View Single Post
Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 106
# 15
03-14-2013, 12:05 AM
Literary Challenge #9: Shore Leave

Azera Xi: Repondez s'il vous Plait

Three Years Ago

Even through the howling night winds buffeting the snowswept plateau, Nyzoph could almost hear the thrumming noise of the graduation festival beneath his feet. The wind couldn't drown it out, the invigorating cold couldn't stir his thoughts from their numb disbelief, and even a mile of ice and rock didn't feel nearly far enough away from the underground capital. He lifted the silver oblong PADD up again to reread the day's messages, his gray eyes staring blankly at the serpentine Andorian script of the official notice through tears frozen and dried by the biting wind, and then he flung the tablet away into the snow with a growling, frustrated scream.

He didn't know how long he'd been staring up at the sky, following the vast white disc of Andor as its rings spanned the star-dotted horizon, when she emerged from the mouth of the cave behind him. He silently narrowed his eyes and kept them fixed overhead.

"You couldn't even come to the ceremony," Corspa curtly asked him.

"I already got the news," his voice low, his fists clenched tight as he fought the instinct to turn around and look at her, and then he muttered a sneering "congratulations."

"Thanks," she replied acidly, "Nyzoph, we need to talk."

"Oh I'm sure we do," he suddenly groaned with bitter sarcasm, and he whirled around from the edge of the cliff to face her, "let me spare you the trouble. I already know."

"What," she blinked in confusion, "what exactly do you know?"

"I know it was
your friends that went to the headmaster," he snarled at her, and then he spit into the snow before continuing, "it was your friends that told him all about Nyzoph's 'moral lapses' in Therin Park. A friend in need - isn't that how the humans say it?"

"What the hell are you implying," she growled back.

"You won, Corspa! The top scores, the highest honors, an immediate promotion to commander and your very own ship fresh out of the Andorian Academy! Everyone down there in Laibok is dancing and singing your praises right now! And you know what I get? I get to work in the mines just like my father and grandfather, that's what! I've been expelled."

"Oh," she breathed almost silently, "I... didn't know..."

"A lifetime of training, fighting, dreaming of the Imperial Guard. Remember when we met? I was eight years old. That's how many years it's been. And it was all for nothing."

"My family's wealthy," she answered in a quiet daze, shaking her head as she tried to gather her bewildered thoughts, "I'm sure they can arrange something for you..."

"What," Nyzoph glared at her, his antenna flattened back against his head, "you want me to be another one of your servants? A gardener, or maybe your prized chef!?"

"That's not what I meant," Corspa snapped back, but he'd already stopped listening. Instead his thoughts raced back through his argument with the headmaster, his pleas to the stern silver-haired Andorian answered with contemptuous, dismissive scorn.

"That's the problem with you Nyzoph," the old general had scoffed, "you snivel and beg for your honor instead of seizing it. Always trying to talk your way out of everything."

"I challenge you to an Ushaan," he said, cutting off Corspa's words.

"You... you what," she stammered, her blue eyes wide and antenna splayed in disbelief.

"You and your damn family's cost me my honor, my dream, my whole life," he spat the words across the icy bluff at her, "you think I'm just a worthless servant, then let's find out how yours measure up. Pick anyone you like, one of your bodyguards, your private combat instructor, any champion you want and we'll see just how much they're worth compared to me."

Corspa stared at him for a long, stunned moment before quietly answering him.

"Fine," she said, "I accept."

"Then bring your substitute here tomorrow night," Nyzoph glowered as he stormed past her toward the caverns and the capitol city that lay hidden beneath the ice.

"I'm not bringing anyone Nyzoph," she said, "I'll be here tomorrow."

"You'll what," the fury in his voice snapped into shock as he turned to face her.

"You think I need to hide behind my servants," she shot back at him, "you think I can't fight my own battles? I'll be here, and I'll deal with you myself. Don't be late."

She shoved her way past him before his stammering lips could form a reply, leaving him standing alone atop the icy bluff as she retreated into the shadows of the cave.

