“I beg your pardon,” Saavik said and slammed Captain Dannan Stuart to the ground.

Stuart gasped hard, trying to breathe and swear at the same time and not managing to do either.

Hoskins groaned and dropped down out one of the trees. The red foliage blocked Starfleet uniform colors well, but apparently not well enough that Saavik hadn’t found and neutralized Stuart. “Time out!”

Warfield sighed. She climbed out of her hiding place in the bushes and began dusting herself off. “Well, you’d better finish her off now.”

Saavik’s brow furrowed, confused and she straightened. “Why would I intend deliberate harm to a superior officer?”

Warfield shoved dirty, dark hair out of her face and grinned. “Call it survival instinct. Come on, Saavik, it’s not the first spar or war game you’ve ever been in.”

“No, it is not. However, the captain is down--”

Stuart’s leg snapped out and caught Saavik entirely off-guard. The First Officer actually hit the ground on her back.

Hoskins whistled through her teeth. “Damn, captain, that was good!”

Warfield snickered at Saavik. “You’re getting soft.”

“I’d say.” Stuart grinned wickedly and rolled painfully onto her side. She tossed the rock that she had landed on and glared at the equally guilty tree root.

Saavik had a decided flare to her eyes as she got back to her feet. She looked down at her captain. “I withdraw my earlier question.”

Stuart laughed and then grimaced and held her side. “You deserved that, you damn Savage. Now help me up.” She held out a hand.

Saavik’s eyes glinted.

Hoskins winced. “This is going to involve Security, isn’t it?”

Stuarts’ smile became sweetly dangerous. “There is some minor debt of cell time, as I recall.” She pursed her lips in pretended thought. “Now how many days was that?”*

Saavik’s brows lowered. “Obviously an insufficient amount.”

Stuart laughed. “Help me up.”

Saavik bent and gripped the other woman’s hand.

“Be nice,” her captain warned.

“Civility statistically lowers a projected life span.” Saavik noted dryly.

“Well, that certainly explains a few things about Vulcans,” Stuart growled. “Now, up!”

Saavik pulled her captain to her feet. “In point of self-preservation, Captain, it was not a Vulcan statement. You did say physical contact was required to nullify an opponent’s progression.”

Warfield grinned. “She has a point there, Captain.”

Stuart gave Lauren a deadly look. “Want to be walking back to the ship?”

Warfield arched an dark eyebrow over a blue eye at Saavik. “Here’s our idiom exchange of the day. You do know what the term ‘a sore loser’ means, don’t you?”

Stuart’s skin visibly darkened.

Saavik studied Warfield. “You do know what ‘disembowelment’ entails, do you not, Lieutenant Commander?”

Stuart couldn’t help it, she laughed. And then winced terribly. “Let’s head back to the shelter. We had enough refresher training for one day.” Her border patrol days made her serious about brushing the rust off the crew’s hand-to-hand and bivouac skills now that they served in regular Fleet duty. But she didn’t want war game conditions.

Lynne Hoskins frowned. “Shouldn’t we get you to Sickbay?”

Stuart’s grin was wolfish. “Hell no, Engineering packed our meal crate. That means I got a much better painkiller in there than what Sickbay would give me.”

Saavik shook her head in open disapproval. “Captain, the alcohol content in the liquor Engineering would pack--”

Stuart sighed. “Don’t lecture me.”

Warfield snickered. “Yeah, just buy her something better.”

Saavik’s eyebrow lifted. “Given the quality—or rather the lack thereof—of the ship’s still, that would not be difficult.”

Hoskins snorted. “Don’t tell Engineering that or your sonic shower will suddenly blow enough decibels to cave a bulkhead.”

Warfield laughed. “Or your clothing replicator will only produce lingerie. In pink.”

Stuart grinned. “Knowing those boys, red.” She shook a warning finger at Warfield, “And if they suddenly get this idea, I’m coming for you.”

Saavik frowned ever so slightly. “Deliberate sabotage of ship systems is a court martial offense.”

Lauren Warfield elbowed Lynn Hoskins and grinned suggestively. “Yeah, but the chance to see you in something silky and lacy? You know some of them’d risk it.”

“No kidding,” Hoskins added.

Saavik stiffened. “I would not so abuse public propriety.”

