By Christina Moore
Note: This story takes place after the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Good Shepherd.”
Tal Celes’s hand shook as she reached up to press the door chime for Captain Janeway’s ready room. Hesitating just a hair’s breadth away, she thought to herself,
This is stupid, I should just go back to my quarters.
Instead of giving in to the weakness of her thought, she drew a breath and pushed her finger forward. The chime rang, and a moment later she heard the captain’s voice call out “Come in.”
Tal drew another fortifying breath as the door slid open with a soft hiss. Janeway was standing by the replicator as she turned her head and smiled.
“Come in, don’t be shy. Would you care for a drink?” the captain said as she gestured to the replicator.
“I, uh… If this is a bad time, I can come back later,” Tal stuttered. Or not at all, she added silently.
The sound of her inner voice then changed, and through the tumult of her always raging anxiety, she heard her cousin Meryn’s voice say, No! Enough of being a fearful, jumpy wimp, Cel. You can do this!
“Not a bad time at all, I was just about to have a nice hot cocoa. Perfect companion for having a chat, don’t you think?” observed Janeway.
The captain’s voice was warm and welcoming. She smiled, and even seemed genuinely pleased to see her. Perhaps sensing Tal’s hesitation, she waited patiently for her to speak, to move. To do something.
“Hot cocoa sounds really nice,” Tal said as she took a step forward, then another. The door slid shut behind her. “I like mine with marshmallows.”
Janeway’s grin widened. “So do I,” she replied, before turning to the replicator. “Computer, two hot cocoas with marshmallows.”
Tal approached as the replicator whirred and produced two pale blue mugs. She stepped up to the lounge area as Janeway was picking up the ordered beverages.
Turning and holding one of the two out to Tal, the captain said, “Now, Crewman, what can I do for you?”
Tal waited until Janeway had sat on the curved sofa before she did the same, taking a careful sip of her drink as she gathered the courage to speak her mind. Meryn’s voice was right—she was right—it was time to stop being so anxious. To stop being a “fearful, jumpy wimp.” She was so tired of her superiors looking over her shoulder all the time, of her work having to be corrected because her anxiousness over not being good enough had made her miss something.
Because it was all just too difficult to understand.
Lowering the mug, she held the cup between her hands and gave her all to looking Janeway in the eyes as she said, “Captain, I… I’ve been thinking about what you said when we were out on the Delta Flyer. A-About finding another post for me.”
Captain Janeway’s eyebrows rose over her own mug. “What did you have in mind?” she asked when she had taken a sip.
Tal took another sip of her cocoa, then plunged ahead. “You’ll probably be shocked to hear this, given everything I said out there, and my poor service record, but believe it or not, I’m actually pretty handy with a phaser. Billy complains about me beating him for days every time we get a chance to play Velocity in the holodeck.”
The captain’s expression remained the same, save for the slight widening of her eyes. “You want to move to Security?”
“I know it sounds crazy, Captain, but I…” Tal paused, drew another deep breath, and continued. “…but I would like to give it a try, if you and Commander Tuvok are willing to give me a chance.”
Janeway took a drink of her cocoa and then set the mug on the low table before the sofa. “Tal, I have to admit that I am surprised by your request,” she began slowly. “Security is vastly different than sensor analysis. It’s more physically demanding—not to mention we would be placing the safety of this ship and its crew in your hands as we do every other security officer onboard. You told me when we were out there on the Flyer that there was no other post for you unless we needed a waitress in the mess hall.”
Tal put her mug of cocoa on the table and stood, pacing away as she said, “Captain, I know it sounds crazy, but the more I think about making this change, the more I want to do it.” She turned back then, adding, “I’m tired of just living here—I want to do something. I want to be able to contribute to this crew without having my work checked and rechecked. I want to do something I know I’m actually good at.”
Captain Janeway sat back and lifted an arm to rest it on the back of the sofa as she regarded her. “Tell me something, Tal,” she began. “If you are ‘pretty handy with a phaser’, if it’s something you’re good at, why didn’t you choose Security as your specialty? Enlistees are just as entitled to specialty training as those of us who attended the academy.”
