Maren sat on a barstool in Ten Forward, absentmindedly twirling a straw in her synthoholic drink and wishing it was the real thing. She stared out the window into space, lost in thought.
“Maren! I was wondering when I’d run into you!” Lieutenant John Quigley enthusiastically dropped his lanky frame onto the barstool next to hers and ordered a Ktarian beer.
“You found me,” Maren replied with a grim smile. She was happy to see her old classmate and friend, but too shaken by her recent encounter with the past to react with any enthusiasm of her own.
“I heard you ran into Icheb on the bridge this afternoon,” said John. His voice was compassionate but curious.
“Word travels fast,” replied Maren. “Did you talk to him or something?”
“Not yet. I think he’s avoiding me. But Ensign Slidell has a big mouth -- I overheard him talking about it. How did it go? Slidell said he thought you were going to smack him.”
Maren smiled ruefully and took another sip of her drink. “Well, I’m not under court martial for assaulting a superior officer yet, so I guess it went about as well as can be expected.”
John shook his head and smiled. “You know you’re going to have to talk to him, Maren. The both of you can’t spend the next seven years pretending the last seven didn’t happen.”
Maren groaned and squeezed her eyes shut as if to block out his words. “Please. Let’s not talk about Icheb -- just seeing him was more than enough for one day. I’d rather talk about you, anyway. How have you been? I’ve missed you.”
John grinned. “Oh, you know me. As long as I’m not in one place too long, I’m happy. I’ve been bouncing all over the quadrant lately. I got to spend some time on the Titan
serving under Captain Riker; that was exciting. And now I’m going to get to see the Delta Quadrant!”
“We have to get there first,” Maren reminded him. She shared her friend’s enthusiasm for exploration, but the Delta Quadrant was a long way away, and they were entirely dependent upon brand new, relatively untested technology to get them there -- and hopefully, bring them home.
“Maren, I have the utmost faith in your ability to keep any machine running, no matter what happens to it,” said John grandly. Maren tried not to wince at this and said a silent prayer that his faith would not be misplaced.
She smiled at her friend, glad they had both been assigned to the Tesseract
. His warm, encouraging presence -- not to mention his tactical prowess -- was exactly what she needed to get through the next seven years in unfamiliar, potentially hostile territory -- in addition to the completely familiar, definitely hostile territory on the bridge of the Tesseract
. She had missed her easy friendship with John since they had graduated the Academy three years ago.
Actually, she missed a lot of things since then. Their group of friends, once so close, had fallen apart since she and Icheb had parted ways. A certain amount of that was to be expected as they grew and changed and were scattered across the galaxy by their superiors at Starfleet, but it had been the aftermath of Icheb’s leaving Maren that had destroyed the cohesiveness the group had shared. Sides had been taken, ugly words exchanged. Maren wished they could have all known the whole story, but she had sworn to Icheb that she would protect his secret, and even after he left, she had kept that promise, even at the expense of some excellent friendships. Like so many things, it ate her up inside.
After John had regaled her with a few stories about his apparently never-dull life with the Rikers on the USS Titan
, Maren noticed it was getting late. Her shift started at 04:00 the next morning and she needed to at least try and rest. There were less than 72 hours before launch and it was her job to make sure the ship was ready. She made her excuses, gave John a quick hug and a promise to talk later, and headed for her quarters.
She had almost reached her door when she saw him -- almost awkwardly upright posture, obsessively neat brown hair and that hideous Borg appliance over one of his hazel eyes. He was standing outside her quarters, looking hesitant and unsure. It was painfully obvious he couldn’t decide whether to buzz the intercom or flee.
Maren fought both the urge to hide and the urge to call Security. Hiding was simply not a viable long-term plan, and one generally did not call Security on the First Officer unless one had a valid reason to do so -- simply standing in the hallway didn’t seem like sufficient cause. Indeed, Icheb, standing at her door looking lost and conflicted, was clearly no threat to anyone’s security. Maren took a deep breath.
“May I help you, Commander?” She kept her voice as professional as possible.
Startled, Icheb whipped around and faced Maren. She wordlessly closed the remaining five meters between them and leaned in front of the eyescanner for identification. The door slid open and she motioned for Icheb to step inside.