((USS Gorkon, Deck 5 5OQ23, Tasi’s Quarters))
::There was nothing more boring than waiting and after the last mission Tasi needed to talk to a friendly face. On the Gorkon she hadn’t really connected with anyone yet. There were a good number of people she could call on Deep Space 26, but the time difference meant most would be asleep or on the night shift. That’s what she told herself but deep down she knew it was a deflection from the real reason she had chosen to dial up this particular old friend. Finally, the slowly spinning Federation Symbol and ‘connecting’ progress bar were replaced with a familiar face. Tasi’s slack jawed, glazed over expression instantly melted away. She beamed at him with sparkling eyes and a playful smile.::
Tasi: Hello Commander. I hope you’re not too busy for a social call. I thought I’d keep that promise about keeping in touch.
Tasi: oO I hope he wasn’t just being polite about that. Oo
::Tasi didn’t usually use rank around her friends - not off duty. She hadn’t seen Shayne since Commander Brell’s promotion to Captain and before that they’d fallen out of touch for some years. His career had prospered while hers had stagnated and she didn’t know how informal she could be with him yet.::
::The face that appeared on the screen could not have been more welcome. The melancholy that always followed social occasions had weighed down on him since the end of the promotions ceremony. He’d been hoping- vainly, he’d expected- for a pleasant interruption to his musing, and a restoration of the energy that had been drained from his every faculty. Shayne was not a social person, but for a select group, that fact seemed to not apply. Take Tasi, for instance.::
Shayne: ::Feigning irritation.:: Look. If we’re on the bridge, call me commander. If we’re in the presence of an admiral, call me commander. Anything else, please just call me Shayne.
::She was one of the few people he preferred to drop rank around- not because he was a career-minded, bureaucratic paper-pusher obsessed with position and title, but because it simplified so many situations that might otherwise veer in an unpredictable, uncomfortable direction. Besides, Tasi had kept her promise to keep in touch with him, and Shayne was hardly going to punish her by insisting on strict military protocol. For the length of this conversation, “proper” bearing could find an airlock to fly out of. He gave a small grin, which she returned. It felt good to know that they could still have good-natured banter like this without having to worry about the rank barrier.::
Shayne: ::Utterly genuine.:: It’s good to see you.
::He realized he’d been holding his breath, and he released it, hopefully escaping the notice of the perceptive Tasi. Fortunately for him, she was too occupied suppressing signs of her own relief to notice his.::
Tasi: Thank you. It’s wonderful to see you. What’s new with you?
::Before he could stop himself, a putrid wave of resentment and cynicism rolled over him, a mere drop in an ocean of festering negativity. Pond’s disappearance had gnawed at his soul for months now. Though he’d tried to contain it, he suddenly felt utterly exhausted, and the moment he’d spoken, he knew he was making a mistake.::
Shayne: I haven’t died yet, so the usual.
::He bit his lip loathingly, wishing he could take back his words, and the vigorous anger he’d flashed at Tasi. She was so not deserving of his rancor- indeed, she was probably the one that would help him do something about it. Shayne generally despised counselors, and their offices, and their practiced strokes that delved into the psyche. As far as he was concerned, they could keep their intellectual tenderhooks to themselves. But with Tasi, it was different. Deeply different, and he was still at a loss to explain why, exactly. But it didn’t matter. He could not afford to lose her.::
::Tasi was stunned. She’d had friends and patients lash out in this sudden, unexpected way many times before. Sometimes there were behavioural tells that gave subtle clues that this could be coming. Other times it hit you like a punch in the face. This felt like the latter. She hadn’t seen it coming and didn’t know what had provoked it. This didn’t seem like the Shayne she knew, but then how well could she say she knew someone she’d barely talked to in years. She became aware of her heart pounding harder and faster in her chest and took a slow, deep breath, collecting her thoughts before replying with a measured tone tipped with concern.::
Tasi: It doesn’t take a counsellor to see something’s troubling at you. Would you care to talk about it - friend to friend?
::Counselors! Why did they have to be so infernally perceptive? Of course, it wasn’t like he’d done a good job of hiding his distress. He glanced at her, and for a moment in time, it seemed like she was strained, worried.::
::And it felt wonderful, inexplicably so, disgustingly so. It felt so utterly etherial to be the one causing concern, instead of the one marinating in his own terrors and doubts and worries and miserable musings. For an instant, he was free.::
::And then it all came crashing back down. How dare he feel anything positive about his friend’s discomfort. How dare he turn her well meaning, loving concern into a stepping stone for his own emotional strength. How dare he use her, the first friend he’d ever had in the fleet, and nearly the first one ever. He couldn’t have felt more soiled if he’d messed his trousers. He took a shaky, self-hating breath, and began to repair the damage.::
Shayne: I apologize. You, of all people, do not deserve me as you see me.
