Rebecca Sullivan had decided to finish her final two years of secondary school while considering her career prospects. Her parents could not understand the decision. Her academic record was good enough to get her into a good college or trade school before the rest of her peers. Though she had been encouraged to enter Starfleet Academy, Rebecca had no interest in Starfleet. She tried not to think about her parents’ infinitely high expectations, as well as her argument with them that morning over wanting to bring a girl as her date to the school dance while walking to classes.
She didn’t consider that she would stumble across a person lying unconscious on the ground. One minute, she was walking; the next, she tripped and fell. She rolled over to see the Bajoran woman she met in the tavern a few weeks earlier. Vircona woke up suddenly, squinting her eyes open to see the girl who made quite the impression on her.
“B-Becca?” she stuttered.
“Vira?” Rebecca replied. “Why are you sleeping out here?”
Vircona felt her forehead, still feeling groggy from the sedative she was given and trying to think of a cover story for her mission. “I had to work a late shift,” she said, her voice nearly trailing off. “I was too tired to go back home.”
“What about your kid?” Rebecca inquired, helping Vircona up. She wasn’t sure she bought Vircona’s claim about working late given that she dressed like a street prostitute. But Rebecca decided she wasn’t going to judge Vircona and did not ask about the Bajoran woman’s clothing.
Despite Rebecca’s claim to being a more open-minded person, a particular defense mechanism clicked on in her mind. “He can take care of himself,” she snapped. “He knows I have to work late occasionally. I didn’t have much of a childhood myself.”
“I was just curious,” Rebecca apologetically replied.
“I know. I’m used to people thinking that because I’m a single parent, I can’t raise a kid and hold a job at the same time.”
“They’re full of themselves,” Rebecca assuredly stated, as they began taking small steps down the street. “It’s not the most ideal situation for a child. But I’m sure you do the best you can.”
“Thank you,” Vircona answered with a smile. “I’m glad you understand.”
“Earth wasn’t always the paradise it is today. That’s probably what makes some of us a little complacent. Not everyone in the universe has it as easy as we do. New challenges make life worth living, and reminds us of all the challenges that came before we built this utopia humans live in.”
“You’re very insightful at such a young age, Becca. We should hang out again some time.”
Rebecca’s cheeks blushed. For a second, she thought Vircona was asking her out. The she remembered Vircona didn’t date women. “Sure,” she quickly blurted out.
“I get off work early. Pick you up after your classes?”
Rebecca just gave a quick and nervous nod, and then slowly began to walk away. She turned around, trying to contain her excitement. This was not a date, she told herself, but she still felt a connection to this woman like no other person she had ever met.
Limis was lost in recalling events of fourteen years earlier when Neeley and Garak returned from scouting the jungle. Limis was hoping they had found some edible vegetation. She sighed discontentedly when seeing they were just carrying the water canteen they were sharing. “Nothing decent?” she asked dejectedly.
“I wouldn’t eat anything in that jungle,” Neeley pointedly replied. “Looks like we’re stuck with boring old field rations.”
“Hopefully not for too much longer in this excruciating heat,” Garak added.
“Don’t Cardassians love the heat?” Limis asked.
“Desert heat,” Garak corrected, tugging at his collar. “I can barely tolerate this humidity.”
“You’re not the only one,” Limis answered, taking a few steps backwards and trying to hide her displeasure with a certain odor. How had Neeley dealt with it the last hour? Cardassians certainly valued personal hygiene, but it was still rather poor by the standards of other races.
“We’re going to need Mister Galloway’s help,” Limis continued, “if we’re to get off this planet.”
Once again, Neeley rolled her eyes in annoyance at the very suggestion of asking for a barely conscious man’s assistance. But Limis had made up her mind since Galloway would be dead sooner or later. “Wake him,” Limis instructed Bowers.
Bowers reluctantly complied, injecting Galloway with a stimulant. Limis looked over to the MACO soldier, whose breathing was still labored even though his broken sternum had healed. “We need that comm-unit fixed,” the captain stated. “You up for talking Ensign Sullivan through the repairs?”
“Sure,” Galloway wheezed. “I may still die in this muck, but I can still strive to leave here alive. I thought you Maquis types were experts in repairing outdated equipment that’s supposed to be damaged beyond repair.”
