Deep Space Nine
The day after docking
Authors: Cmdr. Alenis Meru, Rostrenen T'Sering
Ko-ko on her shoulder, Alenis strolled through the Promenade, taking in the sights. The Promenade had been remodeled several times since the occupation, and the harsh Cardassian architecture was softened by the Bajoran decor trying to cover up any reminder of the occupation. They had done a good job; while the shapes were distinctly Cardassian in origin, they were largely disguised by the warm colours and soft curves built by Bajoran plasterers, carpenters and painters to conceal the dark history and bad memories of the Promenade when the station was called Terok Nor.
Alenis felt at home; between the shopkeepers, customers, and people passing through the station in or out of Bajor, she hadn't seen this many Bajorans since she was a child. Of course, there were others; as a Federation outpost, DS9 was home to all kinds of species. But by far the majority of shopkeepers and shoppers were Bajoran. In one of those shops, Alenis was embroiled in difficult negotiations with a tea merchant. One of the challenges for buyers on DS9 was that some of the Bajoran shopkeepers had learned business practices from their Ferengi counterparts, so it was easy to overpay or get rooked exchanging Federation credits, gold-pressed latium, and Bajoran Litas. Fortunately, Alenis knew the product she was buying nearly as well as the seller. Also, it helped if you were Bajoran, and it helped even more if you had a bird on your shoulder, squawking at the shopkeeper and putting him off balance.
As she concluded negotiations and paid the merchant a handsome but not exorbiant sum for a large bundle of authentic Bajoran teas, Alenis felt a hand on her shoulder. "Captain?" asked the smooth, oddly familiar voice.
"You are a captain now?" repeated an elfine woman, peering curiously at Alenis. Though in reality she was quite short and petite, the way this person held herself up produced a sort of corona around her, which doubled her stature. She pulled her hand back and it hovered under her chin, tracing the line of her jaw idly with one slender finger. She stood evenly on both feet, but still seemed as though she couldn't be quite grounded. Her muscles all seemed relaxed, but subdued like a coiled spring, waiting for an invitation to leap out again. Rostrenen was half Vulcan, and her pointed ears were stuck with metal piecings. Her cheeks were pierced, the bridge of her nose, her lips, septim, and there were red lines like scratches symetrical on both sides of her long pale neck. All of her piercings were small stones of Talarian jade, umblemished placeholders for other less sparse design choices. A sleeveless navy green halter dress was tied around her neck, forming a bow behind her above the symetrical, rythmic patterns painted into the skin of her bare back. There were stone cuffs around both wrists, but she had no trouble supporting them on lean, muscular arms. Her legs were tucked into brown patterened, patchwork tights leaning into simple black slippers. Her head was mostly shaved as a monk, except for a tuft of blue hair above her.
"It is great to see you Meru. Tell me about what you are feeling?" Rostrenen's eyes were bright and earnest, but the merest hints of emotion barely glimmered on her face.
"Ros?" asked Alenis. Rostrenen looked very different from the last time they saw each other, back in the academy. Back then, Ros' hair was shaved and the two of them met when they were both being chewed out by an overbearing instructor for wearing non-uniform earrings. Starfleet Academy demanded a very conservative dress code, and with so few Bajorans in the service in those days, even a traditional Bajoran earring was considered a violation of uniform protocol. Now, before her stood Rostrenen, with piercings, tattoos, and hair brighter than Ko-ko's plumage. Even behind her various body modifications, Rostrenen's round face with sharp, delicate features was one that was difficult to forget. And though Ros was 30 years Alenis' senior, her slow Vulcan aging process meant that she had barely aged since the academy. "It's so great to see you," said Alenis, beaming with joy. With a shopping bag in one hand and Ko-ko on her shoulder, Alenis gave her old friend and comrade from the academy a tight hug.
"Yes, I'm a captain, as of about a week ago," said Alenis. "Well, my rank is Commander but I captain a starship... I know, Starfleet ranks, so confusing." Alenis smiled and stared into Ros' eyes. "I'm feeling..." Alenis paused. There isn't really a polite way to say that she was nearly killed in action two days ago along with the rest of her ship, that she hadn't had a good night's sleep in three years because of what happened at New Algiers, that she was suffering from opioid withdrawal since Brad and Arvel took her medication away, and that the only thing keeping her somewhat sane was a pet bird. "Well. I'm feeling well." Of course, Alenis knew that Ros would totally see through her little white lie with her empathic powers, but the rules of conversation dictate that one doesn't immediately dump all her problems on an old friend you're being reunited with after 15 years. "And how about you? I've seen your articles in the papers, I presume that you're no longer with Starfleet?"
