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Fanfic: First Command

brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
This story takes place 21 days before Hobus screws up everything. It is completely unrelated to that event.
Romulan fans please feel free to critique.

First Command

Ria was taller than the average Romulan, and attractive in the way young people tend to be: more a reflection of youth and health than of true beauty. She was also the daughter of a Patrician mother, whose efforts to preserve her family heritage heavily influenced her youngest daughter’s attitudes and bearing. When she chose, as she did now, she could appear almost regal to Plebian citizens.

“I will not tolerate incompetence,” she demanded, and the assistant engineer suddenly found that his work required him to check a terminal on the other side of the engine room.

The senior engineer paused, looked over his ‘acting commander,’ and then set his tools aside.

“Lady Subcommander,” he said with exaggerated formality, “You may remove me from my position and assign another to my task. But this actuator is beyond repair. I can replicate the crystals and assemble a new actuator within a few days. I assure you my assistant cannot, no matter how firmly you command him.”

“I have no more than twenty hours before we must launch.”

She realized as she said the words that her father’s engineer, several decades her senior, had lost any fear he might have had of her. If he had ever had any. She could not bully him, and they both knew it.

“If the schedule cannot be altered, and the repairs cannot be completed in time, then I suggest cancelling the trade. No one can fault you for prudence in the face of mechanical failure.”

“I can’t do that,” she sighed. She felt her haughty demeanor slipping, softening as her dilemma strained at her self control. What she wanted to do was hurl that broken actuator against the bulkhead, to scream a primal cry of frustration. What she wanted was to call her father and cry.

But he would offer no comfort. He had sent her on with this cargo to complete this transaction because he was involved in sensitive negotiations for another trade deal. Her failure here could affect the confidence of his potential trade partners. M’Ra’ahnni Transportation would continue if she failed, but Ria feared to see disappointment in eyes which had never looked upon her with less than pride.

She humbled herself, collected her scattered thoughts, and said, “Please accept my apologies, Centurion Thari. I know you are doing all that can be done.”

He smiled, not to gloat, but to reassure her. “Hlai’vna, we will do what can be done. But if you are faced with two equally impossible things, the thing to do is some third thing.”

He used the diminutive her father used, or used to use before he began to give her responsibility.

“I have not been ‘Little Bird’ for many years,” she said.

“No, you have not, have you? Please accept my apologies, Subcommander. I presumed on long association. When you were Hlai’vna you were your father’s daughter. Now you are my commander. Things change fast when you are an old man, and I forgot my station.”

“But you have reminded me of mine.”

Reminded of her duty, she resisted the urge to hug her father’s hfai, but gave him a squeeze on his shoulder before turning toward the hatch.

Between the engine room and the bridge of the old freighter, which had once been a surplus warbird now converted to haul cargo, she re-thought her priorities. By the time she entered the bridge her plans had solidified. “Some third thing,” she said as the hatch to the bridge opened.

“Commander on the bridge!” said her helmsman, who was the only crewman present.

“Never mind that. I want you to hail Commander M’Ra’ahnni’s communicator and link it to the Commander’s Underway Cabin comm console.”

“Aye, Subcommander.”

While she waited there was work to be done. Her father wanted her to be resourceful; well, so she would be resourceful. When her console finally chirped her eyes were beginning to feel the strain of more than two hours of browsing the computer.

“Eneh,” she said. “I apologize for interrupting your negotiations. I accept full responsibility for the situation I must report.”

“You are commander. The blame is yours whether you accept or deny it. Make your report.”

“Sir, the port warp plasma actuator failed as we entered orbit of R’tarru due to an undetected flaw in the actuator crystal. In our current state we can only attempt warp at half power and at great risk to the starboard actuator. Its failure would leave us without warp power and stranded, so I have delayed our departure until repairs can be completed.”

“What does Thari say about it?” he asked.

“Four days at the least.”

“Unacceptable. If you fail to make the rendezvous my negotiations here will have been wasted.”

“Agreed, Eneh. I have so informed the centurion. However, the process of crystalline replication is time consuming, and the crystals will require mounting on the articulation frame. Faced with two impossible situations, the centurion’s advice was to try some third thing. I have been exploring options along that line of thinking, sir, and I may have a solution.”

“May?” he asked.

“Eneh, I would not want to make promises I cannot fulfill.”

“Meaning you are still working it out.”

