Chapter 1 - Reunion

K’Naut sat in the far corner of Mercutio‘s main lounge, facing the entrance. He took a sip from his cup of Vulcan herbal tea. He’d started with kumis but after going through 3 glasses in just a few minutes,  he switched to tea. He needed to remain calm and cogent. He was exhausted after completing his first away mission since his return to Starfleet. Under other circumstances, the Caitian would be curled up in his bed with a PADD full of technical reports, but he had to know about Statzia. It had been more than 20 years since she had mysteriously vanished from his life.


She had asked him to meet her here. He hadn’t felt this nervous, ever. A single night of drunken, desperate lovemaking had evolved into a deep and meaningful friendship. And then she was gone without saying goodbye. It had hurt almost as much as losing Kessia. He deserved an explanation.


He sighed and took another sip. Where was she? He checked the chronometer and saw that there were still a few minutes left until the agreed upon time. He’d reached the dregs again. He lifted his hand to catch the attention of the server and when he dropped it, there she was, standing in the doorway. His heart skipped a beat.


She’d been standing outside of the lounge for nearly ten minutes, trying to convince herself to go in. If she’d waited much longer, she might have paced a groove in the deck plating. He’d been her best friend and companion for the three years they served together on DS10, until Intelligence reached out–the station project was on its way to being scrapped, costing more than Starfleet felt was necessary for the retrofit and repairs. They’d needed someone like her–with her background, her damage, her family history of shady business dealings–and in order to sell the lie, she had to walk away.

He deserved better.


She hadn’t told anyone, not even the station captain, what was in the works. She’d emptied what sparse items decorated her quarters, left her letter of resignation on a PADD at her station, and took the shuttle that had been conveniently left for her at the docking ring. Aside from her handler, it was complete radio silence to anyone and anything she’d ever known.

Now she had to face him. She’d been on the Mercutio for an entire week, and had put it off for this long. She owed him as much of an explanation as redactions and classified files would allow her–and she knew it wouldn’t be enough.

Statzia paused, taking a deep breath before crossing the lounge. The look he gave her as she crossed the room almost tore her apart. She sat in the chair next to him–back towards the wall, as a force of habit–her eyes doing a survey of the room and its occupants before she turned her attention to him. “I–I know there’s nothing I can do to change what I did–but I want you to know that I am so very sorry.”

K’Naut watched as Statzia crossed the room. Despite the years since he’d last seen her, he found that he could still read her. The way she moved and the expression on her face were much the same as when she had to go see Dr. Barnes, back on Deep Space 10. Resigned, but determined.


As she sat, the Caitian sampled the air. Statzia smelled much the way he remembered. There was a slight difference that he couldn’t place. He didn’t think it was her age. The years had settled gently on her, with no gray in her hair and perhaps a slight tightening of the skin at the corners of her eyes and mouth.


Her wary sweep of the room was new. He wondered about that, but not for long. She turned to him and he found himself gazing into the depths of those familiar dark eyes. It was as if no time had passed at all.


Several moments passed after Statzia had finished speaking. K’Naut looked down at his tea. The tangle of emotions was difficult to process, but one thing was very clear.


“By the Clans, Z,” he said finally. “It’s so good to see you.”

All of Statzia’s emotions came out in a nervous chuckle. “After the way I left? I was surprised you wanted to talk to me at all.” Movement at the entrance to the lounge brought a brief draw of her attention as her eyes flickered to the door and back again. “My being here–it’s not fair to you, I know. Of all the places in the fleet to give me a desk job and they drop me on your ship.”

Gods…why did he have to look at her that way?


K’Naut noted the way she kept glancing around the room. He wondered what had happened to give her that habit. He raised his hand to get the server’s attention. So many questions filled his head that he had trouble deciding where to start. 


“I’m surprised as well,” he said. “It hurt, you disappearing like that. I was angry and confused. If you had shown up within a year or two after you left, I wouldn’t have wanted to talk to you. No, that’s not quite right, I would have said some things to you, mostly in Caitian and all unpleasant.”


“Your people have a saying: Time heals all wounds. I wouldn’t say that I’ve healed completely, but the years have dulled the pain.”


He paused when the server, a former Mark-1 EMH, arrived to take their orders. “More tea for me, Jimmy,” he told the hologram. “And whatever the lady wants. Put it on my tab.”


“Amusing as usual, sir,” Jimmy replied, not sounding amused at all. He took Statzia’s order and walked away stiffly.


“I know I shouldn’t needle the Mark Ones, but it’s so much fun,” K’Naut said, grinning for a moment before continuing. “After you were gone, I threw myself into my work. After DS10 shut down, I bounced around, leaving a job whenever I started to feel too comfortable. I didn’t want to get close to anyone. I would imagine an angry confrontation if you showed up. But after a while, it became a joyful reunion. And later still, I stopped thinking about seeing you again. You had become a pleasant but slightly painful memory. “


He was surprised at the tears that welled up. “And now you’re here,” he said hoarsely. “You’re right, it’s not fair, but since when does life have to be fair?”


