Cadet Emmylou felt the cold despite her under uniform thermals. ‘Which lecturer did I upset to get assigned to an Andorian science vessel?’ she thought bitterly to herself.
She quickly reached the doors to her shared starboard cabin and hit the open door button and walked in. She was pleased to feel the warmth of human/Centauran normal in her shared quarters compared to the cold Andorian normal of the rest of the vessel.
She found her bunkmate the female Centauran Cadet Xenktid sitting on the edge of her lower bunk, tears streaming down her face.
“Hey Xenktid, what’s wrong?” asked Emmylou.
Emmylou moved towards her bunkmate, unsure what to say or do. In all the time she had known Xenktid, she’d never seen her anything but happy and eternally optimistic. Indeed during their cadet tour on the USS Umarin, she had remained the life of the non-Andorian crewmembers party.
“Hey Emmylou, back so soon?” asked Xenktid.
“Um, I’m actually back late, as the tactical sensor upgrade I was doing took longer to align than planned,” replied Emmylou.
Xenktid look at the ship’s timepiece set on the wall of their shared cabin.
‘Is that really the time?” asked Xenktid.
“Yes Xenktid, um, stop trying to distracting me. Obviously there is something wrong, and as your friend, I‘d kind of like to know what I can do to help, even if it is to take a walk down to the fridge,” replied Emmylou.
Xenktid, turn her PADD off and looked at her reflection in the PADD blank screen. “Do I really look that much a mess?”
Emmylou, tried to weigh the truth up against a comforting lie, before answering. “You’ve looked better but I’m sure I’ve seen you worse.”
Xenktid finally did a weak Centauran version of a smile, and said, “That bad, huh?”
Emmylou just nodded her head, not trusting herself to say the right thing to help her hurting friend, or look at that creepy Centauran version of a smile.
“O Emmylou, my lutki just dumped me by sub-space letter.”
“What, Taringa?” asked Emmylou?
“Yes, what’s the human expression? I got a Dear Jonathan Letter from her. Seems she has fallen head over heels for some Betazoid lieutenant over on the USS Swan.”
“I’m sorry Xenktid. You were a nice couple but you know what they say about long range relationships. I’m sure you’ll find someone else, maybe not on this ice bucket but--,” said Emmylou.
“No, she said she would be my lutki; that’s supposed to be for the length of our cadet tours,” said Xenktid.
“Things change in Starfleet, you know that, plus people say forever at our age and then change their minds a few weeks later,” said Emmylou.
“No! No a lutki shouldn’t. If she wasn’t prepared to dedicate herself to me she should have turned down the offer of lutki status,” snapped Xenktid.
“Hey I’m only trying to help out,” replied Emmylou.
Emmylou was surprised at the depth of anger in Xenktid’s voice. Xenktid suddenly looked shocked at herself. “I apologize, Emmylou; you’re not the one I should be angry at,” said Xenktid.
“Well why don’t we dry your tears? Then we’ll get you cleaned up and then we’ll go hit the fridge for dinner and we can talk more about it,” said Emmylou.
“You mean rather than mope in our shared quarters? That sounds like a good plan and so we’ve got a deal Emmylou,” said Xenktid.
So a mere forty minutes later the pair of friends hit the junior officers’ mess hall, which was known with affection as the fridge.
The two friends found a quiet table at the back, and Emmylou got some Vulcan spiced tea and Andorian roast magenta and Andorian ice salad from the replicator for them to have.
“I couldn’t face the Andorian Cajun dishes tonight,” lied Emmylou as she placed the food on the table and took her seat.
“You’re getting very good at telling lies, my friend but I know you’re only getting the roast magenta in, as the nearest thing to oranges in this ship’s food database,” said Xenktid.
“Well my best friend, I know you enjoy oranges and since magentas are the Andorians nearest thing, you need something to cheer you up,” said Emmylou.
Xenktid look at Emmylou funny. Then she said, “Tell me Emmylou, despite humans and Centaurans being maybe the same race, just separated by the preservers sometime in the past, I don’t think any human cultures have anything like a lutki, do you?” asked Xenktid.
“I don’t know; what is a lutki?” asked Emmylou.
“What is a lutki? How to explain it in terms that you would understand,” said Xenktid, with a thoughtful look on her face.