“I know,” Tal replied, then with a sigh she turned around and sat down again. “I wanted to go into Security—you learn to shoot what you’re aiming at pretty quick when you’re fighting for your life, and though I’m not proud of everything I had to do fighting in the Resistance, marksmanship is still a skill one can be proud of.”
“You fought with the Resistance on Bajor?” Janeway queried, her surprise evident. “I’d have thought you too young to take part in it.”
Tal scoffed. “Even children learned to fight, Captain. Some of us had to—more young girls than one would think even inclined to pick up a weapon learned to shoot or lob a grenade, especially as we got older. It was better than being selected as a ‘comfort woman’ for some filthy Cardassian soldier.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Janeway softly. “Your childhood certainly wasn’t an easy one.”
Tal chuckled humorlessly. “No, it was not,” she said. “And it did little to prepare me for what my life would be like after the Occupation was over. I was on high alert for so long, I didn’t know what it was like to not be anxious. I wasn’t prepared to live in peace. Others I know coped much better than me. I’ve a cousin who joined the Bajoran Militia—I think she’s a colonel now or will be soon. She’s great. I’ve always wished I could be more like her—so confident, so self-assured. I seriously doubt her superiors ever have to double-check her work.”
Janeway studied her a moment, then said, “At risk of offending, have you ever considered seeking medical treatment for your anxiety? I’m sure the Doctor can find a treatment if you’re willing to give it a try.”
“No doubt a counselor would also help, if we had one,” Tal muttered.
The captain snorted softly. “You’ve no idea how much I wish Starfleet had assigned us one,” said she. “A counselor would have been a great benefit to the entire crew, myself included.”
“What could you possibly need counseling for?” Tal blurted without thinking. On realizing what she had said, she gasped and spluttered an apology.
Janeway held up a hand to quiet her. “It’s quite all right, Tal. I can see how someone I haven’t interacted with nearly as much as I ought to have done would assume I have no crosses to bear, but I can assure you I do. Remember, I make mistakes too. I sometimes still question whether I did the right thing in stranding us out here in the Delta Quadrant, some seventy thousand lightyears from home.”
“You did what you thought was best, didn’t you?”
With a nod and a sigh, the captain replied, “Yes, I did. And that’s what I remind myself of every time I begin to question my decisions—that I did or am doing what I think is best. I rely on the command training I underwent at the academy. I rely on Commander Tuvok’s insight, as he’s lived longer than any of us, we’ve been friends for many years, and because Vulcans as a people tend to look at any given situation more objectively than those of us who experience our emotions. Commander Chakotay also introduced me to a ritual of his people, who believe that each person has a spirit guide, in the form of an animal, that walks our path with us. Perhaps you might speak with him.”
Tal shook her head. “I… I don’t know about that, Captain. My people, as you may know, have always revered the Prophets as gods, and I wouldn’t want to offend them even if they are too far away to hear the desperate prayers I say every night.”
“Perhaps his method might bring you one step closer to the Prophets,” Janeway suggested. “Or perhaps you might ask Commander Tuvok to teach you some meditation techniques that could help you in all aspects of your life. Between us, Tal, I feel as though I’ve failed you—you and everyone else who is struggling in ways I had never imagined. I really should get to know the people I don’t see often a lot better than I know them now.”
“Please, Captain, don’t blame yourself,” Tal reassured her. “I’m sure everyone knows how busy you are. What a burden command is in itself, let alone with the pressure of keeping us alive and trying to find a faster way home. And I was like this before I was assigned to Voyager—my anxiety disorder isn’t your fault.”
“Perhaps not, but had I known of its severity sooner, I would have done more to help you,” the captain replied. “In any case, I strongly recommend you at least speak to the Doctor about medical treatments. As to your request to move to Security, I will give it the consideration it is due. I promise you that.”
Tal felt some of the nervous tension she’d walked in with dissipate—at least she hadn’t said “No” outright. Suppressing a sigh, she stood. “Thank you, Captain, for hearing me out. It… It felt good to get this off my mind.”
