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Part of USS Pathfinder (Archive): Go Your Own Way

Go Your Own Way – 7

Lounge, USS Pathfinder
February 2401
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Like the rest of Pathfinder, the lounge directly under the shuttlebay lacked any personal touches. Everything was the standard furnishings of greys and blues, the fixtures in bright steel or polished black. It didn’t even have a name, Thawn thought as she padded in – it was just ‘the lounge.’ Another four of similar size were scattered about the ship, each favoured by a different group among the crew, like the engineers preferring the one nearest main engineering itself. The tall windows curving up towards the shuttlebay and the stars streaming away as Pathfinder left them behind granted a stunning enough view that this lounge had rapidly become a favourite among the senior staff. At least, that was what Commander Riggs’s ‘casual’ invitation suggested.

The burly engineer had a big booth by those windows and gave an animated wave of summons as he spotted her. Harkon, Winters, and Kally were already there and Thawn felt something ancient and embedded flicker in her gut. All but the doctor were plainly good with people, cheerful and friendly and socially confident, a far cry from what anyone ever said about her. That she hadn’t felt anxiety this mundane in a while brought no comfort.

There was no bar, only a replicator, and Thawn took longer than she needed fussing over her drink choice before she approached the booth. A few junior officers were scattered about, but the lounge wasn’t big and the senior staff felt like a singularity in such a narrow space, the focal point of anything. It likely wasn’t true – the science officers probably wanted nothing more than to unwind after a long day – but it was a difficult sense to shake.

‘Thawn!’ Harkon pushed the opposite chair back with her foot so she could sit down. ‘Wasn’t sure we’d see you.’

Thawn sat primly. ‘Commander Riggs invited us all.’

‘I mean, I wasn’t sure you’d come.’

‘Oof.’ Riggs had a swig from his bottle of synthale, sleeves rolled up. She suspected by now this happened the moment nobody senior was looking at him. ‘Everyone’s welcome. So long as we’re clear on one thing: this ain’t a time or place for rank. Riggs is fine.’

Lieutenant Thawn, perennial pleaser of superior officers, never knew what to do when they told her this. So she sipped her drink and simply nodded. ‘I assumed this was the usual new crew mixer.’

‘Without the skipper or XO anyplace in sight. No offence to them, but folks get all stiff if they’re around,’ Riggs groaned.

‘Valance never unstiffens,’ grumbled Harkon.

‘Commander Dashell seems nice,’ Kally said brightly. Then she paused. ‘Not that Captain Valance doesn’t. I mean, nice isn’t the word I’d use. But I think she doesn’t want to seem nice. She’s very cool.’

‘Very cool and cold as ice.’ Harkon clicked her tongue. ‘Oh man, Thawn, remember planning to run the Romulan border to rescue the captain from Tagrador? We could have started a war and she didn’t bat an eyelid.’

Kally turned to them both with huge eyes. ‘You know the captain?’

Harkon visibly swelled at how obviously impressed the young ensign was. ‘Know? We’ve been in a load of scrapes with her, Thawn and me. Racing D’Ghor fighters through an asteroid field. Fighting the Star Empire at Agarath.’

‘Commander Valance was on Endeavour at Agarath,’ Thawn said flatly, sipping her drink. ‘We were on the Talon with Commander Kharth. That was, as you say, a scrape, but it’s not like we’re fire-forged comrades.’

Doctor Winters was watching her with a quiet, assessing air. ‘Endeavour’s a good ship. It wasn’t loyalty to Captain Valance that had you leave?’

I got a promotion out of it,’ Harkon said smugly, then sobered. ‘But, uh, Thawn didn’t have much choice. No offence to any of you.’ She waved a hand quickly, apologetically. ‘She just got married, and he’s still on Endeavour, so…’

Riggs frowned gently at that. ‘That must be rough.’

