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SEP/OCT WINNER: Love is a battlefield


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Stanley Brown smiled as he graciously accepted the second prize rosette for his three dimensional holographic model of a hypothetical tricyclic warp drive assembly complete with a revolutionary energised dilithium articulation frame.

The model had taken many hours of painstaking programming and days of research, tests and simulations. Stan felt he’d got it for sure this time when he had set everything up. But, no, Varin had sauntered in late as usual and casually unveiled his quadracyclic warp drive. Stan’s heart had dropped into his boots. The first prize, of course, went to Varin.

An hour later, after everyone else had packed up and gone, Stan was still sulking around the library atrium. This had been his life for the last two and a half years since coming to the Academy in San Francisco. Stan was consistently second in all his subjects and projects, pipped to the post every time by Varin. The hybrid had beaten him in physics, biology, maths, stellar cartography, astrogation. You name it. Stan had tried on a number of occasions to reassert his authority, but his challenge to a game of 3D chess had ended in defeat, as had the holodeck Borg simulation - Stan had ended up assimilated while Varin saved the ship.

But there was yet one challenge they had not visited. Stan had dismissed it in the past as being too tough. In fact the very thought of it made his palms sweat. But he couldn’t remain second best forever, something needed to be done. And at least in this arena they would be equally handicapped.

Rubbing his hands absently on his trousers, Stan set off in search of his nemesis.

* * *

“So the neutron walked into a bar and asked, "How much for a drink?" The bartender replied, "For you, no charge".“

Varin smiled as he finished the joke. Around him the small audience broke into sycophantic laughs. They were all, Stan noticed, male members of the debating society. He stepped closer and called out.

“Varin.”

“Ah, Mr Brown! So sorry about your project. Three cylinders wasn’t it? It looked like you worked hard on it, too.”

“Save it Varin, I have a new challenge.”

“Oh Stanley, really?” Varin sighed as he ran a hand through his white hair. The overhead lights gave his blue-tinged skin a faint cerulean glow. “What this time? More chess?”

“No, Varin, this time it’s a real challenge, equal footing. A chance to pit all our intellectual skills in new ways.” He flashed a smile. “You wouldn’t back down from that, would you?”

“Back down? From you? I’ve beaten you all through the first year, all through the second year and I’ll beat you through this one, too, Stan. Go on, throw down your gauntlet and let’s get this over with.”

“Very well.” Stan took a deep breath. Even saying the words was an effort. “Before the end of this term you must have a girlfriend. And I mean a proper one, with regular dates and everything. Whoever achieves the goal first, wins.”

Varin jumped up from his seat instantly. Although at only five feet tall he was rather lost among his cohorts.

“A girlfriend? By the end of term? That’s… impossible. Can’t be done.”

“Oh?” It was Stan’s turn to sound mocking. “So you refuse the challenge?”

“I didn’t say that!” Varin replied hastily. “I accept. We shall begin tomorrow at dawn, agreed?”

Stan nodded. “Agreed.”

* * *

Stan gulped down half a glass of iced water in one go and winced as his teeth froze. The evening was not going well and they’d not even finished the starters yet.

His date for tonight was Gloria Fairfield, a first year astrophysicist and daughter of one of the lecturers. Quite a catch, or she would have been if he hadn’t transported to the wrong halls of residence and turned up to meet her forty-five minutes late, thereby missing their reservation at the Presidente in Mexico City and winding up in some little side street bistro in the Portales de los Mercaderes. The situation, however, was not unsalvageable. The bistro had a certain historic charm, the evening was warm and pleasant with a full moon ripe in the sky. Stan had managed to catch Gloria’s eye with what he hoped was an alluring look. He’d even reached tentatively across the table to take her hand, which was when he’d knocked the carafe of sangria into her lap. Things had been rather uncomfortable since then.

