This was it. All the years of hard work and persistence were finally going to pay off and amount to something. Something that was worthwhile.

The girl smiled to herself as she continued to pack her sparse belongings. After years of feeling lost and barely making it from one day to the next, she had finally found a purpose in life. Abandoning a mediocre life of fighting, drugs, gambling, and going nowhere in exchange for one that was full of hope and promises of doing something with her life. She still remembered that day, as clearly as if it had happened only a moment ago.

Four Years Ago

Seeing large red numbers flashing 7:00 pm, the woman realized that her shift at the bar would be starting soon, and if she didn't get moving she'd surely be late. Dragging her exhausted body from the warmth of the futon, she managed to make her way across the small bedroom to the bathroom and proceeded to turn on the shower. Leisurely stripping off her clothes she observed her naked form in the mirror while she waited for the water to heat up. Looking at the mirror she thought it seemed more like a stranger than a reflection. Pale white skin stretched tightly over bones, a sure sign of malnourishment, mottled with black and blue bruises from various skirmishes. Dark bags surrounded hollow, blue eyes that seemed to have lost all trace of life and long dark hair fell limply down her back as if it, too were dead. Letting out a somber sigh, she turned her back on the mirror and stepped into the scalding hot shower.

Dressed in a pair of jeans and halter, she checked to make sure none of her bruises were visible before applying layers of concealer and powder to hide the bags under her. Pleased that her visage now more closely resembled an actual person as opposed to a corpse, she slipped into her jacket before grabbing her purse and heading out the door.

Arriving at the bar with only minutes to spare, she hurried to the back room to deposit her purse and keys and hastily threw her long locks into a messy bun before returning to the bar to start her shift. Working the night shift at the bar definitely kept one on their toes and she spent the next four hours making every type of drink imaginable. Though more than just a talented bartender, she was naturally gifted when it came to mechanics and as such was in charge of fixing any broken machinery. Halfway through her shift, the old-fashioned jukebox started to sputter with static and as she worked on repairing the broken machinery, couldn't help but feel like she was being watched. Subtly taking a look around so as to not draw attention, she noticed all the surrounding tables were empty save for a couple who were completely engrossed in each other and a lone man in the far corner table. Wondering why she was under scrutiny, but not unused to having men ogle at her on a regular basis, she continued working on the fried jukebox. It only took another minute before she assessed and fixed the problem, quickly retreating back behind the bar to take more orders.

As two o'clock rolled around, most of the patrons left in drunken stupors as she began clean up. So absorbed in her task and swirling thoughts that she jumped when a hand fell on her shoulder. Turning, she recognized the man that had previously been examining her.

"Can I help you, sir," She questioned, trying to push down the paranoid thoughts flashing through her mind. The man didn't appear to be tipsy, and he looked clean-cut which lead her to wonder why he was hanging out in a bar that was frequented by a...shadier crowd.

"Yes, would you happen to be Ariana Blackwood?"

Ariana nearly had a panic attack when he knew her name, but he still didn't show any intentions of wanting to harm her in any way and she knew she didn't owe anyone money, so she firmly stood her ground and kept a level expression.

"I would be. May I ask who wants to know," The man smiled at the reply and held out his hand in greeting, but the proffered hand went ignored, and after a moment he dropped his arm back to his side. This didn't seem to deter him, however, as the grin never left his face.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Miss Blackwood. I'm Admiral Johnson. Starfleet reviewed the credentials you sent and found them more than satisfactory and in response would like to offer you admittance into Starfleet Academy."

Ariana smiled fondly as the memory replayed in her mind. At the time she had refused the offer, not interested in joining and confused how they had even gotten her academic records, as she surely hadn't sent them. In the end, Admiral Johnson's persistence and the promise of starting a new life resulted in her acceptance. She later discovered her mother had been the one to send the records to Starfleet in the hopes her only child would have the chance for a better life. In fact, she was ecstatic when Ariana called with the news of joining Starfleet Academy.

Attending Starfleet, at first, had been strange and difficult for Ariana. Most of the students were teenagers fresh from high school, ignorant to the world's hardships, whereas she was already twenty-three and had experienced a life of hurt and pain. It had been a long time since she'd had to answer to anyone but herself and deal with time-consuming responsibilities like studying and homework, the lack of discipline resulting in poor grades the first quarter. Slowly, but surely, she adjusted and even came to enjoy life at the Academy. Eating three meals a day and having a comfortable place to live definitely did wonders for her corpse-like appearance. Old bruises faded away, leaving smooth, ivory skin which no longer required layers of makeup. Her small 5'3" frame had put on some healthy weight, filling out a wide-hipped figure, and sapphire eyes sparkled with new life.

