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A Mountain to Climb, Part One

Chapter Text

Only two years ago, the shuttle Elisa Flores had been on had risen up to meet the U.S.S. Lagarto. Two years was a long time in Starfleet, however; long enough for Elisa's old captain to end up moving on to bigger and better things as the commanding officer of one of Starfleet's new science vessels. Meanwhile, Starfleet had—somewhat unexpectedy—been impressed enough with the Lagarto's record to assign Elisa to a new ship. As the captain.

That was why she was standing outside the registry office, shifting nervously from foot to foot. She was more competent than the green cadet she'd been when she'd walked onto the Lagarto, but she definitely wasn't patient. Patience was for offices, not starships—her duties had been many things, but they had rarely been boring. There was no time to be bored during a crisis, and there'd hardly been a crisis-free moment during her run. So here she was, outside an office. Waiting.

Elisa shifted again and pushed her hair out of her eyes. She'd just have to hope that she got assigned one of the good ships—but after her run as the Lagarto's first officer, she couldn't think that they'd just stick her in some piece of space junk. It was only a few more minutes before a somewhat short, engineering-uniformed Andorian walked out, focusing intently on the PADD she was clutching.

Foot pausing in mid-tap as she noticed the Andorian, Elisa stifled the urge to ask the engineer how her own ship assignment had gone. You're probably the next one up, Elisa reminded herself.

"Commander Elisa Flores," said the registrar's voice, touched with a Caitian purr. The door swished open and Elisa stepped in, hoping she didn't look as bored as she felt.

The brown-furred Caitian behind the desk looked just as bored as her, however, if not more so. "Our records state that your prior assignment was as First Officer of the U.S.S. Lagarto. Is that correct?"

"Yeah, that's correct," Elisa said. The Lagarto had been a good little ship, really. Still, Elisa wouldn't miss it—that cruiser had turned like a cow in mud.

The registrar idly tapped a claw against her PADD. "Alright. Looking at your records, and given that this will be your first command position—hm?" She shook her head at Elisa's annoyed look. "First Officer doesn't count. Now, looking at these circumstances, it seems you'll be a perfect fit for the Everest. Good luck, Commander, and the data will be sent to your PADD."

"The Everest, huh? Didn't it get blown up in the first war with the Klingons?" Elisa might not have been the most prepared officer in Starfleet, nor the one with the best memory, but if anything stuck in her head, it was military history.

That prompted the registrar to give her a Look. "Yes, that is correct. I am speaking of the Everest-B. You are thinking of the first one."

"Wait. B? Not, I don't know, E or something?"

"Yes, the Everest is one of the older ships in Starfleet. It still serves very well as a ship for new captains. Especially those with... spotty records." Before Elisa could protest, the registrar continued, "I do not mean your record on the Lagarto. I mean your Academy record, Commander Flores. Now, if you'll be going, I have other work to attend to."

Elisa swallowed the annoyed comment working its way up her throat. "Yes, sir. I'll be going now."

---

The Everest wasn't old. She was ancient—though in remarkably good repair. The pale, older Vulcan man showing Elisa around gestured towards a computer terminal. "And this—"

"Don't tell me she's still working on deuotronic relays!" Elisa interrupted.

The Vulcan looked at her levelly. "No, of course not. The Everest is perfectly serviceable as a modern ship, despite being commissioned as one of the original Miranda-class vessels. While she is hardly top-of-the-line, I believe you will find her perfectly adequate."

"Adequate isn't adequate," Elisa muttered, trailing a finger along the edge of the screen.

"Then," said the Vulcan, "it will please you to know that you are unlikely to stay here longer than a few months."

"I hope that allusion's to promotion, uh—what was your name again?"

"I am Lieutenant Commander Masolk. Your first officer."

"Right. Sorry. I forget names."

The look Masolk gave her informed her that he knew bloody well that she just hadn't been paying attention. "It is no issue, Commander Flores. While we are speaking, however, I do have a request."

Right. She had to approve things. "Okay. What did you need?"

"I am requesting time off and a chance to return to Vulcan in four days' time."

"What for? You're not going to go all, you know, right?"

"It is not due to pon farr, no. My ninth is graduating from the Vulcan Science Academy in five days."

"Ninth? Ninth what?" Elisa couldn't stop herself from asking.

That just got another even stare. "Ninth child, Commander. She has requested that I be present at the event."

Elisa gaped. "You have nine children?"

"Fifteen, in fact."

"Fifteen? How many twins? Do Vulcans even have twins?"

Masolk raised an eyebrow. "I do not see how this relates to the computer system, but I will respond anyway. There were no multiple births, Commander."

"None? How damn old are you?"

He sighed. "I am one hundred and twenty-six years old. I have been serving on the Everest for the last twenty-four. Are you ready to return to the 'tour,' Commander?"

"Yeah, alright. Let's go meet the bridge, then?"

"The drive, actually. I will explain the computer system along the way. While a small part of the interface still bears an archaic design..."

Only a couple months, Elisa told herself as the technobabble washed over her. Then I'll be off to something better.

---

A tan, stocky woman in Engineering yellow lounged in a folding chair, occasionally leaning backwards with a creak. "Name's Nicole Stevens. And you'll be Commander Flores." She grinned. "What're you in for?"

"Ensign Stevens," Masolk warned.

"Like they're going to reprimand me just for being a little informal with the new captain? Psh." The engineer produced a set of plastic beads from her pocket and spun them around her fingers. On the third spin, they flew from her hand and clattered on the floor. "Drat. But she didn't answer my question yet."

"Ensign Stevens, attend to your assigned duties. Commander Flores is not here to speak with you."

Privately, Elisa found that quite a shame. "Sorry about that," she said, matching the ensign's grin.

Stevens waved a hand dismissively. "I'm not on duty right now, Mas. Thought you'd know that. Don't you have everyone's schedules memorized?"

"I think you would find the turnover rate far too high for that. Still, I'm impressed that you are, for once, evidencing some degree of diligence." Masolk strode forwards a few steps before beckoning Elisa to follow. "The head of Engineering is waiting, as is our best maintenance technician. While we are on the subject, there is something you should know about Ensign Stevens."

Elisa trotted after him. "What?"

"She is on probation, as is close to five percent of the crew, and regular reports on her will be filed. As you are the commanding officer, due to the particular reason for her probation, you will have to sign off on these reports." The Vulcan turned a corner and stopped short as the sounds of an argument drifted past. "Ah. We have arrived."

