The next day at around midmorning, the Kelsor departed the Dockyards and passed through one of the massive gates in the underside of the Vandos Habitat. With their heading adjusted toward Federation space, Naret engaged the synerdrive and the battlecruiser was on its way. No stops had been scheduled until the Kelsor was to dock at the orbital facilities above Lanan all the way on the other side of the Federation from Tribesson.
“Naret,” Atara directed, “begin routine course deviations. Don’t keep us in a straight line.”
“Aye, captain,” Naret replied. As soon as Atara was satisfied with the operation of her bridge officers, she left command of the bridge in Sesh’s hands and departed for the medbay.
“I’m here to see Doctor Iveti,” Atara told the nurse sitting behind the desk at the front of the medical bay. “I just want to talk.” The nurse was dressed in a white gown over her standard uniform like all the others, and the small red cross on her breast marked her as a medical professional.
“She’s currently seeing patients,” the nurse told her. “Do you mind waiting half-an-hour?”
Atara nodded. She took a seat in the waiting room among other starmen who themselves awaited attention by the nursing staff for minor ailments and injuries. About forty minutes later, Atara was called back by a nurse who guided the captain to Iveti’s office.
The red-skinned Yeran physician stood near her office fabricator. Her bobbed hair was colored like golden rust, if that were even possible. She wore the dark gray combat variant bodysuit beneath her open white lab coat, not caring about how much of her feminine form escaped it. With both hands, she held a mug of hot, black coffee, bringing it to her lips and sipping it quietly. Lowering her mug yet still facing the fabricator, she said, “Hello, captain.”
“Doctor,” Atara addressed her. “May I sit?”
After taking another sip, Iveti said, “Please do.” She strode slowly to her desk, placed her white mug down upon it, and took her seat. Iveti grabbed her loose lab coat and tugged it across her front before crossing one leg over the other. With her hands in her lap, Iveti asked, “What is the nature of your medical emergency?”
“I feel fine, thanks.”
“Then what brings you here?”
“I just wanted to talk with you about something.”
“Ahh,” Iveti vocalized. “You need physician-patient privilege—a little medical confidentiality.”
“Maybe,” Atara admitted softly.
“I’m no shrink, but whatcha got?”
“Don’t worry. It’s something a bit larger in scope. I just want to hear your wisdom.”
Atara explained to Iveti the information Fiori summarized for the senior officers in the briefing room yesterday. Of course, Atara asked Fiori to check the room, and the captain made Iveti promise to keep the information to herself. Iveti sipped her coffee as Atara explained, keeping her yellow eyes trained on the captain’s face.
“Mind if I tell you a little story?” Iveti asked. The Yeran set her empty mug down upon the desk. “You might find it a little analogous. Once upon a time, humans lived short lives. We know this—records going way back to the pre-interstellar period. Hell, even before Mirida, people didn’t live very long, even less so thousands of years prior.
“Around the space ages of the Sister Worlds, medical technology was improving which doubled people’s lifespans. Then humans wrestled with a disease called cancer. Do you know what that is?”
“I know the concept,” Atara said, “but I’m a little fuzzy on the details. I’m not a medical expert.”
“Cancer,” Iveti explained, “is a condition in which some of the body’s own cells begin to go their own way. They break out of the tight cellular regulation, immortalize, and proliferate, eventually spreading and killing the host. It’s pretty frightening if you ask me. Makes me thankful that we’re where we are today—nearly biologically immortal.
“What I’m trying to say is, to me, it seems like you’ve found yourself a tumor. A tumor is a collection of cancer cells. The best way to treat a cancer was to treat it early—as early as possible. Because if you waited too long…”
“It’ll metastasize,” Atara said. “I understand what you mean.”
“So, what would you suggest we do?”
“I think you already know that,” Iveti said. “You target the cancer and destroy it before it consumes the Military’s leadership.”
“What are you doing, Quen?” Doctor Namara asked softly. She had been standing in the doorway of the lounge, staring at Souq’s back from across the omnimology lab. Souq had his hand atop the container holding the ecksivar sample, and the container’s sides were transparent. The strange crystal radiated its shadowy anti-light within. The assistants were absent, leaving the two of them alone.
“Just thinking,” he told her.
“Thinking?” Namara’s arms were crossed as she leaned against the doorframe. “About what?”
“How bittersweet it is,” Souq said. “There’s a part of me…” he paused. “Part of me wants nothing to do with this thing anymore.”
“No matter how much I think about it,” Souq told her, “no matter how much time passes, I don’t think I could ever look past that day. I lost too much because of this ecksivar.”
“Quen,” Namara said, standing straight and dropping her arms, “you know more about ecksivar than anyone alive. Losing you would deal a huge blow to the scientific community.” Souq didn’t appear fazed by this. Namara stepped away from the doorway, moving across the lab. “I don’t want to lose you, either.”
