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The next morning I was in transporter room one, alongside a security detail, there to take the chest of artifacts to a protected hold, and our new transporter chief, Jennifer Peale.  Several times over the last few days, she’d been on duty when I either left the ship or came back, and we were making small talk when the ambassador signaled he was ready to come aboard. 

Save for Chief Peale, the lot of us walked with the chest to its temporary home, then I offered either to have the ambassador escorted to his quarters, if he wanted to rest, or to take him on a tour of the ship.  At the latter, his eyes lit up a little and he said he’d be interested in seeing the Ardent.  With that, we were off.

Our first stop was the shuttle bay, mostly because it looked nearly the same as it had on the twenty third-century Ardent.  I thought, given the Vulcan lifespan, the ambassador might have found this bit of constancy in a changing universe interesting.  He did not.

We next stopped at the engine room, where the ambassador did become curious.  He’d been asking about the methods used to refit the Ardent and her sister ships—even knew that it involved nanotechnology.  I was surprised by that, though I assumed at the time he’d had a high enough security clearance to be privy to such details.  Still, I had enough doubt that I did my best to tactfully dodge as much as I could.

As soon as we stepped into engineering, his queries increased.  When I noticed our new assistant chief engineer, I headed in her direction in the hopes of some relief.  She’d come aboard the day after we returned from aiding the Azura, and I’d already had several chances to talk with her.  Her original name was Deena, still the identification recorded on some of her older personal files, but she now went by a new one—Saisei—that she’d chosen after she was rescued from the Borg.

I introduced her to the ambassador, and—this might again be my hindsight playing tricks on me—I thought his questions skipped a beat.  He looked at Saisei with an odd expression on his face and asked in a hard-edged voice, “You are Borg?” 

Now, if Saisei felt anything unusual in the way he posed this, she didn’t react to it, so perhaps it was never really there.  She simply explained her background in that singsong voice of hers.  She was nothing if not polite—and, at the same time, there was an insistence in her curiosity.  After a few minutes, she was matching his questions with her own—not about the particulars of the ambassador’s mission, but about his background, his family, his tastes in food and literature.  I might have stopped their exchange sooner if the ambassador hadn’t gotten quieter the longer it went on, as if the back and forth were tiring him.  As it turned out, I didn’t have to step in.  Saisei must have noticed the ambassador’s behavior and excused herself.

Our next destination was sickbay, where our new chief medical officer, Ginger Dorian, was—as she explained—attending to an unfortunate crewman who’d contracted Levodian flu.  These new surroundings revived the ambassador’s inquisitiveness, in this case about the medical research being done on board.  If he hoped to plumb the depths of cutting-edge research, however, he’d chosen the wrong source.  However, what Johnnie—her first official command upon beaming on board had been that anyone who called her either Ginger or Doctor Dorian would be banned from sickbay—what she lacked in specialized knowledge, she more than made up for in a down-home charm, threats notwithstanding.  Her off-kilter smile and her easy laugh brightened my day, and even the ambassador appeared to relax.

Given the ambassador’s interest in on-board research, I thought a subsequent stop at some of the science labs was in order.  We walked in on yet another new member of the Ardent’s command staff—our chief science officer, Ensign Darial Adzian.  We found her dressing down a crewman who hadn’t had the good sense to conduct a data analysis exactly as she’d specified.  Darial was arguably the most gorgeous woman in Starfleet, but she also had something of a hard edge.  In the day or so that I’d known her, I’d experienced none of it and I doubted I would.  It seemed entirely reserved for those unfortunate to be her subordinates.  It was a management style so radically different from my own, I wasn’t certain yet how to react to it, and I didn’t know yet if it would become a problem.

Her frown—and she was beautiful even when she did—evaporated the moment she spotted me.  She greeted us warmly and, within a few moments, she and the ambassador were engaged in a discussion that stretched my scientific vocabulary to its breaking point.  Instead of trying to follow, I contented myself with the happy task of watching.

Soon, I had to end their exchange and escort the ambassador to our final two sights—the lounge, in which he showed little interest, and the bridge.  Vala was waiting as we finally stepped out of the turbolift.  I caught a glimpse of her sitting in the captain’s chair before she popped up at the sound of the doors—she’s had the Conn a number of times now, but I had yet to actually see her sitting in the chair.  I found her trepidation in that regard cute.

I dispatched her to show the ambassador to his quarters, checked up on a few pressing matters—it was with a sigh of relief that I noticed a case of gel packs had finally found its way on board, followed by a short mental list of what needed to be done next—and then it was time for the first meeting of the Ardent’s new command staff.

