Comm transmissions may be dull, trite and commonplace, thought Janice, but at least they were timely.  On the other hand, the old-fashioned paper stargram she held had been dated over a month ago and routed here--Starbase 122--by Starfleet, as Enterprise's next scheduled Federation port of call.  It was beautiful, she had to admit: carefully yellowed velum embossed with the geometric logo of the Shah Research Institute and sealed with gold microlaminate. She knew what it must say before she opened it.  Losers wouldn't be notified in this expensive fashion.

That gave rise to a couple of unexpected problems, neither of which had left her thoughts since receiving the news.  Her boots made an out of place, hollow sound as she paced the Enterprise botany lab.  She fiddled with the stargram, paying no more attention to her hands than as to how her footsteps broke the calmness in this place of growing things.  She must have read it twenty times, but still she kept turning it over as if expecting a secret answer to magically appear on the reverse side.

Or between the lines.

"That's terrific, Janice," said Sulu in between dropperfuls of assorted sclerid supplements.  That was the art of xenobotany.  Each plant needed something a little different.  It took careful husbandry to feed each one to reach its potential.  "You should be busting over with pride."

"I am, I guess," she said, still twisting the piece of paper.  "There's just one problem.  I don't know what to do."

"You'll figure that out when you get there--see what the active projects are…"

"No," said Janice. "I mean, I don't know whether or not to go."

"What?" Sulu looked up, his droppers apparently forgotten for the moment.  "Then why did you apply?"

Janice twirled a finger in her hair.  "I've always had a talent for mathematics--ever since I was a kid.  It comes from my father's side of the family.   In school they called me gifted, but haven't used it much since then; I guess I wanted to see if I still had it in me.  I entered a proposal just to see what the committee would think--just to see if I was still, you know, good.  If I'd known I would get the study grant, I never would have done it." She shook her head and replayed all the decision points in her mind.

"That's stupid," said Sulu.

"Hey!" She snapped out of it. "I thought you were my friend."

"I am your friend, and if your friends tell you that it's stupid, how bad do you think it really is?"  His tone was a good bit less cheery now.  Although Sulu had infinite patience for needy plants, when it came to needy people, he seemed to think the Vulcans had it right.

"I'm afraid of losing my position in the Enterprise," Janice admitted.  As Captain Kirk's yeoman in the Enterprise, is what she meant.  Sulu would understand the sentence better without the second phrase, so she left that part unsaid.

"Mm.  Yeah.  Three months is a long time." Sulu nodded.

"Anyone could do what I do.  There's no guarantee he'll hold the position for me."

Sulu shrugged.  "The captain only keeps the best of the best in their positions.  You must be better than average, or you wouldn't still be here."

"As a yeoman? Sure.  I've seen my efficiency reports--heck, I've written half of them--and half of yours too when the captain is busy.  He always gives me top marks in job performance, but…"


"But in other areas, he marks me average.  Crying on Miri's planet, or falling apart after…after the attack by the imposter.  I'll never make a line officer.  He could replace me with someone who could do both."

"No." Sulu's tone was one of the same unquestionable surety as Kirk used when leading people into god-only-knows-where.  He would make a fine captain himself one day.   "Someone who would make a great officer won't stay as a yeoman.  Captain Kirk wants people where they excel.   No Peter Principle for him."

The Peter Principle: that the very nature of promotion based on excellence of work ensures that people are rise to the level of their incompetence and stay there.  Janice's stomach unknotted.  It was true, and she was really, really good at what she did.  He'd take her back. He would.  He must.

"Of course, he can always find someone just as good.  The Enterprise is a popular ship." Sulu went back to feeding his plants.

And Kirk was the captain every single yeoman in the fleet was angling for.  The knots came rolling back with a vengeance. "Thanks!" The acid in her voice would have etched duranium.

Sulu looked up, startled. "What?  It's the truth, isn't it?  When do you have to decide?"