* * *

Captain's Log, Stardate 90823.08 - We're currently en route to the Betazed System for some scheduled shore leave and to attend a dedication ball that's being held in honor of the restoration of the Blessed Carvings of Cataria. It seems that our operations officer has neglected to mention his illustrious heritage: Luverala Onploz, Son of the Ninth House and Keeper of the Blessed Carvings of Cataria. I'm not really sure what that means, and he's too embarrassed to explain it, but he's graciously extended his invitation to the Roanoke's senior staff.

"You wanted to speak with me," Azera Xi asked shyly, brushing her rose-colored hair back across her flattened ears and looking out the window of her ready room at the racing stars and the dim reflection of a handsome security officer standing at her desk. She took a silent breath, trying to think of anything that'd make the blush on her cheeks fade away and quickly settling on their last planetary survey, mentally reciting the results to herself a few times until she'd stopped thinking about his eyes gazing on her. Then, and only then, did she dare to turn around and offer Angel a warm, professional smile and a furtive glance into his dark eyes.

Her security chief looked even more nervous than she felt, though she supposed that made sense: he's her subordinate, after all, even if he's a few years older than her. She kept her expression steady even as she felt her cheeks starting to blush again at the rumors she'd heard around the ship. Angel Jermaine Cregin, the dashing star pitcher of the Cestus Comets turned security chief of the USS Roanoke, had fallen for his superior officer. How many times had he leaped in front of her, his phaser beam sweeping the battlefield before, without a thought for himself, he'd turned to help her to her feet and asked if she's okay? How could she have missed the way their eyes had met through the viewscreen back when he was assigned to Starbase 114, the playful jokes they'd made, how quickly he'd requested a transfer to her ship?

Between the Roanoke's battles against the Klingons, the Orion Syndicate, even the Borg, Azera often forgot that, despite being the captain, she was technically still a teenager. Right now she remembered it - she remembered it with a blushing, giddily panicked euphoria.

"Yes captain," Lieutenant Cregin nodded anxiously, running his fingers back through his crewcut hair and pausing to take a breath before continuing, "well, you know we're scheduled to arrive on Betazed tomorrow for the dedication ball. And, well..."

"At ease, lieutenant," she smiled in answer to another long pause, "I'm just Azera here."

"Aye sir," he answered before smiling sheepishly himself, "I mean, okay. Well, we're a pretty new ship in the fleet, and captains have full discretion over matters of fraternization among the crew. So I guess the first thing is... how do you actually feel about that?"

"Oh," she shrugged and met his hesitant glance with a sparkling violet gaze, "well, we're all adults on this crew and we're going to be stuck together for hopefully a pretty long time. I don't think anyone's orders could stop relationships from naturally forming, so the most I'll ask is that we continue to respect each other as crewmates, no matter our feelings."

"Agreed completely," Angel nodded quickly and looked thoughtfully down at his reflection in the polished surface of her desk, "I've always tried to keep a professional distance from the rest of the crew, no matter where I was stationed. It comes with being a security officer: you can't really afford to let your guard down with anyone. At least, that's what I always thought. But lately I've found myself thinking more and more about someone in particular, seeing her in ways I never thought I'd see anyone, and wanting to be... well... more than a security chief, more than just a crewmate to her. What I'm trying to say is... I'd like to ask Auslaz to the ball."

Azera got as far as saying "I" before her breathless answer tumbled into a quick "huh?"

"We've been spending a lot of time together," he continued quickly, the bursting floodgates of his own admission distracting him from her crestfallen look, "and she's amazing. She's like nobody I've ever met before. With your permission, I'd like to ask her to go with me, and maybe find out what we could be together. If she's even interested, that is."

"I see," Azera took a quick breath, straightened her back and instantly regained her composure as the Roanoke's captain before he could notice it'd ever dropped, "well, you're both part of my crew and I would never abuse that position of authority. But on a personal note, Auslaz is my friend. You know the old speech friends give about 'if you ever hurt her?''"

"Yes sir?"

"Well," she paused and smiled gently, "consider it made. And with that out of the way, permission granted. Best of luck, lieutenant, and I'll see you both at the ball."

"Thank you captain," he said with a relieved smile, and he answered her soft nod with his own before retreating through the sliding doors of her ready room and making his was across the bridge for another, even more personal talk with the ship's science officer. Azera held her breath as she waited for the doors to finish closing, for the droning hum of the bridge to fade into reassuring silence again, and then she flopped back into her chair with an embarrassed groan, sighing deeply and sinking her head down into her arms to hide her burning cheeks.