A gray-haired Klingon woman stomped up, glaring dangerously. "You the new captain? Good! Tell this qoH to stop poking at the engines! He's going to break something!" Her thick braids were in disarray, and she was gripping a tricorder like it had personally offended her.

Elisa stepped back. "I'm... guessing you're the Chief Engineer?"

Masolk cleared his throat. "That would be incorrect, Commander. This is Lieutenant Krev, who is technically a maintenance technician."

Elisa gave him a skeptical look. "And un-technically?"

"In practice, she runs Engineering."

Lieutenant Krev grinned nastily. "Listen to the Vulcan. He knows what he's doing. Unlike our new Chief."

Said new Chief—a dark-skinned man with short, neatly combed black hair—was also walking up, protesting. "I need to inspect the engines, Lieutenant! I've been given a very sensible checklist, and I'm well aware of what happens when you cut corners in the engine room!"

"Then you'll be glad to know that I've inspected those corners up and down. They're in flying shape, and I don't need some Qovpatlh of an engineer fixing that!"

"If fixing is liable to get them broken, then perhaps they need better work done on them. I'm not trying to say you don't work hard, I mean, but sometimes it takes more than hard work."

"Ha! toDSaH! You know nothing of hard work!"

The head of Engineering was not an imposing figure—he was short and skinny and generally looked how one would describe as accountant-like—but he huffed and drew himself up to his full height anyways. "Perhaps, then, you should let me learn!"

"Let a green officer poke around in my engines? I don't think so, qoH. Put your checklist in the garbage where it belongs!"

"Starfleet gave me my orders, and Starfleet seems to think I'm ready enough to inspect 'your' engines!"

"You're be even more Hu'tegh stupid than I thought if you think that you're ready!" Krev shouted, slamming a fist on the wall for emphasis.

"Perhaps I am, perhaps I'm not—" He finally noticed Elisa. "—oh. Hello, Commander Flores. I'm afraid that one of our mechanics seems to have taken over the engine room."

Masolk stepped between the arguing engineers. "I take it you are Lieutenant Commander Brandon Mauro?" he asked the Chief Engineer.

"Yes, that's me. And who are you?"

"Lieutenant Commander Masolk. Science officer for the Everest. We must talk."

Elisa watched them walk off, then turned to Krev. "What now? My guide's wandered off."

Krev laughed. "Crew politics! Feh. I suppose I'm left to take you on a tour of the ship, then? Come, let's see if the quartermaster is back yet."

---

The quartermaster was not, in fact, back yet. The sign on her door said, "Out for surgery." This was somewhat worrying—Elisa did not want to be late for launch, even if the ship was an ancient cruiser.

Krev sighed. "Looks like Manim's not done being moved. Ah, never mind it; he'll find you later."

"Actually," said a smooth, businesslike voice behind them, "it's 'she' this time. Not that it particularly matters."

Elisa whirled around. "Wha?"

The dark-skinned and darker-spotted Trill behind her practically radiated command, a somewhat odd trait in someone that was ostensibly the next closest thing to a civilian. She wore an operations uniform, pipless. (Technically against regulations, but Elisa wasn't particularly inclined to call her on it.) Manim stood to attention—in fact, she didn't seem like she could stand at rest. "Siana Manim, quartermaster of the Everest. Pleased to meet you, Commander."

"Same," Elisa said, extending a hand. "This isn't your first run, is it?"

"Siana's first." She gripped Elisa's hand and shook it firmly. "Hardly my own."

Trill. "Nice to meet you, then. Both of you." Elisa smiled. "How long've you been serving on the Everest, anyways?"

Manim ran a hand over her dark, military-short hair, her lips twitching into a humorless smile. "A very long time. Now, Commander, if you'll excuse me, I need to get into my office."

Elisa had barely stepped aside before Manim strode past her. The door opened. The door closed. Elisa was once again alone with a Klingon engineer.

"What was her problem?" Elisa asked.

"Ah, Manim's been like that for as long as I've known him. Her. As bad as Masolk. Maybe even worse." Krev grabbed Elisa's wrist. "Let's be going, unless you want to find out that you've been put on the replicator blacklist."

"Not particularly. Sounds rather terrible, actually," Elisa said, attempting to work her wrist out of Krev's iron grip.

---

The bridge of the Everest was an unimpressive and faintly beige place, evidencing both a rather more utilitarian design style than the Lagarto's and someone's preference for slightly non-regulation paint—or the paint job just hadn't changed since the 2360s. The captain's chair sat in the center of the bridge, also beige, and the chairs that would hold the first and occasionally second officers next to it.

Masolk had evidently finished talking to the Chief Engineer by the time Elisa and Krev had made it there, as he was sitting, legs crossed, in the first officer's chair, reading on his PADD. As the pair approached, he powered it off and stood. "Commander Flores, Lieutenant Commander Krev. I see you have arrived."

"I'm certainly not a hologram," Elisa said, glancing around the bridge. It really wasn't what she had hoped for—but, despite herself, she felt almost giddy. This was her ship, old and beige or not. She hurried down to the captain's chair, past a row of electronics, and swung herself into it. The faux-leather chair creaked at the force and wobbled slightly on its stand.

Krev eyed this with no small amusement. "I'll be going back to Engineering, then. Before the supposed Chief Engineer breaks everything," she said, waving. She turned and entered the turbolift, which whisked her away.

Masolk watched this silently. When Krev was finally gone, he stepped over to Elisa. "I suspect she will be... writing home, as well." He clasped his hands behind his back. "Lieutenant Krev writes a lot of letters home," he added mildly.

Probably passing information, then—maybe Krev had family in the KDF? Not good, with Klingon-Federation relations how they were, but Masolk didn't seem to think it was much of a problem, and Vulcans weren't exactly known for letting minor problems turn into large ones before dealing with them. It probably wasn't anything official, then. Besides, it was getting past the filters, so it couldn't be anything particularly sensitive. Elisa let out a short, slightly amused sigh. "Got it."

Masolk nodded. "We will be undocking in an hour and beginning our flight to the Vulcan system. I will send the proposed plan to your PADD, Commander."

"Thanks," Elisa said, tilting the chair slightly from side to side. It squeaked at her. "Wait, Masolk?"

"Yes?"

"I kinda left it in my quarters."

Chapter Text

After Elisa had retrieved her PADD from her quarters—and they were pretty nice quarters, she had to admit—it was nearly time for undocking, though it was less of a 'nearly' and more of a 'oh-gods-I'm-going-to-be-late.' So it was a panting and breathless Elisa that returned to the bridge, clutching her PADD against her chest. "Am—am I late?"

