Author: Claire Gabriel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Author's Note: The white tower in this story is prominently visible
in the TNG episode, "The First Duty," between the Academy campus and
what appears to be the Golden Gate bridge. I have no idea what the
tower's function might be in the 24th century.
This story appeared in Now Voyager 5.
They were next year's Nova Squadron, with that whole year to enjoy it.
And he was their squadron commander.
When he had come to the Academy as a first-year cadet, a year or two
older than most of his classmates but just as homesick, he'd felt like a
misplaced person and even questioned his decision to join Starfleet.
Here there was no life of the spirit that he could discern, and being
cooped up in rooms was almost more than he could bear. When he'd
summoned his wolf, she appeared agitated and distracted to the point
where they could barely communicate, and there seemed to be no one else
he could communicate with in this hive of concrete and glass. But over
the three intervening years, all that had changed. Others--first his
teachers and then his fellow cadets--began to look at him as though they
saw something compelling that he himself had never seen in the mirror.
And the constant Starfleet emphasis on esprit de corps and personal
bonding had drawn him in just as it did the cadets who came from far
more distant planets than Dorvan V. His roommate, Jake Cullen, was a
cocky womanizer, the type he himself reflexively disliked. But
proximity, tolerance for one another's weaknesses and respect for one
another's strengths had triumphed over the countless arguments they'd
had for almost as many different reasons, and until tonight he had
believed that he and Jake were friends.
The five of them had been celebrating together all afternoon, higher on
being Nova Squadron than they were on 20-proof canteen synthehol. He
could not remember ever having laughed that much, even found himself
clowning around as much as Jake did. The others had been as delighted as
he was at the discovery that he could entertain them even more than they
entertained him. And then Jake had dropped the words "Kolvoord
Starburst" into the middle of their jubilation, and everything had
exploded and gone to dust.
Now the spring sun was setting beyond the Golden Gate, and their golden
day was over--because he himself had ended it with the words But five
Slouched miserably in the chair with his feet on the desk, he gazed out
the window as he listen to Jake pace back and forth across their dorm
room behind him, adrenaline still flowing. How could this impasse have
been avoided? Maybe if he had waited, said nothing this afternoon, let
the celebration run its course--
"I just don't understand you, man!" Jake rounded on him from near the
doorway. He reluctantly lowered his feet, rose, turned the chair and
straddled it, now facing his roommate. "You were livin' it up too,
having a ball just like the rest of us, and bam--all of a sudden you get
that hard-ass look on your face and the party is over."
"Five people died doing what you want to do." It seemed to him that he
had been saying it over and over like a mantra, but nobody had heard him
yet. And apparently no one would. Their imaginations fired and their
reality on a roll, the others had been as startled, and then as angry,
as Jake had. Not as much by what he'd said, he realized now, as by how
he'd said it, and when. Raining on all their parades at once....
"We'd have a whole year to practice." Jake's almost-black face looked
faintly mottled with agitation, his dark eyes bright with anger. "With
the team we've got, we'd have it aced in six months."
"You're talking about igniting plasma exhaust with five ships almost on
top of each other." Keep your voice down, he told himself. Just keep it
reasonable, and he'll understand. "There's a reason it was banned--"
"Man, we could light up the sky!"
"--all five of them died, Jake!"
"That was decades ago. Our proximity alarms are much more sensitive now.
"Look, just think ab--."
"I. Said. No. Way."
Their gaze held, and then Jake looked down. He took another turn around
the room, and then asked, with his back still turned, "You figuring on
staying in tonight? 'Cause if you are, I'm outta here 'till curfew."
"Forget it." He rose, rotating head and shoulders to ease the tension in
his neck, and moved into the sleeping area. From his top drawer, he took
three small objects. One, a jar cover, went in the back pocket of his
pants, the other two into the breast pocket of his T-shirt. Special
treat for a special day. Too bad he hadn't bummed a few more. It was
going to be long night.
Dusk was creeping across the common and up the dormitory lawns as he
bounded down the stairs. As he stepped out of the dorm, he grimaced and
allowed himself the instant gratification of smacking his palm hard
against the door jam, then broke into a jog, heading across the common
for the tall, narrow white tower between the campus and the Bridge.
