"Memories, much like stories or dreams, are only as reliable as the narrator recounting them."

-Author

From the Ashes

IDP 2019, 2021

By Vakash Darkbane

Edited By: Saurex Conoway

Fara Phoenix awoke with a start, clutching at her chest. The fading strands of a nightmare quickly vanished from her mind as the morning sun spilled into her room. She glanced down and looked at her paws.

I was bleeding, she thought, I was shot… I thought….

She tried to get her breathing under control; she was practically hyperventilating. She heard the beep and whir of some medical device and turned to see a table of equipment she was hooked up to. What had happened? Why was she hooked up to this thing and, most importantly, why couldn't she remember?

She was sure she was home, she knew that much. She knew who she was. This was her room, the one she grew up in. Her old engineer's table sat where it always did with her first drawings of what would become the current model of G-Diffuser. That made her smile. She at least remembered that, although everything seemed muddy. She remembered her education and some of her more profitable designs for her father's company.

However, comforting as it was still, she had no recollection of how she got here or how long had she been here. Her bed was gone, instead of replaced with this hospital bed. Perhaps this was her father's doing. Maybe he thought she could recover from whatever happened if she was somewhere familiar. After cursing and fumbling with the guardrail, she was able to lower it. This was followed by the rather uncomfortable removal of the devices that were keeping her alive while she was unconscious.

"Anyone there?" She called out. She was sure if anyone had heard all that screaming earlier they would have come running by now. She gingerly stood on her legs and they immediately collapsed. She fell rather painfully to the floor, unable to support her weight.

She groaned and pushed herself back onto her haunches, seeing herself in the mirror. She looked gaunt and emaciated.

By the gods what happened to me?

Ever determined, she grasped the bed railing and used all her strength to pull herself up again. This time it was a bit easier, but it wasn't just a lack of strength. It was almost like her body was uncoordinated. This only brought up more questions. She knew enough to know that if she had been bedridden long enough for atrophy to set in, standing was an impossibility. Yet, despite her emaciated state, here she was.

She felt gross and wondered if she should clean up. Since she was on her own, she was in just as much danger doing that as anything else. Her private bath was just off her room through a door near the wall. She took a few paces around the bed until she got the hang of walking again and advanced to going from her desk to the bed.

Although it was an extremely tiring process, she got the hang of it, took the hospital gown off, and went into the bathroom. It hadn't been used in a while and a layer of dust covered everything. She sat on the vanity bench, pulled out the medical kit and quickly treated the areas where the IVs had been. Her stomach growled as she finished up.

"One thing at a time Fara girl," she said, "one thing at a time."

She leaned over and turned on the water, using the spray nozzle to wash the dust out before pulling the stopper and letting the tub fill up with warm water about half full. She was really wondering where the house servants were. Normally someone would have bothered her by now, but still...nothing.

Foggy, hazy memories of some war drifted to the forefront of her consciousness. Faces that seemed familiar, yet she couldn't recall the names. These memories passed as soon as they came up, only confusing her more. War had been a recurring problem on her homeworld and they all blurred together at some point.

The bath felt wonderful as she slipped into it and began to wash the funk off of her body. She glanced at the intercom near the tub and decided to see if anyone was around. She punched in the kitchen.

"Hello?" Fara said. "This is Fara, I could use some…food...I guess? And maybe some help getting around if anyone is down there."

After a pause, a female voice replied, "Miss Fara? Is that you?"

Fara was relieved to hear another voice. "Yes I think it is."

"Child, you are awake finally," the voice sighed with relief, "oh your father will be so happy! I'll be right up."

"Ok, don't bring a lot of people," Fara advised, "I'm in the tub."

"We're the only two here at the moment," the voice admitted, "just take it easy. I'll be up there shortly."

Fara kept up her bath until she heard a knock at the door. "May I enter miss?"

"Sure. I really can't stop you now can I?" She said.

An older female collie entered with a tray of food and sat it on the vanity, noticing the mess Fara made tending to her wounds.

"Why didn't you call for help, miss?"

"Well, after all the noise I made getting those damn devices out of me I'm surprised no one heard me."

"We're the only two in the house, miss," the collie said, "except for a few cleaning drones that is. I'm surprised you got out of the bed."

"Well I did," Fara said, "and who are you exactly?"

"My name is Maya Blazeblue," The collie said, cleaning up Fara's mess.

"Maya..." Fara said, "forgive me, but I can't recall who you are."

"I'm the head-and only-housekeeper here at Phoenix Estate. I've served your father most of my life and I'm not one for fighting, so I stayed here throughout the hostilities." She smiled softly. "My mother kept watch over your family's home and the Phoenix's have always been good to us, so I continue the tradition."

Maya walked over to a closet and retrieved a robe and a towel, setting them neatly folded on the edge of the tub.

"What happened to me? How long have I been sick?" Fara asked.

"In good time dear," Maya said gently. "I've been instructed by your father to avoid those subjects to make sure nothing causes you further shock."

"Fair enough," Fara said. Maya then handed her the bowl. A little bit of apple sauce was inside it. Fara held it up looking disappointed.

"I don't want you throwing it up," Maya said patiently, "just finish it and we'll go from there."

"Ok...fine," Fara said grudgingly. "So I was sick?"
"Yes miss, you were for a long time. It was quite the fever you had. We were all very worried about you."

Fara finished her meager meal and sunk down into the water, sighing. "So how long was I out?"

Maya hesitated. "Like I said...don't trouble yourself with it dear."

Fara sighed. She was feeling better and she scooped some water over her head and got out of the tub, with a little help. Maya handed her some towels and, after she dried off, a robe.

"Thank you," Fara said. "I think there's a window out here. I want to see what's going on outside."

Maya was again hesitant. "Are you sure, miss?"

"Yes."

Maya nodded and helped her into the robe before leading her out into the room. The mansion was dim and only illuminated by emergency lighting.

"Why are the lights out?"

"So many questions miss, please take care...a lot has happened," Maya said, concerned as Fara got out of her grasp and approached the large draped window.

"I just want to see what it's like outside," Fara said, grabbing the drape and pulling it aside, squinting as daylight poured in. What she saw as her eyes got used to the light stole her breath, but not for its beauty. The ruins of the capital city of Corneria rose in the distance and scorched lands packed with assorted wreckage lay before her view.

Fara stood aghast at the carnage and devastation before her.

"I told you, miss...have care in what you do," Maya said sadly, drawing the curtains.

Fara sat heavily in a chair at the end of the large dining table in the dining hall, trying to process everything in the faint light. The hearth had a wood fire in it which was providing heat to the large room. Nothing made sense. What happened to the world while she was out? How was her ancestral home in such a way, running off candlelight and back-up generators? Why was it so damn cold in here?

"What time of year is it?" She asked Maya as she brought her some tea.

"It's winter, miss," Maya replied.

"So, I take it with whatever happened out there, we're probably not going to have a Solsday tree this year?"

"No miss," Maya said with a halfhearted smile, "however, your father will be very happy to see you well again."

"Can you at least tell me what happened out there?"

"There was a war...and then an invasion from some horrible alien creatures over the last several years," Maya explained, her smile fading, "Corneria is hardly the gem it was before. It's almost like the old days, but with lasers and armored vehicles. It's a shame...so many young people are gone now. Only the old...the brave...the bold are left."

"Please tell me we have someone protecting us."

"Of course my dear," Maya nodded, "money still talks and Cornerian Arspace did survive the wars. We have several guards posted around to keep raiders and other ruffians at bay."

"Maya," Fara said, glaring and standing up. "I want to see Father...now."

"But, miss-"
"I'm a Phoenix am I not?" She snapped.

"Yes miss," Maya said reluctantly.

"Then get me something to wear! We are going to see my dad. Make the arrangements please," Fara said.

Later

Fara rode in her family's hover limo, escorted by two armored transports, as it raced towards the capital city. Fara sat in the back with two confused guards dressed in a red windbreaker suit. It wasn't very professional, but she didn't care. At least it was warmer than a bathrobe.

Maya protested the whole time and Fara hoped she had called ahead, despite being upset with her. Fara wished she could remember more. So much was just gone as she stared out the window at the ruined suburbs. She felt her heart sink looking at her fellow Cornerians struggling, trying to bring some sense of normalcy out of the wreckage of their former lives.

The city wasn't in much better shape. They passed a few checkpoints. It was spooky; the place looked almost like a police state and nothing like she could recall.

The convoy pulled up beside the ruins of the old capital building and it stopped.

"Is this the place?" Fara asked.

"Yes, it is Ms. Phoenix," one of the guards said after reporting in on his radio headset.

"Good. Take me to my dad, now." She snapped.

"If you say so, but he's in a…"

"Everyone STOP coddling me!" Fara barked, diving out of the car with the guards quickly following her, "and take me to my dad, NOW!"

The guards scrambled after her with a muttered, "Very well."

The feline squad leader grumbled, "Follow me, ma'am."

Fara followed them into the capitol building and through the ruined halls. From what she could tell it was still being used for its original purpose, but this building was in bad shape, with holes in the roof letting the cold in and the internal rooms having their doors modified to keep the weather out. They were approaching another room at the end of the massive corridor where there was another set of guards blocking the doorway.

"Excuse me, miss ,but you can't-"

"Is Reginald Phoenix in there?" Fara demanded, stepping around her guards.

"Yes, but you-"

Fara shoved him out of the way. "Just stop me then," she snapped, passing through the door.

The room was dimly lit and she could hear her father's voice, as well as two others, as she approached. Her father turned. His expression shifted from one of indignation to one of surprise and joy.

"Fara!"

Her father looked frail and sickly, not how she thought he'd be. As she approached, she stopped when she caught sight of the two figures on the other side of the table. She'd never seen anything like them before. They were some kind of humanoid race with long spines. One had maroon fur, a stern look, and a soul patch, neatly trimmed. The other had a small patch of brown head fur and one of his eyes had been replaced by a cybernetic implant. They both wore jumpsuits that looked like military uniforms with a strange, three-pointed insignia upon their chests. They were both definitely male and both were calmly scrutinizing her as she approached.

"I'm sorry…" Fara said, "I didn't…."

"Don't worry about it my dear," Reginald croaked. "Come here, please. It does me good to see you again."

Fara approached and her father's hand grasped hers. "Gentlemen," he said, "this is my daughter. I apologize for the interruption, but she's been unwell for a long time. This is a surprise."

The grim brown one cracked a small smile. "It's fine," he said with a gruff, scratchy voice. Fara noticed the light brown one was staring at her with a strange look in his organic eye, but keeping quiet. It was a bit disquieting.

"Fara, please have a seat. I'll explain in good time."

"Ok dad," Fara said, feeling a bit embarrassed.

"This is Admiral Kramer and Commodore Striker," Reginald said, introducing the alien pair. "They are from the Confederation of Free Worlds. You are from where again?"

"Termia," Striker, the light brown furred one, replied.

"Yes! They are here to help with the rebuilding effort," Reginald added.

"I hope so. It looks like we could use it," said Fara.

"That is part of why we are here," Admiral Kramer admitted, "your father spoke rather highly of your accomplishments. It would have been a shame if we were not to meet."

"I appreciate that, but I can barely remember any of them," Fara said. "Right now the ol' noggin is really foggy."

"We could have our physicians look at her," Striker spoke up.

"I'll be fine, just finish whatever you were doing," Fara said, sitting down, feeling a little dizzy.

Very well," Admiral Kramer replied. "Mr. Phoenix, I am convinced that despite your government's reluctance to accept our help, using your company to funnel some further aid to Corneria would be beneficial to our partnership."

"Of course it would be. I am more than happy to share our G-Diffuser technology with your people. That's why I contacted you. These idiot-"

He started to cough harshly and violently. Fara tried to comfort him, but he held her back. He took a handkerchief and cleaned his mouth before continuing.

"These idiot bureaucrats in the capital are so afraid of losing their positions that they don't know what's good for them. "

"I can respect your people's stubbornness," Kramer rasped. "However, I'm here to further our arrangement and get Corneria back on its feet again. Remember, when we made contact a decade ago, your world asked for our help."

"Yeah, and they've been living it up since then," Reginald said, "while the people they claim to protect starve and freeze out there." Reginald coughed again. "I'm doing what I can to help provide jobs in the merchantman fleet and maintain it, but there isn't much call for warships and fighters these days."

"Don't worry about that," Kramer said. "With our agreement, money won't be a problem for much longer."

Fara laughed. "What? Are you just going to make it all go away magically? I saw the mess out there. I doubt you have enough credits to even make a dent in it."

"Fara," Reginald said sternly.

"Yes," Kramer said, raising a brow, "we will."

"Look, I don't know what these two are selling you dad, but I don't believe it."

Reginald smiled at his daughter. She was just as shrewd as he was.

"Gentlemen," he said, "if you don't mind, I think I would like it if you showed her. Maybe have your doctors make sure she is well."

"Very well," Admiral Kramer said, standing up. "Kramer to Gideon," he said, hitting the tri-pointed chevron on his chest.

"Gideon here, sir."

"Four to beam up."

"Beam up?" Fara wondered, glancing at her dad.

"You'll love this," Reginald said, standing up shakily, "just stand, please."
Fara did so warily, half wondering if this was some sort of a joke.

"I have the four of you locked onto," the voice said.

"Energise."

After the brief shock of feeling like she was being ripped apart, Fara found herself in a strange grey room, standing on a platform with her father and the two aliens.

"What the hell just happened?" She said, staggering a little.

"You could call it matter-to-energy and back-to-matter conversion," Admiral Kramer replied, offering a paw to steady her.

"That's impossible...we've never had that technology," Fara said, her head spinning.

"Well, we do," Kramer said. "Welcome on board the Gideon, Ms. Phoenix."

Fara's head started swimming.

"I think I need to…." That was the last she got out before unconsciousness grabbed her.

Her return to consciousness wasn't much fun. Her mind raced with old designs, her breakthroughs, every equation, problem, or gadget she ever put together all rushed back to her, all to the beat of a low, dull thud and an occasional beep.

Fara's eyes opened. She was in a brightly lit room with a brightly colored female bird in one of those weird uniforms standing over her.

"I take it you are an alien too?" Fara groaned.

"Well, that's one way of putting it," the bird lady said, running a device over her. "I prefer Doctor Cullen."

"What happened?"

"Exhaustion. You were out for a few days," Doctor Cullen said, looking at her readings. "For someone running as much as you are after recovering from an illness, you're lucky that's all that happened."

"So do I have to stay here?"

"No. You are free to get up," the avian replied. "You should be right as rain now, though you might want to eat something." She added, closing the device in her hand.

Fara sat up and looked at the subtle greys and beiges of the room around her filled with beds with blue thermal blankets and pillows. She looked down and noticed the floor was carpeted. "Wow...that's posh. What is this, a luxury liner?"

Dr. Cullen looked down. "The carpet?"

"Yeah...don't really see that on a ship-of-the-line."

"Well, maybe not a Cornerian vessel, but on a Confederation vessel it's pretty standard...has been for about thirty years."

"Hey Sparkplug, are you causing problems down here?" Fara heard a familiar voice.

She saw Gerard, her father's partner and close family friend, enter the sickbay. He was a cornerian raccoon, dressed as garnish as ever with his fancy green over coat and matching suit underneath. Despite a few grey furs, he looked just like she could remember him.

"Gerard!" She said, rushing up to him and giving him a hug.

"Easy there kid, don't get worked up! They just got you back up and going again."

"I thought maybe…"

"I've been up here helping out these nice Confederation folks," the racoon smiled, returning the hug. "I made it through the last few years just fine."

"Mr. Fiagro, I've done a full scan of her," Dr. Cullen said. "She should be fine as long as she gets a good meal in her and gets to sleep on time."

"That's good to hear," Gerard said. "Why don't you get changed out of that smock and we'll go see your dad."

Fara noticed she was in some sort of hospital pajamas. They felt almost like normal clothes, so she hadn't noticed.

"There's a replimat just down the corridor," Dr. Cullen said, "they have some fitting rooms, I'm sure she can find something there."

"Right," Gerard said. "I know the way. Follow me kid."

Fara nodded and followed the racoon out into the corridor.

The corridor was brightly lit and carpeted as well, with some sort of black interface running along the wall at shoulder height. They passed several species she'd never seen before they found a little open room with some changing rooms and a few banks of computer controls.

Gerard strolled up to one, pressed his finger to it, and it lit up with an interface.

"You'll love this," he assured her.

Fara came up to him and looked.

"Computer, display a list of female fashions for the working engineer for my friend here."

