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Canara III: Federation Space

Tigranian examined a PADD at his desk. The chime on his ready room door sounded. He let out a deep sigh before commanding:

"Come in."

The doors parted and a man in his early thirties entered. He wore Starfleet Medical Green and the two gold and one black pip of a lieutenant commander. His dark hair and brown eyes smiled brighter than his mouth as he walked towards Tigranian's desk and snapped to attention.

"Yes Sir," he said before Tigranian's mouth had a chance to open. The captain winced as he realized he was just thinking that this man must be Doctor Kinzo Katan, Alex's replacement. "And I apologize for making you feel uncomfortable, Sir. I'll do my best to refrain from answering questions before you ask them. My last commander found that trait useful. It seems you don't."

Tigranian grumbled. Katan was a Betazoid, and powerfully telepathic.

"Not really," Tigranian said gesturing to his couch. "Please, have a seat."

"Thank you, Sir," Katan said obliging. Tigranian went back to examining his PADD.

"I was just looking through your file. It's very impressive."

"I believe in taking care of my patients, Sir," Katan replied humbly.

"You've said 'Sir' four times in last fifteen seconds," Tigranian said. "We maintain professionalism on this ship Kinzo, but even I acknowledge that's overkill. Relax."

"Yes, Sir…" Katan said before he could catch himself. He nervously looked at the carpet. The captain momentarily wished that telepathy could go both ways.

"Is something wrong?" Tigranian asked.

"Um, no," Kazan said. "It's just that the last time I talked to Alex, she made it seem like you weren't very thrilled at the idea of us switching out."

"I wasn't," Tigranian replied bluntly. He pointed to his head, "and your gifts probably help you realize that's still the case. However, I want you know that I will never hold an officer responsible for someone else's decision."

"Thank you," Kazan said as a smile returned to his face. "And now I know telepaths make you nervous." Tigranian leaned forward to say something, but Kazan held up his hands. "I want you to know how seriously I take confidentiality, both out of Betazoid tradition and as a professional physician. Whatever passes through your head, don't worry. It will never cross my lips."

Tigranian chuckled.

"I admit, it's probably a real plus for your bedside manner to know exactly how your patients are feeling."

"Less than you'd think, Sir. It also means I know when they're lying to me."

"In that case," Tigranian replied. "That means you're probably going to hate me."

"Not at all," Kazan said shaking his head. "One of the reasons I wanted to join this crew is that Alex described it as one of the closest she's ever seen. I've never experienced that before."

"I'm genuinely sorry for that," Tigranian replied. "It won't be easy for you to fill Alex's shoes, but as long as you take care of this ship, it'll take care of you."

"That's all I ask for," Kazan replied.

Tigranian realized that something weighed heavily on Kazan's mind. He was pretty sure he knew what it was.

"You're worried that what happened on the Glasgow is going to affect my impression of you, isn't it?" Tigranian asked. Kazan's eyes grew wide.

"Are you sure you're not telepathic, Captain?" he asked.

"No, but I trust my instincts," Tigranian said, "and I can read a personnel file. I know your only fleet posting ended on a poor note, but that was five years ago and there are two sides to every story. When you're ready, you can let me know yours."

"I appreciate that," Kazan said.

"I trust Alex Hunter with my life," Tigranian added. "She wouldn't send me someone who couldn't hack it."

Kazan nodded.

"We'll talk again in a few days one you have a chance to settle in," Tigranian continued. "Captain Geist can help with any issues. In the meantime, take care of your personal business and make sickbay your own. It's yours now."

"No," Kazan shaking his head. "I'm only keeping it warm till Alex gets back."

Tigranian nodded. He hoped that Kazan was right about that.

"Dismissed, Doctor. Welcome aboard."

Kazan stood up and headed back for the doors. Just before he exited, he turned around.

"Thank you, Sir," he said. "I mean it."

"You can thank me by patching up any disruptor holes or knife wounds in my body. I have the tendency to get in trouble."

"Alex did mention that as well, Sir," Kazan said before he left. Tigranian shook his head and got back to work.

****

After duty hours, Tigranian went to check on his first officer. When he found out that she wasn't in her quarters, he queried the computer.

"Captain Geist is in Holodeck Two."