"Two hours.  I've been over our flight plan and there's no room for a detour.  If I'm going to make it in time for the start date, I'll have to ride with the Earhart to Starbase 16 and get a transport from there.  They ship out at 2130.  That's not enough time for such a big decision."

"I don't know.  Did you know that my mother decided to marry my father the first time he kissed her?"

"Do I.  She told that story four times over dinner last year."
"She hardly ever drinks," said Sulu.  "That saki at the dinner to meet you was a special occasion."

Sulu's mother had had such high hopes.  Neither Janice nor Sulu had had the heart to tell her, but by then it was already moot.  At least the experiment had left them even closer friends.  To get leave together, they had planned that stay on Earth well in advance.  By the time the date came around, it had become clear that the feelings between them weren't going to develop in that way, no matter how hard they might try.

Sometimes you just know.

Sulu continued, "She says that the big, pervasive questions usually have big, pervasive answers.  If you can't see them, it's probably because you're too close; they're so big that they more than fill you view.  Try stepping back a little."

"I have," said Janice.  "It's just all a muddle any way I try."

"If it helps, you have one of the finest minds for applied math that I know. You're one of the only non-pilots on board who can follow the navigation and helm computers.  I often wondered why you didn't you go into engineering in the first place."

She'd been so young--only sixteen--when she entered the Starfleet training and engineering had all been men.  She may have had the mind to break new ground in math theory, but the peer pressure had simply been too much to risk breaking the mold.  Being different had been hard enough in Bemidgi, Minnesota.  She had thought in Starfleet she might finally fit in and she wasn't about to blow that chance for something as petty as wasted brains. 

Sulu had been born on Earth--to two human parents--and he was male.  For all the high ideals and Federation principles, it still mattered.   The most cursory review of the demographics of top level Starfleet personnel attested to that.  But people who have never been subjected to the little pressures that build up around those who don't quite fit in can never really understand what it is like--the constant force of an osmotic gradient shoving one up against a frustratingly transparent, but utterly impenetrable barrier.

She didn't think she could make him understand, at least not in the two hours she had to decide.  "I didn't want to break a nail."

Sulu laughed. "Well, worst case scenario on both: you don't take the study grant, or you don't get your position back.  Which would give you more sleepless nights wondering what you missed?"

"The first, definitely.  I know what the Enterprise is like. I know what I'd be missing--there would be no wondering involved."

"But you're still thinking of going.  Sounds like an answer to me."

"You're saying I should go?"

"I'm saying I would; I couldn't stand not knowing what else I could have been."

Janice rolled her eyes.  "I'm taking advice from a man who two months ago wanted to be d'Artagnan."

Sulu chuckled.  "I'm not you.  I'm just saying, that's the choice you've got."

"It's such a muddle."  Janice crossed her arms in front of her chest and leaned back wearily against the counter.

Sulu looked over at her.

"What?" said Janice, unable to read the queer expression on his face.

"Hm? Nothing," said Sulu. He picked up a plant supplement.  "Just trying to help."

Janice squealed as Gertrude pinched her through her skirt, leaving a scattering of pink fluff behind.

  Sulu broke out into gales of laughter.

"Sulu!  That's not funny!" said Janice, attempting to smooth out her wounded pride, composure and posterior.

Sulu made a transparently token attempt at contrition. "Maybe not from where you stand, but it sure is from here.  My mother was right; perspective is everything."

"She sure was." Janice rubbed the sore spot, her confusion rendering her more far more irrationally irritated than hurt.  "That settles it; I'm going!  I'm going as far from you and your collection as humanly possible."

"Happy to be of service," laughed Sulu as she fumed out the door.

As the panel slid shut and the silence of his lab resumed, only then did he realize how much he was going to miss her.

 No new endeavor is without problems and Janice had envisioned there would be trials and failures in the three months of the fellowship. She hadn't anticipated that the first one would be getting dressed.   After eight years in uniform, dressing was more of a reflex than a conscious action.  With the first thought she gave it, she realized that she had nothing even close to suitable to wear. Everything she had packed was either to formal, too casual, or too intimate by far.

