24th century Earth was paradise, but not everyone was an angel. Certainly not Tom LeCuz.
Tom was always bright, for a human. When he was fifteen, he attended graduate-level classes on planetary geology at the Starfleet Educational Extension on Ganymede, taught by an Orion lady professor on exchange from the Klingon Empire. Her chronic underdressing was tolerated as "cultural idiom", and probably wouldn't have been too much of a problem with an adult class (the instructor matching system was mostly automated). Indeed, only three of the participants were less than twenty years of age. Tom was the youngest.
During lectures she always smiled at him, stared at him intensely, threw an extra sigh and waggle of her wide green hips at him as she paced back and forth, droning on with in her musical siren's voice about interstellar constants in Mohorovicic periods. And the course was very challenging; despite all the green cleavage and knockout pheromones, Ms Wuti knew what she was talking about, and was a pretty tough grader. It was too much for the blossoming young man. His hormones overwhelmed the boy's judgement, and after the mid-term, Ms Wuti, not lacking in initiative or peculiarity of her own, asked the boy to stay after class for a bit...
So Tom was crooked for life. His parents - cold and distant, socially marginal people, nominally employed as gophers at the shuttle base on Ganymede - were little help. Ganymede had in many ways changed little since it was settled by Humans in the mid-22nd century, and was still little more than a collection of warehouses and hab units carved out of the ice. The place had taken on a large Andorian community, which lived in icy fraternity with what was now the Human minority, who skittered about underfoot like the rodents that had been exterminated from the moonbase in the early 23rd century, just in time for the passage of the Federation Non-Sentient Rights Act banning traditional pest control and carnophagy.
Therever after, Tom could not have been less interested in Human women. Ms Wuti was transferred back to the KDF two sultry weeks later. His passions were aroused too early in life; he wanted to feel those marbled green curves, to smell that feminine musk again. His drives poisoned his intellect and turned him away from a promising study in geology, to a deepening obsession with all things Orion. Their culture, their traditions, their tactics, everything. He learned to read and speak Orion. He procured a frighteningly massive collection of Orion photonic entertainment programs. His room was filled with pin-ups of Orion women and even Orion men. Models of Orion ships and weapons. His aloof and none-too-bright parents remained largely unaware.
The Federation never practiced conscription during the Dominion War; instead, Starfleet practiced what it preferred to call a "soft draft", targetting specific populations and love-bombing them with almost plaintive pleas to enlist. Humans in the 24th century had lived in peace and fraternity so long, that while they couldn't always simply be asked to do something, ten really nice emails from Starfleet Recruitment were usually enough to get any bored Human to walk into the local recruitment office. Tom was one of those hapless multitudes of colonials and under-employed persons targeted by such efforts. Regarding his skills, interests, expertise, the word "Orion" must have been used sixty times during his initial intake interview.
There wasn't much use for an Orion specialist during the Dominion War, but Lt. Tom LeCuz gained tactical training nonetheless; through the mercy of the the Arengy (he had a statue of the busty green goddess under his bunk), he survived the great space battles of the war. Starfleet Tactical brought order, purpose and restraint to his aimless life, and Tom stayed on after the war. In peace, however, his career lost momentum, and he became part of those multitudes of officers endlessly transferred back and forth between one irked commander and another.
So it was he found himself standing at attention in the shuttle bay of USS Capri at 0800, as Captain Aestu strode up to the podium. Alone amongst the crew he was completely unmoved by her impressive bust, musical voice and dreamily opaque eyes. But her speeches were...well...he needed something extra to get through them...
"Captain on the deck. All stand at attention and come to order," said the deck officer matter-of-factly. He did not bark, simply spoke in an indoor voice; and in turn, the captain took the floor and motioned the gathered crew to stand at ease with only a gentle nod of her head.
Even in times of war, Aestu was a strong believer in Starfleet's peaceful vision, disdained "military pretentions", and preferred to run her ship less like a navy cruiser and more like a business office. She didn't care how people spoke or went about their business, so long as they were competent and effective. Very much a product of her deceased and forgotten Beta Quadrant culture - an interstellar "Last Mohican" - but that didn't matter to anyone...
"Good morning, friends and comrades." The universal translator badly botched the captain's traditional salutation in her people's language; the captain was marginally aware of this, but accepted it as beyond helping. "For novel research and relief efforts in the Hromi, Starfleet Medical has seen fit to issue a commendation to the Capri's medical team. These fine officers have graced those berths we never seem to have enough of..." - some barely restrained grimaces amongst the crew - "...but are perhaps not as well known to us as we'd like. Today, we will rectify that. In recognition of the commendation their brilliant service has earned this ship and crew, we formally introduce the medical staff of the USS Capri..."