He wasn't sure what it was, but something in his gut told him she needed to talk. He went to the holodeck and found it locked. The display read "PRIVATE PROGRAM." Despite etiquette, he still couldn't shake his concerns. He entered his command code and overrode the security protocol.

The doors parted and he was immediately hit in the face by blaring music and the scent of vanilla body spray. He quickly stepped inside so the doors would reseal. Tigranian found himself in a dark hallway. A few meters ahead, a massive Caitian bouncer in a black shirt guarded a doorway. Beyond, was flashing lights and pounding bass. The captain walked towards the opening, only to find the Caitian's paw on his shoulder. Tigranian looked down in surprise.

"This is the VIP area," the feline bouncer growled at him, "and a private party for a very important client."

"You have exactly two seconds to take your hand off my shoulder," Tigranin replied while calmly staring back into the bouncer's eyes. The Caitian did remove his hand, but still stubbornly stood in his way. "Let me pass."

"Perhaps you didn't understand me, Pipsqueak," the Caitian said as his throat emanated a deep growl. "Get lost!"

Tigranian didn't break his gaze. Suddenly, an even deeper growl came from the human's throat. The bouncer actually took a step back.

"Do you know what the best part about you being a hologram is?" Tigranian asked. "I could kill you right now, and nobody would give a damn." The captain reached behind his back and pulled a d'k tahg from underneath his jacket. The blades clicked open and Tigranian cocked his head to the side. "Now, which is it gonna be, Pussycat?"

The Caitian held up his paws in surrender and slowly stood to the side.

"It's cool man. Be cool. Go right in."

"Go right in, what?" Tigranian said.

"Go right in, Sir," the bouncer said grinning. "Go right in…Sir."

"That's what I thought," the captain said returning his blade to its sheath and stepping through the door. A narrow raised stage with a brass pole jutted out from a red, satin curtain. Cheap spotlights flashed multiple colors in seizure inducing pulses. There was a bar on the far side of the room manned by several scantily clad women. The atmosphere was a confusing cacophony of neon, stale alcohol, and cheap perfume. All the other tables and chairs were empty except for one right on the edge of the stage. Tigranian immediately recognized the blonde woman leaning over a bottle of Earth lager. There were already several empties next to it.

A hidden announcer came over a speaker system.

"All right, All right, All right!" an overexcited man cried out. "Guests of the Platinum Panther, put your hands together and welcome the beautiful Miss Chastity to the stage!" The music came roaring back as the red curtains parted. An Orion woman dressed only in black lace lingerie twirled out, found the brass pole, and immediately started writhing to the rhythm of an electric guitar.

We've been here too long tryin' to get along
Pretending that you're, oh, so shy.
I'm a natural man doin' all I can
My temperature is runnin' high.

Friday night, no one in sight.
And we got so much to share…
Talkin's fine if you got the time
But I ain't got the time to spare…

Tigranian walked up behind Annabeth, crossed his arms, and said loud enough to be heard over the classic rock:

"Your wife's been off the ship less than two days and I already find you in a strip club…"

Annabeth spun around and nearly spilled her beer.

"Scheiße, Dan!" she screamed. Once the shock wore off, she got a very annoyed look on her face. "I could say the same thing to you!" she spit back. "Obviously, you couldn't get the hint that I wanted to be alone when I sealed the holodeck!"

"No, you don't," Tigranian said shaking his head. "If you wanted to be alone, you wouldn't be spending your evening with Miss Chastity here, would you?" he said gesturing up at the dancer. The green woman looked down at him and winked as she continued to dance seductively. "I figure both our wives are gone and we're in the same boat. Might as well commiserate together, right?"

Do you wanna touch? Yeah!
Do you wanna touch? Yeah!
Do you wanna touch me there?
Where? There, yeah…

Despite her best efforts, a grin crossed Annabeth's face, and Tigranian could detect a hint of gratitude as well. She reached over and pulled out the stool next to her.

"Why not? We can do shameful things together."

Tigranian nodded and had a seat.

"Wanna beer?" Annabeth asked.

"Sure."

