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  1. I really enjoyed reading this little side story, and I hope we see more of Dehner Base in the future! ----- ((Shuttlecraft M'Dank, Tyrellian System)) Jona ch’Ranni was dead bored. There was no other way to express the intensity of what he felt sitting in the pilot’s chair of the Type 2 shuttlecraft. An empty starfield was splashed across the [...]pit windows. Dabbles of starlight - so often the source of poetry for anonymous writers spread among countless worlds – taunted the normally good-natured Andorian. It wasn’t the stars at fault themselves. In fact, he hadn’t met a star he didn’t like. Except for Betelgeuse - it was a jerk. It was the tedious and menial work of waiting for a rendezvous with a supply freighter that had Jona on the wrong end of the joviality wagon. For the hundredth time, his thin cornflower-blue fingers tapped out the activation sequence on the control panel that would initiate a refresh of the sensor data. Jona sighed heavily and wondered who he had angered on the ship to pull such an assignment. No doubt the rest of his shipmates were laughing and clinking glasses with each other on the beach. They would regale him with the exquisite foods and picturesque scenery he had missed out on. ch'Ranni: Well, they can just stow it. The lanky Andorian stretched his arms above his head, working the kinks from his lower back and repositioning his frame in the seat. He ran his hands down his face, rubbing his palms into his tired eyes and tried to shake the weariness from his brain. He tapped the key sequence on the panel again – for the hundred and first time – and the gods answered his unspoken prayers. A ship. ch'Ranni: Computer, put the approaching vessel on screen. The computer focused on a sleek Bolian freighter that exited warp, leaving a trail of luminescent super-excited particles in its wake. It bore down on the tiny shuttle like an unsuspecting insect. Jona came from a race of aliens that counted insects among their evolutionary progenitors, and so, he found the analogy a little on the nose. Nevertheless, the arrival was expected … even if a bit delayed. ch'Ranni: Shuttlecraft M'Dank to Bolian freighter. Welcome. Lieutenant ch’Ranni, here. Ready to receive the supplies. With any luck, Jona could be on his way back to the ship within the hour. He might even make it back in time for the springball tournament scheduled for 1800 hours. A small lopsided grin crossed his face as things suddenly didn’t seem so bad. The viewscreen activated and the face on the screen made his heart leap into his throat. The azure skin and pale, curly locks of the woman were etched in his memory. It had been years since he had last seen her. Time had been kind to her and now she was more beautiful than even his rose-colored memory allowed. The scientist with the impish smile that he had fallen head over heels for at Dehner Base was the last person he expected to see again – especially with how they had ended things. zh'Lev: Hello, Jona. It’s good to see you. ch'Ranni: Vexa. The one word was all he could croak out before the air left his lungs with the cheap shot that reality delivered to his gut. After a few seconds Jona realized that he was not breathing and consciously inhaled again. What would it look like if he fainted at the sight of his former girlfriend? ch'Ranni: Why are you here? Apparently, he was now able to form complete sentences, which was a marked improvement. The Andorian girl sat back in her chair, the curls of snow white hair framing her face and bouncing in response to her movement. Her ice blue eyes seemed to search the screen, piercing straight through his shields and searing the hull of his heart. Her antennae bobbed forward as her voice took on a pleading tone. zh'Lev: Jojo, I need your help. ch'Ranni: Of course, what can I do? The words were spoken without hesitation. Both knew that Jona would be unable to refuse whatever she asked. When they had parted ways, it was as if his heart had been shredded by a dull knife. After his reassignment far from the Sagittarius Reach, they had tried for months in a vain attempt to make things work. But they had drifted apart in the ocean of time and space. At the end, he had made a renewed attempt to solidify their relationship only to find that she had moved on. Jona’s face flushed a darker shade of blue as the pent-up feelings came crashing back on him. He truly missed her and now would do whatever she required, if only to get her back into his life in some small way. His heart swelled as he realized she had tracked him across the quadrant. It could mean only that she had realized the error of her ways. They could regain what they had lost and rekindle the spark they had shared together. zh'Lev: I need you to kill someone.
  2. Another great JP, this time from Lox and Fortune! They're just so goddamn sweet, like eating a stick of fairy floss and following it down with a 4L bottle of soda. Enjoy! ----- ((Holosuite 2, Embassy Garden Hotel, Yarista, Palanon, Tyrellion system)) A gentle summer-night breeze ruffled the curtains by the open veranda, bringing with it that scent of warm rain that follows a storm. Inside the room was dark and intimate. Rows of plush red velvet chairs facing a flat screen which took up one entire wall. In the front row, chairs had been supplanted by a single large comfy sofa in the same velvet. Corliss Fortune was already curled up amidst the cushions as Lox joined her, giant cartons of toasty popcorn fresh from the replicator balanced on a tray in one hand. Loxley: Snacks? I’m not exactly a popcorn fan but some things are traditional. Fortune: Now, popcorn is a new one to me. ::but the curling plumes of smoke had caught her interest, and the warmth of the box radiating towards her hands felt nice.:: What’s it like? Loxley: It basically has the texture of cardboard. But if you cover it in salt and butter, it tastes like salty butter and cardboard. Fortune: Mm, sounds rather unappetizing, but people like it, yes? So it has to be delicious. Lox flopped down on the oversized sofa and tucked one leg under him, leaning his shoulder against hers. He gestured to the flat screen with his popcorn box. Corliss took one as well, curling her body around it to inhale the warmth that was pulsing from it. Loxley: So, what are we watching? Roman Holiday? Maltese Falcon? Something scary? Fortune: I’ve heard great things about Roman Holiday, and something called Bringing Up Baby. Loxley: I know the name of that one but not much else. My vintage Earth film knowledge comes from my mother. Is it just about child rearing? Fortune: Rather that the Baby in question is a large Terran Leopard. I’m not certain how one raises such a creature, however. Are they like Toto? Loxley: As in the little dog from Wizard of Oz? Not so much, no. ::he smiled:: Dorothy would have had a much easier time of things in Toto had been a leopard. Fortune: Could watch one after another, ‘s not like we don’t have time. ::she playfully nudged her leg against his, settling back with their shoulders touching once more.:: Could nearly watch the world away in how warm and cozy it is in here, hm? Loxley: Now that sounds like an excellent plan to me, Lieutenant Fortune. And, yeah, I like this room. I might ask for a copy of the holoprogram. Fortune: Sounds like a plan to me! The already dim lights turned a little dimmer still and the screen lit up with an eerie glow in the gloom. A moment later and grainy black and white images of Rome, four hundred years ago, cast a flickering light around the room. Lox frowned briefly at the actress onscreen - she looked familiar somehow. He shrugged, probably just one of those things. Loxley: Recovered from your athletic endeavors yet? Fortune: Slowly but steadily, I can still feel a little knot in my back, I swear. Loxley: Well, if there’s anything I need to rub better, let me know. ::he waggled his pointed eyebrows suggestively in a way only Vulcans could. Or at least half-Vulcans. A full Vulcan probably wouldn’t waggle anything suggestively if it could be avoided.:: Fortune: ::she cracked up in a laugh, gently nudging him with a bright grin.:: I may very well take you up on that, so long as you let me give back just the same. Loxley: Seems fair. Fortune: I know a few interesting hand massages from an old roommate. She tended to use a stylus to write upon a PADD. I do applaud her efforts, but she’d had to get a brace from writing so much later on. ::she wiggled her own hands in a jazzy manner.:: She let me borrow the paper showing how to do the massages so we could learn, no achy wrists! Loxley: Stylus? Wow, old school. I applaud her efforts. That said, some instructions would be useful. My medical education doesn’t really extend much past the basics of physiotherapy. Which basically means I can prescribe exercises for patients to ignore. Fortune: There’s something to be said for the old school, and I’m sure I can find the old file to send to you, eh? ::the movie caught her attention and she gasped, squirming closer and crossing her legs up into the seat.:: Oooh look at that! The black and white movie created stark shadows as Loxley turned to look at Corliss. Her face was half in shadow, half in light. The popcorn carton lay forgotten next to him as he slipped an arm around her shoulders and kissed her gently on the forehead. She blinked, giving him a confused smile. Loxley: Thank you. For being you. Fortune: Hm? You’re welcome? ::she chuckled, pecking a kiss to his nose in return.:: What’s all this about then? Loxley: I mean… I don’t know what it is exactly, but when I’m around you I just feel so… comfortable? That’s the best word I can think of. I don’t know if it’s an empathic thing or what. Fortune: Hmm, could be. Could be an us thing too?
  3. Another bit of excellent writing, by our CO, our FO, and... well, now, that would be telling, wouldn't it? Congratulations as appropriate! -- ((Sto’Vo’Kor, Crew Lounge, Deck 9)) They waged wars on a field of green; strategy devised, and tactics enacted, put to the test on the lush verdure lacking in blooms. Trajectory and geometry were the currency of the day; mathematical statistics and probability winning out over brute force. Armed warriors stood on either side, the pitched battle between made with long wooden weapons — gladiators in the arena — without the cheer from a spectating crowd… ...As it was shore leave, and the lounge was blissfully bereft of patrons. The dull thunk of a striped pool ball hit the felt boundary and disappeared down into the corner pocket. Triumphant smile notwithstanding, Jo stood up from her shot and leaned on the cue, beer bottle lifted with some measure of victory, finger pointed from around it toward the battlefield between the blonde and the hazel-eyed woman opposite. Marshall: That’s two. You’ve got to admit, I’m getting better. And watched as a rebounding ball from the shot knocked the white into the centre pocket. Marshall: Kinda. Eyebrows raised, Quinn lifted her gaze from the inexorable path of the cue ball into the pocket. She grinned, raising her palm parallel to the ground, and rocked it from side-to-side with a chuckle. Out of uniform, in worn jeans and a loose t-shirt, she didn't look the prim and proper Admiral that she usually was — and, at times like this, that was how she liked it. Reynolds: Kinda. Even as the smile refused to dissipate any, Jo’s tongue lodged in her cheek and a long sigh deflated her chest. Marshall: One day, Quinn. One day. Beer bottle handy, Jo took a swig and glanced across the open expanse of the crew lounge to where their Chief of Security and Tactical would make her appearance from. Possibly an odd request to meet the two in the lounge, but it was a far sight better than being holed up in Quinn’s Ready Room for the duration of all the comings and goings expected. She watched the Admiral setup for the next shot through a swig of beer. Marshall: Do you think she thought you were pulling her leg? Reynolds: I hope not. ::The crack of resin snapped through the air as the white collided with another ball, sinking it with barely any thought at all.:: Though perhaps "come and play ball" isn't the more obvious of invitations. Marshall: What can I say, you’re a subtle creature. Quinn chuckled in reply, shooting a sly twist of a grin toward Jo with equal precision to her pool playing. Trying not to smile and failing quite aptly, Jo heard the doors swish open and looked over to see the young Security Chief in all her glory entering the wilds of the crew lounge. Lifting her beer bottle up to catch her attention, Jo beckoned her over. Marshall: Sami! Over here! Sto’Vo’Kor, a familiar place, frequently visited the last two years and yet, for obvious reasons, nerves were rushing through her body as she stepped through the doors this time. Samira wore black jeans, and a light grey t-shirt, fingerless gloves, matching color with the shirt, hidden in her back pocket. Casual clothes as requested in the invitation. Ok, this was just a game of pool. Maybe she should have practiced a bit more, she couldn’t remember the last time she had played a game. Wasn’t it with Blackbird while he was on the ship? She took a deep breath as she stepped through the doors. Too quiet, everyone was down on the station or on Palanon. Or not that quiet when she heard the recognisable voice of the First Officer calling her. She walked over to the pool table, plucking a bit of grey fur away from her shoulder, nodding in greeting as she arrived. Neathler: Sir, Jo. ::She quickly glanced at the different coloured and striped balls on the table. :: Who’s winning? Probably an unnecessary question, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Quinn smiled, one hand on her hip, leaning on her pool cue. As much as she preferred formality, not one for allowing her officers to refer to her casually on duty, at times like this it felt incongruous. Reynolds: We're off duty, Sami. You can call me Quinn. Quinn instead of sir. That would take getting some used to and not exactly the way she was raised. Still, it was only for the duration of this game; she figured for now. Marshall: And I wouldn’t say “winning” so much as “succumbing to my eventual slaughter”. Albeit a little slower than last time. You’re losing your touch, Reynolds. ::A cheeky grin sprouted as Jo plucked her beer bottle from the side rail and she turned the grin to Sami.:: How are you at the old game? Come prepared to be my saviour? Neathler: I’m afraid, I’m a bit rusty, I haven’t played in a while. ::She looked at the setup, a hand going through her short hair.:: And I admit, I’m more familiar with snooker than eightball. Do you pot the balls by number? Marshall: Some players do. ::She took a swig from the bottle.:: But I tend to pot whatever I can before Quinn turns this into a massacre. Reynolds: I feel I should point out she takes her defeat with good grace because she knows she'll be murdering me at springball tomorrow. Samira raised an eyebrow. So that’s what was happening when the Commanding and First officers held meetings? Either playing pool or springball? Still, it was good to see them both taking some time off for themselves, although she still was wondering what she was doing here herself. Neathler: Got to keep the score even somehow. Maybe I should just observe and learn from the best. And in the meantime come up with a strategy to not be slaughtered instead, Samira thought as she already studied the position on the pool table, thinking of which shot she’d try first. Quinn glanced toward Jo, a sly twinkle in hazel eyes, and then looked back toward the brunette. Reynolds: Maybe it's time to step up. Step up as in not observing? Right, of course. Her eyes still on the game, unaware of the interaction between the other two, Samira walked around the table, looking at the game from a different angle. What was she thinking, of course the Admiral would want to see how well she played? What was the point of inviting someone to a game of pool, if that someone just observed? At the corner of the table she took a step back, looking up at the others. Neathler: In that case, I’d pot the three first, with a gentle shot. That would leave the cue ball at the correct position to go after the eight. Picking up the tail ends of Quinn’s grin, Jo chuckled through a swig from the beer bottle, and held out the pool cue to her commander counterpart to take. The fun was always in the opportunity to kick back together without that mantle of duty weighing down the shoulders like a backpack of bricks; throw off the shackles of command and enjoy easy conversation through the guise of playing a game. Marshall: I think we have a contender. How about it, Sami? Give Quinn a run for her credits.