::Already exhausted, he let it all go, far more easily than he normally did with privileged information of this sort.::
::He stared at it, at Tasi, at it, back at Tasi.::
Shayne: Pond has vanished. I don’t know where she is, or even if she’s alive. I haven’t spoken with her in months.
::As he said this, he began to pace, and absentmindedly fiddle with his full, lush ponytail. At the word “months”, he twisted, and ripped a sizable wad right out of his head.::
::He stared at it, at Tasi, at it, back at Tasi.::
Shayne: ::Matter of factly.:: Ow.
::Whoever this Pond was, she clearly meant a lot to him for him to be so worried. It was hard to resist the urge to tell him everything would be okay. It never felt like things would ever be okay again when wrestling with grief and loss. Life moved on though. It was the harsh truth and to say so would be nothing other than callous. His emotions were completely normal though it would come as small comfort. Time was the only thing that could ease his pain, and having channels to vent his emotions. She wasn’t his counsellor - he had options aboard his ship for that, but that didn’t mean she couldn’’t be there for him as a friend.::
Tasi: I am sorry Randal. There’s nothing anyone can say to ease the pain and worry of someone we care about going MIA. I’m sure it comes as small comfort right now, but it’s normal to feel worry and grief. I just want you to know that I’m here for you. Do you want to talk more about it?
Shayne: No. Most definitely, assuredly not.
::There was nothing more to say on the matter- certainly nothing Tasi deserved to receive. Maybe a trip to the holodeck would be in order, before he beat someone into a pulp. Or ripped out any more of his usually well-tended locks.::
Shayne: The Gorkon! How is it? Finding your way there? Is it as crazy as I’ve always heard? You know, I always wanted to transfer there, just to see what it was like.
::Through the midst of this loud, forced menagerie of preposterous questions and outright falsehoods, he could feel the disciplined part of himself recoil in horror at his explosive exposition.::
Shayne: oO Shut up, you ragged, impotent fool, shut up! Oo
::His goal had been to cover his despair, but he had failed spectacularly. Tasi knew this was a deflection. He was hurting very badly and didn’t want to talk about it. She wasn’t here to force him to do it. She shifted her weight in her chair and smiled with all the grace of a queen, choosing to pretend Randal wasn’t acting to wildly out of character for him. Instead she chose to focus on the question itself, answering in good humour.::
Tasi: It’s not what I expected, but then is that really a surprise? Things so often seem to go that way where Starfleet is concerned. My first mission has just concluded.. It… could have gone better.
::He listened as if his life depended on it, using her words and her voice as a life preserver. He knew that, from this point on, he could only speak truths, else he give away even more of his distress to the one person he both cared about and was able to protect in this moment.::
Shayne: ::Sensitively.:: What happened?
::She didn’t want to speak ill of the crew, or of the first officer. It wouldn’t be proper to talk of the mission and the diplomatic incidents caused by Commander Sevo, or Doctor Sim. They were good people and it wouldn’t do to spread gossip that might negatively affect their reputation. How many lives had the joined Trill seen? Not enough, clearly. Tasi had thought someone who had lived many lifetimes would be much more diplomatic. Instead, the red-headed woman suffered a short temper. Doctor Sim on the other hand, Tasi wasn’t sure if he was just young and inexperienced or if there was some underlying issue she should be aware of. She would talk to him about what happened in due course, but for now, her friend had her attention and he was awaiting a reply.::
Tasi: I think the important thing is that we did achieve our goal… We just did it in a more round-about fashion than anticipated. We have some downtime now on Trill.
::”Roundabout”. Despite their goals and training, that’s how most of their missions seemed to progress.::
Shayne: I’m just glad you’re alright.
Tasi: Thanks, my friend. You know there’s something I’ve always wondered…
::There was a strange shift in the air around him, almost like the calm before the storm. Unconsciously he recognized it, and it frightened him for some reason.::
Shayne: Uh oh.
::It was his customary response to, well, anything really.::
Tasi: Are you made of copper and tellurium?
::He’d been expecting something… unexpected, but this trounced all that. It was such a seeming non-sequitur that his brain actually stopped, locked up, and refused to process it.::
Tasi: Because you're CuTe.