Janeway smiled. “You’re quite welcome, Tal. I’m glad I could help you feel even a little bit better.”
With a nod, Tal moved out of the lounge area and headed for the door that led to the rear of Deck 1. As it hissed open, Janeway called out behind her, “One moment, Crewman.”
She turned around. “Yes, Captain?”
Janeway had stood. “You say you’re good at Velocity?”
Tal couldn’t help but grin. “I am,” she said, feeling somewhat euphoric in declaring it.
The captain crossed the office and stopped before her. “I have an hour of holodeck time scheduled for later this evening at 1900 hours. How about you join me there and we’ll have a game? If you’re as good as you say you are, I’ll speak to Tuvok about training you in Security.”
Tal’s eyes widened—she hadn’t expected this. “Oh, um, wow!” she replied, her shock mixed with renewed nerves bubbling up into a laugh. “Uh, yeah. Thank you, Captain! I’ll be there.”
She then departed, intending to search for Billy to share the incredible news.
“Are you out of your Bajoran mind?!”
Tal drew back in surprise at her friend’s whispered outburst. “Is there something wrong with spending some free time with our commanding officer?” she asked. “Or is it the idea of me transferring to Security?”
William “Billy” Telfer threw up his hands. “Both!” he cried. “First of all, Captain Janeway is known to be one of the best Velocity players on the ship—even Seven of Nine doesn’t always win against her! You’re good, Celes, but I don’t know if you can handle a seasoned player like the captain.”
Tal sat back in her chair and crossed her arms with a frown. “Thanks a lot, Billy.”
“Come on, you know I don’t mean to insult you,” he countered quickly.
“But you don’t think I have a chance against the captain.”
Harry Kim, Voyager’s Chief of Operations, was passing their table in the mess hall as she spoke; he stopped and turned back. “Excuse me, did you say against the captain? What’s the game?”
Tal bit her lip as she lifted her gaze to his. She and Kim were friendly, and he was one of the only senior officers who was genuinely nice to her in spite of her faults of understanding, but she hadn’t meant for her match against the captain to become fodder for ship’s gossip. If Harry knew, he’d tell Tom Paris. Tom would tell Lt. Torres—whom she knew for a fact didn’t like her much—and they’d each casually mention it to others…
“Tal’s gonna play Velocity with Captain Janeway tonight,” Billy answered for her.
Kim, unsurprisingly, looked shocked. “You play Velocity? I didn’t know that,” he said as he dropped into the chair next to Billy. “I hope you’ve a good eye and a quick draw, Tal, ‘cause the captain’s one of the best players I know—I’ve played with her a few times and only won once.”
Although she dreaded becoming the subject of gossip herself, Tal couldn’t help leaning forward, asking in a conspiratorial whisper, “Is it true that even Seven has a hard time beating her?”
Kim glanced sidelong at Billy, then nodded. “They’re fairly even as far as skill goes, I believe, but Janeway definitely makes her work for those times she wins.”
“I heard that Seven thinks her Borg enhancements mean she should always win,” Billy offered.
“Maybe that was true when she first came aboard,” said Kim, “but I think Seven’s changed a lot—for the better—since she started regaining her humanity.”
“She’s still a perfectionist,” muttered Tal.
Kim chuckled. “And expects everyone else to be, I know. But don’t let her exacting standards get you down. Just keep doing the best you can.”
“That sounds like great advice, Harry, but even my best isn’t good enough for her!” Tal cried softly. “Like I don’t have a hard enough time getting by—”
“Do you really think Security’s going to be any easier than sensor analysis?” Billy challenged.
Tall felt her cheeks reddening with embarrassment. “Billy,” she said in a tight voice, avoiding Kim’s gaze. “That was supposed to be just between us, in case it didn’t work out.”
“You’re thinking of switching to Security?” Kim asked.
“It-It’s something I’ve been thinking about, that’s all,” Tal replied. “I-I just wanted to maybe do something I might actually be good at.”