A small sensor in the wall scanned Fara and it started to display several different outfits.

"Take your pick," Gerard grinned, "I'll wait out in the corridor."

"Sure," Fara said with a smile. She found the interface easy enough to operate and liked the fact that the vocal interface was almost flawless. She didn't have to repeat herself. After some careful consideration she picked a modification of a one piece suit with a high v-neck and a vest that went over the top under a light pocketed long coat. She told the computer to replicate it and the outfit appeared on a small platform.

She went to the changing room and quickly put it on. The outfit looked good on her. It breathed well and the pockets were definitely a plus. She stopped when she finally noticed herself in the mirror. She had a full head of long flowing blonde hair.

She stared at it in shock. How in the world would she be able to fly with that much….

She remembered she could fly a space fighter….

Flashes of strangers….

Battles in space…

Fire…..

Pain….

Fara clenched her fist and leaned against the wall, trying to get her breathing under control. The images she saw in her mind's eye were gone as quickly as they had come and she dismissed them as being nothing more than part recovering from her illness.

She stepped out into the corridor. "How do I look?"

"Like you are ready to get to work," Gerard chuckled.

"I'll take that as a complement, let's go."

At dinner, her father filled her in on current events.

While she was recovering, Corneria had made an alliance with the Confederation and in that time, the Cornerian government had been doing a supreme job screwing up any aid they received. Her father had been working with the Confederation separate from the government to try to make some real headway in the recovery process. Fortuna, for example, had become an expansive network of orbital fleet yards in a few years. It now produced Confederation and Lylat vessels at a rather impressive rate. He explained that with the replication technology the echidna's brought, anything could be fabricated in a matter of moments by just taking raw materials, breaking them down to core elements and reassembling them into whatever was desired. Reginald explained they had been trying to get the devices distributed to the civilian populace, but were getting pushback from the government. Fara reasoned that eventually, if enough of them got out, it wouldn't be too long before things really started to change for the better.

."So, even with the Confederations help, how long do they think it will take Corneria to completely rebuild?" Fara asked.

Reginald sighed. "Twenty years is our best estimate. I'll be lucky to see it at the rate I'm going."

"Don't say that dad," Fara chided. "Why are you so sick anyway?"

"I had a brush with an assassination attempt," Reginald said and then quickly continued, "don't worry about it! These folks have given me something to keep death at bay a bit longer. They just can't repair the damage that's already been done. That's why I need you to consider taking my place."

"Dad...I know you want me too, but," Fara shook her head, "I'm still trying to figure out my own self at the moment."

"What do you mean by that?" Reginald asked.

"I keep having what I think are memories," she said, "but they're very jarring."

"Well, you were sick for some time," Gerard said beside her. "I'm sure there will be some side effects."

"I guess...but I just feel off," Fara said. "I can remember some things really good and then they're gone." She continued to eat.

"I'm sure you'll figure it out in due time dear," Reginald said kindly.

Fara shrugged. "So, what's with this ship?" She asked, motioning around her and to the gorgeous view they had of their homeworld through the large arched windows in her father's quarters.

"It's called a Harrier class ship, one of their larger vessels," Reginald replied. "800 crew, about 6 times larger than our biggest ship. You know, this thing has an arboretum that's almost like a city park on it?"

"No, but I'll have to check it out. So, how do these people get anything done with everything being so comfortable?" Fara asked. "I mean, I'm pretty sure I saw couches in some of those alcoves on the way over here."

Reginald chuckled. "Yeah...you'd think they'd be a bit slack with all this comfort, but you'd be surprised."

"Look, is there something I can work on while I'm trying to get my own head in order," Fara asked.

Reginald smiled wanly. "You should really rest."

"I'm done with that," Fara waved impatiently, "I want to get to work on something. Do you have any projects or anything I can do?"

Gerard chuckled. "Same ol' Sparkplug."

"Indeed," Reginald coughed. "I have a few things back home…"

"Not interested," Fara said quickly. "Why would I want to stay down there when I have this?"

"Very well," Reginald huffed.

Gerard made a suggestive coughing sound.

"We are working on a project up here with the Admiral," Reginald said with a slight glare at Gerard, "developing a new type of ship for them."

"Ok, now that sounds more like it," Fara said, setting her utensils down with authority. "When can I start?"

Reginald shook his head. "Whenever you want to, I suppose. Just speak to them."

The bridge was noisy and larger than what she was used to. There was a constant soft trill and the sounds of various computer chimes as people worked at their stations. A grey Cornerian wolf wearing one of those strange uniforms approached her as she stepped off the turbolift.

"Excuse me, miss, no civilians are allowed on the bridge," he said sternly.

"Yeah, I get that a lot. Out of my way tall, dark and loathsome," Fara said, trying to step around him.

"Ms. Phoenix," she heard from down on the lower part of the command deck where she saw a short, dark maroon furred female echidna standing up and looking over the railing between her and the turbolift. "You don't have clearance to be here."

"Well your stupid computer let me come here," Fara pointed out, "and you are?"

"Captain Yun," she said flatly, "and you are on my bridge. State your business or I'll have you escorted off it."

"I'm looking for the Admiral and his pal," Fara said. "You got a problem with that?"

Captain Yun glared at her and then hit a button on her chair armrest. "Admiral, one of the locals is here requesting to see you."

"Very well send her in," came the reply.

Captain Yun seemed a bit shocked he allowed this.

"It is Ms. Phoenix isn't it?" The Admiral asked. He sounded amused.

"Yes, it is, sir."

"Send her on through please," he said.

"Sure," Captain Yun said, "Mr. Rivas, could you show her the lounge?"

The wolf nodded and led her across the bridge to another terminal which led to the loungel. They entered the large lounge behind the bridge where the Admiral sat with several schematics and data pads. Commodore Striker stood off to one side.

"Ah, Ms. Phoenix," the Admiral said, "what brings you here?"

"I want in on whatever you have got going with my father."

"I see," Admiral Kramer said.

"I assume you mean our starship project?" Commodore Striker asked.

"Yeah," Fara said, sitting down.

"Lieutenant Rivas, you may as well stay. This will affect you as well," Admiral Kramer stated.

"Yes, sir," the wolf said, taking a seat.

Admiral Kramer leaned back in his chair and interlaced his fingers, studying Fara carefully. "It's called the Pathfinder Project," he explained, "we are working on building a new type of Escort and or Destroyer type vessel. It's a type of ship that we have not had need for until recently."

"Sounds like a real warship," Fara said. "What do you need one of those for?"

"Well, the Confederation has faced threats much like your own world has over the years and they are getting more drastic," Admiral Kramer said as he leaned back in his seat. "Being as our fleet's mission has primarily been one of peace, we don't have any sort of ship that can properly deal with those threats. The Pathfinder Project's primary purpose is to create the first ship of its kind to face those threats and test new technologies against them."

"What kind of threats could have you guys so worried with your fancy ships," Fara wondered, almost afraid to hear the answer.

Admiral Kramer and Commodore Striker exchanged glances. Kramer nodded to Striker, who slid her a data pad. Fara picked it up and looked at it. It showed a cubical ship made up of what appeared to be wire mesh, piping, and armor plates interlocking into some nightmarish configuration that seemed to wind infinitely into itself. From within it seemed to glow with a sinister inner light.

"They are called the Borg," Commodore Striker explained. "One of their vessels found their way into our space several months ago and we suffered heavy casualties trying to bring it down. Twenty of our ships and one Keldryian battleship were destroyed by that single cube."

"How did you stop it?" Fara's question was whispered.

"All that matters is that we did," Admiral Kramer said flatly. "A desperate maneuver that worked, won the day...but it taught us how unprepared we were to face such a foe."

Fara looked at the images of the wrecked ships and recovered records of the battle.

"Were you able to salvage anything from that beast?" Fara asked.

"Indeed," Striker replied. "We were able to salvage numerous weapons, defense systems, a few power generators, other assorted odds and ends…."

"So, you want us to come up with a warship to fight this?" Fara said.

"Yes. We have some ideas, but we feel Cornerian Arspace would bring a new perspective to our unique problem," Admiral Kramer said.

"Ok...you have my attention." Fara said looking at the information. "You want me to put this in one of these." She said motioning from the data pads showing the alien technology and the ones showing schematics of vessels that they had in their fleet. "And, if I do this, I can design this however I want, correct?" She asked.

Admiral Kramer chuckled. "We haven't offered you anything yet."

"Tough luck. I'm taking the job anyway," Fara said, scooping up the datapads. "Give me a day or two I'll come up with something." Fara moved to leave with a hand full of the datapads, but paused. "What's the budget on this project?"

The two echidnas exchanged looks and then smiled. "We don't have a budget. This is Fleet priority one. We need it done." Striker said.

"Oh, well that will make this much easier," Fara grinned from ear to ear and quickly left the room.

"Well, that was unexpected," Admiral Kramer mused as the door shut. "You were right. She is quite the remarkable woman. I wasn't expecting her to just barge in here and take the job...literally."

Striker shrugged. "I'm not surprised. At least we didn't have to beg her."

"I just hope she's the right one," Kramer said, leaning back in his chair again.

"Trust me," Striker assured him, "she is more than qualified."

"Sir's, if you don't mind me saying, she seems a bit eccentric," Lieutenant Rivas said flatly. "I thought you said she just recently got over an illness of some sort? She looks like a stiff breeze would knock her over."

"She's obviously more durable than she looks, Mr. Rivas," Striker replied. "However, your observations will be noted for the record."

"I appreciate that, sir," Rivas said.

"Do keep a close eye on her for us though," Admiral Kramer grunted.

"Yes sir," Rivas nodded.

Confederation Fleet Scrap Yards

Corsair system.

A few months later

The yard was filled with hundreds of dead ships from battles, accidents, or just retirement. It was a bit eerie seeing some of the vessels just listing through the void, intact and completely dark. A small shuttle moved between the hulks, its search lights passing over each of the derelicts. Fara had done some research and had decided in order to save time she'd build the ship off of an existing design.

"That's the one!" Fara cried. "Come on! Let's go check it out!" She was slapping the back of the pilot's chair.

"That hulk?" Rivas grunted. "It looks like it's not even worth the effort it took to drag it out here."

"It's perfect! I want to go on board and see if the superstructure is worth a damn," she said, running to the back and quickly dawning an EVA suit.

"You know we could just request a shell," Rivas sighed. "It would just take some time to produce it."

"Yeah, yeah, we could," Fara said, zipping up, "but we have a time table. If you are going to build a prototype you find some hulk no one is using, hope the superstructure is in good shape, gut it, and get to work. Plus, you can put whatever you want into it and no one cares."

Lieutenant Rivas shook his head and got into an EVA suit as well. "I don't know, it just feels a bit weird using a dead ship for this."

"What are you superstitious?" Fara glared.

"It just doesn't feel right," Rivas shrugged, "like necromancy or something."

"Pfft! Whatever! Come on, time is wasting! Get in your suit," Fara said, locking her helmet into place and grabbing her gear.

Rivas finished getting his suit on, depressurized the cabin and dropped the door. He didn't understand why she insisted on space walking when they could have just used the shuttle transporter, or even just scanned it for that matter.

"Oh lighten up! It'll be fun," Fara said.

"Flying through a space junk yard with a low level forcefield and a thin layer of cloth between me and oblivion is not my idea of fun."

"You know, you don't have to be my liason. I can request someone else." Fara groused.

"I'm going to be this ship's commanding officer when it's put together. Sorry, but you are stuck with me," the wolf grinned.

Fara glared and kicked, disengaged the magnetic lock on her boots. Using the suit's thruster pack she made her way toward the derelict vessel. It was a Darrian Class ship. Its warp nacelles had been removed and the wings that supported them stuck out from the ship's overall saucer shaped build. The upper decks clashed with the overall look of the ship, with a bridge module on top that appeared to have been hit directly. Its outer hull was blown out along one of the central decks along with other breaches. The ship's insignia had been removed when it was dumped here, but Fara knew its name and she had a specific reason for keeping it. She checked her suit's HUD and saw Rivas was trailing behind her.

"We're going in through that breach midship, so keep up," she said, gunning the thrusters and heading for the tear in the hull. She expertly piloted herself through the gap and landed on the ship's inner decks like a pro, engaging her magnetic boots once again.

Rivas approached and landed beside her. "So, what makes this one so special?"

Fara took out a tricorder and began scanning the ship. "Darrian class ships were made out of poly duranium alloy, way sturdier material than what your modern ships are made of. Based on the design requirements Admiral Kramer gave me, this thing needs to have maneuverability. You can put less stress on the structural integrity field if the ship's superstructure can support itself in high speed maneuvers. If this ship is as old as I think it is, it's perfect."

Rivas shook his head. "If you say so," he said with a whistle, looking at the destruction and wondering if any of the crew had survived.

Fara headed deeper into the ship. "I want to see the engineering deck."

Rivas nodded and followed.

Fara liked this ship already. It was a lot like Cornerian vessels in its utilitarian design and lack of comforts. Even in it's gutted condition, with all the amenities removed, she respected it's design. She stopped briefly to scan the bulkheads and despite all the damage the ship had sustained they were still solid.

"You are being awfully quiet back there," she said teasingly as they continued.

"This is just a little spooky is all," Rivas grunted. "However, so far the scans of the superstructure do seem promising."

"What's got you so spooked? Haven't you been on a dead ship before?" Fara asked.

"Yeah I have, but before the clean up," Rivas replied stiffly. "It's not a pretty sight and this is stirring up some bad memories." He paused. "You ever see what vacuum exposure does to a body, Ms. Phoenix?"

Fara shuddered, feeling like a heel. "No...I haven't."

"You are frozen how you died. Depending on your physiology and how rapid the decompression was, you may or may not…pop," he said, making an exploding motion with his hands.

"I'm sorry," Fara whispered.

Rivas chuckled through a wicked grin. "You've probably never seen the ugly parts of space, have you?" He continued down the corridor. "Probably spent your whole life on luxury liners, sipping wine in those nice rooms with plush furniture, without a care in the world."

Fara said nothing and continued forward.

"One day, when you are out here long enough, maybe you'll be a bit edgy walking around a dead ship," he sneered.

"I get it," Fara snapped, "now knock it off and follow me." She pointed him down a side corridor.

They walked through the darkened corridors, their lights illuminating the blank and stripped walls until they passed through what was once a double sealed door that led to engineering. The room was rather large. All the computer banks had been removed, leaving empty equipment trunks. The dilithium relay pods were also gone from the center and anything else useful had been stripped clean.

"Yeah, this will do nicely for the core I want to put in this thing," Fara said happily, looking around. She looked at her readings and walked around exploring the rest of the engine room deck.

Rivas stood watching her walk around. The ship seemed pretty sound and from the designs Fara had already come up with, seemed practical enough for a battleship. He could see how this hulk could be repurposed, but it would need a lot of work. Fara was humming to herself quietly, pleased with her choice. She then made a pleased exclamation as she stopped near one of the stripped consoles.

"What is it?" Rivas asked, walking up to her.

"Oh, you'll see. Probably the best reason I picked this ship," Fara smiled, pointing to the name, "fitting...in multiple ways, don't you think?"

The ships registry had been left behind on one of the consoles. It read:

U.S.S. Phoenix N.C.C 1875

A week later

The former Phoenix had been transported to the newly christened Starbase 186. It had formerly been a Keldryian outpost in the region, but had recently been retrofitted to be a Confederation base, with construction and repair facilities. Fara stood on the bridge of the starship transport with Gerard as they dropped out of warp.

"What on earth possessed them to put our project out here?" Fara groused.

"I'm sure they have their reasons, Sparkplug," Gerard said, "though I'll admit I'm not thrilled with it being on the border of their space."

"They assure me that I'll be protected." Fara said, noticing a few of the Confederation ships docked with the station. One of them looked very familiar.

"Well, nice to know the Admiral is along to supervise," she said, spotting the Gideon through the viewport. "Let's get this hulk towed inside and get to work."

Once the wreck of the Phoenix was secured, they disembarked.

"So, this is going to be the start of the Pathfinder Project?" She heard a voice say.

"That is correct Captain," Kramer's raspy voice replied. "It's all due to our chief designer's whims...there she is now."

Fara strode down the gangway with Gerard and saw the Admiral with his attendant Commodore Striker and another darker red furred echidna with a cane and a small, neatly trimmed beard with scars on his face. Lieutenant Rivas was there as well.

"Ms. Phoenix, this is Captain Stiles, this station's chief officer," Admiral Kramer said, "if you need anything, he'll be glad to provide you with it."

"A pleasure," Stiles said politely with a nod.