Now, after four years of classes, exams, and training simulations, she was going to join one of Starfleet's renowned starships and explore the universe. And not just any starship. Today she would officially be part of the engineering team on the U.S.S. Enterprise, crewed by the most remarkable group of people in Starfleet history. Ever since the Romulan attack two years ago, Captain Kirk and his crew had become legendary and every cadet wanted the chance to become a member of the illustrious ship. Ariana had worked and studied furiously, achieving top marks in all her classes, and now all that effort was going to pay off.

She paused in her packing as she picked up an old-fashioned picture frame with a photo depicting two girls. One of the girls was dark-haired and fair-skinned with a textbook and look of annoyance directed towards the other occupant of the picture, a tall redhead with freckled skinned and mischief sparkling in her emerald eyes. The picture was a perfect replica of a typical Friday night in the dorm, Ariana attempting to study for an upcoming exam as Faye, her roommate, tried to talk her into going out for a night on the town with their classmates. Despite the slight age difference between the two girls, Faye being only nineteen when she joined Starfleet, they immediately clicked and became close friends. They had shared many experiences during their four years at the Academy, both good and bad. Faye always was there to tease Ariana for being a workaholic, and in return Ariana always chided Faye for not putting more effort into her studies, regardless of her good grades. She was there for Faye when her loser boyfriend dumped her, and Faye was always willing to listen to Ariana talk when she had nightmares about the past.

It seemed strange to her now that she would no longer be sharing a room with Faye, experiencing life as the Inseparable Duo. While she did well in class, Faye had never put forth the extra effort towards schoolwork, instead valuing what she called necessary relaxation. She swore up and down that if all you did was work, you'd eventually shrivel up into a wrinkly, old hag, the extra work speeding up the aging process. Ariana always just laughed, calling her a lazy ass, and wondering if Faye could medically explain her logic as she was studying to be a nurse. As a result of Faye's demand for necessary relaxation, she was assigned to an average escort vessel, not that she was bothered by that fact.

"Who wants to serve on a ship that is constantly under fire and being attacked? I don't want to have to work all the time."

Ariana grinned like an idiot as Faye's voice and an image of her haughtily flicking her curly red hair over her shoulder came to mind. With as much as Faye treasured her leisure time, it was a wonder that she completed her medical courses to become a nurse. With her career choice, she would continually have work to do even if her ship wasn't in the middle of a crisis.

Bringing her mind back to the task at hand, Ariana carefully laid the frame between stacks of clothes to protect the fragile glass front before snapping shut the lid on the suitcase, having packed away the final item. Taking a quick glance at the timepiece hanging above the door, she realized that if she didn't hurry, she'd surely miss her shuttle. Making a quick scan of the room to ensure no items had been left behind or forgotten, Ariana gathered up her two suitcases and opened the door to walk out, but turned back to look at the room one last time. This dorm had been a constant in her life for the past four years and held many memories. She wanted to commit every detail to memory before leaving it for the last time. Releasing a bittersweet sigh, she turned to the door once again and this time walked out, refusing to look back as she heard the familiar hiss of the automatic door closing.

Fortunately, it was only a short walk to the shuttles, and Ariana soon found herself sitting in the transport among five other cadets, all destined to serve on the Enterprise. Not long after boarding, the pilot announced their departure and Ariana could feel her stomach twisting in knots due to the conflicting feelings of anxiousness and excitement at the prospect of starting a new chapter in her life.

Throughout the hour and a half flight, she talked and mingled with the other cadets. After all, it wouldn't hurt to get a head start on making friends and seeing as she would live with these people for the years to come, she definitely didn't want to make enemies before they even reached the starship.

Among the cadets were two girls, twins actually, that would be joining the science and research department along with a youth that appeared to be regretting his decision to sign up for Starfleet if his green-tinged cheeks and grave expression were anything to go by. Another boy, who was set on ignoring the rest of his peers, revealed only that his name was Corben and he was joining security detail before refusing to say anything more. Clearly he didn't share her opinion of not creating animosity. The last cadet was a pretty blonde girl destined to be a nurse. She actually was similar in some aspects to Faye, but lacked the redhead's enthusiasm towards laziness. Ariana soon learned that her name was Christine Chapel and spent a good part of the journey talking and getting to know the young medical student. Unlike many cadets she had met, Christine seemed to be less interested in seducing her male peers and more dedicated to her work. It seemed that Ariana had at least succeeded in making one friend.

