SANDRA OCHI kept her attention focused solidly on the controls of the runabout, the U.S.S. Styx, she was piloting. The small starship was at warp, moving at better than warp nine as it headed to its rendezvous with the Athena. She looked at the controls because she did not want to look at the person beside her.
      T'Kor, for her part, stared silently forward, looking at the same stars that Ochi was looking at. For a Vulcan woman, she was pretty impressive looking, even if she was eighty-four. She was tall, about the height of Thorpe or Rocha, and she had a pretty solid physique as well, yet she was alluringly Vulcan feminine-a combination some found hard to resist, and others, very easy. The Starfleet uniform she wore, with rank pins signifying her as a lieutenant commander, still somehow managed to show off a rather fine specimen of feminine form-although Vulcans were not about to appreciate that. Like most of her kind, T'Kor was a married woman, and she could speak of her husband and her children and all of their accomplishments. Afterall, who had ever heard of a Vulcan who had failed at whatever they set out to achieve?
      Originally, Ochi had been sent to Starbase Five Fourty-Seven to pick up T'Kor and bring her to the Athena, where she was supposed to reveal details of the ship's next assignment. Yet, when the pilot had seen the luggage and shipping crates loaded onto the Styx's cargo hold, she had the strange feeling that T'Kor was not merely bringing the next assignment, she was being assigned to the ship. Ochi had asked, but T'Kor had not volunteered any information.
      Finally, the Athena showed up on the sensors. It had completed one of its routine patrols one sector back from the most active fronts of the on-going war with the Dominion, and had come out of warp to receive the smaller ship. Seeing the ship ahead, Ochi opened a comm-link, saying, "Runabout Styx to Athena. I have you in sensor range. Prepare to receive us."
      "We are prepared," came the response from the ship. The voice sounded a lot like Vorwoorts'. "Is T'Kor on board?"
      Ochi glanced to her right, and said, "She is."
      "We're standing by, Athena out."
      The minutes counted down. Ochi lowered the speed of the runabout, and then at the right moment brought it out of warp and back to normal space. As the ship continued to decelerate, the Athena came into view, looming ever larger as Ochi approached it from the front and then flew over the top of the saucer section. She switched over to instrument piloting, and turned the Styx around in front of the docking pylon that connected the body of the ship with the lander. She could tell by looking at the instruments that the roof-mounted hatches of the ship's main shuttlebay were opening. As the shuttle slowly lowered into the shuttlebay, Ochi finally said, "You don't talk much, do you?"
      "Idle conversation is not a useful means of passing time," T'Kor said, her voice rather level, the inflection of her words perfect, and her speech devoid of emotion.
      "So what do you think about spending time on a ship full of talkative humans?"
      "I shall find some manner to persevere."
      Ochi did not know exactly what it was, but she had this feeling she would not like T'Kor. It might not have been the most correct way of thinking in the twenty-fourth century, but she was not impressed with Vulcans either. She just felt uncomfortable around them, like something was lacking-in herself. One always hated to be compared to them.
      The light intensity around them suddenly increased as the shuttle went from the darkness of interstellar darkness to the brightness of the shuttlebay. Ochi guided the small ship down to a perfect landing on the deck, perfect enough that they could hardly feel contact being made. Even as she powered down the runabout, and even as the portals above closed, T'Kor was getting out of her seat and stepping out through the main hatch.
      Standing by the main entrance to the bay was Captain Leonard Thorpe, and the first officer, Nadine Johnson. Aleksandr Rocha, the ship's security chief, stood behind them. T'Kor quickly found the senior officers she was supposed to meet, and walked over to them, full of her regal bearing and displaying proudly her high position in life. Thorpe could not help but notice that, the way she walked and the way she carried herself, and the facial expression that if anything, said "contempt." She seemed to be a striking woman, with the usual Vulcan features of upswept eyebrows, pointed ears and that long black hair, now piled up on the top of her head in a severe style. Thorpe also noticed the paleness of her skin, which gave her a slight greenish tint.
      Stopping in front of the captain, T'Kor said simply, "I am Lieutenant Commander T'Kor, and I have been ordered to report to you sir. I am now under your command."
      Thorpe did not know what to make of the abrupt introduction, so he simply said, "I'd like to welcome you on board the Athena. This is my first officer-"
      T'Kor brusquely cut off the captain, saying, "I know who your senior officers are, captain. What is more important is that we get this mission underway. I have been brought here to give you details on the mission your ship is to undertake. This requires your immediate attention. If I could meet with you in private."
      "In my ready room on the bridge," Thorpe said, as he started to follow the Vulcan woman off of the shuttlebay deck.
      Johnson turned to Rocha, and said, "You know, this was a nice ship to serve on..."