They'd been working in fearsome silence for twenty minutes when Feera finally worked up the courage to speak, but just as she said, "Did you hear about this James T. Kirk?" in the most casual tone she could summon up, Sharanjeet dropped her hyperspanner.
"Sorry. Can get for me?" said Sharanjeet. She didn't ask whether it had hit Feera. Maybe, Feera speculated as she climbed down the access tube, maybe that pointed to a special confidence that Sharanjeet resided in Feera. Sure, Feera had yet to do anything impressive; in fact she hadn't had the chance to do much of anything in her first two weeks on the ship. There had been no engineering disasters that Feera could solve with her vast technical knowledge, courtesy of her perfect grade in the AE02 module; no interplanetary diplomatic crises she could smooth over due to her sophisticated understanding of human and alien politics and sympathetic intuition beyond her years and training. Nobody had even had an unexpected baby or allergy attack on an away mission -- Feera had first aid training and was well prepared for such an eventuality.
Unfortunately the ship's routine patrol mission around a flock of Federation-owned mining satellites was not well-stocked with eventualities, so Feera had yet to get the chance to prove herself. She had learnt how to perform maintenance on an outdated transporter and how to read the results of a systems scan, but that was about all she had done.
Perhaps Sharanjeet had nevertheless been impressed by Feera's potential. Perhaps Feera exuded a quiet competence which struck the beholder despite the fact that she hadn't really done anything striking yet, an air which had told Sharanjeet that Feera would of course duck out of the way of a falling hyperspanner. Feera clung to the ladder and tried to look capable, even though Sharanjeet was absorbed in her task and not likely to look down.
"Thanks," Sharanjeet said when Feera handed her the hyperspanner. Feera thrilled silently as their fingers touched. "What were you saying?"
"Oh, nothing," said Feera. She felt foolish. "I was just listening to the bulletin this morning. Did you hear about this James T. Kirk?"
"T-shirt?" said Sharanjeet. "What T-shirt?"
"No, T. Kirk," said Feera. "T. Kirk. It's a name. American. This guy was a cadet in San Francisco, study three years only, but he just got promoted to captain!"
"Why, what'd he do?" said Sharanjeet. Feera told her as much as she could remember of the news story.
"Crazy, right?" she said when she finished. "It's like all the stories you hear in the Akademi. Can you believe, one week ago he was just like me! Now he's a captain! In charge of a flagship some more."
"Hm," said Sharanjeet. "What did you say his name was?"
"James T. Kirk," said Feera. "His father was someone famous also."
"So surprising," Sharanjeet murmured to the smooth walls of the tube.
"You should have hear the things Admiral Barnett say about him," said Feera wistfully. "I can't remember already, but he was super positive. These people are so amazing, don't you think?"
"It's hard to believe we're in the same Starfleet, yeah," said Sharanjeet dryly. "Hold for me?"
Feera took the tool she was passed.
"I wish I have the chance to do something like that one day," she said. "I mean, I don't think I would be so tera as him lah. But I would like to try."
"Not likely," said Sharanjeet. "Pass me my the other hyperspanner. No, not that one, the other one. Thank you."
Feera deflated slightly. Maybe she didn't exude steely competence after all. Maybe her constant feeling of being like a panicked rabbit was as obvious to other people as she had always worried. She was about to make a shy disclaimer of her presumptuousness when Sharanjeet said,
"Don't get me wrong. I'm sure you would do fine if you got that kind of mission. But we all don't really get sent for this kind of thing. It's mostly Westerners. People who go to the Academy in San Francisco."
"Oh," said Feera.
Sharanjeet looked down. Even at this awkward angle she was exquisitely beautiful. Feera felt her ears burn under the calm, clear gaze of those dark eyes.
"Don't you know?" said Sharanjeet. She sounded puzzled. "Why you think the big ships always got so many Westerners, and we all are just like ASEAN in space?"
"I didn't really think about it," said Feera.
"We all use to complain when I was in the Akademi," said Sharanjeet reminiscently. "Everybody join some society. Every day EGM here, EGM there. All useless lah. You also went to AS Terengganu, kan? Your generation not so political, is it?"
"I don't really have so many friends," said Feera. She spent most of her days at AST studying, determined to make the most of the opportunity she'd been given. She was the first person from her kampung to get into a Starfleet Academy. The day she left home the whole kampung had come to the station to say goodbye, Malay Chinese Indian Andorian all lined up together. She felt she carried their hope with her.
"Are you applying to transfer to San Francisco?" said Sharanjeet.
Feera didn't answer. Only one student from AST got to go to San Francisco every year. She was working on her application; she had been working on it for weeks now, but she couldn't think about it without breaking out in a cold sweat at her presumption.
"That's the way you want to go, if you want all this adventure-adventure," said Sharanjeet. "We all try very hard when I was cadet, but all this societies no point. To be fair to Starfleet, what do they care? They want the best of the best. Somewhere like AST, so ulu, out in the middle of nowhere, you're not going to get the best of the best from there what. Better transfer to San Francisco if you can. One of my friends went there and she's an engineering officer now."
