls between their hands.  Down to the cadence of their stride, every movement was precisely mirrored between them.  Unlike the reflective metallics in most of the crew areas aboard the USS Sarek, the Greyson Lounge had been designed with a distinctly Vulcan aesthetic.  The bulkheads were adorned with woodgrain and burnt umber and the tables were topped in stone.  The overhead lighting was low, given the starlight shining in from the floor-to-ceiling viewports and the holographic candles on every table.  Without disturbing that illusion of an open flame at one table in particular, the two servers proffered each of their white bowls to Sootrah Yuulik and to Taes.  In unison, the servers said, “Pardon my reach.”

The bowl had hardly kissed the tabletop when Yuulik dragged her spoon through the broth and scooped up a chunk of unrecognisable vegetable matter.  She slurped at the broth, luxuriating as every tastebud on her tongue came alive.  Taste was an Arcadian’s strongest sensory organ and the soup certainly tasted better than it looked.  After slurping up another spoonful, Yuulik leaned into the table and dropped her spoon back into the bowl.  “Now tell me, captain,” Yuulik asked, unable to contain the question any longer, “exactly how many laboratories will I command on board this floating science city?”  Yuulik swung and arm out –almost striking a passing server– to indicate the USS Sarek at large.

Sitting opposite Yuulik at the small table, Taes was still considering her soup.  Yuulik had observed Taes use this type of stalling tactic before.  Taes pressed an open palm against one side of the bowl and she probed the soup with the very tip of her spoon.  The way the leaves and vegetables had been artistically shaved and placed in the broth, the bowl appeared to be a diorama of the swamps on Kunhri III.  After taking her own first taste of the broth, and then the foam on the side, Taes raised her chin to rest her gaze on Yuulik.  Taes’ well-practiced Deltan expression of placid pleasure gave way to a smirk that spoke of baser delights.  “I don’t know,” Taes answered, shaking her bald head.  “I lost track somewhere after the zoology lab and the reproductive medicine lab.”

“With that many labs,” Yuulik excitedly said, “I’ll have the right to name one after myself.”  Yuulik shook her shoulders, shimmying in her seat, as a little dance of celebration.  “The Memorial Sootrah Yuulik Stellar Cartography has an austere ring to it, don’t you think?”

Taes had been silently sipping at spoonful of broth and then she sputtered on it suddenly.  Raising an eyebrow at Yuulik, Taes asked, “Doesn’t ‘memorial‘ mean you’ll be dead?”

“Once I have a command of my own, you’ll need something to remember me by,” Yuulik declared, steamrolling through Taes’ suggestion that Yuulik had misspoke.  “A memorial can be any monument to preserve remembrance.  By definition, it does not require the feature to be dead.”  –Yuulik slurped up another spoonful of broth– “There won’t be a Memorial Flavia Library.  I know that as truth.”

After chewing on a couple of crunchy vegetables in the broth, Taes’ gaze lingered on the soup.  She didn’t look up when she said, “Maybe there will be, if it meant Flavia was dead…”

That brought forth a squawking laugh from Yuulik, drawing the eyes of most others in the lounge.  Taes sat with her quietly, visibly biting her lower lip, until Yuulik expelled her entire laugh and the attention of the other diners returned to their own meals.  Speaking softly at first, Taes said to Yuulik, “I’ve told you the story of why I left my position as a science director to pursue command school.  It’s the same story I told in my application to training command, and to other science officers I’ve worked to inspire.  I’ve told the story so many times, I’m starting to remember the story more than I remember what really happened.  Flavia happened.  Ultimately, that’s when I decided.”

