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Rated: 13+ · Campfire Creative · Appendix · Sci-fi · #1965608
These are the voyages of the USS Montaigne...
[Introduction] Space… The final frontier…

         These are the voyages of the starship Montaigne. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange to new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

THE SHIP:
USS Montaigne
Prometheus-class
Dimensions:
         Length- 415 meters
         Beam- 163 meters
         Height- 64 meters
         Decks- 15
         Mass- 2,100,000 metric tons (docked)
Warp Speeds:
         Normal Cruise: 8
         Maximum Cruise: 9.9
Crew Size: 175

THE CREW:
Core Crew-
Captain: (TAKEN by Nathan Moore )
The Captain’s concern is the ship and her role within the mission statement of Starfleet. The Captain is the link between the metaphorical boots on the ground and the brass back in HQ. He/she/it must see the ship runs smoothly and efficiently so that when the call comes, the Captain, the crew, and the ship are all prepared to face whatever is before them. In the day to day, this means checking manifests, reading reports, issuing orders when the reports are unsatisfactory, maintaining heading, maintaining order, ensuring protocols are followed, security measures observed. In combat, he/she/it is the first and last word. Information must be received, processed, and turned into orders that will minimize incoming damage, maximize outgoing damage, and keep the ship and crew together.

First Officer (commander): (TAKEN by Kat )
-The First Officer’s primary concern is the crew. Their assignments, their progress, their shortcomings, even their well-being. This crewmember takes the needs and orders of the captain and translates them into reports to his commanding officer, as well as into orders for the various stations on the ship. Example: the Captain lets you know there is going to be a diplomatic meeting aboard. You must appraise the Chief of Security so he/she/it can make security arrangements, inform the Chief Engineer so he/she/it can ensure the location is technically sound, inform the Chief Medical Officer so that he/she/it can do some research to see if there will be any cross-species diseases to watch for an inoculate against, etc, etc, etc. And just as important, this crewmember must be a sounding board for the captain. There must be trust and confidence (going both ways) and should the need arise, the First Officer must be prepared to act as Captain.

Chief of Security/Master Gunner (lieutenant-commander): (TAKEN by Apoorva )
-This crewmember’s primary concern is the security of the ship. He/she/it ensures security routines, plans security details for special endeavors (away missions, diplomatic affairs, etc.), maintains weapons checks of both small arms and those of the ship, operates weapon systems in battle as well as shields, ensures weapons and ammunition are stocked, schedules training of various kinds for members of ship security, interviews and screens incoming security staff transfers, and oversees brig security as necessary.

Chief Engineer (lieutenant): (TAKEN by Pollo Mark )
-The primary concern of the Chief Engineer is the ship’s mechanical performance. He/she/it is responsible for getting power where it needs to go on the ship, including but not limited to rerouting, streamlining, maintenance, diagnostics, repairs. During combat, it is essential for this crewmember to be able to maintain power to shields, weapons, and thrusters, while also maintaining the integrity of life support, artificial gravity, and other major systems.

Chief Science Officer (lieutenant, junior-grade): (TAKEN by Scythe )
-Starfleet’s mandate is one of exploration and the Chief Science Officer is the personification of that role. It is this crewmember’s job to know, to learn, and to apply that knowledge in real life scenarios. If the ship is visiting an explored planet, it is your job to know everything there is to know about that place: flora, fauna, atmosphere, day cycles, phenomena, dangers, everything. If the ship visits an unexplored planet, it is your job to learn everything there is to know about that place, especially any dangers. When not on planet, this crewmember conducts research on star systems, galactic phenomena, or even tiny, innocuous, pulsing fungi exhibiting strange behavioral traits.

Chief Medical Officer (lieutenant): (TAKEN by Professor Q )
-There are always individuals coming down with the sniffles, and in Starfleet, there are dozens of strains across countless species spanning hundreds of thousands of words. And that’s just flu variants. This crewmember must be prepared to deal with everything from sniffles to phaser burns, broken limbs to major surgery, pregnancies to unknown rapidly necrotizing flesh diseases. When not actively treating a patient, it is this crewmember’s duty to research and prepare for any and every medical eventuality, to develop new treatments, and to ensure the tools at your disposal are ready for use whenever the need arises. You are also responsible for establishing triage centers in disaster scenarios; this is a high-level protocol and can be performed without direct orders, with the exception of physically leaving the vessel, in which case the Captain’s must be notified.

Operations Officer (ensign): (TAKEN by Aiken4LOTR )
-In both normal conditions and combat scenarios, every sensor array is providing constant information and multitudinous crewmen are calling the bridge with reports both good and bad. If all this information were to be channeled into the bridge directly, it would be overwhelming. The Operations Officer’s job is to perform information prioritization and then relay that information to the Captain or whichever officer has the bridge at that current moment; this way, the commanding officer may make informed, but not overwhelmed, decisions. When not in combat, the Operations Officer oversees the sensors and incoming reports from various stations around the ship, and scans for any hails or transmissions of importance. This information often comprises a fairly large portion of the various reports the First Officer and Captain receive throughout the day.

Helmsman (ensign):
-If it’s a ship, it has a helm and someone needs to take it. Even when ships plied the seas by mast and sail, the Captain almost never put a hand on the helm. This duty fell to the Helmsman and that position has been maintained throughout the evolution of the Navy, even into the formation and modern incarnation of Starfleet. This crewmember is responsible for maintaining the ordered course and speed with unerring accuracy. In combat, the Helmsman must follow the flight patterns designated by the Captain or the ranking officer on the bridge at the time in order to maximize fire potential and shield rotation. (This is can be the least technically intensive position on the ship and, as Tom Paris from Voyager displayed for years, it can often attract very talented but very egotistical individuals who one would otherwise not consider Starfleet material.)

Notes Regarding the Crew:
         -commendations, medals, and promotions may occur as actions and deeds warrant
         -it is possible, even encouraged, for characters to have known, or known of, each other previously; just make sure you touch bases with the author whose character your character knows/knows of/is friends with to make sure it’s alright and/or hash out details of the relationship, whether as incidental as “you sat two rows down from me at the academy” or as long-lasting as “we’ve known each other since childhood”
         -if you happen to come up with a decent excuse for why your character is a non-federation species but is somehow serving in Starfleet, then maybe some leniency can be had perhaps? There are some species I’ll just flat out say “no” to but most others I’ll at the very least hear out an explanation for. Seriously, as long as the backstory is interesting, I’ll be pretty damn lenient.
         -see “things your character is not” segment from the “Rules” section for what your character cannot be due to direct canon confliction, balance, quality of life, etc.

WHERE WE BEGIN:
April 28, 2376 (or) Stardate 53323.7 (see “notable sources” for a Stardate calculator)
(ALSO, when writing a Stardate, you only ever use the first decimal place.)
         The launching ceremony for the USS Montaigne will commence at Earth-standard 1200 hours on the day mentioned and will conclude at 1400 when the ship will release from her moorings and being her maiden voyage. Starfleet is a military organization, our characters are core officers, and as such, all characters must be on Earth’s Spacedock, in Class-A (“dress”) uniform, and present at the ceremony. The precise setting of which will be a large, well-appointed presentation room with an enormous viewport that is basically three quarters of a wall through which the Montaigne can be seen at her moorings, in profile, forming the backdrop. The room was obviously constructed long ago for these kinds of events.
         However, the timeframe available for your respective characters to arrive is rather broad and flexible. For instance, the captain has been on the ship for a year already overseeing readiness, incoming personnel transfers, and pre first launch procedures. As such, your respective characters can be onboard anywhere between a year before and the morning of the launch ceremony. But again, the launch ceremony is where we’re kicking it all off, so make sure that is your addition’s point of reference, or at the very least its ending point. It can be a flashback/background kind of addition where your character does nothing but stand at attention during the launching ceremony, reflecting on what has brought him/her/it to this moment, but your character does need to be present.
         I will cap off the first round of additions. The intro for the captain’s addition will cover the culmination of the ceremony, including the launch itself. The remaining two thirds or three quarters will be setting everyone up for what comes after, which will likely be what is known informally as a shakedown run. Basically, all stations run various diagnostics, system checks, debugging programs, pretty much any and every test that can be run is performed in hopes to “shakedown” the ship and see if any problems fall out. Obviously, staring a screen running diagnostics does not make for a lively addition, so I would humbly point out that your character does not need to be glued to their station for the duration of this addition. Maybe it’s his/her/its first night on board then maybe he/she/it can’t sleep, or it’s after a shift and your character has been given the opportunity to “test” one of the holosuites with another author’s character. Just saying. Possibilities.
         I’m hoping this will give everyone the opportunity to show the other authors how each character performs his/her/its respective duties, how they initially interact with other crew members, and so on. Frankly, it will kind of be a shakedown run for this campfire as well. I know, taking two additions to get going is kind of a drag, but ideally I want to make this thing go for a long haul (years even?) so I want to take the time to get everyone acclimated to the environment, the characters, and each other.
         Hopefully, I will be able to use the Captain’s additions to tie off a storyline and introduce a new one, though as I have written elsewhere, new orders may not come in immediately, in which case, go about your business, interact with other characters, study, recreate, etc.

CANON POINTS OF REFERENCE:
         We are entering the timeline approximately two years before the return of the USS Voyager from her sojourn back to the Sol system from the Delta Quadrant and approximately one year after the conclusion of Deep Space Nine’s adventures. Prometheus-class vessels are exceedingly rare, top-of-the-line starships only recently declassified, quantum torpedoes are beginning to replace the photon variety, and adaptive shielding is beginning to be installed on more ships.
         It is an exciting time to be at the forefront of Starfleet, so many possibilities, so many dangers. Good luck in your exploration!

OUR MISSION STATEMENT:
         The overarching theme is to follow the Starfleet ideology of exploration, diplomacy, and the rare military action. However, Starfleet is an organization arranged in a military hierarchy. As such, the captain does not decide where his, her, or its ship is deployed. Instead, the Captain will receive orders from Starfleet. These orders can range from patrolling an empty segment of space to embarking on a first contact mission with a species that has just succeeded in achieving warp flight. Sometimes, orders may not arrive immediately, and it is entirely possible for the campfire to proceed a turn, or even two, before new orders come in. In those calm moments, the crew is encouraged to recreate, make friends, work on pet projects, and much more.
Simply Put:
         Think of this being our own Star Trek series. We go out, do neat stuff, make friends, fire torpedoes, set phasers to stun, mediate, deliberate, explore, and occasionally just kick around the ship getting to know our fellow crewmembers. (If this doesn’t work out very well, I’ll just start throwing you at Borg Cubes… And if you don’t get that reference, shame on you for probably being social and popular in school.)

PLACES OF INTEREST ON THE SHIP:
(note: pay special attention to what is in the parenthesis, as that will let you know where you and your compatriots should usually be stationed while on duty; the rest is there for reference as needed)

The Bridge
         -Captain’s chair (Captain’s Station)
         -First Officer's chair (First Officer's Station)
         -Conn (Helmsman’s Station)
         -Tactical Station (Chief of Security’s Station)
         -Communications
         -OPS (Operations Officer's Station)
         -MSD (alternate Helmsman’s Station during ship separation)
         -Technical Station (alternate Chief Engineer’s station)
         -Environmental Controls
         -Science Station (Science Officer’s primary station under yellow and red alerts)
         -Captain’s Ready Room, adjacent, left (Captain’s alternate station)
         -Turbolift, adjacent, right (only entrance and exit)

Engineering (Chief Engineer’s primary station)
         -Commanding Officer’s Station
         -Engineering Station
         -Warp Core
         -Defense Systems Monitor Station
         -Communications Station
         -Numerous stations regarding the status and energy controls for most every system and subsystem on the ship

Sick Bay Complex
         -Chief Medical Officer’s Office (primary station)
         -Intensive Care Unit
         -Convalescent Ward
         -Pathology/Biopsy lab

Science Complex (Science Officer’s primary station under normal conditions)
         -Biochemistry lab
         -Chemistry lab
         -Physics lab
         -Biophysics lab
         -Astrometrics

Security Complex (Chief of Security’s alternate station)
         -Brig (2 cells)
         -Control
         -Armory
         -Staging

The Officers’ Lounge Complex (includes dining hall, observation lounge, kitchen)
         -Capacity: 60
         -contains tables, chairs, bar (sythahol beverages only), panoramic viewport
         -available for meals, beverages, off-duty downtime

The Holodeck (three holosuites available)
         -available for recreation and training through holographic simulation

Notes About the Ship:
         -If your addition requires a major place on the ship which is not currently listed, e-mail me to work out the details of that location and I will ensure it is added to the list so that others can use it in the future as well.
         -On that vein, other complexes and stations will be added as they become necessary.
         -Also also wik, if everyone wants, I can probably draw up a rough schematic of the ship and pop that in a forum somewhere so you know what stuff is on C-deck, where Engineering is in relation to Sick Bay, etc.

NOTABLE SOURCES:
-Pronunciation of "Montaigne:" http://www.howjsay.com/index.php?word=montaigne
-Stardate Converter: http://www.hillschmidt.de/gbr/sternenzeit.htm
         (when writing the stardate, you only use the first decimal)
-Wiki covering all shows and films: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Portal:Main
-Wiki of all aliens: http://aliens.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Star_Trek_Universe
         (this includes non-sentient life forms and unavailable species, so careful)
-Uniforms we will use: http://www.st-spike.org/pages/uniforms/2373-2394/uniforms.htm
         (the colors designations are confusing, just e-mail me if you have questions)
-Words, not phasers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJS18wQZd5Q
         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xh_t2fFF3B0
         (These speeches should give some inspiration toward Starfleet philosophy.)

RULES:
-First Come, First Serve
         +Whoever puts up their character bio for a position first gets it. It’s not perfect, I know, but that’s how it has to be.
-You have seven days to add
         + I will round up to midnight of the day; yes, this is still applies if the person before you added at one in the morning. If you cannot get the time to add, e-mail me with a good explanation and I will give you some leeway; I am reasonable. BUT if you do not ask for leeway or give me a heads up that you will be late adding I WILL skip you. This warning is your only warning.
-Keep Sex, Swearing, and Violence Within the Limits of the Shows (movies not counted)
         +Sex: making out is cool; anything past second base is only ever implied.
         +Swearing: You get hell, damn, and bitch. Use them wisely, padawan.
         +Violence: PG-13. Blood ok, no innards, no brains.
-Things Your Characters Are Not
         +No one is a traitor or a spy
         +No one is a Q
         +All species from the Delta Quadrant is off-limits
         +No true telepaths (sorry); empaths are fine (ex: Dianna Troy)
-No one is related to any canon characters; no canon characters will show up
         +This is our adventure; don’t make famous names and faces a crutch to liven up your addition.
         +It is alright if your character grew up on a canon location, just so long as they did not directly interact with canon characters or directly affect the history of the place.
         +It is alright for your character to be inspired by canon characters but you cannot interact with them.
         +It is alright for your character to have been inspired by or partaken in canon events, so long as your character’s role does not directly impact the outcome, single-handedly save a prominent canon character and/or ship, etc
-Not everyone is always on the bridge
         +This is more of a reminder/encouragement. While on your shift, yes, you should probably be at your station, but when you aren’t, there is a lot more ship to explore. All of the higher ranking officers have their own offices or lab, there are lots of other interesting places on the ship, with interesting things going on, and, of course, you have your own quarters.

COLLABERATION:
         I very much like to communicate with/get feedback from individuals I am in campfires with. As such, I encourage everyone to touch bases with me if you have questions and/or comments; I often check my writing.com e-mail several times daily. On that note, I also encourage you to e-mail each other as well. If your character is hanging out with another author’s character, e-mail that individual and get a little collaboration going on; it helps round out the characters and improves everyone’s level of comfort working together. We all know that, so yeah. Do it. (Taking the time to do such things is an acceptable excuse for running late on an addition, provided it is not a regular event.)
         Again, as always, you are welcome to e-mail me with well thought-out questions/comments. Hissy fits and/or passive-aggressive maneuvering will receive derisive laughter and/or condescension in the form of text and memes.

CREWMAN, PLEASE FILL OUT THIS SHORT FORM:
         -Lots of information is encouraged, especially in the personality and background sections; if this campfire continues for a while, it will go a long way to have fleshed-out characters. Though if you find your bio getting really long, consider setting some aside for later additions to allow for character development. After all, why bear your character’s heart and soul in a bio when you could fill a good four or more additions on the subject… Just saying.
         -Also, you will notice a “please explain why you were selected” category. You can be a castoff, you can be a misfit, but you must have shown that you are able to fulfill your role admirably enough to earn your place on the Montaigne. Or maybe you just know how to work the system and kissed the right asses at the right times. (For an idea on what I’m looking for, check out http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Jean-Luc_Picard and scroll down to the “Captain of nh the Enterprise” section; the second paragraph details the reasons why some of the crew stood out and deserved to be handpicked to serve on the Enterprise.)
         -The “other pertinent information” portion is intended to accommodate things like, but not limited to, a character’s personal preferences (temperature, lighting), physical limitations or excesses due to his/her/its species’ inborn traits (low tolerance for cold, ability to hold breath for extended durations), physical conditions (diabetes, colorblindness), etc.
         -IMPORTANT: once you accept the invitation, please e-mail me with the station you wish your character to fill so that I may mark it as "Taken." Remember: this is first come, first serve so claiming your desired position is vital! On that vein, your very first addition will be merely a "precursor" addition in which you post this following information for your character.

Position & Rank:
Name:
Sex:
Species:
Age:
Height:
Weight:
Appearance:
Personality:
Background:
Other Pertinent Information:
Please Explain Why You Were Selected:
Position & Rank: Commanding Officer, Captain
Name: Taselle Natima
Sex: Female
Species: Cardassian
Age: 29
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 150 lbs. (68kg)
Appearance:
         -pale, grey skin with the distinctive, almost reptilian neck and facial ridges typical of her species
         -typical Cardassian yellow eyes, set in a way that her gaze naturally appears predatory
         -jet black hair kept in a short cropped style
         -a fatal beauty by Cardassian standards
         -slim, but toned; impeccably athletic
         -she does not walk; she either stalks or prowls
         -wears the red uniform of command, though the neckline over the shoulders has been adjusted slightly to compensate for her neck ridges
         -on the exceedingly rare occasion she is not in uniform, she wears no jewelry, no makeup, and dresses conservatively, favoring simple, loose-sleeved shirts, comfortable slacks, and sensible shoes, all in black
         -when exercising, she wears loose, black work-out pants and a form-fitting black tank top

Personality:
         When on the bridge, Captain Natima works silently, speaking only to to acknowledge incoming status updates or issue orders, which she keeps simple, brief, and never explains. In company, she is there either because it would be rude to decline or her position (and usually a direct order) demands it. She eats little or none at all in the presence of others; theories as to why vary. Her conversational skills are excellent, but a cunning observer would notice that Taselle volunteers little information and none whatsoever about herself personally.
         She has a Cardassian’s inherent distrust, cunning, nearly eidetic memory, as well as an unerring eye for the weakness in others and a tendency to be naturally misleading and deceptive, making her motives and thoughts virtually impossible for enemies, and friends, to comprehend. She also possesses the more culturally suppressed predispositions of her people, such as being genuinely artistic and passionate on subjects for which she has an affection, though these tendencies are deeply buried and rarely acknowledged, let alone touched.

Background:
         One of the thousands of Cardassian orphans produced during the Occupation of Bajor, Taselle Natima grew up without family and therefore without status, as Cardassian orphans are regarded more as a failure of their house rather than a being of potential. Her early childhood involved a conscious effort against socialization, due to the indifference she received from most other Cardassians and the virtually universal distain or outright hatred from Bajorians outside the Resettlement Center. This life ended, however, when she was adopted by a human couple visiting Bajor from Earth under circumstances which were not strictly legal. How they even procured her citizenship on Earth is, in itself, a mystery. Ten years old when adopted, she will carry the hardships she experienced on Bajor for the rest of her life.
         Taselle’s relationship with her adoptive parents would be very positive through all stages of her life, though it would also be distant until early adulthood due to her abandonment issues. She grew up a quiet loner with a deep-seeded, directionless rage, which led her to start fights constantly in primary school, worrying her parents, occasionally landing her in trouble at school, and eventually making her come into contention with the police, though in those few instances no charges were filed.
         Due to the promise of finding a direction for her life, Taselle ended up enrolling in Starfleet Academy, begrudgingly. Her brawling background meant she excelled in the Academy’s unarmed and melee weapon courses, but similar effectiveness in the rest of the program eluded her and she rapidly became in danger of washing out. In a meeting with her guidance counselor, a Klingon male who she would forever credit as the one who finally got through to her, she received an earful of articulate tough love and, most critically, a perspective tempered with wisdom and understanding. This event became a catalyst of radical, cascading character change for Taselle. Once impulsive and angry, she became focused, calm, and driven.
         With a fervor that she had only ever utilized in fights and a zeal for life she had literally never known, Taselle dove into her studies with a vengeance, conquering astronavigation, mastering military tactics of both ground based and airborne warfare, as well as becoming a martial master in multiple disciplines. While still a loner, she nevertheless made a few acquaintances and while their particular brands of fun were never really her preference, she enjoyed the time spent with them. Her relationship with her adoptive parents, on the other hand, greatly improved, and she would become very close to them the deeper she got into her twenties. She would graduate at twenty one with full honors.
         Four years of Taselle’s career, spanning her time from ensign to lieutenant, is redacted. When she emerged into public record again, she was head of security aboard the USS Rotherham. Over the course of her tenure there, she would eventually earn her promotion to Commander and with it the position of First Officer. It was shortly after this advancement when the Dominion War began. Commander Natima watched news of this war closely since Cardassia had entered into an alliance with the invading Dominion, though her species soon become subjects rather than allies. This conflict would escalate into a full-scale invasion of Cardassian space by Starfleet, the Klingon Empire, and even the Romulan Empire as well. The Rotherham took part in the invasion. During the ferocious engagement, the Rotherham was badly damaged and most of its crew killed. Taselle rallied what survivors there were and instead of sending the little power remaining to the engines to make a run for it, she turned the ship into an overcharged stationary weapon’s platform, spitting a hail of phaser fire and torpedoes at any enemy ship that came within range.
         After the surrender of the Dominion, the Rotherham was towed to Deep Space Nine, then to Earth for refit and repairs. For her actions in the battle, Taselle, age twenty-eight, was awarded the Christopher Pike Medal of Honor and a promotion to captain. Her first official command, she was told, would be of the first non-prototype Prometheus-class vessel to be constructed, the USS Montaigne. The launching ceremony a year away, Captain Natima was put in charge of overseeing the ship’s readiness so she might familiarize herself with the ship, a captain’s duties, and the crew as they began to trickle in.

Other Pertinent Information:
         Cardassian physiology means their race prefers hot, humid environments and limited lighting. This means Cardassians find the average conditions humans enjoy to be too cold and too bright. Taselle is no different. Though she has lived a great portion of her life in environments normally designed for human standards, she has acclimated to them, not become comfortable with them. As such, her quarters and Captain’s Ready Room are kept hot, humid, and dark. Humans and most mammalian humanoids will find this environment to be uncomfortable, even oppressive.
         Taselle grew up surrounded by anti-Cardassian sentiment on Earth and within the Federation. Only after the Battle of Cardassia, when a billion Cardassians were exterminated by the Dominion, did many species’ opinions about Cardassians soften. The genocide has allowed some sympathy to be directed toward Cardassians for perhaps the first time in Federation history. This milder attitude is very new and species are actually beginning to see Cardassians as more than power-hungry, war-mongering sociopaths.