"Hey Delilah!" Annabeth turned around and shouted to a waitress dressed only in a sequined bra and miniskirt. "Two beers!" The hologram smiled, nodded, and loaded two more bottles of cheap piss onto her tray. She sauntered over and placed them in front of the establishment's only guests. She suggestively removed a bar blade from her waistband and flicked off the bottle caps with an experienced touch. Next, she leaned forward to show Tigranian her cleavage as she placed the bottle next to his hand. Then, she paused.

"Umm…Thank you?" Tigranian said, unsure of what was happening. The waitress raised her eyebrows and looked down at her chest. Tigranian became increasingly uncomfortable. Annabeth finally rolled her eyes.

"Don't worry, I'll spot you." Annabeth said as she reached into her pants pocket and pulled out an ancient Earth banknote. She then gently placed it underneath the right cup of the waitress' bra. The server smiled and winked back.

"Thanks, Cutie, you're the best tipper in this place."

"Just spreading the love, Delilah," she replied as the waitress headed back for the bar. Tigranian looked at her and rubbed his eyes. "What?" Annabeth said shrugging her shoulders. "It's part of the program."

"Right…" Tigranian muttered.

Annabeth held up her fresh bottle in a toast.

"To being alone together and hating it…"

"I'll drink to that," Tigranian said clinking their beers together. They both took a sip and looked up at Chastity.

Every girl and boy needs a little joy.
All you do is sit and stare.
Beggin' on my knees, baby won't you please?
Run your fingers through my hair…

At that verse, the green lady dropped to her knees, looked Tigranian in the face, and placed her thumb underneath the waistband of her g-string.

"What does this one want now?" the captain asked.

"Jesus, Dan," Annabeth muttered. "You really need to figure out the etiquette of this place." She pulled out another bill and handed it to him. "These girls gotta make ends meet! Put themselves through school! Make things worth her while."

Tigranian looked down at the money and then up to Chastity's underwear.

"Haven't they heard of scholarships?" He cleared his throat before inserting the note underneath the black lace. She winked before jumping back up to her feet and spinning around the pole.

"There we go!" Annabeth shouted before taking another sip of beer. "Work it girl!"

My my my whiskey and rye!
Don't it make you feel so fine?
Right or wrong, don't it turn you on?
Can't you see we're wastin' time?

"You actually like these places?" Tigranian asked. Annabeth sighed and leaned back on her stool. Tigranian could tell that her tolerance was still low and she was drunk on holographic booze. At least it would clear her system as soon as she left the holodeck.

"Not really," Annabeth replied, "but they take me back to a time when all I needed was my career, a few brews, and to occasionally stare at a pair of boobs that weren't mine…speaking of that…" Annabeth pulled out another banknote and held it straight up in the air. "Alright, Chastity! C'mon, let's see 'em!"

The Orion grinned as she sensually reached behind her back and undid the clasp on her bra. It fell free and landed on the stage directly in front of Tigranian. Chastity gave Annabeth a full view as she leaned forward, grabbed the money, and then slipped it next to Tigranian's contribution.

The captain stared briefly before shaking himself back to reality.

"But that's not you anymore, Annabeth," he said trying to bring her back. Suddenly, she looked a bit ashamed.

"No, it's not…" she finally replied. "I'm a wife and a mother, and I did exactly what I promised I would never do again," she said with a sigh.

"And what is that?" Tigranian asked though he already knew the answer.

"Putting a starship over the people I love, dammit!" she said slamming her hand on the table.

"Bullshit, Annabeth," Tigranian said. "You didn't do anything wrong, and you didn't put your career first. You did exactly what a good mother would do. Max is safe and sound with a woman you both love. Plus, you're doing what you have to do to take care of them both! Alex wanted to go back to Earth. You didn't. One of you had to stay."

"I could have resigned my commission," she said staring back at him.

"That would have made you miserable, and that's not good for you, your wife, or your child." She finally broke a smile.

"Thanks Dan, you're right," she said leaning over and putting a hand on his shoulder, "and you're a good friend."

"I just tell the truth…" he said looking back towards the stage.

Chastity twirled, locked her legs around the pole, and then hung upside down as the music crescendoed to an end. Her long dark hair hung down and splashed on the stage. Both Tigranian and Annabeth thought her finale warranted applause.