What would Captain Kirk do, she asked herself.  That's easy: he would go in uniform.  That uniform was as much a part of him as his teeth or hair.   Rumor had it that he had had his trousers painted on in order to save time, but as his yeoman, she knew that wasn't true.  Fortunately it seemed that there were scores of other women on dozens of planets who could testify the same if need be--although likely not for the same reasons--as a proper Captain's Yeoman would never disclose such things.

She was different, though--no Captain Kirk.  Besides, men in uniform didn't have to worry about burning their thighs on hot metal parts or tearing their tights crawling under a mechanism.  In the end she chose a jumpsuit she had brought for hiking.  It was more low-cut than she would have preferred and clung more tightly in several places, but it seemed the best of all of her bad options.  She tried to cover the worst of it with a scarf and left her dorm for the orientation meeting.

Janice was accustomed to heads turning when she walked into a room. She was not accustomed to them dismissing her so rapidly.

 The man at the head of the conference table addressed her.  "Young lady: Miss--"

"Rand.  Janice Rand.  I'm here on the Lewes Fellowship." She took a seat.

"Of course.  There are lab jumpers in the closet. You'll want to change before the tour.  Applied mathematics, he stressed the first word of the sentence and nodded to her flowing sleeves and scarf, "means more than just sitting at a computer all day.  We take safety--and everything else--around here very seriously and trust that you will too."

Janice flushed. She considered explaining about how she lived almost only in uniforms, the delay in the shuttle and how she had had no time to shop or even settle in.  Instead she settled for, "Yes, sir," with all the humble solemnity that she could muster.

Someone snickered.

"'Doctor' will do--or better still, just 'yes'," said Latham.  He ignored her for the rest of the meeting.

On the second day she had no regrets.  She was assigned to the transporter redesign team, which, in retrospect, was no surprise.  The transporter was an Andorian invention.  It had been Andor's dowry to the Federation and the main reason Earth and Vulcan had joined with a world still in such a violent state.  The current problem was that non-Andorian minds weren't geared to follow the Z'errd extraquantum phase math theory that made it possible.  With yet another civil war on Andor, transporter upgrades and modifications were not high on their priority list.

Andorian theory had come naturally to Janice. Her father had taught her a great deal.  It was one of the few ways she took after him. As a child Janice had always assumed it was a selfish thing--a way of somehow preserving the last of his own father's memory and heritage through her.

It wasn't until after he died, four months before her eighteenth birthday, that she realized that he was only trying to give her everything he had. 

She could do this. She knew she could.  Transporters had been used on Andor since before the Wright brothers could walk. It wasn't that complicated when you grasped the basics, but humans and most other species simply couldn't, and there was the rub.

The challenge was that she didn't know half the terminology used in the mechanical specifics of the machine.   Fortunately, there was an easy answer to that.

It was past 2200 when the custodian threw her out of the institute library. "Go home," he said. "The computers will still be here in the morning."

"Sure."  Even as she nodded acceptance, she was transferring the schematics and the references onto her padd to go over more in her dorm.  She would have plenty of time to sleep back on the Enterprise; She only had 88 more days here.

It wasn't that she meant to let her hair go.  It just sort of happened that way.  She had taken it down at night like usual but between the space lag, the excitement, and screen after screen of engineering terminology non-excitement, at sometime she collapsed over her padd at the desk.  When she woke up it was to the buzz of the comm asking where she was.  She barely made time to run to use the john and blot on her skin screen concurrently before dashing out the door. In the hallway she clipped her hair up into a quick knot, with the easy familiarity of long habit--making sure it covered the critical areas--as she jogged over to the lab, still in the same frumpy lab coverall she had worn the day before.

The odd thing was that no one seemed to notice.  No one looked at her either more or less. Nor did they look at her more or less the next two days when she arrived clean, made-up, and hair back to normal.