“Well, good luck to you, if you do it,” said Kim as he stood. “If you think Seven is a perfectionist, just wait until you undergo Tuvok’s training regimen. Ask Gerron, Dalby, Henley, or Chell about his program.”
“Maybe I will,” Tal replied, then called out to him as he started to walk away. “Hey Harry, could you please do me a favor and not tell anyone—either about the game or the Security thing? I really don’t want to have to deal with the negative fallout if the captain wipes the holodeck with me and I lose any chance at all of going into Security.”
Kim studied her a moment and then nodded his head. “Won’t tell a soul,” he said with a smile, before turning around again and exiting the mess hall.
She hoped he was a man of his word.
Captain Janeway was tapping the control panel next to the doors of Holodeck 1 when Tal arrived.
“Ah, you’re right on time,” the older woman said. “I’ve programmed the computer to start us off easy, so I can get an idea of your skill. Each level will become progressively more challenging as we play.”
Tal forced a grin past her nervousness. “Best way to play hard is to warm up first,” she said.
Janeway grinned. “I like the way you think, Crewman. Come on in and let’s get shooting.”
Tal drew a deep breath, begged her nerves to settle, and followed her through the open double doors. This is it, she thought.
When the two emerged an hour later—panting, sweaty, and laughing—the Bajoran still could not believe her good fortune. She’d won the game, even if it was only by a single point.
“You…” Janeway paused for breath as she wiped at her forehead and neck with a towel. “You really meant it when you said you were good—that was a really close game. Well played, Celes.”
Tal wiped at her own sweaty face, then said, “Thank you, Captain. Excellent hand-eye coordination is one of my very few talents.”
“You know, you never did tell me why you chose not to pursue Security for your career track,” the captain said as the two started toward the turbolift.
A sigh escaped Tal before she could suppress it. “I don’t know if you’ll believe me.”
Janeway pressed the button to call a lift car, then looked to her and said, “Try me. What happened?”
“I was doing really well when I first enlisted—surprising no one more than myself, given my anxiety and difficulties with complex equations—and weapons training was my best area, given my history,” Tal said as they waited for the lift to arrive. A moment later it did, and they were inside on their way to Deck 2.
“The arms instructor I had was a real piece of work—high expectations for everyone but those who liked to flirt with him. And Lt. Commander Patterson was cute, I’ll grant him that, but I had more important things on my mind than flirting with my arms professor—like not screwing up and getting booted out of enlistee training.”
The turbolift stopped to deposit them onto deck two, and the ladies stepped off, walking straight ahead toward the mess hall.
“So, what happened?” Janeway pressed, then added, “Or do I really need to ask?”
Tal scoffed. “You probably have a good idea by now, but I’ll spell it out for you. Commander Patterson apparently took exception to my not being among those females and non-binaries who liked to flirt, and he made passes at me. I ignored him at first because he was just complimenting my looks or my shooting. Then it was his hand on my shoulder, a massage on my neck. I tried to ignore that too, because I didn’t want to make a fuss.”
Her narrative paused as the two entered the mess hall. Neelix was just carrying a tray of used dishes to the kitchen, but he halted on sight of them. “Captain Janeway, Crewman Tal! What a pleasant surprise. It looks like the two of you have just had quite the workout.”
“That we did, Mr. Neelix,” Janeway told him with a smile. “It would seem Crewman Tal here has been keeping one of her talents hidden from us all—she’s very good at Velocity. We could use a pick-me-up—something light and nutritious to replenish the energy we’ve just spent.”
Neelix grinned. “You know what, Captain, I believe I have just the thing!” he said, balancing the tray on one hand and snapping the fingers of the other. “You ladies pick a table and get off those feet, and I will bring you out something that will do just the trick.”
Tal and Janeway both chuckled as he walked away toward the kitchen; they turned toward a two-seat table and sat down facing each other. Silence reigned for a few moments, before Tal resumed her story.
