"Commander Gwenith Ap Owen. As of this stardate you are promoted to the rank of Captain, and shall assume all the responsibilities and privileges of that rank. On acceptance you are further ordered to assume command of the USS Hadrian..."
       Captain Kirk's voice echoed through the Captain's Club. The words brought her up short and for an instant she seemed to hear a second voice alongside the first. A harsh whisper, "...are ordered to assume command...," Captain Strine's voice, a voice that faded and disappeared as Kirk continued to speak.
       "Do you accept this promotion and these orders?"
       She simply stared at him for a moment, her mouth going suddenly dry with a taste she recognized as fear. She swallowed hard and admonished herself, --Get a grip, Gwen. That was then, this is now--, the taste vanished. She stood up smiling.
       "Yes Captain. I accept."

       She heard yet another explosion farther away. The floor shook faintly. From her vantage point the scene was chaos. The previously neat bridge was now a tangled mess of bodies, mostly unmoving, and debris intermixed. Strange that the captain shouldn't be giving orders...her gaze went to the center seat. Captain Strine sat upright in his chair, a length of metal protruding from his chest and pinning him there. She moved carefully toward him, picking her way thru the mess, a journey that seemed to take a year. Thinking to remove the metal pinning him to the chair, she grasped it and opened her mouth to speak. He motioned her to silence.
       "Gwenith Ap Owen," his voice a harsh whisper, "you are ordered to assume command of this vessel. Carry out your duties, sir."
       Another explosion, this time a lot closer. The floor rocked again, more violently, knocking her off her feet, the lights going dim. She put her hand out to lever herself off the floor and encountered something soft and plush....
       --Plush?---
       Her eyes popped open, taking in the sight of richly carved, dark wood beams overhead. She lay quietly as consciousness slowly seeped into her brain, her hands gently stroking the soft, plush fur of her bedcover. No, this wasn't the bridge of the Adelaide. This was her quarters on the Kongo. No, the dry mouth wasn't fear this time. It went hand in hand with the slight headache pounding behind her eyes. She smiled. It had been an excellent party.
       She rose and padded softly into the bathroom for something to remedy the headache. --Gwen, you're going to have to remember to abide by the Statue of Toast Limitations--
       "Tathilan?" No answer.
       --Oh, that's right. This is the Hadrian-- She had to admit that Sam had done a great job arranging her quarters. Everything was right where it should be.
       "Unaban?"
       **Yes, Captain?**
       "What time is it?"
       **It is 1000 hours. You have a meeting scheduled at 1400 hours with your senior officers.**
       "Thank you." --Good, I have plenty of time to make myself presentable--
       **You're welcome...and congratulations, Captain.**

       She stepped through the door of the conference room at exactly 1400 hours. Her officers were waiting for her. As one, they came to their feet and gave her a snappy salute. She returned it, grinning broadly. "At ease, ladies and gentlemen. Excuse me if I relish the moment since it's probably the last salute like that I get from you lot." Chuckles ran around the room as everyone took their seats at the big, round table.
       "Well, how does it feel to have a shiny, new ship?" Smiles and nods were all the answer she needed. "We've got three months to get to know her and see what she's made of. This is the sector we'll be working in" The holo-projector in the middle of the table lit up with a map of the near-Earth area of Federation space. Gwen indicated an area off toward the edge. "Close up of Study Area 17, please." The map's perspective and scale shifted.
       "As you can see, it's a fairly empty area. A couple of planetary systems and one starbase, so we'll be able to work on maneuvers without any heavy traffic to contend with." She glanced around the table. "Any questions?"
       "What is our testing schedule, Ca'tain?"
       "Unaban, if you please " The star map was replaced with a large list of tests. She gave them a moment to study the list. "Does anyone have any concerns about the schedule as it stands?" There were none. "Then let's get to work."

       A week later, things were going smoothly. Gwen considered the third shift's report as she sipped her tea. --One week and all is well-- She smiled and let her gaze wander fondly over the bridge. People looked far from bored. --I think they're as excited as I am about taking the Hadrian out on this cruise...things are quiet right now. It would probably be a good time to discuss the power ratios with Mikos-- "Take the bridge Mr. Teila. I'll be in Engineering for a while." She heard Teila settle into the center seat as the bridge doors closed behind her.

       Gwen walked into the engineering section. It was certainly impressive. Starfleet had obviously spared no expense when they built the Hadrian. She peered around the area. Mikos was nowhere in sight. One of the first shift crew walked past her, "Captain" the woman nodded. Gwen stopped her.
       "I'm looking for Mr. Mikos."
       "He's on break right now sir...said he'd be in the Astrophysics lab."
       Gwen blinked. --Mikos has no training in Astrophysics...-- "What is he doing in Astrophysics?"
       "He didn't say sir, but he should be back in 15 minutes."
       "Thank you. I'll look him up in Astrophysics." She headed toward the Astrophysics lab.
       Mikos' deep voice greeted her as she entered the lab. "Hello Captain."
       "When did you take an interest in Astrophysics, Mikos?"
       "Not an interest in Astrophysics, Captain, an interest in the ship. She certainly is a real beauty." He looked admiringly about the lab. "I enjoy taking a look at the areas I don't normally frequent when time allows me." He looked back at Gwen. "Did you need me?"
       "Nothing too pressing. I wanted to discuss those power ratios with you if you have the time."
       "Certainly Captain." He led the way back to Engineering.

       The days passed and she got used to running into crew members in strange places. So far she had found her yeoman on the torpedo deck, her chief engineer in Astrophysics, Dr. K'rell strolling about Engineering...all of them, "just looking around." --What am I running here?...a starship or a cruise liner?-- Gwen didn't really mind. No one was ignoring their duties in pursuit of exploring the ship. --Let 'em look...eventually the newness will wear off--

       --So far, so good-- It had been a wonderful two months so far. The Hadrian and her crew had responded as smooth as silk to everything asked of her. With four weeks left in their shakedown cruise they were into some heavy maneuver testing. Gwen tightened her seat belt a notch.
       "Helm, heading zero-seven-five and go to warp one on my mark."
       "Aye sir. Heading zero-seven-five." The Hadrian started into the turn.
       Gwen counted, "three...two...one... " They were midway through the turn now. "Mark."
       "Warp one sir." Xanax throttled the ship up and Gwen felt the familiar sensation of shifting into warp. Hadrian never quite made it. She shuddered and slowed heavily. Xanax' hands flew over the controls.
       "What's wrong Mr. Xanax?"
       "Warp field fluctuation, sir. I'm not sure why yet. We're back on impulse power only." Her voice was concerned, but calm.
       "Unaban, what's happening?"
       **The leading edge of the number two port warp fin has come loose. I was able to shut it down before it suffered any other damage.**
       "Get me Engineering"
       "Engineering. Mikos."
       "Mr. Mikos, how does it look on your end?"
       "Things are under control, Captain. I'm sending a team to assess the damage now."
       "Thank you. Please join me in my ready room when you have something to report."
       "Yes sir."
       "Mr. Xanax, how are we doing?"
       "My controls and instruments are functioning normally sir."
       She looked around the bridge. People were looking at her expectantly. "We may as well relax. We won't be doing any more testing today." She unfastened her seat belt and stretched. "Carry on, everyone. I'll be in my ready room if you need me."