“Yes sir.”

His lip curled in a half smile. “You will have to get moving soon if you are to make the rendezvous. From R’tarru Moon that would be twenty hours at most, by my guess.”

“Seventeen hours forty minutes from now,” she said with a glance at her chronometer.

“Then I will leave you to your duty. Jolan tru, my daughter.”

“Jolan tru, father.”

She terminated the subspace signal, then signaled the bridge. “Lieutenant, link me to the colony communication network.”

“Aye, Subommander,” came the response. “R’tarru comm net on channel three, Subcommander.”

“Jolan tru,” said the elderly Romulan who responded to her first call.

“Jolan tru,” she replied. “Factor Luross, I require information.”

“A rare commodity, Commander M’Ra’ahnni, and often valuable.”

“I am willing to negotiate payment, if you have what I need…”

***

Two hours later she was waiting in the outer office of a Ferengi merchant. Ferengi were everywhere in the Empire suddenly, selling, buying, ingratiating themselves with powerful Romulans. She might have worried that Romulan commerce was becoming inextricably bound in Ferengi owned trade networks, but that was a problem for others to solve. She had her own problems, and fifteen hours to solve them.

Ten, she reminded herself. Thari would need at least five to calibrate the new mounting.
The gaudily adorned female secretary of a seven-fingered race with which she was unfamiliar finally ushered her into the richly upholstered office, at the far end of which a fat Ferengi sat upon a plush cushion sculpted into the shape of a chair.

“Come in, come in, my dear. I hear you have a problem. One I can help you solve.”

“Then you have the crystals?”

“I have two kilos of dilithium dust, refined, not ore.”

“I came in search of crystals, not dust. I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”

She turned to go; it was a move as traditional as opening with Praetor’s Flyer in chess. It was calculated to imply that she not only had other offers, but that she could afford to walk away from this deal.

“Now, now, my dear, come, have a seat.” He patted his thigh to indicate where she should sit.

She stood at her full height and stared down her Patrician nose at the offensive little creature. He returned her stare with a smile, but she stood unmoving, still, calm. Exuding deadly calm, as will a jhimn preparing to strike.

His smile faded, turned into a scowl, then he laughed. “Suit yourself. Stand if you like, I don’t mind.”

“Do you in fact have dilithium crystals?”

“Of course I do! But they come with a high price. Are you sure you don’t want the dust?”

“Crystals. Without inclusions or cracks. Do not attempt to cheat me, Ferengi.”

“My customers have always commented on my honesty and integrity!” the Ferengi said. “My word is my life.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Well, I…” He paused to look again at his customer, and appeared to shiver, glancing at the pair of panels which poorly concealed his hired guards. She only looked at him, apparently unconcerned by guards or whatever weapons they may have held.

The Ferengi shifted his position uncomfortably, tugged at his ascot, then slumped into his oversized pillow.

“You Romulans don’t have much of a sense of humor, do you?”

“I am not here for amusement. Nor am I here to waste time. I want a commodity which you claim to have, and I am willing to offer a fair price in credits, latinum, or trade.”

“It’s good to know where you stand. Okay, you want to do business? I can offer you two crystals of over fifty grams each, suitable for use in warp plasma reactors. If you are willing to meet my price. I won’t haggle over my price, and if you can’t or won’t meet it, there is no deal.”

“I’m listening.”

***

Another two hours gone, and she was deep inside a pergium mine, wearing a filter mask issued by a silent Reman who followed her from the mine entrance: her guide, or her guard, and did it matter? Her mute guide stopped near a group of miners examining a machine which had been disassembled. They looked her way, then all but one returned to their task.

“You would be the Master I was told to expect.”

“I am here to negotiate, not command. I have come to speak with the master of this mine.”

The Reman’s face was concealed behind the mask, but his deep set eyes squinted slightly in the dim glow of Reman lanterns.

“What do you have to tell me that I do not already know?”

“Perhaps nothing. I am no scholar, I am a trader.”

“You are a daughter of Patrician family. Your people have oppressed mine for generations uncounted. Why should I trust you?”

“You shouldn’t. Trust is earned over time, not given to strangers.”

“Then we have nothing to talk about.”

“If you only speak with those who agree with you, you will never get what you want.”

“What do you know about what I want?”

“Nothing. But a good trader does not let opportunity pass without at least a look. You may decide for yourself if what I offer has value or not, but if my offer goes unheard, you’ll never know.”