On the third day, when she solved the inverter flux rate ratio that had stymied the team for weeks, then they looked at her a little harder. 

She thought that she liked the way that felt.

Setting the inverter flux ratio had advanced the project to the next step and sent the whole team scrambling. While the engineers and physicists worked on the lab model, Janice and Latham moved on to the resolving the Kyrillid curve.  Janice worked the numbers while Latham stood over her shoulder watching the numbers fly by on the screen.

"That explains it," he said.

"No, it's not right," she said, the irritation plain in her voice.  "I've got to start over."

"Not that."

"What?" She turned. "Explains what?"

From behind he pushed back her hair at the top of her head where the knot had fallen loose.  A vestigial stubby blue antenna poked through the strands.

Quickly, she reached up and covered it again. The faintest hint of blue flushed through the make-up on her cheeks.

"I should have known," he said. "I've been doing this thirty-five years and I've never met a Human with a mind like that.

"I am Human," she said. "Three-quarters, which is what counts. My father's father.  All that really shows is those." She rolled her eyeball up in the direction of the antennae.  There was no need for him to know about the make-up.  Women were entitled to their little secrets, weren't they?  Besides, it was the barely a tint; even without makeup, you could only tell in the strongest light.

Growing up, she had hated them.  Is there any planet in the galaxy where teenagers don't feel self-conscious for whatever difference they have?  Her plan had been that the day she turned eighteen she would go sign for the surgery to have them removed.  When her father died four months before that birthday, she had changed her mind.   She figured she could always have it done...later.

"And that mind," Latham said, jerking her back to the present.  "Why do you hide it?"

"Have you ever been in Bemidji, Minnesota?" Janice snipped. "It's not exactly the hub of interracial tolerance. It was hard enough having parents who embarrassed me without looking different too.  I sort of got used to hiding it."

"Hence Starfleet?" he asked.

"I don't know." She tried unsuccessfully to shrug off her discomfort. "Maybe."  Definitely.  Alien, go home!

"That would explain some things," said Latham.


"You don't seem like the warp-rider type.  If that was the only reason you went into Starfleet..."

"It isn't," she answered too rapidly. "I love space." She did.

Latham shrugged.  "I'm sure.  I just mean, in retrospect, sometimes when one has moved a little time and distance away, things become clearer than when one is too close."

"You sound like someone I know," said Janice.  Unbidden, her mind turned to Sulu and the rest.  She wondered what they were doing now.  It was odd to think of the Enterprise, about Captain Kirk, going about business as usual without her. It seemed...wrong.

"Sounds like a smart guy."

She smiled. "He is."

"Then maybe you should try it."

"It doesn't matter now," she said.  "What happened in the past can't be changed."

He gave her a peculiar look. "How old are you?"


He shook his head.  "So young, so many possibilities.  At thirty-five you don't have to change the past; you just make new future."

She hadn't thought of thirty-five as young.  In fact, rather the opposite.  "Now why are you so interested in my career choices?"

Latham started.  "I should have thought that that would be obvious.  I want you here.  With the war on Andor, transporter development has come almost to a standstill for lack of design personnel. What you're trying to lose in the depths of space I consider to be your greatest asset."

"I have plenty of assets," she said irritably.

Latham backed off. "No doubt you do.  You're right; it is none of my business.  Forgive an old man for hoping."

"If the old man would double-check my computations.  The entire Baxtleer array is going to have to be reset."

Janice looked over in amusement, as Latham took a seat at the computer. Of course, one didn't go into mathematics expecting days full of screaming excitement, but the array was 27,783 cells--each to be verified independently.  Well, he said he wanted her here; he might as well get the full joy of it.  She pulled up the Kyrillid curve dynamic and began to solve for the first cell.

On the fifth night--or rather in the wee hours of the sixth day--when she sat working at her dormitory desk that there was a knock on her door. She crossed the room to find a young physicist--Townsend? No, Tussand--at her door with a padd.