As the servers returned to their table, Taes smiled at them tightly and she nodded at their offer to take the empty bowls.  The servers offered a plate of steaming hot bread and compressed fruit cubes until the next course.  Only after they departed did Taes continue: “I had already stated my intentions to pursue the command track; I had started the advanced operational and bridge training,” –Taes winced, momentarily leaning in– “But I knew I could still quit.  I knew I could gracefully back out and pursue further advancement in the sciences.  It wasn’t until the Romulan Free State made those accusations about Starfleet paying the Orion Syndicate for ancient Romulan artifacts… It wasn’t until Flavia appeared on all those FNN interviews accusing me and my department on Starbase Three-Ten… That’s when I decided.  That’s when I knew I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a researcher.  Starship command would have to be my consolation prize.”  Her lips pursing into a quirk of a smile, Taes appeared to take amusement at the ironies in that final statement.

Yuulik held her breath.  A data point pinged in her emotional intelligence.  She intellectually recognised that Taes was showing vulnerability to her and that this was meaningful to Taes, but that data point was so quiet in Yuulik’s head compared to her voracious desire for gossip.  “Did you know?” Yuulik hungrily asked. “When you obtained the artifacts from the Lebaxairt Collection, did you know they had obtained the artifacts from a cover for the Orion Syndicate?”

Her intonation measured, Taes firmly said, “I didn’t know.”

Shaking her head slightly, Yuulik retorted, “But did you suspect…?”

Taes blinked at Yuulik and she took a deep breath.  “When the tables were turned, did you know?”

Condescendingly, Yuulik said, “I wasn’t even there.”

“Back when we worked together for the first time on the Nestus,” Taes said, “before we had conducted a single interview, did you knowingly allow me to issue the wrong ethnographic survey templates?”  There was nothing but sing-song curiosity in the timbre of Taes’ voice, but her dark brown eyes were ablaze with intensity.  The ember of that question looked to have been hiding deep within Taes for no small amount of time.

“I knew,” Yuulik answered without hesitation.  She tossed it off with the same ease as a coffee order to replicator.  “I assumed if you failed in your mission, I would be offered command of the USS Nestus,” Yuulik said.  She cleared her throat and she spoke with some regret when she said, “I may not be the most respected as a Starfleet officer, but I am a serious researcher.”

“Not an imposter in a red shirt,” Taes said, echoing too many conversations between them prior.  Taes sat back in her chair and she took a pained breath.  “Yuulik, after you tried to hoard all that data on New Tenar, I reviewed your previous mission on Haven.  Did you know I found another one?  I found another interview you never logged into the data you submitted to Starbase 72.”

“It wasn’t relevant,” Yuulik said, more sharply now.  She shook her head at Taes.  “It was background research about colony disasters.  Nothing to do with the refugees we were interviewing.  Counselor Weld interviewed a retired Starfleet officer who had investigated a Federation colony on the DMZ that had been massacred, shortly after the accords with the Cardassians had been signed.  This retired officer discovered evidence of a Cardassian plot to attack other colonies along the DMZ.  One of those colonies was Nivoch.  I did it for you!”

“That’s horrifying,” Taes remarked, in reference to a decades-old plot to destroy her home colony, but she didn’t sound horrified.  She sounded perturbed.  “But I don’t understand what it has to do with anything.  Why were you investigating Nivoch?”

“How can you not know?” Yuulik answered the question with a staccato question of her own.  “Nivoch’s ecosystem collapsed; its infrastructure failed.  How can you blindly live with this horrible thing –that never happens in the heart of the Federation– without knowing exactly why it happened?”

Taes shrugged demonstrably and she said, “What does the why get me?  All the clues in the quadrant will only give me probabilities.  I can never know exactly what happened, not for a fact.”

“When we were in the Kunhri system,” Yuulik continued urgently, “The USS Odyssey investigated a planet that suffered ecological collapse, much like Nivoch, and their research discovered the collapse was caused by subspace bursts in the planet’s orbit.  If the Cardassians were able to create similar bursts in the orbit of Nivoch–“

Stop it,” Taes said.  She didn’t raise her voice but she said the words with finality.  “Stop your research into Nivoch.”

“But I’m doing it for you,” Yuulik said, incensed.

“Then stop it for me,” Taes said.  “Stop as a favour to me.”