“That time me and you were on the beach in the simulator,” Namara told him, “that was really sweet. I never realized I would find the company of a man so… compelling.”
“What do you mean?”
“You don’t need to go it alone anymore.” Namara was standing next to him now, looking at him with her teal eyes. Souq’s maroon irises stared back at her.
“I love you,” he said.
She stroked his beard, saying, “I love you, too.” She leaned in toward his face and kissed him on the lips. Her hands reached behind his head, and his wrapped around her waist.
After that brief moment of passion, their lips broke away, and Souq said, “If I joined the Military, would you partner with me?”
“Why not marriage?” Namara asked in return.
“Why not both?” he leaned in to continue kissing the Elestan scientist. The ecksivar sample remained there, casting its eerie shadow within that small container.
Xannissa strode between the cadets as they completed their examinations. When she wasn’t watching them, she was staring toward the incoming, foamy waves breaking against the golden sand. All twelve cadets sat at their desks in the filtered sunlight pouring through the open pavilion’s skylights. The breeze blew in between them as they worked within their lumigraphs. Shouts from the distant beachgoers barely reached them.
Lieren was the first to finish the test. As she did so, her collection of lumigraphs vanished. Xannissa turned around to see the Larissian looking at her. Noticing her teacher’s nod, Lieren stood from her desk, departed the pavilion, and stepped out across the sand. Never eager to begin studying for the next round of exams, Lieren enjoyed these brief post-exam reprieves from her academics. The only problem for her—a problem she seemed to share with the other cadets—is that after looking forward to her free time, she had no idea what to do with it when it came. Seeing as her advisor was still proctoring, and that she was aboard the simulator already, what better place to unwind than where she found herself now?
Because of her time aboard the simulator, and this virtual tropical resort in particular, she was finding joy in swimming. Not ocean swimming, but swimming in the pool that was separated from the beach, and most of the rest of the complex, by a ring of walls and buildings. After storing her Accellus away, she walked out toward the blue water of the deep pool. This was her favorite part. She leapt out and plunged in feet-first. It didn’t matter that the water was a lumionic construct. The coolness of the water splashing against her bare lavender skin was genuine enough for her. Holding her breath, she opened her eyes beneath the fresh water, free of chemicals and salt, and began to swim toward the other end of the pool. Lieren rose steadily toward the surface, avoiding other swimmers, and emerged her head to exchange the air in her lungs. The crisp water flowed past her, refreshing her as she taxed her muscles. Perhaps that’s why she enjoyed it so much. To her, it was like exercise that felt like anything but. The pool was fifty meters from end to end, and when she reached the opposite edge, she put her arms on the duralithic walkway and let the beads of water run through her soaked hair and down her face.
“Lieren,” called a masculine voice. It surprised her, since it was unmistakably her father’s. Lieren looked up, and there he was above her alongside Doctor Namara.
“How did you find me?” Lieren asked of father wearing shorts and Namara a short jacket. Both of the scientists sat down at the pool’s edge on either side of her, placing their feet into the water.
“You told me you had a test,” Souq said in a fatherly tone, “and you told me you like swimming, and the simulator, and that the test was on the simulator. So, I put those together.”
“I get it,” Lieren said, sounding slightly annoyed.
“I used to be on the university swim team,” Souq boasted. “I guess that’s where she gets it from. Lira always avoided the water.”
“If you don’t mind,” Lieren said, “I’m going to swim another lap.”
“Hold on, girl,” Souq told her, grabbing her shoulder before she took off. “Sayn and I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“What is it? Should I get out?”
“You might want to,” Sayn told her.
“Can you two give me a hand?” Souq and Namara gave Lieren their hands to grasp ahold of and tug on, easing her exit. Dripping wet, she walked across the warm duralithic sidewalk and placed herself beneath a shield-scrubber to quickly dry off. Lieren played with and tried to correct her dry hair while she rejoined them, taking a seat on a lounge chair between the scientists.
“Alright,” Lieren said.
“You go first, Quen,” Namara said.
“When the Kelsor returns to dock,” Souq told his daughter, “I’m going to join the Military.”
“As in Military scientist?”
“Your father and I,” Namara said, “we’re going to join together in a partnership.”
Lieren looked at them both and asked them, “Why don’t you just get married?” Souq and Namara traded glances.
“One step at a time, honey,” Souq told Lieren, patting her back. “One day, you’ll understand. Relationships aren’t like REMASS.”
“Oh, come on dad!” Lieren said. “Seriously, though, I’m happy for you two.”
“Are you okay with this?” Souq asked.
Lieren asked him, “Do I have a choice?” She paused, letting the question sink in before admitting, “Yes, I am okay with this. I’m sure mom would want you to move on.” Lieren looked at Namara and smiled, and the Elestan scientist smiled back at her.