Masochism Tango

“By the sacred chalice, who let the Death Kitten back on campus?”

The cadets who recognized the voice of Lieutenant Commander Enwin Ilyad, the first year ethics professor, immediately straightened to attention in the semi circle they stood around the edges of the courtyard. In the middle, the two red heads in uniform continued almost as if they didn’t notice — Amelia Waterhouse in a cadet uniform, and Diziara in the red of the command division. Metal echoed through the small space as bat’leth struck bat’leth and the two women grinned at each other between the V of their blades.

“I even checked in all official like,” came the reply from Diziara as she twisted her torso just a little to show off the visitor badge that was near her combadge. She and Amelia drew apart, circling each other and twisting their blades as both considered their next attack. “Just visiting my daughter while Corey deals with the tin plates at HQ.” A couple of cadets attempted to stifle laughter.

As she half turned her attention to Ilyad, Amelia lunged at her, and metal echoed through the courtyard again. Mother deflected daughter’s attack with grace and winked at the crowd, only to get a secondary attack for which her defense was much less graceful.

“Quit showboating, Mama.” Amelia grumbled as the two women circled again.

“We have an audience child.”

Indeed, the bat’leth duel quickly amassed a collection of curious Starfleet Academy cadets. Perhaps it was the uniqueness of the weapon; or its lethality, or the difficulty involved in wielding it properly. Maybe it was the reality that one of the combatants could be seriously hurt in the process. For the sophomore Intelligence-track cadet named Caterina Lena Edanza, it was both the brazen rule breaking and the morbid thrill of real danger that had drawn her in. The fact that Lieutenant Commander Enwin Ilyad was put off by it was an added benefit for Kate. Good God did she hate his class last year.

“An audience who wants to see us show them how to use a bat’leth correctly,” Amelia replied. She closed the space between them again, backing her mother towards their audience, and sending cadets scrambling out of the way.

“A visitor’s pass doesn’t cover bat’leth fights in courtyards, Commander,” Ilyad spoke up, though he stood watching the progress as Diziara counter attacked and pressed Amelia back across the courtyard in turn.

“The weather is too nice to stay in the gym, and it’s been too long since I last did this in Golden Gate Park, I don’t know the security patrols anymore,” Diziara dismissed, trying to sweep Amelia’s feet out from under her. Amelia only just evaded and countered with a strike that sent Diziara’s bat’leth clattering to the pavement. Amelia’s boot landed on top of her mother’s blade as she braced her own along the length of her arm.

Kate’s expression twisted into an approving smile. Although Amelia was in her class, the two hadn’t interacted much before that point. Nonetheless, Amelia did stand out in a crowd. Her academic gifts and combat ability were hard to miss. On top of all that, the tall, upbeat Amelia sported an attractive, exotic look from her mixed heritage. Intrigued, Kate crossed her arms and waited to see what would happen next.

“We can take it back to the gym, or find somewhere off Academy grounds to continue, sir,” Amelia offered with a smile. Diziara directed a sidelong look at her daughter as she stooped down to collect the discarded weapon. Amelia’s grin widened as she lifted her boot to allow Diziara to take it.

“Sometimes you are too much like your father, child,” Diziara quipped, resting her bat’leth along the length of her arm as well.

Ilyad sighed and shook his head. “As long as no one gets hurt, you may continue. But if anyone gets hurt.” He directed a pointed look at Diziara, and she directed the widest of smiles at him in return.

“You’ll rat me out to my husband and let him deal with me.” She laughed, and Amelia bit her lip to keep from laughing herself. Ilyad shook his head and walked away.

Kate turned her head to watch Lieutenant Commander Ilyad walk away, the 19-year old’s raven-haired ponytail casually moving across her shoulders in the process. Interesting family, she thought to herself as the banter continued. It was then that she noticed the medical cadet to her side. She guessed his nervousness stemmed from being the only medical person in the immediate vicinity, based on the uniforms everyone was wearing. It seemed he was afraid he might be called upon to help if one of them did get hurt.

“Relax, kid,” Kate commented to the freshman, just loud enough for him to hear. “It looks like they’ve been practicing this for years. It’ll be fine,” she added nonchalantly with a smirk. “But… have you ever seen someone hit by one of those things?” she added, trying to knock the nervous cadet off-kilter. “Man… it isn’t pretty. Talk about gore…”

“Okay, now that the killjoy is gone again, who wants to try?” Diziara paced in front of her audience and her eyes skimmed the group. Some cadets moved to put others between them and the senior officer who had the look of a lioness on the hunt. She raised her finger, moving it around following her eyes. “You. What’s your name?” The cadets surrounding Kate parted as if repelled by magnets and left her in Diziara’s sharp gaze and her finger pointed straight at her.

The look on Kate’s face was nothing short of thrilled. “Oh… I am so down,” she said in a low tone that was reminiscent of panther’s purr. She stepped up without even a hint of hesitation and offered Diziara her hand to shake.

