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Rolland finished off a bite of steak. "Delicious," he said aloud, mostly to himself, but audible to the the others at the table in the Avalon's dining hall. The room was spacious and classically designed, with wooden tables, carpetting, and chandeliers -unlike anything Rolland had ever seen in Federation ships. There were four other seated at the table with Rolland: the ship's captain, Mary Lloyd, Erin Locke, the Federation ambassador to the Catechumen, and two Avalon officers. "Someone could get used to this ship."

"Well," Captain Lloyd smiled, "it's a long trip ahead of us -and you're always welcome aboard."

"Thanks for the offer, but once we get moving I should really be on my ship." Rolland chuckled. "I am the Captain, after all."

"It's your call to make."

"Say," Rolland looked around the dining hall, "I can't help but notice this room. Isn't it a bit much -I mean, for a starship?"

Captain Lloyd laughed. "I can see why you would say that. But then again, you must be used to military vessels."

"-But even for a research vessel."

"Well, the Avalon isn't simply a research vessel."

"What do you mean?"

"We've got a population in excess of three thousand. The Avalon is long term living space for many of these people -only a fraction of whom are trained for starship operations. We have researchers, their families, trainees for academic programs. We have visiting guests, ambassadors from other species, politicians, foreign dignitaries. The Avalon is, more or less, a star-faring university, and an intellectual hub for the Alliance."

Two men walked towards their table from the entrance across the room -a security officer escorting a thirty-something bearded man wearing the Alliance Dragoon uniform. The distinctive military uniform had blue pants with a deep purple suit-top, all of it with gold trim and buttons. The officer motioned to Rolland's table, and the Dragoon stepped forward, removing his black cap.

"Captain Mary Lloyd?"


"I'm Dragoon Lieutenant Jovan Leeper -I've been temporarily stationed on board the Avalon."

"Pleased to meet you," Mary stood. "This is lieutenant Jessop, and ambassador Primakov," Captain Lloyd motioned to the Alliance officers as she introduced them, and they stood to shake hands with Jovan.

Erin and Rolland rose from their chairs as well. "Captain Rolland Barron, Federation Excalibur." He then motioned to Erin, "Ambassador Locke."

"Welcome aboard, Jovan," Mary said, "please join us."

As the group sat back down, Jovan Leeper pulled in a chair from an empty table and joined them. Erin Locke looked in his direction. "So, Lieutenant -why the need for a Dragoon posted on the Avalon?"

"I was wondering the same thing myself," Mary added.

"I'm here for security assessment," Jovan said perfunctorily.

"I wasn't informed," Mary peered at the Dragoon.

"Well -It was meant to be a surprise assessment. Protocol and tactical readiness."

"You're sure it has nothing to do with the Catechumen?"

"Those are my orders," the Dragoon answered simply.

"Alright." Mary leaned back and smiled. "Well now that the topic is in the air, perhaps we should discuss it?" She looked across the group, and back to Lieutenant Leeper. "Jovan, what is your opinion on the Catechumen?"

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