“'Outdated' being the operative word,” Sullivan quipped. “My expertise is in sending clandestine messages with still working outdated equipment. This thing’s harder to navigate than a labyrinth.”
“First, you need to give the triaxilating circuits enough juice,” Galloway continued through pained breaths. “We want to make sure a Federation or Klingon ship finds us.”
“I’ve been concentrating on those even though they’re no good in the rest of the unit’s condition.”
“One less thing to worry about,” Galloway remarked through coughing and wheezing. Neeley began scanning his chest with a medical tricorder to monitor the punctured lung. “Next,” Galloway continued, “see if the four torodial antennae dispersed are throughout the unit.”
While Galloway continued to talk Sullivan through the repairs, Bowers gave Limis a disgusted stare. That stimulant I gave him better not kill him, he had wanted to say to her.
Rhys and Snežana entered the lab where Doctor Markalis was working to deliver additional equipment. Aurellan was still looking through a microscope scrutinizing antibody samples. She was heavily concentrated on analyzing the samples, she did not react to their footsteps. Ileana and Seamus, who were setting up petri dishes and hypo-syringes, motioned their cohorts to set the crates down next to the table.
“How is the analysis coming?” Darcen asked Markalis.
“This is one of the most intricate pathogens I’ve ever seen,” Aurellan replied still staring into the microscope and injecting streptococcus samples into a petri dish suspension.
Ileana walked over to the crates to open them. She hid her annoyance at Rhys staring in the general direction of Aurellan’s posterior, but also had felt a measure of relief that Snežana was staring lustily at Aurellan. Rhys could still sense that his lover was giving him an “eyes up here” glare and shot her an innocent grin. Her nostrils flared slightly every time he stared at her cleavage for longer than half a second.
“It’s a major feat of genetic engineering,” Darcen replied. “We’ve still had to build from scratch. Much of Kaur’s data was destroyed after the Eugenics War. And rightly so. Letting basics play around with this thing would have been disastrous.”
“That’s why I am starting to manifest symptoms,” Seamus explained.
“Basics?” Markalis asked Darcen. Though she studied the Eugenics War in school, the term “basics” never came up. She had an idea of its meaning in this context.
“Neurotypical is another term,” Ileana answered, setting down orange and blue cylindrical containers on the table. “People who do not possess our intellectual and physical prowess.”
“What are these?” Markalis asked of the containers Ileana and Snežana were placing on the table.
“The T’Lani and Kelleruns called them harvesters,” Snežana answered. “They are genetic disruptors used in their centuries long conflict.”
Markalis felt a twinge in her chest and abdomen. She remembered not to let her eyes widen to conceal her horror at the capabilities of this weapon and that these people were planning to use it.
“They’re mutual hatred consumed them as much as this weapon,” Seamus added. “They were so determined to exterminate each other, they nearly destroyed their planets’ ecosystems. Luckily more enligthened individuals from both planets saw the wisdom in destroying them.”
Markalis was lost in the thought of how Earth would have fared had such horrible weapons been used during the Cold War between the United States and Snežana’s ancestors when Seamus began coughing. She thought nothing of the first coughs. Then the coughs became wheezing, as if he would cough out his intestines. Aurellan saw the augments would not act, and moved to intercede.
“You should lie down,” she offered.
Seamus shook his head as he clutched the table. He grabbed a beaker, which slammed to the floor and shattered as the man fell into unconsciousness.
Markalis took a hypospray out of her medkit. Before she could kneel down and administer it, Darcen effortlessly grabbed the hypospray from her hand and flung it across the room.
“No,” he insisted. “No medicines.”
“He’ll die without treatment,” Markalis implored.
“We can’t guarantee he’ll survive with it,” Darcen hissed. “He knows more important things are at stake. And that he will only be a burden if you needlessly prolong his life.”
Markalis just nodded to hide her shock at Darcen’s disregard for the life of a fellow augment. If he could devalue Seamus’s life, he certainly thought even less of “basics.”