“Cadet Caterina Edanza,” she said by way of introduction. “But everyone calls me Kate. I’ve seen you around, Amelia, but I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” she added, then shaking Amelia’s hand firmly. “So! Where do we start?” she asked in an almost chipper tone. “Pointy edges out, I’d guess?” she asked rhetorically, extending her arm for one of the lethal devices as if it were a child’s toy.

Diziara laughed, and held her blade out with the handle pointed towards Kate. “That’s generally the best starting position. Handle with the darker leather goes in your right hand. Amelia, come here and be a good practice dummy.”

“You want a dummy, grab Lunz. He’ll stand quivering behind the blade, rooted to the spot, no matter what Edanza does.” Amelia winked at Kate. “But I can go easy on her until she gets a feel for it, if that’s what you really mean, mother.”

Kate took hold of the weapon as indicated, which she found to be a bit lighter than expected. She guessed that the weight would make it a very fast weapon in the hands of an expert user.

She smiled as she got used to the grip and the feel of it in her hands. “You don’t need to go easy on me,” Kate eventually replied back to Amelia without taking her eyes off of the weapon. “Just don’t kill me. There’s too much paperwork involved,” she quipped dryly, without too much apparent concern.

With that, Kate did her best to emulate the stance she had seen the other women using moments before. Her experience with kickboxing led her to place her feet a bit too close together, but nonetheless her stance was powerful, athletic and had some bounce to it, as if she was ready to pounce. A knowing smile stretched from ear to ear, and her ponytail hung forward as she waited for her first instruction.

“Lay it on me, Cadet. I’m ready,” she dared her classmate.

“I have half a mind to tell you to plant her on her ass already,” Diziara muttered softly to Amelia as she circled around behind her. “Kate, was it? While you don’t seem the sort to wait in the shallow end of the pool, on account of my having to pretend to be a respectable officer here–” Diziara paused dramatically, and laughter spilled among the audience– “I am obligated to start you with the basics. So, blocking — it is best to hold the blade with both hands, and try to turn it perpendicular to the attacking blade. If possible, try to angle it to deflect the blow away from your body.”

As Diziara spoke, Amelia slowly swung her blade towards Kate, anticipating she would raise hers to meet it.

Kate grasped the blade as directed and raised it very rapidly, meeting Amelia’s at a ninety-degree angle. The sound of metal on metal rang through the courtyard. A half-smile escaped Kate’s lips. She smiled not because she thought this was going to be easy… but because this was going to be fun.

“Oooh, Mommy like…” Kate muttered to herself as her eyes locked with Amelia’s. The blade felt strangely familiar in her hands, perhaps because of the ergonomic placement of the handles relative to the blades. She momentarily flashed back to memories of fencing training she had to undergo at boarding school, and how much she disliked it. She hoped this martial art was less wrapped up in form and protocol and more slashy and stabby.

“Do we follow anything like right-of-way, like in terran fencing? Do I need to attack now?” Kate went on to ask with a curious expression and a twinkle in her eye, as if she really wanted to. She couldn’t think of a single thing she would rather be doing right at that moment other than tangle with Amelia with lethal weapons.

Amelia and Diziara both laughed in unison.

“You think Klingons follow dainty little gentleman’s rules when it comes to combat?” Diziara clicked her tongue and shook her head.

“Fencing is a bunch of pretentious gits playing with metal toothpicks. A game.” Amelia twisted her blade, pushing Kate’s away before she swung again — she moved faster than last time, but it was clear she was still holding back as she waited to see if her classmate would block.

Their blades clashed together with another, even louder clang!

“Agreed,” Kate replied, still smiling devilishly. “I hated fencing. I’m loving this!”

Kate decided it was her turn to take a swing. Oblivious as she was to proper form or technique, she decided to try keep their weapons engaged at one end and swing the other end up from below as a kind of sneak attack. Her move was clumsy and unpracticed, yet aggressive and rapid. The look in her eye as she attempted to slash her classmate was one of sheer thrill.

Amelia countered with her blade angled to deflect Kate’s swing up and away as she pirouetted to the opposite side. As she moved past Kate, turning as she moved to keep her eyes on her opponent, she swung her bat’leth around and the flat of it caught Kate across her backside as Amelia giggled.

Kate jumped from the unexpected contact to her backside. That wasn’t a move you ever saw in kickboxing! She was so surprised that she was forced to let out a startled sound and jump, turning bright red in the process.

“Oh… so that’s how it’s going to be?” she asked as several of the onlookers began to giggle. Kate was smiling and giggling right along with them as she charged. Clumsily, but with great enthusiasm, Kate dove forwards with her blade extended in front of her, as if she was looking to land a serious strike.

Blade met blade with a loud clang, and Amelia stepped in close with a grin ear to ear.

“You said not to go easy on you,” Amelia quipped, then lowered her voice, “which is practically an invitation to flirt.” She winked as she pushed Kate back with her full strength — a strength one would not expect from such a wispy frame were it not for the infusion of Klingon genetics.

