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On Deck Nine, one level down from her own office, was Kristjana Grimsdottir’s favorite place to relax: the Olympus lounge. It was half the size and more atmospheric than Acropolis on Deck Six. Olympus was much classier, accented in rich hardwood, and bathed in the glow of the ship’s nacelles. White, luxuriant armchairs made for an experience best paired, Kristjana felt, with a glass of aquavit.
It was one of the few indulgences that she maintained throughout her adult life; it brought her back to when life was simple, when she knew love without question, and both of her parents were still alive. Jana was delighted to learn it was a popular spirit among other members of the crew, and so a permanent supply was kept aboard.
Upon her return, Jana claimed one of the seats as her regular spot, an arrangement made quietly between her and the crewman that usually tended the bar when she stopped by.
This time, however, she hadn’t come for aquavit and a nice visit.
There was a new medical officer aboard, a Romulan named Dara’zihl, and Kristjana was eager for a proper chat. There was no need for an impromptu inspection or a formal interview like she’d done with the android. No, in this case Kristjana was carried by simple curiosity.
Her shift was over almost an hour ago. She expected Dara’zihl to arrive any minute.
In Sickbay Dara’zihl looked at the time. She disliked stopping work for what could possibly amount to a social visit. Though considering the origin of the invitation, it was only a remote possibility. The doctor thought. Whether social or business, the invitation had come from a superior officer so even with reservations, Dara’zihl felt she needed to keep the meeting. She folded her lab coat and neatly laid it over the back of a chair before leaving to meet up with the ship’s security chief.
Along the way, she smiled and nodded at the crewmembers who she encountered in the corridors. News of her assignment to the Hermes had not trickled down to everyone and she suspected that some thought she was a Vulcan from a distance. Her smile and her turquoise blue hair probably quickly changed that assessment and left them wondering what species of Vulcanoid she was.
Entering the Olympus lounge she scanned the area for Grimsdottir and caught sight of her sitting alone. She straightened her uniform and made her way over.
“Hello,” she said. She noticed Grimsdottir was in her civilian clothing, a casual jacket and some nice trousers.
“Doctor,” Grimsdottir welcomed Dara plainly, and laid her hand out to the empty seat beside her. “Glad you could join me.”
“My apologies if I am a few minutes late,” Dara slid into the seat with a smile. I’m still getting used to the layout of the ship.”
“Indeed,” Grimsdottir replied, adjusting herself in the seat to face the Doctor, “I wasn’t sure you’d bother to show, to be honest. I gave you a bit of a rough start when we first met. My apologies for that.” She seemed earnest enough, perhaps more than anyone ever believed she’d be in the past. Looking over Dara’s shoulder, Grimsdottir made eye contact with the bartender and waved him over. “If you don’t mind, I won’t be drinking,” she said, resting back in her seat, “But I thought you might enjoy some kali-fal we’ve had in storage forever.”
Jana gave Dara a smirk.
Unsure of how to gauge the lieutenant’s overall demeanor and her apparent attempt to be cordial, Dara stopped herself from refusing the Rihannsu potable. Instead she wordlessly watched the bartender place an etched crystal decanter filled with a pale blue liquor in front of her and nodded to him to pour a glass for her.
The doctor knew exactly how the beverage should taste and this one did not disappoint. Strong and fragrant, like no other drink in the galaxy, she inhaled the bracing scent deeply and took a long, slow sip. Kali-fal was something she had never expected to taste again. After the Hobus star destroyed her homeworld, chi’Rihan, the necessary ingredients were lost. Yet here she was, sitting on a Federation starship, with a Starfleet officer, drinking the one thing which made her long for what had been lost. Her second sip was neither as small or as slow. She placed the now empty glass on the table.
“Thank you ma’am. I’m honored that you put so much consideration into an appealing drink for me. I won’t ask how you came to have such a fine bottle of kali-fal, I suppose there are privileges to being a security officer, no matter in which fleet you serve. So, since you are abstaining, I suspect that our meeting is more than a casual drink after the end of shift. What can I do for you lieutenant?”
Jana looked at Dara sourly. She hated flattery, responding to it with a dismissive wave.
“At ease, Doctor,” Jana shot back snobbishly, “I leave my rank at the door, and I’d encourage you to do the same.” She put her elbows up on the arms of the chair and bridged her hands together. She looked either like a mobster or an academic, and was happy with either. “And I had nothing to do with the kali-fal, like I said. It was in storage.” She looked over at the etched decanter. “I’m abstaining because I want to be on time tomorrow.”
There was an uncomfortable pause. Jana pushed through it.
“Aehm dochai Rihan,” I speak Romulan, she offered in Dara’s native tongue. “Khiilalev.” A little. She knew her accent was rough and didn’t try to fake it.
“Rha?” Is that so? Oh, really? Dara replied dryly. “Congratulations, you’re lucky I am fluent in Fed Standard. And as far as rank goes,” She touched her collar. “I am pleased that I am able to wear this uniform and to serve in Starfleet. During my stay on Earth I came to understand what the United Federation of Planets stood far and realized that as a physician and a scientist, my conscience and my ideals were more in line with those principles. You could say that when my homeworld was destroyed, I lost my home but that event launched me on a journey to find a new home. And I did.” Dara poured herself another glass of the kali-fal. She downed it in one shot, and poured again. This time, she only filled the glass about a third full and slid it to Jana. “You must try it. I think you will find it not unlike Brennevin.”
“If you feel any deleterious effects from the drink,” she said with a smile, “I am a doctor.”
“I hate brennevin,” Jana replied flatly, “Toilet water.” She mocked a gag at the thought. Eyeing the glass for the briefest moment, she slid it back. “Please, have all of it. I’m not going to impose.”
