“This is weird, right?”
Nevahl Bohkat glanced up at the man seated across from him in the runabout’s passenger section. Dr. Binshou Ang, as he’d introduced himself just moments ago when they boarded, rested his arms on a guitar case in his lap and leaned forward as he addressed him. Well, addressed them: himself and Sanjiv Anand, the man sitting next to him.
Anand had also turned his attention to Ang, his eyebrows raised in confusion at the doctor’s question.
“A ship receiving a new commanding officer and a new executive officer on the same day,” Ang clarified. “Starfleet usually tries to space out the reassignment of a ship’s top tier, don’t they?”
Bohkat remained silent and kept his gaze on his soon-to-be new commanding officer. Anand smiled and nodded.
“That’s the ideal, yes. I’ve anticipated this new assignment for several months since Captain Banoub, the departing CO, announced her retirement date well in advance, but there was never any mention that the first officer would be departing at the same time.”
Anand turned to look at Bohkat as he finished his statement, and Bohkat knew that he was hoping for more information.
“I received this assignment less than 48 hours ago,” said Bohkat. “I had been told a transfer was imminent due to my recent promotion, but I had been given no reason to believe that ‘imminent’ meant ‘less than two days from now’.”
Anand’s eyebrows went up again, and he looked at Ang who mirrored his expression. Bohkat kept his eyebrows firmly in place.
“Well, I’m sure we’ll find out more once we reach the ship,” said Anand. Then he leaned back and considered Bohkat, a faint smile still on his face. “And as much as this isn’t ideal for either of us, you seem like…”
Anand trailed off and he pointed at Bohkat as if he were trying to zero in on a description. “You seem like you’ll be a steady partner in this metaphorical three-legged race.”
Bohkat said nothing, but Anand continued to stare at him with that pleasant smile, so he gave a jerky nod of acknowledgment. That seemed to satisfy Anand, who turned back to Ang and politely asked what his trip had been like. As their conversation flowed, Bohkat made a mental note to look up “three-legged race” once he was properly installed in his new quarters.
It would have been nice to get a proper view of the Babylon when they dropped out of warp at the rendezvous point, but the runabout pilot made no offer of an exterior inspection, and the three officers and their belongings were transported over to their new vessel with great speed and zero ceremony.
Bohkat expected another whirlwind of activity to greet them as they materialized on the Babylon’s transporter pad, but all he saw was a still, dim room with a single technician at the control panel. Then from below he heard a voice.
“Dr. Binshou Ang, Commander Nevahl Bohkat, Captain Sanjiv Anand: Welcome aboard the USS Babylon. I’m Lieutenant Commander Qsshrr, chief science officer and interim commanding officer.”
He looked down to find the source of the soft alto voice and saw a species he’d only ever seen in images and holograms: a Horta. She had what looked like an oversized commbadge adhered to the front of her mound-like form, and towards the rear were many opaque blue-green stones. Bohkat recalled reading that Horta could affix stones to their natural form, not unlike the way humanoids wore clothing. Perhaps the stones were meant to evoke the teal color of the science division.
Bohkat felt a smile creep across his face, then quickly looked up to see if anyone else had noticed.
Ang and Anand had most assuredly not noticed, as they were both staring down at Qsshrr and wearing the same expressions of pure joy. The looks on their faces made Bohkat feel… something.
It was easy to feel alone as a Rigelian in Starfleet, particularly as an introverted one. Then again, he’d always felt alone back home as well. But that sense of wonder that came from experiencing new planets, meeting new species, making great discoveries: that was the driving engine of Starfleet, or at least it used to be.
It was what made him want to put on the uniform in the first place.
It was what made him want to dedicate his life to defending the organization and its work.
It was something that was in short supply lately.
But there it was on their faces, and it made Bohkat feel less alone.
“I wish I could offer the three of you a tour,” said Qsshrr, interrupting his thoughts, “But my orders are to take you to the bridge and transfer command immediately.”
“Of course, Commander Qsshrr,” said Anand.
“By the way, if my name is troubling for you, you may address me as Kate. That would be short for ‘Silicate’. It’s my own little joke.”
Anand laughed. “Well, it’s a great joke, but I’m happy to call you Qsshrr. As long as my pronunciation isn’t unbearable for you. Qsshrr?”
“Qsshrr?” Ang chimed in.
Bohkat attempted the name as well. “Qsshrr.”