“I know enough. You were sent by that Feh’rengi. He cannot be trusted.”

“Of course he cannot be trusted. He will attempt to cheat, he will lie, and he will seek every opportunity to benefit himself at your expense.”

“You are a poor negotiator. Tell your master I remain uninterested.”

“You are overlooking one fact, Forman Y’lar.”

“I am?”

“The Ferengi has something no one else on this moon can offer.”

“It matters not what he has if he cannot be trusted to deliver it.”

“If you control the exchange you control the Ferengi.”

The Reman paused, looking up, and Ria noticed the rest of the nearby miners similarly looking around, their stoic faces uncharacteristically betraying emotion: fear!

Then she heard it too. Or felt it: a deep growling rumble that shook her boots. Dust and bits of debris fell from overhead in scattered patches, creating halos of dust around the lamps.

“Tunnel Thirty-three,” said a Reman as she operated a communication terminal. “They are trapped.”

“Set up a command post here and get relays to the entrance. Emergency protocols: get the Third Shift moving!”

“Foreman, the fault is located outside the refuge. None made it in. I’m scanning for life signs, but the ore lode is scattering the beam.”

“Keep scanning. Let us know when you find something. Communicate on the hard-wire circuit, transmitters may not make it through the pergium ore.”

He paused to look around, then scowled at Ria. “We can’t spare anyone to get you out. Wait here with the comm operator.”

“If you need extra hands, I can help.”

“Why would a Patrician want to help Reman miners?”

“I don’t. But you need help and I am here.”

“We know what we’re doing. We don’t need a Master giving orders.”

“I can take orders too. And you do need help.”

The Reman looked around as his crew snatched up equipment and ran into the tunnel. “Suit yourself. But stay out of the way.”

***

An hour later they found the first body crushed in the debris, recognizable more from the green gore that covered everything than by any recognizable shape. Ria helped a young Reman, far too young for such dangerous work, to find the remains and place them in an ore bucket. She was hot, sweating, and covered in dust and grit. Those clearing and shoring the tunnel had moved on another hundred meters before the girl was satisfied that it was pointless to keep looking.

Some time after that she looked up from her pile of rocks. She had been moving them by hand, as the others around her did, for fear machine vibrations would destabilize a section of the ceiling before shoring crews could get in to do their work.

Her hands were green and slick, and her thoughts scattered as they formed. These damned rocks! Her task was to move them from the pile the extraction crew made into a side tunnel but the job never ended. She didn’t realize she was growling as she flung the sharp, shattered stone down the tunnel.

The tap on her shoulder was unexpected, and she turned, ready to fight, her face contorted in rage.

“Your mask,” said the miner, holding a new one out to her. “Dust is getting through.”

She composed herself with great difficulty. Traders, she thought, do not allow emotion to interfere with responsibility. She recalled her father telling her that. She had always been a bit emotional; a trait her father discouraged…

“Your mask,” the Reman repeated.

She hurled her mask, now stained with her blood, and slipped the new one in its place. With her first breath the anger subsided, decreasing as she just stood to breathe.

“Khnai’ra,” she said as the Reman turned away. He turned back to look at her with an expression she could not interpret before he went back to work.

She had completely lost track of time by the time they drilled through a large boulder to gain access to the refuge. It was an armored box which contained a small power plant, a recycler, and emergency rations.

She, along with the Second Shift, had crowded in for a break while Third Shift continued to clear the tunnel. Foreman Y’lar was on the comm circuit organizing the rescue, but so far only corpses had been found: five Remans, crushed beyond recognition, identifiable only by numbers on the small metal tags they wore.

Ria wondered how they would identify her; she had no ID tag. Numb, sore everywhere, she watched a drop of blood grow on her fingertip and drop to the floor with a green splat. Her hands were cut in a thousand places, tiny, painful, covered in grit.

Others were in worse shape. Their carefully frantic pace was dangerous in a collapsed mine tunnel, but there were friends, family, still in there. Even a chance to rescue them was worth the risk to the miners. Was it worth it to her?

She looked over to the terminal at the chronometer’s display. In three hours it would be too late. Her schedule was shot. She had failed. Failed her task, failed her crew, failed her father. She squeezed her eyes shut, fighting to maintain her composure.

“Why are you still here?” asked a familiar voice.