       It didn't take the engineering team long to evaluate the damage. Mikos was in her ready room within an hour. "The strain of that last maneuver broke the fin loose at the leading edge, but the fin itself isn't really damaged. All we really need to do is reseat and recalibrate it."
       "Do you know what caused the problem?"
       "My team found damage to the leading edge connectors that looks like it happened a good while before they sheared. I think someone on the construction team hit that area with something when they were building her just hard enough to weaken the connectors, but not hard enough to cause visible damage. We've been putting the ship through some real stress lately and the connectors just couldn't take it anymore. The power didn't fluctuate until the fin let loose so we had no warning."
       "How long will it take to repair, Mikos?"
       "That depends on where we do it. The job would certainly go a lot quicker and easier at a starbase."
       "Unaban, how far is the nearest starbase?"
       **Starbase 047 is 40.25 hours at impulse speeds on heading 020, Captain. Do you want me to contact them?**
       "Please. Inform them of our needs and get us a docking berth. How slow do we need to take it, Mikos?"
       "I've got a temporary fix in place right now that will do the trick if we keep it to normal impulse speed and keep the maneuvering gentle."
       "Good enough" Gwen tapped the intercom. "Mr. Xanax, take us to Starbase 047, heading zero-two-zero, impulse power only and make sure you handle her gently."
       "Aye sir."

       Unaban woke her out of a sound sleep a day and a half later. --Damn, now I'll never know how that dream ends-- "Yes, what is it?" Her eyes gradually focused on the world.
       **We are within four hours of Starbase 047, Captain. I have already notified them of our arrival time**
       She pulled herself out of bed, yawning. "Thank you." She got the shower and hot food necessities taken care of and headed for the bridge.

       The sight filling the main view screen a few hours later did not look promising. 'Starbase' 047 was a space station somewhat smaller than the Hadrian, certainly not the large facility she had expected. Gwen could pick out several civilian vessels either in orbit or in dock and a Starfleet runabout that appeared to be under repair. --I hope they have what we need-- She peered closer, looking for the spacedock. --If there's a spacedock there, it has to be the smallest one ever built-- "Unaban. Would you please announce us?"
       A minute later they heard pleasant female voice, "Welcome to Starbase 047, Hadrian. We are ready to transmit your docking instructions."
       "Go ahead, 'Base."
       "Transmission complete, Captain. I have the instructions," Xanax announced after a few moments.
       "Take us in, Mr. Xanax." Xanax' hands moved with sure confidence and brought the Hadrian gently into her assigned spot. Gwen sat back as the umbilicals were attached. "Lock us down, Mr. Xanax."
       "Captain. Rear Admiral R'gar sends his complements and requests that you report to his office at your earliest convenience."
       --Why is a rear admiral in command of such a small base?-- "Thank you. Please tell him I'll be there directly." She turned to her first officer. "The bridge is yours Mr. Teila."

       A few minutes later Gwen was in the commander's office. Admiral R'gar rose from behind his desk and stepped around to shake her hand. --I thought that style of duty uniform was replaced at least ten years ago-- She wasn't sure if he was pleased to see her or not. His lips were pursed as if in thought and he was frowning. His voice, at least, was warm and welcoming. "Welcome to our starbase, Captain Ap Owen. It is good to have you, even if the circumstances causing your visit were so unfortunate."
       "Thank you Admiral. We won't disturb your routine any more than absolutely necessary. I take it that you've been informed of our situation."
       "Yes I was. I have instructed my people that you are to receive whatever assistance and supplies you may need to complete your repairs. I regret that I cannot offer your crew the hospitality of a good host. We are primarily a scientific community here and have very little in the way of guest quarters."
       "Not a problem, sir. The Hadrian is quite comfortable."
       "Will you and your officers join me later for dinner at least? I would welcome the opportunity for interesting conversation. We get so few visitors in this area."
       "Gladly, sir."
       "We dine at 1730 hours. Please let my aide know if any of your officers have any special dietary requirements."
       "I'll have my yeoman contact him as soon as we've gotten the ship settled in."
       "Excellent." He escorted her to the door.

       Gwen sighed inwardly, but kept her facial expression pleasant. Dinner seemed to be taking longer than her entire shift had earlier. The only thing that made up for the lack of truly interesting conversation was the fact that the meat on her plate was real meat, something she hadn't had since the last time she went home months ago. --Replicated meat just can't match this-- She chewed reverently, appreciating the rich flavor. She glanced at her officers. Teila, at least, was enjoying the meat. He was digging in with gusto. The rest of them were doing more picking at it than eating it. Mirilan didn't count. She was nosing into a large salad. --They don't know what they're missing-- All of them, however, looked as bored as she felt.
       "Captain Ap Owen. The Hadrian is truly impressive." Admiral R'gar's voice was admiring. "You are very lucky to have gotten such a command so soon after your promotion. Congratulations."
       "Thank you sir." --His dress uniform is as out of style as the other one . . . still fits him well though--
       "I can remember when I took command here 15 years ago. I had been a captain for some time by then. I was this base's first commander . . . " His eyes took on a far away look while his face maintained its seemingly customary pinched expression.
       --I bet if he ever cracked a smile, his face *would* crack and he'd lose his bottom jaw--
       "...they finally promoted me to the rank of rear admiral four years ago." He paused to take a sip of wine.
       "How long have you been in Starfleet, Admiral?", Teila asked.
       "More than 70 years, Commander. Ahh . . . the changes I have seen." He turned back to Gwen. "Tell me of your cruise so far, Captain. As I mentioned earlier, this is primarily a community of scientists . . . civilians, almost all of them . . . very few Starfleet personnel. I miss the stories that come from adventure." He leaned forward expectantly.
       --My old professors would be glad to know that their bardic training isn't going to waste-- Gwen thought wryly. She picked up the tale from the day they left Sector One.

       It was late before they were able to take leave of their host. Gwen gave a sigh of pure relief as she flopped back on her bed. --It's pretty bad when the most memorable part of a dinner party is the food on your plate . . . I hope he doesn't decide he wants a tour of the ship-- She drifted off to sleep.

       Sam approached her the next morning as she sat down in the center seat. "Tea, sir?" He was holding a steaming cup and a PADD.
       "Yes, thanks."
       He handed her the PADD when she'd had a sip. "Third shift report, sir."
       She took a moment to review the information. Things seemed to be progressing nicely. "Unaban, please put me thru to Engineering."
       "Engineering. Mikos here."
       "Mr. Mikos, can you tell me how much longer the repairs are going to take?"
       "About a week, Captain. Those fins are a bit finicky to fit into place, but the job is going as smoothly as possible without a spacedock. I checked the other three fins for similar damage just to be safe. No damage anywhere else, so we shouldn't have to be doing this again barring an accident."
       "Thank you." Great, an entire week of boredom for those people not involved with the repairs, which meant most of the crew. She shook a vision of her entire crew migrating, like gawking lemmings on vacation, back and forth thru the Hadrian out of her head. Considering the base's size and utter lack of tourist attractions, she couldn't reasonably rotate nonessential crew members out on short leaves. --Somehow, I just can't see people clamoring for a tour of the base's science labs-- She sighed.
       The ensign at the communications station beckoned to her. "Captain. I have a call coming in from Admiral R'gar."
       "Put it on the screen please."
       A moment later Admiral R'gar's face filled the main view screen. "Ahh Captain Ap Owen, good morning. I hope I am not interrupting something vital." He didn't look like it was a good morning. His face still had the pinched expression of the night before.
       "You're not sir. What was it that you wanted."
       "I have a favor to ask of you. I realize that you are under repair at the moment, but we have a survey vessel that is overdue. We have not received any distress calls, but it is now three days late in reporting back from Planet D and we have had no success in contacting them. I am concerned that something may have happened to them. Could you look into it for me?"
       "Admiral, I'm rather surprised that you haven't already sent one of your own vessels to check on it."
       "The Prime Directive is in effect on Planet D and the only vessels I have available to me at the moment are civilian ones. I am afraid that civilians do not have the same appreciation of the seriousness of the Prime Directive as Starfleet personnel do."
       --Why not, it'll give at least some of the crew something to do, instead of sightseeing in areas of the ship they haven't explored yet-- "Very well sir, I'll send someone to check it out."
       "Thank you, Captain. R'gar out." The face vanished.

