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Year 1 Project

Posted on Tue Dec 28th, 2021 @ 6:36pm by Lieutenant JG Alia Fitzgerald
Edited on Tue Dec 28th, 2021 @ 6:42pm

Alia Year 1: Project
Alia, though fit, still found herself winded when walking across the expansive Starfleet Academy campus. The longest distance she had ever walked on Felicity was about fifty yards and no amount of time on an exercise machine was the same as actually moving your body around. Transports were faster and easier but she still found large groups of strangers to be disconcerting and, when she was being completely honest with herself, rather frightening. It didn't help that she was close to the youngest person on campus and almost distractingly attractive. She fought dismay when in crowds and only found solace in her room or engrossed in her classes.
Her classwork was alternately enthralling and frustrating. Even in the hardest science classes, there was a clear path between her current skill level (biology: superb, astrophysics: abysmal) and the next rung. In other classes, such as history or psychology, so many assumptions were made about her knowledge that she was immediately and utterly lost. In some cases, she didn't even understand the context of the question, much less have any idea what the explanations meant.
After a frustrating week or two, several of her classes had been shifted to ones with odd names like Humanity's Federation and The Humanoid Experience that were aimed at alien races who were as ignorant as she was about this world she had been thrust into. Unfortunately, in some ways this was worse. At least with the humans and near-humans in her other classes, she understood them to some degree. In these classes she was mystified by her classmates and their seemingly random behaviors.
Still, despite the confusion and loneliness, it was light years better than living under the constant fear of annihilation. Most of the time.
Arriving with less than a minute to spare, she slid into her assigned seat. Due to the wide variety of body shapes, seat assignments were both necessary and obvious. In a grim sort of humor, she had emblazoned the first page of her text with “HUMANITY 101: HOW TO BE HUMAN” -- only half in jest. The other students included a Therbian, an Edosian (the 6-limbed kind) and three different kinds of Xindi. What made it even worse is that the others were ALREADY AHEAD OF HER in the class material. The information was presented in broad strokes and the instructor tackled the subject with patience and a profound empathy for different points of view but she found it alternately obvious or obscure.
After that embarrassment came Starfleet practicum: ranks, structure, history, traditions and so on. At least in that class, she was only in the twentieth percentile but rising quickly as the reams of data gave way to persistence and a drive to excel.
Then came the high point of the day: Pathogen Biology. While she had a few blank spots in her knowledge, her practical experience and research put her far ahead of her classmates. She had been advanced to the graduate student classes and her sixteen year old body seemed very out of place amongst the young adults (and not so young adults) sweating through the material.
Alia rotated the model of a virus on the holographic viewer, examining its surface carefully. Her classmates were doing the same while the instructor wandered around and offered suggestions and answered questions. She jotted down her predictions of its route of infection and probable course of the disease and closed her entry.
She glanced around, wondering if her answers matched those of her classmates. The instructor came over, “Is there a problem, Alia?”
“No Sir. I mean, Doctor Warren. I was just wondering what to do next.”
“Well, let's see how far you've gotten.” He looked over her results. “This is... quite good.” He raised an eyebrow, “Have you seen this exercise before?”
“No, but with that surface, there really couldn't be any other answer, could there?”
He nodded, “But why didn't you examine the interior structures before making your conclusion?”
Alia looked embarrassed, “I didn’t realize you could with this interface. It’s way more advanced than the equipment I used before I came here.” She answered his unspoken question, “A Dobson Analyzer, Mark III.”
“A well-built device, though limited by the technology of the time. My mentor spent many productive hours using a similar machine.”
“About a century ago?” She said a little sourly.
He nodded agreeably, “Just so.  And there is no reason to be ashamed of how you were taught. New eyes expand our breadth of vision, but insight is required for additional depth.” He spent a few minutes showing her the more modern features of her scanner before moving to another student.
With her new proficiency, she found using the device profoundly entertaining. It could scan live cells or recordings on a wide range of magnifications. To test its ability, she zoomed past the molecular level, almost to the atomic. A small warning flashed in one corner of her display: “Structures simulated at this scale, accuracy 96.8%.” She pulled back out and watched organelles busy with their various jobs until the class period was almost over.
The instructor interrupted the class, “Please close down your observations. Overall, I'm quite pleased with everyone's progress and I think we are ready for an exciting opportunity. We are fortunate in that a new phage has been discovered with some intriguing properties. This class will be among the first to examine this organism. Let's make this a group assignment. Divide yourselves up... groups of two or three should be ideal.”
With startling speed, groups formed around the room. Alia had been a late addition to the class but, moreover, was new to the Academy and most of the others had known each other for years. Before she could even rouse the courage to ask, the opportunity had gone. Just as she was about to tell the instructor, one of the other students, Ryan, came over.