"You're an engineering officer too," said Feera.
"You never hear finish yet," said Sharanjeet. "She's working on a Constitution-class ship. Long exploring missions. Working with the best people. She's getting married next year, spouse also officer on the same ship.
"Meanwhile, look at us," said Sharanjeet. "We all go round and round this mining planets making sure nobody steal the Federation punya Estonianium. Now, I don't deny that Estonanium is very important. Where would our bulkheads be without it? But it's not very interesting, this kind of job."
Feera was silent. She had an uncomfortable feeling around her back, in the region of her shoulders. It was as if she had thought she was living in a warm comfortable world but she had actually been living in a cold one, and she only realized it when someone took her cloak away from her. She had not really noticed the fact that the U Thant was staffed almost entirely by Asians, both human and other species. It had been the same at AST.
She suddenly remembered that when she had first come onboard the ship, her quarters had been too cold, the air so dry that her skin started to peel around the cuticles and her cheeks felt rough to the touch. She had had to reset the en-con default settings to make the temperature higher and the air more humid. She had thought nothing of it at the time.
"My roommate from AST is getting married too," she said, to change the subject. The thoughts it provoked felt too big and confusing for her head to hold.
"Oh yeah?" said Sharanjeet. "Same age as you?"
"Yeah, young, right?" said Feera. "I was quite surprise also. But I guess she feels she's met the one. She's Chinese, but she went to intergalactic school in KL, so her accent is very American, you know lah. The fiancé is Vulcan, also from that same school."
Sharanjeet made an interested noise. "Her parents don't mind?"
"Hah," said Feera triumphantly: this was her favourite part of this story. "That's what I said! Turn out, you know what? He's Chinese Vulcan. So the parents don't mind so much."
"Such thing," scoffed Sharanjeet.
"No, there is!" said Feera. "I didn't believe also. But I met the guy. He looks super Chinese, mata sepet, everything. But he's 100% Vulcan, both parents from there. I didn't know there were Chinese Vulcans before that, did you?"
"I guess it makes sense," said Sharanjeet. "Vulcan's one whole planet, there's sure to be different-different race there."
"Was one whole planet," said Feera.
This time they both fell silent.
"You think his parents mind?" said Sharanjeet after a while.
"I don't know," said Feera. She had felt shocked and obscurely guilty when she had heard about Vulcan. She had started weeping, surprising herself, during the five-minute fleet-wide silence in remembrance of the victims of the genocide.
"I think he feels like a local," said Feera. "He was born in KL. And you know KL got a lot of Vulcan there. But I don't know."
"Would you feel very bad if something like that happen in India?" she ventured.
"My great-grandparents came from Tanzania," said Sharanjeet absently.
"Oh," said Feera.
"Does this fellow speak Chinese?" said Sharanjeet. "This Chinese Vulcan guy."
"No lah, he's not actually Chinese," said Feera. "My roommate doesn't speak Chinese also. My Canto lagi better than hers."
"Maybe she can learn Vulcan," said Sharanjeet.
Feera found the idea oddly comforting.
"Maybe," she said.
"Okay, finish," Sharanjeet announced. When they had climbed out of the access tube and were safely on the engineering deck, she turned to Feera with a quizzical look on her face.
"I don't know how our conversation become so political," she said. "I hope I didn't make you too depressed."
"Oh no, no, it's okay," said Feera. She was considering Feera's feelings! Maybe she did like her. Maybe she found Feera's naivete touching, and the interest that sparked would gradually deepen into feelings first of friendship, and then of affection, and then …. Feera was deep in the details of their persandingan when Sharanjeet's voice jolted her from her dream.
"Don't think I don't believe in Starfleet," said Sharanjeet. "I think our kind of job is very important also. But a lot of you young people just come in thinking about all the holo-movie you see. You think you're going to have adventure like all the starship captain you hear about. You don't really know what to expect. But you know, when you come onboard a Starfleet ship and the computer cannot understand your accent, you really have to start to wonder."
Feera must have looked crushed. It wasn't because of what Sharanjeet was saying about holo-movies and Starfleet computers. These things seemed unrelated, though Sharanjeet clearly had some sort of chip on her shoulder about them. The more immediately depressing thought, though, was that Sharanjeet had called Feera a young person. There was only seven years' difference between them, thought Feera; she was entirely dateable.
But Sharanjeet wasn't to know what Feera was thinking. She rushed to reassure Feera.
"It's not impossible to go far!" she said. "It's just not so easy as you think lah. But it's not that Starfleet command is prejudiced. You mustn't think that. It's just the way things are. But if you are good enough to get into the San Francisco Academy, then settle -- you'll be on your way."
She put a hand on Feera's shoulder. Feera could hear the kompang as they entered the wedding hall, but she could tell Sharanjeet was trying to say something important, so she dismissed all fantasies and tried to focus.
"Don't give up, I mean," said Sharanjeet. "Be realistic, but don't give up. Okay?"
"Okay," said Feera. She did not realize it then, but it was a promise. She didn't forget.