       She joined the away team in the conference room two hours later. "We have a possible missing survey vessel, the Carol S, that we've been asked to check on. There've been no distress calls, but all efforts to contact them have failed so far. Right now they're three days overdue."
       A holo-projection of the missing craft hung over the center of the table. "The Carol S is a Danube class runabout equipped as a survey ship. She carries a crew of five plus equipment. Their itinerary called for a four-day, low-level orbital survey of Planet D. That was a week ago. I need you to locate the vessel, determine if the crew is all right, and give them whatever help they need. They may need medical attention so Dr. K'rell is going along for the ride."
       "Unaban. Give us the pertinent details on Planet D, please." The holo-Carol S was replaced with an image of the planet.
       **Planet D is the fourth planet out from NGC-2095, otherwise known as 'This' by the base scientists.**
       "They call the star, 'This'?"
       **Yes Captain. They call the other star in the area, NGC-2096, 'That'.**
       "Of course, how logical." --No one will ever mistake them for poets-- "Please continue."
       **As I was saying, Planet D is the fourth planet. It is an class M world with a semitropical climate and a rotation of 28.4 hours. Very little is known about the inhabitants, other than the fact that they are there. From the evidence available they are at the hunter-gatherer stage of development with a small amount of primitive agriculture. There are no large cities or other population centers and no signs of metalworking on any measurable scale.**
       "Thank you. Planet D is under quarantine. The Prime Directive *is* in effect which is one of the reasons Mirilan and Corlaban will be going. They'll be able to mentally 'screen' you from being seen by any natives." She scanned the group. "Any questions?"
       "Yes, Ca'tain. Is there any information at all on where we should start looking?"
       "Sorry to say, Mr. Teila, no there isn't. I'm afraid you'll have to do surface scans from orbit until you're able to find something. Engineering is rigging the Aurelius with a few extra sensors."
       "Any other questions?" They shook their heads. "Hadrian will have an ear on you at all times, so don't hesitate to call. We'll do what we can to help you from here." Everyone got to their feet as Unaban brought the lights in the conference room up. "Good hunting and good luck, ladies and gentlemen."

       Gwen relaxed in her ready room reviewing the third shift's report. --...Aurelius has checked in twice so far...no word yet on the Carol S... repairs are progressing at a satisfactory rate...--- She took another sip of tea.
       "Captain. Aurelius is calling." --It's too early for their next scheduled check...maybe they've found something...--
       "Put them through."
       "Aye sir. Go ahead Aurelius."
       "Hadrian. We have located a large amount of refined metal on the surface...It has to be the Carol S."
       "Can you tell what kind of shape it's in?"
       "Not 'recisely, but it doesn't seem to be all in one 'iece. We are going to land and have a closer look."
       "Very good...be careful."
       "Aye sir. Aurelius out."

       It wasn't long before the away team had something to report. "Aurelius to Hadrian."
       "Go ahead Aurelius."
       "We have found the Carol S, Ca'tain. She is in several 'ieces. The front of the vessel looks to be relatively intact, but badly damaged. All systems a'ear to be dead. From the look of the landing site she was barely under control when she came down."
       "Any survivors, Mr. Teila."
       "There are three bodies in the front of the vessel. The whereabouts of the other two crew are unknown, but we have found a few foot'rints of booted feet leading away from the wreckage."
       "Can you track them?"
       "It will be difficult due to the roughness of the terrain, but Corlaban is attem'ting to follow their scent."
       "Very well. Pack up the bodies...we'll let Admiral R'gar handle their disposal, bring back whatever is salvageable, and make sure you get rid of the wreckage before you leave."
       "Yes sir. I will be in touch as soon as there is something further to re'ort. Teila out."

       Three hours later came the call she was waiting for. "We have found the survivors of the Carol S."
       "Good work Aurelius! Are they all right?"
       "Captain. This is K'rell. Valenti and Matthews are in satisfactory condition. However, we have a native who is not."
       --So much for avoiding all native contact . . . how did that happen with Mirilan and Corlaban there?-- "What's wrong with them Doctor?"
       "Him, Captain. The man has been badly mauled by one of the local predators. Valenti tells me that he was injured in the process of protecting them from the beast. They've been keeping him alive, but he needs more medical attention than I can give him here. I'm going to have to bring him back with us to repair his injuries."
       "Can you do it without his knowing about us?"
       "No Captain. He was conscious when we walked into their camp. He's already seen not only Valenti and Matthews, but us and our gear as well."
       "Are there any other natives in the area, Doctor?"
       "No sir. Valenti and Matthews say they've seen no others and the Ane have thoroughly sniffed out the area. This man is the only one."
       --Worry about the Prime Directive when the man's recovered-- "Bring them all home Dr. K'rell. We can deal with the Prime Directive later."

       Gwen listened carefully to the report of the away team. They were gathered in the Hadrian's conference room. The only one missing was Dr. K'rell who was seeing to the survivors. --I'll get his report later-- "Matthews and Valenti are unable to say what caused the crash. They are scientists, not 'ilots or engineers, but it a'ears that they suffered a sudden failure of most of the Carol S' systems. The 'ilot, Randall, had just enough control to enable her to keep them from burning u' in the atmos'ere. Unfortunately, Randall, along with Trejah and Galloway, was killed in the crash so we may never know 'recisely what happened. We turned over the bodies, along with everything salvaged, to Admiral R'gar's team and disintegrated the wreckage."
       "That takes care of that part. Now, how did our third guest manage to get a good look at you?" Gwen looked at the two Ane.
       **The wind was blowing in the wrong direction. I was able to track Matthews and Valenti from the wreck to their campsite while Mirilan kept watch for prying eyes. Once in sight of the camp, the rest of the team went in to see what they could do and I joined Mirilan in guarding the perimeter. The native was not immediately within my sight range and I could not smell him. He saw the team when they walked into the camp.** Corlaban was matter of fact.
       Teila picked up the tale again. "From what Matthews and Valenti have said, the man a'roached them within hours of their setting u' the camp. He brought them food and ke't watch over them for several days. Valenti and the native were bringing water back to the cam' when they were attacked by one of the local 'redators. Valenti says that the man 'ushed him out of the way and s'eared the animal. He managed to kill it, but was badly wounded in the 'rocess. Between Valenti and Matthews they managed to kee' the native alive, but without any real medical su'lies they could do little else."
       "Which brings us to where we stand right now." Gwen sat back. "I really don't see how native contact could have been avoided in this case. Luckily, it was limited to one individual...frankly, an individual to whom is owed a great deal of thanks, in my opinion. One individual should be dealable with. I'll see about talking to him just as soon as Dr. K'rell gives the go ahead."
       She stood up. "Good work ladies and gentlemen. Dismissed."