“All of you pronounce it just fine,” she said. “I rather like hearing my name spoken in a humanoid accent, anyway. Now if you’ll follow me.”
Qsshrr turned and skittered out the door into the hall, moving quickly enough that Bohkat and the others scarcely had time to nod to the transporter technician on their way out.
“Two days after Captain Banoub had departed and left me in temporary command, the Fourth Fleet received orders from Admiral Ramar to assemble in the Deneb Sector immediately,” said Qsshrr. “That’s why you had to meet us in transit. That is all the information I have at my disposal, but there is an encrypted message for you to access in your ready room as soon as the command transfer is complete.”
“Well,” said Anand, trying to catch Bohkat’s eyes as they hurried down the corridor. “The ‘race’ part of the ‘three-legged race’ metaphor is starting to feel a bit literal.”
Bohkat furrowed his brows. Maybe he could discreetly look up the phrase on a PADD when they got to the bridge.
They had a brief respite once they reached the turbolift, but they quickly arrived at deck one where the doors opened just behind the flight controls on the bridge.
“Captain on deck!” Qsshrr called, and the sparse crew stood up at their stations.
“At ease.” Anand waved a hand in a ‘be seated’ motion. “Hopefully we won’t have to do that too many times before I’m settled in. I’ll have to send out a ‘no standing’ memo or something.”
The woman who had been keeping the captain’s chair warm remained standing, tugged the hem of her uniform jacket, and tromped her way over to them.
“This is Lieutenant Zamora,” said Qsshrr. “She’s our chief engineer, but she often takes shifts at the helm.”
Zamora gave a brusque nod to the group before silently seating herself at the flight control panel.
Bohkat decided immediately that he liked her.
“Computer,” Qsshrr announced, “Transfer all command codes to Sanjiv Anand.”
She made her way over to the nearest open console and Anand followed.
“Voice authorization: Kate-Sierra-Iota-Zero.”
“Biometric authorization required,” said the computer.
Qsshrr extended one of her cilia out and up and placed it on the top of the console. Anand followed suit and placed his hand flat on the surface. It took less than a minute for the surface to flash green.
“Transfer complete. Babylon now under command of Captain Sanjiv Anand.”
Anand removed his hand from the console and stood at parade rest in front of Qsshrr. “I relieve you, commander.”
“I stand relieved,” she replied.
Anand looked around at the bridge with slightly furrowed brows, took a deep breath, and was about to speak when a nearby crewmember rose from her chair and extended a hand in his direction.
“Captain Anand, wonderful to meet you,” she said, speaking rapidly. “Chief Petty Officer Robin Szarka, jack-of-all-trades, nominally comms. We will absolutely forgive you if you want to forego your speech until after you get settled; it’ll probably be easier to hit those inspirational notes once you know what we’re doing out here. I think we’d all be inspired by a little context.”
Bohkat felt his nostrils flaring and clenched his jaw, giving Anand a chance to respond before he marched forward to tell this Szarka a thing or two about insubordination and minding one’s manners, in that order.
Anand, however, took her proffered hand and released the breath he’d been holding. “Nice to meet you too, Szarka, and you know what? That sounds like a fantastic idea. I’m going to go inspect my new ready room and hopefully catch us all up to speed. Why don’t you send out that ‘no standing’ memo in the meantime?”
“Yessir!” said Szarka, punctuating the statement with finger guns as she collapsed back into her seat and turned back to her console.
Anand turned towards Bohkat and jerked his head in the direction of the ready room before disappearing through its narrow doorway.
Bohkat stood frozen for a moment, considered saying something to Szarka anyway, then shook his head and followed Anand into the compact office space.
Anand was already sitting behind his desk, pulling up the holographic LCARS screen to access the encrypted message. For all that Bohkat wanted to say something, he was loath to interrupt, so instead he paced.
He tried to pace, anyway. Three steps were all he could manage in either direction and crossing the room back and forth so quickly was only making him more irate. Finally, he halted, stood in front of Anand’s desk with his arms crossed, and was about to speak when he noticed the look on the other man’s face: brow creased, eyes dark and moving so rapidly across the screen that Bohkat couldn’t tell if he was reading or panicking.
Bohkat let his arms drop to his sides and asked, as softly as he could manage, “Captain Anand, what is it?”
“The Deneb sector is being overrun by the–” Anand stopped and tore his gaze from the screen to look at Bohkat. “By the Dominion.”