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Author's Note: Inspired by prompts at the Where No Woman Has Drabbled Before Challenge. Thanks go to yahtzee63 for the beta.
By Any Other Name
She'd applied to the Academy twice before.
Once when she was eleven—only to be told that the youngest age applicants were admitted was the Standard equivalent of fourteen because cadets had to be physically mature enough to handle the rigours of the physical training and even in the accelerated three year plan that would still mean she'd be too young for a posting upon graduation. And once at age thirteen, when she'd been informed that Starfleet Regs prohibited Genetic Engineered individuals from serving if their modifications were in violation of the Eugenics Act of 2155 which stated that any genetic "enhancements" based solely on augmenting neural and physical excellence beyond Accepted Human Norms barred individuals from positions in Starfleet Medical, Starfleet Command, or even Starfleet Operations as a Non-Commissioned Officer.
She'd lodged a formal complaint, included her complete medical workup and records which indicated that Ilyrian Eugenics were solely the subject of a controlled breeding programme, with no actual artificial alterations to her genome. She'd cited published papers from medical journals from both within and without the Federation dating back a hundred years regarding advances in naturally decreasing neurotransmitter levels in genetically engineered humanoids by careful screening; safeguards that were regularly used in the medical practices of the Denobulans and colonists of the Moab sector.
When the Federation Council overturned the Eugenics Act and replaced it with the Genetic Engineering Act of 2236, she saw her chance and took it. Within days of the Act being passed, her application had been accepted. However, she still had one more hurdle to overcome: her own people.
Ilyrian society was very conservative, nearly completely isolationist. As a ward of the state, her application to attend an off-world institution for secondary education had to be approved by the state. And given that she had been designated at birth as the most exceptional genetic example produced by the Programme for the year of her birth, it was expected that she would remain on Ilyria. Even contribute her genetic stock to the Programme, as well as her future to the Ilyrian Science Academy which regularly rivalled even its Vulcan counterpart for annual scientific achievements.
So she had done the only thing she could, under the circumstances: she'd run away.
She was tall for her age, and in the loose-fitting garments she could hide the fact that she was still a coltish adolescent. She paid the passage to Alpha Centauri out of a secondary source of funds she'd set up two years before, a tiny fraction of her monthly cost-of-living stipend being funnelled into the account automatically so it wouldn't attract notice. For an A-4 computer expert with an eidetic memory, it hadn't been hard.
She'd left all of her belongings behind, set up automated messages to play on her comms if and when she was contacted. It would (she'd hoped) be days before her absence was noted. And by then, she had already taken her place among the cadet class at Starfleet Academy's Alpha Centauri Campus, with plans to transfer to one of the Terran campuses as soon as her sponsor could push it through channels.
By the time the Ilyrian Ambassador to Earth had shown up at Admiral Chandra's office demanding she be released back into the custody of the Ilyrian government, she had already filed for child emancipation so she would be recognised as a legal adult according to Federation Law.
Getting off Ilyria had been easy.
Getting Ilyria out of her head... well, that was a bit more difficult.
Standing in Captain April's Ready Room, she realised it had been petty, and foolish, and a potentially career-ending mistake.
"Augment" was neither accurate (there had been no artificial enhancement of her genome), nor was it a slur she hadn't heard before since she had joined the Academy. It had been muttered in the halls every time she threw the curve on a test, was the first Command cadet back from a simulation, or tossed a larger, more physically imposing cadet to the mat in the gym. In every other instance she'd simply held her head high, refusing to let the word affect her.
Not this time.
"Now then, Cadet," Captain April said, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of a very non-regulation cardigan, "would you care to explain to me why Cadet Clancy is currently down in the Medbay, having a broken jaw wired shut?"
"I had a moment of weakness, sir," was all she could offer as she looked down at her bruised knuckles, the skin split and slick with disinfectant gel.
"You realise that brawling in the canteen is not just discouraged, but in fact cause to bring a cadet up on charges?"
"Yes, sir." Her back was ramrod straight, but her eyes burned annoyingly with frustration and worry as the captain stared at her, his gaze neither accusatory nor angry, merely speculative.
"Since this is a cadet training cruise, and the Constitution is not actually in the middle of a crisis where such behaviour would not only be unbefitting a Starfleet officer but might jeopardise this ship and her crew, your Academy instructors would be the ones to administer any appropriate disciplinary action." He glanced down at this XO's report. "Were I to pass it along to them."