"Admiral, if you don't mind me asking," Fara said, "why here of all places?"

"It's out of the way. This station has the proper construction facilities and, well, no one really pays attention to what goes on out here," the Admiral explained, "do they Captain?"

"Not usually," Stiles admitted. "It's been pretty quiet for the most part."

"I thought we were near Urthean Territory," Gerard noted.

"We are," Stiles confirmed, "however, they've been pretty quiet lately. "
"I assure you that everything will be fine," Admiral Kramer said to Fara, "I will see to it that you have adequate protection while you work."

"Our facilities are at your disposal," Stiles added, "so if you need anything, let Mr. Rivas know and he'll relay it to me. We've already prepared your living quarters as well."

"Good," Fara said, "I have a few of my own people coming to work on this project and direct things, but for now I'm ready to get settled then get to work."

"Lieutenant Rivas can take you to your quarters," Stiles said. "I need to speak to the Admiral."

Rivas nodded and motioned for her to follow her.

"You are still sticking around?" Fara asked jokingly.

Rivas grinned. "Appears that way. Welcome to the dullest place in the galaxy. So, how far have you gotten in your plans?"

"Oh please! I've already got them drawn up." Fara said. "You should know by now I don't slouch when it comes to work."

"You really think you can turn that dead hulk into something that can knock our socks off?" Rivas asked.

"You don't even know the half of it," Fara said. "That is only part of it. Let's just say the Admiral has arranged for a few added features to this ship of ours. I can't talk about it yet, but I'm sure they'll let you in on it."

"Interesting." Rivas mused. "I look forward to it."

Another week had passed and Admiral Kramer's ship had returned to offload some of the special cargo that he wanted implemented into the ship's creation. He had mentioned it was like nothing she had seen before. This included a new, state of the art, ablative armament system that Fleet R&D wanted to test on this new ship. Fara was dying to see what the top secret components were. She flipped through her deck layout plans, which she had to keep a bit open for change due to not knowing exactly what all Admiral Kramer was wanting to have installed.

The cargo bay of the station was scattered with remnants of an alien vessel. Fara followed the Admiral through the twisted wreckage as he explained what it was. The area was locked down and Commodore Striker waited by the door with armored security guards as they walked around the wreckage.

"What you see before you is everything we managed to recover from the Borg vessel," Kramer explained as they walked among the taped off areas of charred debris. "As you can see, some of it is in better shape than others."

Fara looked around at the salvage and it's twisted and burnt appearance. "So, you never told me; how did you all bring this thing down?"

"If it wasn't for the quick thinking of a former student of mine making a 'deflector lance' that pierced its shields, destroying the vessel, who knows how much more damage it would have done. They had adapted to all conventional weaponry, but when exposed to something they were unprepared for, they were brought down." Kramer explained, looking over the various hunks of scrap. "This is everything we could salvage from the wreckage. Commodore Striker provided you a manifest. Ironically, the hulk you commendered from the scrap yard was the ship that dealt the killing blow. Fitting...it'll be rebuilt to the first of a new line of ships to fight this new threat."

"May I take a closer look?" Fara asked.

"Be my guest, it's been rendered inoperable as far as we can tell," Kramer said.

Fara stepped over to a piece of rather large machinery that looked like some sort of energy emitter. The metal was charred and black, but it had a strange coppery color mixed with hues of green and black. Some parts of it looked almost organic and had strange glyphs on it.

"Any idea what this does?" Fara asked.

"It's a highly advanced plasma weapon that eats through shields," Kramer responded.

Fara whistled. "That's a pretty nasty little toy...how many did you salvage?"
"Two; we believe they could be hooked into any power supply and be made operable again," Kramer replied.

Fara ran her hand along the cool metal of the device. Whatever monster the Admiral was having her build was going to definitely have teeth.

"So, this is what it breaks down to: you want me to build a warship that can fight these things? Give them a taste of their own medicine?"

"Ms. Phoenix, whoever the Borg are, they present a threat to all life in this quadrant," Kramer said sternly. "We were lucky to stop them once, and this was just a scout ship from what we could tell...and it did a lot of damage. If they come back, I intend for us to be ready for them. This project will be the first of a new line of vessels to stop this threat if and when it presents itself." He took a deep breath. "I am comfortable with you being the head designer of this project because your family is the best at doing what they do: building weapons of war. I need someone who won't worry about something being too harsh...too vicious...someone who knows how to build a ship that can fight and, most importantly, win."

Fara fished the datapad out of her coat that Striker had handed her and quickly scrolled through the manifest of the wreckage. "I don't think that'll be a problem with what I got here. It'll just take me a day or two to figure out where to squeeze it in the design I'm cooking up."

"I look forward to seeing them, since you have yet to share." Kramer croaked.

"Be patient," Fara smiled, wagging the data padd at him, "it'll be well worth the wait. I definitely have an idea for what I want to build."

"Perhaps giving us a clue would be nice," Commodore Striker spoke up from the cargo bay entrance door. "Having an Idea is one thing, a concept is another."

Fara glared at him. "Fine, you want a concept?" She took the pad and held it in front of her. "You want something that's mostly one piece, flat, low front and rear profile, none of this sticking out nonsense to give bits to cut off. Maybe make the front bit oval or like a spade. The Darrian was a good design, but it had struts and those have got to go." Fara said tracing her claw around the pad to make an example through pantomime. "You all have gotten too reliant on your shields. If something takes those out, you have lots of bits to blow off. So we're going to tuck the engines in like this." She said tracing the outline of where she wanted the engines to be mounted on the padd. "Highly maneuverable and hard to hit."

"Simple enough," Kramer said. "Can you give us a working model soon?"

"I can build a concept vehicle if you let me play with some of this stuff and loan me a few technicians who understand it," Fara replied.

Kramer looked over to Striker who nodded in agreement. "I will see to it that all the research on this alien technology is made accessible to you. Keep in mind at this stage it's still highly classified. You will be allowed in here to work with this equipment until we get the personnel you requested from Arspace cleared."

"Fine by me," Fara said. She was chomping at the bit to get her tools and dig into this stuff and see what made it tick. She was probably not going to get much sleep tonight at this rate there was so much to do and sleep just got in the way.

Fara started right away by ordering the stripping down of the Phoenix to her bare bones, a job that could be done by any idiot with a blowtorch and she didn't really need to oversee that part of the operation. The one thing she did need was a proof of concept and surprisingly the station's fabrication facilities proved more than adequate for the task at hand.

She had started with an old cargo shuttle and after a week of automated engineering, she had turned it into a fairly workable representation of the ship she was looking to build. After another week's time and with the help of the Confederation's plug-and-play tech, she had a nice test bed for the larger vessel. The Admiral's people came in and started installing the equipment, which took another week but was completed without a hitch. With the retrofitted alien technology installed and the ablative armor system, Fara finished it off with a nice black paint job with orange highlights, two of her favorite colors. The finished project was a sleek, overpowered shuttle that could probably do some damage to a larger vessel.

The best part about it was, it worked.

The ablative armor system would deploy and cover the shuttle in a protective layer that could deflect or absorb direct hits from projectile weapons and energy weapons. Fara was glad that when they tested it out the ship had been set to auto pilot. Standing on the bridge of the Gideon as they commenced the live fire test, she had her fingers crossed, half expecting the shuttle to be blown to pieces, but it shook off the hit. The fun part was when she got to fly the shuttle during the live fire test with the photonic missiles against the Gideons shields. She was amazed at how disruptive they were, even on a small scale, against the larger vessels shields.

Admiral Kramer was very pleased with the results. It worked in practice. Now it was time to move to the final phase. After the day's efforts, the Admiral, Fara and Striker were seated in the Gideon's conference room.

"Well done Ms. Phoenix. We know we can pull this off," the Admiral said, "I look forward to seeing the final product."

"I have to say I'm pleased with it as well," said Fara. "I didn't realize that tech could give a shuttle such a kick."

"Do you have an idea what the final vessel would look like?" Striker asked eagerly.

"Pfft! I can have it done by tonight and on your desk in the morning," Fara scoffed. "You want a resin replica too?"

"If you wouldn't mind," Kramer said with a small smirk. She couldn't tell if he was serious or joking.

Fara shrugged. It didn't matter to her. She was in her element. This is what she did.

"You got it," she smirked back.

The next morning

Admiral Kramer sat in his ready room going over the morning reports when his door chimed. In came Commodore Striker with the model of the ship she had described to them. Kramer smiled.

"She was serious," he said, looking over the model.

"She can be when she wants to be," Striker grunted.

"So, do you think this fits the bill old friend?" Kramer asked, picking up the model and examining it.

Striker nodded. "It does. It's perfect from what I can tell. You know, she was in the cargo bay with the salvage most of the night."

"I hope her dedication to the project doesn't prove detrimental to her health," the Admiral said, "the zeal is appreciated, but not necessary."

"You wouldn't get her to slow down if you tranquilized her," Striker said solemnly.

Kramer laughed. "Not many engineers in the fleet are like that. I appreciate your insight on this endeavor...but I am a little concerned you may be...stacking the deck in this matter."

"Sir?" Striker said nonplussed.

"I've only allowed you on board with this project due to our agreement. I know you recommended Ms. Phoenix to me and I'm hoping your intentions were pure in doing so."

"Sir, I haven't done anything that would have violated our agreement," Striker said, meeting his gaze with his good eye.

Kramer regarded him quietly for a moment. "Very well...you may go. As long as we still understand each other," Kramer said after a pause.

Striker nodded and left the ready room.

A few days later

The ruined hulk of the Phoenix was stripped down to its superstructure and was starting to look even more skeletal than it had already. Fara wanted to start the construction from the ground up and build her own design around that superstructure.

She sat at her drawing board, having a morning cup of coffee and finishing the small breakfast sandwich she'd replicated. The breakfast wasn't that great since it was replicated and she couldn't understand how the echidnas could eat the stuff. Although, she had heard a few complain how it didn't taste as good as the real thing. She knew the starbase actually had some fresh produce and other food items available for the exchange of digital credits. It wasn't like she didn't have the money, she just didn't want to deal with the exchange process.

Suddenly there was a chime at her door. Fara wondered who would be coming to call so early in the morning. She walked over to the door and answered it. Before her stood a female echidna with red fur, rouge dyed hair fur, wearing Ensign bars.

"Yes? Can I help you?"
"Ms. Phoenix I presume?" She said.

"You are looking at her."

"I'm Ensign Terri Lu, systems specialist assigned to the project," she smiled, "I just wanted to go over a few things with you."

"Sure, I guess...come on in." Fara said, stepping aside. "Have a seat."

"Thank you," Terri said, stepping inside and heading for one of the couches near the door and taking a seat. Fara walked around and sat across from her. "So, what is on your mind?"

"Well, I see you put in for the Datatronic 7 Computer Core for the project," Terri said matter-of-factly, "and I don't think that is a good choice."

"Oh really? Explain," Fara said, "they are reliable enough."

"Maybe so, but I've reviewed some of Admiral Kramer's requests and he's wanting the ship to have the top performance in all aspects. Sure, the Datatronic 7 is reliable and lots of ships are equipped with it, but I really think you should consider the Epsilon 2 Multitronic Core."

"Epsilons? They are power hogs," Fara said dismissively. "I'm building a warship, not a science vessel."

"Yeah, but they have the fastest response time when handling multiple processes," Terri argued. "I think it would be worth doing the swap. Power is not an issue, cores are swappable between ships; you don't have to be an engineer to figure that out."

Fara considered it. "Well, I'll see what I can do. I mean I already put in for a Type 5 warp core. I wasn't considering making this thing a hot rod. Cornerian battleships are put together efficiently and quickly."

"Why not build a hot rod?" Terri smirked. "It's not like you have a budget. If you are going to do this, make it the best you can, right?"

Fara smiled. Terri was right, money wasn't an issue with this project, hell, the echidnas only used credits for exchange with cultures that still did.

"Ok," she said, "I'll take your recommendation. I assume you know a lot about this system or you wouldn't bring it up."

"Of course, like the back of my hand," Terri replied.

"Good, because once we start putting this baby together we're going to have a lot of discussions," said Fara, "I'm going to need someone who knows how to get all these features to work together with the computer."

"I look forward to the challenge," Terri said confidently. "I'll start on it as soon as you are ready."

"It's settled then. One more thing," Fara said, "where can I get some decent food around here?"

Terri smiled. "I know a few places. Are you wanting real stuff?"

"Please," Fara said, "I can't stand the aftertaste of the replicated food."
"I haven't had breakfast yet. Let's get something."

"Do you mind buying? I haven't gotten around to swapping currency yet," Fara asked.

"No not at all," Terri replied, "since we're going to be working together on this project I wouldn't mind taking some time to get to know you.."

"Whatever you want, I just want some decent grub," Fara smirked.

Winter Solstice, Corneria

4 months later

A shuttlecraft burst through the thick overcast winter sky into the snowstorm beneath it.

Fara sat in the passenger seat as Rivas piloted the shuttle to the newly constructed landing pad by her fathers estate.

"I was planning on coming so I didn't need to be babysat," Fara hissed as the shuttle thudded down and Rivas killed the power.

"You were putting stem bolts on the core mounts when you were paged by the Admiral that you missed your flight. You scheduled for time off and you are going to take it." Rivas said, relieved she was talking for once instead of trying to bore a hole into his head with a stare. "You were going if you wanted to or not."

"I was going! I just wasn't done with my project," Fara grumbled, "Dad would have understood."

"It's Solsday tomorrow. If we hadn't left when we did you would have missed it," Rivas pointed out. "You are just lucky I happened to be on my way home too."

Fara got out of her chair and quickly put on her coat. "It's just another day. It just happens to be the one day of the year Solar and Coronus are in the sky, adding two hours of daylight on the coldest damn day day of the year."

"Wow, aren't you a fountain of holiday cheer," Rivas said flatly, grabbing a duffel from the storage compartment.

"I have work to do and three months left on a deadline. I am not in the mood for a holiday." Fara growled.

Rivas popped the seal on the door. The cold and snow rushed up to meet them and they hurried down the gangway where some Confederation marines had them sign in the shuttle and they got to the ground level where a hover car was waiting. They climbed inside.
"Where to first?" The driver asked.

"Take Ms. Phoenix home and then me to Crescent Falls."

"You folks picked a hell of a day to arrive. This is the first major blizzard we've had in years." The driver said.

"Do you think you can make it to Crescent?" Rivas asked.

"Oh don't worry buddy, I'll get you there. I used to drive hover tanks in worse."

"So do you have any plans?" Fara asked flatly.

"Going to spend the next few days with my sister and my nephews," Rivas said, blowing into his paws. "Brought some gifts for the boys, figured I'd make a good impression, seeing as I'm just now getting to meet them."

Fara smiled, it was nice to see that this wolf had a softer side to him.

"What's that about?" Rivas said, noticing her smile.
"Don't worry about it." Fara said, noticing them slip between the snow-shrouded gates of her father's mansion.

The hover car pulled up by the main door and Fara got out.

"Try to have a good holiday Fara. Enjoy the time off," Rivas said as she got out. "I'll be back in five days to pick you up. Have a Merry Solsday."

"Sure," Fara said, "you too."

Rivas shut the door and the hover car disappeared back into the storm. Fara sighed, approached the double doors and pushed them open. Soft light filled the darkness and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. What she saw astonished her.

The place was actually decorated for once. There were candles. Wreaths adorned everything and various little ornaments hung everywhere. She hadn't seen her home like this since before her mother died. Fara was taken aback as she shut the door. She heard footsteps and turned to see Maya approaching her with a welcoming smile.

"Ms. Phoenix, it's so good to see you home this Solstice Eve."

"Thanks," Fara said. "What's with all this?"

"Your father felt like celebrating this year, so we decorated the place when you said you were coming home," Maya replied. "I hope it's not too much?"

"No, it's fine…I was just…" Fara shook her head. "Never mind. Where's dad?"

"In the main room. There's a nice fire going there. Let me take your coat," Maya said. "Oh! Merry Solsday," she said, handing Fara a wrapped gift.

"Maya? But, I…" Fara said, a bit shocked.

"Hush! Don't open it 'till later ok?" Maya said, putting her coat into a hall closet. "Head on in."

Fara nodded and did so. The box was of fair size and some objects were moving around in it. She smiled, remembering being a child and getting such gifts from both her parents. She looked around at all the decorations. It was all very strange. Her father hadn't cared for the holiday since her mother had passed during it when she was very young.

