capto

Chapter Nine

 
Previously: Chapter Eight

Shiu Sah, 3rd Moon of Ketara V
Stardate 41115.0
Approximate Time: 1500 hours


The Ketara System made Gaya Morana think of abundance. It had abundant planets, and each planet had abundant moons, and each moon was blessed with abundant natural resources. In fact, the initial geothermal scans reminded her of the geographical surveys taken of Bajor before the Occupation.

The only reason a developing system like Ketara hadn't already been taken over by a force like the Cardassians or the Klingons was that it bordered Federation space. Morana supposed it was just another blessing of the Ketarans.

As for Morana herself, blessings were in short supply. She was on a team comprising herself, Drelle Marlowe, Ensign Perfection, and headed by the Borg Queen.

Not the best combination of people, not today.

Lt. Sohini Ghoshal was extra stiff today, firing pop quiz-like questions at random intervals as her team began their scans and sample collections.

"Ensign Marlowe," she snapped. "What did you learn during the first round of talks with the Ketarans?"

"They're ruled by a tetrarch," Drelle hurried to reply, even as she tried to scrape rock samples into her pristine set of tubes. "Each member is an elected official, as the Ketarans abolished royal families 124 years and 7 months ago. Captain Picard of the Enterprise actually met with Tetrarch Alayash Mor."

"Ensign Gaya--" and here there was a particularly harsh note to her voice, "what's the most notable aspect about the water on this moon?"

"High levels of sodium, Lieutenant," Morana replied, trying not to yawn. She hated survey work. "Comparable to Earth's own Dead Sea."

"Ensign Willoughby, what's the most prominent ore in these caves?"

"Depends on the layer, Lieutenant," came the annoyingly polished reply. "The first five meters are solid rock, approximately one million years old. Though rich in minerals beneficial to most humanoids, there are no definitive traces of valuable ore. But once you get about five to six meters deep, there are heavy trace of atarium, odotrium, and rynium, all extremely valuable to warp-capable ships. The jewel of ores, however, lies about twelve meters deep, where we'll find heavy deposits of dilithium."

"Excellent, Ensign Willoughby."

Well, of course she gets praise, Morana scowled. To hell with the rest of us.

"Ensign Marlowe," the Borg Queen suddenly intoned, "accompany me down the west cave. Gaya and Willoughby, you take the east cave. We'll rendezvous at 1530 hours."

Drelle followed Her Heinous Royal Majesty, looking like a woman condemned while Morana trudged off with Willoughby, hoping the Human would speak as little as possible.

"So, Morana," Miranda began casually, "I understand Gabriel is kinda fond of you."

"Gabriel?" Mylanti blinked. She recalled his looks, his destructive gift of Cardassian sugar candy and shrugged. "I guess so."

"We've become a bit of an item," Miranda went on. "You don't mind, do you?"

Morana was briefly confused. "No. He's all yours."

"Excellent," Miranda beamed.

"Ensign Sito to Ensign Willoughby."

"Willoughby, here."

Morana's ears pricked up immediately. Sito? Ensign Sito is dead!!!

"How's your cave?" the disembodied, digital voice inquired. "We've barely arrived at ours."

"I'm moving eastward toward the Shon-Ra Sea, but I'm still above ground."

Morana's eyes widened in alarm. Um, can we talk about how Ensign Sito is supposed to be dead?

She would've known. She would've known if there was another Bajoran Ensign named Sito in Starfleet. She would've sought them out, the way almost all Bajoran students and officers sought one another out.

She would've welcomed them, comforted them for the lost of their kin.

"We'll be reaching our cave in 27 minutes."

"Let me know how you like yours," Miranda chuckled. "Willoughby out."

"Ensign Sito?" Mylanti blinked, her heart thudding in her chest. "There's...another Ensign Sito?"

"Yes," Miranda nodded. "Her cousin, Sito Apraxa."

