Miral, daughter of L’Naan, heaved her bag into the overhead compartment. The shuttle to Utopia Planetia was full, mostly of Starfleet Academy cadets. Miral bit back her frustration at not having checked the Academy’s schedule prior to booking her sojourn on Earth. What in Kahless’ name was she thinking when she’d chosen to make the trip to San Francisco during spring break? Now she was surrounded by rowdy cadets. With a grunt, she shut the compartment door and slid into her seat. At least the seat next to her remained empty. This wasn’t surprising. She’d seen the looks when she’d boarded the shuttle in the first group, had seen the cadets giving her wary looks as they’d passed her seat. Miral didn’t need to be a telepath to know what all these fresh-faced cadets were thinking: Please, not next to the Klingon…
Miral leaned her head against the wall. As loud as the cadets were, perhaps she could squeeze a few hours of sleep. After all, she’d grown up on Qo’noS and noise was nothing to a Klingon.
“Is this seat taken?”
Miral bristled with annoyance. She turned to look at the speaker. He was a tall slender man, dressed in a blue Starfleet uniform. His face was long, thin and angular, shadowed by a day’s worth of stubble. His black hair was cropped close in a typical regulation haircut.
“No,” Miral said finally. “You may sit.”
“Thank you.” The young man sat. “I was afraid I wouldn’t make this shuttle. My shuttle from Risa was late, so I missed my original flight and then they told me there were no more seats available on this one. They told me I’d have to wait at least another 24 hours before they could get me a seat for sure.” He sighed and leaned his head back against the seat. “And then, at the last minute, someone didn’t show up. Lucky me.”
Miral grunted under her breath. At that moment, a pair of black uniformed flight attendants made their way down the aisles, checking the seats, and making sure each passenger was secured. Miral’s seatmate flashed one of the attendants a bright smile and a soft “Thank you.” At Miral’s curious look, the young man explained that the attendant had been the one to offer him the last seat on the shuttle.
“I owe her,” he said. “Big time.” He sighed. “Starfleet doesn’t like it when you’re late.”
Miral eyed him. “Then it is fortunate you are aboard.” She settled back against her chair, tipping her head back and closing her eyes. Fifteen hours into the trip and another twelve hours to go, and she’d been catching just snatches of rest here and there, not counting the restless night she’d spent prior to departing Qo’noS. Sure Klingons were renowned for their stamina, but even they couldn’t go without sleep. She’d nearly drifted off when the comm crackled to life.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. The Livingston has been cleared for departure,” the pilot announced.
Next to her, the young man stirred, reaching for the bag at his feet. His elbow jostled her.
“Hey!” she said.
“Sorry,” he said. He pulled out a PADD. “These seats, they are so narrow. Seems like every time I board one of these shuttles, they’ve deleted a few centimeters from both legroom and seats. Not to mention the cushions seem flatter too.”
“I am comfortable,” Miral said shortly. It was a lie, but she didn’t feel like talking anymore. She lifted the blind covering the window. Outside, the lights of Utopia Planetia’s station sparkled against the blackness of space. Miral sucked in her breath. She’d heard stories of the fabled station but to see it in person was nothing short of awe-inspiring.
“It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?”
Miral whirled to look at her seatmate. Did he never shut up? But there was something in his expression that told Miral that he too shared her sentiment about the view. She nodded.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“That’s your final destination?”
“Me too.” He sighed. “I’m getting new orders.”
The shuttle lifted and did a gentle swoop before accelerating away from the station. Miral’s stomach lurched. This was only her third or fourth time traveling in space and while the sensation wasn’t altogether unpleasant, it was still bewildering. She closed her eyes, thinking about Qo’noS, questioning her decision to leave in the first place.
“What’s in San Francisco?”
Miral’s eyes flew open. “What?”
“San Francisco. Why are you going there?”
“Why do you want to know?”
He shrugged his shoulders in a fluid motion. “Making conversation.”