“Hey, Alia is it? I think we're in the same boat, partner-wise. Want to team up?” He was a handsome fellow, though Alia was no judge of male beauty. She thought he had a nice smile, at any rate.
She leaned back a few inches, somewhat uncomfortable by his nearness, “You don't have a group already?”
He looked abashed, “I was on the communicator in the hall and came back too late. Soooo, howaboutit?”
Alia was about to answer when someone else interjected. “Got room in the leftover team for one more?” Tavay dragged a chair over to the two.
Ryan raised an eyebrow, “And why do you need a group? I didn't see you in the hall.”
“Nah, too many people dating in this class. I don't want to be a third wheel, eh?”  She looked at him and Alia. “I don't think you two are together... right?”
“No!” Alia said, perhaps a bit too loudly and quickly.
“Good then, I'm in.” Tavay said brightly, ignoring the aggrieved look Ryan gave her. “We'll meet in my dorm this afternoon; bring your notes so we can get organized. He calls it an ‘opportunity’, but what he means is a lot of farkin’ work.” The other two agreed against her rather overwhelming personality.
Next for Alia was a quick lunch, mostly consumed while walking to her next class, then physical fitness and combat. While she had good muscle tone overall, the instructor found she had almost no endurance and had very little experience with most physical activities. So before she even had classes with the others, he put her on an intensive course of endurance training, 1-G throwing practice and basic beam weapons. While she was always sore after these classes, the aches were getting more pleasant as her body adjusted to the effort. Afterwards was a startling variety of remedial and advanced classes that shifted according to her needs. The Academy was apparently used to students with a wide variety of abilities and backgrounds and barely hiccupped when dealing with her situation.
As she trudged back to her room she remembered, a bit belatedly, that she was supposed to be headed to Tavay’s place rather than her own. She turned smartly around and, with a lot of help from the school computer, she managed to make it to the dorm lounge roughly on time.
The other two had already started and, judging by their faces, arguing about it. They both turned toward her as she arrived, making her feel acutely uncomfortable but Ryan broke the tension, smiled and waved her over before she could feel too anxious. “Just in time! If we get this party started early, we can get a jump on the rest.”
Alia sat where indicated, next to Ryan and opposite from Tavay who still looked annoyed. He tapped the table with his tablet and his notes covered it obediently. “Your practical experience puts you best in mapping this part,” he pointed at the left side of the flowchart of tasks. “Tavay has had a lot of analysis experience so would mostly cover the middle here, and I’d take coordination, presentation and research.”
“I notice that you didn’t save any of the hard parts for yourself,” the woman said dryly.
“You wound me! Mental midgets such as myself are best suited for grunt work while you girls handle all the intellectual stuff. Are you seriously arguing I’m better than either of you in the other areas?”
She ground her teeth and growled a bit under her breath. “No, I can’t say that. But no free rides for you either.”
Alia interjected timidly, “This looks good to me.”
Ryan put one long arm around her shoulders, almost causing her to break free and run away. He didn’t appear to notice her reaction, though. “You see? It’s decided. Alia and me are two votes and half of yours is a clear victory for this plan. We can dive into the details and rebalance once we know more about the bug.”
Just then a gaggle of students piled noisily into the room, happy to be through with their classes for the day.
Alia’s pupils contracted and she started breathing rapidly as the area filled up. Tavay noticed her panicked expression first and announced abruptly, “Let’s move to somewhere quieter. Now.” She managed to get the younger girl hustled out of the room while Ryan (rather confused) gathered up their stuff.
Once outside, Tavay let go of Alia immediately. “Hey, you okay?” When she didn’t respond, she continued to talk to her in a soothing voice. “It’s alright now, you’re safe. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Ryan came out then, loaded down with everyone’s stuff. “What’s going on?”
Tavay looked at him witheringly, “Haven’t you ever seen someone having a panic attack before?”
“I’m not going to be a doctor, alright? Is she…”
Tavay chanced a light touch on Alia’s sleeve. The girl jumped with a small cry but seemed to focus a bit better. “Oh!”
“It’s fine, Alia, you’re safe, you’re safe, it’s okay.”
“I’m s-sorry. There were so many of them.”
“Yeah, I figured out that was the reason. That’s why you don’t take the transports, right?”
Alia just nodded.
Ryan scratched his head, “Well that place isn’t going to work, then. Maybe the library?”
“No good, it gets crowded sometimes too.”
“We can go to my room,” Alia managed to get out, her voice steadier now.
“Anything is better than doing it outside. Lead on!”