“One day, Commander Patterson quite purposefully planted his hand on my behind. He squeezed and remarked how firm I was and asked me if my breasts were just as firm as my ass. I knocked his hand away and told him not to touch me again, that his comments were inappropriate. He claimed it was ‘all in good fun’, and surely I was flattered by the attention. I said ‘Not that kind of attention, sir,’ and walked away.”
Neelix interrupted by appearing at their table with a tray. “I have some fruits, nuts, a couple of salads with some grilled chicken and ranch dressing—I know you both like that flavor—and something the replicator called Gatorade to wash it all down with. It’s supposed to be good for replenishing electrolytes.”
Janeway lifted an eyebrow as their self-appointed ‘morale officer’ was placing the dishes on the table. Tal grinned and thanked him, and he wished them a good meal before moving away to tend to other late diners.
Each took a bite of their salad and Tal popped a couple of blackberries into her mouth before speaking again. “I, uh, I skipped my next arms training class, afraid Patterson would come on to me again. I was so wracked with anxiety—I didn’t want to face him! This girl in my field medicine class that I was friendly with found me crying in one of the bathrooms in our dorm and asked me what was wrong. I confided that one of the instructors had made a pass at me but didn’t tell her who. She encouraged me to report it, but I said I didn’t want to make a fuss. She told me he’d just do it again, to me or to someone else, if I didn’t see that he was disciplined for his actions.”
She paused, ate a few more bites of her salad, and took a drink of the Gatorade, noting absently that it tasted like fruit punch.
“Did you report Commander Patterson?” Janeway asked quietly.
“Not for about a week. All the anxiety that I thought I had managed to control came roaring back and I stressed myself out with worry and fear. Billy told me I was ruining my health, that I needed to do something about whatever had me worked up. I told him what happened, and he agreed that I should report the incident. So, I did—I went to OPC and told them what happened.”
Janeway frowned. “Did they not take you seriously?”
“I believe they took the complaint seriously, because Patterson became a real taskmaster after that,” Tal replied. “Begging the captain’s pardon, but he was a real jackass to me and some of the others who weren’t doing so well in the class. I went back to OPC and reported what I perceived as retaliation, and I asked to be transferred to another arms training class. They said that, unfortunately, all the classes were full, but that they’d speak to Patterson again.”
Captain Janeway’s frown deepened. “They could have switched you and a student in one of the other classes,” she said.
“That’s what I thought too!” Tal said. “Like, why couldn’t they put me in another class, and someone else in my place in Patterson’s? I figured they didn’t want to make a fuss over it either, and worried that maybe they hadn’t taken me seriously after all. That’s when I really began to struggle with my training classes—worrying about what Patterson would say or do to make my life hell next made me anxious about every other class to the point that I was staying up late cramming just to get by.”
“I remember you saying something about that on our away mission, and that you believed Starfleet allowed you to graduate enlistment training because the Occupation worked in your favor and because they wanted Bajorans in the service. You said that your instructors gave you the benefit of the doubt,” Janeway said.
“I did say that, because they did—all but Patterson,” Tal replied. She sighed and sat back in her chair, crossing her arms defensively as she continued. “The truth is, Captain, I’ve always had difficulty with learning, with understanding complexities and-and algorithms and…”
Tears of frustration began to sting her eyes and she looked way, fighting to keep her emotions under control, and recalled having told the captain of being chased by algorithms in her nightmares. Of her brain being wired differently.
“If it was easy, I could do it,” she said softly. “That’s how I became such a good marksman in the Resistance, Captain. Pressing a trigger is easy—it doesn’t take much thought.”
“Why did you never come to me or one of the other senior officers once you came aboard, to tell us at least that you had learning difficulties?”
Tal shrugged. “Shame. Humiliation. I didn’t want to be sent packing before I got the chance to go on at least one mission.”
Janeway pushed the remains of her salad around with her fork, then pushed her plate away and crossed her arms on the edge of the table and leaned toward Tal as she spoke next.
“Do you remember, Celes, what I said to you? I told you that I accepted your application because your record showed evidence of unconventional thinking, that I like that,” she said. “I begin to wonder, now, if you have a learning disability that Humans call dyslexia. It doesn’t mean you’re unintelligent, only that your brain is wired differently—as you said yourself—and that because of that, you learn differently.”
