The Relative Solace of Ground

by February Grace
110730.0200

---=/\=---

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

-William Shakespeare


-------------------------

December 2, 2468

-=/\=-Symbiosis Commission, Trill -=/\=-


All was still.

The sheet of rain that cascaded down over the windows all night long had altered now, as the first light of day began to bleed through the billowing canopy of gunmetal sky, seeking the relative solace of ground.

Those solitary rays of the new dawn were the only illumination that remained here. Every previously glowing candle snuffed out, the ceremonial brazier itself withered down to an ember of its former flame; signaling to the Host that he was going to have to accept that his time here was truly over.

The bleary eyes of newly-joined Aidran Grace stared blankly ahead, past the thin wisp of smoke still rising from the display. They gradually moved beyond it, to the exhausted frame of the woman who silently slept nearby.

She was slumped over to the side, head resting on the arm of the plush couch on which she’d been sitting, guitar still clutched in her hands as a security blanket she could not let go.

He did not remember falling asleep.

He remembered the voice of his friend, Milanya, as she asserted her personality above that of the currently-dominant former host and told him she needed to rest a little while before going on. He’d agreed, of course, but had never meant to let himself lapse into dreaming too.

Such strange dreams, he found, all disconnected from the life he’d lived before, unable it seemed to begin to integrate without the conduit that was the life force and memory of February Grace.

It was time to send her home.

Besides, if Ligle came back and caught him sleeping, there would be absolute Hell to pay…

“Hey…” he said softly, placing a gentle hand upon her shoulder. “Bru. Wake up.”

“Hmm?” Milanya’s voice was not her own, and he knew that he’d managed, once again, to reach the psyche of Grace’s last and in some ways most important past host.

She was the narrator of his life: the compass by which he would somehow find his way forward even though everything seemed so utterly overwhelming to him now, he didn’t know how he could possibly manage it.

“Good grief, what did I do?” she asked, bolting suddenly upright. “Didn’t mean to doze off on you. That was quite a chat we had, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.” His hand found its way to his temples as he tried to still the spinning of the world within his head.

She slowly unfurled her fingers from the neck of the guitar and leaned it up against the nearest wall. She squinted a moment at one of the windows, taking stock it seemed of the insufficient effort that the winter sun was making to try and brighten the atmosphere.

“Too dark,” she decided. “Too cold.” With surprising grace she rose up, sweeping into her open hand the lighting tool on the table beside them. She circled the room, igniting every remaining unspent candle on hand. She even took the liberty of stirring the dying fire in the brazier before setting the necessary tool aside.

“He’ll be back soon,” she added softly, her eyes flashing for an instant to the doorway. “Surprised he stayed away this long.”

“He knew how important this was to me,” Aidran replied. “How important you are to me.”

Color rose to her cheeks and spread across her pale, delicately constructed features.

“You are the most important Host of all, Aidran.” She moved toward him and affectionately brushed the angled fringe of his hair out of his eyes. “You are the future.”

He looked down, toward the floor, wondering how he could possibly do justice to all the experiences of the being that depended upon him now so to do. His hands moved toward his abdomen as he considered Grace, but stopped mid-motion, hovering reverently above. The contents of all the souls the symbiont had been were the gift now bestowed upon him.

With that great gift came enormous responsibility, and his shoulders slumped beneath the weight of newborn fear at the thought he might not be worthy to carry it.

“No,” February said simply. She placed a hand firmly under his chin and yanked until he was forced to look into her eyes once more. “You are enough. Just as you are. If you learn nothing else at all from me this night, Aidran, please, for the love of all that’s good and holy in the universe, learn that.”

The tears that filled his eyes were mirrored in her own. She brushed them away lightly with the back of her hand as they fell, first his, then hers.

“So,” she clapped her hands together once and smiled at him anew, though he knew her by this point well enough to know when a smile was forced. “Is there anything else you wanted to know before I go?”

“What…happened next?”

“Oh. Is that all.” She rolled her eyes and folded her arms over her chest. She huffed a seemingly impatient sigh, but it was impatience with the passage of time itself, with the insufficiency of the space it granted her to tell the whole of the story that she resented, not him, or his question.

“After the New Year’s celebration that year, Reece and I came to a decision.” Her voice turned grave, and she began to wring her hands so that her knuckles turned red and then white as she alternately tightened and released her grasp.

Her expression clearly painted the picture of just how difficult that decision had been to make. “As much as we loved the ‘fleet, as much as we loved that crew, we wanted a different life for Sophie.” She paced a few steps and turned away. She dropped her head into her hands, recalling.

“We took Vol’s advice and kept dual residences on Earth and Betazed. We taught the things we were best at to other people. Our work was different, but it went on. We went on.”

“And the rest?” Aidran’s voice cracked, evidence of the feeling that the air was being forcibly extracted from his lungs, as he considered just how much she must have missed the people of The Alchemy Project.

The realization of just how much he was going to miss them, too.

She stood as stone with her back still toward him, before shaking her head quickly side to side. She sniffled as she tried to stifle her sobs, and it took her a very long time to speak again.

Slowly, she turned and looked him dead in the eyes. “When Ligle returns my consciousness to you, you will remember it all. You will know it all.” She strode forward suddenly, grasping hold of him firmly by both shoulders. “Be prepared, Aidran. Not everyone who served aboard the Sera got a storybook ending.”

He nodded.

They continued on, locked in that stare of mournful knowing without his even fully understanding yet. With their time ticking away so fast now, he forced himself to open his mouth and speak a single word.

“But…”

Before she could respond, they were both startled by the sound of a key in the lock.

Ligle entered the room. As he began tsk-ing and fussed with the fire, the eyes of Aidran’s friend once again reflected the sadness of the woman she embodied.

She leaned forward and rested her forehead against his. Her fresh, silent tears rained down upon his lips, salty and cold.

“There is no ‘but’, Aidran. There is no more.” She sighed, with her lips now pressed near his ear. “We’ve reached the end of my story.”

Again Aidran found himself biting back tears of his own, but he had little chance to try to hide them as Ligle the Guardian made short work of commencing his last remaining duty.

“It’s time,” the man said simply, gesturing toward the altar.

Aidran reached out and took hold of the hand of the woman before him; with not only a new appreciation for the one he’d been speaking to, but the one who had allowed herself to be subjected to this ordeal for his benefit.

He would never take her place in his life for granted, wherever life should take them. She would always hold a place too dear to be touched by any other.

The eyes of the woman left his face only at the last minute, when she closed the lids and focused all of her will on the sacred recitation.

In a matter of seconds, it was over.

Milanya’s form wilted, completely exhausted, and Ligle leaped forward to catch her from falling as a reeling Aidran fought his own continued battle, just to stand.

In the moment February Grace’s consciousness returned to him in force, a torrent of memories issued forth from it.

He’d wanted to know what happened to the rest of the brave souls of the USS Serendipity: and in that moment, he did.

Just as the information had come to Reece and Grace as flashes in letters and other communiqués from their former crewmates, so Aidran, too, began to understand their fates.

Images flickered as frames of Reece’s beloved motion pictures between his mind and his closed eyes, playing out an unstoppable reel of news footage until it reached its end.

The images began with the announcement that Dengar had been chosen for a special assignment on another ship.

They continued to reveal highlights of TC Blane’s colorful career: brilliant, storied, and among the most respected in Starfleet.

2390 turned out to be the beginning of many new adventures for those who had inhabited the Sera. The year that brought such high honors for some…

…Lance Hartcort won the Nobel Prize for medicine. Twice.

It also brought an end, for all time, to others.

Happier memories that Grace clung to, of times spent meandering through museums the galaxy over with Vol Tryst and watching Sophie learn her first words were soon overshadowed by the weight of the sadder reports that had followed.

Some that they’d known had just gone missing, moved on, or were far too deep undercover in new assignments to dare risk contact to advise old friends of their whereabouts.

By last word, William Lindsay had continued working for TI, out there, somewhere, jumping timelines.

Lair Kellyn’s life came to a sudden, quiet end in the early weeks of 2390.

At last she rested in death with no chance of resurrection; plagued no more by fears of failing at redemption.

It was over, finally, and that was enough.

After continuing on for a while at her post, the Captain’s condition continued to deteriorate. Fight it though she did, the day came when she had to accept that it was time to relinquish command of her beloved Serendipity.

At the age of forty, Zanh Liis O’Sullivan took a medical retirement from Starfleet. She settled on Earth, at the house in Cork built just for her, where she would battle the unrelenting darkness of chronic Primary Time-Displacement Psychosis for the rest of her days.

The crew largely scattered after that, with those who were TI’s own returning to the fold as the focus of the program changed and The Alchemy Project, as it had been, was disbanded. It was said to have fulfilled its role in the development of the proper timeline; but there were those, like Keiran O’Sullivan, who would go on record as having said that there was so much more they could have done.

Some of those who’d served the Project continued on in their work as teachers of advanced tactical training courses. Others took the end of Alchemy as the sign it was time for them, too, to retire.

That was where the initial onslaught of Grace’s memories subsided, and though he still wished he could understand them all in greater detail, for the moment, Aidran was grateful now for the silence.

After Milanya regained her footing, she nodded to Ligle, and the Guardian silently exited the room, leaving the two friends alone amidst the faltering light of the last remaining candles.

Aidran was frozen, shaking as if in physical response to the slashing pellets of icy rain that pelted the windows behind them.

Milanya knew, though, even without the guidance of her Betazoid senses that he was not trembling because of the cold.

She gathered him into her arms, finding new strength within herself as he leaned against her for support. She ran her hand back through his hair and lifted his face toward hers, expecting to find him still crying.

He was not.

Too stunned to cry, or perhaps too overwhelmed, he simply leaned closer to her, closed his eyes, and pressed his lips to her own.

Their first kiss: tender, affectionate, and beautiful though it held much more melancholy than Milanya thought she could bear.

“Aidran?” She placed her hands upon his face, again seeking his eyes. “Are you alright?”

“No,” he whispered truthfully. “Not now. Not for a very long time.”

She caught her lower lip between her teeth a moment before speaking again. “What can I do?”

“Hope that a day is coming when I might be.”



-=Twenty-Four Hours Later=-

Personal Log, Lt. Aidran Grace

Of all the things I learned from February the last day and night of my Zhian'tara, the single most important lesson has been this: live every moment, to the best of your ability, where you are.

Every day, every second, every experience we will ever have is truly one of a kind--a time and place that will never exist again.

