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Another Year Older

Posted on Thu Feb 27th, 2020 @ 10:50am by Queen of the Artans Enalia Telvan & Kodria Mizu & Commander Rita Paris & Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox
Edited on on Mon Mar 2nd, 2020 @ 12:03pm

Mission: Bachelorette Bash
Location: USS Hera, Deck 11, Holodeck 2
Timeline: February 13th, 2397

The chime at the door at 6:10 wasn't expected to be that much of a surprise, really. Dox had a habit of obsessively tracking details, so this one likely wouldn't have slipped her by. Given the day, Rita Paris figured she'd start it out with her second favorite activity, since she'd already engaged in the first this morning. Stretching her hamstrings while she waited, the well-traveled galactic explorer smirked, imagining Mnhei'sahe Dox pulling on her shoes, having anticipated what this was about when she heard the chime, contrary to what her first guess had been.

When the door opened, she would find out. The sublime expectations of a linear existence, as Sonak had said.

The pause was a little longer than usual, however, before the sound of footfalls came from behind the door and it wooshed open. leaning against the doorframe, the red-headed Romulan pilot was pulling her own ankle up behind her and wearing a basic black and crimson running outfit. Nothing particularly unusual, as the two ran together at least once a week and on most mornings, the slightly chunky but still exceptionally fit young women did some form of morning exercise. 

Her hair was a bit more disheveled and her skin had a slight sheen as if she may have already done some kind of workout a bit that morning. As was almost standard operating procedure, the anxious aviatrix seemed concerned by her superior's presence in spite of how often it happened. "Good morning, Commander. Is everything okay?"

"C'mon. Let's go run the Exeter hull- it's my birthday!" the statuesque siren in the distressed Starfleet Academy class of 2255 tank top and red sport shorts grinned, as she turned to begin heading for the lift. "I did a little math this morning, and I came to the realization that while chronologically this is my 164th birthday, with he five years on the Constitution and my time since, I think this is actually my 30th birthday. So c'mon, let's welcome me to my thirties, shall we?"

As Dox followed being, she had a broad smile on her face as she spoke. "Your Birthday? Must've slipped my mind. Huh."

The lift doors opened and both women got on as Dox's cartoonishly blatant lie hung in the air. For a Romulan, she was a horrible liar and she knew it, so she chose to lean into this one for effect as she continued. "And... Does that mean I'm technically older than you? At least in Earth years?"

"Well, yeah, I guess it does," Rita looked up as she remembered Dox's age from her file, and hit the turbolift call button. "Of course, your projected lifespan is about twice mine, so I don't think the extra two-year advantage is going to do me a lot of good in the long run," Rita grinned. "Assuming, of course, get to live out our natural lifespans. Given the lives we lead, that is statistically improbable. Although we do have the habit of beating the odds..."

Chuckling slightly as she stretched against the wall of the lift, Dox replied. "Well, if it were being counted on Romulus, I'm only Thirty myself as the years are about twenty days longer. But that doesn't really count."

As the lift arrived, both women got off on the deck and made their way to the Hera's holodeck.

"Alrighty, bring up the old girl and let's take a few laps. I'm feeling nostalgic this morning," the throwback officer paused to chuckle at that. "When am I NOT feeling sentimental. I'd ask how I got so old so young, but I think the universe has already provided the answer to that one. So how's Mona? It's getting close to time, isn't it?"

Tapping the Holodeck instructions up on the control panel outside, Dox nodded. The doors opened with a chirp revealing the holographic Vista of the saucer of the vintage Constitution Class Starship as the Romulan flight chief replied, "Two months, according to Doctor Powers last estimation. It's been largely estimations rounding the average between Miradonian and Romulan gestation periods, bit it's still looking accurate."

Stepping inside, the door behind both women vanished leaving them seemingly standing atop the old Starship, surrounded by a projection of the vastness of space. "But she's doing very well. She has to take a hypo daily to help keep everything regulated as the children's blood is Copper-based, like mine, and the difference occasionally makes her nauseated. And even though she's coming up on the mandated bedrest stage, she's beyond excited. She's gotten to the point where she's having what seems like one-sided conversations with them."