Emmylou picked at the roast magentas on her plate and let her best friend think. “Okay, so you remember from our first contact classes how the Federation and Centauran first contact was a bit of a disaster?” asked Xenktid.
“Yes we watch that movie--,” started Emmylou.
“That movie? You call ‘Successful Failure,’ the finest piece of Centauran film, ‘that movie’? O Emmylou how can you be such a Philistine?” asked Xenktid.
“When you accept swan lake--,” started Emmylou.
“Blah, earth ballet and dance is not art,” said Xenktid.
“Just because you’ve got two left feet,” teased Emmylou.
“And you can’t appreciate a great film unless there is a bloke in his underwear!” Xenktid teased back.
Emmylou shrugged and responded, “It just helps, that’s all I’m saying. Anyway, aren’t we going off on a tangent from the lutki explanation?”
“Yes a little. As I was saying “Successful Failure” shows that despite having warp drive technology, that to be a successful interstellar civilization our culture would need some charges. One of the things that wouldn’t work on a interstellar scale had been the old matriarch lutki tradition.”
Emmylou made a reassurance noise as she listened to Xenktid.
“Well historically a Centauran lutki was created sometime in the aftermath of the great plague. Basically, your mother would agree within the guidance of mother council, to someone who would be your counterweight or opposite, i.e. it you were idle and rich, then your lutki should be someone who was poor but hardworking. You would have been introduced sometime in your late teen years, after a probation period and once the two mothers agreed that you were both suitable lutki for each other. It became a legal binding friendship, or I suppose you could call it an engagement till you reached adulthood, and then you were free of it. The idea I think was to broaden your horizons and viewpoints together, so once you reached adulthood, you would respect someone with a different worldview, and learn how to cooperate for the greater good. Anything one lutki had they were required to share with the other. I suppose it was crude effort at wealth re-distribution. Though one of the key roles was to teach each in the ways of love and sex,” said Xenktid.
Emmylou, fought hard not to split out her salad.
“Emmylou, why do you humans have so many hang-ups about--?” asked Xenktid.
“Not a fridge topic,” said Emmylou, looking round to see if anyone had overheard them.
“If I didn’t share quarters with you, I think you wouldn’t know what to do with male of your species,” said Xenktid.
“So a lutki is something like an arranged marriage? I thought it would have fallen foul of Federation law?” asked Emmylou, trying to keep Xenktid from having another conversation about their respective sex lives in public.
“Yes a bit, in the traditional sense it would fall foul of Federation federal laws as much as Vulcan bindings do. At any rate by the time of the USS Argonaut first contact visit, it was only the most rural communities that still practiced it,” said Xenktid.
“I can see why. I wouldn’t trust my parents to pick my best friend for me,”
“I agree, but the ruling world council decided to make the lutki something new in the wake of Federation membership,” said Xenktid.
“Go on,” said Emmylou.
“Well I think the idea was to create something that was similar in spirit to the Deltan oath of celibacy, which would allow us to keep true to ourselves and not accidentally offend other Federation members’ different sexual practices. Also it’s kind of like the Academy freshman buddy system, but the Centauran ruling council insists it only applies during cadet years,” said Xenktid.
“That’s right, Taringa graduated last year and you do mentor that bit of Centauran hunk Jascarin,” said Emmylou.
Xenktid rolled her eyes and said, “I’ve lost one lutki and you’re still fixating on bedding the other! I should point out that Jascarin is going steady with Kevin and so he isn’t likely to be very interested in you.”
“A girl can dream, or isn’t that free anymore?” replied Emmylou.
“Yes it’s still free but I suggest you keep to realistic dreams. Now getting back on topic girl-friend, I, like all Centaurans, have an older lutki to be my mentor and an younger lutki for me to mentor, one will be male and the other female, to ensure consistency of message between the genders and we know which we prefer in bed. Well that is the theory but given the higher number of female Centaurans in Starfleet, it can be an all-girls club at times,” said Xenktid.
“Is that where all my wine and chocolate goes?” asked Emmylou.
Xenktid suddenly did look a bit guilty, but she didn’t answer that question before continuing. “However like in the old days, many Centaurans still experience love with their Centaurans for the first time during our cadet years.”
“So Taringa was your first?” asked Emmylou.
“Yes, but her breaking the bond now will cause anger back home.”