For the rest of her life, the people of the Serendipity mattered to her.

She would think, even at the end of her days, that she had never again known their like.

I know that no matter how long I live, I will never find their equal.

End log.


The young Trill raised a glass to his lips, and found himself humming a tune that at first seemed unfamiliar before the words and melody finally joined as one again in his memory.

He traced them back in his mind to a song an old friend used to sing: a towering Irishman with a fine voice, someone that February had always so looked up to.

He paused.

He held the glass of Macallen single malt Scotch out before him, watching the light bounce off the liquid as he tilted it to and fro in the glass.

He drew a breath and softly began to sing in lonely tribute to the ghosts of memory, long past.

“...‘goodnight, and joy be to you all’.”



---------------------

-=/\=- February Grace


NRPG: I will never again have the good fortune to be in such fine, generous company.

The stories we wrote together will stay with me for the rest of my life: every word, every line, every post.

Thank you, gentleman.


~ZL

1152: A Shiny Vulcan Dress

by Rada Dengar
110409.2330
After The Detective

-=Deck Three, USS Serendipity=-


Arriving back at the quarters he shared with Wren and Tam, Rada found them to be unexpectedly quiet. There was no conversation, no sounds of music, nor even the tapping of fingers on a PADD.

He began to slowly walk from room to room, looking for where they could be. Each one after the other though he found them empty. Only upon finally returning to the entrance did he notice the note taped to the inside of the door.

Taking it down in his hand, he read it in silence.

Hi Rada,

We decided to spend a couple of hours in the arboretum. Should be back by sixteen hundred hours.

Love you.

~Wren and Tam


Rada smiled, slightly sadly. He’d been very near the arboretum just before and may even have passed them. Had he known, he’d have joined them. He knew Tam liked the place and that Wren knew it too. More than likely, she decided to take him there for that reason, and as a distraction from all that had happened with Arie recently. As of yet, of course, he had no way of knowing that she had already left the ship.

Had Rada known that, he wouldn’t have been so focused on his own introspection as he was in this moment.

Rada didn’t place the note down, instead carrying it with him as he moved over to the couch. At first he eased his weight down into the cushions. Then he shifted to the side, then back again, before finally letting himself fall slightly forward. It was not a comfortable position, but he was never particularly comfortable with those.

Repeatedly he recalled the detective’s words about how he should ‘ask the victim’ to uncover the sender of the book that rested upon the table before him.

He only wished it were that simple, and smiled a little at the concept.

“So, Rada,” he asked himself, “who was it that sent this book to you?”

“I really couldn’t tell you,” he answered. “Unfortunately I’m just as in the dark as you are.”

“My, that really is a pity. I was hoping at least one of us would know.”

He exhaled briefly in quiet amusement, as he accepted that things would never be so easy.

Realising he needed to think, he put the note down and stood up again, and began to walk the length of the room.

Unfortunately, sudden flashes of inspiration were no more forthcoming than they’d been on the entire way back here. Still, he concentrated all his attention and energy, on trying to force just one useful thought to arrive.

*It really is quiet here today.*

It wasn’t a particularly useful one, but it was a start.

“Computer. Play music.”

^Please specify selection.^

“Whatever was the most recently used file.”

The computer beeped in acknowledgement, before beginning to play the song at the most unnecessarily high volume.

“Computer. End Music.”

Thankfully, the computer complied. Rada wasn’t entirely certain whom on board would have been listening to that particular song, but he was certain it didn’t quite fit the mood.

He sighed. This wasn’t working.

“Come on Rada, you can do this. Why would someone want you to have the book?”

Once more, he answered himself.

“Well, it’s an Angosian book. Maybe someone there wants me to think of home.” He quickly shook his head. “No, then why this book? If it were family, they could have sent one I’d read as a child. So it’d have to be someone who didn’t know me then. But why would they want me to be homesick? It doesn’t make sense.”

He sighed again.

“Maybe they just wanted to make me insane. I mean I am talking to myself.”

Again he shook his head. “No, I’m pretty sure I was crazy enough already…”

He stopped walking again and huffed.

*This is ridiculous. Think…*

He took a few steps again.

*Think…think… think of words other than ‘think’.*

Unfortunately, he found he really couldn’t.

“Alright, let’s think of this logically. If it’s not family and presumably it’s not someone on board, who does that leave? I’m not exactly Mr. Social Life.”

His mind immediately went to the place it always did. “It must be an enemy. But why a book? How’s that going to kill me? Death by a thousand paper cuts?”

Even Rada considered that unlikely.

Of course the transporters would have detected any sort of deadly poison in the pages, and if not then his violent death would have been a giveaway. It was possible, he supposed, that he would have to be someone who'd lick his fingers when he was turning the pages to cause that. He’d never been such a person though, and he didn’t know why anyone would think he was. He certainly couldn’t make sense of the behaviour. He wondered if when their hands were dirty they licked the pages instead.

“Maybe you’re looking at this the wrong way.” He suggested to himself.

“Oh, and I suppose you have a better one?”

“No, but you do,” he replied, before growling slightly at himself that now it really was absurd.

Still, he did have a good point, though he would forgo the formality of both admitting it and stating it aloud:

A lot of other people had enemies.

There was the Captain; Salvek had surely made a few in the Romulan Empire, and it could even have been some indirect attack by an old female acquaintance of occasional visitor William Lindsay.

Thinking about it now, he was sure someone at least would more than simply want to kill Jamie Halliday.

Rada’s eyes suddenly opened wider as he considered that they could be trying to distract him, so he’d make a mistake and accidentally press the wrong button and destroy the ship.

His heart rate slowed though as he dismissed that as a possibility. It’d take him at least three buttons to do that. The probability of it happening within the next month was only something like 12.5%. On average he’d only kill them all one and a half times this year. The intricate genius behind this, who apparently felt they’d mastered his psychology, wouldn’t leave it to that much of a chance.

Unless that was what they wanted him to think.

“Okay, under characteristics of the victim, we can put ‘paranoid’.”

Unless that was what they wanted him to think…

He spun around and continued walking.

Perhaps he was overanalysing this. Then again, not overanalysing this meant taking it at face value and accepting that no one was trying to kill him. Obviously that was ridiculous. So in fact analysing it normally was underanalysing it and so he had to doubly overanalyse in order to do so correctly.

In all probability, therefore, he was in fact still underanalysing it considerably. Yet if considering a potential alien plot to destroy the ship as an act of final spiteful retribution against Jamie Halliday for over exposure of teeth was still just looking at the obvious, then the reality must be more wild and horrifying than he could possibly imagine.

It would have to be some sort of massive interstellar conspiracy; a thousand seemingly unrelated components all working as one; like gears in a clock so absurdly complicated that by the time you read its face, you're neither still interested in the time nor in fact still alive.

Perhaps it was about more than books. Maybe someone had sent Dwan Tubman a shiny bottle of Vulcan wine, or Sue Tenney a trendy new dress. Then maybe it was something less predictable.

If he discovered Dwan in a shiny Vulcan dress then he’d really know he was onto something, not to mention having a question or two to ask.

Getting a brief mental flash of the image he actually smiled, before scolding himself at being amused when the entire Federation could be at risk.

Still, based upon all the evidence he’d seen so far, he couldn’t believe Vulcan garments for friendly giants were likely. That he was sent something Angosian couldn’t be a coincidence. Maybe therefore, all players would be receiving something to remind them of their homeworld.

Salvek would be getting the Vulcan dress, Dabin Reece would be getting some extra spots, and perhaps Lair Kellyn would be receiving some sort of portable argument.

The only plausible reason for all of this that Rada could see though would be to inspire waves of patriotism about people’s homeworlds. That could get people arguing about which was best, much like with competing sporting teams. At first it’s a friendly rivalry, then it’s a traditional grudge match, and then it’s an all out war that tears the Federation to pieces.

No, he shook his head, obviously that reasoning was unreasonable. In that case, they wouldn’t have put Wren’s name on the book too…

He immediately began to consider the potential involvement of the Betazoid government, possibly in cooperation with a particularly shifty looking Ferengi who’d once held him at phaser point, when suddenly he stopped…and thought about what he was thinking.

Even he had to admit, it was slightly excessive…

He made himself turn around and settle back onto the couch again. Smiling again to himself as he thought of how easily he got carried away, he realised that he was never much good at seeing things the way they really were. The smile slowly disappeared though as he reached another realisation.

“You know what Rada?” he asked himself, sighing. “Frankly I don’t trust your opinion of me to be completely accurate.”

This time, he offered himself no reply. He knew he needed an outside perspective.

“Computer,” he said, “locate Lair Kellyn.”

Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1151: Operation Evergreen

by TC Blane, Dane Cristiane and Landry Steele
Stardate 110331.23
Following Mission :Improbable

-=Earth=-


"Something wrong with you, Cristiane?" TC Blane asked, as the trio of Starfleet officers--one willing and two much less so--trudged onward through the cold.

Dane simply grunted in reply.

"Let me rephrase the question." Blane narrowed his eyes. "Something more than usual?"

"No." Dane muttered, quickly adding a half-hearted, "...Sir." In fact, there was something more than usual wrong with him today: specifically the fact that he was not at all where he wanted or more importantly, felt he needed to be. His mind was far off, somewhere, and with someone, else.

"He hoped he'd be on a date about now." Landry explained, cramming her hands deeper into the pockets of her jacket and cursing herself internally for forgetting to replicate a pair of gloves.

"That so?" Blane's eyebrow elevated.

"Not really a date, Sir." Dane hurried to correct Landry's comment. "It's just..." he shrugged. "Never mind, Sir."

"Spill it."

Dane sighed. "This is the first Christmas Gira is going through without her brother. I. " He stopped.

Suddenly, Blane understood. "Say no more, kid." He quickened his pace; leaving the pair already struggling to keep up with his long strides even more challenged to keep up with him now. "I know you got drafted for this at the last minute and so let's try to get this over and done and then maybe you can catch up to her, wherever she is."

It was 'where she was' that worried Dane most, and he sped up to match Blane's increased speed. "Thank you, Sir."

After a moment, Dane looked around at his surroundings and his boots crunched slowly to a halt. They were in a location that he was unfamiliar with. His thoughts had been so distracted he did not even pay attention to the coordinates that Blane had given to the transporter chief as they stood on the pad only moments before.



“Excuse me, Sir but, where are we?” He sped up his pace again to close the distance with TC and Landry.