"Fara!" She heard Reginald say from a chair by the fireplace. "Come here, I'm so glad you made it!"
"Hey dad," she said, walking over to him. He seemed frail still, but in much better spirits than a few months ago. They shared an embrace. "What's with all this?" Fara asked, pointing out the decorations.

"Well, with you coming home for the holidays, I thought, what the hell?" He shrugged. "It's been a busy year and I've barely got to see you. I wanted to make it special."

Fara smiled and she felt a swell of emotions inside her. She leaned in and gave her father a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you daddy." She said, feeling tears well in her eyes.

Reginald patted her on the back, "There there."

Fara stood back up and wiped a tear from her eye and smiled.

"Have a seat," Reginald said, "and tell me, how's the project going?"

"Great for the most part, just a few hang ups here and there." Fara chuckled. "I would have missed tonight if they hadn't forced me to go."

"Well I'm glad they did," Reginald replied.

Fara felt a bit like a heel at that. "Well, I'm here so it worked out...right?"

Reginald looked up at the clock and said. "Well, it's almost time for the big event. You want to watch it with me?"

"We haven't done that in a long time." Fara smiled. "I'd love to."

She got up and helped her father to his feet, handing him his cane. They walked over to an enclosed porch off the main room. The phenomenon unfolding in the heavens was quite amazing. In the middle of winter Corerias' two suns would briefly be in the sky for about thirty minutes due to orbital eccentricities of their planet and the two suns. It was called Solsday because briefly Solar, the smaller of the two binary stars, would be peaking out from behind Coronus. This would cause the weather to immediately change to spring-like conditions for a short time.

With the way the weather was today, this blizzard would turn into a thunderstorm. The only downside would be the ice it would leave behind in its wake. In the days before the invention of the power core and antigrav units, all activity would halt on this day, even if it was a war, because of the dangers it would pose to vehicles and personnel. Fara remembered this porch had special windows that would tint automatically. It had been built so they could watch the event each year as a family.

They entered the porch and Maya entered as well with some hot cider for them and herself as they all sat down.

"It should be quite the show this year," Maya said eagerly. "We're closer to the two stars than we have been in 1,000 years."

"Wow...I didn't realize that," Fara said, guilt slapping her across the mind. This was something special her father wanted to share with her and she had nearly missed it.

"I am glad you made it," Reginald whispered to her, patting her paw with his and smiling.

Fara returned the smile and watched the sky suddenly grow brighter. The clouds started to part slightly. The blizzard morphed into a raging thunderstorm. The wind began to pick up and howl around them. Through the tinted glass they could see the two binaries of Coronus and Solar making a dual colored "8" in the sky. The weather went ballistic and rain and hail buffeted the manor. Fara felt water drip down on her from a leak in the roof and felt apprehensive. She hated this part. The wind and noise even frightened her when she was a child.

"Are you ok?" Reginald asked.

"Never been a fan of storms dad," Fara said over the din, "not since that night the Orok tree went through my window."

"You remember that? Quite remarkable," Reginald said astonished. "I was told you'd have some memory loss."

"I only remember things that made a big impact," Fara admitted, cringing at the sound of hail as it gradually got larger and started to rattle off the transparent aluminum that made up the porch. She knew the hail couldn't come through. Those windows were made to take micrometeor strikes and most of the time the hail just shattered against it. Thunder boomed overhead and shook a few things in the manor. Rain lashed down across the windows, suddenly replacing the hail. It quickly moved off as the clouds broke again, showing the binaries in the sky.

"Well, that's it," Reginald said. "Main show is over...who's ready for dinner?"

"I've already had the staff prepare it." Maya said. "Give me a few moments and I'll have the table set."

"You'll be joining us won't you?" Fara asked.

"Of course dear," Maya said. "We will be opening presents afterwards."

"Good." Fara said, waiting until Maya left and looking at the small package in her lap.

"Oh gods...I didn't get anything for her or you," Fara groaned with an apologetic grimace, "I'm sorry! I've been so busy it's-"

"Shush," Reginald said, "I got you covered. I had Gerrad buy some Altairian Mood crystals for a necklace and some perfumes from a vendor from that starbase you've been staying at. She likes stuff like that, so don't worry about it. As for me...well...you are home, it's Solsday, and we are a family again. That's all I wanted."

"Oh dad," she said getting up and giving him a hug as she started crying again, "Merry Solsday."

The dinner was a bit too much. The food was really rich and she knew she was probably going to give her a stomach ache if she overdid it. Her father asked her about the project and Fara showed him the progress they had made so far. The ship didn't look much. The only part that had been completed was the engineering section that housed the core, the deuterium tanks, and antimatter pods. The rest of the ship was a latticework of bulkheads and a framework that the decks would be built around. Other than the super structure of the vessel, hardly anything of its former identity remained.

Maya listened with polite interest, at least in the parts she could understand, and asked a few questions that Fara gladly answered about what the ship was for and other mundane details about it.

"Sounds to me that it's best that this thing is in the hands of our allies, the way you make it sound," She paused, " Reginald? Do you really trust these echidnas?"

"They seem to mean well. They've been helping with the rebuilding effort as much as they can," Reginald replied, "and they're giving homes to all the refugees from the war. You should see it Maya, whole neighborhoods are just springing to life around the capital city in the old ruins. If you're sick, they heal you, hungry, they feed you, and they ask for nothing in return."

"No one does anything without a price, Mr. Phoenix," Maya noted almost if she were quoting scripture.

"Agreed, however, when you have technology where you can fabricate food, medicine and anything you could ever need, why would you need money." Fara said. "Hell, I've barely burned a credit in the half a year I've been with them." Fara paused. "Plus, this ship is more of a preventative measure for a threat they hope to not face again."

"We'll see," Maya said, sipping her tea.

"Well, if you don't like the off-worlders that much I suppose they don't need to accompany you when you go into the market in the morning," Reginald said flatly.

Maya looked aghast. That was dangerous enough as it was. The other day there had been a riot due to some Cornerians protesting against the aliens. If it wasn't for the marines that were guarding her, it would have been quite scary.

"That's not what I..." Maya huffed, "I am just saying we should be cautious is all."

"Maya, have you ever been off world?" Fara asked curiously.

"No and I never intend to. My duties here are more important."

Fara shook her head. Some Cornerians were like that. Despite the vast universe surrounding them they were perfectly fine staying on their homeworld. "Ok fine have it your way," she shrugged.

"Anyways, we should get to the gifts," Maya said, changing the subject.

"Ok, ok, if you insist," Reginald chuckled as he got up out of the chair and headed back to the den for the fireplace. Fara followed carefully behind her father and made sure he took his seat before she did.

Maya grabbed a chair and scooted it between them, then ran and got some hot cider, placing it on a coffee table before sitting.

"Since we're starting this again," Reginald said, "I think you should go first, Fara."

She only had two, one from each of them. She opened her dad's first. It was a bit heavy and inside she found a red headset. Curious, she picked it up and examined it. It was an unusual gift and she turned it in her hands. There was a strange familiarity to it.

"You don't recognize it...do you?" Reginald said, sounding a bit disappointed.

Fara frowned at the headset. It felt familiar, almost maddeningly so, but she couldn't quite figure out why.

"I'm trying," she said.

"It was yours, it's the alpha scanner headset for your original arwing prototype. I was hoping it would jog some memories for you," Reginald said sincerely.

"I know what you are referring to...but I don't remember it...sorry dad. Thank you though," she smiled as she looked it over. "I could use it though, with a little re-working. Plus I could use it on the project. I keep forgetting my combadge. At least if I put this on my head I'll know it's there."

"You can do whatever you want with it." Reginald said, showing some joy that she would at least get something out of it. "It was yours and you can do with it what you wish."

"I do like it dad...I just really wish I could remember," Fara sighed, "anything."

"Well, we do have some photo disks if that would help. We could break those out later if you want," Reginald suggested. "We can go over some of the highlights."

"I'd like that," Fara said as her smile broadened. She tried to find a place for the head set, gave up, and settled for slipping it on. It mushed down her hair and felt awkward, but she didn't care. She was planning on trimming it down anyways. It was getting ridiculous at this point. She went to open Maya's gift. Inside the small box was a gorgeous multicolored metal and glass phoenix pendant.

"Maya!" Fara gasped, "this is lovely! Where did you get this?"

"I made it in my spare time," Maya smiled. "I figured it was fitting for you, with all you've been through, recovering and all and just jumping right into things."

"It's lovely," Fara said, putting it on. "Thank you! Thanks both of you!"

It was Maya's turn next and Fara sat back and admired her gift deep in thought. Her mind drifted to the ship. There was so much yet to be done. Admiral Kramer was wanting a trial run before the next month was out. She needed to get some people for help and she wondered if her dad knew anybody that could help.

But, right now, none of that mattered. All she had to worry about today was the smiling faces of her father and Maya and the fact that, just for today, the project could be at the back of her mind instead of the forefront.

A week later

Fara stood outside the airlock with Terri Lu. They had grabbed breakfast together, something that had become a ritual by now with them. She was fidgeting with the pendant Maya had given her to stay calm. She kept it in her pocket because it was uncomfortable under her clothing and she didn't want to damage it.

"So, this expert…what's he like?" Terri asked.

"I have no idea," Fara confessed, "my father said he was one of the best riggers he knew of and with the difficulties we're having in our subsystems we could use someone like that."

"I wonder if he's cute," Terri chuckled.

"I have no idea! Can you focus for once?" Fara hissed.

"I am focused, but I'm not all about work like you are Fara," Terri teased back.

"Enough," Fara growled as the airlock signaled the connection was good and the door started to open. Terri just put her hands on her hips and smirked at Fara as the few passengers from the Gideon disembarked. There was a disturbance towards the back.

"Quit shovin' spine brain or i'll give ya a reason to get rough!" A voice protested.

"Move! You delayed us enough as is," Commodore Striker said, hustling a ginger head furred Cornerian rat down the gangway. Fara had to laugh. He looked like a ruffian, with his head fur in a mullet style and mostly unkempt. He was dressed like some sort of hover bike gang member. "Mr. Phoenix, this is the 'expert' your father recommended for you," Striker said sourly.

"This guy?" Fara choked, still laughing.

"Yeah, this guy! What about it toots?" The rat glared up at her and he had a passing moment of recognition. "Eh…do I know you for somewhere?"

"Probably not. I run with a better crowd then you apparently do," Fara said, folding her arms across her chest.

"Ha ha...you got attitude. I like that," the rat nodded. "So, you're the Phoenix chick?"

Fara's brow twitched. "If you mean I'm who you will be answering to, yes, but if you keep addressing me like that I may reconsider my father's offer."

"I was told there was work to be done and it's not in Lylat, so I don't care," the rat slurred slightly.

Fara caught a whiff of alcohol on his breath. "Are you drunk?"

"He is," Striker huffed, "we had to bribe him to get him onto a shuttle. Luckily, I think the booze kept him placid on the trip here."

The rat cackled, amused with himself. "I'm the best at what I do and if you want me you gotta pay my price!"

"It didn't cost us anything. It only cost you a possible case of alcohol poisoning," Striker said. "I wouldn't recommend him starting until he sobers up."

Fara nodded. "So what's your name? What makes my dad think you are so great?"

"Names Knackt...Knackt Algrim," he said, swaying slightly on his feet. "I used to work for the Lylat Core of Engineers way back...terraforming, atmospheric processors, load lifters, antigravs...hell, if it's a thing I've probably taken it apart a few times. I used to be back on Katina, before the war."

"What have you been doing since then?"

"Staying the hell out of the way on a nice little island on Fortuna, getting some sun, fixing air conditioning units," Knackt said, belching. "Plus a lot less clothing was required. You all keep it so damn cold on your ships," he said back at Striker who seemed to be trying to get on with other things.

"Is there anything else you need, Ms. Phoenix?" Striker asked.

"No, I guess we'll let him sober up and get settled and see what he can do," Fara sighed.

"Hey! I've been asking for the plans to this little project, but they won't cough them up," Knackt potested. "I wanted some reading material on the way over here...can you help me with that?"

"Fine. I'll make sure you get it," Fara said. "We got a hard deadline to get my ship running in a month, at least for a preliminary test flight. If you can't contribute I'll send you back to fixing air conditioners."

"Oh, don't threaten me with a good time," Knackt said, smoothing his hair. "I'll take a look at 'em when I get settled."

"We have some quarters prepared for you. I'll show you the way." Terri said.

Knackt hefted his beaten up duffle and followed her.

Fara sighed. She wondered where her father had dug up this guy.

"Do you require anything else?" Striker asked, breaking her from her thoughts.

"No, I suppose he'll do," Fara grumbled.

"Very well. We'll be passing back through in two weeks. The Admiral is expecting the ship to at least be under its own power by then, though it doesn't have to be complete."

"I get that, but where are the rest of the engineers I was promised?" Fara asked tersely.

"The Drake will be arriving tomorrow to take our place in the rotation. The additional staff you requested will be on it. In the meantime, I suggest you make do with what you have," Striker said levelly.

"That will do, I suppose," Fara huffed.

Striker nodded and headed back up the gangway. The doors closed and after a few moments the Gideon undocked and left the starbase.

Fara wondered why the Admiral hadn't arranged a meeting. Lately all their communication had been pretty sparse. Perhaps he had other things he had to attend to, but his absence and looming deadline were worrying. Although, it was nothing she couldn't handle.

She cursed under her breath and headed back to the ship. There were drive plasma conduits that needed to be installed and they were supposed to have been here yesterday. They were also missing a few other things they needed to get the vessel's critical systems ready, but fortunately Captain Stiles had allowed her to raid the station's stores. Getting the bridge module for the vessel had been agonizing enough. It was supposed to have arrived by the time she got back from the holiday, but it had never been delivered. The station had something serviceable and that was what they were using now. Fara tapped the com button on her head set. "Phoenix to Rivas."
"Can I help you Chief?"

"Can I talk to you in private,"

"Sure. I'm in my quarters at the moment, but you may come by."

"Ok I'll be there shortly," Fara said, ducking into a turbolift.

"How can I help you Fara?" Rivas asked as he sat down across from her at the small desk in his quarters. "Was there a problem with the so-called expert?"

"No...not yet." Fara said. "He better be doing what he said he's doing and reviewing my designs. It's something else."

Rivas nodded, interlaced his fingers and leaned forward on the desk. "What is it?"
"What the hell is going on with the Admiral? Why haven't we heard anything about the issues we've been having with getting the parts for the ship? I was waiting at the airlock hoping to at least speak to him about it and he sent Striker instead."

Rivas sighed. "I honestly don't know Fara. For whatever reason he's become pretty distant from the project and he's not talking."

"It figures. When we really do need his help he's suddenly too busy," Fara huffed.

"Delays and setbacks can happen even with the Confederation. They aren't perfect." Rivas sighed. "I know compared to home we'd expect better, but nowhere is perfect apparently."

"Yeah, but when we started everything was going smoothly. Now, out of nowhere, we've been getting the wrong shipments, faulty parts, and stuff isn't getting here on time," Fara glared. "It's almost like someone is trying to sabotage us or we're just running into a terrible streak of bad luck."

"Hard telling," Rivas grunted, "but you've made due this far."

"They shouldn't have told me I had their full support. This isn't full support!" Fara growled frustratedly. "No offense, you are just a lieutenant, but you don't have as much pull as they do."

"Lieutenant Commander, now," Rivas growled, his hackles raising. That had been a hot button for him. "If it wasn't for the relationship I have built with Captain Stiles you wouldn't have gotten what little help I can get you! That ship is going to be my first command and I'll be damned if it doesn't get completed! I have as much invested in this as you do."

"You might regret that when they screw you over too," Fara snapped back.

Rivas stared her down and calmly started speaking again. "I am here to help you and together we'll see this through. We need to work through this. If you really want to make him happy, that ship needs to be up and running with what we have in a few weeks. Can it be done?"

"If I have to get out and push the thing it'll be done," she sighed, getting up to leave without a further word.

A few weeks later

"Fara…" Terri-Lu's voice said gently as she felt pressure on her shoulder. Fara's eyes opened and she looked around blinking trying to clear her head.

"You fell asleep," Terri said, handing her some coffee.

"Thanks," Fara said grogilly, trying to remember what exactly they were doing. "Jenna and I finally got the main computer online."

"Great," Terri said, "took long enough."

"Well, the hardware is the easy part...getting the software to install correctly and then update? That's another story. Now let's hope Knackt got his part done," Fara said as she now heard the all too familiar tones of his voice bickering with others as he approached engineering. She figured it was probably Knackt and Kai Remmick, a Catarian, one of the new Fleet engineers added to her team. Those two had been antagonizing each other since day one.