In nearly no time at all, the pilot's voice once again came over the speakers to broadcast that the shuttle would be docking aboard the Enterprise. The cadets eagerly looked out the windows to observe what would be their home for many years to come. The sight was breath-taking, words not able to do it justice. Even Corben appeared awestruck, his façade of indifference replaced with a wide-eyed, open-mouth expression. The sleek, white starship stood in severe contrast to the darkness of space and looked just as magnificent as everyone said it was. Ariana didn't know if it was the sight of the grand starship she would soon call home, but suddenly her nerves disappeared to be replaced with an overwhelming calmness. Somehow she knew that everything would fall into place and she would experience the best years of her life while serving on this ship.

It didn't take very long for the cadets to file off the transport with their few belongings, after which the pilot informed them that the heads of their individual departments would be down to greet them in just a short while. Almost as soon as the pilot went off to prepare for his return journey, Corben meandered off, clearly still in an antisocial mood. Not long after, a tall man with dark hair and an expressionless façade introduced himself as Commander Spock and head of the Science and Research Department. Ariana wondered at his slanted brows and tapered ears and it didn't take long for her to remember a conversation she had overheard shortly after the Enterprise's heroic feat. Rumors had it that the Enterprise's Commander was half-Vulcan, which would explain his strange, exotic-looking features.

After the short introduction, the Commander turned and headed back the way he came, the twins and sickly-looking youth quickly collecting their luggage and following after him. Sometime during the Commander's arrival, Corben had left as well as the pilot with the shuttle. That left Ariana and Christine to wait around and converse until their respective commanders showed up.

They had been talking for quite a while, and it wasn't until the person was directly behind her that Ariana heard the footsteps. A large, tanned hand, obviously male, fell on her shoulder and gripped it, gently, but firmly and quickly spun her around to face the owner of said hand. Ariana blinked up in surprise to lock onto a pair of stern, hazel eyes staring back at her. A bit dazed from the unsuspecting change in direction, she gazed at the man in front of her, taking in his features. His strict gaze matched his equally serious, no-nonsense visage and at first glance, Ariana believed him to be a middle-aged man. However, upon closer inspection she realized that it was only his serious expression that made him appear older. He couldn't be too much older than her, maybe in his thirties. He was a tall man, Ariana having to crane her neck to look at his face as he was easily a head taller than her short frame and had a well-built figure. Not an extreme body-builder, but firm muscles were highlighted by the tight, blue shirt that was regulation for all members of the Medical Department. A dark mop of brown hair adorned his head, slightly mussed as if he had been furiously running his hands through it and judging by his expression, that presumption might not be too far from the truth.

"Are you my new nurse?" His gruff voice startled her from her embarrassingly obvious analysis of him, and she quickly looked back up in his eyes, but couldn't help but think his voice was pleasant to listen to.

"Huh? Oh, I mean, no," she sputtered her oh-so-intelligent reply. She quickly gathered her wits before opening her mouth again. "No, I'm with engineering. Christine," she gestured towards the blonde, "is the nurse."

The man moved his imposing stare to observe the aforementioned girl before glancing back at Ariana, some of his irritation seeming to fade away.

"An engineer, huh? Well do me a favor and pay attention to what you're doing. I swear you engineers are all the same. Accident prone and always filling up medical bay with all sorts of idiot injuries." He finished in his brusque tone before turning to address Christine.

Ariana could do nothing but stare at him, her mouth ajar. Was he implying that she was an idiot prone to injuries? That's sure what it sounded like. Just who did he think he was? Well, seeing as he came looking for Christine, he was probably a higher up in the Medical Division. But still, that gave him no right to waltz around telling people that they were incompetent solely based on their profession.

Still upset about the inadvertent insult, but not wanting to make a scene on her first day, Ariana turned her attention back to the conversation in front of her. The doctor was going on about something in a grumpy voice that no longer seemed attractive while Christine stood and seemed to absorb every word. He then motioned for her to follow him and walked back the way he came, Christine quickly grabbing her things and making a promise to meet up with Ariana later before rushing after him. Just as they were leaving, another man entered wearing a red uniform that identified him to be in the Engineering and Operations Division. He waved at the retreating doctor before heading in Ariana's direction. Straightening up and pushing dark thoughts of the cankerous doctor to the back of her mind, Ariana turned to address who she assumed to be her commanding officer.

