Rendez vous (Middle French) "Present yourselves"

"A place appointed for assembling or meeting, a meeting at an appointed place and time, […] the process of bringing two spacecraft together."

First Known Use: 1582

Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

"I received a priority communiqué last night," Professor Roslyn began, and glanced around the room at the faces of her staff. She paused – and Bashir noted the subtle tension in her brows. Whatever the message, it had been unusual enough to make her anxious. He could tell that the director was thinking very carefully about how much information she wanted to reveal.

Finally, she made her choice. "It came from Starfleet Medical. They've asked us to assist them in identifying a new pathogen that has recently appeared on a Federation colony world, and to assess the risk of continued contamination. I told them that we would be happy to provide them with whatever expertise they need from us."

"Why?" Vijay Parackal protested loudly from the audience of gathered research staff, and scratched his head with one agitated hand. His narrow mouth was open in disbelief. "What could they want with us? We're no field scientists."

"Time to learn some new tricks then, isn't it?" The director silenced him with a glance.

Bashir allowed himself a moment of distraction, from where he was standing with arms folded on the fringes of their impromptu gathering. He was surprised at the bitter feelings that had risen from his stomach, when the name of Starfleet Medical had been mentioned. But there was no question in his mind. People, in trouble. Our people. Of course they had to answer the summons.

"Did they say how we were supposed to get to this colony world?" Another voice interrupted his thoughts. "Unless we take a low-warp shuttle to the nearest starbase, we don't even have a way to leave this facility. The last ship left two days ago."

"Starfleet has promised to send a ship for us," Roslyn answered. "They also intend to assemble their own research contingent to provide us with some assistance."

"Order us around, in other words," muttered Parackal.

"Vijay—" the director warned him.

"What? Am I wrong?" Parackal challenged her. Roslyn responded with a dark glare. Her eyes, thickly lined with kohl, were intently focused on the junior scientist, making her appear like an admonishing cat.

"We have been asked to work in co-operation with Starfleet," she continued in a heavy, deliberately meaningful voice. "The most important thing is not who gives the orders. This is about the welfare of Federation colonists."

"All right," Vijay acknowledged. "So we're working with Starfleet. But exactly what could they want from us?"

"Personnel support." Bashir surprised even himself when he heard his own response. But with every face turned towards him, he continued. "They've been suffering from a shortage of resources since the outbreak of war, even more so now that they have to extend themselves still further with every loss. The Romulan alliance has offered us some reprieve, and may prove to be the most important development in this whole Dominion War. But even with the Romulans on our side and with new fronts opening along the border of the Neutral Zone, Starfleet doesn't have enough manpower to send a response team to one lone distress call at the edges of Federation space. A joint mission helps to alleviate their resource problem and gives them a greater range of perspectives as search for a solution."

He caught Roslyn's gaze. "Sorry. You were saying?"

But the professor shook her head. "No, you're right – that about covers it. I've been promised a more detailed briefing after we rendezvous with Starfleet, but they've already dispatched the Starship Enceladus to transport us to the colonies. That gives us two more hours to get ourselves ready. Any questions?"

Nobody spoke.

"Good." Victoria Roslyn nodded once to her team, and took a small shoulder bag from one of the nearby desks. "In that case, let's get started."

With a soft undertone of voices, indistinctly but fretfully mumbling around them, the team moved in a direct line towards the door. But Bashir stepped forward quickly to intercept the director. "I do have one question," he commented. "How many of us are you planning to send on this mission?"

"Not many," Roslyn admitted. "At the moment I'm thinking you, me… and Vijay. We shouldn't need any more than three, but I will need your experience. We ought to be meeting other researchers on the Enceladus. That's the other thing – Starfleet thought that a collaborative effort would be a more effective use of resources than it would be to pull on a significant number of personnel from either team."

"That makes sense." Bashir nodded, understanding. But his face shifted into a quizzical half-smile. "Vijay?"

"He's smart enough," Roslyn answered simply. "But he could use some experience in a real-world situation. I'm going to ask Tirok to take charge of this place until we return."