* * *

"You're sure he's not using her," Corspa suspiciously asked into the open Jeffries tube as she tapped the wall-mounted engineering console beside it to start the last diagnostic sweep. Nyzoph's boots kicked across the hatchway as the hidden engineer tugged one of the panels within loose, and his answer rang back into the otherwise empty engine room.

"I'm sure," his voice exasperated and amused all at once, "I thought it was Angel's job to be paranoid, not yours. Trust me, he's been talking about Auslaz for weeks now."

"Maybe," the Andorian woman reluctantly admitted, then she called back into the tube, "but he's a celebrity, right? Cestus Comets pitcher, he must have lots of fans. I'm just wondering why a guy like that would set his sights on someone as vulnerable as her, that's all."

"First off," Nyzoph replied, clicking the panels within the tube back into place and then sliding out of the service shaft to sit upright and dust off his gold uniform, "he hasn't been their pitcher for a few years now, so it's not like he's getting mobbed by fans. And he's hardly setting his sights on her, he just happens to like her. Besides, we both know she's not nearly as delicate as she seems. If he gets out of line, she'll snap him right back into it."

"I guess you're right," she shrugged as he stood up, and she smiled a little at the sight of him, "okay, we're all done here, so there's just enough time for us to make it to the holodeck for day ten of the Battle of Thermopylae. Got any new tricks up your sleeve?"

"If the weather's cloudy the mirror beams might not be enough to hold the pass. But I have an idea for a chemical explosive we could use to flood the valley as a last resort."

"We'll keep it ready if we need to withdraw from the pass," she answered thoughtfully, "but the Spartans seem to be holding their own with the Mok'bara techniques I've taught them. Who knew ancient human soldiers and Klingon martial arts made such a good fit?"

"What about tomorrow," Nyzoph asked as he leaned down over one of the engineering panels to look over the diagnostic results, "are you going to the ball?"

"I have to," Corspa shrugged with resignation, "it could be taken the wrong way if the first officer's not there with everyone else. How about you, think you can sneak out of it?"

"I was actually hoping you'd be going," he gave a small smile and a shrug of his own, "maybe we could go together. We'd get more dancing done as a couple, right?"

"Ballroom dancing," she asked with an inquisitive smirk, "are you getting soft on me?"

"Must be old age," he quipped as he shut down the console and turned to leave with her, and then he paused for a moment before continuing in a softer, more serious voice.

"Corspa," he asked, "why are you here?"

"I, um," she tilted her her head to give him a confused look, "I'm helping you wrap up the warp core diagnostics so we'll have time to visit the holodeck tonight?"

"Oh, no, not right here," he shook his head quickly, "I mean, what are you doing aboard the Roanoke? This is honestly the last place in the galaxy I expected to see you."

"Nyzoph," she said with a quiet, forlorn frown, "I told you in my message..."

"What message?"

"The one I sent you after the Ushaan."

"I didn't get any messages," he said, and he paused for a moment at the startled look she gave him, "I left the next morning on a Tellarite freighter. I just, I had to get away from things. From everything. By the time I logged into my old accounts, they'd been purged."

"So you never read it," she murmured in a soft, faraway voice.

"I guess not," he shrugged apologetically.

Her face rose and fall through a a winding valley of emotions as she stared back at him, her antenna lifting up into a quizzical arch, then sinking into grief-stricken sadness, then building into glowering fury until she suddenly twisted her head away and began to shudder quietly. Nyzoph stared in guilt-stricken confusion as she fought to hide her sobbing gasps.

"Corspa," he stammered softly, "I'm... I'm sorry..."

She suddenly reached forward to smack him across the arm, and then fell back across the engineering bulkhead in tears of gasping, uncontrollable laughter.

"You've had no idea," she shrieked between helpless giggles, "all this time we've been working together and you never even saw it! Nyzoph, you... you... karskat klahz!"

"Okay," he muttered helplessly, and just waited for her to catch her breath.

"I'll send you a copy," she finally sighed, and then pointed at him sternly, "after we get back to our rooms tonight. Then we can talk about what it said at the ball tomorrow."

