Finally the sliding door closed behind Ensign Sylvia Tilly. She took a deep breath and listened to the quite humming of the life support systems. A sound that had always calmed her down. Here in her quarters she could finally give in to her feelings. While running to the endless corridors of Starbase 71, she had had the feeling that everyone was staring at her.
She dropped to the bed and pressed her face into the pillows, unable to stop the tears. She had failed. Again. Everything had been alright. Her knowledge of ships engineering was excellent and she could answer every question on Starfleet regulations that was thrown at her. It was not her knowledge of the facts that failed her. It was herself. She had failed the psychological exam. When she was under stress in a situation, she had doubts. She had questioned her own decisions, taken too long. As always.
“You’re a great officer.” They had said. “But we’re sorry, you are not a candidate for command. You’re too emotional.”
Too weak. A failure. That’s what that really meant. Maybe her mother was right. She wasn’t Starfleet material after all. Of course none of this was actually true. You don’t get a Medal Of Honour for outstanding skill and bravery from Starfleet, if you do a bad job. But her medal was back on Discovery along with all of her friends, who would surly be doing all they could to lift her up.
After a while, she got up, wiped her tears with the back of her hand, and went for the tiny bathroom. The hot shower helped her to calm a little, but the feeling of inadequacy did not leave her.
Back from the shower, she got into her her nightdress, and routinely checked her messages before she went to bed. There were five new messages. All of them from her mother.
How did your exam go? Call me. Mum.
Did you fail again? Why don’t you call back?
Your sister was asking if you made it this time. I couldn’t tell her anything, because you don’t talk to me. Call me back!
Sylvia, are you ignoring me? Talk to your old mother. I’m worried.
Really, Sylvia. I did not raise you to be such a neglecting person. You should be ashamed of yourself, ignoring your old mother like that!
Tilly sighed put the data tablet away and got into her bed.
An hour later, she was somewhere in between sleeping and waking, with nightmares of her failure haunting her, when the main com-screen lit up. A bleeping noise signalled an incoming call. Tilly woke up completely and moaned. She heaved herself out of bed heavily.
“Oh come on mum, seriously?” She groaned, when she walked over to the screen to take the call. On her way, she picked up her robe, and wrapped herself into it.
With a heavy sigh, she pressed the Accept Call button on the screen. The silver and blue Starfleet logo disappeared and was replaced by the face of a man in the uniform of a Starfleet Lieutenant Commander who looked at her very officially.
“Ensign Sylvia Tilly? I am Lieutenant Commander Brock, with Starfleet Command.” He suddenly realised that Tilly was in her nightie.
“Um, is this an inconvenient time?”
Tilly blushed. “Ah, you…you woke me up. I’m sorry. I was expecting this to, um, to be my mother.” She wrapped herself tighter into her robe.
“I can call you back, when you’re dressed.” The man said. “The matter is kind of urgent, but of course, you can make yourself presentable first.”
Tilly caught herself. “It’s alright Sir, it’s not like you caught me in the shower or something. Go on please.”
The man looked a puzzled, but dropped the matter. “The USS Windhoek is leaving for a strategically important mission in two hours. You have been assigned to Captain Athon’s team. Get dressed and report to the Windhoek immediately. Captain Athon will brief you on the mission.”
Tilly was mystified. “Sir, does that mean, I will not return to Discovery?”
“This is only temporary, ensign. After this assignment, you will return to your post on Discovery” Brock said. “I can’t tell you much more, because I don’t have any details. Captain Athon will fill you in.”
“Understood, Sir.” Tilly nodded. “I’ll get there immediately.”
“Thank you, ensign.” Brock actually smiled. “The Windhoek is docked in Bay 14. And ensign …, sorry for the inconvenience.”
“It’s all right. Thank you.”
The screen went dark, and Tilly wondered what this was about. She hurried to the small drawer, and picked out a spare uniform, then stuffed the one she had worn alongside some toiletries and her nightgown into her knapsack. She didn’t bring much, because she didn’t think she’d be gone from discovery for longer than two days. After a quick look around her cabin, checking that she didn’t forget anything, she left the place and logged out with her badge.
On the corridor, she looked for a wall terminal. Space stations like Starbase 71 were enormously large, and it was not uncommon for people to get lost in them.
“Computer!” Tilly called the voice activated machine. “Show me the way to docking bay 14!”
“Affirmative!” A soft baritone voice answered. “Please follow the corridor left of you to the end, and make a right turn. You will find turbo lift 147, which will take you to the docking bay area ten to 15. Once there follow the way signs to docking bay 14. Currently the USS Windhoek is located there, and is ready to be boarded.”
“Thank you.” Tilly said. Unlike many people, Tilly always tried to be polite to computers, although she knew that the simple artificial intelligence was not capable of feelings, and quite indifferent to the way humans talked to it.
“We hope you had a pleasant stay on Starbase 71 and will visit as again soon.”
“Yeah, right.” Tilly murmured and headed for the turbo lift.
The Windhoek was one of the smaller long distance ships. It was equipped for transporting VIP guests on state visits. It was not the most glorious ship in the fleet, but for sure the most pompous. It had presidential suites, a five star kitchen and personnel to fulfil every wish a state visitor might . Also, accommodation could be changed to different conditions for any life form known.