Stuart made a face. “Another fine example of cultural divergence.” She probed her back gingerly. “It’s not an insult, it’s a compliment. A lot of humans would be flattered.”

Saavik’s eyes widened. “For what reason?”

Warfield shrugged. “Who wouldn’t want to be thought attractive enough to warrant the attention? I mean – not necessarily them actually breaking into our systems and reprogramming our underwear, but the sentiment part.”

Saavik looked at Warfield then back at Dannan Stuart. After a long moment, she slid a suspiciously assessing glance at Hoskins. “Is this . . . so?”

“Hey!” protested Lauren.

Stuart growled. “Now that is insulting.”

Lynn grinned. “Entirely deserved, though.” She nodded once to Saavik. “It’s not a joke. Unfortunately.”

Saavik tilted her head thoughtfully. “How very . . . intellectually primitive.” The shadow of a frown crossed her lips. “I must reevaluate my human behavioral assessment levels.”

That made all three women grimace.

“Great,” snorted Warfield, “the species is going to get a collective nosebleed from the sudden altitude drop.”

Stuart grinned. “Still going to associate with us tree-swingers?”

Saavik’s eyebrow lifted. “I have observed your vegetative maneuvering abilities, Captain, and swinging is most markedly outside of your skill perimeters.”

Stuart’s eyes narrowed.

“She’s got you there, Captain,” Warfield snickered. “I saw you on Treb Four.”

“That tree knocked me out!”

Hoskins grinned, throwing a wink at Saavik. “Of course, Captain.”

Saavik cocked her head. “Although, that does not explain the other seven--”

Stuart laughed. “Vicious.” Then she sobered and looked at the other two. There was a long uncomfortable moment. “We got other business to take care of. And I should take care of it before we beam out tomorrow morning.”

Warfield sighed. “Might as well get it over with.” She plunked herself down on the ground and glared at the dirt darkly.

Hoskin’s proper posture flinched and then sagged. “Might as well.” She turned away to stare out at the distance and spoke under her breath. “Bullocks.”

Puzzled, Saavik looked at Stuart.

Dannan took a deep breath and wiped her face of all emotion. “Starfleet Command has sent a promotion list.” She looked Saavik in the eyes. “The rank of captain has been extended to you. And a ship.” She forced a grin. “You’ll like it, it’s a helluva compliment. They’re giving you the USS Intrepid. And its all Vulcan crew.”

Saavik studied her captain a long moment and then looked away. “It would be an honor . . . for one . . . of my . . . heritage.”

Warfield picked at the grass. Lynn Hoskins nodded even though she didn’t turn around.

Saavik looked at each of the humans, studying them. Then she tilted her head. “However, unless you would prefer another first officer, I decline the honor.”

Warfield’s jaw absolutely dropped. “What?” She scrambled to her feet. “Are you insane?

Saavik appeared to contemplate the thought earnestly. “My mental facilities appear to be in cognitive order.” She tilted her head. “Although, if I do suffer from such an affliction, I calculate a seventy-four point three five percent probability that I might not be aware of such an impairment.” Her eyebrows lifted. “Fascinating.”

Stuart stared at her in complete disbelief. “You’re . . . serious?”

Saavik’s brows drew down.

Stuart groaned. “About the declining!”

“Ah. Of course, Captain.”

“Maybe she hit the ground harder than we thought,” said Hoskins uneasily, eyeing Saavik.

Warfield leaned forward to peer into Saavik’s eyes. “Her pupils are normal. She’s not concussed.”

Saavik tilted her head curiously. “You prefer I accept?”

“Hell no!” said Stuart firmly.

“Are you kidding?” Warfield made a face. “It’s just that it isn’t, well--”

Hoskins frowned, crossing her arms. “Logical.”

Saavik’s brow arched stiffly. “Indeed?”

“It’s the perfect move for your career,” said Hoskins, narrowing her eyes. “Not to mention that Vulcans picked you to lead them!”

“There are more dynamics to logic than--”

Warfield’s eyes lit. “I’ll be damned.”

“Preferably not.”

“What?” demanded Stuart.

Lauren stabbed a finger at Saavik. “You’re afraid.”

Saavik’s eyes went wide. “I . . . am not.”

Hoskins frowned. “What?

