Nira slowly wiggled her toes in the damp sand, allowing it to fill in the gaps between them, drawing a slow and deep breath in anticipation of the gentle waves of the ocean. She closed her eyes as the sounds of the beach filled her ears, drowning her thoughts and anxiety. The space of a few seconds felt like hours, like time itself had stopped for a brief moment. She would miss the beaches. The gentle wave quickly rushed over feet and ankles, before receding again into the endless sea in front of her, its energy slightly burying her feet onto the fine white sand. She could almost feel the tiny electrical impulses moving up through her nerves all the way from her toes into her brain, like an giant thunderstorm on a small scale. It was on moments like these that she felt completely connected to her homeworld. It was like the planet, herself, and every other Deltan on it were joined in a single entity for a split second. She stood there, eyes closed and feet half-buried on the sand for at least one hour, and perhaps two, until she felt the familiar presence approaching, from somewhere behind her. She had been feeling that presence for the better part of her life, and, in fact, she knew it so well that she could distinguish it faintly, even when it was halfway across the planet. It was Aliria. Nira and Aliria had been best friends for as long as they both could remember. They had grown up across the street from each other, and while they both had formed many other connections over the years, none had been so strong, so unbreakable as what they shared with one another. Nira smiled a split second before Aliria’s palm touched her shoulder. “You’re going to sink into the sand if you stay here for a little longer”, Aliria said, her voice soft and low, but with a hint of the same smile that framed Nira’s face. “I wish I could stay here forever”, Nira replied, turning around to face her friend and reaching for her hand. “You can. Whether that will make you happy is another matter entirely.” Nira had applied to join Starfleet of her own free will. She was just too curious to spend her whole life home, she used to say, but as her departure date for Earth approached, and the reality of roaming the skies in a spaceship with limited real contact with other Deltans sunk in, she almost regretted her decision. “Don’t”, Aliria said as she felt Nira’s thoughts drifting towards what she was giving up on, “This is you. I remember when we were in school and you’d spend your vacations reading up on quantum mechanics and…what was that, again? The origin of time?” “I just wonder if I’m making the right decision…I’m going to miss this place so much…You most of all”, Nira said, taking one step towards her friend. “I don’t want to drift apart from you…I don’t want to drift apart from home…I don’t want to be alone” Nira could feel the tears making their way to her eyes, and she knew Aliria could feel them too. There was no need to hide them. “You won’t be”, Aliria said, reaching up to her friend’s face with her hands, “Remember when you told me that whole thing about everything in the universe being connected? What was that again? Something about elements…” “We’re all little pieces of the universe”, Nira replied, wrapping her arms around Aliria and holding her close. “We’re all little pieces of the universe, yes”, Aliria repeated, running her hands gently through Nira’s hairless head. “How can you be alone if we’re all little pieces of the same thing, genius? I’m never leaving you…And you’re never leaving me.” FOUR YEARS LATER STARBASE 118 Nira stared out into darkness of space, her eyes focused on a distant dim star. No matter where she went, she always knew the way home. She had been to Delta IV a handful of times since she joined Starfleet, but she always felt like the loneliness of outer space was even worse than she feared. Deltans made up a tiny fraction of Starfleet, and now, more than ever, she understood why. Part of her had always dreamed of roaming the stars. It had been said that there were two kinds of people, the ones who want to be astronomers, and the ones who wanted to be astronauts. The astronomers got to study the mysteries of the universe from the comfort of their laboratories, hardly ever farther than a shuttle ride home. The astronauts, however, weren’t content to just unravel the mysteries, they need to see them, feel them, touch them. Nira was definitely the latter, she had decided long ago. But that knowledge didn’t give her any comfort. Most days she missed home, on a good day she would find something to distract her from that, usually a problem, but on bad days…Well, on bad days she just wanted to steal the fastest shuttle she could find and plot a course home. Not everything was sadness though. Surprisingly, even on the worst days she managed to find pleasure in the mundane things outside her home world. There was always a new dish to taste, a new sight to see, and that, while not making her feel any less homesick, almost made it up for all the loneliness. Starbase 118 was a unique opportunity to explore new things. Food, smells, art and people from so many different places, all gathered in one station. The prospects of what she could experience in her two days before her final test began excited her. Perhaps because of that it was hard to keep a low profile in the station. Wherever she went, all eyes turned towards her, but that wasn’t new. She had become accustomed to that during her four years at the Academy. She turned away from the viewport and faced the promenade, ignoring all the glances and stares. Then, the thought struck her, so suddenly that it was almost like it wasn't her own. It felt more like someone else was sharing the thought with her. Nira couldn't hold it back, and thus she smiled widely. She was ready for it. She was ready for Starfleet.