Commander Ezra Vreen opened the door to her quarters and shot a smile at the tall woman standing there.
Doctor Malady Swank, her blue-shouldered coat shimmery in the bright hallway lighting, raised an eyebrow.
Swank just shook her head, a smile creasing the edges of her eyes. Nearing fifty, she was a good-looking woman, strong, thin, with a jutting chin and laughing blue eyes. Her brown hair came down to her shoulders, and it gave her an old-fashioned air.
“Today’s the day,” she said, and slipped past Ezra, taking note of Ezra’s room as she went.
The place was decidedly messy, and though the ventilation system on Starbase Bravo was always running, a fain lingering smell of body odor permeated the air. Swank wrinkled her nose. Stars, Ezra, are you okay?”
Ezra shrugged. She let the door close on the hallway, and shuffled toward the replicator outline that lay against the far wall. Sensing the guest and her movement, the computer raised the lighting to an acceptable level, making her blink.
“Coffee?” she asked over her shoulder, then proceeded to replicate two cups without waiting for a response. She handed one over to Swank a moment later. “Cream and sugar.”
“And yours as black as tar?”
“You know it,” Ezra said.
Malady watched her old friend, unable to quell her worry. Ezra looked physically as fit as ever, muscular, trim, with trim brown hair framing a severe aquiline face. But they had known one another long enough that Malady could see the stress in Ezra’s shoulders. She had to stop herself from treating the other woman as if she were still her patient, however, and she knew that her own boundary issues might be part of the problem. At the same time, she couldn’t not comment on her friend’s obviously unhappy state of mind.
“Seriously, Ezra… how are you?”
“Coping.” Ezra sighed. “There’s been a lot to catch up on. Protocols, possible crew assignments, news from the sector… everything been shaken up recently, between the Romulan problems and now this whole dilithium thing. The reports are all a bit murky.”
She motioned to one of two cushioned armchairs that comprised the bulk of her small room’s living area. Swank sat, crossed her legs, and stared at her friend over the brim of her steaming mug. “Any idea on the command you’re getting?”
“Not a one. Keep hoping someone will clue me in, but it’s like everyone’s decided not to talk to me all at once. It’s disconcerting. Like highschool all over again.
”Swank snorted back a laugh. “Oh, horrors that be. Let none of us ever have to relive teenagehood.” She felt her expression sober a little as her thoughts turned to the professional question that had been bothering her for days. “About this position… Ezra, I don’t want to edge someone else out of their role. That’s not a good way to start a command.”
Ezra blinked. “Edge…?” she started to say, not catching the meaning of her friend’s words.
“The new ship.”
“Oh! Listen, I was told I had free rein to bring on a crew I trust. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this is a mothball, or something close. I doubt you’ll have to worry about there being toes to step on. I’m more worried about there not being enough shoes to fill all the positions!” She tried to give her words a pleasant tinge of humor.
The truth was, she had been feeling edgier about the new posting than at any time since she graduated the Academy. For a while there, it had seemed likely that her enemies in the upper echelons of Starfleet would do everything they could to sabotage her career for good. It was a thought that haunted her.
She was a captain, not a desk-jockey. She was meant to be out here, in the deep, commanding her own ship at the frontiers of the known universe. The adventure of it, the constant movement and discover: these things were what she lived for. Without them for just a few months, she had already felt something deep in her soul start to shrivel and die, replaced by the tight fingers of her old rage.
But having her own command was just half the battle. She needed more than that. She needed people she trusted on the bridge by her side. She had told the truth: whatever ship she was landed with, it probably would be half-crewed at best. But even if she had been forced to kick someone else’s career to the curb, she would have happily done so if it meant that Swank were with her.
Still, Malady looked uncomfortable, and Ezra felt a tinge of shame for putting her old friend in this position. “If it’s something else,” she said, still trying to sound nonchalant, “you can tell me. You’re not my psych anymore. If… if there’s a reason you’d prefer a different post?”
“Oh, no… it’s nothing like that!” Malady shook her head fervently. “I miss the adventure as much as you do. Starfleet Medical’s fine work, but it’s not frontier medicine. I want to get back out there. This whole thing just has me on edge. What they did to you…”
“J’set Morale is yesterday’s news,” Ezra said, firmly. Man’s career is as dead as his love life, and more’s the better for the Fleet and the genome.”
Malady snorted her coffee and Ezra grinned. “It’s bull, but it’s stale. The future’s what we have to pay attention to now.
”The computer beeped a little alarm sound, and Ezra sighed. “I’m sorry I forgot about our breakfast plans.”
“It’s nothing. It’s fine. I’ll pick something up on the concourse. One thing about this station, it’s got some fine dining options. Where are you off to, anyway?
”Ezra stood, stretching. “Meeting with some geek from engineering. Landridge, I think. There’s some sort of system that’s going to be loaded on board, whenever we find out what ship we’re actually getting. He insisted that I meet him first thing. Ridiculous, really. I find out the name of the posting just a half hour later.”
“Well,” Malady said, drinking down some more of her own coffee as she also stood. “Let’s change plans and do lunch, then. I’d like to hear about things hot off the press.
”Ezra smiled. “It’s a deal.”
“And clean up in here,” Malady said as she turned toward the door, “you’re my CO now. Which means it’s my duty as your CMO to pry.”