"Sito Apraxa?" Morana shook her head, as if to clear it. That didn't sound right. "Sito Apraxa is no Starfleet Ensign. Sito Apraxa is a terrorist, wanted across nine star systems."

Miranda merely shrugged. "You're Bajoran. You understand."

"Ensign Willoughby," Morana said sharply, "Starfleet code prohibits private contact with terrorists!"

Miranda stopped walking and turned to face Morana.

"But you're Bajoran," she blinked. "You do understand, don't you?"

"Miranda," Morana bit out, her face alarmed, "why is one of the most infamous Bajoran terrorists talking to you and masquerading as a Starfleet officer?"

Miranda looked shocked. "Please tell me you're not one of those housebroken refugees who drink the Federation Kool-Aid, Morana," she blinked. She spoke rapidly, her voice rising to a deadly pitch. "Don't think because they put you through a fancy school and assigned you some cushy quarters on a station built by Bajoran slave labor that the struggle is somehow over. The war with the spoonheads rages on, and you of all people should know that!"

"I, of all people?" Morana snapped. "Simply because I'm Bajoran?"

"Because I know who you really are," Miranda replied with a sudden, deadly calm. "I know about your mother. I know where she really is and I know the life you escaped. I'll admit you did a great job hiding your records from the Bajoran and Federation databases--excellent, really--but you can't hide those things from us, not from our operatives. There are thousands of us and we are everywhere."

At last, it dawned on Morana. "You," she whispered. Her voice suddenly came out much more forcefully. "You are Maquis."

There was a strange, silent pause. What happened next was dreamlike, with things moving both blindingly fast and numbingly slow.  All sounds seemed to come from a distance. Quick as lightning, Miranda pulled her phaser. The next thing Morana knew, she was on the ground, on her back, with a sharp burning sensation in her side. Then the very ground seem to shake, the cave walls began to move...and then there was dark.

Chapter Eight

 
Previously: Chapter Seven

Ensign Gaya Morana's personal log; stardate...whatever.

Ohhhh, what a tangled web we weave.

Youth is a fickle thing. We're also so convinced we know what we want and we're doing, when the fact is, we don't know anything at all. Take Sillia, for example. She doesn't actually want a romance with Pranay. She wants to be Pranay.

It's crazy, all the things we want. Even me. As time goes on, I realize there's so much I want. I want to stay in Starfleet, though I still don't know what for. In the quiet moments, when I lay on my bed and stare at the gray ceilings of this Cardassian monument to slave labor, I admit that I am really angry. I'm angry at everyone. I'm angry all the time.

And I want revenge. I just don't know whom against.

***

When the Borg Queen was tense, all the ensigns felt it. They didn't dare move; they didn't let so much as a hair fall out of place.

"Due to a series of emergency staff meetings," Lt. Sohini Ghoshal announced, "your normally scheduled activities have been replaced by a temporary schedule until the Ketara Mission.

"Ensign Ohn, since you've earned the informal title of 'Digital Whisperer'. Chief O'Brien requests your presence in Engineering. Ensign Marlowe, at 1230 hours, envoys from Ketara II will transport onboard to discuss potential trade missions with Major Kira and Commander Sisko.  It will be the first round of preliminary meetings to follow over of the next week. You will attend as a silent observer."

Sohini actually took a step forward, and rasped when she spoke next.

"I don't think I need to remind you of what will happen if I find out you so much as made a sound."

Drelle actually gulped.

"Ensign Willoughby," Sohini continued, her voice back to its using imposing tone, "you will report to science lab 6. The survey teams are doing test runs on samples from Ketara V's moon.  And as for you two," she turned to Sillia and Morana, "you two are going to learn to ingratiate yourself in with your shipmates.  It just so happens that Lt. Tria's been meaning to sit you down and discuss where you'd best fit in." For some reason, her eyes zeroed in on Morana.

And right then and there, the Bajoran knew something was up.