Her large, cat-like eyes watched him steadily as she stood for several moments near the centre of the meeting space. The only visible movement was a slight readjustment of her hands over the back of the padd she still held.

"What is it?" asked Bashir.

Roslyn hesitated a little longer, as though undecided as to how much she ought to say. "You should know," she began with a sigh. "I've been trying to figure out for myself why Starfleet Medical would want us on their mission. After all, Vijay's right. We are civilians here. Except for you, perhaps."

"Does this look like a Starfleet uniform?" Bashir indicated his nondescript grey suit.

"You know what I mean." Roslyn spoke softly. "Doctor Nikos told me some of the things that happened in your past."

"No." Julian interrupted the director, although not entirely sure of exactly what he was denying. Again he found himself staring into her wide green eyes. His mind worked hard to connect what he could almost see of the tenuous, elusive threads of evidence. "Athena found me this research post. I owe her, but she can't tell you everything and neither can Starfleet."

"Can you?"

He stepped away from Victoria Roslyn's unblinking, quietly attentive eyes. Stepped away from the gentle challenge in her question. And clenched both hands as tightly as their tendons would allow. They were shaking. "It's not something I particularly want to remember," he admitted quietly. He had not intended to sound so bitter.

"But you might have to, Julian," Roslyn responded in a measured tone. She kept him in the path of her unwavering gaze. "I don't mean to make you uncomfortable – but I think you should prepare yourself. Starfleet… They didn't say anything specific, but they might still have some difficult questions for you."

The cargo containers were roughly cubical in shape, their rounded corners no less painful than the sharper edge of a table or desk. The surface was smooth, grey-green with reflections blurred by tiny indents in the polymer. The imperfect exterior threatened to slip from Vijay Parackal's sensitive fingers.

He cursed the shallow hand-holds and wondered what kind of engineer would design a container with barely enough room to grasp. Did they think that his fingers were fat and sturdy, with suction caps at the end, or able to balance the cargo's full weight on no more than their tips? It had not seemed heavy, but even stacking the containers properly on the antigrav sled was placing considerable strain upon Vijay's slender back.

With a single mis-judgement, the container might slip and crush his feet, or damage the delicate equipment inside. He wondered which of the two possibilities would matter most to his superiors, and decided that he had no wish to find out.

"What's the deal with Starfleet, then?" He pushed another container forward until it was flush with its immediate neighbor. "Huh? What could they possibly need us for?"

He shifted around towards the handle of the antigravity cart. "I mean, don't they usually send their own people to sort this kind of stuff?"

"They're all busy negotiating the Romulan treaty," said Lucas, a slightly older youth with thick, muscular arms and yellow-brown hair gathered like the threads of a rope into a braid behind his back. He positioned a slightly smaller crate onto the pile, adjusting it so that it was meticulously parallel with the others.

"Yes but…" Parackal shook his head.

"It's a pretty big deal, believe it or not." Her attention on the manifest padd in one hand, their other young companion quickly checked off more items from her inventory on the contents of each container. She took a moment to glance over the label on the container's matte exterior.

"I mean—" she continued. "An alliance with Romulus. That's gotta take some negotiating."

"But it ought to make you think, doesn't it?" insisted Parackal. He looked around him, and lowered his voice, gesturing wildly with his open hands. "At the very least, you gotta be thinking about it. And what about the treaty? One minute the Romulans are sitting back – just letting Starfleet get itself blown up – and you can't say they've been so eager to defend the Neutral Zone from the Dominion before. And the next, they're falling over themselves to play nice with us? There's gotta be more to it than they're telling people over the News Service broadcasts."

"You and your conspiracies," said the young woman. "The Romulans have as much to lose as any of us. More likely it's, they just came to their senses."

Vijay Parackal sighed, shaking his head. "It's weird," he muttered. "That's all I'm saying. Just… weird."

"There's still a war going on," Lucas reminded him.

"Exactly," said the girl. "We need all the allies we can get right now. It's not our job to wonder why. We'd do better to ask ourselves what took them so long."

Lucas laughed in his clear, fluid baritone. "I suppose you think some evil admiral forced them into it."

"Makes sense to me," responded Vijay with a shrug. "I'm not in Starfleet. No-one can order me to stop asking questions."