As they entered engineering, Fara spoke. "For the love of the goddess you two I don't give a damn what it is this time please tell me the power grid is done."

"Oh, it's done alright chief," Kai huffed. "It's probably going to start a small fire or two, but it's done."

"Eh, you worry too much snaggletooth," Knackt said. "It'll work. So what if I had to get creative on a few of the connections? They'll hold on for what we need this thing to do."

"Well it's not like the fire is going to spread," Fara said. "At this point it's all or nothing. The Admiral is due to show up tomorrow and if this ship isn't under its own power we're screwed."

"Why don't you fire her up and see what happens? It's now or never boss-lady," Knackt said

"He's got a point," Terri said, "better now and try to fix what we can than later."

"Ok," Fara said with a slight sigh.

She reached down below the master systems display to an exposed switch that was the master system bus. Once thrown, the ship should disengage from the umbilical power and the computer would begin the core start up procedure. If that worked, the ship would be under its own power.

"Here goes nothing."

She flipped the switch and all power cut off. They all stood in darkness, waiting.

A red light began to glow on the master system display. They all crowded around it and counted down from five. After five seconds, it turned yellow and began to flash. This signaled the computer was beginning the start up process.

Soon the master console lit up and showed a loading message. A brief flash in the cores intermix chamber lit up the room and it began to thrum slowly. Soon the lights came on and the master system display began giving readouts on the incomplete systems of the ship. Everything that was done, however, was reading as green

This elicited a whoop of excitement from everyone. Terri hugged Fara and said, "Congratulations! It's a girl!"

Fara laughed. She half expected nothing to happen with all the bad luck they'd had, but the last few days of hard work had paid off. It felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

The inspection went without a hitch. The Admiral had arrived, they'd taken the ship out for a brief spin around the sector, and returned it to Starbase 186. The entire team was in engineering as the Admiral took his final walk before he dismissed everyone. Fara noticed he looked gaunt and unhealthy, even a bit frail, and wondered what the hell had happened in the intervening months. He hadn't said much during the whole thing, just observing and grunting the occasional acknowledgement or order. She noticed it seemed like a tremendous effort for him to keep moving. He even had the hood up on his overcoat to obscure his face.

"You have all done an extraordinary job, thus far," he croaked, his voice sounding more harsh than usual. "I apologize for the shortened production schedule, but I have been experiencing some pushback from the Confederation council about this program. They want results before they decide to focus on other things, although I believe the necessity of this ship will be proven in time. It's operational as is, so we have met the deadline. I congratulate all of you. We still have the ablative armament system to have installed in the next 30 days and the construction is to be completed in the next four months. I believe you all can accomplish this. I wouldn't have sought you out if I didn't." He paused to let that sink in. "I apologize for my absence, but I have had other urgent matters that needed to be attended to. I appreciate all that you have done and that you will continue to do. I hope to return to see the final product when I return in four months. I look forward to seeing the fruits of your labors. Dismissed."

The crowd of engineers began to break up and head their separate ways as Admiral Kramer approached Fara and Rivas.

"You two I have to thank most of all," he said, "well done."

"Piece of cake," Fara said dryly.

Kramer nodded and gave her a serious stare. "Then the rest should be easy as well. Four months is all you have to get this ship fully operational."

"I'll make it happen," Fara said, meeting his gaze.

Kramer cracked a small smile. "I know you will." He turned to Rivas. "You've got a lot on your hands to get accomplished, Commander. I do not envy your position."

"I revel in the challenge, sir," Rivas replied.

Kramer nodded. "I am aware of your difficulties. I am doing what I can to work around them. I have a personal meeting with fleet logistics at Starbase 50 in two days. I will do what I can before I take off again."

"Thank you," Fara said, feeling some relief. "I was starting to think my letters were falling on deaf ears."

"You've never been alone in this, Ms. Phoenix. I can only do so much, especially at a distance," Kramer said. He then started to cough, rather horsley, doubling over before he caught his breath and composed himself. "I need to return to my ship...it's been a trying day."

Fara saw him wipe his mouth and she was sure she saw some flecks of blood.

"Will you be ok?" She asked. "You don't look well."

"I appreciate your kindness, but it's my problem," Kramer said, standing back up, appearing to be shaking a bit. "Commander, promise me you will see this project through to the end...no matter what," he said suddenly, putting his hand on Riva's shoulder in a fatherly gesture.

"Of course sir, I've always intended to," Rivas said, a bit confused.

"Good, I'll hold you to it," he said before leaving.

Fara waited until he was gone. "That was strange. I wonder what all that was about?"

"You got me," Rivas said, a bit worried. "I wish I knew what was going on with him...he looks terrible."

"I don't know. It doesn't bode well for us, that's for sure." Fara sighed, "we better wrap this project up soon. It looks like our backer has one foot in the grave...most of his leg too."

The last three months were a blur for Fara. Each system that was installed had an issue, they'd fix the issue. There'd be another problem, they'd fix that problem and then it was on to installing the next system. Inch by painful inch, they were gaining ground and her team was getting weary, exhausted, but they all understood that they needed to get it done.

The setbacks had gotten further apart and they made the best of it. Captain Stiles pulled whatever strings he could whenever they had a shipment go missing. The ablative armament had been installed and most of the alien weaponry. They were down to furnishing what everyone was lovingly referring to now as "the damn ship" and getting all the crew quarters assembled.

Fara walked through the halls of her ship, admiring her choice of colors for the interior: rouge with orange highlights and grey bulkheads. It was really starting to come together and look like something special. She ran her hand affectionately along one of the panels, feeling the plastisteel of it. She'd spent so much time on this ship she'd barely been to her own quarters on the starbase.

"Do you two need a moment alone?" She heard Terri Lu say teasingly.

"I was just thinking about some things," Fara said, putting her hands in her pockets. "Do you need anything?"

"Jenna and I were going to get together for a few drinks afterwards and we wanted to know if you wanted to come along."

"Yeah, I suppose so," Fara said. "I could use a little break."

"Great!" Terri smiled. "Get changed and we'll meet at my quarters in about ten minutes."

"Sure," Fara said.

Fara showed up in front of Terri's quarters in a pair of blue loose-fitting slacks and a red sweater. She had replicated the clothes, realizing that she didn't really have much else to wear, embarrassingly enough. Inside, the two echidnas were waiting for her and they headed for the station's entertainment section.

"It must be nice not really having too much to do anymore, now that you got the main computer running smoothly," Fara said as they approached the noise of the sprawling entertainment area.

"You could say that," Jenna Reydel replied. "I mainly just hang around waiting for you engineers to come banging on my door needing some software installed for something. It's pretty boring these days."

"Yeah, the biggest challenge we had was getting the photonic missile targeting system up," Terri added.

"Pfft! That was nothing compared to the ablative armor protocols," Jenna scoffed. "The computer got stuck in a recursion loop and nearly crashed."

"Well, I appreciate all you two have done," Fara said, "I don't think I could have gotten two better computer techs. It's not like this whole Pathfinder project is anything but normal.

"Aww, thanks!" Jenna said smiling. "It's fun! I'm glad I signed on for it, never been part of building a ship before. It's been a pleasure."

"Do you guys want to go to Dora's?" Terri asked.

"Isn't that a wine bar?" Fara said, liking the sound of it already.

"Yeah, it opened up a month ago. I haven't been there yet," Jenna Rydel said. "Seems like a nice quiet place to kick back and it's the real thing, not synthohol"

"So they probably take credits," Fara said. "I'll buy, my treat."

"You don't have to do that," Terri said. "I was going to cover it."

"Nonsense! Look, I know you guys hoard your credits to go have really good vacations. I'm loaded and I feel like splurging on something really good," Fara insisted.

"Ok have it your way," Terri chuckled. "Let's go!"

Fara wasn't joking; she had spent over 200 thousand credits on a bottle of 200 year old Keldryian wine with a name that hardly any of them could pronounce. It was pale blue colored and smelled of berries. It came in a chilled bucket and it was served to them by the wait staff.

"Sheesh Fara, you didn't have to go all out," Terri said smelling her drink. "We all three could go on a pleasure cruise on Rixx for what you spent on this."

"Well, a cheap cruise at least," Jenna chuckled.

Fara made a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it. You guys are my friends and I want to treat you for your hard work," Fara said, raising her glass to toast.

"That it will be! I think I could clean circuit boards safely with this stuff," Jenna noted after taking a sip.

"Well, I am dying to try this," Terri said. "Cheers!"

The night went on and the bottle was slowly whittled down to half over the course of the hour. They were taking their time, savoring it, and ordering food as well. The sweet pale blue wine had a good kick to it and they were all feeling a bit loopy.

"So Fara, what are you going to do when the project is done?" Terri asked.

"Done?" Fara asked. "When is what done?"

"When the ship is ready for launch?" Terri clarified.

"Same thing...I'm doing now...why do you ask?" Fara wondered.

Jenna and Terri exchanged glances.

"What?" Fara glared suspiciously.

"So…you don't know there's already been a chief engineer assigned to the project?" Jenna asked.

"Why would there be...that's what I'm doing isn't it?" Fara said before noticing the uncomfortable silence. "Right?"

Terri looked very uncomfortable. "Fara, it's customary for the Chief Engineer of a Fleet vessel to at least be a commissioned officer. It's in the regs. I'm sure they told you when you started the project."

"What, that flip book binder thingy," Fara said, remembering it was currently shoved under a pile of take out boxes on her coffee table, "maybe?"

"Yes, that flip book binder thingy," Terri nodded. "Oh dear…."

"So…you are saying, when the ship is done, they are just going to hand my baby over to some hack that doesn't know every inch of her? Didn't even put even one iota of time, blood, sweat or tears into it?" Fara said, getting quieter and more angry with every syllable.

"Easy Fara," Terri said gingerly, knowing that she had a volcano ready to erupt in front of her. "You are a civilian contractor, remember? Once the jobs' over, you can still stay here and do whatever you want, but it will be someone else's-"

"That ship is my responsibility and no one knows it better than I do!" Fara snapped. "To hell with that!" She barked, stumbling to her feet and disturbing the other patrons. "Who do I need to go talk to about this?"

"I suppose Captain Stiles, but I don't know if he can-"

"Then that's where I am going! I'll be right back...hold this!" Fara demanded, handing Terri her glass before staggering for the exit.

A few minutes later, she was barging into Captain Stiles's office.

"Can I help you Ms. Phoenix?" Captain Stiles said, gathering up the day's reports from his desk, getting ready to go home for the day. Fara was unstead on her feet, but trying to hide how intoxicated she was.

"Yeah, I just found out I am not going to be Chief Engineer on my own ship," Fara slurred, pointing at Stiles. "How the hell can you all just expect some nobody to just come in and take over my project? "

What smells like disinfectant? Stiles wondered, catching a whiff of the potent wine on Fara's breath before composing his thoughts. "Ms. Phoenix, you are a civilian contractor. Once the job is completed you are welcome to stay on the starbase and consult if you like, but the ship will be under our control and staffed with our people."

"Yeah...but...they won't have any idea about the...the...the anything with that ship!" Fara stumbled over her words. She was starting to realize the wine was having a more potent effect than she had anticipated.

"Regulations state the Chief Engineer on a starship has to be a commissioned officer," Stiles said as gently as he could. "That's the rule...I'm sorry if you thought or were told otherwise."

Fara chewed her lip and thought. "Look, I had a rank...once...doesn't that count? I'm pretty sure...cause...I had to go to the Academy for it after I got my degrees. I think...just to do my test piloting for the actual hardware back in the day." She honestly couldn't remember. There were just small flashes of what she thought was her past, but it was hard and the wine wasn't helping. She could be talking out her ass for all she knew.

"Well, yes," Stiles relented, "you'd have to recertify for it, but that's a possibility."

"Look, Admiral Kramer wanted to make sure this project doesn't fail...it's mine...I built it," Fara slurred as drunk tears threatened to form.

"So…you want to stay on the project?" Stiles confirmed.

"Yes! How long does this recertification thingy take?"

"You have to travel to Termia and a minimum of three months training is required, on approval of your rank from Corneria," Stiles explained, "look Ms. Phoenix, it's late and I want to go home. Are you asking to enlist?"

"Yes!" She declared, pounding the back of a chair with her fist. "If it keeps me with the ssship!"
"Fine, I'll get the paperwork started in the morning, if you can get me that rank you think you may have," Stiles said. He was well past the point his patience would allow. "Now, can I go home?"

"Yeah...I'll get it...you can go home now...thanks…."
Stiles grunted and she turned to leave. "Ms. Phoenix," he added, "in the future, please don't come in here reeking of alcohol."

Fara gritted her teeth with her back to him, clenched her fists, and nodded and left the office.

Great! Now I have to go back to school on top of trying to get everything else done. Fara though as she headed for the lift. She may as well go down and finish that bottle. She knew Terri and Jenna could finish it, but they were taking their time so there was probably some left. She headed to the turbolift and back down, may as well enjoy the brief break before it was back to the crunch.

* * *,

The next day

"What do you mean you can't find my service record?" Fara snarled, grabbing the sides of her desk viewer in desperation.

"Fara, dear, please calm down," Reginald said. "I am trying to find whatever I can. I've yet to check the family vault. It's the last place it could be."

"How hard can it be to find that info though?" Fara asked.

Reginald sighed. "There was a lot of damage during the various wars, and entire record keeping systems were wiped out. I know you don't recall any of this, but this isn't an uncommon problem here. If we have anything, it'll be in the vault. I'll let you know."

"Ok, please do, Dad," Fara said, rubbing her temples. "Thank you."

Reginald nodded and the viewer cut out.

She had a full day as it was, but now she had this little matter to worry about. The day was just shaping up to be just peachy. They were due for another full systems check, which meant they were going to be away from starbase for most of the day.

Reginald sat back in his chair heavily. He knew she wouldn't let this go, but it would be easier if she did. It was only an indicator that she was slowly becoming different as time went on. He was hoping she would complete the job and move on to something else, but now she had developed this bizarre obsession with this ship. Before, she would have been happy to stay with the business. She was even acting as if that was her long term plan…and then this.

The old fox sighed heavily. Even with his daughter restored to him, that brief, very painful time still stung as much as it did all those years ago.

"I can't promise she'll be the same. I can't even promise she'll be anything. I barely understand how this contraption works."

He recalled that whatever the risk may be, he was willing to do it to get his daughter returned to him. Do it, we don't have much time.

Those words, spoken so long ago, now echoed loudly in his mind. If he humored this venture and she got bored with it, maybe she would come back.

Alright...that's better than fighting with her. Reginald thought.

He wasn't lying to her. There was a chance that there might be something in the family vault back in Papetoon, but he couldn't remember. He hit a com switch on his desk

"Maya, can you prepare a couple days' clothes for me and yourself? We need to head to Papetoon."

"Of course sir." Maya replied. "Should I call your physician? You don't handle space flight as well as you used to."

"That's fine," Reginald said. He hated the fact that even with the echidna's medical technology they could not restore him to half the fox he had been. The poison had nearly killed him and the Confederation's medical science had merely extended his life, made his suffering a bit more bearable. He pushed himself to his feet and got his cane. He really should send someone to do this, but he really didn't like the thought of non-Phoenixes rummaging around in their family vault. They could do that when there were no more Phoenixes left.

Fara paced around engineering as she waited for the bridge crew to complete their pre-flight checks. She hadn't noticed Knackt had stopped to watch her.

"Eh, boss-lady? Do we need to reinforce the deck plating in there? You keep that up you'll be in the shuttlebay."

"Don't you have some plasma readings you should be tending to?" Fara snapped.

"Yeah, but I'd miss this," he grinned at her.

"Fuck off," she growled.

"What's eating you?" Knackt asked. She was known for a sharp tongue, but not for lashing out without provocation, usually from the ship.

"They're going to boot me off the ship when we're all done unless I can find my old service record I think I have!"

"Ah," Knackt said, "I heard something along those lines. Well...that sucks."

"Well it's true," Fara groused as she checked the master systems display and datapads, checking off a few items. "I am up shit creek without a paddle and they are going to take her away from me."

She stopped, the datapad clenched tightly in her hands. Without warning she leaned forward on the console and Knackt saw her shoulders heave slightly. He quickly shut the door to the core room.

"Are you crying?" He asked gently.

"No," Fara choked, trying really hard to not show she was and failing miserably.

"Look...it's just a job, boss-lady. Why care so much?" Knackt asked.