Galley Chef Teinsi Tirun was one of only two Betazoids present for the occasion. The other, CPO Morowni, was standing on the other side of the room and behind her. Between them stood a mongrel horde, some of telepathic races - a Lethean here, some Rigellians there, and Vulcans aplenty. In any case Morowni typically kept her mind as tight as a Deltan's pants. All too bad; Tirun would have appreciated the other empath's input, because the chef suddenly felt a wave of apprehension as the captain continued to speak...unsure why but sensed she would know all too soon...
"Dr Kansor, our resident oncologist..." The Kareeman rose and took a rigid bow before standing at attention on the opposing side of the podium. Some amongst the crew smiled slightly, or dared the smallest of chuckles, as they applauded politely. Others, of more stoic races - Romulans, Jem'hadar, Tholians, Breen - remained unmoved, merely going through the motions of the Human social ritual.
"Dr Hormen, our endocrinologist..." Another Kareeman rose, bowed in his people's characteristically rigid manner, and stood ashoulder the former. A few more chuckles.
"Dr Etherton, our anesthesiologist..." A Human. The stoic races remained unmoved. The Humans were nonplussed. Some of the Bolians seemed to be struggling a bit.
"Dr Syrrun, our emergency care specialist..." Vulcan. The Humans, too, were struggling now. It was now the Vulcans' turn to be caught a bit off by these 'illogical' coincidences.
"Dr Trepan, our neurosurgeon..." Cardassian. One of the Bolians and...a Human? Or two? finally broke down, but both were thankfully concealed by a wall of lapidary Tholians near the back of the cargo bay. Experienced crew members, they had chosen their positions well.
"Dr Konis, our prosthetician..." Vorta. Another Bolian breakdown. Thankfully a Klingon - who had known where he would be needed - saved the day with a frigid gaze.
"Dr Lethal, our pathologist..." A third Kareeman. The captain's opaque eyes and soft but unmoving features, high cheekbones on a pale and expressionless face, betrayed nothing, but she began to speak just so slightly faster.
"Dr Koya, our ethnobotanist..." Vorta.
"Dr Imunei, our immunologist..." Trill.
"Dr Veleral, our gynecologist..." Vulcan. No...half-Vulcan.
"Dr Pallo Jis'hurre, our andrologist..." Bajoran.
"And last but not least...Dr Unite Oll, our proctologist." Another Bajoran.
Standing in the middle-right of the second row, this was too much for Lt Tom LeCuz. He quavered slightly, but he managed to keep his calm. With a little help he had administered himself before the assembly. But tremors ran down his limbs and beads of sweat dotted his forehead in the 30C cargo bay...this was not unnoticed by the Andorian woman standing just two places down the line...
"The captain and crew of USS Capri honor their medical team. You are a credit to the ship and the fleet, friends and comrades." The captain slowly applauded with her small, delicate hands. Her crew, especially the Humans and Bolians, applauded with unequivocal gusto. And kept applauding. A cry of tension or two were cleverly disguised as enthusiasm.
The ovation lasted a good forty-five seconds before coming to an awkward halt as the captain raised the plaque from Starfleet Medical before the crew, symbolically handing it off to a deck officer of the Jem'hadar race, who received it in exactly the same ritualistic manner he had once received a tray of 'the White'. He marched off the stage; he would affix it to the wall of the mess hall.
"Dismissed." The crew filtered from the room with orderly haste.
The single cargo bay of the retrofitted Nova-class vessel, overgeared and overstaffed, could not be cleared of its contents for assemblies, simply for want of anywhere else to stash the gear. Four hundred-odd motley crew and staff had crammed into the nearer quarter of the cargo bay, thick with the heat and perspiration of brutal overcrowding, and now it was a testament to their remarkable discipline and culture of tolerance that they tempered their haste with cordiality.
Lt LeCuz was more than hasty, as he fumbled his way out of of the cargo bay, tested the limits of Starfleet discipline and conduct as he made his way down and down the corridors to the privacy of his quarters. His bunkmates were either on duty, assignment, or stuffing their faces at the Capri's legendary mess hall, allowing him solace to-
He checked under his bunk. Was it...gone? Gone! It was gone! LeCuz's face blanched with panic. He felt something crawling under his skin and through his hair. It was gone! What- Had he been found out? Who-
"Looking for this?" An icy, authoritative female voice. LeCuz turned and saw- Lt. Thoris, holding up a hypospray. The Capri's "frigid one-woman Gestapo", an associate had called her.
LeCuz's blue eyes nicitated with deprivation. He had no words. "I trust you will come with me peacefully..." continued the Andorian. His wits-
"Wait? ...oh, are you going to try bribing me? Begging me? Giving me a sob story? Go ahead, LeCuz, I've heard them all."
"No, no, you don't understand. It was for the ship I did this!"
"For the ship? Really. Chronic back pain? We just can't get by without you doping between shifts?"
