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Jim Morrison's unblinking stare was beginning to disturb her.
Rebecca Gangies blearily considered the poster from the center of her bed. Sleep eluded her and even the threat of duty in four hours could not force her to find it.
"Fine," she mumbled to herself. She stood, struggled into clothes, and measured herself in the mirror. Vaguely satisfied, she left her quarters.
Of all people, why Jamie?
The question had spun round and round Rebecca's mind for over three months, but it was only now, when she was too tired to ignore it, that Rebecca allowed herself to attempt an answer.
Jamie was certainly attractive enough. The way she twisted her blonde hair around those pins was obviously enticing enough. And her body was...
Rebecca slammed down on that thought. Their relationship could not have been based solely on the physical; they were both mature, modern women and mature, modern women did not undermine their command for simple lust. It was unconscionable.
Rebecca was so preoccupied by her thoughts that she almost missed the oddity. She stopped and turned, frowning. There on the wall was a door that should not have been there. Rebecca was sure that it should not have been there because she had made a point to walk every meter of Armstrong when she had come aboard as first officer and she liked to think that she knew the ship rather well.
That said, the door looked like it belonged there: it was the same size, the same metallic gray as every other door on the deck. Rebecca squinted to read the door panel. "The Captain's Table?" she murmured, confused. "I have a table. It's in my quarters." She pondered sleepily for a few moments, then curiosity got the better of her. She keyed in her access code and the door opened.
The first thing Rebecca noticed was that the room was made entirely of wood, from the rafters to the window frames to the bar and the tables. The second thing she noticed was that the room was filled with aliens from all over the Federation, and still more she'd never seen before. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, sharing conversation and alcohol freely and generally having the sort of good time that one should have in a bar.
Rebecca stood just inside the threshold, considering. She was fairly confident that the Armstrong had no holodecks, which ruled them out. She decided that the mysterious room could have been the work of an advanced alien intelligence, or perhaps some kind of space-time anomaly. Either way, there was a bar and Rebecca thought it a good place to sit.
"Hello, Rebecca Gangies."
Next to her sat a man dressed in black so dark that his skin seemed to glow white against it. His eyes were black to match, voids in which Rebecca could see stars.
"Hello," she said. "You have me at a disadvantage; do you have a name?"
"Several," the man replied. Rebecca waited for him to elaborate, but was left in silence.
"Well, maybe you could explain all of this to me," she continued gamely.
"This is a tavern."
Irritation began to bubble in Rebecca. "Yes, I know it's a tavern. But why is it here? What is it doing on my ship?"
"This place has always been here. It is available to every individual who leads others. To share the burden of responsibility." He motioned to the bar in front of Rebecca, where a tall flute of Firekkan firewater had inexplicably appeared. "Drink as much as you like, but bear in mind that the rules of this place require that each drink be paid for with a story."
"Oh," Rebecca said with all the earnestness of someone suddenly realizing the Earth was round, "of course. I'm dreaming."
The man looked at her sternly. "Is that not where all stories come from?" he asked. "Are ideas and concepts themselves not spawned from the dreaming?"
"I guess you'd know," Rebecca said. "After all, you're the dream." She lifted the glass and stood. "Thanks for the drink."
She wandered between the tables, looking for a place to sit. Across the room she spied a piano, far more impressive than the one in Armstrong's mess hall. The man who sat on its bench wore an anachronistic tuxedo and was, Rebecca had to admit to herself, stunningly handsome. With him sat a Romulan in a uniform that she didn't recognize.
"I don't think I've ever had a lucid dream before," she said to them as she sat on the end of the piano bench, "but as they go, this one's pretty nice."
The well-dressed man smiled. "The sub-commander was just telling me about a battle he once had with a group of…I'm sorry, who were they?"
"Klingons," the Romulan said slowly. His gaze pierced Rebecca. "You are human."
"As a matter of fact, I am," she replied lightly, "but I was born on Shakuras. Have you heard of it? It's near the Neutral Zone." The Romulan nodded and Rebecca smiled. Turning to the other man, she asked, "So, what about your story?"
"Unlike you and R'Jar, I'm not here to tell stories," he said. "I just play the piano."
"Well, sing me a song!" Rebecca laughed. "I'm in the mood for a melody."
The man raised a finger. "You must first remember the rules. Then I will play a song for you."
Rebecca frowned. "You want a story."
"I'm told that is the purpose of this place," R'Jar said.
"I don't really have any stories," Rebecca hedged, shaking her head.
"Nonsense," the piano man said. "You are a captain. You must have some story, somewhere inside of you."
A wry smile spread across Rebecca's face. "I never wanted to be a captain."
The well-dressed man spread his hands. "And yet here you are. That sounds like a story in itself." He leaned forward. "What did you want to be?"
"Anything other than what I was..."
The shuttlecraft punched through San Francisco's thick early morning fog. Through her window, she could see the extensive gardens of Starfleet Academy. Quiet gasps went up from the other cadets-to-be, but her face remained carefully impassive.
