“Back in the Saddle” Sara Crusher, Lieutenant, CMO Stephanie Crusher, Captain, retired Sara was passing by a tavern on her way from another failed attempt at getting a meeting with Admiral Fatima when she heard a familiar voice. She paused, rocked back on her boot. She heard it again. The laughter inside was loud, a symphony - but that warm yet decisive voice could cut through it all like a knife through butter, glide like a dolphin in a wave. Outside of the opera, very few voices could do that. It took years to develop a voice like that. Years of being obeyed. Years of being used to command. Sara peered through the doorway into the midst of the glittering bodies of loose women and the strange, hulking darkness of non-humanoid visitors looming on barstools. The pale hand she expected was there, poised outward, fingers splayed like a shadow crane. "You're too kind!" Sara couldn't see her face, but she could picture that mouth, turned up in a dignified smile that said to the recipient 'You are special.' It was a smile that inspired the desire for more smiles. It was a smile that inspired loyalty and obedience. It was a smile Sara could imitate flawlessly, but liked to pretend she couldn't. Except sometimes around Asper. But he was an exception. Sara surveyed the crowd restlessly. When she was sure none of her crewmates were hiding within it, she walked toward the bar where she was sure that familiar shape would be. There, sitting at the far end of the bar, was the woman the voice and laugher belonged to. Sara watched as she easily commanded the conversation with out the others knowing it. Her long, honey colored hair was pulled back and she wore her uniform. Why? What in the world was she doing here? Sara decided to stay close to the bar and just watch the other woman for awhile. Stephanie Crusher, the indomitable, nicknamed once or twice "the crush" out of an ambiguous deference to her cute sensuality and her occasionally merciless attention to detail, was bored. When she got bored, she smiled more widely, which sometimes, as now, led to the other people in the room assuming she was having a simply marvelous time and providing more of whatever was producing the boredom. Just now, however, there was nothing else Stephanie would have rather been doing. There didn't seem to be much she enjoyed anymore when she was away from Earth and from her garden. Classes were lackluster. Bars like this one provided an occasional diverting glimpse into the life of those who chose to live by a moneyed economy instead of conserving a little and indulging in utopian Earth. The choice endlessly confused her. She'd never even held a bar of latinum, although she'd once been given a pair of latinum hoop earrings by a fervent admirer with sketchy taste in jewelry. But now she'd grown adept at navigating the rapids of their conversation and she could kick up a little surf of her own when she wanted to. For instance, at the moment she was trying to get the bejeweled and radiant Orion girl at the side of the bar to admit that she wanted a one-night contract with the barman. They were sending each other such signals that they might as well have been non-sentients creating a stink with pheromones. It was something to do. Stephanie raised her glass and toasted the bartender, making a cute admiring comment about his biceps. A few years ago, she would have cultivated an admiring blush to accompany the gesture, but now as crows feet crept toward the corners of her eyes and a vague strand of silver hair had once been glimpsed blighting the gold of her tresses, it was safe enough to be an outrageous flirt. Never loose with her favors beyond her smile, Stephanie wasn't too affected by that, but it marked the change in her life with a sort of dismal finality that did, occasionally, sting. "And to lovely starship Captains," the bartender replied, doling out a shot of aquamarine liquid to a green-garbed Klingon mutt. "That's lovely starship teachers," Stephanie qualified with a small smile. "But I'll take the toast. I never turn down a compliment." Taking in the Orion woman with a generous gesture, and grinning devilishly, she added, "No beautiful woman does." The Orion woman's cleavage glittered as she leaned forward to accept her drink from the bartender and Stephanie wasn't the only one who noticed that his steady hand shook enough to spill a few drops on the counter. The bartender paused to wipe them up with his towel when the Orion woman extended one long, green finger and said, "Oh, let me." She dabbed the liquid onto her fingertip and sucked it off, taking her time and lowering her lashes. Stephanie was amused, as she always was, when people insisted on acting as if they were in holovids. It was one reason she liked spending time with these money-economy types. They liked melodrama. And Stephanie liked to act, as long as she could be the director too. She sipped her drink and smiled at a Human man who had noticed her handiwork and rewarded her with a rye chuckle. Sara never ceased to be amazed at her mother’s abilities. She had grown up watching her mother play her little games. She had such a way with people, a strong presence that would dominate you in an instant and you would think nothing of it. As Sara watched her mother from the end of the bar where she couldn’t be seen she realized that her mother had so many of the traits she wished she had. A tall handsome human man walked up to Stephanie and Sara watched in amusement as he tried his best to pick