       Gwen poked her head in the sick bay doors. "How are our guests doing, Doctor?" She entered, Mirilan a step behind.
       "Matthews and Valenti are fine. There's nothing wrong with them that a hot bath, clean clothes, and some rest won't cure. Our third guest is also doing well. Once I got him in here, his injuries were fairly simple to fix. All he needs is a day or so of rest and he'll be ready to go home."
       **Is he up to conversation?** Mirilan "sounded" eager.
       Dr. K'rell nodded. "Just keep it fairly short."
       "Have you had any language difficulties with him, Doc?"
       "No, the Universal Translator seems to be able to handle things in both directions. Come on. I'll introduce you."
       Dr. K'rell led the way. Gwen's first impression on seeing the native was that of a bipedal frog. A broad shouldered, stocky body with glistening, deep brown skin, largish head on top of a very short neck, and large eyes set almost on top of the head. She could tell the man was completely hairless as he was lying on the bed without any covers. The eyes opened as they approached.
       "Tasonajash, this is our 'head elder' Captain Gwenith Ap Owen," Dr. K'rell indicated Gwen, "and this is one of our 'elders', Science Officer Mirilan" resting his hand on her shoulder. "Ladies, this is Tasonajash, an elder of the Karron tribe."
       "Greetings Elder Captaingwenithapowen. Greetings Elder Scienceofficermirilan." Tasonajash reached out a long fingered hand and touched each of them briefly. "Let us not stand on formal titles." The feather touch on the back of her hand felt slightly damp.
       "Greetings Tasonajash. It is good to have you as our guest."
       "Captaingwenithapowen, I owe your tribe my life. I would have surely died if your tribesmen had not brought me here to your lodge."
       "Then the score is equal. Matthews and Valenti would not have survived without your help. Thank you."
       Gwen sat down, Mirilan settling comfortably beside her. **I am curious Tasonajash. Matthews and Valenti landed in quite a remote location. How did you come across them?**
       The man chuckled softly. "I was out hunting and saw their lodge fall from the sky." He ducked his head slightly, a playful glint in his eye. "I may be an elder, but I have never ceased to be curious about the possibility of the Sky People. Some have said that they are a fantasy, but the fact that you and I are talking proves that they exist."
       Gwen grimaced inwardly. --I hope I can convince him not to go blabbing about us to all his friends and relatives--
       Tasonajash continued, "I have always thought that there were other peoples in the sky. You can see their fires if you look up at night. I did not think that the Elders of All would have stopped when they created my people."
       **Why?** Ears up, nose twitching, Mirilan was clearly loving this.
       "Does not one who crafts a thing seek perfection in that which he crafts? If he makes a thing and it is flawed, does the crafter not try again? My people are not perfect. We make mistakes. There is often misunderstanding and sometimes violence between tribes." His shoulders slumped slightly, his eyes saddened. "This would not happen if we were perfect. Therefore the Elders of All must have tried again, perhaps many times. If this is so, would there not be many different people in many places?" He turned to Gwen. "I must thank you for the lessons Captaingwenithapowen."
       "Lessons?"
       "Each new experience teaches us something. Life itself is a journey of lessons. I have seen many wonders since I came to your lodge and have learned many lessons. For that I thank you. I can see now that my people will have to learn many, many more lessons before we will be able to visit other Sky People. As it stands now, we are as untried youngsters beside you."
       --Best be frank with him, Gwen-- She took a deep breath. "Tasonajash, I ask that you do not speak of what has happened here when you return to your tribe. My people believe that it is a very bad thing to interfere with another's lessons. Just as a child must work things out for himself to grow strong, so a people must find their own way. It would weaken them if we were to influence them to follow the easiest paths."
       Tasonajash's shoulders slumped again. "You are right Captaingwenithapowen. Perhaps someday all the tribes will have learned the lesson of understanding, but I doubt that I will live to see it." He got to his feet with effort and laid his right hand firmly on the back of her left. "I give you my promise that I will not speak of this to my people.and I ask a favor in return." He looked up into her face. "Please inform your people about us so that they will know my people when the lessons are finally learned and they come to visit."
       Gwen stood, placing her right hand likewise on his left. "My people will remember you Tasonajash. When your people come to visit, they will be welcome."
       Tasonajash wobbled slightly. Gwen steadied him and helped him back onto the bed. "Forgive us Tasonajash. Mirilan and I have taxed your strength more than we should have. You should rest now." --K'rell will be in here any moment to shoo the two of us out--
       "There is plenty of time for rest. Lessons come when you find them. May we meet again Captaingwenithapowen and Scienceofficermirilan, and the Elders of All watch over you." He lay back and closed his eyes.

       Mirilan followed her out of sick bay. Gwen glanced sidelong at her as they walked toward the bridge. "You look like you just got a new toy for Christmas."
       **The man is a member of a previously unknown species. As he said, lessons are where you find them. I've just found a lesson and I'm going to study it as thoroughly as possible while it's here.**
       "Could you tell if he was telling the truth about staying silent? I believe him, but I have only my own feelings to go on."
       **I sensed no deception in him. Besides, my nose was telling me something interesting about him. His scent kept changing as his emotion did. I think that part of his species' communication is accomplished through the skin secretions.**
       "So when he touched his hand to mine..."
       **He was allowing you to read the truth behind his words. I don't think he could have sworn a more solemn oath.**
       "Um hmm." Gwen pondered that for a moment, then shook herself out of the reverie. "By the way, you'd best gather whatever data you want gathered from this sector. Mikos tells me that we'll be able to leave day after tomorrow. We can drop Tasonajash off and finish up the job we started." --Speaking of finishing, I need to get that report to R'gar when I get off duty. He still wants to go over it with me in the morning, but I only have to put up with the man for two more days--

       Admiral R'gar looked up from his report as she entered and regarded her from behind his desk. "Ahh yes, Captain Ap Owen. I see here that the survey team recovery went well." He sounded pleased even though the lips remained pursed. --Gods and Goddesses, did the man never smile?--
       "Yes sir, Matthews and Valenti were found alive if somewhat the worse for wear. They're fine after a night in sick bay. Unfortunately, the other three were already dead. We brought back the bodies for disposal and the wreckage was disintegrated."
       "Excellent Captain. You have done me a great service. Without your aid we would have not gotten anyone back alive."
       "Thank you sir. I have a ship and crew eager to get on with the job we came to do, so if you will excuse me..." She turned to go.
       "One moment Captain." She turned back to see the admiral studying his report again. "This report indicates that you also brought back a native?"
       "Yes sir, he was badly injured. He's almost fully recovered and is resting quietly in sick bay right now. We will be returning him to the planet before we leave."
       "This is most unfortunate, most unfortunate indeed."
       "Unfortunate sir? From what I was told, the man was instrumental in keeping the two crewmen alive. He was injured trying to protect them from one of the local predators. Isn't it just a bit unreasonable to expect them to leave him behind to die?"
       "Captain, I specifically remember informing you that the Prime Directive is in effect on that planet. You of all people should be aware of the dictates of the Prime Directive. If your knowledge on the subject is hazy, I can refresh your memory. I know it by heart and could repeat the entire text to you."
       --That wouldn't surprise me in the least-- Gwen could feel herself beginning to fume. --Down, girl. It's not considered polite to give an admiral a boot in the rear-- "Sir," she kept her voice at its sweetest and most reasonable tone, "You are aware of the Prime Directive. I am aware of the Prime Directive. However, you failed to inform the planet's gravitational field of the Prime Directive. These men had virtually no control over their landing site. They were lucky to have landed in such a remote location. Nor, did they have any control over the native's curiosity. He approached them, not the other way around."
       "I am not blaming the survey crew. Native contact was not under their control, as you pointed out. The cultural contamination occurred when the native was brought back to the Hadrian."
       "Sir, the 'cultural contamination' is limited to one person. The man understands why his people should not know about us and has agreed not to say anything to them about his little 'adventure'. We'll be returning him tomorrow before we leave to finish our shakedown cruise."
       "Captain, I must insist that you hold off on both matters while I consider the available options. The native and the Hadrian are to stay where they are until further notice."
       "Is there anything else sir?" She managed to keep her voice and face carefully neutral with a great deal of effort.
       "Not right now, Captain. You are free to return to your ship." Admiral R'gar turned back to his report. Gwen turned on her heel and stalked out.
       By the time she reached the bridge she was still angry, but at least she was thinking in an orderly fashion. --Options? What options? All the gods save us from overly cautious administrators-- "Unaban, please ask all senior officers to report to the conference room."

