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Lt. Jona ch'Ranni -What About Us, Parts I-III

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I really enjoyed reading this little side story, and I hope we see more of Dehner Base in the future!
((Shuttlecraft M'Dank, Tyrellian System))

Jona ch’Ranni was dead bored. There was no other way to express the intensity of what he felt sitting in the pilot’s chair of the Type 2 shuttlecraft. An empty starfield was splashed across the [...]pit windows. Dabbles of starlight - so often the source of poetry for anonymous writers spread among countless worlds – taunted the normally good-natured Andorian. It wasn’t the stars at fault themselves. In fact, he hadn’t met a star he didn’t like. Except for Betelgeuse - it was a jerk. It was the tedious and menial work of waiting for a rendezvous with a supply freighter that had Jona on the wrong end of the joviality wagon.

For the hundredth time, his thin cornflower-blue fingers tapped out the activation sequence on the control panel that would initiate a refresh of the sensor data. Jona sighed heavily and wondered who he had angered on the ship to pull such an assignment. No doubt the rest of his shipmates were laughing and clinking glasses with each other on the beach. They would regale him with the exquisite foods and picturesque scenery he had missed out on.

ch'Ranni: Well, they can just stow it.

The lanky Andorian stretched his arms above his head, working the kinks from his lower back and repositioning his frame in the seat. He ran his hands down his face, rubbing his palms into his tired eyes and tried to shake the weariness from his brain. He tapped the key sequence on the panel again – for the hundred and first time – and the gods answered his unspoken prayers. A ship.

ch'Ranni: Computer, put the approaching vessel on screen.

The computer focused on a sleek Bolian freighter that exited warp, leaving a trail of luminescent super-excited particles in its wake. It bore down on the tiny shuttle like an unsuspecting insect. Jona came from a race of aliens that counted insects among their evolutionary progenitors, and so, he found the analogy a little on the nose. Nevertheless, the arrival was expected … even if a bit delayed.

ch'Ranni: Shuttlecraft M'Dank to Bolian freighter. Welcome. Lieutenant ch’Ranni, here. Ready to receive the supplies.

With any luck, Jona could be on his way back to the ship within the hour. He might even make it back in time for the springball tournament scheduled for 1800 hours. A small lopsided grin crossed his face as things suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

The viewscreen activated and the face on the screen made his heart leap into his throat. The azure skin and pale, curly locks of the woman were etched in his memory. It had been years since he had last seen her. Time had been kind to her and now she was more beautiful than even his rose-colored memory allowed. The scientist with the impish smile that he had fallen head over heels for at Dehner Base was the last person he expected to see again – especially with how they had ended things.

zh'Lev: Hello, Jona. It’s good to see you.

ch'Ranni: Vexa.

The one word was all he could croak out before the air left his lungs with the cheap shot that reality delivered to his gut. After a few seconds Jona realized that he was not breathing and consciously inhaled again. What would it look like if he fainted at the sight of his former girlfriend?

ch'Ranni: Why are you here?

Apparently, he was now able to form complete sentences, which was a marked improvement. The Andorian girl sat back in her chair, the curls of snow white hair framing her face and bouncing in response to her movement. Her ice blue eyes seemed to search the screen, piercing straight through his shields and searing the hull of his heart. Her antennae bobbed forward as her voice took on a pleading tone.

zh'Lev: Jojo, I need your help.

ch'Ranni: Of course, what can I do?

The words were spoken without hesitation. Both knew that Jona would be unable to refuse whatever she asked. When they had parted ways, it was as if his heart had been shredded by a dull knife. After his reassignment far from the Sagittarius Reach, they had tried for months in a vain attempt to make things work.  But they had drifted apart in the ocean of time and space. At the end, he had made a renewed attempt to solidify their relationship only to find that she had moved on.

