The tension in the captain’s quarters on the USS Rider was horrible.

“I’m telling you, Lauren, you are three seconds from meeting an airlock up close and personal!” growled Stuart. “You know how I feel about the gossip level on this ship!”

“I swear it’s the truth!” Warfield whirled pleadingly to Hoskins. “You believe me, right?”

Lynn’s frown deepened and she crossed her arms. “Not bloody likely.”

Ask her!”

Stuart snorted. “Like hell I’m going to. She’ll give me that damnable privacy lecture again. No, not this time, and not for something ridiculous!”

Hoskins grinned in spite of herself. “I won’t ask her either. I’ve practically got the lecture memorized by now.”

Warfield threw up her hands in frustration. “It’s the truth!”

Stuart’s eyebrow lifted. “You have holos?”

“It was the Rec Room; you know that stuff isn’t allowed in there!”

“Do you have witnesses?” asked Hoskins, tilting her head skeptically.

Warfield looked like she was going to explode. “What am I?”

Stuart and Hoskins exchanged a look.

“In other words, you don’t have anything.” Stuart rolled her eyes. “I’m assigning you mess duty for the next seven months.”

What?!”

Stuart’s face firmed. “I’m fed up with the way this crew thinks they can abuse the reputation of my first officer, and you —” she jabbed a finger at Lauren—“are going to be my example.”

Warfield had turned an incredible shade of furious red. “I’m telling you--”

“Eight.”

Warfield’s eyes positively bulged in fury. “It’s the--”

“Nine.”

Hoskins whistled lowly. “Damn, Lauren, have the brains to stop while you’re ahead.”

Warfield gave them both a murderous glare. “You both are supposed to be my friends!”

Stuart sighed. “We are. But I’m also the ship’s captain and that takes priority.” She frowned sternly at Lauren. “And I expected better of you. Playing a joke on her is one thing, but this--” she shook her head in outright disgust, “—this isn’t even funny. You might not give a damn about your reputation, but I sure as hell know that she does about hers!”

Lauren jerked back as if slapped and her face closed down. “For the record, I do.”

Stuart nodded. “Fine, then admit you went too far and I’ll cut it back to seven.”

Lauren ground her teeth. “Fine. What’s lying going to get me — twenty lashes?”

Stuart bristled. “Your attitude landed you on the Aerfen back when no other captain would have you, and it sure as hell can get you off the Rider. I want a recant and I want it right damn now. And then, we’re going straight down to her quarters and you’re going to apologize to her.”

“No, I won’t.”

Hoskin’s jaw dropped.

Stuart’s skin flushed an angry color. “This isn’t an option, Mr. Warfield, this is a direct order.”

“You can’t order me to lie!”

Stuart’s eyes got that distinctly deadly look even Saavik recognized by now. “Then you’ll be spending the next three days in the brig.”

Warfield’s eyes went wide in shock. “You . . . you wouldn’t!”

Hoskins was eyeing her captain uncertainly.

Stuart stepped forward and glared down at Lauren. “I just did.”

...

Saavik strode onto the bridge. “Captain, I have the reports you requested.”

The utter silence brought her up short and she stopped, brows drawing down, and she glanced around. The body language of the entire crew was rigid and no one would meet her eyes. Not even Hoskins at Communications. The captain sat, white knuckled, in the center seat and stared at the main viewscreen as if she meant to bore holes right through it.

Saavik resisted the urge to sigh.

Now what?

She stepped carefully down to Stuart’s side. “Captain?”

She had to repeat it twice before Stuart blinked and glanced up at her. Saavik noted the sudden flush across the human’s cheeks and the way she immediately looked away.

“Yes, Commander?”

She held out the data padd. “Your reports, Captain.”

Stuart cleared her throat. “Ah, thank you, commander. Is there anything else?”

“No, ma’am.” She began to turn when she noticed what her senses told her was missing. She stopped. “Captain, where is Lieutenant Commander Warfield?”

Stuart winced and everyone on the bridge suddenly became very busy at their stations. Hoskins’ face tightened.

“Captain?”

“She’s in the brig.”

Saavik blinked at the very unexpected answer, and straightened. “I . . . beg your pardon?” Her mind recalled the ship’s status data she had scanned earlier that morning and came up empty. “Captain, there was no incident reports in the daily lists.”

Stuart’s teeth clenched and then unclenched. “No, Commander, there isn’t.”

Saavik considered this. Perhaps the captain did not wish to further mar Warfield’s already quite mangled record. Saavik tilted her head. And yet, she had still confined her to the ship’s brig.

What had happened?