"Except, they're not. They're... responsive. It's not words, per say. But when I'm touching her, I can pick up their thoughts and emotions easily through our bond." Dox's smile was exceptionally big now as she thought of the children due in just two months. "It's... It's really amazing, Rita."

"Good! You should be excited," Rita responded, leaning into some long thigh stretches. "You're going to be parents, and your entire lives will change. But for the better- your family of two will be a family of five. Which means Mona will be a member of a not quite as endangered species, and you will officially become the ship's foremost experts on changing a diaper. You might want to take a lesson from your two fairly odd parents in R&D on that front- I saw those two change a diaper in 10-Forward and I have to admit, if they did everything with that level of efficiency they'd be after our jobs!"

"I've seen. It is... extremely impressive." Dox said with a light chuckle as she shook herself out in preparation. As she did, her tone took a slightly melancholy tone. "Although, I have to admit... I knew I'd miss having Mona in the office when she took the R&D position full time, I have to say that I actually miss having Miss O'Dell around as well. Ensign Wieaex is taking to the training very well, but the department feels much more... empty... now."

“Don’t be so dramatic, Dox. They’re literally one deck up, and parked on top of your office. Plus O’Dell is pulling bridge duty when the Hera needs an insane pilot and we’re unavailable, so it’s not like they’ve been reassigned and they’ve moved out into the fleet. It’s just a part of life- we move on,” Rita moved to do some long overhead stretches, and she changed tack, as she was prone to do. “Speaking of which, I heard a rumor your baronial duties are expanding.”

"In my defense, I'm very good at being dramatic," Dox chuckled lightly with a grin. "But yes, apparently. Baroness Sarika is trying to vet almost a hundred ships that served under the Baronesses that were loyal to the Captain's mother. The crews weren't all involved in what was happening, but many of the other Baronesses are washing their hands of them, which I don't feel is right."

"She's asking for help in redistributing those crews and ships and asked if I would take some under my barony." The anxious young Romulan woman said, shaking her head. "So I said I'd consider it and help. I'm... still working on ideas as to just how to do that. As if my plate weren't full enough."

“Sounds like she’s trying to get you set up to have a fleet under your command. How do you feel about all that?” Rita asked as she did a few waist twists, ready to set off.

"She is." Dox said, finishing her own last stretches, nodding to Rita that she was ready to go. "Right now, my responsibilities are here, but honestly, how I feel is... overwhelmed. Pulled in too many directions at once. This just is adding to everything going on with the reunification missions and my Grandmother. It seems like everyone has a plan for me. But how I feel, is I want to be an officer and a wife and a mother. Everything else will wait its turn."

"Right now, though, that all has to wait because today is your day. Ready when you are." Dox said, shaking off her anxiety and setting up to run with her friend.

Setting off at their usual pace, Rita kept talking, as she tended to do. “I have some advice for you on that front, if you’re of a mind to hear it?

"Of course." Dox said sincerely, running alongside Rita with far greater ease then she did in those early runs of over a year ago, now.

“Your grandmother wants you to come to Romulus and work from within the system to effect change…. despite the fact that she’s been at it all her life and hasn’t made much progress,” It was a harsh thing to say, but not wholly inaccurate. “Sarika wants you to assume a full barony, and spend your days running a portion of the Artan fleet, despite the fact that there are baronesses who have been there for years who are there full time. Death wants you to take over for her someday, maybe not even that far off. You do realize that it’s your life, and that you are obligated to none of these people, right?”

In this, Rita spoke from experience. Her own domineering father had attempted to steer the course of her life, with disastrous results, and she had come from an era where women were seldom encouraged to strive and achieve- an odd period of human history that had been a throwback to older values and perspectives in and of itself.