“I have always learned better by doing than by say, reading for information,” Tal confessed. “That’s why physical labor comes more easily to me, I guess.”
“Well, you certainly proved to me that you can handle a phaser in Velocity,” Janeway said, sitting back again. “The question now becomes: Can you handle one defending your shipmates? Will you be able to operate the tactical console on the bridge if called upon? You said only days ago that there was no other place for you on this ship, that you didn’t even deserve to be here, and now you are asking me to trust you with the safety of myself and this crew.”
Tal sighed, feeling suddenly very weary, and very defeated. “I understand what you’re saying, Captain. It’s not worth the risk.”
“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Janeway replied. “I’m only pointing things out to you that I have to consider before granting such a request as you’ve made of me. What we’ve got to figure out now is if you’re truly capable of anything you set your mind to. It’s been a few days since we got back to Voyager, and from the way you’ve spoken—and how hard you played tonight—I’d say you’ve given this request a great deal of thought.”
“I have,” Tal said with a nod. “What you said out there stuck with me, and I began to wonder if maybe I could find a real place among this crew.”
Janeway nodded, and smiled, as she took up her fork again. “I’ll talk to Tuvok after the staff briefing tomorrow morning. He was an instructor at Starfleet Academy for a while, and I think him particularly suited to not only training you, but also designing a curriculum that will work with your method of learning.”
Tal released the breath she hadn’t until then realized she’d been holding. “Thank you, Captain. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking a chance on me—again. I think I will also take your advice about speaking to the Doctor about a treatment for my anxiety. It would be nice if we could find a way to keep me from doubting myself all the time.”
Janeway grinned. “Sounds like we have a plan. Now, how about we finish all this healthy stuff fast, and enjoy a piece of pecan pie?”
Tal laughed. “Now that sounds like a plan.”
The staff meeting was over. Kathryn Janeway was relieved that, barring the unexpected, they would have smooth sailing for at least a week.
She’d asked Tuvok to remain and noticed that Harry also lingered. When the others had left the briefing room, he stepped up to her and asked, “How did it go last night?”
“How did what go, Mr. Kim?” she asked.
“The Velocity game—you and Tal,” he replied. “I overheard her and Billy Telfer talking about it in the mess hall when I was at lunch yesterday. I haven’t seen her yet today, so I thought I would ask you.”
The way his eyes flicked between herself and Tuvok told Janeway that he’d heard about more than the game.
“It went very well,” she said at last. “Tal is far better than I expected—she won by a narrow margin.”
Harry grinned, glanced at Tuvok again, then said, “That’s fantastic! Uh, no disrespect to you, of course, Captain. Can’t wait to congratulate Celes on a game well played.”
He departed then, and Janeway turned to Tuvok.
“May I presume, Captain, that based on Mr. Kim’s behavior just now, your desire to speak with me is a matter regarding Crewman Tal?” the Vulcan asked.
Janeway nodded and rested her hands atop the back of her chair as she said, “That away mission I took Tal, Telfer, and Harren on was a transformative one, Tuvok—for all of them. Tal especially, I think. She came to me yesterday and requested to be transferred to Security.”
Tuvok’s initial reaction was a lifting of his left eyebrow.
“Tuvok, she beat me at a game no one except Crewman Telfer knew she played, a game which—at risk of sounding arrogant—you know I’m very good at myself,” the captain went on.
“It is most impressive that Crewman Tal bested you at a sport in which you particularly excel,” Tuvok conceded. “However, you must be aware that her heretofore unknown proficiency in that sport hardly precludes suitability at performing the sometimes-dangerous tasks a security officer is required to master. If I recall correctly, Crewman Tal’s skills are so lacking she barely qualified to graduate enlistment training. Seven of Nine tried to transfer her to Engineering just last week.”
“Tuvok, she fought in the Resistance during the Occupation,” Janeway revealed. “That’s how she ‘learned to shoot’, as she put it.”
