Tallera trudged down the residential hallways of Shepard’s Deck Four, arms full of small shipments she’d received of various Republic knick-knacks from people back home. Once word got out that the ship she was serving on was inside Republic space, the exchange officer had been bombarded with calls and care packages from friends and family. She’d chatted with her grandpa, a few aunts and uncles (both genetic and honorary), friends from the academy that could get away from their duties, and even her old professor Commander Ayenak. She’d had to get special permission from Zelenko to take time off to answer them all.
Stepping into her personal quarters, Tallera sat her stack of packages down on her bed and plopped herself down next to them, taking a moment to sort through what she’d received. Most were small snacks or mementos, a few contained personal items like toothpaste that her people wouldn’t be aware that she could simply replicate for herself.
Flipping open the last box, she was greeted with a folded mass of royal blue fabric, patterned with the triangle-checkered design common to Imperial Romulan uniforms from over a hundred years ago.
Raising an eyebrow, Tallera lifted up a note sitting atop the fabric and flipped it open.
Thanks for taking some time to talk with your grandpa. I know you’re busy, so I won’t bother repeating everything I said on the vid call – just thought you might like to take this with you on your travels. It’s my old service sash from my time on the IRW Noradex. It seems fitting that it’d take another trip out into the void.
Stay safe out there, Tallie. I’ll see you soon.
Tallera smiled wistfully, unwrapping the sash and holding it for a moment before opting to wrap it around her neck like a scarf, not sure how else to affix it to her clothing. She doubted she’d be able to wear this on duty, but even still, having it in her quarters made her feel a little closer to home. Which would be especially relevant now, since she was soon to be heading further from home than many Romulans ever ventured. The Tholian border was not somewhere her people were overly familiar with.
She was taken out of her inner musings by a ping from her combadge.
“Tallera here,” she said after giving it a tap.
“This is Zelenko,” the badge pinged back. “Would you mind reporting to my office at 1900?”
“Of course, Sir. Is everything alright?”
“Yes, no need to worry. Just a standard check-in.”
“Understood, Sir. I’ll be there.”
Well, it looked like Tallera had one more meet-up to attend before leaving the Republic.
“Ensign Tallera, reporting as ordered, Sir,” the Romulan said as she stepped into Zelenko’s ready room, snapping to attention.
“At ease,” Zelenko replied with that same ever-so-slight smile she often wore. Tallera still hadn’t quite figured out how to read it. “Have a seat, Ensign.”
Tallera did as she was told, taking a seat across from the Commander at her desk. She couldn’t help but let her eyes wander to the trio of starship models hanging on the wall behind her commanding officer – one was the lead ship of the Shepard-class from the 2250s, the other was the Miranda-class USS Shepard, and the last was the familiar form of the little Achana.
“So, Tallera,” Zelenko began. “Did you enjoy your time back amongst your people?”
“Yes, Sir. It’s a great reminder of who I’m serving out here. Not, um, not that I often forget, or anything.”
Stupid. That was a stupid thing to say.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Zelenko continued, not seeming to dwell on Tallera’s stammering. “Now, before we set out on the long journey ahead of us, I wanted to run a suggestion by you.”
“By all means, Sir,” Tallera nodded.
Zelenko nodded in kind. “Given that we’re going to have a fair amount of time with not much on our hands, I want you to take Basic Piloting II and Helmsman I academy courses. Both can be accessed on personal computers and the holodeck.”
“Um, piloting?” Tallera asked with a cocked eyebrow. “But I’m a weapons officer.”
“Indeed you are. But, as seen in our recent conflict with the Hazari, helm and weapons stations on smaller or more maneuverable vessels often go hand and hand. You and Mister Mackenzie performed very well together, but by studying each others’ disciplines we can push that synchronization even further. Additionally…” Zelenko smiled wryly. “I’m familiar with your affinity for the Defiant class tactical escort vessels. Should you ever find yourself serving on one of those, having both helm and weapons training is essentially mandatory. It’s the helm officer who fires the phase cannons on that class.”