"Witness statements from your fellow cadets indicate that your 'moment of weakness' occurred after 7 minutes of verbal abuse from the other cadet. Including what could be seen as slurs regarding Ilyria, Denobula, and several member worlds who perform vital medical research which in turn benefit the entire Federation as a whole. And that your—wait, let me see how Lt Reed described it... 'one hell of a left hook, with a lot of power behind it for a skinny cadet' came into play only after Cadet Clancy invaded your personal space and made threatening gestures."
"But he didn't lay a hand on me, sir," she blurted out.
"Cadet Clancy may not be laying hands on anything other than a mop, if I had my way."
He raised a brow. "What, you'd prefer the brig?"
"Good. And the next time someone makes a to-do out of your 'perfection' in relation to your performance of your duties, you take it up with the XO. Who in turn will take disciplinary action less likely to involve the need for medical attention. Understood?"
"Yes, sir." She swallowed, feeling a flush rising up her neck no matter how calm she strove to be. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"Every other commander I've had has told me I need to 'grow a thicker skin', sir."
"Your skin seems fine to me." His smile was unexpected, paternal and warm. Not for the first time, she was struck by Captain April's demeanour, and how at odds it was with the other captains on whose vessels she had participated in training exercises. "Now, report to Doctor Poole in the Medbay. You've been re-assigned to be her dogsbody for the next week, to think about what you've done. When she's finished with you, you'll be assigned to Gamma shift aboard the bridge, as Mr Florida's relief."
Her eyes went wide. "The helm, sir?"
"Very good, cadet. You'll have a Lieutenant's braid before the year is out, with powers of observation like that."
She flushed more hotly, feeling it in the tips of her ears, thankfully hidden by her heavy fall of dark hair. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't thank me just yet. Sarah's a much harder boss than I am. She'll probably have you cleaning bedpans with a sonic toothbrush for the next week." He made a shooing motion. "Now, off you go. Don't keep her waiting."
She held back her grin until she was safe inside the turbolift.
The forward viewscreen was white. She knew it was still functioning from the readouts scrolling along its sides, but the nova filled the entire field of vision, and even polarised against the glare, she wanted to lift a hand to shield her eyes.
"Mr Tyler, take us out of range, full impulse power."
From his position at navigation, José Tyler looked like he was going to say something, but one look from Number One and he clamed up. Tyler could operate manoeuvring thrusters and sublight from his station, so she stared at the back of the empty chair at the helm.
She was lucky that Lt Palmer only had minor injuries, and Number One's hands stung from burns from sparks and molten plastic she'd sustained dragging the lieutenant away from the exploding console.
Even though the inertial dampeners were working full force, she still imagined the Yorktown vibrated with speed as they pushed as far away from the shockwave as fast as they could, and the air was heavy with the smell of acrid smoke and sickly sweet melted circuitry. A tendril of smoke still rose from the blackened station where she would have been sitting, had she not been in the command chair.
She turned to Spock, who alone among the bridge crew had not visibly reacted to the sight of the shuttle being enveloped in light as the white dwarf star had gone nova. The young science officer's calm demeanour helped her regain her own control, as she asked rather than barked, "Damage report?"
"All decks are reporting radiation levels within safe limits. The seals on Deck 10 are holding, and Dr Boyce reports the captain has regained consciousness."
She gave the Vulcan a crisp nod. "Mr Spock, you have the bridge."
Only when the turbolift doors slid shut did she sag against the wall. Her hand shook as she raised it to her face, and it came away dark with grit and sweat and tears.
Pike had been on Deck 10 when the hull had been breached, and had been slammed against a bulkhead before the breach was automatically sealed by an internal forcefield. The second he saw her weaving slightly as she rounded the corner into the Medbay, it became clear that the CMO's very vocal protests were going to be ignored. So Boyce released Pike to his quarters, shouting warnings about bruised ribs and possible concussion after him, which Chris blithely ignored.
He was sporting some impressive bruises, and walked stiffly, but his presence was no less commanding as he took her by the elbow and walked her the short distance from the Medbay to his quarters.
"Here. Drink this," Captain Pike said, pressing a glass of an unidentified amber liquid into her hand.
"Captain, I don't really—"
"Shut up and drink it, Commander. Trust me."
He folded his arms, glaring at her until she downed the shot, eyes squeezed tightly shut as the alcohol—the real stuff, not synthetics she'd be able to shake off immediately—burned its way down her throat. But at least her hands had stopped shaking, and she was able to set the glass down on the counter without breaking it.
"The star was going nova, our warp engines were damaged. There was no way we could retrieve the shuttle and escape the shockwaves on impulse power. We couldn't beam them aboard without lowering our shields, which would have blasted the ship with dangerous levels of radiation. You were still in Sickbay. I made the only decision I could."