At this, both of Tuvok’s slanted brows rose. “I was not aware that Crewman Tal was old enough to have participated in the Resistance.”
“I thought the same thing when she told me,” said Janeway as she moved to sit in her chair again. Tuvok did the same, then she continued. “But Tal is in her twenties, and as she reminded me, even children learned to fight. Apparently, many young Bajoran women joined the Resistance to avoid being forced to become ‘comfort women’ to high ranking Cardassians.”
She went on to share Tal’s story about being sexually harassed by her arms instructor, whose behavior towards her after having his advances reported to the Office of Professional Conduct not only altered her career path but caused an anxiety disorder that she thought she had conquered to resurface. Janeway told him that, based on their conversations, she thought Tal might be dyslexic.
“I’m certainly not asking you to just assign her to a Security detail,” she said. “I’d never put her or the other members of the team at risk in that way. What I am asking you to do is help her. You were a Starfleet Academy professor, and you designed a course five years ago for those former Maquis crewmen who were underperforming—not to mention that regrettable as are the circumstances, Tal does have combat training.”
Tuvok’s face took on that thoughtful expression he wore whenever giving her words serious consideration. Janeway waited patiently for him to reach what she hoped would be a beneficial conclusion, for she had the sudden belief that this was the right thing for Tal.
At last, he inclined his head. “I will educate myself on dyslexia and design a training course that will enable me to evaluate Crewman Tal’s skill and suitability for Security duty.”
Janeway chanced a smile. “Thank you, Tuvok. I appreciate your willingness to take a chance on her. People like Tal really benefit from having others encourage them at what they’re good at.”
“I will certainly endeavour to enhance what skills Crewman Tal possesses.”
Although neither Tal, Tuvok, nor Janeway—nor Harry Kim or Billy—told anyone about Tal’s transfer request or her training with Tuvok, word got out.
First, ship scuttlebutt got wind of the game of Velocity that she and the captain had played, and Tal was little surprised to learn that others were surprised she could even play, let alone be good enough to beat the captain (even if only by one point). She didn’t deny her victory, but neither did she boast of it. The story led to members of the crew with whom she’d had little to no interaction over the years ask her to play against them.
She knew why. They wanted to see if the story was true. They wondered how someone who had been described as “intellectually deficient,” who had never been trusted with critical tasks, could be that good.
Tal accepted only a few of the challenges, because her free time was no longer entirely her own. That she was spending two hours a day—after her regular duty shift—with Commander Tuvok on the training holodeck in the Security complex got out after the second evening, and the crew wondered what they were up to until, by the end of the first week, someone let slip that she was undergoing one-on-one training for a possible transfer to Security.
That there were some among the crew who expected her to fail was also of no surprise to Tal, but she did her best not to pay attention to the naysayers. She preferred to accept the well wishes of those who supported her decision, who hoped—as she did—that she might finally find a place among the crew where she could truly contribute. Where what she did had real meaning.
It helped that she had gone to the Doctor for treatment for her anxiety. He was quite happy to assist her in bettering her heath, both physically and mentally. It was a few days after she began the medication therapy, as he had called it, before she really noted a difference in how she handled the pressure of meeting Seven of Nine’s exacting standards, but when she did, it felt as though a huge boulder had been lifted off her shoulders. Tal wished she had sought help years ago, instead of wallowing in anxious misery.
Tuvok’s training regimen was, as he explained, designed specifically for her. He put her through shooting drills, hand-to-hand combat exercises, and she was made to study Federation and Bajoran law. It had all seemed so overwhelming at first, so much that she had questioned the sense of even trying. Then Tal remembered how shameful and humiliating it had been to be given the least important tasks as a sensor analyst, how she hadn’t been trusted with anything critical because she was constantly making mistakes. How her work had to always be double checked.
She hated feeling ashamed and humiliated because she wasn’t good enough. Or smart enough. She hated feeling like she didn’t belong.
Thus, she became determined—more determined to succeed than she had ever been since she had enlisted in Starfleet. Tal became “rather fiercely” determined, as Billy said one evening, to prove all her detractors wrong.