There was a momentary furrow of her brow as she caught the waiver in his voice. “If you’d known where I was going or what I was doing, you would have insisted on following me. I had to cut out everyone–especially you.” Statzia glanced away, watching the moment of someone else crossing the room. “I didn’t have a choice. Anyone I cared about would be a liability, and anyone who cared about me would be in danger.”

“I had a cat, you know.” Her eyes met his briefly before looking towards the hands in her lap. “Pickles. Scrawny little stray I found in some backwater alley. It took all of two months before some warlord with a point to make made it on Pickles.” She looked up into his eyes again. “I thought about reaching out–so many times. I would sit there for hours with the coms screen open just wanting to let you know I was okay.” It was her turn to sound hoarse. “After losing Tallin, I couldn’t risk losing you. You were safer without me.”


K’Naut was quiet for a long time. He looked around the lounge. A lieutenant with a gloomy expression on his face sat alone at the bar. In the far corner of the room, a pair of men shared an intimate moment, snuggled close with heads together. The center of the room held half a dozen ensigns who were boisterously celebrating the promotion of one of their own to lieutenant, junior grade. Off to one side, a trio of 4th-year cadets sat, each with a PADD, in earnest discussion. There were 8 or 9 others, scattered singly or in pairs, enjoying a beverage or having a light meal. The Caitian looked back to Statzia, at the way her eyes flicked between them.


At first, K’Naut thought that she was nervous or embarrassed, but he realized that she was watching for potential threats. He looked over her more closely and saw the tension in the way she sat, as though she was ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice. He saw that part of her left pinky was missing as she massaged what was left of her left thigh. He burned with curiosity about what she’d been through since he’d last seen her, but he knew that demanding the answers would be the best way to shut her down. He would have to be patient. He only knew that she’d been through difficult times, but it was enough to cause the bond he had with her to flare up stronger than it had since the first weeks after it had formed on their first night of intimacy.


They had survived the rough and tumble of those early weeks, coming out with a close and solid relationship that grew closer and deeper in the years that followed. He examined his feelings and found that, at least for him, the years apart wouldn’t be much of a hindrance to rekindling their friendship.


“I can tell that you’ve been through some shit since we last saw each other,” he said at last. “And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about it, but I can set that aside. You’ll tell me when you’re ready.”


Statzia’s attention came back to him, their eyes meeting again. She could see the concern on his face, the way he looked her over, and she couldn’t help but flinch. “I’m sorry,” she sighed. “I haven’t exactly been in a good place for a while, and old habits are hard to break. I’ve been out for about nine months, but sometimes crowded rooms still set me on edge.” Her hand rubbed the back of her neck. “They’ve got me on orders to talk to the Counselor–she’s the one who suggested that I needed to talk with you sooner rather than later.”

She shifted in her seat, trying to force herself to ease back her tension and to focus more on K’Naut and less on the room. “There’s probably a lot of the last twenty years that I can’t talk about–not without permission to declassify reports. And…there are a lot of things that I’m not sure I want to talk about with anyone because I–I don’t like who I was and what I did. That’s probably the shit I have to hash out with the shrink, right?”

Statzia swallowed the lump in her throat. “I was in a lot of really bad places and did a lot of really awful things. They pulled me out because things were getting a little too hot, and it nearly cost me my life. If Emma hadn’t stabilized me and put me in a stasis pod and put the ship back on autopilot towards Federation space, I can’t say I’d be sitting here right now.”


K’Naut took a sip of his tea. He ran through one of his Vulcan exercises. The  thought of Statzia being in danger triggered the bond enough to make him uncomfortable. The exercise worked to calm him.


“It’s just as well I didn’t know what you were doing,” he said. “Just talking about it is affecting the bond. If I knew for sure that you were in danger, it would have been difficult to resist the urge to try to find you.”


The group of ensigns and their newly minted lieutenant had grown rowdy. The server tried to settle them without success. K’Naut felt a little guilty about how he’d been treating the Mk-1. He stood and raised his voice, “Hey!”


All conversation in the room stopped and all eyes turned toward the Caitian. 


“Do we need to get security involved?” he asked.


“No, sir,” the members of the group replied in unison. 


“Then settle down!”


“Yes, sir.” They went back to their celebration, subdued. The server looked surprised, then gave K’Naut a grateful nod.


He sat and glanced at Statzia. “You never shirked your duty, so I don’t expect you to tell me anything you’re not allowed to. But I look forward to hearing about what you can tell me,” he said. “Hell, Z, the most exciting thing that happened to me was helping with the Romulan evacuation.”


He began to take another sip but abruptly set the cup down. “Did you say Emma? As in the hologram from DS10?” At her nod, he continued, “They told us that her holomatrix had been returned to Jupiter Station for evaluation.”


K’Naut chuckled. “You remember when Dr. Barnes suggested that she could drop the word ’emergency’ from her description, that she was a medical hologram. She changed her name to Meh and then changed everything about herself to match her new name.” He shook his head. “That was quite a glitch. Captain Barclay had to come all the way out from Jupiter Station to fix the problem.”


K’Naut gave Statzia his real grin, the one filled with sharp teeth that frightened most people. “Damn, I’ve missed you so much, Z.”


