Tonight then, was just like any other night. After my final lecture, I grabbed a bite to eat and headed down to the library, stooped over the monitors for a couple of hours, headed back to my digs to write it all up and then found myself sobbing over the keyboard. I didn't even notice Bairn until she placed a hand lightly upon my shoulder, I was sobbing so hard. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
"Sorry," I said, wiping my face.
"Don't be," she said, and then she did something I would never have expected of her. She embraced me. Of course, I just burst into a fresh eruption of tears.
"I can't do this!" I shouted.
"I know," she whispered into my ear and softly kissed my temple.
It's not what I wanted to hear. I wanted someone to reassure me, to tell me I could do it, so my tears came harder and faster.
"Not like this anyway," she added.
My tears subsided a little and I snivelled, "Wha'?"
"Jen, only a Vulcan could keep the pace you've set yourself; and you're not a Vulcan. You're Human. I know you feel you've got something to prove—"
"I can't let Jarrod, T'Roc or Dreganan down!"
"Never mind them. They're not important here. The only person that matters here is you! Now listen to me ..." Bairn pulled me away from my workstation and sat me on the bed. "You, Jenny Terran, are not letting anybody down other than yourself, and simply because you are setting the bar impossibly high. You are setting yourself up to fail—not by Academy standards, but by your own. You, my dear, could pass every exam the Academy has to offer and you would still fail in your own mind. I've watched you night after night, toil and sweat over books and datapads, but I've not seen you smile once in weeks."
I sniffed hard, wondering how awful I must look, soggy-nosed and red-eyed next to the glamorous Bairn.
"Even now, you're comparing yourself to some impossibly brilliant person, some Einstein that us mere mortals can never hope to beat at a simple game of chess let alone create a new and improved Theory of Relativity."
I giggled at that. I might not be comparing myself to someone of superior intelligence, but I was comparing myself against the impossibly attractive Bairn.
"So, you think I should give up and lower my sights."
"No, stupid! You need to aim high if you want to reach the stars, but you need to chill out every now and then too. Come on, let's go out."
I sighed, debating. I really didn't fancy a lot of company.
"Sorry Bairn, but I don't fancy going to the club or anything."
"I'm not taking you into town. I'm going to take you to my special place."
"Yes. It's where I go to think. We'll stop by the Mess Hall and pick up a picnic. Come on!"
"But I have to finish this!" I cried.
"No, you don't! It's not due in until the end of the week, so come on, misery guts! Get your boots on!"
Reluctantly, I let Bairn drag me down to the Mess Hall. She headed straight to the counter where a lady was tidying up.
"Hi Beryl!" she greeted the woman warmly.
"Oh, hello Bairn. Not out with the boys this evening?" asked Beryl. She was a lady trapped between middle-age and elderly. Her short, wiry, grey hair sat in curls on her head. Her complexion was fair and clear and her grey eyes that should have been dulled by age, shone brightly.
"No, Jen and I are going on a midnight picnic," Bairn declared proudly.
"Ah! So you'll be needing a packed basket?" Her voice was tinged with a slight Irish accent.
"Please," beamed Bairn.
Immediately the lady produced a neat wicker box and swiftly assembled a small picnic for us. She smiled as she handed it over and said, "And you'll be needing this too," and produced a blanket.
"Thank you Beryl!" chirruped Bairn, and then she linked her arm through mine and we were off.
It was about ten in the evening and a beautiful night. The sky was cloudless and sapphire black. Stars glistened across the sky, scattered across it like glitter. It was warm and breezeless too, so much so that we didn't need jackets. I thought we were going to take a transport somewhere, but no. Bairn led me through the gardens and then up a path hidden by the trees, over some hills and down a small valley. Then we climbed a relatively small rugged outcrop and climbed up another grassy hillock. It was a wonderful walk and we chatted the whole way, not about anything in particular, just stuff.
As we reached the top of the hillock, I realised it wasn't a hill at all. At the top, the ground broke away savagely and dropped below into the sea. The Golden Gate Bridge spanned the water below us and we could see for miles over the Academy, San Francisco and miles beyond that. It was truly beautiful.
Bairn threw the blanket onto the ground and we sat down to our midnight feast. It was wonderful. Cheese and pickle sandwiches, pork pies, a soft drink I've never had before and some sweet biscuits to finish. I'd forgotten how good it was to enjoy a meal in company and resolved I wouldn't be eating alone again.