And secretly, she was determined to succeed because she didn’t want to let Captain Janeway down. She didn’t want Commander Tuvok to feel like he had wasted his time.
Tuvok soon became the kind of instructor she wished she’d had during enlistment training. He was tough, but fair. He expected her to work hard but did not appear to expect more than she could do. He tested her—every day he quizzed her on the chapters of law she had been assigned to read and ran her through drills they’d done the day before…then introduced another one. They ran holodeck scenarios that she had to fight or shoot her way through. But he didn’t double check her work—he didn’t have to, because nothing he made her do, nothing he expected of her, felt like the “monster with teeth and claws” that sensor analysis had become. She did make mistakes at first, but fewer and fewer as the two-week trial went on, because Security work was mostly physical. Physical she could handle, unlike algorithms and complex equations.
The morning after the end of Tal’s evaluation period, she was called to the briefing room. Nerves wracked her body as she approached from the rear of Deck 1, having purposely avoided walking through the bridge as she’d done the day she had approached the captain to make her request. She knew she’d done well—at least, she believed she had—but that didn’t mean she’d done well enough.
Waiting for her were Commander Tuvok and Captain Janeway as expected, but Commander Chakotay was also seated at the table. Tal swallowed, praying her nervousness didn’t show, and stood at attention.
“Crewman Tal Celes reporting as ordered, Captain.”
“At ease, Crewman. Thank you for coming,” said Janeway. “Please, have a seat.”
Tal nodded wordlessly and took a seat at the far end of the table, clasping her hands together in her lap.
Janeway picked up the PADD on the table before her. “I’ve been going over Commander Tuvok’s final report on your training, Crewman,” she began, then looked up over the device—and smiled. “I’m very impressed, Tal.”
Chakotay also offered a smile. “I will admit, Crewman, that given your…unfortunate performance history, I had my doubts. But I’ve seen Tuvok’s report as well, and it would seem that sensor analysis was completely the wrong position for you.”
You don’t have to tell me twice, Tal thought. Aloud, she replied, “Thank you, Commander. Captain.”
“Crewman Tal,” said Tuvok then, “per my recommendation and the captain’s orders, you are hereby transferred to security duty, effective immediately. For the present, I am assigning you to Gamma Shift, where you will spend a portion of the hours on duty in the Security Complex, and part of it continuing your training—you will find a list of texts and holodeck scenarios in your personal database. Your shift supervisor will provide regular reports to me, which I will then provide to Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway.”
“In time, if you continue to do as well as you have these last two weeks,” said Captain Janeway, “we’ll consider scheduling you on one of the busier shifts.”
Certain her relief and excitement was palpable, Tal said, “Thank you! I-I can’t tell you what this means to me! And I don’t mind Gamma shift at all—you already know I’m familiar with all-nighters.”
Captain Janeway chuckled, then stood; Tuvok and Chakotay followed her example, then Tal stood as well. The captain came around the conference table as she said, “I remember that conversation well. I’m glad to see that you’ve already changed a great deal from the doubtful crewman who had all but given up to the young woman I see standing before me.”
Janeway paused before her, still smiling. “I want you to know that I’m proud of you, Tal Celes. Just a few weeks ago you were resigned to your fate, believing you didn’t deserve to be a member of this crew. Then you decided to take a chance—to take a risk—and actually make an effort to change your fate. You’ve worked hard and come far, and I have no doubt that you will continue to improve.”
Desperately hoping that the tears now stinging her eyes weren’t visible to the others, Tal lifted a shoulder and said, “I just realized that I didn’t want to be that person anymore. And I’m not a fool, Captain—I know I’ve still got a long way to go and a lot more to learn. I’m just really, really happy that you and Commander Tuvok have given me a chance to prove that I can do more than fail.”
“And with that kind of attitude,” said Janeway with a wink, reminding her of that first fateful conversation on the Delta Flyer, “I’ve no doubt you will prove to us, and to yourself, that you are capable of anything.”