Miral stared at the man sitting next to her. Was this petaQ really going to talk to her the entire trip? The idea of needing to carry on an entire conversation in Standard exhausted her. She eyed him warily.
“I have heard it is a beautiful city,” she said finally.
“That it is. Love the architecture, the scenery and on a gorgeous summer day, walking along the bay.” He sighed. “Nothing like it.” He looked at Miral. “There are lots of beautiful cities in the Federation and somehow, you picked mine. Why?”
Miral sighed. He really did mean to talk to her for the entire duration. She shifted in her seat. Her seatmate was right; the cushioning was thin, though at least there was cushioning. The Klingon transport she’d taken to Utopia Planetia had been spartan in its comfort; when she wasn’t sitting on the long metal bench, she’d paced the length of the ship, trying not to be perturbed by the various rattles and creaks that sounded throughout the ship. At least this Federation shuttle seemed to rattle less. The hum of the engines also blocked out the chatter of the cadets seated just behind her.
“I told you,” she said impatiently.
A slow smile spread across the man’s face. “Tell me something about San Francisco. Name one thing you want to see.”
Miral narrowed her eyes. “The Academy.”
“The Golden Gate Bridge.”
“Very good.” He nodded his head. “Sounds like you’ve read the guide book. What else?”
Miral felt annoyed. What right did he have to quiz her? And more annoying, why in Kahless’ name was she even answering his questions? She leaned her head against the bulkhead, closing her eyes; as far as she was concerned, this conversation was over.
But clearly her seatmate thought differently. He leaned towards her. “Where are you from?”
Miral stared. Did this d’blok not recognize her as Klingon? It seemed preposterous. “Qo’noS.”
“I thought so but didn’t want to assume.” The human extended his hand. “John Torres.”
“Miral.” And then she added stiffly, “Daughter of L’Naan.”
“Nice to meet you, Miral.” John Torres settled back in his seat. “So do you have a place to stay in San Francisco?”
“Yes,” Miral said shortly. She’d found a studio apartment, not far from the Academy. It belonged to a cadet who was participating in an exchange program on Cetus Prime and he needed to sublet for a few months. The rent was cheap and the location good, so Miral jumped at the opportunity.
John looked at her, clearly not at all bothered by her terseness. “You know how you’re going to get around?”
“Get around?” Miral asked.
“You know, how you’re going to get from point A to point B.”
“I’m not a child,” Miral said defiantly. How was it that she was thousands of kilometers away from her parents and yet it was like she’d never left their home at all?
A warm flush of red crept up John’s face. “I didn’t mean to imply that. It’s just if you’ve never been, San Francisco can be… overwhelming.” He looked genuinely distressed. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure you knew how to get to your place.”
“I will manage.”
She turned back to the window. Utopia Planetia had receded far into the distance. She reached for the pamphlet in the seatback pocket in front her. There was the typical safety information, and then some information about the food and beverage services offered aboard. Miral was relieved to see raktajino was among the offerings. The rest of the food offerings seemed to be a blend of Vulcan, Betazed, and Terran cuisines. Miral wrinkled her nose at the unfamiliar items, but then she reminded herself that this trip was about experiencing other cultures. You fought so hard to leave Qo’noS, she thought. This is what you wanted. She inhaled sharply and put the pamphlet back.
“Figured out what you’re going to order?” John asked. “I’d skip the burger, but the chicken salad isn’t bad.” He smiled almost apologetically. “The food gets a lot more interesting the further you get away from Earth.”
Miral didn’t want to admit the food choices she’d been presented with were already more interesting than she wanted. She’d felt out of place earlier, and now she felt woefully unprepared for the journey she was making. What in Kahless’ name had she been thinking, leaving everything and everyone she knew to go to San Francisco? She pressed her lips into a straight line, biting back the emotion quivering her jaw. She leaned her head against the window, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths.
“You okay?” John’s voice was soft.
Miral didn’t want to admit weakness to this, this human. But his dark eyes were warm with genuine caring. Slowly, she nodded. “I have never been this far from Qo’noS.”