“Lauren,” growled Stuart, “what in hell are you talking about? She’d be perfectly fine on board Intrepid!”

“Tell me, Savage,” demanded Warfield mercilessly, “is it the chair or the Vulcans?”

Saavik’s eyebrows snapped together over narrowed eyes. “I do not--” She stopped, and the others could almost hear her dissecting her logic ruthlessly, subjecting it to an internal interrogation almost as brutal as an ancient Inquisition. Then, just like that, she was calm as Mount Seleya and a knowing glint was in her eyes as she studied Warfield. “Most clever.”

Warfield grinned.

What?” demanded Stuart.

Hoskins crossed her arms. “You are going to drive me insane—now, what the bloody hells just happened?

Saavik inclined her head to Warfield in honor, making the other blush furiously. “She wished to confirm the motive behind the logic. That it was not mere rational reaction.”

The others looked at Warfield.

“And?” demanded Stuart.

“My motive is not fear.”

Hoskins narrowed her eyes. “That is the biggest avoidance of an answer that I’ve ever seen.”

Stuart studied Saavik carefully a long moment. After a moment, she shook her finger at her first officer. “I think your Vulcan side is betraying you.”

Saavik’s eyebrows lifted high.

“For some reason, Vulcans have a weakness for Humans.” She grinned slowly.

Saavik folded her arms. “You believe so? And may I ask the reason for this . . . weakness?”

Warfield snorted. “Probably a species preservation programming in the genetic code to keep from being bored to death.”

“In that instance,” Saavik said dryly, “I am in no danger of immanent death.”

Hoskins grinned. “So you admit it, we’ve grown on you.”

“A designation also held by various bacteria.”

Stuart laughed. And then flinched and held her side. “Quality or not, I want a drink.”

“Do you want us to carry you, O wounded one?” said Warfield impishly.

“No, but when we get back to the shelter, you can massage my feet.” Stuart said sweetly.

“That would be the solemn duty of your first officer. She’s skilled.”

Saavik tilted her head curiously. “How did you acquire this knowledge? It is not located in my personnel file.”

Jaws dropped.

“Ah,” said Saavik, “you attempted humor. My pardon.”

“Damn it!” said Warfield, “I learn more about you on accident than I do on purpose! Who in hell would have the gall to teach a Vulcan massage?”

Saavik cleared her throat defensively. “Deltans are renowned for their willingness to teach any of the--”

Stuart made a strangled noise. “You know Deltan massage?”

Hoskins had turned a remarkable shade of pink.

Warfield grinned lasciviously, “Does he know that?”

Saavik looked an almost Romulan color. Her chin lifted. “It was purely a logical research for--”

Stuart grinned, eyes bright with wickedness, “Damn. I love your idea of research.”

Saavik closed her eyes in an expression of a martyr.

“Are you good?” asked Warfield slyly.

“The Intrepid is a reputable ship,” Saavik noted in warning.

“Okay, okay, we’ll stop!” said Stuart, holding up her hands in surrender.

Saavik gave them all a suspicious study. Her gaze fell on Warfield and sharpened.

“Oh, no, this is too damn good! There is no way I can miss--”

Saavik looked calmly at Stuart. “Captain, I believe the ship’s outer hull could use--”

Warfield made an outraged noise. “That’s unfair! You can’t pull rank like that!”

“I am not ‘pulling rank’; I am merely noting the Third Law in Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis.”

“Ahh! That is so, so Romulan!”

“Actually, it was formulated by a human physicist by the name of Sir Isaac Newton who--”

Stuart had to be helped to the ground; she was caught so hard between laughing and gasping in agony.

When she had recovered enough to wipe the tears off her face, she sighed contentedly in the grass and looked up at her first officer fondly. “Like we need to add any more ‘smoldering sexuality’ to your image.”

Saavik’s lips parted in complete shock. “I . . . beg your pardon?

Warfield rolled her eyes heavenward. “Like she would have noticed that.”

Specify.

Hoskins cleared her throat. “I believe the captain is merely quoting.”

“From whom?” demanded Saavik.

“An informal ship’s poll when you first came on board.”

“You . . . you gather data on the projected--”

“Not me!” protested Stuart, “The crew– some of the crew--”

“On what supposed evidence does this--”

Warfield grinned. “Oh, just a little thing called eyesight.”