Blinking, Ross finally put her hand around Alenis and gently stroked her shoulders until the Commander pulled away. She still wasn't smiling, but something about her seemed to glow generously. "No," she responded quite matter-of-factly. Rostrenen felt as if she might be staring, and looking away for a moment to examine the room. She'd been told by one of the publishers for the Andorian Media Council that her pupilless grey eyes were off-setting. Spooky was his choice of words, but he hadn't meant it badly. She was trying to be careful not to haunt people with them. In dealing with other species, most Vulcan children had guidance from their parents, either to be emotionally repressed, logical councilors to be saught for clear-headed wisdom, or to be friends and mentors, sympathetic ears for people's who had never developed a logical centre. With the Yv'Wrech monks, she spent months learning to be angry, years learning to be joyful, but never one lesson trying to have a polite conversation. Social protocol, she found out later, was probably the more important. She graduated the Academy with distinction, but very poor academic achievement, because her professors eventually agreed that she'd never demonstate her ability to them in the standard way. Besides, not understanding the rules at play meant she couldn't feel disappointed in her results anyway. It since the beginning had been about the experience itself and not the resultant profile.
She looked at Ko-ko and lifted her hand, but the bird became shy and back away from her, so Ros let it be. She looked back at Alenis, who despite herself, wasn't hiding her stress very well. "Will you come with me? We will find something for your bird to enjoy. I want her to like me."
"Where are we going?" asked Alenis. But before she could even finish the question, Rostrenen had taken her by the hand and started half-leading, half-dragging her across the promenade. Zipping by the shops in a blur, all Alenis could do was try to keep from losing her bundle of tea, and try to keep Ko-ko calm. Out of breath, Alenis arrived at what was evidently their destination. "Where are we?" she asked.
Ros gave a check-in glance to Alenis before releasing her hand. They were in a non-assuming, rather dank old part of the habitation ring. Rostren lowered herself onto her knees, and then tried to budge one of the panels into what appeared to be an energy conduit of some kind. It was locked and gave a gutteral negative sound. Undeterred, Rostrenen opened up an access port, but it was security sealed. She considered asking Alenis for a clearance code, but this was a gift to the other woman, and it stuck her as poor form to ask for a favour to perform a favour. So instead, she carefully removed one of the metal bars from one of her elongated ears, tore a bit of the leg of her tights to wrap her hand in and jammed that thing as hard as she could into the access port. There were sparks and a mechanical wheeze, but the panel opened when she tried it next.
Ros looked up at Alenis and held out her arms. "You should go first. It is not too far. But please let me take care of your bird. Okay?"
"She's very friendly," said Alenis, as she tranferred Ko-ko from her shoulder to her wrist. As she held her arm out, Ko-ko just looked back at her. "Come on, Ko-ko, Ros is a friend. She won't hurt you." With a gentle push on her back, Ko-ko jumpted into Ros' hands.
The corridor was sprinkled with moist air and condensation, but it wasn't unpleasant or humid, and it was only a short way like Rostrenen had promised. On the other side, treetops. The corridor led out onto a shelf, a maintenance catwalk running the length of a huge open room, enough space to sit and dangle your feet. It was dark, and Ros followed with one hand held gently over ko-ko's eyes. Artificial light from below a canopy of dense, lively trees spilled up between the dewy leaves. Voices and chatter from below also faded and rose above the tops of the jungle flora, but it was muted and distant. Instead, the only lights were very dimly glowing tubes along the far wall, mimicing natural moonlight, and there were huge ports open in the ceiling above them. The Portland was moored in the pylon in view far ahead, the sloped ceiling facing out toward the outer ring of Deep Space Nine, and stars beyond. They were in the high climate section of the arbouretum, several decks above the public entrances, which were open and lit from below. But up here, the conditions were produced to mimic a tropical night. Vapour clouds formed and deformed above the canopy of trees, swirled by jets of air throughout the large, open section. The leaves glistened slightly with moisture. Rostrenen moved her hand off Ko-ko's eyes, and the bird looked around sleepily, then took flight from Ros' bracelet, circling above the trees as far as the room extended.
The half Vulcan watched, and sat beside Alenis on the ledge as security entered on the ground floor, dozens of metres below. Someone had triggered an alarm in this section...
Alenis looked back at Ros, a horrified look on her face. "We're not supposed to be here; we should leave," she said. But as she looked back out into the armoretum, Ko-ko was nowhere to be seen. "Ko-ko... where are you? Ko-ko..." Panicked, Alenis' breathing rate increased drastically. "Ros, I've lost Ko-ko, you have to help me--"
Rostrenen tilted her head a little, trying to puzzle what the fuss was about. "Take a deep breath," she began calmly. She estimated that they had at least another five minutes before Station Security checked the climate ducts of the upper arbouretum. Ros could tell Alenis needed a break, so even a little one should be helpful! As generous as ever, it was something Ros knew she'd have liked, so she thought showing Alenis up here was uncommonly inuitive. She smiled and looked out over the treetops to demonstrate, opening her arms wide and taking a long, relaxed breath. "It smells like the tropics on Bajor. This arbouretum has not been on the station long, but the gravity is adjusted for the trees which grow in higher altitudes." She looked over, still composed without a smile, but Ros looked at Alenis with concern. She wondered how she wasn't helping the commander to relax.