"Hey," Chastity said still hanging upside down like a Tiberian Bat, "you two wanna come with me to the Champagne Room?"

"Yes!" Annabeth said excitedly.

"No!" Tigranian emphatically shouted at the same time.

"No?" Annabeth asked turning to Tigranian surprised.

"No," he repeated shaking his head.

"Sorry," Annabeth said with more than a hint of regret. "Maybe next time."

Chastity flipped over and rose to her feet.

"Wow…" the hologram said grabbing her bra and scurrying back behind the red curtain.

"Give it up one more time for Chastity!" the announcer said. "Now, a brief intermission before our evening entertainment continues…"

The music faded into relatively benign soft jazz giving the pair a chance to keep talking.

"Still," Annabeth said with a sigh, "Alex and Max are gone, and Laria is off doing Lord knows what with Torlek."

"Yeah…" Tigranian said taking another sip of his beer. He was proud that his wife was off serving the Federation and the Empire, but he just prayed she was safe.

"You know," Annabeth said turning to Tigranian. "We've known each other three years, and I don't think you've ever told me how you got into all that Klingon stuff. I mean, I know it was when you were a kid, but I want details."

Tigranian let out a chuckle.

"It's really not that exciting of a story."

"C'mon, Dan," she said. "It's just the two of us…and Delilah."

"As long as she promises not to gossip," he said sarcastically.

"If she does, I'll delete her," Annabeth replied.

"Alright then," he said leaning forward and grasping his beer. "The Second Khitomer Accords was signed in 2252 when I seven years old. The Klingons were now our allies and they were all over the news. Everyone wanted to know everything about them.

In the neighborhood where I grew up in Yerevan, there was a small bookstore on the way to my elementary school. One day, my mother picked me up same as always, but we stopped by the shop so she could pick up something. I can't remember what. On the display table by the front window was a random assortment of popular interest books on Klingons. One of them caught my eye. It was a picture book with this big, cartoon warrior on the front called 'Klingons For Kids.' For some reason, I have no idea why, I begged her to get it for me. She thought it was good that I was interested in current events, so she said yes."

"Klingons for Kids?" Annabeth said grinning. "Really?"

"I was seven!" Tigranian replied with an exasperated smirk.

"Ok, ok…" Annabeth said taking another sip of beer.

"Anyways, I must have read that book cover to cover a hundred times. Then, I asked for another book, then another, and another. Pretty soon, I was trying to stitch armor out of my father's old overcoat and making bat'leths out of old broomsticks."

"And your parents went along with this?"

He shrugged.

"I think they thought it was a phase."

"Boy, were they wrong about that, Son of Tigranian," Annabeth said chuckling as she took another drink. "Do you still have that book?" she asked jokingly.

"It's on the shelf in my quarters right next to my IKS Vengeance model…" he said raising an eyebrow.

Annabeth laughed.

"That must have be one hell of a book," she said.

"It changed my life," he replied. "It made me believe I could go anywhere, and do anything."

"And what do you know…you did," she said.

"You know, it's funny," he continued. "By the time I went to the Academy, I could speak tlhIngan Hol fluently, read and write pIqaD like a native. I could tell you everything from Klingon creation myths to Klingon table manners, but do you know the first time when I actually met a real Klingon warrior?"

"When?" Annabeth asked.

"The first day I beamed on the Sk'oh. Before then, I only knew them in my imagination. Even though I was eventually accepted, it always made me feel like an outsider," he said as he looked down into his beer. "Like I was a fraud. I never wanted my wife to feel that way when I brought her into Torlek's house, and I never want your son to feel that way either."

Annabeth paused.

"You really do love him, don't you?" she asked looking him in the face.

"Like he was my own."

Annabeth reached out and hugged his arm.

"He is. Not just by blood, but you're also his godfather. We picked a good one."

Tigranian smiled, but now she was having trouble keeping her eyes open.

"Ok, Number One," he said softly, "I think we should call it a night."

"Alright," she said as he helped her up. "I just need to close out my tab first."

"I got that," Tigranian replied. "Computer, Save and end program."

The Platinum Panther vanished along with all the holographic alcohol in Annabeth's body. Instantly, she was sober as a priest in church.

"Whoah," she said steadying herself on her feet. "I will never get used to that…"


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