Chapter 32: Love, Magic, Music
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
Love, Magic, Music
“Mom, does this dress look frumpy?” It was the morning of the concert Data had scheduled. The first half would be a duet he and I would be playing; the other half was a selection of chamber music the quartet would be playing, only I’d be playing the cello part. I wasn’t nervous, exactly. More like…anticipatory. And excited.
“Let me see?” my mother came into my bedroom and had me turn in all directions. “It’s not the most flattering item of clothing you own,” she added.
“But it’s got a full skirt,” I pointed out. “If I wear any of my other dresses, I risk flashing the audience.”
“It would get their attention,” my mother teased. She brushed past me to explore my closet. “What is everyone else wearing?” she asked as she moved hangers back and forth.
“Standard duty uniforms, I’d assume. Data and I have one more rehearsal in an hour. I’ll ask then.”
“Do that,” she said. “And I’ll see if I can’t come up with a couple of other options.”
“I should have taken up viola,” I muttered. “Then I’d be able to wear any kind of skirt that I wanted.”
“You already play the viola,” she reminded me. She was right, of course. Most musicians play several instruments, even if there’s one they specialize in.
“I play a wicked musical saw, too, but no one writes duets for those…not that I’d know where to even find one on a starship.” Pretty much everything that required sawing on the Enterprise was done with laser cutters. The saw was something I’d picked up from my grandmother, who preferred folk music to the serious classical stuff I had been focusing on most recently. I froze, then, and added, “Whatever you do, do not tell Data I play the saw. It’s just the kind of thing he’d want to experiment with.”
My mother laughed at that. “I won’t,” she said. “I promise. Go eat something, and then go to rehearsal. Your concert isn’t until eight, there’s time to work out wardrobe.”
I shucked off the dress, replacing it with jeans and a baggy forest-green turtle-neck, slid shoes on and went out to the main section of our quarters, twisting my hair into a messy pony-tail as I did so. “Do you want anything?” I called to my mother.
“Maybe a salad.” she said.
I asked the replicator for two grilled chicken Caesar salads, which it promptly provided, along with iced tea. “It’s going to be a little weird going from eating whatever I’m in the mood for to eating things that are in season. Dad says Gia likes cooking almost as much as he does.”
“I thought you were looking forward to planetary life,” my mother said, joining me at the table. This had been a frequent topic of conversation for the last several weeks, ever since I’d begged her to let me stay with my father if he was willing to let me.
“Dirtside has its advantages,” I said, stabbing some salad with my fork. “Admitting that there are a few conveniences here doesn’t make living with Dad any less desirable. At least on a planet, I know my salad is actually, you know, salad, and not reconstituted toenail clippings mixed with recycled hair gel.”
“Mmm, tasty,” my mother quipped.
I just rolled my eyes at her.
We finished eating, and she left for her duty shift. I went back to my room to stare at my closet and will my existing clothing to morph into the perfect outfit.
Per Data’s instructions, I met him, not in Ten-Forward, but in the conference room where we used to meet for my theory lessons, before we moved them to his quarters. The rest of the quartet was there, already, though they weren’t playing until the second half.
Cress came over to me, and greeted me warmly. “Zoe, you look lovely, I’m glad you’re back with us.”
“Thank you,” I said. “You and Dennis look pretty amazing yourselves.” They were both in their dress uniforms, and her deep red uniform really worked for her. I, on the other hand, had chosen a white blouse, a black skirt that was barely knee-length but had enough volume to still be appropriate, and a faux-suede forest-green vest, as a nod to the season. “Data’s not here?”
“He is setting your chair, and making sure your mother and her party have good seats,” Cress said. “Are you nervous, Zoe? Because if I didn’t know better, I’d swear Data was.”
I laughed softly. “I’m a little anxious, I guess – I always am before any kind of performance – but once we start, I’ll be fine.”
“I heard that you’d been performing all your life,” Dennis said, joining the conversation. “Is that true?”
“Most of it,” I said. “But nothing really big until I was eleven or twelve.”
“As old as that,” he teased. “Oh, however will you manage?”
We all laughed, but then I remembered. “Hey, I was wondering…I know tonight is supposed to be a celebration of a bunch of Decemberish holidays, and I know we agreed to avoid anything specifically Christmassy, but could we add a piece at the end of the quartet set?”
Cress and Dennis met each other’s eyes. “What did you have in mind, Zoe?” the woman in command red asked.
“I brought the music – it’s really easy,” I began. “Just a four part round of ‘Dona Nobis Pacem.'”
“‘Grant us peace,'” Dennis translated. “I’m familiar with it. If Commander Data is amenable-”
“Amenable to what?” Data asked, interrupting as he came into the room. I hadn’t even heard the doors open.
“Your young protégé wants us to add ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ to the end of our set,” Dennis explained.
“I believe it would be an appropriate ‘tag’ to our performance,” he said. “Zoe, did you bring music?”
“I did,” I said. I took my padd out of my gig bag, tapped a couple of commands, and sent the sheet music to each of our music stands. “Loaded and everything,” I added. I turned then, and got my first look at Data in his dress uniform. “Ohhh,” I said softly. “Data, seriously, you look fantastic.”
“Thank you Zoe,” he said, his tone just as even as ever, though one of his eyebrows quirked slightly, as if he were surprised that I’d made the comment at all. He took in my attire, “You are also particularly aesthetically pleasing, this evening.”
I stifled a chuckle, and managed to thank him, teasing, “Flatterer.”
He ignored my comment and merely asked, “Shall we warm up?” He was addressing me, directly, but he added, to Dennis and Cress. “Zoe and I will tune and warm up now, and we will re-tune and warm up as a group during the intermission.” He extended a hand in the direction of a pair of chairs.
Our warm-up was brief, but effective. As he always knew the music ‘by heart,’ and I was accustomed to memorizing it, we wouldn’t need music stands for our duet. I was glad, because being able to meet his eyes as we played made it easier to stay in synch.
After a few minutes he declared us ready.
“It is time,” he said. “Please follow me.”
He led me out of the conference room and into the lounge via a different set of doors than those near the main turbolift banks, and when we got to the raised platform that served as our stage, he offered his free hand to help me balance. I was used to climbing steps with my cello in hand – even in heels, like the ones I was wearing that night – but it was a sweet gesture.
We’d discussed how things would work, so I knew to go to the chair he’d set for me, and stand in front of it, while he moved to speak to the audience – and there was a serious audience. Everyone from our tutorial, Annette, a few other high school students, Geordi, Barclay…Wes’s mother…the Captain. I found T’vek in the front row, caught his eye, and grinned.
His return grin made me feel much more at ease.
Data finished his introductory speech, explaining who I was and why I was on stage, and I inclined my head to the audience. Then I took my seat, and he cued me to begin.
By the end of our duet, I felt as if I had been electrified. We’d played the piece well before, during rehearsals, but that night, it was as if we were completely connected. My part wove in and out of the part he played, cello and violin having a dialogue that was sometimes a seduction and sometimes a debate. By the time we’d crescendoed to the end of the final movement, I knew we had the audience completely under our control. It was a heady feeling.
The applause confirmed my own feelings, and I sketched a curtsey from behind my cello, before following Data back to the conference room where Dennis and Cress had been watching us on a monitor.
“You two,” Cress said, squeezing Data’s arm and then pulling me into a hug (I’d left my instrument on the stage), “were incredible.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I felt like we were flying. Without a ship.”
She and Dennis laughed softly, while Data merely said, “I do not believe we have ever played together with better attunement or a greater competence.”
Impulsively, I hugged him. “In other words,” I said, as his arms came around me, stiffly, but less so than the last time we’d embraced, “we rocked.”
I could feel the tilting of his head, and hear the ever-so-slight smile in his voice when he said, “Indeed.”
I stepped away from him, and smoothed my outfit.
“Okay, I said, “I’m ready for more. Who’s with me?”
If the second half of the concert didn’t make my skin tingle the way the duet had, at the very least, the quartet had captured the audience. Rather than a really popular piece, Data had selected a Beethoven quartet in F-major, one that opened with the melody played on cello. I knew he’d selected it to showcase me, and I’d been incredibly worried when rehearsals had begun that Cress and Dennis would resent it.
Truly collaborative musicians, they supported both the music and me playing it, and on stage that night, just as it had been in our rehearsals, I wasn’t some kid, or Data’s student, I was a fully enmeshed part of the group.
After our collective bow, Data asked me to step forward. “Introduce the encore,” he said softly in my ear.
“Me?” I whispered back.
His answer was a simple, “Yes.”
And so I thanked everyone for attending, thanked Dennis and Cressida for welcoming me into their group, and thanked Data for being a generous teacher and gracious friend before I said. “As a nod to the many holidays we celebrate at this time of year, my fellow musicians have agreed to my selection of an encore piece. It’s an old tune, written in Latin, but it has only three words: ‘Grant us peace.’ We’ll be doing it as a round. If you know it, and feel inclined to sing along, feel free. As one of my personal heroes once said, ‘There’s no such thing as a wrong note as long as you’re singing it.'”
I resumed my chair, and this time, everyone else looked to me. The displays in the music stands were synched, and so we began.
The audience joined in when Cressida’s viola joined my cello, as we built the song from the bottom up, and for about ten minutes, we existed, all of us, not just in a ship made of titanium, duranium, and transparent aluminum, but also in a bubble of love and magic.
After the concert, there was a reception, and I noticed Cressida pull Data aside and whisper something, then gesture to me. I saw him nod, and then he came to join me at the table where my mother, T’vek, and T’vek’s parents were seated. Kenash and my mother had both gushed, while T’rella’s comments had been understated but appreciative. “You showed remarkable poise and musicality,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said. I felt, rather than saw, Data come up behind me.
“Commander Harris, Commander Mairaj, Kenash,” he greeted, and then added, “T’vek. May I borrow Zoe for a few minutes?”
“Of course, Commander,” my mother said, though she added, “We all enjoyed the performance.”
“Thank you,” Data said to my mother. To me, he said, “Zoe, please accompany me.”
I mouthed ‘sorry’ to Mom and Tev, said, “Sure, Data,” and followed him across the room where I saw Geordi and Reginald Barclay sharing a table with a tall, bearded man, a Klingon, and a woman not much taller than I was, who had long, dark, curly hair. The two officers I knew interrupted their conversation to congratulate both of us on our performance.
Data acknowledged them – as did I – but then he turned to the others, “Commander Riker,” he greeted, “Counselor Troi, Lieutenant Worf, I would like to introduce you all to Zoe Harris.”
The bearded man, Riker, grinned at me, and I saw a flash of humor in his blue eyes. “Good to finally meet Data’s Zoe,” he said genially, “although, I think we’ve met once or twice before.”
“Yes, sir. My mother said as much,” I admitted. “But I’m afraid I don’t really remember…no, wait…I do. Only you didn’t have a beard then, and I think you were playing…” I tried to remember what instrument. Something brass. “Trombone?”
He grinned. “Do you like jazz?”
“I like pretty much all music,” I answered. “I grew up with mostly classical and folk, though.”
“Folk music?” the curly-haired woman interjected. “How interesting. It’s good to meet you Zoe; you can call me Deanna.”
Her eyes were dark and luminous, like Tev’s, and her accent was a mix of British English and something else, and I realized she must be at least part Betazoid. “Thank you,” I said, because I really didn’t know what else to offer, but she seemed to be waiting for more. “My grandmother is a musician and anthropologist, and used to specialize in political and protest songs, and how music and civil activism are related.”
“Used to?” Riker asked.
“She’s retired, now. Lives on the family farm on Centaurus.”
“Your grandmother isn’t Irene Harris?”
“Yes, sir – ” I began.
“Will – ” he corrected, interrupting.
“Yes, Will. You know her?”
“I took a class from her when she did a guest semester at the academy. Your mother was in that class.”
I nodded smiling. “Yeah. Gran took a liking to her, and invited her back to the farm during semester break. She met my father and they were married before classes resumed.” I added in a softer tone, “But they’re divorced now. Dad’s getting married again over Christmas.”
Deanna favored me with a combination of a penetrating stare and a wistful smile. “You’re going to the wedding, Zoe? Are you on good terms with your father?”
“We’re good,” I said. “Gia – that’s the almost-stepmonster – is a lot less horrible than she could be, and has good taste in fashion, at least.” I hesitated, gauging their level of humor. “I might have blackmailed my father into getting me a flitter for my birthday in order to guarantee my presence and participation.”
As I’d hoped, they both laughed. The Klingon, however, did not. Instead, he glowered at me. “Children should not blackmail their fathers,” he almost growled. “I enjoyed your music. Good night.”
Alarmed that I’d insulted him, I took a step away from the table, apologizing, “I’m really sorry,” I said, looking for a way to bolt, but I felt Data’s hand at the small of my back.
“You said nothing wrong,” he said softly.
Deanna seconded him. “Worf’s a little touchy today,” she explained. “It’s a long story, and it’s not my place to tell it, but you needn’t worry, Zoe.” Her dark eyes met mine full-on. “I promise.”
I waited a beat, taking her measure as she had mine. “Okay,” I said slowly.
She looked slightly past me, addressing Data, “Are you two joining us, then?” Her invitation was warm, and the smile she wore was sincere.
Data glanced at me, and then back at his friends, “Another time,” he said. “Captain Picard asked that I bring Zoe by his table, and then I must return her to her family.
“It was nice to meet you all,” I said, as gentle pressure from my friend’s hand guided me away. Out of earshot, I whispered, “You didn’t tell me anything about having to talk to the captain. Data, the last time I saw him, I puked on his feet.”
He halted, and moved to face me. “Are you experiencing nausea now?” he asked, concern evident in his tone and on his face.
“No,” I said. “But I might die of embarrassment.”
“If you are polite and engaging, as you just were with Commander Riker and the Counselor, you will ‘do fine,'” he said. “He is expecting to speak with you. To avoid doing so would be considered a breach of etiquette.” He paused, then, watching me. “I have never seen you nervous before,” he observed.
“Yeah, you have,” I said. “The day I asked about being in your tutorial, I was terrified.”
“You hid it well,” he said.
“It was worth it, in the end.”
He understood my comment for the backhanded compliment it was. “Thank you, Zoe. I believe it has been beneficial for us both.” He touched me again, guiding me toward the captain’s table.
Captain Picard’s table was in a relatively secluded alcove. From it, he and his companions could see the stage, but were largely obscured from the view of everyone else. His companions turned out to be just one person – Wesley’s mother.
“Good evening, Captain, Doctor,” Data said, approaching the table. I wanted to freeze in place, but I let him nudge me forward. “You remember Zoe Harris, sir,” he added.
“Good evening, sir,” I echoed Data’s phrase because somehow ‘hello’ seemed inappropriate. “Doctor Crusher.”
The doctor gave me a warm smile. “You were wonderful tonight, Zoe,” she told me. “You, too, Data,” she added.
“Thank you,” I said. “I appreciate the opportunity.”
The captain smiled at me, but it was the tight smile I would later learn he used when he was nervous or uncomfortable. “I enjoyed the concert very much,” he said. “Mr. Data, your own playing has improved since you began working with Miss Harris.”
“Yes, sir,” Data agreed. “I believe it has.”
We chatted for a few more minutes, during which I was terrified that he would ask us to join them, but he didn’t, only made polite conversation. Finally, he flashed me a brief smile that was much less stage-y than before. “Miss Harris, you are a credit to your teacher. Thank you for sharing your talent with us. I’m sure you’d rather spend the rest of your evening with your family and friends.”
“Would it be incredibly bad manners to admit that you were right, sir?” I asked in my best wry tone.
He emitted a short bark of laughter. “Not at all. Mr. Data, please escort this delightful young woman back to her mother.”
“Yes, sir,” Data said.
“And Data?” the captain added.
His eyes widened slightly, “Thank you, sir.”
He escorted me back to my mother’s table – T’vek and his family were still there – and apologized for pulling me away for so long.
“Do you want to join us?” I asked him, mostly to be polite.
“I am afraid I have other duties to attend to,” he said. “Do not forget to reclaim your cello and case from the conference room. Good night, Zoe – everyone.” He walked off, and I focused my attention on the people I’d wanted to be with the whole night. “I’m so sorry,” I said, settling into the open chair between my mother and T’vek. “Data never told me I had to meet people. Commander Riker says hello, by the way, Mom.”
My mother’s smile was affectionate and indulgent. “I suspect, Zoe, that you’ll have to get used to such things if you intend to make any kind of career in the arts.”
“I guess,” I said
We lingered a while longer, but then the adults excused themselves. “Stevek will escort you to retrieve your belongings, and then walk you home,” T’rella told me. “Please be certain you are both home no later than zero-two-hundred hours.”
I glanced at my mother for confirmation, and she nodded and smiled. “Thank you,” I said.
Tev and I waited for them to be long gone before we, too, left Ten-Forward. Then he looked at me, and asked, mimicking a Federation News Net reporter, “So, Miss Harris, how does it feel to be a celebrity?”
I rolled my eyes at him. “I’m not a celebrity,” I said. “Not yet.”
By the time T’vek and I picked up my cello and returned to the corridor leading to our quarters, it was after one, and I was tired and hungry.
“You never ate?” he asked.
“I had a protein shake before the concert, and then I had to meet people so I never got dessert or even a drink.”
“I should have asked earlier,” he said. “I’m sorry. I was a little jealous.”
I laughed. “Jealous? Of what?”
“You spent a lot of time with Data.”
I shrugged. “I kind of had to. Anyway, he’s my tutor, and my friend, and…” I sighed. “I don’t even know why I’m making excuses. It was fun for the first few minutes, meeting all the senior officers, but I would much rather have been with you.”
“Truly.” I set my cello on the floor and stepped close to Tev so I could kiss him. “I love you,” I said. “Even if you didn’t comment on my outfit.”
“I was busy imagining you out of it,” he confessed. He pulled me close and tangled his fingers in my hair. “You have to wear it on Centaurus, just so I can see that.”
“I’ll consider it,” I said, leaning into him. “You might have to bribe me with a hamburger, though.”
“Lips that touch cow…”
“…have kissed you many, many times. I don’t twit you for eating texturized vegetable protein.”
I yawned, then, and blushed because I had. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s been a very long, very strange day, and my performance-high is wearing off. I’ll see you later?”
“Ten?” he suggested. “We could have a late breakfast together.”
I shook my head. “Noon,” I said. “Or two, even. I plan to sleep very, very late.”
“Comm me when you wake up?”
“Definitely.” I kissed him again, and then I picked up my cello, and went into the quarters I shared with my mother. She’d gone to bed, so I just locked the door, replicated another protein shake, and took the glass to my room. I forced myself to wash my face and change to a sleep-shirt before I settled into bed, but I fell asleep before I managed to finish the shake.
Notes: As stated in chapter 27, Zoe & Data’s duet is “Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65” by Carl Maria von Weber. The quartet plays Beethoven’s Opus 59 #1 in F-major, the first of his three “Razumovsky Quartets.” “Dona Nobis Pacem” is a traditional Latin chant. The quotation, “There’s no such thing as a wrong note, as long as you’re singing it,” is from American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger.
Chapter 33: Moon Tide
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine. Warning: This chapter contains non-explicit consensual teen sex.
Stardate 43969.29 (20 December 2366)
Capitol City, Centaurus
The problem with space travel is that sometimes, it feels more like a math problem then a mode of transportation. For example: if it took two shuttles three days to get from the U.S.S. Enterprise, which was patrolling the far reaches of Alpha Sector, to Centaurus (one of the three worlds collectively known as Alpha Centauri, though that’s really the local daystar, and not the planet), in the Beta Sector, how much of that time did I spend making out with my incredibly sweet, devastatingly sexy, Vulcan-Betazoid boyfriend?
The answer? As much as possible, especially after said boyfriend ‘graciously’ gave up his private stateroom on the second shuttle in order to accommodate a single father with his young son. Overbooking will never go out of style.
On the other hand, that much togetherness, even for two people who are madly in love with each other, gets a little overwhelming around day three. Translation: by the time we arrived at the Capitol City Spaceport on the world that I’d thought of as home for most of my life, we were both glad to be dirtside, and each of us was a little sick of the other’s company.
“Dad!” I saw my father in the crowd of people meeting incoming travelers. We’d already cleared customs, so our luggage was with us.
“Zoetrope!” My father ran forward, and grabbed me in a huge hug. “Did you get taller? You look taller.”
I laughed, mostly because I was seeing my real father and not the for-show version of him that I referred to as ‘The Zachary Harris Experience.’ I hugged him back until breathing became an issue, and then I said. “I don’t think so. Must be the boots.” I gestured to the chunky-heeled ankle boots I was wearing, boots that gave me a good five centimeters of extra height. “Or,” I teased, “maybe you got shorter.”
He mock-glowered at me, gave me his signature European-style kisses, and let me go, turning to my companion. “T’vek, isn’t it?” my father asked.
My boyfriend met my father’s eyes and shook his hand with a firm grip. “Thank you for having me, Maestro Harris,” he said. He could ooze charm, when he felt like it.
“Zach,” said my father. “You’re family now, or close as may be. Just call me Zach.”
“Thank you, sir,” Tev said. He caught my eye and smirked ever-so-faintly. I just rolled my eyes in response.
“So, are you two hungry? Do you want to get some food before we head back to the house? What’s your pleasure?”
I let bad Christmas music from the spaceport speaker system wash over me for about half a song. “Food would be good,” I said. “Anything that doesn’t come from a replicator, especially. But I’d be just as happy eating at home so we can hit the beach – there is time for that, right? Before the festivities begin?”
My father grinned at me. “I had a bet with your mother that you’d ask about the beach within ten minutes of arrival. She said you’d hold out for twenty.”
“So, how much does she owe you?”
“Oh, thousands…” he joked, and I was pleased to realize that I could laugh with him. “Rehearsal dinner is tomorrow. Ceremony’s on the 23rd. Gia and I will be spending that night in a hotel, but we’ll be back to join you and your grandmother for a proper Christmas.”
“What?” I teased. “No exotic honeymoon?”
My father grinned at me, the playboy grin that graced the news-nets and magazine covers. “There may be, but not ’til after the holidays. Gia insisted I spend time with you.”
“Smart woman, that Gia.”
“She actually is,” my father began, but he stopped. “T’vek, I’m sorry, my Zoetrope starts spinning and I forget others are in the room. Do you surf?” He took control of our luggage cart as he brought my boyfriend back into the conversation.
T’vek shook his head, “I don’t,” he said. “I sailed a little, when we lived on Betazed, and I swim.” He glanced at me, “Zoe promised to teach me while we’re here.”
Dad activated the anti-grav controls on the cart, and gave it a push, leading us out the doors and into the parking structure. Warm air wrapped itself around us, and I smiled slightly. “She’ll keep you from drowning,” my father assured. “What did you sail?”
I listened as my father and T’vek bonded over their first boats. Living on the coast was remarkably similar no matter what world that coastline inhabited. Kids on Centaurus, Earth, Tiburon, and Betazoid all grew up surfing and sailing and swimming, just like kids from Colorado and Alaska had the same experience of growing up on skis or skates that kids from similar climates on other worlds had.
Dad’s flitter was only a short walk, and he and T’vek loaded the luggage as if they’d been operating as a team for years. I thought about claiming the front seat, but decided it would be better to give Tev the option. Family policy was that new people got treated like guests on their first night, but after that, there were no special favors. Even so, it made me smile when Tev brushed my hand and said, “Zoe, sit in front. You know you want to.”
“Thanks,” I said, hopping into the flitter. My father slid into the pilot’s chair, and Tev sat behind us, but in the middle so he wouldn’t be excluded from any conversation.
“How’s the surf been?” I asked my father, once we were out of spaceport traffic and on our way home. We spent the rest of our half-hour journey discussing the condition of the surf, which beaches had the best swell at this time of year, and whether we should start T’vek on a short- or longboard.
Ten minutes away from home, Dad took the flitter into ground-mode, which meant that when I glimpsed the first red awning and the logo of a surfboard sticking out of a coffee mug, I could cry, “Stop!” and he could actually do so.
“What’s wrong?” T’vek asked.
My father, however, knew what I’d seen, and was already fishing a digi-card out of his pocket. “Zoe has heard the siren call of her people,” he told my boyfriend, and then, when he caught Tev’s blank look in the rear-view mirror, he added. “Espresso bar.”
“Dad, it’s not just espresso. It’s Red Sands. Anybody want anything?” I took the card from his hands and jumped out onto the sidewalk, breathing lovely salty air, and wondering if my parents had wagered on my zero-to-coffee time, as well.
I heard T’vek getting out of the flitter, behind me. “I have to see this,” he said.
Together we walked through the red-painted door, and into my version of Nirvana: People in business suits and people who had obviously just come from the beach – some working on padds, some not – mingled with teenagers who were either heading out to go shopping or just finishing. An espresso machine hissed and hummed as shot after shot was pulled and pitcher after pitcher of milk (or any of a number of milk-alternatives) was frothed, foamed, or steamed, and happy baristas bantered with their customers, and behind it all was the gentle symphony of porcelain cups, tempered glasses, and silverware being clicked and clanked. To other people, it was just a café. To me, it was bliss.
“On any given world,” I said, even though I really knew only two planets with any level of intimacy, “the beach is my favorite place. But Red Sands coffee? That’s my second favorite place. Now, do you want anything?”
He was laughing at me, though. “How did I not see this coming?” he asked, wrapping his arm around me. Suddenly, the feeling of being tired of his company was gone. “Go forth and caffeinate,” he said. “But if they do smoothies – ”
“They do – ”
“I’d like utteberry and peach.”
I stepped up to the counter, greeted the vaguely familiar barista and placed our order – a double mocha for me, and Tev’s smoothie, then handed over my father’s card.
“Thank you for coming to Red Sands, Zoe, your order will be – wait – Zoe? You’re back?”
The sandy-haired barista with the pukka-shell necklace stopped being vaguely familiar as recognition turned him into an old friend, “Kavan. Oh, god, you work here?”
“Yeah, since fall. Dad said I needed to learn responsibility. Who’s your friend?”
“Boyfriend,” I corrected. “T’vek. From the Enterprise. Tev, this is Kavan. We’ve known each other since forever.”
“Hey, man,” Kavan said, “Welcome to Centaurus. Do you surf?”
“Not yet,” T’vek said.
“Zoe gonna teach you?”
Tev and I shared a look. “That’s the plan,” I said. “Hey, listen, we should totally catch up while I’m here. You still have my comm info, yeah?”
“Count on it,” Kavan said handing over our drinks. “And hey, next time you’re in here, drinks are on me.”
“Stellar,” I said. “Thanks.” Drinks in hand, T’vek and I returned to the flitter.
“Mission accomplished?” my father asked.
“Yep. Also, did you know Kavan is working there?”
“Kavan Meyer,” I said. “Surfer Kavan.”
“From that beach party.” My father’s tone grew distinctly more parental.
“Yeah,” I said. “But also no. It was his party, but he didn’t…never mind.” I interrupted myself. “It’s all water under the bridge. So, how’s Gia?”
For the rest of the ride home, I nursed my mocha in silence.
My father’s beach house wasn’t ostentatious, exactly, but it also wasn’t the cute coastal bungalow most people called to mind upon hearing the phrase ‘beach house.’ It was, in fact, and almost perfect replica of his family’s original beach house – a centuries-old nineteen-bedroom ‘cottage’ in a part of Earth called ‘The Hamptons.’
This house was also over a century old, as my father’s family – my family – was one of the founding families when Earth colonized the Alpha Centauri system. It didn’t really have nineteen bedrooms, though, but a slightly less pompous eleven. Of course, five of those were in the family wing, and were actually suites – a bedroom and a sitting room. Each pair of suites (one on each side of the hallway, plus the master suite at the end) shared a bathroom that included a claw-foot tub, a separate shower stall fitted for both sonic and water, and the other typical accoutrements.
The guest wing was a little bit less spacious, but those six rooms were also done in pairs with adjoining bathrooms, they just weren’t suites. My room was the furthest family suite from the master, on the side of the house that had a water view. We’d put Tev in the guest room furthest from the back stairs on the same side of the house. There were two mini-flights of stairs, a balcony, and several meters of hallway between us, but we were still closer than we’d ever been on the Enterprise.
“You live here?” T’vek asked as I showed him around the house. “I mean, really…you live here?”
I blushed. “Sometimes.” I said. “Sometimes I stay at my grandmother’s farm. Tev, it may be big, but it’s just a house. Besides, it has to be big…Dad entertains a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
We’d already eaten – Gia had arranged a really lovely alfresco lunch on the back patio overlooking the beach – but we’d only just gotten around to basic things like stowing luggage and showing off favorite rooms.
Gia came up behind us. “I know how you feel, T’vek,” she said by way of a greeting. “But Zach – and all the rest of the family – are such genuine people, you’d never know they owned something like this.” She turned to me, “Hello, Zoe. Welcome home.”
I’d promised my father that I’d be polite, so I didn’t snark about it being my home and not hers. Instead I said, “Hey, Gia. You look good,” and gave her a perfunctory hug.
“So do you,” she said, her smile becoming less nervous. “I’m glad you’re here for this. It means a lot to your father.” She hesitated before adding, “And to me. I’m sorry we don’t know each other better.”
Again, I bit my tongue to refrain from making a sarcastic comment. “So am I,” I said. I could sense, more than see, the tension rolling off T’vek. He seemed really concerned that I would do something…untoward.
Gia seemed to feel the awkwardness of the moment as well. “I’ll leave you two to get settled,” she said. “I’m told the first night of vacation is always pizza night, so we’ll see you in the den around eight. Is there anything you do or don’t like on pizza?”
“No anchovies,” I said. “Other than that I’m easy. Well, pizza-wise. Make sure one’s meatless, please? Tev doesn’t do dead animal flesh.”
Gia chuckled slightly at that, which surprised me, as it wasn’t really funny. “Got it,” she said.
She left us in T’vek’s room, and once she was out of earshot I asked my boyfriend, “Do you want some alone time, or do you want to hit the beach? It’s barely one.”
He hesitated. “Not that I don’t love you, Zoe…” he began.
“How about we go our separate ways for an hour or two? I’m actually kind of tired, and wouldn’t mind a nap. Besides, before we can go to the beach, I need to unpack a bathing suit or two.”
His smile was both grateful and radiant. “Stellar,” he said. He leaned close to kiss me. “I love you, I just need some downtime.”
I kissed him back. “I know,” I said. “Me, too – on both counts.”
As it turned out, we never made it to the beach. Unable to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, I curled up with a book – those wizard children had moved on to their fifth year, which apparently involved a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS to signify shouting – and then my father asked me to help with setting up dinner.