Saavik’s dark lashed eyes were all fire and her fair skin had caught an emerald flush. “I do not have ‘smoldering--”

“Damn, what I’d give for a mirror,” sighed Stuart.

Saavik took a firm grip and forced it back under control. In a few moments, her eyes were coolly composed. She arched an eyebrow, the perfect Vulcan. “Is this preferable?”

“I’m good either way. Though, for the record, I love watching you do that,” noted Warfield with a grin. “It’s kind of like watching a cloaking device engage.”

Saavik gave her a firmly stifling look. “It would appear I am a rather continual source of entertainment to this ship’s crew.”

“If it makes you feel better, not as much as they wish,” grinned Stuart.

“If that is an attempt at comfort--”

Hoskins raised her hand. “May I ask a personal question?”

Saavik sighed. “Espionage.”

Stuart blinked. “What?

Warfield’s grin was almost ferocious in anticipation. “Why she learned Deltan massage.” She dropped next to Stuart on the grass. “Keep up, Captain.”

Hoskins’ eyes widened. “This is going to be bloody good.” She joined the other two on the ground. “Does he know about this one?”

Saavik’s lips thinned. “No. And, technically, I should not divulge--”

“Is it classified?” demanded Warfield.

She hesitated. “Not . . . to my knowledge.”

“Then tell!

“The captain--”

“Is fine, dammit!”

Saavik took a long breath. “You are aware of the Bet’aerl-Corte System?”

That got all three pairs of eyes to the size of moons.

“I thought that system was closed,” said Hoskins.

“It is.” Stuart nodded. “They’re extreme religious isolationists of the highest magnitude. Obsessed with denial of the physical, they view every race as a contaminant potential and respond with almost fanatical aggression to even the smallest perception of ‘defilement’.” She looked at Saavik with intense curiosity. “Except towards one.”

“Vulcans,” breathed Hoskins.

Saavik eased herself to the ground, sitting cross-legged. “Precisely. The Bet’aerl Order found Vulcan’s pursuit of complete mastery of the self as . . . intriguing and declared Vulcans worthy of servitude rather than death.”

“Such a lovely people.” Stuart frowned. “But how does espionage come into the ego trip?”

“The Bet’aerl-Corte System borders the Uncharted Territories. During one of their . . . responses to a Klingon peace delegation, their ships encountered an unknown vessel just outside of their borders. A vessel that contained an artifact of estimated age approximately four point seven nine million years.”

“Holy--”

Saavik nodded. “Which is exactly what the Bet’aerl considered it. It was given into the care of the ArchVeil at their central Temple for study, while its vessel was allowed to drift into Federation space. From translated document files in the ship, the Vulcan Science Academy and Starfleet Research were able to determine that the artifact was a sort of, to phrase the Commodore in charge, ‘galactic crossroads map’.”

“Oh, this is going to be good,” breathed Warfield. “To what?”

Saavik shook her head. “Not to what—to where. The map showed the locations of twelve Guardians.”

Stuart’s jaw dropped again. “Like . . . the Guardian of Forever? The one Kirk found?”

“Oh, bloody hells,” said Hoskins.

Saavik’s mouth turned wry. “A sentiment the highest levels of both Vulcan and the Federation found also. With the Bet’aerl’s extreme view of purity, the fear that they could potentially use such Guardians to ‘cleanse’ our galaxy was substantial.”

“Would they?” asked Warfield quietly, “Would they have really?”

“The Bet’aerl were not native to their system, after a long nomadic span of seven centuries, they declared it their chosen homeland. They ‘purified’ it off two sentient races. Thirteen point seven four billion individuals across the system.” Saavik met their eyes. “Their continued aggression against all other races save for Vulcans, whom they found acceptable to enslave rather than annihilate, provided that answer.”

Stuart looked sick.

“It was determined that the Bet’aerl could not be allowed to keep the artifact.”

“This is where you come in,” grinned Warfield, shifting closer.

Saavik nodded. “I had performed other . . . tasks . . . of similar nature before, so I was . . . familiar to Command.”