       "That's the long and short of it, ladies and gentlemen." She looked at the faces around the conference table. Confusion and disbelief seemed to be the prevailing expressions. "Our good Admiral R'gar wants to consider his available 'options'."
       "What o'tions?" Teila was definitely part of the confusion crowd. "Ca'tain, you said that Tasonajash had given his word that he would remain silent about the 'Sky 'eo'le'. We return him to his home and let it go at that. What else is there to consider?"
       **I don't think that the admiral trusts Tasonajash.** Mirilan's 'tone' was disapproving.
       Gwen shrugged. "He's probably just being very careful...wants to make sure he has all the information before we leave."
       **Captain, may I interject?**
       "Go ahead Unaban."
       **You may be right Captain. It is on record that others have noted him as being *extremely* meticulous. I believe that may be why he has command of this base rather than a posting somewhere more active.**
       Mikos slapped the table with an open palm. "So we have to sit here like a bump on a log until we hear from his nibs?"
       "That's it in a nutshell, Mr. Mikos. Regardless of any personal feelings we may have about him, he *is* an admiral and has the right to give me orders. Let's all sit tight and try to keep the crew from turning into gawking tourists on their own ship." Gwen thought for a moment. "Unaban, could you arrange a couple impromptu drills for tomorrow?"
       **Yes Captain. I'll post the schedule for you in your quarters.**
       "Thank you. Any more questions?" None were forthcoming. "Dismissed."

       Hoping for the best, Gwen checked while she was dressing. "Unaban. Any word from our esteemed Admiral this morning?"
       **No messages have come from the starbase since you last checked before retiring, Captain.**
       --Why do I get the feeling we may be here for a long time?-- "Thank you, Unaban." She sighed. --Best tell our guest that his homecoming has been delayed-- She put the final touches to her uniform and headed for sick bay.
       Gwen found that Mirilan was already there. She was settled in quite comfortably beside Tasonajash's chair. From their postures Gwen could tell that she had arrived in the middle of a converstaion. Tasonajash spotted her and stood to greet her. He was wearing a black leather harness that had a pouch attached and what looked like a knife in an ornate sheath. Gwen noticed a rather deadly looking spear resting against the wall nearby.
       "Greetings Captaingwenithapowen." He touched her hand lightly. "Scienceofficermirilan and I have been sharing past lessons. It has been most enjoyable, but I am ready to return to my tribe now." He looked up at her expectantly.
       "Greetings Tasonajash. It is good to see you recovered" Gwen swallowed. --Skip the small talk, Gwen and break the bad news-- "I fear that your return must be delayed for a short time." --Very short, I hope-- "My 'elder', Admiral R'gar wishes to be sure that your return will not disturb your people's lessons. I doubt that he will take more than a day or two to satisfy his concern. Please accept our hospitality while we wait to hear from him."
       Tasonajash sat back down and tilted his head at her quizzically. "Elder Admiralr'gar takes so long to decide? Perhaps there are some lessons he has yet to learn." --Isn't that the truth--, Gwen thought. Tasonajash turned back to Mirilan looking pleased. "This means that we will be able to share more lessons."
       Gwen motioned toward the door. "If you will come this way, Tasonajash, I will show you to the guest quarters where you can rest in comfort while you are here."
       "Thank you, Captaingwinethapowen, but Scienceofficermirilan has already invited me to visit at her hearth and meet her family. I am sure I will be quite comfortable there."
       "As you please. I will let Mirilan show you the way. Now, if you will please excuse me, I have duties to attend to." She touched his hand and headed for the bridge."

       "...Weep not, my friends, but look ahead toward a rising sun." Gwen's soprano voice blended with the counterpoint of Cynnedd's rich, full tones. She damped the strings and tipped the big, triple-strung harp back on its feet to give her shoulder a bit of rest. "Unaban, would you please play back the last three bars for me?"
       She listened critically to the recording. --Needs a little something . . . maybe that fourth chord should be natural instead of sharp-- She reached for Cynnedd to try out her idea and was interrupted in her train of thought by the beep of the intercom. --Some people's timing is impeccable...at least they had the decency not to call in the middle of the verse-- "Yes?"
       "Captain. I have an urgent message from Admiral R'gar. He wants to see you in his office as soon as possible and he said he wants you to bring along one of the Ane."
       "Thank you, Sam. Please tell him that I'll meet him in 20 minutes." --Looks like our good Admiral has finally come to a decision...it's only taken him three days . . . --
       "Will do Captain."
       **Captain, I'd like to volunteer.**
       "Sure, you qualify. You're an Ane."