"Halt!" shouted a security guard approaching them from the corridor. "You are trespassing in a secure area."
Half-blinded by the flashlight, Alenis raised her hands in surrender. "Trespassing? I'm sorry, we were trying to get to the arboretum and must have taken a wrong turn somewhere."
"You'll have to come with me, ma'am. You too," he said, shining up at Ros, a slightly confused expression on his face. The two of them made an unlikely pair -- a straight-laced starfleet captain and a young looking elfish woman with a punky style and many visible body modifications. "We're not saboteurs," chimed in Rostrenen at the best time, blinking.
"Look, ensign, I'm sorry for trespassing. As I was saying, we got a little lost and it was an accident. But right now I need to find Ko-ko," pleaded Alenis.
"We can find this Ko-ko later, whatever it is," replied the guard in a strict tone. "But right now you have to come with me." The security man crawled in after them, and Ros put her hands on Alenis' shoulders to help her back up along the ledge, totally accomodating to the guard who was trying to arrest them. In an effort to drag her along, he grabbed Alenis' wrist.
"Get your hands off me, ensign," snarled Alenis as she quickly snapped her arm back, freeing it from his grip.
"Commander, please come peacefully, or I will have to use force," he said as he reached for a stun gun.
"Excuse me," said Rostrenen from behind Alenis on the narrow ledge. "Would it be helpful if I came with you? Could we then leave Alenis to find Ko-Ko, and relax which you are making very difficult?"
"Ma'am, you'll both have to come with me," said the security guard as he pulled out a pair handcuffs, holding them up in front of the two women before him who were slowly backing away. "Now, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. I'd much rather do it the easy way, but--" Unfortunately for him, the climate settings in the arboretum had been adjusted to simulate a dewy morning. He barely made it two steps before slipping on the moist walkway, sending him sliding into the handrail. Worse, the improperly installed handrail gave way when it was met with the force of a falling security officer weighing over 100 kg. As the stun gun and handcuffs clattered to the floor, the security guard clung desperately to a piece of the handrail, held on only by two bolt straining against the weight of the swaying guard.
Alenis froze in horror as he stared up into her eyes. She was the closer of the two. Ros put her hands on Alenis' shoulders to snap her out of shock. Following the commander closer, Ros leaned over the railing and caught the man's hand when he swung it up. He was almost hyperventilating, but with Alenis taking one arm and Ros pulling him up with the other, he managed to roll back onto the ledge. "You are safe," she reassured, peering at him as his chest heaved up and down.
"Oh- Prophets, thank you! I- I- I- wow..." he stammered, pulling himself up to sit against the wall, away from the edge.
Ros took advantage of the direction he was facing, out toward the canopy. "I do not know if you noticed just then, but this is a beautiful spot. Do you not think so?" The shaking officer snorted a chuckle and shook his head. Ros was confused as he was.
The guard took a deep breath as he looked over the canopy. It was a beautiful sight, and though he didn't know what it was, he felt a calming feeling come over him. "Yes, in fact, it is beautiful," he said, his voice relaxed. He shook his head and took one last look out at the trees before turning back to the two women. He couldn't very well arrest them after they just possibly saved his life. "I'll let you off with a warning this time. Lock the access hatch on your way out." He turned to walk away, talking into his communicator with the rest of the security team. As he was about to step back into the corridor, he turned back to the two women. "And be careful, this ledge is slippery," he added with a smile.
"You didn't..." said Alenis to Ros. They had been friends a long time, and Alenis knew exactly what she was capable of.
Rostren opened her mouth, but reconsidered what Alenis had meant by that. "...Not intentionally," she answered honestly. It took a little bit of patience for someone not to let her idiosyncracies rub them the wrong way, but not too much. Whether conscious of it or not, most people will seek out effects that relax them. With decades of training to benefit from, most of Ros' projections were nothing if not benign. "Sometimes I only mimic what I sense people are already feeling," she added softly. Everyone does that, in fact.
As Alenis scanned the treetops for Ko-ko, her breathing slowed and deepened. Her nostrils filled with the smell of distinctive Bajoran trees -- Dakhur junipers, Moba trees, even some blackwood trees whose precise species she couldn't identify. It reminded her of her home, of the few precious moments of joy that a child would be afforded growing up under the... No. She didn't want to think about that. Ros, Arvel, Timothy, Brad... they were all right. She needed to relax more. "You know, Ko-ko can take care of herself," she said, still staring out at the little piece of home that was brought up to the station. "I'm sure if we wait here long enough, she'll come back."