‘It’s fine,’ Thawn said, more bluntly than she meant. ‘I wanted a new opportunity. Anyway, that’s all the past. You’re my crew now.’ Were she smoother socially, she might have changed the subject. But her mind went unhelpfully blank, leaving her statement more ominous than bonding.

‘I don’t know if we’re gonna get exciting rescue missions into enemy territory,’ said Kally, still rather star-struck. ‘But I sure hope we can help this science team. There’s no chatter from anyone on comms about them.’

Riggs seemed to have noticed Thawn’s discomfort and leaned forward, eager to keep the conversation moving. ‘So, who reckons they’ll get on the away team?’

‘You, obviously,’ sighed Harkon. ‘The Aerie probably needs repairing after all.’

‘Surely you will,’ said Kally, turning to Winters. ‘They could be hurt.’

Winters pursed his lips. ‘It’s possible.’

‘I bet I’ll be left keeping the ship in orbit,’ Harkon grumbled. ‘XO will take Thawn, of course.’

Thawn raised an eyebrow. ‘Why “of course”?’

‘You’re like a second science officer.’

‘Not of anthropology.’

Harkon waved away the disagreement. ‘And Lieutenant Gov’taj, of course. You want muscle.’ She frowned at that and looked to Winters. ‘Actually, can you gene-shift him? As a Klingon?’

‘Certainly,’ said the doctor with a shrug. ‘We have far more in common than not.’

‘I wonder why he’s here,’ mused Kally. ‘A Klingon warrior like him on a Starfleet science ship like this.’

I heard,’ said Harkon, leaning forward with a glint in her eye, ‘he and the captain are related.’

Thawn gave her a flat look. ‘You can’t just say all Klingons are related.’

‘That’s not it! I swear! It’s going around the lower decks.’

They can’t just say all Klingons are related.’

‘Wow,’ said Kally. ‘I guess you guys don’t know the captain that well.’

Riggs laughed loudly at that, and despite herself, Thawn had to smirk. Not just because it was an infectious sound, but Harkon’s visible deflating was quite funny. ‘Then that makes this,’ he said, leaning forward and brandishing his bottle, ‘a new start for sure.’

Harkon bit her lip with guilty amusement, and looked to Kally. ‘We’ll get our own adventures. In a couple years’ time, someone will be telling stories about how cool it was when they were in a scrape with you.’

‘Not too many scrapes, I hope,’ Winters said apprehensively.

‘Come on, Doc. Live a little.’ Harkon grinned wickedly.

‘I would like it if you all live a lot.’

Thawn looked to Riggs. ‘What do you know about Commander Dashell?’

He looked a little nonplussed. ‘Probably about the same as you. Scratch that, I bet you read his record more than I did. Sorry, Thawn, there weren’t no super senior staff club meet where we braided each other’s hair and shared our secrets.’

‘I hear he’s been everywhere,’ gushed Kally, who Thawn was starting to think had swallowed every inch of gossip wholesale so long as it was exciting. ‘Like, of places Starfleet go.’

‘He is exceptionally well-qualified,’ said Thawn cautiously, ‘but about a decade of his career was spent in a starbase or at Starfleet Academy. I’m sure his experience is more than adequate, but he doesn’t have much more starship experience than I do.’ At their looks, she wilted. ‘I don’t mean it as a criticism.’

‘Thawn,’ said Harkon to the others with a rather knowing look, ‘is top of the class when it comes to dumping on fun.’

‘I’m just… he’s not been everywhere,’ Thawn said, a little crestfallen. ‘I’m not questioning him.’ But the chatter was moving on, Harkon effortless in dragging people with her in cheerful chatter – Kally eager for the ride, Winters caught up despite himself, and Riggs just enthusiastic to get stuck in as the gathering proved the early-stage social bonding he’d likely planned. It was almost textbook. And, as with most textbook social bonding occasions, Thawn found herself sliding more into sitting and listening, lest she say something else someone took the wrong way.

Pleasantly mundane as it was, perhaps not everything got a fresh start on Pathfinder.