"Miss Rand?" he said, as if there was anyone else there to confuse her with.


He was short for a human, coming barely to her nose. That put his eyes about her chin level and at the perfect position to stare down at her neck--or the neckline of her caftan.  Janice doubted that she was the only one of them to notice that. 

"I'm Bruce Tussand,” he said. "I'm on the team working on the mechanics of the beam generator.   Dr. Latham said that you might help. This Dysson wave variance doesn't seem to have any regularity; it's got us stumped."

"It has to," said Janice.  "They all have a cyclic pattern."

"I know, but I can't find it. I've been at it for a week."

"Come in," she said, and stood back from the door.

He stood planted on the threshold.

"I don't bite."

"I know; it's just that.... Can I touch them?"


"They're real, right? I mean, I've never seen them up close before.  Would you mind?"

She wrapped her caftan and little tighter around her chest and body, but then saw that he was looking at her head.

"Oh." She inclined her head toward him.

He brushed one finger over an antenna tip and jumped back as it quivered in response.  "They are real." He stared at his fingers in wonderment.

"Right. The wave now?" I'm only here for another twelve weeks.

"Oh, right.  Thanks." He hurried to the desk and activated his padd.

When daylight broke, they were still working.  All night in her bedroom and the kid hadn't even tried to hit on her once.  She thought maybe she should be offended, but she was much too tired to even bother.  Besides, he'd given her a solution idea, and a math solution was much better than sex.

It was on the sixth day that she blew up the laboratory transporter model.  Bangs weren't all that uncommon with modifications in progress; it was more likely the smoke that brought Latham running.

"What did you do?" he asked.

"I increased the pararotary regulation factor," said Janice, fiddling with her computer.  "If we can keep it above the Kyrillid curve, then there's no normal space limit to the inducer output.  I calculated the upper limit based on the minimized Paxton-Lipschitz class, but I had to approximate the viscosity solution.  I don't think I was close enough."

"Irrelevant," snapped Latham. "You can't reset it.  It has to stay tied to the mass consolidator."


"Leave that to the engineers; you just worry about the Kyrillid curve."

"But if we can increase it to above the curve at all points..."

"We can't.  It go above gravity or the consolidator will fail." Latham moved in short, quick jerks, resetting parameters, not even looking at her.

"Andorian gravity."


"Andorian gravity," Janice repeated patiently.  "The setting is still based on Andorian normal gravity.  With Earth or Starfleet normal..."

" could go almost twice as high--and very possibly stay above the curve!"  He spun to her and searched her over as if seeing her for the first time. "Janice--"

"And on ships or stations with artificially gravity generators, gravity could be increased temporarily if needed to boost range."

Latham grabbed her by the shoulders and whooped.  "Kinto, Martin!  Fix that model!  All the rest of you over here.  We have a lot of work to do!"  Latham reset the parameters the way she had had them.

On the ninth day he asked her to dinner.  His wife was out of town, he said.  She thought about refusing, but decided to go anyway.  She did like him, it was only dinner, and she had handled married men before.

He took her to a Denebian place.  The walls were covered with stills--some from places she had been, and even some ships that she had been on.  She could name almost all of them--a leftover cache of knowledge from so much time spent with Kirk and his official business.  She'd been on of the very few privy to the inner workings of the intimate relationship between Kirk and his only woman--the Enterprise--and that sort of knowledge stayed in the blood.

She was proud to see that the Enterprise hung directly over the hostess's station.  As it should be, she thought.   Janice wondered where she was right now and what planets she was saving from what horror. 

The waiter recognized her--or recognized Latham and concluded who she must be. "Miss Rand?" He approached politely with the still of the Enterprise in his hand.  "Would you be kind enough to sign for us?"

It sounded funny not to hear the accustomed "ma'am."

 "You're the first one we've had here from the Enterprise," he said.  "It's an honor."  He held out a pen.