  4. A lovely and frank exploration of the mind, by Arlo Thornton and Corliss Fortune (Highest Quality Counsellor Brain). Took me a little while to get to it, because the moment I started I knew it was going to be a good one, and I wasn't disappointed. Hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did! ----- ((Deck 10, Arboretum, USS Gorkon)) As a counselor, being versatile and expecting the unexpected was part of the job, truly. You never really knew what someone would say next, nor where they would ask to meet up for a session. Since she was on duty, she had her usual pink bubblegum wig on, the curls laid around her shoulders as she popped into the arboretum, the smell of warm dirt and whatever those bright red flowers were permeating the air. She whistled idly, ducking inside. Fortune: Arlo? Though she was still on leave Arlo had volunteered her time to assist with the replanting of several delicate Capellan lotus flowers that had been brought aboard by one of the civilian botanists that called Gorkon home. It was a task that required a high degree of meticulosity which if not properly handled could lead to the loss of the entire crop- which meant that the Assistant Chief Science Officer could spend her day indulging in one of her favourite hobbies. She had first developed an affinity for xenobotany as a teenager watering the myriad of plants that crew throughout her parents cafe. For a time she had considered turning the avocation into a career before the lure of astronomy and xenology proved too strong a siren’s call to resist. So engrossed was she in her task- examining the stem of one sickly looking lotus with her loupe (a kind of magnifying lens attached to a band around her the top of her scalp which afforded her a microscopic examination of the filaments) - that it took her several moments to realise that a familiar voice- soft and warm with just the hint of a laugh- had called her name. She looked up from the lotus and got to her feet. Thornton: Corliss? She turned around to see the ship’s counsellor stood on the other side of a particularly dense Anterean shrub that the lotus flower she was planting would grow in the shadow of. As ever the Betazoid was bewigged, this time shoulder length with a soft-yet-bright pink hue. Not for the first time, Arlo wondered what her actual hair looked like underneath. Fortune: Oh! ::she jumped, twirling around with a laugh.:: You startled me! It’s much quieter here than I assumed. Looking abashed, Arlo’s cheeks tingled as they warmed with a soft red blush. She hadn’t meant to make her jump, but she herself had been surprised by her arrival. So consumed had she been in her task that she had not realised the time. For a split second she wondered if the counsellor had come in search of her to chase up a missed appointment before she remembered that Arlo had suggested having their session in a location other than Corliss’ office. Thornton: Sorry. ::she replied, her tone rueful.:: Do you wanna come round? ::there was a small gap between the shrubbery large enough to allow a person access to the lawn. Nearby was a sign that made it clear ball games were not permitted on the green (something that Arlo was sure nobody paid the slightest bit of attention to).:: What do you think of the Arboretum then? Fortune: I like it, I think. Makes me think of a real forest. So! ::she clapped her hands together, smiling.:: What’s first then? Arlo could see what Corliss meant. The space was filled with a wide variety of tall perennials that stood tall and proud. The overheard lights filtered through the landscape creating a dappled appearance that was instantly relaxing. There were paths meandering throughout the large space as well as lawns for the planting and feeding of other flora. It seemed like the ideal venue for a counselling session, especially for those- like Arlo- who felt claustrophobic in a counsellor’s office. In response to Corliss’ question, Arlo removed the loupe and passed to her before crouching back down in front of the small hole that she had dug with a nearby trowel. Thornton: Here, put that on. The magnification should already be set. Have a look at the stems and the microfilaments. Do any of them look withered or decayed? Instead of green, they should be turning a reddy-brown colour. Corliss took it with ease, looking it over curiously before crouching down as well, looking over the stems slowly. Fortune: I remember being smaller than my knee and doing the same for my father. ::she twirled the loupe in her hand with a smile.:: Sadly, he got an infestation once...hard to see the green amongst the browns. But this one looks fine. This one, ::she turned her gaze onto another little plant trying its hardest to stand the test of time.:: seems to have a splotch of brown. Not ideal. Thornton: Thanks for meeting me here, by the way. I offered to help out Doctor Klechlacen with the replanting of the lotus’ and then forgot all about it. ::she didn’t really want to admit that she didn’t care much for Corliss’ office- as inviting as she had tried to make it.:: Fortune: It’s not a problem! It’s a change from the usual, for sure. ::she changed her gaze to another, squinting as if trying to determine its fate.:: Plus, had you asked my father, he would perhaps waxed poetic over how vital our green friends here are to the day to day living. So...would you like to talk about the last mission? There was a loaded question. Did she want to talk about their shared experience on Trueno? Absolutely not. Did she need to talk about it and her state of mind following the mission? Absolutely. Not that it made it any easier to do so. Thornton: Depends how much free time you have, counsellor. ::she said, affecting an air of nonchalance.:: What do you want me to talk about? Fortune: Anything? Everything? Actually, I didn’t get a chance to congratulate you on your promotion! That half pip looks good on you. Have any exciting plans to celebrate? Beyond the champagne we had at the party, I mean. The truth was that she didn't want to celebrate her promotion. She felt like she did not deserve it. Not after she let her temper get the best of her. She would have returned the black and gold pip to the Admiral- but a healthy fear of the quiet but utterly intimidating woman meant she was much to fearful of her reaction to do so. Thornton: Not really. ::she replied, still forcing a casual air.:: That stem with the splotch of brown, trying rejuvenating the area with this xylemic regenerator. It might be that water molecules are not getting through the inner layers. She handed Corliss a small device approximately six centimeters long, half of which was taken up by a thin microfilament that glowed with a soft yellow regenerative light. Fortune: Oh my, that can happen? How frightening! ::she took up the device easily, slowly waving it over the splotch of brown.:: What a poor little plant. ::she hummed softly.:: Nothing in mind at all? Thornton: ::she bit her lip.:: I don't think I handled myself well on Trueno. I went in distrustful and I didn't give Hankins the benefit of the doubt. I…. I don't know what that says about me as a Starfleet officer. Fortune: Quite honestly, there’s nothing in the Starfleet manual demanding you to be swayed one way or another. Do you feel you trusted your gut down there? About Hankins? She let out a sigh as she considered the question. Her gut had been right about Hankins all along. The idea that there was a killswitch embedded each creature and he had kept that from them had proved that. But it wasn't so much that she didn't trust him, she had not trusted herself to behave. And she had not. Thornton: Well… I think I did. After all, the man was playing god to get his name in the history books. He wasn't genuinely interested in those creatures and their welfare. ::the thought made her blood boil.:: Fortune: I think it’s important to trust others, but as an officer, I also think there should be a modicum of...hesitance. He played with life, which while fascinating, is obviously dangerous. ::she flicked off the device, squinting at the stem slowly.:: What do you think? Have they recovered? ::she smiled, a hand holding her head up on her lap.:: She motioned with the loupe and affixed it in place when Corliss handed it back. The regenerator had only partially worked. With another audible sigh, she realised that it was not going to be a viable candidate for planting. Thornton: Not entirely. The structure of the xylem was just too weak I think. We'll had to turn it into compost. ::beat:: I don't think I trusted myself down there, Corliss. I knew I was going to react the way I did at some point. Corliss: To dust, we return, as a valuable asset to the next generation. ::she tilted her head in thought, slipping a lock of hair behind her ear that had escaped.:: You didn’t trust yourself, you say. Is this something new…? She was at a loss for a moment, unsure of why that was. She had always kept people at arm's length for most of her adult life. It just felt safer to do so. Thornton: I've… been like that for a long time, I think and because of that I'm… scared to let people in? ::she knew she sounded like a textbook case and it made her cringe.:: Corliss: You’d be surprised-or not-that that is a lot of people’s fear. ::she smiled, twiddling the device in hand.:: We know ourselves, and to let someone else so close to what we view as a negative aspect of ourselves is...nerve-racking. Arlo nodded in agreement and picked up one the lotus' that she had already checked over before Corliss had arrived. She planted it in the spoil with great care and then ran a root generator over the top of the soil to ensure the viability of the plant. She couldn't quite meet Fortune: Well, what is it about others that make you hesitate? Is there a specific reason or is it just….something you feel rather than can describe? Thornton: It's a feeling more than anything. I've lived with it almost all of my adult life. ::it was a powerful realisation, one that threatened to rob her of breath.:: I…. I feel like…. I feel like it's better to keep people at a remove so I won't be disappointed too much when they let me down. Fortune: You make assumptions of others of a negative state, and when they achieve it, you feel...vindicated, of a sort? ::she hummed, rocking her head back and forth.:: You said this started in your adult life. Was there a certain moment? Something that just...started it all off? Arlo didn’t answer as he let the lotus flower tumble from her hand. It landed silently on the lawn. Her mind left the replanting- left the Gorkon even- and remembered for the first time in years as everything slid into place. Burning. Crackling. Smoke. Screams. Alarms. Sirens. Dread. Terror. Blame. She drew a sharp breath, her mind returning in a disorientating rush. She couldn’t remember having stood- but she was on her feet, gasping greedily at the air, hungry for steadying, calming breaths. Her hands felt clammy, her forehead thick with sudden rivulets of sweat. Anxiety stabbed at her, like a thousand needles upon her psyche. She knew that was the ‘something’ that Corliss had asked about. Her eyes darted about, her mind whirling to put all the pieces together. She looked down at Corliss with a wide stare. Thornton: The Academy. ::she said, then after hesitating, she continued.:: My final year cadet cruise, a-aboard the Temecula. Corliss blinked, hesitating before gently holding her hand out to place upon Arlo’s shoulder, squeezing lightly. Corliss: Deep breath now. You’ve grown quite white. Do you need to sit down for a moment? It was a good idea. She bobbed her head and started to sit on the grass, shaking a little as she did. Corliss reached out to stop her. Corliss: No, on a chair. You look like you’re about to pass out, honestly. Here. She hefted herself up, nudging the plants away and scooping the lotus up, settling it atop a planter for now as she offered her arm up to Thornton. Corliss: You need a shot of juice. Thornton: I do? ::she looked at the counsellor vaguely, her eyes glassy but her brow knitting together ever so slightly.:: Corliss: Juice. The sugar spike will help even the adrenaline, it’s why some people who get their blood drawn are given juice at the end. ::she gave Arlo a soft smile.:: And who doesn’t like juice, hm? Thornton: I guess… ::she mumbled.:: … I hadn't thought about that in a long time. Burning. Crackling. Smoke. Screams. Alarms. Sirens. Dread. Terror. Blame. The rush of emotion and of sensory inputs rushed upon her again. She closed her eyes and braced herself. Though still intense, there was a distance to it that it made it more manageable. Just. She sat on the planter and looked down at the ground. Thornton: I must look ridiculous, huh? Corlis adjusted her a little to sit her up, squeezing her shoulder with a nod, grabbing a replicator and fiddling with it to summon a cup of apple juice just for the occasion. Corliss: No, someone who has a doodle of fake glasses on their face by marker looks ridiculous. You look tired, Arlo. ::she grabbed the glass, holding it out for Arlo gently.:: Here, slow sips. She did as the counsellor instructed, not even wondering where she had managed to get a replicator from. The apple juice was pleasantly sweet and wetted her suddenly dry throat. Thornton: Thank you. ::she said, full of gratitude.:: Corliss: Take some time, deep breaths. ::she took a seat next to her, one leg bouncing lightly as she smiled at Arlo.:: Something happened, I take it. More so than you’d like to think about. Again, she did as she was told. She breathed in through her nose and exhaled slowly out of her mouth. Just as she had done on Trueno. Just had she done in the days and the weeks after the Temecula. Burning. Crackling. Smoke. Screams. Alarms. Sirens. Dread. Terror. Blame. She pushed through the unpleasant sensations swirling about her body and mind and continued to sip from the apple juice. Once they had subsided, she turned her attention to Corliss. Thornton: There was an explosion in a science laboratory aboard the Temecula while I was stationed there as part of my final year cadet cruise. ::she shook her head, her stomach suddenly felt as though it had been flooded with churning ice cold water.:: I was in the laboratory at the time and…. and I got the blame. Corliss: Really? ::she felt an eyebrow twitch up at that.:: That certainly doesn’t fit...you, I think. ...so, what happened? Arlo spent many years trying to put the events aboard the Temecula but the injustice of what had occurred still burned within her. She looked down at the grass again, took a breath and began her story…. --
  5. I stumbled upon this post written all the way back in 2017, but Appreciations doesn't say it has to be a recent post, so... I wanted to share it with everyone, as I found it remarkably well written. ----- ((San Francisco Spaceport, Earth)) ::It was a perfect, balmy night in San Francisco. The moon was high in the sky, bathing the planet in its ghostly silver light, the stars twinkling in the sky around it. One of those stars was the Gorkon, arrived earlier that day. But despite the warmth of the evening, Quinn felt cold, and she pulled her jacket tight around her shoulders. ::Her eyes were on a small passenger ship as it rose from the landing pad. It was an elegant, graceful vessel of Kazleti design, as efficient as it was beautiful. She had always admired the aesthetics of their ships, and had vowed to herself that one day she'd visit the shipyards that orbited the world they now called home. But for once, her technical mind was far away from thoughts of engineering and starship design, lingering instead on feelings of sadness and loss. ::After a few long minutes, she turned and left the landing area, heading out onto the streets. It was late and the streets were quiet, ::He was waiting for her outside. She hadn't asked him to come -- she didn't feel she had the right, as he'd made it very clear that being taken away from his ship for the inquiry was an imposition -- and yet, there he was. She acknowledged him with a glance, but she couldn't summon a smile to greet him with. He didn't seem to mind, falling into step beside her, and they walked without direction or destination in mind.:: Brunsig: So you finally got through to him. Reynolds: ::Quietly,:: That's what he said. ::She turned her head, looking up at the midnight sky. The ship bearing Jansen Orrey home was long gone from their sight, already on course to New Orleans. Her dying friend had finally, tearfully, acknowledged that he should be with his family in his final months, and she had helped arrange him swift passage back home.:: Brunsig: It's a good thing, Quinn. Reynolds: I know. ::And yet, as much as she told herself that, it didn't feel like it. Her friend was gone, and it was likely that she would never see him again. She doubted that they'd talk over subspace -- Jansen had already shown a tendency to sequester himself away -- and she expected that the only contact she'd have would be a formal notification of death, and an invitation to a funeral she wouldn't be able to attend. ::Just like she hadn't been able to attend her mother's. Years had passed, and that still stung.:: Brunsig: I'd tell you to get drunk, but you don't do that anymore. Reynolds: No, I don't. ::Silence fell upon them. Walter wasn't a man to offer comforting platitudes, or attempt to instill hope in a hopeless situation. Sometimes, the universe was just cruel, and that was all there was to it. Once upon a time, as he'd implied, she would have hit the bottle to salve the hurt, but those days were gone. ::Which left her with a deep, hollow ache in her heart, and an acute awareness of Walter's presence by her side. Why had he come here? She hadn't asked him to. She hadn't even hinted at it. The only discussions they'd had on the journey to Earth had been professional in nature, regarding the inquiry around Sevo and Freeman. And yet here he was, when she needed him, offering support in his uniquely grumpy way.:: Reynolds: Walter, there's something-- Brunsig: Stop right there. ::Cut her off before she had even got started, she frowned in a mix of surprise and annoyance.:: Reynolds: Pardon me? Brunsig: I know you, Quinn. I know how you react when you lose people. ::He eyed her with that startling blue gaze of his.:: You're more Deltan than you like to admit. ::Her cheeks burned bright at the implication, and without thinking, she blurted out a stubborn and far too indignant response. Maybe the accusation had hit a little too close to home.:: Reynolds: I am *not*. ::Was she?:: Brunsig: So you weren't sleeping with Tam? ::He might as well have slapped her across the face, such was her physical reaction to the question. She stopped in her tracks and took a step back, and if her cheeks had been burning before, now they were surely hot enough to rival the absent sun. He'd heard about that? Of course he'd heard about that. If there was one thing in the universe that could be relied upon, it was the propensity of Starfleet officers to gossip.:: Reynolds: That's not-- Kael was-- You-- ::Indignant and more than a little embarrassed, she spluttered out several words before she managed to form a sentence.:: You weren't there. You have *no* idea what it was like out there. ::She glared at him, and he scowled right back.:: I don't owe you any explanations. Brunsig: I missed the part where I asked for one. ::The pair glowered at each other across the pavement, the fragrant breeze catching a few stray strands of her fine hair and making them dance under the streetlights. In that moment, there was an ancient piece of wisdom that very much applied to her. ::Dig *up*, stupid.:: Reynolds: You're such an [...]. ::Going down.:: Brunsig: Old news, Cupcake. ::Shore leave was supposed to be a time to refresh and rejuvenate, and while they had barely had a day to themselves so far, Quinn had felt little more than worn and frayed around the edges. Returning the ship from Leutra IV had felt like returning to harsh reality from a dream-like, futuristic fairy tale, and her responsibilities and worries had felt all the heavier for it. ::And while she was usually content enough to weather it, even finding it oddly charming, she was in no mood for Walter's sarcarsm that evening. Her temper began to get the better of her.:: Reynolds: Why are you even here, anyway? I didn't ask you to come. Brunsig: I'm asking myself the same damned question. ::Neither of them were raising their voices as they snapped at each other, but in the still quiet of the midnight streets, their argument still sounded loud.:: Reynolds: Well maybe you should just go home then. Brunsig: Fine. Reynolds: Fine! ::He glared at her, his lips thinning into a frustrated line. She couldn't tell if he had nothing to say (unlikely) or so much that he couldn't pick what to spit out first (probable). In the end, he settled for a frustrated snort and shake of his head, and then the German executed a sharp, neat turn and stalked away. ::Probably straight to the nearest bar, if she knew him at all. ::The regret was more or less instant, her pride and simmering annoyance restraining her from doing anything about it. Instead, running her fingers through her hair, she trudged a few footsteps toward an angular wooden construction that was part sculpture, part bench. Her backside hit the seating with a dull thump, and she buried her head in her hands. Not for the first time, she wondered if Vulcans had the right of things. If she'd been T'Quinn, replete with emotion-suppressing skills, would probably have handled that conversation with a great deal more dignity and grace. ::Heaving a sigh, she looked down the street. It was late, she was tired, and there was no doubt her children would drag her up for an early start in the morning. Not that she begrudged them that -- she didn't see them enough as it was, and she'd never been one to lie in -- but she knew her mind and she knew it wouldn't let her rest easy tonight. She'd always found self-recrimination an easy black hole to get sucked into, especially in the quiet dark of night. ::Why put off the inevitable, then. With a slow reluctance, and an unhappy glance down the street Walter had vanished into, she hauled herself to her feet and reached for the combadge in her trouser pocket.:: Reynolds: =/\= Reynolds to Gorkon. One to beam up. =/\= ::The sparkling blue of the confinement beam shimmered into place around her, and with that, she left San Francisco behind for the night.::
  6. Gosh Thornton, you are on a roll recently! Beautiful and a little sad. Haunting, even. I hope everyone enjoys reading this as much as I did. ----- OOC: This is a little something that started life as a writing exercise a couple of weeks ago, but became one my favourite pieces to date. Timeline wise, my sense is that this occurs during our current shoreleave, after arriving in the Tyrellian system. I'm incredibly of this piece and I hope you enjoy and find yourself swept away to a sleepy Iberian village.... ((Holodeck One, U.S.S. Gorkon)) Swept away by the melancholic guitar, bewitched by the achingly beautiful violin in the background and entranced by the longing, earnest heartbreak of the singer, Arlo Thornton felt swept away by the music. A fusion of the ancient fado style of Earth and more modern Trill disciplines she had been a devotee of the dramatic and passionate style ever since encountering it in a sleepy tavern during her first year at the Academy. That night, the air had been as balmy, the streets as cobbled and the architecture as ancient and as fragile as her surroundings at that moment. Across the chequerboard square and overlooked by white stone walls flecked with blue and orange paint and topped with terracotta roof tiles, the band held a small but rapt audience. Five men, two guitarists, one violinist, one accordionist and a Trill on an ethereal piano were the living backdrop for a middle aged Bajoran woman. Her darkly blonde hair was pulled back from her face into a tight bun at the nape of her neck and accentuated with a small wreath of lavender. From her ears slid two crystal earrings shaped like teardrops that reflected the orange light of the dusk. Clad in a black dress that reached from bust to the floor, every syllable of the unfamiliar language ached with bittersweet yet sparkling melancholia. Arlo could hear the grief of star crossed lovers forced to part, the faded optimism of a promised reunion that she knew would never happen and the pain that came with that heartbreaking revelation. Every inch of the woman radiated with inconsolable anguish. The sole occupant of her table, Arlo could not take her eyes off of the Bajoran woman. She rested her chin on the back of her fingers, her elbow propping her up from the glass surface of the table. She was it’s sole occupant and so transfixed by the mesmerising display, the carafe of water and her glass of white wine lay undisturbed. A warm zephyr carried a heady scent of smoked meats, grilled seafood and sprinkled pepper and paprika; ruffling the hemline of Arlo’s purple loosely flowing maxi-dress and the ends of her free flowing red hair. The song came to a gentle conclusion, the notes of each instrument fading into the still of the night. The singer bowed her head as if finally accepting that she would never be reunited with whoever it was that had left her life and broken her heart. For a moment, nobody moved and the silence of the evening was deafening. Then before she knew what she was doing, Arlo was upon her feet, clapping her hands in joyful appreciation. She sniffed and realised that the performance had moved her to tears (not an altogether unusual occurrence). She quickly wiped the tear with one slender finger and resumed her ovation, which was now joined by every person in attendance. The Bajoran looked humbled by the outpouring of applause, heartbreak replaced with meekness and embarrassment. She took a small bow and turned to her accompanists, offering her own réclame. The town square followed suit, people now offering cheers and shouts of gratitude and appreciation. It continued for a minute, maybe more. The band conferred with their singer and Arlo wondered if they were discussing what to sing for the encore. Into this beautiful evening came an all too familiar three tone mechanical whistle followed by a disembodied voice. Breathing in, Arlo let out a resigned sigh. Not quite annoyed, not quite frustrated. Mildly irritated, maybe. But the life of a Starfleet officer met that her obligation to her duties would always win out, even over the perfect evening of beautiful music. Qu’ila: =/\= Bridge to Lieutenant Thornton. =/\= Arlo tilted her head up ever so slightly, looking into the orange and purple hued twilight. Stripping her voice of the exasperation she felt, she replied in a bland and utterly unnoteworthy tone. Thornton: Go ahead. Qu’ila: =/\= You have an incoming subspace communication from Cestus III. Shall I route it to your quarters? =/\= Surprised, Arlo did not answer immediately. For a moment she thought she had misheard for she had not received a call from that distant world in quite some time. When she was certainly that she was not mistaken she realised with a smile what it meant. Fin.