Masolk looked up from his own PADD, which was displaying the flight plan. "Not at all, Commander. You are just on time. In fact, the helmsman has been held up, and we will therefore be undocking slightly later than expected."

Elisa plopped herself into the captain's seat. "Whew," she said, wiping her brow. "Anything I should know before we go roaring off into the great unknown?"

Masolk inclined his head slightly. "Yes, I believe there is. Siana Manim has asked me to inform you that there will be a combat drill during the journey. She also wishes me to tell you that it will be happening towards the end of our patrol, Commander, after the Everest collects me from Vulcan. As for my own leave, there should not be any significant delay in our course."

"Well, that's good." Elisa leaned back and looked over the flight plan. "Everything seems fine to me." Well, Elisa thought, except the paint job—but that can wait.

At that, the turbolift doors swished open, revealing a pale woman sitting in a sleek white-and-silver wheelchair. She began a wave, then converted it to a salute. "I'm Lieutenant Miranda Smith, helmsman. Sorry I'm late. Holdup at the shuttle bay; some idiot overrode the airbus autopilot, caused an accident, and then the police had to deal with it, take statements, that sort of thing—well, after the medics checked everybody over. At least nobody got much more than bruised up." She shrugged gracefully and descended the ramp. Smith took her position at the helm, adjusted herself slightly, and sent a query down to flight control. She smiled at the reply, and looked over her shoulder at Elisa. "We're cleared for undocking, Commander."

"Take us out, then—maneuvering thrusters only, of course." Elisa watched the screen as the ship began moving, and shuddered slightly at the strangeness of someone else piloting it. She shook her head—this was her first voyage as a captain; she had other things to think about. She turned her attention back to the screen and focused on the points of light outside. A few ships streaked out-system, visible only as rapidly fading lines of light.

The stars were beautiful. That, at least, never changed.

---

"Don't try to turn so sharp," Elisa said, perched on the edge of her seat, eyes locked on Smith. "Swing wide—that's that Klingon diplomat's ship, his pilot is aggressive as heck—"

Masolk coughed. "Commander, I believe she can handle it."

"No backseat piloting!" Smith added.

"Right, sorry." Elisa glanced at her PADD's display. "We're clear of the station, though—take us to full impulse."

"On it," said Smith, and the stars outside abruptly sped—though not to the lines of plasma they were in warp. They cleared the area around Earth Spacedock, and then the ship shuddered.

Elisa nearly fell from her chair, Smith rolled backwards slightly, and the Andorian woman manning communications dropped to the ground, covering her head like the console was about to explode.

"What was that?" Elisa near-shrieked.

Masolk, as calm as ever, replied, "The Everest has an outdated engine, and the modifications that bring her up to an acceptable performance causes part of her structure to shake slightly upon entering warp. Do not worry, Commander—it's safe enough, if you are expecting it." He paused, and added, "The structure of the ship means that only the bridge takes a noticeable portion of the vibrations."

Elisa was beginning to suspect that a good deal about the Everest was meant to test its officers. "Got it," she said, and she wandered over to give her comm officer a hand up. "You okay?"

The Andorian grimaced. "Fine," she said, taking the offered hand. "It would have been nice if you'd warned us beforehand, Masolk."

Elisa nodded agreement, walked back over to the captain's chair, and stopped. "Wait. I didn't give the command to enter warp." Despite this, the stars on the viewscreen continued to streak past, stretched out by the spatial distortion of the warp drive.

Smith eyed her. "Was there a reason we weren't supposed to go to warp?"

"Besides that little shipquake? No, but I still need to say it—"

Masolk was abruptly between them. "Commander. Lieutenant." He paused, waited for the pair to look at him. "While Lieutenant Smith did not follow proper procedure, neither is the bridge the proper place for this discussion."

Elisa took a breath. Let it out as a disgruntled sigh. "Yeah, you're right. We can talk about this later. But," she said, narrowing her eyes at Smith, "we will talk about it later." She sat back down, rested her chin on her palm, and stared out at the elongated stars with a much more subdued air.

---

The "day" ended with no further trouble and no further jolting, and the second watch filed in to take the first watch's place. Elisa left second-to-last, leaving her alone in the turbolift with Masolk. "Crew deck," Elisa told the turbolift, then turned to look at the Vulcan.

"Commander," he said, "a moment to discuss the day's events."

Elisa frowned and leaned against the wall of the turbolift. "You mean what happened with Smith."

He nodded. "I do." Closed his eyes just a hair too long to be a blink, then opened them again to fix Elisa with what was best described as a Look. "And your own response to the situation."

Elisa rubbed the side of her head. "Yeah, I know I could have handled that better. I just—well, I just want to get this right, you know?" She sighed and tipped her head back to stare up at the ceiling. "This really isn't what I expected."

"What did you expect?" There was no accusation in Masolk's tone—which was normal, considering his species, but, when Elisa tilted her head to look at him, he had that faintly curious expression Vulcans got when they truly wanted to know something.

Elisa shook her head. What did I expect? she thought. "I don't know," she said, turning her gaze back to the ceiling. "A promotion. A ship that works. Crew that know how to do their jobs." She laughed, slightly bitter, and brushed a hand lightly against the wall. "Not this training ship."

"Why not this training ship?" Masolk asked, twitching an eyebrow upwards.

Elisa snorted. "I just told you why. It's old, and battered, and most of the crew's as inexperienced at doing their jobs as I am at captaining. At least the Lagarto could go to warp without throwing everybody around the bridge."
Masolk inclined his head. "You are not," he said, "the first to say such things. And you are, to some degree, correct. The Everest is a training ship in many ways. It is indeed rather old, and its condition is not what it once was." He paused, watching her.

"But?" Elisa prompted.

"But, if you are here, it is because you are in need of training." The doors slid open, and he stepped out of the turbolift. "And I am here because I train people, Commander."

Elisa followed. "Wait. Wait!" she called after him, raising her hand as if to catch him.

Masolk stopped. Looked over his shoulder. "Yes?"

Elisa lowered her hand. "Masolk? Do you like it? The Everest, I mean?"

His eyebrows climbed in what might almost have been approval. "I am content," he said, and left her standing there.

---

Elisa made a disgusted noise and set the PADD back down on her bed. Good captains wrote reports, yes, but Elisa had never been good at making reports. And five percent of the crew—her crew, and even with a few days and all the disappointments thereof, that still thrilled her—being on probation meant there had been a lot of incidents to report.

