New Beginnings

Posted on Tue Oct 25th, 2022 @ 4:18am by Ensign Mei Ratthi

Mission: A Camping We Will Go
Location: Andor
Timeline: Mission Day 0 at 0630

June, 2397

This will be her first day on a new world and now, having been up for fifty-three minutes, Mei has been awake longer than she was asleep. She worries that at some point she will crash and sleep through these critical first hours– one cup of coffee, after all, is hardly a wake-up call and after weeks of anxious nights preparing for her last round of Academy finals, rest is no longer something she is familiar with. Her body yearns for sleep like parched and cracking land yearns for rain.

But there is a new-to-her world to see, and since the age of six, Mei has never missed watching the descent to somewhere new. So though her eyes feel gritty and she’s sure she couldn’t spell her name right if her life depended on it, she isn’t sitting back in her seat with the window darkened. She is staring out over the wide curve of Andor, watching as it grows ever larger in her field of view, taking in the vivid blues and stark whites of cloud and ocean and ice like she’s never seen such colors before.

The shuttle judders as it hits the atmosphere. Somewhere nearby a child cries out and less experienced travelers mutter in surprise, but Mei has been through this more times than she can remember. The pilot will stabilize the craft and the rest of their journey to the surface will be smooth and untroubled. She’s still staring out the window as they approach land, comparing the real landforms in front of her with the maps she’d looked through back on Earth. It’s a habit she’d developed over the years; every time her parents announced they were going somewhere new, Mei would study the maps and see how they compared to the real places. The maps always fell short of reality.

They do that again. Mei smiles. Of course small simulations pale in comparison to the real thing. Even a full holodeck simulation can’t compare to watching a mountain range loom out of the clouds or seeing the vague sketch of a city’s roads coalesce into a bustling hive of sentient activity. Nothing compares to touching down as the sun rises over a new world, illuminating the clouds with a watercolor spray of blues and pinks and yellows.

Mei presses a hand to the window. Her exhaustion is temporarily forgotten, replaced with the exhilaration of what’s to come. She stares out, ducking her head to see the last bit of city disappear behind the landing port’s walls, then sighs when her view becomes nothing but a sad gray wall coated in layers of frost.

Her PADD pings to inform her that it has auto-connected with the city’s communication grid, so she sits back, picks it up, and starts writing a series of messages to her family members. One to each of her parents– she doesn’t know if her mother has gotten back to Betazed yet– and another to her sister Ema. Nothing much, just notes to tell them all she’s arrived safely on Andor and will be meeting Professor Athroti soon. Then it’s a matter of waiting to disembark, a process that always takes longer than it feels like it should.

Finally, after a series of long-suffering sighs and even a few minutes where she’d dozed off, Mei is headed down the concourse with her backpack slung over one shoulder and her suitcase rolling along behind her. Rolling, because her father had insisted on getting her something with wheels. ‘Wheels won’t let you down, but you never know about those little anti-grav units,’ he’d said. Mei was certain the failure of an anti-grav unit wouldn’t prevent her from just picking up the case and carrying it, but Mattias wouldn’t have it any other way, and Mei was happy to have her father’s attention for that little bit of time. She let him have his way and notes that the wheels never have let her down.

She hurries down the long corridor. This port is like any other she’s seen: seemingly endless and dotted with rows of chairs and other seating for the bored people waiting for their flights to elsewhere. The scent of food– it doesn’t matter what kind– pulls her to the first restaurant she sees; they’ll surely have coffee, the stuff is so ubiquitous. And sure enough they do, replicated, but hot and strong, its bitter flavor cut with a bit of cream and sugar. She sits at the closest table, pulling her case underneath and pulling her PADD out of her backpack. No messages from her family yet, but there is one from Professor Athroti, sent about five minutes ago:

I look forward to meeting you at last. I’m waiting for you near the front entrance. Don’t feel as though you have to hurry. You’ve had a long trip, and I have nothing else scheduled for today.”

Mei will hurry, though, despite the professor’s assurances. She gulps the last of her coffee, wincing at her burned tongue, then finds the nearest restroom to smooth out the worst of the travel wrinkles, attempts to put her hair into some sort of professional-looking updo, and puts her coat on. They won’t be outside for more than a few minutes, but the temperature is well below freezing. Much colder than any of the places her parents had ever taken them to, and far colder than San Francisco ever got. It’s good to try new things, though. She’s told herself this a thousand times and tells it to herself again as she brushes her teeth and bemoans the fact that she has nothing for her bloodshot eyes. Not that her blind professor will notice, but still.

With a last glance in the mirror, Mei grabs her luggage and sets off down the long corridors, hardly hearing the announcements in a dozen or more languages. She slips through the sparse crowds with practiced ease, finding the wayfinding signs and symbols like they’re her mother tongue. Minutes later, she’s at the entrance and admiring the sweeping lines and high windows designed to show off Andorian architectural achievements. Then her gaze is sweeping over faces to find Professor Athroti.

She’s only spoken with the Aenar woman through screens. Athroti leaves Andor as often as she takes new students: rarely. Mei leaped at the opportunity to study under her when the chance arose, despite the locale it would take her to. It’s going to be a cold couple of years, but it will be worth it in the end. She’s sure of it.

Then she spies the professor, tall and dignified, standing near a fountain. Mei slows her pace and squares her shoulders. She grins, though Athroti won’t see it. All her excitement is bubbling up again, and she takes a deep breath to calm herself. If her wandering life has done anything for her, it’s made her good at meeting people.

It’s also made her good at saying goodbye.

But that’s for another time. Today she’s only saying hello, even if her hair is a mess and her head is full of sand.

“Professor Athroti,” she says as she walks up to the Aenar woman. “Hello. It’s me, Mei Ratthi.”

Athroti’s head turns toward Mei, antennae twitching, her blind eyes eerily fixed on the younger woman. “Ensign Ratthi. It’s good to meet you in person at last.” She holds a hand out for Mei to shake.

“It’s good to finally meet you, too,” Mei says as she takes Athroti’s hand. Her grip is strong, her skin cool and dry.

“Excellent.” Athroti’s smile is sharp. “Let us go, then. A transport is waiting for us. We have a long way to go. Are you ready?”

Mei grins. “I can’t wait to start.”