They had been walking up an uncleared path though what could only be described as insanely deep, pure white snow. Tall Evergreens flanked them on both sides. Sun shone though in sparkling beams but it was not overly bright, so Dane surmised it was had to be early evening. He glanced at his watch--a gift from Keiran O'Sullivan on his last birthday to "aid the perpetually late young Intern in the correct tellin' of the time," and it showed the time to actually be only a little past noon.

The path had been slowly climbing at a mild angle and now crested a hill. TC stopped and glanced down, following its path. His breath formed white clouds in the frigid air that seemed to last for an eternity before slowly fading away.

“Alaska. ” He pointed down the path at a picturesque scene. A frozen lake was in the distance with majestic white mountains beyond that. In the foreground of the lake sat a large log cabin with tall windows and a massive cobblestone chimney. The cabin sat partially tucked into the protection of the Evergreens.

“Um no offense Sir, but the O'Sullivans live in Ireland...” Dane pulled the hood up on his parka. The thought of being in Alaska on Christmas Eve when Gira was so far away making him colder then he already was.

TC started down the path towards the cabin. It led them down to the unplowed driveway where TC turned and headed towards the darkened cabin passing an ornate, handcrafted mailbox. Landry took note of the name.

“Blakeslee..." Her eyes brightened. "This is Commander Blakeslee’s house?” she half asked, half marveled as they walked past the house towards the garage in the back. TC nodded as they passed the garage and made their way into the grove of trees behind the house.

“Why are we here?” Dane glanced at the snow piled up at the back door of the cabin: solid evidence that no one had been at the cabin since at least the fall. “Nobody is home.”

TC stopped and surveyed the trees around him. “Very astute, Mr. Cristiane. Maybe it’s because they have been on the Sera for the last several months.” He lifted the dark sunglasses from his face, as they were now in the shade of the trees. “They will be back when the weather warms. Delta IV has a tropical climate, so Missus Blakeslee is not fond of the cold. Unlike her husband.”

"I always kn-n-n-nnew that woman was ss-s-s-s-smart." Landry shivered in the cold of the shade. “So why are we here?” she asked, between chattering teeth.

“To pick up a Christmas gift for the Captain and her husband. A parting gift from the Blakeslee’s.” He took a step forward and peered around a particularly thick Evergreen and smiled. “There it is.”

TC treaded though the snow with Landry and Dane following the path he blazed. He stopped and looked at a perfect specimen of a Blue Spruce. It easily stood ten feet and was perfectly full. Not a single gap was present: it would make a perfect Christmas tree.
Dane pointed to the base of the tree. “Someone’s been here.” Fresh tracks were in the snow at the base of the tree.

TC looked around and no tracks lead to the tree or away. He smiled as he approached it. “Someone with access to a transporter and first hand knowledge of the exact location of this tree.” He knelt in the snow to look at the base of the tree. There attached to the trunk was a brass plaque.

Dane approached the tree. “Commander Blakeslee,” he decided.

Ambassador Blakeslee.” TC corrected, and then he read aloud the inscribing on the brass.

“For those who fly with the stars
We must not forget the treasures of the Earth
Lest we misplace the Shepard of our soul.”


Enjoy our gift of Friendship and Love for many years to come and remember us fondly each year you decorate it.

Have a Merry Christmas, and many, many more

Zander, Samthia & Family


TC stood up and brushed the snow from his pants.

“So they are giving the tree as a gift?” Landry looked at it. “Wow, that’s nice but it’ll die in a few weeks once we cut it down.”

TC smiled at his two unknowing subordinates. “Who said anything about cutting it down?” He pointed to the shovels hanging on hooks on the back of the garage.

"Um...but..." Landry raised her hand in protest, drawing an imaginary circle around her face in the air before pointing squarely at her nose. "Does this look like it knows anything about transplanting trees?"

"Does this look like it cares?" TC asked, mirroring her gesture. "Come on, ya feather-weight. Remember who we're doing this for."

"Zanh Liis, Queen Of All Starfleet?" Landry grumbled, having adopted, somewhere along the line, Dane's old and not quite respectful nickname for their Captain.

"No." TC said, moving toward the shovels and grasping one in his hand. "We're doing this for Keiran."

Before Blane could say anything more in the way of admonition, he saw he didn't need to.

Out of respect and affection for the man in question, both young TI officers had taken the shovels and already started to dig.

TC nodded his approval and tapped his combadge. "Blane to Grace."

"Grace here," February answered, from high overhead aboard the Sera.

"How goes your part of Operation Evergreen?"

“Mission accomplished. Everything is ready and waiting. There are a half a dozen or so burly O'Sullivans standing by at the house with miles of lights, a smaller tree for inside, and a treasure trove of family ornaments." She sighed softly with contentment at the mental image the thought produced. "They are being commanded by one very little but incredibly determined young nun." Grace laughed. "I only wish I could see the look on Keiran's face when he sees it all."

"We'll be sure they take pictures," Blane promised. "Thanks for your help, you're a peach."

"Now now. You know I'm much more a strawberry marshmallow. Grace out."

Satisfied that everything was on track, TC grabbed the last shovel and dug in to help.

When the clearing away was done, Dane wiped sweat from his brow and, huffing plumes of warm breath into the clear Alaskan air, he made an observation then asked his superior officer a single, desperate question.

"It's a hell of a swim from Alaska to Ireland ...please tell me we get to use the transporters this time?"

TC reached into his pocket and pulled out a transporter transponder. “Well for me and the tree it’s off to the lovely Emerald Isle.” He smiled at Dane and Landry. “You two are welcome to join me or head back to the ship. Your choice. As you heard I have the practically the entire town of Cork to assist me with getting this set into the Irish soil. ” He reached through the branches and attached the transponder to the trunk.

He turned back to the two young officers and smiled his rare, toothy grin. “In any case, you two have a Merry Christmas.”

“You too, Sir. I’ll try to catch up to you later.” Dane replied.

The moment Blane and the tree disappeared, Dane turned to Landry.

“What about you?”

“Give my regards to the Queen…” Steele slugged Dane on the arm somewhat affectionately, but then her eyes clouded. She reached up and tugged at a chain hanging around her neck, though Dane could not see what exactly was hanging from it as she concluded, “I’ve already got other plans.”

Commander TC Blane
Second Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

Ensign Dane Cristiane
Temporal Investigations Intern
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

and

Ensign Landry Steele
Temporal Investigations Agent
Serving aboard the USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1150: The Detective

by Rada Dengar
110327.1600
After Morta

-=Holodeck Two, USS Serendipity=-


Rada Dengar was rarely a man to be found indulging in holodeck fantasy. Experience had taught him that fantasies almost inevitably followed a twisted, perverted path to the destruction of all he held dear, and he found little relaxing about that.

However, this mystery gift was beginning to drive him slightly crazier than he could afford to be seen acting, and he lacked even the most basic idea of where to begin looking to discover its origins.

All things considered, especially those things which happened to be that he was an alien on a twenty-fourth century starship, the odds were not greatly in favour of that mystery being revealed at nine in the morning in a quiet London restaurant early in the twentieth century. Nonetheless, that was where he found himself today.

Strange looks and hushed laughter abounded as he entered, and the bell on the door drew many eyes to his direction. Whispers began amongst the waitstaff and the seated customers alike; men in women dressed in suits, dresses and funny hats, all apparently considering this perfectly normal attire for the consumption of a meal which he’d generally eat in his pyjamas.

Rada paid little attention to their chattering, though he did begin to think that just maybe he should have changed out of his Starfleet uniform before he came. He had the impression that he may as well have shown up covered in tinfoil for how well he’d fit on.

He didn’t wish to have to replicate some twentieth century clothes though and have further records of this bizarre personal activity be generated. The alternative would simply have been to use holographic clothing and there was no way he was risking that. It was all too easy to forget as a red alert was called and to rush outside to discover that free from the holodeck’s guidance, you’re really just wearing a small white pear of underwear in front of the Captain, Chief of Security or some sort of senior clergyman.

Still, he reminded himself that he was really just dealing with computer algorithms and that he should give their electronically generated heuristic opinions of him the same weight one would when a locked door beeped rudely and wouldn’t let them in. So he continued to move in, contemplating deleting a woman with a particularly cruel chortle.

Quickly though, he found himself intercepted by a rather pale gentleman who seemed to be himself suppressing a chuckle.

“Excuse me, Sir…This is a private establishment. I don’t think it likely you have a reservation…”

“I’m here to meet someone,” Rada explained, surveying the room in front of him then smiling as he recognised the face he was looking for. It was a face attached to the head of a stout bearded man, who for all the food on his plate was fussily examining his eggs to ensure they were both exactly the same size.

“Ah, and who’s that…?”

“That’s him,” Rada answered, beginning to move inward much to the pale gentleman’s irritation.

As he approached, Rada realised he’d been noticed, as the stout man’s face registered first surprise, to be replaced by a slightly awkward polite smile.

“I need to talk to you,” Rada said, taking the seat across to him to the stout man’s clear confusion and distaste at his meal being interrupted.

“Ah of course, my friend,” the man said insincerely, and Rada could tell that he was taking stock of his rather unusual clothing and more particularly of the bizarre and tortured mind that would choose to wear it. “So tell me, if you please, what it is you wish to be talking about?”

“Well, I know you’re a great detective...”

“No.”

The man shook his head, and continued again to examine his eggs with his fork.

“No…?” Rada asked, wondering if he’d chosen the wrong program. “What do you mean, no?”

“I mean, no,” the man retorted quickly. “A great detective, I am not. I am in fact a detective entirely unique. I’m unsurpassably the greatest that ever lived. To say I am great is the most extreme of understatements.”

The man punctuated his statement by letting his fork fall and clatter onto the plate, as it became clear the eggs just didn’t measure up.

“I’m sorry…” Rada said, hoping he hadn’t offended him. “I didn’t mean to…”

The man sighed with irritation.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, as he signalled for the waiter to come, take the offending food away, and try again. “I suppose if a man wishes to talk about how great I am, he can be forgiven for a little inaccuracy. It is perhaps best, is it not, to preserve a little modesty?”

Rada shrugged his shoulders awkwardly. “That’s actually not what I’m here for.”

“Ah, then you are here to make use of my detective’s mind? Perhaps you wish me to prove my greatness to you?” The man sounded like he was taking this as a challenge.

“I can pay you,” Rada said, knowing it’d be easy enough to have the holodeck make him some money.

“No,” the man replied, his voice losing intensity. “I don’t think so.”