"I could read it right now," he hesitantly offered.

"Oh no," she replied, "we're both going to want drinks for that conversation."

* * *

"He asked me out, he asked me out," Auslaz squeaked to herself in a panic as she paced nervously around Azera Xi's quarters, then she convulsively wrung her hands and looked wildly at the bemused captain, "is that okay, can we do stuff like that on the same ship?"

"It's fine," Azera tried to encourage her, "if you want to, that is. Did you say yes?"

"I, um," the Trill officer bit her lower lip and crossed her blue eyes slightly in a quick burst of thought, "I think I nodded quickly. Then I ran pretty much all the way here."

Azera sighed to herself and shook her head with a soft smile as she watched her science officer darting back and forth around the beige furniture and glancing nervously over the landscape paintings lining the wall. She'd just started to clear her throat to say something when Auslaz suddenly turned back toward her with a fearfully wide-eyed look.

"What do you wear to a Betazoid ball," the young woman fretted, "do you have to have a gown, or wigs with animals in them... you... you don't have to go naked, do you!?"

"It's not a Betazoid wedding," Azera couldn't help but chuckle, "we'll be attending as Starfleet officers, so your dress uniform will be fine. That's what I'll be wearing."

"Dress uniform," Auslaz murmured, and her eyes widened with fresh panic, "I don't have a dress uniform! I've never needed one before, I must have left it at the academy!"

"Okay, sit," Azera suddenly grabbed her friend's shoulders and led her to a cushioned chair in front of the curving window that filled the exterior wall, gently pushing her down into the seat to face the sweeping arcs of the stars racing alongside the ship.

"Let me see what I can do about the uniform," she continued, and then she knelt down to look Auslaz in the eyes, "you're going to be fine, I promise. Just breathe, okay?"

"Right," Auslaz nodded, fidgeting with the dark side swept bangs of her hair and then rambling faster again in a voice that struggled to stay calm, "what will we talk about? He's a baseball player, a security chief... how do you impress someone like that?"

"Tell me something," Azera called over her shoulder as she pace over to the replicator on the wall and began scrolling through the display menu, and then she studied the screen intently before continuing, "how did you win him over? Did you do anything out of the ordinary?"

"No, not at all," the astrophysicist shook her head frantically and stared out the window, "I'm just boring old me, that's all. I had no idea he'd even noticed me like that!"

"Then just keeping being you," Azera said warmly as she returned from the replicator, and she leaned down in front of the chair again to look straight at her science officer's stricken face, "you're the most honest, authentic person I know. You don't have a front, you don't hide anything about yourself. If he likes you, Auslaz, then he likes you because you're you."

Azera Xi handed a crisply folded white dress uniform to the startled young woman.

"How did you," Auslaz asked curiously, "where did you find that so fast?"

"It was in your replicator files," she replied with a teasing smile, "still marked new."

"Oh," the young Trill blushed a little, "of course, right."

"You'll do great," Azera reassured her, "you're going to knock him dead."

* * *

Three Years Ago

The blow sent Nyzoph hurtling backward across the frozen white snow, slamming down with a hard thud that left him gasping the frigid air through the burning ache of his lungs. He lifted his left hand to wipe away the blood streaming down his cheek and noticed a loose, tattered cord dangling from the silver gauntlet. The tether between them must have snapped apart. Not that it mattered to the whooping, shrieking crowd gathered around them, or to the mediator watching the fight with calm, impassive focus. Once an Ushaan's begun, only one thing can end it.

A shrill cry alerted him to the dark leather-clad shadow hurtling down from the ghostly white aurora overhead and he swung his feet up just as Corspa swiped the curved blade of her
ushaan-tor down across his chest. He caught the serrated edge with the steel glove of his left hand, bracing it for the half-second or so the armor might last against the polished blade and then knocked it away with his own knife as he slammed his foot into her waist, kicking her back across the white hillock. Nyzoph leapt to his feet as she doubled away from him with a groaning cough, and in another instant he'd locked his arm across her throat, yanking her back against his chest and squeezing his elbow tighter as he tried to wrap his other hand around his wrist.

"Just act like you're fainting," he hissed desperately in Corspa's ear as she twisted left and right, her turquoise cheeks starting to turn a pale ashen gray, "and it'll be over."