The quartermaster was still recovering in her quarters, and Elisa had been severely warned away from bothering her. Which meant that it was Elisa's problem that an Engineering ensign had, against all odds, managed to break an improbable number of replicators. Apparently, someone had decided it would be amusing to give her the wrong instructions.

The PADD chirped at her. Elisa glared at it and checked to see who needed her this time. She was halfway through the message about the broken replicators from the Chief Engineer when it beeped again, displaying a small section of a rather long rant on the same topic—from Krev, of course.

Elisa closed the message from Chief Engineer Mauro and pulled up Krev's. It said much the same thing, at more and angrier length. She scrolled to the bottom, where she was rewarded—Krev had enclosed a list of the affected replicators, which she had pulled offline, and was recommending that the offending ensigns be put on replicator blacklist—which, Elisa had learned, would restrict them to a narrow range of objects or foods—after fixing them.

Somewhat vindictively, Elisa approved the recommendation. She clicked off the PADD, laid it back down on the bed, and stood. Her quarters hadn't been immune to the beigeification that had afflicted the rest of the ship, and they were smaller than regulation. So was the furniture—it had been designed and furnished before one of the larger minor species had joined the Federation.

At least there were no vases. She'd been in bars with new captains, and the large, empty vase that seemed to be standard issue was a common topic of discussion. Speculation, too. Elisa was sure that the answer was somewhere in the regulations, but she didn't particularly feel like pouring through the dry documents, and so the reason remained a mystery.

She paced the room, feet thudding softly against the carpet. Not beige, thankfully. A few minutes passed, then Elisa shook her head, grabbed her PADD, and wandered off to find something more interesting to do than writing reports.

Crew roamed the hallways, occasionally stopping at one of the wall-screens to get some piece of information or other from the ship's computer. For the most part, they paid Elisa no mind, though a couple of ensign engineers gave her dirty looks.

She ignored the glares and continued on. Really, Elisa thought, the halls aren't bad-looking. And the replicators are going to be fixed soon. She smiled, sped her pace, and decided to check on Engineering.

---

And walked in on an argument. Krev was pacing back and forth, waving her arms, berating none other than Mauro. The general question being asked, as Elisa discovered at top volume, seemed to be something along the lines of "you sent who to do what?" The specifics appeared to be that, rather than sending the troublesome ensigns, Mauro had sent out a couple of technicians to fix the broken replicators.

Including, Elisa discovered an ear-splitting moment later, Krev. Mauro's mistake was becoming clearer. Elisa watched the argument for a few moments before clearing her throat and stepping up. Seeing Krev's expression, she regretting doing so immediately. "Excuse me," she said anyway. "What," she asked, looking between them, "is the problem?" Not that she didn't already know, but it seemed like a good way to get them yelling at her instead of each other.

Which might have been a bad idea, but it was too late to go back on it.

Both attempted to speak at the same time; Krev's voice won out. "This qoH had the brilliant idea to send off two of my better technicians to fix the broken replicators. As opposed to those idiot ensigns! They got themselves into a mess, they better Hu'tegh well clean it up!"

"They're better served being made to practice in the holodeck," Mauro protested. "They broke it once, and they need to learn to do it right before trying to fix it."

Krev shook her head violently, steel-gray braids swinging. "Hah! They'll learn by fixing it, or they'll go back to the Academy in disgrace!"

"How very Klingon a philosophy," Mauro said dryly. "Perhaps you've forgotten that this isn't the KDF."

"If this was the KDF," Krev growled, "you would never have made it out of basic training. Much less those ensigns. But go on, keep talking about how I'm just some insubordinate tech." She grinned nastily and crossed her arms.

"You are an insubordinate technician," said Mauro, eyes narrowed, "and Starfleet regulations back me up on that description."

Krev stomped forwards and jabbed a finger into his chest. At his surprised yelp, she shook her head again. "I've been here the last fifty years, Mauro. You might have rank over me, but don't think for a moment that it's for anything but show."

He drew himself up as dignified as someone being poked in the chest by a Klingon shorter than them could. "Nevertheless, I have rank."

Krev jabbed him again, and advanced until they were only an inch or so apart. "You think that means something?" she snapped. He said nothing, and she glared up at him. "Well? You think that fancy little pip means something? Because you're greener than a shuttle full of Orions, you don't have the sense to realize it, and you're too much of a Hu'tegh coward to admit it!"

"Would you two stop arguing for five damn seconds?" Elisa yelled. "Krev, over there!" She pointed towards one of the myriad consoles that Engineering contained. "Mauro, go to the upper level! And both of you, act like Starfleet officers!" She spun and stomped off towards the door, barely watching as her orders were grudgingly obeyed. Well, the first two, at least.

The third was still up in the air.

Chapter Text

It was in a sour mood, then, that Elisa watched the arrival at Vulcan system. Masolk was unusually quiet, not offering advice to any of the bridge crew, instead just observing. Occasionally, he would look over at Elisa, quirking an eyebrow or giving a tiny head-tilt.

The Tellarite lieutenant at the Everest's engineering station was in an even worse mood than Elisa, seeming more interested in snapping at the science officer than in doing her job. Not that this was helped by the fact that the science officer was snapping right back.

After things began to get personal, rather than being the fault of the usual Tellarite snappishness, Elisa finally intervened, saying, "Lieutenants, the bridge is not the place for this argument." She shot a quick glance at Masolk, who gave her no sign of approval—or of disapproval.

Smith chuckled. Elisa ignored her and gave the order to take the Everest in. Permission was received from flight control, and the Everest slid into its brief orbit around Vulcan.

Masolk nodded to Elisa, stood, and left through the turbolift.

You have the bridge, Elisa thought, and snorted. The communications officer—Ensign Cevah—confirmed that Masolk had been transported to the surface. Elisa smiled, jerked her head in a quick nod, and said, "Thank you, Ensign Cevah. Lieutenant Smith, break orbit. Time to return to our patrol."

Elisa watched as Vulcan fell away below them, then vanished altogether as the ship ramped up in preparation to go to warp. "Take us to warp, Smith—and brace yourselves!"

The jolt rocked the bridge again, but, this time, everyone was better-prepared. Cevah's yelp broke the silence, though, with a bit of help from the comm station, she remained on her feet. "Someone should make Engineering fix that," the Andorian grumbled.

Do you want to have that conversation with Krev? Elisa thought. Or Mauro, for that matter. Especially not together. They've got a tiny little war going on in there... Elisa grimaced. Engineering was a powder keg, and she didn't want to be the reason it went off. Especially not this early in her first command.

