This scene was originally written through seven individual sims by @Sky Blake and @Evan Delano: "Working on a day off" (Blake), "Best Guess" (Delano), "Blakonian inquisition" (Blake), "Speculation and Suspicion" (Delano), "Her modern man" (Blake), "Balanced” (Delano), and "Not used to it yet" (Blake). It is presented in its completed form below.
((Astrometrics, USS Veritas))
::Stellar cartography had become second nature once Sierra had kicked her training off way back when. While she was waiting for the duty shift to change, for Sick Bay to be ready for her, for the captain to have had a reasonable amount of caffeine, she asked the cartography assistant for use of primary lab.::
::There was a tingling sensation in the back of her skull when she'd heard the doors to the lab open.::
Delano: Hello, Commander.
:: Evan was in the middle of his evening rounds when he was called down to astrometrics. After the Antor II mission, the senior staff had agreed to reduced work loads for most of the crew, at least for a while, which meant that most nights, as Evan was going through his end of day checklist, much of the ship felt practically abandoned. ::
:: Of course, as surprised as he was to receive the call, he was more surprised by that person’s identity. He’d known Commander Blake was due back on board - he’d personally arranged for her new quarters - but he’d expected the captain to make some kind of formal announcement once their former first officer had returned to Veritas. Perhaps that would still be coming. ::
::Sky glanced back over her shoulder before turning fully to face her visitor.::
Blake: Lieutenant. ::She greeted.:: It's good to see you again.
:: Evan nodded, offering a professional smile as he stepped into the room and accessed one of the center consoles. ::
Delano: And you, Commander.
Blake: I'd heard you'd taken a commission again. Welcome back to the Starfleet fold.
Delano: Thanks. And welcome back to Veritas.
:: Evan resisted the urge to tug at the collar of his uniform and instead kept his fingers busy by starting a diagnostic. ::
Delano: I hope you don’t mind me doing a little work, since I’m here. I’ve been wanting to run a level 2 diagnostic on the sensors for a few days. :: beat :: How was your time away?
Blake: I was sent back to Shadow's Edge, actually. I'm part of the ranger division now - though I'm on my own until such time Starfleet sends a specific commander for me to report to, other than Rahman of course.
::Rangers, though trained to work and survive on their own, technically came in groups of four or more. But given that Starfleet resources and officers were at a stretch with border protection on the *other* side of Tholian space - combine that with the Cardassians and the neutral zone, what few rangers there were, given that they were only a relatively new division of Starfleet, had their hands full elsewhere. Sending a whole Platoon wasn't possible, and sending them one by one would take months, if not years, for the platoon to come together.
::Evidently, her time on Shadow's Edge wasn't all for naught, for a Rangers unit was indeed being set up, with Shei'saur reporting additional officers following in their footsteps. Or, more accurately, two officers had been sent to Meridian (not far enough along the Mother Road to be helpful, in the Brekkazoid's humble opinion) following Sky's request for additional support within the Shoals. They'd be there in about six months, assuming they weren't asked to turn around and go back after only two months travel following some ridiculous fleet-wide emergency. To which they'd also be late for.
::The Shoals acted like a double edge sword in that regard.::
:So long as she was on Veritas or in the vicinity of Veritas, Rahman was her commanding officer.::
:: Evan nodded again. The computer was doing its thing: running the Veritas’ complex array of sensor palettes through an automated calibration procedure and a range of diagnostic tests that would show even a slight misalignment. When he was satisfied it wouldn’t need additional input from him - at least for a few minutes - the operations officer refocused his attention on Blake. ::
Delano: Given what we’ve just been through on Antor, I imagine the captain will appreciate having a ranger on board. Are you hitching a ride, or are you planning to be around for a while?
Blake: Until such time there's a unit for me to report to, I'm here on a more permanent basis. Which brings me to why I called you here.
:: She gestured towards the large screen at the center of the room, where a course towards the Mother Road was being displayed just shy of Antor. ::
Blake: I'm actually following two suspects from a pirate attack back on Shadow's Edge that slipped through the Edge's border security. They were headed towards Antor, but no Marshal outpost in the area found the vessel I was tracking - not that they've reported, at least. It's entirely possible that they jumped ship or headed in another direction, but . . . I don't know.
:: Evan stepped towards the screen and away from his working console. ::
Delano: I’m not surprised you’ve lost them. Everything’s so slow out here - same reason we can’t get a solid lead on Jilor.