Please Explain Why You Were Selected:
         As a Cardassian on Earth, it is safe to say that Taselle has been watched since she first arrived, and it is a certainty that eyes were on her since she joined Starfleet, so she was a known individual to those who watch. While her career is mostly hidden behind black ink, she emerged with friends in both high and hidden places, thus meaning that many movers and shakers in Starfleet already knew her capabilities. And after her actions as Acting Captain of the Rotherham during the Battle of Cardassia, a full captaincy was virtually assured. Plus, the losses suffered during the Dominion War meant that a few more captaincies were available than usual, directly allowing for Taselle’s promotion to occur before the age of thirty. (Thirty-five is considered very young to be made a captain.) As for why she was given the Montaigne? Perhaps making a Cardassian the captain of a new, cutting-edge ship was a none-too-subtle olive branch to the recently ravaged Cardassian Empire. Perhaps having a captain on a recently de-classified vessel that was familiar with the word “classified” helped. Perhaps having friends in high and hidden places helped. Or maybe, it’s because she proved time and again her capacity for leadership, and her aptitude to make quality choices with immediacy while under duress. Or conceivably it has something to do with when she found herself on a broken ship, surrounding by dying crew, she did not run, but instead spat flaming retribution into the teeth of those who had dared provoke her wrath.
         Taselle Natima was selected for the captaincy of arguably the most advanced ship in Starfleet why? Because she earned it.
Position & Rank: First Officer, Commander
Name: Deza Nahiri
Sex: Female
Species: Trill (joined)
Age: Deza is 27 Nahiri, her symbiont, is 204
Height: 5'7”
Weight: 130lbs
Appearance: Deza is stunning and innocent in appearance, her youthful face fair, with high cheekbones and a full lips. Her lithe and graceful frame is surprisingly strong, her core solid but her curves feminine. She keeps her dark auburn hair clipped away from her face and woven into a braid, displaying the light brown markings that distinguish her as a trill. Her eyes are large, slightly almond shaped and chocolate brown in color, lined with thick lashes. Her air is that of experience despite her youthful appearance, a calm confidence hanging on her that one would associate with someone much older than she.
Personality: Deza is an optimist by nature. Outgoing, kind, adaptable and loyal to those she cares about, she is one who quickly earns trust and never fails to keep it. She is intelligent, warm and incredibly intuitive, having learned how to be approachable without being weak; how to be strong and commanding without being harsh or critical. She is a born communicator, her every word honest but well thought out, making her both an effective leader and an effective negotiator. Before being joined Deza tended to rely a little too much on creativity and intuition, occasionally finding herself in trouble when left to her own curious nature. She was driven to accomplish great things and excelled at whatever she put her mind to, even with her youthful optimism occasionally clouding her judgment. Despite Deza's flaws, Liia, Nahiri's previous host, saw the young woman's intelligence, integrity and strong potential and recommended she be joined. Though her drive and independence did not change, she matured considerably after taking on Nahiri, who provided Deza with 204 additional years of knowledge and experience. This maturing added a much needed element of self control to Deza, leaving her creativity and kindness but instilling a greater purpose for her strengths. Since taking on the symbiont 2 years ago Deza has grown into an effective leader, still filled with youthful optimism and warmth, but ultimately more controlled, strong and moral. Deza is passionate for her crew, her captain and their mission and will not hesitate to do whatever is necessary to protect them.
Background: Born and raised on Trill under the care of her mother, Deza was a spirited and adventurous child, quick to dissect and study the world around her with little concern about any danger to herself. After the death of her mother when Deza was 13, she joined her father, a science officer, aboard the USS Cyris. Despite her grief and initial resistance, she adapted quickly and grew to love the challenges that came with space exploration. She spent the next 5 years on board, gathering every ounce of knowledge she could glean; her goal to join Starfleet and one day command her own vessel. She was accepted into Starfleet academy at 18 and began her academic career, discovering a natural talent in cross-cultural/cross species communication. After achieving multiple degrees, she graduated with honors and at 22 she returned to Trill with the goal of taking on a symbiont, a great honor reserved for very few. Her academic career spoke for itself and with Liia, Nahiri's previous host's, recommendation she was accepted. At 25 Deza became Nahiri's 5th host, becoming what she refers to as 'her true self'. After joining she was assigned to the USS Calipso where she worked as communications officer. She quickly moved through the ranks, finding favor with Captain Harrison who promoted her to commander. When offered the position of first officer aboard the USS Montaigne, she accepted, eager to take on the challenge.

Other Pertinent Information:
         Species information: Once joined, a trill and their symbiont are together for life. If one is injured the other can assist in healing, but if one or the other dies, then their counterpart will follow within hours unless joined with another. The life of the symbiont is valued in trill culture significantly more than that of the host, and if given the option Deza would happily give her life to see that Nahiri survived.
Though Deza holds the memories and experiences of all Nahiri's previous hosts, they are not separate personalities; instead how they lived influences the ideals of Nahiri, and now Deza. This allows Deza to access their knowledge, understand their relationships, etc, without being influenced by the will of any previous host. The majority of trills, including Deza, show no physical signs of being joined (outside an additional set of brainwaves and a unique neurotransmitter) unless a full scan is done.
Nahiri's Previous Hosts:
         Treya: was Nahiri's first host. A complicated and deep woman, she rarely smiled, always focusing on the work before her. She was an expert in astrophysics.
         Lorril: Nahiri's second host, she was also studious and highly intelligent though much more open and willing to take on new challenges. An expert in xenomythology and exolinguistics.
         Kelek: Nahiri's only male host and the first to be an active member of Starfleet, serving as chief security officer on the USS Peregrin. He was a bit brash, but highly intuitive and very driven. He was killed in action and Nahiri was transferred to Liia, a Trill civilian aboard the Peregrin as a means of saving the symbiont's life.
         Liia: Nahiri's most resent host and the one who's recommendation secured Deza's joining. When she fell ill she requested Deza take on Nahiri, feeling that her confidence and drive would be a good match for the symbiont. Liia was a kind and selfless individual, very outgoing and warm.
          Personal preferences: Deza is not without her quirks, some that she was born with and others that she has 'inherited' from previous hosts. Her need for rich black coffee and chocolate come from Treya, her love of combat tactics from Kelek, and the way she drums her fingers when reading was one of Liia's traits. Deza spends the majority of her free time exploring new hobbies and taking on new experiences, partially for her own enjoyment and partially to contribute to the next host. She enjoys studying people, and if left to her own devices would know each crewmen as closely as she knows her own family.
Please Explain Why You Were Selected: Since joining Starfleet she has gained a reputation for her skills in problem solving and negotiation and has numerous times managed to delay or prevent conflict with hostile forces. Under Captain Harrison she proved to be a strong leader and dedicated officer, having become, as he put it "one of the most dedicated, determined and promising young officers he every had the pleasure to serve with". It was his reports of her character more than any one action that resulted in her being chosen to serve as first officer.

Position & Rank: Chief of Security/Master Gunner

Name: Claudia Mikhailovna Machesky
Origin: From the Russian Клавдия (KLAHV-dee-ya) meaning "lame" or "crippled"

Sex: Female

Species: Human

Age: 26

Height: 5'6"

Weight: 130 lbs

Appearance:
Claudia's looks heavily resemble those of her Russian father. Though her height is quite average, she has a sturdy yet feminine build. Her chestnut brown hair lies in subtle waves down to the middle of her back. Claudia is not what one would call attractive in the normal sense of the word, as there is nothing outstanding about her looks. What sets her apart is the somewhat dark beauty brought upon by her demeanor and the faded scars along her slightly-tanned arms. The only thing she got from her American mother was her brown eyes as opposed to her father's blue ones. Claudia is never seen dressed below standard, and always makes sure that she appears professional. The only thing taking away from her orderly appearance is the injury that resulted in her name. Her constant limp is impossible to hide, though it no longer affects her performance after over a decade of rehabilitation and training.

Personality:
Claudia is a very reserved person outside of business interactions, preferring to be on her own or with a few select people. This does not mean that she is rude in any way, though she won't hesitate a minute to dismiss anyone who is even the slightest bit rude to her. This is mostly because of her upbringing, as she was made to feel as though she was weak. Claudia simply does everything she can to go against that. She is very respectful of her superiors, another direct result of her early upbringing due to an ingrained sense of the importance of loyalty and a traceable amount of fear. At a younger age, when Claudia was first taken by her biological father back to Russia, she was a fearful girl. He changed this quickly, hardening her personality through her teenage years. Though she doesn't seem to be in the least, Claudia is very self-conscious when it comes to her leg, as though people could tell her whole history through it.

Background:
Claudia was born to Mikhail Machesky, a member of the Russian mob, by her unknown mother. She lived with her mother for five years under a different name, but Mikhail eventually sent some of his men to retrieve his daughter. Her mother, having stood her ground to try and protect her daughter, had died quickly in the attack. In the midst of it all, Claudia's tibia had been shattered when she had tried getting away, or so she had been told by her father many times to prevent her from trying to run off. Mikhail renamed his daughter, doubting that her leg would ever heal and intending for it to be a reminder to her of what had happened. Claudia lived out her childhood and teenage years with her father, suffering many of his lessons meant to toughen her up. It is the time in her life she tries hard to forget, though it shaped her to be different than who she would have been with her mother.
Eventually Mikhail died in combat, when Claudia was barely an adult. She fled as soon as she could, having to take many measures to ensure she got out somewhat safely. She got a residence in America using her father's money, never staying in one place for too long. Claudia spent the majority of her days training in technology and combat, and gained recognition from a Starfleet Officer. Despite her background, Claudia had done nothing to warrant suspicion and was eager to pursue a life apart from what she had known.

Please Explain Why You Were Selected:
Claudia demonstrated her experience in combat, and spent a large portion of her life studying the mechanics of modern weaponry. She is extremely intelligent, and the Starfleet Officer that took note of this put in a good recommendation for her. Claudia worked a couple years in lower positions, impressing everyone with her professionalism and capability. She takes no job lightly and her talents were determined to fit best with the position of Chief of Security.
Position & Rank: Chief Medical Officer, Lieutenant
Name: Nathaniel "Nate" Chase
Sex: Male
Species: Human
Age: 29
Height: 6'4
Weight: 250
Appearance: Nate is a stunning man; the kind that elicits stares and sighs from men and women alike (and of multiple species). He is broad-shouldered and well-muscled, due to both genetics and years of hard work. Strong features, with a straight nose and chiseled jawline, with thinnish lips and a strong brow that isn't Neanderthal heavy but nevertheless lends a balancing strength to his handsome face (especially when combined with his high cheekbones). His hair is a dark blonde, verging on light brown, and he keeps it cut quite short as per Starfleet regulations. Nate's eyes are a golden-green color and lean toward each extreme depending upon the light; they are framed by lashes of which a woman would be envious. He is not a particularly hirsute man, lending him a somewhat Hellenic manliness. Nate is quite fastidious about his appearance, and pays particular attention to the proper care and maintenance of his looks. His uniform is always regulation, but nonetheless gives the viewer an impression of lackadaisical dishevelment (even though they can't pinpoint what it is that gives this impression).

Personality: Nate gives every impression of being a bit of a rogue, and definitely a charming one. In reality, he is somewhere between Casanova and Stonewall Jackson (if you don't know who he is, the name is descriptive enough for my purpose; smooth-talking charmer one minute and a steel-spined fount of reliability the next. Typically, Nate is mellow and laid-back, with a smile on his face and seductive whispers on his lips. If someone met him and never had a chance to see him at work, they would wonder how the Hell he was named Chief Medical Officer in the first place. He seems entirely too easy-going, and more concerned with indolent pleasures than the running of a medical wing. They would be shocked beyond measure to see that his sick bay is calm, efficient, and in constant readiness for eventual need. In moments of crisis, Nate transforms into a go-to, using his considerable charisma and magnetism to keep the situation calm and collected. He is able to make people instinctively trust him, and that trust commands respect. The playboy becomes the preternatural surgeon and medical doctor, and people who have never met him before are left scratching their heads at the transformation.

Background: Nathaniel was born in London to two American Starfleet officials. His Father, Jonathan, was a scientist who worked for R&D, and his Mother, Amelia, taught at the Academy in San Francisco (well, Fort Baker). They were visiting London for a conclave of sorts when Nate came, but returned to America as soon as Nate's mother was recovered enough to make the journey. From his earliest days, Nate was immersed in the world of Starfleet. He was a favorite of all the scientists and medical personnel, and spent as much time scampering around the Academy as he did playing with other children. There is little in the way of tragedy in his life, and perhaps this has contributed to his silver-tongued Don Giovanni act, but he was also brought up within the system. Though indulged, his life was rather regimented and disciplined; he was expected to follow the same sorts of regulations as any member of Starfleet, and was oftentimes expected to exceed everyone's expectations (especially against other children). Perhaps it is because of the nurturing cocoon of life surrounded by both blood and surrogate family, but Nate developed both rapidly and in a very well-adjusted manner. When it became time to enter the Academy, he made his choice willingly: he would become a Doctor like his Mother, with whom he was particularly close. His choice was also helped by a need to see the stars; having grown up listening to the tales of everyone from ensigns to Commanding Officers, Nate wanted nothing more than to take his turn in the vast recesses of the universe. He performed more than ably at the Academy, graduating at the top of his class and earning as many accolades as were possible. His tenure on other ships, working his way up from the bottom rungs through the ranks, was largely without incident and full of a particular distinction in the development of treatments and vaccines. Nate was more than capable at his job, though he was never given a chance to distinguish himself in moments of true crises. When the Montaigne needed a Chief Medical Officer, some thought the position should go to one of the many Doctors who'd served with distinction in the wars, but the position was offered to Nate instead. Some people think his parents may have had something to do with it, but Nate thinks he is more than capable to handle the position.

Other Pertinent Information: Nate had an elder sister, Cateryn (called Cate), who was the First Officer aboard the USS Trafalgar. It was attempting a peacekeeping position in the early years of the Dominion War when it was ambushed and completely destroyed, leaving no survivors. The attack devastated Nate, who has since worn a locket around his neck that had once been hers.
Some of Nate's quirks include the need to wear reading glasses. He could have such things cured quite readily, but thinks the glasses make him look roguish. He prefers to keep things rather bright and sterile, as well as slightly on the chilly side (even for humans). Because he is in constant movement, the cooler air keeps him from getting particularly sweaty and perhaps contaminating his sick bay. Cold is also better for surgery, he's found. Less chance for slippage.

Please Explain Why You Were Selected: There is some debate, as far as that is concerned. Nate, while particularly gifted in the areas of research and development, and a very capable Doctor, has had very little experience. He has done his time on other ships, of course, and done everything perfectly well (or even beyond perfectly well), but he has done nothing particularly heroic or exception in his time. This is not due to lack of skill, of course; anyone who sees him work, or enjoys the fruits of his labors knows how good he is. Rather, everyone assumed this rather illustrious position would go to someone with a lot more experience with triage and crisis-management. Though Nate demonstrated more-than-capable skills in orchestrated scenarios within the Academy, such things are little more than theory. There is some grumbling that Nate earned the position through cronyism, because his parents were so high up within Starfleet. Some think the position was given to him out of sympathy for the loss of his sister. Though some genuinely believe Nate is capable of handling the job, and heroism is not the only way to gain such a position, some people are just waiting to see what the story really is.
Position & Rank:Chief Science Officer, lieutenant (junior-grade)

Name:Kitar Djinn

Sex:Male

Species:Asrai

Age:24

Height:5' 8"

Weight:227 lbs

Appearance:Kitar is a odd sort for his race. His skin is fair like most Asrai, but his hair is a darker shade of blonde than most others and flows past his shoulders. He has multiple cracks in his face, some from his natural aging process, but a couple are from fights or brawls he's been in. He is tall, slightly thin but also well built, deep penetrating green eyes and usually is caught wearing slightly less than formal wear. To him, a slightly frayed uniform is good enough.

Personality:Kitar is more a loner than anything else. He greatly enjoys his privacy and likes keeping to himself, especially when it comes to his research. He doesn't mind being social, but would much rather be furthering his work. His actions are always to his benefit, even if they seem shady to others around him. He is not real big on protocol or official formalities and his actions have drawn more than the usual amount of scrutiny from his superiors.

Background:Kitar grew up on his home planet of Asrai Prime, but never felt like he fit in. As the age of 15, he boarded a ship, left Asrai Prime and began his exploration of the galaxy and all it's knowledge. By the age of 21, he could name most species he had come in contact with, most plants and remedies he has studied and almost every book he had gotten his hands on. Since then, his knowledge has only gotten more extensive. He doesn't fully share his peoples views on religion or culture as he prefers the freedom to do as he chooses.

Other Pertinent Information:Kitar has a Eidetic memory and can remember almost everything he comes across or in contact with. He doesn't like to talk about himself all that much, let alone his planet or family. His knowledge base seems limitless, but there is always more he desires to learn. Also, there are very few that he truly trusts, but for those he does, they get to know him as no-one else can.

Please Explain Why You Were Selected: Kitars advancement to the rank of lieutenant (junior-grade) has been the debate of more than a few. Some say he bribed his way there, some say it was his extensive knowledge that gave him an edge and others say he blackmailed the superiors. No matter the speculation, no-one truly knows save for Kitar himself. He refuses to tell and has never officially served on a ship before now.


Position & Rank: Communications Officer, ensign
Name: Nikolaos Kazden (goes by Nik; Nate fondly calls him “Nikky”)
Sex: Male
Species: Human
Age: 25
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 180 lbs

Appearance: Despite his natural way with words, Nik lacks physical grace. He is tall and somewhat lanky with broad shoulders, long limbs, and a lean muscular build. He has an unruly mop of straight black hair that he often has to brush aside, which reveals light blue eyes that stand out against his naturally tanned complexion. He has a narrow nose that leads to the frequent, easy smile resting on his full lips. Nik wears the regulation yellow uniform, much to his dismay, but manages to pull it off.

Personality: Though he can be a bit quiet and shy when first meeting new people, Nik is fascinated by the way all beings communicate and interact among their own kind as well as with others. Due to his linguistic studies, Nik is understanding, focused and professional. He adapts to new information easily and is an astute listener. And though he takes his job seriously, he is very easy going and kind. He understands the power of words, but he also enjoys a clever joke and values both easy and deep conversation.

Background: Having lost his parents at a young age, Nik was raised by his grandmother Andreas Kazden. Most of his childhood memories are of the two of them huddled around a book. When Nik was young, Andreas tucked him into bed every night and read until he fell asleep. In the mornings, they read the news to start their day. On weekends, they trekked out to special shops that still sold physical books. And as her grandson grew older, Andreas developed in him an appreciation for words and their meanings. She encouraged him to read and write as many words as possible, and to think about and feel the weight of them. Years later, Nik would return the favor and gently smooth out the blankets on her hospital bed--a horrid, dreary grey, she complained--before pulling up a chair and flipping open a very worn and well-loved book. The last sound Andreas Kazden would hear was the smooth tenor of her grandson reading--lower, steady and lovely, quite the change from the small boy brokenly sounding out the words.

Other Pertinent Information: After his grandmother’s passing, Nik began his studies and, in her honor, focused on communications. In his archaeolinguistics class, his passion and skill with words drew attention from the professor--a former Starfleet officer. Though studying dead languages can be fascinating and occasionally (rarely) useful, Nik was encouraged to expand his knowledge into a more practical skill set. He heeded the advice and switched to xenolinguistics--the study of alien languages. Though he did not enjoy the technical courses required of him, he understood the necessity and graduated from the Starfleet Academy with top honors.

Please Explain Why You Were Selected: The role of the communications officer has changed over the years with new technologies and standards. With universal translators present on all ships, halo decks and other comms equipment, crews have computers to perform many of the necessary functions. The role of the communications officer relies on the individual perspective--being able to see the big picture and the smaller details. With his understanding and appreciation for communication, Nik can efficiently supervise and prioritize the messages the crew receives. Upon the recommendation of his former instructor, Nik was given the opportunity to serve on the Montaigne because he can think and feel in ways a computer cannot, which is something that could make all the difference.


Position & Rank: Chief Engineer
Name: Hugo Zenzibaar
Sex: Male
Species: Human
Age: 33
Height: 5'11
Weight: 180
Appearance: Hugo has your typical brown hair, brown eye features, but the hair is a short mess and the eyes are typically wide open in a terrifying fashion. He also sports a rather thick brown mustache as well. Hugo has a rather average frame, but is a bit on the thin side.

Personality: Hugo can be considered a bit crazy and unpredictable. Although he knows his place, Hugo is often one to do the unexpected and look at violence as a solution to most problems. He comes off as intimidating to most because of his frightening look and wild personality, but his heart is typically in a good place. At least, in his own mind...

Background: Ever since he was a child, Hugo was always considered different from everyone else. He thought and acted much different than everyone else, and he was often considered mad by his peers and authorities. Amid all this, Hugo found a mysterious fascination with over-sized guns and electronics. Following his passion and ignoring his critics, Hugo amazed those around him as he excelled and often found himself at the top of his classes and in any competition.

Other Pertinent Information: Thanks to some intense studying when he was younger, Hugo actually is a bit smarter than he appears, he just happens to be an "expert" on machinery and weaponry.

Please Explain Why You Were Selected: Hugo was selected simply because of skill. While he was noted as a bit of a wild card, the authorities ultimately decided his reward far outweighed his risk.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 53323.3.

         “The Launching Ceremony for the Montaigne is taking place in a few hours aboard Earth Stardock and I must admit to being quite relieved that the day has finally come. What crewmembers have not yet arrived are en route, the final pre-flight checks are almost complete, and all that remains is two hours of speeches and ceremony… I am less enthralled by that final step, but if I must smile in order to be spacebound once more, I will gladly pay that fee.”

         Captain Taselle Natima was reading. Ship-readiness reports specifically. They were dry, boring, and packed with information she did not need to know. But there was nothing else to be done. Her speech for the ceremony was written a month previous, all rosters had been finalized weeks ago, and she was already dressed to the nines in her white dress uniform, its fabric taut and creases precise. But she had to work because she could do nothing else.
         If it were up to her, Taselle would take this moment of quiet before the storm to exercise, but she could not. Her snow-white uniform and jet-black hair were immaculate and arriving disheveled to quite possibly the only launch ceremony she would ever attend would be rather akin to attending one’s own wedding in muddied sackcloth; it would be a stain not only upon the occasion, but her memory of it as well. And she did not have enough positive memories to even whimsically consider tarnishing this one. Not that she did anything “whimsical.” Ever.
         She checked her chrono. 0803. The doors to Stardock’s Event Room had just opened to serve a light breakfast for the participating Starfleet personnel, but the official ceremony would not begin until 1000, while her speech was scheduled to conclude at 1200, followed mercifully soon after by the launch itself.
         For a moment, Taselle considered attending the breakfast, but it was likely she would find herself engaged more in politicking than eating and she had experienced quite enough of that over the past year. So many funerals, ceremonies, and speeches in the aftermath of the Dominion War. So many shaken hands, stroked egos, and assurances given since. She had felt more like a lobbyist than a captain.
         0804. Her pad made a scarcely audible “pip.” Updated report of readiness from engineering. Double checks had been completed, logged, and finalized. Triple-checks on critical systems were now underway. Taselle passed a hand in front of her bright, yellow eyes, taking in a deep breath as she did so. The tedium was overwhelming and so her mind immediately began to rationalize why she should attend the officer’s breakfast. The answer was simple: she needed to at least shake hands with any of her core officers who were in attendance, offer some brief, mildly authoritative words to each of them on an individual basis, and begin to cultivate an image of availability while maintaining emotional distance.
         Her decision made, Captain Natima stood, straightened her uniform, and exited her quarters, her eyes steeled, her step precise. Today was the day.
Deza tugged on the hem of her shirt, straitening the somewhat restrictive fabric of her dress uniform. She turned to each side, smoothing any blemish her reflection revealed. Her face betrayed a subtle frown, “You look too young.” she complained to the mirror, unclipping her hair and running her fingers through it again. The truth was at twenty-seven, Deza was young for a first officer, all but the experience in her eyes conveyed a woman of maybe twenty-one; hardly the imposing presence of the first officer of a Federation ship. But in truth it did not matter; she would fight for her crew and her captain, earn her rank and her respect as any officer would and, in truth, she looked forward to the challenge.

Deza loosened her shoulders, allowing a genuine smile as she tucked her hair back once again, smoothing it with both hands until it was perfect. Even with a face too youthful and the restriction of a fitted dress uniform she was excited; eager to get the day moving, eager to be aboard the ship and away from the clutter of the Stardock. She had spent the previous three months pouring over crew files and ship's layout, studying every intricacy that such files could provide her. Every officer and the majority of the crew was studied, their abilities and qualifications, along with any previous issues on record, had been poured over in detail and committed to memory with the dedication of a student the evening before a final exam. The Captain's file was almost entirely hidden to her, as was to be expected, but she had learned what she could. Captain Harrison, whom she had served under aboard the Calipso, had spoken highly of Captain Natima despite how little he knew of her. “She has the reputation for boldness, and does not shy away from a challenge. She will be a good match for you, I think, Commander.” He had promised with a knowing smile that made Deza, for a moment, both excited and slightly nervous. The Cardassian was not much older than she, one of the youngest to ever earn a Captaincy; clearly there was something extraordinary about her and Deza was curious to see what exactly it was.

She stepped into the hallway and began toward the officers breakfast, replacing the bounce in her step with the calm professionalism the uniform called for. Before too long she would be done with formalities and aboard the Montaigne; the beautiful beginning a new era. Deza quickened her pace as the room opened up, the ceiling-high windows of the space station showing the glowing blue planet below. It often was the subject of her study when she found herself on the station, but today another beauty caught her eye. Docked just in view was the USS Montaigne. She moved quickly and gracefully toward the window, ducking around ensigns and officers alike to finally stop just a few inches from the glass. Not incredibly large but complex and challenging in appearance, the Montaigne was sharp like an arrowhead and sleek like a sting-ray.
“Isn't it beautiful?” She said to an ensign who had paused a few feet away to enjoy the same view. He was familiar to her as belonging to the Montaigne, though she could not recall his name; his yellow uniform identifying him as either a member of engineering or security.
“Earth is a beautiful planet to be sure, Commander.” The ensign replied, growing the slightest bit tense as she addressed him, though hiding it well.
“Oh the planet is a planet,” She dismissed, taking a step closer and directing his view with a pointed finger, “That is the real beauty.”
He smiled. “The Montaigne? I don't believe that there has ever been a finer ship, Commander.” She patted him on the arm, a grin slipping easily across her lovely features. “I am glad you agree, Ensign.” She said with a nod, dismissing herself and continuing toward the officer's breakfast.