Stuart fidgeted under her steady gaze. “She refused a direct order, does that satisfy your curiosity?” she snapped at last.

Saavik’s eyebrows ascended. “Captain, I do not seek information out of entertainment value.”

Stuart blushed at the mild chastisement in the tone and rubbed her forehead. “I didn’t mean it like--” she sighed heavily. “Look, let’s take this into my Ready Room.”

Now Saavik was really confused.

“Captain, pardon me, but given the appearance of the bridge crew, it would seem logical to speculate that there is no need for privacy.”

Stuart looked ill.

Realization suddenly occurred to Saavik. “Unless, of course, you are seeking to preserve mine?”

Stuart looked very ill. She managed a jerked nod.

A glance around the bridge crew showed the same emotion on all of their faces: shame. Hoskins even stared at her boots.

Then that would mean another rumor. And judging from her captain’s discomfort, a rather . . . intense one.

Saavik squared her shoulders. “Captain, I would prefer it if you would enlighten me here.”

Stuart looked shocked.

Saavik made certain her gaze was softened to what a human would read as gentle. “It would seem logical to answer a public concern in public.”

“I’m not sure you really want--”

“Captain, Mr. Warfield, while somewhat . . . mischievous in nature is a competent officer. I find it most disturbing that she currently resides in confinement for an issue involving myself. She has shown great effort in restoring her reputation and I would not see it unduly harmed.”

Stuart wasn’t the only member of the bridge crew to blush in embarrassment.

This becomes increasingly perplexing.

Stuart took a deep breath. One of her knees began to bounce nervously. “Humans have a tendency to, ah, repeat things they, ah--”

“I have already calculated a ninety-seven point nine five percent probability that the source of this difficulty lies in my substantiation or denial of a rumor.”

Stuart grimaced and glared around at her crew. “After that last one, I told them I would take a zero tolerance for such behavior—especially in regards to one aimed at the command staff.”

Saavik nodded once. “The crew exhibits an unnatural fascination towards my personal privacy.”

Stuart growled. “Yes.”

Saavik tilted her head. “I fail to see why.”

Stuart kicked her command chair with the back of her boot heel. “You’re Vulcan. And so damn private it draws the attention. And you’ve got enough mystiques wrapped around you to make even the Hortas curious.”

Saavik’s eyebrow lifted and a few members of the crew smothered grins behind their hands. Hoskins was one of them.

“Indeed?”

Stuart sighed. “Indeed.”

“Would you have a recommendation as to how I might . . . cease to draw such . . . curiosity?”

Stuart snorted and crossed her arms. “You could be dead and you’d still draw attention.”

Saavik blinked again. “Of what interest is the dead?”

That got some not so smothered grins. Stuart glared at the offenders and they instantly found their boards requiring attention.

Stuart sighed. “And that doesn’t help.”

“Questioning?”

“No, your damned innocence.”

“Because I have not committed a crime, I am considered of interest?”

Stuart groaned and couple of chuckles broke out along the bridge. Hoskins grinned unabashedly.

Saavik tilted her head. “I do not understand.”

“Just take it from me, you’re fascinating.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“In this case, it is not a compliment.”

“Then I should be offended?”

Stuart leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. “I will personally kill anyone who laughs.”

The choking noises from various stations showed Saavik that apparently they believed the captain.

“Okay, Commander, we’re going to start this again.”

Saavik nearly frowned.

“And don’t say it.”

The frown deepened.

“It was a figure of speech. I know your memory is fine.”

She nodded slowly.

“While curiosity towards commanding officers is fine, repeating or creating rumors threatens to undermine the ship’s authority structure.”

“May I ask why?”

Stuart blinked. And so did the rest of the crew. She stared at Saavik in disbelief. “Have you forgotten that one about Ambassador Spock and—”

Saavik stiffened. “As you noted, Captain, my memory is fine. However, I observed no slowing of obedience to my orders on the part of anyone in the crew.”

“I’m not talking about just obedience, Commander; I’m talking about proper respect.”

Saavik’s brows drew down. “Captain, I am not human. Respect is irrelevant.”

“I am getting a headache.”

Saavik reached over and tapped the comm. “Commander Saavik to Sickbay.”

“Sickbay here,” came the immediate reply.

The captain groaned. “Why do you take everything so damn literal?”

Saavik cocked her head. “You stated you were acquiring a headache, Captain. How was I to interpret that figuratively?”

“Captain?” came Sickbay’s confused officer.

“I need a painkiller. Or a damn good drink. Grab something and get the hell up here.”

“Yes, Captain! Sickbay out.”