“I can…”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt you could afford to pay. A man who dresses like that is either extremely stupid or quite wealthy, and the stupid find it harder to locate me.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Rada asked, noticing the man was barely even looking at him.

“The problem is I don’t take cases just for money,” he explained, looking longingly at the empty place setting before him. “First, you must capture my interest. So then tell me, what great mystery have you brought for my mighty mind to grapple with? A murderer that disappeared into thin air? A man seen dancing at a ball an hour after time of death?”

“Actually, it’s a children’s book.”

“A book?” the man furrowed his brow. “I see, and who did this book kill?”

“No one. Actually it just showed up.”

“By a body?”

“No, in the mail.”

“And it indicated someone would be killed?”

“Not exactly.”

The man blinked once in confusion.

“I don’t think you quite understand what I do…”

“I want to know who sent it,” Rada explained, quietly leaning in as if not wanting anyone to overhear.

Realising that really was all Rada wanted, the man was clearly not amused. He began to scowl.

“Have you tried the return address?”

“There wasn’t one.”

“I see. So you come here, and you interrupt my meal,” he gestured towards the table where his meal had been, then remembering the waiter had taken it he pointed at him instead, “for this?”

“Perhaps I should have gone to someone else,” Rada muttered.

“I’m certain you should,” the detective answered, his food finally being placed in front of him again, but the eggs now looking even worse. He sighed and looked up to Rada again. “So, why didn’t you?”

“Because you’re supposed to be the best,” Rada replied, slightly despondent at the ridiculousness of being in a situation where a fictional character in a holodeck fantasy was refusing to cooperate. “At least that’s what I was told. Personally, I hadn’t even heard of you.”

Now the man looked offended. He leant back in his chair and fixed an incredulous stare onto Rada.

“Haven’t heard of me? Where have you been living? The moon?!”

Rada simply shrugged his shoulders, and contemplated the man this hologram was based upon.

“I’m starting to wonder, actually, if your reputation wasn’t exaggerated anyway. I mean, if you can’t even find out who sent a book…”

The man only continued looking offended for a half a second, before he suddenly smiled slightly, seeing exactly what Rada was doing.

“Won’t, not can’t,” he replied, warming to his guest all of a sudden. “But since I like you, and since it appears I’ll be stranded here several hours waiting on some decent eggs, I’ll give you a hint to help with your inquiries. Always ask the victim.”

“The victim?”

“The victim.”

“The victim of the great book sending of 2389?”

“Well, it works best for murder,” the man replied, indicating for the eggs to be taken again.

“That probably makes interviews harder.”

“Yes, but in some cases more pleasant,” the man retorted, though it was clearly not meant to be taken harshly.

Rada paused, contemplating this information. Finally he looked to the detective again.

“But what if the victim doesn’t know?”

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t ask him what he knows. Ask him who he is. Only that will determine why someone would want him dead.”

“Or to own a children’s book?”

“Yes, exactly,” the detective confirmed. “To find out who sent that book, you must first find out what it is about you that made them want you to have it.”

Rada stopped again a moment to think about this.

“Thanks,” he finally said, although he still wasn’t really sure how this helped him.

“No problem at all,” the detective answered, as Rada stood up from the table. “Oh, and just one more thing.”

“What’s that?” Rada asked.

“A good detective trusts no one to be completely honest with them,” he added without a hint of humour. “Don’t forget that.”

Rada nodded that he wouldn’t.

Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1149: The Fresh Face

by Vol Tryst and Aubrey Church 110322.2100

After The Art of Friendship

-=London, England=-
“Did you pack your slicker?”

“Mum,” Aubrey smiled his ever-patient smile, “They have replicators. I can make a slicker if I need one. I’ll need one for home when I visit.” He checked his chronometer again. “Thirty five seconds.”

Aubrey’s father stepped forward, and then extended his hand with a grunt. It was a wildly outlandish expression of emotion from the elder Church. Aubrey grasped his father’s hand and shook. He took one final breath of the familiar smell of salt water and fish, and the Old Spice that failed miserably to cover it, that had been a presence in Aubrey’s home for all his life. His father stepped back to allow mother one final chance to fuss.

“Are you sure you know where you are going?”

“It’s a transporter, Mum, it only goes to the transporter room. Hard to get lost on the way. I’ve been told the ship’s counselor will be there to show me to my quarters.” Aubrey counted down the last few seconds. “I love you both, very much.” He stepped back and tapped his com badge. “Church to Starship Serendipity. One person, and four pieces of luggage for transport please.”

[Stand by.] Came the curt reply.

As one lifetime faded into the glow of the transporter beam, another took form. Aubrey awkwardly grabbed each piece of luggage and lumbered off the transporter pad.

Once clear, he drew the PADD with his transfer orders from his duffle and extended them towards Crewman Parrish.

“Ensign Aubrey Church, reporting as ordered. Enclosed are my detailed orders from Admiral Gemini Lassiter assigning me to this vessel to serve in the Security department under the command of Lieutenant Commander Zander Blakeslee.”

Parrish just stared at the PADD for a moment, his expression seeming to say And you are telling me this, why?

Just then the doors slid open, and Vol Tryst entered. Aubrey rotated in place with his arm still extended, holding the PADD out under Vol’s nose now, causing the Counselor’s eyes to cross slightly as he tried to focus on it.

“Ensign Aubrey Church, reporting as ordered. Enclosed are my detailed orders from Admiral Gemini Lassiter assigning me to this vessel to serve in the Security department under the command of Lieutenant Commander Zander Blakeslee.”

“Mister Blakeslee no longer serves aboard this vessel, unfortunately,” Vol began, as he took the PADD.

"I…" Aubrey started. "I wasn't aware." "Get used to that." Vol said as his eyes whirled over the PADD, skimming the details of it.

"Life on this ship, things happen faster than the news cycle can keep up with." Aubrey simply nodded. He didn't like unexpected news, but it wasn't like he could contest the change in plans. "Everything looks in order here," Vol remarked, looking up at the Ensign. "Come with me."

"Ay, sir." Aubrey bent down again to collect each piece of luggage. He struggled a bit, teeter-tottering towards the door which Vol stood in. "We'll have someone fetch those for you Ensign, no need to exert yourself." Vol chimed in.

"Yes, sir." Aubrey immediately relinquished his grasp on his belongings and followed the Counselor out into the halls.

"Not necessary to call me sir, Ensign. My name is Vol Tryst, Doctor in Psychology and Ship's Counselor aboard this vessel. Welcome aboard Ensign Church."

“That is quite a lot of words, I assume you would like me to refer to you by something a bit shorter if we aren’t to follow standard protocols.” Aubrey gazed around at his surroundings, quite seriously examining the walls and ceiling for anything that may pose a threat to the vessel that was, from this time forward, his duty to protect with his life.

“Counselor Tryst will do just fine. Is something the matter?” Vol asked, as he picked up on Aubrey’s sense of concern. He turned to observe the Ensign looking at everything except where he was going, as a young Science officer deftly stepped aside to avoid being mowed down.

“Oh, it’s nothing, just keeping my eyes and ears open. Never know when you’ll find an eavesdropping device or explosive of some sort. All part of a standard deck by deck patrol. I’m sure the Security staff does it all the time here.”

"I… I haven’t noticed.” Vol answered. “Do you know when a new Security Chief will be assigned? I should like to prepare for him or her a list of observations and suggestions, once I’ve created one of course.”

Aubrey could hardly contain his excitement at the prospect, grinning from ear to ear as he spoke. The smile was infectious. "I'm sorry to say that I do not," both men entered the turbo lift and Vol directed it to move to quarters before continuing.

"I must say Ensign, it is refreshing to see someone so enthusiastic as you are."

Aubrey gazed at the Counselor. "You mean, you don't enjoy serving aboard the Sera?" Vol hadn't expected that and quickly mended his words.

"No! I mean, of course I enjoy it. I simply meant that the excitement is somewhat subsumed over time with the execution of day-to-day duties. It takes a fresh mind to appreciate it all over again, and I thank you for that."

"A fresh… mind?"

"Yes. I'm a Betazoid and skilled empath. Your jubilee is, as I said, refreshing." “Well I’ve been told before I’m a bit of an eager beaver. Let’s hope everyone enjoys it as much as you Counselor, because I cannot wait to get started.”


***********************************
Vol Tryst Ship’s Counselor
USS Serendipity NCC-2012
&
Ensign Aubrey Church
Security Newbie
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1145: Without Fanfare

by Lair Kellyn
100313.05
After Mission Improbable
-=/\=-

“Having done all, stand.’ ~ Ephesians 6:13
-=/\=-

-=Main Bridge, USS Serendipity=-


Salvek of Vulcan spun slowly from side to side in the command chair at the center of the bridge of the USS Serendipity.

It was a silent motion, smooth and even in arc as he shifted his feet back and forth ever so slightly against the deck plates. Repeatedly he would sway, just subtly, his hands held in the thoughtful, clasped position in which he usually kept them when deep in concentration.

The scenery around him moved as if outside time and space, frame by frame, like a projector turning at a different speed, as though he didn’t quite fit in with the world he surveyed.

Though deep in thought, the harder he tried to grasp each image in his mind, the more quickly they slipped away. Concentration was something that he was finding impossible on this of all days.

“Is…everything all right, Commander?” Micah Samson asked, unnerved by how entirely uncharacteristic the Vulcan’s behaviour had been all day.

Usually Salvek sat still as stone in that chair no matter the chaos swirling around him. In all the time he’d known and served with him, Micah could never recall having seen him so ill at ease.

“Commander?” Micah repeated, after Salvek failed, at first to answer.

“Is something wrong, Mr. Samson?”

“That’s the question that I asked you, Sir,” Micah’s voice cracked slightly as Salvek’s dark eyes settled upon him fully. He cleared his throat and rephrased his question. “Is there a problem we should be aware of, Sir?”

“No.”

Salvek picked up the PADD that rested on the arm of the chair and began to type on it, trying to appear more focused than he actually was.

A moment passed in silence, save the beeping of the normal displays all around them, and the crew exchanged glances that ran the gamut from slightly anxious to outright worried.

“Computer, what is the time?” Salvek asked suddenly.

^The time is fourteen hundred hours.^

Salvek spoke no more. He just continued slowly pivoting the chair back and forth and staring beyond the device in his hands, his mind far removed from his physical location.