Then, although it was almost dark, he noticed that Boothby was still
digging away at one of his mini-gardens. Grinning a little for the first
time in several hours, he swerved off the path and jogged on toward the
flower bed--a slim figure in dark pants and a white T-shirt with "Lead,
follow, or get out of the way" imprinted across the back of it.
* * *
Cadet Kathryn Janeway had not realized that Julia Snowden was in her
dorm room when she entered it. Her roommate, Alexandra, was sitting in
the middle of the floor with tapes and class notes spread out all around
her. Although it was Saturday, final exams for graduating cadets were
the following week, and all of them were priming for the home stretch.
Kathryn herself had been studying in the library all day, and she
dropped down at the edge of the chaos with a sigh.
"Hi. You feel like going out for pizza or something?" A roar vaguely
resembling music pounded down from the ceiling, and she frowned, running
her hand across her forehead.
"Sounds good." Zan smiled wearily. "How's statistical mechanics?"
"It's been the pits since September, and it still is." She sighed again,
shaking her hair back from her face. "I'm starved. You want to go right
"Um, Julia's here." Zan jerked her head toward the closed bathroom door.
"We thought we'd go eat in a little while." When Kathryn rose abruptly
and headed for the bedroom, Zan went on coaxingly, "Kathryn, please come
Pausing to squint up at the ceiling, Kathryn knocked briefly on the
wall. "Carl?" No answer. "Jason?"
"Yo!" drifted through the pounding of drums.
"Keep it down, okay? Zan's got company."
"Yo!" The volume decreased abruptly.
"Thank you!" She sang the words out, smiling briefly, and then turned to
face her roommate, no longer smiling. "You have got to be kidding."
"'Zan's got company,'" Zan quoted softly. There was a silence between
them. "Do you have any idea what it would mean to me if the two of you
could be friends?" Kathryn rolled her eyes and headed for the bedroom
again. "What she did to you--that was almost four years ago. She's
"The hell she has!" Kathryn whirled, eyes flashing now, hair swirling
around her shoulders. But before she could continue, Julia walked out of
"Kathryn! Hi!" Even to Zan, the greeting was too high-pitched, too over-
enthusiastic to be completely genuine. Petite, blonde, startlingly
pretty in her perfect, newly-refreshed make-up, Julia ambled toward
Kathryn. "Studying hard?"
Leaning back against the door frame, Kathryn folded her arms across the
chest of her sweatshirt. "Hi," she replied tonelessly. "Yes."
"Y'know, you're such an inspiration to all of us." Zan winced
involuntarily. Funny that Julia never laid it on quite this thick with
anybody but Kathryn. She was like a cat, unerringly picking out the one
person in the room who abhors cats and leaping gleefully into that
Kathryn bowed her head slightly, touched her loosely curled fingers to
her mouth, and raised her head again, her gaze never wavering. "Julia,"
she asked softly, "what is it you want now?"
"Nothing!" Julia glanced suspiciously at Zan, who was looking guiltily
at Kathryn. "What makes you think I want something?"
Kathryn smiled slightly. "I can't imagine."
Julia turned abruptly to Zan, dropping all pretense of civility toward
Kathryn. "Are we going to grab a bite or not?"
"I guess--I don't think--"
"Don't let me keep you. 'Bye, Julia." Kathryn's gaze moved to Zan's, and
again she smiled faintly, this time with regret, and shook her head
slightly. It's okay, the blue eyes seemed to say. I don't understand
you, but it's okay. Then she moved into the bedroom and closed the door
half way, preserving her own privacy without shutting Zan out.
"Go downstairs and wait for me," Zan said quietly. "I want to talk to
her for a minute."
"Why bother? There's no way she's going to--."
"Not about that. Go on. I'll catch up." When Julia had let herself out,
Zan went into the bedroom where Kathryn was in the process of pulling
her sweatshirt over her head, and sat down on her own bunk. "She wants
you to study statistical mechanics with her sometime before the exam
"In your dreams, Alexandra!" Kathryn yanked the sweatshirt away from her
hair and flung it on her bunk. "You can't think I'd fall for that again
after all this time."
"She really has changed."
"Uh-huh. To know her is to love her, right?" Counting off on her
fingers: "She's changed. She's fun to be with. She's smart. You've told
me, okay?" The hands flew upward in exasperation.