She opened her eyes to see Y’lar, dermal regenerator in hand, reaching for her abused hand. She sighed as the regenerator extracted the grit from her cuts and repaired the damaged skin. Y’lar’s own hands bore heavy calluses and the work had not harmed them as it had her soft, Patrician hands.

“I came here to do a job. I failed. I have nowhere else to be for the next week.”

The Reman appeared to think about the answer as he continued to manipulate the regenerator.

“That doesn’t answer my question. You have no obligation to remain, no skill or experience for the work, nothing to gain if you stay, nothing to lose if you go. So, Lady Romulan, I ask, why are you still here?”

“When you look at me all you see is a Master. Don’t you?”

The Reman didn’t respond, so she continued, “I don’t think we’ve ever really understood one another. Master and Slave, sharing everything, sharing nothing. Wrapped up in obligations set us by generations long dead, doomed to repeat the old mistakes which bind both our peoples in chains of neutronium.”

She sighed as he began to treat her left hand.

“Is that some kind of answer?”

“No. It’s an observation.” She paused, then said, “If you truly understood Patricians you would realize that our ideals compel us to take responsibility for the welfare of all. From the greatest to the least, we obligate ourselves to guard, guide, nurture, and to grow, so that our society can never end.”

“So you enslave my race, and hold your own people in thrall through fear?”

“I will not apologize for the stupidity of my ancestors, nor will I apologize for being my mother’s daughter. But someone has to take responsibility for now. Today. For the Empire as it stands now, to guide it forward in a way that better serves us all.”

“Lofty words, but I look around me and see the same things my parents and their parents saw: Romulan masters and Reman slaves. So, I ask again, why are you still here?”

“Because here and now there are still people trapped in the tunnel, and I am here. And I can help.”

“How will this bring about this dream of a better Empire?”

“Maybe it won’t,” she said, “But eighteen people might live to see it if I help them to survive the night.”

He turned off the regenerator and she turned her hands over to look at her palms, still blood-spattered, but whole.

Y’lar stood and said, “Fifteen minutes more! Use the recycler, eat, drink! You won’t get another chance for four hours.”

Ria was bucking the drill now, in and out, in and out. Her body hummed in the rhythm of the drill as its overheated bit screamed in the boulder blocking the tunnel The boulder cracked, and she pulled the drill back.

“Lifesigns fifty meters ahead!” cried an older Reman as she probed the rock face with a scanner.

“This boulder is ready for extraction,” Ria called. “Shoring team to the front.”

Somehow she had begun to give orders, having assumed command when a brace buckled, dropping a small avalanche on Y’lar. He was in the refuge now, his skull fracture being tended by a medic.

When the accident happened she had organized his extraction, then continued to push the crew forward. She lead from the front, and mostly by example. She asked the experienced miners what to do, then did it. And in a short while the miners were in there with her as the tunnel grew forward and debris moved backward.

She and a very young Reman pushed the drill to the side as shoring crews set beams and risers. The Reman was grinning at her, and Ria looked behind her to see what was funny, but there was only darkness, and rock, and here and there mine lamps cast a dim glow in the dust which hung in the air.

Turning back to the girl, she asked, “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, my lady.”

“Come on, you were smiling. And I’m Ria. My lady is what I call my mother.”

“My… Ria… I am Chance. I was just thinking what my friends will say when I tell them about the time I helped a Master buck a mining drill.”

“Chance, I’m not a master, I’m a trader. But if you like,” she copied the young girl’s grin, “You can tell them how you taught a master to work like a Reman.”

The shoring team had finished and everyone moved aside as the extractor moved in to grip the top half of the boulder in duranium talons. Backing away, a rush of stale air flowed from the void behind it.

“Pumps! Get some air in there!”

Ria’s command was followed by activity as a hose was dragged forward, the clear air from its nozzle visible as an emptiness in the cloud of dust.

“Tie me off, I’m going in.”

“No, my lady,” said a large Reman. “You are not trained.”

Within moments a small, thin Reman squirmed into the darkness with a lamp in hand and a yellow cord tied to his ankle, not to extract him, but to find him if he became trapped.

The cord tailed off the reel for a minute, then another. “Fifty meters,” said the Reman standing beside the reel.

Sounds echoed from ahead in the tunnel. Voices. Then after an impossibly long wait, scrabbling sounds came closer and an unfamiliar face emerged from the tunnel streaked with sweat, blood, and grime.