If they could just get through their first patrol, she'd be delighted.

---

Approximately nineteen hours later, about when they were supposed to be checking a nearby uninhabited system, Elisa was woken from an admittedly fitful sleep by the klaxon of a red alert. She threw the sheet off of her and was on her feet, going for her uniform, before she even realized what was happening. She was dressed in a flash, if mussed by sleep, and running for the turbolift.

She hit her combadge. "Shipwide broadcast," she told it breathlessly, into the turbolift as soon as the door opened. "'All bridge personnel, report to the bridge right now, 'cause something's gone very wrong and I need you.' End broadcast." The turbolift ran much faster during red alert, but it still seemed like it took too long for it to reach the bridge.

The floor stopped pressing into Elisa's feet, and she was out of the turbolift, dashing for the captain's chair. Swung herself into it. "Right," she asked the third watch, "what's going on?"

Her third officer, a human woman whom Elisa had met only briefly, pointed at the screen. An Orion pirate ship was displayed there, barely out of weapons range and rapidly getting closer. "Orion pirates, approaching fast."

Elisa eyed the screen again. The Orion ship was bigger than the Everest, though not by much, and likely outgunned it by far. And it was too early for this to be the test. Something had gone very wrong, Elisa was certain. She pressed her combadge again, broadcasted to the ship, "Battle stations, everyone." Clicked it off. "Raise shields," Elisa ordered. Her first watch officers began filing in, replacing the even-more-inexperienced third watch officers. "Power to weapons," she told the bridge, and risked a glance back at the tactical station behind her. The weapons were charging.

It was too slow. The Orions would get off the first shot. The Everest was too slow to get out of the way when a salvo of torpedoes sailed towards her. "Brace for impact!" Elisa shouted, and the bridge rocked like something had just exploded. Maybe it had.

"W-weapons charged, Commander!" yelled the tactical officer.

"Fire front-facing beam banks," Elisa told her. "Lieutenant Smith, get us on one of the Orion ship's sides. I don't care which one. Engineering!"

The Tellarite looked at her dubiously. "What?"

"Up our turning as far as you can."

Elisa winced as the Orion ship's beams lanced into the hull of the Everest, causing a yelp from the tactical officer of, "Hull integrity at eighty-six percent, sir!"

"Oh, hells, we're more outgunned than I thought." Elisa gripped the sides of her chair, ostensibly to brace for impact. The Everest neared the side of the Orion ship, taking another two torpedoes in the process. She glanced over her shoulder at the tactical officer. "Fire at will!"

Torpedoes crashed into the Orion ship's shielding. A brief moment passed—the bridge crew was silent, though the same could not be said for the ever-present siren of the red alert. Then the Everest's beam banks stabbed into the hull of their enemy.

No! You fire the beams first, not after you've sent in the torpedoes! Weren't you paying attention at the Academy? "How're our shields looking?" Elisa asked.

"Bad," the Tellarite yelled back. "You want more than 'bad?' Too bad, cause they just scored a direct hit on our internal sensors, and I have no damn clue how bad!"

Elisa cursed and went for her combadge. "Engineering!" she shouted into it. "What the hell's going on down there?"

"Busy!" snapped Krev's voice. The connection cut with a click. Elisa groaned. "Evasive maneuvers," she ordered.

Another moment of quiet. The ships traded beams. Another of the Orion ship's torpedoes reached the Everest. The Everest sent a whole set in answer, but they went wide and soared off into space. "Hull at fifty-two percent," said the tactical officer, voice hushed and terrified.

Elisa realized, in a brief flash of panic, that she was the most experienced person on the bridge. "Fine," she said. "Fine! Lieutenant Sparks, you're in charge! I'm taking over tactical!"

"What? Me?" shrieked the science officer, going pale. "But I—me?"

"You!" Elisa yelled, vaulting out of the chair and going for the tactical station. She slid in front of her tactical officer and sent the front beam arrays firing into the Orion ship, and finally took down enough of the shielding in that area to shove a torpedo where torpedoes should not go.

"Ack!" It was the science officer's voice. Elisa turned back long enough to see a large salvo of torpedoes heading straight at them.

"Shields are down—"

"Brace!" Elisa yelled, grabbing the tactical officer and pulling her into a dive for whatever small cover they'd get behind the captain's chair. Then the torpedoes reached them, and the Everest shook, and kept shaking. (Warp core critical, announced the ship's speakers.) The lights flickered off. The klaxon of the red alert went abruptly silent.

It took Elisa a moment to realize that she was still alive, as was the crewmember caught between—shielded by—her and the chair.

The lights came back on. Over the ship's speakers, Manim's voice said, in a cold, clipped tone, "If that had been a real combat, you would all be dead. Aside from the few who got to the escape pods, that is." A pause left shocked silence to fill the air. "This was not unwinnable," Manim stated. "This was not inescapable. What was being tested was not how you would act in the face of certain failure. This is not the Kobyashi Maru. It was a straightforward test of your abilities, and you have failed."

Chapter Text

The speakers quieted, and silence reigned on the bridge. Elisa took a breath she hadn't realized she would have a chance to. Disentangled herself from the trembling lieutenant under her. Stood, and looked at the faces of her bridge crew, whose expressions ranged from terrified to angry to completely blank.

That last on Lieutenant Sparks, still clutching the arms of the chair, white-knuckled. She was looking over her shoulder at Elisa. "Sir?" she asked in a near-whisper, breaking the silence.

"Yes?" Elisa extended a hand towards her tactical officer, who stared at it for a moment before taking it.

Sparks got out of the chair and turned to face Elisa. "Don't... ever... do that to me again. Sir."

Elisa rubbed her shoulder, which she'd apparently managed to bash somewhere in the commotion. Seemed like a good idea at the time. "Right. I won't." She shot a glance towards Cevah, who was shakily calling the night watch back up.

"You're on deck three? What's... no, never mind. Why are you on deck three? Commander?"

That last directed to Elisa, who walked over and peered at the communications console. "What's the problem, Lieutenant?" Aside from the obvious, that is.

Cevah frowned. "It's the third watch, sir. They're on deck three, when they should be on the crew deck." She tapped the tiny communicator in her ear. "Did you say the quartermaster called you down there?" she asked whoever was on the other end. "I think you should talk to the captain. Sir, here you go." She handed Elisa a second headset.

Elisa shrugged and put it on. "Alright. What's going on?"