  7. I really loved reading this sim because of its self-reflective nature and its continuity with other events. Note that even the title was used as a clever device, as in Part II, Thornton got promoted! Also bonus points for using the word "discotheque". Really well crafted writing, Thornton! That promotion is well deserved! ---- OOC: Part I is attributed to 'Lieutenant Arlo Thornton' deliberately. Don't worry folks, I haven't made another booboo. Also, all thoughts and opinions are strictly in character! ((Mess Hall, USS Triumphant)) Time had lost all meaning to Arlo Thornton. It had been several days since she and her colleagues had been rescued from the surface of Trueno by the Triumphant. The tiny Defiant-class vessel was now speeding towards the Tyrellian system where they would rendezvous with the Gorkon. The trip marked the first time that the Australian scientist had been aboard such a compact vessel and privately she hoped it would also be her last. Cabin fever had quickly set in despite the hospitality of Captain Brunsig and his crew. Triumphant was not a ship built with comfort or amenities in mind, it's design purely functional save for the 2 multipurpose rooms that had been converted at some point into a holodeck (that always seemed to be booked out by the 50-something crewmembers). To make matters worse, Arlo had kept to herself for much of the voyage to Palanon, the designated capital world of the Tyrellian system. Ensconced in the cabin assigned to her for the voyage she had only really left at mealtimes or for one half-hour jog around the Triumphant. The rest of the time she had been ruminating on her experiences and performance on Trueno and then writing, scrapping and rewriting her report multiple times. The process had made one thing crystal clear to her: when her back was against the wall and the chips had fallen unfavourably she was not at all graceful or calm. On Væron she had responded to the difficulties events there (and to her role as away team leader) by channelling her frustration and terror at Lieutenant (J.G) Tali Namura, one of Gorkon's physicians. She had misattributed her rank, snapped at the ever so slightly disconcerting woman and quietly panicked at the first sign of danger. On Trueno, she had gone in with preconceived notions about the goal of the reserve and its chief scientist, Bertrand Hankins and lost her cool spectacularly several times with him. That had culminated in a spectacular evisceration just before the Triumphant had beamed them aboard. It was this realisation that had sparked her hermetism. She had made a vow to herself after Væron to do better, to uphold herself to a higher standard. In her made, she had broken that promise. Stranger most of all was the fact that was not usually given over to self-recrimination and so her thoughts vacillated between her performance and questioning why she was suddenly so overcome with self doubt. Sleep had not proven to be an escape. Her dreams had been unsettling: sharp teeth had figured prominently as had imperious dressing downs from Admiral Reynolds who had then morphed into a leathery quad winged dinosaur. Somewhere during the voyage to Palanon, Arlo had realised that she had not just let herself down, but also Admiral Reynolds and Lieutenant Commander Marshall. Without realising it, she had become determined to impress both of them. She had also recognised that both women intimidated the heck out of her for reasons that she was still trying to understand. When it was announced that there was to be a gathering in the Mess Hall for the Gorkon away teams, Arlo had hoped that attendance was optional. She knew it was not good to isolate herself from her friends and colleagues but she did not want to burden them with her darkened mood. Unfortunately, her presence was apparently mandatory and so she replicated a fresh uniform and made an attempt to look more presentable than she had since boarding the Triumphant. She had scooped her hair up into a loose bun, sat on the crown of her forehead and applied a light layer of foundation and once she had determined that she didn't look hideous, she stepped out and made her way to the Mess Hall. She stepped through the opened door to find her friends and colleagues already in attendance. Figuring she had enough time, she made her way to the replicator, ordered her favourite blend of apple tea and took a vacant seat next to an impossibly chiselled Trill officer that she did not recognise. There was no time for even the briefest of introductions as Admiral Reynolds, terrifying genius that she was, called the gathering to order, Reynolds: Thank you all for coming. ::She offered the small group a smile.:: I'll start with the best news of all; we're due to arrive in the Tyrellian system in the next twelve hours, and we'll be taking some shore leave to rest and recuperate. For those of you new to the system, I'd recommend you get off the Gorkon and get some fresh air. Palanon is beautiful and whether you like to keep busy or curl up and relax, you'll be able to find a place there to do it. Arlo was one of those who fell under the heading of “new to the system”. She had heard all about the beauty of the Tyrellian's adopted homeworld and about the space station in orbit that seemed to little more than a constant discotheque but in the year since she had transferred to Gorkon, the ship had never visited the central star system of the sector. Recognising that she had been cooped up in her tiny cabin on the tiny starship, Arlo- against the better angels of her nature- recognised that she would definitely benefit from exploring Tyrellian culture. As her eyes fell on the ever-wigged Corliss, seated across the room, and she reminded herself that counselling might also be of benefit to her. Marshall: And the other good news. There aren't any prehistoric life forms on the moon, so no armoured underwear required and no need to raid the armoury before you leave. Perhaps it was too soon for jokes about what had recently occurred on Trueno, Arlo wasn't sure. But, she did manage a weak smile in response to the first officer's quip. Her blue-green eyes followed Marshall as she reached for several transparent boxes. She could just make out thin strips of royal purple fabric in each one. Marshall: In recognition for the injuries sustained and wounds getting patched by the wonderful medical team of the Triumphant, Starfleet awards the Purple Heart to Crewman Lojah Oded for her actions on board the SS Vikartindur, Ensigns Serran Tan and Caitríona Cayne for multiple injuries on the asteroid. ::she glanced up to Tan with a cheeky glint,:: that must've been a pain the [...], ::and continued,:: Lieutenant Loxley for his injury in the vehicle crash, and Rear Admiral Quinn Reynolds, for a Tyrannosaurus Rex to the ribs. ::With a gentle sigh, she [...]ed an eyebrow.:: Who knew going down to a planet filled with prehistoric life would be so perilous? So the man she was sitting next was Serren Tan. She turned to him to offer him congratulations when she realised that it would be out of line to champion an injury sustained in the line of duty. She offered him a small sympathetic smile instead after he caught the polymer box that Commander Marshall had sent flying through the air towards him. Once all the Purple Hearts had been sent careening through the sterile Mess Hall air tinged with the scent of various beverages, the First Officer turned her attention to the stack of boxes once more. Marshall: As Starfleet Officers, it's our duty to en and sure we protect and preserve life where we can, and when placed in dangerous circumstances is when we see our champions shine, whether that's saving and protecting employees of a theme park trying to kill you, or rescuing the crew of another ship from near-certain death. To celebrate the actions of these brave individuals, we award Crewman Lojah Oded, Ensigns Maya Eden, Lieutenants Loxley, Vorin, Corliss Fortune and Arlo Thornton, and Lieutenant Commanders Samira Neathler and Erin Reynolds with the Lifesaving Ribbon. Arlo looked up at the mention of her name, stunned. Had she been a 'champion' on Trueno as Marshall seemed to have indicated? She seriously doubted it. Catching the aloft box in her left hand, she placed it in front of her and stared at the strip of silver and maroon fabric as though it didn't belong with her. Surely there had been some mistake? Yes, she had been part of the team that had encountered BetaGen employees but she herself had done little in the way of saving lives. She couldn't even get a clear shot at the quad-winged beast that menaced them in the parking lot. She felt like a fraud. It was not until the Admiral spoke that she was able to tear her eyes from the award. Reynolds: While we strive to protect and preserve all life, there's a bond between those who serve that can't be denied. A fellowship between that goes beyond simple working colleagues, a mutual understanding of what it means to be Starfleet. For that reason, we single out those occasions where Starfleet officers save each other. And so, I'm honoured to present Lieutenant Pira sh'Qynallahr with the Silver Lifesaving Ribbon. Marshall: The reason that many of us join Starfleet is the drive to devote ourselves to a greater cause, to something bigger than ourselves, and sometimes that means putting our lives on the line to protect others in their hour of need. Today, we stand in the company of heroes – those who put their lives at risk to ensure we continued on – and it's you we celebrated with this ribbon. Once more, the air was thick with flying ribbons. Marshall: Ensign Serren Tan used himself as a Trill shield to protect his team from the swarming Belluchelodromeus, taking venom to the backside in the process. Lieutenant Jona ch'Ranni thre himself in the path of a Krigos to save the life of his colleague. Lieutenant Commanders Ayiana Sevo and Pholin Duyzer shocked and distracted a rampaging Dilophosaurus in the control centre of the park. Lieutenant Commander Samira Neathler lured a razor-beaked flying dinosaur away from her team so her team could make their escape. And finally, ::she handed the ribbon to Quinn, with a small nod of appreciative thanks, one friend to another,:: Rear Admiral Quinn Reynolds, for presenting herself as a snack to a T-Rex so her team and her son could escape from our overturned vehicle. Arlo joined in the round of applause that spread across the room while trying to ignore the feeling that Neathler would not have had to risk her life if she had only been able to acquire a clean shot. She had been tasked with leading their motley group to the safety of the parked automobiles- and in her mind, she had failed to do. Still, Arlo reminded herself, Neathler had returned to them intact and mostly uninjured. It was something to be thankful for. Reynolds: It's said that desperate situations bring out ingenuity, and that was more than clear on Trueno and the SS Vikartindur. We have simulated dinosaur calls on a tricorder, at least two creative engineering solutions to lure species GS54 away from vital power supplies, and broken conduits used to chase off predators – quick wit and cleverness in action. For that, we're pleased to present Lieutenant Commanders Jo Marshall and Erin Reynolds, Lieutenant Arlo Thornton and Crewman Second Class Lojah Oded with the Innovation Ribbon. Another ribbon- blue, teal and silver, encased in a polymer box came flying at it from across the room, this time from the Admiral. Arlo made momentary eye contact with the Admiral as she caught it, sending an unsettling jolt from her stomach to her brain. She nodded her quick thanks and then averted her eyes, putting the box on the table in front of her and next to the Innovation Ribbon. She drew in a breath and tried to calm the sudden swell of nerves. Her plan to use a modified power cell to create a backfeed that would lure GS54- whatever they were- from the power lines of the weather net had been hastily conceived and she had not been sure if it would work until the glowing blue-white motes and fled en masse. It had been a risk and it had paid off. This time. TBC..... ----- ((Mess Hall, USS Triumphant)) Marshall: When faced with arduous and demanding conditions on Trueno, each of you stepped up the task with bravery and courage the best of Starfleet can be proud of. Faced with clear and present danger, you all outdid yourselves, rising to the occasion, and demonstrating the pluck and fortitude usually only required to eat Ayiana's cooking. For this, Starfleet has seen fit to award everyone the Good Conduct Ribbon. Congratulations, everyone! Sevo: OY!! Wondering whether it was a colossal joke on the part of the CO and XO, Arlo accepted her thrown ribbon on instinct alone. She instantly felt that she did not deserve it, having spent much of their mission seething at Hankins or calling out his appalling attitude . She had let her own personal bias about the man's work cloud her judgement. Resolving to talk to the XO about whether she truly deserved it or not after the ceremony, Arlo put the box with the other two. Reynolds: The backbone of any successful ship is a core of reliable and capable staff. Service in Starfleet can be... ::her lips twitched,:: an adventure written in hellos and goodbyes. As such, we recognise those people who lead their departments with a steady hand despite the continual change around them. Lieutenant Commander Samira Neathler and Lieutenant Corliss Fortune, we're proud to recognise your dedication and ability by presenting you with the Department Chief Ribbon. The Admiral personally handed each woman their award rather than send it sailing through the air. Arlo found the gesture rather touching and she joined in the applause for the two capable department heads. Reynolds: And speaking of department chiefs. I'm delighted to announce that Lieutenant Commander Pholin Duyzer will be taking on the role of Science Chief. Those of you who've already had the pleasure of serving with him know that Commander Duyzer is an incredibly talented officer with experience in leading science departments, and we're excited to welcome him to that role aboard the Gorkon. In the midst of hearty applause- and whistled adulation from Marshall- Arlo sprang to her feet, her hands thundering together and with a grin as wide as any Denticulations. Her malaise forgotten for the moment, she revelled in her superior's promotion, knowing that from their encounters and having read his impressive service record, that this had been a long time coming and was more than deserved. The applause died down and Arlo took her seat, she reached for her apple tea as the Admiral spoke again. Reynolds: The last presentation of the day goes to someone who's shown great courage and resourcefulness under great pressure, and gone from strength to strength in her service aboard the Gorkon. Lieutenant Arlo Thornton, I'm pleased to promote you to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, with all the associated duties, rights and responsibilities that came with it. Blindsided by the unexpected promotion- and mid sip of tea- Arlo spluttered and almost choked as she looked at the Admiral with wide orbs of surprise. She barely managed to cover her mouth before spraying apple tea all over the table. Swallowing and trying not to cough, she looked addlepated at the Deltan hybrid who was leading the applause with a grin. The validation was a momentary salve against her burning self doubt and while she didn't know if she deserved the third gold and black pip, the Admiral evidently felt differently. Unsure of what to do, she nodded her appreciative thanks to the woman and tried to process what had just happened. Marshall: Champagne time, sir? Thornton: oO Damn right! Oo ::she mused, still trying to work out what had just happened.:: Reynolds: The very finest Defiant-class replicators have to offer. ::Amusement twinkled in her eyes, and she gestured toward a table where a selection of drinks – including Château Triumpant, 2397 vintage – were on offer. ::Enjoy a drink and share your congratulations while you can before we're stampeded by Beta Shift in search of lunch. Marshall: And well done, everyone! May the next routine inspection go half as smoothly! Arlo rose to her feet somewhat unsteadily as the assembled officers moved to the rear of the room to get their glass of champagne. She was somewhere between the table and getting a glass of champagne when a familiar face approached. Like Arlo, Ayiana sported an impressive head of red hair- hers a bolder shade that suited the Trill. The two had not seen each other in some time, although Arlo had been aware that Sevo had recently returned from leave and was now serving as the Gorkon's mission specialist. Arlo thought that red would suit the joined officer very well. Sevo: Congrats, Lieutenant Commander. Thornton: Thank you. ::she said with a smile that did not quite hide the tone of incredulity in her voice.:: I think. ::she found herself chuckling and remarkably, it felt genuine.:: Sevo: Enjoy that new pip. Eying three gold ones? She had not even been eyeing the pip that she had just been awarded, let alone thinking about going for Commander. There was a lot of work to be done in bettering herself and letting go of her tendency to run her mouth, amongst other things, before she would even be ready to consider a future promotion. Plus, she needed to work out what it was that Admiral Reynolds recognised within her. The easy option was, of course, asking the half-Deltan outright, but she was much too terrified of her to do so and only slightly so when it came to Commander Marshall. Of course, that was too heavy an answer to give Sevo so she simply gave her a quick, wry grin and attempted to brush the question off with good humour. Thornton: We'll have to wait and see. The two women reached the champagne table and Arlo picked up a glass and poured in the fizz. She held the long, narrow glass delicately with her fingers wrapping around the stem. As she did Ayiana continued on. Sevo: I was hoping to get a fellow scientist's opinion on the park. What are your thoughts of that place? As the two stepped away from the table, she let out a confused sigh. She could not deny that the work carried out by BetaGen could go a long to answering some the mysteries about dinosaurs that had plagued palaeontologists across the galaxy for centuries- but it's potential had been quashed in the never-ending search for latinum and Doctor Hankins' own quest for recognition from his peers to fuel his egomania. Writing and