“The first time is always the hardest,” John said. “It gets easier. The first time I left Earth, I got sick on the shuttle. It was embarrassing.”
“How old were you?”
“I’m twenty-two.” Miral looked down at her hands.
“You’ve got to be exhausted,” John said. “Qo’noS to Earth… that’s a long trip. And as we’ve discussed, these aren’t the most comfortable of conditions either.”
At that moment, the shuttle jolted violently. Miral grabbed her armrests, bracing herself against the seatback, her feet pressed flat and firmly against the gray carpeted floor. John eased back, tipping his head back against the seat, as the shuttle continued to tremble.
“What is going on?” Miral asked. She glanced out the window but saw nothing but the inconsistent twinkle of distant stars. The shuttle dipped to the side and then lurched again.
“Probably solar winds,” John said. He glanced down at Miral’s fingers gripping the armrests. “Sometimes the currents can be pretty rough out here. Don’t worry. The Captain’s got this.” He gestured down the aisle. “See? The flight attendants are still handing out drinks, food. I don’t start to worry until they take their seats. If they’re still standing, there’s nothing to be concerned about.”
The shuttle jolted again and Miral could feel the rise and fall of the aircraft. She gulped. Her stomachs were churning with the turbulent motion. She strained to see over the seat in front of her and was relieved to see the flight attendants were still standing in the aisles. One of them was even chatting and smiling with passengers.
“The Captain is just trying to find a good place to ride this wave out,” John said. “It should get better soon.” His voice was comforting. “The shuttles, they don’t have a lot of room for inertial dampers, but on a starship, you’d barely feel a solar wave. It takes a lot to knock you off your feet on a starship.”
Miral had seen a few of the sleek Federation starships at Utopia Planetia as she’d waited to board the shuttle. She’d admired their curved contours, the rounded windows, and marveled at the technology and imagination that created them. “I’ve never been on a starship.”
“I served a short tour of duty on one during my junior year at the Academy,” John said. “The USS Chapin. That was when I decide I wanted to join the science track. Something about being up with the stars, being able to see what I was studying up close.” He smiled. “And the Chapin was – is—a great ship. Very modern, spacious. It had a bar, a lounge, a couple of holodecks, and the crew quarters weren’t terrible, though Starfleet décor and comfort could stand to be improved.” He waited a beat and then he said, “Looks like we’re out of the solar storm.” His fingers brushed lightly against the top of Miral’s hand and she was startled by the unexpected warm touch. “Hopefully the rest of the flight is smooth.”
“Thank you for distracting me,” Miral said.
“You’re welcome.” John glanced at her. “I’ve been on hundreds of shuttles, but I get how unnerving it can be. I won’t lie. I prefer the non-bumpy rides myself.” He stretched his legs into the aisle briefly and then pulled them back. “So, when you get to San Francisco, what’s the first thing you plan to do?”
“I need to settle into my apartment,” she said.
“It’s just you. That’ll take you one day.” John frowned. “How long are you planning to be in the city?”
Miral bit her lip. “Go home.”
“For someone who was homesick just a few minutes ago, it doesn’t look like you feel very happy about the prospect.”
“You have no idea how I feel,” Miral snapped back at him. She felt her annoyance bristling up again. How dare he draw conclusions about her? He knew nothing about her, forget about how much she loved her homeworld. Again, she felt that tinge of guilt. She inhaled sharply.
John held up his hands. “Sorry,” he said and he did indeed sound apologetic. “You’re right. I barely know you and here I am, making judgements. It’s not fair to you.” He turned to the flight attendant who had just stopped by his seat. “Tea, if you have it, please.”
“Earl Grey?” she asked.
“Perfect.” John flashed a smile, revealing perfect teeth. He looked back at Miral. “Did you say you wanted a raktajino earlier?”
Miral felt some of her anger dissipating at his consideration. “Actually, I would like to have what you are having. Earl Grey?”
