I pluck the commbadge off my dresser and turn it over in my hand. The overhead light glints off its polished polymetal surface like a small locator beacon. Such a small thing, I think, to be worth so much. I study myself critically in the mirror, admiring the science-blue uniform and the brand-new lieutenant's pips on my collar. I did work hard to fill in that second pip--almost as hard as I worked for the honour of wearing the Starfleet delta I hold in my hand--and my hand caresses it gently as I allow myself a proud smile. Uncle Todd would be so proud.

My uncle was the first Starfleet officer I ever met, and I fondly recall him coming home on leave, tall and handsome in his black and gold security uniform with that shining arrow-head-shaped insignia over his heart. He would change into civilian clothes after dinner, but that commbadge stayed on at all times, in case his ship needed to call him. I was fascinated by that badge from the first; one of my clearest childhood memories is of him being recalled to his post during a meal one night, tapping his chest and disappearing into a column of sparkles right there in our living room, his napkin still tucked into his shirt collar. I was five and he had promised to show me a holovid after supper that he had taken of a world with three moons. I was disappointed, but the sight of my first beam-out was enough to satisfy me for at least a week. I think even then he knew I'd follow him into the Fleet someday.

In school, of course, we learned that the arrow-head shape was properly called a delta, and that it had originally been the insignia of just one ship in the Fleet. Now it stood for the entire exploration and defence arm of the United Federation of Planets. My grade three teacher said there were worlds where wearing that symbol could save your life--and others where it could get you killed. My brothers and I went home that day and played "Romulans and Security Officers." I was a Romulan who defected to the Federation by stealing my (Vulcan) brother's commbadge and impersonating him aboard his starship when his away team beamed aboard. The ludicrousness of this plan didn't strike any of us until years later--I had the badge and the ears (and presumably the uniform) so, obviously, I could fake it!

When I joined the Academy and got my first uniform, my first real thrill was getting my own operational commbadge. "I may be just a lowly cadet," I told myself, "and this uniform's going to change a bunch of times over my career, but this commbadge is the same one the admirals have." More importantly, it was the same one science officers on starships--like the one I wanted to serve on--wore. By the time my class graduated four years later, the security division cadets were wearing phasers when they were on duty, and we science officers practically slept with our tricorders. The engineers carried around tool belts full of hyperspanners and microwelders, and the command cadets always had a datapadd of some sort in their hands. But we all still wore the commbadges, whether to report neutrino levels, call for backup, or organize late-night exam cramming sessions. I began hitting my bare chest in my sleep when I thought I'd heard an alarm go off.

I've only lost my commbadge three times in the line of duty in the two years I've been aboard this starship--once to beam an injured person out of harm's way, and once to cannibalize to increase the range of a malfunctioning tricorder. The third time, it got knocked off in hand-to-hand combat with a Denebian stickler bush, which ended up saving my life, but that's another story. So far, I've been lucky enough not to get captured by hostile forces, so I've never lost my badge that way. I'm not sure if they know quite how naked having your commbadge taken makes a Starfleet officer feel; if so, that's probably why they do it. Set aside the amazing engineering in those little gadgets--circuitry that featured heavily in at least three electronics courses at the Academy. Forget, for a moment, the universal translator embedded in each commbadge--a technology that has probably saved more lives in first contact situations than all the phasers in Starfleet combined--and the way the commbadge signal can be used as a homing device. Ignore the fact that these little badges tie into a communications network across Federation space that's second only in its efficiency to the Borg hive mind. The fact is, without our commbadges, we uniformed Starfleet officers look pretty silly. "Circus clowns," I've heard us called. I tell people that at least that's better than the pastel "pyjamas" they used to have to wear for uniforms a hundred years ago, but the fact remains that a commbadge represents both style and morale, and there's just something wrong--something empty--about an officer in uniform without his commbadge.

As I turn my commbadge over in my hand, inspecting a small scratch on the inner left leg of the delta, I remember two contrasting images I've seen in the last month. Together, they sum up for me what this small piece of metal represents. The first image is of a middle-aged ex-POW Starfleet commander on a newscast. Scruffy and dirty and missing his commbadge, he is being hugged enthusiastically by a young ensign, who is crying and keeps repeating, "You saved my life. You saved my life!" Apparently the commander had slapped his own commbadge on the young, injured, shirtless ensign and given the order "one to beam directly to Sickbay!" just before being captured by enemy forces, thus sparing the junior officer months in a harsh labour camp--and, in the condition the young man was in, literally saving his life. I think of the time I'd helped beam Terik out with my badge, and hope I would've had the courage to make the same choice if I hadn't been surrounded by an away team to make sure I got back to the ship safely.

The second image is of my commanding officer taking off her commbadge and phaser and slamming them down on the desk in front of an admiral who had ordered her to do something completely against her morals. It was the first time I'd seen anyone "turn in their badge and gun" like that, but everyone in the room knew what it meant. In a gesture dating back to the days when police officers wore identification badges, my CO had just said that she would rather give up her commission than go against her conscience. In fact, she was saying that if she followed her orders, she wouldn't be worthy to wear that badge, because she would be going against everything she'd signed on under the Fleet delta to protect. The admiral let her storm out of the room, then quietly turned to our first officer and amended our orders. Until that moment, I hadn't realized I was holding my breath. If the admiral hadn't changed his mind, I think I would have resigned in order to follow my CO--just because I knew how much that badge meant to her.

I buff my commbadge on my sleeve, and squint as I line it up on my uniform. Such serious thoughts, but they spring to mind every time I put this badge on. I think, too, of all the voices I've heard over this tiny speaker--my CO and our first officer; Terik, the starched Vulcan engineer whose life I helped save; Le Coton, who saved my life in the stickler-bush incident and won't let me forget it; Lora, my co-worker in astrophysics who always sounds like she's laughing; Kelin, whom I've known since the Academy; Daniels from Sickbay and Tilaan from Geosciences, whom I can never tell apart until they give their names. Uncle Todd, the one time he came on board this ship; that terribly annoying Ferengi on Deep Space Nine who had a commbadge for some insane reason; several visiting admirals; untold transporter chiefs and away team leaders. I smile at my reflection and carefully check the alignment of my commbadge delta on my chest: two inches down from the collar and two inches over from the front closure. I snap off an out-dated salute to myself in the mirror, and gather my notes from last night and my scientific tricorder. As I reach an hand up to tap my badge and invite Kelin for breakfast and a rundown of yesterday's data, I find myself thinking that I may miss my commbadge more than many things, if I ever retire from exploring strange new worlds.