Stuart narrowed her eyes at Saavik. “What? There’s nothing in your files about--” She swore and jabbed a finger at her first officer. “Why haven’t you told us about those other missions? And don’t say it’s a matter of ‘privacy’! As your captain I--”

“Do not currently hold the classification to warrant the information.”

“Son of a bloody--” Hoskins threw up her hands.

Warfield sighed. “Damnation! I swear it’s a conspiracy. If it’s not the ‘Privacy Act’, then it’s ‘Classified’.” She gave Saavik a glare.

Saavik started to rise.

“Wait a damn minute!” growled Stuart, “Where do you think you are going?”

“You did not appear to hold any further interest in the story.”

“Like hell! If I can’t hear the others, I damn well want to hear this one!”

Saavik resettled herself. “Very well.” Her head tilted in what they knew from familiar experience was her ‘lecture mode’ coming online. They exchanged grins and edged closer. “A being’s greatest weakness is his enemy’s greatest weapon. The Bet’aerl’s extremist views of spiritual defilement themselves provided a sufficient opening for our use.” Her eyebrow arched at them. “It is a well known tendency for repressive societies to harbor, shall we say, ‘discordant’ elements in their societal infrastructure. No doubt an original natural outgrowth of that society’s innate yet denied needs, these elements nonetheless possess intrinsically within them the ability for dramatic societal reconstruction. Or complete dissolution, depending on the desires of those directing such elements.”

Warfield’s eyes were unbelievably huge. “Why aren’t you in Intel?”

Hoskins stared. “Am I the only one here that finds this extremely disturbing?”

“I am so tracking your every move on my ship from now on,” said Stuart uneasily.

Saavik almost looked amused at the thought. “If this recitation is causing undue stress, Captain, perhaps you should consider Command wise in classifying the others outside of your access level.”

Warfield’s brows drew together. “So what are the ‘discordant’ elements of Vulcan society?”

“Romulans?” offered Hoskins.

Saavik drew herself upright, giving both women a stern look. “Vulcan,” she said with all dignity, “does not repress.”

Warfield crossed her arms. “Ah huh.”

“Vulcan practices mastery, not repression.”

“Isn’t that the whole ‘A rose by any other name’. . . ?” teased Hoskins merrily.

Warfield grinned and looked at Saavik expectantly.

And Saavik didn’t disappoint her. “This from the ones who cannot even remember the names of their sexual partners after a mere two days time passage.” Her eyebrow lifted in reproof. “The same ones, need I note, who yet continually require my repressed nature to rescue them from the very consequences their unrepressed selves created?”

The other three had the good graces to squirm at the truth.

Saavik turned to Warfield. "Did you not say that Mr. Hoskins was a much preferred exception to the 'elitist' Terran cultural state she was born into?"

Lauren blinked. “Um– ”

Hoskins shouted at Warfield, “You said what?”

Saavik fixed Stuart with a steady gaze. "And Captain, do you not repeatedly give commendations to those officers who demonstrate 'a marked ability to maintain appropriate self-control' in crisis situations? Indeed, you yourself have displayed surprising levels of near Vulcan repression in regards to your relationship with Chief Jakobs in order to better 'serve your duty to--'"

Stuart grimaced. "If I say 'you're right' will you separate Hoskins and Warfield before they kill each other? I can't get up fast enough."

Saavik blinked and then eyed the rapidly escalating out of control shouting match behind her carefully. And crossed her arms. She lifted a mild eyebrow at Stuart. “In regret, Captain, that action would entail an untoward repression of their emotions.”

Stuart pressed her fingers against the center of her forehead and then broke out in laughter. "You win! Just break them up!" She scowled. "I don't want to be replacing half my damn bridge crew in the same week!" Her face brightened mischievously. "And I want to hear the rest of the story."

Saavik's eyebrows rose. “Perhaps it would be safer if--”

“Call it expanding my cultural understanding of a fellow crewmate." Stuart jerked an expectant thumb at Warfield and Hoskins who now looked uneasily close to physical blows.

Saavik looked openly doubtful, but she cleared her throat. Loudly. It got the two other women to stop arguing almost instantly.

Saavik eyed them both reprovingly. "If you require an extended shoreleave--"

"Oh hell no!" said Warfield quickly. She threw an arm around Hoskins, who nodded a bit too fast and smiled overly fondly back past clenched teeth. “We're good.”

