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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.

The next morning, the ensigns and the men met at the replimat for a light breakfast before heading off to the gym. Of course, they'd conveniently failed to mention it to Miranda, so she didn't show up. Alejandro Kanaway arrived just as Gaya Morana was replicating a round of raktajinos.  He stumbled in, his dark hair tousled and a stupid grin on his face.

"Let me guess," Sillia Rix snorted, "the Orion."

Alejandro sighed blissfully. "She did things to me."

"That's nice," Morana smirked.  "Where's Ensign Ohn?"

"Scrambling to get here," Alejandro shrugged. "Apparently he stayed up all night talking with Ensign Willoughby."

At the mere mention of the new ensign, all the women stopped moving.

"He was what?" Drelle Marlowe demanded, coffee mug in midair.

Alejandro shrugged again, taking a seat and lounging comfortably.  He took his time blowing on his coffee before taking a tentative sip.

"He spent the night talking with Miranda," he repeated leisurely. "They seemed to have made a connection." He looked up to see the women staring at him wordlessly.

"That's a good thing," he told them. "She's going to start taking Klingon martial arts with us, and I hope she and Gabriel grow even closer after that. She's a nice girl, and a good officer.  We could all learn something from the good Ensign Willoughby," he enunciated slowly, giving each woman a meaningful look. "She's practically perfect."

There was a definite shudder from each woman, but no one said anything.  Gabriel arrived a few awkward moments later, unable to look anyone in the eyes.

He quickly deduced they'd been talking about him, because none of the women looked at him either and at first, they didn't speak at all over breakfast.

Eventually, Alejandro broke the silence.

"So, Commander Silent River has agreed to throw us a 'Welcome Aboard' party after the Ketara Mission."

Trill snickered bitterly.  "So he's waiting until after our first major mission, huh?  We're not welcomed until we've earned it?"

Alejandro shrugged. "He's a nice guy, and one hell of an officer."

"You say that about everyone," Drelle growled. Gabriel raised an eyebrow, wondering what minefield he'd wandered into.

"No, really," Alejandro continued, without a care in the world. "Like, during the war, when he was aboard the USS Chiron, half of the bridge crew was killed during a skirmish with the Cardassians. The Captain was knocked unconscious, the First Officer was trying to seal a rupture on the bridge. Because the starboard shields were down, the Cardassians were able to board the ship. Damian had to fend off three soldiers of the Third Order while the remaining crew tried to raise shields." Alejandro sighed like an awe-struck child. "He killed them all."

"He's in a our Klingon martial arts class," Gabriel nodded, happy the unspoken discussion was no longer about him. "He spars with Commander Dax almost every day."

"What about Pranay?" Sillia asked.  "I mean...Commander Bhatnagar."

"Bhatnagar's more into Vulcan martial arts," Alejandro shook his head. "His records show he's been studying Suss mahna since he was about four or five."

Morana raised an eyebrow. "Is that how you know all this stuff?  By delving into people's private records?"

Alejandro shrugged. "That and the fact that everybody gossips on this station."

The Bajoran sighed. "I'm beginning to think Deep Space Nine is too small to have a private life."

"So am I," Sillia agreed. "It was one thing for people to be up in each other's business at the Academy. I mean, that's school. It's expected. This is my work and I don't want details of my sex life getting around."

Drelle's head snapped towards the Trill. "You have a sex life?" she fired, eyes flashing.

Sillia chuckled nervously. "No, no...I mean when I resume my sex life. I don't want it getting out."

"Grin and bear it, ladies," Alejandro snickered. "You're stuck with a set group of people aboard a fucking station. Everybody's gonna know everything about everybody else."

***

Gabriel decided to visit Miranda in her quarters for lunch. So far, his favorite thing about her was the way she appreciated his brain. Near the end of their lunch hour, he suddenly realized they'd spent their whole time talking about programming, specifically the recalibration of replicators. It was both the most and least romantic conversation he'd ever had.

"You're so creative," she laughed for the millionth time, and he loved it. He loved her soft laugh, her polished accent, and the sparkle of her hazel eyes.

The fact that she liked him back and enjoyed spending time with him didn't hurt either.