The only as-yet unmentioned addition sitting at the conference table was our chief engineer, Ensign Rodney Aariak.  This was our first encounter, and he seemed somewhat dour.  But even if he didn’t smile much, from what I gathered he appeared to know an isolinear spanner from reverse-ratcheting routing planer, and that was good enough for now.  The meeting itself was mostly details, though it ended with an open invitation from myself to everyone to meet in the lounge later that evening for a more informal conversation.

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Biography of Darial Adzian

Darial Adzian was born in Leran Manev, the planetary capital of Trill, to a prominent and well-connected family.  Many generations of Adzians had joined with symbionts, and Darial and her older brother were expected to excel in order to uphold the family tradition.  With the benefit of the best private tutors available, they were both on the fast track to becoming hosts.  Darial took a particular interest in science, winning the Trill Science Ministry’s annual young scientist competition.

When Darial’s brother was selected as a host, Darial expected to be close behind.  She passed all the required tests, but after several years with no word from the Symbiosis Commission, she began to lose hope.  In frustration over what she perceived as her failure and much to her family’s dismay, she abandoned her scientific training.  Instead, she entered the world of high-fashion modeling.

In addition being a celebrated center of scientific work, Trill is also the home of one of the more active, artistic, and cutting-edge fashion communities in the Federation.  Darial’s youngest uncle—the family’s black sheep—was also a well-known designer.  Darial herself had often been complemented on her striking features, and before long, found herself much sought-after.

Soon, however, she lost interest in modeling, which seemed too limiting, and began to miss the exploration made possible by a scientific life.  She decided that a career in Starfleet offered her best chance of following her scientific interests and the opportunity for both the change of scenery and the independence that she desperately needed.  Returning to her childhood habits, she devoted herself to studying for the Academy entrance exam, passing it on the first try.

Since entering the Academy, she feels that she is finally discovering her true self on her own terms.  Darial has regained hope that she may someday join with a symbiont, though this is no longer her only end in life.  She has chosen to pursue her scientific work because it interests her, not to impress the Symbiosis Commission.  She also remains interested in art.  Her primary area of research is in cross-species studies of perception, particularly related to the theory that it involves latent telepathic exchange.  She is hopeful she will find important answers to many questions among the stars.

Her current assignment is on board the USS Ardent under the command of Lt. Patrick O’Kennedy.

We’d been back from our rescue of the SS Azura for three days, using the time to do some fine tuning on the Ardent and to take on new crew members, including the remainder of the command staff. 

I’d beamed over to Spacedock to deal with some misfiled paperwork—up to this point in my command career, I’d battled many more bored functionaries, harried requisitions officers, and foul-tempered bureaucrats than Klingons or Romulans.  Apparently getting half a dozen bio-neural gel packs for the Ardent’s secondary waste recycling system was a more serious matter than saving the galaxy.

I was seriously contemplating beaming the packs I needed out of the gravitational regulation subsystem that kept everyone in the Starfleet Supply Corps Offices on the deck when Admiral Quinn hailed me.  Apparently, an Ambassador Sokketh needed a ship to transport himself and a collection of ancient Vulcan artifacts to the monastery at P’Jem—and yes, I might be a dirty heathen by Vulcan standards, but I’d heard of the place.  I was to meet him early the next morning and make the necessary arrangements.

I had to pause at the enormity of the occasional.  I was about to be promoted from bureaucrat to taxi driver.  I didn’t tell this to the old man.

At least it meant taking the Ardent out into space again.

I was back at Spacedock bright and early, and found our passenger-to-be meditating in one of the reserved rooms in the cultural annex, just across the hall from a ritual Tellarite mud bath.  He was standing when I entered.  Now, the only light was from several candles.  So what I recall next might have been a trick of the flickering light.  Or, equally likely, given what happened later, it may be hindsight reading too much into a muscle spasm or stifled yawn.

When the ambassador turned to face me, I swear now that he looked me up and down, then gave a little and un-Vulcan-like sneer as if I didn’t come close to measuring up.  A moment later, his expression was completely blank again and he gave me a monotone greeting paired with the Vulcan salute that always makes my hand cramp up.  I returned it just the same, smiled, and explained my presence.  There was not a thing peculiar about the subsequent exchange—we agreed that, after making some arrangements dockside and calling ahead to P’Jem, he and his artifacts would beam over the next day—but—and again, this is in retrospect now—all I wanted to do was back out of there, slowly.  I would have leapt into the Tellarite mud bath if I had to. 