“What vids are we watching tonight?” I asked. “Or are we doing game night?”
“What’s your preference?”
“Honestly, vids are probably better; Tev and I have been together almost constantly for the last three-and-a-half days and an activity where we don’t have to talk much would be good.”
“You’re not fighting…?”
“No,” I said, scanning the menu of available vids on the entertainment system. “Does Gia like horror?” I asked before returning to the original subject. “Just…you know…a little too much time with just the two of us.”
“I see,” my father said. “You know, Zoe, they say one sign of a relationship not lasting is the inability to be alone together. She likes thrillers, but prefers them cerebral rather than…”
“Gee, thanks, Dad. But we’re in high school; not looking to get hitched.” I paused, then said softly, “Mom thinks Tev is the perfect ‘first boyfriend’ for me. I know – I mean – I know – it’s not forever.” I added after a beat, “Okay, so no slasher films. How about a family-friendly rom-com?”
My father reached over and ruffled my hair. “That’s my girl. So, tell me about this recital you were in. Commander Data arranged it?”
And for the next hour we talked about music, and how Data’s theory tutorial had me playing better than any of my technique teachers ever did. Finally, I asked, “Can we play together, while I’m here? We haven’t in forever. I miss it.”
Dad finished punching in the pizza order, and I saw that his eyes were crinkled and misty, even though his smile was dazzlingly bright, “I’d love that,” he said. “I thought you’d grown beyond playing with your old man.”
I shrugged, and teased him. “Haven’t you heard? Retro is in.”
Late that night, I woke up to the sound of the crashing surf and the light of the nearly-full moon shining through my window. I’d apparently grown so accustomed to life on a starship that it hadn’t occurred to me to close my blinds, but somehow, I didn’t mind. I glanced at the time display on my nightstand: just after two, perfect.
I opened the window, and let cool salty air wash over my skin, and then I smiled up at the moon. Quickly, I traded the baggy t-shirt I’d worn to bed for a bathing suit, then pulled a pair of board shorts over that. I grabbed flip-flops, and a sweatshirt, carrying the former and tying the latter around my waist. Then, as quietly as I could, I left my room.
I needn’t have worried. The door to the master suite was closed, and not a trace of light peeped through the cracks. Still, I stayed near the wall as I moved down the hall, avoided the one squeaky stair before the balcony, and the one squeaky board on the other side, and knocked softly on T’vek’s door.
He was a little bleary-eyed, but seemed happy to see me. “Zoe…” he said. “You okay?”
“Is this a booty call?”
“Nope. Not this time.”
“Do you just get off on bothering people in the middle of the night?”
“Are you?” I asked in my best breathy seductress voice. “Bothered?”
“No, but I will be if you keep talking like that.”
I grinned, “I came to ask you a question.”
“Have you ever been to the beach in the moonlight?”
He shook his head. “No.”
I looked him over. “Change first. Bathing suit or shorts, but bring a sweatshirt, but otherwise, yeah, now.”
“I’m not,” I said. “I’m just extremely motivated to share this experience with you.”
He laughed. “Okay. Five minutes.” He started to close the door.
I blocked it, holding it open. “Can I watch?” I teased.
He laughed again. “Why not.”
It’s a miracle we ever left his bedroom, but we did, and I led him down the back stairway and into the kitchen, and then to the mud-room beyond that. “Towels are in the closet,” I said. “Grab three.” I pulled open another storage space and grabbed a couple of flashlights, checking to see if they had battery power. I dropped my shoes then, and slid my feet into them.
T’vek followed me out the mudroom door, across the back yard, and down the winding path to the beach below the house. The tide was high, and the surf was wild, and I thought it was the best thing ever. “The ocean here is crazy,” he said. “The Opal Sea is never like this.”
“Moon tide,” I explained. “Plus it’s a deep water, rocky coastline. Lay a towel down?” He did so, and I set the flashlights down, one on each end, digging into the sand to prop them up. I turned them on, and their beams cut through the darkness, illuminating a wide swath of sand. I kicked off the flip-flops and stepped out of my shorts. “Join me?” I invited, as my sweatshirt joined the pile of cast-off clothing. I took off toward the water, and was pleased to hear his footsteps and his breathing as he came up beside me.
The next thing I heard was “Surak’s hairy green balls! This water is freezing.” Tev was only knee deep in the surf, but it was likely enough, especially with his half-Vulcan biology.
“Well, yeah,” I said, splashing over to him. “It’s winter. And, okay, winter here isn’t particularly cold or anything, but still…”
“You might have warned me.”
“I assumed you knew.” I peered at him in the moonlight. “Is it too cold? We could wait and get you a wetsuit…”
He shook his head. “Naah, I know how I can warm up later.”
“I like the way you think.”
Moon tides looked crazy rough, but they really weren’t and unlike the oceans on Earth, we didn’t have to worry about big fish trying to eat us as we splashed in the sea. Which we did, until we were salty and soaking wet, and silly from the cold and the starlight.
“You ready to go dry off?” I asked when I knew I’d had enough.
“Beyond ready,” he told me.
He caught my hand and we ran back to our towels, laughing and shivering.
I picked up my towel and wrapped it around me, then set on the one we’d spread out. The flashlights had heat-lamp settings, and I switched mine to that. Tev followed my lead, scooting close to me, so both our towels were around both of us. I turned to ask if he’d enjoyed our little adventure, but when I did so, I saw his dark eyes glittering and I had to kiss him.
He kissed me back, and the mood shifted from playful innocence to something deeper, more primal. I darted my tongue out to taste the traces of seawater on his lips, and he opened his mouth, meeting me half way.
Long, slow, kisses gave way to salt-skinned caresses. I traced the lines of his neck, shoulders and chest with my fingers, and he found the knot that held my bikini top on, replacing the cool, slightly damp fabric with his warm, also slightly damp hands.
“More, please?” I asked as his fingers moved over my skin.
He kissed me again, murmuring, “Mmhmm,” into the kiss.
We moved together, so that I was lying down, with some – or all, I couldn’t really tell – of our dry clothes beneath my head. It felt like the moon was smiling down on us, and that the waves were providing background music. He straddled me, and I felt the bulge in the swim trunks he was wearing. “Tev?” I asked softly.
“You want to stop?” he asked, and I could have sworn he was holding his breath.
I hooked my fingers into the waistband of his trunks. “Not even close,” I said. The trunks were soon cast aside, and he was peeling off the bottom of my bikini.
“Lift your hips,” he said, drawing it off me.
Details began to blur after that. I know his body pressed against mind, the warm weight of him pushing me just a little more into the sand, and I was glad for the thick layer of cotton towel beneath me. He touched me everywhere, skin to skin, breath to breath.
“Zoe, are you sure?” his face was a mixture of desire and an attempt at restraint. “Are you really sure?”
“T’vek,” I said, “I love you. I’m sure.”
All the anatomy textbooks, health class teachers – even Doctor Crusher – had warned me to expect pain. I braced for the worst, but it really wasn’t that bad. A push. A pinch. A little bit of stinging. And then we were joined in the most intimate way possible.
He checked again to see if I was okay.
I assured him I was.
He started to move inside me.
It was over too soon.
I’d read somewhere that it was good manners to show your lover that you appreciated their efforts, so when it was over, and he was next to me, pressed close, I whispered “Thank you.”
He laughed, and I did too, but then he sobered. “You’re not…it didn’t hurt you?”
I shrugged against his chest. “A little, at the beginning. I was expecting worse.” I blushed, glad my face was turned away. “I didn’t mean that, that way.”
“It’s okay,” he said. But then he added, “You didn’t…you know…did you?”
I shook my head, realized he wouldn’t be able to interpret it, and said softly. “No. But I wasn’t exactly expecting to. I think the whole first-time-lovers-have-mutual-orgasms thing is pretty much limited to romance novels.” Again, we laughed together.
“We’ll figure it out,” he said, and it sounded like a promise and a goal.
“Okay.” I was pretty sure that we actually would.
We were both quiet a little longer, and then, as false dawn began to compete with the moonlight, he kissed my shoulder, and the back of my neck. “Zoe,” he said softly. “I love you. Thank you, too.”
I closed my eyes, and let myself just breathe for a while, and then I opened them. “I really have to pee,” I said.
We got up, dressing in the weird semi-darkness, pulling on our dry clothes, and wrapping our swimwear in the towels. Tev grabbed the flashlights, and I slid my sandy feet into my shoes. Neither of us had a free hand, but we kept accidentally-on-purpose bumping into each other as we walked back up to the house.
I dumped the towels into the laundry room, and reminded Tev to rinse his suit and hang it to dry. At the bottom of the stairs, he grabbed me, tangling his hands into my wet hair, and kissing me again. After we broke apart, I waited a good three minutes before following him up the stairs.
As I arrived at my door, the door to the master suite opened for a moment. “Zoe? Is that you?” I heard Gia’s voice say.
“Yeah, sorry…couldn’t sleep, was out on the deck for a while. I didn’t disturb you, did I?” Well, we’d crossed it twice, so it wasn’t technically a lie.
“I’m…a little nervous,” she admitted. “No worries. Get some sleep.”
“You, too,” I suggested.
I walked into my room, closed the door behind me, locked it, and then made a mad dash for the bathroom. After I answered nature’s call, I washed my hands. I turned to leave the room, but caught sight of my reflection in the mirror, and paused to study it. My hair would be a mess in the morning, I knew, but…as far as I could tell…I didn’t think I looked all that different.
I closed my blinds so sunrise wouldn’t wake me before I wanted to be up, changed back into my t-shirt, and went back to bed, hoping no one would need me before ten.
Notes: I hadn’t planned for Zoe and T’vek to have their first time on a beach; they had other ideas. I actually hadn’t planned to have it happen until after her father’s wedding, which will be in the next chapter unless these two kids hijack it the way they did this one.
Chapter 34: Afterand Before
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
Stardate 43971.00 (21 December 2366)
Harris Beach House, Beach Haven, Centaurus
If I’d been able to schedule my life the way I could schedule classes during the school year, I would have spent my first full day at my father’s beach house staying in bed until ten, taking a luxurious hot-water shower, having a late breakfast on the patio overlooking the ocean, and then either spent the afternoon teaching my boyfriend – lover – wasn’t he technically my lover now? – to surf. Then I would have gone for a mani-pedi with Gia, because, honestly, if I’d met her as just a person, instead of the woman my dad had chosen to replace my mother, I’d probably have liked her.
Not that I actively disliked her.
At the very least, I would have had time to check in with said boyfriend, and assure him that I was okay, and make sure that he was okay, and maybe get some serious smooching in. Seriously, that boy was an amazing kisser.
Instead, I was roused at eight in the morning by the sound of the doorbell being rung repeatedly. I rolled out of bed and avoided the mirror, completely baffled as to why no one was answering the thing, then saw the note flashing on my padd: Zoetrope, Gia and I are meeting her parents at the spaceport and taking them to breakfast. Hold down the fort, won’t you? Thanks ever so…Dad.
Immediately, I pulled on the first clothing I could find, which turned out to be a Beach Haven Yacht Club sweatshirt and a pair of board shorts. I grabbed my flip-flops from the floor, and raced for the door, yelling, “Coming!” at the top of my lungs.
I almost tripped on the stairs, slamming into T’vek, coming from the other wing. “Morning,” I said. “Door.” I added.
“I heard,” he said. “Can I help?”
“Can you make coffee?” I asked.
“Why, exactly, do I love you?” I asked, teasingly, but I opened the door before he could answer, and flung myself at the person standing on the other side of it. “Uncle Zane!”
My father’s younger brother picked me up and swung me in a circle. “Hey, put me down, I’m not a kid anymore.”
He returned me to the relative safety of the floor, and looked me over, waggling his eyebrows, “I should say not,” he said. Then he noticed T’vek. “Who’s the arm charm?”
I swallowed reflexively. “This is my boyfriend,” I said, “T’vek Mairaj, meet my uncle, Zane Harris.”
Tev offered his hand, human style, and my uncle shook it formally. “Lovely to meet you, T’vek,” he said, earning a gold star from me when he added, “Isn’t that the name of the pirate on that Betazoid show?” Trust my uncle to know the reference.
“It is,” T’vek told him. “My given name is Stevek.”
Zane offered my boyfriend the smile he reserved for people he liked. “I’d go with the piratical version, myself,” he said. Then he clapped his hands together, “So, who’s hungry? I’ve been living on ship- and hotel- food for six months and I’m desperate to mess around in a real kitchen.”
I grinned, “I’m starved. I have no idea if Tev’s eaten anything…?” I let the sentence trail off into a questioning tone.
“I have not,” he said. “I’m hungry, too.”
“Super,” Zane said, “T’vek, why don’t you come join me in the kitchen and we’ll see what we can come up with. Zoe-darling, you look like you’re desperate for a shower. Join us in twenty?”
“Should I be grateful for the chance to shower, or annoyed that you think I look like I need one?” I grumped, but I was teasing – mostly. “See you in twenty. Do not tell any baby stories about me or ask T’vek personal questions while I’m gone.”
My uncle grinned at me, the way he always did when he was about to get his way. “Would I do that?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “You totally would.” I turned and fled for my room – and it’s lovely, lovely shower – before he could respond to that.
It was actually more like thirty minutes before I joined T’vek and Zane in the kitchen, but they were only just finishing their preparations, so it wasn’t like it mattered much. I smelled coffee and toast and something else. “Did you make a frittata?” I asked as I unhooked my favorite mug (it had my name on it) from the mug tree. “Tev, are you okay with eggs?”
“Eggs are not actual animals, merely potential ones,” he said, sounding eerily like a certain gold-skinned math tutor we shared. “You know I eat dairy. It’s just actual meat I have a problem with…and it’s not even ethical; it’s biological.”
I cocked my head at him, studying him for a long moment. “How did I never know this?”
He shrugged, “It’s never really come up. You usually make sure to order vegetarian dishes when we eat together.”
“It would’ve been nice to know there was a little leeway in those orders,” I said. “Anyway, it smells amazing. I feel spoiled.”
“You should,” my uncle said, joining the conversation as he returned from the patio. “Not every young woman has two devilishly handsome men cooking for her.”
“Neither do I,” I teased. “Seriously, Uncle Zane, it smells amazing,”
“Glad you think so. Leave the hideous mug here, and come to the patio; your feast awaits.”
“My mug is not hideous,” I protested, though, in truth, it actually sort of was. It was this weird color that wasn’t quite red and wasn’t quite orange, and it had the Yacht Club logo on it, and my name, but somehow nothing seemed to work together. Still it was the perfect size for looping my hand through. That using it annoyed my fussy uncle was just a bonus.
“Zoe, I’ll grant you that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but does it make you blind as well?”
I put the mug back. “Fine,” I said. “For you, I will use some froufrou mug that matches all the dishes and has a way-too-small handle.”
T’vek had been laughing at our entire exchange. “Zoe, I’ll buy you a new mug, okay? One that has your name on it, but isn’t an affront to all things art and design-related.”
“I’m holding you to that,” I said.
He kissed me. “I know you will.”
All through breakfast, I could feel my uncle watching T’vek and me, gauging our body language, cataloguing the number of times we touched or made eye contact.
When we’d finally finished the meal, and I got up to clear the table, my uncle said, “Zoe, sit back down a minute.”
Zane had always been more like a big brother than an adjunct parent, but I recognized his serious tone, and returned to my seat. “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head, “Not necessarily wrong, just…do your parents know you two are sleeping together?”
I glanced at Tev before I answered. “What makes you think we are?”
“C’mon, Zoe, this is me. The one who proved to you that there weren’t monsters in the closet. The one who made sure you never had to see it when your dad had…friends…over while your mom was away…”
“…until I did,” I said softly.
“Yeah,” he said. “The point is, kiddo, you and me – we don’t lie to each other, and we don’t keep secrets.”
“It happened last night,” T’vek said, interrupting us both.
“No, Zoe. It’s cool. Your uncle’s cool. Would’ve liked it if you’d told me he was the lead singer of the Federations best indie band before I’d asked if he’d heard their music, but…we can trust him.” He softened his voice, adding, “I can tell.”
So he had done a little observation, when they’d touched. Surface thoughts, he’d told me. Just surface thoughts. Suddenly I wondered how much of that was true. Then I put the thought out of my head, because he’d also said that where I was concerned everything else he felt overwhelmed even the surface thoughts.
I looked back at my uncle. “Mom knows we were on this path…she was hoping we’d wait…but, yeah, it happened last night.”
My uncle bit his lip, the way he sometimes did when he was about to tread into uncertain personal territory. “You were…careful, though, right?” he asked. “You used…”
“Birth control? Yeah, we’re good. We’re both clean, we’re both protected.” I heard myself getting snippy, and took a breath. “Are we that obvious?” I asked softly, even as I reached for Tev’s hand.
“Yes and no. My mother will be able to tell. Your father…well, he’s wrapped up in wedding stuff right now, and he’s never been one to notice the subtle stuff anyway.”
“True,” I said.
“I should tell you to stop. I should tell you that you’re both too young and you should let yourselves be kids while you can. I should tell you a lot of things. But I’m not going to. Instead, I’m just going to remind you that just because you’ve done it once, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. And…be good to each other. Teen romances never last – try to remember that you’re friends first, and you can probably manage to stay friends, after.” He pushed his chair away from the table and stood up.
I stood up again, too, not to clear the table but to give my uncle a really big hug. “I love you,” I told him. “You’re the best uncle ever.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I am. Now be the best niece and clean this mess up.”
I shook my head at him, but couldn’t hide my grin. “I should’ve known I’d get stuck doing the dishes.”
Uncle Zane laughed. “Yeah, I was pretty amazed you fell for that.”
“I’ll help,” T’vek said.
“Thanks,” I said.
My uncle left us to clean up, but re-appeared a few minutes later. “One more thing,” he began.
“Plastics?” I asked, referring to an ancient film we’d watched together once.
He chuckled. “Nice, Zoe. But no. I just wanted to let you know – let you both know – that if you need someone to talk to…”
“You’re here for us?” I asked, finishing his thought for him.
“Something like that, yes.”
“Cool,” I said, at the same time Tev said, “Stellar.”
I never actually accused my uncle of intentionally separating me from T’vek for the rest of the day, but as soon as the breakfast dishes were done, and the kitchen put back in order, I was put in charge of sorting out family as they arrived.
Dad and Gia had decided a small wedding was best, and the people who did arrive at the house were mostly there to check in and see what needed to be done. Well, most of them. Uncle Zane, my cousin Vanessa, and Gia’s parents and one sister were all staying with us, and each of them had a problem to be solved. Zane needed a humidifier in his room to keep his throat healthy. Vanessa was annoyed that she’d been moved to the guest wing, sharing a bathroom with Gia’s younger sister. Her brother was sharing T’vek’s bathroom, and asked for more towels.
Gia’s older sister was staying at a local hotel with her husband and their children, but wondered if we could possibly lend them some toys and games to play with. Her parents were in one of the suites in the family wing of the house, and wondered if we had heating pads for their old bones (their words).
While I was feeling as though I’d been dragged into an alternate universe where I was the daughter of an innkeeper (would that make Tev the highwayman in the moonlight?), my boyfriend had also been pressed into service, setting up tables and a sound system, and even constructing an arbor for the bridal party to pose under, since the reception was being held at home.
Our paths did cross, of course, but by four in the afternoon, we were both tired and cross, and we still had to change for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.
I caught my father, reminded him that I might be family, but Tev was a guest, and demanded he let us off to rest and bathe before we were needed again. He agreed, reminding us to be ready to leave for the rehearsal two hours later.
“I don’t know about you,” I said to T’vek as we climbed the stairs with considerably less energy than either of us had had a few hours before, “but I need to nap for an hour before I even think about putting on dressy clothes.”
“Agreed,” he said.
At the top of the stairs, I stopped and looked at him. “I’ve barely seen you since breakfast, and the next two days are going to be crazy with family and wedding and then there’s Christmas. Wanna come nap in my room.”
He gave me a soft, slow, smile. “Just nap?” he asked.
“Yeah, probably,” I said. “I really am tired.”
“That’s fair,” he said. “And there’s time, anyway.”
He walked with me to my room, took in my unmade bed, and arched an eyebrow at me. I shrugged, and kicked off my shoes, then peeled off the jeans I’d been wearing all day. I took my bra off, too, without taking off my t-shirt, and then I climbed into my bed. Even rumpled, the cotton sheets were soft and soothing.
Tev followed my lead, removing just enough clothing to be comfortable, and he snuggled in beside me. “Set an alarm,” he reminded me, and I did, giving us ninety minutes. I don’t know if he fell asleep, but I know that I didn’t wake until the alarm insisted that I had to.
By six-thirty that evening, Dad, Gia, T’vek, and the rest of the immediate family and I were assembled in the local Episcopal church, waiting for Mother Rodriguez. Known to the younger generation of Beach Havenites as Mother Ixchel, she had been the parish priest at Saint Alban’s by the Sea since before I’d been born. Her once-jet black hair was starting to grey a little, but she was still the same woman I remembered: strong, warm, and vibrant, with an amused twinkle in her eyes much of the time.
“Zach, Gia – welcome,” she said as she glided into the sanctuary. “Zane,” she added, with a hint of a warning to my uncle. He’d been quite the trouble-maker in his day. “And Zoe, you look so grown up. Welcome home.”
She extended her welcomes to Gia’s parents and family, greeted T’vek as if they’d known each other for years, instead of about a minute, and then looked around wondering, “Where’s Irene?”
“Here I am,” came my grandmother’s sing-song announcement, as if on cue. “Hold everything until I see my granddaughter!”
I turned in the direction of her bell-like voice, and ended up meeting her half-way down the aisle. “Oh, my darling girl, I’ve missed you,” she said gathering me into a life-threatening hug.
“Breathing,” I choked out, “I’d like to do some,” I added as her hold on me loosened somewhat. After a couple of breaths I added, “I missed you, too, Gran.”
“As well you should,” she said, though her tone was warm with good humor. “Give your old Gran a kiss on the cheek and introduce me to The Boy, and I might forgive you for being home a whole day without coming to see me.”
I did as I was told, kissing her, and then stepping back so I could beckon T’vek to join us. “Gran – Ms. Harris – this is T’vek Mairaj,” I said. “Tev, this is…Gran.”
T’vek offered her his hand, but she pushed it away, pulling him into a brief hug. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” she said. “Call me Irene.”
“It’s good to finally meet you…Irene…” he said a bit uncertainly.
She laughed. “You as well.”
“Irene…” Mother Ixchel interrupted the introductions.
“Yes, what?” my grandmother put on a mask of irritation.
“Can’t you see I’m greeting my granddaughter and her beau?” the older woman asked, but we all knew she was mostly teasing. “Oh, very well, I suppose if we get rehearsal out of the way we can move on to dinner sooner.” She left T’vek and me and went to exchange much briefer greetings with everyone else.
“If we’re all ready,” Mother Ixchel began, her tone more than a little pointed, “let’s begin.”
And so we walked through the basic, simple ceremony. Gia’s family was neo-progressive Catholic, but she was a bit of a traditionalist, so they had decided not to use their own vows. Her older sister was the matron of honor, and was doing the first reading. Uncle Zane was doing the second.
As for me, I’d been ‘volunteered’ to lead the prayers of the people, the responsory where we prayed for the travelers and the family and the Federation, the planet, the people, and for peace and all that. I’d led it before, and didn’t mind.
I did mind, at least a little, when I found out that Vanessa and I had also been ‘volunteered’ to sing during the service. It was only “Amazing Grace,” so it wasn’t like we didn’t know it, but we’d had no rehearsal time.
“Why do I get the feeling you didn’t know you were singing?” she asked me as we moved to stand near the piano.
“Because I didn’t,” I said. “I would have had my voice teacher on the Enterprise work with me, if I’d known.”
“Is that the android your letters always mention?” she asked.
“Data? No. He’s my math tutor, and he’s been helping me with an AP music theory class. And he’s…kind of a friend, I guess. My voice teacher is actually an astrophysicist, Lucy Caldwell’s younger sister, actually.”
“Lorna, isn’t it?” she asked. “Everyone was so surprised when she chose Starfleet over music.”
“She still does music,” I said, “just, you know, not as a profession.”
Our conversation came to an abrupt end when Mother Ixchel insisted that we sing the song through a second time.
Finally, we’d rehearsed the entire ceremony twice, and Mother Ixchel released us with the reminder to be kind to each other during this time of stress and joy.
“You’re joining us for dinner, aren’t you?” my father asked her before she could glide away – she always glided.
“I’ll meet you at the restaurant in fifteen minutes,” she told him.
We left the church and reassembled at Pescatore’s a local Italian restaurant that specialized in seafood, though their menu was fairly extensive. Gia’s parents – Antonio and Nunzia – had chosen it, and made the rehearsal dinner their gift to their daughter and my father.
Gia, having learned a lot about event planning even though that wasn’t really her job as orchestra archivist, had arranged for one large round table, instead of a rectangular one, so that everyone could see each other, and conversations would be easier. I sat with T’vek on one side of me, and Gia’s brother, an attorney, on the other.
After we ordered, I did my duty as daughter of the groom, and engaged him in conversation, asking, “What kind of law do you practice?”
“Actually, I work for a non-profit,” he said. “We do a lot of work with immigrants from non-aligned worlds, and with people from planets that are new to the Federation.”
“So, mostly civil rights stuff?” I asked, intrigued.
“Yes,” he said. “And social justice. Actually, Gia was helping me organize a benefit for a children’s aid group after those lethal tremors on Artemia.”
“I remember reading about those,” I said. I didn’t mention that I’d been on the Enterprise, when it had gone to render first-response aid, or that my math tutor was part of the team that helped stabilize the weather net after the tectonic activity had rendered it inoperable.
“Well, Gia was helping me out with details, and contacted your father – he ended up hiring her, and then…well, you know the rest.”
“I hadn’t realized she wasn’t just a music student,” I said.
“Oh, no, she’s actually not that musical at all,” Nick told me. “She’s an organizational specialist.”
I raised my eyebrows at that. “Interesting,” I said. “So, what’s the name of your non-profit?”
He told me, and then added, “You know, we often invite high school juniors and seniors to come and intern with us.”
“That would be really educational,” I said, “and if I were a junior or senior, I’d probably be begging you for more information, but I’m only half-way through my sophomore year, and I’m pretty focused on the arts right now.”
“Keep it in mind for next year,” he told me. “We’re working with several universities around the Federation on the development of some new programs that combine different disciplines with pre-law and social justice coursework. The arts are often the best way to really break the ice with new citizens.”
“I promise to think about it,” I said, and it wasn’t just lip-service. I actually meant it.
The rest of the dinner included lots of different conversations, family stories from both sides, and a lot of joking and laughter. Finally, though, my father stood up, tapping his knife against his glass to request silence.
“Dear family, Gia and I just wanted to take a moment and thank all of you for being here to participate in our wedding. We’re so grateful to all of you for being here. If there isn’t time for us to tell you tomorrow, please know that we welcome all of you into both our families.”
“Here, here,” called Gia’s father. “The more the merrier.”
Everyone laughed, but my father signaled for us to be quiet again, and we responded. “Before we all go home to get our beauty rest – though I think I need it more than my lovely bride does – I’d like to ask Mother Rodriguez to offer a closing prayer.”
Mother Ixchel stood up, and invited us to join her. “I would invite you all to join hands,” she said, offering her own to T’vek on one side, and my grandmother on the other. “As we have people of varying faiths among us, I would simply remind you that ‘to pray,’ means only ‘to ask.’ Whether we are asking God, or merely sending our prayers into the universe, the intent is the same. Tonight, then, let us ask for joy, for love, and for peace, for this new couple, for all their friends and family, assembled here and elsewhere in the cosmos, and for all people wherever they may be.”
Many murmured ‘amens’ greeted her words, and then we all dropped hands, and the party broke up.
It was only a few blocks from the restaurant back to the house – the joy of living in a beach town – and T’vek and I decided to walk back.
“Are you sure?” my father asked.
“Zach, they’re teenagers. Let them have some alone time,” Gia told him.
My uncle was busy chatting with Vanessa and Gia’s younger sister, whose name kept going out of my head, or I’m sure he’d have offered to ‘chaperone’ us. I used the opportunity to hug my grandmother, and then promised my father, “We won’t be late, and I know the entry code.”
“Okay, then,” he said. “Be careful.”
“I promise to take care of her, Mr. Harris,” T’vek said.
“It’s Zach,” my father and I corrected him together. Dad continued, “And she’s pretty resourceful. Watch out for each other, yes?”
“That would be our cue,” I told my boyfriend, taking his hand. He grinned, thanked Gia’s father for dinner, and let me lead him out the door. Once we were away from everyone, I asked him, “So, how awful was it? I heard you in deep conversation with Mother Ixchel.”
“It was actually pretty interesting. We were comparing her faith to Betazoid and Vulcan spirituality.”
“Really. And then we got on to the architecture and art of each culture. You seemed pretty into your conversation.”
“Yeah, Gia’s brother does civil rights and social justice work. It was also really interesting.”
We took the shortcut home, through the park, but we didn’t linger on the benches or swings. We didn’t need to. It was nice just to be in the fresh night air, holding hands. About a block from the house, Tev asked me softly, “How come I’ve never heard you sing?”
“You have,” I said, automatically.
“No,” he said. “I haven’t, not before tonight.”
“You don’t suck.”
“No, I mean….” He stopped walking. “You and your cousin…”
“…Vanessa…sounded really good. Like, professional. I mean, I knew you were taking lessons, but…”
“But you’ve only ever heard me play the cello?”
“I wasn’t hiding it. I mean…I’m never going to be an opera diva or a pop star. But…I told you I’d done musicals.”
“I didn’t know you made sculpture, until that day in the arboretum.”
“You don’t suck, either, you know. With your art.”
“I wasn’t sure you liked it.”
“T’vek…are you kidding? I loved it.”
“So, if I asked you to sing for me…?”
“Not now, no. It’s in the middle of the night, in a city park. But…sometime?”
“Sure,” I said. “I guess.”
We started walking again, but after a moment he asked another question. “Zoe…?”
“T’vek…?” I imitated his tone, in an attempt to keep things light. He squeezed my hand.
“Last night…are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m sure,” I said. “I’m really sure.”
“Do you want to…I mean your uncle said…”
I stopped our forward momentum that time. “T’vek Mairaj, I love you, and I have no regrets about last night, and it’s scaring me a little that you’re suddenly so unsure.”
He shrugged, and I saw a flash of his dark eyes in the starlight. “On the Enterprise, even though we see people – go to class, see our friends, and stuff – it’s like we’re in a bubble. Like it’s not quite real. Here, with all the wedding stuff, and your family, and…everything. It’s a little bit much.”
