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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?"

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