Alia’s room was moderately sized, tasteful and mostly empty of  personalizing touches. Portraits were the main decorations placed around the room at eye level on the walls. Ryan put the stuff he was carrying on one bed. “Will your roommate mind us working here?”
“I don’t have one. They said they were out of singles and that I’d probably get a roommate next semester. I got the impression, though, that it was just easier if they put me in a double rather than do the paperwork to justify a single.”
“Shweet! We can use the other wall to work on then?” He started setting up without getting an affirmative. “Hey, why do you have all those pictures of yourself? Not too vain, are you?”
“Those are my sisters,” Alia said quietly.
He nodded, “Well, then. I see the family resemblance.”
Tavay rolled her eyes, “Ryan, do you realize you are a jerk or is this a surprise?”
“Oh, I figured that out quite a few years ago. I believe it was my grandmother who took me on her knee and said, ‘Ryan, you’re a jerk and probably will always be one. So it’s a good thing you’re going to be a handsome jerk.’” He sniffed and wiped away an imaginary tear. “I’ve lived my life by these words.”
“Alia, if you can put up with him, I can.” She glared at the man who pretended not to notice.
Freed from the press of the crowds, she was much calmer. “It’ll be okay, I’m sure.”
“There you go then!” He pointed at the organization chart. “It’s mostly blanks until we know more, but we can break out time in our schedules, right?” For the next hour, they arranged time, both individual and mutual, to work on the upcoming project.
Over the next few weeks, Alia completed her remedial classes and was soon mainstreamed at the first year cadet level (or better) with the glaring exception of ‘How to be Human’. Her wind was better so her frequent walks across campus didn’t leave her panting though she still refused to use the tubes even in bad weather.  Outside of classes, she spent a lot of time with her lab partners working on their project or just hanging out.
She had just completed a home-cooked meal for them and they were sitting around a low table that Tavay called a kotatsu. Ryan wolfed down his food and got up abruptly. “Sorry gals, it was delicious, but I have to scoot early tonight.”
Tavay raised an eyebrow at him. “Another date?”
“Please. Another HOT date.”
Alia suddenly asked, “I’ve noticed you only have ‘hot’ dates. How is that?”
“Any date that I am on is, by definition, a hot date for someone. In this case, though, it’s mutual. Later!” He exited with his usual jaunty swagger.
Tavay lounged back in the beanbag chair she had somehow convinced the replicator to produce and enjoyed her meal in a more leisurely fashion. “He’s right about one thing, the food is excellent.  How’d you get to be so good?”
“On Felicity, we grew 90% of our own food and just used the replicator for essential nutrients and spices and other small things.  Our databanks had the usual library of recipes and we had to work hard to keep things from getting boring. I’ve been expanding my repertoire when I have time.”
“Don’t let me stop you! Replicated food is just fine but it’s somehow better when you do it.” She shrugged, “The techs claim the results are identical but I have my doubts.”
“Thanks! If this doctor thing doesn’t work out, I can always be a chef, then.”
“There are worse things.”
Alia toyed with her food and then finally asked, “I’ve noticed something. Whenever Ryan and I are scheduled to work together, you always manage to make it to those meetings. Is there a reason?”
Tavay sighed, “I was that noticeable, was I?  The thing is, Ryan is a dog.”
She remembered a recent lesson from her How to be Human class, “A what?!”
“I mean, he’ll hit on anything with 2 legs… plus or minus 2 legs.  He thinks he’s God’s gift to femalekind and isn’t afraid to share himself.” She chewed her lip, “With his looks and charisma, he has a pretty good track record, too. Or bad, if you want to look at it another way.”
“Hit on. You mean… intercourse?” She found she could feel the burn from her ears down past her shoulders and was sure she would glow in the dark.
“Yeah, good old-fashioned sweaty sex. I’m not saying he would force anyone, he has too much ego to even think about that, but he has a pretty forceful personality which can work out the same sometimes. I wasn’t going to say anything but since you brought it up, there you have it.”
Alia seemed a bit floored, “You think he would want to do… that… with me? Are you sure?”
“Girl, do you even own a mirror?” She held her hand up, “Yes, I know they are standard to these dorms, it’s just a phrase. If you didn’t run from everyone, you’d have probably figured out that you are smokin’ hot.” Tavay looked thoughtful, “I guess since your sisters and you looked alike that you aren’t really a good judge here, are you? Well, you’ll just have to take my word on it.”
“So what do I do about it, then?”
“Do? Nothing, if you don’t want to. Just tell them you aren’t interested and that will work with almost everyone. The hard part is telling when they are interested. Most people will send out signals and that probably hasn’t been covered in HtbH, I bet. Or maybe it has?”
“No, but I haven’t read the whole syllabus yet.” She brought it up on her tablet. “Oh. It is here two weeks from now under Human Mating Rituals.”