She suddenly flung herself off the ground, throwing her weight across his chest and sending him tumbling onto his back with his arm still wrapped around her neck. She slammed her elbow down against his stomach, digging down until it almost seemed to hit bone, and then rolled upright as he staggered back to his feet. He swayed a little against the throbbing, nauseous waves of pain sweeping through his abdomen, staring wildly through the twirling flakes of snow dancing in the night wind, his knuckles white as he clenched his ushaan-tor tighter... and then he plummeted forward as a searing white pain sliced through the back of his calf.

"Get up," he heard Corspa's voice snarling somewhere above him.

He tried to stand, if only to brace himself against the next blow, but his right leg crumpled and he fell down again, streaks of indigo blood spilling through the gash in his pants and dripping down his right ankle. He dug the armored fingers of his left fist into the snow and tried to push himself upright, only to sink onto one knee with a hoarse cry as his calf gave out again.

"I said," she hissed viciously as she circled around him, "stand up!"

"I can't," Nyzoph gritted his teeth against the pain and glared up at her. She turned her eyes away, exhaled deeply and called out to the mediator and the watching crowd.

"My opponent is unable to fight," she said calmly, "we're done here."

With that, she flung her blue-soaked
ushaan-tor away and marched right through the jeering audience, shoving them angrily aside and vanishing into the crowd.

* * *

Captain's Log, Stardate 90824.97 - The dedication ball's less than an hour away and everything seems to be in order. We'll stay in orbit around Betazed long enough for the whole crew to enjoy their shore leave and schedule some routine maintenance to make sure the Roanoke's ready for her next mission. Honestly, as silly as I thought Auslaz was being yesterday, I'm kinda starting to feel the same way. Can't we just fight some Undine instead?

The ivory-colored ballroom swept out into a vast, seemingly endless arc along the rim of the mansion, the ceiling sloping outward and downward into thick bands of glass to form an enormous sunroom cast into fluorescent blue tones by the phosphorescent leaves of the alien jungle draped overhead. Candles flickered atop the ornate crystal tables lining the inner wall of the chamber, tinging the aquamarine light with a twinkling orange glow to match the chimes and whistling flutes of the band. The handful of Starfleet officers in their white jackets and dark pants blended so perfectly into the spectrum of guests and outfits, from tuxedos and ceremonial robes to rainbow feathers and festively dyed hair, that hardly anyone seemed to notice their presence. Certainly none of the other guests saw any need for stifling formality around them.

That suited Auslaz perfectly: it meant nobody gave her a second glance, or even much of a first one, as she ventured nervously onto the dance floor with her date. She wasn't quite sure what the dance involved, except standing still while moving her arms around and trying to sway her hips without taking a step, but after a few swaying rolls she nearly fell over. Angel caught her by the hands and gently guided the blushing young officer back onto her feet.

"That was... interesting," he nodded thoughtfully and diplomatically, "but you're keeping your legs too tense. If you try to hold them straight you'll lose your balance."

"I'm trying," she gulped shyly, "it's just that I try to think about how I move my arms, and then I remember I have to move my waist too and I lose track of my arms so I try to move them too and you're supposed to nod and it all... it all gets jumbled up together..."

"Just relax," he smiled and reached for her hands again, squeezing her palms and holding her arms out between them to sway with the music, "I'll guide your hands so you don't have to worry about them. Don't think about it. Just listen to the music and let it move you."

"But then I'd have to stop thinking," she squeaked, "and I don't know how!"

"Well," Angel thought for a moment, "okay, how about you tell me about work?"

"You work with me," she said with a dimpled smile, "you already know about that."

"I know you stand on the bridge, tap buttons and look excited sometimes," he chuckled, "beyond that, it's a mystery to me. Come on, try it - what do you do for a living?"

"Okay," Auslaz shrugged a little and closed her eyes to focus, "right now, I'm working on the sensor readings from Sigma 381-B, the black hole we charted last week. There used to be this theory that if a black hole's spinning or has an electric charge, the singularity stretches into a ring that's basically a wormhole to a whole different spacetime. But it turned out the quantum corrections didn't work out right and the singularity normally closes in on itself because of all the Hawking radiation. But thing is, this black hole has a stationary warp field. I don't know how that could happen, maybe the star had some sort of dilithium layer? The event horizon's emitting signals across several different subspace frequencies... it's information from a black hole, that shouldn't even be possible! So I'm writing up a report on the data we've received so far for Azera, I mean, the captain, to see if we can launch a probe into it and see where it goes."