:: He turned to her and raised an inquisitive eyebrow - a Vulcan mannerism he’d picked up during his time on Seheik. ::
Delano: Are you looking for my input?
Blake: Well, next to the general staff, you're most experienced here in the Shoals - I was hoping I could borrow your insight. The survivor of the attack wasn't willing to divulge his smuggler routes, and I can't figure out where supposedly pirate killers would run off to towards the Mother Road. The only place of importance I can think of is Outpost 3, but the place is a wreck right now. It's of no use to any outlaw faction in its current state.
:: Evan crossed his arms over his chest as he examined the sectors displayed on screen as Sky stepped back just a bit, out of his way. There really wasn’t much to see. ::
Delano: Well, I know there’s at least one class-M world between Antor and Shadow’s Edge if you decide to fly direct and avoid the Mother Road. I can’t remember the name of the system…
Blake: You're suggesting they're not concerned with travel times.
:: The display shifted to show the star system in question. It was a binary star system with 16 planets and several hundred smaller dwarf planets and asteroids. ::
Delano: There it is. The Lucian system.
::More importantly, a star system she was unfamiliar with.::
Delano: As I recall, Starfleet made first contact with the natives about 30 years ago - a few months after the Lucians broke the warp barrier. We received a polite but cold reception. And, as far as I know, we’ve never been invited back. Rumor is that the Lucians are quite xenophobic.
Blake: Tholians would get along with them well. ::She muttered.:: Could marshals at least find them?
Delano: Well, if your pirates managed to get into the system without being detected, they’d have plenty of places to lie low. Proximity to the Shadows and the fact that Outpost 3 isn’t exactly up to spec would probably be an added bonus.
Blake: Essentially hidden from view. ::She sighed.::
Delano: That’s my best guess. Of course, if I’m right, I’m not sure what you can do about it. The Federation doesn’t have a formal relationship with the Lucians, and any probe or starship we send into their system would almost certainly be seen as a threat.
Blake: Even if I wanted to, we'd have to wait for confirmation from both the Coalition and the Diplomatic Corps for the go-ahead, and I don't see that happening. It's a waiting game from this point on.
Delano: Sorry, Commander. Wish I had better news for you.
Blake: No, this is good. I appreciate it. If I can coax some marshals at least *around* that area, they might be able to catch them for me. ::Her hand scrubbed at her cheek, taking a deeper breath.:: Also means I'll have to ask the guys on Outpost 3 to start sensor sweeps when they're able, lest they become a target once they're up and running again.
::Tristam Core was probably going to love that just as much as he will putting the small station back together from nothing with only a handful of Ketar V construction workers and a sole security officer working with him.::
Delano: That’s probably a good idea. After Antor, I’m not sure anything out here is safe. If we’re lucky, things will die down for a while, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Blake:::shaking her head:: It's been a busy few months. But now that we're leaving what I call 'familiar territory', it's just going to get more hectic. We had a bad political rap when we arrived and started Operation Safe Harbor, let alone now, after what happened at Antor.
Delano: Even among the Reya-Laialara, Starfleet’s reputation is… well, somewhat tarnished compared to the way it’s viewed through the rest of the Federation.
:: He shrugged. ::
Delano: It’s hard to blame them. Starfleet’s presence out here has been minimal for decades. A lot of people feel like they’ve been abandoned. And as hard as Veritas has been working to make things better, one ship seems like a token effort.
:: The conversation died for a moment, and Evan looked up from the diagnostic results he’d been skimming to see Blake looking at him with an expression he couldn’t quite read. ::
Blake: Lieutenant, I have a question that I've been pondering since the crew's change over.
:: His eyebrow crept up before he could stop it. ::
Delano: I’ll answer if I can.
Blake: Why didn't Veritas know you were in the area? I know you ceased to report in, but . . . any resource in the area, we could have used. I'm not sure I understand why Federation Security kept you hidden from us.
:: His expression tightened as he thought back to the double life he’d led for almost a year. Disgraced Starfleet officer looking to find some kind of emotional balance between his Vulcan and human halves. And, a Federation Security agent, secretly spying and reporting on an insular, allusive, possibly dangerous religious sect operating in one of the most inaccessible parts of the quadrant. In the end, his conscience had got the better of him and he'd made the decision to stop spying, joining the Reya-Laialara in his heart months after he'd joined them through words. He'd only reestablished contact with the Federation when one of the Shadow's Edge pirate factions stole a cargo bay full of photon torpedoes. ::
Delano: Honestly, I don’t know. Though I have my suspicions.