rewriting her report, she had gone over this very question time and time again and was still not entirely sure that her final recommendation was the best solution. The most practical, maybe, but like everything else in the cosmos it was imperfect. Thornton: I think, currently, the goal in theory is noble but the application of it? ::she considered her words.:: Let's just say I think it needs a lot of work. Sevo: Response. Thornton: I don't think the pursuit of scientific knowledge should not be constrained by budgets or cutting corners- and definitely not by a desire for validation or ego-boosting. ::beat.:: I think that there is definite potential for learning and for the evolution of palaeontology but everything from the top down needs to be reorganised and re-prioritised- and I am still dead against turning the reserve into some kind of spectacle or theme park. Conservation was one thing but if that meant the exploitation of animal life for the entertainment of millions then it simply wasn't worth it, at least to Arlo. She was more than aware that other people disagreed with her and she did not begrudge them their opinions. She just wished that BetaGen and Hankins had not hidden behind a cloak of science to disguise their avarice. Thornton: What about you? What do you think about it? Sevo: Response. Thornton listened with genuine interest as the Trill officer outlined her thoughts. From what she had gathered from Pholin several days ago – and from what could be inferred from Ayiana's new service ribbons- her experiences on Trueno had not been any easier than Arlo's. Apparently every away team had been put through the wringer by the security and power failures, the anxious and terrified creatures within Dinosauria and the deadly ion storm. She had heard whispers in the corridors of the Triumphant that everything had been the result of sabotage- something Arlo herself had begun to suspect when she had encountered Species GS54- by a wanted criminal mastermind. Perhaps one day she would get the full story, but something told Arlo that she probably did not want to hear it. Thornton: I think I'll be glad to get back to the Gorkon and explore Palanon, more than anything. ::beat:: The more distance between me and those dinosaurs, the better. ::she took a sip from the champagne. For replicated fare, it was surprisingly tasty. She enjoyed and savoured the crisp tang before swallowing.:: I imagine that you'll be looking forward to seeing the Gorkon again? It's been a while for you, hasn't it? Sevo: Response. The unfolding conversation was just the remedy she needed after self-exile and days of assigning blame to herself. She liked Ayiana Sevo and her zest for life and had missed her when she had taken leave. It was good to be talking with her again. Thornton: I haven't had the chance to visit Palanon yet, any tips for a xenologist like me? Sevo: Response
  8. It's another monster multi-parter from Quinn and Jo, and as always, it's a fantastic read. Hope everyone enjoys this as much as I did! --- Part I ((Conference Room, USS Azetbur)) The steady craft dropped through the layers of atmosphere, thick like fog, into the oppressive skies above Centennial City. Once a fine and thriving metropolis in the days before the Mother Road, the dilapidated towers and unfinished construction projects showed how abandoned the place had become. South-east of the city, visible through the expansive viewscreen window as they took in the panoramic desolation, the Lakosha Fire River flowed lava from the mountains in red and black, spurting off the yellow fire. From above, the city looked a mix of orange and brown, the rust of the metal structures seeping into the air. They’d have to breathe that soon. Enthusiasm waned. Small shuttlecraft moved up and out of various points of the city, landing points scattered around, sanctioned or not. The transport hub for customs control had made them wait on the fringes, subjected to checks and balances, before they’d allowed the craft to start the descent. The decline of tourism and mining had taken its toll on the hub, and somehow, they had to find Valesha’s brother down there. As much as it pained to put their situation in the hands of the Shoals' flat foots, palms needed greasing. O. Marshall: Are we heading straight into Centennial or reporting to the CMC at Opportunity? Valesha stood in front of the main windows, staring past her reflection at the neglected city beneath them. Her fingers dug into the palms of her hands, jaw set, eyes dark. "A hard place" was how Teller had described it, and the grim database images hadn't contracted him. But now she could see it in person, her heart turned to lead. This was where her brother was? Had been all this time? Sienelis: I— ::She dropped her gaze, a grimace coming and going before she looked toward Bear.:: I don't know. What's best? O. Marshall: It’ll go in our favour if we do our due diligence. ::He exhaled a heavy breath, crossing his arms as he stood beside his Romulan friend.:: Get planetside, report that we made it, ask about the situation in Centennial before we go walking into the unknown looking like tourists. It doesn’t look too… friendly. Sienelis: That's an understatement. ::She uncurled stiff fingers from their grip and ran a hand through her short, dark hair, cheeks puffing out with an exhale.:: And I don't want to give the Marshals any more reason to be suspicious. O. Marshall: Playing host to a formerly wanted criminal, interdimensional starship thief, and yours truly would give them enough reason. ::He bumped her with his elbow and a flick of his eyebrow.:: Then there’s Lena. Valesha heaved in a breath, releasing it in a quiet huff that almost made it to laughter, the sound accompanied by the tiniest uptick of eyebrows and lips. A strange turn of affairs that all the officers in the group had something in their history to make law enforcement narrow their eyes and squint. Meanwhile, it was the Petty Officer who had a clean record and party of a family that helped keep the colony in business. Sienelis: So what you're saying is we put Chris out front and hope he's respectable enough that no one looks at the three reprobates behind him? O. Marshall: Trust the obnoxious Starfleet officers to send their Petty Officer to do their official introductions. The idea had merit. Chris was clever, charismatic, and had all the earthly charm of someone ready to have a sit down and coffee with local law enforcement over the impounding of his personal shuttlecraft. Once they were in the city, broadcasting they were Starfleet officers would be the wrong move. He’d spent enough time in the Shoals to understand there were places they just didn’t go, and the inner hive of Ketar V was one of them. O. Marshall: Opportunity first, if only to check in, then down to the big smoke stack they called a city. Try that diner place Chris keeps ranting about. Blend in with the locals. ::He raised one blond eyebrow to Valesha with a moderate amount of frown.:: And who the hell is Teller? One corner of the Romulan's mouth quirked up at the mention of the short, ginger engineer, her first genuine smile since they started the approach to Ketar V. He was the reason they were all here, the unwitting keeper of the keys. Months ago, during the official testing of the Warp XV on the USS Juneau, she'd sat with him in one of the ship's empty science labs. Using storage crates as seats, they'd shared fresh, homegrown coffee and talked about the places he'd visited and the people he'd met. Including Ketar V. Including Taeval. Sienelis: Geoffrey Teller. He's the Thor's First Officer now, but I met him when he was still the Veritas' Chief Engineer. ::She gestured toward the city below.:: They did some relief work here, rebuilding homes that had burnt down. That's when he met my brother. O. Marshall: Starfleet doing half a relief job, as usual, I see. Whatever they’d done to the city, it made no noticeable difference from their position overhead. Everything had a murky texture to it, like oil slicked over paper, or grease smeared on a window, a layer of smoke happy to remain floating atop the world like a weather system. He’d spent time there as a Ranger, back in the heady days of working on the fringes of space, bringing relief where needed. Bear wondered what kind of reception they would walk into, what kind of impression the Veritas had left behind when they’d left it behind, happy to fly off into the ether while Ketar V remained in the state it was. O. Marshall: I’ll let Lena know to head for Opportunity and we’ll go from there. Might be best if we plot a land approach to Centennial City instead of taking the bird. Less graffiti to scrub off when we get back. ::He glanced at the Romulan again, the look on her face a telling one.:: Do you want a minute alone with the dusty planet view? Just in case. She stared ahead for a few moments in silence, brilliant green eyes tracing over the rusting towers of a city in decline, piercing the skyline like skeletal fingers reaching for a last grasp of life. Somewhere in that industrial sprawl was her brother, eking out life as a refugee on a planet that resented his presence. Discrimination, segregation, hate crimes, even talk of forcible relocations for "failing to integrate"; all things her people had to deal with on Ketar V. Kicked to the bottom rung of life and stood on to ensure that was where they remained. Sienelis: I've seen enough. --- Part II ((Approach to Centennial City, Ketar V)) The dust of the road kicked up all around them as the hovering craft sped across the terrain. Overlapping segments of plating made the shuttlecraft look like an armoured vehicle, and the way Lena drove it, one could understand if something launched their way. The city towered ahead, bloated and orange, rust-coloured spikes and spires reaching for a sky darkened in murk and grime. The tiniest of red lights blinked at the top of the tallest tower, telegraphing the location for all incoming on shuttlecraft higher than ground level to see. As they neared the city, the lights changed. Still like someone had dipped the city upside down in a vat of gagh grease, but flickering with intense blues and purples, violets and reds, pinks and greens, large screens visible like a thumbnail. Squinting through the dusty window, Chris leaned forward a little, elbows on his knees as he watched the edge of the horizon melt away, the full, epic size of the city appearing piece by piece. Johns: Is it… ::he squinted a little harder,:: is it raining? Beside him, Valesha stared through the side window, unseeing, focused on nothing. She'd barely spoken since they'd made landfall, taking in the sights with all the cheer of someone surveying a natural disaster. At his question, her gaze darted first to the Russian, then in the direction he was looking. Her stone-faced gloom didn't shift, and a long sigh pulled out of her lungs, her lips thinning. Sienelis: What a shock. Even the weather is miserable. Johns: Looks muddy, too. In the way something wet could when strained through the grey and orange filter of the sky. From the skies rained down the summer shower, quenching the earth, turning it from a dusty orange to a dustier brown. Sky scrapers stretched toward the sky, and Chris watched a spire turn into the beginnings of an orbital platform, disappearing into the clouds. O. Marshall: Aren’t you glad we came over ground? Imagine trying to land in this. ::The engine roared underneath their feet, fighting against the weather on the open plain.:: Where did the CMC say we should start? Sienelis: Little Ki Baratan in Romulan Town. ::She shifted and crossed long legs, wrapping her arms around her middle.:: Despite the name, somehow I don't think it's going to reflect the imperial might and majesty of our former capital city. O. Marshall: Unless your imperial might and majesty was a cover for industrial depression, I’d agree. It gave “urban sprawl” a new meaning, and if the filters of the craft were anything to go by, an unfamiliar smell. Modern looking buildings, marred by the stain of rot and disrepair, left to crumble while the city struggled onwards. If not for the gigantic orbital platform above the city, feeding down the continued revenue, it might not have survived at all. Chris shuffled in his jacket, flexing his scapula, hearing the [...] leather creak with the effort. Johns: Anything we should watch out for in Romulan Town? Anything we shouldn’t do? ::Hazel eyes flicked to Orson and Lena in the hot seats.:: Like avoid bar fights. Their driver breathed out a chuckle, throwing a glance over her shoulder at the dancer, the grin in her eyes as well as on her lips. He shook his head in return, expecting some wisdom from a hybrid pirate who had gotten herself out of more scrapes than he’d practiced first position. Josett: Good practice. ::She chuckled.:: Nothing makes you learn to dodge like taking a Romulan fist to the face. Johns: The first time might be the last for puny human bones. ::An eyebrow arched to Valesha with a grin cracking through.:: Physiologically superior, as they are. Valesha glanced back toward him, a corner of her mouth lifted in a half-hearted grin. A running, shared joke, founded in an off-hand comment from the earliest days when they were still figuring out what they meant to one another. A friendship founded in a dream, the seeds of love and affection planted in an imaginary world. Yet with that light moment also came the memory of their encounter with the Tal Shiar agent, S'Tokkr. Hauling a wounded, unconscious Chris back to the Qowat Milat house and hovering over him while the Romulan medics did their work. Not an experience she cared to repeat, especially in a place bereft of allies like her old mentor. Sienelis: For all the good it's done for any of them here. ::She frowned, her gaze returning to the view ahead.:: I'd say try not to wind anyone up, but given how the Romulans here have been treated over the years, anger is probably their default response to outsiders. O. Marshall: Punch first and ask questions later? ::He scoffed in the front seat, shaking his head as he looked out of the window at the sepia-toned landscape.:: Sounds more like Trill thinking. Chris breathed out a soft laugh as he sat back against the chair, sliding his arm across the back of Valesha’s, fingers messing with the loose threads of her jacket shoulder, content to be close and look overhead, the clear roof giving an unobstructed view of what they were heading into. The docking ring above made for interesting viewing, stretching out across the sky, several shuttlecraft heading down through the atmosphere despite the weather beating down. The inhabitants were probably used to it; spend long enough under a rain cloud, get used to getting wet. Meanwhile, up front, Bear’s stomach warbled from within his fleshy human prison. O. Marshall: Not to sound like a broken holodeck Badgey here, but I’m hungry. ::He angled his head toward Valesha and her leaning arms, eyebrow curving up.:: Little Ki Baratan famous for food, by any chance? The question was, to no one's great surprise, met with a Romulan scowl. Sienelis: Didn't you eat before we left? O. Marshall: Of course I did, but you don’t get these, ::one arm curled, bicep bulging beneath jacket and layers,:: without an adequate amount of calories consistently throughout the day. And Chris wouldn’t let me bring snacks. Johns: I never said that, you… Bear-faced liar. O. Marshall: You said there’d be food. Johns: I said there was a diner somewhere in the city, that’s not the same thing. The blond one semi-turned around in his seat to point an accusatory finger into the back of the shuttlecraft while the dancer leaned forward, eyebrow making a swift ascension, elbow planted on his knee. O. Marshall: Because talking about the amazing burgers of that place was just idle chatter, was it? Sienelis: Oh, for the love of— Interrupting the bickering, Valesha threw her hands up and rolled her eyes. All the while, pulling at the threads of her fraying temper was the grin Lena was wearing, the hybrid finding the exchange immensely entertaining. An agent of chaos, if ever there was one. The Romulan bit down on the rest of the sentence, pivoting to the path of least resistance. Sienelis: Fine. If it will shut you up, we can stop and get a burger in this diner of myth and legend. Silence descended as the two men eyed one another with deliberate caution, knowing it was safer to say nothing than to dig the grave ever deeper. Both returned to sitting properly in their seats — Bear looking out of the forward window, Chris looking at the floor — allowing the quiet to reign for a moment longer. The shuttlecraft bumped over the terrain; the engine flaring under the ministrations of the pirate pilot, the wind and rain battering the sides of the hull. O. Marshall: You know you want to go, too. Sienelis: I hate you so much. --- Part III ((Welder’s Diner, Livernois Shipyards, Centennial City)) Rain hammered down from the sky and orbital platform above, giving the appearance of a mist in the air, somehow smelling like diesel and torched rubber had baked into an ozone-rich atmosphere. Scents of street food washed over them — fried hlai buns, warm vats of glakh, deep-fried strings of verethi and karlak bread — a blend of foods to stuff the senses and bellies, to make someone forget they lived and worked there. Suits in high collars pulled them tighter around their ears to protect from the downpour, whistled and hailed for cabs the size of an Argo rolling through the streets, looking to get from one side of the city to another. The planetside structure of the shipyards was very much alive. Amid it all, the squat diner sat squashed between two large scrapers on either side, hemming it in as though trying hard to cram it out of existence. Not one of the most appalling places in the known universe, it had a listing in the Ketar V guidebook of places to go and scored marginally better than the vast pools of liquid deuterium slush just outside of the city boundary. Sleepy travellers sloped inside, shuffling their bags and sacks, slipping into booths, the neon splash of menus illuminating tired faces. Chris flicked his finger over the glowing menu, each time adding an extra layer onto an ever-growing burger stack. A layer highlighted as “Don’t Go Bacon My Heart”, while another part of the menu suggested a recent addition, “The Wurst Dog”. Johns: Being a vegetarian in here would be a huge missed steak, right? Lena chuckled, seemingly in competition with Bear for who could create the most outrageous