"The Captain. Her assemblies. The puns. If I didn't have something to help me...well...I couldn't control myself!"
"Couldn't control yourself. Really. You'd break down laughing?"
"Yes. Yes! It would be...a disturbance. A disgrace! Check my medical records, my transporter scans...I never use while I'm on duty, I just need this sedative to help me control myself. And besides..." He straightened up. The aftereffects of the drug were fading, and he was feeling more settled again. "...I saw...you..."
For the first time, Thoris's face looked a bit concerned. "You saw me..."
"Dr Kansor, oncologist. Dr Etherton, anesthesiologist..."
"Stop...stop..." The Andorian's face began to contort into a twisted grimace.
"Dr Veleral, gynecologist..."
"Stop...I order you to stop!" Her knees began to buckle.
"Dr Unity Oll. Dr Unity Oll, proctologist!"
"Stop!" The Andorian was defeated. Her face broke into tearful laughter.
"I saw you, Lieutenant. You hunched over and took deep breaths and tried to stand closer to one of our Bolian friends, but that blue face was you, wasn't it? You didn't even make it past the second commendation before breaking down!"
"Yes...yes...it was me..." she confessed.
"Lieutenant...trust me...I really meant what I said...surely you as an honorable Andorian warrior can understand that one's first duty..."
"...is to the ship..."
"...even if that means..."
"It's the Captain." LeCuz's eyebrows went up. "No, truly. Her race has...some odd sort of celestial attunement, like the el-Aurians. A tendency to bring about cosmic ironies. It's supposedly some sort of emergent quality connected with their telepathic abilities. I know this because I listened to her talking about it with Commander R'Miarr." Pause. "I am the most trusted honor guard on this ship, after all."
"And you don't see telling me this as a betrayal...?" LeCuz was honestly curious.
"We seem to have the same interests at heart. So...well...I mean...why didn't you just ask, uh, Dr Etherton, for a bit of help?" LeCuz threw her another glance. "Right. What if I make a discreet inquiry for you?"
"That would be...very helpful. And appreciated."
"You give me your word of honor..."
"Of course, Lieutenant."
"Give me the contraband." LeCuz complied. "I said, the contraband. All of it. I'm not just here for the sedatives, but they're all I could find. The rest, you hid better than I could seek. I'm curious, to be honest."
LeCuz shivered. Flipped over his mattress. Affixed to the bottom - covering its entirety - was a life-size Orion pin-up. Candid. With some signs of wear. Thoris recoiled in horror, before regaining her control and masking her nervousness with a smirk.
"I...see. I'm going to have to...confiscate that... That's not all of it, is it?"
LeCuz rolled back the pin-up. Wiped his hands on his trousers after he was done. Behind the pin-up were a collection of print magazines and isolinear chips. "You have quite a collection," noted Thoris. Honestly curious: "What are you doing on this ship, anyway?"
"I'm...an Orion Warfare Specialist. Been with the fleet for...thirty years now. Always been very interested in that culture. It was their women who got me started, ever since I was fifteen, and I took a class with-"
"Spare me the lurid details. I know you're the best." Thoris thought for a moment. "I will let you keep...one item of your choosing. One. In the interest of your profession aboard this ship." Not a hard choice. LeCuz picked out a single isolinear rod. Thoris understood instantly, and shook her head in disgust.
"Men. Even pinkskins. They're all the same."
"What!? How dare you! Don't you know...hell, I know YOU-"
Thoris knew when it was time to retreat. "This isn't about me, Lieutenant LeCuz. Don't give me a reason to come back here." Pause. "Unless, it's, uh, a really good one. You don't deal with the Ferengi much, do you?"
"They're my suppliers-"
"That's not what I meant." Thoris shook her head violently. "Your expertise is...right, you're an Orion 'man'. Forget it. See you on gamma shift, 2100 hours. I don't ever want to see you intoxicated again. The rest of this, is between us." The security officer turned marched out of the quarters, allowing herself the pretense that her dignity was fully intact.
"Well done, Lieutenant." The captain pawed disinterestedly through the gathered materials, before sweeping them into a duraluminum box with a sweep of her arm.
"Thank you, Captain."
"Lieutenant. You are aware that we do not...dispose of our contraband. Starfleet Intelligence appreciates that sometimes the end justifies the means. If we did not collect it from our own, we would march deeper into the mud."
"So you mean-"
"The criminal are preferable to criminals, and we must not mistake what is legal for what is right. Not that such things..." - she disdainfully tossed another hypo into the box - "...should ever be legal. But part of Starfleet's mission, is to bring order - not chaos."
Thoris thought for a moment. "So you knew..."
"If any member of this crew is a disgrace to the ship, the fleet, or the ideals we all serve...but we all do serve, in our own way..."
Thoris saluted. "You are very wise, Captain."
Aestu modestly looked back down at her PADD and went back to pecking at the device.