"Well the bottom line is Professor Roslyn wants you to go with her to the colonies," his smaller colleague insisted. "Just be glad you're getting out of these offices for a while. Come on. We gotta get this done before your ship arrives."

Does Starfleet feel that we need a battle ship to escort us to the Exeter colonies? wondered Bashir as he and the others were escorted by a jittery young junior officer towards the rooms that would serve as their quarters for the duration of their journey. The Enceladus was one of a fleet of eight year old starships, built to replace those destroyed at the Battle of Wolf 359. A successive line of arches extended before Roslyn's small away team, structural supports to hold up the corridor, which curved to the left like the ribs and spine of a python.

But it had never officially been a battle ship, Julian reminded himself. Not officially. The Defiant had not been a battle ship either, until the Federation sent her to war.

Even Parackal followed without protest, subdued and silent as the Starfleet officer escorted them away from the transporter room. Professor Roslyn strode purposefully in front of her team, but without overtaking their equally determined young guide. She continued without speaking for over three minutes, but finally quickened her pace to be closer to the young woman.

"How long until we reach our destination?"

"The captain estimates that we should be in orbit over the Exeter Colonies in a little under forty two hours," the ensign responded without slowing the rhythm of her quick, efficient steps. Bashir made no mention that he had already calculated the transit time at closer to forty five, but space travel was uncertain. It made sense to allow for a margin of error.

Their guide rounded a corner and stopped beside a row of doors. "There's a meeting arranged for the senior team members at sixteen hundred hours, to co-ordinate a response plan. Unfortunately the captain was unable to be at the transporter room in time to greet you all properly, but he sends his apologies, and told me to say that he would be at the mission briefing and the formal reception this evening on the forward deck."

Bashir secretly hoped that none of the Enceladus' crew would notice Vijay Parackal's none-too-subtle scowl.

His first errand took him to a corridor two decks back and circling around the outer edge of Enceladus' saucer section. As he walked along it, glancing at each number on the doors, he twisted a small cylindrical object between his thumb and forefinger – until finally he came to a nondescript brown door, which opened as he entered.

Inside was a room with waist-high desks set curved around its walls. Bashir looked around in silence, at a space where the only other person was a petit Andorian with boyishly short, silver-white hair.

The Andorian girl turned away from her console, and Bashir found himself looking into a pair of nervous steel-grey eyes. With one hand she smoothed the bob of pure white hair on her head. Her unusually thin antennae stood upright even more instantly than she was able to rise to her feet. "Sorry, Sir. I didn't realise you were here."

With her other hand – its fingers long and slender – she halted the stream of data scrolling upwards against the monitor's deep black background. "Are you one of the science team?" she asked. "They told me that I should meet with you in half an hour, but I didn't realise you would come here so soon. I was just preparing…"

"It's all right," Bashir responded. He glanced around at the array of scientific equipment, and finally back towards the watching girl, whose large grey eyes were strangely eager. Her antennae curled back in what he'd come to recognise as a sign of curiosity.

"Cross purposes, that's all," he continued. "I was sent to find one of your colleagues, Penelope Carmichael."

Still watching him earnestly, the young woman positioned her hands behind her back. "That's me."

"You?" Bashir responded instantly. He discovered that his balance had shifted slightly – almost giving way to an urge to step back with surprise. "You're Ensign Carmichael?"

"Penny." She glanced hesitantly at her own right hand before offering it for Bashir to shake. The quietly honest expression did not leave her eyes, even as she broke away once more from this momentary contact. "It's all right – I'm used to it. Most other people don't believe me either."

Julian answered her with a smile of sheepish contrition. "Guilty," he confessed. He chuckled inwardly, remembering his competitive class-mate from medical school – and her surprise when, years later, she realised that she'd mistakenly confused Julian Bashir with his own Andorian friend. He still recalled the laugh of perplexity that had lain beneath her astonished reaction.

Exactly like Elizabeth. He had neither seen nor spoken to Doctor Lense in over a year. They had competed furiously for the top position at medical school, but without ever having really met – not for another three years, until the time when her ship was docked at Deep Space Nine. Both their grades had been stubbornly equal, and then had come the final exam. The moment when he had a vital decision to make. Did he really want to be the first?