Thinking about it as she ran alongside her friend and mentor, whose opinion Dox valued greatly, the young pilot looked up at the projected stars as they went along on the recreation of the old Constitution Class ship's saucer. "I do. At least I know it rationally, even if I don't always believe it in my heart."

"And… I know I'm being manipulated. Particularly by my grandmother, to try and get me back the way she wants me. But I also can't ignore the opportunity to make a difference for people like those colonists." Dox admitted as she ran alongside her leggy Commander. "So, I'm trying to do what I can, where I can, without sacrificing what I have. What I've worked so hard to keep."

"Be your own woman and chart your own course, Mnhei'sahe. You may not get a vote in some of it because the universe will have its way. But you get a say in a lot of it." Jogging along, Rita paused to take in the bridge and second deck at the center of the saucer section, enjoying the nostalgia of seeing the old classic, and getting to experience the act of running on the hull while she was moving at impulse through space.

"Let me ramble for a moment, if you will. I need to work this out myself as well, alright?" Rita asked, looking to the sturdy Romulan for her acquiescence to the request. With a nod received, the Starfleet officer from the era of the starship upon whose holographic hull they now trod, launched into her rant.

"It's hypocritical of me to counsel you this way, in some respects, because I have hopes for you within Starfleet. You could go all the way, get your admiralty and command a fleet in Starfleet. Or teach at the Academy, or any number of opportunities, the least of which is command. But," Rita wagged that finger. "You HAVE a command already, with the Artan fleet. If you take Sarika's offer, you'll have a fleet you command, as well. Starfleet would be years in the making to work your way through those experiences, but it's hard to compete with instant gratification."

"I'm guilting you about this, however inadvertently, and I apologize. I suppose it's really just me lamenting that Starfleet can't compete. You are a fine officer, and you're learning command, and the future is bright for you. I think why I'm trying to convince you to stay is just selfishness. I don't want to lose you to the Artan fleet, but 'work for another 20 years and you might make admiral' logically can't compete with 'freedom, your own fleet with flagship, carte blanche as part of a dawning empire with close ties to the queen'. Eventually logic wins, when it comes to sentient life. Trust me on this, I have the word of an expert."

"That's aside from your dear old Granny, who roped you into being her representative to the Federation via Starfleet, thus literally turning you into a Romulan asset. The more you struggle with that tar baby, the more it's going to stick to you. Reunification, I know, I know," Rita waved Dox off, assuming some expression of protest. "I do believe in it. Hell, I invented the experiment for it while we were discussing it with the locals, for which will either get me into the history books one way or the other, depending on how this colony experiment goes."

"But the Romulans are dangerous and vindictive and yes, some are honorable and noble. But those aren't usually the ones you run across, and they certainly have been at a premium in our lives. Your family being the exception, of course. I trust you and your mother with our lives, and have more than once." Paris grinned at her running partner as they passed the centerline of the ship. "But Romulan politics, along with the archenemy you seem to have picked up? The homeworld of your people has a heck of a hold on you. Once you 'came out' they 'came after' in a heck of a hurry, and they really seem determined to rope you in. With your knowledge of the Federation and Starfleet, you'd be a unique expert, and you'd be a propaganda victory the Romulans would cheerfully exploit."

"So... this is my birthday present. I get to not be 'The Commander' for one morning run, and I can babble about what's worrying me to the person that I'm worried about." Grinning, because she couldn't resist, the buxom blonde with the surprisingly taut bosom added, "How'm I doing?"

"As usual, pretty kreldanni good." Dox sighed as she stood next to Rita, where they paused. "I know all of that in my head. I truly do. Rita… I'm… I'm terrified. Everything that's happened in just the last few months feels like some kind of twisted nightmare. The idea of the old adage of 'be careful what you wish for' taken to an unimaginable extreme."

Looking up at the projection of space, the young, conflicted Romulan woman's hands balled up as her jaw clenched. "Sometimes… sometimes I wake up screaming. Terrified that you didn't really come for me. That Rendal is creating all of this in my mind with that… machine. That I'm still there."