“How about we agree not to worry about it ’til after the wedding, then?” I suggested. “No pressure. No stress. Just…we’ll go to my Dad’s wedding, and we’ll dance at the reception, and after that, we’ll just see what the next day brings.”
“Wait, I have to dance…?”
“Sadly, it’s too late for me to ask Sven, now.”
He pulled me close to him, kissed me, and held me for a long moment. Then we continued the walk home, still holding hands.
We parted ways at the top of the stairs, but not before he kissed me again, and asked, whispering into my hair. “Hey, Zoe…is there really a Sven?”
I laughed, and kissed him. “Maybe.”
Notes: So sorry for the long delay after so many quick updates. I’ve been dealing with a back injury (wet tile is really not a good thing) and have acquired a new puppy who came home from the shelter with two infections, a heart murmur, and is also grossly underweight. (She’s a border collie mix and at eight weeks, only weighed 3 pounds.) On top of that, I had repair people in my house for plumbing and a/c issues on three separate days, the week before last. On the upside the puppy, Piper, is starting to improve. No music notes – “Amazing Grace” is a traditional hymn in many faiths.
Chapter 35: On My Father’s Wedding Day
Disclaimer: Star Trek: the Next Generation, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and all the canon characters belong to CBS/Paramount. The rest is mine.
On My Father’s Wedding Day
Stardate 43973.86 (22 December 2366)
The church smelled of sea air and pine boughs, as it was already decked in greenery for Christmas, and I stopped a moment, just breathing in that heady combination. For about two minutes, I was seven years old again, rehearsing “Silent Night” with the children’s choir, but then Gia’s older sister – her matron of honor – came up behind me and broke the spell.
“Zoe? Have you got a minute?”
I turned around, and gave Eliana my sunniest smile. “Sure thing,” I said, “what’s up?”
“My sister is asking for you. Says she needs to talk to you. I told her you were probably rehearsing or something, but…”
“No, it’s fine,” I said. “‘Nessa and I worked on the song at the house this morning, and I’m already dressed. Is everything okay?”
Eliana shrugged. “I have no idea. One minute she’s babbling about how wonderful everything is, and the next she’s panicking over everything not being perfect. I swear, I would never have agreed to do this if I’d known she would be so…dithery.”
“What were you like, at your wedding?” I asked, as we crossed the sanctuary, and ducked into the back hallway that led to the changing rooms. My father, Zane, and T’vek were hiding in the one that had been designated for the groom, and I was a little envious. I’d much rather hang out with the boys than be subjected to as much primping and posing as I knew was going on in Bride Central.
“David and I eloped,” she said. “He’s not religious, and we were off-world working with the Corps.” Eliana’s husband, I’d learned, was part of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers. She herself had been working as a volunteer, on sabbatical from her professorship at University of Phoenix, Mars Campus, when they’d met. “If you and your Vulcan friend ever marry, you should consider the same. It’s easier on everyone.”
I wasn’t sure how to answer that, or even if I should. Sure, Tev and I loved each other, but even I knew it was silly to expect to actually marry your high school sweetheart. I settled for a mostly neutral, “I’ll take that under advisement.”
“Oh,” she said, stopping in the middle of the hallway. “I’m sorry; I forgot what it’s like to be in the first blush of young love. Didn’t mean to burst any bubbles.”
“You didn’t,” I said. “Really, it’s cool.”
She nodded, and then opened the door to the room where Gia was. “Good luck.”
The bride was sitting in a wing chair, with a smock over her dress. Her mother, Nunzia, smiled at me when I entered the room, making the too-solid sound of the door closing seem slightly less ominous. She was sitting on an ottoman, coaxing her daughter to eat.
“I’m told my presence was requested,” I greeted, keeping my tone as light as I could.
“Yes, thank you.” Gia said. “Mamma, could you give us a minute?”
“Certo, mio cara figlia,” her mother answered in Italian, as she stood up. To me, she said, “See if you can get her to eat a sandwich? Brides never manage to eat when everyone else does, and then they faint. It’s never good.”
“Mamma…” Gia said it with a warning in her tone.
“Yes, I’m going, I’m going.”
This time when the door closed, I was left alone with my almost-stepmother. “So, is this the part where you tell me that you’re in charge, and that if I cater to your every whim, you won’t try to ruin the relationship I have with my father?”
Her brittle, stressed smile softened into something much more natural. “Would that even work?”
I dragged over the straight-backed chair from the vanity. “Not a chance,” I said. “Besides, if Nick and Eliana are anything to judge by, you’re kind of…not so bad.”
She laughed at that, well, chuckled softly. “‘Kind of not so bad,'” she repeated. “It’s a start, I guess.”
“Oh, don’t backpedal now,” she said. She picked up one of the finger sandwiches from the tray, grimaced at it, and put it down. “This is actually the part,” she said, and her tone was both serious and sincere, “where I tell you that I don’t want to replace your mother, but that I’d really like us to be friends.”
“You called me in here an hour before your wedding for that?” I asked.
“It’s important,” she began, and then rephrased, “I feel it’s important that we start off on the right foot. We don’t know each other very well, and your father didn’t handle things at all well…”
“Understatement of the year,” I said cutting her off. “Though he did try to make it up to me.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I saw the credit account statements.”
“I might have milked it a little,” I admitted.
“Well, I still don’t have a pony.”
“I thought you were lobbying for a flitter…”
This time she cut me off. “Zoe, please…I need…I need to know that you don’t hate me, and that we can be friends.”
A small, petty part of me wanted to tell her it could never happen. A small, petty, bitter part of me wanted to slice into her with a truly sharp reply about how she’d wrecked our family, or something. The bigger part of me, however, listened to the inner voice of reason, which, oddly, sounded a lot like my math tutor, reminding me that my relationship with Dad had begun to improve since Gia had been on the scene.
I was quiet for a full minute, and then some. Finally I said. “I don’t hate you. I think, actually, you’ve been good for my father. As to being friends…we don’t know each other very well, yet, but I’m not going to put arsenic in your tea or strychnine in the sugar bowl, or anything.”
“Is that a ‘yes’?”
“It’s an ‘I’d like to try,'” I said, not quite ready to commit.
“I’ll take it,” she said, and then, after a beat she added, “Want a sandwich?”
The wedding itself was both simple and lovely. T’vek and I sat with my grandmother and Vanessa in the front row of the groom’s side of the church. My father and uncle both looked dashing in their tuxedos. Both of Gia’s parents escorted her down the aisle, and she looked fresh and relaxed, as did Eliana.
The readings were done with no one stumbling on words, and for the first time when I uttered the words in the prayers of the people about people who were traveling ‘in the air, on land or sea, or through space’ it wasn’t only my mother whose name came to mind.
Vanessa and I managed “Amazing Grace” without either of us getting choked up, though I was really glad I’d opted for a brand of mascara that was both clear and waterproof.
Finally, Mother Ixchel pronounced my father and Gia married, and we all followed them out of the church. I noticed a few reporters among the folks taking pictures, but since my father didn’t seem bothered, I chose not to be, either. He and Gia posed for the paparazzi together, and with various configurations of the bridal party and immediate family. Finally, he pulled me over and said, “One more, Gia and me with my lovely daughter, Zoe.”
Camera flashes, I decided at that point, must have been invented in hell.
If the wedding had been simple, quiet, and tasteful, Dad’s wedding reception was an all-out party. Sure, it had begun with formal introductions of the wedding party and family. Sure, there had been more posed pictures under the arbor that T’vek and my uncle Zane had constructed the previous day – actually, there was a shot of T’vek and me that I really wanted copies of – but once the formalities had been observed, there was music and dancing and food and liquor.
Lots of liquor.
And lots of dancing.
Dad and Gia, of course, started the dancing, and then separated, so he could dance with her mother, and then my grandmother. When Gia danced with her father, Dad caught me by the arm, and waltzed me onto the floor. “I heard you and Gia had a chat today,” he said.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” I protested out of habit.
“Actually, I was going to compliment you on being gracious and mature these past few days.”
“Learn to accept compliments, daughter-of-mine,” he said softly. “I suspect you’ll be getting a lot of them as you grow older.”
“Flatterer,” I teased.
“Father,” he said, correcting me, but his eyes were serious, even if his tone was not, and he added, “Your android friend – ”
“Data – ”
“Yes, fine, Data – sent me a recording of your concert.”
“You’ve improved a lot.”
“Yeah,” I said, as he spun me under his arm, “I have.”
“The duet you two played…you had a real connection.”
“Did we?” I asked. “We rehearsed it a lot, I guess.”
“You can’t rehearse a connection like that.”
“He’s my tutor, Dad. I mean, he’s my friend, but he’s my friend the way adults are with kids, you know?” Which wasn’t quite true, but wasn’t quite not-true either.
“He challenges you.”
That got my attention. “Musically, you mean?”
“Sure,” he said. “Why not?” It wasn’t a question, really.
I wanted to press him for more, but it was his wedding reception, and the song was over, and I hadn’t really danced with T’vek yet. I kissed him on the cheek. “Love you, Dad,” I said.
“Love you, too, darling girl,” he answered, and pressed his own lips to my forehead.
My uncle Zane dragged me into a dance before I had a chance to even process the conversation with my father, and then I danced with Gia’s brother Nick, as well. He was a good dancer, actually, but not chatty, which was fine. He did ask for my comm address, though, probably to keep me informed about internships.
After that, I managed to leave the dance floor so I could track down my boyfriend.
I found T’vek seated on the stairs massaging his temples, and I sat down next to him, ignoring the fact that we were now blocking access to the second floor. Well, there was no one who needed access to the bedrooms, anyway. “You okay?” I asked him.
“Too many people,” he said softly. “My head hurts.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Do you want me to leave you alone?”
He started to shakes his head, then stopped himself, wincing. “No, you’re fine. I just…dancing involves a lot of touching, and…”
“I thought you said you only caught surface thoughts with contact and concentration,” I asked.
“Usually that’s true,” he said. After a beat he added, “Weddings and funerals involve a lot of intense emotion. People practically broadcast things they normally wouldn’t.”
“And the alcohol probably doesn’t help…”
“No.” He frowned slightly. “You wanted to dance, though.”
“I did, with Dad, and Zane and a couple of other people. I really wanted to dance with you.” I grinned and gestured to the dress I was wearing and to his tux. “I mean seriously, how hot are we tonight? But if you’re not up to it, it’s okay. And frankly, I’d rather sit here not-dancing with you than go dance with Dad’s orchestra members. The first trumpet player keeps leering at me, and it’s getting creepy.”
The music changed from a fast swing number to another waltz, and Tev lifted his head. “I know this one,” he said. “They play it at shipboard events all the time.”
I listened for a moment. “Yeah, it’s always the song they play at official functions.”
“Would you officially like to dance with me?” Tev asked, his face suddenly less strained.
“But you said…”
“I said the party was overwhelming. But you’re not. And we can hear the music just fine, here.” He stood up, and walked to the middle of the hallway, sketching a bow, “Miss Harris, would you do me the honor?”
I forced myself not to giggle, and followed his lead, rising as well, and even offering an awkward curtsey. “Why, Mr. Mairaj, I’d be delighted.”
And so we waltzed in the hallway, just the two of us, and when the music shifted again, to more contemporary, slower tune, we continued to dance, until we weren’t actually dancing any more, but kissing – making out, even.
“Seriously, you two, get a room.” My cousin Vanessa interrupted us.
“We have one,” I said. “Actually we have two, if you want to be picky about it.”
“Whatever,” she said. “Look, they’re about to do cake and champagne, and you are conspicuously absent.”
“Well be right in,” I said, moving slightly away from T’vek, but keeping hold of his hand.
“Fix your lipstick first,” she said. “I’ll stall.”
The cake was sliced, and champagne was served. Since the reception was at home, even T’vek and I got some of the latter, though he only sipped his during the toast. Finally, Dad and Gia took off for the hotel where they’d be spending the night – their real honeymoon would happen after the holidays and my birthday – and reminded us that we were all to meet at the yacht club for brunch the next day.
Guests began to depart, and the hired catering company began cleaning up the party mess, while Zane, Vanessa, T’vek and I sorted through gifts, making sure there was a list of whom had sent what. It would make it easier for Dad and Gia to send thank-you notes after the holidays.
Nick, Antonio, and Nunzia had also pitched in, and were dividing the flowers into small bouquets to be delivered to the local senior care center in the morning. Gia’s other sister, whose name, I’d finally managed to learn, was Cora, had gone with Eliana and David to their hotel, to spend time with her nieces and nephews.
Around midnight, the seven of us were finally finished with our chosen tasks. “Is anyone hungry?” Nick asked.
“I could eat,” I said.
“Me, too,” T’vek added, and everyone else agreed.
“The pizza place delivers til two am,” Vanessa pointed out, “or we could raid the refrigerator for leftovers.”
“Pizza,” T’vek and I said together. I continued, adding, “You can’t get delivery pizza on a starship, and the replicated stuff tastes like plastic and cardboard more often than not.”
“Zoe thinks there’s something magical in the pizza box that makes delivery pizza taste so good,” Tev shared, teasing me and making everyone else chuckle.
“She may be right,” Nuniza said. “I know I always like it better delivered than eaten at a restaurant. If you don’t mind two old people eating with you, Tony and I will buy.”
“I’ll order,” I said, “what does everyone like?”
And so we sat up for another two hours, eating pizza in the kitchen, and getting to know each other even better. When we’d all eaten our fill, we put the leftovers away, and went to our separate beds. I could tell T’vek wanted more than just the goodnight kiss I gave him but my uncle was hovering on the landing, and I didn’t want to give him cause to tell my father exactly what my relationship with my boyfriend really was.
“Love you,” I said to Tev. “See you in the morning.”
Stardate 43976.42 (23 December 2366)
9:30 AM Centaurus Local Time
Beach Haven Yacht Club, Beach Haven, Centaurus
Much like the rehearsal dinner had been, the post-wedding brunch was loose and informal. The yacht club didn’t have huge tables so we pretty much sat where we wanted at small round tables in the private dining room. Tev and I ended up with Nick and my grandmother, and had a really great conversation.
When the main meal had ended, and coffee was served, Zane asked if we minded having the monitors turned on so he could catch sports scores – his favorite soccer team was playing in the sector finals. No one minded, and screens flashed to life in the corners of the room.
We didn’t get the sports scores right away, though. Instead, there was an FNN reporter breaking into the game with a news bulletin:
“Jouret IV is as far from Earth as one can go without leaving Federation space,” the woman was saying. “It has little strategic value, and has enough resources only to support its own population, though it’s a popular retreat destination, for those in religious orders. Three days ago, Providence Colony, the first human settlement there, broadcast a planetary distress message, and activated an emergency beacon. Starfleet has dispatched the U.S.S. Enterprise to investigate. Further updates as information is received. We now return you to SportsDay!”
As soon as the ship we called home was mentioned, T’vek and I exchanged glances. “We’re calling the ship as soon as we get home, right?” I asked him.
“I was just going to say the same thing,” he said.
“Make sure you give your mother my love,” Gran told me, between bites of eggs benedict served on fish cakes rather than English muffins. She noticed the look I gave her in response to that, and added, “She may not be married to my son any more, but she’s still family through you, Zoe. The notion that someone signing a few documents can end affection between people is patently absurd.”
That was just one example of why I loved my grandmother. “If you come back to the house with us,” I invited, “you can talk to her yourself.”
“No, dear,” Gran said with absolute certainty. “I don’t think that would be wise…not just yet. I’ll be joining you at the house for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and then you know I always go away for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, so if you want this dashing young man to see the farm, it will have to be after the holidays.”
“Zoe’s talked about the farm a lot,” T’vek said, interrupting the side conversation about the soccer sector finals that he and Nick had started. “I’d love to see it.”
“And so you will,” Gran assured. “When I return from my trip. Now, tell me, Zoe says your mother is Vulcan and your father is Betazoid. Were you raised in just one tradition, or both?”
And so we finished the meal talking about the different cultures we’d each grown up with, and what our favorite holidays were, and we almost – almost – put the news report out of our minds. Or at least, I did.
Stardate 43977.22 (23 December 2366)
16:30 pm Centaurus Local Time
Home of Zachary and Gia Harris, Beach Haven, Centaurus
T’vek and I were the only people home when we made the call to the Enterprise. Dad and Gia had gone to take her family back to the spaceport – apparently Tony and Nunzia liked to host Christmas at their own home, on Earth – Vanessa had headed off to her own home in the capitol – we’d likely see her again for Dad’s big New Year’s Eve bash, and my uncle said he had a gig, but I was pretty sure he actually had a date. In any case, there were thunder storms brewing out over the ocean and my attention was caught by the roiling clouds beyond the window while we waited in Dad’s study for the comm-call to go through.
It took half an hour, and seemed twice as long.
– “Zoe,” said my mother’s image on the screen. “Are you alright? Is everything okay?”
“We’re good, Mom,” I said. “Everything’s fine here. I mean, there’s a thunder storm on the way, but that’s normal for this time of year.”
– “You’re burning comm minutes for a weather report?” her amusement failed to hide the worry lines around her eyes and across her forehead.
“Not exactly,” I said, and then I explained about the news report. “Is everything okay?” I asked.
My mother looked away from the monitor and I could see her choosing her words very carefully.
– “I’m fine,” she said. “Your friends are all fine. We are investigating something, but I can’t tell you what. We’ll be fine though.” She paused. “Have a good Christmas, kiddo. I’ll talk to you again in a few days. Do you want me to transfer you to T’vek’s parents?”
I glanced at T’vek, and he nodded his head, “If it’s not too much trouble.”
– “It isn’t.”
There was a pause, and then she transferred us to the comm in the Mairaj quarters, but no one was answering, so T’vek left a message instead.
“Anyone else you want to talk to?” he asked.
“Go ahead and sign off,” I told him.
After he cut the signal, we sat there in silence for several minutes. “Mom knew more than she was telling,” I said, after a while.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “But we shouldn’t have expected real information on an open channel.”
“I guess that was sort of…optimistic.” I reached out and ruffled his hair. I loved his hair. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to talk to your mother and father.”
“They will at least receive my message,” he said. “And for all we know we’re worrying over nothing.”
“Do you really believe that?”
His dark eyes were shining when he turned his head to stare directly at me. “I have to.”
I offered him my hand. “Have you ever watched a major storm over the ocean?” I asked. “The view from the back patio is amazing, and we can turn on the patio heaters if it’s too cold.”
He grinned at me, “Let’s go watch some weather.”
Hand in hand, we walked through the house and out to the patio, where we didn’t turn on the heaters, but did settle into a single rattan lounge chair to watch as the skies darkened and the air thickened and the lightning show began, and if either of us imagined that a similar light show – a much more lethal one – might have been taking place wherever the Enterprise was, neither of us actually voiced it.
I’m not sure how long we sat outside, but it was full dark – even without the added gloom of storm clouds – by the time Dad and Gia returned to the house.
My father is the one who actually came out to talk to us. “Hey, weather-bug,” he said to me. I’d been a storm-watcher for most of my life. “T’vek. Thank you both for all your help the last couple of days.”
“It was no trouble, Zach,” T’vek said.
“I was glad to do it, Dad,” I added, overlapping my boyfriend.
“Still, it means a lot to Gia and me.” He hesitated a moment, “Did you get in touch with your mother?”
“You knew I was going to try?” I asked.
“I suspected,” he said. “Is she okay?”
“Everyone’s fine,” I said, accenting the word my mother had used with me. “But she couldn’t really say much.”
“I’ll see if I can find out more, after Christmas,” my father promised. “Are you two hungry?”
I shrugged. “Not really,” I said. “Tev?”
He was just as non-committal. “I could eat or not,” he said, adding, “Sorry if that’s less than helpful.”
I looked at my father – really looked at him – and saw that he looked tired and drawn. “Dad, it’s been a crazy couple of days. If you and Gia want a quiet night, we can go into town, or forage for leftovers or…whatever. Do you know when Uncle Zane’s due back?”
My father tried to hide a smirk. “He left a message he’d see us sometime tomorrow.”
“Hah!” I said. “I knew it was a date.”
“Was there any doubt?” Dad quipped. “Zoe, I’ve added credits to your account and left your account card on the kitchen table. If you really don’t mind being on your own, Gia and I are going to retreat to our room.”
I started to say ‘have fun,’ but decided it would be a little tacky. “No worries, Dad,” I said. “We’ll see you in the morning – we’re putting the tree up, right?”
He grinned, “We are indeed. Remember that your grandmother likes to start early.”
“So, be home by dawn?”
“Try midnight, if you leave the house.”
“Sure, Dad. Love you.”
My father disappeared into the house, just as a gentle rain began to fall. “So,” I said to the boy who was snuggled against me on the lounger, “Do you want to explore town, or explore the kitchen.”
“Kitchen’s closer,” he observed. “There’s pizza left from last night.”
“Re-heat it and then get cozy in the den? I suggested.
“Sounds like a plan,” he agreed.
We went inside to do just that, bringing the rewarmed pizza into the den, and closing the door so sound wouldn’t travel. I turned on the entertainment system, but it defaulted to IPN – InterPlanetary News. The show was just an entertainment news magazine – celebrity gossip – and we watched a while to see if Dad’s wedding had made the cut. He and Gia were pictured in stills and video, and there was even a shot of T’vek and me walking out the church doors.
“Look, Tev, you’re famous,” I said, “Computer, save clip,” I said to the entertainment system. “Well send it to your parents.”
But he wasn’t paying attention to the video; he was reading the ticker below frame. “Zoe.”
“What, they won’t want to see you all dressed up?”
I focused on the news ticker.
Representatives of Starfleet have confirmed that Providence Colony on Jouret IV has been destroyed. There are no survivors. Tune in at eleven local time for an interview from the scene.
Suddenly, watching horror vids didn’t seem like such a great idea, after all.
Notes: As Zoe’s father’s beach house is modeled on my uncle’s (by marriage) family’s 17-bedroom “cottage” in the Hamptons (though the Harris beach house doesn’t have quite that much space), I made their entire community sort of Hamptons-esque, thus the name Beach Haven. Providence Colony, Jouret IV is the first Federation world attacked by the Borg in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I.” (Going by stardates, the “season breaks” of TNG happen in late December (Earth calendar).) As Centaurus was originally a human colony, one of the first, I’ve used Earth-equivalent dates for the sake of the story.
Chapter 36: A Little Christmas
A Little Christmas
(23 December 2366, 19:37 hours)
I focused on the news ticker:
– Representatives of Starfleet have confirmed that Providence Colony on Jouret IV has been destroyed. There are no survivors. Tune in at eleven local time for an interview from the scene.
Suddenly, watching horror vids didn’t seem like such a great idea, after all.
“Maybe we should watch a vid that’s a little less bloody,” I suggested to T’vek. “You know, in the spirit of the season, and all.”
“Does your father get the FleetNet?” he asked, by way of a response.
“It’s the Starfleet channel. It began as an entertainment band that was ‘cast out to space stations and starships – news, entertainment, even scripted shows – but all with Starfleet positive messages. Now, it’s got some of that, but it’s also the best source of live updates when there’s an emergency.”
“They ‘cast that on open networks?”
“No. You have to be a ‘fleet family or be in Starfleet, and then they give you an access code. They probably also track your data use.”
“Probably,” I agreed. “Let’s try and see?”
As it turned out, we did get the Starfleet network, and we caught the tail end of an interview with Commander Riker, who was talking about something called the Borg, which, he explained, were sort of like cybernetic zombies, only instead of eating people’s brains, they assimilated whole populations, keeping what they could use (bodies to make more drones, any advanced tech) and spitting out the rest.
It made me shiver.
“C’mere,” Tev had collapsed onto one of the couches, and he beckoned for me to join him. I did so, snuggling into his embrace. “Your mother, my mother, all of the officers we know, and the ones we don’t, they’ve got this. You don’t have to worry.”
“I know this,” I said. “But why did it have to be zombies?”
I couldn’t see his face, but I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes at me.
(24 December 2366, 07:00 hours)
“Haul out the holly.
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stockings.
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now!”
My grandmother’s boisterous singing, coming all the way from downstairs, startled me out of the troubled sleep I’d managed to fall into. For a moment, the fact that I was in my own bed was disorienting. The last thing I remembered was snuggling with Tev and watching the news long into the night.
I rolled over, and came to face with my boyfriend, realizing as I did so, that we were both fully dressed. “Tev,” I said softly, as I nudged him. “Wake up. Gran’s here. Why are you in my room?”
He opened those endless, dark eyes of his, and quirked a smile. “Zombie protection,” he said. “You didn’t want to sleep alone, and your father made me promise not to try anything.”
“Wait,” I said, sitting up. “Dad knows you’re in my room?”
He sat up as well, stretching slowly as he did so. “He’s the one who told me to stay.”
“He didn’t say anything about not trying anything this morning.”
“Tev!” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to kiss him or hit him with my pillow.
His smile broadened to a deliciously evil grin. “You know I had to try,” he said.
I kissed him.
Then I jumped out of bed and ran, barefoot, to greet Gran. “Isn’t it a little early for the Jerry Herman songbook?” I asked her, after wrapping her in a hug.
“Nonsense,” she said, giving me a grab-and-release hug of her own, one that was surprisingly strong for a woman her age. “It’s never too early for a rousing musical number.” Her bravado softened into tender affection as she tucked strands of my hair behind my ears. “I saw the news, too, darling-girl. Your father called me after he found you and your young man not canoodling in the den.”
I felt my eyebrows wrinkling, betraying my confusion. “So, now it’s worrisome when he finds his teenage daughter not making out with a hot boy? Wow, have times changed.”
She gave me her patented tilted-head and furrowed-brow frown. “Zoe, your father loves you, and as I reminded you yesterday, we both still care about your mother. She will always be part of this family, because she is your mother. We’re all concerned, but you, my dearest girl, always react with your heart first.”
“I’m told that’s what makes me a good musician.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “And compelling on stage – you should act more, learn to channel your impulses into creative energy.”
“I’ll consider it,” I agreed drily.
“Do that,” she said. “But first, go shower, you’re completely unkempt, and while I find it charming, it is Christmas Eve. Breakfast will be ready in an hour, and then there’s a tree to trim.”
I managed to find, not just a real smile, but a warm chuckle. “Okay, Gran. Who am I to argue with you?”
“Precisely my point. Now, go on. Scoot!” And she turned away from me, heading through the house to the kitchen, as I turned and went back up the stairs. As soon as she was out of sight, I heard her singing again,
“For we need a little music,
Need a little laughter,
Need a little singing
Ringing through the rafter,
And we need a little snappy
“Happy ever after,”
Need a little Christmas now.”
(24 December 2366, 18:30 hours )
The seven of us – my uncle and his latest squeeze, a flautist named Felicia (yes, really) had arrived just in time to place the topper on the tree – sat in the kitchen with plates of fettuccini al pesto and salad, and, following Gran’s instructions, shared our favorite holiday memories. It was her way of keeping us busy, keeping us focused on the holiday, keeping us away from the news feeds.
“I’ll go first!” Felicia volunteered. Woodwind players were always disgustingly perky. “Every year, my parents used to take me to see Santa Claus at the local mall, and we’d get a picture taken. As a joke, my sisters and I went and took pictures with Santa last year, just before Dad and Mom retired to the Lorkin colony.”
“Classic,” Uncle Zane observed. “My memory is trains. Zach – do you remember? – our grandfather collected vintage toy trains, the kinds that used tracks, and we’d make these elaborate loops around the Christmas tree, with high and low trestles – ”
“You always whined when he let me wear his engineer’s hat,” Dad put in. “And, remember that one set from twentieth century Germany?”
“The one where the middle rail was live?”
“Yes.” Dad directed himself to Gia and me, but included T’vek as well. “We used to torture Barney – that’s Vanessa’s older brother – by making him touch it. ‘Put your finger right there, Barn It won’t hurt at all.'”
“And he’d do it, every time,” Zane added.
“You used to electrocute your cousin?” T’vek asked, grinning through his shock. “Zoe, do you think we could try that on Wesl – never mind.”
But I wasn’t going to let images of my mother and friends battling space-zombies ruin this moment. “I’m pretty sure Wes is savvy enough not to fall for that. Josh, on the other hand…”
Gia laughed softly, “Zach-honey, Zane, the two of you are giving Zoe and T’vek dangerous ideas.”
“Gia!” I protested, but I knew she wasn’t serious, and neither was I, really, so I asked, “what’s your favorite memory, then?”
“Pancakes?” I asked.
“Yes. Every year my family attends midnight mass at the church we’ve been going to forever, and then, after it’s over, we go out for pancakes.”
“I like this tradition,” I decided. “Dad, isn’t Breakfast Emporium open all night?”
“I think so,” my father said. “Easy enough to find out.” I could tell he was pleased that I was willing to help Gia honor her family’s tradition, even if my motivation was a dinner out in the wee hours of the morning.
“Irene,” Gia asked, “will you share your favorite memory?”
My grandmother laughed. “I could never choose! Many of my favorite memories involve evenings like this one, when the family would come together to share food and conversation. It’s such a joy seeing my boys both happy and healthy, and to see my favorite granddaughter growing into such an interesting young woman.”
“Gran, you’re cheating!” I protested.
“On the Enterprise, have you heard the saying, ‘rank has it’s privileges?'” she asked me.
“Well, I’m old, and therefore I outrank the lot of you.”
“So you get to change the rules?”
“Modify, darling. I get to modify the rules. And, it’s your turn, by the way.”
I thought about it. “Part of me wants to say it was the moment when Mom would walk in the door after a mission, every year, and the knowledge that she’d be home for a couple weeks, at least, but…lately, I’ve been really nostalgic for a different tradition.”
“Yeah. This is the first year in forever that Dad and I haven’t had our Nutcracker date.”
My father interjected before I could continue. “Oh, no, Zoe, I’m sorry. With the wedding and all, I forgot.”
“It’s okay, Dad. I’m probably too old for it anyway.”
“What’s a Nutcracker date?” T’vek asked.
“Well,” my father explained for me. “When Zoe was about four, she started taking ballet lessons. She was a very round child – positively plump.”
“It’s supposed to be my story.”
“Don’t argue with your father on Christmas Eve,” he warned. “Santa doesn’t like it.”
“Fine,” I said. “Whatever.” Tev reached over and squeezed my hand. “Sorry.”
“Anyway, the year Zoe was six, the ballet teacher arranged for the entire group to attend a local performance of The Nutcracker. It’s a ballet that takes place at Christmas.”
“Only I couldn’t go,” I said. “Because I had chicken pox.”