:: Evan had his suspicions about most things. Whether intuition or subconscious deduction, he couldn't say. Nor could he say how many of these thoughts were accurate. ::
::She frowned a little.::
Blake: If you don't mind my prying . . . ?
Delano: It might have been a matter of jurisdiction. Federation Security operates independently of Starfleet, maybe they didn’t want Veritas involved. Or maybe it was just a security thing - keeping the people who knew about my assignment to a minimum. ::beat:: Captain Carrero might have known.
::If Carrero had known, the likelihood was that she'd at least inform Zhou - the crew had to separate on numerous occasions to get the job done. It wasn't necessarily a tactic Rahman employed today, nor would Sky recommend employing it after Carrero's death, but the assurance was everyone (or, at least, the command pair) was in the know of all that was happening in the area.
::Zhou had been clueless about Delano being in the Shoals, to the point where Tai had even attempted to press her for information about Delano to either set his mind at ease or to fuel the growing irritation at a flawed system.
::It had been easy for Sky to compare Delano to herself, if only in certain areas. And though she had absolutely no right to pry or question Rahman's confidence in Delano, or Delano's relationship with the ship's XO, that Mei'konda seemed comfortable and confident around the Vulcan had been enough to set Sky's mind at ease. She'd spent much of her time on Ornara operating under the idea that one's relationships with others primarily defined their personalities and capabilities - this assumption hadn't failed her yet.::
:: Evan rubbed the back of his neck, feeling somewhat awkward at bringing up the late captain. He knew a number of her former crew were still sensitive about her murder. ::
Delano: My only other guess is that maybe there was some kind of political element. In my initial briefing, I got the impression that the assignment was being made at the request of someone from the Vulcan delegation to the Federation Council, though it was never expressly stated.
Blake: You never explained to me how you perceive emotion.
::Liquid brown eyes glanced at her as he set Ayden down, lingering briefly on the baby before turning to her fully. It was a strange question of hers, of which, up to this point, had remained unanswered despite their relationship. She allowed herself to be gently led out, returning to the lounge with the man.::
Sabor: I'm not sure I understand the query.
Blake: Vulcans are logical, yes?
::He coughed, covering what would likely have been a smirk at the child-like question.::
Sabor: All humanoids are capable of logic, that is correct.
Blake: Including the V'tosh ka'tur?
::There was a split second where Sabor hesitated, his eyes considerably sharper as they gazed upon her and his hand stilling in it's place around a glass, before he recomposed himself. There was recognition in the name, that Sky could feel, and though usually allowed her a certain amount of access to his psyche, for that brief moment, she'd been cut off from him entirely.
::Was this Sabor's display of fear?::
Sabor: You've been reading.
Blake: I'm sorry if it's-
Sabor: It's fine. But I can't claim to know the inner workings of their . . . "understandings". I personally don't see logic as a choice one can make. For example, logic dictates one shouldn't put their hand under boiling water. Does that mean a Vulcan of the V'tosh ka'tur would burn themselves under such water to defy logic?
Blake: Isn't that more 'self-preservation' then 'logic'?
Sabor: One might argue that self-preservation could be considered rudimentary logic that requires little to no understanding to implement.
::She could tell now that this particular debate would only go round in circles until one of them gave up. Probably her.::
Blake: So why do Vulcans insist that emotions are *not* logical if all humanoids feel, and are capable of logic.
Sabor: Emotions cannot be *explained* by logic. That doesn't mean that emotions are not logical.
::The corners of Sky's lips perked up.::
Blake: Is this a personal belief, or one shared by all Vulcans.
Sabor:::after a heavy breath:: I support the notion that all Vulcans may have their own philosophy not shared by others - which, unfortunately, is not a sentiment one will find among regular temple-goers. But there was a time where mind-melds were considered taboo and were suppressed by a single group. This . . . may be the case today regarding logic.
Blake: So Vulcans are susceptible to minority suppression.
::He eyed her with a minor frown, handing her a glass of water.::
::Ah, so *this* is where the conversation would end - at the notion that his people's society wasn't perfect. Sky smiled, accepting the glass and watching him fondly as he walked away to check on Faith.::
Blake: I feel like I'm being suppressed! ::She called after him with a sarcastic tone.::
Sabor: If I ever attempt to suppress you, my wife, you'll know.