Having finished our food, we lay on the blanket and gazed up at the stars.
"So what do you want to do when you've finished here?" I asked Bairn.
"Oh that's easy. I'm going to be a doctor. I want to be the Chief Medical Officer on a Starship," and she regaled her five-year plan. She had it all mapped out, but again, the question of whether she'd get a posting on a starship haunted me.
"You've gone very quiet," said Bairn noticing my silence.
"Have I? Sorry," I said.
"What is it?"
Bairn sat up. For all her faults, she is incredibly insightful.
"Nothing," I lied, but she could tell it wasn't the truth.
"No," she scowled at me. "You're hiding something. What is it? Have you thought of something I haven't?" She was genuinely concerned so I sat up too. I decided now was the time to pose the question.
"It's just ..."
"It's just that ... being an Orion ... men are always somewhat distracted around you. I mean ... doesn't that make you a bit of a liability? Sorry, I don't mean to be a killjoy, but ... if the crew are more focused on you than on their jobs—"
Her face fell as I crushed her ambitions.
"Oh!" she said.
"Sorry Bairn. I shouldn't have said anything."
"No, no. You should." She bit her lip and her eyes moistened as she fought back tears. "I'd never thought of that. How could I not have realised? It changes everything. I'll never get my own department. I'll never even get on a starship!"
"Well, that's not true either." I had to rescue the situation.
"But it is!"
"No, it's not!"
Her face was so despondent.
"No Bairn." I saw the look of hopelessness in her eyes. "I hope you're not thinking of dropping out!"
"Then what do you suggest?" she snapped. "I take pheromone suppressants already. What else can I do?"
"Well, you could flirt less," I suggested.
"I do not flirt!" she shouted angrily at me.
I couldn't help it, I laughed and she glared back at me.
"Bairn, I'm sorry, but you are the biggest flirt I've ever come across. I've even seen you wink at lecturers at the beginning of a lesson."
"Yes, but that's ... that's ..."
"No! It's ... just ... making them feel at ease."
"No Bairn. It's flirting!"
"No!" she shouted, desperation high in her voice and she threw herself onto the blanket and covered her eyes.
I felt awful. She had been so kind in lifting my spirits and I had just destroyed her dreams.
And then I had a thought.
"What?" she snapped dismally.
"Has anybody ever undertaken a proper study about the Orion female's ability to attract?"
"How do you think the pheromone suppressants were developed?" She sounded quite bitter.
"No, I mean ... is it all pheromones or do mannerisms have a part to play?"
I looked at her as she lay there. After a few minutes, she drew her hands away from her face. She was scowling and thinking hard. Suddenly, she sat up again. She looked hard at me and rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
"You mean, can an Orion female turn off her charm?"
She thought some more.
"I don't know. I don't think it's something an Orion female has ever considered. Why would she? It's how we achieve what we wish to attain."
"Newsflash! It only works with men. I doubt that you're going to pass your final year with charm alone."
Her face suddenly lit up.
"Or maybe it is!"
"It would make a fantastic final year paper."
"What? How to get into Starfleet with a flirt."
"No, silly," and she playfully punched my arm. "Can an Orion girl perform as an ordinary Human does? Can she turn off her charm? It sounds like a trivial matter, but this is incredibly important, especially if Orion women are going to get into Starfleet in the future. It is vitally important that she doesn't distract those around her from performing their duties. It's a fantastic idea! I'll need to conduct experiments." She was in full flow, excitement riding high in her voice.
"Well, you have plenty of subjects in the Academy."
"Yes, but I'll need your help."
"Me? What can I do?"
"You need to help me be ... unattractive; tell me how you put men off."
I laughed aloud. She was oblivious to the fact that she had just insulted me.
"Should I get my hair cut do you think?" she suddenly asked fondling her long, black locks. I laughed all the more.
"Oh, Bairn. I love your optimism!"
She smiled at me.
"I think I got it from you. Come on, we need to get back so we've got time to change ready for our first lectures tomorrow."
"Don't you mean today?"
It was two-thirty as we packed our stuff up and began walking back. All the way, we were working out how Bairn was going to conduct these experiments and what areas she should study: her physical looks, her mannerisms, her biology and so on. From what she knew, no one had ever asked such probing questions. Only the biological aspects of the Orion had ever been studied. It is a wonderful opportunity to present something new in a final paper and will be an invaluable study for Orions and non-Orions alike.