“Chicken pox?” T’vek asked. “Humans still get that?”
“They do when their mother is a Starfleet officer who brings home a weird strain of it from a forgotten colony.”
“Which your mother did.” T’vek wasn’t asking. He just knew.
“Which my mother did.”
“Anyway,” my father said. “Zoe couldn’t go with her class, but the ballet was playing for another week or two afterward, so when she was better – ”
“On Christmas Eve – ” I added.
“On Christmas Eve,” my father said, grinning fondly at me, “I called the theater, and since the conductor of the pit orchestra was a friend of mine, we managed to get comps for that afternoon.”
“And every year since then, Dad and I have gone to see The Nutcracker on Christmas Eve,” I said. “And then out to Café Belle Mar for hot chocolate.”
“I think that’s an awesome tradition. Maybe we could at least do the hot chocolate part while we’re here?” T’vek asked. “I mean, hot chocolate is an important thing for us.”
I laughed. “Well, frozen hot chocolate is,” I said. “But sure, we could do that.”
“T’vek, I know you don’t celebrate Christmas,” my father began, “but if there’s something you’d like to share…?”
My boyfriend smiled. “Actually it was at the Vulcan Solstice Celebration about five years ago that my parents first acknowledged that my interest in art and architecture wasn’t just a phase. We were in Shi’Kahr visiting Mother’s family that year, and her brother, Solvek, introduced me to sand patterning.”
“That’s like building sand castles, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes and no. We don’t have beaches the way you do here, so water is used in small amounts from a mister, and we use compression techniques, as well, but…sand patterns tend to be elaborate structures. In any case, Solvek and I entered in the beginner-level competition, and ended up winning.”
“So you were a total rock star, even at the tender age of eleven?”
“Perhaps not a total rock star,” he said. “But if you want to think of me that way, I’m good with it.”
We were all quiet for a moment, reflecting on the good memories we’d shared. Then Felicia broke the spell. “Wait a minute,” she said. “I thought Zane was the rock star.”
My uncle never did pick his dates for their intellectual capacity.
(25 December 2366, 00:12 hours)
We went to midnight mass after all, because it was tradition, and because Gran insisted that it would do us all good to spend time with others in our community. Mother Ixchel greeted us warmly, and made a point of welcoming T’vek. The church, I noticed, was more crowded than usual – apparently a lot of people needed comfort and normalcy.
The service was more hopeful than joyful, and when Mother Ixchel mentioned the people serving in Starfleet, and asked us to pray specifically for them, and for all the people the Borg had taken, I felt my throat getting thick. I squeezed T’vek’s hand, and he smiled at me, and squeezed mine back.
At the end of the service, we rose as a congregation to sing “Joy to the World,” and T’vek joined in the singing. His tenor wasn’t well-developed but there was a warmth to it that felt like a favorite sweatshirt. I made a mental note to ask him about it, afterwards.
Outside the church, auxiliary members passed out mugs of cocoa and oversized candy canes. I ran into the older sister of one of my friends.
In the course of catching up, Tonya told me that she hadn’t heard from her husband, an ensign named Erik, since the twenty-second, first because of the time difference, and then because of the communications blackout that had gone into effect the previous evening.
“I know he’s just doing his job,” she confessed to me, “but how do I not feel resentful?”
I had no clue how to respond, so just said, “I think you just have to remind yourself that he loves you and will communicate when he can. It’s what I’ve been telling myself, about my mom, and my friends.” Then I gave her two-year-old daughter my candy-cane. “Tell Noreen I said hi,” I said. “And Merry Christmas.”
“Same to you, Zoe,” she answered. “Come by the house before your holiday is over. She’d love to see you.”
Dad and Gia reappeared at that moment. “So,” my father said, rubbing his hands together in delighted anticipation. “Pancakes, yes?”
I grinned at him. “Pancakes, definitely. Tev, you hungry?”
“Definitely,” my boyfriend answered.
(25 December 2366, 14:30 hours)
After the presents had been opened, and a Christmas brunch eaten; after we’d sat around sharing more stories of holidays past – favorite gifts, other traditions – we all dispersed. Gran went into the living room with a book she’d been given, while Dad and Gia went back upstairs, claiming the need for a nap, though no one believed they were actually napping.
Uncle Zane and Felicia had been invited to spend Christmas day with her family, who lived in the capitol city – New Athens – so they’d taken off to do that. “I’m not sure if I’ll see you again before New Year’s Eve,” my uncle had said, pulling me into a rough embrace. “So just…have fun, and make good choices.”
“The same advice would seem to apply to you,” I pointed out.
He chuckled. “That’s fair. I love you, kiddo. Talk soon.” And then he was out the door to the flitter that Felicia was piloting.
Left on our own, Tev and I could have easily returned to the den to find out the latest updates on the news, but there was a tacit agreement among the family that for this day, at least, we would live in a sort of self-imposed bubble. The rain from two days before had long-since passed, and the beach was beckoning. “Wanna learn to surf?” I asked.
His answer began with a slow grin. “Yeah.”
We went to the storage room and found my wet suit as well as one that would fit him, grabbed towels and boards, left a note telling the adults where we were headed, and took the cliff-stairs down to the beach. The day was warm and breezy, and the swell was perfect for one brand new surfer, and one who hadn’t been in the water in half a year: not too big, not too rough.
“Before we start,” I began. “You can swim, right?” We’d only ever waded before, and he hadn’t joined Dana and me in the hotel pool back on Serenity V.
“Yeah,” he said. “I can swim. Grew up on the Opal Sea, remember?”
I grinned. “Now I do. My pirate king.” Lessons were delayed about ten minutes for a make-out session, after which I quipped, “Being thoroughly kissed totally helps you maintain balance.”
I put him through a quick and dirty training session – standing on the board in the sand, getting from paddle position to standing, first on the sand, then in about three feet of water. Paddling out past where the waves were breaking. “The nice thing about surfing on Centaurus,” I pointed out, as we sat straddling our boards, bobbing in deep water, “is that we don’t have to worry about being eaten by sharks.”
“I thought you had carnivorous fish here.”
“We do,” I said. “But they never come in this close to shore, and they never attack people.”
“Good to know,” he said.
The water got suddenly choppier, but it wasn’t waves. Instead it was a speed boat zipping by farther out than we were. I turned around to see if I knew the boat, but it went by too quickly for me to tell. Still, after it had passed, a really good set of waves started rolling in, and I grinned at Tev. “Time to see how fast you learn this.”
“I’m so ready,” he said.
For the next couple of hours we talked and laughed, and did some decent, if not exceptional, surfing. T’vek was a quick study, after all, and by the end of the day he’d gotten really good. I might have been biased, though, because more than once, I found myself just watching him.
Finally, we were waterlogged to the point of being prunes, exhausted, and, at least for the moment, happy. “That was awesome,” Tev said. “How are you not out on the beach all the time?”
I laughed. “I am, when I can be. It’s what I miss most, on the Enterprise.”
“There are surfing programs for the holodeck,” he said.
I blinked at him. “Really?” I asked. “It never occurred to me to even look.”
He shrugged. “I’ve never tried them – obviously – but they do exist.”
Add one to the ‘pro’ list for returning to the ship, after all.
The angle of the sun changed just enough that the air was starting to chill. “We should get back to the house,” I said. “I’m cold…”
“I’m starving,” T’vek said.
I laughed. “Race you?” Then I took off, board in hand, before he could respond.
He beat me to the bottom of the steps anyway.
We were still laughing as we climbed the steps, crossed the patio, and entered the house. “Hey,” he said, as we moved to the storage room to stow the surfboards. He’d unzipped his wetsuit and shrugged out of the top half, so his chest was bare. “Do I get a prize?”
“A prize?” I raised my eyebrows. “What did you have in mind?”
He stepped forward, and I could smell the salt on his skin mixed with the scent that was just his – vaguely spicy, vaguely warm. “You, me, upstairs.”
I ran my hands over his chest, couldn’t resist tasting his skin. Warm. Salty. Comfortable. “I need to make sure no one needs us for anything, but if not right now, then later tonight. I kissed his shoulder. “Maybe both.”
I could feel his soft chuckle in his throat and chest. “Let’s go see what’s up.”
(25 December 2366, 18:47 hours)
We found everyone in the living room. Gran and Gia were curled up on one of the couches, and Dad was at the piano, playing a variation of “Oh Holy Night.”
“Zoe, come sing with me,” he called.
I gestured to the wetsuit I was still wearing. “Not really dressed for it, Dad. Are we doing dinner together, or is there even a plan?”
“We were waiting for you two. We were thinking of ordering Chinese food, since we didn’t do a big meal to cull leftovers from, but there’s still wedding food if you want to pick at that. Or we could order Vulcan take-out instead, if that’s more to your liking?”
I glanced at T’vek. “I’m good with either. Tev?”
“I get enough Vulcan food at home,” he said. “I’ve never had Chinese take-out. Zoe talks about it a lot.”
“Can you order while we shower?” I asked. “Mongolian beef, for me, and pot stickers. And…Tev? Do we need to keep things veggie for you tonight? Pot stickers have pork, but they can do tofu instead of beef or chicken –?”
“If you could order some vegetable lo mein,” he said, “I would like to taste your beef.”
“Oh, we pretty much share everything. Add spring rolls to the order, Dad. And get sticky rice, not fried.”
“And spring rolls,” added Gia, who had been silent so far.
“Any other requests?” my father asked. “Ma?”
“I really dislike ‘Ma,'” my grandmother said in her matter-of-fact tone. “Use ‘Mom’ or ‘Mother,’ please. And order some garlic shrimp, please.”
My father laughed. “Yes, Mother.”
“We’ll be back down in about half an hour,” I said. “C’mon, T’vek.”
It was actually more like forty minutes before I rejoined my family. I’d showered, and dressed again in a baggy t-shirt and old sweatpants, leaving my feet bare, and my damp hair down. T’vek was already with everyone at the kitchen table, dressed not that differently from me.
“We were about to draw lots to see who would go drag you from the bathroom,” Gran said, once I was seated.
“I had to get all the salt out of my hair,” I said. “Everything smells amazing.”
“Should we say grace?” Gia asked.
“That would be lovely, my dear,” Gran said. “Would you the honors?”
Gia said a simple grace, and then we began eating, sharing different dishes tasting everything. T’vek did taste my Mongolian beef, and I had some of his lo mein, and when the meal was over we volunteered to clean up.
The entire family had tea in the living room after the dishes were done, and when Dad returned to the piano, I did sing with him for a while, but as the hour grew late, we all separated once more, heading up to our various bedrooms.
(26 December 01:57 hours)
The moon was no longer full, but it was close enough to wake me in the middle of the night, though that wasn’t really unusual. I’d always been one who responded to the lure of the night sky. It was actually sort of ironic that I’d been dragged into space, where it was always black outside the window.
In any case, the light from the moon shining through the partly closed blinds pulled me from a dream about T’vek…the boy who was just down the hall, and to whom I’d promised a late night visit. I slid out of bed, not bothering to pull my sweats back on beneath my t-shirt, and cautiously opened my bedroom door. All was quiet. No lights shone through the cracks of any of the doors, and the only sounds I heard were normal house sounds – electrical hum, air conditioning and filtration, stuff like that.
Just as I had a few nights before, I avoided the creaky board, and hesitated as I passed each door. I wasn’t entirely certain which bedroom Gran had claimed, and she tended to be as nocturnal as I was. Arriving at T’vek’s room, I knocked softly, then just opened it.
I had no idea if he was wearing anything below the waist, but his t-shirt had been draped over a chair, and he’d pushed the covers down to just above his hips. I closed his door behind me, and then approached his bed. “Tev?” I called softly.
“Took you long enough,” he said in an equally quiet tone. “I was going to come to your room but I wasn’t sure which board to avoid, and whether or not I’d wake anyone.”
“You wouldn’t have,” I said. “Even the creaky board probably wouldn’t have really bothered anyone. I’ll show you tomorrow.” I crossed the room to the bed. “Move over.”
He slid to one side, and lifted the covers, and I saw that no, he wasn’t wearing anything. “Like what you see?” he asked.
There was just enough moonlight in his room for me to catch the sparkle in his eyes and the wicked grin on his face. “Always,” I said. I drew my underwear off, and then joined him in the bed, adding, “I like what I feel, better.” I reached to touch him, but he caught my hand.
“No,” he said.
“Not yet,” he amended. “After the other night…I uh…did some research to see how I could make it better for you.”
“Care to tell me what you discovered?”
“Well,” he said softly, “I could, but it’d be better if I showed you.” He slid his hand under the t-shirt I was still wearing, finding my breast, cupping it, and teasing the nipple. “Will you trust me, Zoe?” he asked softly. “Will you let me show you?”
I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them, then took a breath. “Yes,” I said. “Oh, yes.”
He kissed me, sliding his hand down my body as he did so. “Can we lose this shirt?” he asked.
I wasn’t sure exactly what reference materials T’vek had found – he never told me, and to this day I’m half-convinced it was incredibly specific porn – but he did things with his hands and lips that required I stifle screams with his shoulder, the pillow, whatever was handy.
It wasn’t until we were both coming down from our climaxes that we realized the comm-systems in every room of the house were emitting emergency signals.
I grabbed my t-shirt from the floor, as Tev pressed the button to engage the system.
The screen flashed with first the Federation emergency symbol, then the Centaurus emergency symbol, then the Starfleet insignia.
T’vek came back to the bed and wrapped his arms around me as the image changed again. The face we saw was familiar to me, and yet not. Captain Picard, but as if the color had all been sucked out of his life, and one eye was covered by some weird piece of hardware.
“I am Locutus of Borg,” came the message. “This message is being sent to all receivers in the Federation. I speak on behalf of the Borg. You will all be assimilated. Your distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”
NOTES: “We Need a Little Christmas” was written by Jerry Herman for his musical Mame. The midnight mass Zoe and her family attend is Episcopalian ( as stated earlier, that’s her family’s tradition, but they’re not particularly religious). The episodes “Best of Both Worlds I” and “Best of Both Worlds II” really do take place over Christmas, spanning the time from just after Christmas to just after New Year’s Day. I’m fudging dates a little, but not that much. (Seriously, NEVER spend Christmas on the Enterprise. Just don’t.)
Chapter 37: Not So Happy New Year
Not So Happy New Year
(26 December 2366, 02:32 hours)
The screen flashed with first the Federation emergency symbol, then the Centaurus emergency symbol, then the Starfleet insignia.
T’vek came back to the bed and wrapped his arms around me as the image changed again. The face we saw was familiar to me, and yet not. Captain Picard, but as if the color had all been sucked out of his life, and one eye was covered by some weird piece of hardware.
“I am Locutus of Borg,” came the message. “This message is being sent to all receivers in the Federation. I speak on behalf of the Borg. You will all be assimilated. Your distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”
“Oh, god,” I said after a few moments of staring at the screen, which had cut to static and then been replaced with FNN reporters and images of government leaders.
The tickers quoted news headlines at the bottom of the frame: Starfleet Captain Corrupted – Picard Compromised – Who Can We Trust? – Assimilation: Myths and Truths – What ARE the Borg? – SpaceZombies Want Your Brains…and Bodies Too.
I repeated it, “Oh, god.”
“Yeah,” T’vek said, his voice soft and sober near my ear. “That pretty much covers it. You know, for whatever you mean by ‘god.'”
“Should we wake up my father?” I asked, though I wasn’t really asking him. “No, he’d have heard the emergency signal. Should we go to the den and see what FleetNet says?”
I slid out of his bed, found the pair of panties I’d left on the floor and put them back on, catching my toe on the lace band of one of the leg-holes as I did so. This caused me to stumble awkwardly, but I recovered.
“Zoe, calm down.”
I gestured at the screen. “Calm down? Captain Picard’s been turned into…that thing…and we have no idea what’s going on with our parents and friends, and you think I should be calm?”
T’vek’s part-Vulcan biology was never more evident than in the next few moments. “Zoe, I love you, but you have to calm down.” He slid back against the headboard of the bed, crossing his legs under the covers. “C’mere,” he said. “Sit facing me.”
“Fine.” I did as he asked, my back against the footboard, my legs crossed lotus style. He threw the bedspread back toward me, so I’d be covered. Apparently he thought I was cold. “Now what?”
“You heard me. Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth.”
“Meditative breathing? Really?”
“It works,” he said. “Here, take my hands, and meet my eyes.” His warm hands closed over mine, and his dark eyes captured my gaze. “I’m scared, too,” he admitted softly. “I can’t decide if I’m glad we’re here, and relatively safe, but in the dark, or if I resent not being on the Enterprise where we’d have a shot at hearing the whole truth. But being scared won’t fix anything. Now, breathe. In through your nose, then hold it for two seconds, then out through your mouth.”
I raised my shoulders in an exaggerated shrug, then let them fall. “Okay, fine,” I said. I breathed in, held it, let the air rush out of my mouth.
“Good,” T’vek said softly. “Again.”
I knew better than to argue with him when he was being all vulky. It never worked out well. In. Hold. Out. He made me do it about ten times, but it felt like a thousand, except I really did feel calmer after about the first three. More in control.
“Okay,” I said softly. “I think I’m okay, now. For a while, anyway.” I turned my hands in his. “Thanks, Tev.”
“Hey, I did it for me,” he teased. “Call it enlightened self-interest.”
“Uh-huh.” I grinned at him as I said it.
My father knocked on the door a few minutes later. “T’vek,” he called, “Is Zoe with you?”
“I’m here, Dad,” I called, meeting T’vek’s eyes, and waiting for his affirming nod. “Come in if you want.”
I’d never seen my father so worried – frightened even – before. “Darling girl, when you weren’t in your room, I didn’t know what to think. Gia said you’d be with your friend.”
Ordinarily I’d have corrected ‘friend’ to ‘boyfriend,’ but it wasn’t an ordinary night. “I was panicking,” I said, which was true, to a point. “Tev helped me get control of myself.”
He nodded. “Your grandmother woke me as soon as she heard the e-blast. She’s gone back to bed now, but said to wake her when you’re ready for breakfast.” He stared at T’vek and me for a long moment. “If you think you can sleep, you should go back to bed, Zoe.”
“We’re supposed to just go back to sleep? Like nothing happened? Like nothing’s wrong?”
“We’re safe here,” he assured me. “I’ve tuned the comm-system to local e-blasts only, so you won’t have to hear every ‘cast,” he added. “Sleep is the best thing you can do for yourself right now.”
I met Tev’s eyes again, and he nodded, “Go on back to sleep, Zoe. I’ll be fine.”
His breathing exercises actually had made me feel tired. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll see you in the morning…well,” I added ruefully, “later in the morning.” I leaned forward to kiss him, then unfolded myself and stood up. “You know where to find me.”
His answer was to smile his sexy wicked smile at me. “Yeah,” he said, “I do.”
I followed my father out of the room, waiting for the inevitable lecture on appropriate behavior with male guests, but it never came. “I’m glad your friend is here with you,” is what my father actually said as we walked back to our side of the house. “You can support each other, and help your Gran.”
I snorted at that. “Dad, please, Gran is stronger than all of us.”
He chuckled softly. “Excellent point, darling.” We stopped at my still-open door. “Get some sleep, Zoetrope. I mean it. Don’t stay up all night watching the news feeds.”
My father knew me too well. “I will,” I said. “And I won’t.” I kissed him on the cheek. “Love you, Dad.”
“Love you, too,” he said.
(26 December 2366, 16:44 hours)
“Anything new?” I asked as I entered the room that we’d always called the den, but Gia kept referring to as the ‘media room.’ Whatever you wanted to call it, we’d been hunkered down there in various configurations since early that morning.
It had begun with me not being able to sleep after the emergency alerts had gone crazy and my father had found me in T’vek’s room, and sent me back to mine. I’d tried to sleep, but I only tossed and turned, until finally, I’d given up, slid sweatpants on under the t-shirt I had worn to bed earlier, and wandered down to find something to snack on. When in doubt: seek solace in junk food.
Gia had been in the kitchen, too. “Is it like this when you’re on the ship with your mom?” she asked me, probably not even thinking about the fact that my mother was, in fact, on a ship – the ship – dealing with the Borg.
“What do you mean?” I asked, too worried to even bother snapping at her.
“You know, sirens and alerts and stuff.”
I shook my head. “There are alarms, sure, when something bad happens, but civilians are mostly just confined to quarters. We don’t get all the gossipy stuff – you know the people on the news making guesses about what went wrong – but we also don’t typically know anything unless an officer lets something slip that they shouldn’t.”
“Isn’t it terrifying?”
I hesitated before answering her. “There are different kinds of terror,” I said slowly. “On the Enterprise, you fear the ship breaking up during a battle, though, really, there aren’t that many of those. Here? We have no real information, except there are space-zombies coming to kill us.”
But that had been hours before.
T’vek lifted his eyes to mine, tearing himself away from the vid-screen. “Your Grandmother is napping. Your dad and Gia went for a walk on the beach. The Enterprise is currently under the command of Commander Riker and someone named Shelby is serving as his second.”
I arched my eyebrows at that. “Shelby? Not Data? But I thought he was second officer?”
Tev shrugged. “I can only report what I hear. FNN thinks the Romulans are involved. Centaurus News has people who swear they found a secret base where the Breen are actually making – creating? raising? – whatever – the Borg.”
“Has anyone ever actually seen what’s inside Breen armor?” I asked, more musing than anything else. “Maybe the Borg are the Breen.”
Tev favored me with the kind of smirk you have to be at least half-Vulcan to pull off. “Guess what the commentators on FedNet Two are saying?”
I descended the three steps into the main part of the room, and joined him on his couch. “Have you slept any?” I asked quietly. I noticed dark circles under his eyes, the bruised green making him look more alien than he usually did.
He shrugged. “A little. In here. You?”
I shook my head. “I keep trying. I keep having nightmares. It’s like when we all thought Data was dead, but worse. Way, way, way worse.”
“FleetNet mentioned reports of a huge cube-shaped object approaching the Wolf 359 system.”
“Yeah. No video though.”
“I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.”
(27 December 2366, 22:16 hours)
After two days of media immersion, I’d lost track of time, and I was pretty sure neither T’vek nor I had eaten a regular meal or slept normally since the alerts went off. Gran made stacks of sandwiches, and several casseroles so that we wouldn’t all rely on replicator food since none of us felt like cooking.
Then she gathered us all in the foyer.
“I love you all,” she said, pinning first my father, then me, then Gia, and even T’vek with her gaze. “But I’m not spending the week tip-toeing around while the lot of you mope and scowl. As my travel plans have changed, I’m returning to the farm today.” Off-planet travel for anything but emergent reasons was currently being restricted.
“Mother, are you sure that’s wise?” my father never used the word ‘mother’ unless he was concerned or angry.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” she challenged him.
He couldn’t think of a reason.
“Sven will handle anything that needs handling,” she added. Then she kissed him on the cheek. “Take care of your family, Zachary. I’ll see you for New Year’s.”
She hugged each of us, muttering reassurances in our ears, although from Tev’s expression I think she whispered something else to him. Then she left.
Dad and Gia went back to the den then, and T’vek and I were left alone, but he did manage to elicit a smile from me by asking, “Wait. There really is a Sven?”
“There might me,” I said. Then I turned around and headed upstairs. “I’m tired of staring at vid screens. I’m going to take a bath.” And that’s what I did.
Hot water, bath bubbles that smelled like summer flowers and sea salt, a good book – it was my go-to formula for washing away gloom. I set the entertainment system to play a mix of light classical and jazz music – rock and roll was not good accompaniment for a decent soak – and submerged my body in the tub.
Maybe a little too much relaxation, because I could have sworn that I closed my eyes only a minute before, but when I opened them the water had gone cold, and someone was knocking at my door.
“Be there in a minute!” I called out, reaching to unplug the drain stopper. I toweled off and wrapped myself in the fluffy robe I always had and rarely used, and even slid my bare feet into cotton chenille spa slippers. “Is there new news?” I asked, opening the door.
I was expecting Dad.
It was actually T’vek.
“Nothing new,” he said. “Your father just realized you’d come up here more than an hour ago. Sent me to make sure you didn’t drown.”
“Translation: Zoe, come down and be morbid with everyone else instead of in your room alone.” I said, and then I was immediately apologetic. “I didn’t mean to abandon you.”
“You didn’t,” he said. “But it’s after ten, and I know you haven’t eaten anything in hours, because I haven’t, and except for your bath we’ve been together.”
“And they’ve decided we all need to have a meal together, despite the odd hour.” It wasn’t a question.
“Pretty much,” T’vek confirmed.
“Have a seat,” I gestured to my bed, which I’d remade after not-really-sleeping in it, mostly out of habit. “I need to find something to wear.” I rooted through drawers and came up with clean pajama bottoms and a faded Starfleet Academy t-shirt that had once been my mother’s. It was pretty worn, and I made a mental note to figure out a way to acquire a new one. I left my hair in its damp ponytail. “Okay,” I said, as I pulled a pair of athletic socks onto my feet in lieu of slippers. “Let’s go have a sweet family dinner.”
(28 December 2366, 11:00 hours)
We spent the morning of the third day after Christmas flipping channels.
“…reports that the Borg Cube continues to progress toward the Wolf 359 system, with estimated arrival in roughly three standard days…”
“…Locutus has refused requests for interview, repeating only that the Federation’s ‘technological and personal distinctiveness’ will be assimilated by the Borg…”
“…Enterprise sent a subspace burst confirming the ship is intact, but transmissions are being jammed…”
“…saying that you believe the Borg are just the first wave of an attack from the Delta Quadrant or beyond…”
“….Romulan Empire has never been on friendly terms with the Federation. Even now diplomacy is strained at best…”
“No,” my father said. “Zoe, I get it, I’m worried and scared, too, but we can’t hide in here until something happens. Gia and I are going into town to have lunch. Would you like us to drop you and T’vek at the arcade or the skating rink?”
“Actually,” he said, hesitating, “I’d really like to try surfing again, since the sun is out.” He flashed me a rueful grin. “If the apocalypse comes,” he said, “wouldn’t you rather meet it on the water?”
“The boy makes an excellent point,” I said. In truth, I’d been monitoring the surf reports on my padd. “Would you drop us at Hikaru Beach?” I asked. “There’s awesome swell there today.”
My father grinned. “Sure,” he said. “Anything to get you away from the vid-screen for a few hours.”
“But if you hear anything….”
“I promise I’ll come get you the instant there’s any kind of news. Go get ready; Gia’s waiting.”
“Hikaru Beach was named for Captain Hikaru Sulu,” I explained to T’vek, as we unloaded our gear. “He was a friend of Captain Kirk’s and I guess Kirk owned a lot of property on Centaurus at one point, so there are lots of places named after his friends.”
There were a few other surfers already there, but that made sense, as it was nearly noon. A blonde girl came up to us as we staked out our section of sand, “That can’t be Zoe Harris,” she challenged, grinning.
“Oh, god, Kelly!” I dropped my gear and ran to hug one of my oldest friends. “I thought you’d moved to Garrovick Bay?”
“We did,” she said, cheerfully, returning my embrace. “But my grandparents still live in Beach Haven, so we came for the holidays. Who’s the boy? Is he available?”
I rolled my eyes at her, then called back to T’vek, who was lingering a couple yards away, “Tev, come meet one of my friends from before…”
My awesome boyfriend joined us, gave Kelly an appraising glance, and then wrapped his arm around my waist.
“T’vek Mairaj, meet Kelly Weaver.”
“Hi,” he said to her. “Good to meet you.” He lifted his free hand and tucked some of his shaggy hair behind his ear, so the point showed. “And no,” he added, “I’m definitely not available.”
“Wow, you heard me?” Kelly’s grin turned sheepish. “Oops, sorry.” Then she added, “So, did your parents throw you out of the house, too?”
“Kind of,” I said, “yeah.”
Tev shook his hair back into its more usual place. “Did we come to chat?” he asked, “or surf. Because I was promised surfing, and I think we owe it to our friends on the ship to be sporting awesome tans when we get home.”
I laughed. “Okay, okay.”
Kelly laughed, too. “I should get back to it, too. No surf to speak of in the Bay. Nice meeting you T’vek,” she said. “Nice seeing you, Zoe. We’ll be at the club, later, if you want to join.”
She ran back across the beach to her friends, and T’vek and I chose a new spot several more yards in the opposite direction. “You can be with your friends if you want,” he said.
“I don’t,” I said. “I really don’t. But if you do…?”
He stabbed his surfboard into the sand, drew me close, and kissed me. “I’m kinda loving not having to share you with parents or teachers or other friends for long chunks of time.”
We really didn’t do that much surfing, after all.
(30 December 2366, 07:02 hours)
Two days after our forced surf excursion, T’vek and I rented a sailboat from the yacht club so he could show off his sailing prowess. We didn’t go far, just out to one of the closest islands for a picnic lunch, but it was amazing to be with him, watching his shaggy hair blow in the breeze as he directed our course.
“Now I see why you named yourself after a pirate,” I teased him, after he’d set the autohelm and come to sprawl on the wooden deck with me. “You love the water as much as I do.”
He grinned. “Yeah, I do. My mother says that’s my Betazoid blood. I keep reminding her that Sasak of Xir’tan was a celebrated shipwright on Vulcan and throughout the Federation.”
“I keep forgetting Vulcan has an island continent…everyone seems to be from Shi’Kahr, or at least from nearby.”
“Most non-Vulcans forget about Xir’tan”
“Have you been there?”
“No, but I want to. There’s an excellent architectural academy there, and it would make Mother happy if I attended a Vulcan school.”
“But you’re considering other schools, too, right?”
“About as much as you’re considering schools other than M-SOMATA.” He was referring to the Martian School of Music and the Arts, my father’s alma mater.
We spent the rest of the day building sand castles rather than focusing on possible futures, then returned to the boat, diving from it, swimming back, and generally playing in the water. We returned to the yacht club a mere five minutes before our check-in time, met Dad and Gia for dinner, and got home too tired to watch the news.
(31 December 2366, 09:30 hours)
By the morning of New Year’s Eve, we were tan, salt encrusted, and managed to pass for ordinary, blissful teenagers, except when there was a news report on. Then all laughter would cease, and we’d focus on whatever reporter was on the vid-screen at that moment.
Nevertheless, Dad and Gia decided to hold their New Year’s Eve party. After all, it was tradition. T’vek told me he thought it was a good idea. “If we let the possibility of a Borg attack stop us from living our lives,” he said, “they’ve already won.”
He had a point.
So, we helped set up for the party, which mostly meant staying out of the way of the caterers and their staff, and we found ourselves back in the den, after all, glued to the news.