"Mona… Mona brings be back, but everything my Grandmother had offered me… if it had happened just two years ago… I would have run to it. And I would have been lost. I KNOW that, but it doesn't make me not still want it anyway… that family that I didn't get to have. And then I feel guilty for that and it all rounds on itself like a serpent eating its own tail."

"Plot your own course, Dox," Rita offered, the lost navigator speaking from experience. "How all of this comes to pass, you can only be forced to do any of it if you let them remove your agency. You have one responsibility- to yourself. Then to the wife and kids, who ARE your family. They aren't your past, but they are your future. Ideally, you swore an oath to Starfleet, so we figure in there somewhere too," Rita smirked and shrugged, then became serious. "

You choose your path, and your destiny. Sonak says it's basically will to power- you give energy to it, the reality shifts and becomes more possible, if you will. Don't be what other people want you to be, if that's not what YOU want to be. I think that might be the best advice I can give you, but keep in mind, this is from a girl who ended up here from another dimension who is 164 years old today, yet paradoxically just turning thirty." Rita laughed, then cocked her head a bit as they entered the shadow of the bridge and Deck 2.

"Or maybe this was my destiny- to be here, to make the difference that I do in the future. All my life, looking forward to that brighter tomorrow we were building... and I got to live to see it," Rita looked up at the old starship with that expression that made her look like a recruitment poster, then spread her arms a bit to gesture to herself. "In my youth, no less!"

"Maybe. I can't say, I've not actually met fate yet." Dox said, letting out an awkward chuckle at the absurdity of the statement. "But… but I know that I wouldn't be here if not for you. Not in a vague, metaphorical way. Literally. I wasn't supposed to be rescued. Not right away. And not until after Rendal would have used me to wipe out that colony. The Captain wouldn't still be here. A lot of us wouldn't be who we are without you."

"But you were there on Romulus, so I was rescued. And then we saved them. I know. I helped Rei do the paperwork, Rita." The story came out with a light chuckle as she hadn't yet told anyone the specifics of that particular incident. "That… not the paperwork… the making a difference. Doing the right thing no matter what. That makes it worth it. That's something I can choose for myself and live with."

"Well, it is selfish of me but... I do hope you stay with Starfleet, despite the fact that it makes no sense for you not to move on to the Artan fleet to be a damned commodore. We do make a difference out here, and i hate to be the one pulling you in another direction. But to be fair," Rita wagged that finger again, "this was the life you chose. Not the one that was thrust upon you or laid out on a platter for you. Life in Starfleet was the one choice you've made in all of this. So maybe keep that on mind... the old lady's nagging not withstanding."

"You're allowed to nag, it's you're birthday." Dox said with a warm smile. "And... I have no intention of abandoning Starfleet. Yes, there's the good we do. Even here on an Intel ship where we can't exactly brag about our work, what we've done has saved billions of lives. I can't pretend that this isn't important because I could go to the Artans and get... instant gratification. But it wouldn't mean as much. It wouldn't be as earned as what I've earned here."

At that, Rita had nothing to say, but a tear did mingle with the perspiration running down her cheeks. Of all the possible responses she could have received on the subject, this one made her heart swell with the pride of a mentor whose pupil will exceed them. Thus she only trusted herself with a close-lipped smile of satisfaction, and a nod.

"Plus... It's like you said. Here, I have the family I've made for myself. I have Mona. And... And I have Enalia and you. This family is what kept me sane on that slow boat to Romulus. It's what I fought to get back too. I'm not going anywhere."

"Thanks, Mnhie'sahe. You don't owe me an answer, but... I really do appreciate that. I worry, you know. If you were just a Starfleet officer, I'd worry a little bit. But as a Romulan officer... I guess I knew, even in the future, that you being Romulan would cause trouble, but I still counseled you to embrace it. You should be who you are, and it was pretty clear that the genetic tampering was not doing you a world of good, on top of all of the childhood repressed memories which, seriously, someone at Starfleet Psych or the Academy or SOMEBODY in the fleet really needs to get on the ball about that."