Jona’s face flushed a darker shade of blue as the pent-up feelings came crashing back on him. He truly missed her and now would do whatever she required, if only to get her back into his life in some small way. His heart swelled as he realized she had tracked him across the quadrant. It could mean only that she had realized the error of her ways. They could regain what they had lost and rekindle the spark they had shared together.

zh'Lev: I need you to kill someone.
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((Shuttlecraft M'Dank, Tyrellian System))  

ch'Ranni: Um, excuse me?
Surely the UT had glitched for a second.
zh'Lev: I need you to kill someone.
Nope, that's what she said. Jona sat back heavily in his padded chair and let out a long breath.
ch'Ranni: What's going on, Vexa? Talk to me.
zh'Lev: Maybe it's better if I come aboard.
ch'Ranni: Yes, yes, of course. Sending coordinates.
Jona tapped out the command on his comm panel and swiveled his chair around after the transmission cut out. He lifted himself from his station and bounded toward the back of the small craft just as the woman he once loved with his whole heart coalesced into being from a pillar of sparkling blue particles.
The zhen grabbed him in a tight hug and they stood in silence for a few moments, content to let the galaxy around them continue on undisturbed. After what seemed like a selfish, self-indulgent amount of time, Jona pulled himself away from the petite woman and looked into her cerulean eyes.
ch'Ranni: What's this about?
zh'Lev: I'm in a lot of trouble, Jona. You're the only one I could think of to help.
ch'Ranni: Ok, start from the beginning.
The two took seats facing each other with Jona refusing to let go of the woman's hand lest she disappear like an ethereal ghost in a gloomy mist.
zh'Lev: It started about six months ago. Things were going fine on Dehner Base. And then the pirates returned.
ch'Ranni: The Eildyr?
Jona spoke the name of the nefarious ship that had raided the research outpost under the direction of the Losarian pirate Tarius Kaironn. He spoke it as a question but instantly knew the answer even without meeting Vexa's beautiful eyes.
zh'Lev: ::quietly:: Yes. The Columbia took Kaironn into custody but you let his crew go. ::beat:: Well, they returned with a new leader, a man named Gijo and they began their raids again. 
ch'Ranni: But, how -
zh'Lev: Why did you have to leave us all alone out there on the frontier of the galaxy, Jona?
For a split second, the Andorian bristled at the woman's accusation. The swell of irritation deflated quickly though.
ch'Ranni: ::shaking his head:: Vexa, there wasn't anything we could do. The Columbia was recalled - decommissioned - we couldn't stay. Surely, the base's defenses -
zh'Lev: It wasn't enough. ::tears had begun to form in the corners of her blue eyes:: They took out the defenses on their first raid and then pulled back. Hit us again a week later and then disappeared into the shadows. Disrupted our monthly supply convoy and tucked tail and ran. There wasn't anything we could do.
Jona squeezed her hand to try to communicate that she was safe now but she barely responded. The young woman stared out at the stars, avoiding his gaze. She continued on with her story with a vehemence that surprised him. Her soft, white curls bounced at her shoulders as her anger mounted.
zh'Lev: Some of the base's staff have left. And the rest are ready to. If something isn't done, Dehner Base will be a ghost town within a few months.
ch'Ranni: What about the Losarian government?
Jona brought up the one saving grace of the Sagittarius Reach. Meeting the Losarian people in that far-flung region of space had been a coup for the Federation. Nearby reasonable allies were a godsend for such a remote installation. It had been quite the feather in Captain Whittaker's hat to broker good relations with the people of Losaria.
zh'Lev: ::shaking her head:: There's little they can do. They can't keep watch over us all the time. We need your help, Jona.
ch'Ranni: What am I supposed to do about it?
zh'Lev: ::pleading:: Talk to Starfleet. Let them know the direness of the situation. Beg them to send someone to the Delta Vega system and rid us of those damnable pirates.
The Andorian sat back in his chair. It was a tall order. Who was he that anyone at Starfleet Command would ever give him the time of day? His gaze met the pained stare of his once beloved Vexa. The gnawing bite of guilt cut into his gut.
ch'Ranni: ::letting out a slow breath:: No promises. ::beat:: I'll see what I can do.
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((Shuttlecraft M'Dank, Tyrellian System))  

