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The Promenade on Deep Space 9 was unusually busy that evening. Every docking port on the station was occupied by a vessel, and there were a dozen more ships station-keeping nearby. Many of the crew and passengers from these ships were aboard the station, to rest, to trade, or — in the case of Sitara Rajagopal and her companions — to celebrate.
“To Ensign Rajagopal,” a young woman in uniform said in a loud, slightly slurred voice. “May she find adventure and romance among the stars of the Gamma Quadrant.”
“Here! Here!” a half-dozen other young officers shouted. They raised their glasses in unison and downed their contents.
Sitara followed suit, choking slightly on her drink, a concoction someone had told her was called a Silven Surprise.
“Where is that Ferengi?” the woman who had made the toast asked, looking around for a waiter. When she spotted him she held up her empty glass. “More all around,” she told him.
A harried Ferengi bowed politely and rushed off with an expression anything but polite.
“Where do you think she’s going to find romance in the Gamma Quadrant?” one of the friends asked. “A reformed Jem’Hadar?”
The young woman shrugged. “There are lots of alien cultures in the Gamma Quadrant, more than just Jem’Hadar. But I was thinking specifically about her crew mates, or at least one in particular.”
“Who?” Sitara asked quickly.
Her friend, Ensign Jessica Rollins, wagged her finger. “No, no. We mustn’t spoil it for you. You’ll find out soon enough.” She bent down and whispered, “But I’d keep an eye on the seat next to yours on that bridge.”
“Ops?” Sitara exclaimed. “Who’s on ops?”
An Andorian male wearing a lieutenant’s pips shook his head. “The Symphony is a Miranda-class starship.”
“So?” Rollins asked.
“Yeah! So?” Sitara echoed, feeling her head spin as the Silven Surprise took effect. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing is wrong with it,” the Andorian continued, his antennae twitching. “I’m sure it’s a fine ship. But it’s also a small ship. There’s not a lot of room for … privacy.”
Rollins elbowed Sitara. “Some things don’t take a lot of room,” she said with a wink.
“Right now,” Sitara said, “romance is the last thing on my mind. Tomorrow morning I’m going to be piloting a starship through the wormhole. Knowing me I’ll probably run into some energy ribbon or something and get the ship stuck.”
The Andorian shook his head. “Not possible,” he assured her.
“No energy ribbons?” Sitara asked hopefully.
“Oh, there are all sorts of possible hazards. Energy ribbons. Subspace vortexes. Stellar matter that’s been sucked in from either end. Even other ships.”
Sitara closed her eyes and put her hands over her face. “What have I gotten myself into?! Why didn’t I stay on Earth and marry an artist like my father?”
“Shrell, you’re scaring her,” Jessica scolded the Andorian. “Besides, you just told her that’s not going to happen.”
Shrell laughed. “I meant it’s not going to happen tomorrow morning.”
“What?” Sitara looked up at him.
“If it’s going to happen at all, it will be this morning.”
Sitara gasped. “What time is it?”
Shrell held out his wrist chronometer so she could see. “Zero-thirty,” he told her.
“Oh no! I was supposed to report aboard a half hour ago!” She quickly gathered up the gifts her friends had given her. “First day of my first assignment and I’m going to end up on report.” She gave each of her friends a tight hug, wished them luck on their own assignments, and rushed for the entrance of the bar. When she reached it she stopped and turned around, allowing herself one last wave, one last smile.
These were her classmates she had just spent four years with at Starfleet Academy. They had become more than friends; they were family. And while the ships they’d be serving on were bigger, newer, more advanced, hers — the U.S.S. Symphony — was one of the few assigned to long range exploration of the Gamma Quadrant. While it was a choice assignment, she knew it meant she might not see any of these people again for years. As happy as she was, a part of her heart was breaking.
Holding back a tear, she smiled and gave them all one last wave. Then she turned and stepped out onto the Promenade. She was a good twenty meters from Quark’s when someone called her name. She turned and saw Jessica running toward her. She ran too and they almost slammed into each other in a tight embrace.
“Subspace,” Jessica sniffled when they stepped apart. She wiped a tear from her cheek. “The Symphony will be dropping subspace relay buoys, right?”
Sitara added. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Then we can keep in touch via subspace. We’ll write. Promise me we’ll write.”
“I promise.” Sitara smiled.
They stared at each other for a moment and then Jessica said, “Go on, you don’t want to end up on report.”
A quick kiss on each other’s cheeks and Sitara turned and headed for the nearest turbo lift. She had turned back and was waving to Jessica again when the door opened. Without looking she turned and stepped ahead, running right into a rather large and solidly built man in a starfleet captain’s uniform.