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

2: The Alim Briefing

USS Al-Batani - Observation Lounge
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“I say no, Captain!” The voice that came through the door as it opened for Ailiang was gruff, deep, firm, and in no way sounded like it came from a man as diminutive as Lieutenant Kdar Fnorch. The Tellarite was the ship’s chief science officer, and he tugged at his beard as he strove in his seat for every inch of height he could find. “Your conclusion is wrong because your evidence is weak, and your evidence is weak because your thinking is muddled!”

“I’ll concede your point, Lieutenant.” Captain Eden Seraphina Starling-Enigma was barely taller than her science officer, but she sat at ease, as comfortable with her stature as anyone Ailiang had ever met. Her dark eyes swept to the door, and she offered a small smile – a secret one, one few who did not know her well would see – and gestured for Ailiang to join them at the table. “If only because I am nothing approaching an expert on Talaxian anthropology, and because, since everyone is here now, we need to start the actual briefing. If you’d like the schedule our next argument, you can speak to my yeoman.”

Ailiang tensed at that thought as she slid into her seat, but Fnorch glared at Enigma. “You don’t have a yeoman yet, Captain.”

“And when I do, I’ll have the time needed to give a debate with you the attention it truly deserves.” Enigma tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Kirlas, report.”

As much as Fnorch’s attitude would have frustrated most humans – and most Betazoids – Fnorch held a seat of esteem at the briefing table, sitting at the captain’s left hand. Opposite him was a woman who seemed in every way his opposite – beautiful, poised, graceful. Tall. Taller even than Ailiang herself. Commander Kirlas Trem was a Bajoran, and even the young crew of the Al-Batani had already started to see her as an ideal officer.

“Ship operations are optimal,” Kirlas said, her voice soft but commanding. Kirlas could speak in a whisper and hold the attention of a room, even delivering a simple operational report. “We are still short senior staff, however… Puyallup was delayed again, and our Chief Medical Officer and Chief Engineer will have to rendezvous with us at our destination.”

Enigma sighed. “Is there any word on why they’ve been delayed?”

“Yes, Captain,” Kirlas said. “They were instructed by Commodore Stafford to stop at Farpoint Station to pick up two junior staff, but the junior staff were themselves late because Commander Karinu – your successor on Roosevelt – held them to finish some unexpected work.”

Enigma nodded. “Frontier command, then.” She rose to her feet. “You’ll need to tell them to meet us at Alim IV, then, because that is our destination. Orders are in from Starfleet Command.”

Kirlas frowned. “That’s… a Cardassian colony, right? But on our side of the border?”

“Nearly,” Enigma said. “There are two different colonies on the planet. One is Cardassian, though they claim to be independent of the central government. The other is Kolamite.” She tapped the screen on the wall behind her seat, and an image of a humanoid appeared. A man, his skin a deep crimson, his hair stiff and wiry. He himself was bulky, solid, and a keratinized crest rose along his shoulders, arching just far enough behind his head to allow him to tilt his head back. “The Kolamites are newcomers to the stellar community… first contact was made seven years ago, two years after their first warp flight. Their first alien contacts were Starfleet and the Kzinti.”

“Quite the welcome.” That was Inaree. The Saurian’s large eyes blinked slowly as she watched the figure on the screen slowly rotate.

“One they navigated well enough to survive,” Enigma said. “They now have three colonies outside their home system, counting the one on Alim IV.”

“Captain, what are our orders?” Inaree tilted her head, large eyes blinking.

“There is an ongoing conflict over fishing rights between the Cardassian and Kolamite colonies,” Enigma said. “Both sides have agreed to arbitration, and agreed to accept Starfleet as an arbiter. We are to resolve the disagreement.”

Fnorch’s eyes narrowed, and he brushed a hand along his tusk. “That’s a Cali job, Captain. Fish?”

Enigma shook her head. “Not when the Cardassians are involved. Whatever these colonists might say about being an independent settlement, the Cardassian government will see them as Cardassian first, and that makes this a problem with broader implications.” She returned to her seat. “Fnorch, I want anthropological data on the Kolamites and information on possible food sources on Alim IV. Inaree, a list of Federation, Kolamite, and Cardassian strategic assets in the sector. Kirlas, contact other colonies in the area and see what they have and need for trade. Dismissed.”

The three named officers made their way out of the room, leaving Ailiang alone there with Captain Enigma. The captain looked at her PADD for a long moment before meeting Ailiang’s eyes briefly. “Yes?”

Ailiang blushed. “Sorry, Captain. Force of habit…”

Enigma shook her head, a small smile forming on her lips. “You’re not my yeoman any more, Ailiang, but I do hope you’re still my friend.”

“Always.” Ailing rose, taking the seat that Kirlas had vacated a few moments prior. “And something’s bothering you.”

“You know me too well. Someone should never know their captain this well.” Enigma rose and made her way to the viewport to watch the stars, and Ailiang followed her. She’s always been more comfortable looking at work or the stars than at the person she was talking to. “Ailiang… when I’m not certain what to do, I’ve always asked myself what our parents would advise. My father, your father and mothers. Between the four of them, I’ve always found the wisdom I’ve needed to guide me. But this…” her eyes fell closed. “I’m a soldier at heart, Ailiang. On Sovereign I fought. Working for Admiral Pinna, I analyzed. On Roosevelt, I held together the informal alliance that kept the Breen on their side of the Valoris. But it was always as a soldier. What do I know about fishing rights?”

Ailiang tilted her head. “I don’t know what my father would say,” she said. “But my birth-mother would remind you that a fleet still moves on its stomach, and my second mother would say that someone who was just a soldier wouldn’t have earned her trust like you have.” She looked down at the captain’s pensive face. “And I think your father would remind you just how much you know about fish after all, since he taught you. Or have you forgotten the Kzinti diplomat and your famous fried catfish?”

Eden laughed at that, a smile showing itself. “I remember us spending three hours avoiding mentioning what the fish was called,” she said, her voice lighter. “Thank you.”

“Captain,” Ailiang said. “I’ve known you almost as long as I can remember. Most of the other crew on Roosevelt saw the way you threw yourself into danger and thought you thought yourself invincible, then saw how you came out the other side and a lot of them decided you must really be invincible. But I’ve seen you cry on my mothers’ shoulders and had dinner at your family home. I know you underestimate yourself as often as anyone else does.”

Eden turned to face her, looking up. Somehow, when those dark eyes regarded Ailiang, the difference in their height seemed much less pronounced. “Maybe. But this is the sort of conversation I should be having with my therapist, not with my helmswoman while she is, technically, on duty.” Then, more quietly, “Thank you, though.”

Ailiang smiled. “I’ll see you on the bridge, then, captain.”

“That you will, Ensign Li Ling.” Enigma turned back to the viewport. “Dismissed.”