"Kath, she's in over her head. She has to have stat mec to graduate and
it isn't even part of her specialty. What will she DO if you don't help
her?" Rummaging in a drawer, Kathryn made a semi-articulate sound that
Zan could not quite hear. "What?"
"Pout." Still in her jeans, Kathryn floated a sleeveless, sky-blue tunic
over her head, flipped her hair out from under it and, eyes dancing now,
sat down on the bunk next to her friend and squeezed her arm. "Think of
it, Zanny. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to assist Cadet Snowden
in developing one of her special talents. With a little help, she'll be
the best damn pouter in Starfleet--if she doesn't get canned first."
Zan did not smile. "We can't all measure up to your standards, you know.
And Starfleet isn't the universe."
Her hand still on Zan's arm, Kathryn stared, the light dying out of her
eyes. After a moment, she said, "This isn't about Starfleet. It's about
"Maybe. Like Julia said, you're an inspiration to all of us. But what
are we to you? Children of lesser gods?" She patted Kathryn's hand,
still resting on her arm. "She's waiting downstairs. Sure you don't want
to come along?"
"No." Zan rose and moved toward the bedroom door. "Zan?" She turned.
"Thanks. For inviting me."
After her roommate had left, Kathryn sat with her elbows in her knees
and her hands covering her face for a few minutes. Then she sighed,
rose, took a small paper cylinder and a smaller plastic cup from the
drawer, bound her hair in a ponytail and left the dorm. Her appetite for
food was spoiled for the time being, and she needed to get her thoughts
together before she did any more studying.
* * *
Like most other venues where a large number of young people gather, the
Academy was intermittently the site of a minor outbreak of drug use. The
latest fad in that spring of 2353 was tobacco smoking. Since nicotine is
not a hallucinogen, the powers that be satisfied themselves with
prohibiting smoking campus-wide and turned a blind eye to the occasional
minor infraction. Although almost no one bought cigarettes, many
scrounged them, one or two at a time, from the few who did. And everyone
who indulged knew where you could smoke without getting caught.
On her way there, Kathryn spied Boothby still digging under a tree even
though it was almost dark. While still some distance away, she saw a
jogger who had stopped to talk to him move on in the direction she was
going. Even though she was walking rapidly, she thought the cadet in the
dark pants and white T-shirt was too far away to hear when she called,
"Hi, Boothby. Aren't you at it pretty late?"
She did not see the jogger look back briefly over his shoulder, and then
The old man had gone back to his work, but now he looked up, squinted at
her, and smiled. "Evening, Katydid. Just finishing up here."
Moving closer, she sighed in irritation as much as amusement. "Are you
"Teasing?" His face was turned away, but she knew he was still smiling.
"I'm not an insect." She dropped to her knees and sat back on her heels
near where he was still pulling weeds. "Why won't you tell me why you
call me that?"
"It's how you walk," he said. When she gave a startled squeak, he
grinned at her over his shoulder and then went on yanking at a
particularly stubborn weed. "Katy DID." Yank. "Katy DOES." Another yank.
"Katy WILL DO." The weed came out of the ground, spattering dirt over
his already grimy overalls. "Well, enough for today." And he dusted off
his hands and began heave himself to his feet.
Now amused rather than irritated, she rose, took his arm, and pulled.
"You'll make me self-conscious."
"Fat chance." He pointed his finger at her nose. "Mark my words, young
lady. Someday you'll be walking across the galaxy like that."
"I know what I meant."
The image was arresting, and she smiled a little dreamily until she
realized that he was looking down at what she held in her other hand.
"That's two of you in one night," he growled, frowning now, all trace of
teasing gone from his voice. "This stuff is poison. You kids are out of
"It's been a month or more, and it'll be another month or more before I
do it again."
"Why do it at all?"
"Clears my head. Helps me think. Nicotine is a left-brain stimulant, you
"Do tell." He snorted. "Well, you're not the only one. Somebody right
ahead of you tonight." An oddly uncharacteristic expression crossed his
face; if it were anyone but Boothby, she would have called it affection.
"Your...predecessor could use a little cheering up, by the way."
"I don't feel all that cheery myself."
"Could've fooled me."
On impulse, she put her arm around his shoulders and kissed his scratchy
cheek. "G'night, Boothby, dear."