She'd started talking faster and faster as she continued, the embarrassed flush of her cheeks fading back into their normal ivory hue and then blushing again with excitement as she swung her arms lightly and finally pulled the security chief closer with the giddy, breathless enthusiasm of her discovery. Then she suddenly stopped and glanced down.

"I'm sorry," she sighed, "this must be boring you out of your mind."

"You're kidding," Angel shook his head a little as he just stared at her for a moment, and then he smiled, "you're planning on shooting a probe into another universe and you're worried about that being boring? I can't wait to see what you'd call an exciting day."

"Well yeah," she smiled a little, "but that's just science stuff. You're a famous athlete, you've captured smugglers and fought Nausicaans and... I'm just me, that's all."

"I'm a Starfleet brat from Pike City," he answered with a slightly blushing smile of his own, "and you're a genius physicist. I'm the boring one here, not you. But even if I don't get everything about singularities and stationary warp fields, I get enough to catch glimpses here and there of how it all looks from your eyes. And it's amazing, Auslaz... just like you..."

The softly piping music had already fallen into silence as he finished, leaving Angel suddenly shifting awkwardly and glancing downward himself. Then the band started up again, filling the room with a quick, lively mix of drums and wailing brass instruments. He listened intently for a moment and then gave a small, apologetic shrug to his partner.

"I think we'd have to do some stepping and spinning for this one," he explained as the rest of the dancers whirled around them, "want to sit down and grab a drink instead?"

Auslaz took a deep breath and then shook her head with a beaming smile.

"Let's try it," she said quickly as she pivoted once on her toes and took his hands again to pull him deeper into the crowd, "but if I step on your feet, you were warned."

* * *

"So," Nyzoph said quietly. He paused for a moment, staring thoughtfully down at the thin Starfleet-issued PADD and the Andorian script flashing on its touchpad, and then looked up at the guests around him dancing, talking and sipping from their wine glasses. He leaned slightly back against the crystal table behind him, looking over the message he'd already read countless times last night and finally made himself lift his gaze up to meet Corspa's nervous look.

"I knew something must have changed for you to be here on the Roanoke," he said, nervously rubbing his hand across the back of his neck, "but I never guessed that..."

His voice trailed off into awkward silence.

"Yeah," she bit her lip and stared self-consciously down at the drink in her hand, her boots silently scuffing the floor as she stood beside him at the edge of the dance floor.

"Did you find it here," he gently asked, "what you were looking for, I mean."

"You know something," she smiled a little and glanced up to meet his eyes again, "I did. The Imperial Guard might have been more glamorous, but we're saving people's lives in Starfleet. We're protecting the galaxy out here. I'll take that over Andorian politics any day."

Corspa took a sip of her rose-colored drink and set the glass down on the table.

"What about you," she reluctantly asked him after a moment, "you could have had your own ship by now. I know Starfleet engineer wasn't exactly your life's ambition."

"Not at first," he admitted with a guilty smirk, and then his smile softened, "but I never would have thought about engineering if I hadn't joined Starfleet, and it turned out I'm pretty good at it. And besides... right now there's no other ship in the universe I'd rather be on."

Corspa glanced shyly down again, her cheeks blushing a fiercer shade of blue, and she leaned forward on a sudden impulse to kiss his cheek. Their eyes met for a second, steel gray and soft blue stares reflecting each other perfectly, and then she'd suddenly thrown her arms across his shoulders as his lips brushed her mouth and drew her into a desperately longing kiss. Her fingers stroked back through his white hair as his arms slid around her waist, pulling them closer together into an embrace that spun the room faster than any whirling dance, time holding its breath for a passionate kiss that lasted forever, and still not nearly long enough.

"I missed you," her voice trembled, and she kissed him harder before he could answer. Their lips finally parted again as she took a shuddering breath, her fingers tracing gently down his right cheek as she smiled warmly... and they brushed along a ridged scar running down the length of his jaw. She hadn't noticed it before, it wasn't even visible in the fluorescent blue light of the jungle-canopied ballroom, but her breath caught and and her smile faded again.