Fara started to sob as she turned to face him, tears streaming from her eyes. She had definitely been lying about not crying. She was trying to contain herself and her eyes looked up at the ceiling. "I don't know why I'm telling you this...but...this ship is all I got."

"What do you mean?"

Fara sniffled, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket. "Something happened to me and I don't remember a lot of my life. It's just a blur. I can't recall huge pieces of my own life, no matter how I try. This ship, the last year, is more real and important to me than anything else at the moment. I know this ship, everything about her. I know what she is and she knows who I am. We understand each other. I can't...I can't lose her too…."

Knackt shrugged. "I get it. I'm startin' over myself. I got an ex back home who decided I wasn't worth her time anymore. Part of why I came was I was looking to maybe just disappear out here, findin' something I like doing. That's a bummer, to have a broken memory though, although sometimes it can be a good thing. I mean, there're things that happened to me I wish I didn't remember, but I do, so maybe it's a blessing."

Fara sighed and nodded. "Sorry about this."

"Aww, forget about it! I won't tell anyone. Now, snap out of it before the others think you have feelings!" Knackt barked teasingly.

Fara laughed weakly. "We wouldn't want that. Say...if they find my paperwork, I have to go take a crash course at the academy. If you want to stick around, would you mind taking it with me? I could use a study partner."

"Eh, I got nothing planned other than getting hammered and hookin up after this is done," he chuckled, "so, sure...why not?"

"Lovely," Fara said, shaking her head. "There won't be any of that if you go, we won't have time. We have to cram four years of school into three months."

"Says you," Knackt cackled. "Sure, I mean we got a good thing going. I'd hate to break up the partnership. What do I need to do?"

"Well, the Captain said if you have a prior record of service, you can apply for it."
"Heh, I got that in spades. That's all?" Knackt scoffed.

"From what I can tell," Fara said.

"Rivas to Phoenix, we are ready to depart. I hope those warp engines are ready," Commander Riva's voice said over the speakers.

"Engines on standby," Fara replied tapping her headset's talk button, "just take it nice and easy 'till they are fully warmed up."

"Will do, Rivas out."
Fara braced herself as the ship undocked from the station. "We'll talk about it more later. We have work to do now."

"Sure," Knackt said, "I'm definitely interested though."

He opened the door to the core room again and headed back to his station.

The next week had been absolutely harrowing for Fara. If she ate it was very little, and if she slept it was even less. Work on the ship was going good, but even after everyone went home for the night she kept at it. They had some solid lead time now and she would be damned if she was going to lose it. Coffee, adrenaline, and will power along with whatever Terri managed to bring her each day were the only things fueling her body as she worked now.

Lt. Kurtzman, her replacement, had arrived and, feeling particularly cruel, she buried him under a pile of mundane and garbage diagnostic tasks that no one wanted to do, but which needed to be done. She was hoping he'd be daunted by it and maybe it would scare him off, but the Cornerian badger just nodded and said it would be done.

She heard hurried steps and Terri came running into the control room.

"Fara, great news," she panted, handing her a data padd. "Your father found it!"
"He did?" Fara asked excitedly, snatching up the datapad and quickly perusing through the records. She was right. She had gone to the Cornerian Academy and had made rank of Captain after six years of being a pilot. This was the equivalent to a Lieutenant in the Confederation. Now all she had to do was get the rest done.

"This is great! Please tell me you forwarded it to Captain Stiles?"

Terri nodded. "Of course I did!"

"You know, you could have just told me over the coms."

"Where's the fun in that?" Terri smiled. "We can go together."

"Oh? How's that?" Fara asked. "I already got Knackt coming with me."

"Well, I got some time off and I'm going to use it to go get my lieutenant bar," Terri said. "So, I'm going to go get the exams out of the way. I figured I could tag along and help you get through the more boring parts. Plus, I haven't been to Termia since I was in the academy. It would be nice to see it again. Besides," she said, "I know where we can get a great place to crash."

"Oh?" Fara asked.

"Yeah, my parents had a top floor condo in the middle of Logopolis," Terri said. "It's furnished, has a pool and amazing view and you can walk to campus. It's all mine, plenty of rooms too."

"That sounds great. I had no idea where I was going to stay when I was there." Fara said.

"Well, the place could use some airing out," Terri said. "I haven't been back there in a while. It'd be nice to see it again. I don't have a problem with you going there, but I'm not sure about Knackt."

"He might go home looking like a mess, but he's actually pretty tidy. I've seen his place. It's immaculate compared to mine." Fara said offhandedly.

"You've seen his quarters?" Terri asked curiously with a mirthful smirk.

"Not like that! It was late and we were discussing warp coils. We had a few beers and talked shop."

"Uh-huh, warp coils," Terri's smirk deepened.

"Yuck! Get your mind out of the gutter! Nothing happened," Fara hissed. "Our relationship is purely professional."

"Depends on how many beers you two had," Terri teased.

"TERRI!" Fara snapped.

"Ok, ok, I'll shut up," Terri giggled.

"What is wrong with you?" Fara asked scoldingly, gathering up her things she had scattered around the master systems display.

"I don't know. I could ask you the same," Terri said, following her as she left the ship's engineering bay.

"Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Well, if you haven't noticed, thanks to the Confederations modern medical science it's pretty much a free for all love-in around here. Everyone is pretty relaxed, even though they are all busting their butts. We work hard, we play hard." Terri said in heavily accented Cornerian to keep their conversation private. When you spoke a language other than your native one, the universal translators got confused and anyone who couldn't understand it just heard gibberish.

"I have noticed. I just don't have time for extracurricular activities," Fara replied as they approached the main gangway for the ship leading back to the starbase. "Not all of us have time to be boffing Commander Rivas like you are. Besides, that's considered highly unprofessional where I'm from."

Terri seemed a bit offended at that comment. Fara saw she was about to retort with something mean spirited, but thought better of it. "It's only a problem out here if you make it a problem. I'm genuinely interested in him and I am a little offended at your little remark! I'm not dating him to move up. I'm doing that on my own merits. Besides, when I do screw up, which is very rare, he comes down on me just as hard as he would anyone else on this crew."

"Yeah, I bet he does, real hard," Fara said in a mocking tone similar to Terri's voice.

"Ok, now you are starting to piss me off!" Terri growled flushing slightly.

"I'll stop," Fara smirked. It was nice to rattle Terri's cage back for once. She liked to instigate, but when you got to her the usual demure persona she wore would slip a little, revealing a very nasty temper.

Fara inwardly mused to herself that was partly why the echidna kept her as a friend, because she couldn't figure out how Fara, of all people. could get to her.

The mask was back on as she saw Terri's expression soften. "I just think you should at least think about it. You look wound so tight you might snap in half," Terri shrugged.

"I thought you said you were going to shut up?" Fara hissed.

"Ok, ok! Anyways, I'll work on getting us a flight to Termia once you get that to the Captain and he approves."

"Honestly, I'd rather just charter a shuttle," Fara said as she called the turbolift. "You get places quicker if you have your own ship. How long of a trip is it?"

"Well, if there are three of us and we take turns piloting we can get there in about three days at warp six, non stop," Terri said.

"We can use the concept shuttle," Fara said. "It's got more room and has the range."

"Is it even registered?" Terri asked.

"I don't know...but that sounds like a problem you should probably take care of," Fara said, stepping into a turbolift.

"Fara, I just can't pull a ship registration out of my butt!" Terri protested.

"I'm sure if anyone can, you can," Fara grinned as the lift doors closed.

Three days later

The three of them had boarded the test shuttle and Fara noticed Terri seemed a bit on edge.

"I can't believe I did this for you," Terri groaned. "You realize if anyone looks at the header of the index file really close I could get in serious trouble!"

"You did a good job, you just made it look like the original registration was still active and maybe slipped it back into the station's active vessels," Fara said shrugging. "It'll be fine. At least we'll be going in style."

"You'd better be glad I like you," Terri sighed.

"You adore me! Otherwise, you wouldn't have done it," Fara said squeezing her shoulder.

"Terri, don't worry about it!" Knackt chuckled from the pilots seat. "Let me take a crack at it and by the time we get there no one will tell the difference. Wouldn't be the first time, heh."

Terri just sighed again.

"Besides, we got friends in high places, remember? I'm sure I could sweet talk the Admiral into overlooking this little indiscretion if you did get caught." Fara chuckled.

"Can we just stop talking about it," asked Terri. "I'll be in the back seriously rethinking my life." She got up and headed back into the cabin of the ship.

"Don't be so over dramatic Terri, it will be fine!" Fara said, calling after her and walking down to the pilot's chair. "When do you want to swap?"

"Eh, dinner time would be fine. It's not like we really got to do much other than a few course corrections along the way." Knackt said, bringing up the star chart. "I mean, it's just making sure the auto pilot gets us there for the most part. I got stuff to do to keep me awake."

"You won't mind if I head back and get a nap?"

"Nah, you go right ahead boss-lady. I got this."

Fara headed back to the back of the ship and was grateful she sound proofed the cabin as she heard the opening guitar riff start to some rather obnoxious song fill the cabin.

Terri was sitting at the table, idly picking at a meal she replicated, deep in thought. Fara glanced in her direction as she opened her bunk alcove and started to strip down so she could sleep comfortably.

"Are you going to sulk the whole trip?" She asked Terri.

"No," Terri replied, taking a bite of her food. "I got no one to blame but myself. It's not like you forced me to do it. I get excited by a challenge and just jump into it without thinking of the consequences. Next thing I know I crossed a line."

"Is there something else bothering you?" Fara said. "You seem a little on edge."

"It's nothing important," Terri sulked.

"It's just a little hack job and you are acting like it's a crime."

"It is a crime, Fara," Terri said flatly, "it's just one problem on top of another is all."

"Fair enough. I'll say I did it if it comes back to bite you. I got friends in high places, remember?" She said tossing her lab coat over a chair. "What are they going to do? Fire me?"

"Well…yes," Terri said and then added, "doesn't that defeat the purpose of what we're doing?"

"Terri!" Fara said, flustered.

They both laughed and then had a quiet moment.

"You know," Terri said, "if we do get busted maybe we could be cellmates."

"I get the top bunk," Fara said.

"I'll fight you for it," Terri grinned.

Another moment passed.

"So why is it bugging you now?" Fara asked, concerned.

"Because it's not the first time I've done something illicit with a computer for a friend," Terri sighed. "I got busted for changing a friend's grades in primary school by hacking into their system and changing them just so she didn't get held back and we wouldn't be split up."

"Oh? What happened?"

"Well, I didn't know they had called in a top expert to figure out who was hacking their system and I got caught. I remember seeing that man in his yellow uniform with the principal of the school when I got to the office."

"Go on..."

"Well, at first the principal gave me a good ass chewing, threatened detention and expulsion, telling my nan. To be honest, the last one I was more afraid of, and the whole time the man in uniform just watched me with amusement. They had me red handed, so I just confessed to it and why I did it."

"So what happened?"

"Well I had two months of after school detention where they had me help the janitorial staff clean the rooms. The plus was, by agreeing to do that, they didn't tell my grandmother what I did."

"How old were you when you did this?"

"Twelve," Terri admitted, then smiled, "funny thing was at the end of that year that man showed back up. He said that because of my hacking skills and the way I owned up to it, he was going to sponsor me if I wanted to enter the Academy when I graduated, if I kept my act clean."

"So it worked out," Fara said, crawling into the alcove.

"Well yeah...but you'd think I'd learned my lesson," Terri grumbled.

Fara laughed. "That's the one lie we all like to tell ourselves, but the fact is no one ever does. If we did, the whole universe would be a better place!"

A few days later

Terri's condo was really nice. Fara couldn't believe it. On her world, a place like this would have been hundreds of thousands of credits. It was very open and spacious, had three bedrooms, two baths, a study, a kitchen, living room and an indoor/outdoor pool with an attached courtyard. It had an amazing view of the entire city and the ocean as well.

"Sheesh! This is your house?" Fara said aghast.

"No kidding...who knew you were loaded?" Knackt said as he gawked.

"I'm not loaded guys! It's just my family's home," Terri said as she walked towards the main room and set her bag down on the couch. "My gran grew up here, my mom, and now it's mine. I keep telling you, we don't require monetary wealth to have nice things. Granted, being a Fleet brat does have some perks. Anyways, I get the master bedroom you two can fight over the other two. They are yours while we're here."
"Actually Terri," Knackt said, looking out at the balcony. "I think I'm going to crash out there! Please tell me that's a hammock."

"It is…" Terri sounded alarmed, "but why?"

"Hey, I was on an island sleeping outside for months in nice weather. I've been cooped up in a space station for nearly a damn year. I am sleeping outside!" The rat declared as he headed for the door to the courtyard and found exactly what he was looking for under a lean-to by the outdoor portion of the pool.

"Well, I guess I'll just take the guest bedroom," Fara said, heading to the other room.

When she got to it, she was confronted by a large bed, large enough for a few people, but the room was pretty sparsely furnished. It had a desk and a computer terminal, closet and a viewer for multimedia on the wall. There was a small bathroom attached to it, which was just fine for Fara. At least it had a tub. That was all she cared about. She hadn't had a soak in a real tub for a long time. The starbase only had sonic showers and although they were nice, nothing beat a good soak. Fara tossed her duffel and herself onto the bed and sighed.

She heard Terri giggle from the hallway.

"What's so funny?" Fara asked.

"I was just wondering what it would have been like if we had gone to the academy together. I bet we would have gotten into all sorts of trouble."

"Maybe, I don't really remember," Fara replied.

"Have you ever thought about getting that memory loss looked into?" Terri asked.

"Nah," Fara replied, "probably isn't worth looking into. Besides, for the most part, things have been pretty great since I woke up two years ago. No need to dwell on moldy old memories."

Terri grinned mirthfully. "I know we're going to be busy most of the time, but no sense in not having a little fun."

"Well, we got what, a day before we start, right?" Fara said. "Let me relax for an hour and sure, if you want to go out, I'll be up for it. What about Knackt?"
"He's already passed out in the hammock and looks pretty content," Terri said. "I'll leave him a passcode to come and go, a list of take out places to get some food. I think he'll be fine."

"I didn't really bring anything to go out in," Fara confessed, eyeing her duffel.

"Not a problem," Terri said. "I have got a replicator in the utility room. We need to use it anyway, unless you just want to sleep on a bare mattress with no pillows."

"Ok good, I was starting to wonder," Fara said.

"All you had to do was ask," Terri laughed. "You got one hour of downtime and then we're going out on the town ok?"

Fara nodded. They may as well have some fun. From what she understood, there was going to be one hell of a crunch to get through the program as it was.

Logopolis was pretty amazing, with towers of glass reaching up into the heavens, untouched by war, or any strife. The streets were clean and teeming with activity as the city's inhabitants went about their daily activities without a care in the world. Fara felt a bit out of place with so many echidnas around. A few regarded her with polite, but curious looks as they walked down the streets.

"Good grief, how many people live here?" Fara asked.

"Ten million in this city alone," Terri replied. "The place never sleeps."

"Where do you put them all?"

"The city runs as deep underground, nearly as far as it does into the sky," Terri explained. "Underneath, there is a vast array of caves that are filled with homes, shops, parks...you'll have to see it while we're here."

"Is every city on Termia like this?" Fara asked.

"Surprisingly, no," Terri replied. "Most towns are fairly small: a gathering hall, a school, community center, maybe some shops and an eatery or bar or two. Larger towns just have more people and slightly bigger buildings, but nothing like this."

"So you just go all out for the capital city then?" Fara surmised.

"You could say that, but Logopolis was the first colony set up on this planet when we came here over a thousand years ago. It's always been the hub for the rest of the world," Terri replied. "It just got big and kept getting bigger. It also has Fleet HQ here as well." She stopped by what appeared to be some sort of public transportation bus stop.

"So where exactly are we going?" Fara asked.

"I figured we'd hit the boardwalk down on the beach first. It's one of my favorite spots and we can get some food and drinks before we hit the rest of the town. Plus, it shouldn't be as busy right now and we'll beat the rush."

"Sure! You said food, so I'm game." Fara said, feeling her stomach growl. She actually felt restless. She wanted to get the damn check-in done, but the admissions office wasn't open today. With the tight deadline she was facing to get her commission transferred, any time that wasn't getting closer to that goal was just a waste of time. "By the way, I've noticed the universal translator doesn't read Echidna, so you might have to help me out here."

"The language is Termi, not echidna," Terri said drolly.

"Whatever," Fara grunted, seeing the hoverbus approaching.

"Ok, fine, I'll call Lylat space dog gutter speak," she said in Fara's own language, "but just between us."