There was a new tension on the ship; she'd noticed this morning how the faces of the senior officers had deeply hardened overnight. She'd caught a glimpse of the bridge crew at the replimat earlier this morning; Major Kira in particular looked like she'd gotten her ass properly chewed the night before. Morana resisted the urge to laugh aloud at the thought of Commander Sisko going off on his staff behind closed doors; apparently, his yelling was a thing of legend.

Ah, the Federation, Morana mused, even as her lips twitched to keep from smirking. So deceptively bubbly and cloying.

***

Ensign Gaya Mylanti's personal log; supplemental.

To satisfy Lt. Tria, Cillia and I have agreed to join Lt. Cmdr. Damian Silent River's cooking club.  Apparently he's decided to start one, and for reasons no one quite understands, he got approval from Riker himself.

Our first meeting is scheduled in Holodeck 2 after the Ketara Mission.  Apparently it's mandatory all club members attend something called Chopped.

***

Transmission #J1451A8584ADEF4JUJK541212 *chicken* 2AD5FA4613251YUJHK5MH132 *rice* 251524JJIUYPWE.

- They know I'm here.

It'll be over when you reach Ketara.

If I reach Ketara. That meddling Chief Engineer found my transmission.

Where are you transmitting from now?

- Quarters. I piggy-backed off the routine transmissions of the food replicator.

You were always good with replicators.  I don't think you ever met one you couldn't persuade.

- You're as humorous as ever.  What's the plan for Ketara?

Why are you in such a hurry?  No one knows it's you.  No one would ever suspect you.

- That's thing about being Maquis.  
Everyone's an automatic suspect.

You sound more tense than usual.

- This whole ship is more tense than usual. They know, remember?  Already the Mouth is starting to look at me sideways.

Who?

- Not important. What's the plan for Ketara?

Expect to be transported off the moon's surface by 0330 hours, Ketara time.

- Then they'll know!

But you'll be gone by then, so it won't matter.


***

USS Defiant
Stardate 
41022.49
Approximate Time: 2249 hours

Damian was surprised to see Pranay Bhatnagar in his quarters so late the night before an important mission, and without announcement. The man typically notified him a week in advance, unless expressly invited. But like most of the officers on the ship, he clearly had something on his mind.

"I have something to tell you," Pranay announced in his soft voice.

Damian's heart leaped in his chest. They've found the Maquis infiltrator. He'd heard horror stories about the Maquis on other ships, about the shock, and all the broken relationships that left devastated crewmates behind. He wasn't looking forward to this.

"You are my closest friend and most loyal comrade," Pranay continued solemnly, "and I should have told you this much sooner."

Damian's brain whirled, torn between confusion and disbelief. Wait, wait, wait...Pranay's the Maquis infiltrator??? How did that happen? In which galaxy does it even make sense?

Wait a minute...he ran off and joined...but didn't even think to invite me???

"For a few nights now," Pranay confessed with a stoicism that would've easily impressed a Vulcan, "I've been sharing my bed with Ensign Rix."

For a moment, Damian was physically unable to move. Then suddenly, his body moved without thought or permission. His hand reached out for a chair at the dining table.  He pulled it out and sat down.

For this, he needed to sit down.

***

Shiu Sah, 3rd Moon of Ketara V
Stardate 41116.22
Approximate Time: 1622 hours


You are Maquis.

Ensign Gaya Morana's whole body ached. She'd managed to dive out of harm's way during the cave-in, but she'd accidentally knocked herself unconscious in the process. Her head was bleeding, her uniform was dirty and torn. The flesh on her left side stung horribly, as though she'd been burned somehow.

You are Maquis.

Morana wasn't sure how long she'd been out, but that wasn't what troubled her most. There were tiny gaps in her memory; she knew she'd survived a cave-in but she couldn't remember what caused it. She forced herself to move, to gauge her surroundings, and her very bones shrieked when she did.