FleetNet reported that a fleet of forty Starfleet ships had formed a sort of line in the proverbial sand in the Wolf 359 system, and was preparing to challenge the Borg head on.
“That sounds dire,” I said to Tev.
“Naah,” he said, in a tone I’d learned was his version of whistling in the dark, “the fleet will prevail and all will be well by the time we ring in the new year.”
“I hope you’re right,” I said.
(31 December 2366, 22:45 hours)
As was typical for my father’s annual bash, the guests were a mix of local elite, members of the arts community, friends, and family, and whatever houseguests any of the above had invited along. The furniture in the formal living room had been pushed back to make room for dancing, and a jazz combo was set up in one corner.
Every indoor plant, and almost everything vertical outside had been draped with white fairy lights, and clusters of candles were on the center of almost every flat surface. The caterers had provided a spread of finger foods that ranged from chips and dip to sushi to things I couldn’t identify, and champagne was served throughout the evening, rather than only at midnight.
I introduced T’vek to some of the family he hadn’t met at the wedding reception, and to a few of the members of Dad’s orchestra, whom he recognized from Serenity Five. He danced with my cousin Vanessa, and then with Gia, and when Gran made her appearance, he danced with her as well.
Mostly, though, he danced with me. Well, it would be more accurate to say we swayed, because while I’d had a childhood full of ballet, tap, and jazz, I wasn’t very good at social dancing, and T’vek, for all his other talents, was rhythm-impaired.
The band was just going on a break when someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around to see my friend and favorite baristo, Kavan. “Hey,” I said. “You’re here.”
“I am,” he agreed, dragging his companion forward. “The parents came, and Kelly was in town, so she’s here too.”
“Hey, Kell,” I said.
“Hey,” she breezed. “Sorry if I interrupted your date the other day.”
“You didn’t,” I said.
“What do you say we all get out of here?” Kavan suggested.
I glanced at T’vek, who shrugged. “Why not,” I said. “I’m about danced out.”
The four of us trouped down the back hallway, and out through the mudroom to the back deck, which was empty. I found the timer for the patio heaters – the sea air was a bit chilly late at night – and revealed the bottle of champagne I’d hooked en route.
T’vek dropped into one of the chaise lounges, and gestured for me to join him, while Kavan and Kelly opted for chairs of their own.
“So,” Kelly said, “catch us up. How awesome is it living on a starship?”
Tev and I told them what it was really like, how most of the kids were Starfleet wannabes like their parents, how the classes were small, and the teachers pushed us hard. We told them about some of the dignitaries we’d met – though I left out the brief introduction to Sarek – and where the ship had gone.
Finally, though, Kavan picked up the champagne bottle, took a healthy swig and asked, “Okay, now tell us what we really want to know. T’vek…how did you tame Zoe.”
It’s a good thing neither of us had been drinking at that moment, or I’m certain there would have been a spit take. “Tamed?” we both asked at the same time.
“What makes you think Zoe could ever be tame?” T’vek asked, holding my hand more to keep me from slugging Kavan than for purely affectionate reasons.
“How do you know I’m not the one who did the taming?” I asked, in my best one-false-move-and-you’re-dead tone of voice.
Kavan was saved from certain death by the sudden appearance of my grandmother. “Darlings,” she enthused, “it’s nearly midnight. Sparkle time!”
We followed her back inside, to where the countdown to midnight was just starting, and when it officially became 2367, T’vek and I were kissing amidst the hiss of sparklers and the sound of off-key singing.
(1 January 2367, 12:15 hours)
The pleasant buzz I’d had from the stolen champagne the night before gave way to the combined sounds of e-blast alerts and T’vek’s voice calling my name. “Zoe! Zoe, wake up!”
I sat up in my bed, nearly hitting him in the nose with my elbow as I did so. “What?” I asked groggily. Then the alerts penetrated my brain. “Oh, shit. What now?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “The blasts just sounded. Your father said he’d reset the system for only real emergencies, though, so…”
I reached for the remote on my nightstand, and pressed the sequence of buttons that would allow my entertainment console to show news.
“Officially Starfleet is referring to this event as the Battle of Wolf 359,” a mocha-skinned FNN reporter was saying. “But the truth is that it was more like a massacre. Just a few hours ago, forty ships faced the Borg. Now, only one starship remains, in addition to any survivors who made it to escape pods.”
“Which ship?” I asked, not sure if I was asking T’vek or the screen. That information would determine my reaction.
“We go now to Starfleet Headquarters where Admiral Alynna Nechayev is speaking to the press corps.”
We watched the screen as a slight blonde woman strode into a room and took her place behind a podium. The front was draped with Starfleet’s sigil, while the flags of United Earth and the United Federation of Planets flanked her. She talked in a voice that managed to be warm and sweet at the same time it was also confident and commanding, and she spoke of the ships that had battled against the Borg cube.
She listed thirty-nine ship names, but I couldn’t focus, couldn’t track. Finally she gave us the confirmation we both needed: “U.S.S. Enterprise, under the command of William T. Riker is tracking the Borg vessel on its approach to Sector 001. The Borg known as Locutus, formerly Captain Jean-Luc Picard, continues to issue statements regarding assimilation. We urge everyone to minimize travel. Off-world transit is suspended except in emergent situations. Local authorities will provide more information.”
“Enterprise survived,” T’vek repeated to me, as if trying to convince himself. “Thirty-nine out of forty ships were destroyed, but Enterprise survived.”
I couldn’t find words. We were half un-dressed, though we hadn’t done anything but sleep the night before, and we were in my bed, and clinging to each other for everything we were worth, and when my father came in a few minutes later, he didn’t seem surprised, and we didn’t bother to move apart.
His tone was a mixture of relief, concern, and exhaustion, and probably no small amount of hangover. “I guess you saw the news,” he said, sitting on the edge of my bed, on my side. “I’m glad you two have each other,” he said. “And I’m glad you’re here, Zoe.” He sighed, and I reached for his hand with my free one. “We’re all going to have to hold tight to each other now.”
When Gia came into the room a few minutes later, her face drawn and tight, we just moved so she could join us. When Gran arrived a few minutes after that, she was more subdued than I’d ever seen her. “My dear ones,” she said softly, “I was wondering if you’d join me in a prayer.”
We didn’t bow our heads, or utter any words aloud, but we all held hands, and took in a collective breath, and each of us, in our own way, sent a plea out into the Universe. I can’t pretend to know what anyone else’s was, but my own thoughts were the safety of my mother, T’vek’s parents, Data, our friends, and everyone else, and the continued safety of the rest of the Federation at large.
We were silent for several minutes, and then, T’vek broke the mood. “Forgive me if I’m being a bad guest,” he began. “I know things are dire – I mean, my parents are up there – but is anyone else hungry?”
Notes: Forty ships engaged the Borg at Wolf 359 on New Year’s Day (Earth equivalent date) 2367. 39 were destroyed, with most hands either lost or assimilated. Among the survivors, of course, were Benjamin Sisko and his son Jake.
Chapter 38: Support Systems
(2 January 2367, 10:00 AM)
The thing about space battles is that, unless the news tells you what’s going on, there’s really no way to know what’s happening much beyond the atmosphere of whatever planet you happen to be occupying at any given moment. T’vek and I had been at my father’s beach house on Centaurus for roughly two weeks, and about half of that time had been spent with impending doom hovering just above us. Or behind us. Or…whatever.
On New Year’s Day, forty Starfleet vessels had gone head-to-head against these hive-mind space-zombies called the Borg, and only one – the Enterprise – had survived. Less than a week later – a mere thirty-six hours later, actually, T’vek and I were on a transport back to Earth, to San Francisco, where someone from the ship would be meeting us.
Both of our mothers were among the injured. We’d only been given the barest of facts: neither T’rella nor my mother had been actual combatants, but several sections of the ship had been damaged, and a lot of people – even science-types like my mother – had received plasma burns or inhaled noxious chemicals.
We’d been told we didn’t have to come. In fact, on January second, my father had gathered the whole family and T’vek around the dining room table, and introduced us to Lieutenant Hayley Symons, a too-perky red-head from the Starfleet Affairs office.
“Protocol,” Symons had informed us, “dictates that we provide this information in person whenever possible. Stevek Mairaj, your mother has been injured and is in stable condition. Your father is with her, and she is likely to recover within the week, however, they are requesting that you return to the Enterprise.”
Tev and I looked at each other, and neither of us said anything right away, but his hand crept into mine under the table, and I squeezed it.
“Zoe Harris, your mother is also injured, and is in critical care. The Enterprise CMO believes your presence would be beneficial to her healing process, but it is entirely up to you and your father to make that decision.”
This time, it was T’vek who squeezed my hand.
“And if I decide to go,” I asked, “then will Tev and I travel together?”
“You will,” she said. “Although I cannot guarantee that there is a free officer to accompany you.”
I rolled my eyes at that. “We’re not six-year-olds,” I reminded her with a bit more bite in my tone than was polite. “We traveled here without accompaniment, after all.”
To her credit, Symons responded to my snark by softening her tone. “I’m sure you did, Zoe, but…tensions are running high right now, and with so many ships out of commission…”
“Pirates.” I said. “You’re worried about pirates and hostile aliens and…stuff.”
She cracked a smile, “I cannot confirm or deny that.”
“Whether Zoe decides to go or stay, I still have to go?” T’vek asked then. “I mean, I don’t get a choice?”
“Presumably if you wished to stay, you could work that out with your parents, but I’m not authorized to allow it without hearing from them.”
“When do we have to let you know?” my father interrupted the conversation for his first time, with that question.
“Stevek would have to be at Capitol City Spaceport by noon tomorrow,” she said.
“We’ll call this evening to confirm,” my father said, rising from his chair. “Let me walk you out.”
(5 January 2367)
“Who do you think will be meeting us?” I asked T’vek as we joined the transport’s senior officers for breakfast in their mess on our last day of travel. “Your dad, I’m guessing? Maybe Counselor Troi or one of her staff.”
“If it’s Crusher, I’m going back to your Dad’s house on Centaurus,” T’vek said, which made both of us chuckle.
“Generally speaking,” the ship’s second officer, a half-human, half-Rigellian named Marek put in, “they’ll send someone who knows you, and who you know well, so if your father isn’t available, T’vek, it may be an officer you both know, or even one of your teachers.”
“Barclay,” Tev and I said together, and then I continued, “It’s totally gonna be Barclay.”
But it turned out that it wasn’t any of the people whose names we’d bandied about. Instead, it was the one person who was guaranteed to make me smile, in spite of everything, because when we exited the ship with Tev guiding the grav-sled with our luggage through the umbilical to Spacedock, Marek paused. “Wow, I knew you two were part of the Enterprise family, but I didn’t know you were this important.”
I tried to peer around him to see who was waiting for us, and couldn’t. “What do you mean?” I asked.
But Marek had already stepped forward, extending his hand in greeting toward the person in question, someone he clearly knew. “D-man,” he said, “I haven’t seen you since we were on the Trieste together.”
I still couldn’t see, but the voice that responded to Marek was one with which I was incredibly familiar. “Greetings. It is good to see you, as well.”
“Data!” I said, “Tev, Data’s meeting us.”
But T’vek wasn’t thrilled with that news. “If they sent Data,” he told me, pausing the sled, “it means something really bad happened to one of our parents. It means Symons was soft-pedalling.”
I almost wished I’d stayed on Centaurus after all, but before that thought was even fully formed, Marek moved out of the way. “Zoe Harris, T’vek Mairaj, it was a pleasure traveling with you.” He handed the padd with our information over to Data, who was in view by then.
“Thanks for everything,” I said, speaking for myself and Tev. “It was surprisingly not-horrible.”
Marek grinned at me. “I’m glad to hear it. Be good, you two. Don’t cause too much more trouble.”
T’vek murmured something to the effect that we wouldn’t. I merely grinned.
Data came up to us then, looking as calm and reliable as he ever did. “Zoe,” our teacher – my friend – greeted us. “T’vek. I am sorry your vacation was abbreviated. Please accompany me.” He turned around and started down the corridor, explaining, “The Enterprise sustained significant damage during the events of the past two weeks. We will be remaining at Spacedock for four to six weeks for repairs and retro-fitting.”
“Are we staying on the ship, or ‘fleet housing, or…?”
“For now, you will be returning to your parents’ original quarters.”
“For now?” T’vek asked.
Data paused, facing us directly. “Starfleet is likely to be shuffling assignments in order to restructure the fleet,” he explained in his usual soft, matter-of-fact way of speaking.
I felt stupid for not realizing that, and could see a similar I-should-have-known expression on Tev’s face. “Oh,” I said.
Data’s brow quirked ever so slightly. “Indeed.”
T’vek and I parted ways at his parents’ quarters. His father had just returned from sickbay, and wanted to have some one-on-one time with his son before they went to see his mother. I felt a little bit abandoned, but I understood. Kenash pulled me into a fatherly embrace, and assured me that if I needed anything I could call on them. Tev hugged me, and we shared a chaste kiss, and then he and his belongings were behind the closed door of his home on the Enterprise.
Suddenly teary, and not sure why, I stepped away from the door, and reached for the handle of the grav-sled, only to find that Data was already holding it. “Allow me,” he said quietly, and then, probably because he was one of the few who could tell when my moods changed, he added, “Zoe, are you alright?”
I shook my head. “Just a little overwhelmed,” I said. “Can we go now? I want to change into clothes that don’t smell like transport vessel, and then I’d really like to see my mother.” I hesitated then added, “I mean…if I’m…Lieutenant Symons said she was in critical care?”
He guided the sled down the corridor as he explained. “You will be able to see her, but the burns she received were extensive, and she has been sedated to help minimize her pain.” He sounded as if he was quoting from an official report. Probably he was. “She may not be awake, Zoe.”
I nodded, then realized he likely couldn’t see me as I was next to, but slightly behind him. “Okay,” I said. “Will she recover?”
“It would be better if you wait for Doctor Crusher to explain…” he began.
“I want to hear it from you,” I said. In a softer voice, one that came out smaller than I’d intended, I added, “I know you won’t soften things so I’ll feel better. I know you’ll tell me the truth.”
“Your mother’s prognosis is good,” he said after a beat. “The doctor’s reports are favorable. She is already showing signs of improvement.”
We entered a turbo-lift, and I was quiet for the entire ride, and for the rest of the walk to my quarters – my mother’s quarters – ownership seemed kind of nebulous to me at that moment. At the door, I hesitated. “Is this when you tell me that someone from the counseling staff will be by to check on me, and that I should contact them or Kenash if I need anything?”
“That is the standard protocol,” Data confirmed.
“Am I supposed to wait to hear from some counselor I don’t know before I can see Mom? I mean…Tev’s father was really sweet and all, but I’m pretty sure he was just being nice. He has his own family to worry about. And you…”
“…are an emotionless android who cannot offer support?” He made it a question but his inflection made it seem as though someone had actually used those words.
“I didn’t say that,” I said. “I would never say that.” I stood aside as he guided the grav-sled through the still open doorway I’d been standing in. “I was going to say that you’re the second officer of this ship, and are probably way too busy and important to hand-hold a student.”
“May I enter?” he asked, remaining in the corridor even after I was in my quarters.
I paused, and blinked at him. “Are you a vampire now?”
“I do not understand.” Sometimes when he said that, I knew he really didn’t understand. This time, I was certain, he was teasing me.
I rolled my eyes. “You know, unable to cross a threshold unless you receive a specific invitation?” It came out snarkier than I meant it to. “Sorry. But yes, of course you ‘may enter.'” The lights had come up as soon as we’d opened the door, and it took me a breath or two, but then I noticed that the room was in disarray: planters on the floor, art fallen off the wall, my cello on its back, the top smashed in by an end table that had rocked forward. “Oh…god.” I stood in the middle of the room, and for the first time since T’vek and I had heard the first e-blast back on Centaurus, I burst into tears.
Data’s hand touched my shoulder, and I heard his voice near my ear. “Zoe,” he said. “I am sorry. It did not occur to me that your living space might have been adversely affected. These are only things. Things can be replaced. Your mother will recover, and you are safe.” He waited a few seconds for me to respond, but when I didn’t immediately do so he added, “Please tell me how I can help.”
His sincere effort to be supportive only made the tears flow more freely, but I shrugged his hand away, and turned to face him. “I should ask you to help me clean up, but right now what I really need is a hug. Is that okay?”
He didn’t point out that I’d hugged him before, or remind me that we were friends. His eyes flickered back and forth for a second or two, and then he stepped just enough closer to me that when he extended his arms he could pull me into a slightly stiff embrace. Well, he was stiff. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his chest, and cried until I didn’t have any tears left, while he said softly, “You do not have to ask if this is ‘okay.'”
I couldn’t help it. His sincerity made me chuckle even as I cried the last of my tears, but I stayed in the protective circle of his arms for a few moments longer. When I felt ready, I pulled away and he let me go. “Thank you,” I said, and then, “I’m sorry. I didn’t think…everything just kind of hit me all at once.”
“I have often observed that humans react to stressful events long after the events themselves have occurred. In your case, I believe you essentially ‘bottled up’ your worry about your mother and friends while you were away.” He moved past me and quickly righted the plants and the end table, and set the fallen art against a wall. “You should sit down,” he said, and it was more than just a suggestion.
I moved to the couch and collapsed onto it. “I really didn’t mean to fall apart like that,” I said. “And you shouldn’t be cleaning up. I’m not entirely helpless.”
“I do not think you are at all ‘helpless,'” he said. “But you are in need of more care than I anticipated when I volunteered to meet you and T’vek and escort you home.”
“Counselor Troi is involved with a high-priority patient,” he said. “Her staff has been assigned first to help personnel who lost family to the Borg, and then to counsel those who were aboard. Doctor Crusher is overseeing the care of patients like your mother, as well as others who were injured…” he trailed off, then began again. “As well, it is protocol for escorts and informants to be…”
“People we know. That part I get.” I also got, though I didn’t ask for confirmation, that the ‘high-priority patient’ was the captain. Who else would it be? I considered asking him who had said he couldn’t offer support but decided against it. Instead, I said, “I’m glad it was you.” I was silent for a bit after that, and so was he, but then I asked, “So, exactly what does happen now? Can I shower and change and see my mother? Am I supposed to check in with anyone, or am I on my own?”
“I will happily wait here while you ‘freshen up,'” he said. “I will also escort you to sickbay if you prefer not to go alone. Someone from the counselling staff will be checking on you at least daily, but I assumed you would prefer not to have a ‘babysitter.’ Was I mistaken?”
I shrugged. “Normally, I’d be fine on my own, but nothing about this – ” and I gestured to the room “- feels normal.”
“No,” he agreed. “I do not suppose that it does. Go change. I will be right here.”
I took the luggage off the sled and moved toward my room, though I paused in that doorway to look back at him. “Data?”
“Thank you, for everything.” I allowed my door to slide shut between us, without waiting for any response.
Sickbay was surprisingly quiet when Data and I arrived there, despite it being late afternoon, ship’s time. I wasn’t actually holding his hand, of course, but he was hovering pretty nearby. He’d obviously called the counselor’s office to inform her of when we were arriving, because Counselor Troi herself met us in the corridor outside.
“Hello, Zoe,” she greeted in her ‘professional’ voice. “I thought you’d be here a little earlier.”
“Someone decided I should eat something before I came,” I grumbled, though it was a perfunctory grumble. “He was probably right,” I admitted.
Actually, Data had a spinach and mushroom omelet waiting for me in the cleaned-up living space when I’d emerged from my room showered and dressed in fresh clothing: a comfortably worn pair of jeans, ancient canvas sneakers, and a Beach Haven Yacht Club tank-top. He’d sat opposite me at my mother’s dining table, informing me that he had observed me eating such food more than once in Ten-Forward, and that he had noticed my tendency to become ‘a bit unpleasant,’ which was android for ‘really cranky,’ when I was hungry. I’d tried to ignore the fact that he knew me that well, allowed that good food shouldn’t be wasted, and pretty much devoured the omelet.
Only then had he agreed to take me to see my mother.
I should have known I was being set up.
The counselor laughed, and it lit up her whole face. “Data has a tendency to be right far too often,” she said.
“Yeah, for someone who claims he has no emotions, he’s kind of a mother-hen,” I agreed. “But I’m pretty sure you’re not here to discuss your colleagues right in front of them.”
She sobered instantly. “No,” she said. “I’m not.”
“I’m kind of flattered though,” I said. “I was expecting one of your staff, not you.”
Her smile returned, though in a more subdued fashion. “Anyone who can convince Data to open his door in the middle of the night deserves my direct attention.” She said it lightly, but there was seriousness underlying her words. “Data, would you mind leaving us for a while? I’m sure you have duties to attend to.”
“I do,” he said. “However, I promised Zoe I would stay with her if she needed me.”
Part of me wanted him to stay, but the better part of me knew I was being ridiculous. “I’m good,” I told him. “Don’t let me keep you.”
“If you are certain…” he began.
“I am,” I said. “I promise.”
He turned and left and I refocused my attention on Counselor Troi. “Was that weird, just now?” I asked her, not really expecting an answer. “I mean…was he…”
“…expressing affection for his favorite student?” she asked, with a hint of something like amusement. “It would seem he was. We can talk about that later, if you like. Now, let me tell you what to expect when we see your mother. Beverly – Doctor Crusher – will join us in a moment.”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
She led me into sickbay, and then out the back way to the private rooms. “Most of the people injured in the battle with the Borg are recovering in their quarters,” she told me. “There weren’t a lot of truly serious physical injuries. A few have been relocated to Starfleet Medical.”
“From what Data told me, my mother’s sort of between the two extremes? Bad enough to be kept sedated, but not so bad she needs a dirtside ICU?”
“That’s essentially correct. Were you also told that we asked you to come back so that she would have you for support?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That I knew. Counselor, may I ask a question?”
“Ask away,” she said, “and call me Deanna, please?”
“Is she really improving?”
“She really is. And having you here really will help.” We didn’t go into her room though. Instead the counselor – Deanna – led me to a small conference table in a really tiny room. “Have a seat, Beverly should be here in a moment.”
And just like that, she was. “Hi, Zoe,” she greeted, and for that split-second she was my classmate’s mother, and not the CMO of the Enterprise. “You’re looking tan and healthy.”
I managed a real grin. “You should see T’vek…I think he’s still trying to get salt out of his ears.”
“I heard you taught him to surf.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I did. It was awesome.”
“Good. I’m glad. Okay,” and her professional demeanor slipped into place as she sat down, “let me tell you what’s going on with your mother.”
She explained that the plasma burns had covered forty percent of Mom’s body, mostly her back and arms. Her face had been spared. She’d received skin grafts, and was being kept on a cocktail of nutrients, basic fluids and painkillers. “She’s pretty weak,” the doctor added softly, “and it’s only this morning that she’s been awake for longer than a few minutes, but the worst is over, and over the next three or four weeks, she’ll be improving pretty much daily.”
“Are there going to be tubes and needles and things?” I asked.
“She had a tube to help her breathe,” Doctor Crusher explained. I tensed, listening, and the counselor covered my hand with hers. I allowed it…comfort was comfort. “We removed that a few hours ago, but her throat is pretty raw, so she may not be able to speak much. We’ve got an IV attached to her – you know what that means, right?”
“I do,” I said. “I mean, I’ve seen them, and stuff.”
“Can I see her now?” I always gave up good grammar when I was stressed or worried.
“You may,” the doctor agreed. “She’s right next door. Would you like one of us to go with you?”
I thought about it for a moment. “I’m honestly not sure,” I said. “Is she awake?”
The counselor gave me her softest smile. “Let’s go find out, shall we?”
It’s a scary thing to see the person who is supposed to care for you unable to even care for herself. When you have a parent in Starfleet, even when you’re someone like me who pretends to be disinterested in most of the protocol and hierarchy, and all that, you live with the knowledge that you could lose your parent at any time. You live with the knowledge that there may be missions from which she may not return. You live with the specter of a catastrophic injury hanging over everything and you try to live your life as if the specter didn’t exist.
All the knowledge in the entire Federation, however, doesn’t prepare you for the cold, harsh, fact of seeing the person who is supposed to be your guardian lying in a bio-bed looking small, and fragile, and like they are missing a vital part of their own essence.
Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi walked with me into my mother’s room, and I saw the monitors, and heard the beeping of machines, and saw the bag of nutrient fluids with its tube going to my mother’s arm. “She’s sedated,” I heard the doctor say behind me. “But she’ll hear you if you speak to her.”
I nodded absently, then moved forward. There was a chair next to the bio-bed and I sat in it. “Mom?” I said softly. “Hey. I just spent two and a half days on a Starfleet transport vessel. After that, I might never complain about living here again.”
There was no response, and I glanced toward the doctor and the counselor. “Keep talking, Zoe,” Troi told me.
“So, Tev and I survived Dad’s wedding. Did you know Vulcan-Betazoid boys look awesome in tuxedos? We even danced, but that was decidedly less awesome. Uncle Zane thinks I should take ballroom dancing lessons. Then again, he also suggested I dye my hair pink, and we both know that’s not happening any time soon.”
“You can hold her hand, if you’re very gentle,” the doctor told me.
Gingerly, I took my mother’s hand in mine. The skin on her arm was shiny – a mix of plas-skin and the grafts I’d been told about – but her hand looked normal. Pale. But normal. “We did a lot of surfing. I can’t wait for you to see how tan I am. Seriously, I may have to take up the whole fake-and-bake thing just to keep the look going. T’vek, by the way, is not a natural surfer, but shaggy wet hair and pointy Vulcanoid ears are kind of hot.”
I felt really silly talking to her this way, but I figured light chatter was better than telling her that her fifteen-ear-old daughter had been de-virginized by said shaggy-haired, pointy-eared boy. “Gran sends her love,” I added. “She said to tell you that you’re still family to her, because you’re family to me.”
My mother’s hand twitched in mind, and the monitors started flickering differently. I saw her eyes move back and forth beneath their closed lids, and then I saw her mouth working. “Zoe?” she croaked through parched lips. “…that you?”
“Yeah, mom. In the flesh.”
“Thought you were staying on Centaurus…”
“I thought about it,” I admitted, because Dad and I had had that conversation. “I decided I should at least finish the school year. I mean, I’m determined to get a solid ‘A’ in Data’s class this term.”
She emitted something that would have been a chuckle under other circumstances, and while it clearly took some effort, managed to open her eyes. I stood up so she could see me without turning her head. “…thought you came home because you couldn’t stand being away from me…”
I grinned. “Well,” I said. “That might have been a factor.”
We talked for a while longer, until my mother said she was tired. I told her I loved her, and let Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi pull me away after that, but they promised Mom would be better and stronger in the morning, and, oddly, that helped. It also helped to know I could visit with her, and maybe even bring lunch in.
“Ordinarily,” the counselor told me, as we walked together toward the turbo-lift, “I’d ask you to come with me right now, and have a talk in my office, but I’ve just finished with a rather intense patient, and I need a break as much as you probably do.”
“You were counseling the captain, weren’t you?” I asked. “I mean…I know, it’s probably a secret and stuff, but…”
She turned her dark eyes – eyes that were a lot like T’vek’s actually – on me, as if she was gauging how much she could trust me. “I was,” she said.
“Is he…will he still be the captain of this ship?”
“He will,” she assured me. “Have you met him?”
“Only very briefly, the night Data introduced me to all of you, after the concert. And one time in a turbo-lift.” We were actually approaching one as I said that. “He’s kind of intimidating.”
Her smile broadened. “He can be,” she agreed, “but I’ve heard if you vomit on his boots, it may help.” I blushed, and she was kind enough to change the subject. “What are your plans for the evening?”
“I hadn’t thought that far,” I said. “Tev’s probably spending time with his family, and I’m not sure my friends even know I’m back aboard. I guess it’s back home for replicator food and a book.”
“Or,” she said, “you could join me for dinner in Ten-Forward.”
“I’m not exactly dressed for it,” I said, and then added, “and I wouldn’t want to impose.”
She stared at me. “The ship is in Spacedock, which means things are a little more casual than usual. Commander Riker’s in charge for the next two weeks, by the way, and you didn’t seem intimidated by him the night of the concert.”
“Um, no, I guess not. Mostly, I was just embarrassed. I felt like Data was showing me off, or something.”
“He was,” she said. “He’s never really had a protégé. He certainly hasn’t ever counted a student among his friends.”
“Wait, I thought our tutorial was new, created just for Wes?”
“It was, and it wasn’t,” she said. “Most of the senior officers teach classes from time to time – not always in the high school, but…you know Lt. Worf offers several self-defense courses, and Dr. Crusher leads the theater group.”
“Data, too, has taught other classes. But your tutorial was – is – the first time he’s been involved with the school.”
“Oh, okay.” The ‘lift stopped, and I realized we were at Ten-Forward, after all. “But Wes is his friend…”
“Yes,” she allowed, leading me through the double doors. “But their friendship came about from shared bridge duty, and is more collegial, in nature, whereas Data’s relationship with you is…”
“And organic.” She stopped at the table where Commander Riker was already seated. “Hello, Will,” she greeted. “You remember Zoe Harris.”
“Of course,” he said. “Welcome home. How’s your mother?”
“She spoke to me,” I said, “so that’s good.”
“I’ve invited Zoe to join us for dinner, as she’s on her own while her mother recuperates.”
Riker’s polite smile broadened into a truly friendly grin. “Excellent,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting Data’s protégé.”
I took the seat they seemed to want me in, groaning inwardly. Apparently being Data’s protégé was more of a thing than I knew.
Notes: By January 5th, 2367, Picard was in France with his brother, and the Enterprise was at Spacedock for repairs and re-fits. Space medicine means accelerated healing, even for plasma burns, but don’t expect Zoe’s mother to be out of sickbay immediately or anything. Also, while Lt. Cmdr. Marek is my creation, Data’s service record (per Memory Alpha, and other sources) supports a previous posting on the Trieste.
Chapter 39: Limbo
(5 January 2367, 18:30 hours, ship’s time)
Counselor Troi stopped at the table where Commander Riker was already seated. “Hello, Will,” she greeted. “You remember Zoe Harris.”
“Of course,” he said. “Welcome home. How’s your mother?”
“She spoke to me,” I said, “so that’s good.”
“I’ve invited Zoe to join us for dinner, as she’s on her own while her mother recuperates.”
Riker’s polite smile broadened into a truly friendly grin. “Excellent,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting Data’s protégé.”
I took the seat they seemed to want me in, groaning inwardly. Apparently being Data’s protégé was more of a thing than I knew.
“Of course,” Riker continued once I was seated, “We’ve already met, haven’t we?” The question was rhetorical. We both knew we had. “So, let me rephrase. I’ve been looking forward to getting to know Data’s protégé.”
