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

7: Qualifications

Alim - Lamek Manor
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Ensign Caroline Gale Walton stood, surrounded by people of far more moment than herself. Immediately next to her were two of her senior officers – the bearded, brilliant Lieutenant Abraham Gates in his gold engineering uniform, the capable and confident Doctor Lira in medical blue that matched her skin.

Caroline herself… was a clerk. A talented one, and one rated for scientific work aboard starships, but Captain Enigma had brought her on as a yeoman rather than a science officer. It was red that lined her collar rather than the blue she’d worn at the Academy.

She wasn’t sure whether to resent that.

Ahead of the her and the other officers were three civilians. At the center was Lamek, owner of the lavish home at which they were guests. At Lamek’s right hand stood the gray-haired Cardassian diplomat Berta. Berta was a politician by trade, but her rank and skill made her the Cardassian colony’s choice for a representative. At Lamek’s left was the Kolamite leader Drek’dak. He was more of a mystery to Caroline, though apparently he was the seniormost member of the Kolamite colony’s government. He had pale skin, a lovely nose, and prehensile ears that drooped to the sides of his head.

“All the vastness of space,” Drek’dak said, annoyance plain in his voice. “And we can’t find a mediator who arrives on time.”

“Which is odd,” Lamek said. “I have heard of Captain Enigma. Her punctuality is said to be nearly Cardassian.”

“Lay off,” Berta snapped. “There was no appointed time, and you both know it. Starfleet is in orbit; they’ll be beaming down any…”

Then the air in front of them shimmered in sparks of blue and white, and four figures in Starfleet uniform appeared. Betazoid, human, Bajoran, Saurian.

There was something odd about the human’s eyes.

Drek’dak stepped forward, toward the tall Bajoran commander, extending his hands in offer of a greeting, and Caroline winced. But the Betazoid intercepted him.

“Ambassadors.” She nodded to Lamek. “Mr. Lamek. You honor us with your trust. I am Captain Eden Seraphina Enigma of the Federation starship Al-Batani.”

Drek-Dak’s ears twitched, swiveled, as he turned his full attention to Captain Enigma. “Ah. Yes.” Was he embarrassed? “Captain Enigma. I am Drek’Dak, Mayor of Kolm.”

The rest of the introductions went more smoothly, and soon Caroline was following the others toward the house. The human ensign fell back to walk alongside her.

“Hey,” she said softly, so as not to be heard among the discussion between the senior staff and the dignitaries. “Caroline Walton, yes? I’m Li Ling Ailiang an Hark an Jenner. Helmswoman.” She offered a small smile. “And, more importantly to you, Captain Enigma’s previous yeoman.”

Her eyes. There was a glow behind the irises, specks of light in the pupils. Cybernetics? It had to be. “I’m Walton, yes.” Captain Enigma’s old yeoman? Had Li Ling come to gloat?

Once they were inside, Li Ling pulled her to a side room. “You’re upset. Why?”

Caroline sat on one of the big, uncomfortable seats that matched nothing else in the small room. “Full honesty? None of it being repeated to anyone else?”

Li Ling nodded. “This conversation is classified. Our eyes only.”

Caroline laughed. How dare this woman be funny? “I joined Starfleet to do science. I worked my way through the Academy, went through a special kind of hell on my cadet cruise…” Caroline closed her eyes, pushing away the memory of that day. Irtok. Teeth and screams… “All on the hope of a life doing science. Then my first posting out of the Academy, and my assignment is as a secretary.”

Li Ling frowned. “You really don’t know, do you?”

Caroline blinked. “Know what?”

“Captain Enigma didn’t pick you as a secretary,” Li Ling said. “You’ll be doing that work, but that isn’t your job. For Captain Enigma… she comes from a very specific command tradition. Her yeoman’s job is to be a sounding board, a second mind. She picked you for the job that made her the captain she is, in hopes that it can do the same for you.”

Caroline fell silent a moment, looking down at her own hands, then Li Ling’s. “I didn’t know. When I got my assignment… I thought I’d failed. That actions I took during my cadet cruise were coming back to haunt me.” Again, she added silently.

“I looked at your qualifications, and thought they were excellent,” Li Ling said. “I made the short list of candidates to replace me for Captain Enigma, and your leadership in lab work and high ratings from your peers on your cadet cruise got you onto that list. I don’t know what actions you think might have cost you…”

“They wouldn’t be in my public record,” Caroline said quietly.

“You weren’t first on my list,” Li Ling said. “I’m not going to say who was. But Captain Enigma picked you over them, and over everyone else on the list. I don’t know why, but you should ask her.” Li Ling smiled. “Now… I’m going to strike the rest of this conversation from the record. Captain Enigma trusts you. Show how you deserve it.”

“All right. I will.” Caroline returned the smile nervously. “Thank you, Li Ling.”