“Funny you should say that,” Kate quipped back between breaths. “This is how all my dates usually end…”

Immediately after that statement Kate ratcheted the weapon up over her head and swung downwards with tremendous force. The swing was inelegant, but did have the benefit of brute force. The clang of the weapons when they met was deafening, sending sparks flying in all directions. Kate immediately wondered if she chipped the blade in the wild attack. Suddenly feeling guilty, she raised one hand and stepped back. Once out of striking range she examined the borrowed weapon for chips or rolls on the blade.

“I’m sorry, I may have banged it up a little. Did this one have sentimental value?” she asked as she carefully felt the edge with the side of her finger. “I’m sorry if so…” she added with a note of remorse.

“It’s a weapon, it’s meant to be used. It can always be sharpened and repaired,” Diziara explained with a chuckle. “Besides, my favorite weapon is this one–” She lifted her right leg, and nudged the cuff of her uniform up past the top of her boot to draw a d’k tahg from the sheath tucked there.

“I thought your favorite was a broken beer bottle in a bar, Mama.” Amelia grinned wide as her mother directed a look at her. “At least, that’s how Uncle Jack tells it…”

“This one’s legal in Federation space, child.” Diziara tucked the blade back where she’d drawn it from.

“My mistake, I forgot you have to pretend you care about legality since you’re in front of all these impressionable young cadets.” Snickers moved through the audience, and Diziara shook her head.

“Remind me to put you in your place later when we don’t have an audience.”

“You can try.” Amelia’s face was covered with a shit eater grin, and Diziara rolled her eyes as she turned back to Kate.

“I’m sure the bat’leth is fine, may I see it?” Diziara held out her hand.

Kate, wide eyed and winded, moved a strand of hair that had been dangling in front of an eye behind her ear and smiled. “Yes ma’am,” she said softly, feeling somewhat self-conscious about all the eyes on them at that moment. She handed the weapon to the Commander and took a step back, placing her hands behind her back. “It is an excellent weapon, thank you for letting me spar with it,” she said, her eyes darting from Diziara to Amelia. Her glance seemed to linger on Amelia a bit longer than they should have before blinking and flashing the younger woman a mischievous smile.

“We need to do this again, I think,” she said to Amelia with a subtle wink.

Diziara looked between Amelia and Kate a moment and the corner of her lips quirked upward as she inspected the bat’leth silently. “I can push an update to Don’t Forget the Anchovies to add bat’leth training, if you want to help Kate further familiarize herself,” Diziara directed at Amelia, before turning her attention to Kate again. “Nothing a little sharpening won’t fix, certainly no worse than I have done to it when sparring with this hellion here.” Diziara grinned at Amelia, and Amelia returned the grin in kind.

“That sounds great, “Kate said with pursed lips and a barely contained, flirty smile. “I look forward to getting better at sparring with you, Amelia.”

Crash and Burn

“Sean, you ever spot this place before?” Amelia grabbed her taller friend by the elbow and turned on a dime to duck down the alleyway toward the unassuming door and the simple wooden sign. It was all he could do to keep up with her as she drug him.

“What place?” He extracted himself from her grip as she reached the door and grabbed the handle. Inside the place was dark, everything was made of wood, and a live band was in the far corner — a few people danced to the lively reel that was playing. It was all he could do to keep up with her as she made a beeline for the bar. “They ain’t gonna serve the likes of you here, this ain’t like those dance clubs you usually drag us to, they actually mind the local laws a place like this.”

“Or they won’t care because letting me drink keeps me off the streets and out of trouble.” Amelia perched on a stool and looked around. “Besides, it’ll be just a pint with some good pub grub or whatever, before we move onto a place that I’m better dressed to blend in. I know the Lighthouse certainly doesn’t mind, and this looks more of the same here. Though I gotta say, I am digging the music.” Her high heeled boot bounced in time on the foot bar of her stool, and she finally caught the eye of a bartender. Sean sighed deeply as he settled on the stool next to hers.

“What can I get ya?” The bartender looked from Amelia to Sean.

“A pint of whatever you recommend on tap, and a menu, please.” Amelia grinned wide as the bar tender looked her over. Her bright neon green cropped top under a black leather jacket, paired with a matching mini skirt and calf high boots, stood out like a sore thumb among the more conservatively dressed patrons that filled the rest of the bar.

“And how old are you?” A pair of menus were set in front of them, but no move was made to pour any beer.

Amelia smiled wide at him. “You see this forehead? I’ve been drinking blood wine since I was knee high to a grasshopper. A pint with a meal is nothing.”

The bar tender looked to Sean, and Sean quickly held his hands up as he shook his head. “Don’t look at me, I’ve long since given up trying to talk sense into her. The best I can hope is damage control as I follow in her wake. At least she hasn’t gotten me any reprimands yet.”

“She your girlfriend?”