“If I ever start a rock band,” I responded, “I’m totally using that as the name – Data’s Protégé.” I was kidding, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it had kind of a cool ring to it. His expression remained open, but I realized after I’d spoken that I didn’t really know him well enough to joke that way. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just I keep hearing people refer to me that way, and it isn’t really true.”
“Isn’t it?” Riker asked. The counselor, I noted, remained quiet, observing us.
“Well, no. I mean…it implies that I’m another cookie-cutter kid trying to impress officers to get into the Academy – not that doing what you all do is bad, or anything, it’s just – ”
“Not you?” he asked.
“That’s fair,” he said. “But consider, Data’s never really taken such a special interest in anyone before. He’s tutoring you in math and music theory; he’s got you playing in his quartet, and I heard you were the one who got him to talk after that whole thing with Kivas Fajo.”
“I don’t think that had anything to do with me,” I said. “I mean…I think he was just ready.” I shrugged. “Whatever.” Sometimes resorting to typical teenaged behavior was the best way to shut down an uncomfortable conversation.
The counselor and the commander shared a look, but I wasn’t sure what it meant. “Are you uncomfortable with the thought that you might be having as significant an impact on Data as he’s having on you?” Troi asked.
“No,” I said. “Well, yes. Kind of. I don’t know.” I used the arrival of the waiter to formulate a better answer to her question, but not until I’d ordered a chicken Caesar salad and a glass of sparkling water with lime. “I guess, I just feel weird about overanalyzing a friendship with someone who’s never been anything but kind to me.”
“You’ve used that word twice now,” she observed. “You wondered earlier if I thought Data’s behavior toward you was weird.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I did. But ‘weird’ wasn’t really the right word. Inappropriate might be more accurate. Mom thinks I spend too much time with him. That I’m imposing on his good nature, or something.”
She shared another look with Riker, then asked me, in true psychologist mode, “What do you think?”
I resisted the urge to shrug and utter some inane teenager-ism, again. Slowly and carefully, I picked my way to a real answer. “I guess…he’s reminded me more than once that we’re friends. If that’s true, it has to also be true that if I was in his way or imposing on his time, that he’d tell me.”
“And?” she prompted.
“And?” I was blank for a moment. “Oh. I guess I do worry that people will think our friendship is inappropriate, but I know it’s not. We just…he just…gets me. Spending time with him is easy. I don’t have to be the child people expect me to be, but I don’t have to be entirely grown up, either.”
“So, what you’re saying,” Troi said slowly, “is that Data takes you at face value?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess. I mean, he doesn’t always understand slang or pop culture references, but once he does he actually appreciates my sense of humor. And he explains things in a way that makes them make sense. Math, I mean. And theory. I think I must frustrate him though, I’ve always been more intuitive than technical when it comes to music.”
Riker chuckled and Troi’s smile broadened. “I think,” she said, “that you’re both good for each other, and that you’re right. Data will tell you if you take up too much of his time.”
“He cleaned up the mess in my – mom’s – quarters today. I feel a little like I took advantage of him. I mean, I could’ve done it.”
“Did you tell him that?”
“Yes. He seemed to want to help.”
“I think he was expressing concern for you in the best way he could,” she said.
“Yeah, probably. Especially since his hugging skills need serious improvement.”
Commander Riker interrupted to ask, “Hugging skills?”
“It’s nothing. I kind of had a meltdown when I saw everything all topsy-turvy and when he asked what he could do I told him I really needed a hug. I think I cried a couple of liters of tears all over his shirt. Please tell me mascara stains wash out of uniform fabric?”
“I have it on excellent authority that they do,” he assured me just gravely enough to elicit a smile.
“Good to know,” I said, feeling a bit more like myself. “Are you really assigning some poor junior counselor to babysit me until my mother’s out of sickbay?” I asked, then, more to change the subject than anything else.
“That depends,” Troi answered. “Do you want a babysitter? Data seemed to think you were better off without one.”
“He mentioned that. I guess I’d like to know there was someone I could call if I have a nightmare and can’t get back to sleep because being alone feels too creepy,” I said. “But I don’t really need someone sleeping on the couch, or anything. I mean, what if I want T’vek to come over. It’d totally cramp my style.”
I’m pretty sure they could both tell I was mostly teasing. “Mmm, you’re what, fifteen? A bit young for having male guests overnight, I’d say.” That was from the commander.
“I’ll be sixteen in three weeks,” I said. “And it’s not like we’ve never – um – nevermind.”
But they were laughing, though it wasn’t a malicious sort of laughter. “Oh, Zoe. We were both teenagers not that long ago. How about this: you agree to check in with me in the mornings, and to send T’vek back to his parents by midnight, and I’m pretty sure we already have a volunteer if you need something in the middle of the night.”
“You mean Data.” It wasn’t a question. I’d known from the beginning they were setting me up for this. I waited for a confirming nod from the counselor anyway. When I got it, I said, “He’s cool with this plan? I mean…you said the Captain was off the ship…isn’t he kind of busy?”
“Haven’t we agreed that he cares about you, in his way? Data makes time for his friends, Zoe, whether or not they’re his protégé.”
“Okay, okay. I want to hear from him that he’s on board with being my…go-to guy, or whatever…while Mom recovers…but if he says it’s cool, I’m good. But please, please, don’t ever call me his protégé again. I’d rather be known just for being myself.”
Riker grinned. “And we’re back to where we started. Getting to know Data’s…friend. So, do you only play classical music?”
Our meals were delivered before I could answer, but it didn’t matter, because the rest of the evening was spent in light chat about Favorite Musical Performers, Great Meals We Had Known, and Best Surfing Experiences, although Counselor Troi and I might have had a conversation about the importance of designer shoes at one point. By the end of dinner, I felt like I’d spent a couple of hours with a favorite aunt and uncle, and not two of the most senior officers on the Enterprise.
(5 January 2367, 20:00 hours, ship’s time)
T’vek was waiting for me when I arrived back at my quarters. Commander Riker and Counselor Troi, whom I still couldn’t call ‘Deanna,’ unless she reminded me, had stayed with me as far as the turbo-lift, and then bid me goodnight, with a reminder to check in with her the next morning, and the further reminder that I should contact Data before I went to bed. I’d rolled my eyes at the latter, but agreed, mostly because it was the expedient thing to do.
“I’ve been looking for you for hours,” Tev said by way of a greeting. “Where were you? Why haven’t you been answering comms?”
“Gee, honey, it’s good to see you, too,” I snarked before I realized what I was saying. Immediately, I was chagrinned. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s been a really long, really weird day. Do you want to come in and talk?”
My minor outburst didn’t seem to phase him, and he moved closer to me, laying a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, too,” he said. “I disappeared with my father and barely even looked back. How’s your mom?”
“Bad,” I said as we walked through the doors. “Really bad. She’s got no energy, they had to graft skin, and use plas-skin, and there are tubes and monitors and…” I took a deep breath. “They say she’s actually improving, though.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve been trying to comm you all afternoon and evening. Father wanted me to invite you to dinner, and mother said you were welcome to stay with us if you wanted to.”
“I didn’t have my padd,” I said, collapsing on the couch.
“Um, hi? Remember those lovely, lovely comm-badges we were issued a couple months back?”
“Oh, right…that…I left mine in my drawer before we went to my dad’s. I didn’t even think about putting it on today…it was…everything was toppled and knocked over.”
“The living room furniture…a bunch of stuff in my room. I haven’t looked at mom’s room yet. Data was kind enough to clean up for me.”
“It’s good he was here for you,” T’vek said, moving closer and wrapping his arm around me. “I should have been.”
“No,” I said. “You needed to see your family, and honestly, there wasn’t much you could have done. How is T’rella, anyway?”
“Mostly better,” he said. “She’s on bed-rest through tomorrow, confined to quarters for two more days after that, and then she can resume light duty.”
“That’s good. If it’s alright, I’ll stop by tomorrow and pay my respects.”
“She’d like that,” he said. “I think she misses female companionship.”
“I bet she does,” I agreed. I kicked off my shoes and tucked my feet up, leaning into T’vek’s embrace. “I had a meltdown in front of Data earlier. His hugs do not compare to yours.”
“I’m not blaming you, I just…I don’t know. All day I’ve felt like I’m in some weird sort of Limbo…all out of sorts and out of place. I didn’t realize how much I’ve been relying on you and Mom until I didn’t have either of you. And then there was all this stuff with Counselor Troi analyzing my friendship with Data.”
“Oh?” I couldn’t tell if he was jealous or just interested.
“Oh, don’t worry. No one’s concerned he’s going to kidnap me and seduce me or anything. People just keep calling me his protégé and it was weirding me out, and…well, I ended up having dinner with her and Commander Riker, which was also weird, but in a different way.”
“Wow,” he said, arching an eyebrow at me. “Impressive. My girlfriend is moving up in the world.”
“Stop that,” I said, punching him lightly with the hand that wasn’t curled against him. “They just felt sorry for the girl who had no one to take care of her tonight, and didn’t want me to be alone.”
His dark eyes scanned my face for several seconds. “It feels like everything we know is about to change. Classes are suspended until the ship breaks orbit, which might be a month, but might be longer. Dana, Annette, and Josh are all with their families in temporary housing, by the way. They’ll be back on the ship in a day or so.”
“But they’re okay, right?”
“Yeah, they’re fine. We can comm them in the morning.”
“Good to know.”
“Zoe…would you rather I not be here? You’re acting kind of…I don’t know…distant.”
I shook my head, and squirmed closer to him. “I’m just tired,” I said, “and a little bit in shock, still. Can you just…can you just hold me, please?” I wasn’t accustomed to asking for support. More weirdness. But it was weirdness that came with a very warm, very attractive boy attached, so I decided to just accept it and move on.
We stayed like that, just holding each other and talking, until midnight or so, when Tev’s comm-badge chirped, and his father asked him to please return to quarters.
“Are you sure you’re okay here alone?” T’vek asked, lingering at the door. “I could convince my parents to let me stay …just to sleep…or you could come back with me.”
I put my hands on either side of his face, and met his eyes directly. “I promise, I’ll be fine,” I said. “If you stay, I’ll want more than ‘just sleeping’ and if I go with you, being that close to you and not being able to touch you will feel worse than being alone.”
He pulled me close and kissed me, hard. “I’ll worry,” he said.
“I’ll be fine. I’ve spent lots of nights alone here while Mom’s been on duty, and slept just fine.”
“Okay,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t be able to ‘just sleep’ either.”
I grinned at that. “So I’ll see you in the morning? We’ll have breakfast or something?”
“Stellar,” he said. He kissed me again, and then left, and I stood there like an idiot staring at the sealed door for another five minutes, at least.
(7 January 2367, 02:07 hours, ship’s time)
I woke up to the sound of dripping water, and opened my eyes to find my room bathed in eerie green light. There were no klaxons going off, but the air in the room felt damp and dank, like something out of one of the horror vids I was so fond of.
After blinking for several seconds, I realized that the light was emanating, not from the living space beyond my closed bedroom door, but from my bathroom, which meant that was likely the source of the dripping sound. “But I took a sonic shower last night,” I reminded myself. Water showers were discouraged most of the time aboard ship, but especially so when we were in Spacedock.
I sat in bed for a minute or two, weighing my options: I could stay in bed, pull the covers over my head, and pretend nothing was wrong, waiting for whatever was lurking in the bathroom to find me, I could make a dash for the living quarters and the outer door beyond, and make a run for it, or I could go investigate the bathroom. It was probably just a toothbrush charger glowing weirdly, after all.
Horror fan or not, I went with option three, even though I knew this trope: the teenager hears a noise or sees a light, goes to investigate, and ends up eviscerated…or worse. Even so, I slipped out of bed, and began my slow advancement toward the bathroom. Just like in a horror vid, I was dressed in clothing that was completely inappropriate for the occasion: an old white cotton t-shirt that had once been my father’s, hot pink panties, and bare feet. I made a mental note that if I lived, I’d make a point of sleeping in tank tops and yoga pants from then on, just in case.
The bathroom door slid open with a reluctant, rusty, whrrr, just as I reached the proximity sensor, and the green light deepened, though I couldn’t make out actual shapes or forms. I stepped through the door, and it slid shut behind me with an electric sizzle that, I knew, meant I wouldn’t be able to escape.
“Hello, Zoe,” a black-clad form stepped out from the shower enclosure, its voice a combination of my mother’s voice and that of Picard-as-Locutus, which latter I’d been made familiar with by endless news reports. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“I thought only royalty got to use ‘we’ to mean ‘I,'” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. Banter was the only weapon I had.
“We are one and many,” that spooky voice continued, the shambling steps coming closer, but taking longer than they should have. My bathroom was seriously not that big.
“Wait,” I quipped, “you are Legion? Well, that explains a lot.” I wanted to back away, but I knew there was nowhere to go. Instead, I drew myself up to my full height, forcing myself to ignore the green slime and accordion-conduit tendrils slithering around my ankles.
“Come closer, dear,” the creature said. It was close enough, finally, for me to tell it was essentially humanoid. “It is time for you to join the Borg.” More tendrils appeared, pinning me to the sealed bathroom door. “It is time for you to join your distinctiveness with our own.”
“It is time,” I said, matching the Borg-thing’s tone, “for you to fuck off!” I tried to kick out with one of my feet, but the tendrils held me fast.
“Language, Zoe,” the creature responded, inclining its head toward me. The features swam and changed: Mom, Locutus, Data. “Resistance is futile,” it continued, morphing again, until the face resolved into the features of the boy I loved. In T’vek’s voice it added, “Give us a kiss,” and the black lips surrounded by gray flesh descended upon my own.
I couldn’t help it. I screamed.
I was still screaming when I suddenly found myself lying in my bed, in the normal, decidedly not-green semi-darkness of my room on the Enterprise. “Computer, lights, full illumination.”
The computer complied.
“Ouch, bright! Reduce illumination by twenty percent!” The light dimmed accordingly, and I was able to open my eyes again. No sound of water, no green light, and no funky air. I’d been dreaming. But I was shaking, and suddenly the concept of a babysitter seemed less insulting than it had when I’d first returned to the ship.
“Computer, what time is it?” I asked, even though there was a display a head-turn away.
–Ship’s time is oh-two-oh-seven hours.
I’d gone to bed around ten-thirty, after dinner and board games with Tev and his family. T’rella was supposed to be resting, but insisted they come spend time with me in my own quarters. It was enough to assure her that I was competent to care for myself, I think.
At least the early end to the evening meant I’d gotten some sleep. I eyed my much-hated comm-badge, which glinted at me from the top of my dresser. “Computer, tell me the location of Lt. Commander Data.”
– Lt. Commander Data is in his quarters.
I jumped out of bed, retrieved the comm-badge, and then returned to the safety of my blankets. I was about to actually take Data up on his offer to call for help when another thought occurred to me. “Computer, is Lieutenant Commander Data alone in his quarters?”
I tapped the badge, and spoke the words that would bring…well, companionship, at least.
“Data here. Zoe, what is wrong?”
I blushed, and was immediately glad he wasn’t there to see. “It’s stupid,” I began. “I had a nightmare, and I know it wasn’t real, and I know I’m actually safe, but…I guess I feel kind of edgy and creeped out, and…could you maybe just come and sit with me for a little bit. Um, if you’re not busy.”
His response was immediate. “I am on my way. Data out.”
I got out of bed again, and pulled a pair of sweatpants on under the shirt I’d been sleeping in. My hair was a mess, but I didn’t care. I padded out to the living room, wrapped myself in the chenille throw that we kept on the couch, and waited for his arrival. When the door chime activated a few minutes later, I didn’t even get up to greet him, just called, “Come in,” and waited.
“Greetings,” he said, defaulting to the phrase, I had learned, was the one he used when he wasn’t certain what else might be appropriate.
“Hey,” I said softly. “I’m really sorry to have bothered you…I just…I need to not be alone for a little while.”
He came all the way into the room. “It is no bother,” he said. “How can I help?”
I shrugged. “Talk to me? I’m all on-edge and off-kilter and, I know it’s silly to be going all melodramatic over a nightmare, but…” I stopped myself, and then continued in a slower, more controlled tone. “Usually, I revel in solitude, but usually, I know my mother’s just working, and not stuck in a bio-bed, doped on painkillers.”
“I have read that discussing a disturbing dream often helps the lingering effects to dissipate more quickly. Would you like to tell me what you dreamed?”
“Do you promise not to mock me if I do?”
“Zoe, you know that I cannot mo – ” he cut himself off, probably as a reaction to the look I’d given him. “I promise,” he said instead.
I nodded. “Okay.” But I was still hesitant.
“Is there something else wrong?” Data asked, his tone as concerned as I’d ever heard it.
“Would you mind if we had tea while we talk. It’s…It’s probably just me projecting, but…tea and conversation feels like a thing. Our thing. Almost a ritual.”
Data’s head-tilt told me he was considering what I said. Not the tea itself, but the rest. “You are not ‘projecting,'” he told me in that matter-of-fact, so-sayeth-me way he had of stating truths. “It is indeed ‘our thing,’ though I am not certain it is truly a ritual yet.”
“I believe practices require a great many iterations before they pass into ritual,” he stated as he moved toward the food slot. “At this hour, it would be wise for you to refrain from tea varietals containing caffeine. Your most common preference is mint. Is that acceptable?”
“Spearmint, please,” I said. “With honey.”
He ordered it, waited, and brought it to the coffee table. I moved into the corner of the couch, leaving him room. “Will you tell me, now, what you dreamed?”
I reached for one of the teacups, swirled honey into the amber liquid and then sat back against the arm of the couch, cradling the cup in both hands. It was hot, but not so much that it burned my skin, and the heat was comforting. “It started with the sound of dripping water, and weird greenish light,” I began, telling him as much as I remembered.
Data sat silently while I related my nightmare, but when I was finished, he did something unexpected: he reached for my empty cup, set it aside, and then took one of my hands in his.
“Data?” I stared at our clasped hands.
“I have observed that physical contact between friends is often reassuring. Am I mistaken?”
I turned my hand over in his. “No. Just…unexpected. I’m usually the one initiating physical contact with you, and…usually reassuring physical contact is done with a hug, not hand-holding.”
“Do you require a hug now?”
I grinned. “No, I’m okay for the moment. But thanks for offering.” I didn’t withdraw my hand, though. His touch was oddly comforting.
“Did sharing your nightmare help you to feel better?” he asked.
“A little, I guess. I mean, it’s less immediate now. If you need to go, I think I could probably sleep okay.”
“I do not ‘need to go,'” he said. “Would you feel less ‘off-kilter’ if I reminded you that Captain Picard was recovered from the Borg, or told you that he, himself, provided the key to their defeat?”
“Are you allowed to tell me how?”
“I am not,” he said. “Does it matter?”
“Not really.” I watched him for a moment, and suddenly I knew – I don’t know how, but I just knew – that he’d been instrumental in whatever had been done. “It was you, wasn’t it? The captain may have provided the ‘how’ but the ‘what’ was all you.” It wasn’t a question.
He seemed a bit uncomfortable with my assertion, but then, maybe that time I really was just projecting. “That is not an entirely inaccurate assessment,” he confirmed.
I squeezed his hand, feeling the smoothness of his skin against mine. “You are probably creation’s only callous-free violinist,” I observed, both because it suddenly struck me as being true, and because I wanted to change the subject. “My hands are usually a mess.” And then something else struck me, “What did you do with the pieces of my cello?”
“I removed them to my quarters, where I hope to determine whether or not the instrument can be repaired. I had not realized it was not a replicated piece.”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “So you’re a luthier now, as well? Is there anything you can’t do?”
“There are many ‘things’ I am unable to do – I cannot float, for example. Repairing your cello, however, is well within my capabilities, should the pieces allow it. I am afraid my duties to the ship and to you have prevented me from –” He stopped when I abruptly pulled my hand from his. “Zoe, have I said something wrong?”
“You said I was just another duty to you,” I said, stung. “Either we’re friends, or we’re not, and that’s fine, but I’d rather not be anyone’s ‘assignment.'”
As always, he was calm and collected when he responded, “I do not understand.” Unsaid, but clearly meant, were the words “…how I have offended you.”
“Duty,” I recited, carefully not imitating the tone he often used at such times, “job, task, assignment, mission, function, responsibility, obligation.” I turned away from him, so he wouldn’t see the tears welling in my eyes.
He used his hand to gently turn my face back toward his. “Those definitions are correct,” he stated softly. “But there are others that you have missed: allegiance, commitment, faithfulness, fidelity, homage, loyalty…”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “I get it. I misconstrued, and I’m sorry.” He dropped his hand, and for a moment, I wanted to slip my own back into it, but I chose not to. “I kind of overreacted, didn’t I?”
“I believe so,” he agreed. “However, you are tired and stressed, so I will not ‘hold it against you.'”
That made me smile, but my smile widened into a yawn. “I am tired,” I agreed. “And I have to check in with Counselor Troi in the morning, so I’d better try to sleep some more. Please don’t tell her, but I’m kind of regretting that I balked about having one of her staff spend the nights here, after all.”
“I will not tell her,” he promised. “If you are averse to being alone, however, I will remain here. I have,” he reminded me, “guarded your sleep before.”
“Yeah, for like two hours when I was sick. And I felt bad about asking you then.”
“You are not asking; I am offering.”
“You’re not likely to let me win if I try to argue you out of staying, are you?”
“Fine,” I said, and while I was acting as if the notion perturbed me, the reality was that I was relieved. Who better to guard you from nightmares than a person who didn’t ever sleep? “You won’t…none of my friends will know I was too chicken to stay alone, will they?” I hedged, even as I was unwrapping myself from the throw, and preparing to leave the room.
“It will be our secret,” he assured.
“Okay.” I got up from the couch, and padded back to my room, stopping in the doorway to turn back toward him. “Goodnight, Data,” I said.
“Goodnight, Zoe. Pleasant dreams,” he responded.
Actually, for the rest of the night, they kind of were.
Notes: I am aware that in Insurrection Data demonstrates his ability to be used as a flotation device. I always thought that choice was lazy writing, and kind of stupid, not to mention it contradicts events mentioned in the series, so we’re going to pretend that never happens. (And at this point in their story, it hasn’t.).
Chapter 40: Reunion
(11 January 2367, 9:00 AM, Pacific Standard Time)
“Zoe, go do something with your friends,” my mother urged me during my morning visit to her room adjacent to sickbay. “You’ve been so good about coming and spending time with me, but frankly, kiddo, you’re driving me crazy.”
I laughed at that, “Frankly, Mom, I really suck at being companion to a sickie.”
I was joking, mostly, but the reality was that for the past five days, I’d fallen into a routine: up at six; breakfast with Data, who insisted that lurking in our living room working on padds and other quiet projects was not really setting him behind, and was therefore acting as a sort of guardian/babysitter during the nights; check in with Counselor Troi; spend the morning visiting Mom; meet T’vek and our friends for lunch; visit mom for another couple of hours, have dinner with T’vek’s family; have some combination of friends over for a couple of hours, or, the night before, only T’vek, in what was absolutely a booty call, and the first time we’d made love since we were back on the ship; and finally tea with Data around midnight every night, which, oddly was becoming my favorite part of my life in limbo.
“Actually,” Dr. Crusher had put in, as she buzzed about the room checking readings and making sure my mother’s recovery really was going as well as it appeared to be, “that’s not a bad idea. Wes has leave today; why don’t you and your friends check out a shuttle and spend some time in Cabo San Lucas or San Francisco or…”
“Santa Cruz,” I said, immediately. “I want to go to Santa Cruz. They restored the boardwalk last year, and they have a vintage wooden coaster I really want to ride.” T’vek and I had done extensive research on roller coasters as part of a class project before the holidays. “What could be better than an amusement park on the beach?”
“I’ll contact Wes for you,” the doctor said, smiling. “I’m sure all of you could stand a chance for some fresh air and fun, especially since the holodecks aren’t operational yet.”
The post Starfleet vs. Zombie Enterprise was still undergoing repairs and refits, and it looked like we had at least another two weeks before breaking orbit, and while my friends, Dana, Josh, and Annette, had finally been allowed back aboard, there was precious little for us to do with half the ship either non-functional or off-limits. “That would be awesome,” I said, and then glanced back at Mom, “if you really don’t mind.”
“I’d mind more if you stayed,” she said honestly. “Zoe, I love you, and I appreciate all the time you’ve spent here, but honestly, I’m very tired, and the best thing I can think of now is sleep.”
“Hmph,” I said, in mock annoyance. “My own mother doesn’t want me. See if I care.” But I kissed her on the cheek before I turned to leave.
“Drama queen!” my mother called
“Takes one to know one,” I responded good-naturedly.
By the time I returned to my quarters Wesley had already arranged for the six of us – Dana’s father had actually given his permission – to spend the day dirtside.
(11 January 2367, 1:30 PM, Pacific Standard Time)
“So tell us,” T’vek asked as the six of us were having lunch in a restaurant at the very end – and two stories above – the Santa Cruz Municipal Pier, “how scary was it being on the ship during the whole Borg thing?”
Wes looked away for a moment, while the rest of our friends also hesitated. Finally Dana said, “I don’t know about everyone else, but I was terrified. Especially after they made us all go to emergency locations on the innermost decks.”
“Yeah,” Annette agreed. “That was really uncomfortable. Also, there was a lot of shaking, every time the ship took a hit.”
“You were on the bridge for some of it, weren’t you, Wes?” Josh asked. His use of our classmate’s first name was new.
“I was,” he said. “And in engineering. And honestly, I’ve never felt more like a kid than I did during the height of the battle. I thought I was ready for the uniform,” he said softly. “Now I’m not so sure.”
“I think,” I said in a sober tone, “that if you’re questioning your readiness, it means you actually are ready.”
“What was it like for you guys?” Annette asked.
“The worst part,” I answered after glancing at my boyfriend, “was the not-knowing. The various news nets were mostly repeating the same sound bites over and over, and some of the conjectures about what was actually happening…”
“Zoe actually invented a drinking game, at one point –” T’vek cut in.
“I seem to recall you being just as involved in that endeavor as I was,” I said.
Josh interrupted both of us, “Now, now, children. You can bicker like an old married couple later. We need info: how exactly does this drinking game work?”
Tev and I looked each other and laughed, and then I let him explain, because our soup had just appeared, and the restaurant we were in – The Sea Cloud – was famous for its clam chowder. “Well,” he began, “you take one drink every time a news anchor mention the Romulans or Breen, two drinks every time they bring on an ‘expert,’ and three if they manage to badmouth the captain.”
“They were badmouthing Captain Picard?” If Wesley had possessed hackles, they’d have been raised.
“Calm down,” Annette said, squeezing his arm.
“Oh, Wes,” my tone was sympathetic. “You know they did – anyone would have, considering.”
In a much less defensive voice he acknowledged. “Yeah, I guess.”
Dana stepped in to lift the mood. “Happy thoughts,” she said. “We have a party to plan.”
“Party?” Josh asked. “I’m down with the concept of ‘party.’ Whose party? Why party?”
“Zoe’s of course. She’s turning sixteen in ten days.”
“Ooh! Sweet sixteen and never been – ” but Josh peered at me, and then at Tev, and then at me again, “well, sweet sixteen anyway.”
Annette arched an eyebrow in my direction and dabbed at her mouth with a napkin to hide her grin. Dana simply ordered, “Talk. Later.” Wes…was Wes. Still socially awkward and slightly oblivious, but well-meaning.
“I’m not sure I actually want a party,” I said, causing all my friends to stare at me in shock. “What?”
“Aren’t you the one who finds any excuse for a celebration?” That was from Josh, again. “Seriously, Zoe, you love parties more than I do.” That was saying a lot. Once, while Josh’s parents were on sabbatical, he’d thrown a three-day bender, that only ended when Lt. Worf noticed that someone had replicated a beer bong and left it in the corridor. Both the party and the punishment afterward were the stuff of legend among the younger members of the crew, and the older kids.
I shrugged, “I don’t know, it seems…wrong…somehow.”
“Well, how would you have celebrated your sweet sixteen back on Centaurus?” Dana asked.
“Oh…easy…bonfire on the beach and midnight surfing. But…you can’t do that here, I don’t think.”
“Because the water’s too cold?” T’vek asked, and I could tell he was thinking about how cold the water was on Centaurus, and how much colder the water off the coast of California would be in January.
“Because of sharks,” I said. “I have no desire to become fishfood on my special day.”
Our waiter, an obvious townie, paused in clearing away our soup bowls to tell us, “Actually, we have really good shark repellents off Lighthouse Beach now. No one’s even been nipped at in decades.”
“Really?” I asked. “Are bonfires allowed?”
“Yeah, as long as you extinguish them completely before you leave. Do you all surf?”
“I grew up on the water – Beach Haven, Centaurus – T’vek learned the basics over Christmas. I’m not sure about…”
“Dude, I surf,” Josh said. “And Dana’s pretty awesome at swimming, at least on the holodeck.”
My friend blushed, but pointed out, “Holodeck oceans are a lot different than the real thing.”
“So, bonfire, midnight surfing…what else. Food? Drinks?” Annette demanded. I got the feeling she was making a list.
“Music. Preferably a live band, but recorded is acceptable. Vintage rock – uber-vintage. Like, twentieth-century Terran beach rock. Burgers – beef or veggie, shrimp skewers, chips and salsa. Picnic-friendly party food.”
“And cake, obviously,” Dana added. I could tell that the boys were tuning out, but she and Annette seemed too eager to start planning.
“Chocolate,” T’vek and I said together. “With orange or raspberry filling, and mocha buttercream frosting,” I added.
“But you don’t want a party,” Josh said. “Yeah, right.”
“Face it Zoe, you’re just afraid other people will think it’s inappropriate,” Dana accused. But she smiled when she said it.
“Wes, do you think a celebration would be…do you think it’s too soon?”
He may have been wearing civvies, but in that moment our classmate – our friend – was every inch an officer. “I think it would be good to have something happy to plan,” he said. “Something hopeful, and life affirming.”
We toasted to that with iced tea and sparkling water, and skipped dessert in favor of boardwalk food.
(11 January 2367, 3:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time)
The boardwalk was mostly empty because it was January, even though the weather was fairly warm, but the rides were open, and the six of us, plus a few other people who were out for the day, enjoyed short queues, and our choice of seats on the roller coaster.
As dusk began to fall, T’vek and I walked down the stairs to the actual beach. We sat on the stairs and kicked our shoes off, and then walked barefoot along the shore, letting the cold surf flirt with our toes, but not really getting wet. Our friends were still exploring the amusement rides, but we knew they wouldn’t leave without us.