The shuttle's doors opened majestically and the cadets stepped out into San Francisco's cool, slick air. Rebecca Gangies followed slowly, her bag clutched to her chest.
"Cadets!" a voice rumbled across the landing ground. "Welcome to Starfleet Academy." In unison, the cadets turned to see a man in a red and black uniform. At his easy smile, the cadets visibly relaxed. Rebecca fumbled with her bag before finally settling on holding it at her side. Beside her, a cadet whispered, "I hope he's my quad advisor." With a forced smile, Rebecca nodded.
"You have passed some of the most rigorous entrance exams of any institution," the man continued. "You represent the one hundred and forty-six worlds of the United Federation of Planets. You are the best and the brightest." Rebecca jumped slightly at the polite clapping. "You've gotten here. Now comes the hard part. Behind me are your orientation leaders. They will take you to the registration centers for your quads."
The crowd bustled around her and Rebecca's gaze darted anxiously, searching, debating. In less time then it took to tell, she stood alone on the landing ground.
"You know, Earth really isn't that bad. I mean, it's a little weird that the oceans aren't purple or anything, but I'm trying to get beyond what I know, you know?"
Teevan Nolas had entered the Academy at the earliest opportunity, possibly because his family couldn't stand to have him around anymore. He was talkative and seemed to Rebecca almost desperately energetic. She'd never met a Trill before; were they all this rambunctious?
"Well, this group is here to help acclimate you to life on Earth," said the orientation leader who had introduced himself as Nikolas Buans. "Only a small percentage of cadets originate from Earth or Earth colonies, so it's to be expected that the majority of you need some time to get used to the environment here. Does anyone else have anything they'd like to ask about Earth?"
The small sea of cadets looked at each other uncertainly and slowly Rebecca raised her hand. Buans smiled at her encouragingly.
"Does it always rain down here?" she asked.
The other cadets shot each other confused looks. "As opposed to raining up?" one of them asked sarcastically.
Rebecca shook her head, feeling a burn in her cheeks. "N-never mind."
"No, it's all right," Buans said, casting an irritated look at the cadet who'd spoken. "On Earth, precipitation always falls with gravity."
"Oh," Rebecca said. "It's just that, on Shakuras, we have these cliffs in the Antic province. I-in the morning, when sun comes up, its heat reacts with the cold air from the night before and the rain..."—she glanced around—"...goes up. It's very pretty."
Buans nodded thoughtfully. "There's nothing quite like that on Earth, but when you get a free evening you might want to transport over to the Niagara Falls. It's one of the most impressive waterfalls on the planet."
Rebecca accepted the information with a smile, then settled back and tried to make herself as small as possible. The rest of the meeting flowed over her.
There was no crime on Earth, they had told her. It was perfectly safe. Despite that, Rebecca felt a little unsettled as she wandered the footpaths that crisscrossed the Academy grounds. It was dark and the flimsy excuse that she'd given herself for being out—that she would find her class buildings—seemed flimsier now.
She stopped to stare at a sculpture that stood in a small recess off the path. It was crafted from metal, contrasting sharply against the white lilies that surrounded it. Rebecca noticed an inscription at the statue's base, near the ground. "'Captain Rachel Garrett and crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise,'" she read. "'Truly heroes of peace. Boldly going where no one has gone before...'"
"It's such a shame, what happened," said a voice from behind her.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, spinning around. "Oh...what's that?"
The speaker was another cadet, who held up his empty hands with a smile. "Didn't mean to surprise you. I'm Paul," he added, sticking out his right hand. Rebecca carefully shook it. When she didn't introduce herself, Paul coughed and gestured at the statue. "You haven't heard the story?" he asked, surprised.
Rebecca shook her head. "I'm new here."
"About sixteen years ago, the Romulans attacked a Klingon colony on Nerendra III. The colony sent out a distress signal and the Enterprise picked it up. They held off four warbirds long enough for Klingon reinforcements to arrive." The cadet shook his head. "They knew they didn't have a chance in hell of surviving, but they fought anyway. You have to respect that."
"And now we're at peace with the Klingons," Rebecca said. "I think it was worth it."
Paul nodded. "They've finally commissioned another Enterprise. The 1701-D is launching soon, within three years." He smiled. "That's where I want to be posted. On the flagship."
"I'll just go where they put me," Rebecca said with a faint smile of her own. She glanced up at him. "It was good meeting you."
"You, too," Paul said with another smile, and Rebecca quickly took her leave.
Rebecca Gangies sat on the edge of her bed, contemplating the black and red uniform that lay across her lap. In her hands she toyed with her year pip and an arrowhead mounted on an oval: a Starfleet communicator.
The door swung open and Rebecca quickly hid the pins in her palm. In strode a woman with blue skin, long braided white hair, and antennae: an Andorian. "Hello," she whispered brightly.
"H-hello," Rebecca said. "I'm Rebecca."