“Medics!” he said. “Almost everyone else is wounded.”

Ria found herself in the Refuge with twelve of the fifteen survivors. Medical crews were tending the three critically wounded miners as the First Shift foreman continued to shore up and clear debris to allow the medics to safely extract them. Three bodies wrapped in emergency blankets sat in pools of coagulating blood.

Most of Second and Third shifts were on their way out of the mines. Some had remained to help move the wounded now that the medics had treated them.

“I thank you for your help,” said Y’lar, now propped against the refuge wall, forbidden by his medic from moving and possibly causing additional damage to his fractured skull.

“I won’t say I was happy to do it,” she said, “But I’m glad I did.”

“Because of your responsibility to care for a useful slave?”

“Because people needed help.”

“You are unlike the Patricians I have known. Very unlike.”

“My father is a Plebian, my mother the last heir to an ancient title. She married my father for his money, to restore her family’s place in the Empire. You can imagine how most Patricians see me. Or Plebians, for that matter.”

“I can.” He scratched the bandage where it passed beneath his chin, saw the nearby medic scowl, and dropped his hand.

“Something you said earlier has been running through my mind. Something about what I want. What makes you think the Feh’rengi has anything I want?”

“Because he can offer you access to goods and services the local factors and brokers won’t. He can offer you a second market for your ore, forcing the factors to offer competing prices. A shrewd mine operator can more easily manipulate the situation if he has two buyers for the same ore.”

“And what if the Masters decide to punish us instead of accepting our new arrangements?”

“A negotiator must be shrewd. The deal the Ferengi wants is small compared to your mine’s output. But it can open doors, and competing buyers means you can afford to reduce ore shipments through the factors if they don’t match the Ferengi’s offer. The one thing the factors will not want is for your ore shipments to slow or stop.

“With the Ferengi’s help you can survive any reduction of supplies the factors threaten. And to attack you in punishment will mean they, for some time, at least, lose what they cannot afford to lose: the ore shipments will stop.

“I think a shrewd negotiator could find a way to benefit.”

“And what do you get out of this?” the Reman asked.

“Nothing of value now,” she said. I was supposed to get the dilithium I needed to repair my ship’s warp drive, but even with it in hand now,” she glanced at the chronometer, “I’ll be more than four hours late to a rendezvous.”

“It is important, this rendezvous?”

“It will not cause famine, plague, or mine cave-ins, but my failure will mean I lose the respect I had hoped to earn from my father. It might mean the difference between becoming a trader and a ship’s captain in my father’s fleet, or spending my career as his secretary.”

“Tell the Feh’rengi I will negotiate, but if he attempts to have advantage of me I will deal with someone else instead. Maybe his mother will offer a better deal.”

“He asks for six tons of grade 2 ore.”

“He can have four in two weeks, no more. I will require the frames for seven pergium power packs. Re-useable, not disposable.”

***

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    brian334brian334 Member Posts: 2,214 Arc User
    Continued

    ***

    The clock reached the deadline as Ria entered the ship carrying two nearly perfect crystals. They would be late, but not by much. Centurion Thari took them and ran to Engineering, but not before he paused to gape at the subcommander who was still spattered with blood and dirt.

    A crewman was blocking her path with a PADD in hand.

    “Yes?” she asked.

    “Subcommander, where shall I stow it?”

    “Stow what?”

    “Your pergium.”

    “What pergium?”

    “Subcommander, a crate containing sixty kilos of refined pergium arrived half an hour ago marked as your personal property.”

    She didn’t smile. She wanted to, but she didn’t. “It is cargo?”

    “Uh, yes, subcommander.”

    “Then stow it in the cargo hold, and secure for space.”

    “Aye, subcommander.”

    She tapped the comm panel and announced, “All hands secure for space, department heads report readiness status to the bridge.”

    She tapped the panel again.

    “Bridge here.”

    “Lieutenant, plot a course for our rendezvous, we lift off in ten minutes.”

    “Subcommander, we won’t make it on time, and the Allari are famous for their attitudes on punctuality.”

    “We won’t make it if we don’t try, and who knows? Maybe the Allari ship will be later than us.”

    “Aye, subcommander,” said the lieutenant in a doubtful tone of voice.

    “We lift in ten minutes, Lieutenant,” she repeated, then clicked off the comm.