       Twenty minutes later they were standing in Admiral R'gar's office. "Ahh Captain Ap Owen and..." He raised his eyebrows at Unaban.
       **I am Unaban sir**
       "Unaban? Captain, isn't that the name of your ship's computer?"
       "Yes sir. Consider this his 'portable' form."
       "Well . . . " The admiral seemed just a tad perplexed. "Anyway Captain, I believe I have come up with a solution to our problem."
       "Problem, sir?"
       "The cultural contamination problem . . . I have done a bit of reading on the Ane. They are superb mentalists are they not?" He looked at Unaban.
       **It is one of our skills Admiral.**
       "Well then, the problem could not be simpler. All you need to do is wipe the native's mind clean of any memory of meeting 'Sky People' before you return him to Planet D." Unaban put his ears back as the admiral continued, "What he does not remember, he cannot talk about." Unaban's ears went flat back against his neck. "Well?", the admiral prompted when no response was forthcoming.
       **No sir. I will not do it, nor will any of my people.**
       R'gar came to his feet looking incredulous. "You are a computer. You will do as I say."
       **NO SIR! You are asking me to rape the man. I will not do any such thing.** If looks could kill, the admiral would be in tiny pieces right now.
       "Captain, order your computer to follow my instructions."
       Gwen fought to relax her clenched teeth. She managed to keep her voice level. "No sir. Unaban is a *person*, an Ane, who is serving as the ship's computer. He is a part of my crew and as such is due the same consideration as any other crew member. I will not ask him to violate his ethics in such a fashion."
       Admiral R'gar sat down with a weary sigh. "You leave me no other option, Captain. It is most regrettable that the native will not be able to return to his family, but we cannot allow the cultural contamination to spread any further." Gwen was surprised to hear a touch of true sorrow in the man's voice. "You will take him to Liawar and leave him there. It is a planet with a similar climate to that of Planet D. It has plenty of vegetation and wildlife so food and shelter will not be a problem. He will be able to live out his life undisturbed there."
       --I don't believe what I'm hearing!-- "Sir, what you are suggesting is called kidnapping and violates principles far older than the Prime Directive!"
       "I am not suggesting Captain. I am ordering. The contamination must be contained for the good of Planet D. A surgeon does not leave contamination in the body; he excises it. We have no guarantee that this native will not talk about us."
       "He gave his word sir!"
       "His 'word' hinges on his understanding the Prime Directive. Did you explain its strictures to him?"
       "Yes sir. I put it into terms common to his people and he grasped the concept very well."
       "Do you know this for a fact?"
       "The man is intelligent and honorable. I have no fear that he will break his promise."
       R'gar shook his head sadly. "You are relying on your subjective feelings, not objective fact. I am afraid I can take no chances when it comes to the good of an entire planet. You are inexperienced Captain." He sighed deeply. "You will learn in time. Now, please return to your ship and make ready to leave for Liawar tomorrow. It will not take long to get there and drop the native off. Your shakedown cruise will not be severely interrupted."
       Gwen could feel fury bubbling inside. "No sir, I will not do that!" She barely managed to keep from shouting at him.
       "Captain Ap Owen, you will follow my orders or I will have you court martialed." He regarded her with pursed lips. "I see that you are upset. Considering your inexperience, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. I will meet with you again at this time tomorrow. Perhaps you will see things more clearly once you have had a chance to think them through. Dismissed Captain."
       Fists clenched, she fled the office in a rapid walk. --Don't run, girl...it wouldn't be very captain-like-- Unaban had to trot to keep up with her. His ears were still flat against his neck. They returned to the Hadrian in silence, each of them busy inside their own thoughts.
       Later, she briefed her officers about the admiral's orders in an emotionless voice. They greeted her news with a momentary stunned silence that quickly threatened to erupt into a flurry of comment and questions. She silenced them. "I will give the admiral my answer tomorrow. Dismissed." She went through the rest of her shift mechanically.

       --How long have I been lying here?-- Gwen stared at the ceiling, eyes tracing the carved knotwork on the wooden beams. --Too long-- So far tonight sleep had been unattainable, her thoughts and dialogue from this last meeting with Admiral R'gar tumbling around together in her head. She sat up and sighed, pounding her fist in frustration on the bedcover.
       "I cannot believe that this is what the original drafters of the Prime Directive meant! It's simply not right. The man must have an ice cube instead of a heart!."
       She felt the storm rising, the angry pressure clutching at her head and chest. She took a deep breath, forcing the tempest into abeyance and focusing her thoughts. She checked the time. She had plenty of time to deal with it before she was back on duty. She lifted Cassandra in her case and headed for the Ane room.

       Gwen paused before going in and peered into the room. There were several Ane reclining, their jaws at work chewing their cud. She recognized Mirilan and Warban doing some serious mutual grooming off to the side. Tasonajash was not in evidence. "May I enter?" Several "voices" greeted her, **Enter and be welcome Captain, both you and your music.**
       She found a comfortable spot to sit. Mirilan left off her grooming session and came over to get a greeting hug. **Tasonajash is up on the observation deck with Corlaban. He said that it was the probably the only way he would ever have the chance to see his entire world.** She settled in beside Gwen as Cassandra was brought out of her case and tuned. **A cleansing is always better with friends close by.**
       "I never have been able to fool you."
       **Gwenith, you were never one for impromptu concerts and you have often sought comfort in music. You would not be here when you should be sleeping if there were nothing bothering you, therefore, you have come here for cleansing. Go ahead and play. Besides, we like your music.** Warban came over and settled down on her other side. Both sets of jaws began moving silently, chewing contentedly.
       Flanked by the two comforting presences, Gwen rested Cassandra in her lap. Closing her eyes, she let her fingers move over the strings with the familiarity of long practice. The small harp's sweet voice began to fill the room with cascades of sound. She could feel the storm building again and this time she didn't try to stop it. She let the music flow with it. The beginning arpeggios moved into true melody as the storm broke and washed over her. She played for timeless minutes, the tunes moving from one into the next without pause. At last the pressure began to lessen and the melody slipped into Lord Llewellyn's Lament. Tears trickled unheeded down her face as she reflected that Lord Llewellyn would have understood. She let the final mournful notes ring and die away like the ebbing tide rather than damping the strings. Eyes still closed she took a moment to relish the peace as the inner storm quieted.
       When she opened her eyes again she noticed that all ears were on her. There were more Ane in the room than there had been before. **We like your music Captain. Please continue if you feel so inclined.** She smiled. "Thank you. Another time perhaps. It's late and I need to get some sleep."
       She departed for her quarters, the "voices" following her, **Sleep well Captain. The new day may bring new possibilities.**

       Gwen stood before her mirror, pinning her hair up. Sleep had come quickly after she had returned to her quarters last night. She now felt utterly calm and sure of her course. Her intercom beeped, "Ca'tain, may I see you for a moment?" Her first officer sounded concerned.
       "Come in." The tall Skoor entered and took a seat.
       "Have you decided what you are going to tell Admiral R'gar?"
       "Yes. I'm going to tell him no and let the chips fall where they may." She smiled wryly. "I may go down in history as having the shortest tenure of any captain in Starfleet."
       "I think that the admiral has s'ent too much time here. He is in need of a vacation."
       "I think so too, but it doesn't look like he's going to be taking one on his own. Someone with more authority is going to have to tell him to take one. Unfortunately, the admiral *is* the authority in this area."
       "Can you not send a formal com'laint to Starfleet Command and recommend that they remove Admiral R'gar?"
       "On what grounds? Much as I dislike the man, I certainly can't call him incompetent or impaired. I could complain that his order violates Tasonajash's rights, but I doubt that it would get addressed with any degree of speed and R'gar does have vessels capable of making the trip to Liawar even if he doesn't like to use civilian craft when it's a Prime Directive issue. Let's face it, the commander of an out of the way science station . . . it doesn't matter if they want to glorify it with the title 'Starbase' . . . is infringing upon the rights of a single person whose planet isn't even part of the Federation. It's hardly an emergency. They're likely to simply put the complaint on the list of 'things to do'. By the time they get around to sending someone out here to check on the situation, the admiral has already taken care of his 'cultural contamination' and nobody ever seesTasonajash again."
       Teila ruffled his feathers, looking uncomfortable. "What will you accom'lish by being court martialed?"
       "Starfleet won't sit on a court martial. They'll address it as quickly as possible. It'll at least give me a chance to plead Tasonajash's case in front of people who can do something about it."
       "What if you are convicted sir?"
       "If they convict me, they convict me." She shrugged. "Quite technically, once I tell the admiral what I intend to tell him I'll be guilty of refusing an order from a superior officer. At least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing that I did what I could." Gwen motioned him to his feet. "Come on Teila, we're both on duty in ten minutes. I have command for the next five hours at least."