The Andorian held out a hand and Rebecca awkwardly unfolded her free hand to shake it. "I am Tharar," the woman said. "We will live together."
Rebecca nodded and her mouth worked. "Are you a first-year?"
"Oh, no. I am in my third year." Tharar fingered her three year pips. "Have you had an opportunity to see your welcoming communiqués?"
"Communiqués?" Rebecca asked.
Tharar smiled indulgently and led Rebecca to her computer. "Yes, here you are," she said, calling up Rebecca's inbox. "This is your class schedule...this is your welcome to the quad..."--Tharar's antennae perked up in surprise--"and here is a letter from the commandant of the Academy." She glanced at Rebecca. "Were you expecting that?"
Rebecca frowned and gestured haltingly towards the screen. "Could you...bring that up?"
The screen flashed to black and two lines of text appeared.
"'Cadet Gangies. Report to Admiral Brand immediately,'" Tharar read. She checked for attachments or further explanation, but found none. "I've never seen that before--"
"The news is out."
At the panicked hiss, Tharar turned to the other woman and startled. Rebecca had backed herself completely against the wall and her eyes were wide with fear.
"They've finally found me!"
"What?" Tharar asked.
The flame of terror in her eyes subsided as Rebecca swallowed deeply and shuddered. "I-I-I--I'd better go see the Commandant." She turned and fled the room.
"Aren't you going to unpack first?" Tharar called after her.
There were stars, but they seemed obscured by the lights of the Academy and of San Francisco. Rebecca lay on her back and tried to count them, but the thoughts she was trying to distract kept interrupting her.
She couldn't run any further. On Shakuras it had been easy enough to quietly buy passage on a starliner and slip away, but this was Earth, the heart of the Federation. The only consolation she had was that she had yet to be arrested.
Rebecca clenched at the grass under her and pulled, tossing it into the air. The kindness of the Starfleet commander who had found her on Dulisian IV and his willingness to sponsor her admission to the Academy had given direction to her life. It had also given her the idea that the Academy was a place where she might be able to learn to live with herself.
The stars winked above as Rebecca sat up. Slowly, she stood and began the walk to the Admiralty building.
Rebecca stood small in front of the large double doors of the Admiralty. The rounded curves and soothing blues suggested that an impressive amount of work had gone into imbuing the décor with a deliberately calming tone.
It failed to calm her at all.
"Cadet Gangies," said the lieutenant behind the secretary's desk, "you may enter now."
Timidly, Rebecca opened the doors a crack and slipped through.
Three people stared at her, admirals all. Admiral Brand herself was seated behind an opulent desk. The other two sat in flanking armchairs. Rebecca stepped into their presence. They did not offer her a place to sit.
"C-cadet Gangies reporting," she stuttered. "Ma'am." She was suddenly very aware of the admirals' uniforms and her own lack thereof.
Brand watched her through cold eyes. "Rebecca Gangies. Do you know why you are here?" Rebecca opened her mouth to answer, but couldn't force sound from her throat. She nodded furtively. The admiral tapped a padd on her desk. "Given what we have recently learned, can you give us a reason why you should not be deported back to Shakuras?"
Rebecca's eyes searched the carpet. She frowned, then slowly she looked up, if only a little. "Here, on Earth." She glanced at Brand's eyes then just as quickly darted her gaze away. "I thought I could...I came here because I wanted to--to be different. Better. Because that couldn't happen on Shakuras."
The admirals exchanged long, thoughtful glances. At length, Brand examined the padd and let it drop to the table. "It is my belief, Cadet, that a crime of passion is still a crime. That said, I understand that you are unlikely to act out again. Also, the Aiurian government has decided not to press charges against you."
Rebecca blinked. "Th-th-they have?"
Brand nodded and rose. "Welcome to Starfleet Academy, Cadet. I hope that you survive the experience."
Tharar was waiting for her when Rebecca returned. "What did the admiral want?" she asked.
Rebecca blinked and answered slowly. "They, uh...they just got some of my documentation in late. And wanted to talk about it."
The Andorian smiled and said, "The quad was going to head out to the Launching Pad--it's an off-campus social club--tonight. Would you like to come?"
The corners of Rebecca's eyes crinkled in a faint smile. "I would."
The well-dressed man raised an eyebrow. "Well, it seems that you succeeded. You are hardly the woman now that you were then."
Rebecca smiled down at the little that remained of her drink. "I grew up. I changed." She shrugged. "I couldn't just stay timid."
"Changing oneself can be the most difficult thing," R'Jar observed.
"I did promise you a song," the well-dressed man said, "and I think I know one that you'll like."
"Oh, that's all right," Rebecca said, standing. "I have to go wake up. I'm sure it's almost time for me to be on-duty."
"If you get home before daylight, you just might get some sleep tonight," the piano man said. "Never mind the darkness of space." The man smiled, and Rebecca was gone.
|Last modified: 10 Apr 2012