Deza reached the large open doors of the event room, pausing a moment to gather herself before entering.
“Commander Nahiri, I presume.” A woman's voice interrupted her, not at all warm but not without courtesy. She turned to see the Captain, who stood with hands folded behind her back, her expression direct though not totally challenging.
Deza smiled, her posture straightening slightly to meet that of the captain. “Captain Natima, It is a pleasure.”
“For me as well. You come highly recommended and I am eager to see your skills when tested.” She replied. Again her tone was not challenging, though Deza sensed her courtesy was just the slightest bit forced. Perhaps the morning spent catering to admirals and writing speeches was wearing on the Cardassian. Deza couldn't blame her for it if it were the case.
“Thank you, Captain. I will do my best not to disappoint.” Deza replied, meeting the captain's bright yellow eyes.
“I am sure. Would you like to join me at my table, Commander Nahiri?” The captain asked. Whether it was to get to get to know her first officer or present a unified front to the crew, Deza was unsure, but it mattered little. The commander agreed and the women entered the large room, finding their places already set and waiting for them.



Claudia entered the large event room with not a trace of a reaction to the relative grandeur. She walked briskly across the room, her limp not so much a hindrance than an ingrained part of her gait. Still, it did nothing to make her appear normal.

Damn thing's already getting me attention. Claudia frowned to herself, though only a few officers had taken note of her.

There were varying sizes of tables around, occupied with Starfleet officers donning serious expressions and the occasional smile. Claudia scanned the room, a habit she had picked up during her time with her father. God, did she hate calling him that. He would have enjoyed this place, she realized. Though his "simple" solution to everything was either destruction or assimilation, he did have an odd kind of appreciation for order and caste.

Her eyes set upon a woman who she thought to be Captain Natima, her thoughts confirmed as she approached. The Captain's current companion was dressed impeccably, fit for a first officer.

"Captain Natima," Claudia started, inclining her head slightly. "I do apologize if I am interrupting anything. I am Claudia Machesky... Though I presume you already knew that."

She smiled as kindly as she could at the first officer. "You must be Commander Nahiri, if I am not mistaken. It's a pleasure to meet you."

They both greeted her, a relief to Claudia though she would never admit her initial worry.

"Would you care to join us?" the Captain offered.

Claudia agreed, taking a seat at the table as well and straightening her uniform. It wasn't ideal since it did cut off before her shins, exposing the scarred skin.

She shook away the thoughts, forcing a smile back on her face and looking up to see if she could identify any more of the crew.

"So do you have any experience with Starfleet?" Commander Nahiri asked, capturing Claudia's attention once again. The first officer had an innocent look overall, something that made Claudia want to get to know her better and yet made her jealous at the same time.

"I am actually quite new, Commander, though I have extensive knowledge in the department of security and am quite capable with any technology."

These questions always caught Claudia off guard. he felt the need to justify her being there. Anyone who knew of her would know that her qualifications relied on the strong recommendation and influence of a valued Captain, though she had only held lower positions before this. And before that... Well, at least she could hope no one dug up enough to warrant her removal.

Claudia leaned back in her chair, her posture alert as she waited anxiously for more crew members to arrive.

At least then the questions wouldn't be focused solely on her.
He'd been up since dawn, though if asked he never would have said so.

There had been a number of last minute checks and tests he'd wanted done in the Sick Bay, and truthfully there wasn't anyone he trusted to get them done except himself. Though he'd met and spoken to every member of his Medical team, and not a single one of them gave him anything to worry about, Nathaniel Chase preferred doing most things himself. He was quite particular about the disposition of his domain, and until everyone became used to his peculiarities, he would be quite stringent about proper oversight.

So far, it seemed his team had acquitted themselves well. They had listened during the meetings and were keen to keep the place in perfect order. Chaos in the Sick Bay was the worst sort chaos a ship could experience. This was where everyone came when everywhere else had collapsed, and they counted on him to keep the net taut. No cracks, no seams for a crewman to slip through; his team were the blue wall, and in times of turmoil they would stand strong.

It seemed to surprise everyone just how capable he was of keeping everything running so smoothly. And for his part, Nate preferred to keep it that way. He liked being underestimated, if only for the look one someone's face when he knocked it out of the park. No one should have respect simply because of the insignia upon their uniform; they should have to earn it. And how better to earn such respect than to get it from people who had already determined he wouldn't earn it?

His team trusted him to take care of them. They trusted his methods, however unorthodox they were. And if he cracked a joke or two before an intense surgery, they knew it was to relieve the tension in the room and not a sure sign of ineptitude. So long as everyone was doing their job, Nate didn't believe in strict formality. Jokes were encouraged, laughter expected; even at his expense. His team must be comfortable with one another and know one another as much as possible to be the best team they could be. They must know one another's minds without words.

Such cohesion would keep everyone, if at all possible, alive.

Not everyone thought much of Nate's methods. Some in Starfleet believed he made a mockery of their longstanding rules and regulations. A poor man's Kirk, he was sometimes called; all fluff without any of the great man's verve. Nate didn't particularly care what they thought. When it came down to it, his methods achieved results. After all, here he was on the Montaigne, leading the Sick Bay of Starfleet's newest, arguably greatest ship.

Of course, there were who questioned that, too. But Nathaniel believed--firmly believed--that his record spoke for itself. He might not be a hero, but he was a damned fine Doctor and his research had cured diseases. Half the ships in Starfleet were using his treatment for Turanian Measles, and they had all but eradicated the disease entirely. Nate knew that he would not be here if his record didn't speak well of him. His parents might be highly ranked officers, but Nate had earned this glory all on his own.

He'd not wanted to leave the Sick Bay. If he hadn't been required at the damn ceremony, he wouldn't have left at all. There would be plenty of time for socializing later--and he would definitely socialize--but he would prefer to stay here for now, checking and rechecking every single supply and machine in the entire complex.

And then there was the matter of breakfast, which his stomach was currently reminding him he had not yet eaten. So Nate had made his way back to his rooms and changed into his damnably stiff dress uniform. As usual, he was perfectly well turned out, though there was always the impression that he was not quite unimpeachably neat. No one--even the most discerning and strict of Starfleet adherents--would be able to figure out just what was wrong; they would simply be forced to stare, desperately attempting to find the infraction they knew was there.

There really wasn't one; Nate just liked everyone to think there was. It amused him, and it really seemed to please the ladies.

Entering the event room in which the Officers' breakfast was unfailingly held, Nate sauntered, giving every impression that he took absolutely nothing about any of this seriously. It was true, of course, that the ridiculous ceremony that Starfleet deemed necessary for just about everything was not exactly on the top of Nate's list of things to be taken seriously, but most of what he did now was for show. His team might know he was perfectly capable, but he had not yet had the time to prove himself to these others.

It was still time to make them underestimate him. Part one of his one two knock out.

"Ladies, good morning!" Nate greeted the three women sitting at the Captain's table. "Captain Natima, Commander Nahiri, Lieutenant-Commander Machesky." He nodded to each woman as he said her name, and then pulled out a chair and sat himself down.

"Lieutenant Chase," the Captain relied, a hint of displeasure in her voice. "Good morning. How good of you to join us. I'd thought not to see you until the ceremony."

Nate shrugged and set about procuring some food for himself. "Of course I'd never miss breakfast. This is the best we're going to eat for some time. No matter how good the systems get, the food aboard ship is always awful. All the advanced technology in the galaxy and we still can't figure out how to make the food any good."
Kijar was in the last place anyone would look for him. For the last 4 hours, he had been in an abandoned apartment a few blocks from the academy dabbling in the gambling game Dabo. The gamblers consisted on himself, a Ferengi male and female, a Cardassian female and a human female. Normally he'd be at his apartment doing research, but he had a agenda here.
The bets were placed and the wheel was spun. He watched it go round and round until it finally stopped and the human cheered, gathering her prizes.
Kitar Djinn glanced at the patrons. "this is fun, but i got places to be. Can we make one last wager..all or nothing?" He had not won a single game since they had started, even though plenty of opportunities had presented themselves. He was just waiting for one item to come out.

The human laughed. "you're luck is horrible tonight. You sure you want to lose more?" He nodded and she sighed. "fine. I'll take whatever you have left." She put the item he had been waiting for on the betting table, a bag of regulus from the planet M-113. The cardassian placed a silken piece of cloth and the Ferengi couple placed a single box, its contents unknown. The wheel was spun and each better wagered its landing.
As the wheel slowed to a stop, the others groaned. "no way! it's not possible!" Kitar almost chuckled as he began to gather his winnings. Since their was no money to bet, whenever they got together to play, they bet various items they had brought. He placed all his items in a small bag and stood to leave.
"Don't ever come back Asrai. Cheater or just random luck..whatever it was. I'll kill you if you ever show up here again..got it?" The human female snarled.

He shrugged, slipped on his frayed and slightly torn uniform, exited the room and began making his way to the academy. He knew little of the regulus plant, only that it was toxic and hard to come by. He wanted to do some tests and figure out more, but that would have to wait until he got to the ship. The entire way there, he was approached by reporters who hoped he'd say something, random strangers asking which ship he was heading to and the like. He disregarded them all until he finally got inside the ship.
It was severely intimidating to him. His first ship. He didn't even know how big it was or where his study station would be.

As he began to walk down the hallway, he could hear various voices from the rooms. Data checks, systems checks, random chatter about the possible missions and planets they might visit. He turned to what he thought was his station and entered the room, only to see a few people at a table. One of them looked like the captain of the ship.
"sorry..was looking for the science station."
The captain stood. "Science officer Kitar Djinn i take it? Would you care to join us?"
He noticed she didn't smile, didn't seem to show any weakness or opening for personality. Strict, to the point and proper. If she was trying to hide something, she did a damn good job of it.
"No thanks. I better find my station and set up. Find me there when you need me."
He gave a slightly respectful bow of his head and then exited the event room, continuing his search for the science station.


With his broad shoulders hunched over and lean fingers tightly grasping the porcelain edges, Nikolaos took a deep breath before lifting his gaze to meet pale blue. He loosened his grip, raising one hand to shakily run through messy, raven locks. In the pristine glass, he could see a few small drops of water clinging to his dark lashes before tumbling downward. Licking his lips, he released the water from the basin and stepped back. He carefully slid his hands down the gold and black, textured fabric, until he fingers stopped to rest upon the Starfleet insignia.

“My, how handsome you look, even in that ghastly yellow.” At a time like this, that was exactly the sort of thing his grandmother would have said. In fact, he could practically hear her lilting, wispy voice echoing throughout the tiled room. Though, it would have cracked near the end in distaste. Andreas Kazden had been known for her often piercing honesty. However, it was somewhat softened when directed at her favorite grandson.

The corner of Nik’s lip briefly curled upward as he crossed his arms. The launching ceremony was to commence in just under an hour. He knew he should be excited. He had been working toward this for a long time, expanding his skill set beyond communications and stepping outside his comfort zone in order to be worthy--in order to belong. Somewhere. Anywhere.

“No time for moping. You are smart. You are kind. You are ready.” She had always been a steady source of encouragement. And though he hated not being able to share this day with her, he was glad he had her memory. And at least without her actual presence, he didn’t have to really say goodbye. Not that she would have accepted it anyway.

- - - -

Striding down the hallway, Nik could hear the faint buzz of chatter emanating from within the grand event room. As the noise grew louder, he braced himself for the future that awaited him beyond those doors.

As trite as it sounded, today was indeed the start of a new beginning. Nik had been a simple boy living an ordinary and rather quiet life with his grandmother. His fascination with words and reading were merely born out of recreation. He did not think it could possibly bring him here. Despite his well-nurtured imagination, he envisioned little more than a linguistics teaching position in his future. Now, not only was he a member of Starfleet, he was also an official officer for the USS Montaigne. He was trained and chosen to serve, and he was invited to earth’s spacedock to begin the adventure.

But first, breakfast.

Stepping inside, Nik scanned the room for a familiar face. A lively, boisterous voice rose above the rest, catching his attention. He fought the urge to fondly roll his eyes when he noticed the tall blond chatting away, seated with three woman. That was just like Nate.

He recognized his commanding officer, Captain Natima, by her dress and distinctive traits--the pale grey hue of her skin and her golden eyes were remarkable in person. In his preparation for the launch, Nik had reviewed the names and faces of several of the crew members. The softer, younger woman with a kind face--that was First Officer Nahiri. The slightly shorter brunette was Claudia Machesky--Chief of Security. He knew of her leg wound and could see the subtle way her body leaned in her seat, favoring her uninjured limb. She seemed uneasy, as if she felt like all eyes were on her. Respectfully, he made the decision to pay her leg no more attention. Words were important, but sometimes, actions spoke louder.

“Nikky!” Nate spoke up, waving his hand for the operations officer to join their table. Nik heard a slight huff of distaste from the captain, causing the medical officer to reluctantly remedy his greeting. “Ensign Kazden, good to see you, mate.”

“And you, too, Lieutenant Chase,” Nik replied with a quick wink before adding with a respective nod to each lady, “Good morning, Captain, Commander, and Lieutenant-Commander.” In turn, they extended their own polite greetings, and Nik took the offered seat next to Nate. Then he felt an elbow jut him gently in the side.

“Less than an hour until the ceremony, you’re cutting it kind of close,” Nate said, sliding a filled plate in front of his friend. “Nerves, right?”

“Yes, but I’m feeling bett--” Nik started, “I’m feeling ready now. I am ready. Thank you, though.” He gratefully accepted the food and ate what his stomach could handle. Unlike Nik, Nate grew up in the Academy and had probably known for most of his life that his future would be with Starfleet. Sometimes, Nik suspected the older man’s friendliness toward him stemmed from the fact that Nik had started as a fish out of water. Whatever the reason, he appreciated it.

“Hey, not too fast,” the doctor jokingly reprimanded. “I can’t have you getting sick on me already.”

“I’ll do my best,” Nik answered, chuckling, before briefly glancing upward. “I’ll do my best.” He was sure she got the message, and he was sure that she believed.
BAM!

The others at the table stared at Hugo as his fist landed directly in the center of his plate, sending bits of his breakfast onto the others. Hugo's brown eyes opened wide as his mouth curved upward.

"Yes!" the thin man whispered loudly to himself.

"Excuse me, are you okay?" a well-dressed man asked.

"More than okay! I am... fantastic!" Hugo replied with a chuckle. "Today I launch!"

Without hesitation, Hugo jumped from his seat and made a quick exit from the breakfast room. He never noticed the frightened looks sent his way.

Hugo walked down several long hallways, passing several well-dressed people, before finally ducking into a bathroom. He stepped up to the mirror and examined himself. His graying brown hair was a bit messy, and his face cried for a shave.

"Hugo... you don't look so good," the man muttered to himself.

"Excuse me.You do realize this is the... woman's bathroom?" an older woman asked. Her face was quickly turning a bright red.

"Hm... well then. The name is Hugo. Hugo Zenzibaar. Chief Engineer."

The woman's mouth dropped as her brow furrowed. "You are part of the crew?"

"Sure am! In fact, I am a bit of a genius..."

"Except you can't figure out you are in the ladies' room," the woman mocked.

"Or maybe I can..." Hugo replied with a toothy grin.

The woman scoffed in disgust as Hugo made a quick exit. "Well Hugo, forget the shave. It's time to fly!"
Captain Taselle Natima was finding the events unfolding around her to be supremely surreal. Just to the front and right of her, an admiral was at an elevated podium extolling her virtues in the usual manner such words are delivered by administrative officials in front of a camera, his voice resonating in a pleasant, practiced manner while visible response to his words was reflected in the facial expressions of the delegates, representatives, and crewmen around and before her. She tried to concentrate on what was being spoken, if not to appear attentive then at least to ignore the fact that she was exceedingly uncomfortable being the center of attention.

The admiral’s hand extended grandly in her direction and her mouth automatically smiled in that human way typical of her adoptive species when publicly recognized. It had taken her years to master that minor nuance of social behavior and with all her public appearances since the Battle of Cardassia, she was often relieved that she had forced herself, throughout life, to perfect the human masquerade.

When she had first come back to Earth and received her captaincy, Taselle had initially relished the opportunity to employ all of the social tips and tricks she had learned, especially since the political environment she had found herself within encouraged such action, but after a year, and a very long one at that, the fun had given way to tedium, which was now threatening to devolve into resentment and anger. She was good at this game, very good, but being a bright smile for the vids was not why she had gotten into Starfleet. But now was not the time for that kind of reflection.

Reminding herself that the show only need go on for an hour more, Taselle stepped forward on cue, picture-perfect smile still in place, to take the podium. She had no notes; she needed none. This was a script she was familiar with, it just needed different words. Acknowledge the acknowledgement and thank. Insert dry humor. Smile in humble fashion. Present personal perspective. Aggrandize. Broaden occasion to include all in its significance. End with pertinent quote from respected icon, preferably one who is deceased. Offer thanks. Step down. It was a dance she was very good at, though she was no more comfortable with it than when she had first conversed with her adoptive parents, or applied for Starfleet, or received any of the various commendations for services rendered in the line of duty over the course of her career. There were many traits she did not appreciate about her own species, but at least they acknowledged, at least to each other, that events such as this only being held for the purposes of scheming. But here, in Starfleet, all these politics… She would be glad to leave them all behind and finally get back to the reason she tolerated such pomp and circumstance. But first, more noise and dancing.

“Captain! A fine speech. Very savvy, adding the quote from your ship’s namesake.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

“I realize this past year has been an adjustment phase for you but you’ve handled it with class.

“And there will be more adjustments to come, I’m certain.”

“Oh, quite! There is nothing like taking on a captaincy for the first time. One is never quite prepared for it.”

“I look forward to the challenge, sir.”

“You bloody well better! A captaincy is nothing if not a challenge. One of the roughest and most stressful there is, but potentially the most rewarding.”

“I will bear that in mind, sir, thank you.”

“… Has anyone ever told you that you converse like a Vulcan?”

“Yes, sir, I believe you have. Twice. Not including this instance.”

“There’s a smile, even if it is only implied. Now, I hate to be the mother hen, but shoo, mingle. At the very least, get some networking done. A lot of big names here and it never hurts to have ears to the ground and friends in high places.”

“I thought that’s what you were for, sir.”

“Well, best laid plans and all that.”

“A fair point.”

“It has been interesting getting to know you this past year, Captain. Good luck out there.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Taselle surreptitiously searched the room for a single face. A face that represented an escape from this perfumed, preening occasion. The various heights and occasionally ostentatious dress of the various beings present made this feat oddly challenging, as did the fact that there were Starfleet uniforms everywhere. After seven hands shaken and that many egos stroked, she spotted her quarry and casually made her way in that direction. She was caught another three times before she finally made it to the shoulder of the sentient she was seeking.

“Commander Nahiri.”

The Trill turned, spine stiffing visibly despite her face maintaining a perfectly relaxed smile. It would hard to read this one; the host and symbiote made for occasionally clashing signals, especially where minor reflex reactions were involved. In this case, the host was inexperienced, but the Trill itself was supremely confident. The contrast was, for those who looked for such things, mildly disconcerting. Taselle wondered if that would change the longer the Trill was joined.

“Captain!” Nahiri’s smile was genuine, or at least well practiced, her voice simultaneously youthful while conveying the restraint that only age brings. Very hard to read, indeed. “A fine speech.” A fine speech. Why were speeches always “fine?” Then again, the Trill had likely heard many speeches in its time… Its? Hers? Probably “hers” but Taselle made a mental note to look up the distinction.

“Thank you, Commander,” Taselle replied politely, her smile beginning to strain; only just after noon and she was already becoming irritable. Once again, she was glad to be leaving this place within the hour. “I’ve recalled the crew to the ship, but I wanted you to accompany me.” Nahiri gave her an enigmatic and well-hidden look Taselle would have expected from a sly grandmother who knows when a grandchild wants to escape a grown up conversation, but she immediately excused herself from her current conversation partner without hesitation and fell into step. At least she followed orders.

Finally relieved of the need to smile, Taselle let her expression relax to her carefully crafted, impassive stoicism and did not speak again until they had left the hall and proceeded far enough away that she was reasonably certain those with greater auditory sensitivity could not hear.

“What is your impression of the crew?”

“They are an eclectic collection, I’ll give them that,” Nahiri readily admitted. “They should work out fine.”

“And the ship?” Taselle asked as they passed a long window through which the Montaigne could be seen gleaming in the direct sunlight.

“A testament to modern ingenuity, Captain. It should make an excellent home for the foreseeable future.”

Yes. A home. “An interesting word choice, Commander.”

“A ship must be home,” the Commander volunteered readily, either free with such personal sentiments or expressing herself for the Captain’s benefit. Taselle decided it was likely the latter. “The crew must be comfortable, feel attached to her, and work hard to maintain and, should it be necessary, to defend her. It’s quite a bond really. Not unlike the one between me and my host.”

Taselle cocked an approving eyebrow on the side of her face away from the Trill so it could not be seen. Enough chit-chat. “Now, am I correct to assume you have thoroughly reviewed the briefing?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The Trill had noticed the change in tone and her voice solidified into a military-precise pattern. Ma’am. Felt odd to be called that by a being over one hundred, even if it was the standard honorific.

They turned into the hall leading to the Montaigne’s docking bay. “Give me a summary, Commander.”

“We take her out, set a course for Vulcan, proceed at Warp 4 while conducting engine tests, simulated weapons tests, and personnel drills, specifically, hazard, incursion, and evacuation. Twenty four hours after launch, if no problems have emerged with any of the major systems, we will increase speed to normal cruse, Warp 7. We will maintain that speed for twelve hours then, if no hindrance is found, we will accelerate to Warp 9 and maintain speed for eight hours. If no problems are discovered we will decelerate to back to Warp 7 which will bring us to Vulcan twenty four hours after that. Further tests and drills will be executed in all sections around the clock on a regular basis.”

“Very good. I’ll handle the ship-wide drills, of course, but I will leave scheduling and executing the remainder to your discretion.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Yes, ma’am” would have been standard there. And the Trill was controlled enough to pick and choose her words. Taselle could only assume then that the Commander was genuinely thankful for being handed more work than would have normally been given to her. So odd to be around individuals who preferred more work. Nice, but odd.

“If I may, ma’am,” Commander Nahiri spoke, “but I could not help noticing that we do not have a helmsman. Not one whose tour is assigned to the Montaigne, specifically.”

“Unfortunate, but unavoidable,” noted Taselle with a note of genuine disappointment, despite herself. “The helmsman we had met with extenuating circumstances a week ago and was transferred out.”

“Clearly this did not have an impact on the launch date.”

“Orders are orders..." She almost stopped herself, but then considering this was her First Officer and should likely begin to know how her captain's ind worked:"And politics are politics.”

“Ah. Politics.”

“Indeed. Still, the acting helmsman, who will be with us until we reach Vulcan, is more than qualified; there will be no issue.”

“Still,” the Commander continued as they approached the Montaigne’s airlock, “it would have been nice to have our helmsman present for the shakedown run.”

“Undoubtedly,” Taselle noted quietly, then in a more conversational tone, “but we will make do. Shall we proceed?”

Inside, the Montaigne was much as she had been for the year in which Captain Natima had been occupying her. Off-white, almost beige carpeting, walls of a more resolute but still very light beige, corridors wide enough for two but not three persons to easily walk shoulder to shoulder. The doors had originally been designed to be some kind of ornate, layered nonsense, at least from the pictures Taselle had seen of the prototypes, but what had eventually been installed, likely for budgetary reasons, were the much more sensible and standard portals employed by Starfleet of mostly metal with more beige. Through her previous, redacted duties, Taselle had discovered that between these doors and those in the prototypes, these were easier to weld shut and defend, a fact that put her mind at ease, given her more militaristic background.

But there was something very different about the Montaigne. For a year, one could wander her corridors and never see another sentient, sometimes for days at a time. Now, Taselle was having to step aside for crewmen of all professions and races every two meters. Or rather, they stepped aside while she and Nahiri proceeded at a brisk, military-precise stride. On top of that, when Taselle put a hand to a wall or stood still, she could feel the ship vibrating; it was so slight that she was quite certain she only noticed it because she had been on the ship when it had been perfectly still for so long. Now that the engines had begun to ramp up for launch, the entire ships felt… alive.

Taselle finally reached the turbolift near the center of the ship. Nahiri reached out to call the lift, whether out of courtesy or habit Taselle did not know, but the subtext of respect was nice. When the doors slid open, the turbolift was already occupied by another individual, Ensign Kazdin. The moment he noticed the Captain and First Officer, his spine immediately stiffened, a great feat considering his already excellent posture.