       She presented herself, Teila at her side, at the appointed time. "One moment, Captain." The aide disappeared into the admiral's office.
       Teila leaned close. "You are not the only one who thinks that the admiral is wrong, Ca'tain. Whatever may ha'en, your officers and crew stand behind you."
       "Thanks for the vote of confidence." She looked up at him sharply. "There is to be no mutiny no matter what, Mr. Teila. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
       "Yes Ca'tain. I understand."
       The aide reappeared. "The admiral is ready to see you, Captain." --Time to face the music, Gwen-- She stepped through the office door, Teila right behind her.
       Admiral R'gar was behind his desk waiting for them. "Ahh . . . Captain Ap Owen and Commander Teila." He nodded at them, but did not indicate for them to take a seat. "Captain. You have had a chance to reconsider our conversation yesterday. What is your answer?"
       "Have your orders changed sir?"
       "No, they have not. You are to take the native to Liawar immediately and leave him there."
       Gwen took a deep breath. "Then I must refuse those orders sir." Her voice was calm and steady.
       "I am most disappointed, Captain. However, you leave me with no alternative." He turned to Teila. "Commander Teila, you are hereby ordered to assume command of the Hadrian, effective immediately. As we have no brig at this base, Captain Ap Owen is to be confined to her quarters aboard the Hadrian pending court martial. The Hadrian will remain in dock until this matter has been resolved."
       "Yes sir." Teila's voice was utterly emotionless.
       "Furthermore, you are to deliver the native to my office for transport to Liawar at 1630 hours."
       Teila stood silent.
       "Do you understand the orders, Commander?"
       "I understand them, Admiral."
       "Then carry out your orders, sir. Dismissed."

       "Commander." Teila turned in the center seat to look at the ensign manning the communications station. "I have a call from Admiral R'gar."
       " 'ut it on the screen."
       "Commander Teila. It is now 1700 hours. You were supposed to have the native in my office half an hour ago. I must insist that you deliver him at once."
       "That is im'ossible at the moment, Admiral. We cannot seem to find him. I have 'eo'le looking for him right now."
       "I am sending over some of my own people to assist you in your search. R'gar out."

       Much later, Teila joined Gwen in her quarters after he had seen the admiral's search team back to the base. Gwen leaned back and put her feet up on the ottoman. "Well, what's the news Teila?"
       "They searched the shi' from to' to bottom, Ca'tain. They were remarkably efficient for such a small team."
       "I'm not sure I'd pick the word 'efficient' to describe them. A couple of them decided to check my quarters out. The way they looked at me, I think they felt that I must be hiding Tasonajash in my back pocket."
       "They even checked the trans'orter records. Tasonajash a'ears to have vanished. They think he must have sli'ed onto the base itself somehow. They're going to begin searching the base. I just saw them off."
       "What about our own search parties."
       "I have had several 'eo'le looking for him. They have not seen him either."
       Gwen nodded. "How is Admiral R'gar taking it?"
       "I can tell he is not 'leased, Ca'tain. He has called four times in the last nine hours."
       "The anticipation will do him good. He said he missed the stories that come from adventure."
       "I believe that he was referring to liking the stories, not the adventure, Ca'tain." Teila rose to leave.
       Gwen saw him to the door. "Keep me posted on developments, Teila."

       Several days passed and the confinement began to wear on her. Sam, Unaban, and her officers made sure she was kept informed of the happenings on board Hadrian, but it wasn't the same as being in the middle of things. --Damn, I wish something would happen with this court martial . . . I think I'm going nuts just sitting here and waiting-- Teila had mentioned the last time he stopped by that Tasonajash still had not been located. The man seemed to have disappeared from the universe. --I wonder if he somehow found his way back to his family . . . how he'd do that without assistance from someone, I don't know . . . wherever he is, if R'gar doesn't have him, he's safe . . . I'll just have to be satisfied with that for now--
       "Let me see the score of 'Toward a Rising Sun', Unaban." Her terminal lit up with her latest musical work. She studied it closely. It was progressing nicely. --Only good thing about this is that I've got all the time I want to work on it . . . -- Two hours and four bars later her intercom beeped for attention. "Yes."
       "Captain. The adjudicating board for the court martial has arrived. They'll be holding the hearing in the ship's conference room. You've been ordered to report before the board at 0900 hours tomorrow."
       --They *sent* someone?-- Gwen thought incredulously. She had fully expected to be hauled off back to earth to face trial. --Just what sort of emergency did R'gar make this out to be to get them out here?-- "Thank you Sam." --Be careful what you wish for, Gwen--