He wondered if she resented him for the secret he'd kept. Almost every doctor in Starfleet must have heard what had happened by now. He knew that many high-ranking officers had even objected to allowing him the position on Roslyn's team.

He drew his attention away from these thoughts and back to the wide grey eyes of Ensign Carmichael. "How old are you?" he found himself asking.

"Twenty three, Sir."

"You don't have to call me 'Sir'," Bashir assured her. "I hear that you've been involved in some rather interesting biotechnological research at Starfleet Academy, and again at Jupiter Station." The mention of that name triggered a flood of unwelcome association which he fought to quell.

"That's right." Carmichael nodded, smiling. "We're attempting to isolate common sequences in a broad range of viral organisms in the hope of developing universal vaccines. We think we can make it more effective by combining the engineered viruses with currently available nanotechnology, and then use the resulting hybrids to combat any future mutations. If it works," she added, squeezing her hands together to keep them from fidgeting.

Something in her eager, anxious expression amused Bashir. But he still carried clear memories of all the moments he had snatched away for research between one station-wide crisis and the next. And of his first days on the station. Everything then had seemed to give him cause for excitement and uncertainty.

"Your first field assignment, Ensign?" he asked.

Carmichael hesitated, fighting a stammer. "Yes – um – Sir. I studied mostly Science at the Academy, with a major in Xenozoology and supplemental courses in Genetics, Bioethics and Temporal Mechanics. And another in Engineering. I would have taken a position on a starship, maybe… But the facilities at Jupiter Station seemed like they might have been a bit more advanced. But my professors always told me that I'm good at what I do. I am prepared for this."

"I hope so," Bashir told her. "But listen – I'm not a 'Sir'."

The girl's antennae drooped a little. "Sorry."

Bashir barely masked a sigh. "All right." He passed her a slim yellow-green data rod, loaded with encrypted data. "Take this. It might prove useful to you. There's information here that's never been published. At least, not so far."

"Thank you." Carmichael accepted it in her right hand, and studied it for a moment. Then she looked up again. "You don't believe that I'm ready?"

"I'd be far more worried if you had convinced me." Bashir nodded once to the grey-eyed ensign before excusing himself from the room, with a quiet, forced smile. His thoughts were already moving forward to the meeting that he would have with Victoria and Vijay as he nodded to a Starfleet crewman who passed him in the opposite direction. It was almost like being back in uniform himself.

Deliberately exhaling, he clenched and unclenched the fingers of both hands – and hurried away with his heart suddenly pounding.

Past an intersection where the curving outer corridor veered into a much shorter, narrower passage, he turned to look behind him, but kept as close as he called to the wall. The middle aged man emerging from the side passage paused to adjust his uniform sleeves, but gave no sign that he had noticed Bashir. The man stood straight enough to display the line of slightly unkempt hair below the baldness of his scalp, and strode towards the laboratory where Ensign Carmichael was working.

"Have you made any progress?" he asked the young Andorian in a cultured, slightly nasal voice. The door closed behind him and shut out the girl's reply.

Bashir fell back against the wall, allowing his head to press against the smoothly solid surface. With his hands on his face, he breathed in deeply as a flush of heat rose beneath his skin. When he took his hands away, he noticed that they were still as tightly clenched.

It's him, thought Julian, accelerating to a fast-paced walk and forcing his way towards the nearest turbolift. No time to stop. There were still more preparations to be made.

But what could that man be doing here, on this ship?

There would be a reception in less than three hours. Crowded spaces. Cocktails and conversation – and a succession of meetings and briefing sessions that would not end once the trial of a social gathering was finally over. Thoughts rose unbidden to his mind, a stream of reasons he might give for keeping away from the reception that evening. With some effort, he rejected them all. He could not excuse himself from every potential encounter.

Why in the world does it have to be him?

The doors to the turbolift opened, allowing Bashir to step inside. He stared for a moment at the gleaming interior, but shook his head and scolded himself for neglecting to tell the computer where he wanted the lift to carry him.