“Ensign,” she greeted, inserting herself in the turbolift so she stood slightly in front of both Nahiri and Nikolaos.

“Captain,” was the ready reply. Human sweat, particularly the kind produced when one was nervous, had a very distinctive acridity to it. She did not hold it against the officer; this was a great opportunity, life-changing and careering making, in fact. For all of them. She heard a slight shift of fabric from behind her on Nahiri’s side and assumed the Commander just gave the Ensign some silent sign of affirmation. The Ensign let out a long, quiet breath, obviously taking some comfort in whatever movement or look Nahiri had given him. This was good. The turbolift hissed to a stop and the doors opened.

The Montaigne’s bridge was, like virtually all bridges on Starfleet vessels, circular. Directly opposite from the turbolift doors were the doors to her ready room, to the left were a variety of consoles, mostly secondary in purpose, all of which were occupied by ensigns she did not know by name. The station on that side of the bridge, closest to the ready room door, was occupied by her Chief of Security, Lieutenant-Commander Machesky, who immediately stood up from her chair and pronounced:

“Captain on the bridge!”

The remaining crew rose as one to attention, including the single individual to the right and down within the tiered floor below the viewscreen. At the helm, the station nearest to her in that location, was the acting helmsman, whose named escaped her for the moment. Ensign Kazdin would be taking the station next to him once they got underway. And in the center of the bridge were two chairs. The one stage right would be Commander Nahiri’s while the one on the left belonged to the Captain.

Taselle looked around the room once at the faces of the individuals who would crew this fine vessel for the foreseeable future. She felt confidence, pride, and what she knew very well to be expectation. She let the latter emotion lead her.

“As you were,” she ordered, moving next to the captain’s chair but not yet sitting. “Bridge to Engineering,” she addressed the station through the internal communications system. “The time has come. Is everything ready?”

“- is precisely what I said!” came an abbreviated though loudly pronounced declaration, as though the individual speaking was addressing someone a fair distance away. Captain Natima was well aware of the Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Zenzibaar, and his… unpredictable nature. But as long as he did his job, and every report she had read said he could do so better than any two candidates together, then she was more than willing to humor his antics. “Hm? Where-? Ah, Captain! Ready, you ask? This ship was made ready! Can’t really have anything go wrong until things have actually gone. Ha!”

“Just for the record, please say the words ‘all systems go,’ lieutenant,” Taselle interjected politely. She had always had a much easier, even enjoyable, time when interacting with eccentrics. She liked the honesty of such persons.

“Ah, yes! The all-powerful ‘record.’ Very well, Captain, but only for you.” There was a pause on the comm in which there was a slight shuffle and a clearing of the throat, then with all the enunciation of a Shakespearian actor delivering the best of the immortal bard’s drama: “All systems are go, Captain.” Taselle was fairly certain she heard applause and cheers in the background.

“Very good, lieutenant,” Taselle replied, taking a deep, purposefully impatient breath to keep herself from smiling. Then, “All hands, this is the captain.” She hesitated a moment, though she was certain that moment would not be missed since the crew would likely take it to listen. Hopefully. She had a speech prepared, but in that hesitation, she looked around at the bridge crew. All eyes were fixed on her. Every hand poised, every mind sharp and ready. Decision made.

“I had a speech ready, but I’d much rather get underway. Good luck and godspeed to us all.” The comm was cut. “Helmsman, take us out. One tenth impulse. Let’s give the spacedock a nice view.”

“Yes, ma’am!” was the ready and pleased response. “One-tenth impulse.”

The Montaigne pulled away from the spacedock, her quad-nacelles glowing a ripe, warm blue, the unhindered sun back-lighting her with an otherworldly glow. The slow exit took nearly a full minute.

“Ensign Kazdin, how do we look?” Taselle asked her Operations Officer.

“Pretty as a picture, Captain,” the young man answered, clearly caught up in the moment. He seemed to reconsider his words after saying them but they were already said.

“Good,” she decided, trying to simultaneously receive the report casually while subtly acknowledging the Ensign’s embellishment. Finally, Taselle look down at her chair then, for the first time, she sat upon it. It was odd to be there. Last time she had taken such a seat, there was a sky full of fire, death, and despair. Now… Now, there were companions, comrades, and hope. She could feel Nahiri beaming at her. Taselle smothered the smile of pleased satisfaction she had not remembered forming, then addressed the helm once more.

“Set a course for Vulcan, ensign. Warp Four.”
Deza took her chair at the captain's right hand, leaning on her elbow to get a better view of the small display in the chair's arm. She did not try to stifle the grin that so easily crept across her features. Never in her five lifetimes had a new chapter felt quite like this one. So much potential, so many new opportunities to experience and pass on. Finding the pleasant adrenaline enough to keep her mind turned elsewhere she abandoned the words on the screen in favor of observing the bridge crew. She could dedicate time to technical layouts and reports later, after all she was no longer the communications officer, she was the first officer; and her focus would be better directed elsewhere.

“All systems appear to be functioning within parameters, Captain.” Ensign Kazden reported, already seeming more at ease. The captain betrayed the slightest hint of a genuine smile, one of the few Deza had seen her allow. She respected the woman's strength and resolve, but appreciated the hint of excitement in her eyes even more. To be so controlled and still passionate was an impressive balance in a woman so young. “Excellent.” the captain replied, “Inform the crew that we will begin drills in one hours time.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“If I may Captain,” Deza began, “I would like to visit the department heads in person before the drills begin.”

The captain turned to her hesitating a moment before giving her a slight nod, “Very well, Commander.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Deza rose quickly and began toward the turbo lift, stopping briefly at the security console, “Lieutenant-Commander Machesky.”

Claudia turned to her, her demeanor slightly betraying her discomfort. “Yes, Commander?”

Deza softened her expression in response, making sure her body language did not exaggerate any formality that could threaten to put the officer on her guard all the more, “When you are available I would like to discuss any recommendations you have for your security team. If there are any changes you see that need to be made I want to ensure we can make them before we reach Vulcan.”

“Yes Ma'am.”

“Thank you Lieutenant-commander.” Deza smiled, returning to the turbo lift.

In a few short moments she was entering sick bay, the small group of medical staff gathered around their chief medical officer who, with his hands casually in his pockets, rocked on his heels as he briefed the newest arrivals. He dismissed them as the commander entered, crossing his arms in an attempt to feign irritation, “Ill already, Commander? I would have expected more from you.” He began. He was always so quick exercise his considerable charm it made her wonder what he hid beneath it.
“I appreciate your concern, Doctor, but I assure you I am here on other business.” she replied with a smile.
“What is it I can do for you then?” He asked, his expression expectant.

“I would like a brief overview of sickbay, if you have a moment to spare. I believe there are always improvements to be made, and who better to identify them than yourself.” she began, her tone professional but her expression warm as always. She saw in him an inclination toward creativity and away from professionalism; an inclination he had made clear at the officer's breakfast, and she did not wish to encourage it. But at the same time if he managed to heal the sick and follow orders, he could be as roguishly charming and creative as he liked.

“Of course,” He replied, gesturing for her to enter the small office adjacent to the main sick bay. He sat behind a large white desk, and began when she had taken her seat. “Sick bay is performing as it should to this point. The staff is well trained, the equipment is working. Are you expecting an issue?” He asked with a smile, leaning back in his chair.

“Not at all, but if there is an issue I'd like to know about it, of course.”

“Don't think I can handle it?” He asked. He liked to test.

“It's hard to say, Doctor. I get an inherent sense that you are full of surprises.” She replied with a grin, again standing and moving toward the door.

“Everyone likes surprises.” He defended, his charm again seeping through.

“as long as they are good surprises, Doctor. I trust you will inform me if you need anything?”


The First Officer's visit had not come as a surprise to Nate; she seemed the kind who needed to be absolutely hands on for everything. Problem was, so was Nate, and he very much didn't like it when people came into his sick bay asking questions. In here, he was in charge; even she would have to bow to his wishes. Hell, in matters medical, the Captain herself had to defer to him; the idea that she could march in here and ask him if he were prepared within his own domain was ridiculous.

He didn't go marching up to the bridge and demand to see her readiness, did he?

Grumbling under his breath, Nate grabbed a chart and turned sharp on his feet. “All right, guys. Let's see if we're prepared for a medical emergency. We've been attacked by...let's go really old school and say the Borg, shall we? We've managed to escape, but casualties are pouring in. Everyone on my left, you're the medical crew; on my right, you're the casualties. Casualties, explain your malady to the medical personnel and make it difficult. They've released chemical and biological agents upon us, as well; nothing is off limits. We'll see who's got it figured out and stable in five minutes. After that, we'll switch.”

Nate didn't need to say 'go'; his crew jumped to it immediately.

“And do it without shouting, will you? We're Doctors, dammit, not spectators at a sporting event!” The room quieted to a mild din, the babbling of medical speech and the occasional groan of a particularly dramatic casualty inundating the normally serene confines of Sick Bay. Nate did like things as quiet as possible; like a library, almost. He liked to listen to the ship, to feel the hum and the shiver within his bones. If he could hear the ship, he could anticipate an emergency.

The purring always changed when something had happened.

“You guys sound like you're having a party in here.”

“A medical party, yes,” Nate replied, turning to greet Nikky with a shoulder hug. “Wherein my crew play the universe's largest game of Doctor, though of course without the kinky sexual undertones. At least everyone here had better be taking this very seriously! These are lives we're dealing with. And I'll have the worst among you organizing med kits from here to eternity.”

Nikky chuckled and shook his head. “How anyone could think you're a puffed up fool is beyond me. You've got these poor people terrified of you, I think.”

“Terrified? No. They understand I run a tight ship—well, Med Bay—and know that as hard as I push them now, the more I reward them later. The victors get to share a one-hundred-year-old Scotch that I've been dragging around with me for a while. Real alcohol, too; not the fake stuff. You're invited as well, Nikky, if you've finished secretary duty for a while.”

Twisting his face, Nikky scoffed. “I am the best damned secretary Starfleet has ever known and will ever know, and don't you forget it! By the way, do you have some idea of how you'd like to schedule your shifts? I'm getting pretty close to Med in my rotation.”

“Some idea? I've had my schedules made up for a week, and you know it. I had a copy forwarded to your station three hours ago; it's ready and waiting for you whenever you need it.” Nate grinned. “But don't tell anyone that. So far as everyone is concerned, you had to come fetch personnel files and have a long chat about the pros and cons of each member of my staff. Don't want anyone thinking I'm too efficient. Now!” Nate turned to his staff and clapped his hands. “Sharing time!”

No one had embarrassed him, which was good. There were a few mistakes, but nothing so egregious that a patient would have died. Overall, Nate was very proud of his crew; he patiently corrected the few errors, suggested more efficient means of treatment, and praised those who'd done everything he could expect of them. Everything confirmed the schedule he'd developed; strengths and weaknesses would balance out, making the whole crew stronger over all.

In the event of an emergency, Nate was convinced his gang would keep the ship running; more, he was convinced they would keep its crew alive.

“All right, everyone. Switch. Ensign Kazden and I are going to go retrieve your reward. When I'm back, I'll survey your work.”

“Do you think they'll work together?” Nikky asked as he and Nate exited the Sick Bay complex and headed for Nate's quarters. He kept his alcohol stores hidden away in his personals, the better for them to remain secret for as long as possible.

“I hope so. They could have worked together the first time. Medicine is often a team effort, especially triage and emergency care. The goal is to keep as many people alive as possible, and to ease the passing of those too far gone to be completely healed. I expect them to talk to one another and make one another better.”

“You know, Nate,” Nikky said, after they'd walked a few moments in silence. “I don't understand why you want everyone to think of you as some cowboy with waggling eyebrows and a fondness for short skirts. Isn't it better to be taken seriously?”

“I'm taken seriously by the people who matter; my team and my patients. They are all that matter to me. It's fun to flirt and to joke; it disarms people. I find out more about them by their treatment of me than most people are willing to admit. And when the time comes for them to learn what lurks beneath the 'waggling eyebrows and fondness for short skirts', well...they are all the more shocked for it.” Nate opened the door to his quarters and opened his medicine chest. “People like the Captain are as strange and unknowable to me as I am to her.”

Nikky admired the Scotch as Nate handed it to him. “How do you always manage to get the good stuff? You think the Captain will approve?”

“Probably not, but if there was ever a time to share a drink with one's team, this is it. While we're still in friendly skies and the likelihood of an attack is just about nil. I am an Officer, but they are my team. We are one unit, Nikky. I'll not create a wall between us that discourages free and open discourse on all matters medical. I don't mean to be friends with any of them, but that won't stop me from being friendly.”

The two men headed back for Sick Bay together, the Scotch now under Nate's arm. “Not a fan of Machiavelli then, Nate?”

“God no. Being loved is far better than being feared. People rarely plot bloody coups against those they love. Oh...oh, look. A pretty little ensign.” Nate grinned as Nikky shook his head. “Shall I make her fall in love with me, do you think?”

“Judging by the blinking and the goofy little half smile, I think she already is, mate. I think her name is Evalia. She works in Science.”

Nate turned his most charming smile upon the woman. “Hello, darling. On our way to more drills, I assume?”

“Yes, Lieutenant.” Nate could tell she was trying not to giggle, and made himself dim the wattage on his smile just a tad. While he did love the attentions of a beautiful woman—and the redhead was a knockout, no doubt—he didn't want her pining after him. She had duties to attend to that he wouldn't have compromised. It had happened before, back at the Academy; one too many flirtatious smiles and hair twirls had caused one young lady to lose her place in the top 5%. Mother had not been pleased.

“Well. We're on our way to a party in sick bay,” he replied, feeling mischievous. Let her wonder what sorts of going-on occurred in the medical wing; it would stop her from daydreaming about Nate. However pretty she was, it wasn't particularly good behavior to sleep with the ensigns. And Nate had no delusions as to what the Captain would think of such things. She did seem such a stick-up-the-ass sort; she and that damned Trill of hers. Nate brandished the Scotch. “Before things really get going and the drills get in the way. Ah well, toodaloo, dearest. Godspeed on those drills.”

Nikky stared at him the rest of the way to Sick Bay and stopped him just outside the door. “Party in sick bay? I don't think sharing a bottle of Scotch constitutes a party, Nate. What have you got planned?”

“A little fun, Nikky. Let's see how many people we can get to pretend to have gone to one of Medical's outrageous parties, and how many pining for an invite. Consider it an experiment, shall we? A little...social psychology. For the road.”
Kitar left the cafeteria and continued to wander the hallways looking for the science room. Eventually he found it, the officers and personnel there standing and saluting when he entered.
He waved at them to relax.
"Alright, let's make sure everything is working and up to speed." The members looked at each other. "Sir, we all did that half an hour ago."
He glanced at the man. "I wasn't here a half hour ago. I need to see that everything is properly working and in order."

They all saluted and began to do the calibrations on the equipment, machines, drones and tech before liftoff.
He strode to the various stations, examining the work his newest assistants were doing.
"Very good people."
They slowed to a halt. "Be at your stations when we depart. That's all."

He turned and listened to the chatter of the people in the room. Some talked about the launch and the possible mission that awaited. Others talked about how unorthodox he seemed. Regardless, he pulled the bag from his pocket, strode to a microscope and began to prepare the Regulus plant for examination.
"Attention! First officer on station!"
The room stood at attention as Commander Nahiri entered the room. Kitar still had his eye glued to the microscope.

"Ahem!" He glanced up at her and nodded his head and commented "Commander." before going back to the scope.
"This is not proper protocol Lieutenant!" He sighed and stood, facing her. "All due respect Commander, i am a busy man. I have experiments to do, a job to run, and assistants to figure out what to do with. I was placed here mainly as a knowledge base, nothing more far as i'm concerned."
He wasn't trying to be disrespectful, but the plant was right there on the stand. He wanted to figure out more..the wait was killing him. He strode back to his station and sat down.

Highly doubtful they'd court martial him right before launch, but he figured he'd hear from her again...or the captain if she really wanted to ream him one. He heard the commander begin talking to the other science crew about protocol and tech runs and the like to make sure they were ready.
Once she was satisfied, she left to her next destination leaving Kitar Djinn to his research.
Shrouded in low-lighting and wrapped in a dense humidity that humans would categorize as “oppressive,” Taselle waited rigidly behind the desk in her ready room, taking a moment organize her thoughts. She kept such conditions because they were more natural and comforting to her, helping her increase her productivity, as well as feel therapeutic, though she had ensured that, should another being enter, the lighting and ambient temperature would return to Earth-normal so the other individual would not be in discomfort.

At the moment, however, despite the fact she knew she would be receiving a visit from a crewman, Taselle did not make this adjustment. She had called Lieutenant Djinn to her office and she certainly did not want him comfortable. She shook her head in the muted light, recalling the incident in the Science Lab as it had been relayed to her through the grapevine. She had known of Djinn’s anti-authoritarian reputation but had apparently either not read the reports closely enough or made the right calls to the right people. She had been so stunned by the news that she had called in Nahiri to corroborate the story, which doubly stunned her when extracting the entire story from her First Officer had been more difficult than pulling a Klingon’s teeth. But she had finally gotten the whole truth and now it was time to act upon it.

The door chimed.

“Enter,” Taselle prompted the door, and it hissed open.

Lieutenant Djinn stood in the frame, calm and collected, even defiant, though he did seem somewhat taken aback by the dark lighting. Beyond him was the bridge, and Taselle knew that anyone watching from there would just see the Lieutenant peering into a dark void, then being swallowed by it when the door closed behind him.

Djinn moved forward into the room. He clearly understood what was coming but moved with the normalized nature of an individual accustomed to being dressed down by a superior officer. Taselle wondered at how he had never been busted down a rank or two before. He stood at attention to the right side of the chair in front of her desk, though even this action seemed defiant somehow. A bead of sweat appeared on the side of his brow, but Taselle was quite certain it was not from stress.

“Lieutenant Djinn,” Taselle began slowly, using the time to consider which approach she should take. “I have reviewed your file again and I still find it very impressive, just as I did when considering how I would build the body of this crew. I looked at your file and thought ‘hm, this is a very strong leg; it will help carry us a long way.’ What I did not know was that this leg does not want to carry, it wants to kick. And it wants to kick wherever and whenever it damn well pleases.” Taselle folded her hands on the top of her desk, but did not lean forward

“Lieutenant Djinn, you seem to be under the misguided impression that your actions aboard this ship are your own. You are wrong. You seem to think that the laboratories here are yours. You are wrong. You seem to think that because I have chosen multiple eccentric personalities to make up my core crew that therefore the rules must be different here. You are wrong.” Now Taselle stood and as she spoke, she slowly stalked over toward the marginally shorter individual.

“This is my ship. The laboratories are mine. Your time is mine. You did not come with the ship, I chose you. I chose you to be a leg for this patchwork creation and if you do not want to do your part to propel this body forward, I will cut you off.” By this point, Taselle’s nose was not even two inches from Djinn’s ear. Her voice, calm but threatening, had never raised at any moment.

“Do you understand, lieutenant?”

Before Djinn had even begun his inhale to respond, Taselle cut him off.

“Consider your next words very carefully.”

Djinn did. “Yes… Captain.” The words were forced. It even sounded as though they had been physically painful to utter. Taselle did not care if they were sincere.

“You may return to duty in my laboratory, lieutenant. Dismissed.”

Djinn turned, military precise, though whether that was intentional or because his suppressed anger would not allow him to maneuver in a relaxed fashion, and exited. Taselle stood in the near darkness for a long moment, then without a second though, returned to her desk and to her work.

As expected, though Taselle would have preferred it not happen, Commander Nahiri entered the ready room a few minutes later.

“Commander,” Taselle greeted, non-committal because she knew the First Officer was here to probe for information about what had transpired and not to actually accomplish anything of use.

“Captain,” was the polite return. Before Nahiri could attempt to initiate conversation, Taselle simply dove in to get it out of the way.

“You should have come to me.”

“I wanted to deal with it myself,” was Nahiri’s ready response, though she said it more as an apology than an excuse. Taselle did not look up from her work.

“Insubordination is a serious offense, especially coming from one of the core crewmembers, individuals who are supposed to represent good leadership. In such an event, I must take a hand.”

“Yes, Captain,” Nahiri uttered with an appropriately chastised tone. Taselle sighed, put down her datapad, and sat back in her chair to look Nahiri in the eyes.

“Number One, I understand that I have assembled a rather… unorthodox crew. I knew that from the very moment I was given a captaincy because, after all, a Cardassian at the helm? This ship had no hope for normalcy from the word ‘go.’

“I understand we have oddballs like Zenzibaar and swarthy cranks like Chase; there will be instances where the Starfleet officer in you will balk at what you and I perceive to be insubordinate actions. But I firmly believe that each member of this crew desires to work toward the greater good, so even when Zenzibaar is clearly deep in the rabbit hole or when Chase responds with humor rather than stoic brevity, I can forgi- no, not forgive- I expect that to happen.”

“Then, where is the line?” was the obvious follow-up question.

“This is a Starfleet vessel,” Taselle spoke with conviction. “We are first and foremost explorers, but we are, without a doubt, also a military organization. Insubordination will not be tolerated. But, employing humor is not insubordination. Politely requesting an interview to be conducted later is not insubordination.” Taselle’s face grew hard. “But blatantly disrespecting a superior officer is. Disregarding and disobeying direct orders, no matter how simple or trivial, is. And that is where Lieutenant Djinn went wrong.”

“I feel like we’re towing a fine line, Captain.”

Taselle arced an eyebrow briefly and minutely pursed her lips in consideration of that statement, then decided, “As long as the good of the ship, not the individual, is put first, I will forgive lot. Not all, but a lot… How long until we reach Vulcan?”

“We will be in orbit within the hour,” Nahiri replied readily, taking a deep breath as she got back to business as usual. The comm chirped at that moment.

“Bridge to the captain,” came Ensign Kazden’s voice.

“Go ahead,” Taselle replied.

“Incoming transmission from Starfleet, Captain.”

“Patch it to my ready room, I’ll take it here.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

Taselle turned to Nahiri.

“I want to see the officers in the conference room in precisely an hour,” Taselle ordered. “Odds are these will be the orders for our first mission and I want to make certain everyone is aware of our mission statement.”

“Aye, Captain,” Nahiri replied, and she departed.

Taselle waited until the doors had slid silently shut, then opened communications with Starfleet. The transmission was regarding their orders, but they were far more than Taselle had thought they would be.


Taselle entered the conference room precisely an hour after she had given the order for her officers to assemble. Due to the increasing apparent eccentricities of some of those individuals, she was rather surprised to find that all were present and accounted for. Lieutenant Djinn appeared somewhat withdrawn, likely unhappy to have been pulled away from his duties for the second time in a single hour, but he was present.

“I called this meeting,” she began upon entering and before she had even taken her seat at the decently sized, long, dark, oaken table, “with the intention of relaying our orders to you collectively, but instead those very orders require our immediate compliance.

“I’ve been told not to give any details until we are underway, but you are all intelligent beings so I know that you will likely be able to form an educated and probably fairly accurate guess as to our orders simply based on the preparations that need to be made. And they are as follows:

“Lieutenant-Commander Machesky. A supply ship is on approach. It is full of ordinance ranging from quantum torpedoes to small arms. Please oversee their transfer to the Montaigne’s respective stockpiles.”

“Aye, Captain.” The staunch Russian rose and left.

“Lieutenants Chase and Djinn. The Vulcan Science Center has been gracious enough to grant us unfettered access to their scientific and medical supplies. I want you to beam down together, fill our reserves to burst, and bring up whatever items you believe will improve sickbay and your respective laboratories.” She paused, then took a long moment to look both men squarely in the eyes. “My orders specifically said ‘unfettered’ so if the Vulcans don’t want to hand something over, you let me know.” She pointed a finger at them to emphasize her next words. “I reiterate: your job is to prioritize what needs to be here and to get it here as fast as you can; if anyone of superior rank tries to interfere, you call me and I will deal with it. Our mission is time sensitive so I would rather not get bogged down in a diplomatic incident.” Djinn remained sullen while Chase adopted what she read as his “you wound me, madame!” face. “You have two hours, starting now.”

“May I inquire as to what I should focus on retrieving?” Chase asked politely as he rose; Djinn was already moving to the door, though he did slow a step to make certain he heard the response. Taselle decided to loosely bend her orders by answering the question a little more completely than she should, but if information now staved off danger in the future, she would gladly walk that line.

“Hypothetically, doctor,” she began with directly stated evasiveness, “it is possible we will be seeking out new life-forms and new civilizations. Plan accordingly.” Her lack of specifics left the doctor looking nonplussed, though his boisterous nature remained completely unfazed, of course.