       They sent two armed security guards for her the next morning to escort her to the conference room. She walked through the door to be greeted by the sight of two captains and a full admiral facing her. Mirilan and Teila were were also in attendence, sitting in the gallery. The admiral stood. "Captain Ap Owen, this is Captain Juan Remus," indicating the man sitting furthest from her. "this is Captain Shiro Okai," indicating the second man. "and I am Admiral Maria Salazar. Do you understand why you are here?"
       "Yes sir."
       "Very well. Let us proceed." She took her seat. "Captain Gwenith Ap Owen. You stand before this court accused of refusing an order from a superior officer. How do you plead?"
       "Guilty sir."
       "A most unusual plea, Captain." She frowned. "We have reviewed your service record to date and have found it to be exemplary. This latest action on your part does not seem typical. The message we received from Admiral R'gar stated that your 'refusal to follow orders has caused significant cultural contamination of Planet D in violation of the Prime Directive.' Is this true?"
       "That all depends on how you define 'cultural contamination', Admiral. Have you been briefed on the incident leading up to the so-called 'cultural contamination'?"
       "We are familiar with the report regarding the crash of the survey vessel, Carol S, and the recovery of the survivors."
       "The native mentioned in the report is a man by the name of Tasonajash. He was responsible for keeping the survivors of the crash alive until they could be rescued. He was very badly injured while protecting them from one of the local predators. It was necessary to bring him back to the Hadrian to save his life which is where the 'cultural contamination' occurred." Gwen paused to see if they were following her.
       "Go on, Captain."
       "I spoke to him at some length once he was recovered enough to see visitors. We discussed the concept of the Prime Directive and the importance that he not speak of what he had seen."
       "Did he understand?"
       "Yes, he did and he gave me his word of honor that he would remain silent about the 'Sky People', as he calls us, once he returns to his world. My science officer, Commander Mirilan, has degrees in both Xenobiology and Sociology. She was with me when I spoke to him and agreed with me that his promise was a solemn oath . . . no deception behind it."
       "It was after this that you refused Admiral R'gar's order?"
       "Yes sir. He ordered me to take Tasonajash to Liawar and leave him there to make sure that Planet D would be 'protected' from any possibility of 'cultural contamination'."
       Captain Okai turned to R'gar. "Admiral R'gar, is this true?"
       "Yes sir, it is."
       Admiral Salazar turned back to Gwen. "Please continue, Captain. I want to hear what you have to say."
       "I refused the order on the grounds that such an act is classified as kidnaping and therefore illegal. I can appreciate Admiral R'gar wanting to be cautious and protect the planet, but his solution violates principles at the very heart of the Federation, not to mention civilization itself. I will take no part in such a 'solution'. If that means my command and career are forfeit, than so be it."
       Admiral Salazar sat back thoughtfully. Captain Remus spoke up, "Commander Mirilan. What was your impression of this man, Tasonajash?"
       **He is honest and intelligent. I would trust him at my back if circumstances came down to that.**
       "So, in your opinion, his return to his people would not cause any cultural damage?"
       **No sir. He has hopes that his people will learn enough that they will be able to visit the 'Sky People' some day and share their 'lessons' with them, but he agrees that it is wisest that his people learn what they need to know on their own.**
       "I would like to speak to this Tasonajash." Captain Okai and Admiral Salazar nodded agreement. "Commander Teila, please ask him to attend us."
       Teila stood. "Unfortunately sir, I do not know where he is. We have been unable to locate him on board. Admiral R'gar's search teams believe that he may be somewhere within the starbase."
       "Admiral R'gar, where is Tasonajash?"
       "I do not know Captain." R'gar looked uncomfortable. "My people have been searching for days without finding any trace of him."
       Admiral Salazar was frowning. "Ladies and gentlemen, people do not just vanish. *Where* is Tasonajash?" Her question was met with an uncomfortable silence.
       An aide approached her and whispered urgently in her ear. She looked startled. "Well, send him in." The aide went to the door and beckoned. Tasonajash walked in followed by Warban and stood beside Gwen. Warban settled beside Mirilan in the gallery.
       **Admirals and Captains. I would like to introduce Tasonajash, an elder of the Karron tribe.**
       Tasonajash stepped forward and touched each hand in turn. "Greetings Elder Captainjuanremus. Greetings Elder Captainshirookai. Greetings Elder Admiralmariasalazar. I have been told that you wish to speak with me." He looked at the board expectantly.
       Admiral Salazar stood. "Elder Tasonajash, we extend greetings in the name of the Federation. We would appreciate it if you would answer a question for us."
       Tasonajash nodded. "I will answer if I can."
       "Do you understand the reason that your people should not know about us?"
       "Yes. Elder Captaingwenithapowen explained it to me. My people have many lessons to learn and to learn them requires that they find their own path. You are wise in this. I have promised her that I will forever hold your secret in my heart."
       Gwen scanned the room while she listened to him. Teila and the two Ane were sitting impassively, Admiral R'gar was looking pensive. More important, Salazar, Remus, and Okai were nodding.
       Tasonajash looked each member of the board solemnly in the face. "I request of Federation Tribe that they remember my people. Someday they will have learned the lessons and they will come to visit. It would be good that they would not be strangers."
       Salazar stood. "Elder Tasonajash. I give you my promise that your people will be remembered in the records of the Federation. They will be welcome when they come to visit even if it should take them many generations."
       "Then I return to my tribe with a glad heart." He looked thoughtful. "I should return very soon or they will think that I have been caught by a Zolak."
       Okai nodded. "I think that it can be arranged. Elder Tasonajash, if you will please leave us to consider what we have heard we will see to returning you to your tribe just as soon as we conclude our counsel here."
       Tasonajash touched their hands again. "May the Elders of All watch over you." He left the conference room escorted by Warban.
       Admiral Salazar stood and looked at her companions. "I suggest we take a short recess to discuss the testimony we've heard. The board will reconvene in 20 minutes." The board filed out.

       Gwen sat down and relaxed in the chair. --good...Tasonajash will be going home to his family...I'm going to miss him...-- She was rather surprised to find she felt strangely at peace. --R'gar looks confused...wonder how long it's been since he's had to make a decision like this...-- She was startled out of her thoughts by the sound of Admiral Salazar's aide.
       "The court is now in session. All rise." Everyone got to their feet as the board came back to take their seats.
       "Be seated." Admiral Salazar looked at Gwen. "Captain Gwenith Ap Owen please stand to receive the decision of this court." Gwen stood at attention.
       "Captain Gwenith Ap Owen. This court finds you guilty of refusing a direct order by a superior officer." --Start packing, Gwen-- "However," the admiral looked over to R'gar, "since the order instructed you to carry out an illegal act the refusal was justified. It is our decision that the charges be dismissed. You are to resume command of the Hadrian effective immediately and continue with your original assigned orders once you have returned Tasonajash to his home planet. This court is adjourned."
       Gwen took a deep breath. "Yes sir." She turned to her crew, motioning them to precede her from the room. She heard Admiral Salazar's voice as the door closed behind her. "Admiral R'gar. Please stay a moment. We have something we would like to discuss with you..." She smiled.

       Gwen settled into the center seat for the first time in what seemed like ages. --it's only been a week?...I could swear it's been at least a year-- "Welcome back sir" the bridge crew greeted her. --When did this seat get so comfortable?...three months ago it felt two sizes too large...-- "Thank you, everyone. It's good to be back."
       She looked around the room. "Mr. Xanax. Have the umbilicals been detatched?"
       "Aye sir."
       Then set course for Planet D. Our guest would like to go home."
       "Heading one-five-two, sir."

       It didn't take them long to reach Planet D. Gwen stood facing Tasonajash in the transporter room. Teila, Mirilan, Dr. K'rell, and several of the other Ane had come to bid him goodbye. "Are you sure you will be able to find your tribe again?"
       "Yes Captaingwenithapowen. Scienceofficermirilan showed me how to keep a tally of the days that I have spent in your lodge. It has not been too long. Our lodge will still be where it was and I can find my way back to it from where I first met Matthews and Valenti."
       "You will be missed Tasonajash. Take care of yourself." Gwen could feel her eyes prickling. --forever goodbyes are never easy-- She swallowed.
       "I will keep you and your tribe forever in my heart, Captaingwenithapowen. He placed his hand firmly on hers. Joyous lessons and good journey to you, and the Elders of All watch over you."
       Gwen stepped back and let the others step forward to touch his hand. When everyone had had their chance she showed him where to stand on the transporter pad. She turned to the transporter operator. "Energize."
       "Bydd wych, Tasonajash" she whispered as Tasonajash sparkled out of sight.

       The Hadrian picked up her aborted tests where she had left off. The final week of her shakedown cruise was letter perfect. --Looks like she's ready for anything...time to go home-- Gwen turned to Ensign Klaste. "Mr. Klaste. Please notify Starbase 047 that we are finished with our testing."
       "Aye sir." A moment later, "Captain, Commander Laskey wishes to speak to you before we leave."
       "Put it on the screen, please."
       "Aye sir." Admiral Salazar's aide appeared on the screen. "Captain Ap Owen. I wanted to wish you a safe trip home."
       "Thank you Commander. Where is Admiral R'gar?"
       "He returned to Earth with Admiral Salazar to continue his education. I was detatched to serve as base commander until another could be found to take the post."
       "Good luck Commander. It should be an easy job for you. Those scientists are a pretty subdued bunch."
       Laskey laughed. "Right now they're as excited as kids in a candy store, Captain. They've got something new to do. Starfleet has given orders that Planet Tasonajash be studied in depth and they're arguing right now over which department gets to go first."
       "Tasonajash?"
       "Admiral Salazar felt that if it's going to be studied it deserves a better name than Planet D."
       "It does indeed, Commander."
       "Laskey out."
       Gwen sat back smiling. --Yes, Tasonajash. You *will* be remembered-- "Take us home Mr. Xanax."
       "Aye sir." She felt Hadrian shift into warp.


A Journey of Lessons -- Susan Stahl, March 2000


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The Above is a work of fiction. All characters are fictional, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

Copyright Susan Stahl: March 2000. All rights reserved, re-print only with permission.



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