Saavik studied Stuart a long moment. “I would not recommend drinking anything from the ship’s still. Ensign Tabus swears that it will, and I quote, ‘Melt the enamel off your teeth’.”

Stuart’s eyes went huge. “How . . . how do you know about the ship’s still? That’s supposed to be kept quiet.”

Saavik nodded. “Undoubtedly due to its violation of Starfleet regulations.”

Everyone stared at her. Hoskins’ jaw dropped.

Saavik’s eyebrow lifted. “My hearing is rather acute.”

“Why haven’t I heard from Starfleet about this?” demanded Stuart.

“Because I have not reported it,” said Saavik calmly. “Would you prefer that I did?”

“Are you kidding?” Stuart grimaced and waved her hands. “Belay that. I mean, why haven’t you reported it?” Her eyes narrowed. “You who are the regulations incarnate.”

“This ship, however, is not. It is, if I may say so, an inheritance of style from your years in the border patrol. As the crew has not abused the presence of the still, and their performance has been maintained at the high level it had before the machine’s creation, I did not perceive a necessity to inform Starfleet.”

Everyone stared at her.

Saavik raised a calm eyebrow back. “Did I error?”

Stuart cleared her throat. “Hell no! Ah, what else have you, uh, heard?”

“Captain, I will require some form of restrictive set to narrow the cognitive recall.”

Stuart shuddered. “I take it back, never mind. We’re talking about rumors.”

“Indeed. Though I fail to see why a rumor would require confinement of an officer.”

“Were you offended at the last rumor?”

Saavik considered it carefully. “As a Vulcan, the proper response would be no. However, as I am not fully Vulcan, I must admit to a certain level of . . . disapproval.”

The bridge went utterly silent. Both Hoskins and Stuart’s jaws dropped.

Saavik lifted an eyebrow and stiffened. “I assure you, Captain, I will attempt to be more restrained in the future. Although I believe I must point out, Mr. Warfield would strain the proper response of a Vulcan elder.”

Stuart was the first to recover. “You . . . you . . . you aren’t fully Vulcan?” Her voice came perilously close to actually cracking.

Saavik tilted her head, confused. “I believe I just confirmed that fact, Captain.”

“What--” Stuart swallowed hard, visibly forcing her human curiosity down quite admirably in Saavik’s opinion. The bridge crew was almost quivering with a barely suppressed need to know. She waited for the inevitable explosion of questions.

Silence won.

Saavik’s eyebrow lifted in approval.

Undoubtedly she would be forced to endure endless and not so subtle inquiries for an interminable portion of the future.

Her gaze met first Hoskins’, and then Stuart’s. She thought of Warfield in the brig.

They had become her . . . friends. And they had. . . earned the respect of truth.

She took a deep steadying breath. “I was born in the Romulan Star Empire.”

Apparently, she thought ruefully, she could not have shocked them any more had she pulled out a hidden weapon and shot the captain point blank.

“It would appear,” she said dryly, “that our communications officer needs a refreshment course in the Romulan language.”

Hoskins blinked. “I—what?”

Saavik looked at her. “My name is most certainly not Vulcan. You are the ship’s linguistic expert.”

Everyone looked at Hoskins.

“I . . . I noticed it was non-traditional for a Vulcan! I mean, no honorific ‘T’, right?” She glared at the others. “How was I supposed to know her parents weren’t just progressive? Look, stop staring like mindless prats! They taught me the language, not the bloody names! How was I to know — she doesn’t act Romulan!”

“Thank you,” murmured Saavik. “However, I believe I will assign some linguistic material to tend to this lack.”

Hoskins groaned.

“Does . . . does Starfleet know?” said Stuart quietly. “Should I be trying to hide you someplace right now?”

Saavik’s eyebrow lifted. “Thank you for the offer, Captain, however, I am quite . . . versed in the art of . . . hiding. And, in fact, I believe the Admiralty has found my heritage, ironically, most fortuitous to Federation interests.” She straightened; her features hardening. “However, to avoid potential . . . difficulties, I must note that the genetic combination is not . . . approved . . . by either people.”

“No kidding,” breathed Stuart. She looked at Saavik with open curiosity. “Talk about being a walking culture clash.”

“That would . . . be an almost Vulcan understatement, Captain.” Saavik took a long breath. “Now, may I ask what Mr. Warfield’s offense was?”

Stuart inhaled sharply. “Oh, hell. I threw her in the brig.”

“So you stated, Captain, I believe you inferred it was due to a rumor regarding me.”

“Oh hell, oh hell, oh hell. She’s going to kill me.”

Saavik’s eyebrows shot up in alarm.

Stuart grimaced. “How can you be half-Romulan and be so . . . so this?”