“Is it weird,” he asked, “having Data lurking in your living room while you sleep?”
I shook my head, “I thought it was going to be, but it’s actually…he’s actually…It’s sort of comforting, knowing there’s someone there. And he’s happy to let me talk through the nightmares no matter how long it takes.”
“Nightmares? Zoe, you didn’t tell me you were having nightmares.”
“You were kind of focused on your mother; I didn’t want you to worry. And I was afraid you’d want to stay with me, and your parents would never allow it, and my mother wouldn’t either, and I don’t want to lie to them.”
“But she knows we’re…you know…”
His expression implied that I’d hurt him. “Zoe, I can’t believe you haven’t told her.”
“How exactly was I supposed to break that news? ‘Hi mom, so sorry half your skin is still figuring out how to reattach itself. By the way, my boyfriend de-virginized me over Christmas. Can I get you some tea?'” I turned my face out to sea, took a breath and asked in a calmer voice, “Have you told your parents?”
I turned back to him in time to catch his blush. “Yeah,” he said roughly. “Yeah, I have. I had to.”
“Had to? Why?”
“Because my mother is still on light painkillers, and that makes her telepathy wonky. Better to tell them outright than to have her sense it. Ditto Dad, only, you know, except the painkillers.”
“Were they mad?”
“Not really. I mean, they’d have preferred us to wait, but…”
“But no point in sealing the landing bay doors when the shuttle’s already been launched?”
He laughed. “Yeah, pretty much.” He looked down at our bare feet, and started so say something, but a large black dog came running up to us, jumping and yapping playfully. “Hey, stop that!”
“Sit,” I told the dog, which instantly complied. I knelt down to pet him – he was definitely a boy – letting him sniff me, and then rubbing his chest. “You’re a handsome boy,” I said, glancing up at T’vek and grinning. “Where’s your person?”
A couple of seconds later, a man in running clothes came jogging up to us. “Bogart, come here,” he said to the dog. To us he said, “I’m sorry, did he hurt you?”
Bogart ignored the man, and stayed put in front of us, his tail thumping up sprays of sand. “We’re fine,” I said. “Just startled. Right Tev?”
T’vek grinned, “Yeah. He jumped us, but it’s fine.”
I stood up, wiping my hands on my jeans, noting that the man was older than I’d first thought…fifty or sixty, probably…. He also had dark brown hair and stormy grey eyes, and a slight accent – definitely European, possibly French. “Bogart is really handsome.”
“Thank you, he knows that,” the man said. “He’s also a shameless flirt, as you can tell.”
Bogart had planted himself right next to me, and was leaning into my leg. “I’m flattered, I think.” I said, smiling. “Is he named after Humphrey?”
The man smiled, “You know vintage films, I see. But yes, he is. He is indeed.” He extended his hand, “I’m Edouard Benoit. Call me Ed.”
“I’m Zoe,” I said, “Zoe Harris. This is T’vek Mairaj.”
We shook hands all around, but then our comm-badges both chimed. I grimaced, and T’vek tapped his. “This is T’vek,” he said. “Go ahead.”
“Guys, it’s Wes. We need to be heading back now. I promised my mother I’d meet her for a late dinner.”
“We’ll meet you at the carousel,” Tev said. “Five minutes.” To Ed, he said, “I’m afraid we have to go. It was nice meeting you and Bogart.”
“Yes,” I said. “It was lovely.”
Ed grinned. “Bogart and I are pleased to make new acquaintances, but may I ask…aren’t you a bit young to be assigned to a starship? Those are Starfleet comm-badges?”
“We’re not assigned to one, exactly,” I said. “Our parents are though – well, our mothers – we live with them, on the Enterprise.”
“Enterprise? Really? Then we are not mere acquaintances, but future friends.”
“Oh?” T’vek seemed a bit wary of our ‘future friend.'”
“Oh, yes,” Ed enthused. “Bogart and I are on sabbatical from my university, and I volunteered to teach literature and journalism on your ship for the next semester. We’re due to board on Saturday.”
It was currently Thursday. “‘We?'” I asked. “Is Bogart going with you? Is that even allowed?”
“Yes,” he said. “He is, and it is. At least, Jean-Luc approved it, but then, he and I are old friends.”
“Jean-Luc?” I asked.
“I believe you may know him better as Captain Picard.”
The light dawned. “You knew him before, then, right? Before he was the captain?”
“Before he was even an ensign,” Ed said. “But I’m sure he wouldn’t like me telling tales. Your friends await. I look forward to seeing you again in a few days.”
“Me too,” I said, and meant it. “Well, see you soon, I guess,” I told him. Then I bent down one more time and gave Bogart a healthy scratch right above the base of his tail. “Here’s lookin’ at you, pup,” I added, and then T’vek and I ran across the sand to retrieve our shoes and meet our friends.
(11 January 2367, 20:00 hours, ship’s time)
Data was waiting for our shuttle when we docked. When we exited the craft, laughing and joking, he greeted all of us, then very quietly pulled me aside. “Please do not be alarmed,” he began. “There has been a complication with your mother.”
T’vek overheard, and left our friends to stay with me, and I felt his hand grasp mine in a subtle, but supportive gesture.
“Complication?” I asked. “But…she was better. She said she was tired this morning, but everyone’s been saying she’s improving.”
“It would be better if the doctor explained,” he said. “Please accompany me to sickbay.”
“Can T’vek come?”
Data looked from me to Tev and back. “If his parents have no objection, then of course he may join us.”
“They won’t mind,” he said.
The three of us made the trek from the shuttle bay to sickbay in silence, except at one point when T’vek told me I was squeezing his hand too tightly. I flashed him an apologetic look, and let go, but then he took my hand back, holding firmly. I got the message.
Doctor Crusher was waiting when we arrived. “Thanks for escorting them, Data. You can go, if you like.”
Data glanced from me to T’vek to the doctor, and then addressed me. “You will contact me when you have returned home.” He didn’t frame it as a request.
“Yes,” I said. “I will. Thank you.” I waited a beat, then turned back to the doctor. “So, what’s happened with Mom?”
She explained in soft but matter-of-fact tones that with burn patients the two major complications were grafts being rejected, or opportunistic infections, because of the need to suppress the immune system. “In your mother’s case, she’s got a systemic infection – ”
“But she was in a bio-bed,” I protested. “They’re supposed to keep that from happening, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” she said, “they are, but sometimes even the best technology isn’t quite enough. It’s a bacterial infection. We need to transfer your mother to a continuous care unit for a day or two in order to stop it – ”
I cut her off again. “‘Continuous care unit?’ You mean stasis. You want to put my mother in a stasis chamber.”
“Zoe, it’s the best way to ensure that she’s fully healed. It will only be 24-48 hours. You can still talk to her – she’ll hear you.”
“Did she know? When she told me she was tired this morning, and to go away and play with my friends…did she know?”
Doctor Crusher looked away from me, avoiding my eyes. “Yes,” she said, “she did. She didn’t want you to worry – we thought an anti-bacterial would be enough.”
“But it wasn’t.” I wasn’t asking.
“Can I see her, before you put her in?”
“She’d like that, I’m sure. But Zoe, I need to ask…is there an adult – a family member other than your father – who can be contacted in case medical decisions are necessary?”
“Doctor Crusher, are you telling us that Zoe’s mother is going to die?” There was an edge to T’vek’s tone that I’d never heard before.
“No,” she said. “I just want to make sure that if anything should go wrong, Zoe has a support system in place.”
She was hedging, and we all knew it.
“I have to think about it,” I said, feeling small, and young, and a bit at sea. “My grandparents aren’t particularly fond of her Starfleet career, and so we’re not that close. Her younger sister – my Aunt Elaine – is a little…she’s a member of the…she used to be on the fringes of that EarthFirst group. We don’t really talk to her. ”
“That’s…understandable,” the doctor said, diplomatically. “Why don’t you go see your mother, and then get something to eat. Wes and I are having a late dinner in Ten-Forward. Do you want to join us?”
I couldn’t begin to count all the ways I did not want to have dinner with the Crusher family. “I’m not sure I’d be very good company,” I said.
Her expression softened, and for a moment she was my friend’s mother again, and not the CMO. “It’s extremely unlikely that anything will go wrong.”
I bit back the retort, anything else, you mean, and just nodded and smiled wanly. “I’d like to see her now.”
She led me to another room within the maze of corridors that formed sickbay – people always thought it was just the main clinic, but it took up a good chunk of the deck. When we got to my mother’s room, the stasis tube had already been set up around her bed, the clamshell lid standing open. Waiting.
“Hey, Mom,” I said softly. “There are better ways to get attention, you know.” When in doubt, try humor.
“Kiddo,” she said weakly. “Come closer.” I did and she drew in a deep, if shaky, breath. “You smell like salt air.”
I grinned. “Nature’s best perfume. You need to get well, Mom, so we can rent a beach house for my birthday weekend.”
“Instead of a party?”
“Instead, in addition to…whatever works” I was kidding, and we both knew it, but it didn’t matter.
“Okay,” she said. “Working on it.”
She was so pale – earlier she’d looked so much better – I wondered how much she’d been acting. Her eyelids, I noticed, seemed really heavy, as if she couldn’t hold them open. I made a show of yawning. “I’m so sorry, Mom. It was a long day, and I’m really tired.”
She smiled weakly. “Get some sleep, Zoe. See you soon.”
“Sure thing,” I said. “Love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too.”
I left the room before they closed the lid, fleeing sickbay as if a monster was chasing me. Maybe one was. T’vek caught up with me outside the banks of turbo-lifts. “Zoe, hey…wait.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I would not cry. “I’m just…”
He pulled me into a rough embrace. “Hey,” he said. “I know… Let me help?”
“How?” I asked. “How can you possibly help?”
The ‘lift doors opened and we stepped inside. T’vek gave the order to take us to the deck where my mom’s quarters were. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Let me try?”
I let him hold me for the few minutes it took for the turbo-lift to deposit us on my deck, let him keep my hand in his as we walked down the corridor, and when we got into the dimly-lit living room, I welcomed his kiss, and something in me started to turn around. “Make love to me?”
“Are you sure, Zoe?” He seemed more cautious than actually reluctant.
“You said you wanted to help. This is how you can. Make love to me. Give me something to focus on. You. Give me you.”
His dark eyes stared into my own, and after a long moment, he nodded. “C’mere.”
We were already holding each other close. He walked backward, leading me to my bedroom, to my bed. We kissed again, and then he stepped back to pull his shirt over his head. When I touched his bare chest, he felt fire-hot. Or maybe I was cold.
He began working the buttons of the blouse I was wearing, sliding it from my shoulders. “Son of a sehlat, Zoe,” he breathed, “you’re like ice.”
So I was cold, then. “Make me warm.”
He pulled back the covers on my bed, and we slid into it, after toeing off our shoes, leaving our jeans on the floor. “Are you really sure?” he asked as he pulled the blankets around us both. “We could just rest. You were yawning, earlier.”
I heard a low, throaty chuckle, and realized it had come from me. “Faking,” I said. “So Mom could sleep sooner.” I took a breath. “I’m sure,” I said. “I want you. I’m sure.”
The first time we’d made love, it had been in wet sand, and it had been less than awesome. The subsequent times had been overshadowed by my father’s wedding, and then all the news stories about the Borg. Idly, I wondered if we’d ever come together without something else pushing us to it, but when he pushed himself into me, when he began moving inside me, when his heat finally managed to overtake the chill I’d been feeling, I stopped wondering about anything.
At the end, I felt a sort of tickle in my head, as if I’d opened my eyes after having them closed for a while, and for a split second, it was almost as if I was watching myself from someone else’s point of view. Everything was warm and soft and safe and then it was suddenly gone, as if someone had turned off a view screen. “Tev?”
“Oh, Zoe…” he began, and then, “shit, I didn’t meant to…” He rolled away from me, or tried to, but there was a bulkhead in his way.
“What?” I said. “What was it? That feeling…it was like I was watching myself.”
“No,” he said softly. “You weren’t. I was.”
“Tev?” I was confused.
“I think I might have accidently melded with you, a little. I’m not very good at it, and I’m still learning, and oh, god, I’m sorry.”
“Why sorry? It felt nice.”
“Because I’m not supposed to be able to…I’m a hybrid.” He was so calm about it, as if these things happened every day. “I think we need to talk to my parents,” he said. “Together.”
“No. Not til your mother is better. You need to focus on that.” He kissed me, a soft, sweet kiss. “I’m going to go,” he said. “I don’t want to leave you alone, but, I kind of…I’m not walking out on you…okay?”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m actually really tired, after all.”
“I’m contacting Data…”
I nodded. “Okay.”
He kissed me again, and then left the bed. I heard him pull his clothes on. I heard him contact Data. As I was drifting into something like sleep, I heard him tell our teacher – my friend – that he didn’t think I should wake up to being alone. Data answered him, but I couldn’t discern the words, because the remainder of my attention was on trying to reclaim that feeling of warmth and light.
Notes: T’vek isn’t supposed to be able to mind-meld, but obviously things happen when you put two emotional teenagers together. It’s possible he’s been not entirely honest about how much telepathy he really has, as well, but not because he’s malicious. So, so sorry for the time it took to update this. We bought a new car, had the kitchen redone, and then I got sick from the fumes from the polyurethane varnish they used on my cabinets. Also, I’ve been a bit wrapped up in The Dog Days of Podcasting. (My feed can be found at BathtubMermaid dot com, if you’re interested. The master feed of all participants is at DogDaysofPodcasting dot com.) Thank you ALL for your continued readership.
Chapter 41: In Dreams
(12 January 2367, 03:00 hours, ship’s time)
“Meld with me, Zoe,” T’vek’s voice echoed in my head and in my room. “You know you want to. My mind to your mind touching…sharing thoughts just like we share love.”
“You said you couldn’t…”
His laugh was dark, wrapping itself around me in thick coils. “Maybe I lied. Maybe I just wanted to land the new girl before anyone else could.”
He was lounging on the foot of my bed, leaning against the bulkhead. Shirt off. Casual slouch. It should have been hot, but somehow it was threatening instead. “Get out of my head,” I tell him, but his dark eyes lock onto mine. “Tev, this isn’t funny.”
“No,” he agreed, and his tone was deadly serious – accent on the ‘deadly’ – “it isn’t funny. Most Vulcans wait, you know. Their first time is when they seal the bond with their betrothed.”
“You’re not fully Vulcan,” I pointed out.
“Nope. But I’m not fully Betazoid either, and yet, when we touch, I feel how much you want me.” He rolled onto his hands and knees, started crawling up the bed toward me. “Let me touch you, Zoe…”
I began to back away, until my head cracked against the headboard. Weird, there shouldn’t have been a headboard on my bed on the Enterprise. I turned to look behind me, and suddenly we were in my room on Centaurus, and the vid screen was showing images of my mother screaming inside a stasis chamber.
“Mom!” I screamed it out.
“Your mother isn’t here, now,” T’vek said. “C’mon, Zoe, let me touch you, let me share your thoughts.” His hands reached for the sides of my face, but it wasn’t his fingers that I felt. Instead, it was needle-like probes. “Don’t fight, Zoe…let me in…”
I started to struggle, pulling at his hands, and kicking out, but I was barefoot, and nothing connected, and behind him I could still see my mother’s terrified face.
“Let me in, baby,” he kept repeating. “Let me in, let me in….let me…”
“…in. Zoe, it is Data. May I come in?”
My tutor-cum-nighttime guardian’s voice penetrated my dream, or started to, but I was still struggling against nightmare-T’vek. My bedroom door opened and Data came in, but I wasn’t entirely awake, and my fist almost connected with his jaw.
He caught my hands – my wrists really – before that could happen, and his soft tones finally brought me back to myself, but I was hyperventilating. “Data?”
“You seemed to be having a rather violent dream,” he said, still holding my arms so I couldn’t flail. His touch was gentle, but firm to the point that I knew he could do damage if he wanted to. That probably should have scared me. Perversely, I found it comforting.
“Yeah,” I said not looking at him. “It was kind of intense.”
“If I release my grip, will you be able to remain calm.”
I blushed, but didn’t meet his eyes yet. “Yeah. I think so. I um…it wasn’t actually you I was trying to punch.”
He let go of my wrists, and I immediately pushed myself into a less horizontal position, while he said, “I assumed as much. Had you actually hit me, you would have been injured.”
“You’re that strong?”
“My skull is constructed from duranium,” he answered, “as is much of my internal framework – what is analogous to your skeleton.”
“Ouch,” I said.
“Indeed.” He glanced around my room, and I realized he’d never actually been inside it before. He took in the photos stuck on the edges of the mirror, the clothes tossed over the chair, but instead of commenting on it all, he merely asked, “Would you like to talk about your nightmare?”
“This one was kind of…personal. I don’t think I can talk about it. Not with you, anyway. I mean, I’m sure it was because I was worried about my mother.” I sighed. “And we’ve reached the part, haven’t we, where you remind me that there’s a whole staff of counselors I can talk to?”
He nodded, “Indeed, although it is also ‘the part’ where I must raise the question of whether you have been giving me something called ‘lip service’ when I have suggested that you speak with a counselor before.”
Again, I looked away from him, feeling a little guilty. “I didn’t mean to,” I said, after a beat. “Do you think we could have some tea and talk for a bit, even if it’s not my nightmare we talk about?”
“Will it help you to go back to sleep without further interruption?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It actually will.”
“Then it is an acceptable plan. What variety of tea would you prefer?”
“Chamomile,” I said. “To keep me dozy.”
“I will replicate it.”
“Thanks, Data,” I said. “I’ll be out in a minute or two.”
He left my room, and the door slid closed behind him. I got out of bed, and pulled a pair of sweatpants on under the t-shirt I’d been sleeping in, and used the bathroom before joining him in the main room, where tea was already waiting on the table near the couch. I noticed that the other table in the room – the dining table – was strewn with padds.
“What are you working on?” I asked, even as I curled into my usual corner of the couch.
“I am assisting Doctor Crusher and her medical staff in attempting to determine the source of your mother’s bacterial infection.”
“I was wondering how she caught one in a bio bed. I mean, that’s not normal, is it?”
“It is not.”
“Am I allowed to know what you’ve determined?”
“So far, my search has been inconclusive, except to note that the bacteria in question is both rare, and not typically found among human patients.”
“But Mom will be okay, right?” Something in my voice must have made it clear, even to him, that I wanted a less-than-technical response.
“There is every reason to believe so,” he said. “Doctor Crusher would have told you if that were not the case.”
“Somehow, hearing it from you makes it more…I don’t know. I guess I just know that you won’t lie just to make me feel better.”
“No,” he agreed. “I will not.”
“As much as I want Mom safe and well, and back in her normal routine, I’m going to miss our middle-of-the-night tea parties when normalcy returns.”
His response was softer than I expected. “I, too, have enjoyed our late-night conversations, but I will also appreciate the return to my former routine.”
“Being here every night’s kind of ruined your social life as well as your workflow, hasn’t it?”
“Do not concern yourself with that.”
“Too late,” I said, managing a smile. “You said we were friends, so now you’re stuck with me, and that means if you get to care if I’m having bad dreams or worried about something, I get to care if I’m totally cramping your style.”
“That would seem to be an equitable arrangement,” he agreed.
I opened my mouth to ask another question, but a yawn came out instead. “I think I should go back to bed, now,” I said. “Will you still be here when I wake up, or do you have a shift in the morning?”
“I am not scheduled for duty tomorrow,” he answered. “Why?”
I shrugged. “Eating breakfast alone is kind of depressing. Also, I may need an escort to a counselor’s office. To ensure I actually go.”
His head-tilt wasn’t one of confusion, but seemed to relay a combination of affectionate admonishment and faint amusement. “Then I will see you at breakfast,” he said. “Pleasant dreams, Zoe.”
(12 January 2367, 11:00 hours, ship’s time)
Counselor Troi sat in a low chair across from the one just like it that I was sitting in. Her legs were crossed elegantly at the knee, while I was sitting cross-legged in the bowl of the chair. I’m pretty sure she was taking as much note of my posture as I was of hers.
“I’m glad you’ve come to talk with me this morning, Zoe,” she said, her tone open and warm. “Selfishly, I’ve wanted a chance to get to know you a bit better. I enjoyed our dinner the other week.”
“Me, too,” I confessed. “The dinner, I mean. No offense, but I’m not all that into having another counselor poke and prod at my psyche.”
“I’m not offended,” she said, then asked, “you’ve been in counseling before?”
“Yeah…it was a last ditch effort to save me from my wild ways before Mom dragged me here.” Surprise flitted across her face, but only for a second. “You didn’t know?”
She shook her head. “It’s not in your file. Do you want to talk about it?”
I shrugged. “Not really. I mean, I was pissed at my mother for being on a ship all the time, and pissed at my father for suddenly deciding I should stay home and be a normal kid instead of touring with him, and then I caught him in bed with the au pair, and I acted out. Nothing terribly interesting. Parties. Drinking. Almost had sex, but the drinking turned into puking before much happened.”
“How old were you?”
“Thirteen when I started…fifteen when Dad and Gran figured it all out. It was just over a year ago.”
“And you’ve been with us on the Enterprise since the school year began last fall?”
“A little before then.”
“You’ve had quite the semester.”
“It’s never been boring, that’s for sure.”
“Would you like to tell me why you’re talking with me today?” she invited, setting aside her padd.
“Is that auto recording us, or are you really not taking notes?”
“I’m not sure notes are required yet. I know Data’s been concerned that you’ve been having increasingly violent nightmares.”
“He’s why I’m here,” I confessed. “I figure, if my dreams are frequent enough to worry him…” I sighed and told the whole truth. “The last one, last night – this morning, really – I couldn’t talk to him about it.”
“Was it about him?”
“What? No! It was…you know T’vek Mairaj, right?”
She nodded. “His proper name is Stevek, isn’t it?”
I smiled. “Yeah, but he prefers T’vek. Anyway, Tev and I clicked right from the first day I went to Data’s tutorial, and we’d been sort of dating – as much as you can when you’re on a starship and have no place to actually go – since right before the class trip to Serenity…”
She smiled softly. “I’d heard that. And seen the two of you together. T’vek cares for you deeply.”
“I see that. What does this have to do with T’vek, Zoe?”
“We’ve been sleeping together since the night we got to Centaurus for the holidays.” I said, mashing all the words together and speaking as fast as I could. “Last night he accidentally melded with me.”
“He’s a hybrid; that shouldn’t be possible.”
“That’s what he said. Anyway, the nightmare this morning, it wasn’t just Borg-Mom trying to assimilate me, or Borg-Seth trying to kiss me – ”
“Lieutenant Starker. Cello teacher.”
“I thought you were studying music with Data?”
“Data created a music theory tutorial for me when I couldn’t access the one on the holodeck menu. Apparently it’s a college class, or something. Seth was my music teacher when I got here. I’m also taking voice lessons from Lt. Caldwell. I’d give anything to stop studying with Seth, but no one else aboard has his experience.”
“We’ll revisit that in a bit…” she said.
“Bet you wish you’d been taking notes now,” I teased.
She laughed, “Maybe a little. In any case, the dream this morning –?”
“Oh, it was about Tev trying to…trying to meld with me, only when he touched my face it felt like needles, or probes, or something and…it wasn’t my Tev. It was this dark, sinister version of him. I woke up screaming and fighting, and then it resolved into Data standing outside my door asking if it was okay to come in.”
She nodded. “When T’vek started to meld with you, did it hurt?”
I shook my head. “No. I mean…it was weird. Knocking boots is one thing, but knocking brains? It wasn’t something I expected. I mean, I’m pretty sure I’m psi-null.”
She stared at me for a long moment. “You should consider being formally tested,” she said after a beat. “If the two of you were intimate when it happened, it might have been just a hormonal flux that allowed it, but, creative people – musicians, actors, and the like – often find they have low levels of latent telepathy.”
I tried to make sense of what she was saying. “So, because I’ve got a vivid imagination and I’m musical and stuff, it basically means I’m more open than, say, someone who’s totally science-y?”
“Essentially,” she agreed. “How did you feel when T’vek pulled away?”
“Cold,” I said. “As if someone had ripped a blanket off me on a really chilly morning.”
“Many people find mind melds to be traumatic. That you didn’t tells me you and T’vek are very comfortable with each other.”
“I love him.” I said. “He gets me. Almost the same way Data seems to.”
“‘Seems to?'” she repeated.
“I’m never sure if he really does, or if he’s just pretending so I won’t feel frustrated.”
She laughed at that. “Data’s not that good at dissembling,” she said. “It’s good you have a friend in him.”
“You don’t think it’s inappropriate?”
She shook her head. “No. I don’t. Data is unique, and his friendships are also so. If the two of you have a sort of resonance with each other, I’d trust it.”
“It’s because of him, isn’t it?” I asked. “If I wasn’t his…friend…I’d be having this conversation with one of your underlings, wouldn’t I?”
“It is,” she said. “In part. He’s my friend and colleague, and he is as concerned for you as I believe he is capable of being.” She hesitated, then added, “But that’s only part of the reason, I wanted to talk with you myself.”
“What’s the other part?”
“I wanted to be certain you were handling everything with your mother as well as you appear to be.”
“You tell me.”
“I feel kind of guilty,” I said, “for being off the ship yesterday, having fun, doing normal kid stuff, even though she told me to go. And…I don’t know…I feel like I’m imposing on Data way too much – he’s got piles of padds all over our dining table, so he can work and babysit me at the same time.”
“That’s actually fairly typical,” she said. “I’d be more surprised if there wasn’t a feeling of guilt about your mother.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I guess that makes sense.”
“And about Data…?”
“I need to learn to sleep without him guarding me?”
“No,” she said. “I know him well enough, and I suspect you do, too, to know that he wouldn’t be doing what he is if he didn’t feel it was important.”
I laughed, “Hey, for all I know he’s really using me as a lab rat while he studies human nightmares.”
She grinned at that. “In truth…”
“It’s probably a little of both?”
That time, we laughed together. Then she got up. “Our hour is over,” she said, “and I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Do you want to join me in Ten-Forward, or have you had enough adult company for the day?”
I unfolded myself from my chair. “Actually,” I said. “I’d really enjoy that.”
“Good,” she said. “Two more things…do your parents know you’re sexually active?”
“That’s one,” I said. “Mine don’t. My uncle Zane does, and basically made me swear to call him if Tev did anything I didn’t like. Tev’s parents know. And before you ask, I’m not keeping it from them, exactly, I just…it hasn’t been the right time. We’re using protection, though. You can ask Doctor Crusher.”
“I believe you,” she said.
“What’s the other thing?”
“I think it might be helpful if you came to see me again in a couple of days, and after that, once a week, at least for a while.”
“Am I crazy?” I asked brightly.
“No more or less so than any of us,” she answered.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll come.”
“I’m glad. Now…lunch.”
(14 January 2367, 18:30 hours, ship’s time)
Talking with Counselor Troi must have helped, because the night of my first session with her, even though I did stay up late to have tea with Data, once I went to bed, my dreams were trouble-free, and the night after, it was more of the same.
Saturday morning, exactly a week before my birthday I woke to the news that Data had traced the source of the bacterial infection that had attacked not only my mother, but a few other critical patients. It was an experiment from one of the bio labs. Containment had failed during the battle with the Borg, and no one had noticed until it affected actual people. My mother was due to return to quarters on the 15th, and resume light duty on Monday.
For the second Saturday since I’d been back on the Enterprise I didn’t have a Saturday session with Data, and I was anxious to get back to routine, back to music, back to…normal life. Especially since my friends kept making excuses not to see me…I mean, we met for meals and such, but they all seemed to be keeping a marvelous secret that they weren’t sharing.
Except T’vek. We hadn’t gone further than a couple of intense make-out sessions since the meld incident, but that night I was his family’s guest for dinner, and I was pretty certain the subject would come up.
“Welcome Zoe,” his mother greeted me when I arrived, still not sure I was dressed appropriately. T’vek had assured me that it was a casual family dinner, but I’d found a black shirt and plaid skirt that were dressy enough to be special without being formal. “You honor us with your presence.” T’rella didn’t smile, of course, but she managed to infuse her voice with motherly warmth, even so.
“Thank you for having me,” I said. “I’m sorry my mother still isn’t well enough to join us.”
“Stevek says she’ll be home tomorrow?”
“Yes, and back to work on Monday, to a point.”
“That is gratifying to hear. We have been concerned for her, as well as for you.”
I smiled at that. “Tev’s been really supportive,” I said. “And Counselor Troi and Commander Data have been watching over me.” More the latter than the former, but, whatever.
She was out of uniform, wearing a long dress that obscured her feet, and she glided all the way into the main living area of their quarters, while I followed behind, feeling much more bound by gravity. “Your home is lovely,” I said, admiring the soft lines of the various sculptures and paintings that decorated the room, not for the first time.
Kenash and T’vek were already in the living area – it was only meter or two away – but they rose when I entered. Kenash pulled me into a rough embrace and whispered, “Welcome, kiddo,” in my ear, and then T’vek came over to stand with me. He brushed a chaste kiss across my cheek, then greeted me with the two-fingered touch that Vulcans used for their closest loved ones. It was the latter that made me blush, and I was grateful for the dim lighting.
“We have much to discuss,” T’rella said, “but we will save the serious subjects until after dinner. Please, sit.”
Food was shared on the low table in the center of the room, and we all sat on the floor on cushions. Both Betazoid and Vulcan custom dictated that the meal be meatless, but it certainly wasn’t bland. Some of the dishes were similar to Mediterranean food from Earth, while others were completely foreign to me, but I tried everything, except for the one dish that reeked of pipali.
“Are you sensitive to spicy foods, Zoe?” T’rella asked, as if embarrassed that her choices hadn’t all been pleasing.
“Only some, and only a little,” I said. “But please don’t feel bad. If it’s something you all enjoy, it’s all good.”
She nodded and the meal continued, until we were done. T’vek cleared the plates – he wouldn’t let me help – and Kenash made a tea that was sort of minty but not quite, and then he and T’rella sat back on the sofa, and the mood shifted.
“Stevek has shared with us that the nature of your friendship has changed,” T’rella began. “I am told your mother is not yet aware?”
“There hasn’t really been time,” I said. “She knew we were…she knew it was going to happen eventually.”
“As did we,” Kenash said, a hint of humor in his tone. “And while I’m sure we all wish you would have waited, Stev’s assured us that you both used protection.”
“Forgive me if this is rude,” I said, trying not to fall into my default snarky mode. “Are you about to tell us that we can’t see each other anymore?”
