"That stuff is poison, you know," Christine Chapel said from the kitchen of her small Oakland apartment.
"What?" Uhura leaned over the arm of the sofa.
Opening the shutters which separated them, Chapel leaned out of the kitchen. "Romulan ale is fifty percent nitroglycerine, forty-two percent raw antimatter and eight percent ethanol."
"You made that up."
"I swear! Statistics straight out of the textbooks."
Uhura looked doubtfully at the blue liquid and gulped the rest down. "Cest la guerre!"
"Besides, its illegal on every Federation planet and most of the neutral ones. How did you smuggle it into the Bay area?"
Looking up from the couch, Uhura shrugged. "Its Federation Day weekend."
She turned back to the bottle in mock disgust. "I got it from a cop. For Petes sake, Chris, when did you get to be such a stickler for the rules?" She poured herself another shot.
The tall brunette resident stepped out of the kitchen, balancing two steaming trays on her arms. Placing one down in front of Uhura, she sat next to her on the couch. "Oh, I dont know. Maybe living five minutes away from Starfleet Command makes me a little bit cautious." She took a huge bite of casserole and nodded to the dark woman seated next to her. "Fill your stomach, maam. I have no intention of rescuing you from a jail cell for drunken and disorderly conduct."
"Ive done it for you once or twice," Uhura reminded her. "Boy, eight months residency, and suddenly youre Surgeon General." She poured a shot for Chapel. "Live a little."
"No, thanks. I have a finite number of brain cells, and I need every one of them to get through the next few months. Maybe you should slow down a bit, too," she added casually.
"Dont start, okay?"
"Look, Ive never seen you get drunk just for the sake of getting drunk. Whats the matter with you?"
"Its Federation Day! Wheres your patriotism? Half the planet is getting smashed. Its the biggest party of the year!"
"So thats why youre sitting here in my apartment, getting drunk by yourself?"
"Look, if you want, I can leave. I passed up a lot of invitations to spend my leave with you, and"
"Okay, dont get so excited." Chapel crunched a carrot stick, shaking her head defensively. "Jeez, youre so touchy lately."
"I am not touchy...Brother, I am, arent I?"
"First class bitch is a little more accurate, but I dont want to be mean."
"Look, Im trying to apologize here. You dont have to agree so wholeheartedly."
"Yes, but, when youre right, youre"
"All right, Ive been a bitch. Give it up already."
Chapel scrutinized her friend. She was still as beautiful as they day they had met on the Enterprise, only now worry lines creased her coffee-colored skin. Uhura had gained a couple of kilos, and it didnt take eight months residency at Starfleet Medical to tell Chapel her friend had been losing sleep.
A slow smile spread across Chapels face. "Thats your record. Seven minutes is the longest youve ever been able to keep a secret from me when I was really trying." She folded her arms smugly across her chest. "I dont think that records in any danger."
"Is this supposed to mean something?"
"It means, Whats up? Thats what it means."
"Lay off, will ya, Chris?" Uhura leaned down to retrieve the bottle of ale from the table.
"Now stop that!" Removing the decanter from Uhuras hand, Chapel placed it firmly on the table again. "You know that crap doesnt solve anything. It usually just makes things worse."
Uhura stubbornly stared past the questioning blue eyes, sitting back against the sofa.
"Penda, tell me whats going on." She cast a wicked grin at the communications officer, trying to lighten the mood. "You always were my line to all the good dirt. What gives?"
"And just what is that supposed to mean? Do you think thats all I want out of my career, to be your personal gossip columnist?"
"Whoa, sorry! Excuse me for asking." Chapel raised a defensive hand.
Sighing, Uhura leaned her head into both hands, pushing back her dark hair. "First class bitch, huh?"
"Im afraid to answer that," Chapel admitted honestly. "You might hurt me."
"Look, Chris, Im sorry. You open your home to me, you feed me, and I bite your head off."
"All joking aside, Penda, what is bothering you?"
"Its so stupid. Youll kill me for even letting it get to me."
"Try me." She held out a hand to Uhura, who grasped it lightly. "The worst thing I can do is get you on the operating table."
Uhura smiled at the old joke. "Ive been offered a teaching position at the Academy."
"And I dont know." She closed her eyes, as if trying to organize her tumultuous thoughts and feelings. "Ive always said that when a promotion comes along, I would seriously consider it. As much as I love the Enterprise, its really a dead-end street for me." She shook her head. "But teaching!"
"Whats wrong with teaching?"
"Oh, nothing. Dont get me wrong; I know what a challenge teaching can be, but later. If the Enterprise is a dead end, teaching is just plain dead. Im too young to wind down my career just yet."
"So dont take the job. I thought you were happy refitting the Enterprise with the newest communications equipment, some of your own design even. And Willard Decker may not be Jim Kirk, but he is a good man."
"Dont get me wrong, but teaching is not that easy to turn down. The money is good, there are a lot of good benefits, its... respectable."
"What do you mean, uh-huh?"
"Nothing, just uh-huh." Chapel leaned over to take a bite of casserole. "Uh-huh, I see mid-life crisis written all over this situation."
"Speak for yourself. And preferably not with a mouthful of food. Besides, I wouldnt call turning thirty mid-life."
Chapel gulped her food. "Let me get this straight. On the one hand, a teaching position is safe, respectable."
"And boring as hell."
She shook her head. "So just stay on for the next mission aboard the Enterprise. Thats whats really bothering you."
"Dont you think Ive thought of that? Chris, if I stay aboard the Enterprise, I can kiss any chance of command goodbye. Its a fabulous place to work, but I dont know if I can resign myself to being just a communications officer until I retire."
"I dont think youre being fair. Jim Kirk gave you time in the center seat, especially the past two years."
"Jim Kirks no longer the captain. Will Decker is."
"So transfer off the Enterprise. With your experience and record, you could easily get a first officers position somewhere."
"I know." Uhura looked away, seeing past the tiny apartment into a place where even Chapel had never been. "It should be so easy. I know what I want out of my career and how to get it. It should be so easy."
"It never is, you know." The tall woman cast a knowing look at the dark-skinned officer next to her. "Its like leaving homeall those memories tying you down. Starting back to work on my D.O. and M.D. was probably the hardest thing Ive ever done. I felt like I was deserting my family when I left the Enterprise." She remembered the feelings of homesickness and loneliness shed experienced the first few days back on Earth. "But it was something I had to do."
"So, you think I should transfer?"
"No, sir, Lieutenant Commander, you are not going to get me to make this decision for you. I said it was something I had to do. What you have to do may be completely different."
"So you think I should stay?"
"Why do you always do this to me? I just said"
"I know; its my decision to make." Uhura rested her elbow on the sofa arm. "Its not going to be an easy one."
Taking a deep breath, Chapel leaned over to grab the bottle of Romulan ale. "Well, its not like we can solve all the worlds problems in one night."
"Look, I know youll do the right thing. You always do." She placed a quick peck on her friends cheek. "But since were not going to figure it out tonight, we can at least not waste our leave moping around." Grinning evilly, she said, "Lets get smashed."
Bursting into delighted peals of laughter, Uhura scolded her friend. "Christine Chapel, that stuff is poison. Eighty percent dilithium and all that."
"Cest la guerre," she toasted, downing the shot Uhura had already poured for her.
"Cest la vie," Uhura corrected.
Chapel laid a hand on her shoulder. "Whichever you choose, be happy. Okay?"
"Okay." Dark brown eyes connected with blue, and the laughter started again. "Who knows? Maybe someday youll be C.M.O. on my ship."
"Naahh, youre gonna be president of the Federation."
Uhura dead-panned. "Dont laugh. You never know."
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