Tilly entered the ship through the main access tunnel that connected the ship to the star base. The view of a star base’s docking area still took her breath every time she saw it: A space so huge that even a huge star ship, like the Discovery or the Enterprise would be dwarfed by the giant hall. Star bases where the largest enclosed spaces ever build by humans.
Tilly shook her head and hastened her pace. She had no time to marvel at the beauty of engineering. She entered the ship through the central airlock. The inside of the Windhoek was even more pompous than she had anticipated. The main corridor looked more like a luxurious hotel lobby than a star ship’s. The walls were wood chipped and the floor was tiled with marble. An officer in a ceremonial uniform came up to her.
“Can I help you, ensign?” He asked politely. He was Denobulan, and the stripes on his uniform marked him as an ensign.
“Ensign Sylvia Tilly reporting for duty. Permission to come aboard?”
The ensign looked at his data pad, and then grinned, which looked rather scary, for the Denobulan’s have wide mouths, with an impressive row of teeth.
“We’ve been waiting for you. You’re quarters are on deck 44, room 22. You can drop your belongings there, and then report to the ready room immediately. Captain Athon is eager to depart.”
“Understood.” She smiled. “Thank you.”
It took her a while longer than expected to get to her quarters and then find her way to the bridge, so when she arrived in the ready room, the senior officer’s were already assembled.
Captain Athon was a tall Andorian. His white hair was cut short, and a thin beard grew around is mouth. He looked at Tilly with an annoyed expression on his face. He clearly didn’t like the interruption.
Tilly straightened her back. “Ensign Silvia Tilly reporting for duty, Captain!”
He only nodded quickly. “Nice that you care to join us, ensign.”
Tilly swallowed her urge to protest. It wouldn’t have done any good. But it also didn’t make her feel better about herself. Captain Seru would never talk to a crew member in a tone like that, she thought.
The senior officers continued, as if she wasn’t there. The first officer, a human woman named Pratchett, was just explaining that they would carry their guest to Starbase 52, where a group of Ambassadors from Earth, Andoria Vulcan and Betazed would be awaiting them.
The captain nodded. “We don’t know much about Xaheans. The Queen,” he stopped in his tracks “Me Chann…um”
“Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po” Tilly said. And her eyes lit up. She suddenly realised why she was ordered on this mission. No one less than the Xahean queen herself had requested her presence. She didn’t want to act out of place here, but it was hard for Tilly to hide her excitement.
All eyes where on her now. She blushed. “It’s how her name is pronounced. Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po. Po for short.”
“Thank you, ensign.” The captain looked mildly confused. “I’ll try to remember that. What else can you tell us about the Xaheans?”
“Xahea is a class M world. It’s inhabitants have just recently reached warp capabilities. Their home world is very mineral rich, and holds the largest deposits of dilithium in federation space. The Xaheans also have created a technology that allows them to recrystallise depleted dilithium, a technology that was invented by the queen herself. She won’t share the secret on how she did it, out of fear that her home world might be harmed through excessive dilithium mining.”
Tilly continued. “The Xaheans have a very close relationship to their home world. They believe, they were created at the same time as the planet, and think it to be a living organism. Po, the queen I mean, considers Xahea to be her twin sister.”
“Thank you, ensign.” The captain said. “That was really useful information.”
“Now,” the captain continued. “we need to plan the reception. Since Xahea is a monarchy, I suggest we provide official military honours.”
He turned to his security officer. “I’d like you to assemble the vanguard, and place them in rows at the transporter room. Ensign,” he turned to Tilly, “Do we know any music, that is required to honour the queen?”
Tilly raised her eyebrows. “If you want her to turn tail and run right back to the transporter pad, you can do this. She absolutely despises pomp and circumstance.”
“Really? What would you suggest?” Pratchett asked sarcastically. “Offer her scones and tea?”
Tilly was unimpressed. “Spumoni ice cream.” She said. “That’s her favourite. And I don’t think she managed to replicate the recipe herself yet.”
Pratchett snorted. “I don’t know how things are handled on Discovery, but we take our mission seriously here.”
Tilly could feel her face become hot, and she was angry with herself for it. “I am not joking.” She said weakly.
“How would you know what the queen of Xahea likes to eat?” Athon asked.
“Because she’s one of my closest friends.” Tilly said.
Every pair of eyes in the room were fixed on her now. Tilly felt very uncomfortable.
“How did you get to meet the queen of Xahea?” Athon finally asked.
“She wasn’t queen when I first met her. She had run away from home, and ended up as a stowaway on Discovery.”
“Why don’t we know about this?” Bolton, the security guy, asked.
Tilly shrugged. “I don’t know. I took the incident down in the ship’s log, as required. I guess the captain didn’t see it necessary to file an official report. I was never asked about it again.”
“Have you been in contact with Xahea ever since?” The captain asked.
“All the time sir. We write regularly. She came on board the Discovery to help solve the Section 31 crisis.”
Pratchett checked her files. “That explains while the Royal Court expressedly requested Ensign Tilly’s presence.”
The captain leaned back in his chair. “Under these circumstances, I believe it would be best if you take our guest under your wing, Ensign Tilly.”
Tilly couldn’t help but to grin. “I’d love to do that, sir.”