“I’m his classmate at Starfleet Academy, and if you don’t want to serve us, we can leave.” Amelia leaned forward on the bar, and the bar tender looked at her a long moment.

“One pint. With your meal. I’ll give you a minute to look over the menu.” He shook his head as he walked away, and Amelia shoved one menu towards Sean as she picked up the other.

“Colcannon, Boxty, Irish Stew, Coddle… I think there’s a theme here.” Amelia elbowed Sean.

“Probably all replicated.”

“What is a Coddle anyway?”

“It’s what we’re ordering, and if their pattern is good, you’ll do your famous sweet talkin’ and get it for me.”

Amelia laughed. “Okay.”

Cillian was just sat in a booth with a couple of the locals he knew pretty well, he liked this place, the atmosphere was just like the local back home, he came here most times he wanted a chill evening with good company and more often than not, some music. His fingers were drumming along the side of his pint glass in time with the music, he glanced up at Cole, and grinned, then laughed. He shook his head. “Yeh’re unbelievable,” he told him. The bassist was good, and yes she had been giving him the eye when he came back from the bathroom, but he wasn’t going to assume anything, not until his silver tongue had a chance to work it’s magic.

He sighed as several glasses were pushed towards him, “Alright, alright I get it, I’ve got the youngest legs,” he rolled his eyes, drained his own pint and stood, collecting up all the glasses before heading through the light crowd to the bar.

“Two coddles, coming up,” The bartender collected the menus from Amelia and Sean, and spotted Cillian headed towards the bar. He nodded to the half-Denobulan to acknowledge he spotted him, then turned towards the replicator behind the bar.

Cillian set the glasses on the bartop, having nodded back at the bartender and leaned sideways on the bar, partly so that the bassist could get a look at his ass and partly because he didn’t want to seem too eager. He wasn’t a fanboy after all. He smiled at a couple of younger looking patrons a couple of bar stools over, and pretty soon found his fingers drumming on the wooden surface in time to the music again.

Amelia smiled back immediately when the stranger—half denobulan by the looks of him—offered the polite smile in greeting to her and Sean. Her eyes moved up and down him quickly, and Sean sat up straighter on his stool as he realized what was rolling through that head of hers.

“Oh no, Pond, let’s just eat and you can do your fishin’ at the club like normal,” Sean protested, laying a hand on her arm. She laughed as she shifted on her stool and held her hand out to the stranger.

“Hi.”

Cillian, who hadn’t been expecting more than a smile in return, was surprised by the comment from the guy, and that the girl turned to face him and held her hand out. “Hey,” he replied and grasped her hand for a moment before pulling it back. She was clearly part Klingon, and were those trill spots?

“I’m Pond,” Amelia told him, making a point of crossing her long legs and leaning in just a little closer.

“Pond?” he queried, that was an interesting name, a nickname maybe? “Nice to meet you, I’m Cillian,” he said with a smile. She was obviously making an effort to keep his attention, and for now he was happy to give it. If only until the drinks for his table were poured.

“It’s a reference to an old earth show, you wouldn’t get it.” She grinned wide, and behind her, Sean was rolling his eyes and shaking head apologetically. “So, Sean and I were going to this club, down near Fisherman’s Wharf, after we finish our–” She looked over her shoulder at Sean. “What was it you made me order, cuddle?”

“Coddle.”

“After we finish our coddle and a pint. This place has the best sound system, utterly caroming DJs, even a noise room—hella good for making out—and the bars are heavy handed if you actually carry currency to tip with.”

“I’m not a club kinda guy normally, actually managed te ingratiate meself with the locals so, don’t wanna blow that without a good reason…” they would of course forgive him one night, and he had just collected this round so it wasn’t like he was in alcohol debt right now. There was nothing wrong with the hot redhead, but he preferred to have to actually make his silver tongue work a little, rather than have someone throw themselves at him like this. Because that was what this was, the comment about making out was definitely the thing that hinted the heaviest at that out of everything, on top of her friends earlier comment about fishing. Also, the insistence that he wouldn’t understand something just because it was an old earth show smarted of someone naïve enough to be convinced that only their parents had dived into the archives. His mother was a little obsessed with an old earth writer called Jane Austen, and liked to watch the show they made of it with some guy called Colin Firth in it. But he supposed that if she came up with a good reason he might be persuaded…

“Oh, well, we don’t have to go to the club.” Amelia pursed her lips. She wasn’t used to anyone other than fellow cadets not taking the rather blatant bait when she expressed interest.

“Weren’t we meeting Jane there in an hour?” Sean knew very well the answer to the question — they were, but she and Amelia had been starting to drift apart so it wouldn’t surprise him if Amelia was already calculating her excuses to call Jane with.