“Not your fault and anyway you’re nearly graduated from the Academy, so the bond was almost over anyway,” said Emmylou.
“That’s what makes her breaking it now even worse. What am I going to do?” asked Xenktid.
“Well it’s her choice, not yours, so don’t sweat over it. All I can suggest as the best thing to do is to wish her well with her new Betazoid lover, and you just get on with your career and live. Might I suggest we start by going back to the cabin and getting warm again?”
Xenktid replied, “Let’s get some coffees to go first.”
“Sounds like a good addition to the plan to me,” replied Emmylou.
“You’re a good girl-friend; I don’t know what I do without you. Maybe you’re my real lutki,” said Xenktid.
“No I’m just your best friend and bunk mate, I’m not your counterweight, nor are you getting into my underwear,” replied Emmylou.
“Spoilsport,” said Xenktid. The pain was still in her voice but something also suggested to Emmylou that the food and the talk had started the healing of a broken heart.
As the two women stood up together and went to the replicator to get some strong coffee Xenktid said, “I can live with just best friends, as I’ll always need someone to hold my hair back when I puke after Sunday night cocktails.”
“If we ever make captains of our own ships, I’ll remind you of that,” said Emmylou.
“When I make Captain, attending my Sunday night cocktails will be a mandatory order, and your future mate will have to look after your children, so you can hold my hair back,” smirked Xenktid.
“Hey what makes you think I’ll be either a) your junior or b) have children if you ever make captain?” asked Emmylou.
“Because I know the real you too well!” said Xenktid.
The transporter effect faded away and Emmylou found herself standing next to Jalke’i. The mention of lutki had drawn up her memories of Xenktid. A dear friend, who had indeed made captain during the Dominion war and had post-war kept her word and at least once a month held her Sunday night captains socials. Indeed by the time that Xenktid had been able to organize and get the gang together after the war, Emmylou had been on the water and seven months pregnant with Sophia. Emmylou had remembered Xenktid’s joy of seeing Emmylou’s bump at the start of that night, and announced in a loud voice to their gathered friends and Xenktid’s senior officers, “Well it seems that either Emmylou’s running later with becoming a mother or I’ve gotten to be a captain ahead of schedule. Either way I will order whoever is the most junior officer here to relieve her of her sacred duty and they will be the one to hold my hair back if I puke.”
Xenktid had successfully commanded first an Excelsior class, then an Akira and finally one of the Sovereign class vessels but she, just like Scott, had died recently in the current pointless war with the Klingons.
Emmylou walked in silence with Jalke’i to the planetside gathering point, both women remembering a close friend now lost to the cause.
The gathering point was just round the corner from Anastasiastad ‘the unknown starfarer’ monument. Currently a medium-sized crowd of mourners had gathering together along with the media holo-cameras assembled to record the event.
The colony’s civilian president, Mrs. Guinevere Bordereau, the colony cardinal, Lusby (a Rigelian), the head of the Earth Cargo Service, Mr. Lucci De Presario and the Centauran Merchant Navy Ms. Tandyna Kaevi and Colonel Daelij Inyor (a Grazerite), commander of the Federation marines stationed on Ganges all stood ready in their dress uniforms. Not all of them knew Jalke’i, so Emmylou did those introductions. They had a minute or two of small talk before it was time to take up their usual positions.
Then the officers and civilian representatives walked out in the usual practice routine and took up station round the monument, ready for the colony clock tower to strike eleven.
The President put her poppy wreath at the base of the monument and stood back and bowed her head. Then Emmylou, as the most senior forces figure, stepped forward to the base and with the memories of past friends and a sister lost to the march of history heavy on her heart and head, she took the wreath and salute from Jalke’i before placing it to the left of the president’s wreath, and she gave both the monument and wreath a salute. As always as she did the salute she caught her reflection on the monument and felt again that her baby sister was still watching her from beyond the grave.
Emmylou knew this ceremony and others like it was a small token but it did cover all the big lives she had known that had given their greatest sacrifice for the Federation. Deep down Emmylou knew it was a just a kind twist of fate and the right orders that she was here and they were not.
As she stepped back into formation to let the cardinal place his token, Emmylou wished she could do more for her friends and her sister but keep their memories alive via her tears and in old tales round the bar tonight after beta shift ended.