“I’ll leave the first part to the experts then, but you can always come to me for advice.” She gave her a quick rundown on common passes and how to turn them down gracefully.
“Tavay, almost all of those things sound like normal talking. Except for the, umm, grabbing ones.”
“That’s how the game is played, newbie. It’s all glances and hints and subtle suggestions… if it’s being done right.  Any blunt passes you want to turn down because they obviously aren’t good enough for you. I mean, if they aren’t clever enough for even a good innuendo, how smart could they really be?”
“I have no idea the difference between a ‘good’ innuendo and a bad one.”
“Well, it’s something you learn but I think we can accelerate you with some classic movies. In fact, there’s one called ‘Innuendo’ which is a remake of a late 21st century flick. We can watch that tonight!”
So they watched the movie amidst popcorn and giggles as, eventually, Alia got into the spirit of the thing. “I was right, everything is about sex.”
“I hate to say it, but almost everyone between 15 and, oh, death, thinks about it now and then. Especially young males who are, by proven science, comprised of 90% hormones, 27% sweaty socks and 45% foolishness.”
“That’s 162%, I think.”
“It’s a talent, no doubt. Our genes are trying to get everyone to procreate as soon as they are tall enough but ignore the fact that some of us want to do other things as well.” She stood and stretched. “Wow, it’s time for me to get to bed. We can watch another tomorrow, eh?”
“Wait!”
“Hmmm?”
“I mean, could you spend the night here? Just for tonight?”
“Well, sure. But why?”
Alia looked bleak. “I’m used to having my family around and it’s l-lonely here.”
Tavay hugged the younger girl. “Sure. Let me twist the replicator to get something to sleep in.”
The two got ready for bed and Tavay wasn’t at all surprised when Alia got in with her.  After a few minutes of shifting around and getting comfortable, Alia said softly, “This isn’t a pass, by the way.”
“I know, hon. I wouldn’t have accepted a pass from someone who was just scared and lonely and needed a friend.”
“Oh, okay. G’night.”

***
Two days before the project was due, the three were in a frenzy of preparation… mostly because they still didn’t have a conclusion in place.
Alia and Tavay were still arguing while Ryan was lying across a table with an arm across his eyes, exhausted and worn out from the fight.
Alia waved at the analyses, “Look, I do not disagree that it’s modifying the genes but there’s no way it could follow this sort of invasion. It’s way too big and its entry points are completed unsuited for that kind of attack.” Her eyes were red and she was obviously frustrated.
Tavay, no less tired and perhaps even more frustrated, wasn’t backing down. “Structures gamma, psi and rho are textbook examples of that attack, though. It has to be something like that.”
“And how does something that clumsy even get through the cell membrane? It would take up a good part of the interior of a typical cell. The membrane would be…”
Ryan suddenly jumped from the table and shouted, “Obviously, you are BOTH right!” and then he collapsed again and was snoring within seconds.
The two women stared at him, then each other and then started laughing until they could no longer stand. Tavay finally was able to leverage herself up, “Okay, that was good.”
Alia, still chuckling, dragged herself up to the table where Ryan was sleeping peacefully. A sudden thought caused her to pause. “I wonder if he isn’t right?”
“Huh, how?”
“Okay, the virus-thingy is obviously manipulating the DNA like the Kotobi Plague, right?”
“That’s my analysis, yes.”
“But we know that this behemoth can’t enter the cell.”
“Well, it seems unlikely.”
“Now that just leaves us with the fact that it must be hacking the DNA from OUTSIDE the cell.”
Tavay blinked as she processed this. “By jove, Sherlock, I believe you’ve done it!” She pulled up one of the diagrams. “These structures here must be to transport genetic material out of the cell and then back in again.”
The two fleshed out the mechanisms and their conclusions over the next few hours and then dumped it on Ryan to complete the presentation while they napped. Afterwards, they all pulled together the written part of the project for submission. There were a few arguments at this point, but they were good-natured ones as they could see the end at last.
***
Two days later, they were sitting around the kotatsu, celebrating the end of the project. Ryan was shaking his head, “Full marks. He actually gave us full marks. He NEVER gives anyone full marks.”
Tavay took a big swallow of her drink (which may have been mixed liberally with synthehol). “And he’s forwarding our observations to the research team. Even a footnote with our names looks mighty good on the ol’ transcript.”
Alia (whose drink definitely had some synthehol because she was curious about it) said, “That was fun, I mean really, really fun. I want to do some more things with you two!”
Tavay looked over at the younger girl, “Why, is that a pass I hear?”
The man nodded, “Sounded like it to me.”
She laughed, “No, no, no!” She paused and added, “Not today, anyway.”

 

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