"Nyzoph," she said quietly as she leaned back down from her tiptoes, looking down in thought and then back up at him, "I don't want us to pick up where we left off."

He stared down at her in startled, breathless confusion, and finally managed to speak.

"Did I," he asked softly, "did I do something wrong?"

"No," she smiled bashfully for just a second, "no, that was... really, really right. But we left off from fighting a duel to the death. We almost killed each other back there."

"It wouldn't have come to that," he gently assured her.

"It came a lot closer than either one of us wants to admit," she insisted, and she paused for a moment before continuing, "I don't want us to pick up where we left off... I want us to start over again. Except this time with no secrets, no hiding anything from anyone. We don't have anything to be ashamed of. We never did, and now we're old enough to know it. And I want us to start from there, so the whole universe can know how we feel every step of the way."

He smiled a little and nodded, and leaned down to kiss her azure cheek.

"Well, since we're starting over," he replied, and his smile broadened into a grin, "I should introduce myself. My name's Nyzoph, I'm the chief engineer. And you are?"

"Corspa," she couldn't help but smirk, "I ran away from home to become a tactical officer."

"You too," he asked in mock surprise, and then glanced around with playful suspicion at the guests around them, "then we'd better start dancing before someone notices us."

"I'd be honored," she replied as she lightly clasped his proffered hand, and then she listened intently to the violins and flutes filling the air, "what kind of dance is this?"

"A waltz," he decided after listening for a moment and watching the couples swaying around them, "it's an Earth dance. You hold each other tight and keep spinning."

"Story of our lives," she smiled wryly, and she took both his hands in hers, studying the rest of the dancers and stretching one arm straight like theirs before the two of them twirled away into the crowd together. Nyzoph's Starfleet PADD lay blinking on the table, silently flashing the winding sky-blue script of an Andorian message written and sent three years ago, and read just last night, for a few more seconds before the device automatically turned itself off.


I wanted to come see you in the infirmary, but I'm probably the last person you'd want to set eyes on right now. You were right about my friends. I confronted them yesterday at the graduation festival after you told me, and they admitted everything. They thought they were helping my career. They even claimed they thought it's what I'd wanted. It scares me to think they could see me that way, that they actually think I'd want something like that. This whole mess has given me a lot to think about, and cutting them out of my life is a good start.

You don't have to worry about your future. I went to the headmaster and explained to him what really happened. I told him that you weren't cavorting with "questionable women" in Therin Park, you were cavorting with me, and you didn't say anything because you wanted to protect me. I told him the truth, in words and ways I haven't even told it to myself. I love you. I've been in love with you since we were children, since the very first day we met at the academy. We've talked about it before, we've both said "I love you" so many times, but I want you to know it, to feel it like you've never felt it before. Because I do, and no matter what happens, I always will.

I'm going to leave the Imperial Guard. We both know I'm really just here because it looks good for my father to have his daughter in the service. All the secrets we've kept have been to keep my family name intact, to keep his political reputation unsullied. And in the end, it led to us holding knives at each other's throats. There's not enough prestige in the universe to pay a price like that, and I don't want any part of a system that claims otherwise. I'm going to find my own way now, without my father, without my family's reputation, without the guard.

When I do, I hope you'll be waiting there for me. I won't ask you to wait - but I'll hope.

Take care of yourself, Nyzoph. You're going to make an amazing officer, and I can't wait to see how you look in your commander's uniform, whenever we meet again.

Love always,

* * *

"They look," Azera Xi muttered sheepishly to the ship's doctor as they stood apart from the crowd, puzzling over the stone tablets in their sealed glass cases, "really... old."

"I'm afraid my Betazoid language skills aren't what they, well, ever were," Dr Umliz joked as he looked over the hieroglyphs carved into the polished marble slabs, and the two of them stepped out of the floodlights and back into the aquatic blue shadows of the ballroom.

"I'm surprised," he turned to look curiously at the captain in her white dress uniform, her long salmon hair untied from its usual ponytail to tumble in loose waves around her shoulders, "you didn't bring a date. You'd have your pick of just about anyone on the ship."