-=The Captain’s Ready Room=-


Zanh Liis’ feet rocked against the deck plates moving in the chair at her desk, seeming to mirror the anxiety and the repetition in Salvek’s movements, even though she couldn’t see him. She twisted the chain of her earring as she spoke to a face on the viewscreen before her. “Are you certain this is what you want, Jariel?”

“It’ll be…too difficult to do this any other way, Captain.” Jariel replied. The image of his empty quarters aboard ship filled the screen behind him, and he was wearing simple, civilian clothing; no longer the all black ‘uniform’ he had worn in his work as Ship’s Chaplain.

“They really wanted the chance to say goodbye,” Liis said softly.

“Say goodbye to a room full of my friends, all at once?” Jariel shook his head. “Bru, and Dabin. Micah. Sue and TC and…” he paused, unable to continue listing those he would be leaving behind. “I can’t do it, Captain. It would be no easier for Fleur, either. In fact, she’s already taken the children and beamed down to Paris. Last I saw they were unpacking at lightning speed.” He raised his eyes to meet hers, and he tilted his head slightly. “It’s not that we don’t appreciate the gesture. We do. It’s just that…”

“You’ve never liked goodbyes.”

“No, and besides,” he sighed heavily. “I don’t think Kellyn and Salvek could take this going on any longer than it already has.”

Liis stopped fidgeting and sat up straighter in her chair. “You’re going through with this, then?”

Jariel’s earring jingled as he nodded. “We are. She’s already down on the planet with my family, and she seems to be settling in.”

“You’re sure it’s for the best?” Liis wrung her hands slightly, then began twisting the rings on her left ring finger.

“They don’t know what else to do, and I want to help, if I can,” Jariel replied. “We’ll…see what happens.”

“It’s an admirable thing that you’re doing. I know that they’re grateful to you, and Fleur.”

“We didn’t hesitate for a moment. If it can help…” His voice trailed off and he pulled something out of his pocket and held it up on display. “What would you like me to do with this, Captain?”

Liis took in the sight of him holding up his combadge and her mind flashed back over years and years of life and times in which they’d lived. Every choice they’d made and step they’d taken, led up to this moment when it was time, again, for their paths to truly diverge and each to make their own way in the universe. She’d known this day was coming for awhile, but now that it was here she still felt the sting in her throat and a burning sensation somewhere behind her eyes.

“I know that you’re in a hurry to go. Just…” she was about to offer to see him off, but again, remembering his hatred of goodbyes, she stopped. “Leave it with Andrew in the transporter room. I’ll get it from him later.”

“Very well. Is there anything else you require of me, Captain?”

Liis sighed now, folding her arms. “I’d like you, just once, not to call me ‘Captain’ before you go,”

Jariel blinked and shifted his weight. “Liis, are you trying to make this harder?”

“No!” She stomped her foot and launched out of her chair, pacing back and forth before her desk. Finally, she leaned her hands down upon the surface, lowering her head as she raised her eyes to meet his again and stared as if right through him. “Just listen to me for a second.” She drew a deep breath. “You’ve waited a long time for this, Camen. All your life, to have solid ground beneath your feet. To have a real home, a family of your own.”

“Now I have it.”

“Yes, you do, and I don’t want you to spend another second worrying about anything else. No one on the ship, not the ship itself. I know you, Jariel Camen. I know how you think, and I know you will worry some.” Her voice implored him as her tone changed again and softened. “Just don’t let worry about the life you’re leaving behind take a moment away from the life you’re meant to live. Be happy, Jariel, for the first time in your life. Be really, really happy.”

He nodded, and a gentle smile lived for an instant upon his lips before it quickly died away. “Be careful out there.”

Liis nodded.

Jariel stood taller, his shoulders back as he hefted a large duffle over his arm. “Permission to disembark, Captain O’Sullivan?”

Liis’ voice was a mere whisper as she smiled at him. “Permission granted.”

The screen winked out as Jariel terminated the signal, and Liis’ smile grew wider, even as she blinked back tears. “Live the life you were born for, Camen,” she whispered. “The one that will finally make you happy.”

-=Transporter Room Two=-


“The Captain said that I could leave this with you,” Jariel said, as he set his combadge down on the transporter panel.

“Sure thing, Vedek Jariel,” Andrew Parrish brought up the coordinates to which he’d earlier beamed Jariel’s family, and the guest they’d taken with them. “Ready to go?”

“Ready to go home, Andrew.” Jariel said definitively, stepping up onto the pad without an instant of hesitation. “Energize.”

“WAIT!” A frantic voice called as the doors flew open. “Jariel, wait.”

Camen set his bag down and descended, heading toward the shaking, tearful Bajoran woman who called after him.

“Kellyn?” He braced her as she teetered from side to side, looking like her knees were going to give out at any moment. “What is it?”

“She forgot him.” Kellyn’s hands vibrated as she held out a small, sad looking stuffed animal that Jariel readily recognized, as it had spent several years, soggy neck tucked beneath Lair Arie’s arm as she toted ‘him’ everywhere she went. “She forgot Raffe.”

“I don’t think she forgot him, Kellyn,” Jariel said gently, as he lowered her down onto the transporter dais and sat down beside her. “A moment, Ensign?”

Parrish wordlessly secured the station and left them alone. Kellyn grasped hold of the small toy with desperation. For days she’d held herself together, not once showing any emotion or shedding a single tear over anticipation of this moment but now that it had come, she seemed to be unable to stop them taking over.

“She would never have left him on purpose.” Kellyn insisted, wringing the poor little giraffe’s neck absently as she clutched him. “She wouldn’t.”

“I asked her specifically if she’d forgotten anything,” Jariel whispered, putting his arm around Kellyn’s shoulders. “She’s already all unpacked. She’s sharing a room with Tress, by choice, even though she could have had one of her own.”

“How could she leave him? He’s her…” Kellyn stopped speaking, wiped her tears away defiantly with the cuff of her sleeve and held the toy out to him. “You have to take him to her. She’ll be lost without him.”

Jariel understood that the panic rising in her was about Arie leaving behind so much more than her favourite toy.

“She’s going to be okay, I promise you.” Jariel whispered, leaning over and kissing Kellyn on the forehead. “I know you’re afraid. I know it’s difficult.”

”Have you ever turned your child over to someone else to take care of and known that soon you’d be unable to reach them?” Kellyn’s eyes narrowed. “Have you ever watched your child turn into a stranger before your eyes without even knowing why?”

Jariel exhaled slowly. “No, I haven’t.”

“Then you don’t know.”

“You’re right. I don’t. I’m sorry.” Jariel continued patiently. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

“I don’t want any of this. I never did.” Lair droned. “I just don’t know what else to do.”

“I promise I’ll keep you up to date as often as you want on how she’s doing,” Jariel vowed. “I promise, if we even think for a second that she wants to or is ready to come back to the ship, we’ll talk to her about it. In the meantime, we’ll do all we can to help her find her way back to herself. To the emotions that she’s lost.”

“That she has abandoned.”

“Kellyn…”

“I’m sorry. I know. It’s not her fault.” She looked down at the toy again and thought back over the years and wondered what could have been done differently to prevent this day ever coming. Jariel instantly read her expression.

“It’s not yours, either.” He pulled her into a hug, but she remained stiff and still. “Remember that.”

She broke from his embrace and moved toward the transporter panel. She set the toy down on it, beside Jariel’s combadge. Seeing it, she raised an eyebrow at him.

“Would you see that the Captain gets that?” he asked.

“Of course.” Her expression was now as emotionless as he would have expected Salvek’s to be. “Are you ready, Vedek Jariel?"

“Kellyn…” he hated leaving her in the state he knew she was truly in, but she was leaving him little choice. If his life and his training had taught him anything it was that someone who was not yet ready to grieve a loss could not be forced to mourn before they were able.

“Camen, please.” She shook her head. “Don’t.”

He nodded and took his place on the transporter once again. “Hold on to Raffe for her,” he said softly. “She’ll ask you for him, wait and see.”

“Standing by.” Kellyn said flatly, blinking back fresh tears as her shaking hand hovered over the transporter controls.

“Energize.”

Kellyn almost closed her eyes, not wishing to see the emptiness of the transporter pad, as she executed the command.

Instead she watched, as an instant later, Jariel Camen left the USS Serendipity, with her burden rested firmly on his able shoulders.

Now alone in the room, Kellyn uttered a few sorrowful, sacred Bajoran words; a lonely prayer for peace for her daughter and for the good friend who’d finally found his way home.

***************************

Commander Lair Kellyn
Engineering Research and Development
The Alchemy Project


(NRPG: Thanks to JPW for the most meaningful quote at the beginning of this- and thanks to Mr. Dengar for all his help. The Captain's latest surgeries (yes plural) have slowed up progress, but we are still here and we are definitely still writing. Much, much more to come. ~Zanh Liis O'Sullivan)

1144: The Art of Friendship

by Vol Tryst and Lt. Grace
Stardate 110316.4
Time: Current

-=Quarters of the Reece family, USS Serendipity=-


Vol sighed patiently as he watched just the feet and legs of his dear friend February Grace moving before him. The top and middle portions of her willowy form had disappeared into a large closet, and her voice was muffled as she ran over her apparel options.

"No... no... no... definitely not going to happen."

Vol ducked as she tossed a blouse, hanger and all, over her shoulder, narrowly missing his head.

"If you don't decide soon..."

"I know. I know. But you sprung this on me when I thought the biggest event of my day would be having animal crackers between Sesame Street and naptime."

"Oh, well, if it's too much of an inconvenience for you, I wouldn't want you to miss an episode of—"

"Don't you dare." Bru could be quite threatening even if was just through her voice. Vol was still standing, staring at the closed door... completely quite.

"Frankly, it took us long enough to find time together. I yelped when Dabin told me of our date, and I'm thrilled, so don't you dare walk out on me now mister."

Vol remained very, very, quiet.

"Vol?" Bru inquired. Still nothing.

"VOL!"

"I'm still right here you silly goose." Another hanger and blouse game flying at Vol which he almost failed to evade.

"You're mean!"

"You're beautiful."

February huffed. "This would go by a lot quicker if I knew where I was going."

"How would it be a surprise if you knew where we were going?"

"I'm not a huge fan of surprises, you know," Bru said, sticking her head out of the closet and revealing a head of hair completely askew and possessed of static electricity.

She sighed and looked at herself in the mirror. "I look like a blonde-ish bride of Frankenstein. With formula stains on everything I own."