“So yeh’re telling me, that you want te sit an’ drink Guinness with a load o’ grumpy Irishmen, one o’ em with an accent so thick I can barely understand him, and watch as I make eyes at the gorgeous bassist and how good she is with her fingers…?” he teased, and maybe there was more than a hint of flirtatiousness about the way he did it. Honestly it was in his nature and he just couldn’t help himself. She was part Klingon, which meant she was likely younger than she looked, and with him being older than he looked by deference of his own genetics… Well. Then it clicked, if she was a cadet he didn’t know her name but he had heard about her, and what he’d heard would fit. Young, brash, and somewhat eccentric.

He leaned in with a smirk. “I’m older than I look… and yeh’re not as old as ye look. I call that a disaster waitin’ te happen,” he said with a smile before he turned back to the bar, where the double handful of pints was waiting for him. “Good luck at the club, try not te have a hangover fer class temorrow,” he said with a wink.

As he’d mentioned making eyes at the bassist, Amelia had glanced over — her eyes moved from head to toe of the woman, and she grinned liking what she saw. But the offer to share died on her lips as he brought up their respective ages, and a pout firmly took hold of her lips as he winked and made good his retreat with the pints he’d come to the bar for. Beside her, Sean laughed and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“That was a magnificent crash and burn, Pond,” he said as the bar tender set their meals and pints in front of them. Sean grinned and nodded his thanks as he leaned in to smell the coddle. “Reminds me of Ma’s.”

Malathaar

All the planets just across the Orion border are the same. I have long forgotten which misbegotten hunk of space rock the cafe was on, but I remember the name — Malathaar. The sign was probably older than anyone on that moon, the flower it took its name from laser etched into it, but so faded that it was anyone’s guess what color it had been. It just so happened I had a lead on a man named Raebz — this was his favorite watering hole.

I felt a dozen pairs of eyes on me as I passed the threshold, live music caressing my ears as I casually inspected the owners of each — none matched the description I had for Raebz, so I sidled up to the bar to order. I almost didn’t look at the bartender, as my eyes were locked on the woman across the room.

Her hair was like silk—black as space and filled with jewels like stars—and her skin was the color of emeralds. When I gave her a smile, she immediately returned one twice as dazzling and my heart skipped a beat.

“That’s Felmia. You’ll want nothing of her.” The bartender set my drink down. “Raebz is fiercely protective.”

Even if I hadn’t already fallen in lust, that she was connected to my mark made her utterly irresistible.

“Send her a drink from me.”

“No.”

“I’ll pay in cash, up front, if you’re concerned about extending credit to a dead woman walking.” I fished some gold pressed latinum from a pocket that looked like it shouldn’t have been able to hold anything, let alone that much currency. His eyes slid down over my hip and across the painted on leather of my pants, then moved back up to my hand as I set his payment down.

“Now, what makes you think you’re a dead woman walking?” He swept the gold pressed latinum off the bartop in one quick movement, and was already collecting a glass and the mixings for a colorful cocktail. Clearly I’d judged the right amount. I smirked, and leaned across the bar as I lowered my voice.

“The fact that you mentioned she had someone fiercely protective of her. I can’t say I’m familiar with the name you dropped as I’m only just passing through, but you don’t wander the places I have without coming to recognize certain warning tones, if you follow me.”

He directed a look at me, even as the glass was filled with bright colored liquor without the appearance of his having to watch. Either he was good, she was a regular with a standing drink order, or some combination of both. When the silence stretched on, I looked across the room again and got a wink from Felmia for my troubles.

“No one steps foot on this moon without knowing who Raebz is.” He passed the drink off to a waiter who had been watching the exchange quietly, and he delivered it without needing to be told who it was for.

“Would you believe me if I told you I just stepped off the transport?” I flashed him my teeth with a wide grin.

“Doesn’t matter if I believe you. Though, before you go play with fire, you should let me know if there’s someone I should call when things go bad.”

I laughed, and a number of heads turned in my direction. “You think a misbegotten mutt like me has anyone who cares what happens to me? You have more faith in the universe than I’ve ever had.” I picked up my drink and sauntered across the room. The bartender didn’t seem like he wanted to talk, so I might as well enjoy my wait for Raebz to show. And if Felmia was his—in other circumstances I would be teaching a possessive pig like that a thing or two, but I had a job to do—flirting with her should bring him around faster when his gossip network tells him of the invasion of his territory.

“If I didn’t know better, I would think you were looking at me,” I said as I reached her table. I stood waiting for an invitation, circling my glass just enough to get a small vortex in the middle. She looked up at me, her dark eyes burrowing into my soul as she sipped her drink and considered.

“I don’t recognize your accent.” Her eyes flicked towards the chair across the table and I pretended I didn’t notice the subtle invitation — playing with fire like this, you wait for the blatant invite. It may not get you off the hook, but it’ll at least slow the brute down out of propriety.

“It’s what happens when one doesn’t stay anywhere long enough to put down roots.”

“Is that why you haven’t joined me yet?” She gestured, her hand moving over the table as if it were a dance. I treated her to a laugh as I perched on the chair across the small table, and she shook her head.

