Part 1: Elizabeth Lochley

"If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair."

- Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) British lexicographer.

"First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." —F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940).

The dorm room was crowded with cadets, first year to third year, male and female, all clad in EarthForce uniforms. It was like a sea of grey, surging in from the darkened entryway and mostly heading for the brightly lit kitchen area where the food and drinks were laid out.

John Sheridan was in the middle of the crowd, smiling broadly, head tilted in attention as he listened to one of his host's slightly off-color jokes. His broad hand grasped a heavy glass with an inch or two of brown liquid at the bottom. Tony Scarpelli finished with a flourish, "...and that's what a Centauri uses a hair net for!" John guffawed loudly, and clapped his friend on the back. Privately he wondered if Tony had ever even met a Centauri. Downing the not-too-bad whiskey he'd chosen from Tony's limited bar supplies, he thought back to the few times he'd visited Centauri Prime when he was a kid. He remembered them as a fussy people, with a dislike for boisterous children and a fondness for boisterous parties. They'd probably like this one in fact.

A buzz was coming from the living room, and John swivelled his head to see what was happening. An attractive second year cadet was striding across the room, greeting everyone with a confident smile. He turned to see Tony watching him closely.

"You've never met Lochley?" Tony asked, "She's your doppelganger, head of Red Squadron, first in all her classes; just like you." He grabbed John's arm, pulling him along, "Come on, I'll introduce you to her."

John followed Tony, protesting only slightly. Elizabeth Lochley was an attractive woman. He'd heard of her, of course, but never shared a class with her, never met her. After the first year at the Academy, the class was divided into two groups, training separately, preparing for the third year spent in direct competition. Lochley was in Blue Squadron.

"Hey, Elizabeth, there's someone I want you to meet!" Tony pushed John forward in front of Lochley. The young woman looked him up and down and extended her hand.

"John Sheridan, I presume?" Elizabeth gripped his hand firmly and smiled.

John grinned back at her, and returned her grip with gusto. He gestured with the glass in his other hand and asked, "Can I get you a drink?"

"I don't drink," Elizabeth replied.

Her smile didn't waver, but John felt a strange coolness in the air, and set his own glass down. "I guess I've had enough for now myself." He had been drinking steadily for over an hour, and felt a warm glow expanding outwards from himself to encompass the entire room. Everyone here was a friend of his, or about to be, it seemed to him.

Tony, who had drunk a good deal more than John, announced happily, "We've got both squad leaders here, why wait till next year? Let's see what they've got now!"

Both John and Elizabeth turned identical skeptical looks at their host. Elizabeth spoke first, "What did you have in mind?"

Tony put one arm around each of their shoulders, "I don't know...what about a test? We could set you some jumpgate vector problems, or ask you to translate Dilgar war challenges into Earth standard!"

Elizabeth, without looking directly at John, said carefully, "I don't think so. It might not be a level playing field at this point."

John flushed in anger, but some part of his brain acknowledged that it wasn't firing on all jets at this point, and he bit back his initial retort. She played fair; he liked that. His good humor reasserted itself, and he replied, "It's a party, Tony, not a contest. Let's drop it and get back to having some fun."

Tony hooted in laughter, "You're afraid of her, Johnny! I never thought I'd see John Sheridan back away from a challenge!"

Elizabeth shook free of Tony's drunken embrace and moved slightly away from him. "No challenge here, just a party. We're here for a good time. At least that's why I came."

Tony was still chortling softly, and holding on to John's shoulder, when an idea seemed to hit him. "I know! Something about arm-wrestling?"

John shook his head, but to his surprise, Elizabeth nodded. She said, "Why not? " She leaned towards John and whispered, "You know Tony won't let this go. Let's do it, and get it over with."

"All right," John agreed, a slightly fatuous smile returning to his face. He liked Elizabeth Lochley; she was smart, summing up the situation and making quick decisions. It was going to be fun going up against her next year. The others rapidly gathered around them as they sat down across each other at the kitchen table. Placing their elbows on the table, they grasped each other's hand in a tight grip.

Tony, after pouring himself another stiff drink, announced, "On the count of, two, three, go!"

John pushed hard, pressing his elbow firmly against the scuffed stained surface of the table. To his intense surprise, he was met with an equally firm response. Shifting his weight slightly forward, he pushed harder, but met the same resistance. Elizabeth's face was unemotional, as she slowly began to pressure his hand down towards the table. After a few more minutes of jockeying for position, John realized he was going to lose this one. He fought on, determined not to make it easy for her, but eventually the back of his hand touched the table. The crowd roared, and Elizabeth looked briefly, intensely happy, but then her face closed down, and she reverted back to her normal calm aura of self-possession. John immediately took hold of her hand again, this time to shake it firmly. "Good job," he said and was pleased to get another glimpse of brilliant fire light up her eyes. He thought it would be very nice to see that fire up close, and even better to be the cause of the spark.

The party surged away again, groups breaking away and coalescing in other rooms. John sighed as the laughter punctuated the music. Rubbing his temples, he looked at Elizabeth, who was standing in the center of the kitchen, chatting casually with another cadet. When the other woman left to pick up a drink, he stepped closer to Elizabeth.

"I'm about done here," he confessed. "Got a bit of a headache." Clearing his throat, he asked, "You want to go somewhere? Get a drink?" When she started to shake her head, he added quickly, "Coffee, I mean." He thought about it a minute, then discarded the notion of asking her back to his room. "It's past curfew, we'd have to make it the mess hall. They're open till one."

Elizabeth looked back at him steadily, as if appraising his motivations, and maybe her own. "I'd like that."

John gestured towards the door. "Great! Let's go." Privately he spend a moment wondering what he was getting into; the rules on cadet fraternization were quite clear. Then his effusive mood returned, and brought a buoyant smile to his lips. There was no harm in having a quiet talk with a strong, intelligent, beautiful woman, even if she was a fellow cadet. It was only coffee, after all. He was confident that he could handle anything that came of it. Tonight he could handle anything at all.