At the touch of her lips, the scratchy cheek smiled. "Take care,
Half turning as she moved away, she made a playful, dismissing motion
with one hand and then strode on toward the tower.
Looking after her, Boothby snorted again, murmured "Galaxy is what I
meant, dammit," and began to pick up his garden tools, feeling around
for them in the darkness.
* * *
The ladder to the roof of the tower was long and steep, rising almost at
right angles to the floor far below. But she had always enjoyed the
climb because of the view through the slotted windows in the structure's
walls. The white cylinder was dimly lit within, but not enough to
interfere with the view. To one side lay the Academy grounds, spread out
like her own tiny world within a world, with San Francisco's thousands
of lights beyond. To the other side she could see the Bridge, with Marin
County in the distance, glittering only slightly less than the city
itself. She paused to drink it in, thinking how the megalopolis looked
like a star field brought to ground, and then continued her climb toward
the trap door that led to the roof.
She was almost ready to pull herself up the last few rungs when she was
suddenly overcome by memories--not long forgotten, for they were often
with her, but of a long-ago time. The beloved female animal presence,
familiar of her childhood, seemed to drift down from above, but not with
recognition. It was as though she were being sounded, scented, checked
"Littlebit?" She whispered the name aloud before she could stop herself,
and the presence vanished--now infinitely less real than the wisp of
smoke that drifted across the trap door opening, between her and the
Deeply shaken, she rested her forehead against the top rung of the
ladder, trying to get her bearings. Littlebit was ten years dead, and
yet for just a moment, it had been as though she--or something very like
Determined to throw off the eerie certainty that some large but benign
animal had been, for a moment, very near the edge of the trap door, she
climbed up the rest of the ladder and pulled herself out onto the
tower's roof. It was not until she was sitting on the rim with her feet
still dangling over the edge that she saw the cigarette eye glowing in
the darkness and remembered that the lone jogger had preceded her here.
He was half sitting, half-reclining, with his shoulders propped up
against the low wall that edged the roof. The top of the wall was above
his head, and there was a small overhang on the inside, so most of him
was in deep shadow. She could see clearly only the lower part of his
pant legs and his feet, clad in what looked like soft boots. Even his
white T-shirt was only a blur; she had the faint impression of dark
hair, but it was impossible to see anything dark against the deeper
darkness of the wall--only his cigarette, glowing in the shadows like a
firefly held still in the hand. As she watched, he raised his hand; the
eye grew larger as he inhaled, and then another cloud of smoke floated
"Is there someone else here too?" she blurted, and then put her hand to
"Not now." Did she only imagine a tinge of regret in his voice?
"Oh. Well...." Steadying her hand with an effort, she pulled the
cigarette she had brought with her from the pocket of her tunic and
self-ignited it, inhaling deeply. "What does 'Not now' mean?" She
thought she had seen dark eyes in the brief flare of the self-ignition,
but she couldn't be sure.
"Who did you think was here?"
For a moment she was tempted to snap at him for answering her question
with a question, but that would be pointless. "Sure you want to hear
"That's up to you." But it seemed to her that his voice smiled in the
"I had this dog when I was a kid. We called her Littlebit, but it was a
joke." She inhaled again, smiling, remembering. "She was an Alaskan
husky. You know--." The cigarette between her first two fingers, she
quickly sketched Littlebit's size in the air, the fiery eye leaving the
illusion of a trail across the darkness. "They look sort of like wolves.
When I was climbing up the ladder, I thought...."
With his cigarette half way to his mouth, he froze. Strange that a body
at rest is never completely still, she thought vaguely--not until it
goes stiff with tension.
"What did you see?" he demanded. It was only a whisper, but the demand
"I didn't see anything." Come up here to think a few thoughts, and get
caught up in some weird... "Look, can we talk about something else?" Or
not talk at all?
There was a silence, but he was moving and smoking again. Finally he put
his cigarette out, and she realize from the faint sound of scraping
against the floor that he too had brought a small container to use as an
ashtray. In all the times she had come here, no one else had ever
thought to do that; although she could not see them in the dark, she
knew from coming here in the daytime that the roof was always littered
"I'm sorry." Pulling one leg up out of the trap door, she rested her
elbow on her drawn up knee and ran her fingers across her forehead.