burger. The light from the menu PADD painted the Bajoran and Cardassian contours of her face in a neon rainbow, a pirate in stained glass. Valesha dragged her attention away from the window, away from scrutinising the face of everyone who passed by, and sighed at her better half. Sienelis: Really? Johns: Really. The “Meat-E-Or”, “So, We Meat Again”, “The Apple of My Ribeye”... ::He looked up from the holographic burger assembling on the PADD to his Romulan and smiled, hazel eyes gilded in affection, querying eyebrow lifted.:: Are you going to order something to sustain your superior physiology or keep staring out the window? Stretching his arm over the back of Lena’s booth seat, Bear pointed to Valesha with a finger gun over the hybrid’s shoulder, his monstrosity of a meal nearly completed and rotating holographically above the PADD on the table. O. Marshall: She does that. You should’ve seen her on the Unicorn. Sienelis: It was stare out of the window or set the back of your head on fire. O. Marshall: And these luscious blond locks thank you for the choice you made. The hark back to the good times the three of them had on the Labyrinth’s Scream didn’t hit the Russian in the same way that it used to. It had been the catalyst for what he had with Valesha, for confessed feelings on what would’ve been a death bed if it hadn’t been for the quick flying actions of the hybrid pirate and the rapid thinking of the blond mountain. He slid the PADD across the table toward her, lips twitching with a smile. Johns: They’ve even got a “Wind Beneath My Hlai Wings” burger. She looked down at the menu, then her eyes flicked back up to meet his, green and hazel meeting in the middle. The Romulan's expression softened, the glacier beginning to melt under the warmth of her Russian's humour. One finger extended, she placed it on the corner of the PADD and slid it towards herself, looking over the burgers on offer. Sienelis: I'm not sure if that's an ingenious fusion or a cultural abomination. ::She found a small grin from somewhere and offered it to him.:: But I suppose there's only one way to find out. Johns: Experimenting is the only way to science, so I’ve heard. ::He returned her grin with a wider one of his own, happy for the moment between, however brief.:: And I’ll eat it if you don’t. O. Marshall: It’s almost like you’re eating for two. Perpetually. Chris shook his head and rolled his eyes at the man, tapping on the PADD to send the order through to the diner, anticipating the kind of legendary deliciousness Teller had promised. In the corner of his eye, he spotted a group at another table, conversing, occasionally glancing their way. Avoiding looking in their direction, Chris rolled his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger. Johns: I think we’re being watched. --- Part IV ((Welder’s Diner, Livernois Shipyards, Centennial City)) Across the table, the hybrid pirate nodded at him. If it concerned her, it didn't show. Her focus seemed to be on completing a burger that could feed a family of four by itself, then choosing sides that could support another. Josett: It's to be expected, given the company and the colony. ::She finished her order with a flourish and a smile, dropping the menu on the table.:: It's whether they'll restrict themselves to watching you need to worry yourself about. Johns: What do you think? You’ve been in enough places to predict this kind of thing. The dancer shifted a little closer to Valesha, as if having his body in the way would protect her from anything the shipyard dwellers could say, or do, and realised with some internal amusement the Romulan could shatter bones as easily as he could slap someone hard. He might appear bigger, but all the muscle and tendon coiled around Valesha’s bone and sinew. Lena grinned knowingly at him, then picked the menu up again as though she were about to change her mind. Instead, she flicked the screen off, angling the glossy black surface of the PADD to capture the reflections of the offending dining party. Josett: Could go either way. They're drinking; that's not usually a good sign. ::She flicked a glance toward Bear, then back down at the PADD.:: But they look like dockworkers, so they'll be used to working with Romulans. O. Marshall: Easy enough to handle if they are. ::He cleared his throat and drummed his fingers on the back of Lena’s seat.:: Let Vee loose, she’s like a coiled spring. As much as he joked, he was quite serious. The fury she’d unleashed on Tal Shiar agents underneath the dingy Dungeon dive bar was enough to know never to tangle with that temper lest he find himself on the sharp end of it. Bear and his baby blues glanced out of the window while his fingertips mindlessly picked at a loose thread on his wife’s shoulder. O. Marshall: What’s the plan? Fill the stomach and go for a wander around Little Ki Baratan? Have a sign made? Wave a banner? Her gaze having wandered back to the window, Valesha once again tore it away from the faces passing outside. Careworn dock labourers, harried office employees, frazzled retail workers, all hunched against the rain and not a familiar face among them. Digging in her trouser pocket, she pulled out a small PADD of her own, flicking through the information with her thumb. Chris looked down at it, looping his fingers through the coffee mug as he watched. Sienelis: Check to see if he works at the docks, ::there was a note of disbelief in her voice, finding that scenario hard to imagine,:: and Geoff gave us a list of names. People who helped rebuild the tenement tower that burnt down. It's where he met him. Johns: That’s central administration for the shipyard, ::he pointed through the window at the illustrious looking building, the only one standing starkly out of the rest,:: and Lisa sent an introduction for us. The Livernois family still owns it, so that’s something. Hopefully, we’ll walk into a PADD with all his current details on. Livernois had once been prosperous on this end of the Shoals, playing the broker of services and shipping from there to Risa, and the family called the shots in most of the galactic enterprise, much like the Yanovna clan did. Business rivals who worked hand in hand; Livernois took up the Shoals and the family business didn’t stretch inside those limitations. With any luck, they kept meticulous records of everyone who had ever worked for them, taken a paycheck, or so much as hung around for a cup of coffee. Unlikely, but the Russian could hope. Across from them, a dockworker finished his meal and stood up. The familiar beep of his PADD transferring funds to the diner sounded, and he left through the door they’d come through, sending a last second glance toward Valesha. His friends stayed behind, looking over toward them, leaning in for quieter conversations. Chris couldn’t shake the notion that something didn’t feel right. An oily slick taste in the back of his throat, the odd smell of engine grease clinging to everything, the constant drumming of constant rain all added to the caution. The slamming of a body against the glass window made Chris jump; the side of a face pressed up against it, Andorian blue, peering inside with a wandering eye glassy and unfocused. Someone shouted, and the Andorian peeled away from the window, skin leaving an imprint behind in rain, grease, and condensation. Unphased by any of it, Lena blew out a sigh and glanced around the diner, looking toward the kitchen for any sign of their meal. She was rewarded with the sight of a waitress pushing through the doors with plates held in her hands and balanced on her wrists in an impressive display of dexterity. Josett: At least they're letting us eat before they pick a fight. ::She shrugged, turning back to her dining companions.:: Looks like they intend to jump us outside with a few friends. O. Marshall: At least when they do, I won’t be hungry. I’ve always had better fights on a full stomach. Small mercies delivered with a wink from Bear to Lena as the waitress delivered a plethora of food; burgers stacked like the leaning towers of some Earth place, like the spires of the orbital platforms above them, topped with a scattering of seeds. A brief array of holographic advertisements popped up from their table, advertising nearby establishments and some diversionary entertainments not for the fainthearted. Valesha murmured a thank you to the server, stealing a brief glance at the conspiring group. Meanwhile, Lena immediately tucked into her food with all the restraint of someone who'd spent half her life not knowing where her next meal was coming from. Sienelis: Maybe we should just wait it out. Have some coffee until they get bored and go home. O. Marshall: Assuming we know what they want. We’re assuming it’s you, ::said as his gigantic hands wrapped around the burger with practiced ease, nodding to Chris,:: could be him. Johns: Why would it be me? ::A dark eyebrow arched upwards, the Russian not yet eating, surprising everyone, instead taking a pull from his coffee mug.:: What did I do? O. Marshall: What name did you give at the CCMS? The Russian paused for a moment, gulping the mouthful of coffee in one, locking hazel and blue over a stack of bread, meat and vegetables trying to pass itself off as a light lunch. Only one name opened doors for them down there, ensuring eyes wouldn’t look past him to the three record holders accompanying. And if that was the case, word got around Ketar V faster than a QSD ripped through space. O. Marshall: See? ::Said with a flourish of burger toward Valesha.:: Could be him. Sienelis: It would be an interesting novelty to not be the intended kidnap victim for once. Lena chortled, and Valesha shot a worn smile at her beloved, finding some dark humour in the idea after being subjected to more than one attempt to relocate her back to the Empire. Chris narrowed his eyes at both of them shaking his head slowly, though with a look on his face as if trying to work out what kind of ransom they’d expect from his untimely kidnapping by dockworkers of the Livernois. He scratched the back of his neck and slumped against the booth seat. Johns: Let’s not wish that on me. Once was enough. ::He sighed wistfully.:: I’ll never get those pants back. Sienelis: Maybe we should see if there's a back door. Josett: Bunk out through the bathroom windows. O. Marshall: Ask if we can leave via the kitchen? ::His blond eyebrow took an upward sweep as he looked between the Romulan and hybrid.:: How many eateries have you two had to escape from? Sienelis: Just the one. Josett: Thirteen. ::She paused with her burger halfway toward her mouth, one finger raised as she thought about it, then she amended her total.:: Fifteen. Do street food stalls count? Bear’s eyes rolled upwards, chewing down a mouthful of the gargantuan skyscraper on his plate. Between the third lettuce layer and pickles, it looked a little unsteady and structurally unsound, emphasised back down to a thumb coating of mayonnaise. Despite the hunger radiating in his bones, Chris still hadn’t touched his food, preferring instead to sit with his arm stretched across Valesha’s seat back, the mug of coffee in his hand, and hazel eyes transfixed on the outside. O. Marshall: If we pay for what we’ve eaten, Lena, ::said with not a small amount of emphasis,:: we can ask to leave via the kitchen door. If they’re smart, they’ll be waiting near the bathroom windows. If they’re practical, it’ll be doors. It’s a mob, so I’m leaning more to the former than the latter, ::his blue eyes glanced to Valesha,:: unless you’ve got some fancy Romulan fighting style to break out. A scathing look was his only response, though even Valesha couldn't tell if she was avoiding the question or not deigning to answer it. His lack of interest in food was unprecedented, and it pulled her concerned gaze toward him. She nudged his knee with hers, trying to capture his attention. The harsh edges sanded off her expression and voice. Sienelis: Not hungry? A soft sigh escaped from the Russian to his partner. Gentle hazel tinged with concern meeting verdant eyes. The increased churning in his stomach related to the increasing time they spent on the colony. What if Valesha liked it there, surrounded by her people, with her brother? Chris leaned forward and attempted to pick up the burger, half-heartedly picking off a leaf of lettuce and dropping it onto the plate. Johns: Just… worried. ::He frowned and shook his head, offering her as much of a smile as he could muster.:: I’m fine, really. How’s the hlai tasting? Her gaze didn't dart over to the human and hybrid sat opposite, but her thoughts did. She wasn't going to push the issue in front of them. As much as Valesha was glad they were here, some things were none of their business. When (if?) they got a moment alone, she'd press him for a little more information, but not here. She echoed his smile — thin, uncertain — a serpent of doubt coiling in her gut. Had she made the right choices along the road that led to Ketar? Sienelis: Much as I'm reluctant to admit it, it seems we're in the ingenious fusion part of the spectrum. ::She glanced down at the burger in her hand. Hardly small by any normal measure of a meal, miniscule in comparison to her companion's monstrous creations.:: Who knew that hlai goes well with bacon? --- Part V ((Back Alley, Centennial City)) Cullo Zoren leaned his shoulder against one of the damp walls in the back alley, peeling the apple with the small shiv of a knife he usually kept down his sock. The patter of rain hadn’t deterred his excursion out into the nightlife of Ketar V, nor had it disrupted the business need to direct his goons in beating the Tellarite dockhand like a ten-year-old service droid. With a sniffle, he wiped his ridged nose on the back of his dock jacket sleeve and surveyed the streak mark. The milky pink residue on his sleeve was a symptom he’d had for a while now; milk nose got everyone in Livernois at some point — consequences of working within close contact with a lot of the materials. Harder still was a culprit to pin down. While trellium-d only seemed to cause issues with Vulcans, Bajorans seemed to absorb maladies through the skin like sun rays. Milk Nose lingered for a while, making the hands tingle and the nose secrete, and the worst part was the difficulty peeing on and off, but eventually, it went away. No one died from it, though plenty of dockworkers had died with it over the years. He slipped another slice of apple into his mouth and crunched down on it as a pair of boots thudded against the wet floor behind him. Turning to look, he caught the glowing neon sign as a truck rumbled past the alleyway entrance, “From the ground to the skies!” and sniffled again. Cullo: ‘Bout time you showed up. Taeval: My shift ran late. ::The voice of the curly-haired young man was low and soft, his accent an odd mix of aristocratic Romulan and coarse Ketarian.:: Milk Nose still bothering you? Cullo: It’s in the ridges. Still urinating like a racing batos, though. ::He shrugged a shoulder up as the knife slipped through the apple skin again, puncturing juicy flesh, and mixing with the rainwater, dribbled down the back of his hand.:: Your name got thrown around in the Welders’ earlier. Someone’s looking for you. The Romulan didn't shift into immediate alarm, but there was a slow narrowing of tired green eyes, a deepening furrow between two dark eyebrows. It was the only outward sign of the ice coursing through his veins, shards slicing through his chest and stopping his heart. He was quiet for a moment, then spoke in the same steady, guarded tone as before. Taeval: Do you know who? Cullo: A group, four of them. The same lot that showed up in Opportunity at the CCMS office. Cardassian, two humans, and a Vulcan, so I’m told. Teeth plinked onto the concrete like the high notes of a tightly strung piano. The Tellarite slumped to the floor in a heap of hair, tusks, and dockworker’s garb, heaving in heavy condensation, groaning in a mixture of pain. Zoren cut another chunk from the apple and, sticking the pointy end of the knife into it, held it out to Taeval. The Romulan shook his head and his gaze fell on the unfortunate dock worker, his attempt to disguise a wince not complete in its success. Taeval: What did he do? Cullo: This time, I don’t know. ::The sigh that left the Bajoran deflated almost sounded remorseful.:: The boss didn’t like the cut of his tusks, maybe, or the guy didn’t want to pay union fees. Either way, here we are, there he is, and you should be staying away from Welders’. Taeval nodded, his movements every bit as measured and restrained as his speech. Droplets of rain hung from his curls, and he ran a hand through his hair to shake them off. A Cardassian, a Vulcan, and two humans? It wasn't a combination that rang with familiarity and that worried him; motivations and affiliations unknown, they were unpredictable. Taeval: I will. ::He paused.:: If they made it to Welders' from Opportunity, they either knew where to look or figured it out in short order. Cullo: I’d plug for the former. They don’t look like locals, look like they came here on purpose. ::Bajoran ridges fluttered with a sneeze he caught in his sleeve.:: Nobody just waltzes into Welders’ and starts asking around about… The sentence ended there as he sneezed again, the milky white substance seeping from the ridged nose of his ancestral people, and wiped off with a handkerchief from his pocket. The Tellarite from the floor got himself up, wrapped an arm around his middle, and limped past them out of the alleyway. Taeval watched him go, pulling his collar up against the relentless rainfall, and then turned back to Cullo. Taeval: Thanks, Cullo. I appreciate the warning. ::He fished in his pocket, pulling out a palm-sized cylinder and offering it to the Bajoran, the feather-faint rattle of its contents audible only to acute Romulan hearing.:: No more than four a day. Cullo: You are a saint among sinners, sir. ::He snorted whatever lingered at the back of his nose and slipped the cylinder into his inner pocket.:: I’ll keep my ear to the ground. You keep your nose clean. With the small joke, his shoulders shook, and Zoren pulled his coat around him. A low whistle through his teeth and the broad shouldered Nausicaan goon cracked his knuckles from one hand to the other, sounding like a horse’s hooves on cobblestones, causing the wounded Tellarite to move a little faster down the street. The neon light sparkled in the rain, sending the showers of blue and pink through the night air. Cullo: If anyone asks, where should I say you’re not? Taeval: My