And over and over again in her mind, she could hear own voice repeatedly stating, You are Maquis. She just couldn't remember why or to whom she was saying it.

But if she were to guess, they probably the same person who shot her and left her to die in a sealed cave.

***

USS Defiant
Previous Stardate
Approximate Time: 2253 hours


Damian Silent River lived up to his surname for a long while before he finally spoke. Though Pranay Bhatnagar never considered himself a nervous person, he was definitely nervous now. He was used to be in reverse positions, silent and sitting while Damian fidgeted and awaited judgment.

"You're sleeping with an Ensign," Damian said finally.

Pranay gave the most obvious reply. "Yes."

"You never sleep with ensigns."

"Not typically, no," Pranay admitted.

"Not typically ever," Damian blinked.

"Correct."

"You didn't even sleep with ensigns when you yourself were an ensign."

"No, I did not."

"As I recall, you specifically stated that sleeping with an Ensign is 'most unbecoming and undignified of any self-respecting humanoid.'"

"I did say."

"But now you tell me you're sleeping with an ensign."

"I am."

There was a strange pause; it reminded Pranay of the calm before a storm.  As it turned out, he was right.

"I can't believe you're screwing an Ensign!" Damian suddenly retorted, eyes flashing with irrational anger.

Pranay raised a puzzled brow.  "This upsets you?"

"Of course it upsets me!" his friend snapped, rising to his feet and pacing his quarters.  "This isn't like you, Pranay!"

"And Sillia is not like other ensigns."

But Damian wasn't hearing that part. All he was hearing was that Pranay Bhatnagar, Captain Moral Dignity, was sleeping with a subordinate.

"Sleeping with an ensign is precisely the irresponsible sort of thing I'm supposed to do," Damian wrung his hands.  "I tell you that I'm screwing an Ensign or a Lieutenant, and you talk me out of it. That's how this is supposed to work, Pranay."

Pranay's head rose and fell in patient understanding.

Damian paused. "Do you see a future with Sillia?"

Considering that in the very near future Sillian Rix could soon become Sillia Irydi, carrying the memories one of the most celebrated Trills in Vulcan history, Pranay definitely saw a potential future.

"Of course.  As I mentioned before, she's most unlike other ensigns."

"You know, the same could be said of Gaya Morana," Damian shrugged. "Sillia, Shondrelle...I can understand them. They're ensigns. But I'm not sure I even see a future for the Unreadable One. Girl's got issues, Pranay."

"She survived the Cardassian Occupation," Pranay reminded him. "By now I suspect she has more than mere 'issues', Damian. I would suppose she has volumes."

"Very amusing," Damian scowled.  "I just wish we knew what it was she's got buried so deep that it leaves her so...dead on the outside."

"Not all refugees are willing to share their horror stories," Pranay pointed out. "Morana's not an activist or famed diarist. She escaped and that's probably all that matters to her."

"Escaped," Damian murmured. He suddenly turned to his friend. "Calandra says there are no records of Morana or her mother after the age of ten, at least not on Bajor."

Pranay raised an eyebrow.  "Yes?"

"We've been asking the wrong questions," Damian realized. "We've been theorizing what she escaped, but not from where she escaped.  For all we know, Morana's issues might not even have anything to do with the Occupation."

Chapter Seven

 
Previously: Chapter Six

Of all the dates Gabriel Ohn had ever gone on, this was by far the best.

The fact Miranda Willoughby had her own quarters was the crux of the date's best-ness.  It was great to not have worry about a roommate showing up without warning.

And then...there was the food.

For dinner, Miranda served pan-seared Andorian kala fish lightly crusted with breadcrumbs and topped with Asiago cheese.  She also served with blue Tellurite angel-haired pasta cooked in Romulan viinerine and Vulcan plomeek soup boiled down in a Bajoran springwine reduction.

Gabriel's contribution was merely two bottles of some simple Risian cordials he'd heard about from Drelle, but Miranda graciously accepted it anyway.  The sweetness of the beverage offset the tangy spice of the dish.