The color came out silver as she signed with her full rank and title in a neatly rounded hand.  It looked quite nice, she thought.  As the waiter placed it back in its position on the wall, she couldn't help but wonder what Captain Kirk would think with her name alone underneath his ship.

She hoped that she had done him proud.

Latham had promised that the food would be excellent, and it was--it just wasn't much like anything they ate on Deneb V.  Latham had no way of knowing that, however, so she politely held her tongue.  She didn't much care for raw prithiss anyway.

At first they talked enthusiastically about Kerruian plasma physics and warp space fluid dynamics.  Then he brought up his wife, how little they saw each other these days and how hard that was on him.  She braced herself and set her standard, distancing smile.  He then brought out pictures of the grandkids.  Now, that was a new one on her.

"I wish I could talk with my family like this," he said.  "But they don't--they can't understand.  But I expect you know what that's like."

"No," she said, "I'm lucky.  On a starship there was always someone."  She thought of Sulu, Scotty, and Spock.  Spock had tutored her in multi-temporal regression theory back before he became first officer--back when he still had time.

"Someone special?"

Sulu.  If only--  No.  No point rehashing that.   She laughed. "No, a Vulcan.  The only thing buzzing between us was our tricorders."

"It's a shame.  You're young…and pretty."

Here it comes.  She armed her first line of defenses.

"I love your mind," he said.

She hadn't been expecting that.

"Do you know Vitterkov's limit theory of wormholes?"

"Yes." This was an even more pleasant surprise.  Sulu had taken her to navigation computation seminar on Starbase 11.  It had been the hot new topic and seemed better than shopping for more clothes that she had places to wear.

They talked limits and wormholes and inversion dynamics until the coffee chilled and the waiter stopped offering warm-ups.

His wrist comm beeped. "My wife's home early!"  He answered it, holding his wrist against his cheek.  "Hello, dear….With Janice….That's great!  I'll see you soon."

He rose and smiled.   "I'm sorry. It pains me to leave a lady so abruptly, and ordinarily I would see you home, but my wife and I have had so little time together lately--" He made a helpless gesture with his hands that made her think that Mrs. Latham was a very lucky woman indeed.

"No, problem," she said, pushing back her chair with haste.  "I once lead a blinded landing party back over three kilometers of terrain using just tricorder audio data--I think I can find my dorm just fine." She had, of course. It had been only a training simulation, but she had done it.  It seemed like a full lifetime ago.

He smiled at her. "Of course, I keep forgetting: you are more than just a practical mathematician.  See you in the morning."

The odd thing was, she believed him, and was vaguely disappointed.   Not that she wanted to muddy the waters, but men were at least supposed to look and lust, weren't they?  Could it be that she was losing her touch?

The next day she did her hair up--not the usual weave, but something that had proved eye-catching before. She put full makeup on like usual.  You know, you really couldn't see the blue unless you were looking for it.   Had she imagined it all those insecure years in school.  She added an ample daub of her favorite perfume as well.    It took her twenty minutes longer than she planned, and she was late for lab.

No one commented on any of it. The next day she didn't bother.

On the sixty-eighth day they finished the modification.  It made for a modest 47 percent increase in range on the model for normal transporter operations in Earth standard conditions, but the possible ranges on ships and space stations was staggering. Needless to say, Starfleet was very interested indeed.

Latham took her out to celebrate.  "Is your wife coming?" Janice asked.

"No, she says that we'll just talk shop and bore her; she knows me much too well."  He offered her his arm.  "Shall we?"

She took it. "Delighted."

They talked about the write up, the next phase and the mathematics of theoretical physics into the wee hours.  When she went back to the dorm, alone again, all she could think of was how much Spock would have enjoyed it.

Of course, Spock likely thought through things like that every day.

On the seventy-sixth day, she got the orders from Starfleet: the Enterprise would be making port in five days for resupply, then heading into deep space for an urgent mission.  She would have to cut her leave short and ship out on her--a full week early--or lose her berth and be reassigned to the Republic.