"You're Blackwood, aye," the man asked, a heavy, Scottish accent lacing his words. Wanting to appear more intelligent this time around, Ariana kept her response short.

"Yes, sir. I'm Ensign Blackwood."

"Good. I'm the Chief Engineer, Montgomery Scott but you can jus' call me Scotty." He continued as he picked up one of her bags and motioned for her to follow him. Ariana couldn't help but grin at his friendly tone and gentlemanly behavior. She was suddenly glad that she had a talent for mechanics as opposed to medicine. Speaking of which, she just had to know who he was.

"Sir-um, I mean Scotty."

"Yea?"

"Who was that man before? The doctor," Ariana's voice was hesitant, not sure if she should be questioning about her senior officers. As such, she was stunned when Scotty let out a loud guffaw, clearly amused by her query.

"Ah, tha' would 'ave been the infamous Doctor McCoy, Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise." She was absolutely floored by this piece of information. That man was the ship's CMO? How did such a cranky, rude man become a great doctor? Weren't doctors supposed to show care and concern for their patients? He certainly didn't seem to display either of those qualities.

Scotty must have noticed the questioning in her expression because he continued. "He may seem a bit ill-tempered at times, but he's alright once ya get to know 'im. Ya just have to look past the grouchy exterior and not expect ta be coddled when you've gone an' banged yourself up." Scotty still had a broad grin stretched across his face, so clearly her inquiry hadn't been too out of line. Still confused over the strange doctor, but not wanting to dwell on it any longer, Ariana just smiled back and began asking about what would be expected of her aboard the ship.

"Well, firs' lets drop off this luggage and then I can give ya the grand tour. Your room information should 'ave been uploaded to your PADD." Quickly unzipping the duffel she was carrying, Ariana only had to search for a moment before pulling out the sleek instrument. Scrolling through the files, she saw that her room information had indeed been uploaded. Taking a quick look at it, she gave Scotty the coordinates and he led her to the nearest lift where they proceeded to her room.

Wandering down the corridor of identical doors, they finally stopped outside the one with numbers that matched the ones she had been given.

"Now jus' run your hand over the scanner. It should recognize your biometrics."

Following his advice, Ariana swiped her hand across the scanner, which emitted a low beep before the door opened with a soft hiss. Ariana relieved Scotty of her other bag and tossed her luggage on the bed in the center of the room. She wanted to take time to examine her quarters in detail, but figured that could wait until later as she didn't wish to make Scotty wait. Besides, she was more eager to see the rest of the ship and where she would be working.

Scotty guided them around the main floors of the ship, pointing out workout rooms, the transporter room, and other various locations she might need to locate. He even showed her up to the Bridge where she was introduced to a few of his friends. The Captain wasn't present but she did meet with the helmsman, navigator, and communications officer. She found all of them to be extremely friendly and hoped that her circle of friends on the ship was expanding. Chekov was really sweet with his Russian accent and Sulu was actually quite humorous. Ariana immediately bonded with Uhura, as she seemed to be a real-down to earth person, not like the other girls Ariana usually encountered. Uhura seemed to like appreciate Ariana's levelheadedness, claiming that everyone else on the ship was either a pigheaded man or air-headed bimbo.

"We intelligent women have to stick together," Uhura beamed, and Ariana nodded her agreement, giving a smile of her own. After chatting a bit more with the Bridge officers, Scotty ushered her out, declaring if they didn't hurry they wouldn't have a chance to see the best part of the ship before dinner.

Dinner? It suddenly crossed Ariana's mind that she hadn't eaten since earlier that morning. Not that she was hungry, but it made her realize how quickly the day had flown by. Also, being in space messed with one's sense of night and day seeing as when you looked outside a window you saw the same black expanse, regardless of the hour.

Dispelling those puzzling thoughts for the time being, Ariana noted that Scotty had taken her down many lifts and hallways. Just when she was about to question where exactly they were headed, Ariana heard the hum of what was undeniably the machinery of the ship. Turning down another passageway revealed the heart of the Enterprise. She took in the glowing energy cores that were discharging the soft thrumming and found the sound to be soothing. Scotty tried, but was unsuccessful, in hiding the small smirk growing on his face as Ariana walked around, eyes bright at the prospect of working with such advanced technology.

After she took in the room Scotty began to point out the different machines and controls in the room. Along the way they ran into two ensigns working on a circuit board and Ariana was pleased to meet some fellow engineers. They continued the little tour until Ariana was confident she had the basic layout committed to memory.

