The comm system’s sharp pitched beep jerked Miral out of deep sleep. A bleary-eyed check of the chronometer showed the time just past 0500 hours. Miral stretched, pressed her face into the pillow, and tried to go back to sleep, but after about fifteen minutes, she realized it was useless; it was too close to her waking time of between 6 and 7 in the morning. Crankily, she pushed back the covers and padded into the bathroom to splash water on her face. Her next thought was of raktajino. As she stood in the kitchen, waiting for the aromatic beverage to brew, she remembered the reason she was awake so early on a Saturday morning in the first place.
She tapped in her access code to retrieve the message. Her first thought was that it might have come from Qo’noS, that L’Naan had finally taken the time to acknowledge her daughter’s letters. It was both disappointing and surprising that the message came from John Torres.
‘Good morning! As promised, I thought about it and I know the perfect place to show you. Dress comfortably, maybe bring a jacket since it could be cool. I will pick you up at nine o’clock sharp. See you then. John.’
Miral blinked in surprise. It had been two days since she and John had toured San Francisco and she dimly remembered his promise to take her somewhere off the beaten path on Saturday, but she hadn’t expected him to remember. In fact, she’d assumed he’d probably want to spend this last weekend before leaving for Mars with his friends now that they weren’t on duty. She’d planned to spend Saturday and Sunday prepping for the workshop that began on Monday; Jeffery Tabor had sent homework to be completed for the first day.
She sat at the table with her raktajino and studied the PADD outlining the class requirements and the syllabus. Jeffrey Tabor had requested each of his ten students to write a short introduction about themselves as well as an additional paragraph on sources of creative motivation. Miral knew she could write her autobiography quickly, but the second part of the assignment would be more challenging. Miral didn’t think of herself as an inherently creative person; she did best when bouncing ideas off the members of her subspace writing group. Whatever small seed of inspiration she had would blossom in the chatrooms. That she needed others so much to complete her writing was a source of insecurity for Miral; she did worry whether she had any talent at all for writing without the creative input from others.
She jotted down some notes for her autobiography, keeping the details sparse. She mentioned her mother and step-father and the twin brother who had died under mysterious circumstances. She talked about the two years she’d spent at the university studying law, and how she’d taken to writing to deal with her brother’s death. She added in a few extra details regarding books she enjoyed, places she’d visited, and her favorite sports. When it was completed, Miral regarded it with a critical eye; the final product seemed bland and lifeless. She reminded herself it was just a first draft and she could inject it with more personality later. For now, though, it was close to eight o’clock and John would be arriving soon.
She showered and then dressed quickly in navy blue linen pants and a coordinating tunic. She tied her hair back into a ponytail and found a warm sweater. She was putting a few extra things into a bag when the door chime rang.
“Good morning,” she said as John came into the apartment.
“Good morning yourself,” he said. “Ready to go?”
“Yes, one minute. I just want to take a bottle of water.”
“Good idea. There is a restaurant at one of the places we’re going but it’s rather expensive and the food isn’t worth the premium,” John said. “But I do know a great burger shack. Not much to look at, but the food’s great.” He sat down on one of the dining room chairs, watching as Miral scurried back and forth. She wasn’t wearing her usual traditional Klingon attire – the high heeled boots seemingly banished – and with her hair pulled back revealing the braid of forehead ridges and the high cheekbones, she appeared so much younger than her twenty-two years. He wondered how he’d never noticed how slight she was. Finally, Miral nodded at him.
“I am ready to go,” she said. “I did not mean to make you wait.”
“No problems. I didn’t give you a lot of notice,” John said. “I know it was early when I sent the message, but it took a while to make arrangements. I didn’t get the confirmation until late last night, or rather, early this morning.”
Miral frowned. “Arrangements?”
“For a hovercar,” John said. He led the way down the steps and down into the main courtyard. “I’m parked over there.”
“Where are we going?”
“Originally I thought about Oregon,” John said. “There’s a beach not too far from where my parents live. It’s famous, and I thought you might like it. But then, I think you wanted to know where in San Francisco I would take you. So, I scrapped that idea as cheating.”
“So, we are staying in San Francisco?”
“Sort of. We’re actually crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and going to Sausalito.” John gestured towards a hovercraft at the far end of the parking lot. The sleek vehicle shimmered silver in the morning sun; a red stripe ran along the side, highlighting the angular planes of the hovercraft. John opened the passenger side door and gestured to Miral to get in. “I’ll take your bag for you.”
Miral slipped into the seat. John got in next to her, his fingers flying over the panels and then with a gentle swoosh, the hovercraft lifted off the ground.
“I love flying these things,” John said. “It’s so rare I get the opportunity.”
“You are very good at it,” Miral said.
John gave her a sideways glance filled with mirth. “And you are entirely too kind,” he said. “My friends have the exact opposite opinion as you. Anyway, I thought I would get this for the weekend. I want to make a quick trip to see my parents tomorrow. Not sure when I’ll get a chance again, so I figured it would be good to see them.”
“You must have so much to do.”
“I’m under control. I did spend the last two days getting things settled. I’ll be back and forth for the next four months and then if I am chosen, it’ll be a two-year assignment. I’ll probably give up my apartment.”