Saavik narrowed her eyes at the two. “I have excellent peripheral vision,” she warned.

They gave two exactly identical and far too innocent grins.

Stuart snorted. "Can we get back to the story?"

“You still wish--” Saavik looked openly doubtful, but it got the two other women to stop arguing.

Warfield’s eyes suddenly widened. “Hey! Does this mean Ambassador Devon’s ‘accident’--”

“I do not engage in assassination attempts,” Saavik said sternly. She straightened with offended dignity. “I do not fail.”

Stuart turned an amazing purple and choked. “Just what the hell did I let on my ship?!”

Warfield patted the Captain’s shoulder comfortingly. “Relax, Captain, she only uses her evil powers for good.”

Stuart swatted at Lauren and fixed Saavik with a suddenly furious glare. “What exactly is your purpose on my ship?”

Saavik’s eyebrows lifted in genuine surprised confusion. “I . . . beg your pardon?”

“I want to know and I want to know right damn now — are we a mission?”

Both Warfield and Hoskins’ jaws dropped and they turned to stare at Saavik. The look of sudden open hurt in Lauren’s eyes was a marked contrast to Lynn’s equally swift icing over.

“You . . . you wouldn’t . . . .” Warfield gripped Hoskins’ arm with white knuckles and looked pleadingly at Saavik. “Savage?”

Stuart’s lips were tight and her hands clenched. “Tell me.”

Hoskins swallowed hard, several times. “I had . . . heard rumors that Starfleet was thinking about opening an . . . an inquiry into the ship.”

“I had wondered,” Stuart said bitterly quiet, “how we could manage to get someone of your abilities. You can’t possibly be slated to get anything less than the damn flagship.” She swore blackly. Mostly at herself, her face hot. “I knew it wasn’t right! I let my damn fool pride--” Stuart turned hard, pained eyes on her First Officer and shook her head ruefully. “You are off my ship.”

Saavik got up stiffly, her body instantly becoming as frigidly formal as when she had first arrived on the ship. Only her eyes showed anything of the personality they knew of their first officer. “I have been a more than loyal officer--”

“I commend your use to the Admiralty!” snapped Stuart.

Saavik barely breathed as she kept her reply in control. “I have been a loyal officer to you.”

“Prove it.”

Saavik met Stuart’s eyes unflinchingly. “Captain, if you feel it necessary to so question it, then there is no qualification I can make to prove otherwise.”

They locked stares — Saavik’s burning conviction against Stuart’s wounded angry disbelief.

At last Stuart flushed and looked away. “I . . . I had to know,” she said, quietly pleading for both forgiveness and understanding. Her mouth moved bitterly. “It wouldn’t have been the first time Command . . . .”

Warfield reached over and gripped Stuart’s shoulder comfortingly. “You’ve changed. You’re not that officer anymore. Hell, none of us are!”

Hoskins winced. “Well, we’re better at any rate.”

All three officers hesitantly looked at Saavik.

She gave them a still hard stare. “Permission to speak freely, Captain.”

Stuart had to give it to her, even if she was going to hear something she wouldn’t like. . Especially after what she had just done. “Granted. Of course.” She wanted to say, You know that, but knew she had just damaged that level of trust.

“I will not hear any future references doubting my loyalty and service again.”

Stuart swallowed thinking of all the times Saavik had nearly died for her and the missions since they had first met on Aerfen. “Of course.”

“Even if it entails repression on this crew’s part when they judge my record and actions.”

"It won't happen again. I shouldn't have let Command playing favorites with who can be a maverick and who can't make me doubt you."

“And I will not allow further statements regarding quote, ‘dealing with my unresolved self-conception issues’, from any member of this obviously in need of intense and frequent counseling sessions crew.”

Warfield and Hoskins became a pair of bookends, staring in outright shock.

Stuart rubbed her face. “You’re mad at me now, aren’t you? Not mad, but whatever the right word is.”

Saavik took several deliberately measured beats, forcing her stance from rigid at-attention to something less forbidding, but she still eyed Stuart cautiously. “I am still debating the proper response.”

Warfield looked positively mournful again. “Now you’ve changed your mind about Intrepid, haven’t you?”

Hoskins put a hand on Lauren’s shoulder and gave Stuart a scowl.