“Aye, Captain,” he relented, then more true to form: “One crystal ball, coming up.” And both he and Djinn left the room. The recent incident and her conversation with Nahiri afterward made Taselle wonder if perhaps she should try to restrict the doctor’s… outspoken nature. But after a moment’s consideration, she decided no because, after all, it was his nature, and in her experience such straightforward, occasionally unfiltered viewpoints often spoke truths others did not.

“Lieutenant Zenzibaar.”

“Cap’n?”

“Part of the reason you are here is because I hear you can make ships do beyond what they were designed to do.” She pressed on before the peculiar individual’s mind could decide between feigned modesty, genuine modesty, or outright ego. “I know our metaphorical supply closets are stocked to spec, but in my experience, engineers who know their ships know what they need more of, less of, and what they need that no one else knows they need. Get on the horn with the Vulcan Shipyards. In two hours, I want our surplus of engineering supplies to not be the bog standard, but to be what you think it should be.” Then considering who she was talking to, she added, “Taking into account you don’t have access to transdimentional storage, of course.”

“Aye, Cap’n!” the man’s zealous eyes sparkled in expectation, and he withdrew, already making a mental list aloud.

“Finally, Ensign Kazden. Clearly, there is going to be a lot going on over the next two hours. I believe the metaphor is that I will be ‘herding cats.’ I need you to be another set of eyes and ears for me in case I’m putting out one fire and you notice smoke beginning to form elsewhere.”

“Aye, ma’am.” And the young man retreated from the room.

After the rapid staccato of orders and the rush of officers leaving, the conference room was abruptly quiet. So quiet that Taselle could even discern the quiet pulse of the engines. She got to her feet and went to the window to peer out at the picturesque view of Vulcan below. Nahiri approached as stood by her side.

“Sounds like we’re in for a long voyage,” the trill finally probed.

She didn’t even know the half of it.
Deza resisted the inclination to press the Captain for more information. Her curiosity may have gotten the best of her on more than one occasion in her youth, but she could suppress it well enough now, either through her own maturing or though Nahiri's influence she was unsure. In either case she asked only what was respectful to ask and left the conference room satisfied for the time by what had already been said.

Long fluid steps took her down the soft oat colored halls and through the mass of anxious crewmen. They already had adapted since their launch from the Stardock, seeming to shirk off the haphazard rigidity they had boarded with and move with the calm precise strides and the professional courtesy the captain modeled. She smiled at the influence of authority on behaviors like that, how those who truly cared so quickly took to what was expected, like a child mimics a parent. It was a testament to their respect for Taselle Natima, even if the behavior was at least partially automatic.

The trill stepped through the heavy cargo bay doors, coming to stand beside a Lieutenant from engineering who appeared to be overseeing a project that was well underway.

“Afternoon, Commander.” He greeted as she entered, turning from the data pad to meet the commander's dark eyes, an expectant look in his own as he awaited her orders.

“Good afternoon.” She replied, “I see that Lieutenant Zenzibaar has already left you with orders?”

“Yes Ma'am” he answered, begging a quick apology as he interrupted to correct one of the workers. Deza allowed a subtle grin, pleased to see a well oiled machine where she half expected to see one or two effective officers, to use the captain's words, herding cats. After all, a good number of them, especially low in the ranks, had never served aboard a starship, especially as one so complex and challenging as the Montaigne. They could not be expected to be totally efficient, and in truth they were not, but they were certainly on their way and that pleased her immensely. She turned to the lieutenant in charge, “Have you been informed of what will be taken on?” She asked.

“No Ma'am, but we have members of both science and medical,” He directed her attention to the two waiting, “and they will inform us and oversee if any special storage is required.”

“Excellent work.”

His posture eased a bit and now seeming to realize she was not there admonish he allowed a genuine smile. “Thank you, Ma'am.”

“Zenzibaar to Commander Nahiri.” Hugo's voice, twisted into what can only be described as a growl, called out over the comm. She saw the lieutenant at her side quickly stifle a grin and return to his work. Apparently the three days he had spent with Hugo was enough to recognize the meaning in his tone.

She pressed her fingers to the commbadge, “Yes Lieutenant?” She answered, dismissing herself from the group with a nod and stepping into the hallway.

“If you wouldn't mind joining me ma'am,” He began, his words a bit more forcibly professional, “this fineVulcan seems to have a problem with me.”

“A moment please, Lieutenant.” She asked, beginning toward the transporter room, her demeanor strictly professional though deep down the idea of their Chief engineer going toe to toe with a Vulcan was at the very least amusing. What little interaction she had with Zenzibaar had created nearly instant affection for him, finding his wild eyes and rolling tone a pleasant combination of charm and madness. If his record had not been so shining, on impression alone she would have guessed it equally likely for him to destroy the ship as it were for him to save it.

As she reached the transporter pad she received final permission to beam down. “On my way, Lieutenant.”

She materialized beside the Chief engineer, who shared angry, passionate and at least partially incoherent, words with a curt Vulcan. “Ma'am.” Zenzibaar acknowledged, seeming to stop his argument mid-sentence to cross his arms over his chest, “It seems the orders the Captain gave me are not enough to get access to what I need.”

Deza nodded, taking up the datapad and looking over the orders once more, checking closely for anything outside Hugo's sparkling personality that would cause the Vulcan to avoid compliance. As she expected there was nothing. “I am sure it is an error easily remedied.” She replied, her gaze moving from Hugo to Vulcan, her tone pleasant but respectfully stoic.

“I do not agree.” The Vulcan answered, seeming to welcome the opportunity to ignore the engineer in favor of a more civil conversationalist, “I am not inclined to provide this man with anything.”

Zenzibaar met her eyes, cocking his eyebrow and shaking his head as if more ridiculous words had never been spoken. Deza acknowledged his gesture with a nod and continued.

“Forgive my brashness...” She began again, hesitating to hear his name.

“Sublieutenant Teviv.”

“Sublieutenant Teviv.” She bowed her head respectfully, “Forgive my brashness, but time is of the essence. Starfleet has given us full access to your facility, with direct instruction to beam aboard any and all components Lieutenant Zenzibaar requests. I know I need not remind you of the importance of fulfilling orders from Starfleet in a timely manner, Sublieutenant Teviv, but if additional motivation is required I am happy to provide it to your supervisor.” Deza replied, her tone direct but not condescending.

He hesitated to scan the engineer once again, “That will not be necessary, Commander Nahiri.” Teviv replied.

She smiled. “I greatly appreciate your cooperation, Sublieutenant. It is necessary that Lieutenant Zenzibaar has all he requests beamed aboard the Montaigne within the hour. I trust you will assist him in finding what he needs.”

“Yes Ma'am.” He replied, not happy, if a Vulcan could ever be described as happy, but tolerant.

“Thank you, Sublieutenant. Is there any additional assistance I can provide?”

“No Ma'am. It will be aboard the Montaigne in one hour.” He answered, turning his back on the two and making the necessary adjustments on a small console.

“Excellent.” She turned to Zenzibaar, who seemed satisfied for the time, though in all honesty she could not easily read him. She leaned in close to his ear, her hand placed on his arm.“Try not to throw any punches, Lieutenant.” She whispered, an audible smile in her voice.

“No promises.” He chuckled back, perhaps a little too loudly as he again turned his forcible voice toward the Vulcan. “Now lets going moving, my ship wants to fly not float in orbit all day!”

Deza turned away, “Commander Nahiri to the Montaigne. One to beam up.”
"Why on Earth would you possibly need any of this stuff?"

Nate looked over at Nikky and smirked. "I was told to prepare for every eventuality. Hostile takeover by a sect of cheese worshiping shapeshifters is an eventuality. It is a very unlikely eventuality, but one must be sure of absolutely everything. Aren't you supposed to be 'herding cats', or something? Making sure everything's being accounted for and whatnot?"

Nikky was dismissive. "I've got a program for that. Everything goes into and out of that ship gets recorded and cataloged. That catalog then follows me to my handy dandy handheld device here, where I am able to personally oversee the operations. I don't plan on being married to that damn seat, you know. There are those...parties I hear tell about."

Raising an eyebrow, Nate turned back to a supply of pretty shinies, which were even now being prepared for transport to the Montaigne and whatever mission it was that the Captain had prepared for them. Toys and tools for every scenario that made sense, and a hundred thousand permutations more that made no sense whatsoever. Preparations for diseases long dead and diseases that did not yet exist, so far as the Federation understood existence. Equipment to reattach limbs and to recreate limbs from just about nothing. Every conceivable medical text and the tools necessary to create a database that would rival anything in the known universe.

Antidotes for poisons used by extinct races and made from extinct plants. Everything needed to create and maintain a working green room of medical plants, because damned if Nate was going to rely on Science for things like that. In emergencies, it was best to have everything one needed on hand immediately. Even seconds were a precious commodity when someone was dying in front of you.

Cases upon cases of the most mundane of necessities. Nate had never seen so many ointments and unguents, antiseptics and sterilization compounds. There were enough bandages to make the journey from Earth to Jupiter, twice. Nate wasn't going to rely on computers and machines any more than he was going to rely on Science for his herbs. The first things that went in an attack was the power, and if Nate could spare even a little bit for the shields or the thrusters or, hell, the cannons, he would.

"Why are you bringing alcohol on board?" Nikky watched as cases of ethanol found its way aboard the ship, his finger following it as it traveled. "Why could you possibly need alcohol?"

"Sterilization and fuel. Should something go wrong and I have only the most rudimentary of tools," Nate replied. "And for the continued dissemination of certain rumors, of course, because even in the most serious of moments, one must have levity. But Nikky...I was told to acquire absolutely anything I thought medically necessary, and even things that I could not conceivably ever need. Whatever we're doing and wherever we're going, I have a feeling this still may need to last for some time. There's a lot can go wrong out there in the reaches of space and I'll be damned if I let people die because of it."

Nikky reached up and placed his hand on Nate's shoulder. "Nate. Nathan...you can't keep everyone alive, man. You do know that, right?"

Nate looked over at his friend and sighed, lowering his checklist. "Of course I know that. I've lost people before. But I want it to be because there was nothing I could do about it. Because it was so far out of the realm of control that only the cosmos itself could stop it. Not because I was told to prepare and missed an eventuality. You understand that, Nikky."

Nikky's face scrunched into a grimace. "I hate it when you get all serious. You only do that when things are really momentous. It makes it harder to pretend we're going on some routine mission."

"I know what you mean. I don't like that the Captain's being so evasive with everything. In my experience, they only do that stuff when they want to keep panic to a minimum. And for their brand new baby..." Nate sighed. "For their brand new baby, I've a feeling that we're going where no man has gone before."

"Lieutenant Chase."

Nate spun to see Commander Nahiri walking his way, her strides purposeful as she came to check up on him. It was the second such time she had done so, though Nate was far more inclined to be forgiving this time. This was a situation unlike anything they'd experienced before and the First Officer would be a bad commander if she didn't check up on things. And the Trill seemed like a woman who'd gained a lot of sense with her joining. "Commander Nahiri. Coming to see how the preparations are going, I assume?"

"You assume correctly, Lieutenant. How are they doing? And Ensign Kazden...shouldn't you be on the bridge, overseeing things?"

Nate smiled. "I apologize for that, Commander. There was some difficulty with the intake receipts, and Ensign Kazden just came down to clear it up. For a more accurate inventory. He has this really nifty program. Has he shown it to you, yet?"

"He has not." Commander Nahiri tilted her head and glanced at the device attached to Nikky's forearm. "Is this the...program?"

Nikky nodded. "Yes, ma'am. I was just finishing up with Nate...Lieutenant Chase, though. I'm on my way to make a report to the Captain that everything appears to be well in Medical and Science both...as far as the intake inventory and cataloging is concerned." Saluting, Nikky spun and headed down the hall, leaving Nate with...what was her first name? Deza?

"Everything is well here, Commander. No problems with the Vulcans and I think I've got everything from a cold to the Hand of God covered in the contingencies. Here's hoping we won't need it, wherever we're going. Though I can only assume we will. I tend to always assume we will. It saves lives."
Kitar had not been in a good mood since the "talk" the captain had with him. He knew he would more than likely be reprimanded for his actions towards the commander, but he still didn't expect her to get right in his face and threaten him. Least to him it felt like a threat. Now he had to beam down to this planet and get supplies for the trip. That part slightly excited him even through it was hard to tell.
He got to the transport dock where he descended to the planet with Lieutenant Chase. Upon arrival, he separated from him and headed towards the Science Station. When he arrived, he was greeted with 3 Vulcan scientists. "You must be Science Officer Djinn from the Montaigne?" He only nodded. "Very good. Feel free to browse and take whatever you need. We'll help however we can."

Djinn wasted no time. He knew he only had two hours to get everything on board and set up in his station before they took off. That wasn't much considering he had to pick and choose from their extensive equipment. "Alright, run me through some of the equipment over here...and over there." The head scientist nodded and began talking about the various machines. Some were advanced scanners that could detect faint traces of sentient DNA life strands in objects that had been deceased for a short amount of time. Others could dissect the most miniscule object from something the size of a thumbnail.

He took both of those machines, plus a couple handfuls of tools he would need for harvesting specimens, storing samples, examining and testing whatever he would need. As they began to head back to the transport bay, he spotted something from the corner of his eye. "What is that?" he asked, pointing to the object. It was a scanner for deciphering and identifying objects, but it looked different.
"That my friend is the newest updated upgrade to the universal scanner/decoder. You're welcome to it if you wish." His hand flew out and grabbed onto it, stuffing it into his pocket. With all this new equipment, he would have no problems doing his "official duties" on or off the ship. He took a last glance around and grabbed a few more things he thought he might need. "Alright, let's head back and set these things up in the labs. I'll probably make a second trip to make sure I didn't miss anything." After he was done here on Vulcan, he would have to take another stab at the Regulus plant.
Soon as they got to the transport pods, Kitar contacted the ship. "Lieutenant Djinn to Montaigne, three to beam up plus equipment."


As he entered the large white room, Nik came to a stop, save for the subtle movement of his pale blue gaze. With his black locks pushed back, the operations officer could hear the quiet humming of circuitry beneath the gleaming surfaces. Other bodies bustled about in the circular space--brief flashes of red, blue and gold in his peripheral vision. Many paused to glance at the large wall of screens stretched across the the room. Inside a center ring of tiered flooring sat a few stations, each with their own consoles that faced the main bridge screen. Commander Nahiri and Captain Natima’s seats were closet to the screen, with his operations station and the helmsman located just off to the side.

Nik’s gaze flicked forward, settling on the sight before him. His time at the Academy had included various lessons, training and simulations, but they never fully prepared him for this. Stepping closer to the glass, Nik saw something he had read about countless times but had never envisioned seeing for himself. Black nothingness, dotted by small flashes of light and faint ribbons of blues and purples. It was all at once overwhelming, scary and beautiful. It was hard to believe it was real. It was even harder to believe he was really here. This was to be his home away from home for the foreseeable future.

This would normally be when the young officer would hear memories in his mind--pushy but kind words of encouragement from his grandmother. But he had said his goodbyes to the past and was ready to look forward, to embrace this new life he had sought. Although, out here in the vast expanses of space, Nik reckoned he might actually be closer to his grandmother than he realized.

“Ensign Kazden?” A voice spoke, pulling the young man from his thoughts. Nik turned to face a shorter man with round features, short brown curls, and thick brows framing dark brown eyes. The man, wearing a yellow uniform, extended his arm forward--a sleek, black device in his palm. “I was told to deliver this to you. Captain Natima thought you would find it useful for monitoring transmissions.”

Accepting the device, Nik’s fingers danced across the compact display. Flicking through the screens, he realized the programming connected to his Comms station. It allowed him to view the messages and information coming to the bridge with the flexibility to move aboard the ship. Nik smiled, grateful for the both the technical and emotional support. Although he felt he could stare into space for ages, it was beneficial to have the freedom to further inspect other sectors of the ship for potential issues. And to visit Nate. But mostly to inspect, of course.

“Here, allow me,” the other ensign said, stepping forward and helping Nik secure the device around his wrist so it rested comfortably against his forearm. Before he could express his thanks, “Curls”--Nik should have caught his name--smiled before nodding and turning to leave. Nik watched him trek down the corridor before the white doors slid shut, cutting off his view. Shrugging, he approached his station and reassessed the device. When he felt assured the programming was aligned and properly receiving all messages, he decided it was time to test it out. He advanced toward the sliding doors and headed to the med bay.

-----

Although he enjoyed spending time with Nate, Nik did not wish to appear unprofessional by lingering for too long or impeding on the medical officer’s time. Incoming reports indicated accurate inventory from Vulcan for both the medical and science departments. He reported as such to Captain Natima over his comms badge, eyes reading the incoming scans on his device. Helpfully, the program also provided him with maps of the ship’s interior layout. Sliding his fingers against the glass, Nik enlarged the view of some sectors and swept past others.

Focusing on the armory, he remembered the master gunner’s unusual absence from the bridge. When Captain Natima arrived, Lieutenant-Commander Machesky had been present but she seemed to have slipped away since then. No incoming requests for aid had been sent by the security department, but even so, Nik turned down the corridor and headed to the weapons room.

For reasons of transparency and honesty in his work, Nik tapped his comms badge to announce his actions. “Commander Nahiri, this is Ensign Kazden. I am approaching the armory to check in with our Chief of Security. Permission to proceed?” Not all personnel were authorized to enter for safety and security purposes.

The commander was quick to reply, as always, speaking over her badge, “Access granted. Thank you for the update, Ensign Kazden. Please inform the Lieutenant-Commander as well.” Nik obliged, fingers deftly relaying the message to those working in the weapons room. Just as he was poised to press his badge, the armory’s large, sealed doorway slid open beckoning the operations officer inside.

“Welcome Ensign Kazden, I received your message,” a smooth voice spoke. Nik entered the room, taking in the vast number of decks filling the weapons locker. Large steel containers were lined up across the center of the long room, housing what Nik assumed to be torpedos. Phasers and portable weapons containers were stacked on shelves, while an entire wall stored a countless number of upright phaser rifles. Various crewman shuffled up and down the aisles, tracking the placement and count of the inventory.

“Sorry for the intrusion, Lieutenant-Commander,” Nik said, approaching the officer. Claudia stood in front of the armory board, the slight lean in her stance almost imperceptible. The board contained a screen with access to various details on the Montaigne’s stockpile as well as security locks to avoid improper access. “I am helping Captain Natima make sure everything goes smoothly during our brief time here at Vulcan, and I noticed I had not received any reports from you yet.”

“There is no smoke here, I promise,” Claudia responded, alluding to the captain’s earlier commands. Brown eyes glanced over her shoulder as her fingers swept across the screen. “I had to intercede on behalf of those I sent down earlier to retrieve our order. Apparently, the cadets had difficulties with their translators and were unable to process the transaction without further assistance.”

Niraks,” Nik muttered, quietly chuckling to himself as his device chirped an alert. He looked to see that Claudia had just sent in the final reports for the weapons inventory.

“I hope you are not speaking ill of our own, Ensign Kazden,” Commander Nahiri said as she entered, the armory door closing behind her. “And do not let the Vulcans hear you. They would not respond well to being called fools either.” The Trill’s full lips bit back a subtle smile, coming to stand between Nik and Claudia.

“Yes, Commander Nahiri,” Nik nodded, a slight flush reddening his cheeks, before returning to business. “Everything seems to be in order. I have passed updates on to Captain Natima. I will let you know if there is anything else that needs to be reported.”

“Excellent,” Deza said. “It looks wonderful in here, Lieutenant-Commander Machesky. Please let me know if you need anything.” The commander turned to leave, and Nik bid a quick farewell to Claudia before joining her in the hall. With his device at the ready, Nik would probably explore the Montaigne a bit more before dropping by to see Nate again. Just as he was planning his route, the commander spoke up. “Ensign Kazden, I presume you will be heading back to the bridge. May I join you?”

He had a feeling she could read his mind. Maybe he had to be less obvious about seeing Nate so much. “Of course, Commander Nahiri. It would be my pleasure.” Deza nodded, and they continued down the corridor together. He could stop by the med bay later.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 53383.9:
It has been approximately two weeks since we left Vulcan and the time to inform the officers as to our mission has finally arrived. While I am familiar with the logic behind classified data, I dislike keeping information pertinent to the crew’s duties secret from them.


Taselle looked at the faces of her officers, assembled again around the heavy, oaken table in the briefing room. They had waited patiently for the information she was about to share with them and while she knew they would follow the orders to the letter, she hoped that they would understand that it had not been her choice to keep them in the dark. But, that was no longer an issue, so, without hesitation, she tightened her hands, which were clasped behind her back, and began.

“Before the onset of the Dominion War, one of the Federation’s scout ships in the Gamma Quadrant sent a report back to Starfleet saying that they had encountered an advanced space-faring race. Their next report two days later stated that standard diplomatic greetings had been initiated and the new race called themselves the Radiin.” Taselle looked meaningfully at the assembled officers. “The scout ship made no further reports and is listed as MIA to this day.”

“Where, exactly, did they go missing?” Nahiri requested, her brow slightly furrowed.

“Near the galactic rim,” answered Taselle, pulling up a map of the galaxy on the black screen behind her. The image was divided evenly by two perpendicular lines, the bottom left representing the Alpha Quadrant, the top left containing the Gamma Quadrant. Taselle put her finger near the edge of the galaxy and marginally closer to the horizontal line segment.

“At the time of the disappearance, the Radiin were given the benefit of the doubt. They made no effort to contact the Federation, no taunts, no threats, no claims, and scouting deep space is dangerous enough, let alone uncharted space, so it is entirely likely the ship went missing due to more natural causes.”

“You seem unconvinced,” Lieutenant Chase noted, his usual chipper tone dampened somewhat by the shadow of where this was going.

“An envoy was prepped and sent to make official contact with the Radiin,” Taselle confirmed by continued. “and, of course, to see what had happened to the scout ship, if possible. They departed five months ago. Last month, Starfleet received an information burst from the envoy. They had met the Radiin. The next day, it was stated that standard diplomatic greetings had been exchanged, all was well, but they had not found a trace of the scout ship. The third information burst said that while they had not been allowed into Radiin territory yet, but cultural dialogue was progressing smoothly. Two more days of similar, hopeful reports followed.

“Then, an information burst was received, but it was so small that it was nearly missed.”

Taselle pushed a button on the screen and immediately a quick burst of punctuated tone was heard. It was repeated twice, then on the third time it ceased in mid-burst.

The already palpable silence became heavy. It was Morse Code, “SOS.”

“Starfleet communications experts say that, upon investigation, the signal looked frayed toward the end, like a rope that had been cut. The reports, since redacted, say the transmission was cut off.”

“An information burst is just a bit of code,” Ensign Kazden put in. “Its transmission, especially one so simple, is virtually instantaneous; how is it possible that it was interrupted so fast?”

“The techs that investigated it wondered the same thing,” Taselle nodded. “Their best explanation is luck. Someone with the envoy sent that burst at just the moment they were being prevented from doing so.”

“And now we are being sent,” Machesky said quietly, her tone indicative of a statement rather than a question.

“Yes,” Taselle affirmed with low but firm conviction. “We are being sent… to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Radiin.”

There were audible sounds of quiet disbelief, arms shifted, hands clasped behind heads, spines slouched as everyone tried their best to remain professional. It was a noble effort, but cracks began to appear.

“Talks?” Chase finally wondered aloud, as if he were trying to figure out if she were holding out on what their orders really were. “Two ships destroyed, one an envoy of peace, and we’re going to talk?”

“Cap’n, I keep saying that the Admirals are more suits than uniforms, this is just more proof of that,” Zenzibaar agreed vigorously.

“This is a warship,” Machesky’s eyes narrowed. “Why are they sending us?” This question struck home and the officers fell silent. Taselle stepped back to the fore.

“Precisely, Lieutenant-Commander,” and she actually pointed a finger at Machesky to drive home exactly how pertinent the question was. “Precisely. Why send a warship on a diplomatic venture?”

“Offer one hand, arm the other,” Djinn realized aloud, his voice soft voice strong with certainty. Taselle nodded slowly and clasped her hands behind her back once more.

“We,” she began slowly, “are to reestablish diplomatic communication with the Radiin. We are going to do our utmost to succeed diplomatically where the scout and the envoy failed. There will be talks. There will be exchanges of information. There may even be a diplomatic dinner, should we get that far. We will do everything by the book.” Her eyes narrowed. “But we will train and prepare for swift retaliation and retreat. Remember: the Montaigne isn’t just a warship, it’s also a fast-response vessel that can outrun anything in the Federation fleet, and likely anything ship in the Alpha Quadrant.

“Our mission is to look the Kraken in the eye and return home to tell about it.” The statement was a little more dramatic than Taselle had intended, but it made the point effectively so she let it settle.