Kenash laughed out loud at that, earning an arched eyebrow from his wife and a puzzled look from T’vek. “Not at all, Zoe. Not at all. We just wanted to assure ourselves that you were…well.”
I burst out laughing. “I’m sorry,” I said. “When T’rella said serious conversation I envisioned some weird ultimatum of breaking up of having a shotgun wedding happening.”
Even T’rella could see the humor in the situation. Her own demeanor relaxed a lot, and even the hint of a smile showed on her face. “Do you think we are so unaware of how teenagers behave?” she asked. “We do, however, want to address a different point. Stevek told us that he touched your mind several nights ago.”
“I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean to,” I said. “But it wasn’t bad. Actually, it was worse when it ended than when it began. Like being pulled out of a really cozy bed before you’re ready to be awake.” I was paraphrasing the description I’d used with the counselor.
“As my son has no doubt explained, his telepathic abilities, instead of being a blend of both Vulcan and Betazoid talents, are largely non-existant.”
I nodded. “He said it was like they cancelled each other out.”
“A simplistic if appropriate analogy,” she agreed. “The fact that he could meld at all, is surprising, and speaks highly of you.”
“Thank you?” I said. “I guess? I mean…I wasn’t doing…I was just there.” I hesitated, then added. “Counselor Troi said that musicians and actors and artists and other creative types often have latent telepathic abilities. Not enough to do anything with, just enough to…receive, I guess?”
“I have heard that as well. Have you been formally tested?”
“No, but it seems like I might have to be.”
“It would be advisable.”
T’vek broke into the conversation, finally. “Mother, please. It’s Zoe’s first time having dinner with us, and all we’ve done is make her uncomfortable.” He reached for my hand, then, squeezing it, and letting it drop.
“You’re right, my son. Zoe, Stevek says you enjoy word games. Are you up for a game of Scrabble?”
I do, and I was. T’rella took the first game, but we played a second, and I won that.
“Next time,” Kenash declared, “we’ll play in teams. Only then will Stev or I have a chance of winning.”
“Only if the teams aren’t divided by gender,” Tev said, and we ended the evening on a positive note, though he did walk me back to my quarters.
“That was better and worse than I thought it would be. I’m still not sure your mother likes me.”
“She does, Zoe, I promise. I can’t believe you said that about a shotgun wedding.”
“I can’t believe you let me think it.”
We stopped outside my door. “Are you coming in? It’s our last night of relative freedom.”
“Isn’t Data coming over?”
“Not til later,” I said.
“I want to,” T’vek said, leaning close to kiss me. “I really do. But I think I’d better not.”
I put my hands on either side of his face, staring into his dark, dark eyes, and seeing only my own reflection. “Yeah,” I said. “You’re probably right.” I kissed him, he kissed me…and then I went inside, and he went home.
Five minutes later, the door-chime sounded, and I opened it to find him there. “I’m kind of stupid sometimes,” he said.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Sometimes you are. But mostly you’re not.” We went to my bedroom and closed the door, and when we were together, that time, there was no meld, but we both knew if it ever happened again, we wouldn’t be afraid.
He was still there when Data comm’d me to tell me he was en route, a little after midnight, but we found the positive in the situation: if Data hadn’t called, T’vek would have missed his curfew.
When he left me the second time that evening, he grinned the insouciant grin that was his trademark and said, “I love you, Zoe.”
I smiled back at him. “I love you, too. I’ll comm you tomorrow.”
The irony is, I probably wouldn’t have had nightmares that night, even if Data hadn’t been in my living room.
Notes: Nothing important, just sorry for the delay. My birthday was last weekend, I had to write an entry for the NYC Midnight Flash-Fiction contest, and the Dog Days of Podcasting is still going on.
Chapter 42: Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen
Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen
(19 January 2367, 10:30 hours)
“Mom, I have to go meet Counselor Troi,” I shouted in the general direction of my mother’s bedroom in our quarters. Almost a week had gone by since she’d been released from sickbay, but she was still restricted to light duty. Pretty much, that meant she was only working afternoon shifts, which meant we had a lot more mother-daughter bonding time than we ever had before.
“Let me know when you’re done,” she called back. “I love you.”
“Love you, too, Mom,” I answered. Then I grabbed my padd and left our quarters, nearly walking into T’vek, who was waiting outside the door. “Hey you,” I greeted, then stretched up for a kiss.
He tangled his hand in my hair, and continued kissing me for a long moment, before pulling away. “So,” he said. “I thought I’d walk you down to the counselor’s office.” He took my hand, lacing his fingers with mine.
“And have an impromptu make-out session,” I teased, handing him my padd. “The least you could do is carry my books.”
“I can do that,” he agreed. “Also, I thought, if you don’t mind me waiting, we could go have lunch in Ten-Forward, after.”
“Sure. I mean, I have to let Mom know.”
We stepped into the turbo-lift, which was empty, which meant more time for – to use the term in the series of novels I was still reading – snogging. When the ‘lift stopped a few decks away from the medical section, we broke apart.
“Oh! It’s my beach buddies.” Edouard Benoit – the man with the dog named Bogart – said by of a greeting as he joined us in the ‘lift. “Let me see if I remember…you’re T’vek and Zoe, right?”
Tev and I shared a look, and then I confirmed, “Right in one. How’s Bogart adjusting to the ship?”
“Better than I am, I’m afraid. Apparently, I was not destined for space travel.”
“Um, you know we haven’t actually left Spacedock, right?” I asked. T’vek, meanwhile, was apparently trying not to smirk.
“I am aware. No worries though, Zoe, I’m sure I’ll adjust sooner or later. Hopefully sooner. Actually, I’m headed to sickbay to chat with the doctor about just that.”
Tev had controlled his amusement, and now offered, “Sometimes if you have an ear infection, even being in Spacedock can mess up your head. It happened to me, when I first came aboard.”
“It did?” I asked. “How come I never knew that?”
“Because I was here way before you were,” he said.
“Oh, right. There is that.”
“Are you two also headed to sickbay?” Ed asked us.
“Us? No, thank you. I’ve had enough of that place for a lifetime and the year’s not even a month old.”
“Oh?” for a moment he seemed more of a reporter than the journalism teacher he’d claimed to be. “Why’s that. Were you injured in the battle at Wolf 359?”
I shook my head. “No, we were both at my father’s place on Centaurus for the holidays, but my mother was injured, and it was pretty dire for a while. She wasn’t Borgified, or anything,” I added, realizing what his likely assumption would be. “Just plasma burns and a bad bacterial infection.”
“‘Just’ plasma burns?'” he laughed, surprised. “Are you all so jaded that you react that way?”
“Hardly,” T’vek said, wrapping his arm around me protectively. “But it’s a matter of degrees.”
“Tev’s mother was also injured,” I explained. “But not as severely. Actually, I’m on my way to meet with Counselor Troi.” Ed had just become the first person outside of Mom, T’vek, and Data who I’d told about my counseling sessions, and I was trying to hide my embarrassment, so I widened my eyes and quoted a line from a favorite holo-vid. “Haven’t you heard?” I asked, “We’re all mad here.”
To his credit, the man laughed, and responded, “Oh, I’ve no doubt you’re completely bonkers. All the best people are.” He was paraphrasing, of course, but it made me grin. “More seriously,” he said, “I’m a big believer in having a personal therapist. Everyone needs someone to talk to.”
I grinned at that, “Yes, exactly. And Counselor Troi never makes you feel like you’re in therapy. She makes you feel like you’re talking to a friend.”
The ‘lift stopped at our deck, and Tev and I stepped out of it, wishing Ed well on the rest of his day.
My conversation with the counselor went well, and a bit over an hour later, T’vek and I were in the lounge, sharing a table with Wes, Annette, Dana, and Josh. After we ordered, I looked at my friends and demanded, “Okay, guys. You’ve all been avoiding me since we got back from the beach. Did I do something to offend you? Are you trying to make me feel completely paranoid?”
“It’s not paranoia if people really are out to get you,” Josh pointed out, helpfully.
Dana slugged him good-naturedly. “Stop it, you,” she said.
“Make me,” he suggested, waggling his eyebrows at her, and stretching up for a kiss.
“Josh, no. Not in public. Someone might see.”
“Sorry, sorry,” he said. “Zoe and T’vek canoodle all the time.”
“Zoe and T’vek don’t have a father in Security,” she shot back.
“Zoe and T’vek are sitting right here,” I pointed out, referring to myself and Tev in third person just to be snarky. “But, um, we could leave…?”
Dana pushed Josh’s hands away, and resettled herself in her chair. “No,” she said. “Actually, we need to talk to you.”
“We’d been trying to plan a party for your birthday,” she confessed. “But we ran into a snag.”
“You couldn’t ask my mom for input because she was sick?” I guessed.
“Make that two snags,” Annette said warmly, joining the conversation. “Wes, tell her the rest.”
“Dana and Annette wanted to give you the beach party you described at lunch.”
“Oh!” I said, “That would be awesome!”
“Except what?” T’vek asked as the server placed a café mocha in front of me, and my focus turned toward caffeine.
“We’re breaking orbit tomorrow.”
I shrugged. “I told you I didn’t really want a party,” I said.
“Yeah,” Dana agreed. “I know. But that was when you were worried about your mother.”
“Well,” I allowed, between sips of mocha. “There is that…but why not just use the holodeck?”
“We could,” Wes said. “But there’s another option. We’re heading to Ogus II, which has one of the best arcades in the sector, including a huge laser tag arena, but we won’t be there until a couple days after your actual birthday.”
I knew I should be upset, but I’d meant it about not particularly wanting a party. “Not that I don’t love a good arcade,” I said, “but I’d kind of like something a little more low-key, if we can’t do a beach thing. Food. Cake. Music. Maybe dancing, because I’m so good at it.”
T’vek squeezed my hand under the table. “She’s not kidding. Our Zoe has dances move you would not believe.”
“Not that T’vek is exactly stellar,” I added.
“I don’t remember complaints from you…”
“I don’t remember complimenting your dancing…”
“No, just my moves…”
I couldn’t help it, I blushed, and my friends – our friends – exchanged knowing glances, before Dana said, “Would it be okay if I visit your Mom, and talk with her about your party?”
“You do realize you’ve lost the element of surprise?”
“Doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t have to plan your own birthday.”
“She’s free most mornings, at least til next week,” I said. “I’m sure she’d welcome company from anyone who isn’t me, at this point. Oh, hey, did you guys know we have a new teacher this semester?” And I deftly switched the subject to one Edouard Benoit, professor and dog-lover.
(Saturday, January 21, 2367 – 09:30 hours)
“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, to you.” I woke to the sound of my mother’s warm alto, singing in my ear.
“What time is it?” I grumbled sleepily. I’d stayed up really late the night before, finishing the series about wizard children, which I’d loved until the very last chapter. Seriously, who believes that everyone should end up with their high school sweetheart?
“Nine-thirty,” Mom answered. “Rise and shine, Zoificus. You are in great demand today!”
“It’s a weekend. How can I possibly be in great demand on a weekend?”
My mother sat on the edge of my bed, and presented me with a mug of steaming coffee. “Drink this, daughter-of-mine, and then go shower. You have a scheduled comm-call with your father and grandmother at ten, and Commander Data has asked for your attendance in his quarters at eleven.”
I sat up in the bed and took the proffered mug, sipping gingerly at first. Whoever decided that ground beans and boiled water should be a beverage should have been canonized. Or better. “This is fantastic,” I said. “Thank you. Why does Data want to see me?”
“He didn’t say,” Mom answered. “I assumed you were resuming your music theory tutorial.”
“My cello’s broken,” I said. “Oh, god, I forgot to tell you. My cello was shattered during…whatever. I found it when I got home – everything was a mess, and he…” I paused to sip more coffee, waited a moment for the caffeine to penetrate my brain, and then continued, “…he helped clean up. Mom, we owe him, big-time. He was…he was a really good friend to me while you were…you know.”
She smiled, and leaned forward to play with my hair. “I agree. We do owe him, but from what I’ve heard he volunteered for the daunting task of keeping you sane.”
“Well, sane-ish,” I said. “T’vek and his parents were pretty awesome, too. But Data was…he was like this solid, reassuring presence.”
“Paternal?” she asked.
“Actually, not.” I said. “You’d think so…but…no. Just…I don’t know, he’s calm, and I guess the calm is sort of contagious sometimes. I can be quiet with him.”
My mother laughed at that. “You are probably the first person to refer to Data as someone to be quiet with.”
I shrugged. “I bet I could out-babble him if I tried, but…it’s nice to just sit and not-talk.”
The look my mother gave me was affectionate, but also appraising. “You really aren’t a child any more, are you, kiddo?”
“I’m afraid not,” I said. “Mom, over the holidays, T’vek and I…”
She stopped me with a finger to my lips and a kiss to my forehead. “Table that thought for the moment,” she said. “Let’s keep today a day of happiness and light topics, shall we? It’s enough to realize that my baby daughter has reached the advanced age of sixteen.”
“Yeah, and there’s been hardly any bloodshed,” I quipped.
“Oh, Zoe…” But she didn’t finish whatever she was thinking. “Drink up,” she said. “There’s a bagel with your name on it when you’ve showered and dressed.” She teased my hair again, then left.
I drained my mug, and then went to get ready to face the world outside our quarters.
By 11:00 hours I’d had a lovely chat (while I ate a bagel and had more coffee) with Dad, Gia and Gran via comm-link, and been warned to be on Holodeck Three at 20:00 hours. I’d asked my mother if she knew what my friends were planning, and she avoided answering the question.
Outside Data’s quarters, I felt suddenly nervous. We’d spent so much time hanging around in my living room that visiting his space felt distinctly odd. Nevertheless, I activated the door-chime and waited for him to invite me in.
“You beckoned?” I greeted as I walked into his space.
“Good morning, Zoe,” he greeted me from behind his workstation, though he was rising as he said it. “Happy birthday.”
“Thank you,” I said, still a little confused. “Why am I here? Were we starting theory again, even though regular classes haven’t started yet?”
“That was not my intent,” he said, “although I am amenable to resuming our Saturday morning routine when you are.”
I grinned. “I’m actually kind of itchy to get back to normal, or whatever approximates it.” I said. “Are you going to make me guess?”
Something like a hint of devilish amusement flickered in those gold eyes, but he only said, “No. I wished only to present you with this.” He handed me a small box wrapped in purple paper and tied with gold ribbon that was somehow familiar. Once the connection was made, I started laughing, causing him to look perplexed, and ask, “Have I done something amusing?”
“Yes. No. Not exactly. When I told you to reuse this wrapping for my birthday, I was kidding. I mean you aren’t obligated to give me…I mean…” I looked up into his warm yellow eyes, and remembered my manners. “I mean thank you. But…I’m pretty sure my mom and my friends have organized some kind of party.”
“They have,” he confirmed, “though I have been requested to keep the details a secret. However, I am on duty as watch officer during the night watch this evening, and am not certain I will be able to attend.” He moved to the couch, and motioned for me to join him, which I did. “As well, I wished to watch you open it.”
His echoing of my words to him when I’d given him the mask and invitation to our amusement park unveiling made me smile, whether or not they were intentional. “Does it tick?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Nor does it involve confetti.”
“Confetti is evil,” I said, as I untied the ribbon. “It gets into carpets and hair and…ohh…Data, this is beautiful.” He’d given me a bracelet. Nothing terribly fancy, just a circle of white, green and turquoise beads that felt cool to the touch and clicked together with a satisfying sound. “These are mala beads, aren’t they?”
“You recognize them? I was uncertain if you knew what they meant.”
I shook my head. “I know they’re mala beads, but if there’s any significance to the color choice you’ll have to tell me.”
“Were classes in session,” he teased lightly, “I would instruct you to ‘look it up.'”
“But it’s my birthday, so you’re going to just tell me, right, oh, omniscient one?”
He didn’t rise to the bait and deny his omniscience. Instead he said, “Indeed. Both the white and the green are jade, and both are meant to inspire accomplishment and turn dreams to reality.”
“Good dreams, only, though, right?”
“So what’s the turquoise for?”
“Technically it is turquoise jasper, and it is said to promote tranquility and comfort as well as to keep away evil spirits.”
I grinned at that, but had to ask, “Um, Data, you don’t actually believe any of that do you?”
He managed to look chagrinned. “I do not,” he admitted. “I chose them because I thought the meanings would appeal to your vivid imagination, and because the colors are reminiscent of water.”
“I love it,” I said. “Thank you.” Then I held out my left wrist, the bracelet dangling from my fingers. “Help me put it on?”
His fingers were deft as they looped the string of beads around my wrist, and tightened the pull cords to keep it fastened. If I felt the faintest hint of…something…when he touched me, I ignored it, chalking it up to birthday excitement.
“Thank you,” I said again. And then I remembered, “Oh, hey, I know I’ve made a habit of imposing on you lately, but…when the ship gets to Ogus II, will shore leave be likely?”
“It is possible,” he said. “Why?”
“Dad put funds into my credit account for a new cello, and mentioned that there’s a really good luthier there who’ll give me a fair price because I’m Maestro Harris’s daughter. I was wondering if you could find time to go with me. First because Mom will never let me leave the ship on my own, and second because I’d love your opinion on whatever I choose.”
“If Captain Picard allows shore leave, I will ensure that we visit your father’s recommended luthier,” he agreed.
“The awesomeness of you cannot be overestimated,” I said, but then I got up, “I have to get back home. Promised Mom I’d have lunch with her today – just us.”
Data rose as well, and escorted me to the door. “Enjoy the rest of your day, Zoe,” he said.
Impulsively, I turned and hugged him, and was pleased to find that his return embrace, while brief, held little of the stiffness I was accustomed to from him. “You too,” I said. “Bye.” And I breezed out the door and into the corridor where I paused, once the doors had closed, to look at my new bracelet again before I headed back to quarters.
(21 January 2367, 21:30 hours, ship’s time)
By nine-thirty that night, the party my friends and mother had conspired to throw was in full swing on one of the holodecks. Dana, Annette, Josh, and Wes had enlisted Lt. Barclay’s help to create a beachfront bungalow, though it was really just a giant living room and a back porch with steps down to the sand. T’vek had been left out of the planning so he wouldn’t be able to reveal what was going on.
My friends and their parents, as well as a few of the officers I’d spent time with while my mother was in recovery, had all accepted their invitations, including, I was surprised to see, Commander Riker, Counselor Troi. Also present were Edouard “call me Ed” Benoit and the ever faithful Bogart, as well as the Potts brothers, two of the younger kids aboard the Enterprise. Their parents were on sabbatical and had elected to leave them on the ship, and the counselor had asked if they could attend.
Dinner hadn’t been part of the scheme for this event – we had plans for late-night pizza, after – but my friends had convinced Guinan to not only provide a cake, but also an array of snacks and finger foods from many cultures. “Something for everyone,” she had told me, when I thanked her for her work and asked what inspired the menu, “but not too much of any one thing.” I got the impression that her philosophy was meant for more than just party food.
As surprised as I was that people like Geordi and Ed and Commander Riker had come to celebrate some kid’s sweet sixteen, I was equally surprised at the number of packages on the table with the cake, which, I’d been told, was chocolate and mocha and orange, and would be served at ten. Suddenly overwhelmed and uncomfortable, I left the main room, grabbed a glass of tamarind soda, and walked ‘outside’ to the porch, passing through the array of grouped chairs to sit on the steps.
“Zoe, do you mind if I join you?” Counselor Troi had come up behind me.
I scooted to one side of the step. “Sure,” I said. “Am I broadcasting that much, or are you that bored?” I asked.
“A little of the former, none of the latter,” she said, her voice warm as ever. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I shook my head. “Just feeling a little overwhelmed. Six months ago, I didn’t even want to be here, and now everyone’s being so nice, and I feel like at some point everyone’s going to wake up and realize I’m not worth it.”
She raised an eyebrow at me. “I’m not used to hearing that kind of talk from you,” she said.
I shrugged. “Birthdays are weird. I guess I’m a little homesick, too. And I can’t shake the sense that everything in my life is about to flip upside down.”
That made her laugh. “That’s the Zoe Harris I’ve come to know. Life is constantly changing, Zoe. Birthdays make us all more reflective. You are worth it, by the way. Look around you: you’ve managed to create a group of friends who love you and want to celebrate that.”
“Okay, I know. I guess – no, I know – that I’m also feeling like having a party at all is a little bit frivolous after…you know…everything.”
“Actually, celebrations like this are even more necessary after the sorts of things we’ve all been through. They’re a reminder that life goes on and joy exists.”
“You know, you’re almost as annoying as Data and my mother when it comes to being right all the time.”
“Almost?” she laughed.
“Well, Mom’s got the whole parental thing going for her. And Data is…” again, I shrugged. “Data’s Data.”
“Yes,” she said softly. “He is. You know he wanted to be here.”
“I know. We talked this morning. He wanted to tell me personally that he had night duty on the bridge. He also gave me my first official birthday present of the day…well, if you don’t count the mug of coffee Mom brought into my room this morning.”
“I’m sure you can guess that he polled all of us for ideas about what to get you.”
It was my turn to laugh. “I can just imagine. Well, whoever suggested a bracelet wins a prize.” I held up my left arm so she could see the beads.
“Oh, Zoe, those are lovely.”
“Yeah,” I said, “they really are. Also?” and I rotated my wrist back and forth “They make this awesome clicky sound that’s really just…”
The counselor gave my back a couple of gentle pats. “I think there’s someone else here who wants to have a moment of your time,” she said softly. To whomever was behind us, she turned and said, “She’s all yours, Mr. Mairaj.” She got up, and T’vek took her place.
“Thanks, Counselor,” he said, sitting down. “Hey, Birthday Girl.” He wrapped his arm around me, and leaned in for a kiss. “Having fun?”
“I am now,” I teased lightly. “It’s a great party.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Apparently you’re everyone’s favorite.”
“I wish!” I said. “Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s Wes that managed most of this. Well, Wes and Lt. Barclay. Remind me to thank him, later?”
“I’ll do that,” he said. “Listen, Zoe…I have a present for you, but I kind of want you to open it alone, after the party. Is that okay?”
“That depends. If it’s you with a bow somewhere strategic…”
“That, too,” he said, grinning. “Seriously, I just…it’s kind of personal.”
“Okay,” I said. “We’ll find time…”
We were interrupted, then, by my mother’s voice. “If everyone would please gather inside,” she called, “It’s time for cake and presents.”
“And that’s my cue,” I said softly. “You coming?”
We stood up together, and he took my hand. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The cake was amazing, and the presents were even more so. Lt. Barclay, acting on information from my friends, gifted me with a holodeck program for nighttime surfing, promising a full moon and no sharks. Commander Riker gave me a data solid full of jazz music featuring the cello, and Wes and Annette had dug up all the sequels to one of my favorite vintage horror movies and transferred them to a data solid as well.
Ed, who barely knew any of us, and had been invited mostly because T’vek ran into him again on the way somewhere, also gave me a data solid. “A little prying,” he confessed, “told me that you’re a voracious reader. I hope you’re not anti-Hemingway?”
“I’d heard he was kind of a despicable person,” I said.
“Oh, he was,” Ed confirmed. “He was, however, a brilliant writer. Did things with three words that would take most writers entire paragraphs.” He gave a self-deprecating half-shrug. “I took a chance.”
I grinned. “I’m willing to give him a shot.”
Counselor Troi and Dr. Crusher presented me with a basket full of soaps and perfumes, and Guinan gave me an exquisitely carved candle. Dana gave me a framed watercolor she’d done, and Josh had found an expansion to a board game we were all addicted to.
“I assume you’re giving me this because you know I’m going to ask you all to come play?”
“Score one for enlightened self-interest,” he said, causing the room to erupt with laughter.
Geordi’s gift surprised me, mostly because I hadn’t expected him to show up, let alone give me anything, but it was proof that he was a generally nice guy. He’d given me a digital message tag, and my mother made me read it to the group. “Flying lessons? Really? You’re either incredibly cool or incredibly insane,” I said.
“Well, it’s dependent on the ship being assigned somewhere we can actually rent a flitter,” he hedged. “But I heard you didn’t get to take the lessons for your license.”
I left the chair I was sitting in, crossed the room, and hugged him, then returned to my seat. “I’m not sure I deserve any of this,” I said, “but aside from having my favorite pop star show up for a private show, this has been the best birthday ever.”
T’vek’s parents presented me with a Vulcan lyre and a data solid with instruction videos, but stressed that it was acceptable to keep the instrument as a piece of art if I didn’t wish to learn to play.
“I’ll learn to play it,” I promised, adding, “thank you both.” And then, because I would have done so even without my mother’s pointed looks, I added, “Thank you all. I feel really special tonight.”
“You are special, kiddo,” Mom said.
Shortly after that, the party began to break up. The leftover cake and the presents were beamed back to our quarters, and the adults left the rest of us alone on the holodeck, which had been booked until the beginning of the day shift. I’m pretty sure my mother knew T’vek and I would end up staying there alone for the last several hours of that time, but we’d agreed not to talk about it, so I put it out of my mind.
“I have to go,” Wes said after a bit. We’d all been hanging out on the sofas at that point. “I’ve got bridge duty from midnight to zero-four-hundred.”
“You’ll bring Data the slice of cake I set aside?” I asked.
He grinned, “Yeah. And I’ll let you know what he says.”
I got up from the loveseat I was sharing with T’vek, and gave Wes a hug. “Tonight, everyone feels the love. Thanks for coming.”
“Happy birthday, Zoe.”
Annette came to hug me, and then left with him. “I’ll walk you…” I heard her say as they left the room.
“Anyone up for night surfing?” Josh asked. “Cuz I don’t know about Zoe, but I’m dying to try that program.”
“I think it’s going to have to wait for another day,” I said apologetically.
“Translation,” Dana said, merrily. “Zoe and Tev are kicking us out.”
I hung my head in mock-shame. “We are,” I said. “I’m sorry…but…”
She just laughed. “Naah, it’s okay. You two have your time together. Come on, Josh. My father’s on the late shift tonight, too…”
More hugs were exchanged, and then Tev and I were alone on the holodeck. Quietly, he called in an arch and locked the doors.
“So, your present,” he said, catching my hand and leading me to one of the larger couches.
“What, it really is you with a bow?”
He smiled, but shook his head. “I went to see Data a few days ago, and he said your cello couldn’t be fixed. I asked him for some of the pieces.”
“You made something for me?”
“Yeah…” He reached under the table where the gifts had been, and pulled out a flat package which he handed to me. “Open.”
I ripped the tissue apart, and found a box, which I opened. Inside was a framed holograph of T’vek and me at my father’s wedding. “Oh, wow,” I said. “Tev, this is gorgeous.” I looked more closely at the wood of the frame. “This is the wood from my cello.”
“Is that okay?”
“Okay? It’s awesome.”
“How awesome?” he asked, teasing me.
I grinned. “How ’bout I show you?”
Note to self: when having birthday tryst on the holodeck with your boyfriend, replicate blankets before you start.
(22 January 2367, 04:00 hours, ship’s time)
Late in the night – or really, very early in the morning – I woke to T’vek gently stroking my cheek. “Hey,” I said, my voice sounding too loud in the empty room.
“Hey,” he said. “I’m sorry to wake you, but I have to tell you something.” His tone was gentle, but the words were ominous.
“If you’re breaking up with me the night after my birthday…” I warned, sitting up, and looking around for the bag I’d been told to bring. It was behind him. “Hand me my overnight bag, please? I’m cold.”
Wordlessly he did so, waiting for me to shrug into the t-shirt and jeans that were stuffed into it. “I’m not breaking up with you,” he said, “exactly. And it’s not my choice.”
My hands fisted into the party dress he’d helped me out of the night before, and only the agony on his face and in his voice kept me from strangling him with it. “Go on.”
“My parents told me the night we almost melded…Mom’s being transferred to a different ship. Part of trying to restaff everything after Wolf 359.”
“Do you know which ship?”
“The Berlin. We’ll be transferring over when we get to Ogus II.”
“That’s less than a week from now,” I said. I should have been angry or upset, but all I felt was numb. “You should have told me sooner.”
“I wanted to,” he said. “Zoe, I tried, but then there was everything with your Mom, and your birthday and…” He stopped. “I love you,” he said. “I don’t want us to end.”
“Show me,” I said. “Show me what you really feel.”
His dark eyes fixated on mine, as if he was searching for something. “Again?”
“Not sex. Show me…meld with me again. But this time…do it like you mean it.”
“It might not work…I might not be able to…”
“It will work,” I said. “I know it will.” Very softly, I added, “Please?”
His breath hitched and his eyes grew wider, but after a moment, he nodded. “Give me a minute.” He, too, dressed in fresh clothes he’d brought with him, and then he asked the computer to increase the room temperature.
We sat on the floor, our legs crossed, our knees touching, and he guided my fingers to his temple, then put his fingers on mine. They were burning hot. Or I was freezing cold. Maybe both.
“My mind to yours,” he began, speaking the ritual words, but I quickly lost track of what they were, because all of a sudden I heard him in my head, only it wasn’t really hearing so much as knowing.
Zoe? His mind-voice was cautious.
Tev? Are we…together?
I think so.
And then he felt at me, and I knew – really knew – that he didn’t want to leave, that he really did love me. I tried to reflect back what I felt for him: love and desire and hope, and the knowledge that high school sweethearts never last forever.
When he pulled away from our connection, when we were both just ourselves again, he was very quiet, and tears were streaming down my face.
“Are you okay?” he asked, more tentatively than I’d ever heard him speak.
I rose to my knees and pulled him close, kissing him. “I hate this,” I said. “I hate that you’re going and I hate that you knew and didn’t tell me, but I’m not mad at you. How could I be.”
I sat back and was quiet for a moment. Finally, I said, “I guess…we just try to make the most of the few days we have left, and keep in touch as best we can.” I managed a watery smile. “Deal?”
He smiled back at me. “Deal.”
We put socks and shoes back on, gathered our belongings, and ended the holodeck program. He walked me back to my quarters, and we kissed at my door, lingering. “You should come in,” I said.
“I’m tired. I need to sleep. I don’t want to miss a second of time with you, and Mom will understand.” I wasn’t all that certain about the last part but I was willing to take the chance.
“And if she doesn’t?”
“She’ll just have to deal.”
We went to my room, to my bed, but we didn’t undress, just laid down to sleep, and if my dreams that night – morning – whatever – were about the universe shattering around me, at least I had Tev’s heartbeat pulsing against me like a beacon.
Notes: Yes, this chapter is a little longer than usual – a lot had to happen and there was no natural break. Yes, Tev and his family are really leaving the Enterprise. (In my original outline, Tev was going to die, but he insisted that shouldn’t happen.)