work, both of them. I'll see about staying with a friend for a few days in case they track down home. ::He frowned.:: If you find out any more about them, you'll let me know? Cullo: I’ll do what I can. ::He spat on the floor, a milky splodge mingling immediately and washing away.:: Though it sounds like the start of one of those bad human jokes. “A Cardassian, two humans, and a Vulcan walk into a bar...” --- Part VI ((Welder’s Diner, Livernois Shipyards, Ketar V)) O. Marshall: ...You’d think one of them would’ve seen it. The Azetbur is hardly conspicuous. Reynolds might as well have painted nose art on it. Burger thoroughly demolished, Bear sat back in the booth seat and watched the small band growing outside. The Andorian looked as though he lived out there and didn’t have a home to go to, while the rest were dockworkers, milling around in their emblazoned uniforms, waiting for the team to make their move out of there. Valesha exhaled a leaden breath, shaking her head, finishing the last dregs of her coffee. Placing the mug down, she squared her shoulders and braced herself for the inevitable. Sienelis: They are not getting bored. Johns: Why would they get bored? It’s not like the weather's awful, there’s little else to do in the colony besides being racist, and Romulan is the prime target. ::He tongued his cheek with a frustrated sigh as he picked up his coffee mug, refilled twice now, burger barely touched.:: We should split up. O. Marshall: I agree. You two act as the distraction while we make a run for it. Johns: Not what I meant. O. Marshall: I know what you meant. Valesha's gaze darted between the pair of them, then toward the small crowd outside. They'd finished eating, they'd finished their coffees, continuing to wait would not do them any good. As sarcastic as Bear had been, it wasn't a bad plan; split up, use a distraction, let the pirate and the ranger seize the advantage. Planting her hands on the table, she pushed herself up and stepped away from the table, her intention to move toward the door clear. Sienelis: Distraction it is. O. Marshall: It’s so nice when you agree with me. He turned to watch her over his shoulder as Chris departed their table, following behind his partner with a hand gesture levelled back toward Bear indicating what he could do to himself. The blond sighed with the gravitas of the ages, wiped his hand over his face to free his beard from bacon bits, and arched an eyebrow at Lena. O. Marshall: Back door? Josett: You know, we could just call the Marshals. O. Marshall: No need, ::said with a grin,:: we’re already here. She laughed, flicking an errant crumb from his beard (or pretending to), and slid out from the booth, blue eyes following with quiet admiration. She looked toward the front door as the Romulan pushed through it, her human partner hot on her heels, out into the small crowd waiting beyond. A flicker of concern hidden with a grin, the hybrid threw her curls back over her shoulder and straightened her jacket, turning back to her partner in crime. Josett: That is both why I married you and grounds for divorce. O. Marshall: That too? It's such a long list I didn't bother reading it all. Sliding out of the booth after her, he pressed his PADD to the edge of the table, their tab paid for in an instant and a small cartoon Bolian wearing a welding mask waved a torch in their direction, thanking them for visiting the “best place in space”. Music drifted around them from the grouchy looking jukebox at the far end and the Bajoran waitress bustled out with a smile to see them off. Wholesome. A little too wholesome. Josett: I'm feeling it too. O. Marshall: Glad it’s not just me. Bear shrugged his jacket on, lifting the collar and squaring up his shoulders with a thin smile of thanks towards their waitress. Still smiling, the woman sneezed into a handkerchief, the colour of milk, and excused herself into the back. Frowning, Bear pushed at the door and held it open for Lena to slip beneath his arm, giving the place a last glance as they stepped into the drizzly street. She jammed her hands in the pockets of her jacket, peering back and forth. A rare frown pulled the ridges of her Cardassian brow together, her gaze darting up the claustrophobic walls of the alley. Josett: Either this is one of the most subtle ambushes I've ever seen, or they are definitely after one of the lovebirds. Cullo: Well, if that isn’t a face I’ll never forget. The voice behind them ruffed out, accompanied by the warbling charging noise of a disruptor. Bear froze, his head dropping back as rain splattered against cheeks and beard, looking up into the murky skies and orbital platform of the Livernois Shipyards. The reassuring weight of his own phaser slipped in the holster strapped to the small of his back wouldn’t be helpful here. O. Marshall: Half right, lovebird. She chuckled and turned toward the voice and disruptor, living for the surge in her heartbeat and the adrenaline pouring into her veins. Amber eyes roved over the Bajoran lurking in the shadows, a hiding place well chosen. These things happened when the terrain was unfamiliar and the inhabitants unknown. Josett: Mistakes are the spice of life. Friend of yours? Cullo: I wouldn’t say a friend, but we’ve met once or twice. O. Marshall: Damnit, Zeron. I said I was sorry. The blond turned, the disruptor making the same whining charging noise as Cullo lifted it a little higher, though remaining at precisely the right angle to send a bolt of energy right through the procedurals. Cullo: She was my wife, you Rakonian swamp rat. ::He looked to Lena, eyes narrowing.:: Who are you? Josett: I'm his wife. Said wife of the accused grinned and [...]ed her head to the side, eyeing the disruptor and then Bear, finding the entire situation hilarious. Shifting her weight to one leg, there was a sharpness to her gaze, near invisible under the smile and cheer. Hands still in her pocket, her fingers closed over the phaser she had stowed there, thumb sliding toward the trigger. Cullo: Hmm. ::His eyebrow [...]ed.:: Are you sure? O. Marshall: Is that so hard to believe? Incredulity marked through Bear’s tenor, as did impatience and a not unwarranted vibration of concern. Zeron wiped the top of his ridged nose with the back of his sleeve as the dribble tickled along the side. Cullo: Yes, actually, seeing as you’re Starfleet, ::he looked at Lena with a chuckle,:: and you look nothing of the sort. Josett: I'm a free spirit. ::She grinned back at him.:: So, what do you want, Zeron? What will make this situation go away? The Bajoran tilted his head to the side, his eyes remaining on Lena as he shot a charge from the disruptor toward the blond. Bear shifted to protect his vital organs as the ball of energy whipped forward, fizzing through the air, until it delivered the equivalent of a punch to the groin, dropping Bear to his knees in the rain, groaning as he tried to curl into a ball. O. Marshall: Rol... xati’yan. With a chuckle and a sniffle, Zeron slipped the disruptor back into the inside of his jacket and held his hand out to Lena, his other sneaking into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe at his nose. Cullo: Few more of them wouldn’t hurt. Zeron Cullo. We grew up together. Lena glanced toward Bear with a sympathetic wince and stepped forward, taking the Bajoran's hand to shake it. In one swift movement, she yanked him forward and drove her knee into the same delicate spot, her free hand pulling his disruptor from his pocket. The wind knocked out of Zeron’s lungs faster than the Gorkon zipped to warp, and he dropped to the floor beside Bear, writhing somewhat in pain, trying as hard as he might to adopt a foetal position. Josett: Nice to meet you, Zeron. I'm Lena Marshall. What's mine is his, what's his is mine, and you just shot some of my most favourite property. ::She inspected the disruptor in her hand, then glanced toward Bear.:: Need a hand? O. Marshall: That… would be… nice. Making some necessary adjustments, and attempting to overcome the growing need to throw up in the pit of his stomach, Bear grasped onto Lena’s hand and hauled up, bracing himself against the diner wall. A few deep gulps of air, he toed Zeron until the Bajoran fell sideways, in a mixture of rolling pain and deep laughter. O. Marshall: See, aka tokka. Isn’t she great? Cullo: A real chesei… Josett: Sil, ah'no. ::She chuckled, stuffing the disruptor into another pocket in her jacket, the spoils of war. Jerking a thumb up the alley, toward the front of the diner, the hybrid looked toward Zeron.:: That crowd out front yours? Hacking up something white into the gutter, Zeron stumbled up onto his feet again, righting whatever had come adrift in the pants department, and readjusting his jacket. One hand smoothed through his tangle of wet hair while the other leaned against the diner wall, breathless, beaten, and not entirely unhappy about it. Cullo: What crowd out front? Where’s your other two? O. Marshall: They went out front, where there’s a crowd of dockworkers hanging around. They’ve got an Andorian who looks like he’s high on ketracel-white. Cullo: Thori the Eyes? ::He frowned, looking at the two of them, then into the diner door.:: When did they leave? Josett: Just before we did. Angling to the corner of the diner wall where it curved from the alleyway — on a planet littered with replicators, somehow the back alley smelled of garbage — the Bajoran limped, glancing around to the front entrance. He made an indistinct sound, like a hum, as some milky white from his nose dribbled onto his cheek. Cullo: Well, they’re not there now. Casting a glance toward Bear, Lena followed the Bajoran to the end of the alley. She was more bold (or perhaps cavalier) than he, striding a few paces out into the street and taking a quick survey. Her hands found her hips, pursing her lips in thought. Bear’s brow creased in concern, following both of them to the edge of the building and seeing the lack of Valesha and her sodding Russian outside of the diner where he expected them to be. Josett: They can't have gone far. ::She glanced toward Cullo.:: Who's Thori the Eyes? Cullo: Andorian dockworker, has a bit of a, ::he gestured to his head, somewhere where antennas might be,:: drug issue. Makes his antenna act strange. Thinks he can pick up communication signals from space. --- Part VII ((Meanwhile, Livernois Shipyards, Centennial City)) Thori: They think they’re being clever by separating the network of fifteen triply redundant transceiver assemblies cross-connected by ODN and copper-yttrium two-one-five-three hardlines and linked to the main computer processors but if they were so smart about it, ::he flicked his right antenna forward as his eye twitched,:: I wouldn’t be able to hear them, would I? The Andorian walked in front as four dockworkers huddled around them on all sides, pushing them forward down through the streets. Chris watched a shuttlecraft zoom low overhead, the underside dirty and scorched in burns, a number stamped underneath with the logo of the Livernois Shipyards glowing under the streetlights. Beside him, Valesha walked with an engraved scowl and an uncharacteristically heavy step, arms rigid by her side. Johns: I don't think you can hear them so much a— One of the larger workers slapped his hand down onto the Russian's shoulder, halting the rest of his words there. He looked to Valesha and flicked his eyebrows up, communicating phrases silently like “this guy is nuts” and “if we die, this is your fault”. His answer was a long-suffering expression of frustration and regret, lifting her shoulders in a slight shrug. Thori: I heard you were coming, oh yes. CCMS transmissions said you were on your way. Two for one. A syndicate pirate and a Starfleet Ranger. Didn’t think it would be this easy, if I’m honest, but the burgers at Welders’ are amazing. Sienelis: It wasn't that easy, you didn't get either. ::She rolled her eyes and shook her head, glancing to the beefy Hupyrian keeping her penned in.:: Look, he might be as high as the orbital stations, but surely one of you can see you've picked up the wrong people. Johns: I’d go out on a limb to say a pirate and a ranger would be more inconspicuous about where they brunched, and wouldn’t have walked out front when you started licking the window. Thori: Or, is that exactly what happened? The whites of his eyes looked bloodshot, as if he’d sniffed the contents of a uranium barrel a few times to really get a good smell of it. Splotchy skin in places and the skittish look of a Peek on Starfleet picture day, their Andorian captor looked neither competent nor cognitive, but that deadly combination wasn’t good either. As Thori continued to speak for the collective, Valesha sighed, his four goons content to follow in the footsteps of an addled Andorian without comment, question or complaint. Maybe the man was more clever — or dangerous — than he appeared, or maybe they all answered to some higher authority. An addict earning his next fix. Johns: No, that’s not what happened. We’re just here to see family, see the landmarks, take a few tourist snapshots, and have breakfast in peace. Sienelis: What do you want with a pirate and a ranger, anyway? ((Meanwhile, Outside the Welders’ Diner...)) Cullo: Maybe he thinks he can get ransom for your friends. He’s not been right for a while now, but there’s no keeping him anywhere. CCMS picks him up every now and then and toss him back out, like they like him causing chaos down here for everyone else. Syndicate really did no favours there. Rain pattered against the leather jacket on Lena's shoulders, clinging to her curls like teardrops, slowly darkening the fabric of her trousers. If that was his intention, it gave them a relatively narrow window to work within — whether by design or sheer dumb luck, Thori had got his hands on someone worth a king's ransom. Josett: Does he have any favourite haunts or contacts he's likely to scurry to? If you're right, we'll need to catch him before he goes to ground and takes them with him. Cullo: The Explosive Decompression Bar is where he usually ends up. Dealers in the alley behind, bartenders know him enough to cop free drinks, and the Marshals hardly ever venture inside. Zeron huddled down into his jacket, using his handkerchief to dab at the ridges of his nose before popping a pill from the small bottle. The prospect of going to the bar seemed to settle around the Bajoran’s shoulders like a sack of bricks, slumping them down, pressing the middle of his eyebrows into a dulled point. Bear felt for the reassuring weight of his phaser tucked into the hidden holster, mentally preparing to storm the place with two phasers and a Bajoran shield. He rolled his shoulders back and glanced to his wife, the arch in his eyebrow a questioning one. O. Marshall: Did you bring...? Josett: A reckless disregard for personal safety? Always. O. Marshall: Naturally. I expect nothing less. ::A shake of his head accompanied a wry grin.:: I meant a phaser. Josett: One or two. Three. Four, if you count Zeron's. ::Her grinned broadened with each upward revision of her personal armoury, patting her jacket pocket at the mention of her most recent acquisition.:: Onwards, to a daring and ill-considered rescue of our missing lovebirds? A roll of the eyes accompanied a grunting reply of the affirmative, checking to make sure his bits were all in the right place. Phaser in the holster, knife in the boot clip; all he was missing was a few flashbang grenades and a handful of seismic devices. O. Marshall: It is starting to feel like a vocation. Maybe one day, they’ll repay the favour. --- Part VIII ((Explosive Decompression Bar, Centennial City)) The inside of the bar was as legendary as the outside, still displaying the large neon sign of a bygone time — an explosion in purple, pink and blue, lighting up the street and the sky — flickering as power fluctuated. Thori and cohorts dragged Valesha and Chris down a set of metal stairs, thick with a patina from years of grime and grease. The smell of smoke clung to the air, possibly to avoid touching anything or anyone. Heavy metal music bounced off the walls, something akin to Klingon, though it was hard to tell between the screams. A hundred voices, all speaking at once. Behind the bar was a wall of colourful glass bottles, an array of liquids tinted in a galaxy of hues. The beefy Hupyrian pushed them forward as Thori directed them to a booth, scratching at his antenna through patchy white hair, to a shrouded figure sitting behind the table, sitting in a cloud of vaporized liquid. It smelled a little like raspberry mixed with pillow stuffing. A smaller Andorian bent forward to pick up a whiskey glass from the table and pointed at the seat opposite with the vaporizer between her fingers, the hand shaking briefly, belonging to an older Andorian woman. zh'Rharia: Vithi, it’s for the Milk Nose. Sit down, sit down. Lemme get a good look at you. Valesha cast a look toward Chris, and for a scowling moment, it looked as though this was where she was going to plant her feet and refuse to comply. Then she rolled her eyes and dropped herself onto a seat, heavy with annoyance. It was a poor consolation that their kidnapping was a case of mistaken identity. Sienelis: So someone can finally notice that neither of us is a pirate or a ranger? The ageing Andorian leaned forward for a second, one wrinkled antenna bending just as much, dark eyes screwed as she looked them both over. Wrinkled lips covered the mouthpiece of her vaporizer again as she took another inhale, and sat back against her booth seat. The Romulan echoed the movement, if only to give her sensitive nose some distance from the mist the woman was exhaling. zh’Rharia: You, I can believe. ::Her gaze flicked to Chris and she tilted her head.:: You, not so much. Johns: I’ll take that as some strange compliment. Said as the Hupyrian’s hand came down on his shoulder like a gargantuan, five-legged spider, and just as hairy, forcing him to sit down beside his partner. The Russian channeled Valesha’s scowl as he looked up at the guard. Thori tried to interject, fiddling with his fingers, picking at the skin beside his fingernails, only to be halted by a single brief look from the boss. zh’Rharia: Why'd you come to Ketar V? You look like bright kids, this ain’t the place for you. Sienelis: No kidding. Stop for a burger and we get dragged off the street for being someone we're not. ::She breathed out a terse sigh, holding her hands wide. While she wasn't a poor liar, the Romulan didn't like to do it, and the vague truth would serve them just as