“And where will you live when you come back?”
“I doubt I’ll come back to San Francisco. So, I guess it’s a good thing you and I met up; visiting these places is like a farewell tour for me,” he said. “What about you? How are you doing? I’m sorry I didn’t check in with you over the last couple of days, but I just lost track of time.”
“It is fine.” Miral watched the cityscape with interest. She loved noting the little details – the grey-winged pigeon standing on one foot in the middle of the sidewalk, the man sweeping in front of his store, the sanitation workers taking out the trash. “I bought new shoes.”
“Probably a good call. I’m impressed you were able to cover as much distance as you did the other day. I find it difficult enough in my Starfleet boots.” He grinned as he steered the hovercraft to the left. “Those things are next to impossible to break in.”
“I had blisters all over my feet,” Miral said. “I was able to locate a shop not too far from my apartment.”
John briefly diverted his gaze from the windshield to look at her shoes. They were brown suede with a sturdy sole. He nodded approvingly. “Those look comfortable. Good choice.”
“Thank you,” Miral said. She settled back in her seat. They were approaching the Golden Gate Bridge. John slowed the hovercraft and gently maneuvered the vehicle into the proper lane. Traffic across the Bridge was brisk, and there were plenty of walkers and bicyclers making their way along the sidewalks. Miral leaned against the window, taking in the view. The bay waters were choppy today, waves topped with white foam rippling across the surface. In the distance, the prison on Alcatraz Island sat primly above the crashing surf at its rocky base, and just beyond, the white-sailed boats floated in a regatta. Miral turned her attention back to the road.
“Everything okay?” John asked. “You are quiet today.”
“Admiring the view. It is a new perspective for me,” Miral said.
“Wait until we get to where we’re going,” John said in a mysterious tone. He’d spent quite a bit time trying to figure out the perfect place to take Miral. He’d marked off most of the obvious places as being too touristy but at the same time, he’d wanted to take her somewhere spectacular. That it mattered so much had come as a surprise to John. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of Miral but he did appreciate her company. She wasn’t like his friends who were constantly throwing him concerned looks in the aftermath of his break-up with Rosetta and she seemed genuinely happy with whatever suggestions he offered. Miral was easy, he decided, not complicated, and he liked that about her.
“Can you give me a hint as to where we are going?” Miral asked.
“Well, let’s put it this way: I’m glad you got new shoes. There will be some hiking involved.” John expertly steered the hovercraft up a winding road. Miral admired the calmness with which John handled both the sharp turns and the oncoming traffic. To the left, the land sloped at a sharp angle to the bay while to the right, brown cliffs rose high against the blue skies. The occasional bloom of yellow flowers punctuated the scraggly blue-green shrubbery that dotted the brown landscape. Suddenly, they were at the top of a hill, and just beyond the rolling hills, Miral glimpsed low lying fog as the Bay curved away. Miral exhaled in awe.
“It’s beautiful,” she said as John pulled the hovercraft into a parking spot.
“Look over there.” John pointed towards the Golden Gate Bridge. “Spectacular, isn’t it?”
Miral nodded. From this angle, the famous bridge’s red towers were imposing against the background of San Francisco. In the distance, she could just make out the shining glass buildings of Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Headquarters.
“Want to get out?” John asked.
The brisk wind whipped through her hair and Miral pulled her gray sweater more tightly around herself. It was colder than the bright sun implied. John, in his light shirt, seemed unfazed by the chill in the air. Perhaps humans had a higher tolerance for cold than Klingons, Miral thought. The parking lot was edged by a small dirt area with a few benches, all nicely positioned to take in the view. Miral stood next to a bench, taking in the view, when a group of men passed her. The lead man, his face scruffy with a day’s hair growth, and his eyes bloodshot, licked his lips as he brushed past Miral.
“Hey Klingon, eat any worms today?” the man hollered at her while his friends jeered. “Or kill anyone today and drink their blood?”
“PetaQ,” Miral hissed at them. She bristled with energy, her muscles tensing for action. Next to her, John stiffened, placing his hand lightly on her forearm.
“I’m here,” he said in a low voice.
“What’s she like in bed?” the man asked, his eyes waggling in John’s direction, his lips turned up in a lascivious smile. “Is she a good fuck?”
Miral felt her cheeks growing warm. She took a step back, nearly stumbling into John. John grabbed her elbow to steady her.
“Let’s get out of here,” John said softly. He kept his hand protectively on Miral’s arm, glancing every now back towards the group of men who were still laughing and leering in Miral’s direction. “Ignore them.”
Miral bit her lip, her gaze focused on her new shoes. As discomfited as he felt by the incident, John knew Miral must feel even more so. Klingons on Earth were a curiosity and there had been plenty of stares thrown in Miral’s direction during their time together, but this was the first overt instance of hostility. John opened the hovercraft door on Miral’s side and she got in silently. He closed the door and went to his side. He could still see the group of men, including the one who’d hurled the insult at them, staring at them. John shivered. It was best to get out of here.
“I’m really sorry about what happened back there,” John said softly.
“It is not your fault.”