"Would you stop that! Ok! It'sTermi. I take it back." She said as the bus floated down to land by them.

"Just be nice and I'll be nice," Terri said, sticking her tongue out at her and climbing onto the bus to take a seat. "I'm out to have fun and not put up with your bad attitude."

Fara sat beside her and sighed. She was honestly too tired and too hungry to trade barbs with Terri. The hover bus lifted off and they were soon swiftly on their way to the boardwalk. The gleaming spires of the city zipped by until they gave way to older, smaller buildings. The bus dropped them off on a brick street that had several boutiques, restaurants and eateries on one side and the beach and ocean on the other. Fara could see the water was full of tourists and locals enjoying the surf and sun.

Fara followed Terri down the boardwalk, lost in her own thoughts and looking at the sparkling ocean. It was almost nauseating how clean this world was. She knew her own homeworld was practically a dump after decades of war. Not seeing rubble or an abandoned, burned-out vehicle was strange to her. Terri was telling her about the history of the city and the boardwalk, which she wasn't really listening to. She really did like Terri, but she could be a bit of a chatterbox at times. Fara wondered if the echidna just liked the sound of her own voice.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she walked right into Terri's back.

"Weren't you listening? I said we're here Fara," Terri said, stumbling forward a bit as Fara slammed into her..

"I have a lot on my mind...sorry," Fara smiled.

"It's ok, let's go in. I hope you brought your appetite." Terri smirked, walking up to a door. They stepped through into a small restaurant with a blue and white motif and whatever they were cooking smelled good enough to her stomach.

"How many?" Asked a young male echidna with tawny fur dressed in blue slacks and shirt that matched the restaurant's set up.

"Two," Terri said.

"Would you like to eat on the roof? The view is amazing today," he said with a huge smile.

"Of course, if it's open," Terri said.

"Very well, follow me," the concierge said, heading to a set of stairs. They followed him up to a set of roof top tables with parasols that overlooked the beach. The floor and railing were made of a well maintained, light colored wood that gave off a faint sweet smell. They took a table close to the railing and sat down. The concierge gave them menus and excused himself. Fara opened it up out of habit before she remembered she couldn't read it. She sighed and sat it back down.

"I guess my life is in your hands," she grumbled at Terri, "I have no idea what any of this is."

"Don't worry, I already know what we're going to have. They have these great fish taco platters with all kinds of different ones. It'll be great, you'll like it," Terri said reassuringly.

"I take it this is one of your old haunts from your school days?"

Terri nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, I also put on about half my current weight my first year at the academy eating here."

"You? Put on weight?" Fara said, trying to picture Terri with any extra weight on her. "I can't really imagine that."

"Well I did," Terri said, "I had to work my tail off to shed it."

The waiter came over and she ordered their meals and handed the menus back.

"Is something bothering you?" Fara finally said. "You are a little bit more punchy than usual."

"Oh you noticed?" Terri said, dropping her usual facade.

"Just a tad."

"Fine, but drinks first. Waiter!" She called, flagging the concierge back over and ordering a bottle of wine. He came out with two glasses and filled them. Terri asked them to leave the bottle. She then quickly downed hers in one swig.

"Terri!" Fara scolded her, laughing nervously. "What has you so perturbed?"

Terri just held her hand up, poured herself another glass, and then sat back in her chair.

"Ok, I'll tell you," she began, "you aren't the only one whose position is threatened in being posted to the ship. There are going to be a lot of personnel transfers. Don't worry, I'll still be around, as well as most of your current crew." Terri said, "the biggest change will be, the ship isn't going to be under Commander Rivas."

"What?" Fara gasped, "I thought...the Admiral…."

"The Admiral signed off on the order! The ship is being given to Lieutenant Commander Martinez in a few months," Terri growled softly.

"That has to suck. How's Don taking it?" Fara asked.

"Not well," Terri admitted, "we had a bad fight about it before I left."

"Sorry to hear that," Fara said.

Terri shrugged and took a bit of a smaller drink of wine this time, "I'll live."

"How long had you guys been together?" Fara asked.

"Almost two years," Terri sighed, "he's been fine 'till this happened. It was like some switch flipped and now he's another person."

"Sorry to hear that, but he's got to be absolutely crushed," Fara said, actually feeling sorry for Rivas.

"I think you Cornerians take stuff way too seriously," Terri grumbled before taking another swig of wine. "Seriously, what the hell are you doing here, if you didn't? Trying to cram in a quick three months of training just to not have anyone else touch your project?"

"You know what, maybe we do," Fara said, "most of us didn't grow up with this." She gestured around. "Has this planet ever had a war?"

"Not in a very long time," Terri said.

"We fight and strive for everything we have, and the few of us who are lucky to have things given to them...it's a struggle to keep them. So, yeah, maybe we do take things a bit seriously, but not all of us grew up in paradise Terri." Fara said levelly.

Terri sighed and tossed back the rest of the glass. "You are right...I'm sorry."

The waiter arrived with their food and Terri ordered another bottle of wine since she had nearly emptied the first and Fara had only finished one glass.

"So…do you know anything about this Martinez?" Fara asked.

"A little. I guess he was the one who figured out how to bring down that alien ship that we're using to make our little monster," Terri said. "He's been away on a deep space exploration mission since the battle where the aliens were stopped."

"What's he like?" Fara asked.

"His profile hasn't been updated while he was away. He's apparently very bright, a tad stubborn, likes to micromanage, started out as an engineer, so at least he has an idea about how a ship works." Terri said, starting to eat. "I just don't know what made the Admiral give him command of the ship over Rivas."

"Who knows, politics maybe?" Fara shrugged.

"I get it, the guys a hero and all that, but it just seems cruel to string Don along like that and then brush him aside," Terri said, poking at her food with a fork.

"Ok, let's stop talking about it. You are just getting more irritable," Fara said, taking a bite out of the fish taco and finding it surprisingly delicious. "We were having fun, remember?"

Terri nodded and smiled weakly. "Right."

"And try to leave me a little bit more wine yeah?" Fara chuckled.

"I'm not making any promises," Terri said flatly, pouring herself another glass.

After a while, the alcohol seemed to catch up with her and Terri was acting a bit more relaxed, as well as speaking with a definite slur.

"Sho...I think we sshould hit up a few clubs," Terri said, wobbling a little bit in her chair and eating her food with reckless abandon.

"I don't think that would be a good idea," Fara replied.

"Why not?"

"Because you are nearly three bottles in, that's why," Fara said. She was already feeling a bit tipsy from the little she had had already. How could something so sweet and smooth pack such a heavy punch?

"I haven't even begun," Terri grinned wickedly, downing her glass and signaled the waiter to come over and bring another bottle. She then tracked him with her eyes with a predatory smile across her lips. "You know he's pretty cute."

"The waiter?"

"Yeah," Terri said, looking over at him as she traced her finger along the top of her glass.

Fara looked over at him. He looked young, at least a bit younger than them. "You can't be serious?"

"You aren't my boss," Terri hissed, still ogling the waiter.

"Good grief, how bad of a fight did you have?" Fara asked.

"Bad enough I don't think I'll feel guilty about anything I decide to do the rest of the night," Terri glared at her.

"Shit...sorry," Fara grimaced.

Terri shrugged. "Nothing you can do about it." She took a pen out of her purse and scribbled something on a piece of paper and slid it under a glass to be easily found. Fara didn't say anything. She'd heard stories about Teri's proclivities and hoped she wouldn't have a frontrow seat to one of them. Despite her wishes, however; it seemed Terri was about to drag her into just such an episode.

"Look, Terri, is this going to be…a thing? Because if it is…."

"Fara, shut up," Terri said, cutting her off. "I told you we're having fun and knowing you, you'll get tired and go to bed." She took another drink. "I'll still be up. I'll need something to do. It might be him, or I will watch an old movie, I don't know." Terri said matter of factly with a drunken slur. "Besides we don't get to just hang out much, this is our time right now, got it?"

Fara smiled a bit relieved. "Yeah, I got it."

"Besides, why aren't you looking around? You're single and on leave. You should live it up too!"

"It's not really a priority for me," Fara shrugged.

"Fine! What about just having fun?" Terri said, exasperated with her friend. "Look, I want to dance, socialize, maybe get felt up, you know all the parts of doing a club. What do you want to do for fun? It's both our night. There's got to be something you like to do!"

Fara glanced away. "To be honest, you are about the only person I do anything with. All I do is work in the ship or brush up on current technical manuals. I don't really have fun. I don't really remember how."

She looked up, half expecting Terri to have some infuriating smirk on her face, but all she could see was kindness and concern, though there was a slight intoxicated lean.

"I'm sorry Fara," Terri said solemnly. "Ok, I know exactly what we are doing. Are you done eating?"

Fara noticed that they had both decimated the platter of fish tacos. "Yeah, I guess so," she said.

"Ok, follow me! Do you have your multipass?" Terri asked, staggering towards the exit.

"Yeah, why?" Fara asked, getting up to follow her.

"Just trust me. I'm going to make this a night you won't forget," Terri slurred as she exited the restaurant and then looked up and down the street before she spotted what she was looking for. She immediately bolted towards what Fara thought were some kind of fancy vending machines. Terri took out her multipass and scanned it, then placed her finger on a small scanner. She entered a few commands and the machine produced two colored gumdrop looking things.

"Fara get over here," she commanded. "Swipe your card, put your finger there."

Fara did so. Terri plugged in a few commands and two more of the colored, sugar coated morsels appeared. Terri quickly popped hers in her mouth and chewed them, motioning for Fara to do the same.

"What are these?" Fara asked.

"Magic candy," Terri said, rolling her eyes, "just shut eat them! They won't hurt you, but they'll help you relax."

"Designer drugs?" Fara yelped as she realized what she was holding. "Is this legal?"

"Duh!" Terri grinned, slapping the machine. "These are all over the place. Now hurry up and eat them so we can get you relaxed!"

Fara regarded the little morsels for a moment, shrugged, and at them. Nothing seemed to be happening at first, but suddenly her worry and stress seemed to be melting rapidly away. She felt herself actually relax for once and things seemed a lot more colorful and cheerier, but she was sure it was because a lot of her usual anxieties were missing.

"Wow," Fara smiled, "what the hell was in that?"

"It don't matter," Terri said, seeming a bit calmer and happier. "It's a cure for what ales you." Terri sighed, running her fingers through her hair and stretching. "72 hours to chill and get your shit together before it's right back to life as usual."

"These things just hand it out?" Fara said, eyeing the cylindrical vending device.

"Well yes and no. You have to be an adult, have a current physical evaluation, but that's all recorded on your multipass," Terri said. "You can only get one every 14 days too."

"And you just made this for me?"

"No," Terri said, "I plugged in what you needed, it scanned your blood, and figured out what would work for your biology."

"So...what was it I needed?" Fara giggled.

"Island getaway," Terri smiled. "You don't get a little drink with an umbrella though. So, what would you like to do?"

Fara thought about it. Strangely enough, her priorities seemed more like post-it notes instead of blaring alarms now. "Well, believe it or not, I've never gone to a fun park. Do you have those here?"

"You mean with rides?" Terri asked giddily.

"Yeah! We had them on Corneria when I was real little, but I never got to go to one. After I learned to fly I didn't really see the point," She said, getting a distant look on her face and then shaking her head. She hated that when she remembered things it seemed so distant until something did bubble up. It was very disorienting.

"Yeah we do! There's one not far from here that has some great roller coasters," Terri said excitedly. "Lets go! I have not been there in forever, it'd be great!" Terri grasped her hand and started to lead her and stopped when Fara didn't move.

"Sure," Fara said, "are you ok? I mean you went from all over the place to fine."

"I'm just as fine as you are right now," Terri smiled. "Now lets go before we miss the hover bus!"

The amusement park wasn't far and it wasn't very busy, so Terri and Fara had no problem getting on the rides with short waits. The rides were fast and intense, even Fara had to admit that she was having a good time and even screamed on occasion on a few of the turns on the roller coasters. Every ride they finished, Terri insisted they get a picture uploaded to her pad she carried in her purse. After about a dozen rides, Fara had had enough. She was happy, but she was starting to get a bit dizzy and tired.

They were sitting at a table at a food court as Fara thirstily gulped down a large glass of tea. The afternoon sun was getting dim as evening came on.

"So, you having fun now?" Terri chuckled.

"Yeah," Fara smiled back, "I don't think I can handle being spun through the air anymore though."

"You up for some dancing?" Terri asked.

"Not really my thing, but, you know what? Why the hell not?" Fara shrugged. "Sounds...fun?"

"That's the spirit!" Terri crowed. "Let's go! The night is still young."

The club they ended up at was a fairly large venue in an ornate building. The music could be heard from outside as they approached it as its outer walls slid up to allow the cool night air inside. Fara could spot at least two dozen different species from across the Confederation, but she only knew a handful of them intermixed with the local echidna population as they went inside. She stuck close to Terri, not really sure what else to do. She was not used to doing things like this, but she was willing to humor Terri, who was trying to help her. She knew one thing for sure, there were a lot of cadets and fleeters in this club along with the civilians. More importantly, the place was absolutely packed with people.

The music was loud and pretty atypical of most social clubs on any planet. Terri swung by the bar and ordered drinks, one of which she shoved into one of Fara's hands before she grabbed the other and drug Fara through the throng of people, up some stairs to a catwalk that wasn't overly crowded, overlooking the dance floor. Mercifully enough, they were above the music and they could talk without screaming.

"What is this?" Terri asked, giving the drink a taste and finding it sweet rather than bitter.

"Fruit juice, lots of ice, and an energy drink," Terri replied. "It's called a smoothie."

Fara tried it. It wasn't bad and she was grateful Terri had got something that wasn't alcoholic. "Thanks for going easy on me with this."

Terri smiled and leaned on the railing, sipping her own drink. "Don't mention it. Even I have my limits," she admitted, looking down at the dance floor. "You ready to go down there?"

"Not really," Fara frowned, "I don't really know how to dance." It was a partial truth at best. If she had once known how to dance, it wasn't one of those things her spotty memory had decided to maintain.

"It's not hard, you just move yourself to the beat," Terri said. "Just let the music dictate it."
Fara felt very awkward and uncomfortable. "I really don't...you make it sound easy."

"Here," Terri said, setting her drink on a little shelf on a catwalk support, "watch me."

Terri started to sway her hips and move her arms in sync with the music in a slightly provocative, very hypnotic way, slowly turning a bit as she danced.

"See? It's not that hard."

"Maybe for you with that figure of yours," Fara chuckled, finishing her drink. "Fine, I'll try...I guess."

"Now don't copy me," Terri instructed, "just do what feels natural."

"Don't worry, I couldn't possibly copy you." Fara said dryly.

She closed her eyes and tried to do as Terri suggested, moving herself to the music. She was pretty sure she looked pretty foolish.

"Not too bad," Terri giggled. "You need to relax, you are a bit stiff."

"Again, I don't do things like this," Fara said exasperated. "But thanks. Now what?"

"Now we go out there and do it," Terri grinned wickedly, grabbing her paw and pointing towards the floor. "Lets go!"

The next morning

Fara woke up in her room, wondering what the hell had happened the night before. She felt exhausted and groggy and realized she hadn't even bothered to change out of her outfit. She groaned and got up, stripped off her clothes and hopped into the shower. Slowly, through her fatigue, she smiled as she remembered how much fun she had as Terri had gotten her to loosen up and they danced late into the night before they finally came home.

She glanced around and found a wall clock that showed they had at least two hours before the academy admissions office was open. She calmed herself, thinking maybe she had missed the time. After cleaning up, she threw on something comfortable and presentable using the replicator Terri had shown her. She could smell the scent of food wafting in from under the door and she stepped out into the bright morning light and headed for the kitchen.

Knackt was already up and was cooking breakfast. Whatever it was, it smelled great. He was already dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

"Good morning boss-lady," he said. "Want some grub?"

"Yes please, I'm starving. So, did you do anything interesting last night?" She asked.

"HA! What didn't I do last night?" Knackt said grinning.

"I don't really want details, Knackt. I was just making small talk." Fara groaned.

"Let's just say I woke up, you two were gone, so I hit the town, made a couple of friends. That small enough talk for you?

"More than enough, thank you," Fara said, walking over to the food replicator and making coffee.

"What did you two go out and do?" Knackt asked.

"Went out to eat, hit an amusement park and then danced until my feet hurt," Fara said, leaning against the wall and sipping her coffee.

"You dance?" Knackt said. "Really? My god, miracles can happen!"

"Shut up," Fara hissed through a half smile. "What are you making anyway?"

