Serren Tan, twenty-two and freshly joined, fiddled with the Ensign pip on his collar as the cramped vehicle puttered between various paddocks. The tiny bit of metal felt both familiar and alien; this was the second time he had worn it in the service of Starfleet, and he could practically feel the burning stare of the Symbiosis Committee shooting him furious glares across the stars from Trill.
Reassociation! Scandalous. Almost as scandalous as the life of his previous host.
He knew better than to break the rules like this. He knew them back to front. All to earn his symbiont. For most of his childhood, in school, the rules were all he knew. A symbiont was all he desired. All he craved.
But now he had it... well. What good were the rules to him now, anyway? It all seemed so pointless to him. All the nasty-grams in the galaxy couldn't actually do anything. After all, what were they going to do? Repo his brain?
Let angry old women and men complain at him from across subspace. He wasn't going to give up a promising Starfleet career because of someone else's choices. That wasn't fair.
So now he was an Ensign again. A familiar and alien feeling, being unimportant, of no rank. Riding the back of the vehicle, unseen and quiet. Ignored and happy to be ignored.
The Gorkon felt the same as his lone pip. Familiar, and alien. The brief time he -- or rather, she -- had spent on it had passed in a blur, with Safine Tan spending so little time there that her memories contained little of the experience, and what little was there had barely made it into the symbiont's mind.
The disassociation had preserved her, in a fashion. When her isoboramine levels plummeted into the deck plating, the only fact saving her life was that the symbiont was not yet fully bonded; even as much as a few years ago, Safine Tan would have passed into memory, but medical science had made the impossible merely dangerously risky. Her symbiont, his symbiont now, had been successfully removed but at a terrible cost.
The beam's dark work had seared the nerves around her pouch like a big ole' juicy steak. Joining nerves, the doctors had called them, a vast array of fibres that sent signals from symbiont and host.
Those damaged nerves had to be removed to complete the extraction of her symbiont. But those nerves attached to the spine, winding around her back and intertwining with their kin like creeping vines. Naturally, to transmit their signals between brains. They could not be separated.
So the price of her life was the use of her legs.
Safine Tan would never walk again. Her career, such as it was, was over before it had even really started.
He hoped she was doing well.
All that remained of her mind within him, and her brief spell on the Gorkon, were still frames from her brief joining. Mental pictures rather than permanent memories. Like holoimages from someone else's holiday, with nobody there to explain, so this was the time we went to the beach and everyone got sunburned. Just a picture. Moments frozen in time. Scenes devoid of context. Snapshots of existence with nothing bridging them together.
A bulkhead. A face or two. Her quarters. A fuzzy recollection of a cute Lieutenant Safine had taken an eye to. A meal. A letter from the Symbiosis Committee, unopened. A letter from Alleran's mother, unopened. A box of Alleran's stuff from the USS Garuda, unopened. A view of the roof of the Gorkon 20th deck, seen as her life bled out on to the deck, her injuries filling her nose with the coppery smell of Trill blood and the burning smell of cooked nerve endings, served well done.
A month of life compressed into two dozen snapshots of mostly-mundane detail.
With one the notable exception.
Then-Captain Quinn Reynolds.
That face could not be contained in snapshots. It simply refused to remain still, be captured or caged. Everything else he remembered of Safine's time was fuzzy and grey and motionless, but not Reynolds; she had motion; she existed as a true memory, in full colour and action and light. The tattered fragments of Safine's mind that lingered in him had captured the part Human, part Deltan in remarkable detail. Reynolds could not be anything more than the bright and most clear of all memories.
"Admiral", though, it was these days. Admiral Reynolds. Had quite a ring to it.
More than the memory of her, though, something else lurked there in that symbiont's parcel of memories. The memory of an emotion. A feeling. Irrational and painful, biting and chewing at him from within. One inexorably tied to her, too. One that came straight from his symbiont but gnawed at Serren in equal measure.
Reynolds had put Tan on her ship, trusted him with phasers and privileges enough to protect the ship, and entrusted with this enormous responsibility Tan had let her down.
It was Safine, of course, who deserved whatever meager scraps of blame were to be handed around, and he knew intellectually that emotions were not logical... there was nothing more a Captain could ask from her officers than for them to die fighting to protect the ship from invaders, to fall in the line of duty, but that was the gift and the curse of being a joined Trill. One got all the past host's memories, but also all their baggage, too. The good with the bad. No way to pick or choose.
Commander Sevo would probably know all about that, if and when he got around to asking. Which Serren intended to do. He was eager to speak to her about her experiences, even if he had not yet had the chance to.
But the other joined Trill on board was not the only person Serren had not yet had a chance to speak to. Not the only conspicuous omission.
Serren and Reynolds had not spoken since his quiet, almost stealthy, arrival on the ship. He had been meaning to find the time and the trip through the dinosaur park presented the perfect opportunity. They could have a leisurely drive through the grass, and Tan could apologize for what had happened. They could laugh, joke, and he could ask her about "Frank Reynolds".
"Frank Reynolds". That cheeky little wave in the academy, immediately noticed... the thought of it bought a regular, playful smile to his face as they had toured the park. Yeah. She was definitely getting asked about that one.
Then an ion storm had shut down the power before he had a chance. Before it could be fixed, the dinosaurs had escaped and were in the market for an exotic meal prepacked in a Starfleet uniform. Crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside! Delicious AND nutritious. Perfect for every growing Tyrannosaurus.
The car had flipped over, the roof had collapsed, and Admiral Reynolds had run out into the rain like Mikali sh'Shar running away from someone to whom she owed money. And all she had with her was a flare, waving the thing around like an absolute lunatic.
Guilt would have to wait.