Then, realizing for the first time that the faint illumination from the
ladder well enabled him to see her even though she could not see him,
she looked directly into the darkness where she knew his face would be.
"Boothby said you needed cheering up. Can I help?" Silence. "I talked to
him right after you--"
"I know. I saw you."
She frowned. "It was pretty dark."
"I could see your hair," he said. Then, before she could think of an
answer that made sense: "Did he tell you why?"
"Why? Oh--why you needed--no. No, he didn't. You know he'd never violate
a confidence." Then she realized that his question had been without
tension, almost idle.
"Did you ever hear anybody around here talk about trying the Kolvoord
Starburst again?" he asked. This too seemed like an idle question, asked
to make conversation. But there was an edge to it somehow....
The Kolvoord Starburst?
"God, NO!" Abruptly, she realized that her cigarette was almost burning
one of her fingers, and she ground it out in the container she had
brought with her. "They were all killed!"
"Yeah." He was silent again, lighting up another cigarette, and she
realized that that part of the conversation had ended. It was as though
something had been validated, and he was ready to move on. "What did you
say when Boothby told you I needed cheering up?"
"That I didn't feel very cheery tonight."
"Okay," he said. "Your turn." Again it seemed that the shadows were
"I have a friend. My best friend." She pulled both knees up now and
rested her chin on them. "My roommate. She's caught in the middle and
she wants me to help her, and I want to help her, but I can't."
"Between what and what?"
"Between me and--" She realized suddenly that no names had been
exchanged, and decided in that moment that no names would be. It was the
anonymity of their situation that was making it possible for them to
talk this way, and Julia was well known on campus, having participated
in virtually every extra-curricular activity she was permitted. "And
someone she grew up with. Elementary school, high school, that whole
bit. It's a GBS situation." She knew that no one at the Academy would
have to have GBS explained to him. The Good Buddy Syndrome had been the
downfall of more than one bright, talented cadet who was emotionally
bound to another, less promising one--always covering, always making
excuses, expending quantities of energy on keeping the other afloat. Zan
was going to make it through in spite of her attachment to Julia, but
there were times when it had been a near thing. "She--my roommate's GB
and I can't stand each other."
It was an obvious question, but the answer was one that she had always
had trouble telling anyone about. Only her parents and Zan... "Can I bum
a cigarette?" she asked, turning her gaze to the stars.
"I'm out," he said softly, regretfully. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay." She sighed deeply, resting her chin on her hands once more.
"Back in first year, I thought...this person and I were friends. She's
real good at..." Bullshitting. Not necessary. No point. "I was pretty gullible,
and when she asked me to help her get ready for our physics test, I said
I would. She gave me a list of questions, very specific questions. She
said they were things she needed help on, and asked me to write out the
answers for her so she could study them. I did it." She could hear her
voice getting unsteady; even the memory still did that to her. "When we
all brought up the test on our screens, it was--it was the same list of
questions, word for word. She hadn't even changed the sequence. I looked
over at her, and the answers I'd written out for her were in a window on
her screen." Funny. After almost four years, the pain of Julia's
betrayal of her trust could still bring tears to her eyes. "I let her
play me for a fool."
She waited for the first question that everyone--her parents, Zan--had
asked when she told them: How could Julia have gotten the test questions
beforehand? And prepared to give the same answer she had given them: How
the hell do I know? That's not what MATTERS.
But the question never came. Instead, she realized that he was silently
holding something out to her. A firefly held in hand.
Rising, she walked across the roof and dropped down next to him, her
back against the roof's encircling wall. She couldn't see him any better
than she could before, could barely see her own hand as she took the
cigarette from his fingers, inhaled deeply, and returned it.
"Thank you." She knew the smoke must be curling upward over her head,
but she couldn't see that either. "I can't forgive her. I want to, for
Z--for my friend's sake, but I can't."
"For starters," he answered softly, "you could try forgiving yourself."
She almost said, "For what?" But she had answered that question: I let
her play me for a fool.
The cigarette's eye moved toward her again, and she took another drag,
her eyes again on the stars. "I suppose." She could not internalize the
idea yet; she was suddenly very tired, and she had a great deal of work
to do before she could sleep tonight. It was time to go, and for the
second time that evening, a cigarette was burning down to her fingers.