The flight attendant nodded. “Two teas then.” She expertly dispensed the beverages and then pushed her cart forward. Miral cupped her hands around the porcelain mug. The tea was warm and while the aroma was foreign, it wasn’t unpleasant. She watched as John blew gently cross the mouth of the mug.
“Nothing like a good cup of tea,” he said. He tipped his head towards the aisle. “Food should be coming soon. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
“I ate on that station,” Miral said. “But you mentioned… chicken salad?
“It’s the best option.” John’s face took on a pained expression. “Like I said, I’ve done a lot of time on shuttles and I’ve tried everything. The chicken salad is the least terrible of your choices.” His expression brightened. “But once you get to San Francisco, there are so many great options, so many different cuisines to try. You could go to a different restaurant every day for the next year and still not get to them all. I’m trying though. If I don’t get a starship this time and I’m stuck in San Francisco again, I’m going to eat at every restaurant in the city.”
Despite herself, Miral laughed. “That sounds ambitious.”
“A man’s got to have goals,” he said modestly. “Though my father probably would be less than thrilled. I think he’d prefer me to work toward getting my next promotion.”
He pointed to the little round pin on his collar. “Ensign John Torres. Pleased to meet you.”
“Is that not a good rank?”
“Everyone has to start somewhere, right?” he said. He sighed and knit his fingers behind his head. “I’m hoping my next posting is more exciting. Preferably a starship.”
“I hope you get the posting you are worthy of,” Miral said.
“Well let me know if you need a tour guide,” he said. “I’ve got a few days of leave before I take my next assignment.”
Miral looked at him in confusion. He didn’t know her and yet here he was making an offer to show her around. His friendliness was foreign to her and she wondered if all humans were as open as this one. Though, she thought with a small smile, hopefully they were less talkative. “I thought you said you had to take orders right away,” she said.
“If I’d missed the shuttle, but I didn’t.” John quirked a grin. “So I have a few days left to contemplate where I’m going next. I’m a science officer so it could be anything, anywhere.”
“You don’t have a choice?”
John shook his head. “Wherever they need me, that’s where I’ll go.” His lips pressed into a thin smile. “And I’ll like it.”
The bitter undertone in his voice caught Miral’s attention. “You don’t sound happy.”
“I agreed to serve four years. I’m two years in now,” John said. “Two more years and I’ll be a free man. Determine my own path, so to speak.”
Miral considered. “It’s a great honor, I understand, to serve in Starfleet.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” John said, “it’s been a great experience. But it’s not for me.” He shrugged. “Too much discipline, and the regulations. Don’t even get me started on the regulations. I don’t know. When I was younger, I thought being a Starfleet officer would be a great adventure. To explore, to seek out new civilizations—” he shook his head “—I thought that’s what I would be doing. Instead, I spend most of my time looking at data others gather. I map constellations, but I don’t see them myself.” Miral heard the sadness in his voice and nodded in empathy. She understood the pain of disappointment all too well.
“There’s no dishonor in what you do,” Miral said finally.
“But it’s not what I want,” he said softly. And then he laughed. “Listen to me. I don’t even know you and I’m telling you things I haven’t even told my brother.” Another laugh and he said, “Carl would kill me if he knew I was counting the days until my commitment to Starfleet was over.”
Despite herself, Miral was intrigued. “Your brother doesn’t approve then?”
“No. He wanted to go to the Academy but didn’t pass the entrance exam. Isn’t that the way things go? Fate has a keen sense of humor.”
Miral didn’t quite understand what he meant but decided not to press the human for an explanation. He seemed nice enough, even friendly, and opposite of every experience she’d ever had with a human.
“What will you do if you leave Starfleet?” she asked.
“Explore. Live.” John paused and then he looked at Miral. “What do you do?”
“What do you mean?”
“When you’re not on shuttles to San Francisco, what do you do?”
Miral considered and finally settled on, “I’m still searching.”
John smiled. “Then that makes the two of us.” He leaned closer to her. His breath was warm against her cheek. She was startled but strangely thrilled by his closeness. “I’m serious. If you need a tour guide in San Francisco—”
“You are persistent,” Miral said.