"I'm sorry," she told Latham.  "It looks like you'll have to present our paper without me."

"Or you could stay," he said. "I could have the contract drawn up today.  I guarantee that you'd like the terms.  Permanent staff.  Research assistant."

Janice's eyes widened.

"Oh, you can't be surprised. You know what I think of you."

"Yes…no…yes," Janice said. "I know, I just never seriously considered not going back, you know?"

"You should.  You're wasted there."

"I'm thinking of going back for my engineering certificate," she tried.  It would take two years at least, with no preferential assignments afterward.  Berths on starships aren't casually handed out to people who changed their minds and gave them up.

"You could teach the classes," he said.

She laughed without humor. "Tell them that.  It would save me a lot of time and trouble."

"Not if it gives you more reason to leave."

Out of long reflex she started to brush away his flirtation, then realized it wasn't that at all.

"You mean it?"

"We need you."

She paused. "You've never been in space, have you?"


"You can't give it up, not just like that.  It's all so different--the life, the people.  It's the biggest and best thing that I have ever been a part of.  I've been places only a handful of people have ever seen." Her eyes grew distant. Hell, she'd been places no one else had ever been--wherever that was that Charlie Evans had sent her...

"You're a part of this," he said. "You belong."

She shook her head.  "It's the Enterprise. I belong there. We change history." She thought of her signature in brilliant silver on the still photo on the wall.  She thought of her friends, what they'd been through together, how they made a team.

"So do we, although I suppose it isn’t as glamorous," he said, with a rueful glance around the lab.  For a long moment there was silence, but for the hum of the models and generators at work.

She thought of Kirk. "I told them I'd be back," she said. "I took an oath."

He relented. "I see.  We'll miss you."

"Perhaps I'll see you again when we put in for transporter refit with the new design."  In point of fact, she rather doubted that the Enterprise would put in at all.  There wasn't much that Spock and Scotty couldn't do, and if she were there to oversee…

"Our new design," Latham stressed.

She rather liked the sound of that.

The day that she had feared would never come, of course, came too soon.  Janice checked her hair for the twentieth time.  She had forgotten exactly what weave pattern it was that he Kirk once said that he liked, but she pulled up an old photo and redid it exactly the same.  She smoothed her uniform, brushed off her spotless tights for good measure, and picked up her duffel to go.

"Are you sure we can't talk you into staying?" said Latham.

"I'm flattered--and tempted, " Janice admitted, "but I can't.  It's the Enterprise."  She said it like the name was explanation enough.

"And it's Captain Kirk?"

"He goes with the Enterprise."

"That he does."

"I was scared he wouldn't want me back," Janice confessed.

"But he does."


"So now you don't have to be scared."

"Pardon?" she wrinkled her brow.

 "Nothing." Latham shook her hand.  He took her duffel from her.  "I'll walk you to the transporter room.  Just remember that we want you back too."

Her last sight of the institute was Latham standing at the side of the room watching her twinkle away.

Leslie greeted her with a giant hug and a laughing comment about it being good to see her--all of her--again.  His voice was friendly, but his eyes were aimed at her unidress top.  It didn't phase her in the least; she was quite accustomed to hearing that sort of meaningless banter from her crewmates.  After all, they were practically family--like 250 annoying brothers she'd never had.  It just caught her off guard; it had been three months since she'd heard it from a colleague.

The passageways seemed a little narrower.  The paint was not as fresh as when she had come aboard.  The peculiar stuffy scent that lingers in recycled air seemed much more noticeable now.  She wondered if they had changed the air processing.  She stopped at an environmental control access panel and found that they had not.

Teresa Ross brought her up to speed on the captain's business first and the ship's business second.   The Enterprise would be busy resupplying for the deep space stay.  They were to ship out in just over twenty-six hours.  "You could beam back for a while if you want," said Ross.  "Things are running smoothly here."

"No problems?" said Rand.

