***This story is based loosely on an actual event that happened to me last night in the MMO Star Trek Online. There has been considerable controversy over the addition of the cat-like Caitian to the game — and by controversy, I mean the kind of blind, mindless, spittle-flinging hatred generally reserved for talk radio shows.***
N’Shan’s tail twitched irritably as the doctor swept a tissue regenerator across the gash on her cheek. “There we go,” said the doctor, “good as new.”
She bit off an acerbic reply and settled for a simple, “thank you”. He smiled, a bit too rigidly, his posture stiff. This one doesn’t like me either, she thought.
“The Admiral wants to see you,” he said, putting away his tools, his body language screaming to her trained eyes his relief at stepping away from her.
“Of course,” she said, “I’ll be right there.” She started to stand up, and was surprised when he put a hand on her shoulder — gently! — and stopped her.
“You’ll stay right there. You’re my patient until I release you.”
She looked at him again, puzzled. Had she misinterpreted? The hostility she had seen in his stance had evaporated in an instant, and was now replaced by… protectiveness? Concern? Why? How could any rational being radiate pure unfriendliness in one breath and flip to nurturing healer in the next?
Despite her years in Starfleet, N’Shan did not understand humans.
“The Admiral is outside. He’s come to you. Are you ready to see him?” he asked.
She nodded… indication of assent. She felt awkward with the rich human gesture language they were so unconsciously fluent in, so invisible to their own consciousness that only their leading diplomats were fully aware of it. She nearly laughed when she realized that her tail was twitching. Something else we have in common, she thought.
The doctor eyed her critically, and nodded back, sharply, a decision made in her favor. “You’re fine,” he said, “But if he tries to bully you, call me in and I’ll chase him out of my sickbay.”
She marveled again at his sudden shift in attitude, and gave him a warm smile. “I’ll do that,” she purred… and stopped. He had drawn himself up again, defensively, his body now taut. What had she done to offend him?
“I’ll send him in,” he said, in what human ears would perceive as a neutral tone. They would not hear the shortness of the attack and decay of each individual syllable as she did.
The doctor left, the sickbay door whooshing shut behind him, and N’Shan leaned wearily back. The fight had not winded her — she had ended it with barely a scratch. But the effort of dealing with humans was wearing her down. Perhaps it was time to go home to Cait. Permanently.
Scant moments later, Admiral Quinn strode through the door. He was a sturdy man, with a powerful stride, and this was the first time she had seen him outside his office. N’Shan felt relieved to see him. Quinn’s body language had never shown any disdain for N’Shan — if he felt any, he never let it slip.
The Admiral pulled up a chair and seated himself without asking, and N’Shan felt herself sitting straighter with no conscious intent.
“It is my understanding that you intend to press charges against Lieutenant Stevens,” he said, without preamble.
“Yes,” she said, “that is my intent”.
Quinn’s face registered disapproval. “N’Shan,” he said, “there’s a war on. As if the Klingon alliance wasn’t bad enough, the Romulans are continuing to regroup under Sela, there’s no telling what the Caradassians are up to… hell, girl, I’ve got reports that your old friends the Kzinti are seriously considering jumping into the fray. I can’t be having officers on the sidelines right now in a court-martial over a stupid bar fight!”
N’Shan closed her eyes, remembering. “Admiral Quinn,” she said, “There were three surveillance cameras positioned in the bar, to the best of my memory. Have you reviewed the record of this incident?”
Quinn nodded. “He approached you and said something. You said something back. He took a few steps away, you turned your back, and he struck you from behind. You planted a palm in his face and he went down like a sack of potatoes. End of fight.”
“Do you want to know what he said to me?”
Admiral Quinn slumped back in his chair, suddenly looking very old and tired. “No, N’Shan, I don’t want to know, I want my officers to shake hands, forget it ever happened, and go back to fighting the enemy instead of each other.”
“He propositioned me, Admiral. In terms so lewd that I will not repeat them save to a board of inquiry. A stranger walked up to me and proposed a vulgar liason with language that would make an Orion blush. And I told him to go away. That’s all I said. Go away.”
With a sigh, Quinn stood up and walked over to a terminal. He began poking buttons. “N’Shan, I want to show you something. I want your honest appraisal. And if you want to proceed with the court-martial after this, I will not stand in your way.”
A photograph appeared on the screen. It was a human woman in a provocative pose. Perched atop her head were a pair of cat-like ears attached to a plastic headband, and a false tail drooped limp and lifeless behind her. N’Shan hissed softly. The woman’s posture radiated pride and confidence, rather more than the flimsy costume called for, and an aura of sensual desire. “She… she wishes to be Caitian?”
Quinn shook his head, “These images are centuries old, N’Shan, long before we made first contact. She’s emulating an earth creature called a cat.”
N’Shan flicked an ear at him. “I know of cats,” she said. “Captain Data keeps one.”
The Admiral nodded. “Spot. But Spot isn’t exactly… sorry, I’m getting off the subject. These images survived the Eugenics Wars, and the number of people who are interested in them is not insignificant.”
“And Lieutenant Stevens is one such?”
“Not exactly. Stevens has a complex psychological reaction to images and stories such as this. The counselors tell me that he has a strong attraction, followed immediately by a stronger surge of self-loathing and guilt. He externalizes this as hatred and anger against humanoids that provoke these feelings in him.”
N’Shan strove to make sense of this. “How does such a one pass the Academy psychological profile?”
“The psych panel… let’s just say in wartime, standards are not always enforced as they should be,” replied Quinn.
N’Shan sat in thoughtful silence. “He is a danger to others, to discipline and good order,” she said at last.
“Oh, he’s relieved of command,” said Quinn. “Until that psych profile shows me he can control himself, his duty station is the counseling ward. If it were up to me, I’d drum him out so fast he’d cause a doppler shift. But somewhere underneath that self-hatred is an officer that we can use. And with a war on, I need to use every tool at my disposal.”
Quinn stood up. “I could work around the loss of Stevens, if I had to,” he said. “But N’Shan, I need you in the field. I need you out there now, today. I don’t need you here at base in a court-martial that might drag on for weeks or months. If you feel you have to press charges, I’ll back you up every step of the way. But the threat of charges might be a better motivator than the charges themselves would be.”
“I will consider,” said N’Shan.
Quinn smiled. “Thank you, Lieutenant Commander.”
As Quinn turned to go, N’Shan’s eyes settled on the screen again. “Admiral… this image. It belongs to Stevens?”
Quinn punched a button and the screen went blank. “No, that image was given to me by Doctor Evans, along with some insight into the situation. And Doctor Evans’ only psychological conflict is that he finds himself intrigued by a certain young woman with whom he must maintain a strict doctor-patient relationship.”
N’shan blinked slowly as the admiral left the room, and studied the ceiling. Humans! she thought to herself. And then simply, Men!