"I really doubt that," she winced bashfully, and then she shrugged a little, "besides, it'd just be a mess. Let's say I'm dating one of our crewmates and he gets into some kind of trouble with another member of the crew. Would I go easy on him because I know him and understand him better, and is that fair to the other person? Or would I be harder on him because I expect more from him, and would that be fair to him? Being a captain's enough trouble as it is."

"That's a very," the middle-aged doctor paused to consider his words and then he continued in a quietly sympathetic tone, "mature way of thinking."

"Thanks," she replied softly, "I guess it's a little bit like being a vedek."

"Well, we don't have to take a vow of celibacy," he smiled ruefully, and then allowed it to sink into a pensive frown, "but it's a challenge all the same. In my case, too much so."

"Oh," she paused and began to ask hesitantly, "were you...?"

"Married," he nodded, "just before I became a vedek, and a few years before I was appointed to the Vedek Assembly. Balancing the responsibilities of a husband with one's devotion to the Prophets proved more difficult than I'd expected. We're no longer together."

"I'm sorry," she bit her lip apologetically.

"It's quite alright," he shook his head a little and offered her a reassuring smile, "I don't regret the choice I made. Just that there was a choice to be made at all."

She nodded, lost in thought for a moment, and then suddenly glanced around.

"Hey, where's Luverala? It's his family's party, shouldn't he be here?"

Hi captain.

"Luverala?" she jolted upright at the words and voice that'd drifted through her thoughts without making a sound, looking around once more in bewilderment. Then she understood, and smiled a little as she tried to project her thoughts back without speaking them aloud.

Hi there! You should come join us, you're missing your own party.

The Betazoid officer's thoughts swept gently through hers like waves rippling and spreading across a pond, a telepathic song that rose and fell with a crystalline harmony that drowned out the orchestra completely, even as they formed the most ordinary words.

I'll be down soon, he replied, since the senior staff's away on shore leave, I thought now would be be a good time to run a level 1 diagnostic on the bridge consoles.

"Why didn't I think of that," she joked, and then she noticed the doctor watching her with a curious tilt of his head, "oh, sorry Doctor, I'm talking to Luverala... sort of..."

"I suspected as much," he nodded, "I'm glad to see he's practicing his telepathy. To even reach you from such a distance shows amazing potential, even for a Betazoid."

It's getting a little easier, Luverala's thoughts shyly answered the doctor's words as they glimmered through her mind, the distance just means I have to concentrate harder.

Hey Luverala, Azera asked quickly, what are these tablets? What do they mean?

Oh, the Blessed Carvings of Cataria, even as projected thought, his words sounded wincefully embarrassed, they're... well... they're a spelling primer for children.

"Huh," she couldn't help but mutter aloud in surprise.

They're really just schoolbooks, he replied, for learning simple words.

But they're very ancient schoolbooks, a mirthful female voice suddenly jumped into the psychic conversation, and she's quite right, you should be down here with us.

Hi mom, the engineering officer's thoughts twinged with what, had he been speaking aloud, could only be a slightly exasperated sigh, Captain, Doctor, this is my mother.

Amelyn Onploz, Daughter of the Ninth House, the regal woman psychically introduced herself to the bemused pair, why didn't you tell me you're acquainted with such a lovely young woman? It's not like you're genetically betrothed, you should be sowing your...

The antimatter containment level's dangerously low, the mortified lieutenant suddenly interrupted her thoughts, I should really focus on that, but I'll be there soon.

Nice try young man, Amelyn cheerfully rebutted him, but I used to be a yeoman and I know good and well that if you're doing bridge diagnostics then there's no way...

Her voice faded from Azera's mind in a way that she could only hope meant the conversation had moved on without them, and she waited another moment, focusing intently to make sure she could only hear her own thoughts, before daring to speak.

"Okay then," she couldn't help but giggle to herself, and then she shook her head a little and raised her glass to the mildly puzzled doctor, "well, how about a toast?"

He looked around at the tables for his drink and lifted it curiously to meet her glass.

"To the lonely hearts," she smiled and tapped his glass, "of the United Federation."

"The Prophets bless us every one," he chuckled and gulped down his drink.

Last edited by sparklysoldier; 04-11-2013 at 05:45 PM.