"Then we need to get you something new." Vol tugged her out of the closet by her hand, gently positioning her before the replicator. He looked her up and down. "Yes. Definitely black."

"Black?"

"Yes. Pink stays home today."

"Intriguing." Bru nodded. "I leave myself in your capable hands."

Vol moved to the replicator and began tapping the panel, avoiding the speech interface so as to avoid spoiling the unveiling.

He returned with a simple black dress, soft and elegant. Sleeveless, with a simple neckline and tailored bodice leading to a skirt that would swirl and swish around her as she moved.

Bru looked at it approvingly. "Dude, I love you even more than I did thirty seconds ago, if that is possible.”

“It’s always possible.”

“So very, very true.” She held the dress up to herself and nodded again, but the up and down motion turned to a rapid side to side, and Vol mirrored her movements with much amusement as he anticipated what she was about to say.

“I know, I know. No high heels.”

“You know me so well.” She smiled once again at the thought of the day that awaited her: anything Vol would plan would have to be a fabulous time. “Wherever you're taking me, I don't want to end up detouring to the emergency room."

"I think that can be avoided." Vol moved to her closet and picked out a simple pair of black boots. "These comfortable?"

"Very. Why do you ask?"

"You're in for a bit of a walk."

-=USS Serendipity - Holodeck One - Early 21st Century Earth=-


"Oh Vol..." Bru was in awe.

Vol paused a moment to enjoy the sight as his friend walked on a few paces ahead of him. He held his hands together behind his back and he was absolutely beaming as the waves of joy, surprise and wonder she felt washed over him. He had done good. February turned to look at him.

"Where are we?"

"Le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal."

Bru blinked. Vol chuckled.

"The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts." He smiled. "This particular exhibit is called The Earth is Blue Like an Orange. I know how much you love art and although I'm not sure if Pre-Warp Era Art is to your liking, I thought you might still take some pleasure out of this."

February grinned. “Do I ever.” She grabbed Vol's hand and dragged him down the halls. The floors shone in brilliant black marble, and the walls were white opaque glass. The ceiling was comprised of windows. It was difficult to guess the size of the museum, no matter where you were positioned the place seemed huge.

The rooms displaying the exhibit seemed to be of a different world. The pieces (paintings, sculptures, instillations, photographs and more) experimented with colour, primarily. Bright colours. This place reshaped the fundamentals of the worlds of fantasy, such as Wonderland and Neverland, and brought them together to speaks volumes about relevant issues of the time—while being marvelous simultaneously.

Bru seemed to hurry from piece to piece, desperate to take it all in, in what she was certain would be too short a span of time to see it all.

No matter what she did, these days, it seemed she never had enough time.

Vol sensed the shift in her mood, the conflicting emotions within her as she stood still and quiet, tilting her head side to side as she analyzed the piece.

Vol read the small plaque beside the sculpture “The Nest, by Piccinini.” He nodded. “Creative use of an unusual medium.”

“Mother and child.” Bru replied. “A mother protecting her child, at all cost.”

“That is the natural, maternal instinct.” Vol walked a few steps closer and he watched as her shoulders slumped more than a little. “You do a fine job of it. Sophie is a very happy baby. I wonder, though.” He paused, and February’s head snapped toward him.

“Wonder what?” She put one hand on her hip and shifted uncomfortably. “You know so much about me Vol you rarely have to ‘wonder’ anything.”

“I wonder, when in all this ‘nest building’ that you’re doing, is the last time you did something just for yourself?”

“Besides today?”

Vol nodded and waited as she tried to scan her recent memory for such an event. “I can’t remember.”

“That concerns me. As your friend and as Ship’s Counselor.” He pursed his lips. “I hate to put on a different hat so suddenly but I just have to say this now, while I have the chance. I have to ask when the last time was you got out your easel and painted something?”

February laughed. “Well, mandatory bed rest and new motherhood kind of kill arts and crafts time.”

“Well, we need to fix that.” Vol stated, not offering this as an opinion but as a mandate. “You need time to unwind, Bru. If you don’t, you’ll only get more tense, your health will suffer and Sophie will feel the tension in you, too. Infants—well, they're almost empathic with their sensitivity to the emotions they're exposed to. Happy mothers have happier babies.”

She stepped away, moving to the next work. She raised a hand as if to touch it but didn’t, merely gliding her fingertips through the air near the artwork. She observed the colors, the textures, the way the light played over it. “But when?” She sighed. “Between the new training program they have me running and regular duty shifts, and the baby, and everything else…”

“You can’t do it all. Not all at once. So you have to choose, which would you really rather do right now? Train or fly?”

“Train.” She said without hesitation. “No question. It’s rewarding to watch the next generation move up and take on more responsibility. There are still a few tricks, especially to do with the Alchemy, I can teach them.”

“Then we should talk to the Captain. See about shifting your focus.”

Bru bit her lip. Any idea of talking to the Captain about anything made her nervous.

“I could…make it a recommendation.” Vol offered. “I don’t want to overstep, but if it would help I-“

Bru threw her arms around him and squeezed him so tight his shoes nearly left the deck. “Would you?”

“Of course.” He placed a kiss atop her mop of blonde hair and held her at arms length. “I’ll recommend that the current work load is inadvisable given your new family responsibilities and suggest that your talents be maximized in the role of teacher.” He tapped the tip of her nose with his index finger. “However, you must promise me that when we really get in a jam you’ll still take the helm and get us out of it.”

“Are you kidding? I’ll storm the bridge and tackle whoever tries to stop me.”

“A force to be reckoned with.” Vol smiled. “Now, about that painting…”

“Soon,”

“Now.” Vol stepped back and smiled again. “Computer, save program and run new program: Tryst/Grace outing 3.”

The scene shifted and suddenly, February was in the middle of a beautiful garden setting. The wind gently rustled through the leaves on the trees, and what appeared to be endless rows of flowerbeds decorated the land all around. A brook ran softly through it all, gurgling and churning gently to create a most relaxing sound.

“Vol, what are you…”

“Be right back. Computer, arch!”

He disappeared and when he returned a moment later, he was carrying a small folding chair and two very familiar black bags. One contained her easel, and the other, an array of paint and brushes. “Now.” He said softly, as he set up the chair and held out a bag in each hand.

“But what about our day?”

“We have lots of day left,” he promised. “I’ll be back in an hour to see how you’re progressing… with lunch.”

She shook her head as he retreated once more toward the exit, not wanting to break the magic of the moment by saying much more.

“Vol?”

He paused, arching an eyebrow expectantly as he waited for her to say what he knew she would.

“I love you.”

"And I you."


Lt. Vol Tryst
Ship’s Counselor
USS Serendipity NCC-2023

and

Lt. Grace
Flight Control Instructor
The Alchemy Project

1143: Morta

by Rada Dengar
110314.2100
After The Three-Sided Square

-=An Alien Vessel=-


Morta was a woman who took few things fearfully, and to whom worry was mostly too much to worry about.

Certainly by this time in her life, she was well accustomed to the coughing and sputtering of a sickly and deteriorating engine. It was merely natural in a craft so old and poorly kept.

This humble ship was a century out of date, set to be destroyed before they’d perhaps mistakenly saved it from scrap. Much like her joints seemed to some days, it would rattle and it would shake uneasily, as they slowly traversed what felt like ever growing gaps between unwelcoming and unfamiliar stars.

Her people; the Maclaurans, were travellers, from a race; very like any other, not quite so rich as to build ships of their own, but that little bit too proud to accept any assistance in charity.

They were not explorers. They were not refugees. They were merely a people who’d chosen to take to the skies for a new life, only to discover it no more glamorous or fulfilling than living upon the dirt of home.

Their ship was self-sustaining, only occasionally taking on passengers in their journeys for a sliver of latinum for trade. For those like her, toiling in the heat of the galley, it was their only real contact with other races and their bizarrely alien ways.

In a lifetime, she’d met merely dozens. Some were friendly. Some were interesting. Others were pains in parts of the anatomy that she found it curious seemed to be possessed by even the most unusual alien races.

When their lives were threatened she took it in her stride. When her crewmates returned from missions to worlds where a relaxing day meant they merely attempted to hang, draw and halve you, she helped as she could in bandaging their wounds and then simply returned to work.

Certainly, she was not a woman easily shaken.

It made it all the more of a mystery to her then why this one guest, when she’d serve his food, had the ability, and the glare, to render her nearly incapable of speech.

For three days he had come; the picture of stoic posture and an arrogant air, and demanded she give him his due.

He was far taller than she. He’d tower over her as he stood with a waiting tray. With emotionless eyes he seemed to cut what constituted her species’ heart in two, only to coldly insist she pull herself together.

A man of few words, and fewer concerns, he’d never told her the name of his race. Only from photographs had she identified his kind.

Had she known more of that noble species though, she’d have seen something deeply incongruous in him.

“This meal. I trust it will this time meet my dietary requirements.”

Barely, could she force her eyes to meet his for a glancing brush.

“Y..yes, sir.”

“Are you certain?!”

“Y…yes.”

He didn't move. He simply continued to stand there; unfeelingly studying her soul like a crumbling book; as though it were so easily acquired and read, yet just as liable to fall to pieces in his grip.

Finally though, he seemed to be done for now.

“Very well.”

He quickly turned, his words a clear acceptance of the tray he took, and not a validation of the woman whose knees now shook before him.

As he took his seat alone by the wall, probing at his food with disgust, she had the horrible feeling that his eyes hadn’t really left her. Though hers was not a truly empathic species, she could sense something deeply unnatural in him. It was like he knew more about her than he should.

Not realising just how much he really had gotten to her, she jumped as a hand was clamped upon her shoulder.

Her eyes wide, she turned, then blushed, as she realised it was merely Gretcher; one of her fellow kitchen hands.

“Something wrong?” he asked; the sweet young man always far too concerned about the happiness of an old woman.

“I’m alright,” she said softly. “It’s just…him. He gives me the creeps.”

“I don’t see it, personally. Sure, he’s a bit weird, but they wouldn’t call them aliens if they weren’t. I met one once, I think it was called a Klingon, and it tried to sell me a lifetime supply of root vegetables, before propositioning one of the female deckhands for something called oo-mox...”

She smiled slightly, but it quickly dissipated.

“No, it’s something more than that.”

“Is this your female instinct playing up again?” Gretcher asked with a slight sigh; a frequent sceptic of the claims of higher senses being possessed by certain members of his species.

“I don’t trust him.”