“Here is what’s going to happen,” Taselle stated, her voice military-starched again. She zoomed in closer on the border between the Gamma and Alpha Quadrants. “We will be leaving Federation space in a few days. The Cardassians are allowing us through their borders so we won’t have to spend a week going around. There will be two warships escorting us, of course.” A few eyes were rolled at this sign of Cardassian distrust, but despite being Cardassian herself, Taselle did not blame her officers for their exasperation; the Empire may have been humbled by the genocide of the Dominion War, but Cardassian paranoia did not seem remotely dampened.

“Once the four day journey through Cardassian space is done, it will be another three days to the Gamma Quadrant border. Mapping beyond that point is sketchy at best, but we will advance as quickly as we are able. Ideally, we should arrive at the estimated border of Radiin space within two months.” That felt like a lie. “More realistic estimates say three.” She turned to the crew. “Questions?”

“You said that the envoy reports were received about a month ago,” Chase pointed out. “That’s only a week before the Montaigne was launched. Why are we being sent?”

“The Montaigne is being sent because it is the fastest ship in the fleet,” Taselle reiterated, then expounded upon that point, “and while I was not directly informed, I believe the intention is for us to use that speed to arrive soon enough that wreckage of the envoy can still be found. After all, unless it was destroyed in some kind of massive containment field, there would at least be recognizable trace elements, even if a clean-up effort was made.”

Nahiri raised a hand, and Taselle motioned for her to proceed with her question. “The Radiin are on the rim of the galaxy in a completely different quadrant. If they are hostile, and it seems as though that is the assumption we are working under, why do we care? The Dominion is likely a far greater threat and they are much closer to striking distance. This just seems… unnecessary.”

This was probably the most outspoken Taselle had heard her first officer be, and she was glad to see the Trill becoming comfortable with her role.

“I agree, Number One, but Starfleet seems to have taken an interest in the Radiin so let us bear in mind that it might not be a simple matter of evaluating a hostile race. For all we know, it may be the Radiin that are in trouble and our ships have merely been caught in the crossfire.

“But most importantly,” she added more rigidly, “orders are orders, and I trust Starfleets intention to become apparent in time.”

“Why the secrecy for so long?” Chase pointed out. “I got the impression that it wasn’t your choice to be quiet about it.”

“For one, the fact that we’ve gotten permission to go through Cardassian space,” Taselle began. “They don’t like it to be common knowledge that they occasionally grant favors. Second, us venturing to the Gamma Quadrant isn’t technically a violation of our treaty with the Dominion, since we’re not using the Bajoran Wormhole, but Starfleet would rather them just not know about it, period.”

“Fair enough,” Chase decided, leaning back in his chair, curiosity sated.

Sensing that most questions were answered, Taselle began to wrap up. “Anything else?” No hands. “By all means, do visit my ready room if you have further questions or concerns. We are very much venturing into the unknown so I want to ensure you are all as prepared as possible. Dismissed.”

There was a scuffle of chairs moving, feet shuffling, capped off by the doors hissing shut, and the room was quiet. Nahiri had not departed with the rest.

“Passage through Cardassian Space?” the First Officer asked, eyebrows raised in quiet disbelief. “Apparently miracles do occur. An olive branch, perhaps?”

“More likely Starfleet using the political advantage after the Dominion War to twist their arm,” Taselle grumbled softly, looking out the window at the streaks of starlight lazily drifty by. Then in a more conversational tone, she admitted, “Finding and scanning wreckage of the envoy will help us identify exactly what happened to that ship, and so we need to get there fast. Best way was through the Empire.” She paused. “I’m told they only allowed passage when Starfleet told them the ship would be captained by a Cardassian.”

Both women grew quiet for a moment. Taselle knew she had not been chosen simply because of her race, but it was still discouraging to have her origins used as a tool of manipulation.

“We are a few days out from Cardassian space,” Taselle changed subjects, jarringly. Further dwelling on what she could not change would get her nowhere. “When we are twenty-four hours away, send a message with our ETA; I’ll give you the proper channel. They’ll probably demand to speak with me, so argue mildly for a bit, then relent; I want them to think of me as a Starfleet Captain first, a Cardassian second. They’ll bluster a bit, maybe even threaten, but I need to establish that I'm a Captain, not a concession.” She sighed, screwing up her mouth slightly at the thought. “I just hope we don’t have to jump through too many hoops before they let us through.”
The air was crisp and cool, the last moments of dawn casting a lovely golden glow over the open field. The tall yellow grass was cold to the touch, the last moments of frost still clinging to the stalks. Deza stood silently, her breath slow and her focus intent. She did not know from where they would come, but she would be ready.

At her back she heard the footfalls, landing hard against the frozen ground under the weight of an opponent much larger than she. She spun and ducked, swinging the attacker over her and onto his back. A strike to his temple kept him down. She met the next opponent head on, her wrapped hands lifted to block her face. He stood tall, even for a kinglon; his dark face twisted in a wide and menacing smile. In each fist he held a blade, one nearly the length of his forearm, the other short and curved like a claw. He was no doubt stronger, so she would need to be quick.

With his first lunge she deflected his arm, twisting away from is reach and toward his open side, placing a well focused elbow to his ribs and another to the inside of his forearm, forcing the smaller blade from his grip. He cursed and spun to meet her, closing the distance between them with astonishing speed. Though her block was well placed, his strength was too much; breaking through to slam knuckles into her cheekbone. She stumbled back, feeling the sting of broken skin where her opponent had landed his strike. He approached as quickly the second attack as he had with the first, his significant reach allowing him to land a second blow before she was able to prevent it. The hit possessed enough force to land her on her back, and as she drew the momentum to return to her feet the image froze.

“Computer, end program.” Machesky followed up the order from a few steps away, dissolving the cool fall morning into the open black holodeck. “You alright, Commander?” The chief security officer asked.

Deza grinned, raising into her feet and wiping the blood from her cheek with the back of her hand. After nearly two hours spent on hand to hand combat, muscles she hadn't realized even existed had begun to ache. Still she felt good; knowing well that every aching limb was a victory toward her ultimate goal.

“On the contrary,” She beamed, “I am enjoying myself immensely.”

The security officer smiled, “Well you are certainly improving. You are getting stronger, quicker. I am sure you will be able to handle yourself well enough.” The security chief had been gracious enough to evaluate and direct the trill's training over the past two weeks, even providing the occasional sparring partner.

“I appreciate your encouragement, Lieutenant-Commander, but until I manage to overcome the disconnect I won't feel quite as prepared as I should be.” Deza replied. The disconnect, of course, was between the knowledge passed on and her body's abilities to use it. Kelek, a previous host for Nahiri, had been a highly skilled fighter and chief security officer. The man had studied combat for the majority of his life and this study had been passed on; without the physical training to use it effectively. It was a point of irritation for the Trill, and a major motivation to move past her basic Starfleet training to become at least a fraction of the master Kelek had been.

“Either way," Claudia continued, "let's hope you wont need to use any of it in our interactions with the Radiin.”

Deza silently agreed, her expression hardening a bit. The thought had certainly crossed her mind.

“If you'll excuse me, Lieutenant-Commander," She answered, again returning to her smile, "I have business to attend to in sickbay.”

“Of course.” The security Chief replied, taking Deza's place and beginning the program again as the Trill stepped into the hallway.

Nahiri ignored the concerned, and then quickly averted, glances of the crew, and preceded quickly, doing her best to keep the cut from dripping blood onto her white shirt. She slipped through the sickbay doors, waiting a moment before one of the crew addressed her. Perhaps she would be lucky enough to come and go unnoticed; saving the charming but snarky comments from the Medical officer.

“What happened, Commander?” Chase asked, dashing Deza's hopes as quickly as she had embraced them, “Nikky finally decide he wasn't going to wait for the promotion and take it the old fashioned way?” He asked with a smile, picking up his medical tricorder and dismissing the ensign that was already working on her.

“He would prefer to be called 'Sir' now, Doctor.” Deza answered, a feigned seriousness in her tone she allowed only because of their mutual fondness for Ensign Kazden. The doctor grinned.

“In all honesty, it's nothing really,” She continued, “I was in the holodeck and took a hit that was harder than I expected.”

“I never pegged you for a boxer, Commander.” He answered, raised eyebrows suggesting he was either impressed or genuinely surprised; perhaps both. As fit as Deza was, she didn't exactly have the build of a soldier.

“A safe assumption, Doctor.” Deza conceded with a grin, not volunteering to share any additional information. Other than the Captain and Machesky, whom had given her advice on the matter, she wouldn't discuss the nature of her training with the crew. Any matters complicated by her joining were somewhat personal in nature, and it tended to be complex enough for human's to get to know one Nahiri, much less the four that had come before Deza.

“Well you didn't break anything.” He said, setting the tricorder aside in favor of the dermal regenerator. In a moment the wound was repaired, leaving no mark to speak of and relieving the subtle stinging. “All set, Commander.”

Nahiri thanked him, provided her usual subtle but appreciative praise, and made the trek back to her quarters.

In half an hour she was showered, in uniform, and on the bridge; relieving the first of the bridge crew as the day shift began. She was informed of the previous nights highlights, and that the Captain was already in her ready room preparing for the entry into Cardassian space. It would be an interesting thing to see Natima interacting with her own people, and though it felt a bit disrespectful to be curious, she couldn't, in all honesty, help it. Interaction, and the intricacies of said interaction, were always a point of fascination; an interest that had no doubt improved upon Deza's abilities as a negotiator.

She glanced down to the time; twenty-four hours til entering Cardassian space and time to begin the delicate dance. She approached the ready room and was called in, meeting the captain in her usual dark and humid environment. Deza did not find it uncomfortable and had insisted rather early in the journey that it should remain as Taselle liked it, even when the first officer entered. “We are twenty-four hours out, Captain.” Nahiri began.

“Excellent. I will provide you the proper channels to contact the Cardassian Empire. If there is nothing else you are dismissed. ” The Captain answered, her usual stoic demeanor slightly more curt than normal; suggesting her preparedness for the approaching task more than irritation.

Deza returned to the bridge, taking her chair and sending the information through the console in the arm. As expected the reply was timely, the image of a Cardassian Legate coming on screen. He seemed visibly irritated; and Deza attributed it to being met with the image of a trill and not the Cardassian he expected. She did not acknowledge the look, instead allowing a pleasant, though not at all warm, expression to cross her young features. “I am Commander Deza Nahiri of the Starfleet vessel Montaigne. With whom do I have the honor of speaking?” She asked.

“I am Legate Direll. What can I do for you, Commander Nahiri?” He asked, more to get to the point than to accommodate.

“Captain Natima asked that inform you and the Empire that we will be reaching your borders within twenty-four hours.”

“We look forward to it, Commander, though I will admit we were hoping to speak directly with the Captain when handling such affairs.”

“I am afraid Captain Natima has other matters requiring her attention. I trust you understand.”

“Of course, Commander. Though I do hope," He hesitated as if searching for the proper words, "for the sake of our continued cooperation, that your Captain will do us the honor of making further communication with the Empire a priority.” He replied, his subtle, but clear threat slipping smoothly off his tongue. This was clearly a man who found such things a comfortable, if not regular, interaction.

“I will convey the message, Legate Direll.” Deza replied. In an instant the feed was cut off, returning the small screen to the blue and white Starfleet logo. She shifted in her seat, her eyes narrowing as her mind replayed each movement, each word, each tone. Something in her told her it would important to understand this Legate and his place within the Empire, though logic had not yet given her an excuse for it.

“If you'll excuse me, Lieutenant-Commander, I have business to attend to in sickbay.”

Commander Nahiri exited the holodeck.

“Of course," Claudia replied in her usual respectful tone, turning and starting the program again at her own level.

The motions felt almost mechanical by now; a twist away from her opponent, followed by a forceful blow to his jaw. Claudia came up behind him swiftly, driving her knee into his hamstring and quickly disabling him on the ground. As she turned to walk away, he kicked her right leg hard, the already weak bone doing nothing to help the effect.

Claudia stumbled and cursed herself for making such a rookie mistake.

"End program," she ground out, gripping her shin and giving herself a couple minutes to regroup.

That was how it had always been. Lieutenant-Commander Machesky, the "almost perfect officer". Word got around often about her professional demeanor, her focus on whatever happened to be her top priority. But never would she fit in anywhere without some sort of complication. Such a flaw could be the difference of someone's life or death in the field and it was a risk she needed to eradicate.

After cleaning up in her quarters, she headed to find Captain Natima. It was about time they started preparing for a possible encounter with the Cardassians, and though their own captain was part of the species, they could still end up being a threat.

Claudia reached the captain's quarters, buzzing in outside and waiting for permission to enter. Once it was granted, she walked in slowly, standing across Captain Natima and folding her arms behind her back.

"What can I do for you, Lieutenant-Commander?" The captain's kind voice, though a little tense, put her at ease some.

Claudia cleared her throat. "I hope I am not interrupting, Captain, but there are certain precautions I believe we should be considering.: She paused for a moment, not wanting to insult the captain even in the slightest way. "The Cardassians... I mean nothing by this, and it is merely an observation, but as they are a very xenophobic race we must proceed with caution. Our number one focus should be on the Radiin, but I do think both of these factors combined could be a call for further safety issues."

The captain nodded slightly. "I don't think it will be a problem, but if you mean to ask for permission to increase our safety levels on this mission, then by all means you have my permission. Defense is never harmful."

Claudia nodded curtly. "Of course, captain." Dismissed, she walked out.

Trying to keep her usual low profile, Claudia returned in the direction of the Security Complex.
"Lieutenant Chase, what do you on the bridge? Shouldn't you be busy counting your syringes or something?" Nicky turned from his station at the communications board and raised an eyebrow. "Or...planning for a certain party?"

Nate grinned and shrugged. "Well, sick bay is as prepared as it's going to be. We had a few injuries during the chaos of preparations, but nothing huge that the underlings can't handle. A broken bone, a concussion or two, and some twisted limbs. A couple dislocated shoulders. It seems that the ship cannot quite handle chaos just yet. Perhaps we should run a few ship-wide chaos drills."

"That sounds like an excellent idea, Lieutenant Chase."

Nate turned and acknowledged the First Officer with a chipper smile. "Thank you, Lieutenant-Commander. I think...once we are through this blasted gate and on the far side of Cardassian space...when it's far more likely that we'll be hit with a real Kobayashi Maru situation."

"You're not worried about getting through the gate? I've noticed some of the crewmen are not so trusting."

Nate shrugged. "I assume they will honor their bargain because the whole of Federation Space is expecting them not to, and prepared for that eventuality. They may not look like it, they may not act like it, but they're preparing even now for our ship to be set upon by ferocious, ice-cold racists. If they weren't expecting something of the like, they wouldn't have chosen a Cardassian as our Captain. As good as she is--and I do not doubt that she is good, or else this would not be her ship--there are definitely politics here. Politics that belie the seeming accord between our people. And given the Cardassians' tendency to be...Cardassians, I assume they are fully aware of what consequences they might bring to bare should they violate the agreement."

Deza looked almost shocked at the reply. Nate had no doubt the First Officer had poured over Nate's service record, as had the Captain; she would know how capable he was as a Doctor and a leader. But it was one thing to see it on paper and see it in person, and this was the first time Nate had demonstrated the intellect upon which he had prided himself for years. The Trill was very good at controlling her visible reaction, but no one ever expected Nate to be observant, much less astute, upon first meeting him.

Nicky, for his part, looked down at his controls, shoulders shaking with the effort to hide his laughter. He understood well enough what his friend was about, but Nate's oftentimes off-putting assertions of emotional sobriety and capability were always amusing.

"Of course, if they decide to damn the torpedoes, we'll all be dead anyway, so I don't worry overmuch about it. I can't plan for something if I'm going to die in a fiery inferno before I even have the time to react, but I can plan for the eventuality that involves continuing to live through this particular situation. And as I am far too handsome to die here in this corner of space, I assert wholeheartedly that we shall survive this. If we're going to die, it'll be where no one can hear us scream."

That was much more what the First Commander had come to expect from the Medical Officer. Nate could see it in Deza's face, in the slight softening of her lips into an almost invisible smirk. "I will inform the Captain of your suggestion after we are through the gate and Cardassion space is behind us. We'll have some time to burn between then and reaching the Radiin. I believe we should full it preparing for the eventuality that we will have a situation like we just had, but worse. I understand there were some injuries?"

"A few. Easily mended. But that was just all hands on deck to acquire some supplies from a friendly planet. Imagine all hands on deck if we're being shot at by an assailant we've never seen and fighting to stave off panic. If I may suggest something further, Lieutenant-Commander?"

"Of course."

"They need to be a surprise. They need to feel real and certainly not like a drill. Not like the stuff we did just after leaving the docks. Protocol is all well and good, and the rules are definitely there for a reason, but...in a situation of life and death...you've got to damn the rules. These people need to feel like they're about to die. It needs to be as close to real as we can manage. Because the only thing that will ease the fear and cease the panic is some measure of familiarity. And since even the space we're about to enter is unfamiliar...well, we'll need all the familiar we can get."
After gathering the rest of the equipment and supplies he needed on Vulcan, which amounted to about another trip and a half, he and his team got everything sorted and organized about three days after leaving the planet. It was now two weeks since that day and Kitar had been nothing but isolate and busy with his work and going through various ship reports and testings when they were submitted.
Kitar had spent most of his time in his lab, finishing the studies on the plant he had brought on board and filing that report away as well as spending most of the past two weeks testing out the surveillance and gathering machinery. Most of the equipment and drones worked exactly as programmed, however there were the occasional bugs and glitches that happened during the field testing. Those were sent to the repair bay and promptly returned good as new.

When the day came that Captain Natima talked with the crew about going into Cardassian space, Djinn could only wonder what kind of specimens and things he would get to observe and study. The crew debated on their actual role of being sent out here and why the Federation sent a warship on what was deemed a diplomatic run. "Offer one hand, arm the other." The words flowed flawlessly from his lips as he contemplated the possibilities of higher command strategy. More than likely, they wanted peaceful negotiations and getting their answers that way, but wanted to be prepared in case things went south and could be confident they'd take care of themselves. Still, as advanced as Federation ships are...it was strange to resort to such an old school tactic as SOS morse code.

As the crew dispersed, Kitar went back to his little sanctuary of a laboratory. None of the crew ever visited, they seemed to get along with they other more social people of the ship and that was just fine. Commander Nahiri, Lieutenant Chase and even Ensign Kazden were well liked among the crew from what he had observed within his time here. They were confident, likable and reliable...least that's the impression he got from everyone who talked about them. Soon enough, they would be closing in on Cardassian space and the testing would truly start..for all of them.

He set a mental clock in his head for when he believed they would be closing in, based on information he had read on space travel between Cardassian and Federation space routes and when it went off, he stopped his work and promptly made his way to the ready room to speak with the Captain, telling his team to rest up for later. The doors opened and he stepped inside the ready room. "Permission to enter and speak Captain?" Natima waved him in, keeping her professional attitude about her. "If I get reprimanded for speaking freely, then so be it Captain, but I won't hold back with what I will say. Couple things I would like to discuss before we enter Cardassian space, which I do believe we are closing in on shortly. One, the SOS code. As advanced as Federation ships are and the technology they possess, it is quite illogical to resort to morse code which the system itself is over 500 years old. What possible reason could there be to use such an old system? Also, I can also say with certainty that even as a negotiation ship..and even more as a military vessel, we are inadequately prepared. If we do end up becoming targets for the Radiin, as we know nothing about them, what is to say their weaponry will not outclass or overpower ours? What is your plan if the Radiin completely overtake this ship?"

He sighed silently. More than likely this would earn him another reprimand, but he didn't care. Even her last threat wasn't close to what he had gotten from other higher ranked militants. Still, this time he had to be on a ship with her and insulting the captain probably wasn't the smartest move, but part of him wanted to make sure she was up to the task of being prepared. If she wasn't, he have to take his own precautions. He could feel the dryness of the room wearing on the cracks across his face as he waited for her response.

Ice blue eyes shifted, tracing along the notches and divots that spread across the long oak table. Though the surface was smooth, the grain beneath its glossy exterior had dark edges that rippled into unending patterns. Nik focused his gaze there, not daring to look at the others in the room. Voices poured out, breaking the brief silence. Nik could hear them crashing against one another, but they seemed distant and muddled to his ears. Instead, the quickening of his pulse thudded in his ear drums, drowning out the rest of the conversation.

Captain Natima just revealed the true mission of the Montaigne. To be fair, danger was always going to be a possibility in space. Nik had joined Starfleet with that in mind. The Federation's scout ship was missing, and now the envoy was gone as well. The Radiin posed a serious threat. But knowing danger could happen and looking for it on purpose were two very different things. Closing his eyes, Nik pushed his shoulders back in his chair and slowed his breathing to brace the pain in his chest . He could not allow it to happen here.

The attacks had started after his grandmother passed away. To be honest, they had started after losing his parents. But his grandmother was quick to chase them away with the whimsical words of Pavetti and the soaring adventures of Salgoun. Nik had learned to handle the anxiety by focusing on something he loved--something his grandmother had taught him to love. As an adult, he had found a different way to cope. He would imagine her being there with him, just speaking words. It was enough. But he had decided to let that part of him go and move forward. She could not comfort him any longer. He had to steady himself.

"Dismissed." He was alert enough to catch the command. Blinking at the abrupt shuffling of chairs and bodies, he began to stand. A warm hand then clasped his shoulder, shaking him from his thoughts.

"Nikky, c'mon," Nate urged, nodding his head toward the door. The medical officer's strong features softened in concern, green eyes knowingly scanning his friend. As they exited the briefing room, Chase kept his hand on Nik's shoulder and waited until the others continued down the hall.

"I'm fine," Nik stated preemptively, slipping from the other man's grasp. He turned to head back to the bridge, but stopped at the sound a long, drawn out sigh.

"Normally, I'd prescribe some meds and sustenance," Nate said once he had his friend's attention. Then sliding a hand into his pocket, he continued, "But I think this'll do the trick."

Nik saw the small clear bottle and looked to make sure no one else was around. Then stepping forward he shook his head and laughed. "Wow, you're a terrible doctor." Nate just winked at him, earning a elbow in the side before the communications officer took the proffered gift.

"Not out here," Nate replied, walking up the corridor with Nik trailing behind him. He checked a few doors before deciding on one and sliding it open. They entered the small storage room, door hissing shut behind them. "I only suggested it to celebrate."

"Celebrate what? Our impending doom in the Gamma Quadrant?" Nik asked, quirking his brow, as he twisted the cap off. "That is if we don't meet that end while passing through Cardassian territory," he added before tipping back a sip. He couldn't have too much. It was unprofessional of him to have any at all. But even at the Academy, he'd always had a hard time saying no to his friend.

"No man, not that," Nate answered. The doctor paused, his wide grin thinning into a more subtle, genuine smile. "Not to get too mushy or anything, but I did notice. I'm used to the signs. I've never seen you recover so quickly on your own." Reaching out, Nate pawed at him for the bottle.

Handing it over, Nik nodded as he leaned against the wall. "I couldn't let it happen in there with everyone. It's been better for a while now..."

"Except for the day we launched, and today," Nate added helpfully.

"Yeah, except for those."

"So, you were on your own this time, right?"

Nik looked away as the taller man came to stand by him. Back at the Academy, he had told Nate everything about his attacks because he trusted him as a friend and a doctor. That didn't make it easy to talk about, but he still trusted him. Turning to face him, Nik promised, "Yes, it was just me."

"Well hell, now I need to celebrate too," Nate said, taking a swig before capping the bottle. "Ok, one's enough. We should head back."

"You do realize we could get in serious trouble if we get caught," Nik said as Nate tucked away the paraphernalia. He could see it now. Captain Natima would berate them, and rightly so. Commander Nahiri would just be disappointed. He couldn't decide which was worse.

"I won't tell if you don't," Nate chuckled, stepping forward to open the door. Nik rolled his eyes, which the doctor knew to take as silent agreement. They returned to the hall, and Nik watched Nate stroll to the med bay. He then trekked back to the bridge.
Taselle looked across her desk at Lieutenant Djinn with what she hoped was quiet regard, because what she felt inside was more akin to dull frustration. And it wasn’t because he was asking questions, it was because he was asking questions that were hers to answer in her own time. On the other hand, she did not want to simply dismiss the lieutenant’s concerns because the more he butted heads with her, the more she began to believe that his abrasiveness stemmed from a pervasive distrust of authority figures. After all, if he trusted her as his captain, he would trust that she had the answers and that she would share them when the time was right.

However, Taselle could not answer his questions directly without undermining her own authority, because by answer him she was literally answering to him, which was the exact opposite of the chain of command. But even so she didn’t want to reprimand him for just asking questions. And she wanted to be honest with him so that she could begin building trust so that the lieutenant could concentrate on his own work and stop trying to look over her shoulder, which was something no subordinate should ever do in the first place.

She wondered mildly if perhaps Djinn had just had terrible officers train him; it would explain a lot.

“Lieutenant,” she finally spoke gently, but firmly, “your questions are pertinent and well-intentioned. However, I will not answer them at this time.”