::It was strange. He hadn’t thought it possible for his face to literally feel as if it was sliding off his skull. And yet, Tasi, as she had done many times before, was proving him wrong. Part of him was desperately confused. Never had Tasi given him any reason to think that they were anything more than close friends. That part of him was spiraling out of control, and Shayne had little hope of ever seeing it again. Bye bye, fragment of sanity. The other dominant emotion at the moment was a piercing… pain? Yes, pain. That pun was… astonishing. He felt his brain give up, and fizzle out his ears in a vaguely diarrhetic release of synapses. Compared to the cute romantic overtones Tasi, he just felt… shattered. ::
::Tasi watched his reaction coyly, and Shayne desperately hoped that his face was simply blank. It was a monumental effort to incite any sort of functionality, but he managed to smile, clear his throat and lean forward.::
Shayne: How long?
::”How long have you felt this way” seemed brusque, cruel almost. He’d have to break the news to her, and then try to smooth over the feathers. God, why did people find him handsome, or desirable? Then he wouldn’t be in this well-intentioned mess.::
Tasi: Does it matter?
::Her heart sank. While she hadn’t expected much, her heart still sank to see the expression written plain across his face, and to hear his strained voice. It was as she had always thought. What was she thinking? She held her breath in anticipation of the inevitable rejection.::
Shayne: Tasi… um… I… I really don’t know how to break this to you, so I’m just gonna say it. I have a girlfriend. We’re… we’re nearly engaged.
Tasi: oO Nearly? Oo
::He felt his heart fracture a bit at those words, knowing how crippling they’d be to him if their situations were reversed.::
Shayne: oO And “have”? No, that’s not entirely true. Right now, all you have is hopes and memories. But you can’t give up now. She’s out there! Oo
::What could she say? She’d made him feel more awkward. This was supposed to bring a smile to his face how? It all seemed so foolish in hindsight. The corners of her mouth turned down, betraying her true feelings before she forced the most natural smile she could muster. She had learned something more about her enigmatic friend at least. Could things have been different had she been more courageous?::
Tasi: I’m really happy for you Randal. How did you meet?
::Her tone was as genuine as her interest. Regret might fill her thoughts later, but right now she still wanted to be the best friend possible. Maybe talking about his girlfriend would cheer Randal up.::
::Despite the circumstances, he smiled grimly, recounting their first meeting.::
Shayne: A birth in Sickbay brought us together. An overdose brought us… close.
::He remembered the shifting, waving patterns in his eyes as the pain killer had done its work altogether too well. It had lowered his inhibitions, to the point where the usually silent helmsman had confessed his feelings about Pond’s beauty. One thing lead to another, and they were a couple. It was the fondest memory he’d ever had on a biobed.::
Shayne: And now, she’s gone.
::He hadn’t meant to say that, and he certainly hadn’t meant to say it so casually. But the damage was done. Again.::
Shayne: She was transferred, or lost, and I don’t know where. I don’t know why. And I don’t know when. No answer. But I can’t contact her. It’s driving me insane.
::No wonder he was behaving abnormally. The amount of stress and worry he was under. Tasi’s expression was completely serious and her heart went out to him.::
Tasi: I’m so sorry Randal. That’s truly awful. I can only imagine how difficult that must be for you.
::Someone would know what had happened to her and she was sure Randal would have chased down every avenue to find out what was happening.::
Tasi: No one was able to help you locate her?
Shayne: No one wants to. I can’t get a clear answer out of anyone.
::He seethed, and wondered how long this could continue.::
Tasi: I hope you’re able to hear from her soon.
Shayne: ::Smiling weakly.:: Thanks.
::The silence was deafening, and Shayne nearly tapped his fingers.::
Shayne: Well! It was… um… great to, you know, talk to you.
Tasi: Sure. Goodbye Shayne. Take care.
Tasi: oO That was a complete shuttle crash. Oo
Shayne: Take care.
::And with that, he slammed his finger onto the off button with such vigor he felt his joint crack. He placed his head down on his desk, and didn’t lift it for a good six hours.::
::The screen went dark much more suddenly than expected. She got up and flopped onto her bed, letting out a long sigh. That was embarrassing, especially for someone who was supposed to be good at talking to others. In that moment she felt like a fraud.::
Tasi: oO There’s one person I’ll never hear from again. Oo
::Exhaling loudly again, Tasi grabbed a pillow and put it over her head. She remained that way until the computer reminded her of a camping trip she was committed to attending. Reluctantly, she got up and started to get ready for it.::
Lieutenant Commander Randal Shayne
Ops Officer/Second Officer
USS Blackwell NCC 58999
Lieutenant Tasi, Counselor - USS Gorkon
Rear Admiral Renos
Executive Council & Captain's Council Member