Saavik replied, “As my presence is no longer allowed on this ship, it would seem a wise decision.”

Stuart colored even deeper. “If I take it back, will you stay?”

Saavik considered it a long moment. “On one condition, non-negotiable.”

Stuart frowned suspiciously. “Which is?”

“A summary of what I have already stated. If, at any future date, you wish to disregard all evidence to the contrary of my loyalty, in complete display of illogic I note, you will retain the appropriate respect of an officer of the Fleet and allow me the ‘benefit of the doubt’. At least of sufficient length to present appropriate levels of proof.”

Stuart slowly smiled. Then her eyes sparkled in mischief. “Question first, airlock second?”

Saavik gave a martyred sigh. “I have witnesses.”

Warfield burst out laughing. A lot of it was obvious relief. “They don’t count! The Klingon envoy was drunk!”

Saavik looked skyward. “For the seven hundred and fifty-third time, I did not intend to airlock the Andorian.”

“But you so wanted to—admit it!” teased Stuart.

“Desire and deed are sufficiently divergent--”

Saavik stared at them unreadably for a long moment. “And also for the record, subterfuge is an unnecessary expenditure of effort where it involves this crew.” Her body had eased slowly and she looked at them calmly now from under dark eyebrows.

Stuart blinked. “You . . . don’t?”

Saavik shook her head very seriously.

Hoskins frowned. “What exactly would you use?”

“A big damn stick?” offered Warfield cheerfully, now assured Saavik had forgiven them.

“A bribe?” said Stuart, crossing her arms. “Blackmail?”

“A game,” said Saavik.

The three human women’s eyes widened and they looked at each other and then back at the Vulcan.

“Which one?” asked Stuart suspiciously.

Saavik’s eyes sparked a challenge. “I believe this constitutes a ‘tag you are it’, Captain.”

“Oh yeah?” said Stuart dangerously, beginning to grin. “And what happens when I catch you?”

Saavik’s eyebrow arched. “With all due respect, Captain, you have not yet demonstrated sufficient skill to ‘catch me’.”

Stuart’s eyes narrowed. “Warfield, Hoskins.”

The other two women grinned wolfishly. “We got your back, Captain.”

That,” said Saavik carefully, eyeing them all, and edging ever so surreptitiously backward, “would be in express violation of the rules.”

“Since when,” said Stuart rolling ever so slowly to her feet, “does my ship follow rules?”

Saavik considered it a long moment. “An excellent point, Captain. Is a ‘head start’ still considered permissible?”

Stuart hesitated and glanced over to Warfield and Hoskins. They leaned forward into a huddle. “What do you say? Should we give her a chance to escape?”

“Not bloody likely,” snorted Hoskins.

“I agree,” said Warfield.

“Sorry,” grinned Stuart, turning back, “but--”

All three women abruptly swore.

The space where the Vulcan had been standing was empty.

Warfield whistled lowly in appreciation. “Damn, Captain, I think maybe we’re seriously out classed here.”

The three looked at each other.

Stuart grinned viciously. “Not as out classed as Intrepid just got.”

Warfield whooped. “Savage is ours!”

Hoskins began casting around on the ground for tracks. “I don’t think it’s going to be that easy, Lauren.”

“Lynn’s right.” Stuart sighed and looked sorrowfully in the direction of their meal crate. “I think we’re going to need a bigger still, I can almost sense the bruises forming.” She turned back and glared at the empty space where her first officer had been. Suddenly she swore. “Dammit! I’m never going to hear the rest of that story, am I?”

Warfield patted the Captain’s shoulder confidently. “She’ll tell us the rest, Captain.”

Hoskins frowned. “She will?”

“Yep,” Warfield grinned unrepentantly and nodded. “She’ll have to.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially and gave the others a wink. “Because if she doesn’t, she knows we’ll just make the rest up ourselves.”

Stuart put her arm around Lauren. “My dear, I think it’s time I promoted you.”

Hoskins nodded innocently. “I hear Intrepid’s about to need an officer.”

“Airlocks, Lynn,” said Warfield sweetly, “airlocks.”

Stuart laughed and shoved the other two towards the tree line. “Let’s find our first officer before she wises up—and keeps going!”


* From Just A Typical Shoreleave by Marla