"We'll be right back up," said the voice of the Everest's third officer. "We were called down by Quartermaster Manim," she admitted, her voice somewhat sheepish.

Who had been the one to give the announcement that the test had been a test, and one that had been failed. "Why were you obeying orders from the quartermaster, Lieutenant?"

There was a long, embarrassed pause. "It seemed like I should," the third officer finally said.

"It 'seemed like you should'?" Elisa repeated, disbelieving. "She's a—Cevah, what rank is Quartermaster Manim?" Most quartermasters were civilians, but Elisa couldn't for a moment believe that Manim wasn't an officer of some kind.

"Nobody knows," murmured Cevah, beside her. "And nobody's asking."

Elisa covered her eyes with the palm of her hand and pulled the headset off with the other. "This ship is completely wrong," she muttered. "It's one of the oldest ships in Starfleet, maybe the oldest, when it should have been decommissioned long ago, random technicians shouldn't be lieutenants, even if they do secretly—or, well, not-so-secretly—run Engineering, and everyone's taking orders from the quartermaster."

"Sir," Cevah said nervously, "speaking of the quartermaster."

Elisa removed her palm from her face and waved it around frustratedly. "What about the bloody quartermaster?"

"She's requesting a meeting with you." Cevah looked slightly pale, now that Elisa thought about it. Cevah glanced nervously at the comm station. "I think you should go, sir."

Elisa paused in her annoyed pacing. "Fine," she said, "but if this all turns out to be a holodeck simulation, I'll... I don't know. I'll think of something." She spun to face the turbolift and stalked towards it.

---

Elisa arrived at the quartermaster's office intending to find out exactly what was going on on the Everest, but stopped short in the open doorway. The office beyond was completely organized and utterly utilitarian, and somehow the Trill behind the pale metal desk slotted so perfectly into the scene that Elisa couldn't help but feel intimidated.

She'd met instructors like that, half-retired ship-commanders to a one. She'd met captains like that, though they were a rare few of those she'd seen. But she'd never met a quartermaster like that. Quartermasters were, at best, half-civilian, disproportionately Ferengi and Tellarite—neither of which was known for that sort of titanium-hard composure.

If Manim had stood to attention before, she sat with authority. Her face was impassive, nearly expressionless. And she still wasn't wearing any pips on her spotless ops uniform.

"Quartermaster Siana Manim," Elisa said, desperate to fill the silence with something.

"Commander Elisa Flores," Manim echoed, tone carefully neutral.

"You wanted to see me?" Elisa fought down the urge to call Manim "sir," feeling rather foolish about it, and straightened slightly.

"Yes," Manim said, and stood. She walked briskly towards a door in the side of her office. "In here, Commander." She opened the door and walked through.

Elisa followed, and then cocked her head in confusion. "It's a... viewscreen?" Well, it wasn't the only thing in the room—there were two chairs, facing it, and a table curving around in front of them. It looked somewhat like an interrogation room, if interrogation rooms had the chairs side by side.

And if interrogation rooms were beige. Elisa was developing somewhat of a hatred for beige.

"It is," replied Manim. "We will be going over the performance of the bridge crew during the test. Including your own, Commander."

Elisa sat in one of the metal chairs, shifting a bit as she realized how uncomfortable it was. Manim sat in the other—and didn't seem to mind, much to Elisa's irritation.

"Computer," Manim said, "begin latest recording, starting upon the arrival of Commander Flores on the bridge." The screen brightened and displayed exactly that. They watched the recording in silence until the Elisa on the recording gave the order to fire at will, followed by the tactical officer firing the weapons in the wrong order.

Manim looked over at Elisa. "Why didn't you correct Lieutenant Turner?"

Elisa flinched. "There was no time! You saw how fast our shields went down!"

"That," Manim replied, "is because, to power your order to 'up our turning as far as you can,' Lieutenant Zosna had to remove power from the Everest's shielding."

How such a simple sentence could feel like the hammer of judgement hanging above her, Elisa didn't know. "It—was?"

"It was," confirmed Manim.

"She didn't tell me she was doing that," Elisa protested, as her recorded self took over tactical on the screen. "Turner wasn't hitting them. And she didn't stop me..."

"Tell me, then," said Manim, voice back to cold analysis, "would you rather that your bridge crew obeyed bad orders or didn't trust your orders at all?"

Elisa froze, face going hot. "That's not what I was saying."

"Then you plan to command only Betazoids, so that your officers might read your mind?" Manim tapped the table gently with one finger, the faint ringing of her nails against the metal cutting through the silent moment. Ping. Ping. "If it is the fault of your officers for obeying bad orders, it will not matter whose fault it was when your inability to command their trust causes the ship's destruction."

The hammer of judgement dropped upon her, and found her wanting. Elisa stared up at the ceiling, as if to find Manim's store of those hammers. Said nothing.

Manim lifted her head and stared straight at Elisa. Straight through Elisa. "If a captain has nothing else, they must have the trust of their crew. It is possible yet for them to fail, even if they do, but a captain who does not have that will never succeed." She clasped her hands together, still expressionless.

There was no challenge in Manim's eyes, because there was no reason to challenge. Manim had won before the contest had even begun, and she knew it, and Elisa knew it. Now it was up to Elisa to decide what to do with it. "Yeah," Elisa finally said. "You're right. I screwed up." Stopped, feeling the beginnings of a strange resolve. "But I won't screw up again. Not like that," she added, locking her eyes on Manim's.

"Good," said Manim. "And, as you explain to me how your officers performed, remember that."

Like being back in the Academy again, Elisa thought irritatedly. "I will," she said. The recording rewound. Elisa took a deep breath, and began. Said, "Shields didn't go up quickly enough—they torpedoed us right out of the gate, and it wouldn't have been as bad as it was if they were up all the way. Lieutenant Smith maneuvered us well, given the circumstances. Zosna really shoulda confirmed before pulling power out of shielding, though I was vague there. Don't even get me started on what was going on with Lieutenant Turner." Elisa squinted at the screen. "Oh, hells, that was the first order I gave Sparks. And she had no clue what to do. Neither'd Turner. Damn. Nobody checked their hull or shields, either—then again, I didn't ask." She watched as the recording reached its end and looped back again. "Everyone made mistakes, and some of 'em were pretty stupid." Like firing the torpedoes before the beams. Sometimes it was worth it, just to get that little bit of extra damage, but that hadn't been one of those times. "But... I just made everything worse, didn't I. Couldn't give effective orders. Had too much faith in their abilities and not enough in their understanding." Elisa shook her head and looked back at Manim. "That's why we failed. They couldn't figure out what to do with my orders, but I didn't exactly make 'em worth obeying, did I?"