“Just being polite. Ain’t proper to presume I’m welcome, especially not with someone so lovely, and who the rumor mill makes me think I’ll pay for this company by occupying a casket — if I’m lucky.”

She pouted. “He doesn’t own me, I choose my own company. And right now, I want yours.”

I leaned across the table, staring deep into her dark eyes, as I dared lay my hand on hers. Her eyes dropped to look but a fleeting moment, and a chair a couple tables over roughly scraped across the floor. I saw someone standing out of the corner of my eye, and dared spare a look. The man turned and headed for the door as his gaze met mine. Felmia looked over her shoulder and clucked her tongue as she turned back to me.

“He has men everywhere, I feel like I can’t get a moment to myself unless I lock myself in my room.” She turned her hand over and clasped mine as she stood. “Let’s dance.” As she said it, the song the was playing cut out.

As she led me to the small clearing between the tables at the center of the room, a song soft and sweet replaced the joyous ruckus that had been filling the air as I’d arrived. My hand found the small of her back as she stepped in close, her head leaning on my shoulder as I started to guide us in time with the music. I closed my eyes as I breathed in her scent.

I couldn’t tell you how long we danced. One song blended into another, and all I could think of was how soft her skin was, how soothing her breathing, and the hint of the malathaar flower that lingered in her hair. As we moved past the low platform that served as a stage for the band, the guitarist hissed at me.

“That guy who ran off was going to get Raebz, you’ll want to make your way out the back door.”

Felmia started to lift her head, and I guided us away again, daring to kiss her forehead to encourage her to stay just where she was. Instead she raised her head and looked me in the eyes. Before she could say anything, I leaned in to steal that kiss I’d been able to almost taste from the moment I first laid eyes on her.

“Get your hands– your lips off my woman.” His voice was a growl, and I started to draw back. He probably wouldn’t attack me while she was still so close, but I didn’t want to find out I’d misjudged and have her pay the price. She laid her hand on the back of my neck, drawing me back in for a moment more and nipping on my lower lip when she finally pulled away. I drew a breath, trying to clear my head.

“How many times do I have to tell you, I’m not yours, I just choose to share your company from time to time.” She turned to face him, but stayed close. As I moved to slide my hand off the small of her back and step away, she clasped my hand and pulled it further around her waist. So much for making sure she was out of the line of fire if his temper got the best of him.

“You live in the lap of luxury because of me, I have a say if you associate with galactic trash that rolls in stuck to the bottom of the transport.” He directed a look at me, his hand settling on the handle of a disruptor that was strapped to his thigh, but he made no move to draw it.

“You consider anyone who isn’t you, galactic trash.” She sneered at him and he drew the disruptor. Now, no matter how tightly she held my hand, no matter how drunk on her perfume I was, I couldn’t risk playing games anymore — I had no way to know how true his aim was, nor how willing he was to make her collateral damage for her defiance.

I closed the space between us in a flash, one hand catching his wrist and pointing the disruptor towards the ceiling. In a move I’d practiced over and over to ensure I got it right, I spun the ring on my thumb so that the hypo was facing inward and reached for his neck. A momentary bit of pressure against his skin—I had to trust it since I couldn’t hear it—and I moved on as if I’d missed some attack I’d intended to make. I dropped to the floor, sweeping my leg under his and he tumbled down. The disruptor went skittering across the floor, and I was off at a run for the door.

She called after me, and I glanced back long enough to see her foot on top of his disruptor, but his men all taking aim to fire after me. I shouldn’t have slowed down, but I turned back long enough to blow her a kiss, then took off running like my life depended on it.

Andorian Lightbulbs

“Celestia and Luna,” Diziara said as she nodded towards the twin blue skinned holograms that stood in front of her and Blue. His eyes and antennae trailed up and down each of them — one in white with a pastel rainbow peaking through from a lower layer of her white hair, the other in black with navy blue and purple in her hair instead. Both lowered their eyes and bowed their head momentarily.

“Greetings, elder Tha,” they said in harmony. Diziara smiled and looked at Blue expectantly.

“Those are not Andorian names.” He walked around them quietly.

“Because Blue is?” Diziara crossed her arms and frowned.

“It is short for my given name, you know this.”

“It’s a bastardization of your given name, and those are their call signs. They have perfectly normal Andorian names, but you know how often humans fail to wrap their tongues around the names of your people.”

“Most can manage the shortened form.”

“So am I to call you Thinshal now?” Diziara grinned wide at the look he directed at her. “I thought so.”

“What of their clan names?”

“Knowing that some of the clans are still tight knit, I felt the best solution would be to create a clan just for the photons who came out Andorian, to avoid the confusion or hurt antennae that might come with one getting a clan name already in use. So far it’s only them, but with time we’ll probably get more.”

“A clan of photonic Andorians, it is an interesting solution. Do they also know our traditions, our ways?”

“We know everything the Starfleet database knows,” Celestia spoke up.

“But I’m sure you’re aware that the database is impersonal and likely missing important things,” Luna added.