“No, but it was wrong.”
Miral wrapped her arms around her chest. “It is of no consequence.” Her voice was cool, controlled, and she turned her attention back to the view outside her window. After a minute or two longer of driving, John paused at a Y in the road. He glanced towards Miral with concern and then pulled into the parking opposite the intersection. A small grey hut sat at the edge of the parking lot with a small sign indicating it was the restroom. There was only one spot left and John took it. He placed his hands on the console as he powered down the hovercraft and then with a sigh, looked at Miral.
“Hey,” he said softly.
She jerked to attention. “Where are we?”
John smiled. “This is off the beaten path. Remember?”
Miral roused herself. She found it hard to concentrate, but for John’s sake she needed to. He’d put so much effort into this outing and she didn’t want to let him down. He was not responsible for the behavior of others and he had behaved honorably.
“I’m ready,” she said finally. She put her feet down on the sandy path with some effort. There were other humans around, but they didn’t seem to notice her. She reminded herself every step she took would put more distance between herself and the incident. Almost in a daze, she took a stumbling step forward. John came to stand near her. Something about his presence steadied her and she resisted the urge to brace herself against him.
“This way,” he said softly. He pointed towards a dirt path that wound down the side of the hill. Miral arched her eyebrow as she took in the narrow path. The landscape was dotted with some more of those tall yellow blooms, and there was the occasional boulder. Beneath her feet, the pebbles skittered away. She paused to inhale the cool air, reveling in the freshness of nature around her. She shielded her eyes to look towards the water and then followed Jim. He turned back to look at her as she navigated a particularly steep incline. The momentum propelled her forward and she crashed into John. He steadied her.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
She knew what he was asking, but she chose not to answer the question and instead decided to pose her own. “You describe this as a ‘little’ hike?”
“It’s steep, but manageable.” John tipped his head towards the path. “Let’s go.”
Miral picked her way carefully down the steep terrain. There were the occasional wooden edged steps cut into the path and it made the descent easier. Occasionally, her foot slipped against the dirt, and she was grateful for her new shoes. The path wound through the shrubbery and suddenly the wide expanse of San Francisco Bay spread in front of her. A few more steps and she stepped onto a black sand beach. Waves crashed against the sand and a short distance off the shore, a cluster of sharp-edged rocks jutted out of the water. There were probably a dozen people spread across the beach, including a couple walking a dog. The vista was perfectly serene.
“Well?” John looked at Miral anxiously. It surprised him just how much he wanted Miral to like this spot. He’d come here once before with Rosetta and they’d left after about ten minutes; Rosetta had preferred the city to the unusual beauty of Black Sands Beach and all the other hidden vistas and beaches along the Marin Headlands.
“I love it.” Miral turned to him, her eyes shining. “I have never been to beach like this.” She lifted her foot, revealing a perfect imprint of her shoe sole in the black sand. Impulsively, she removed her shoes and let her bare feet sink into the sand. She wiggled her toes, reveling in gritty sensation against her skin. Next to her, John removed his shoes as well.
“I’ve actually never taken my shoes off here before,” John confessed. “Just a quick hike down, take a look around, and then back up the hill.” Impulsively, he took Miral’s hand and led her to the very edge of the beach. The cold water lapped at their bare feet. Balancing himself on one foot, he quickly sketched out his initials with his left foot. The impressions lasted just a few moments before the waves slapped them away. Miral shivered and took a step back. John glanced back at her in concern.
“I do not like the cold,” she said, “though I do find it refreshing.” She eyed the white-foamed waves churning at the base of the cliffs at the far end of the beach and just beyond that, the span of the Golden Gate Bridge. She closed her eyes, exalting in the feel of the wind whipping her hair. It felt cool against her skin and in that moment, she couldn’t think of anywhere else she wanted to be. The crash of the waves roared in her ears. All the troubles she’d brought from Qo’noS vanished as she focused on the hills across the bay. The colors rippled from a faded purple to green to brown. “It is mesmerizing. Thank you for bringing me here.”
“You’re welcome.” John’s smile reached to the edge of his eyes. “This, by the way, is just our first stop today.” He reached for her hand again; her fingers were warm against his. They walked leisurely back towards the hiking trip, shoes in hand. As they reached the trail, John shook his head ruefully as he held up his shoes. “I love beaches, but sand? Not so much.”
Miral laughed as she slipped her sandy feet into her new shoes. “I agree, but it is a small price to pay.” She took a longing look back at the beach but then remembered John’s statement that there was still more to see. “I hope the guidebook never finds out about this place.”
The hike back to the hovercraft left John winded, but next to him, Miral’s breath came in even rhythm. He thought about making a joke about redundant lungs, but then remembering the earlier encounter with the men, he put it aside. As they approached the hovercraft, John saw a piece of paper stuck on the windshield. He frowned.
“What is it?” Miral asked as she shook the sand out of her shoes.
John opened the paper, read the angry black scrawls, and then crumbled it up in his hand. “It’s nothing,” he said with a calm he didn’t quite feel. “Just someone advertising their services as a sailing instructor.” He smiled brightly. “Ready for Rodeo Beach?”