What kind of captain gets nervous around a Vulcan ambassador?  Well, maybe one who’s told a few lies in his day and can smell out a fellow liar at 10 paces.  Or maybe one that wasn’t getting enough sleep.  Time told which was right, now—but no getting ahead of myself.

There were still a few fires to put out—and a few to start under the appropriate backsides—so I hailed Vala and gave her the details.  I also scheduled a staff meeting—our first—an hour after the ambassador was to arrive.

Biography of Rodney Aariak

Rodney Aariak was born on Earth’s moon.  He grew up in a number of underground installations—his parents were both structural engineers who specialized in repairing and restoring aging structures dating back to humans’ first lunar colonies.  Rodney’s lineage was particularly diverse—he proudly counted at least 15 different Native American and European ethic groups in his family tree—but he primarily identified as Inuit.  His father’s family had, in fact, arrived on the moon in one of the large waves of Inuit colonists who settled there during the late twenty-first century. 

Rodney’s early academic performance was stellar.  He applied to and was accepted at Oxford University at 14.  His original intention had been to pursue physics, but he found himself increasingly interested in technology and soon switched to the school of engineering science.  He considered returning to the moon after graduation, but instead, opted to join Starfleet.  This came as no surprise to his parents or close friends, who had always suspected that he found life on the moon closed in and claustrophobic. 

Rodney carried his excellent academic skills with him to Starfleet Academy.  One of his engineering instructors believed he was the best student ever to enter the Academy.  He was intensely serious about his studies.  Unfortunately, while he made a few friends, he was often seen as overly dour and bookish.  Though he was friendly, he rarely joked with other cadets in class or when on duty.  He also frowned on drinking alcohol (or even synthahol) and so excused himself from many of social gatherings, particularly among the younger cadets.  His behavior earned him a number of nicknames, including “Rod in the mud.”

However, assessments of Rodney’s true character from his behavior at work were seriously inaccurate, and a close circle of friends knew what he was really like.  He had, for instance, developed a passion while at Oxford for Monty Python.  He could recite any line from any program, movie, or performance the comedy group had ever done, in the appropriate voices and with excellent timing.  He had in fact performed in a Python-esque troupe while in Oxford and contributed a well-reviewed paper on Python to the Journal of Humorology while in his junior year at the Academy.  He was also an expert at mixing non-alcoholic drinks and knew recipes from every corner of the known galaxy.

Rodney graduated the Academy with distinction and stayed a year to teach a year-long course on advanced warp mechanics.  He is currently serving as chief engineer aboard the USS Ardent.

The first meeting of the command staff of the Ardent just concluded.  I noted the particulars in my official log, but I feel a need to record a few of my more personal impressions as well.

I’d already met the ship’s first officer—an Andorian named TheVala zh’Ras.  She was in the transporter room when I first beamed aboard—the captain was apparently on Spacedock.  She seemed nice, and also extremely young.  Perhaps we all seem that way to each other.  In any event, I’ll need to stop seeing my little sister in her if I’m to accept her as second in command.

Also, I’d already had my first daily morning meeting with my assistant—a former Borg named Saisei—to get me up to speed on the technical specs of the Ardent—again, all that’s in my official log.  She struck me as much more certain of herself than Ensign zh’Ras, even though I felt she was overly friendly and familiar on duty.  Nevertheless, I’m anticipating we’ll make a good team and that we might even become friends off duty.  I talked to her briefly in the hall last night—she was on her way to the lounge, I think—and discovered she’d never heard of Python.

It wasn’t until the meeting that I encountered the ship’s science and chief medical officers, as well as the captain, who was back on board.  It was a short, but—I have to admit—somewhat strange affair.

As we talked, I became forcefully aware that, aside from Captain O’Kennedy, I was the only male there.  That, in and of itself, doesn’t bother me.  I grew up around strong women.  Rather, there was something about the interaction that made me feel…out of place, maybe.  The captain just seemed a little bit more engaged when dealing with everyone else at the conference table.  When it came to me, he wasn’t unfriendly, just a little less…well, interested, or that’s the way it seemed to me.

I’d dismiss all of this as my overactive imagination if it weren’t for the fact that Captain O’Kennedy’s reputation precedes him.  I doubt he remembers, but we actually overlapped for a year at the Academy.  He was always surrounded by a small group of women who seemed so fascinated by him.  I should give my fellow officers more credit—they’re not groupies—but, well, let’s just say that I found the captain less charming than they appeared to.

All that really matters, of course, is his ability to command.  And I’ll give him every benefit of the doubt there.  And I can’t forget what an opportunity this assignment is.  I plan to make the most of it.