"Well, tomorrow you can report ta the transporter room and we'll work out where you'll be. Righ' now, however, what do ya say we head on up to the Mess and grab us some dinner?"

Wanting to stay and examine the equipment some more, but realizing there'd be plenty of time for it later, Ariana agreed to the proposal and they made their way back to the upper levels of the ship. They were nearly to the Mess and in the middle of discussing the warp core when Scotty cut off mid sentence.

"Ah, I forgot ta show you where the Medical Bay is. Being an engineer, as you probably know, results in lots of injuries. Do ya want to go take a look before we head ta dinner?"

It was then Ariana realized she had successfully managed to push McCoy and his impolite remarks out of her mind. Unfortunately, once Scotty brought it up, it all came rushing back to the forefront of her thoughts.

"Um, maybe later," She knew she was being childish, what he'd said about engineers wasn't far from the truth, but she still didn't want to risk her good mood by possibly running into the gruff doctor. "My friend is a nurse so I'm sure she can show me where it is later. Come on, I'm starved."

Ariana picked up her pace, desperate to change the subject to a more pleasant topic. Fortunately, Scotty didn't seem to find anything wrong with being hungry and launched into a tale about how when he served at one of the Starfleet bases he could barely get a sandwich, let alone a nice warm meal.

Dinner turned out to be a very pleasant experience. Ariana and Scotty had sat at a table, discussing ways they could improve the Enterprise's warp-speed capabilities, but were soon joined by Sulu and Chekov. The conversation then turned from mechanics to Ariana, the men interested in hearing about her past. She talked about her teenaged years spent in high school, but was still ashamed of her life before joining Starfleet, so skimmed over the details, before focusing on her time at the Academy. While opening up about her own life, she also managed to learn about her co-workers and was once again elated that she was managing to make friends so quickly and effortlessly. Making friends hadn't been easy for her growing up, being more reserved in nature than her peers, but the people aboard the Enterprise had magnetic personalities that you couldn't help but be attracted to.

About halfway through their meal, Uhura joined them, along with Commander Spock. Ariana was formally introduced to the Commander and was intrigued by his Vulcan mannerisms. He was incredibly reserved, especially compared to his rowdy comrades, but still managed to seem like he belonged in the group. He didn't appear to be uncomfortable with the people around him, though he clearly found them to be strange and "illogical" at times. It was definitely a surprise when Ariana found that he and Uhura were dating, and had been for some time. Though, in a way she supposed they balanced each other. She hadn't known Uhura for very long, but she inferred the Communications Officer was very passionate and forthright about things, a complete opposite to Spock's quiet and tactical demeanor.

After many hours of story-telling and laughter, Ariana excused herself from the group, claiming she wanted to get enough sleep so she was ready for her first day on duty. Politely refusing Uhura's offer to help her back to her room, she waved goodnight and attempted to remember the way to her room. She made one wrong turn, but soon after found the correct bedroom, scanning her hand and entering her quarters.

She quickly unpacked her uniforms and the few civilian outfits she had brought, putting them away in the room's small closet and dresser. The room also contained a small desk where she deposited her PADD, communicator, and a few blueprints. She had just been putting away her toiletries in the bathroom when she heard a beep from the room. Glancing at the communication unit mounted on the wall, she saw it was a message from Christine, inviting her to meet her at the Mess tomorrow morning for a quick breakfast. Grinning, Ariana typed her response agreeing to meet at 0700. After hitting send, Ariana realized it was already 1000, so quickly changed into her pajamas, a pair of loose-fitting black lounge pants and a matching camisole, before washing her face and brushing her teeth.

"Computer, lights at five percent," the lights dimmed at Ariana's order, giving off a soft glow just bright enough for her to make her way to the bed and settle in. Grabbing a squishy pillow, she was a bit of a pillow manic and had brought a few with her, she curled up on her side, reflecting on the day's events.

Everything felt so surreal. Just this morning she was on Earth at the Academy, imagining what living on a starship would be like and now here she was; in her room aboard the Enterprise, traveling at warp-speed through the galaxy. She had made friends, and was excited about getting up in the morning to start her job. Clutching the pillow to her chest, Ariana's eyes slipped shut with sudden wiriness a small smile playing on her lips.

Just before she drifted into the comfort of sleep a thought wafted through her mind, and though it was a bit unexpected, she knew it was true.

It's good to be home.