    Limited to Warp three, their arrival time was very likely to be days too late, but in five hours the actuator would be ready and perhaps the old girl could make up for lost time. Assuming the starboard actuator didn’t fail. She had time for a quick shower, but first there was a call to make.

    In her cabin, not her father’s office, but her own cabin, she sat at the console and called Y’lar. His head was bound in new bandages but he seemed alert, energetic.

    “Thank you for the pergium, Foreman, but I was paid by Redan. You owed me nothing.”

    “That was your share from the ore we extracted,” he said. “You helped extract just under a ton of debris which contained three hundred ten kilos of high grade ore. Your share refined comes to sixty-five kilos at shift-leader scale.”

    “I wasn’t a shift leader. In fact, I wasn’t supposed to be there at all.”

    “My Lady,” he used an inflection denoting familiarity and friendship when he said the words, “The promotion always comes after the deed. You earned that pergium.”

    “Well, thank you.”

    “What will you do now?”

    “In five minutes we’ll lift off. I’ll do my best to keep the schedule. I probably won’t make it, but it won’t be for lack of trying. Who knows, perhaps I’ll be back soon looking for a job as a miner!”

    Her joke appeared to fall flat; the Reman’s eyes showed no amusement, but he said, “I would work beside you any day, my friend.”

    “Jolan’ tru,” she said, and ended the call.

    A quick shower and clean uniform altered her outlook as she entered the bridge. As in the mine: whatever happened, she would keep drilling.

    “Lieutenant, have we cleared with Traffic Control?”

    “Aye, Subcommander. One minute to launch.”

    “Very well, continue countdown.”

    She toggled her comm panel and said, “Centurion Thari, what is our maximum warp speed presently, without risk to the starboard actuator?”

    “ Subcommander, I’ll do what I can, but just over warp three by my calculations. Subcommander, it won’t be fast enough.”

    “I know, but if we get started now maybe we can make up for it when you have the port actuator ready.

    “I will do my best, Subcommander.”

    “I know you will, Centurion. I have confidence in you.”

    She toggled off the comm as her navigator said, “Traffic Control confirms permission to launch.”

    “Let’s get this old bird back where she belongs, Lieutenant.”

    “Aye, subcommander,” he replied.

    As the former warbird rose from the spaceport, the flame-colored t’liss painted on her belly became visible, a relic of her days as a warship. Her father had altered the design somewhat to include his company logo as a shield clutched in the raptor’s claws. And the stately old lady rose, faster, higher, headed for space on thrusters and impulse drive.

    “Subcommander, there is something in our path,” said the helm operator.

    “Don’t hit it,“ Ria said unnecessarily. “What is it?”

    “I can’t tell.”

    “Put it on the viewer.”

    Far above them the sky was black and filled with stars. But some of the stars shimmered with distortion. She was about to call for a course change when her comm panel chirped.

    “This is the Imperial Warbird Shu’ Lotha, Commander A’sart speaking. Am I speaking to Commander M’Ra’ahnni?”

    “Subcommander Ria M’Ra’ahnni speaking,” she replied as she transferred the call to the main viewer. “Commander A’sart, a pleasure to meet you. How may M’Ra’ahnni Transport assist the Empire?”

    She was surprised to see a Reman face. Reman crews on Imperial Warbirds were a new development since the Shinzon Rebellion, and as the shocked glances between her bridge crew indicated, a Reman Commander was unheard of.

    “Subcommander, I understand you have a vital mission to fulfill. I am here to help. If you will transmit your destination coordinates then power down your engines when you reach orbit, my ship will take you in tow. Will warp seven be sufficient to assure you arrive on time?”

    “More than adequate, Commander, and I thank you for your assistance. How can M’Ra’ahnni repay your kindness?”

    “No payment is required or desired. We are already in your debt, Subcommander.”

    The viewer returned to its view of space where a Mogai Class warbird emerged from its cloaking field, waiting for their arrival in high orbit of the moon.

    “Subcommander, are you sure…” began the navigator, and simultaneously the helm operator asked, Subcommander, what did you do on the planet?”

    “I think I made a friend,” she replied.

    “The Commander is never going to believe this,” said the navigator.

    Ria smiled, and recalled the look in his eyes when she had passed her pilot certification on the first try, when she had negotiated her first deal, when she had broken down and reassembled the main deflector.

    “He will believe it,” she said. “He expects nothing less of me.”
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