"Let me guess," he chuckled, as they sat down to eat, "you got the recipe from Chopped."

"I refined it, of course," she assured him, eyes twinkling.  "The contestant who originally came up with the combination used a Klingon bloodwine reduction, which is much too strong, and he didn't think to dull the sourness of the viinerine with the plomeek soup."

Gabriel smiled broadly. "Can this possibly get any better?"

Miranda beamed.  "Actually, I put some of your programming skills to test and manipulated the computer to replicating Black Orchid cupcakes.  They're basically Delavian dark chocolate cupcakes infused with the Cardassian mayal flower."

Gabriel's head rose and fell.  "Like they use in sugar candy."

"Mm-hm," Miranda nodded.  "It really darkened the batter, and added a rich flavor.  I'm going to recommend them to Lt. Silent River."

"I'm sure he'll be impressed," Gabriel assured her, and they began to eat.  Everything tasted absolutely perfect and he made sure to tell her so.

"Cooking's actually a big deal in the DMZ," Miranda explained.  "Most of the people are farmers who grow and cook their own food.  To be honest, grown food does taste better than replicated food, but you've taught me that with a little tweaking, computers can rival nature."

They ate for a time, talking about the Engineering lecture from earlier that day and making predictions about the Ketara Mission.

"What's the planet like?" Gabriel asked.  "I haven't searched the database yet."

"The moon we've been assigned is quite beautiful.  I haven't visited it, but I browsed the database." Her voice grew wistful as a faraway look overtook her eyes.

"It has this beach, you know? It just stretches on for kilometers, and at sunset, you can see Ketara V and its first moon.  The Miluna Sea is this beautiful shade of blue green and the sunset...the sunset, Gabriel...so luminous, with soft pinks and tender golds.  If you want, we can go see it on the holodeck tomorrow night."

A second date???  This was too easy.  If there was a catch, Gabriel didn't want to know.  Not yet.  He just wanted to savor this, their effortless synchronicity...and their growing electricity.

When he realized how she was looking at him, Gabriel cleared his throat and immediately broke the silence, grasping for something, anything.

"I'll help you clear the dishes."

Miranda beamed her angelic smile, and nodded.  "All right."

They moved in silence, packing up glasses and dishes and putting them back in the replicator. They wiped the table together, washed their hands, and were about to bid each other good night when Gabriel suddenly noticed Miranda was in his arms, and he was kissing her as though his life depended upon it.

Right away, Gabriel knew better than to bother going back to his quarters that night.  There was no point.

Miranda smelled of some strange jasmine and tasted of the cordial.  He wanted to slow down, knew he should slow down but instead, things kept speeding and heating up.  It seemed to take only seconds for them to shed their clothes.

Though they initially headed for her bedroom, they never made it past the dining table.

Chapter Six


Previously: Chapter Five

Ensign Gaya Morana's personal log; fuck the stardate.

You know what? There's one in every class, one on every team. Humans call them "apple-polishers", in reference to some ancient custom of polishing a teacher's fruit to curry favor.  Whatever.

In my engineering class, it was this blue-skinned Benzite twit who didn't know when to shut the hell up. Every day he had some off the wall suggestion for improving class performance. In Sillia's Advanced Astrophysics, it was a Vulcan nerd who would've graduated as valedictorian had he not been stricken down by some random blood fever in his final semester. He had to leave the planet and everything. Weird.

This time around, the mantle falls to Miss Miranda Willoughby, a.k.a. Ensign Perfection, who--as it turns out--graduated from the Academy in the top 1% of her class a fucking triple major.  That's right; in addition to xenogeology and xenobiology, she also aced xenolinguistics. All her professors gave her glowing remarks, and she's never failed so much as a pop quiz nor missed a single class.

That fucking bitch.

Chapter Five

 
Previously: Chapter Four

Ensign Gaya Morana's personal log; supplemental.