Taking a deep breath to redirect, Rita reached up to run her fingers through her hair and sweep it up out of her eyes. "While I knew there would likely be trouble, I certainly never envisioned the scope of it. The Artan barony... I certainly never expected to have to be competing for my officers with my Captain, you know? Then there's the fact that I already had to call on a goddess to wedge a crowbar between one of my friends and Death, and.... I dislike that she's pressuring you. Making you do the paperwork? Forced indoctrination through guilt is a great motivator for her AND your grandmother AND Sarika, but I just don't care for it. Your choices should be your own."

"At least I know now you have your own opinions, your own desires and you aren't losing sight of them. Thanks, Dox... I genuinely appreciate the reassurance. As well as you not freaking out because I actually told you what's on my mind." Reaching over, the Earth girl patted the Romulan on the shoulder fondly.

"I'm not going to freak out, Rita." Dox said with a grin. "You may do the majority of the uplifting speaching, but I know you fairly well. I have no illusions of you being perfect or infallible. Remember, I've seen you cry too. Yes, you're my Commander. Yes, you're my metric of what Starfleet means to me. But you are also my friend and my sister. So, that means that we are here for each other, regardless of RANK or position."

"And today, that means I get to be here for YOU for a change." The generally nervous Romulan woman said as she put an arm around Rita's shoulder, which the earnest executive stopped running to turn it into a bit of a sweaty hug.

"I love you, Dox," Paris whispered before she pulled back so she could see the face of the young officer who meant so much to her. "Enalia is that cool, rebellious older sister I always wanted, who always knows a guy. Who, in turn, knows an ever cooler girl who is not related, yet finds herself in trouble, calling us as the cavalry. You..." Tucking an errant lock of red hair back away from her face, the last survivor of Kelvin Earth beamed a smile to the daughter of the Romulan reunificationists of Mol'Krunchi. "You are the other sister I never had, but always wanted. You're the insecure little sister I wanted to teach self-worth, and look at you? I'm genuinely so proud of you."

"I love you too, Rita. I really appreciate... oh hnave..." Dox said as she looked over the blonde bombshells shoulder and her eyes widened for a second as she smirked awkwardly. "You... might want to hold off on being proud of me for a few minutes."

Gesturing towards the bow of the projection of the Exeter, the two women looked as a holographic facade of the deck of a mock pirate ship appeared. "We... uh... we recorded this at the Pirate Dinner show at Risa we told you about. I... asked Kodria to fold this into the program for today, and activate it when we reached the bow of the ship... whichever ship we ended up running on."

"Bloody pirates," Rita muttered, rolling her eyes and smiling despite herself as the spectacle unfolded.

On the bridge of the projection, holographic representations of Dox and Enalia Telvan stepped onto the deck, wearing elaborate and somewhat ridiculous theatrical Pirate costumes. Enalia's was admittedly more revealing than Dox's, as the holographic recording of the young Romulan woman in the frilly, green blouse and overly large, three-pointed hat and corset pointed to someone off-camera. "Okay, Tova. Ready? Excellent... just hold it like that."

After a few seconds, music began to play as Rita's spotted Captain, most of those spots clearly visible in the skimpy wardrobe from the recent bachelorette party on Risa, and the red-headed pilot began to sing. As they did, half a dozen performers in over-the-top Pirate costumes stepped into view as unexpected background singers. "Happy Birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Rita, happy birthday to you!"

"Hahahahahahaha! That's absolutely precious, Mnhei'sahe! Thank you, thank you so much! That was very thoughtful, and I remain unswayed in my estimation of you, I assure you." Shaking her head, Rita looked around the hull of the ancient starship of more than a century ago as the holographic recordings of a few days ago bowed, laughing themselves, then vanished.