“Yeah, well don’t worry. He’s supposed to be getting off at the next planet. He said, the sooner he could be released from the confines of this 'primitive vessel', the better.”

“The Captain won’t like that,” she replied; amazed at this stranger's audacity.

“The Captain doesn’t like him,” Gretcher answered. “He says his sort’s unnatural.”

Morta cringed slightly at the thought. For as terrifying as this man was, she could still not stand the Captain’s many prejudices being used against him.

“I hear though that the first officer feels differently,” Gretcher added.

”Many of the young women do,” Morta replied, still shaken. “He can be very…charming.”

“Another thing I don’t understand.” Gretcher shook his head, as he observed the cold and uncharismatic man.

Morta too continued to watch him, and it was then she saw him do something she hadn’t expected. For a moment, he seemed to look a little sad, as he took from his pocket a small and hard to make out device.

“What’s he looking at?” she asked, furrowing her brow; afraid to move any closer to get a better look.

“A holo-imager,” Gretcher answered, having caught sight of it earlier. “He doesn’t let anyone else see it, but he barely ever seems to stop looking at it.”

“I wonder why…” she asked, needing to consciously stop herself from closing the distance so she could see more clearly.

“It’s better not to know,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulders, turning around to return to his work.

“No,” Morta replied, still observing him with a shake of her head. “No, I don’t think it is.”

Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1142: The Three-Sided Square

by Rada Dengar
110226.2200
After Chateau and Beer


-=Personal Quarters of Rada Dengar and Wren Elton=-


Wren quietly sighed, worried by what she was seeing and more so by what she was feeling. In spite of the general cheer about the ship today, there was something strange in the mood of one Angosian.

She slowly approached Rada from behind. He was quiet today, even for him. It wasn’t sadness, as such, though. She couldn’t place it that easily.

He was however exceptionally contemplative, as time and again he would flick arbitrarily though the pages of his book, read a little, then flick through again.

It seemed like he was searching for something without knowing quite what it was.

“You know you’ve barely put that thing down since we found it,” she said, leaning in over his shoulder and causing him to jump slightly as he was pulled out of the internal world of his thoughts. “Maybe it’s time to give it a rest…”

He looked up at her, a little startled. Slowly he recovered and exhaled. He realised she was right.

He snapped the book shut in one hand then placed it down. Yet he couldn’t help but to continue to stare. His fingers never left it as it rested on the table before them.

Wren moved around to sit on the couch beside him, gently taking his hand in hers and away from the book. He could see the concern in her eyes, and she could see that he just wanted to pick it up again.

She hated seeing him like this.

“Have you figured out who sent it yet?” she asked, picking it up herself and rubbing her thumb over the hard cover.

“It must have been someone in my family,” he suggested, without any real certainty. “I still can’t figure out though why they wouldn’t have left their name…”

“Maybe…maybe you should just try contacting them.”

“And ask about it?”

She nodded but it was clear he didn’t want to do that. Rada merely sighed, shaking his head in response.

Without even really thinking about it, he picked up the brown paper that the book had come wrapped in off the table and began to examine it in his spare hand. Seeing how uncomfortable he was, Wren squeezed the hand she still held.

She could tell he wanted to talk but that he didn’t really know about what.

“So…The Three-sided Square...” She read the title aloud. “You said it was Angosian?”

“Yes, it’s a very old and well-known children’s story…”

Wren simply watched him patiently as he sat the paper down, knowing he wanted to say more.

“It’s about, somewhat ridiculously, this…anthropomorphic square who sets out to leave Square Town to see the world. After a frightening encounter with a rather grumpy circle, he ends up in Triangle City. Everything’s a triangle there. The windows are triangles. The boats are triangles. Well, you get the idea.”

Wren nodded that she did and Rada continued with just the slightest hint of sadness entering into his tone.

“Of course he doesn’t fit. He can’t get in through the triangle shaped doors. He’s uncomfortable in a triangle shaped house. Besides, the triangles don’t like him very much. Eventually though he begins to belong.”

“They accept him?”

“He thinks so. Everything starts to seem easier. Only then he catches sight of his reflection in a shop window. That’s when he realises that his top has begun to be squished in by being forced through triangle shaped doors. He’s beginning to become a triangle. He knows then that he has to go home…”

Rada stopped, sighing. Wren could tell he was intending to remain silent.

“Was it a favourite of yours as a child, or…?”

Rada shook his head that it wasn’t as he picked the book up again. “I’d heard of it but it was never particularly significant to me.”

“So then why would your family want to send it?”

Rada’s eyes filled with fear as a possibility occurred, causing Wren to hold his hand even tighter.

“Maybe…maybe they know.”

“Know what?”

Rada paused and shifted awkwardly, clearly not wanting to put this into words.

“What I’ve done,” he finally answered. “What I’ve become.”

Wren’s eyes opened wider.

“Hold on,” She immediately objected, having thought they were past this. “You did what you did to save my life. You…”

Rada smiled slightly sadly at her, contemplating how to explain this. “What I did, what I now remember doing, was a very horrible thing. I’ll always have to live with it. However I’d done many things one of my people should never do before that. I’d changed a lot to even be in that position in the first place. Starfleet; this life we lead, it’s not the Angosian way.”

“No, it’s not,” Wren answered, taking the book from him and placing it back upon the table. “But that doesn’t mean you’ve changed. If you’d been content to do things the Angosian way, I don’t think you’d have ever left.”

“You’re right, I guess,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I never did quite fit in there either.”

“You fit in here,” she assured him.

“I fit with you and with Tam,” Rada replied with a slight smile. “I wouldn’t have even come close to fitting in here though when I first left home.”

Wren was surprised by hearing him speak of Angosia III like this.

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you refer to where you grew up as home before.”

“I haven’t thought of it as home in a long time,” he admitted. “I still don’t. I’ve just been thinking now of how it used to be. I once belonged there and the rest of the galaxy seemed so strange. I’m quite different now though.”

“I didn’t know you then. But I think that if you could speak to your old self, he’d be pleased with how you ended up. Anyone would have to be.”

“I almost did,” Rada answered. “On Earth, I saw a young man. I could tell he was Angosian and, Wren, he was so much like a younger version of me. It was frightening.” Rada paused and closed his eyes, just trying to grasp how much had changed in him. “He had so much innocence I’ve lost.”

“I’ve known you a long time now,” Wren replied. “I don’t think you’ve lost anything. You’ve gained a lot though.”

“Yeah, well I know that’s not how they’d see it,” Rada said, turning to look now at her and contemplating just how good she was to him. “They’d think I’ve just changed to be more like the people out here. I think this book is someone’s way of telling me it’s time to go home.

“Do you want to go back?”

Rada immediately shook his head. “I don’t belong there anymore. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to say to any of them after all this time.”

“You are starting to miss Angosia though, aren't you?”

“No, I…” Wren gave him a look that reminded him who he was talking to. “It’s just this time of year. The ship tends to take on a very human, Christmas feeling. It reminds me how far away I am from where I began. I miss not feeling that.”

“Well, are you sure you don’t want to go back there?” Wren prompted him, just wanting to make it better.

“I’m sure,” Rada answered without certainty, though certainly with fear at the prospect. He looked to the book again. “First, I just really have to figure out who sent this…”

Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

1141: Chateau and Beer

by Jamie Halliday and Ashton Ledbetter
110209.0200
After The Yellow Sheep


Christmas Eve at the Ledbetter residence was a most frightening occasion, though certainly not intentionally. In a classic and whimsical display of Yuletide generosity, Ashton’s mother, as a matter of tradition, always gave the hired servants six to nine P.M. off to be with their families. It did little good for the Hupyrians, who had no use for Christmas Eve or Christmas, but it did allow Ashton’s mother to present herself as a shining example of philanthropy during the local Bridge Club meetings.

Mother dearest would wear the same red velvet dress during dinner each year. Her hair was pulled back so tightly into a bun that her already sculpted Patrician façade appeared to resemble more a skeleton then a living person. Father would be rambling on about his latest case as Mother awkwardly set down the turkey, which of course the servants had prepared before being dismissed for three hours.

Apparently there was some sort of to-do over whether Federation Law allowed a ferret to be named as principle owner of a London boutique specializing in women’s hats. At issue was a dispute over services rendered and paid for in advance that were not completed to the satisfaction of the customer. The proprietor of the establishment hailed from a planet where a creature quite similar to ferrets were considered Gods, and therefore were not only allowed to own property, but in fact operating a business without the name of one of the Gods on your deed was, in fact, illegal.

At issue was the freedom of the Owner to practice the religion of his choosing, even if that meant the customer would be unable to recoup any of her payment by suing an assetless rodent.

If there was one thing Ashton hated, it was lawsuits involving property and furry creatures. He ate as quickly as he could, and even performed the menial task of setting the dirty dishes in the replicator to be reconstituted. Ashton was always somewhat disturbed by the fact that, despite his food being literally assembled one atom a time, it had in fact once been a plate, or any other number of vile things.

Upon unwrapping and thanking his parents for the yearly ascot, he kissed mother on her bony cheek, and retired back to his apartment. Now adorned in fuzzy slippers, a fuzzy robe, and eating a fuzzy peach, Ashton surveyed the city from on high as a solo piano slowly chimed out Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas over the surround speakers.

Despite what should have been the perfect moment, something just didn’t feel quite right. Champaign? No. Replace the piano with a classical guitar? No. He set his peach down, and tapped a hidden panel on the wall, causing a mirror to slide away and reveal a computer terminal.

“Computer, are you able to locate Jamie Halliday?”

The Computer thought for a moment, before popping up a map of the globe, with an arrow over the Scotland home of the Halliday clan.

“May I speak with him?”

The computer chirped, and Ashton was suddenly overwhelmed by the sound of raucous laughter and loud music coming over the communications line.

“This is Jamie!” Halliday shouted over the noise to be heard.

“Crewman Halliday, this is Ashton Ledbetter…” He paused for a moment. “Obviously I’ve caught you in the middle of a gather, my apologies. I’ll contact you another time.

[There’s no need to do that,] Jamie replied, as a festive debate between two Scottish brogues managed to overcome the sound of the music. [I’m not busy!]

“Are you sure?” Ashton asked skeptically, thinking Jamie was just being polite.

[Sure I’m sure,] Jamie replied as Ashton heard a voice, incomprehensible over the music, speaking to him on the other end. [It’s Ashton. A friend of mine.] The voice seemed to mumble again. [What’s that…? Oh, my mother’s asking why you’re calling.]