her mother up. The man smiled and flirted without a clue that the woman he was talking to was married, a mother of two and even a new grandmother. But the way Stephanie was working him no one would have guessed any of that. When the bar tender finally made his way to Sara’s end of the bar, she ordered a pina colada. He smiled at her as he put the drink down in front of her. "She’s something else that one." He said when he noticed who Sara was watching. Sara laughed. "You have no idea." The sound of laugher had once again traveled across the room. Only this time it had caught the elder Crusher’s attention. Stephanie cocked her head to the side as the fog of her boredom lifted slightly, retreating to its ever present position just outside of sight. "As I live and breathe. Aren't you on your way to Earth, young lady?" Rushing over to hug her daughter enthusiastically and plant two firm kisses on her cheeks, European style, Stephanie held Sara at arm's length. "I like what that Cyanah's doing for you! What a healthy flush! A drink for my daughter, sir! And don't call us sisters, or I shall be offended. What mother wouldn't want the credit for such a lovely young woman?" As the bartender rushed to provide the drinks, Stephanie sat beside Sara and finally gave the younger woman a chance to speak. A blush nearly as red as her hair washed across Sara’s cheeks. All the stress, worries, and panic of her life at the moment seemed to be swept up in the hurricane that was her mother. "Hi to you to, Mom." She giggled as she reached for her drink. She wasn’t quite sure were to start in answering her mother’s questions and besides she had some of her own. "We were on our way to Earth but we had to drop something off and then ended up getting delayed here." Her smile seemed to fade as she thought about Captain Morrigan and the impending investigation into the events of their nightmare run to Cardassia. She sighed a little and the smiled as she looked at her mother. "What are you doing here by the way? And in uniform?" "Oh, you know me and uniforms, dear heart. If I'm not wearing 'em, I feel better in slacks and a tight-fitting jacket, and then who can tell the difference?" Laughing heartily, and raising her drink in a toast to her daughter - Sara hadn't even noticed when they'd arrived - Stephanie tipped a measure of amber liquid down her throat. It went down so smoothly that Sara wondered if the bartender had been watering down his ale, but it still felt like acid on her tongue. Funny - she didn't remember her mother being able to take her liquor so well. "So, my little girl, tell me all. I know you hate letters, so now here's your chance to prove that the storyteller gene didn't skip a generation!" Sara stared into her glass for a long moment trying to think of what to say. The dream she’d had that morning still played in her mind. "This was only meant to be a quick stop to drop off a ship we found while in Cardassian space. We were going to head for Earth like I said in my somewhat brief letter." She smiled a little. She really didn’t write home as much as she should. "But then all hell broke loose the minute we docked." "Good. My daughter should always be the center of attention. Like I say, if all hell is going to break loose, make sure you're right in the eye of the storm." With a small sigh, she stirred the liquid in her drink with a lazy rotation of her wrist. It twirled in a pirouette, dove in a whirlpool. A weak sound that was meant to be a laugh escaped from the back of Sara’s throat. "I’m not the one in the storm, Mom." She paused a moment to look at her mother’s hand resting on the bar. Without thinking she reached out and started to play with the ring that her mother wore on her right hand, something she hadn't done since she was a girl. "They arrested my Captain for something she didn’t do. None of us know what to do about it. Commander Andros is talking to Admiral Fatima but he won’t even see the rest of us." "I see." Stephanie paused, nibbling slightly on her lower lip. "Admiral Fatima. Tall man, broad-shouldered, dark hair, dark moustache, silly little accent? Limps a bit if he thinks no one's watching him?" Sara nodded. "I guess so. I haven’t seen him. I can’t get past his yeoman." Sara was starting to get that helpless feeling again. She was running out of ideas fast and would soon have to tell Morrigan that she couldn’t get her surgery moved to the station and worse yet she’d have to tell Cyanah she couldn’t help get Morrigan out of this mess. "The man doesn’t even care that Morrigan needs surgery or that she’s paralyzed from the waist down. I’ve tried everything I can think of, Mom, but no one ever listens to me. They all see me as some silly kid or something." "Mmm," said Stephanie, in that voice that Sara had learned meant she wasn't really listening. "Admiral Fatima. Well, you just let me know where he is. I'll call down, see what I can do. He ought to owe me for that passing grade." She laughed a little, and Sara noticed how brittle the undercurrent of her tone was, as though it was aging, becoming like sandpaper, being undermined by the same score of little wrinkles that was creeping across her complexion. Sara started to reach out and touch her mother's shoulder, but Stephanie's broad smile was back, and she was galloping down another avenue of conversation. "How many people are on your ship, dear heart? How many quarters total?" "Huh?" Sara was a little thrown off by the sudden change in topics. "About a hundred