“May I ask why, ma’am?” The polite response and honorific seemed, as usual, forced, but at least he used them.

“Consider it a lesson on how a ship is actually run,” she replied more curtly, “because clearly you were not well instructed on how a military hierarchy operates. Or you were and simply ignored what was said. I give orders, and you say ‘yes, ma’am,’ ‘no, ma’am,’ and ‘how high, ma’am?’” She placed a firm finger on the desk in front of her. “If I give you details, it is so that you can do your job as efficiently as possible, not to soothe your worries.” Now her eyes narrowed. “And if I deign to explain my actions, then you thank whatever god, goddess, force, or law you believe in that you were so graced as to glimpse my master plan.”

It was the point she intended to make but it turned out not to be much of an olive branch. More of a whip, really. Apparently, tough love was the only kind of instruction she currently knew how to give. She never had, nor would she ever, wonder at why she had been given a captaincy so young, but she was definitely beginning to see where another ten or twenty years of leadership experience would come in handy.

“Dismissed, lieutenant.”

Not two minutes after Djinn exited her Ready Room, Taselle’s comm chirped.

“Bridge to the captain,” came Nahiri’s voice.

“Natima here,” she replied.

“Captain, we are approaching the Cardassian border.”

“On my way.”

Taselle rose, straightened her uniform stiffly, then walked the short distance out onto the bridge. The change in atmosphere from her dark, humid ready room to the bustling, energetic bridge was almost palpable. She even felt her pulse spike for a brief pair of rapid beats. Nahiri saw her approach and stood.

“Our escort is waiting,” she mentioned coolly as Taselle crossed in front of her, then to Kazden, “Onscreen, Ensign.” There was a quiet, electronic chime and the viewscreen switched from passing starlines to an image of two Galor-class destroyers. The design of the Cardassian fleet’s staple starship always reminded Taselle of Earth’s horseshoe crab. She inspected the muted orange hulls of the twin craft.

“That one on the left is the Gormau. She was at the Battle of Cardassia,” Taselle muttered to Nahiri. The Trill frowned.

“What about the other?”

“New. Never seen combat.”

“Odd that they’d send only one veteran ship.”

“The Gul on the other vessel must have family connections,” reasoned Taselle. “This escort will be an easy feather in his cap.”

“Captain, Legate Direll is hailing us,” Ensign Kazden announced.

Taselle felt her pulse in her neck again, and tried very hard not to think about how this was the first time she had interacted positively, or at least neutrally, with another Cardassian since she was nine. Starfleet captain before Cardassian. I’m a captain before a Cardassian. Captain before Cardassian.

Moment of truth. “On screen.” The starfield disappeared and the Legate’s face and shoulders appeared.

Legate Direll was an older Cardassian, though approximate age was hard to determine as her species’ hair never darkened and the more reptilian skin did not wrinkle like that of mammalian races. Rather, it was the softness around his eyes and cheeks that told her he was likely in the Cardassian equivalent of his late fifties, perhaps early sixties. His features, despite their somewhat fleshy appearance, did seem reminiscent of a bird of prey, long, angular nose, cheekbones that seemed to point inward to his chin, giving his face a vaguely triangular look. He was the spitting image of a Cardassian statesman and he carried himself as such.

“Captain Natima.” He spoke with the controlled, even tones of one as well. “A pleasure to finally meet you.”

“Legate Direll.” She acknowledged, giving no bow. Cardassians did not bow to one another; it was a simultaneous cultural expression of complete equality as well as general distrust. “On behalf of the Federation, I extend my sincere thanks for granting us passage through your territory.”

“I’m transmitting the route you are to take now,” the Legate gave a nod to a subordinate offscreen. “I trust you to follow it and to not exceed a speed of Warp 7.5. My ship, the Gormau, as well as the Rakesh will serve as your escort.” Taselle looked down at Kazden. The Ensign pushed a few buttons, inspected his readout, then turned and nodded that he had received the information. Taselle returned her attention to the Legate; considering that this was a very atypical event, he was being surprisingly swift to get underway. Fine by her.

“We have received your instructions and will follow them to the letter,” Taselle promised. “With your permission, we will begin.”

“Permission granted,” Direll acknowledged, then politely but with what seemed to be the vaguest hint of irony: “Welcome to the Cardassian Empire.” The Montaigne slid across the border without slowing for a moment, her twin escorts falling into flanking positions on both the port and starboard.

“And Captain,” continued Direll, his voice slipping just slightly from a more military iron to a politician oil. Now Taselle felt her jaw clinch. “I would like to extend a dinner invitation to you and two of your officers for tonight at 1800. This journey will last several days and I felt we needn’t pass the time ignoring one another.”

“Hello” when entering and “good-bye” when leaving was all she had wanted to hear. Ah well. Taselle smiled warmly, despite the somewhat slippery coldness in her gut at the prospect of what was guaranteed to be a very political dinner. Or perhaps this was what confronting deeply buried, uncomfortable, uncertain emotions felt like.

“I am honored by your invitation, Legate, and I graciously accept.”

“Excellent. I will instruct my transporter room to await your call.” The transmission ended abruptly and the starfield appeared once more. 1800. A handful of hours away.

*****


Taselle loitered in the transporter room, waiting for the final few minutes for 1800 to arrive, doing her best to appear patient, even though inside she simply wanted this evening done with.

“Did a little research on Cardassian cuisine,” Nahiri noted quietly. “As one would imagine, Deep Space Nine had quite a library on the subject. From what I understand, most of their food is perfectly safe for most humanoid species, and usually surprisingly good.”

Taselle had sampled some imitation dishes before, mainly as a way her adoptive parents would try to occasionally keep her in touch with her race’s culture. The results had been mixed so she wasn’t precisely sure what to expect, but the menu was not what was really gnawing at her. She glanced over at Ensign Kazden who seemed agitated, though only mildly. He had appeared understandably surprised when she had elected to bring him along, but she needed Machesky to man the bridge and as much as she liked her other core officers, she wasn’t entirely certain she could trust them to be… discreet. Cardassians liked mind-games after all and she was fairly certain Chase and Djinn would likely rise to the bait, whereas Kazden would probably be somewhat intimidated so he would just be quiet and give short, succinct answers when engaged. And of course bringing Zenzibaar just wasn’t really an option; odds are he’d be a fountain of information she did not want shared. So, Kazden it was.

“The Gormau signals ready, Captain,” the transporter officer announced. Taselle mounted the pad without a word, flanked by Nahiri and Kazden.

Transportation was always an odd sensation, even after experiencing it dozens of times. Because of the suspended animation a body was put in before the physical form was converted to energy, it was as though one moment, one was looked into his or her own transporter room, and the next there were Cardassians.

Taselle recognized the Legate and immediately approached to shake his hand, a gesture that had been adopted by many humanoid species simply due for the sake that most cultures had adopted it as a nearly universal sign of warm greeting. The Legate, upon her arrival, actually smiled with surprising warmth.

“Captain,” he greeted as they shook hands, “it is good to finally meet you in person.”

“Likewise, Legate,” Taselle replied politely, unsure how to interpret the more laid back vibe. “Allow me to introduce my First Officer, Commander Nahiri, and Operations Officer, Ensign Kazden.”

Hands were shaken.

“And these individuals,” the Legate gestured to the two Cardassians flanking him, both were men, “are Guls Sagat and Cho’ra. Cho’ra is the Gormau’s commander, while Sagat captains the Rakesh.”

Cho’ra was, as expected, the spitting image of a battle-hardened Cardassian: unsmiling, furrowed brow, severe jawline. He even appeared old enough to have been a Gul back during the occupation of Bajor. Sagat meanwhile was certainly a young man, his features almost boyish, his face actually strikingly attractive, which was compounded by the fact she so rarely saw members of her own species, so interacting with a being to which she was naturally attracted was… quite novel. She also wondered as to why he was a Gul because he was certainly no older than she was, and the position of Gul was definitely one that required a lot of work to achieve. Then again, maybe he had leapfrogged years of working his way up the chain of command like she had: war. The Battle of Cardassia killed off a lot of Cardassians, both civilian and military alike, so it stood to reason there would be vacancies in the ranks.

The meal itself was painless enough; the Legate seemed content to keep the conversation friendly and low-key, much to Taselle’s relief. The food was indeed quite good, and she noticed that while Kazden had been somewhat hesitant at first, the Ensign eventually ate in a more relaxed fashion as he realized the cuisine did actually appeal to human tastes. Legate Direll did seemed amused by the Ensign’s initial hesitation and gave Kazden a good natured ribbing on the subject. The humor actually made Taselle smile naturally, which she made certain to show to let the Ensign know the Legate was not being spiteful. Kazden seemed to relax a little after that, though, to his credit, he still minded his P’s and Q’s impeccably.

All in all, Taselle was almost ready to laud the evening as a surprising success when the other shoe dropped. Almost simultaneously, the Legate’s communicator, as well as both Guls’, chimed at the moment Taselle’s did. Everyone around the table looked at one another, stone-faced, knowing that for all of them to be called at once was not a good sign. They all turned away from the table and replied.

“Report,” Taselle spoke quietly so as not to override the other conversations, standing and approaching the viewport, through which she could see the Montaigne.

“Ship approaching fast, Captain,” came Machesky’s gruff, professional tones. “Long range sensors indicate a light frigate approaching at high warp.”

“Intercept course?”

“Negative. They just seemed to be taking the quickest route to the neutral zone. Captain, I don’t think they’re attacking; I think they’re running.” Taselle turned around just in time to see Gul Sagat quickly exit the dining room.

“I apologize for ruining the mood, Captain,” Legate Direll turned around as well. “But it would seem we have a small group of terrorists to deal with.”

“Shall we return to the Montaigne?” Taselle inquired, feeling a little off-balance since the Legate seemed more annoyed than angry.

“Not necessary. Gul Sagat can handle this.” He seemed to consider something, then turned on the viewscreen behind him. “Care to watch?” She was suspicious about what was going on, but seeing as this was Cardassian space and her vessel had no authority to act, she turned her attention to the screen.

A lone Cardassian vessel hurtled through space. It was about as long as the ship in which Taselle now sat, but was quite narrower, clearly designed for hit-and-runs rather than extended combat. It was also still heading directly toward the Gormau, which, if it was running like Machesky had stipulated, was odd indeed since the destroyer was more than a match for the smaller ship. As if on cue, the frigate began banking hard to starboard.

“It’s not being flown by an experienced crew,” Kazden whispered to Taselle. Taselle nodded coldly in agreement, knowing exactly what was about to happen. If an experienced crew had been piloting that ship, they would have used long-range sensors to avoid military vessels. But because they were either not utilizing the systems correctly, or just not reading them right, they had quite accidentally stumbled directly into the lion’s maw. They were steering away, but it was too late.

A few silent flashes of yellow-orange disruptor beams preceded the Rakesh, who came into view a few moments later, front guns hammering the shields protecting the frigate’s engines. And if the crew’s inability to read a simple sensor readout was any indication, this fight was about to be over very quickly.

“What is going on?” Kazen whispered so the Legate couldn’t hear.

“Ever since the Dominion War ended, the Cardassian Empire has been experiencing minor uprisings,” Taselle explained, equally as quiet. “Instead of starting fresh, Cardassia is rebuilding to restore old glory as though the devastation of the war never happened. As one would imagine, it is expensive. This means greatly increased taxes, inflation; many fringe worlds have simply been left to fend for themselves. But the moment they miss a tax date or try to take care of themselves before Cardassia, the military is right there to strong-arm them into compliance. Violent confrontations are on the rise, and I think this is one of them.”

She watched as the Rakesh circled the frigate, constantly raking the smaller vessel’s aft, trying to peel away the shield to get to the engines. The frigate was firing back, but doing so erratically, sometimes missing altogether. Taselle looked at Nahiri who was watching, stone-faced, but surprisingly relaxed. She didn’t see what the Rakesh was doing.

“Number One,” Taselle turned to Nahiri, speaking now in a normal tone, “you’ve been brushing up on your hand-to-hand combat.” She pointed at the disruptor blasts dancing across the frigate’s aft shields. “What does it mean when a boxer uses body blows almost exclusively?” Now the commander’s jaw audibly clinched as the First Officer realized what the Rakesh's endgame was.

“Why does a boxer use body blows?” Kazden asked from Taselle’s right.

“You use body blows to make your opponent drop his guard,” Legate Direll answered conversationally from across the table. On screen, and on cue, the frigate’s shifted its shields to better protect its engines. “And when they do…” A tight, minutely focused disruptor lashed out from the bow of the Rakesh, but it was not aimed at the engines. Instead, the concentrated disruptor blast pierced the fore shield of the frigate, lancing its way across the ship’s bow, perfectly perpendicular. And perfectly aimed.

With a silent, instantly smothered flash of fire, the frigate’s bridge, and only the bridge, was annihilated. Not a floor above or below was damaged. It was like a surgeon cutting out a cancer, leaving the remainder of the ship completely intact.

“... You swing for their head,” Taselle concluded, her voice strong, but quiet. The viewscreen flicked off.

The entire event had taken less than a minute.

“That… That’s it?” Kazden wondered aloud. “I thought… I don’t know… I thought they were going to disable the engines. You know, capture the thieves and put them on trial.”

“Unnecessary,” Taselle answered before the Legate could. “The hijackers would be taken to Cardassia, put on trial, and executed. Plus, the frigate would have massive hull and engine damage. This was…” she made herself sad just thinking it, but eventually she finished, “more efficient.”

There was a long pause.

“Captain,” Direll finally broke the silence, “I hate to end what had been such a pleasant evening on such a note, but I think that in the aftermath of this event, I should encourage you to return to your ship; I will need to file a report on what has just occurred.” He smiled, sincerely apologetic and self-depreciating. “As I’m sure you know, regarding an event like this, that could take all night.”

The group silently excused themselves from the table, then the room, and proceeded back to the elevator, then to the transporter room.

“Captain,” the Legate spoke just as Taselle was preparing to mount the trasporter pad. “If I could have a word?” Comfortable with the knowledge that if the Legate was trying something underhanded, it would mean an unwinnable war for Cardassia, Taselle motioned for her two crewmembers to continue back to the Montaigne. They vanished in the green sheen of Cardassian teleporters. Taselle turned back to the Legate, who was in the middle of dismissing the teleporter operator, as well as his entourage.

“You didn’t sound like you approved, Captain,” the Legate noted. “Of what happened.” His voice was genuinely curious and inquisitive, rather than accusatory. She actually sighed aloud on accident; this was precisely the kind of personal conversation she had been hoping to avoid. He was testing her with a stick, trying to evaluate her.

“It isn’t my place to evaluate the internal policies,” she replied deftly. She wanted to make it sound as though she didn’t care, but she did.

“Interesting phrasing,” the Legate nodded, “but you didn’t say you could not or were incapable of making a judgment.” Screw it. If he wanted to be personal…

“…If I may voice a personal opinion without it reflecting on Starfleet?”

“Interesting. Please do.”

“Our race was nearly exterminated by the Dominion. To me, that is a sign that we as a race must evolve. This… iron fisted domestic policy worked for a time, but it can’t any more. If Cardassia continues as it has for the past few centuries, we will face extinction again. And this time there may not be three fleets to save us.”

“Evolution can provide change. But sometimes it simply sharpens. And it is the Council’s determination that we should stiffen our resolve, not shift policy.”

“The Council’s determination,” Taselle repeated, descending the transporter steps to stand eye to eye with the Legate, her face hard but her eyes mocking the Legate’s inference of the Council speaking for the people as a whole. “There aren’t as many of us as there was once, Legate. That ship represents more than it once would have.”

“And with their removal, we are stronger than ever.”

“… I confess, I do not share your optimism.” Despite her unkind inferences, Direll actually chuckled.

“You would not be a true Cardassian if you were optimistic,” he said in a surprisingly comforting tone. Then his expression grew more serious, “These forceful measures are not made out of optimism, Captain. The Empire has endured for millennia. That is proof of their effectiveness.”

“Cutting off an infected limb is effective, but the right medication could be considered more optimal.”

“That is assuming the infection has a cure. And that the cure can be reached before the body succumbs. Frankly, I’d prefer to lose a finger or limb if it ensured life, rather than waiting for a cure that might not come, or that might not even exist.”

“Is it the cure you don’t trust, or the person retrieving it?”

Direll smiled again, more enigmatically this time, perhaps with a little bitterness. “If I had the cure and a hacksaw beside me, I would take the cure, certainly. Unfortunately, life is rarely so simple.” Despite the morose topic of conversation, Taselle could not help but find the Legate’s candor refreshing.

Feeling as though the conversation had reached a natural close, Taselle once again extended her hand to the Legate, who shook it, firmly and respectfully.

When Taselle appeared back on the Montaigne, Nahiri was waiting. Taselle looked hard at her First Officer as she descended from the transporter pad, not happy with the evening overall, then swept by into the hallway. Nahiri followed close at hand.

“Let’s hope there aren’t any more surprises.”
Deza materialized on the platform beside Kazden, a knot already forming in her stomach. The evenings events had brought up old memories, memories she had been happy to leave untouched, memories that felt foreign, damaging. After two years there were few of these that remained unaddressed, and yet the Montaigne and her mission seemed determined to dig them out of the depths and challenge her yet again. Perhaps it was good for her. Perhaps these discomforts were fate's way of keeping her on her toes.

She descended the steps, interacting briefly with the crewman stationed in the transporter room before turning to address Kazden. She found the ensign lost in thought, boots having never left the transporter pad. “Ensign?” She asked, her concern fading from any internal struggles and quickly finding it's way to Nik. It was not usual for him to be anywhere but on cue.

“Sorry, Commander.” He replied, his young features shadowed with an uncharacteristic gravity as he left the platform. It was easy to guess what troubled him. Even after two hundred years, watching lives taken in such a manner still caused a particularly unsettling sting; the sort of sting that made one question the good in life itself.

As he moved toward the door she gently interrupted, desiring to encourage in whatever small form she could manage. “You should know you did very well tonight, Ensign.” She began, the words falling short of what she hoped to express, but having little in the way of an alternative, “it was not a simple task and yet you handled yourself like a veteran. You should be proud.”

His expression softened, seeming to gather her intentions “Thank you, Commander.”

Nahiri allowed a humble smile, "Enjoy your evening, Nik."

The Ensign disappeared into the hallway, swept up with a group newly off duty. She was thankful he would have the distraction, he was too young to dwell on such burdens.

Not a moment later the familiar hum of the teleporter alerted her to Taselle's arrival, turning her attention to the platform.

Nahiri let her eyes settle on the Captain, unhappy to see the Cardassian's features sharpened by the grip of a well controlled anger. Whether or not such a mood was inspired by the incident with the other vessel or with the conversation she had shared in private with the Legate, Deza could not be sure. Either option, however, lead her to the same conclusion; tread lightly.

The Captain descended the steps with her usual predatory gait, moving quickly past Deza and into the now empty hallway.

“Let's hope there aren't any more surprises.” Taselle began, careful to keep her temper in check without attempting to fully mask it. It was an admirable quality, the ability to make ones motivations known without losing control of them.

“Are there any additional difficulties I should prepare for, Captain?” Deza questioned, careful to glean what she could without pressing for specifics. Sharing Natima's anger would do neither woman any good; if Deza was worth anything, it would be in solving problems, not simply trying to make the captain feel better about them.

“While we are in Cardassian space, Commander, there is little we will be able to do, prepared or not.” The Captain replied, her tone slightly strained, as if every word spurred her closer to the headache that sat just behind her eyes. Deza could do little to effect change with the Cardassians, they had made their position known and Deza's negotiating was useless here. Her assistance would need to come through her work on the Montaigne, what she could do to manage and assist while Natima's focus needed to be elsewhere.

“If I may be bold, Captain.” Deza began, her tone genuinely humble though appropriately direct, “I have a request.”

Taselle encouraged her with a nod and she continued.

“If you will allow it, I would like the opportunity to oversee the additional emergency drills Dr. Chase recommended. As you know they are already scheduled and waiting for final details. I can see to these details personally, so if it is necessary, you will be free to address any issues that may arise with the Legate.”

“Very well, Number One.” Taselle answered, seemingly relieved at the possibility of avoiding the additional hassle “Though I expect a full report at their conclusion. We have no time for inefficiency.”

“Yes, Ma'am.” Deza answered, pausing outside as Natima stepped into the turbo lift. “With your permission I will begin preparations now.”

The captain nodded, disappearing behind the turbolift doors. Deza spun on her heel, preceding toward sick bay to discuss necessary precautions with Dr. Chase. If nothing else the drills would provide a distraction; a few precious moments escaping old memories.
Nate hadn't spent much time in his quarters. There were times he didn't even sleep there, preferring instead to spend the quiet hours locked in his office getting some actual work done. It was all well and good maintaining a sick bay, but when there was no one getting sick, it became a rather monotonous routine of familiarize, organize, and sterilize, broken with the occasional exercise or stabilize. He ran a tight department, and barring the worst sort of emergency, it would very well run without him.

Cate's locket sat on his desk, sparkling in the light of his lamp. He'd opened it some time ago, and stared at the picture of his older sister. It had once had his own, but Nate didn't want to be the kind of person who carried a picture of himself around his neck. Plus, it was the one thing he had left of her.

It hadn't taken long for the story of the Cardassian 'justice system' to weave its way through the corridors. Nate knew well enough how quickly gossip traveled around the ship; he'd had people practically begging him to be let into the parties in sick bay. But this story...this wasn't some rumor whispered behind a hand or a note passed between two conspirators. This was a vision of horror, the likes of which many people on board this ship had only heard tales of. Now it was real, and the monsters from their youth were far too close for anyone's liking.

Nate picked up his sister's locket and ran his fingers along the edge of the opening. He'd been seventeen when she had died, a cocky little kid running around Starfleet like he owned the place, boasting to anyone who'd listen that he'd take out thousands of the Cardassian bastards as soon as he was old enough to join the war. It had barely begun and the Dominion hadn't yet brought the cold-blooded freaks beneath the thumb of conquest. They were still roaming about, dishing out their backward brand of justice.

They killed his sister and her entire crew, using much the same sort of technology that had killed the intruding ship. All that Nate had left of her was the locket, which she'd somehow forgotten when she'd left for space. The last transmission he'd ever gotten from her was about that locket.

Nate worked very hard not to hate people. He tried to keep himself sunny and bright, to smile wryly and let wit define him. He wanted people to think he had never known heartache or sorrow, that he understood his sister's death had been a noble one. That the Cardassians had been punished enough for the error of their choices. He worked very hard to convince people there wasn't seething anger boiling in his veins, or violence wending its way through his nervous system.

He was a doctor, not a killer. He worked very, very hard to convince people that that was all he was.

But incidences like this...incidences where people were killed without justice, without proof of guilt. Where the arrogant, overbearing, self-inflated spoonheads decided in their uniquely wisdom-free logic to bathe themselves in the glory of some repudiated history...moments like that brought the rage screaming to the very tips of his fingers. Nate could feel the fury roaring beneath his skin, his impotent demand for vengeance beating against the cage of his body.

Cate had been the world to him. And the same poisonous, morally bankrupt autocrats that had taken her from him were somehow to be relied upon to guide them through space. Even the Captain, who had been born to those slavering, pompous, misbegotten warmongers, could not countenance their imbecility. Their arrogant disdain for all things true and wise and just.

There was someone at his door. Nikky, probably. Nate closed the locket and hid it in a drawer before telling him to enter. He screwed on a smile as the door opened. It was, indeed, his friend. "I heard you got a front row seat to the madness party. How are you feeling?"

Nikky crossed the room and fell onto Nate's bed. "They keep telling me I did well back there. All I did was watch in horror and keep my mouth shut."

"That's well for those sorts of situations. You were there to be an ornament to the ladies, Nik. Spit-shined and creased, all to the betterment of the beauteous goddesses of the Montaigne." Nate grinned and stood out of his chair. He wasn't going to let his friend see how he was feeling. His rage and sorrow were no business of anyone else, not even his best friend. Nikky had enough to deal with as it was. The war was over. The Cardassians had felt the sting of injustice upon their neck. If they chose not to learn from it, they would be doomed to feel even worse, and all due to their own hubris. That would be justice enough.

Nate almost prayed he was alive long enough to see it. Almost, because it would likely come at the expense of another war, and Nate would wish that on no one.

"I...I can't believe what they did, Nate. They just...they just killed those people and saluted themselves for a job well done. Like...like they hadn't just committed cold-blooded murder." Nikky accepted a glass of tea. Nate always kept some basics in his room, and an herbal tea was always the best for rampaging nerves. "How could anyone do something like that?"

"It is the Cardassians' greatest fault, Nik. They are a backward-facing people, clinging to the glories of yesteryear. And they are arrogant in their assumption of racial superiority. Rather than unite their scattered people and create something new, they would rather hold on to what they once were as if nothing had changed. They never learn." Nate glanced at his desk and clenched his hands into fists. Nikky looked up and Nate released them, smiling again. "I'm wondering how the Captain managed to keep that stoicism of hers in force."