"A good artery clogging breakfast: eggs, meat, hashbrowns and lots of salt," Knackt said, seasoning the food cooking in the skillet. "Well, at least it would be if it wasn't replicated garbage."

"Not really particular today," Fara said, feeling her stomach growl.

"Should I make some for Terri?" Knackt asked.

"Probably," Fara said as she heard a door open and close. She immediately recognised the waiter from the night before. He quickly headed out the door with an awkward glance at Fara. Terri soon sauntered into the kitchen wearing only a kimono and looking like she had just got out of bed as well.

"So…" Fara chuckled, "where was he off to so fast?"

"Work," Terri said as she sat down at the bar. "We were up late."

"Talking, I suppose," Fara said sarcastically. Terri just stuck her tongue out at her and made a rude gesture.

"I've got grub ready," Knackt announced. "Better grab a plate."

Terri pointed to the correct cabinet and Fara grabbed a plate. "I hope you are planning on making your gracious host something too?" Terri asked, drumming her fingers on the bar.

"Yeah, yeah! I got something going for ya cool your thrusters," Knackt said as he quickly scooped a pile of food onto Fara's plate.

A week later

Fara tugged at the cadet uniform she had been forced to put on. Mercifully, it was a variant of the current fleet uniform, with the top half the color of her division being yellow reserved for individuals taking the courses to change over to Starfleet. It was a class filled with individuals like Fara and Knackt, as well as experienced officers working on getting a promotion.

"Fara, would you just stop," Terri protested.

"This thing itches...and it clings in all the wrong spots," Fara complained.

"That's how it keeps your temperature regulated, so stop messing with it!" Terri said.

Suddenly, everyone in the class got quiet and stood up. Terri did too and tugged at Fara's arm until she stood as well, still irritatedly tugging at her tunic. Down below, a black furred older female echidna with a Commander's uniform entered the lecture hall and approached the podium.

"Good afternoon class. You may have a seat."

Everyone did so and she waited for them all to sit, noticing a certain fennec towards the back who was the last to do so and kept shifting uncomfortably in her seat.

"I see some familiar faces, from former students. It's good to see you here again, and I hope you are advancing in your careers. You know what I expect of you and that hasn't changed. Welcome back. I hope you are ready to work." She said smiling. "For the rest of you, I am Commander Nyota-Penda. I will be your guide through the next twelve weeks of the officer certification program. This is a pass/fail class. There will be a test at the end of every week, open book, open notes. It is on you to listen, read, and learn the material I will present to you. Each test is timed and you have one hour to pass them with at least a 95%. If you fail once, you are out of the program." She let that sink in. "I will be covering the rules and regulations that apply to all ranks. It's on you to learn specifics on your own accord. Those of you who have had me before will find this a refresher course and should have no problems passing."

There was some amused murmuring in the crowd and nodding.

"With that said, I have reviewed all your applications and created material packages for all of you. I use paper, not digital, deal with it. Furthermore, you are not allowed to use digital devices in my class during tests. If I catch you using one, you will be reprimanded, failed, and expelled from the class. Is that understood? Everything that you need is in the course materials I will provide. If you feel I have made an error, and that's rare, contact me and I will provide you with whatever information you are missing. I suggest you keep this with you and study it at all times. If you are new, ask one of the many here who have done this before and they will confirm that."

Fara looked over at Terri, who simply nodded and sat back in her chair with a huff. She was hoping this would be as easy as her engineering classes, but apparently she was wrong.

"Also, there are recommended holodeck exercises I suggest you complete as well. They will serve as extra credit for each one that you complete. You may take the simulations on your own accord, some of it may or may not be on the tests." Several carts were rolled into the class room containing the dossiers for each person taking the course. "I will now call off your names and you will pick up your course work. I suggest you crack it open tonight and get at least though chapter two. We have a lot to cover tomorrow."

Fara collapsed back in her seat and waited for her name to be called, sincerely hoping that it wasn't one of the larger binders that were being wheeled in on the carts. It was going to be a long 3 months.

Two weeks later

Fara leaned against a wall in the academy's gymnasium, panting hard. She quickly made her way to a water fountain and gulped down several mouthfuls of water as Terri appeared at her side. They were both in jogging outfits doing laps in the afternoon to help relieve the stress after class.

"Four laps in seven minutes," Terri puffed, raising her arms over her head. "You are getting better fast."

Fara popped up and clutched at her chest, feeling her heart going faster than she'd ever felt it before. "Might…have…overdone it…."

"Arms up, breathe Fara," Terri said patiently. "Walk around slowly, deep breaths."

Fara nodded and did as told. Within a few moments the thumping in her chest became less noticeable.

"So, did you pass this round?" Terri asked.

"Barely, straight 95 this time. The stupid rules and regulatuons tripped me up. Knackt did better than I did," Fara scowled.

"Ok, we'll go over command protocols this weekend," Terri said. "I have got most of them down. It'd be easy for me to drill you over them. Next week managing conflicts in the command structure, if we can just get you caught up, you'll be fine."

"It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so damn dry and boring," Fara grousedd.

"I know, but if you are ever in the big chair you'll be glad I drummed it into that stubborn head of yours," Terri chuckled.

Fara just nodded. She was really running the razor's edge here. If she washed out of the program, that was it. Pack your bags, Fara girl, she could hear them say, you lost the project you sunk the last two years of your life into! Looks like it's an office job on that train wreck of a world you call home.

"I'll get it," Fara said, gritting her teeth. "I can't fail! I won't!"

"I know," Terri said, "it just sucks you have to work twice as hard to get there."

Fara nodded. "Good thing I got you helping me."

"Yup," Terri said, "any ideas what you want to do on our free day tomorrow?"

"That hike up in the mountains sounded nice," Fara replied, "as long as it doesn't take all day."

"It shouldn't. Then want to eat and crash at home?" Terri said.

"Yeah. I got to get some simulation time in with Knackt the next day," Fara said. "If it wasn't for Commander Penda subtly suggesting those simulations, I wouldn't have got this far."

"Then you don't need to worry," Terri said, smiling. "You are doing what she expects, so you'll pass."

"What makes you so sure," Fara sighed.

"I had her as an instructor when I went through the academy. If you bust your ass and do the work you'll do just fine," Terri replied reassuringly.

A month later

Everything was routine now, almost boring, but that routine brought much needed stability to her hectic study/exercise/rest schedule.

Terri and Knackt were eating in the kitchen as Fara was drinking her coffee, pacing around the living room, flipping through her messages that had come in. Kurtzman had stayed in contact with her and was constantly asking her questions about various problems they were encountering on the ship. However, there were lots of legitimate issues going on with the prototype. Irregular plasma flow in the warp conduits, life support cutting out, the armor deployment system completely and utterly failing on test runs. It was almost like the ship it self was protesting her absence.

After addressing all of Kurtzman's issues that had cropped up, she turned to the last message. It was a video message from her father and it was marked urgent. She opened it and her father's face appeared. He looked very distraught and sad.

"Fara," he said, struggling to keep his composure, "I...have some terrible news. It's Maya…she...she passed in the night...in her sleep. It was very sudden and the doctors say it was a heart attack...so she didn't suffer. I'm very sorry. I thought you might want to know. I know you're busy and can't get home. The funeral will be in a few days. If you have any condolences, I will express them to her family. I'm sorry Fara...I wish I had something better to tell you. I love you, take care."

Terri and Knackt heard the shattering of a coffee cup in the living room and went to investigate. They saw the broken coffee cup on the floor and Fara's pad laying on the coffee table looking like it had been tossed.

"Where'd she go?" Knackt asked.

Terri saw the door to the patio closing. She couldn't see out into the small courtyard due to the opaqueness of the window's reactive tenting to keep the blinding morning sun to a minimum.

"Outside...want to take care of that?" Terri asked politely, pointing to the mess. "I'll go see what's wrong with her."

"Yeah, no problem," Kanckt said.

Terri went outside. Immediately she heard sobbing. She quickly looked around the courtyard and saw Fara standing near the railing, her back to her. Terri quietly and slowly approached. She was definitely crying, but it was very sorrowful. She found that Fara was sobbing and playing with the Phoenix necklace she had seen her wear from time to time.

"Fara…are you ok? What happened?" Terri asked softly. "Is your dad ok?"

"He's fine," Fara gasped as tears streamed from her eyes.

"Good," Terri said, a bit relieved, "but what happened?"

"We had a housekeeper...her name was Maya," Fara said, after taking a breath. "She was one of the first people I met when I came out of my coma. She was very kind. She...passed away...last night," Fara cried, "she's the one who got me this necklace. She said she knew me since I was little...but I don't remember much...I just...can't…."

Terri quickly hugged her. "Shh...it's okay Fara, just cry it out," Terri said, trying to soothe her. "I'm so sorry Fara."

"Everything was going fine...and now this! And...and...and I can't even take the time off!" Fara wailed.

"If Maya knows you as well as she says she did, I think she would understand," Terri said, trying to console her as best she could.

The morning class was less than an hour away and she really felt for Fara, because this was an unneeded burden on top of everything else she was carrying.

"Come inside and sit on the couch," she said as she rubbed Fara's back, "you are already dressed. I'll get the rest of your stuff for the day ok? We got class in under an hour. I know it sucks, but you have to keep moving through this ok? You've come too far to quit now. I know it's hard, but this falls under what Commander Penda talked about earlier about staying focussed on your duty even when things are at their worst."

Fara groaned and nodded as she wiped her eyes. "I know you're right, but I still want to deck you for it."

"I know," Terri said with a tiny smile. "These things rarely happen when anyone plans for them. Look, I got a pretty light load compared to you. I'll stick with you all day, that way you aren't alone, ok?"

"I appreciate that," Fara replied. She took a deep breath and tried to put on a good front, even though her muzzle was still trembling in grief.

The last month of the class was just a blur. Terri never once left her side, making sure she ate, slept, studied, relaxed and mourned when she had time. If anything, the added stress just served to harden her resolve. Her steady 95% climbed steadily to a 96%, then a 98% as she buried herself in work. The course work got more intense and so she intensified her efforts. She hit the command simulations in the holodeck as often as she could and ran each scenario until she passed them perfectly. The tests, even though they intimidated her, got easier thanks to notes taken from the lectures, course material, and experiences in the simulator. Oftentimes, she'd wake up back in her room or on the couch in the living room, not remembering how she got there until her fatigued mind recalled that she had nearly pulled an all nighter in the simulator.

Then the final exam came...and she passed it. It was over.

She went back to the loft and collapsed from exhaustion. Terri just let her sleep until she woke up a few days later. They would be heading home soon, as soon as the certifications were finalized.

Fara stood in her room, staring at her formal papers. Everything was packed, souvenirs from her days with Terri, a few outfits she decided to keep, and of course the binder from her class. Eight weeks and she was granted the rank of Lt. Commander and Chief Engineer of the yet to be named vessel back home. Knackt had passed with flying colors as well. It was almost annoying how easy it had been for him. Apparently, he was way sharper than she gave him credit for. He spent most of his time partying and out all night yet somehow he passed.

She sighed with relief knowing that, for now, studying, cramming, and remembering rules and regulations was over. By now she could practically rattle off most of what she learned on command. She doubted if half of it would stick in her mind for long. The momentous task was done and her position was secure. She set the documents in her duffle and zipped it up. Her time here had been interesting, fun at times, but it was time to go home. Maybe someday she'd come back here on a holiday.

"All ready to go?" Terri asked from the door.

"Yep...shouldn't that be ready to go, sir?" Fara chuckled.

Terri stuck her tongue out at her. "We aren't on duty and you are in my house, so I'm in command around here."

Fara rolled her eyes. "I won't do that to you," Fara said. "If it wasn't for you pushing me and working with me, I wouldn't have even made it."

Terri smiled. "I told you you had nothing to worry about."

Fara walked up to her and hugged her tightly, taking Terri off guard. "Thank you. You're a good friend."

"Hey...I couldn't have you just up and leaving," Terri said quietly. "I got used to having you around. You ready to go? Knackt's already got the shuttle warmed up."

"Yeah...I am," Fara nodded and grabbed her duffle. "Let's head home."

The ride back was short and uneventful. Fara was relieved when she saw her ship sitting in it's slip. It was truly hers. She had done it. She was now it's Chief Engineer, if Stiles kept to his promise.

Captain Stiles proved to be a man of his word. He was very impressed that Fara had pulled it off and gave her the posting as promised. Kurtzman took the news with a grain of salt, but he never said anything to her about it. He did congratulate her and never caused her any problems. Fara was well aware of what she'd pulled with the badger, but it was her ship and he'd just have to live with that. She never rubbed it in his face, but she could tell the situation irked him.

All that was left to do was finish up the work on the ship and wait for the new commander to show up. Rivas was not much fun to be around anymore, not that he had been in the first place, but the chip on his shoulder could be seen light years away. One could almost taste the anger ebbing off him. He kept things professional, but you could tell he was on the verge of just flying off the handle. Fara tried to keep their meetings short and to the point, and they were becoming less frequent with the work on the ship finishing up.

Things seemed like they were settling down as she came home one night after a pretty good day of the ship not giving her any problems. She took off her lab coat and top tunic and tossed them on her couch. With a full crew of fleet engineers and the command structure fully in place, what she said got done.

"CHIEF PHOENIX, INCOMING PRIORITY ONE MESSAGE FROM ADMIRAL KRAMER." The computer announced. "PRE RECORDED, MARKED URGENT."

Fara reluctantly got up. She wasn't really happy with the Admiral either, but now that she had a rank she had better answer if he called.

"Put it on the desk viewer please," she said, walking over to her desk and activating it.

The monitor displayed the crest of the Confederation and then it switched to the message. Admiral Kramer appeared on screen. He looked worse than he did before as he sat back in the chair in his ready room.

"Fara…" he said warmly even though his voice was haggard and weak, "I would like to congratulate you on your achievement. The Fleet needs good people like you in it. I am glad that, if anyone is going to be in charge of my project's well being, it is you. I must confess, I was responsible for putting Kurtzman in the posting. I wanted you to join Starfleet, but I do not think you would have done so if asked. I felt if you were slightly pressured you would make the choice yourself, either way."

Fara scowled, hating that he was right.

"If anything," the Admiral continued, "I wish we had crossed paths sooner. I would have loved to have had you for a student. You have a lot of potential to do a lot of good, to inspire the children of your world like many others from Corneria have by joining the Fleet. You also have my condolences in regards to Maya. It is unfortunate that it happened while you were attending your certification and, unfortunately, tragedy strikes us at the worst of times. " He then started coughing really badly. He looked like he was in tremendous agony. The coughing fit went on for about a minute before it stopped. "I leave the Pathfinder Project in your more than capable hands, Fara. Stick with it, show the Confederation it is worthwhile. Keep your head up and watch your back. I have some opponents in Starfleet that wish to see this endeavour fail. I am trusting you to see that it doesn't. If we do not see each other again, farewell and godspeed, Fara Phoenix."

The message then ended.

Fara sat back in her seat. That last bit had a weight of finality to it that couldn't be ignored.

She needed some air, so she quickly changed out of her uniform and went out for a walk in the corridor. It was late, so she should have it to herself. As she walked, deep in thought, she heard someone approaching from the other way. It was Don Rivas, looking haggard and perplexed as they stopped across from each other at a T-section that led to the promenade.

"Hey…" Fara said with a wane smile.

"Hey..." Rivas said lifelessly.

"What brings you out here this time of night?" Fara asked.

"Oh...just got a weird message, was just trying to figure it out," Rivas sighed.

"From Kramer," Fara asked, "me too…."

They stood in silence.

"Let me guess, he apologised to you?" Fara said.

Rivas nodded. "More than that...he gave me an out I can use anytime I want. Hell, I can have a new command tomorrow if I want."

"Will you?" Fara asked.

"I don't know...maybe," Rivas shrugged. "Part of me wants to see how bad this new

guy will screw things up," he smirked. "At least I could get a good laugh before I go."

"I think you should stay," Fara said, suddenly stepping forward and gently touching his arm. "You'd be a good buffer between him and me and we work well enough as a team right?"

Rivas appeared to appreciate the gesture. "I suppose so…we got the job done well enough."

"We sure did," Fara smiled. "There's an overnight coffee place on the promenade...want to grab something and walk and chat? I think we both need to unwind a bit. Besides, I have a few ship things I need to talk to you about.

"Sure," Rivas smiled, "beats what I had in mind."

They headed down the corridor, quietly talking. For now, things seemed to have settled down and everything had worked out.

How little did they know how quickly that was to change.

The EndThe