and fifty crewmen... Enough extra quarters for a whole delegation plus some. Nothing fancy though; we’re a small ship." She watched her mother closely, her head tilted to one side. Something didn’t seem quiet right, but she shrugged it off. "Why do you ask?" "I just want a favor from an old friend, that's all, dear." Stephanie tipped the last of her drink down her throat. "Nothing to worry yourself about. How is your Cyanah?" Sara had forgotten how conversations with her mother tended to bounce around. She liked having her mother there, even if she would never openly admit it. Sara closed her eyes to take a moment to check on the person her mother had asked about. "She’s worried about the Captain, but other than that she’s fine." Sara finally smiled brightly. "She’s back on the ship working in her lab." She could already hear her mother’s next question so she decided to beat her to the punch. "Wanna meet her? I’m sure she’d love to meet us for dinner or something." "Of course! Of course!" Stephanie's wide grin and open expression was childlike in its pleasure. She wrinkled her nose affectionately at her daughter. "But later," she added, as the distant look returned to her eyes. Ok that was it. Something wasn’t right. The last time she had talked to her mother all she could do was ask to meet Cyanah. It was becoming clear to Sara that she wasn’t the only one with a lot on her mind. "What’s wrong Mom? Something’s off." Sara watched her mother’s face as she continued to play with the ring absentmindedly twisting it back and forth around her mother’s finger. "Is it Dad? Matt? Did something go goofy at the academy?" Only Sara would have been able to attend the tiny details that betrayed the falsity of Stephanie's smile. "I'm on leave from the academy, dear. A little time off." That was a first. Her mother never took time off, unless it in some way had something to do with her or her brother. Suddenly the entire world seemed to no longer matter. All Sara wanted was to know what was bothering her mother. She stopped playing with the ring and instead wrapped her hand around her mother’s hand. "Why?" "I'm getting older, dear. I had you and I had Matt, and now you're both grown up and - well - good. You had your stable home and so did I. But I did have a life before you, you know." Sara nodded. "Your ships." Stephanie half-shrugged. The bartender took her glass, and replaced it with a tiny apertif, something pale blue - a dessert wine. "I came to the station to ask a friend of mine for a position on her ship. Nothing fancy, just a useful seat on the ride where an old Captain can't do any damage." "I think it’s wonderful you want to get back out there. I was little, but I remember how you were on your ship." Sara giggle. "I also remember causing trouble for you security staff." Stephanie moaned. "Don't remind me. Kayla Stewart never forgave me for that ruckus you caused. In ten years, I haven't gotten a response to a holiday greeting from her. Why did you have to keep running off with that damn ferret of hers?" Without letting her daughter respond, Stephanie waved the question aside with a flippant gesture, and continued rambling down a different path. “ I do want to get back out there. You needed... well, hon, you don’t even remember all that, do you?” Cupping her fingers beneath Sara’s chin, Stephanie smiled and nuzzled her cheek against Sara’s red hair. “But that’s what mothers do, you know. What’s best for the children. And you leave us, and grow up, and become beautiful, and meet strange women from lesbian planets.” She grinned. Sara was relieved to see a vestige of her mother’s natural gregariousness returning. “You’ll love her, Mom,” Sara said, patting Stephanie’s hand. “Of course I will. I just hope she’ll be tolerant of an old woman.” Sara wasn’t sure what part of that statement to attack first. “You’re not old,” she said for a start, wondering whether her mother was aware of just how well she’d aged. “And anyway, Cyanah will love you too.” “Oh, I hope so.” Stephanie dug in her purse for some Starfleet credits to chink on the counter. The bartenders in places like this liked some credits to round out their latinum every once in a while since the Federation gave generous exchange rates. “And I hope I’ll be good enough for her. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out there analyzing stellar cartography raw.” “What?” Sara stammered. “Well, I suppose it’s like they say. You know, riding a bicycle and all that. You probably never forget. But still! I’d like to make a good impression on my daughter’s Imzadi!” Stephanie leaned in and kissed Sara on the forehead. Her step had a little spring in it and her posture said ‘action. ’ “Now to get in touch with that silly Admiral Fatima. Too big for his britches, always wanting power. Little snot! As long as my old friend’s out of commission, I can’t get my favor, can I? Tit for tat, my dear, tit for tat. ” Stephanie wasn’t even watching Sara through the duration of her monologue which was just as well since Sara was staring at the wall, open-mouthed. “ Mom? You’re coming onboard the Banshee?” “I’ll be back forthwith, my dear. You enjoy a drink.” Stephanie snapped at the bartender and mouthed the words ‘pina colada’ with a wink. “If you need to find me, use your comm. badge. Love you much. See you soon.” “Huh?” Stephanie, in a whirlwind, disappeared. The bartender, with a flourish, deposited a pina colada in front of Sara. Sara, with her jaw still open, shrugged and drank.