Nik quirked a grin. "She didn't quite. It's the first real glimpse of emotion I've seen from the woman. She's always so damn in control."

"A woman, and a Cardassian besides, no matter how much she differs from her less esteemed ancestry."

"You very much do not like Cardassians, Nate. I'm surprised. It doesn't seem like you to dislike anything, really." Nikky peered at Nate, who shrugged.

"I dislike them because there is much to dislike. But I would not spit in the face of a Cardassian who wished to see reason. I serve under the Captain, don't I?" Nate pushed his anger deep down. He reminded himself, as he had done every day since he'd found out about Cate's death, that the Cardassians had paid dearly for their mistakes. That they would continue to pay dearly. That the universe would not forgive a race so unwilling to see its own faults and account for them. He pushed his rage aside. It would do him no good here, and was not the Captain an example of what the Cardassian peoples could become? Was not the existence of such rebels as were aboard that doomed ship evidence that they could change?

Cate would not want you to be like this, Nathaniel. She would not want you to waste your emotions on anger and pain, not even for her. "It's OK, Nikky. I'm not some racist. But theirs is a particularly unlikable race of people."

Another signal from the door. Nate guessed it would probably be the Commander. "Come in, Commander."

"Dr. Chase. I was expecting to find you in sick bay."

"You have my apologies, Commander. I do retreat from my lair into my cave every once in a while. And Nikky was just here for some tea. Most of my luggage was such non-perishables. Replicators just never get some things right. Are you in need of any medical assistance, ma'am? A sedative? I should hardly think the occurrences of this evening were surprising to one of your experience."

Deza smiled slightly. "No. I'm fine, Dr. Chase. I did want to begin work on those drills you spoke of. It's good Ensign Kazden is here. I thought the three of us might discuss the immediate implementation of our plans."
Kitar had been in the science bay when he had heard the explosion outside the ship. A few of his crew raised their heads and glanced around at the sound. Kitar knew that sound all too well. He had never seen an actual ship explosion, but he had seen them on holo-videos and news feeds. Having it so close made it sound much different, but the sounds were still similar.
"Keep working. If it was anything of importance, we'd have an alert on the ship. If those reports are done, then I will take them." One of the men grabbed a stack of papers and handed them to Kitar.

"Very good." He walked over to his desk and sat down, contemplating deeply. It wasn't due to his job, but one of possible deep consequences. He had asked the captain about her plan with the Radiin and she gave him a very sharp runaround. Very expected, but annoying. He felt like she treated him like a second class citizen on the ship and he hated it. He was very knowledgeable in so many sections and yet, when opting to give ideas he was shot down. It didn't help that he didn't talk to anyone that much. Still, there was the issue on his mind right now.
He wanted to swipe a pistol from the military stockroom to have on him, but if he was caught, then it would mean no less than insubordination and imprisonment..if not worse. The captain had already gone two rounds with him even if they weren't real serious or aggressive, but they still were memorable. She would never sign off on giving him a weapon, let alone let him get away with stealing one.

A crashing sound drew his attention. One of his staff had accidentally bumped the nearby cupboard and knocked over the container that held the moss he had brought on board. Great..now I'm going to get in trouble! "Start Containment and sterilization protocols! Someone message med bay and get them over here!" He jumped from his chair and slammed his hand against the button on the wall, causing the bulb on the ceiling to flash the warning lights. The staff were quick to get masks and supplies out to gather and contain the specimen while the others began to seal the room to ensure it didn't go airborne into the halls. He knew there was going to be hell for this. Not just from the captain and the second in command, but from med bay and probably the rest of the crew. Well, if they wanted to get to know him, here was their chance.
One of the staff buzzed the wall communicator. "Science bay to med bay. Please come in. We have an accidental release of some previously sealed material. We started containment, but request additional help for possible treatment from Chief Officer Djinn. Please respond. I repeat...Chief Officer Djinn requests assistance!"
Through the containment field, Taselle eyed the moss on the floor of the science center. It lay there, unperturbed, as dropped moss is want to do. When the yellow alert had flashed and the announcement of “containment breach” had hit her ears, she had steeled herself for the worst, especially since she had not even been allowed a relaxing breath since entering Cardassian space. Then when she heard Lieutenant Djinn was involved, her cold readiness converted into such vicious anger so quickly she was surprised she had not burst a capillary; she was very certain Nahiri had heard her grinding her teeth on the trip down to the labs. She had not done that since the Academy. But now that she was here, Doctor Chase on her left, her first officer to the right, all three of them looking blandly at a piece of moss, of all things, especially in light of recent events…

“Struck down in its prime,” Chase intoned stoically. Taselle actually had to think of dead puppies order to keep herself from snorting a very undignified laugh. Under virtually all other circumstances, such a response would not have occurred, but with the heavy atmosphere brought on them between the preludes of Cardassian civil war and the unknown threat waiting in the Gamma Quadrant… This was a much needed distraction.

As such, she felt very much like she wanted to just stand there and look for a few minutes more while Djinn became noticeably more embarrassed and irritated, but that would have been unprofessional. Plus, her working relationship with the lieutenant was tepid at best, so he really did not need her giving him a hard time.

“The specimen was not properly logged,” Doctor Chase “ahem’ed” a little more soberly. “Basically, the sensors picked up something that was not supposed to be here.”

“Hence the quarantine,” Nahiri nodded.

“Is it dangerous?” Taselle asked the obvious question, though since Chase had taken the time to make a joke, she assumed the answer was in the negative. She was correct.

“No, the containment was merely regarding a ‘foreign substance’ not a toxic one.” A few more positive-sounding blips from the doctor’s tricorder then, “All clear confirmed, Captain. We can drop the containment forcefields.”

“Make it so,” Taselle gave the order. “And stand down from yellow alert.” A flicker of blue in the doorway then the forcefields were gone. A moment later, the softly pulsing yellow warning lights turned off as well.

“Unregistered material?” Nahiri asked quietly so no one else would hear.

“We took on a lot at Vulcan,” Taselle shrugged with her voice, not her shoulders. “I imagine Zenzibaar has ten times as much unregistered material in Engineering; it just isn't organic so the sensors don't worry about it. Not to mention I keep hearing rumors about a variety of non-standard items Chase acquired...”

“Fair point,” Nahiri admitted. “Still, are you certain it is wise to let this slide?” Taselle evaluated the idea, then called to Djinn:

“Where did you get the moss?”

“Vulcan,” was the immediate reply. The statement was too immediate, not defiant enough, pointing to that response being prepared. He was probably lying, but fortunately the truth was unnecessary for her purposes.

Taselle turned to Nahiri again and looked at her blandly to display her nonchalance on the matter. “Things slip through the cracks at the best of times, and with the feeding frenzy we had at Vulcan, frankly I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner.” She turned her attention to Chase, who was packing up the quarantine equipment he brought, but hadn’t needed; the man was always prepared for the worst. “Doctor, I assume you’ll be doing a follow up examination?”

“I wasn’t planning on it; this was clearly a false alarm,” Chase looked mildly curious at the question, probably because it was the first time that Taselle had actively involved herself in how he did his job. If she was lucky, he would chalk it up to the circumstances. Maybe. Either way, prompting the follow up was worth it, if only to get Djinn out of the labs, a realm where he was king, and into a scenario where he could be mildly vulnerable around another professional. And seeing as how that professional would be Chase, perhaps Djinn would get pried out of that oyster in which he had ensconced himself. She felt a prick to self-reproach at this solution, but she would only drive Djinn further into isolation if she kept scorning him every time he showed up. He had earned those reproachful words, certainly, but whether used for genuine correction or unadulterated sadism, a whip was still a whip. Hopefully Chase could make some inroads where she had repeatedly failed, or maybe just getting Djinn out and about would give him the boost to meet others himself.

“Take the time for one,” Taselle decided. “I’ll sleep better at night knowing this is well and truly buried.”

“I didn’t know you slept,” Chase remarked dryly.

“Bad habit I picked up,” she returned casually. Then to Nahiri, “We’re done here.” And the two of them returned to the bridge.

*****

Taselle stood on an outcropping of rock that was just high enough to see through the pine trees around her and over the others. Below, far below, the state of Colorado rolled away, green and uneven, while to her left and right the Rocky Mountains kept their timeless vigil, their peaks patched with white in the late summer season. She inhaled the thin air through her nose, slowly, testing the scent of dry pine, loose dirt, and baking stone. Whoever had programmed this into the holodeck had done a remarkable job.

A few moments later, Nahiri joined her, mildly winded, but still keeping pace admirably. She took in the view for a handful of seconds.

“Now I wish I had gone a few more places while I was on Earth,” Nahiri noted.

“I always think about how unremarkable the Earth is,” Taselle said. “One planet out of the thousands in the Federation. One of millions in the galaxy. Of those millions, roughly ten percent are M-class planets. I’ve set foot on more than I can remember. Breathed their atmosphere, touched their dirt with my hands.” She looked out at the vast landscape before them. “But for some reason, Earth still feels like home.” She nearly smiled, but stifled it by looking down at her steel-toed hiking boots. She looked up again when she was back in control. “Funny how the mind works, somehow convincing each of us that we are special, unique, irreplaceable, even while hundreds of trillions inhabit the galaxy around us.”

“I imagine we must think ourselves as special,” Nahiri answered diplomatically after a long moment. “Without the concept of ‘I’ we could not think ‘I must do something’ or ‘if no one will, then I will.’ As far as evolution is concerned, a sensation of self-worth within a sentient individual is a must.”

“I realize that, Commander; I was simply remarking on the fact that even though we have advanced minds to realize we are not unique, we still have a biological imperative strong enough to override that logical process.”

“Oh. Well, if you wanted an example of that, you only need look at the behavioral patterns of most young people.”

“No, thank you. Now that I’m not that age, I don’t have to think about youths and their idiocy,” Taselle answered dryly.

“You never did anything stupid? No parties in your past? No late nights past curfew?”

“… My poison was fights. Bare knuckles in back alleys. Blood under the stars…”

“Why?”

“I was angry. Confused. Needed to hit something. To break something… I broke a lot.”

“… What changed? Apart from the obvious, we’re spending recreational time jogging in the mountains. That’s a far cry from a night-time alley brawl.”

“… You’re asking a lot of questions, Number One.”

“I apologize, Captain.”

“… No need to apologize. If I didn’t want to answer them, I would not have answered them.” Taselle let the silence sink in so Nahiri would realize that she would be exercising that statement. The Trill did so and switched gears.

“We should be out of Cardassian space in just a few more days, provided there are no more surprises.”

“Three days ahead of schedule. Almost like they’re trying to rush us out.”

“A more direct route, faster warp speed allowed. I am inclined to agree. Pity we won’t be able to report what we’ve seen to Starfleet.”

“I imagine they know about what is going on. Cardassians like to demonstrate superiority, so it says a lot when they suddenly shut up and stop flexing.”

“… Lot of empty space after we clear their borders.”

“Hm.”

“… We’ll probably need to come up with an activities schedule to keep everyone occupied and focused.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got it handled.”
Deza smiled, encouraged by the captain's response and eager to see what the plans entailed. She would not openly admit how much she looked forward to being past the Empire's grasp and into the black unknown that lay beyond, even with a greater threat waiting. A plan already laid out, already in motion, would provide her with a welcome distraction.

“You seem relieved, Number one.” Taselle commented, an unfamiliar form of inquisition present in her yellow eyes. It was not often the Trill found her expression so easily read; she hoped it had been the skill of the reader and not her own lack of control that had revealed her thoughts.

“Forgive me, Ma'am. I admit I am glad to have a plan on which I can focus.” Deza answered, “Though I am grateful for their assistance, I am eager to have the Empire no longer at the forefront of my thoughts.”

“I am sure the majority of the crew shares the sentiment, Commander; myself included.” Natima replied, her expression softening but not totally losing it's inquisitive nature, “Have there been any further issues with the Empire since our arrival that burden you, Commander?”

“No ma'am, the few interactions I have shared with the Empire have been reasonably civil." She replied. Seeing quickly that the answer did not satisfy, she continued, "I find that in working so closely with them I am reminded of a previous host's negative experiences more often than I'd like.”

Taselle studied her first officer a moment before making the choice to continue, “Do you mean Kelek and Outpost 36?” She asked; direct, but not harsh.

The question came as a surprise. It was not often Captains delved so deeply into the files of previous hosts, especially those so pristine as Kelek's. Deza chose to believe it was a desire to be informed, more than concern of how such an event would influence the current host, that drove the research. In either case, a Trill officer was not a norm, and it was prudent planning to know her entire history.

“That is the event, Yes, ma'am.” Deza confirmed.

“Am I right in assuming the tactics we witnessed the other evening were not wholly dissimilar from those used to take the outpost?"

"They were similar enough to trigger the memory, yes. But the memories of death tend to remain vivid, even from one host to another. It's been more than fifty years and I can still hear the screams of the settlers in my head. I can smell the smoke, the blood. I can still feel Nahiri's fear when Kelek's thoughts went silent. Needless to say a constant reminder is not hugely comforting.”

“Unfortunately I cannot promise our future territory will provide any greater comfort.” The Captain replied.

“At least I am free to experience only my own death. That in itself is a welcome improvement.” Deza replied dryly, allowing a smile.


“Bridge to The Captain.” The Comm came to life, Kazden's voice on the other end.

“Go ahead, Ensign.”

“Legate Direll is requesting an audience, Ma'am.”

“On my way.” The Captain replied, ending the program and leaving the women standing on the black and yellow grid of the holodeck. The doors hissed open, “Perhaps you should check on Zenzibaar when you are finished here, Number One. I'd like to know what changes still need to be made before we leave Cardassian space.”

“Yes, Ma'am.”
"What on Earth convinced you to bring that on board?" Nate gestured toward the specimen. His arms were elbow deep in glove and wrist deep in the chemicals necessary to perform the follow-up exam he'd been ordered to do. He thought he understood why the Captain had asked it of him; the Science Officer had not exactly become part of the team, so to speak. And there had been...difficulties in getting him to cooperate with the rules, from what Nate had heard.

He'd run into that type at the Academy; people who put Science first and protocol never. They were difficult. They didn't seem to understand that rules were there not to limit, but to protect the members of Starfleet from calamitous overturn. People like Djinn didn't seem to understand that they were an Officer first and foremost; they were a part of the chain-of-command necessary to the smooth course of running a ship. In the case of an emergency, these were protocols that would save lives. And when a ship was going into uncharted space against a threat of which they knew nothing except destruction...a crew needed to be seamless.

A Chief Science Officer that put his own studies above the well-being of the entire crew and the smooth maintenance of protocol was a calamity waiting to happen. More, he undermined the very values of the organization he purported to represent.

"Wanted to study it," came the grunted reply.

Nate turned to look at the younger man, eyes steady and as serious as they had been since coming aboard this ship. "I had a friend like you at the Academy. He wanted nothing more than to study and to experiment, and he thought nothing of bending the rules to get what he wanted. Everything was part of some plan of his that mattered more to him than anything else. It mattered more than friends, family. It mattered more than Starfleet. It was brilliant work, too. He was a real genius." Nate paused and thought about that friend for a moment. He had never made it out of the Academy. "I miss him."

Kitar almost looked up from his desk. "What happened?"

"He ignored protocol one too many times."

Snort. "So they kicked him out."

"No." Nate pulled his gloves off and dropped them into a hazard bag. There wasn't anything hazardous, but the Captain hadn't really wanted him here for the follow-up. "They buried him."

The young man actually turned around at that, his green eyes steady. "He was not careful enough, then."

Nate shook his head. "He was not. And it wouldn't have been so bad that his mistakes and his willful disregard for the rules got someone killed if he had been the only one to die because of it. Starfleet likes to keep this kind of thing secret, even from fellow students, but Peter's negligence killed seven people. It would have been eight, but I was ill that day and unable to go into the lab."

"Why are you telling me this? Did the Captain put you up to it?"

Nate shook his head and packed up his bag. "No. But I know her well enough to know she worries about something like that happening. Genius that is indulged too far, and without regard for the world around it, is selfish. We're a team, man. Out here, we live together or die together. And if you can't be bothered to care about that, I want to know now that I can't rely on you to have my back when the ground drops out from under us. We are heading into something that we are woefully unprepared for, and the only thing that's going to get us through this is knowing that every member of this crew is putting the betterment of the whole above the betterment of themselves. This particular incident might have ended up being nothing, but if you stay on this course, there will be more incidents and some of them will prove deadly. We're going up against what may be an enemy we know nothing about, and we don't need people like you defeating us from within. You think about that, Officer Djinn, and when you've figured out whether or not this crew has to treat you like someone liable to undermine their mission, you come find me in Sick Bay. I'll let the Captain know for you."

Without another word, Nate picked up his bag and left the Science Officer to think about what had been said. He could only hope he'd done what the Captain wanted.
Kitar Djinn was quickly learning that being part of a team aboard a ship was no easy task. Not only did he have to regulate his operations inside his own work station, but he had to work with other members of a team and that did not sit well with his personality. He was always a lone player, had been since he left home. No-one wanted to work with him so he learned to go it alone. Besides, he technically had the skill to work a small ship by himself. He had read mechanical repair manuals and ship interface schematics, but he was not fully qualified to run that part of a ship as one who majored in that field.

After the incident in the lab, Medic Chase had stayed behind as the rest of both their teams were escorted into the decontamination rooms. He then started to talk to him. Normal considering the scare and how they were the only ones in the room right then. He then started talking about a member of the academy that he had known. Kitar really wasn't fully involved with the conversation until he learned that he had died. It was then that he turned and faced the young man. "He was not careful enough then." Nate agreed, but also continued on with his story, stating that if he had not gotten sick then he would have been among the dead that day. Officer Djinn felt like Nate, whether uder the captains orders or not, was tearing into him and trying to pick him apart. He did not like to be confronted or pushed into a corner where he felt he had only one avenue.

As he prepared to retaliate on the medical officer, he finished his statement and stood up, grabbed his bag and left the room. Find him in sick bay once he makes his decision? What did this crew have against him? Why did he have to be in a crew? He told his officers that he wanted to work alone, at most with a single person but they stuck him on a ship. He sighed and sat on a chair, his long blonde hair falling in front of his face. Would he seriously have to become someone else...a mindless drone working as another cog in the machine? It was one of his biggest fears and one of the main reasons why he worked alone. Any accidents were his fault and he was the only one involved.

He spent the next 4 hours cleaning and organizing the various sections of his station and around the 3 hour mark his staff came back. They were silent and did not speak to him as they went about their tasks. Usually the silence would have been welcomed, but now after all of this recent event it was more of a temporary curse. "I'm heading to med bay. I'll be back shortly." He left the room and headed down the hall towards the med bay. Once he got there, the door opened and he walked in, heading over to Nate Chase. "You requested an answer to whether you and the crew can count on me. My answer is the only one you'll get...satisfactory or not." He felt a little uneasy talking to people so much, but he figured it had to be done.

"I've done well working alone. I do my best work then. Still, being on a ship and now being issued so many rules and limitations, I can honestly say that if it comes down to it that I will perform as I would normally. Emergency protocols and actions of myself and the crew won't interfere with what needs to be done. I'll let you decide how to take my answer, but I will say that I will not make the same mistake your friend made. I have different and more diverse skills and I will continue to pursue whatever knowledge I can, regardless of the crews impression of me."

"Wait, you really said all that?" Dark brows lifted as the operations officer leaned a golden-clad shoulder against the gleaming, white wall. Slipping further into the room, Nik heard the door slide shut behind him. He and Nate were tucked away in one of the med bay's corner rooms, which served as the medical officer's personal office. "And that was his response?"

"Yes, and yes," the medic replied, nodding. "He's interesting, I'll give him that. But unfortunately for him, Officer Djinn has earned special attention from our stoic leader." The medic's features narrowed in mock seriousness, brows furrowed and mouth downturned. Full lips soon spread into a characteristic grin.

"I don't envy him," Nik muttered, pulling absently at a loose thread on his uniform. "I would much rather stay off the captain's radar." And it was the truth. Joining Captain Natima and Commander Nahiri on the Cardassian ship had made the young officer nervous. Nik had always carried a love for words, but that did not mean he should exchange them with political leaders in an unsteady climate. Despite his nerves, Nik had remained professional. Meeting Legate Direll had been fine. Even dinner had been minutely pleasurable. But then he watched as the man ordered the quick eradication of a harmless, lost ship foolishly traveling through Cardassian space. Nik knew the universe and its rules were bigger than just those familiar to him. But he did not wish to become familiar to anyone whose laws promoted the heartless, efficient destruction of others.

Stepping closer, Nate gently slapped the younger man's hand away. Grasping the fabric between his fingers, the medic quickly ripped away the extra thread. "Yes well, looking sloppy sure isn't going to help."

Huffing a quick breath through his nose, Nik smiled ruefully. "Yeah, thanks for that. And you know, for always looking out for me."

The taller man's usually bright features--often amped up for pomp and circumstance--softened. The smaller smile didn't pop and catch attention, but it seemed more comfortable and natural on his face. "Hey man, if I didn't do it, who would?"

Before he could step away, Nik felt a heavy arm sling around his shoulders. Attempting to slip away would be a fruitless endeavor--the man had about 70 pounds on him. Thick fingers curled into a fist and scraped along the shorter man’s already messy, black locks. Laughter erupted from the medic, and Nik used the moment of distraction to his advantage. Nate was stronger, but Nik was faster. He slid out from beneath strong arms and dashed out of the office and through the med bay. Heavy footsteps fell close behind.

After speeding into the corridor, Nik’s long, lean limbs halted clumsily. A pair of large, almond-shaped brown eyes patiently met the ensign’s darting, light blue gaze. Commander Nahiri stood with her arms crossed, the soft curve of her hip jutted out slightly to the side. Nik braced himself and felt the inevitable as Nate collided into him.

“Lieutenant Chase, ensign Kazden,” Deza greeted warmly despite the pair’s recurring, questionable behaviors. She uncrossed her arms and stepped closer. Nate also readjusted, stepping off to the side to form what seemed a common formation between the three of them. While at Starfleet Academy, Nik had been fortunate enough to be taken under Nate’s wing. Now here on the Montaigne, it seemed they had both found another friend. So shortly after the events with Legate Direll, the operations officer welcomed such simple comforts.

But the commander had to be careful not to show any favoritism. No doubt the captain and other crew members would not approve. Granted, the opposite was also problematic. Observation and discussion with Nate showed Captain Natima had her fair share of disagreements with Lieutenant Djinn. On top of that, few crew members made much effort to mingle beyond their sectors. In fact, Nik did not know the science officer apart from what little the man said in meetings with the captain. Nik completed daily operations drills, stopping by or communicating with other sections of the ship to ensure all technology was synced and performing efficiently. So far, though, he had never personally ventured to the science department.

“Please follow me,” Deza requested as she began to head down another hall. Nate shrugged, bumping shoulders with Nik, before they trailed after their commander. With the use of his sleek comms device stashed in his pocket, Nik had innumerable maps and data available to him. He recognized that their path would lead to the holodeck, most likely for one of the simulations Deza had discussed earlier. Captain Natima strongly believed in preparedness for any and all possible situations. Combined with the crew’s recent negligence in team building, Nik had a feeling they would not be alone.

The doors hissed open, parting to let them in. And as expected, they stepped inside to face a large group of other crew members. Master Gunner Machesky was present, chatting with her security ensign Ezra Paxton. Chief Engineer Hugo Zenzibaar was gesticulating wildly at his crew member, Tara Sato, who nodded vigorously in return. Chief Science Officer Djinn stood silent. The pretty blonde from science, Evalia Engstrom, perked up at the sight of the medical officer. She waved excitedly as Djinn grumbled. Curls--no, Cormac Finnegan with his short, dark red spirals--stood talking to medical worker Tanviv Bhandari. After the operations ensign had delivered the comms device to Nik on the bridge, he made sure to learn the young man’s name. Clearly, Captain Natima had selected each officer and ensign to participate in the simulation, though she herself was not present.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming,” Deza began as she motioned for the others to join her. As the crew members circled up, Cormac and Tanviv came to stand with Nik and Nate. “As you can see, Captain Natima has scheduled a large-scale simulation for us today. Explanation would defeat the purpose of this exercise, so without further adieu, let’s begin.” Nik took an unsteady breath. He knew it wouldn’t be real, but everyone was already on edge. They were willingly and dangerously still within Cardassian borders, and their departure would only to lead to something possibly more terrifying: the Gamma Quadrant. Nate clapped the operations officer on the shoulder and threw him a wink. And suddenly, Nik felt a bit better. The simulation would be a welcome distraction from the hidden corners of universe.

© Copyright 2013 Nathan Moore, Kat, Apoorva, Professor Q, Scythe, Aiken4LOTR, Pollo Mark, (known as GROUP).
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