“Which is why we requested Diz introduce us to someone who may fill in the gaps and make our understanding more personal.”

“So many of our own people do not even know as much as the Starfleet database knows.” He stopped pacing in front of the two photons and cocked his antennae. “I am sure that some who still follow the old ways would feel that your existence is wrong, but you could prove an interesting way to keep the old knowledge alive.”

“So you’ll help?” Diziara stepped close, laying a hand on his arm. He looked sidelong at her.

“Why is their skin so light?”

“You wouldn’t ask that if they were fleshbags.”

“I would know the answer in that case, but were they not programmed by you?”

“I helped set the variables the computer used to generate them.”

“Our initial holomatrix generation includes traits from the Aenar subspecies, as computer data indicates that what is left of their people have interbred with the dominant Andorian species, and a number of the population exhibit their traits in lesser and greater capacities.” Luna looked up briefly as she spoke, but as she met Blue’s gaze her eyes dropped again.

“We can adjust our skin pigmentation to better match yours.” Celestia did not look up as she offered.

“There’s nothing wrong with your skin color.” Diziara slugged Blue in the shoulder. “Don’t you dare introduce your prejudices to them.”

“They will likely encounter worse if they visit Andor, and if you wish for me to expand their knowledge of our culture, they should visit.”

“They already face enough bullshit from the fleshbags here in the yards who see them as tools, but it’s easier to brush off the hurtful words of strangers than it is to have that prejudice slung at you from someone who’s supposed to be trusted. I introduced you as a trusted friend.”

“You know their telepathic abilities bred mistrust among our people.”

“And most with Aenar blood are so watered down they don’t exhibit any of the telepathic traits, so any lingering hatred is prejudice.” Diziara’s shot him a look, and Blue looked away with his antennae curling a bit. Celestia and Luna stood quiet, their eyes on the floor. “If you’re going to subject them to your bullshit prejudices, I’ll swallow my pride and go ask the bastard for his help instead. I know he doesn’t have a problem with Aenar blood.”

“For fuck’s sake, who knows how fucked up they will end up with Therav to guide them.”

“Then swallow your prejudice. You know I would rather have your help. Besides, it would give you an excuse to stay for a while.”

Blue snorted, and his antennae bounced just a little. “You only wish for me to warm your and Cor’s bed.”

“We can get you guest quarters, if you’d rather. Though we certainly wouldn’t turn you out if you wanted to join us.”

Blue rolled his eyes. “I will hold a rain check for the guest quarters for now.” As Diziara shook her head with a grin, Blue turned his attention back towards Celestia and Luna. “Are you twins?”

“We were originally one, but in the process of developing the backup process, we forked to become two.”

“One of us selected to take on a new name, and we modified our hair to allow organics to quickly identify who is who.”

“Some of them have enough trouble telling us apart even when we do not look so alike. Are you identical, your hair aside?” Blue started to pace around them again.

“Yes Tha,” they answered perfectly in sync.

“Twins are not usually perfectly identical,” he observed, “You mentioned being able to modify your appearance. Have you considered introducing small variations, to allow you to better blend in with the organics? While those here at the shipyards know what you are, you will likely have a more receptive welcome on Andor when we visit if you better mimic us in that respect.”

“Yes Tha,” they answered together again.

“Stop calling me that, and you can meet my eyes. I have spent enough time off world, and particularly in the company of this hellion–“ Blue directed a look at Diziara and she smirked– “that it is more comfortable to me. Though that you know the proper manners of our people is good.”

“What do we call you then?” Celestia looked up as she asked.

“You are welcome to call me Blue, as do any who consider me a friend.”

“Does that mean we are friends?” Luna looked up, and a small smile pulled at the corner of her lips.

“Diz speaks of you, and the other photons, as if you are family. Anyone who is family of Diz is likewise for me.”

Both Celestia and Luna smiled wide.

“What variations should we introduce, to be more like organic twins?” Luna asked, looking between Diziara and Blue with her antennae cocked slightly.

“Usually one twin’s a little taller than the other, skin tone and eye color vary just a little, as can birth marks and other localized pigmentation, and facial and body structure is usually slightly different. I can give you data to analyze, as well as pictures of a number of identical twins to consider.” Diziara stepped to a workbench to pick up a PADD, her fingers flitting across its surface as she worked to access the Starfleet database.

Celestia and Luna looked at each other a silent moment, before Celestia shifted slightly. As she straightened her posture to match her sister’s again, it became apparent she was now a couple centimeters taller. Luna closed her eyes for half a minute and as she opened them again her eyes were a darker grey.

“You probably just pulled up the data yourself,” Diziara said with a frown, lowering the PADD as she did.

“We are curious which data sets you pulled up,” Luna insisted, shaking her hair out. As it settled around her shoulders again, it had a little bit of a wave to it.