Two and a half hours had passed as Jona waded through the bureaucratic red tape. He had been handed off from official to official until he'd finally been granted a meeting with the commanding officer of the nearest starbase to the Sagittarius Reach - a Starbase still a few weeks away from the far-flung edge of the galaxy that counted Dehner Base among its residents. He wasted no time in filling the stern-looking man in on the pirate raids plaguing the science facility.
ch'Ranni: Thank you, sir. We both appreciate whatever you can do.
Vodek: =/\= Indeed, Lieutenant ch'Ranni. We welcome your insights into this situation. Starbase 11, out. =/\=
The viewscreen's feed from the distant starbase winked out to be replaced by the star-filled UFP symbol. Jona sat back in his seat and gave a hard look over at the Andorian woman next to him. She didn't look particularly pleased.
ch'Ranni: I'm sure Captain Vodek will do everything he can to make sure Dehner Base is protected.
zh'Lev: ::frowning and crossing her arms across her chest:: I don't know, Jojo. He was hard to read - even for a Vulcan - but I didn't get the impression that pirates three sectors away were at the top of his priority list.
ch'Ranni: Now, Vexa, that's not fair. Dehner Base is a distant outpost. I'm sure he's got his hands full -
zh'Lev: Yeah, yeah. I know. It just feels like we're alone out there sometimes.
ch'Ranni: ::pause:: Well, space can be a lonely place, you know?
zh'Lev: ::pause:: Yeah, I know.
An awkward, pregnant silence filled the tiny craft and made it feel as if the coldness of space was seeping in through the transparent windows. After an eternity of seconds, Jona cleared his throat.
ch'RannI: So, how's ... what's his name ... Brax?
zh'Lev: ::rolling her eyes:: Brix. His name is Brix. And we broke up, actually.
Jona's left antennae registered his surprise even if his facial features didn't.
ch'Ranni: You ... broke up?
zh'Lev: Yes, two months ago. Brix wanted to leave because of the pirate attacks and I wanted to stay and continue my work.
ch'Ranni: And?
zh'Lev: And so he did. And I did. 
ch'Ranni: I see.
zh'Lev: ::huffing slightly:: To be honest, it was over already. That was just the final skel in the ksennuv. We wanted different things.
ch'Ranni: Like us?
The woman turned her head to the side to stare at her one-time romantic partner. Her gaze fell upon his jawline, the jaw muscles taut with tension. Stubbly white hairs poking through his skin and threatening to become an actual beard if not touched up in the next few days. She reached a finger up and stroked the hair near his ear.
zh'Lev: No, Jojo, not like us. Even at our worst, I never believed we wanted different things. We both wanted the same thing. We wanted what was best for the other person.
ch'Ranni: Well, that sucks.
zh'Lev: Yes, it does.
ch'Ranni: What will you do now, V?
zh'Lev: I have to go back.
ch'Ranni: You ... ::hesitating:: You could stay here.
zh'Lev: ::meeting Jona's gaze:: You could come back with me to Delta Vega.
The stab in Jona side could be felt physically. It was difficult to breathe for a second but he finally got his words out.
ch'Ranni: I don't think I can do that.
zh'Lev: I understand. And I think you understand why I can't stay either.
The two Andorians stood up from their cushioned seats reluctantly and hugged, holding each other tightly in the confines of the cramped shuttlecraft. Jona didn't want to let go but was forced to break contact after he could no longer justify the continuance of the embrace. Vexa cupped his face with her hands and softly kissed him on the lips. When they parted once more, Jona used his thumb to wipe away the single tear that glided down the young woman's cheek.
With a final silent nod and a brave smile, Vexa took her place on the transporter pad.
ch'Ranni: Wait.
Jona turned and rummaged in a cabinet bin for a second and pulled out a finger sized device. He tapped out a code on the mechanism and handed it to the woman.
ch'Ranni: A long-range subspace transponder beacon. It's coded to my attention. If ... if you're in trouble ... if there's no way out -
zh'Lev: I know. Thank you, Jona, for everything. Love you always.
ch'Ranni: Love you always.
With a tap on the pin on her chest, Jona's first and best love shimmered and dissolved in a spray of light particles. Through the shuttle's window, Jona could see the Bolian craft she'd arrived on come about and seem to snap forward as it warped out of the system.
ch'Ranni: ::whispering:: But, Vexa, what about us?
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