Manim inclined her head. "And now you will explain this to them. After they have slept, that is."

Elisa laughed, nervously, to fill the silence with something. "I don't think I'm gonna be able to sleep."

"Neither will they, I'm certain. Nevertheless, it is best to let them try." A touch of humor crept into her voice, placed there in some careful chemistry. "Perhaps you can use the time to compose your report."

Elisa wanted to groan. Did not groan. "Can't be Starfleet without reports," she half-joked. Manim did not laugh.

As she walked back to her quarters, Elisa couldn't help but feel that, despite every (carefully placed, no doubt) indication to the contrary, Manim really was on her side. And I hope to keep it that way.

---

"Lieutenant Krev," Elisa said, surprised. The Klingon technician was not who she'd been expecting to come barging into the small conference room she'd co-opted for report-writing. Especially not during what was still technically the end of the third watch. "Something wrong?" Did the growing little powder keg go off? Oh, gods, let it not have gone off...

"Lots of things," Krev replied dismissively. "But I thought you'd want the reports from Engineering."

Right. Engineering was probably getting tested too. Elisa nodded. "I do, yeah. Thanks." She squinted at the Klingon. "Couldn't you have just sent it to me over the ship's network?"

"Could have," Krev said, shrugging. "Didn't." She snorted. "Thought you might have questions to ask in person."

Elisa thought about it. Found that she did, and not just about what happened in Engineering. "I think I do. About Manim."

The shrug repeated itself. "Ask what you want. Might not answer everything, but you can ask."

Elisa let out a soft heh. Smiled wryly. "I know how long Masolk's been here. And I heard how long you've been here." At top volume, no less. "But... I asked Manim, and she just told me 'a very long time.' How long is that, Krev?"

Krev grinned. "Long enough for her to have been quartermaster of the original Everest, and still not young then, either." She pulled out one of the chairs situated around the conference table—the one across from Elisa, in fact—and plopped herself down. "Don't ask her about her first host, either."

"Sensitive subject?" Elisa guessed.

Krev laughed. "Nah. But she might tell you."

Elisa smiled nervously. "Right. Was there anything else?"

Krev shook her head. "Nothing else. And you know my comm code." She stood, shoved the chair back in, and exited the room, leaving Elisa alone with her thoughts and an unfinished report.

Elisa picked up her PADD and stared at it for a few moments, then closed the report. "Get me Siana Manim's record," she whispered to it, and it called the record up.

It wasn't what Elisa would have expected; not even close. Before she'd been a host, Siana had flunked out of Starfleet Academy with worse disciplinary issues than Elisa herself, and without the kind of grades that had saved Elisa from the same fate. The date for that was only a week prior to the Everest's departure.

Stars above, thought Elisa, horrified, no wonder she was so terse when we first met. She'd just been moved to the new host. Indeed, the Joining date marked was a day before the Everest had left Earth Spacedock; barely enough time for Manim to have been admitted out of the hospital, much less been returning to work.

But what Siana Manim's record didn't show was anything from Manim's prior hosts. She closed the record and accessed the ship-net. Searched for Manim's name. Looked through the responses—mostly the Everest-B's reports, made accessible for new captains and crew. Elisa cringed slightly at the thought that future captains would someday look through those reports and see her own mistakes. Hopefully, she'd be on to better things by then.

She sighed, excluded the reports in the ship's data-storage, and ran into a set of news-vid transcripts from centuries ago, talking about the original Everest's heroic sacrifice. Apparently Manim had led the civilians to the escape pods, then led them safely out of the area that the fleets had been battling in. Probably useful to know, though Elisa couldn't think how, but not what she was looking for. She gritted her teeth and excluded the news reports as well.

There were fewer responses, afterwards. Lists of personnel assigned to specific areas at specific times, marked low-interest enough in the search algorithm that they'd not been displayed before. Elisa pulled the monthly ones from the search, and flipped back until she stopped seeing entries for Quartermaster Manim on the U.S.S. Everest-B.

The first Everest had only a few of the yearlies to scroll through until she hit the prior assignations, almost without realizing it—and promptly did a double-take at what she saw. Read the line over a second time, then a third.

The twenty-third entry on the 2264 personnel roster read, "Admiral Autue Manim; Trill; commanding officer, U.S.S. Daybreak."

Chapter Text

Elisa turned off the PADD. Got to her feet, slowly. Calmly. Really, she was calm. She took a deep breath. So very, very calm. A few steps away from the door, she realized she'd left the PADD on the table. She retrieved it and continued back towards her quarters. She had half a mind to demand answers, but she had no idea whatsoever what questions to ask. What was she supposed to do—go up to Manim and ask, "So I hear you're secretly an admiral; what are you doing slumming it here, of all places?"

And besides, she'd already found out enough horrifying things by asking questions. Maybe she shouldn't ask some, for a change. Yeah. She'd try that. The door to the turbolift slid open, and Elisa'd selected a deck on the manual controls before she noticed that she'd sent herself up to the bridge without even realizing it.

 

Apparently she was going to go check on the third watch. Which was probably a good idea, come to think of it. It would be back to the first watch in not too long, anyway, so she might as well arrive early. It was better than writing reports, and much better than dwelling on the question of What Exactly A Trill Admiral Is Doing Here. Because she probably didn't want to know, and Elisa had had enough unpleasantly illuminating realizations for one night. Early morning. Whatever.

The turbolift opened back up on an unpleasantly familiar scene. The red alert was flashing and proclaiming imminent disaster, the third officer was yelling orders that were being sporadically obeyed, which was unsurprising; given the general chaos Elisa had just walked in on and the fact that the red alert siren had somehow gotten stuck on max volume, she was more surprised that anyone could hear anything at all.

The current science officer on duty—male, human, and panicking about as much as Sparks had been—still managed to notice her arrival on deck. His expression changed from mere panic to outright horror as he watched Elisa step out of the turbolift. "Crap!" he yelped, loud enough to momentarily divert the third officer's attention.

"What is it this time?" she snapped back. Elisa quietly sympathized.

The science officer pointed at Elisa. "It's her! She's here! It's real!"

The third officer looked. Her eyes widened. "Oh, crap!" She hopped out of the captain's chair. "Captain! We thought you couldn't come to the bridge—thought you were trapped on deck four—we thought this was a sim, sir. A test, like before," she half-babbled. Elisa glanced at her collar—the third officer was a lieutenant, presiding over a bridge full of ensigns.

