Sure enough, as we entered the captain's ready room, Rutter was there, sitting informally on the sofa to one side of the room. The Captain was there too, relaxed in the swivel chair behind her desk, her arm splayed over the back of it, but her eyes were hard and unyielding.
We stood to attention before her. She did not tell us to stand at ease, which spoke reams.
"Right then, ladies. It has come to my attention that you are somewhat behind on your studies."
I couldn't argue the point, even though my brain was screaming for me to blurt out, 'yes, time has got away from us but we've been a bit preoccupied saving an entire civilisation and bringing peace to a race that have been at war for generations,' but T'Roc already knew that, so saying it would be futile. I did, however, afford Rutter a glare that could kill.
"And there's no point you glowering at Rutter. If anything, he's done you a favour because you can't afford to neglect your studies. Yes, you have been a little busy. Yes, you have saved a world—" could she read my mind? "—but as an officer of Starfleet, you need to know how to organize your time, how to prioritise, and sometimes that means squeezing a thirty-hour day into a standard Terran twenty-four hours." She chuckled lightly and added under her breath, "No pun intended."
She paused, saying nothing for a good while, and then she stood up and began to pace the room. She turned and stared out of the window for a while too, watching as the stars streaked past us.
"But in this instance," she finally said, "I'm going to cut you some slack."
She turned to face us again. I won't say she had anger in her eyes; it was more cross than angry—the sort of cross a parent saves for a naughty toddler.
"But trust me, I'm only going to do this once because, like Rutter, I too have something to lose if you fail at the Academy, but don't think I'm going to favour you; I'm not. I am many things but not soft ... and like yourselves, I was also once young and stupid, but that's probably where the similarity ends because, despite my mixed blood and the lack of acceptance by some of my kinsmen, I was raised by a very passionate Klingon mother who loved me dearly, and a very logical Vulcan father who adored me, despite whatever fancy terminology he decided to label it with to de-emotionalise it. They were ... as you would say, Jenny ... in my corner."
She laughed again and her face warmed.
"When I was six years old—"
It was odd how T'Roc would melt into the warm embrace of a memory and share it in seemingly, the most inappropriate of circumstances. Not at all Klingon, Vulcan or Starfleet, but regardless, you always knew it was something worth listening to.
"—at breakfast one morning I announced that I wanted to be a hairdresser. My Mother gave me such a scowl, but my father? He didn't turn a hair. He didn't even deign to look up from his breakfast as he spoke.
"'There are people in life who seek out adventure but it is not for everyone. Some become mere pilots who guide us to new worlds, or scientists who make great discoveries in their field, or medics who heal and save lives. There are even great Warriors,' his eyes did not move to my Mother, but the sentiment was made on her behalf, 'who will fight for their nation, inspiring their soldiers and protecting their people, freedom and way of life ... and then there are those that will cut hair.'
"He said no more than that, and he didn't need to. Suddenly, I didn't want to be a hairdresser anymore. Suddenly, I wanted to be," she roared with Klingon laughter. "And that's another tale. The thing is, he never actually said no to me, because he understood his child."
She turned and smiled mischievously at me.
"As I understand mine."
A strange mixture of emotions swirled through me. I was both offended and touched at the same time.
"So, I'm putting you both on half-shifts until the Academy. In return though, I expect you both to excel," and she threw us one of her hardened, smug smiles.
"Dismissed!" she suddenly barked, indicating that the meeting was over and that debate was not an option.
"Thank you," I whimpered pathetically as we left the room with Rutter bringing up the rear.
Once the door had shushed behind us, he coughed. We turned and looked at him. We both knew we should thank him, but neither of us wanted to.
"You bugger this up now," he lectured, waggling a finger at us, "and I'll flog you to the first Orion slave traders I can find, and trust me! No one will miss you!"
Al pulled a face of mock affection.
"Awww!" she cooed and then threw her arms around him. "We love you, Rutter!" she tormented in a silly voice.
Rutter hastily fought her off and pushed her away.
"Don't take the Mickey!" he chastised, pulling at the hem of his jacket to recompose himself before stomping off.
"Thank you, sir!" we both chorused after him. He returned our thanks with a two-fingered salute.