For some odd reason, I’m thinking about what my dad always used to say: “A shark will attack you if you play on the beach alone.”  I honestly have no idea what he meant.  I’m not even sure he ever saw a beach or a shark in his life.  But I’ll keep his voice in my ear.  Maybe it will do some good.

Biography of Saisei

 Saisei was born Deena Nagayoshi.  In 2402, she was an engineering ensign on board the USS Traveler, a deep space survey vessel, when it was attacked by the Borg .  She was assimilated, along with the rest of the surviving crew.  Seven months later, she was liberated by the USS Alameda.  Though not a Borg for long, Deena suffered significant long-term memory loss because of the nature and precise locations of the implants she received. 

Though Deena’s personality was remarkably unchanged by assimilation, the loss of her past has deeply affected her.  During an extended stay with her family in Kyoto, she turned to meditation and to Shinto rituals to find peace and to begin to accept her often-intense memories of assimilation.  She has also become determined to reclaim the one thing she saw as truly hers: her humanity.

She decided to select a new name that reflected the new future she hoped to create: Saisei, meaning “rebirth.”  She also chose to return to Starfleet.  Like some other liberated Borg, she had to overcome fears about returning to space and, during a refresher cadet cruise, struggled with regular nightmares.  But, slowly, she began the rediscover some of the excitement and enthusiasm that led her to space travel in the first place.

In her personal relationships too, Saisei seeks out new experiences and new opportunities to feel alive.  She is outgoing and friendly.  She loves to laugh and to indulge her whimsical side.  At the same time, she still suffers from occasional flashbacks and bad dreams, and continues to struggle to find a sense of acceptance about her assimilation. 

Her current assignment is chief engineer aboard the USS Ardent under Lt. Patrick O’Kennedy.

We’re currently en route back to Spacedock after assisting the merchant ship Azura in a fight with Orion pirates.

Perhaps it’s being on board the Ardent, but I’ve been thinking of the past more and more lately.  That, and the Azura have me recalling my days on the Death Star.  Piracy is an ever-present concern among freighter crews.  Pirates can be a destructive and brutal bunch.  Luckily they’re usually a little thick.

Once, while I was on the Star, we were hailed by a group of Orions who demanded we stand down and let them board.  They clearly weren’t high-ranking syndicate members.  Instead of a proper raider, they approached us in an old cargo shuttle with weapons strapped to the outside.

Under ordinary circumstances, even a threat like this would have been serious, a reality that suggests just how vulnerable freighters often are.  One of the first things I did when I joined up, however, was to augment the Stars’ shields—it was mostly a matter of cleaning and fine-tuning the emitters, hardly technical wizardry.  But they were now strong enough to handle whatever our would-be attackers could throw at us.

We responded and told them to beam over into one of our bays.  Captain Jarold did a fantastic job convincing them we were suitably terrified.  He always did have a bit of the actor in him.  When we made port and he’d had too much Saurian brandy, he’d decide to give up the merchant’s life and take to the stage, and he’d lobby hard for all of us to join himself as his very own troupe of itinerant actors, wandering the galaxy.

The pirates did beam over—into a sealed and empty bay—after which we immediately raised our shields.  The one comrade they left on the shuttle panicked and fled without firing a shot.  We dropped our new passengers off at the next Starbase we visited.  We’d provided them ample food and water, but I’m sure it was still a long three weeks for them.

The pirates that attacked the Azura were far more dangerous and less stupid, but we managed to handle them without serious trouble.  The Ardent performed fantastically.  So too did Ensign Vala.  She’s a different person in the middle of a fight, silent and focused.  Reminds me of Mercy.

I’m less pleased with myself.  I’ve always felt at home in space.  It’s cleaner and simpler there.  It was in the cramped, familiar quarters of the Azura that I might have done better.  None of us were hurt, thankfully.  But I don’t have much of the brawler in me, though I suppose it’s buried somewhere in my DNA.  And I don’t like the idea that I might lose someone by choosing the wrong corridor.  Starfleet has better technology, better ships, more training and still people die.  They did at Vega.

On a happier note, I’ve also been spending some time with Captain Brott, reliving the old days.  She actually knew Jarold before he retired.  It was a pleasure to swap stories and to turn back the clock to what were, on the whole, more carefree days.  And she was a far more pleasant sight over drinks in the lounge than any of the grizzled old hands I knew on the Star.

Once we get back home, we’ll be meeting several new members of the Ardent’s command crew, including our new chief science officer, chief engineering officer, and chief medical officer.  It’ll be an interesting experience, having full house, so to speak.