Vircona landed her hopper, an electronic scooter-shaped vehicle that glided slightly off the ground, near the main entrance of the local high school. Once classes were dismissed for the day, students of varying Federation member races began filing out of the building. A few human boys looking in Vircona’s direction gave approving glances. Maybe the sight of a woman wearing a leather jacket over a pair of form fitting jeans was what appealed to them. She nodded to them and they nodded back. Soon afterwards, the girl she was waiting for appeared.
Rebecca was accompanied by two of her female peers, a human with long dark curly hair and an Andorian girl. She was telling them she had to postpone their plans for after school. She pointed to Vircona to identify the person with whom she would be spending the afternoon. The other girls shrugged, wondering who this new friend, especially since she was a Bajoran about ten years older than they were.
“I hope you weren’t planning anything too important,” Vircona remarked to Rebecca.
“No, just the same old stuff we high school girls do,” Rebecca answered with a shrug. “Hang out, talk about cute boys… and girls.”
They both grinned. Vircona then handed Rebecca an extra helmet on the back seat of the vehicle and put on the helmet on her seat. Rebecca draped her arms over Vircona’s shoulders to hold on as she activated the ignition and the vehicle took off.
Vircona took Rebecca to a range of large bluffs and small canyons just outside of the settlement area. They sat at the base of a cliff where they watched the wind brush up clumps of sand. It was unlike any phenomenon on Earth or Bajor. Periodic wind gusts in this arid region would cause clumps of sand to brush up like a cyclone. Rebecca just gazed in awe.
“My son would come here a lot when we first came to this planet,” Vircona recalled. “Soon I had to come here to find out what was so fascinating.”
“Where is his father?” Rebecca curiously asked.
For a split second, she thought Rebecca was judging her, but then considered that part of her life she left on Bajor. “Probably still on Bajor,” she answered hoarsely. “I loved that man when I was your age. Maybe we married too young. He carried a lot of repressed anger, wondering what our people had done to deserve what the Cardassians were doing to us. He would start to take that anger out on me until two years ago. Yanith was getting old enough to know how screwed up his parents’ marriage was. I didn’t want him thinking that sort of thing was acceptable in a marriage.”
“That’s rough,” Rebecca sympathetically replied.
During about a minute of silence, Vircona had hoped avoid any further discussion of her abusive former spouse. “So,” she said, not sure how to approach this particular question, “how did you decide you were attracted to both women and men?”
Now who’s judging? Rebecca wondered. She giggled at the wording of the question. “We don’t always decide whom we’re attracted to,” she said plainly. “In a game of truth or dare, I kissed a girl… on the lips. It was totally random, but then I found myself open to dating both genders.”
Vircona did not know how to respond. She just listened to the howling of the wind. “Wait until you hear this,” she instructed Rebecca. “It’s something relating to the construction of the rocks.”
The howling slowly became a high-pitched melodic hum. “Amazing,” Rebecca gasped in awe.
They stared off into the distance as the hum continued for nearly a minute until it dispersed. “Truth or dare?” Vircona then blurted.
“Dare,” Rebecca replied, gazing into Vircona’s eyes and clasping her hand.
Vircona gazed into the Rebecca’s eyes. She leaned over and kissed Rebecca on the lips. Rebecca’s eyes widened in surprise. Just a few days ago, this woman said she didn’t date other women. Now she was kissing her. Rebecca then leaned over planting a longer open-lipped kiss on Vircona’s lips.
Hours later, when the sun was setting, Vircona landed her hopper in front of Rebecca’s house. From inside, a woman gazed out the window. She did not know what how to react to the Bajoran woman kissing her daughter. Rebecca was slowly walking backwards towards the door when her mother grabbed her by the right arm. “Where have you been?” the older woman impatiently demanded.
“I was just out with a friend,” Rebecca calmly answered.
“You mean her?” her mother sneered, pointing at Vircona.
“I don’t mean any harm, Mrs. Sullivan,” Vircona insisted.
The older Sullivan quickly cut her off. “ Get off my property before I call the police,” she demanded. “I don’t want you pushing your backwards superstitions on my daughter.”
Vircona wanted to respond, but quickly held her tongue. She knew where was not welcome and didn’t decide to push it. She sat in the driver seat of her hopper and sped away.