“Are we… looking to transfer to a Defiant, Commander?”
“No,” Zelenko shrugged. “But it’s still up in the air as to how long you’ll be serving in Starfleet, and a Defiant could be perfect for your skill set one day. Additionally, and this is a bit of an assumption, but given that you were selected as an exchange officer, I think it’s safe to say that the Republic sees a future for you in either a command or instructor role one day, so more classes under your belt certainly couldn’t hurt.”
“Understood,” Tallera said after chewing on her cheek for a moment. “I’ll… go ahead and register for those online classes ASAP.”
“Fantastic. I’ll send the links to your personal computer, feel free to get started once we’re underway. Out of curiosity, have you given any thought to what future you would like yourself to have?”
Damnit. Tallera hated these questions.
“All I want to do is my duty to the Republic. And Starfleet, of course, while I’m here.”
“That’s a very politically correct answer. But I’ve also heard that before from you. If you give me a little more, I’d do my best to help you get to that future.”
Tallera chewed on her cheek again. Her response had not, in fact, been a simplification nor vapid boss-appeasement. But given her past interactions with Zelenko, she doubted that the Commander would fault her for elaborating, even if the why wasn’t as much of an “ideal officer” soundbite.
“To be honest, Sir,” Tallera began somewhat uneasily. “I don’t really have any plans for my future. I want to serve on starships, preferably on the bridge, but that’s as far as it goes. I’m not an ambitious person, I’m not dying to sit in the CO’s chair like so many others seem to be. I don’t even think I’d be good at being a Commander. When I say all I want to do is serve the Republic… that really is about it. I believe in what we’re doing, and I’m just uncomfortable with the idea of not pulling my weight.”
Zelenko seemed to mull this over for a few moments.
“Why don’t you think you’d be a good Commander?” she finally asked.
Damnit damnit. It seemed like whatever she said, something hard to answer would come back her way. Were all Federation Commanders so nosy?
“I’m not good with people, Sir,” Tallera replied. “I don’t think I’d be inspiring, or be any good at making a crew into the best version of themselves. I prefer just being another cog in the machine.”
“Thank you for your openness, Tallera,” Zelenko nodded. “Your thoughts are noted and respected. I’m not going to try to push you to a path you don’t want to go down. But, it is worth noting, you’re still very young. Twenty… three, correct?”
“Twenty-four in a month.”
“Exactly. Just because you aren’t good at something now doesn’t mean you won’t improve over the next ten years. I like that you aren’t blinded by ambition or delusions of grandeur, and how dedicated you are to duty. My biggest suggestion for someone like you is to simply keep an open mind.”
“Understood, Sir.” That was only partially a lie.
“Good. Are you fully prepared for our departure in three hours?”
“Yes, Sir. My belongings are stowed and my station is ready.”
“Good. You stand dismissed.”
“Shepard to Escorts,” Zelenko spoke as she pressed a button on her Command Chair armrest, signaling to the flotilla. “Final check in before departure.”
“Ushaan here, we’re ready to proceed.”
“Same goes for Rapier. Ready for FTL at your leisure, Commander.”
“Copy that.” She pressed another button. “ComEscort to ComConvoy, final departure check-in. Everything alright?”
“Affirmative, Shepard. This is Ranek, convoy reports all systems green and warp controls synced with yours.”
“Understood, Captain. Departing at warp 6 in 30 seconds.” She released the coms button, then gave a nod to Mack, who began running final pre-warp power cycling.
Tallera took one last look out at the empty expanse, with the glowing green and blue edge of Virinat just managing to poke into the viewscreen’s peripheral.
Goodbye, Republic… she thought, letting out a small sigh.
“Warp drive in 3…” Mack began counting. “2… 1.”
With the tap to the helm console, Shepard, Ranek, and all surviving vessels of Convoy RN-775 launched themselves into deep space.