"The future certainly is marvelous. A bit different than I expected... but I'm genuinely glad that I'm here. Fate and destiny and the forces of the cosmos be damned," the ancient astronaut waved a hand dismissively. "All that matters to me is that we're all here, this entire odd family in space, darting from place to place at ludicrous speeds, doing impossible things. The dream of Starfleet is alive and well at the close of the 24th century. I'd say it was worth skipping all but the last 6 years of the century."

"Soon it will be the 25th century, Miss Dox. It's going to be an amazing time for the galaxy, I can feel it. Remarkable discoveries, fantastic explorations, new life, new civilizations..." Drifting off, wondering just what amazements the next century would offer. Rita refocused on the moment. "What do you say? Some wind sprints to the Deck 2 riser and back?"

"That sounds like a plan to me. Happy Birthday, Rita," Dox said with a broad smile across her chubby cheeks, as they set themselves up to continue their run on the holographic replica of the Starfleet of the past.

The past, whose spirit and traditions one Rita Paris was determined to continue carrying, into a brighter future.

"There's an old Earth girl saying... a thing about holding onto your youth. 29 and holding," Rita explained. "In the life we lead, that might just be an offer along the way. I think... I think watching everyone I know grow old and die, like Asa will... I think that's got to be incredibly painful. I think... 30's okay. I think I can live with getting older and knowing my time is finite, rather than lasting forever."

"I... I think about that more than you might think." Dox admitted with a slight droop to her shoulders. "I try not to think about it really. But in a perfect scenario, living full and complete lives, I'll live more than twice as long as Mona will. I mean... I could theoretically outlive our children naturally since Doctor Power says that the early scans show them having a lot more Miradonian traits than Romulan ones, genetically."

The Romulan pilot that was somehow both younger and older than her golden-haired commander at the same time, looked over at Rita and shook her head. "It's a real possibility, and it's not a concept I like thinking about... outliving the woman I already don't know how to live without. Watching my own daughters grow old and die. Yeah... I try to not think about it."

Staring at her friend for a moment, Rita considered, as she often did, the course that occurred to her. As it seemed right, she followed her guts and told the truth. "Please. Mnhei. Given the lives that we lead, do you REALLY think we're going to die as old ladies in our beds, at home on a planet somewhere, surrounded by family and loved ones? Or is it far, FAR more likely that one day our luck will run out, and either the no-win scenario will come for us, or it'll be the time and place to make a stand, with no other options and no last-minute cavalry. Or the noble sacrifice, because somebody had to do it."

"Heroes don't usually live to old age, Miss Dox. Statistics tend to catch up to us eventually. So just because the surgeon general says that I might live to be 135 years old, I'm not gonna consider that a guarantee in writing," Rita admitted, hands out as she cooled down for a few. "You might outlive us all, you might not. I'm just saying don't count on that projected lifespan as something you are definitely going to see to the end, is all."

"I don't. That would be dangerous on far too many levels. But sometimes... the idea just kind of latches on like a stowaway that refuses to leave easily." Dox admitted with a light, but awkward smirk. "I just... I just want to live the kind of life that I can look back on and say that at least I tried to make things better, succeed or fail. That I didn't let the things that threaten to pull me down do so without a fight. I... I don't want to be who I was before I came here. I don't want to want to give up."

"As for the options being presented to me... from my Grandmother. From the Artans. From Rei. That is what a lot of them represent, to me. A failure to... well... to be better. A retreat from... hope." As she spoke, she knew the topic kept swaying back to the introspective, but she wanted to follow the train of thought through to find that light on the edge and head there. "But... there are other paths in front of me. Courses I've been able to set for myself that I want to stay on because that journey is what I want for my life. I don't plan to give up the life I want for the idea of some grand destiny. Someone else’s destiny."

“Good…. that’s good. Relieving to me, really,” Rita admitted. “It’s not for everyone, this trek through the stars that we’re on. I just want to make sure that the path you choose is the one YOU want to be on, and that you don’t end up living your life, as you say, living someone else’s destiny. You’ve come a long ways…. I want to make sure you don’t get conned into being someone that someone else wants you to be, including me. I just want you to be in command of your own life, your own career, your own future.”