"Do you want to have dinner tonight?" she asked suddenly, reminding Gabriel yet again why he was rapidly falling for this woman. "I borrowed some of episodes of Chopped from Commander Silent River and I'd love to cook you a proper meal."

Gabriel blinked. "Chopped?"

"It's a holo-recording of a weekly cooking show," she explained. "Chefs from all over the Quadrant compete. They have to cook an appetizer in twenty minutes, an entrĂ©e in thirty, and dessert in thirty. At the beginning of each round, they're given a mystery basket of four mandatory ingredients. So," Miranda chuckled, "a chef might open their basket to find a bowl Vulcan plomeek soup, a bottle of Klingon bloodwine, a sack of brown rice, and a jar of tube grubs. They would then have to create and execute a dish with those mandatory ingredients, along with other optional ingredients. It's a grueling, amazing program, and Commander Silent River is completely addicted."

Gabriel nodded, "Word on the ship is that he's quite the chef...sometimes."

"If you have dinner with me tonight," Miranda winked, "I promise it'll work."

When she put it that way, it was impossible to say no.  Which was precisely another thing he really liked about Miranda; she made everything so easy. He wasn't terrified to talk to her, and she didn't play games. She liked him and she showed it.

Gabriel hadn't actually had trouble with women before Miranda.  Pretty much all his life, he'd been dubbed "the Cute One" and women often came up to talk to him.  But none had ever made it so seamless, so completely effortless as Miranda Willoughby.

***

One of things Lt. Commander Pranay Bhatnagar appreciated about Sillia Rix was her punctuality. Even after the grueling tour of lectures today, she was still fresh and lively when she came to meet at 2130 hours in Ten Forward. The night before, he'd reintroduced her to kal-toh, which Humans often erroneously described as "Vulcan chess."

As it turned out, Sillia had quite the mind for kal-toh; she learned quickly and was able to take constructive criticism.  She also was able to think outside the box, which indicated she'd make one hell of a captain some day.

She even enjoyed blue mint tea, which was rare outside of Vulcan. She didn't try to sweeten it or alter it in any way.  After years of trying to enjoy evenings of blue mint tea and kal-toh with a very resistant Damian Silent River, Sillia was a most welcome replacement.

She also didn't bring up the...incident in his quarters from the other night, which was the mark of a dedicated professional.

"While I soaked in my bath this evening," Sillia told him as they took their seats with their hot teas, "I browsed Dr. Savok's Treatise on Strategies in Kal-Toh."

"If you enjoyed that," Pranay nodded slightly, "you will also find Dr. T'Herin's Ancient Methodology and Meditations of Kal-Toh most useful. Shall we begin?"

"Certainly."

They played in silence for a while, before Pranay finally spoke first. "I see Alejandro accessed mine and Damian's official Starfleet records."

"He's reading about your performances during the war," Sillia replied honestly. "He's also signed up for Klingon martial arts. I think he wants to emulate Damian."

Pranay allowed himself an atypical snort. "They're certainly similar enough."

"I, however," Sillia continued, "am more interested in Suss Mahna.  Do you know any good holographic simulations?"

"The ship's database contains several introductory programs," Pranay told her but, "but Ensign, Suss Mahna takes years to master."

"I'm not worried," Sillia shrugged.  "I've applied for the Irydi symbiont. It is currently 392 years old, and three of its earlier hosts lived and worked on Vulcan as professors.  Two of them were dedicated students of Suss Mahna."

Pranay worked to keep the excitement from his voice. "Dr. Hallas Irydi in particular was most respected on Vulcan for many years. Her symbiont must be in high demand."

"Actually, the Irydi symbiont is the only one without a waiting list," came the consistently honest reply. "It's considered too logical, too rigid...which is a polite way of saying it's too Vulcan. However, I feel a Vulcan-influenced mindset will make me a superior captain."

Pranay suddenly noticed he was breathless. He struggled to maintain composure as he hesitantly remarked, "So if you return to Trill for initiation and your evaluation is deemed satisfactory...." He trailed, unable to finish.

Sillia however, had no problem. She spoke easily, moving her kal-toh pieces without missing a beat. "Then I will return to Starfleet 392 years older, carrying the memories--and mannerisms--of Dr. Hallas Irydi."

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