Statzia looked down at her hands for a moment, almost looking sheepish. “I never told you that I was the one that broke Emma.” She laughed nervously. “I duplicated her holomatrix and took her with me. Or split them. I’m not exactly sure.” There was a flicker of a genuine smile. “My Emma got a nose ring and started wearing combat boots. Cobbled together some other training software for her early on, and I think that’s when her hair went pink. She never did change it back.”


Statzia finally picked back up her drink, but simply held it in her hands. She opened her mouth to say something, but movement across the room caught her attention. By the time she brought get focus back, she’d changed her mind. “They might call me back out, you know. Emma’s said for years that I should just find some quiet rock to park the shuttle on and take it slow, but it–this just all seems so quiet.” She set her drink down again, having not taken a sip. “And too loud at the same time.” She looked back into his eyes again. “I know that just makes me sound unhinged, right?”


“As unhinged as someone who just yelled at a bunch of young officers for celebrating the success of one of their own? Even though none of them are under his command?” K’Naut asked, glancing at the group. Several of them were giving him sullen looks, but they were keeping quiet. “I have the feeling I’ll be hearing from some supervisors over this.”


“You don’t sound unhinged,” he said after a moment of staring into his own drink. “You sound like someone who needed a break.”

Statzia’s gaze flickered over to the group of Ensigns. “They were being loud and rowdy. The correction was warranted. I–I would not have been so gentle.” She forced a smile on her face. “Being back under a chain of command is a bit of an adjustment.” Her fingers lifted to lightly touch the pips on her collar. “Feels even more odd to be in a uniform again. You’d think that after twenty years they’d figure out how to make these more comfortable, right?”


K’Naut grimaced. “It’s worse when you have fur,” he said. “It was closer to 30 years before I was allowed to re-enlist. And my uniforms are only marginally more comfortable since they’ve started using a lighter weight fabric for hirsute species.”


He tugged at his collar. “I see you’ve added a pip. Even with all of my experience, I had to come back with the rank I had when I was drummed out.”

“Two.” Her forced smile relaxed a little.”Though one of them was a 2nd time around, since I lost it in the demotion. Not that it made much of a difference when the promotions came through.” She shrugged slightly. “They both came through encoded messages from my handler, and I wasn’t even given the pips until after I came back from medical leave–about a week before they transferred me here.” Statzia’s fingers brushed them again. “It’s still surreal–having a rank again. I had Emma remove it from her programming, just to be safe. She always seemed a little bit off when I had to reprogram her so she wouldn’t slip into Starfleet habits.”

The knocking over of a glass on the bartop momentarily drew her attention away. Risk was analyzed and she turned back to K’Naut. “I think you would have liked her–the pink-haired Emma, that is. She was my only friend out there, even if that was probably mostly her programming. Her code wouldn’t let her swear in Common, but it would let her in Klingon. It was hard not to laugh when she’d get mad at me and let loose about my house and my honor.”


K’Naut nodded. “Emma was a prototype, but I’ve heard that even the production Mk-5s had a reputation for being quirky.”


The party of ensigns began to break up. The Caitian watched them file out of the room. He pulled out an antique pocket watch and checked the time.


“Oh, later than I thought,” he said. Seeing the bemused expression on Statzia’s face, he added, “I got this at an antique shop in San Francisco while I was at the Academy for re-enlistment training. It’s entirely mechanical. I have to wind it every day. And it’s still incredibly accurate.”


He drained his tea. “I’ve got to get back to my quarters. My current feline companion is a bit of a worrier. Thunder That Frightens One’s Foes is one of Clouds’ great grandchildren, but she’s not at all adventurous.”


Clouds–now there were some fond memories. It’s precisely why she’d taken in Pickles when she found the scrawny cat with its head stuck in a jar. “Well, I wouldn’t want them to worry.” She paused, looking sheepish. “I–I hope you can forgive me for what I did.”


“I’ve had years to think about that very thing,” K’Naut replied. “It’s true that your disappearance left me sad and angry and confused, but those feelings faded. I was eventually able to think about it intellectually. I realized that I never knew you to do anything without a reason.”


He shook his head and chuckled. “It may have been a petty reason, like that time you made the replicators give the captain mint cupcakes every time he tried to order something. He had to eat emergency rations for a week, and I can’t even remember why.”


“I knew that you must have had a reason for leaving. I am still curious about it, but I forgave you long ago.”

Statzia stood, leaving her drink untouched. “I–suppose I’ll leave you to it, then.” Her eyes scanned the room, as if making one last search for threats that would hinder her exit. She gave a curt nod, tucked her hands in her pockets and walked quickly across the lounge and out the door.


K’Naut watched her leave. He wanted to rekindle their friendship, but he could see it was going to take time. The last time he’d seen her this guarded had been the first night they’d stayed together. They had alcohol to smooth things over back then. He wondered what would do it this time. He watched her stride through the room. Then he realized that he had never seen her walk like that. She moved gracefully without a trace of discomfort, her hips swaying unconsciously as she wound her way through the tables. Unbidden,  memories of their first night filled his head as she glided from the room.


He shook his head to clear it and rose to leave. His assignment on this ship had just gotten a lot more interesting.