"Thanks. I'm afraid I killed it."
He took the cigarette back in silence, but she sensed he was smiling
again as he ground it out and she rose, moving back toward the trap
door. Two rungs down, she paused and smiled wistfully back into the
darkness. "I won't be able to recognize you if I see you."
"I guess not." Now he was enjoying himself, the bastard.
"Be that way." In spite of herself, she gave a grin back -- his was
infectious, even the dark -- and dropped down the ladder and out of his
* * *
He remained motionless until he could no longer hear her steps on the
ladder. If she were to see and recognize him in the two weeks before she
graduated, she might ask someone who he was. Once she knew his name, she
might learn that he was next year's Nova Squadron commander, and it
wouldn't take her half a second to figure out who had been talking about
the Kolvoord Starburst. He could not risk placing his people in
jeopardy--especially not when what he and they had been talking about
was never going to happen.
Finally he moved across the roof, swung himself down, and began a slow
and thoughtful descent.
He had known who she was all along. Everybody knew who Kathryn Janeway
was. But their paths had never crossed because they were in different
years and had different specialties: she a scientist, he a pilot and
future conn officer. When Boothby had said, "Ah--here comes Katydid,
full speed ahead," he had glanced in her direction but felt no wish to
encounter her; he was still under the cloud of his altercation with
Jake. Starting to move away, he was surprised when Boothby suddenly held
up his hand as though struck by an inspiration. "Hold on there, son.
Want to meet her?" Something about the idea obviously delighted the old
Declining, he had gone on his way, only looking back once. But the
spirits of his ancestors had had other ideas.... He sighed, shook his
head once as though to clear it, and continued his descent down the
ladder. She'd obviously come here for the same reason he had; there was
nothing fateful about it, and nothing very spiritual about some of the
images that had crossed his mind as she'd perched on the edge of the
trap door, faintly illuminated from below, in that blue-as-her-eyes
tunic that revealed nothing yet somehow everything. Animated. Sparkling
with intelligence and energy. Always moving; hardly ever still. Made you
wonder how she might move in--
He stopped, clunked his head lightly against the rung opposite his
forehead, and half-aloud echoed Jake's words to him earlier: "Oh, man, I
don't understand you!" Trouble was, he understood himself only too well-
-that, and other words, heard much longer ago than tonight and now
coming back to him unbidden. As a class assignment, he had once listened
to all of James T. Kirk's supplemental logs from Kirk's first five-year
mission on the original Enterprise, and a fragment came to him now--
words Kirk had spoken to the dangerously powerful adolescent named
Charlie who had come aboard from the Antares:
"Then I told him, 'There are some things you can have and some things
you can't have....'"
Putting both hands on one rung of the ladder and straightening his arms,
he swing himself slowly back and forth a few times, glancing over his
shoulder at the long drop to reality far below--long way to fall if you
didn't watch your step--and grinned sheepishly. "Down, Charlie. Down,
boy." Then he went on with his descent, his thoughts taking a much more
How she had sensed the presence of his wolf he had no idea; there was no
precedent, and just remembering made the hair rise a little on the back
of his neck and along his arms. He had not expected the drug in the
cigarette to trigger a vision, since it had never done that to him
before. But it had been only a vision; his animal guide could not
possibly be present to anyone but himself.... That would be fuel enough
for a number of future meditations.
Or not. He sighed. Chances were he would never see Kathryn Janeway again
in the real--even though now she sat perched on the rim of his life like
a star to steer by.
That image pleased him immeasurably--because it was a safe one, he
At normal ceiling height, he hooked his feet around the sides of the
ladder and slid the rest of the way down, landing lightly and bouncing a
little on the balls of his feet. Someone had understood--instantly, and
without his having to explain at all. Jake would probably sulk and fume
for a couple of days, but he could handle that now. He drew a deep
breath, let it out, and stretched his cramped muscles. Then, leaping up
to brush the top of the doorway with his fingertips as he passed through
it, he bounded out into the night.
She was still visible, if barely, striding away at what Boothby had
called "full speed ahead," the ponytail bouncing. Inexplicably, he
laughed aloud, murmured, "Not to worry, Katydid. I'll recognize you,"
and set off jogging back to where he had left the rest of his life.