Thanks to Her Heinous Royal Majesty, we have to sign up for extracurricular activities on this stupid station. According to the Queen, it's a mandatory part of our evaluation.

I think the bitch just wants to give us busy work so she can avoid us like the plague.

Drelle joined a Risian yoga group (big surprise there). Sillia and I are at a loss, of course, because none of the activities speak to any of our interests. We don't paint, we don't sculpt, we don't play musical instruments, and we're not into the theater. If push comes to shove, we'll have to go to yoga and spend our evenings listening to Drelle bitch about her mom.

Or, we could spend our spare breaking in the new ensign.  That's right; you heard me. See, the Prophets have deemed that the Borg Queen's frosty attitude is still far too warm and friendly for us, so tomorrow they're sending her the very last thing she could possibly want in this fair universe of ours: another ensign.

***

"What do you mean her mother doesn't live in the capital?" Sohini Ghoshal demanded. "All of Gaya's records from the Academy specifically state it's the Gaya family's home residence."

They were in Damian Silent River's quarters two nights later, where he'd served a late night snack of Idanian bagels, cream cheese, and decaf Rigelian coffee.

Calandra shook her head. "I sent a Priority One message to Bajor. They sent me back the records of the Gaya family. Gaya Anes, the father, was killed while fighting the Cardassians. But after that, there are no records of a Gaya Irian or a Gaya Morana.  It's like they just vanished off the face off Bajor."

Pranay Bhatnagar, who detested coffee in all forms and hadn't taken so much as a sip, raised an eyebrow and inquired, "Did you ask for Gaya Irian's most recent whereabouts?"

"I did," Calandra nodded.  "The woman isn't anywhere on Bajor. No one knows anything. No one remembers seeing or hearing from her for over a decade.  They don't even know if she's still alive!"

"She's alive," Damian said suddenly, against his better judgment. "No point in saying she's alive if she's not; far easier to just say she's dead and have done with it."

But Sohini was in no mood to discuss Morana's parents.

"The girl's parents are irrelevant," she brutally cut in. "Is Gaya who she says she is or not? Because the last thing I need on my record is to be caught mentoring some surgically altered Cardassian who managed to infiltrate and graduate from Starfleet friggin' Academy."

"She's Bajoran," Calandra quickly reassured her. "You know how rigorously Starfleet tests blood and hair samples, not to mention all those full-body scans. She's definitely Bajoran, and she is Gaya Morana." The Betazoid appeared to struggle with her explanation. "The deception lies not with what she is, but who she is, and where she's been. I sense a conflict deep within that girl."

"Identity."  Everyone turned towards Damian, the source of the leaden tone. "She's Bajoran," he added softly, "but she doesn't want to be reminded of it."

***

Lieutenant Sohini Ghoshal's personal log; stardate 49171.2.

The new ensign is scheduled to arrive at 1215 hours.

Oh, glory be...oh, happy day.


Computer: end sarcasm.

***

The ensigns showed up to the wardroom at 1200 hours on the dot, where Ensign Ohn and Lieutenant Kanaway were already waiting. There was an unspoken buzz, a mix of excitement and tension, which was to be expected. They had started to bond, and weren't really in the mood for any additions to their group.

But on the other hand, misery loved company, and splitting the Borg Queen's attitude problem four ways was definitely better than three.

Lt. Ghoshal paced the room, lecturing as though it were just another day and she hadn't been assigned an ensign. Perhaps, in her desperate denial of another inexperienced charge, she'd forgotten.

"In four days," she intoned grimly, "the Rubicon will engage in a survey mission of the Ketara System. The science department is short-handed, so you will be participating.  Our assignment is the third moon of Ketara V. We'll be leaving the station at 0900 hours, so you will have to forego your usual gym hours."

The ensigns breathed a sigh of relief, which Sohini didn't miss but let slide nonetheless.