"I wasn't asking for your report, Number One," he said softly, and that more than anything made her sink down onto the low couch. Her duty uniform still stank of smoke, and she told herself that was why her eyes were burning.
"It was Crewmen Siddiqui and m'Tsiik, or risk the lives of everyone aboard."
"Have you ever lost anyone under your command before?"
He sat down next to her, close enough that he could still reach the bottle from where he set it between them, but far enough away that she didn't feel uncomfortable.
"They knew their jobs. They knew the risks when they joined Starfleet. You did everything you could to retrieve the shuttle. No-one can ask any more of you than to perform your duty to the best of your ability."
Tell that to Siddiqui and m'Tsiik she wanted to say, but didn't.
"I know what they were thinking, Captain. I gave the order. I sentenced their comrades to death, and I didn't even bat an eye."
"They'll thank you for it."
Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was the sound of m'Tsiik's voice echoing in her head in their last transmission. She couldn't keep the bitterness out of her voice. "For being a cold, heartless, unfeeling—"
"No—you feel. Believe me, you feel." Pike's eyes were kind, but his tone was firm. "But you can't show it. Not on the bridge. They need you to keep it together, so they don't fall apart. And they need to know that, when it comes to every life on this ship, you'll make the hard choices for them. And I'm going to tell you right now, it never gets easier."
"I know that," she snapped, and then added belatedly, "Captain."
He refilled her glass, and poured himself a shot. She raised a single eyebrow.
They drank in silence. She wondered how many times Phil had been the one to show up here with a bottle for Chris. He was right—he never showed it. She used to think he was invulnerable. Nothing could shake him.
But he'd needed the drink as much as she had.
"I don't understand the purpose of this exercise," Number One said, scowling.
"That's bullshit," the USS Yorktown Chief Engineer Caitlin Barry said cheerful as she turned the chair towards the vanity, one hand on either arm, effective trapping her in place. "You understand just fine. You just want to get back to your terminal."
"The duty roster isn't going to sort itself out while you attack me with cosmetics."
"The duty roster can wait 'til morning. You, on the other hand, clearly need my expertise. Because you're about to go out on a date without a lick of make-up, and the same hairstyle you just wore on the bridge for the last two shifts."
Number One's scowl deepened. Her long dark hair was pulled back from her face and secured in a bun at the nape of her neck. It wouldn't get in her eyes when she was working that way. It was how she'd worn it every day for the last two years. Did Cait expect her to wear a ribbon in her hair when she sat at the helm of one of Starfleet's most experienced heavy cruisers?
"It's not a date."
"Really? Dinner in his quarters? I'm sorry, does our captain usually go over ship's operations with you over a nice candle-lit dinner for two? Because if he has, then you've been holding out on me."
Cait was about Number One's height, but curvy where Number One was slender, with hazel eyes and auburn hair, and her fair skin freckled when they actually got a dose of sunshine. Which was rarely, given the Yorktown's currently assignment of patrolling the Klingon-Federation DMZ.
She pawed through her collection of cosmetics, flipping the cylinders of lip-colour over as she searched for a shade that would work with her best friend's colouring. No doubt, judging from her expression, frustrated by a best friend who was currently fighting her every step of the way.
"It's not going to be a candle-lit dinner for two. Knowing Chris, I'll be lucky if it's synthesised steaks and syntheholic beer."
Cait rolled her eyes. "I've seen you take down Orion Pirates in hand-to-hand combat, and you're scared of a little lipstick?"
"Yes. That's the point." Cait grinned at her. "Sometimes, the point is to be impractical. Sometimes the point is to do something you don't normally do for fun. Also, it wouldn't hurt to be a little more comfortable in your own skin."
"Okay, now you're just being mean."
"No, now I'm being your friend. And as your friend, I'm telling you that being comfortable with your sexuality and your sensuality, and learning to take risks with your personal life with the way do in the line of duty is a good thing."
"Taking risks with my commanding officer is not a good thing, Cait. We work together—very closely. If the relationship between the captain and the XO is awkward or strained, that can affect everything from crew morale to the efficiency of daily routines."
"Please. You're both professionals. You've worked together for years. And it's not as if Pike doesn't have close relationships with his staff. He and Phil are practically joined at the hip, and even when they're yelling at each other across the Briefing Room table, has it ever affected crew morale? You're just losing your nerve."
"Of course I'm losing my nerve!" Number One snapped, feeling the blood rushing to her cheeks. Cait set the tube of cosmetic down on the top of the vanity, and crouched down so they were eye-to-eye.
