Stepping into the Captain’s Ready Room from the bridge felt an awful lot like stepping out of the known physical universe. Even the foundational realities of starship construction were no constraint to the ready room. The copper and transparent duranium plating, which framed out each deck, was hidden behind the pale pink facings that decorated every surface. Sourced from a textile manufacturer on Delta IV, even the texture of the walls and floors was unfamiliar: neither metallic, nor woven, nor claylike, nor glass.
Those first steps through the doorway took one down a spiralling ramp that opened up into the ready room proper on deck two. Descending that ramp felt like plummeting into the very mind of Captain Taes. Although the compartment was large –easily twice the size of the observation lounge– it had been designed by Taes with half a dozen partitions, sub-dividing the area into a labyrinth of vestibules and antechambers.
Sootrah Yuulik could have sworn she walked through five different archways before she located Captain Taes. Maybe she had even walked through the same archway twice.
“Captain?” Yuulik had said repeatedly and received no reply each time. “Captain, I would like to present my theories on Ullho to you.” Still, she received no reply.
Even when Yuulik found Taes seated on a pink mat on the deck, Taes offered no reply or acknowledgement. Rather, Taes was staring into a meditation crystal, which was raised upon a plinth. Yuulik took a tentative step closer and she used her PADD as a fan, waving it close to Taes’ face.
The placid expression across her face became marred by a downward twist to her lips as if the taste of something exceedingly bitter had crossed her tongue. Despite the change in her disposition, Taes’ dark brown eyes never appeared to lose their soft focus on the meditation crystal.
“Let me reassure you,” Taes said suddenly. She spoke slowly, enunciating her words with a crispness Yuulik had rarely heard from her. “Your chief science officer will keep me apprised of the department’s progress.”
There was a tightness in Yuulik’s throat when she said, “Yes, yes, for the sake of political convenient, I’m not the chief in name.” As much as she could guess that sounded dismissive, her wistful nostalgia became equally hard to hide. “But that’s never mattered to us. This is what we do. I wasn’t the chief on New Tenar or Kunhri or Camus. We still quietly stepped away from the plebeians to have a proper look into the research and imagine what else is possible.”
Taes didn’t even blink. The twist to her lips had relaxed, the placid expression returning as if Yuulik had left her alone again. She said nothing.
“What if I’ve overlooked something disastrous, captain?” Yuulik asked. “Only your experience can–“
Jutting her chin up at Yuulik, Taes said tersely, “Don’t pretend to flatter me. Your aims are transparent.”
Proffering the PADD in her face again, Yuulik demanded of Taes, “Then look at it!”
Taes didn’t flinch from the PADD; she simply waited. She waited until Yuulik recognised the futility of the gesture and ended the desperate plea. She waited and it worked. Only when Yuulik lowered her arm did Taes rise to her feet. Standing across from Yuulik, Taes half-heartedly pointed at the PADD.
“That is procedure,” Taes said through a brittle intonation. “You have forty-five decks where it’s justifiable for you to armour yourself in procedure. This patch you’re standing upon now is in my ready room. This space is for reflection, looking inward for the development of your own being. You, Yuulik, have no business being here. You are incapable of self-reflection.”
Yuulik shrugged at Taes. “I know that. You don’t have to tell me that. But you won’t reflect with me. This is what we do.”
Taes shook her bald head. The small movement spoke of defeat and frustration.
“What do you want, Yuulik?” Taes impatiently asked.
Petulantly, Yuulik replied, “You haven’t said anything to me about the USS Brigadoon.”
“What! Do you! Want?” Taes demanded.
“Just tell me!” Yuulik snapped back. “End the suspense already. Tell me what you thought of my plan to save the Brigadoon.“
Taes declared, “You mean when you decided you knew better than your nine-hundred peers aboard this ship? Again. When you compromised ship systems? Again. To trick me into searching out the Brigadoon? And then you dragged us headlong into danger? Again!“
Taking a step back, Taes crossed her palms over her chest. Her jaw tightened in a stricken expression and the hardness in her eyes made her look capable of murder.
“The Sarek was almost lost,” Taes said breathlessly. “You nearly killed us all.”
Dropping to her knees, Yuulik pleaded, “I know! I was terrified. That’s why I need you! We need to analyse every step of that mission. You need to tell me how to become a better scientist, a better department head!”
Gently, Taes said, “No, Yuulik. I don’t.”
She shook her head again and she lowered her chin.
“What?” Yuulik scoffed.
Taes nodded at the access door to the corridor on deck two.
“You’re permitted to leave now,” Taes said.
“You win!” Yuulik beseeched, her voice raspy. “I concede, all right? Is that what you want? You get to mold me, shape me, turn me into your plaything. Just forgive me, all right? You have to forgive me, captain. You have to–“
With one hand, Taes grabbed Yuulik by the front of her uniform. The flap of black fabric came loose and Tase twist the flap around her wrist. As soon as she had a firm grasp, Taes wrenched Yuulik to her feet, tugging Yuulik’s face close to her own.
Taes whispered something to Yuulik through tears and then she released Yuulik with a shove. Taes tugged at the lower hem of her own uniform jacket to smooth out the creases. She then walked past Yuulik, ascending the ramp back to the bridge.
Yuulik would long be haunted by how shattered Taes sounded, when she whispered, “You were my favourite.”