The doors of the wardroom opened and shut suddenly, and a petite young woman entered in a blue and black uniform. She was a Human, with very pale brown skin, hazel eyes, a head full of honeyed curls, and she spoke with a British accent.

"Ensign Miranda Willoughby reporting, sir," she announced herself smartly, beaming like a schoolgirl and yet somehow remaining perfectly professional.

The ensigns sucked in their collective breath, waiting for the Queen's usual snarky remark about being interrupted.  And yet...there was something about this ensign which made Melinda simply nod and reply neutrally, "Ensign."

Miranda took a seat next to Kanaway, who was already giving her the once over. Ohn was looking as well, taking in her fit form, dark hair, and striking eyes.

Morana, however, hated the new girl right away and sensed Sillia felt the same.  She could actually feel the Trill stiffening next to her while Drelle blinked in dismay, no doubt recalling her first meeting with the Queen.

 "I was briefing your new teammates about an upcoming away mission," Sohini explained.

Miranda nodded. "The assignment on Ketara V," she said. "I understand the science department is short-handed. I happened to double major in xenogeology and xenobiology while I was at the Academy. I hope to be of assistance."

Sohini raised an eyebrow.  "I'm sure you will."

Morana cringed. This bitch.

"I've actually been to the Ketara System before," Miranda went on casually, which no other ensign had ever been allowed to do before.  "It's about two light years from the DMZ, where I was born."

Drelle's head snapped her way. "You're from the Demilitarized Zone?"

Miranda nodded again. "My parents were among the first people to settle Chiras II. But since I didn't fancy spending the rest of my life wrestling with Cardassians over ambiguous territory, I chose to enlist in Starfleet."

"Smart girl," Sohini commended her. "You'll be on my team for the Ketara mission."

Morana twitched again. This bitch.

***

"That bitch."

After a grueling four-hour simulation in Holodeck 2, the orignal ensign trio met up at Quark's.

"I had that stupid Jem'Hadar fighter right in my sights," Sillia grumbled.  "It's not my fault the phasers went offline, and speaking of...why do the weapons always conveniently go offline in Damian's simulations?"

"Because the asshole rigs it that way," Drelle scowled, pulling burnt hair off her singed uniform. Apparently, tying it up didn't help that much when the whole bridge was exploding.

"He wanted to see if we could recalibrate the relays while under extreme pressure," Morana bit out.  After the gym, two hours of lecture, and four hours of fighting the Dominion, her whole head and body ached.  "Which apparently, Ensign Perfection knows how to do."

"That bitch!" Sillia barked. When a Ferengi waiter came over to collect their orders, she immediately said, "Double Idanian fudge sundae." She sounded close to sobbing. "Extra whipped cream."

"Make that two," Drelle added. "Guys, am I the only one feels like we're not enjoying our time here. I mean...I want to go to a party. I want to go on a date on the holodeck!"

"I want to have sex," the Trill mumbled.

"And I'd kill for a bottle of Begosian wine," Morana yawned, leaning back in her chair.

Drelle shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  "That stuff kills brain cells, you know."

"Believe me," Sillia rubbed her temples, "we need brain cells killed, namely every single one containing a memory of Ensign Perfection."

***

Lt. Commander Pranay Bhatnagar was looking forward to the Ketara mission.  For him, it was the very reason an institution like Starfleet was supposed to exist: exploring the galaxy, seeing new life forms, and building up star systems. Unlike most of his fellow officers, Pranay believed violence was never an answer.

He stood in replimat now, rather than head off to Damian's quarters for another one of his cooking experiments. It was late, and the lounge bar was mostly empty.  He liked the quiet; coupled with star-watching, it reminded him of late nights at his village temple on Vulcan.

"You couldn't sleep either, Commander?"

Pranay turned to see the young Trill ensign, who was looking positively defeated.  Pranay had heard Damian's glowing report about the new ensign during the ensigns' longest simulation to date, and figured Miranda's presence had something to do with Sillia's growing depression.