"I'm not telling you to jump him, for Pete's sake. I'm telling you a little lipstick to remind him that, oh I dunno, you have lips. Right there in front of him, even. And that not only are you the most efficient XO in the fleet, you're a gorgeous, vital, intelligent woman who wouldn't say no to companionship outside the purview of her job."
Number One stared at her, and then glanced at the lipstick sitting innocently on the tabletop. She hadn't turned it over to see what colour it would be, but she knew it would be red. Because if it was worth doing, it was worth doing well, Cait always said.
"Just lipstick," she said as she raised a finger in warning, and Cait's face lit up.
"Yes." Cait nodded briskly. Number One could tell she was already mentally cataloguing her off-duty wardrobe, trying to figure out if any of her outfits would fit her.
"And I'm wearing my uniform, and I'm not doing anything with my hair."
"You drive a hard bargain." Which Number One chose to interpret as I will take what I can get this round, but next time, I am attacking you with shoes.
"I hate you."
"That is a huge lie. You adore me."
Cait turned the chair back to the mirror, and Number One risked a smile. Maybe a little lipstick wouldn't be so bad.
She'd sat in the command chair a hundred times before, of course. As Exec, she took the seat any time the captain was planetside or stationside on a Landing Party. Even took command of the ship on Gamma Shift, when it came up in rotation, with a skeleton crew of junior officers and crewmen who almost never saw Captain Pike due to being low men and women on the totem pole.
But—running her fingertips over the controls building into the armrests, feeling the cushions give as she leaned forward, then back as if testing its mettle—this was different.
This was sitting in the Command Chair of the Yorktown knowing that once they reached Earth and Captain Pike and Lt Commander Spock were safely transferred to their new postings at the Academy, she would be wearing a new stripe on her sleeve and would be the Yorktown's commander in more than just name.
She'd been offered command of the Lexington two years before, but turned them down. Not because she wasn't ready or able, but because at that point in time she'd have rather been Pike's XO on a ship she knew with a crew who trusted her than start over, start fresh, battle to win the respect and trust a starship commander needed beyond that which trained crews automatically gave the uniform. If there was one thing she had learnt from serving with Pike for four years, it was that trust and respect had to be earned for it to mean something.
She'd spent the first fifteen years of her life valued not for who she was, but what she was. She'd spent the next fifteen trying to prove she was more than a perfect genome on legs. Now all she wanted was to be the best Starfleet officer she knew how to be, and be worthy of the responsibility of command of a starship.
Well, she thought as the turbolift doors opened and she sat up that much straighter in the chair, maybe that wasn't all she wanted.
"Getting settled, Captain?" Pike asked, his blue eyes somehow even brighter beneath the cold white light of the bridge. Hearing him call her by her new rank sent a thrill through her all the way down to her toes, and only part of it had to do with her promotion.
They had intended to take things slowly. After seven years of friendship—four of them serving together under his command—it had seemed the best course of action. The plan had been dinner and then something Chris called "Retro DC-Style Swing" dancing at the Presidio Ballroom.
The plan went out the window approximately 9.7 seconds after she opened the door of her Starfleet-assigned guest quarters and he saw her in the perfect replica of the dress Cait Barry had loaned her for Francis Drake Reed's wedding seven years earlier, paired with absolutely impractical shoes that brought her eyes level with his. They came up with the revised plan on the fly, somewhere between her pushing him up against the wall in a hungry open-mouthed kiss, and him dropping the roses on the kitchen counter just before he lifted her up onto it.
The revised plan was dinner from the food slots and dancing in her living room, her four-inch heels kicked off so one of them disappeared half under the sofa, and his tuxedo jacket thrown over the chair while 22nd century jazz played over the comm system. She had no idea where he'd dropped the pins he'd pulled from her hair, and he supposed his tie would turn up eventually, and they'd both ignored the comm when the restaurant had called back to confirm they had given their reserved table away.
"I'm either named after a fish, or a sharp implement. It's a lot less complicated," he'd said against her ear as they swayed in time to the music. "Are you sure I can't just call you 'Maureen'?"
She'd sighed, party out of exasperation, partly because it was hard to do much else as his lips roamed the pale column of her neck. "You're hopeless."
She could feel his laugh against her chest. His hands almost trembled as he traced the curve of her spine over and over again with his thumbs. But her fingers on the buttons of his crisp white shirt were sure and steady.
Later, when the dress lay a puddle of blue silk on the floor in a square of cold moonlight spilling through the window, he whispered her name into her hair.