Saavik sighed. “I have spent the majority of my life in the Federation, Captain. I would prefer you commit this fact to long term memory.”

“Training under Ambassador Spock, right?”

Saavik inclined her head “As well as others including my own efforts.”.

“Then how can you not get--” Stuart’s eyes suddenly widened. “Oh hell. He, ah, he didn’t, ah, steal you or something, did he? I mean, should I be looking over my ship’s hull for some pissed off Romulan family?”

The thought amused Saavik greatly. “I was an experiment, Captain. Revenge and calculation were the only motives for my Romulan... heritage.”

“I think I see where you got your almost obsessive desire for privacy.”

“Yes.”

“But you told us anyway.”

Saavik gave all the appearance of long tried patience. “Given the almost obsessive desire this crew exhibits for a lack of privacy, I calculated a significant probability for a greater portion of . . . peace if I simply provided the information rather than endure the not so subtle speculations of the crew for the remainder of my service aboard this ship.”

More than one crew member blushed. Including Hoskins.

Saavik shifted slightly and looked away. “Though I admit, that such was not my sole motive.” Her gaze met Stuart’s and then Hoskins’.

“Thank you,” said Stuart softly.

Saavik’s eyebrow lifted. “For what purpose?”

“For letting us in at last. I know that took . . . a lot of trust.”

Saavik looked down and then lifted her chin to give the crew a stern eye. “Then I will also trust it will not be abused.”

Agonized looks shifted back and forth amongst the crew.

Saavik took a deep breath. “I will not ask for silence, only . . . respect.”

Stuart studied Saavik with a renewed eye.

She merely lifted an eyebrow. “Humans have a fondness for talking. It would be unnatural to require restriction of apparently interesting information. And it would be useless.”

Stuart glowered around at her crew. “I will personally maim anyone’s career who mentions this information outside of this ship. Is that completely, and utterly, understood?”

Rapid nods came from all around the bridge. Saavik bowed her head to Stuart.

Who winced terribly. “And now I owe Warfield blood.”

Saavik’s eyes widened. “I . . . beg your pardon, Captain?”

Stuart colored. “She . . . overheard a conversation you had in the Rec Room on one of the terminals with Ambassador Sarek. I threw her in the brig for telling me what you just . . . uh, confirmed. I,” the captain chewed her lower lip, “I didn’t believe that it could even be possible that you. . . .”

“I am gratified.” said Saavik. “And I will make a mental note to take all personal calls in my quarters in the future.” She tilted her head, confused. “Why did you not believe her?”

Stuart’s color deepened to crimson. She looked away. “I didn’t think . . . I mean . . . you act so damn Vulcan, I never even thought. . . .Oh, hell.”

“I do not act, Captain, I am Vulcan. I have chosen this path, not the one of Romulans.”

Stuart threw up her hands. “What was I supposed to believe?”

“If I may make an observation, Captain?”

“Why the hell not?”

“Mr. Warfield enjoys her ‘jokes’, however, she would not deliberately damage another’s reputation.” Saavik’s voice softened. “She knows only too well the effects of such an action.”

Eyes lowered all over the bridge. Hoskins had to blink hard to keep control.

Stuart’s face sagged. She was silent a long minute. “You’re right. She’s been picking up the pieces of her career for so long. . . . Damn it.” She rubbed her hand across her face. “What am I going to say?”

“I believe an apology is the traditional human opening gambit.”

“Can I, ah, request your presence?”

Saavik’s eyebrows lifted. “For protection or for ‘moral’ support?”

Stuart grinned weakly. “Maybe for both.” She stood slowly and eyed Saavik a long moment. “For some reason, I feel safer with you being half-Romulan.”

Saavik actually looked horrified. “Captain, someone has grossly misled you on the character of Romulans.”

“Don’t disillusion me any more today, I don’t think my system can take the shock.”

The bridge turbolift doors opened, and one of the young med officers hurried in with the captain’s hypo.

Stuart waved it away wearily. “Don’t bother. I think after I’ve had a talk with Warfield, I’m going to have something significantly stronger.”

Saavik joined her in the lift.

Stuart stared at her first officer a long moment and then her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Is there anything else earth shattering about you?”

Saavik contemplated it a long moment. “Several.”

Stuart sighed. “Are you going to tell me them?”

Saavik considered it. “No.”

Stuart rubbed her throbbing forehead as the lift doors began to close. “Works for me. Oh, and close your eyes.”

“My . . . eyes, Captain?”

“We need to make a slight side trip first. I think I’m going to need that drink first.”

Saavik frowned disapprovingly. “Captain . . . your teeth--”