Well, better late than never. Elisa attempted to look commanding. "Situation report!" she ordered, cutting off whatever the third officer was going to say next.

"Yes, sir!" The third officer—Lieutenant Ramirez, that was her name—saluted. "A Klingon Bird of Prey decloaked right in front of us! We were handling it alright, really, until they got the power regulation system with a torpedo. But now half the time we're sitting ducks, and half the time we can't shoot, and the other half the time the shields are down."

"That's three halves, Lieutenant."

"I know, sir. We're losing two at once. That's how—"

Elisa held up a hand. "Enough," she said. "I get the picture. Science!"

The science officer looked up from his console. "Yes?"

Elisa stepped into position in the middle of the bridge, right in front of the captain's chair. "Calibrate our internal sensors to focus on the power flow! See if you can predict where it'll go next!" Hope dawned in the science officer's eyes, and Elisa spun to point at the ensign manning the engineering station. "Engineering! What's our hull integrity?" All the stations had the hull readout, of course, but engineering had the most detailed information.

"Overall structural integrity at sixty-seven percent, Captain, but most of that damage is near engineering. It's a wonder we have any engine power at all, sir."

Elisa watched as the Klingon ship's cannons sent bursts of green light towards the Everest. Not even light, really—but if she was going to get handed a do-over, she wasn't going to let a little thing like that ruin it. "Next time we get shields back, rotate frequency. And tell me! Tell me when we've got engines, too! Brace!" That last because a green torpedo was spiraling towards them, and the shaking the bridge would get was as real as the combat wasn't. Miraculously, everyone kept their footing.

"Got it," said the engineer. He frowned at the console. "Integrity at fifty-nine percent."

"Helm," Elisa said. "When I say 'now,' turn left hard and take us to warp." The helmsman nodded. Elisa spun, still on her feet, to look at the tactical ensign. "Tell me when we've got weapons."

"We have them right now, sir," she said.

Elisa grinned. "Good! Pour all the power into weapons—it's hardly going anywhere else—and fire everything you've got! Even the aft banks!"

"Yes, sir." Phaser beams flared across the Klingon ship's bow, followed immediately by a volley of torpedoes. The Klingon ship's shields winked out, and one of their nacelles was subsequently reduced to scrap. "We've lost weapons power."

"We have engines!" came a yell from the engineering station.

"Pour everything you've got into them! Except life support, I mean." Elisa watched as the ship abruptly sped into a collision course for the Bird of Prey. "Helm!" Elisa yelled. "Now!"

The Everest tilted sideways as far as it could. "We're losing engine power," the engineering ensign said.

At the same time, the helmsman yelled, "We're not going to make it!"

Elisa eyed the angle of the Everest. Eyed the trajectory of the Klingon ship. "Go to warp!"

The helmsman paled slightly, his hands poised over the necessary controls. "But—"

Elisa slammed a hand down on the side of the captain's seat. "Trust me!"

They went to warp.

---

The bridge shook. Elisa was getting used to the shaking. The various ensigns obviously weren't, however, from the number that lost their balance. Or perhaps they'd just forgotten to brace; Elisa didn't know. She surveyed the area.

Tactical was on her feet, if only barely, clutching her console with white-knuckled effort. When she turned to face Elisa, however, her face was near-glowing with elation. Elation and admiration, with a starry-eyed look Elisa knew quite well.

It was the same look Elisa'd had when the Lagarto's new commanding officer had saved them all from the Borg sphere that had assimilated the entire senior staff. In that moment, Elisa had felt like something better than herself, and even the guilty part of her that pointed out that this time it hadn't been real could not truly quell the feeling of victory running through her body. No, not against the nonexistent Klingon ship, but the trust she knew she'd begun to regain was much more valuable.

The stars streaked past, and the Everest's warp field was as clean and stable as any, showing no sign of the stress that the engines had supposedly just undergone. The engineering ensign was smirking like someone who'd just beaten the odds—probably with a stick, from his self-satisfied demeanor. At the science station, its operator was shaking as he heaved himself back into his chair—the jolt as they'd entered warp had knocked him down. He looked half-dead, half-queasy, but there was a determination about his movements.

The helm had discarded trepidation in favor of adrenaline-fueled mania, grinning widely despite his ragged breathing. The comm and sensor officers were nowhere to be seen. And Lieutenant Ramirez sat on the floor, braced not quite well enough against the first officer's chair. Elisa looked between them all, feeling the room's expectation thicken.

She stood, and they all looked at her. Finally! she mentally crowed, unable to help feeling as if she'd won her own battle. Though not, she reminded herself, the main victory. Yet. That thought was sobering enough for her to quell the grin attempting to manifest on her face. She stood a little bit straighter and cleared her throat.

"Would someone turn off that damn red alert?" she asked. The klaxon finally died away, and Elisa rubbed her forehead in the vain hope that it might make her ears stop ringing. "Thank you," she said, and she swept her gaze across the room. She took a deep breath, and then words spilled from her. "We're all on this ship for the same reasons," she told them, "whether it's our first chance or our last. And it'll be a while until we figure out which one it is, but we're on our way now. Whatever happens next"—and Elisa gestured towards the star-filled viewscreen—"we're going to face it together. We're all the crew of the Everest now."

Silence greeted her, and then Lieutenant Ramirez clapped, once, looking halfway between triumphant and defeated. "Well said, sir," she said quietly.

Elisa smiled down at her. "Lieutenant Ramirez, you have the bridge." And she walked into her ready room without another word.

---

Resisting the urge to record another log entry, Elisa pulled up the comm on her screen, leaning back slightly in her chair. It squeaked satisfyingly. "Captain to Quartermaster Manim," she said. It took a few minutes before the Trill's face finally appeared on the screen. Manim was wearing a white bodysuit, the sort designed to go under a uniform if an emergency should happen to occur during one's night-cycle.

For a brief moment, Manim looked nearly irritated. Then the expression was gone, and she was back to cool neutrality. "Yes?"

"I need a list of the modifications made to the ship. For the tests." The request would strain to breaking the fiction that Elisa could ask such things of Manim, but it had to be made.

"What do you plan to do with it?" Manim asked, her eyebrows lifting.

Well, she'd probably been around enough Vulcans over the years to pick up the expression. Elisa smiled. "What if I told you that I'd like to run some tests of my own?"

"That," said Manim, "is something we shall discuss."