"You should be getting your rest, Ensign," he told her with a raised brow. "Commander Silent River has planned a no-win simulation tomorrow afternoon, and after your morning gym hours, I've scheduled rounds in Engineering, Astrophysics, and Xenobiology. Each is bound to be a long and dull experience."

"Kill me now," the girl hung her head.

Amused by her misery, Pranay relented. "You will thank us for this later. Starfleet captains run tight ships, and demand the highest level of performance from every single officer on board. Especially in times like these," he added gravely.

"Please don't tell me you're one of those Dominion Conspiracy theorists," Cillia sighed.

"War always comes to those who wish for it the least," he told her soberly. "Damian and I fought in latter years of the Federation-Cardassian War. We too were only Ensigns, and we weren't nearly prepared as you as now.

"The first ship we served aboard was the USS Chiron. We started out in a group of nine Ensigns."  He turned to look at her meaningfully.  "Of those nine, Damian and I are the only ones who survived."

"You really think my teammates and I will see combat?" Sillia asked softly, perhaps to hide a tremor in her voice she didn't even realize was there.

"In this business, you can almost count on it."

***

Insomnia appeared to be the theme of the evening; at around 2349 hours Ensign Gabriel Ohn surrendered.

"Lights," the young, dark-haired ensign called wearily, yawning despite his inability to sleep. He rose from his bed and stretched, figuring a hot drink would trigger a deep slumber.

The computer alerted him to someone at the door and Gabriel shrugged as if to say, Why not?

"Come," he called, heading for the replicator.

Ensign Miranda Willoughby entered, still in uniform and holding a clear carafe of some steaming red liquid.

"You too, huh?" she smiled, taking in his tousled hair, gray T-shirt, and flannel pajama shorts.

"Miranda," Gabriel blinked.  He didn't know what to say after that.

"It appears no one is falling asleep tonight," she shrugged, as though pleading guilty.  "I ran into Lt. Kanaway on the Promenade, cozying up to some Orion girl."  She raised a reproachful brow.

"Sounds like Alejandro," Gabriel nodded.

"I brought red leaf tea," she raised the carafe. When all she got was a clueless stare, she elaborated, "I figured Cardassian red leaf tea wouldn't be much of a stretch, seeing as we are aboard a Cardassian station."

Gabriel sighed, giving in. "Computer," he ordered at the replicator, "two empty teacups."

As the computer had a sense of humor, it replicated cups which matched Miranda's carafe. But before Gabriel could think too long about it, he was sitting down to hot, steamy red tea, its spicy aroma filling the room.

"So, Gabriel," Miranda began quite easily, "which star system are you from?"

Chapter Four


Previously: Chapter Three

Lieutenant Sohini Ghoshal's Personal Log, stardate 49151.2.

Here's the thing about Starfleet Ensigns: they're walking contradictions.

On the one hand, they're their own biggest fans. They're proud graduates and they can't wait to show off their skills and babble on about their dreams. But on the other hand, they're intimidated by anyone above their rank.

As Calandra would say, they're cocky egomaniacs suffering from inferiority complexes.
..and we've all been there. 

Ensigns always think they're in the know. They think everyone else is clueless and getting an undeserved break. Because of this mindset, ensigns feel sorry for themselves, but also proud because they think they've conquered the mountain.

But they have no idea what they're doing. They have no clue about what's to come.

Chapter Three

 
Previously: Chapter Two

Ensign Gaya's personal log; supplemental.

Lieutenant Commander Pranay Bhatnagar is Human with a demeanor which just exudes calm. A staunch scientist, he wears a blue and black uniform which hugs his tall, strong build and gives a him a commanding presence. Upon entering his lab, I knew right away not to let his slow, quiet voice fool me. I remembered the type from the Academy. They 
seem gentle and quiet, but step out of line once and they'll have you working waste extraction for a month.