“Some say it’s my very best quality.”
Miral cleared her throat. “I haven’t been completely honest with you.”
John laughed. “So I spill my deepest deep down heart secret and you’re still holding back on me?”
“I’m attending a writing workshop.”
“You’re a writer?”
“Yes.” Miral felt the heat rise in her cheeks. She knew what the next question would be so she decided to answer it without prompting. “I write romance novels. Klingon romance novels.”
“I’d like to read one.”
Miral shook her head. “No, they are…” she turned to look out the window. The starscape was busy with shuttles and even a few starships. They must be nearing a space station, given the amount of traffic she could see. “There’s a writer, Jeff Tabor, who lives in San Francisco. I’m hoping he can help me.”
“What does he write?”
“Everything except Klingon romances,” Miral said. “A freighter captain left one of Tabor’s novels behind when he was visiting my parents. Tabor’s words moved me. I’ve never read anything like it.” She twisted her hands together nervously. “I found out about the workshop and now I’m going to San Francisco.” She looked at John. “I did not expect him to accept me and he did.” She bit her lip. “I think I want to be a writer, but I don’t know if I have the talent. And if not writing…”
“So that’s really what you’re searching for,” John said softly. “What you’re meant to do in this life.”
Miral regarded him thoughtfully. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“What do your parents think?’
“I suppose it would have been easier if I’d chosen to become an opera singer,” Miral answered.
“Can you sing?”
“Neither can I.” Mischief danced in John’s dark eyes. “But that doesn’t stop me from singing in the shower.”
“Singing in the shower?”
“What, you’ve never tried it?”
“I can’t sing,” Miral said.
“You mean you can’t carry a tune because everyone can sing,” John said earnestly. “You should try it sometime.”
The whole idea of singing seemed so preposterous. Miral settled stiffly against the chair back.
“No,” she said.
A beat passed before John said, “I’ve offended you.”
Miral considered. Offended seemed to be the wrong word to describe her feelings. More to the point, she felt unsettled. There was an ease about John Torres she envied.
“I’m not offended,” she said finally. “But I do wonder how you manage to be so comfortable.”
“Comfortable?” John looked bewildered. “I mean, the Livingston is more comfortable than most shuttles, but still…”
“No, I mean you’re…” Miral stopped.
“You’re who you are,” Miral said softly. “It is… admirable.”
At this, John shook his head. “I wish you were right.” He sighed. “You know, I talk about getting out of Starfleet, but I don’t know what I’d do. I’d like to think I’d travel, go from star system to star system, marking constellations as they pass.” His expression turned pensive. “And my family, they would be so disappointed in me. When I think about it, it seems easier to stay. Inertia has its benefits.” His lips quirked into a lopsided grin. “Plus, I don’t like conflict. Probably best to stay.”
“I’ve never really wanted to stay in one place and yet, until now, I never had the chance,” Miral said softly. “I never thought I would leave Qo’noS.”
“And of all the cities in the galaxy you could have picked, you picked mine.”
“I already explained that.” Miral didn’t bother to hide the note of annoyance that crept into her voice.
John sighed. “Never mind.” He leaned closer to her. “Look, I know you’re going to be busy with this writing workshop, but I’m serious about showing you the sights. I know all the best restaurants and nightlife, if that’s what you like.”
“I don’t,” Miral said, surpassing a smile. John Torres really didn’t take no for an answer.
“What about hiking? Camping?”
Miral nodded. She’d heard the natural beauty around San Francisco was spectacular. And hadn’t she seen something in the tourist guide regarding a wine making region? She looked at John Torres again. He seemed earnest enough, and even honest. And it would be nice to have someone to explore the city with before her workshop started in a couple of weeks.
“Yes,” she said finally. “I accept your offer.”
John leaned in close to her, his breath warm on her cheek. “I promise,” he said, “you won’t regret it.”
Miral, daughter of L’Naan, knew with certainty that she would.
~ the end