well.:: Look, we're only here to visit family. Johns: And, if you don’t mind, we really should be getting back there. Another hand raised by the elderly Andorian to the young Russian with a gentle nod of understanding. With a deep sigh, she gestured to Thori with two fingers, and two of the goons elbowed the jittering wreck forward. Thori rang his hands together, his antenna flicking downwards as he looked between the Andorian boss and the floor. A plume of coloured smoke floated up from the smaller matriarch as she consumed her crushed vithi bulb from the shores of her homeworld. Thori: They were with another two, zh’Rharia, I— ::He looked to Valesha and Chris, sneering in his snivelling fashion.:: Tell her who you are. Tell her you’re Starfleet. zh’Rharia: We have a problem, my dear. This one is a Romulan, ::she took a long moment to point to Valesha before moving to Chris,:: and this one is not. Neither are pirates. Neither are Starfleet. That much is painfully obvious. It was, perhaps, a good thing that the whole situation already aggrieved Valesha. She bristled at the woman's easy dismissal of the idea a Romulan could be Starfleet — jaw clenched, fingers digging into her thighs under the table — but to anyone who didn't know how sensitive she was to such an assumption, it was just another spark flying from an already obvious fire. It was only Chris' presence that made her draw in a breath and bite down on a retort, pushing her shoulders down from the angry hunch they'd crawled into. Sienelis: Great. Glad we cleared that up. So we'll be leaving, then? zh’Rharia: As I said, we have a problem. Off in a corner of the bar, a few cheers erupted over a hologram table; two shuttlecraft racing one another to a finish line. Chris glanced over as two of the Orions in dockworker garb threw a handful of latinum slips onto the table and stormed out, up the very same stairs they’d come from. Simultaneously, the bartender appeared from a backroom and poured a new tumbler of the violet alcohol. Within moments, both latinum slips arranged in a small stack and the new tumbler arrived at their table. zh’Rharia: I expected a Syndicate pirate and a Starfleet Ranger, whereas what I have is a Romulan spy and a bearded backpacker who smells like sour milk. ::She reached for the new glass and swirled it around.:: You can see my problem. Valesha exhaled sharply, a humourless smile of disbelief painted on her face while she shook her head, eyes heavenward. If she had a credit for every time someone had accused her of being a spy, she could retire to her own private moon. Lips thinned, she glanced toward the supposedly milk-scented backpacker and raised her eyebrows. Sienelis: I don't know who should be more offended here, me or you. Johns: I haven’t drank milk in a long time. ::He scratched his fingers through his scruffed jaw.:: Though Vorin says the same thing. Humans emit this smell. zh’Rharia: Quite revolting, I assure you. Now, ::the glass went down, the cloud of smoke returned,:: the other two were with you. Where are they? Sienelis: You mean the two people who are also not a pirate or a ranger? ::At least, that wasn't their present employment.:: I have no idea. Possibly filing a missing persons report. The flicker of impatience crossed the Andorian’s face, her lips pursing to the side, her eyes narrowing a touch. A quiet dropped over them like a smoky blanket, curling into the air, coating in raspberry and the consistency of nylon fibers. Chris had a sudden urge to apologise for intruding on the woman’s personal space, which seemed to radiate several feet away from her. Even as she sensed the conversation pivot, Valesha was unrepentant — on the outside, at least. zh'Rharia: My patience, stretched as it is, is rapidly dwindling, so, ::another inhale from the vaporizer lit up the table under the lamp,:: let me ask again in a language you may be familiar with. The gorilla-like hand came down again on Chris's shoulder, a thumb the size of a leather-bound cosh dug into the back of his scapula and the young Russian gave a pained yelp. Fingers gripped around the back of his neck as the Hupyrian hauled him up out of the seat uttering not a word but a low grunt, like a warbling rumble from a deep chest. Chris’ fingers scratched at the wrinkled hand and forearm, the Hupyrian with as gentle a look in his eye as if caring for a child, not strangling a young man to death. Muscles coiling, heart speeding into a drum roll in her lower chest, Valesha grimaced. Her eyes moved to her partner, following along the length of the Hupyrian's arm until they landed on his elbow. Silent. Calculating. zh'Rharia: My business associates want your ranger. If neither of you are, logic suggests he is in the other pair, and since this one is now useless, we'll save the CCMS the trouble of searching for a missing person. Sienelis: Yeah, I know that language. Last time someone spoke it to me, he was dead a few minutes later. ::She hadn't killed him, but that little detail didn't fit the narrative.:: So I'm going to ask once. Let us go. Cool eyes glared from underneath the wrinkles of old age, one antenna straightened while the other barely moved. Ice clinked in the glass as the Andorian placed it down onto the table, long white fingernails tapped against the side, skin once cobalt in youth now dulled over time. She glanced at the Hupyrian and, with a sigh that sounded sincerely like disappointment, she flicked her vaporizer hand to him. zh’Rharia: Mister Zurk, please take care of the housekeeping. Another grunt from the goon, a rumbling laugh through closed lips, and he tightened his grip around Chris’ neck. The table shot forward, a Romulan boot slamming into the central leg and driving it into the Andorian's ribcage with the full force of dense, finely honed muscle. Grace in violence, flowing from one movement to the next, Valesha snared the Hupyrian's wrist and rose from her seat, driving the heel of her hand into his elbow until it gave way with a wet crunch. Zurk dropped Chris with a wailing groan of rippling pain as his wrist hung limp and loose, cradled in his other hand. With a loud cough, zh’Rharia pushed the table away from herself, in pain despite her aged Andorian strength catching the edge before it could do real damage to her innards. She crushed the glass tumbler in her hand, spraying shards in all directions. zh’Rharia: Guards! GUARDS! --- Part IX Chris took a deep breath and scrambled up onto his feet, in time to see the Hupyrian, enraged and embittered, lurch forward toward Valesha and another come racing out of the shadows. The Romulan let Zurk's momentum do the work for her, grabbing his other arm and throwing him over her shoulder onto the Andorian's table. He landed with a bone-jarring crash, the air forced out of his lungs by the impact, sent into the blissful black of unconsciousness by the punch that followed. Valesha went sprawling to the floor in the next second, tackled by the second guard. A shard of the broken glass sliced across her cheek, eliciting a hiss of pain, and she rammed her elbow backward into his midriff. The replacement Hupyrian grunted, only to frown all the more as the Russian dragged him off his partner by the back of his jacket, throwing him into the table the Andorian had slipped out from behind. The thrumming of the Klingon metal music only intensified, drums hammering, or that might be blood in the ears. Feeling weightless in his head, Chris tried to shake it off as he took hold of Valesha's forearm, his heart twisting at the cut of emerald blooming on her skin. Worry striking like an anvil in hazel, alongside a heap of admiration, heart slamming on his ribs. They could run. They should run. They could make it out into the alley upstairs. Her chest heaving, pupils dilated, she held onto his arm. His concern echoed back to him in green eyes, darting toward his neck where the angry red finger marks of his aggressor faded slowly, then toward the exit. Sienelis: Are you all right? Johns: Am I— Are you?! Incredulity marked his voice as his thumb smeared green blood on her cheek. He heard the table scrape against the floor and reached beneath his jacket for his phaser, drawing it from the holster on the small of his back and aimed it at the Andorian stepping toward them. The charger sounded, the old woman stopped, stared down the emitter crystal, then up to the Romulan and Russian. zh’Rharia: You will regret this. Sienelis: Lady, you can't even kidnap the right people. zh'Rharia: Didn't I? That looks like a Starfleet phaser to me. The charge of a second, third, and forth energy weapon echoed around the small room, the doors to the wider bar sliding shut. Chris felt the push of a disruptor against the back of his head, saw the mentholated Andorian twitcher move out of the shadows to stand behind Valesha with a weapon in his hand, and the old woman blew another lungful of smoked bulb over them. Thori: I told you... Johns: Just let us go. We walk out of here, we don't look back, we forget this ever happened. Sienelis: Or you can keep [...]ing us off. But you picked up the wrong people and you let us get in here with weapons. ::Emerald blood beaded and trickled down her cheek.:: You do not have the advantage of competence in this situation. Considering the point for a moment made the older woman's jaw stiffen, her antenna tilt forward, then back, as though deciding on the situation based on the sensory information delivered through the appendages. She held her hand out, the bartender appeared as if from nowhere, slipping another tumbler into it, ice clinking with the movement. zh'Rharia: Very well. ::With a flick of her wrist, the goons disappeared back into the shadows, including the twitchy Thori, the sound of crystal emitters discharging.:: Be warned. You have caught the eye of the Volna Viria and we are always watching. Sienelis: I hope you like ballet. ::Touching her fingers to Chris' elbow, Valesha jerked her head toward the door, not wanting to linger long enough for minds to change.:: Come on. Chris didn’t lower the phaser, keeping it up as an extension of his arm, following Valesha’s lead as they moved out of the smoky, seedy bar. Up the patina-marred metal staircase, they burst out of the sliding doors into the evening rain of an unfamiliar city, neon sign flickering above them, shuttlecraft flying overhead. The Russian’s heart had yet to climb back down from the lofty heights it reached watching Valesha tear into the Hupyrian goons, and the second he could, he pulled her to him, kissing the dark, damp waves of her hair above a pointed ear. Relief was palpable, and she squeezed him back, far more gentle with her Russian than she had been with any of the bar's patrons. Johns: Next time, you can choose where to eat. Sienelis: You know, I think that burger was worth it. ::She laughed in his ear, unease trilling through the sound.:: We should get out of here. I'm guessing they only let us go so they could try to follow us. He agreed with a nod, hazel eyes watching the doors just in case, then to his wife-to-be as her laugh peppered his insides. Johns: It’s exactly what we’d do. They made their escape, darting out of the street and into the main concourse that headed back into the shipyards. Rain battered down, making anything in the distance blurry and indiscernible from the lights of the rest of it. Slipping the secret communicator from the sleeve of his jacket — never rely on a ketracel twitcher to check hostages for equipment — Chris pressed the connector and the light switched to blue. Johns: =/\= Have you got a signal? =/\= --- Part X ((Streets, Livernois Shipyards, Centennial City)) Josett: ...and then he said, "I now pronounce you partners in crime, don't forget to tip your Nagus." Lena finished the story with a grin and a chuckle, looking toward Zeron as they progressed through the rain-soaked streets. It was a tale she'd told before — not all that long ago, in fact — though Zeron made for a very different audience to Ollie. Far less dashing. Much more coarse. Excess of nose dribbles. Still, she'd kept the company of far worse, and the Bajoran was even likeable now that his need to migrate Bear into the soprano range had passed. O. Marshall: A treasured memory. We’ve even got a holoimage somewhere. Cullo: Question is, ::he sniffled, dabbing at his nose,:: did you tip your Nagus? A faint buzz from inside her jacket, tickling against her ribs, alerted Lena to an incoming call. Under a video billboard that quite literally sang the tourist virtues of Meridian — a gut punch delivered in advertising to the former crown of the Shoals — she slipped the communicator from her pocket. A tap from her thumb and the message replayed, a familiar Russian accent rolling through the airwaves. Johns: =/\= Have you got a signal? =/\= Josett: =/\= Loud and clear. ::She chuckled.:: Are you calling to tell us how much the ransom is? =/\= Johns: =/\= Not... exactly. ::The pattern of rain sounded on the other end of the line.:: We were taken to a bar. The Explosive Decompression Bar, outside the shipyards. Andorian called zh’Rharia. =/\= Zeron visibly stiffened, heaving a deep sigh as he looked around in the rain, as if expecting the Russian and Romulan to come bursting around the corner at any second. Bear, however, was a little more concerned, stepping closer to Lena, slipping his hand to the small of her back and listening in on the conversation with a growing frown. O. Marshall: =/\= You both alright? Complete set of fingers and toes? No ear tips missing? =/\= Sienelis: =/\= We're fine. They were after you. ::She paused, and the glare was almost audible.:: We think they let us go so they could tail us back to you. =/\= If Bear could look surprised, the expression melded into the frown mingling together. It’d been a long time since he’d been on Ketar V, a long time since he’d been in the Shoals — long enough for his name to be scrubbed and old grudges to file off like starship serial numbers. Debts were paid in full with time to spare. Cullo: That’s what I’d do. ::The Bajoran tilted his head to the side as he ran his tongue over his teeth, as though thinking about something or someone.:: zh’Rharia isn’t someone to tangle with, she’s deep in the Volna Viria with the Syndicate. Josett: That makes things a little more interesting. ::The Cardassian ridges of her brow raised in concert with the corners of her lips.:: What did you do to catch the Volna Viria's eye? Bear shook his head, frown only growing, deepening, as he racked his brain. He’d [...]ed off enough people while he was there way back when, but the Andorian arm of the Orion Syndicate wasn't on that list. That was a whole new one. Cullo: Word travels, debts get sold. Thori might have picked something up on the waves he feels. ::He sparkled his jazz hands toward the couple and sniffled, reaching for his handkerchief.:: We’ve got a safe house, if they can get to it. Send it securely. We’ll meet them there. Sienelis: =/\= Who is that? And who's "we"? =/\= Frustration seeped through the channel, the transmitters picking up the Romulan's terse timbre with perfect clarity. Zeron looked between Bear and Lena, then massaged the bridge of his nose. O. Marshall: =/\= That is an old friend, and we, ::Bear gave Zeron a side glance,:: is what I’m not sure about, but if he was going to do us over, I’m sure he would’ve by now. =/\= Clear as mud. A pause sounded on the other side of the line, as if Chris and Valesha had muted it while they discussed the options available to them. With a deep sigh coming through the link, Chris’ voice soon followed. Johns: =/\= Where are we going? =/\= Cullo: =/\= We’ll send it via message shortly, keep your ears open and your nose clean. Try and not be followed. =/\= Johns: =/\= Yeah, sound advice. =/\= The communication link cut and the three stood there for a moment, under the rain, under the glow of the diner as the shuttlecraft whizzed by overhead throwing the sound around between the buildings. Bear huddled himself into his jacket, pulling his collar around his neck before running a hand through his damp hair and combing his fingers through his beard. Zeron blew his nose into his handkerchief and jangled a pill bottle in his pocket. Cullo: I’d ask you to blindfold yourselves, but… Josett: ...what would be the point? fin (for now) -- Lieutenant Valesha Sienelis Science Officer USS Gorkon T238401QR0 & Lieutenant Orson Marshall Intelligence Officer USS Gorkon G239304JM0 & Lieutenant (JG) Lena Josett Intelligence Officer USS Gorkon T238401QR0 & PO First-Class Christopher Johns Operations Officer USS Gorkon G239304JM0