"Rita..." Dox said sincerely, "I know. Out of almost everyone I've ever met, you're one of the very few individuals that has consistently not had an agenda to push on me that I didn't already want by design. I'm a Starfleet officer. You extolling the virtues of Starfleet isn't some kind of con. It's you trying to do right by me."

"You're my compass point, in a lot of ways. Maybe that's not fair to put on you, but it's true. You are my true north, that keeps me pointing in the right direction. My guiding star, in a way." the red-headed Romulan admitted with an awkward smile, "Even on that fvadt ship I was trapped on, when I was at my lowest and wanted to give up completely, yours was that voice in my head telling me to... what was it... ‘pull on my officer panties and hold on’."

It was a story Dox had shared with Rita before, of her hallucination of the golden-clad Commander in the brig of her grandmother's Warbird after watching Rendal execute her father. But in the moment, it was a relevant reminder. "You have never lied to me. Never tried to manipulate me into taking a path I didn't want to. You've never shied away from telling me exactly how difficult the life we've both chosen can be. You are incapable of conning me, Rita. It's not in your nature. And I cannot express how much that means to me."

The smile that slowly settled onto the face of the old officer from long ago, whose values and morals were of a bygone age, was genuine and heartfelt. The redheaded Romulan’s words had touched her heart, in no small part because they confirmed her choices. Never had she tried to do anything but support Dox in her Starfleet career, and it relieved her greatly hearing that while so many forces were acting upon her seeking to manipulate the young officer, Rita was not numbered amongst them.

“I’ll always be honest with you, I promise,” Rita offered unnecessarily. After all, practically anyone who knew her was aware of the fact that the morally upright unusually uniformed officer was basically incapable of deception. “But it’s still nice to hear from you. With all the people in your life playing tug-of-war over you, I know I’m in there. But I don’t want to guilt or manipulate you, I just want the choices that you make to be your own, that’s all. If those choices take you elsewhere… it’s your life. But damned if I will let someone come and take it from you, or deny you choices of what to do with your life. Because it’s YOUR life… well, you and Mona and the kids now, I suppose.”

"As for me being your guide... well, that comes with the job, doesn't it? Senior officers mentor junior officers, and if we don't present the sort of officer we want you to emulate, then what sort of example are we setting?" Shaking her head, Rita chuckled. "Don't you worry about fairness, Miss Dox- that comes with the job, and you'll see it when it's your turn. It just means you know you are being held to a standard, and it's your responsibility to live up to it. But again, just part of the job, part of duty, part of service... part of Starfleet. So I'll do my best not to let you down... which is what I do with every crew member."

"For the record? You do make me proud, Mnhei'sahe," Rita beamed that million-watt smile at the renegade Romulan. "You've learned everything I've taught you, been a true friend and shipmate, and whatever you do in this life... or the next... you'll be great. Not because of anything I did or said, but because you make your choices from a position of what's right, not what's easy."

Returning the smile, Dox ran her hand through her hair and chuckled. "Thank you. I mean it. Although, at this point, I don't know if I'd know how to do things the easy way. It never feels right. And... speaking of not doing things the easy way, I believe we were going to run some wind sprints?"

Recognizing that the mood had grown too somber, Paris nodded. There was the consideration of mischief, of calling for an unexpected start. But Paris already had the longer legs and the leaner frame- cheating would only send a message to the other officer, with whom she’d just had a long talk about morality and honesty, that she was unwilling to convey. “Alright…. to the Deck 3 protrusion and back, but if you go over the edge, you lose that round. Ready?”

Shaking out, Dox knew she had no advantage here and less of a chance to actually win, but in her mind, that wasn't the point. She was there, having fun with her friend and the woman she saw as a sister. That was enough to put a smile on the usually anxious Romulan woman's face as she replied, "Sounds like a plan to me. And happy birthday, Rita "

"Thanks, Mnhei'sahe," Rita grinned in reply, offering a two fingered salute. "Here's to another year older..."


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