“As for your status with the Federation,” Jana continued, “I’m pleased to hear it. I’m curious though: How did you escape from Romulan space?”
Dara drank the kali-fal and took a deep breath. She said, her eyes following past the broad windows down the gentle curvature of the Hermes’ aft hull.
“I was there, on chi’Rihan. I’d been sent there for additional training for six months,” Dara was staring farther now, beyond the stars as she recalled the memory as if it were happening now. “I was able to spend a bit of time with my family when my duties did not interfere.” She shook her head, visibly frightened.The shockwave was coming at her, if it were happening right there in front of her.
“It happened so fast. I tried to get home but the atmospheric fluctuations brought on a deluge. Massive power failures, countless other catastrophes....” Dara stuck her chin out proudly. “I refused to go, and remained behind in order to provide what little care I could.
“I fully expected that my life would end with the homeworld.” Dara’s features darkened. “I remember very little of my final minutes on the planet. Nothing but brief flashes of memory. The heaviness of fear and the sadness in my heart. And the pain… The searing pain...” Dara’zihl looked back at Jana, who had been nodding along with a pained look on her face. Dara brightened suddenly:“After that I saw the shimmer of a transporter beam, heard a man speaking quickly, and a hand on my neck. Then someone shouting:... ‘She’s alive!’“ Her reenactment of the shout was more of a dramatic hiss.
“It was Starfleet?” Jana cut in. Dara nodded.
“The USS Excelsior. I was placed in medical stasis and brought to Earth. My injuries were grave. I was an officer in the Galae. Yet I was treated with the same care and respect as any other patient. My recovery was...extended. I lived. Sadly, the man who beamed down to rescue me and six others died that day. His name was Praethen. He died saving us, and very nearly lost Excelsior too.” Dara’zihl felt a tear in her eye and wiped it away. “And that is how I come to be the officer I am now.”
She reached for the decanter, pouring the last of the kali-fal into her glass, throwing it back in one graceful movement.
Jana was wringing her hands, unpacking what she’d just heard.
“Eric Praethen,” Jana recalled, “I met him once, years ago.” She looked over at Dara, giving her an empathetic look she mastered in her counseling days. “I can’t imagine the trauma you’ve been through. Do you know if anyone else made it out? Family, or friends? She took the opportunity to gently nudge Dara for more specific information, but she knew she had to do it subtly, empathetically. If there was something about this girl that Starfleet didn’t know, it was Jana’s responsibility to suss it out. Carefully, she waded into it:
“What did you do before the Hobus event?”
“Before, I served the Galae as a medical officer, much as I serve Starfleet today. No one in my family made it out alive. The few I once called friends are scattered across the galaxy. Or they cut off contact when I renounced my citizenship.”
Dara’zihl lowered her eyes, a look of shame mixed with guilt briefly passing across her face. The scar on her face felt warm as she found herself remembering it was there..
“I was never associated with the Tal Shiar,” Dara went on, answering the question she knew Jana was really asking. “But as a doctor on a Rihannsu ship, my duty required me to assist in… procedures.” Dara winced. It was such an ugly word, the depth of which she was intent on keeping to herself. “I’ve since taken the Hippocratic Oath, and to it I am now solely bound.
“I am not proud of what I did,” Dara admitted. ”I was a willing participant. I regret that I cannot erase the stains as easily from my soul as I did from my hands.”
“‘Just following orders’,” Jana said cynically, invoking the defense of the Nazis hundreds of years ago. “I’ve heard that before.”
Whether or not it was an unfair comparison at this point remained to be seen.
Dara raised a single eyebrow. She felt suddenly uncomfortable.
“I knew it was wrong then,” she said sharply, understanding Jana’s meaning. “And if you understood the stakes, you would know it is my intention to ensure that I do not err so egregiously in the future.”
Dara stood, scowling over Kristjana’s head to the clock above.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I must go.”
As she took her first steps to leave, Grimsdottir grabbed her by the wrist, tugging Dara’s arm to keep her still.
“You are excused, Ensign,” Grimsdottir growled with disdain. “I like you, Doctor, but I don’t know you. I want you to understand that if you try anything… anything to undermine what you’ve said to me here, I swear to God I’ll arrest you myself.” She meant every word.
Grimsdottir let go. Dara seemed unfazed, drawing her wrist back slowly.
The grip left a mark in her skin.
Now Dara knew the score, and exactly the level of field she’d be playing on. Her smile was cold as she turned toward Olympus’ exit.
“I know you Lieutenant, I have met many your type. But whether or not I like you is as yet undetermined.” She was almost skipping out of the lounge.
“I will endeavor to keep my nose clean,” Dara said, almost tauntingly, “Since I have no desire to be confined to the brig.”
Grimsdottir watched, stunned, as the gates of Olympus closed behind Dara’zihl, Survivor of Romulus. Bitch.
Her withering stare was fixed on that one spot. It was only the bartender, who happened to glide across her periphery to collect the decanter and glasses, who returned her to a quiet reality. She’d take that aquavit now, thank you, and make it double.
Sinking in her seat she pondered the Romulan’s story.
Jana felt bad that she’d forgotten about the Empire’s compulsory service. She wondered what really became of Dara’s ‘old friends’ after Hobus.
As she took her first taste of aquavit, she realized she probably should investigate Dara’zihl’s connections further, despite her being most likely innocent. If anything, Grimsdottir would be doing it for the protection of the doctor and the ship. She was eager for the project anyway; limiting herself to extra drills and sulking around Olympus had grown stale.
Jana watched as the empty decanter traveled with the bartender to the reclamator. She thought about who else out there might appreciate a fine bottle of kali-fal.
Intelligence would get a call in the morning, she decided.