::Her first interaction with a Vulcan since waking up had been with her bondmate, whom held his own beliefs and felt comfortable expressing them whilst not in the purview of other Vulcans. The second he did so, he would have been held under scrutiny of his peers.
::That a Vulcan delegation may have asked for Federation Security to spy on other Vulcans put the part of Sky that still held Sabor's mentality close on edge.::
Blake:::muttering:: Minority suppression.
:: The commander’s eyes looked unfocused for a moment, as if she were deep in thought or memory. ::
Delano: What was that, Commander?
:: The woman’s normally sharp expression came back into view as she leaned against the console and crossed her arms. ::
Blake: Sorry - it was a . . . debate I once tried to have. ::She paused.:: Is it wrong of me to ask what they were hoping you'd find?
Delano: I don’t mind sharing what I know. :: beat :: Why do you ask?
Blake:::nodding:: Well, historically, 'majority' Vulcans meddling in a separated factions affairs isn't usually taken very well. Forgive the conspiracy theory.
:: Evan nodded his agreement. ::
Delano: When I went in, I don’t think most in the Federation knew much at all about the Reya-Laialara. They did know about the Romulans that were associated with them, however, and I suspect that’s what they were most concerned about. Some kind of subversive activity - either by the group as a whole, or just the refugees that have settled in Seheik. :: He shrugged. :: Every time I sent in a report, the messages I got back asked for more details about the infrastructure. What kind of weapons did they use? Did they have any ships? How was the settlement defended? They didn’t seem willing to accept that the Reya-Laialara really are pacifists. I thought they were being unreasonable, but… well, there was Lenik.
::There was a moment of quiet between them, marked by the steady thrumming of the ship’s warp core and the occasional beep from one of the consoles.::
Blake: Just means I'll add it to the list of things we have to worry about later, anyway. For now, pirates are the priority. If political unrest happens, then hopefully the diplomatic corps are prepared for that kind of challenge.
Delano: I hope so too. I’m not sure how much more ‘unrest’ the Coalition can handle right now. If Jilor wants an independent Shoals, I’m starting to believe he’s closer to that goal than most of us have thought.
Blake:::with a smirk:: Is that your formal assessment?
:: Evan shook his head and offered a thin smile. ::
Delano: Just a hunch, Commander.
::Silence fell once again, Sky turning back to the display.::
::He had planned to leave it there, but as another nearly awkward quiet passed between them, Evan felt the impulse to press on and explain.::
Delano: A few kilometers from my father’s house on Vulcan, there is a large field of narrow standing rock formations. On top of many of these columns are boulders that have remained perfectly balanced for thousands, perhaps millions of years. And yet, each year blowing winds or shifting sands manage to cause just enough change to disrupt the balance, causing a few of these rocks to fall. When we’d go walking through that area, I used to get this horrible anxiety if I spent too long staring up at one of those pillars - convinced that the massive stones on top could fall at any moment and crush me. Lately, the feeling I get about the Shoals is almost the same.
::A shot of adrenaline flew through her system, just from his imagery. But when she met his eyes again, his smile returned, still weak but with a hint of genuine humor behind it. ::
Delano: I didn’t mean to get all doom-and-gloom on you, Commander.
Blake: You wouldn't be the first one to try it around here. But paranoia won't keep us warm at night, Delano.
Delano: The only point is that I think we’re standing on dangerous ground. I’d say that we need to be careful, but in this case, that would be stating the obvious. Of course, there's also a chance that being too careful is just as dangerous as being reckless.
Blake:::she sighed.:: Starfleet can't add more officers into the area without hurting their resources and their political stance with the Marshals, but they can't pull us out because the Coalition will throw the argument that they're being ignored around. It's bad enough we're being pulled in five different political directions - first by Shadow's Edge, now by Antor.
::And Antor had been far more damaging than the young governor of Shadow's Edge. When they'd entered the Shoals, the reception had been icy because until they'd started shouting at the top of their lungs, Starfleet hadn't ever lingered around the area before - and some of the locals were getting concerned that, despite having asked for Starfleet to be there, they were stepping on toes. They weren't wanted because the locals had wanted to do this for themselves.
::Now, they weren't wanted because they were causing threats. From pirates, of all players.::
Delano: I'm starting to wonder if this is just what living in the Shoals is like once you've been here long enough.
Blake: We've been here long enough. I'm not getting used to it yet.
Lieutenant Evan Delano
Lt. Commander Sky Blake