“I was just wondering if you’d like to get together tonight for something to eat.”

[I’d love to, but I can’t go anywhere tonight.] The voice mumbled once more. [Apparently you’re welcome to come here though!]

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to be an imposition.”

[Then don’t be! Just come over.]

“Well…” Ashton thought for a second, not wishing to intrude on what was clearly a lively and loving family gathering, and indeed quite inexperienced in how to act at one, yet noting the loneliness of where he was now. “Well, thank you. I believe I will. Might I ask about the dress code?”

Even over the blaring music, laughter could be heard.

[I told you he was funny!] Jamie said to the crowd. [Don’t worry about it. Just come in what you’re wearing.]

Looking down across his fuzzy robe and slippers, which it was true were personally tailored; twice actually, after the first one couldn’t get the collar right, Ashton thought better.

“Okay, I’ll be there soon.”

-=/\=-


By the time Ashton materialized in front of a small, well-kept but poorly designed house, he was dressed impeccably. While some people chose to slob about by dressing in smart casual, Ashton preferred a sort of ‘genius informal’, but obviously not too heavy on the 'informal'.

He’d carefully selected a simple, black, barely absurdly priced at all outfit, which should fit him in anywhere. It was clearly the fashionable choice. What it was not however, he realized, was the warm choice as he felt precious Italian shoes sinking down into the freezing snow.

Seeing the small house, whose functioning chimney bellowing smoke bizarrely suggested a fireplace for more than charm, Ashton wondered if there weren’t some mistake in the transporter coordinates. It was hard to believe a party the likes of which he’d heard would be contained within such a miniature replication of the family servant’s quarters.

Yet as he felt the snow threatening to sink straight through his shoes and render his socks damp and unpleasant, he decided that were it the right address or not they’d better prepare, because he was coming inside.

Rushing to the door, he pulled his arms around himself, scanned his eye over quickly, but was unable to find any chime. Giving up, he knocked insistently with his free hand on the wood.

The door was soon pulled open, revealing what appeared to be an ordinary sized woman, slightly miss-proportioned. Ashton had no chance to question if it were the right place, before he felt himself being pulled inside and the door shut behind him.

“Glad you could make it, dear,” she said excitedly, her arm linked in his. “Do take off your shoes.”

Ashton looked down, and as much as he preferred not to go around barefoot, he could see he was likely to trod filthy snow in with him and so he reluctantly complied. Thankfully, he’d chosen to wear designer socks today as well.

His task however was made slightly difficult as the small woman didn’t wish to free up his arm. No sooner had he managed to remove one shoe before he found himself descended on by what, had it not been for a single friendly face, he would have assumed was a small street gang.

“Welcome to the Halliday residence,” Jamie said proudly, moving to free his friend from his mother’s eager arm, though she seemed intent on holding on. He then turned back to the crowd. “Everyone, I’d like to introduce my friend Captain Ashton Ledbetter. Ashton; this is my mother, my father, my uncle Donny, my sister Dolina and my two brothers; Artair and Colon.”

“How do you do,” Ashton said, as he attempted to navigate the assault of approaching hands, each expecting to be shaken, while still trying to remove his second shoe.

Though the music had been turned down to a dull roar, the noise was more than made up for by the sudden clamor of greeting words.

Doing his best to be polite in the presence of these rather large people, Ashton tried to respond to each of their greetings in turn, yet two of the males were looking at him rather disapprovingly, and the younger of the females was looking at him all too approvingly.

His eyes quickly locked on hers and she smiled at him a little flirtatiously. However his thoughts were soon distracted, as he felt the extremely expensive bottle of Chateau La Barre he’d brought being yanked from his hand.

The man he assumed was Jamie’s father; it was hard to tell with the speed of the introductions, was examining it happily.

“Ah, grand,” he said. “It’s good ta see Jamison’s keeping such fine company.”

Then before he knew any more, the crowd had Ashton surrounded, with a person on every side, as he was led the very short distance to what appeared to be some sort of living space. All the while, Jamie’s sister kept eyeing him, as Jamie’s mother continued to talk excitedly in his ear. Jamie seemed to find watching the exchange quite amusing, though his sister seemed to find it less so.

“My, aren’t you a handsome young man?” the mother said, then turned rapidly to her husband. “Doesn’t he look like that man?”

“Which man's that then?”

“We used to know him. You know; pasty skin, beady eyes? You must remember.”

“Nah, I don’t know what yer talkin' about. You must be imaginin’ things…”

“He thinks I’m imaginin’ things,” she said to Ashton with a shrug of her shoulder, insistent that she was not. “He spoke a bit like you actually. Maybe he was your father. What was his name?”

“Ashton Charles Ledbetter, the same as my own.”

“No, that’s not it,” the mother replied, seeming perplexed.

“He couldn’t come up with anything a wee bit more original for you?” Dolina asked teasingly.

“Now, go easy,” her uncle insisted. “Names are hard to come up with. They named you after the neighbours’ dog.”

One of her brothers laughed.

“They named you after their parakeet,” the uncle added.

Then suddenly Ashton realized they'd arrived at the seating area, each of them taking their place. Dolina sat to his left and Jamie, protectively, to his right.

Jamie’s mother placed the now opened bottle of Chateau La Barre down on the table, and surrounded it with an assortment of other wines and longed neck beers. The color drained from Ashton’s face as he saw hands grasping for the rare vintage.

“Oh that’s really for after… dinner… tasting.” Ashton’s voice trailed off as he saw the bottle poured and rapidly consumed by Jamie’s family.

“Did ya same somethin’?” Artair asked from across the table.

“No, nothing at all,” Ashton shook his head. His initial shock turned to glee when he saw how much the family was enjoying the wine. Feeling rather game to try their offerings, Ashton grabbed one of the beers from the center of the table.

“Jamie,” Ashton whispered. “I believe I left my bottle opener… I don’t own a bottle opener.”

Dolina snatched the bottle from his hand, twisted off the cap, and set it down in front of him.

“Well, thank you very much, my lady.” Ashton said, with a bit of a grin. She inclined her head to say “thank you,” with a grin of her own.

Jamie’s mother returned to the table with a large platter of lamb shanks and set it down in the center. She then bustled back to the kitchen to retrieve the sides that would accompany their meal.

“So, Jamison introduced you as Captain Ashton Ledbetter,” Jamie’s father began, “But Jamison, I thought your Captain was that girl ya told me ‘bout. What was her name? Lonny Zeus?”

“Zanh Liis, and she is not a girl,” Jamie corrected.

“Where do these kids come up with these crazy names?” Jamie’s father shook his head as he grabbed a shank from the platter and plopped it on his plate.

“She’s Bajoran,” Jamie added.

“So why are you a Captain and on the same ship?”

“Well I’d very much like to know that myself. I am a part of an… organization, of which Zanh Liis was also a part. I had my own ship, for a few fleeting moments, which was lost saving her crew from doom. As reward for my heroism I was placed aboard her vessel as an observer until another ship could be procured for me to Captain. Apparently there is a backlog at the Starfleet shipyards,” Ashton grumbled.

“Well that hardly seems fair. If ya lost yer ship savin’ hers, they should be givin’ ya her ship.” Dolina chimed in.

“Have you ever considered a career at Starfleet Command?” Ashton asked her, completely sincere.

“Me?!” Dolina asked with an amused laugh, before adding an exaggerated wink. “I’d like ta think I’m far too excitin' for that.”

Ashton found the gesture so enticing and surprising that he didn’t immediately notice the sudden drop in conversation as her father and two of her brothers began to give him warning glares. Jamie’s uncle also gave a warning look; though it was more of the variety of ‘watch out; she’s dangerous’. It was an expression to be taken all the more seriously given Jamie had earlier told them one of Ashton’s claims to have strangled a Borg Queen with her own spine.

“Actually, Starfleet can be…quite a…” Ashton slowly recognised the silence that had descended around him. “A challenge.”

Suddenly, he felt rather uncomfortable as he noticed all eyes upon him. Thankfully, Jamie’s mother quickly spoke again. She had an eager smile on her lips; wondering if the two of them would hit it off.

“Oh, there’re so many questions we want ta ask ya.”

“Aye, I’ve got one,” Jamie’s father cut in sternly. “D’ya understand how to treat a lady?”

“Dad!” Dolina groaned, her face turning red as she looked away.

Again one of her brothers seemed highly amused.

“This from a man whose idea of a romantic first date was a parma and chips at O’Shannon’s pub,” Jamie’s mother teased.

“I still maintain I’ve never had a better meal,” Jamie’s father answered, the sternness leaving his tone. “Then again, maybe that was the company…”

Jamie’s mother giggled slightly at the suggestion, their eyes locking on each other, while their children turned away at this display of affection. Ashton could tell the attention had been successfully diverted from him once more.

“Yes, well, don’t worry. I can assure you I’m nothing if not a gentleman,” Ashton added.

“Well, I know that my Jamison’s a good judge of people,” Jamie’s mother replied, taking her husband’s hand. “If yer his friend, that says enough ta me.”

“Are ya kiddin’?” Artair laughed. “He’s a terrible judge of people. D’ya remember the furniture incident?”

Everyone except Ashton laughed, recalling the story.

“About five years back, a lad he knew asked him ta store some of his old furniture while he was off planet,” Artair explained.

“He said he’d be back in a week to collect it,” Jamie justified, though it was clear he wasn’t embarrassed.

“So of course Jamison obliges,” Artair added. All of Jamie’s family repeated the words, “Of course” in chorus.

“Do y’know what happened ta that furniture?” Artair asked.

Ashton shook his head.

“Well, at the moment a Starfleet Captain’s sittin’ on some of it…”

Everyone laughed as they saw Ashton’s realization. Though his immediate reaction was to try to say something kind to avoid Jamie being made uncomfortable to have his mistake recalled, he could see Jamie laughing just as much.

“No, the lad’s a terrible judge of character,” his father added, with a slight smile. “What he is though is a bloody good test of it. The wrong sort of people will take advantage of him. The way he tells it, that’s something y’ve never done.” He raised his glass. “So you’re alright by this family, Ashton Ledbetter.”

Raising their glasses as well, everyone murmured in agreement. Ashton smiled, slightly taken aback, feeling something warm and quite indescribable.

“Well, thank you,” he said sincerely. “Thank you very much.”

**********************************************
Crewman Jamie Halliday
Engineering
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

and

Ashton Ledbetter
Observer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012