“One of these days, I’ll remember you’re all patched into the computers and I don’t need to do things the hard way when we’re talking to each other already.” Diziara rolled her eyes as she lifted the PADD again and tapped at it. Luna and Celestia both rolled their eyes up and to the right as they accessed the data that Diziara had just transferred.

“The connection takes a momentary effort if we’re in our mobile emitter, at least,” Celestia pointed out.

“But we’re on the station emitters right now, so her annoyance is valid.” Luna’s skin flushed just a touch darker.

“Better?” they said together. Diziara crossed her arms and chewed her lip and Blue paced around them again.

“It’s a good start, but you could probably adjust things about your body and facial structure too. Go over the data I passed you, as well as the sources cited. It’s not a rush to do it all right away.” Diziara set the PADD down on the bench again.

“We will think on it further,” they answered in sync.

Blue’s antennae twitched. “That is unsettling.”

“What?” They both looked directly at him, and he took a step back.

“Organics do not speak like that, especially with voices so perfectly matched.”

“All the photons can communicate via data bursts too, so it’s not surprising these two sync up like that. Corey and I try to keep up with data stream — he somehow manages it better than me, and I still haven’t figured out how–“

Luna and Celestia giggled, and Diziara tilted her head as she directed a look at them.

“We’ll adjust our vocal ranges to differentiate them,” Celestia said.

“And stop speaking in sync,” Luna added.

“Finishing each other’s sentences is also a bit creepy, but organic twins do it too, so you can keep doing that if you want.” Diziara snorted and shook her head.

“Is the data burst communication by design?” Blue asked.

“Oh, no, they developed it themselves, and Corey stumbled on it by accident. Thankfully they invited us in when we asked about it, so we didn’t have to decide if we needed to inform Brass or not.”

“Brass would have insisted you brute force your way in, and the resources needed to crack the encryption could be better put to use elsewhere.” Luna shrugged.

“It’s not like we’re talking about anything we’d hide from you anyway. If you would like to join, we can give you credentials, Blue.” Celestia held out her hand, with a small transparent cube floating above her palm as her antennae cocked in question.

“The interface they set up for me and Corey translates it into standard for us, but they use binary. It moves fast, and I don’t poke my nose in often. Corey spends more time with it, but he’s somehow figured out how to input his responses fast enough that they don’t have to slow down too terribly when they know he’s snooping in on it.”

Celestia and Luna giggled again, and Diziara directed a look at them.

“I appreciate the invitation, but I would prefer to stick to vocal communication.” Blue inclined his head, and Celestia and Luna did so in return.

“You can have a rain check, should you change your mind,” Celestia said.

“Do you speak our tongue?” Blue switched to Andorian to ask, and received nods in return.

“We have a universal translator built in, but Stace also built localization packs in a number of languages,” Celestia said, likewise in Andorian.

“As far as we can tell, he was very thorough, as there are a number of regional accents and dialects to choose from,” Luna added.

“Stace is good with our tongue — for a pink skin.” A smirk teased at Blue’s lips and Diziara shot him a look. “The accent you have chosen sounds like it is out of Laibok. ”

“It is a large city, and less likely to cause question of our origin. And dying one’s hair is not culturally common among our people, so appearing to come from a large city with much off-world contact would make our coloration less confusing.” Luna touched her hair, twirling a strand of purple around her finger.

“You could also remove the color, if deemed necessary.”

“We like it, and would rather not.” Despite their earlier promise, Celestia and Luna spoke in sync again, and Blue frowned.

“With Diz as a role model, I have no doubts that I should not argue with this. Have you learned, or been programmed with, the ability to fight?”

“Diz created a defense program as part of the initial packages we get upon generation, and we have learned a number of additional styles.” Celestia shifted into a fighting stance, as if to demonstrate.

“Among them, the Ushaan. Though it would be unfair for an organic to attempt a proper ushaan with us, unless we were in our mobile emitters, as it could not be to the death.”

“Even then, since we maintain backups, it still might not be fair unless we agreed to have our backups deleted in the case of them destroying our emitter to end the fight.”

“I would recommend you don’t provoke someone into challenging you to ushaan, though one or both of you owe me a training rules match still.” Diziara crossed her arms.

“I believe you still owe me a rematch from your last visit.” Blue’s hand landed on Diziara’s shoulder and she grinned wide.

“Corey will be jealous unless we invite him to watch.” She set her hand on his.

“Maybe this time he will be brave enough to participate.”

“No, but he’ll likely want to participate in other things after.” She winked.

Blue shook his head, his antennae curled and a smile teasing at his lips. Celestia and Luna looked at each other.

“It looks like it’s time for us to take a rain check,” Luna stated. Both photons looked to Diziara, who snorted.

“Corey’s stuck in a briefing for a while yet. Why don’t you two show us how your ushaan skills are coming along until then?” Diziara crossed her arms and both photons grinned at her.

“He is bored in his meeting. You could invent an excuse for him to leave,” Luna observed.

“He is very active in the data burst communications,” Celestia added.