"Nope.  It was a little rough the first week or two, but since then it's been smooth sailing." Teresa beamed, clearly proud of having held the fort for so long.

"No problems?" repeated Janice.

"None.  I made sure everything was done and perfect before you got back.  I wanted you to see how well I'd done.  Really, you can go back it you want an extra day."

"No." Janice tried to sound less petty than she felt.  "I need to get caught up before we leave orbit.  I don’t want to look sloppy to the captain."

"As if," laughed Teresa.  "He called me 'Rand' for the whole first month you were gone. But suit yourself."  She picked up a stack of padds.

"The dailies?" asked Janice, knowing darn well that they'd better be.

"Um-hmm.  He's on the bridge getting mission briefings from just about everyone with more than two stripes.  It looks like it's going to last for a while."

"I'll take them," said Janice.  "You've been pulling double duty long enough."

"Don't you want to settle in?"

"I'm trying to," said Janice.

"Right." Teresa passed her the reports.  "The waste computations are going to be late; they're recalibrating today."

"Waste computations get turned in weekly," said Janice. "They aren't due for two days."

"They changed all that." Teresa blew by the details. "And the warp stats are on top. Scotty says to tell him not to worry; it was skewed by the Sakwa phenomenon."

"The what?"

"The captain will know."


Teresa hesitated.  She reached to take the pile back.  "Maybe, I should take them, this time."

"No." Janice hurried out the door.  "I've got it."  Three months was longer than she'd thought.

The bridge was in full swing with the main viewscreen muted but on a room full of brass and all of the small screens running information feeds.

Kirk jolted as she passed him the dailies.  "Rand!  Welcome back.  I missed you."

She smiled.

"Did you change your hair? It looks nice."

The smile sagged.  "Thank you, sir."  She didn't see any reason to answer the question.  He didn't seem to remember asking it.

She watched as he scrolled though the reports. What was the name of that thing?

He had already signed the engineering one.  He passed the stack back to her with his eyes and mind apparently having already moved on to the next issue at hand.  He turned to her again in afterthought. "Tell Scotty not to worry; that's just the Sakwa effect we're seeing.  It'll normalize by tomorrow."

Then he pushed from his chair to join Spock at the science station. "Has the astroplasm data come in yet?  If they're right about this, we need to be prepared.  It could take out the entire star cluster."

"Oh, and yeoman." Kirk called to her while still staring over Spock's shoulder.  "Some coffee would be nice.  It's going to be a long night; we've got a lot to do."

"Yes, sir," she said and rearranged the reports in her arms for better balance.

Janice went to the galley and fixed the coffee just the way he liked it.  Chicory, bitters, flavors--she remembered his favorite blend.  She filled it to the exact level he liked and heated it to his preferred temperature.  While she waited, she used a reflective tray to check her hair. It occurred to her that if she had those antennae removed, she could wear some less complicated styles.  Not that she minded them these days, it just didn't seem to matter anymore, and it would be nice to let her hair down more often.

Maybe she would look into that.


And you really couldn't see the blue, not even in the strong light of the working galley.  Even if you could, who really cared?  What had she been so worried about all those years?

On the walk back to the bridge, as she greeted her friends and colleagues, she realized that she had been wrong in her earlier impressions. The passageway was not small or cramped or dark for what it was. This wasn't a planet with limitless land and resources; this was a sailing metal microcosm in space and it was simply astounding that this starship, built and run by humanity, could change so much throughout the galaxy. Now she was about to head off again, no doubt to do great things.

This was truly the best thing she had ever been a part of, and the memories, the pride, that she would garner from having been an integral part of what made the finest starship in the Federation run might well be the highlight of her life.

But then again, it might not.  There was only one way to find out.

Janice double-checked the temperature to make sure she hadn't taken too long with her greetings and reunions.  It wouldn't do to deliver cool coffee today.  She wanted everything to be absolutely perfect for her last shift on the Enterprise.