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Part of USS Al-Batani: 001 – Uncertainty at Alim and Roosevelt Station: 001 – The Hunt

1: Ailiang Awakens

USS Al-Batani - Quarters of Li Ling Ailiang an Hark an Jenner
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Her third morning waking in this new bed, and Li Ling Ailiang an Hark an Jenner – Ailiang to her friends, Ensign Li Ling to her crewmates – was still plagued by nightmares of being devoured by an enormous confection. A marshmallow, her classmates at Starfleet Academy had called it during their camping trip in the Olympic Mountains, and an essential ingredient in the traditional rustic snack the people of Earth called S’mores.

The bed was too soft. Far softer than the bunk she’d slept in on Roosevelt Station, softer even than her childhood bed in Freedom’s Promise where she’d grown up the only daughter of the leader of the small star nation to which she had been born. Starfleet seemed convinced that comfort could keep morale up on a heavy cruiser, and that what comfort looked like for humans of any descent was a soft mattress filled with advanced synthetic fibers and a thick comforter.

Maybe it was, at that. For all that the bed inspired nightmares and an instinctive sense of guilt, she found herself reluctant to leave it, to put feet on the hard floor through the thin carpet. Still, her mothers had not raised a layabout, so she cast the comforter off and sat up before rising from the bed.

She was more awake after her sonic shower, but she still replicated a mug of chicory coffee with milk – a favorite of her father, who had picked up the habit during his own Academy years from a good friend. Vile, bitter stuff, but it knocked what little sleepiness she had left out of her. She took sips as she sat once more on the bed, her robe tickling her ankles as she reached for her PADD. Only a few messages – one from her birth mother congratulating her on her new assignment, another from her second mother asking when she might have leave to return to Lagash. Three from Academy friends, two operational reports from the other shifts indicating that all was well at the helm. She smiled at that last, lifting her eyes from the PADD to gaze at the viewports across from the bed.

They darkened when she slept, but when her alarm activated they’d gone transparent once more, revealing space at warp in all its glory. Her quarters were at the forward point of Deck 3, and the sight of warp travel face-on always awed her. The stars streaked by, seeming to manifest at the center of the wide viewport before shooting off in all directions.

Changing into her uniform was quick, and Ailiang fastened her rank pips to her chest before affixing her commbadge and heading out the door. The corridors were wide, bright, a sterile white and grey that felt simultaneously dignified and lifeless. She had, until arriving at the Academy, lived nearly her entire life indoors or on ships, most of it in the tower-city of Freedom’s Promise where she had been raised. But in Fortune’s Promise, artificial sunlight had stimulated the growth of plants that lined the corridors, while artwork – both framed works and murals – had given life to the duranium walls. Roosevelt Station, where she had last been posted, had walls of stone as often as of duranium, and even that dark Breen-built place had felt more real than the corridors of Starfleet’s cruiser.

Maybe she could talk Captain Enigma into putting up artwork.

She was nearly at the turbolift when her commbadge chirped. “Ensign Li Ling, please report to the observation lounge for a staff briefing.”

“Aye,” Ailiang said, stepping into the lift.

“Deck 2.”