Stan sighed as he crunched on an ice cube. His date sat opposite him with her arms folded, staring towards the moon, clearly wishing she was in Tycho City rather than Mexico City. Stan was familiar with the look. Over the past month he’d seen several variations of it on the faces of Tiffany Strange (red-haired medical student, secretly into dressing as a vampire on the holodeck every other weekend, although it turned out this wasn’t something to mention in front of all her course mates), Karol Dearnes (half-Deltan computer whiz, highly allergic to kava nut soup and not at all fond of having her stomach pumped), T’lorra (Vulcan athlete, captain of the fencing team. Interested in; social experiments with otherwise undesirable male students. Not interested in; second dates). And, of course, Elizabeth de Grey (a post graduate, junior lecturer in planetary sciences, generally regarded as one of the most intellectually-gifted students to have passed through the academy in recent years. Keen on trying alien foods, not keen on cleaning vomit out of her hair when her date discovers that live gagh is too much for him after an aperitif of bloodwine).

The rest of the evening passed in a bearable fashion - the food was good, the conversation just about polite. Gloria declined the offer of dessert, coffee and, unsurprisingly, a shared transport back her place. Returning home alone once again, Stan ran a tired hand through his hair. Perhaps, he thought, this hadn’t been such a good idea after all. As he removed his shoes a beep from his console alerted him to an incoming message. He reached over and gave it a tap.

“Stanley Brown here.”

The azure features of Varin appeared on the screen. He was grinning.

“Ah, Stanley. I thought I’d give you a quick buzz, see how your date went this evening. Professor Fairfield‘s daughter, wasn’t it?”

“It went fine. I mean well, it went well. Very well in fact.”

“Oh good to hear. It must have been quite a short date though if you’re back already.”

Stan muttered something about time zones and Varin cupped a hand to his ear.

“I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch that, Stanley. Anyway, I’ll not keep you, I have Lizzie de Grey here waiting to play a game of Kal-toh. We’ve had quite an evening together already. In fact, it’s been so much fun we’re going to do the same again this weekend.” Varin paused and turned his smug smirk up a few extra notches. “Didn’t she go for a meal with you last week? I think she mentioned something about washing her hair. Anyway, goodbye for now!”

Stan sat in silence for some time, a black shoe still clutched in one hand. Varin had a second date? With Elizabeth de Grey of all people? Then the competition was all but over, Stan had lost yet again and this time there would be no coming back.

* * *

“Oh, it’s you.”

Tiffany Strange pulled her purple velvet cloak around her a little more tightly as she looked Stan up and down.

“What are you doing here?”

Stanley felt a little foolish in his Gothic ensemble. The cravat had taken ages to tie properly and the fake fangs gave him a slight lisp. Still, Tiffany had seemed the most promising, and least unsuccessful, of all his dates so far as he was running out of time.

“I thought I’d come along and find out more about your hobby. You made it sound so interesting before.” It wasn't entirely untrue.

“Yeah? When was that, Stan? Was it before or after my friends stopped laughing at me.” The look she gave him was full of venom. “Besides, I’ve already heard about your competition with Varin, he told me all about it when he asked me out.”

“He asked you out, too?” Stan groaned. “Well, I, er… sorry?”

“Don’t bother. The idiot never turned up for our date, too busy with that de Grey girl.”

“Oh, so they are going out then?” Stan felt the overwhelming sense of loss wash over him and sat down dejectedly in one of the leather armchairs. “He wins again, I guess.”

“Going out? You’d not heard?”

“What?”

“Varin and Elizabeth are on their way to Risa.”

“Risa?!” Stan’s mouth dropped open. So not only had Varin won the bet but he was also on his way to paradise with the most sort after bit of thinking man’s crumpet in the entire Academy. There was no doubt that Varin would be even more insufferable when they returned.

Stan frowned as a sudden thought struck him. “Wait, how could they have gone to Risa? End of term exams start next week, Varin’s not going to risk missing any revision time."

“You’ve really missed all the gossip haven’t you, Stan?" They’ve left the Academy, both of them. Dropped out. They’re on their way to Risa to get married.” A faraway look crept into Tiffany's eyes, behind the heavy make-up, and she clasped her hands together. “Putting love before their Starfleet careers, isn’t that the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?”

“Yes.“ Stan’s eyes lit up. “Yes it is romantic. So very romantic.”

Realisation was dawning. He may have lost the battle, but he had very definitely just won the war.

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