Darcen kneeled in front of a short table, gazing at a flaming lamp, while holding his index fingers together like a steeple. He was performing a Vulcan meditation ritual where he would focus all his mental energy on the flame and tune out any other external stimuli. He heard many historical accounts of how violent others like him were, especially the infamous Khan Noonien Singh and his followers. Given the Vulcan people’s history of violent warfare millennia ago, their meditation techniques seemed an effective way of keeping strong emotions in check.
Of course, he let himself be distracted by the sound of footsteps behind him. “Come in, Aurellan,” he said slowly opening his eyes. He turned his head slightly to see the shadow that Markalis had cast against the wall.
Markalis grinned in embarrassment at being easily identified even though Darcen hadn’t seen her. “That’s a Vulcan meditation lamp, isn’t it?” she observed of the antiquated light source.
“I’m intrigued by their mediation rituals,” said Darcen, still staring at the flame. “But you didn’t come here to talk about Vulcan meditation.”
Markalis was surprised and amazed at how well he knew her already, yet also intrigued by his directness. “Seamus is in really bad shape,” she pointedly replied. “I don’t know that he’ll make it through the night. Not even Vulcans would be as cavalier as you are being.”
Darcen stood upright and growled at Markalis, while shooting her a hostile glare. Her eyes widened in terror. It was the same look of anger her mother gave her if she ever she challenged her authority. So much for keeping his emotions in check. He smiled at her terrified expression and backed off.
“He was my friend since childhood,” he said ruefully as he looked away from Markalis. “He understood the risks involved when we went through with the plan on Epsilon Trianguli. He knew that in the worst-case scenario, he would die in the same gruesome manner as the basics on that outpost. We wouldn’t have thought less of him had he refused to volunteer himself. But he was willing to lay down his life for a greater good.
Those words frightened her more than the threatening posture Rhys took just a few moments ago. The three words she heard over and over again since she entered medical school were, “Do no harm.” Yet this man was using someone he called a friend as a guinea pig in experimentation considered immoral for over four centuries. Darcen had hoped to hide his own emotions by avoiding eye contact. He then looked back at Aurellan.
“I understand people of your breed,” he continued, “often struggle to grasp the concepts of empathy and compassion. You may not be entirely like us on a genetic level, but I would you think you would understand my position.”
Those words were like a punch in the stomach to Markalis. What did he mean by “people of her breed”? That kind of prejudice was one thing that made “basics” afraid of “augments.” She had often struggled with basic social interaction, and she looked at the universe in a more rational manner than most humans. But she never thought herself capable of Darcen’s level of coldness.
“When my sister was a baby,” Aurellan began to recall of her childhood, “I could never understand why she would start fussing whenever I held her. My mother said I was always too rough on our dog, even when I didn’t think I was.”
Ileana passed by the entryway to Rhys’s room. She caught a glance of Rhys showing interest in a story Aurellan was telling him. After she passed by, she tiptoed backwards to keep from attracting Rhys’s attention while listening in.
“My mother would hold me in her arms when I became highly agitated,” Markalis continued. “I often recoiled from physical contact. She was so gentle though. That was how I began to truly understand empathy.”
Darcen’s eyes twinkled, as he became deeply moved. He then refocused his mind when he got a glance of the meditation lamp. “Empathy and compassion are for the weak-minded,” he insisted. “We are prepared to do what others are too afraid to do to end this devastating war. If a few people have to die for the cause, I can live with that.”
Markalis felt a chill on her skin. She realized persuading Darcen was futile and decided not to push it further in order to maintain her cover. “I have to get back to work,” she said demurely, slowly stepping out of the room.
With no warning whatsoever, a hand grabbed Aurellan by the neck and shoved her whole body against the wall. Ileana looked into eyes with a murderous rage. “I don’t know who you really are,” she hissed, “or where you came from. But I will not let you derail our plans. He may find you intriguing, but he loves me.”
Aurellan tried to speak, but couldn’t for as long as this super strong woman was gripping her neck.
“If you steal him from me,” Ileana continued, “or if you sell us out, I will snap your neck, which, as you can tell, I am fully capable of doing.”
Ileana then let go of Markalis and stormed off. Aurellan felt her throat and began coughing. She stared down the hall where Ileana had walked away wondering what kind of sociopaths with whom she had gotten involved.