  9. Lt. Marshall & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part VIII) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) Yawning into midair, Chris wandered through the open door onto the bridge, his hand stuck in the back of his growing hair already sticking up at all angles like some confused starfish, and a countenance like someone who rolled out of bed only mere moments before. Sitting there, feet up on the bridge console, nursing a steaming cup was who he expected, but judging by the look on the blond's face, Chris was not. O. Marshall: You're not Lena. Johns: Not today. Diverting himself to the replicator at the rear of the bridge, Chris input the command in for the strongest of coffees the galaxy knew that wouldn't set his kidneys aflame and crossed his arms as it materialised on the pad. He sighed deeply, fingers delving into the corners of his eyes where the deposits of sleep had taken residence, and when the replicator announced the completion of the request, slid his fingers through the mug's handle. When he dropped into the copilot chair with all the weight of an anchor into the ocean, Marshall looked his way with a gruff frown, beard moving like he was trying hard to dislodge words stuck between his teeth. O. Marshall: What was it this time? Canasta? Cardassian pinochle? Amusement flared in hazel eyes as Chris swallowed his mouthful of coffee and placed it on the console. His eyes widened with acceptance of his fate and he shrugged a shoulder, his fingers drumming a ballet beat. Johns: Rag-sen with the round cards. O. Marshall: You shouldn't let her choose the game, you know. Pick something you're good at. The dancer looked up from watching his ankle roll and calf muscle tense to the profile of the intelligence officer, querying the lack of bristling attitude. Chris settled back into the chair and scratched the underside of his chin where the stubble had grown through. Johns: That would involve me being good at cards, and Lena not cheating. O. Marshall: When she's got marks like you, why would she? Turning toward the ops console, Chris gave the sensors a cursory check over, if only to make sure they weren't about to fly headlong into an unexpected planetoid. Satisfied their longevity was safe for the time being, he glanced to Marshall. Johns: You get six hours of uninterrupted wife time, I get extra bridge duty while Vee sleeps. Who really wins here? O. Marshall: Sounds like Vee to me. Chris huffed a laugh with the flicker of an eye roll as his fingers slipped through the handle of his mug, while Marshall patted the arms of his chair, as though he would move at any moment, leaving Chris to his own devices for six hours of extended boredom. The bearded blond sat there for a long minute, dragging out his leaving a little more than necessary. Chris nearly prompted him, wondering if the man had forgotten to do something important. Only when the cerulean gaze, usually so armour piercing, darted briefly to the closed door leading to the rest of the ship and found its way to the dancer did Chris realise what was about to happen. O. Marshall: You're not a stupid man, Chris. Hazel eyes narrowed at the sentence, not quite expecting it. Johns: Thank… you? O. Marshall: I mean it. You're an idiot sometimes, but you're far from stupid. Again, Chris' eyes narrowed as he looked sidelong at Marshall. They had never seen eye to eye; Operations with the two of them was a hotbed of powerful silence and derision at any given moment, especially in the run-up before Valesha and Marshall had escaped from the Gorkon's brig cell following her arrest for a string of alleged offences against the Federation. Murder ranking not inconsiderably among them. Eventually, it had worked out, the Admiral worked in Valesha's favour to secure dismissed charges, the Orion Syndicate stopped breathing down the neck of the blond sitting beside him, and she'd come back, albeit with a nasty case of the touching death with her fingertips. It was that look in blue eyes Chris remembered, when Orson had carried his Romulan from the shuttlepod to the waiting medical team, and it echoed along similar lines now. O. Marshall: She loves you. Johns: Valesha? ::He frowned, unsure.:: I know she does, I— Orson held up his hand and shook his head, forestalling the rest of Chris' declaration mid-word. O. Marshall: If you hadn't made it clear in the Brig, it's been crystal since. ::He took a breath, exhaling curtly like it was a full stop on that train of thought.:: No, just... just listen for a minute. There are very few people left alive that she does. Chris sat there silently, holding his mug, his hand fixed around the ceramic-like a vice. Like a sledgehammer in his sternum it struck hard, wrapped piano wire around his heart and pulled down toward the deck. O. Marshall: You'll be dead and gone in a hundred years, if you're lucky. If you have kids, she'll likely outlive them, if not come very close to it. Her brother might not even be on Ketar V. ::His gaze moved from Chris to the viewscreen and space hurtling outside.:: So, you really need to consider what you're asking her to do. What kind of life are you asking her to live? She's suffered enough, don't you think? He had considered it; he'd gone through those motions time and time again, and they'd done so together, talking it through over and over until there was little else left to say other than the remaining feeling that this was what they wanted. Death was inevitable. Everything ends. Chris diverted his gaze to the console as his jaw tightened, his elbow stuck in the arm of the copilot chair, forefinger and thumb pulling at his lower lip. Johns: I don't see what this has to do with you. What any part of our life has to do with you. Voice calm and collected, and internally vibrating, Chris looked up to Marshall as the man stood up, ready to make his exit off the bridge and leave the young dancer to stew with the words. O. Marshall: I saw how broken she was when we left. I had to convince her to come back. For whatever reason, the thought of losing you hit her hard. Imagine building a family just to lose them again in a few short decades. Chris watched him slide the empty coffee mug onto the pad of the replicator, watched in silence as it disintegrated, pulled apart at the atom framework and then ceased to exist in a matter of seconds. When he looked up to Marshall, the door was already closing behind him. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis & PO Johns - Road Trip (Part IX) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) The door opened again a few hours later, this time to admit a sleep-tousled Romulan. Padding across the carpet in bare feet, Valesha spared a moment to wryly observe that she seemed to spend as much time on the bridge in the shorts and vest she slept in as she did her uniform. She yawned into her palm and ignored the replicator for now, coming to a stop beside the pilot's chair. There, she slipped an arm around Chris' shoulders and bent to press a kiss to the crown of his head, his growing mop of dark hair tickling her nose. Sienelis: Lena? Johns: No doubt snoozing soundly, revelling in her victory. Wrapping his arm around Valesha's waist, Chris leaned into her constant thrum of warmth. In the hours between Marshall leaving and fiancee arriving, his heart had twisted in spirals and drilled holes. Left alone with nothing but the endless stretch of space in front of them, and Orson's commentary on their life, sent drumming ceaseless worries on a cavalcade of gloom around his innards, and were hard to ignore. However, he grinned when he noticed the condition of her dress and those legs which sent his pulse rocketing. Johns: Trouble sleeping, or reminding me what I'm missing by playing cards with a sharp? Sienelis: When we were on the Scream, I thought I'd be clever and play her at the most obscure Romulan game I could think of. Something no one else I've met has even heard of, let alone played. ::She sighed.:: Still ended up owing her a week's worth of foot massages. So let's call it solidarity. Johns: And to think, you didn't know how to do it like a dancer then, either. ::He grinned, with no small amount of enjoyment in that particular fact.:: She let me off easy. Cover her shift and we're square, until the next time. Being officers of a different kind in Starfleet, the two rarely found themselves on the bridge together, and when they had spent a considerable time in a small space controlling a ship, it was the Skarbek. An unsteady inhale accompanied as Chris recalled the events of the last time they were there — a night to remember, tension they could slice with a bat'leth, the soft clink of a Cardassian grenade — and he summoned a smile to get rid of those lingering ghosts, tugging Valesha down into the copilot chair with him. Sienelis: She must have been feeling generous. With a twist of a grin, she pressed a kiss to his cheek and settled in his lap. The truth of it was that she'd woken from a restless sleep to a lonely bed, and months after their Q-induced second outing to the Skarbek, that was still something that left her hollowed out and uneasy. A reminder that the inevitable could always come too soon. But at least this time she didn't have to grimace and bear it, leaving the feeling simmering under the surface to poison her mood. One quick trip up empty corridors to the bridge, and here was her antidote. Sienelis: Everything all right? Johns: Yeah. ::The response was a bit too quick, a bit too unsure of himself.:: Yeah, fine. Contemplating, ::he raised a hand to the viewscreen and dropped it down,:: space. Time. Life. All with coffee and what routine I can put you through in the morning. She leaned back to look at him, a small frown creasing above her nose, scepticism clear. The swiftness of his reply, the tenor he had spoken in; neither had gone unnoticed. Years in the Skarbek and their time together afterwards made a woman who knew him well enough to spot the tells. Given the situation, the cause seemed obvious. Sienelis: Bear again? Johns: No, it's… As hazel eyes and emerald met, as though she'd caught him in that split second decision between omitting the truth and not, Chris felt the weight on it on his chest. Putting into words how accurate a shot Marshall had levelled his way took him a moment, and the young dancer shifted his attention to the curve of Valesha's knee, following the bumps of the muscle and bone with his thumb. Johns: He made me think, that's all. ::He marshaled a smile, albeit a thin one, and traced her kneecap with his fingertip.:: He thinks a lot about you. A frown lifted into raised eyebrows, the rest of her face creasing into something between surprised, perturbed and bewildered. Of all the people to occupy Bear's thoughts, she'd never assumed she was near the top of the list. Then again, now that she considered it, he was in hers more often that she cared to admit. Mutual affection wrapped in jibes and sarcasm, a genuine care easily hidden under glares and rapid-fire retorts. Sienelis: That's a dubious honour. ::Her gaze flicked across his face, down to the finger drawing across olive skin, and then back.:: Do I want to know why? The question fired in his mind before he could think about it; was he asking too much of her? It was not the main event dwelling since their conversation, but the one that cut the deepest. She told him of her trepidation in coming back, that there might not be something to come back to, but that their joint decision to wrap their lives around one another until his is over has a significant bearing on hers. Johns: Probably not. ::He smiled with an exhale and felt his arms hold her a little tighter.:: Concerned I'm treating you right and not subjecting you to rigorous ballet regimes. Sienelis: He's worried about my practice schedule. ::The prosaic intonation, the corner of her mouth tugged upward, a dark eyebrow arched; all evidenced her disbelief.:: If you don't want to talk about it, you can just say. His lips twitched with a smile at how easily Valesha read him, with little effort involved at all. As gossamer as a force field, not with everything, and it wasn't always the case, but a convincing liar Chris wasn't. He let his forehead touch to her temple, felt the grip of it around his ribs like it was hooked into them. Johns: Later, when I've slept on it. When you're snoring and I can tell it to your shoulders. She nodded, squeezing his shoulder, and leaned into him. That feeling she'd had in the Gorkon's Ready Room — that something wasn't quite right, their little universe shifting off-axis — pooled again, knotting lead weights inside her belly. The Romulan fought a quiet war inside her head, a battle over whether to push him for more. But he'd said later and she knew she had little patience for people prodding answers she wasn't yet ready to give. Sienelis: What secrets have those shoulders heard, I wonder. He kissed her olive-skinned cheek as the questions seeded inside, cultivated with earth and grew sprigs of greenery smaller than a thumbnail. It occurred it was likely meant with some kind of good intentions, but Chris thrummed between dejected and angry, knowing the sentiments held truth in them, and finding himself unable to admit it quite yet. Johns: You'd have to ask them, though I don't think they're so forthcoming. They only communicate in shrugs and drops. ::He touched between her shoulder blades and dropped his voice in her ear.:: Though, when here hears secrets, your hips m— A warning trill from the tactical computer sounded, breaking through the quiet with a thunderous roll of chirps similar to the bridge of their Sovereign class home. A second ticked by as disbelief high-kicked through the bridge like a chorus song of tango dancers, until the alert flashed up onto the viewscreen in front of them. When Chris spoke, it was with some measure of incredulity threading through. Johns: Two incoming signals showing on their sensor data and they're heading right for us. Valesha stared at the warning for the space of a few heartbeats. Then in an explosion of movement she scrambled out of his lap and threw herself into the seat accompanying the nearby tactical station. Slender fingers grazed over the controls, the wail of the ship's red alert answering her command. Power surged into the Azetbur's shields and phaser banks, micro-torpedoes loaded into the tubes, armed and ready to fire. Sienelis: =/\= Bear, put Lena down and both of you get up to the bridge. And before you ask, this isn't revenge, it's real. =/\= ::She glanced over toward her partner, heart in her throat, the situation an uncomfortable mirror to an illusion they'd once lived.:: Have they tried to hail us? Any active transponders? Likewise, on the other side, Chris quickly scanned the targeting information coming through their sensors, breaking the ship out of their already limited warp speed to give some breathing space before the inevitable interception, however the two vessels were coming up faster than he anticipated, cutting through the limited speed in the Shoals like a scythe through grass. He looked to Valesha as she asked, heart ticking up a few notches on the fibrillation scale. Johns: Orion ships, Wanderer-class. Two of the old style blockade runners heading right for us. ::His head tilted with the additional information as his fingers ran over the console.:: Serial numbers filed off though. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, PO Johns, Lt. Marshall & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part X) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) The communications chirped, lighting up the small bridge with the ragged breathlessness of the eldest Marshall sibling, however instead of the biting retort Chris expected from the disturbed, it was a short and clipped message. O. Marshall: =/\= On our way. =/\= The Romulan nodded, glad that the pair would be on the bridge sooner rather than later. She didn't know the Shoals, she hadn't the faintest idea of how the ships were closing on them so fast, and she didn't know what they were capable of once they did. All she could say was that the two ships were more than twice the size of the Azetbur and running with their shields up and weapons charged. Sienelis: We're in the middle of nowhere. Either they've just been waiting for a likely target to pass, or they've been following us for a while. ::She frowned.:: They haven't tried to hail us? Johns: Not yet, communications can't stretch that far, they need to be closer. ::Said while checking the channels to be on the safe side, as if the reclining Marshall could've knocked them out.:: They'll be on top of us before they'll be able to transmit at Federation frequencies without th— Orion Ship: =/\= Federation starship, you are in violation of the territory belonging to Le Seau Rouillés. Surrender now and we will not open fire. =/\= The clear booming voice of an Orion on the other end echoed through the bridge while Chris felt his stomach sink. Bringing up the tactical situation map on the display to the left of the viewscreen, their position showed with the small silhouette of the Azetbur in the centre of the indicator, the two Orion vessels closing in. Johns: They must've got hold of some of our communications equipment and hooking into the frequencies. ::He spat out a Russian expletive Valesha could translate easily following years together, and slammed the heel of his palm into the console display.:: Can we outrun them? Sienelis: Maybe? In open space we could jump to warp nine, no problem. But we're not supposed to go past six on the Mother Road. Johns: And that's not getting a ticket consequences, it's rip the ship apart consequences. She breathed a small sound of agreement and her Russian looked across the small space between the two chairs to his Romulan. Space was their problem and this section of space, regardless of the size of it, wasn't their stomping ground either. They didn't know what capabilities the blockade runners had, only their intentions. The door behind swished open and Lena appeared, the blond in tow. He didn't look impressed, but Chris could count on no fingers how much he cared. O. Marshall: I leave you alone for two hours and you find pirates? Have you got a homing beacon shoved up your— Sienelis: No, we went looking for some specifically to annoy you. An amused chortle formed Lena's contribution to the conversation, and she loped up to the pilot's chair wearing a t-shirt so oversized it hung off one shoulder and functioned as a (mini) dress. Skin flushed and glowing, she grinned at Chris and patted his shoulder, her intentions to take over the flight of the Starfleet yacht clear. Josett: Budge up, handsome. As instructed, Chris shifted out of the pilot seat, happy to vacate said responsibility for someone with exceedingly more skill in helm. Shifting to the communications console beside, he flipped through the systems for some more information on their incoming aggressors, but coming up short. Whoever they were, they kept tight reins on their signatures and patterns. Across the short bridge, Bear dropped into the seat beside Valesha and continued their conversation. O. Marshall: You know, somehow I'd believe it. ::Refocusing his attention on the task at hand, his eyebrow [...]ed.:: What've we got weapons wise? Sienelis: Five Type-Five arrays, two micro-torpedo launchers... that's it, unless you count the tractor beam as well. Johns: Maybe avoid flinging an asteroid at anyone. Seeing as it had gone so well last time someone had tried to do that, setting a chain reaction off in an asteroid field so massive, it caused the destruction of the Ascent Vine and Vorin still hadn't quite forgiven Valesha, despite it having nothing to do with her. Chris felt the drop in his stomach as the thought flared and focused on the comms, missing the tense hunch of his partner's shoulders at the mention of those events. O. Marshall: Have they said anything else? Given terms? Johns: Just to surrender. ::He scratched his beard and frowned at the wavering issues.:: They're not attempting to keep the channel open and the link keeps dropping, so they're not used to using the technology they've acquired. I still say we try and outrun them. Josett: I can do it. ::She grinned.:: But I can't guarantee the nacelles won't shear off in the attempt. On her opposite side, Chris shook his head with a growing grin on his face. She might not have been with them in their Skarbek dreamworld, but Lena was just as Maquis in her delivery. Sienelis: I don't think we can fight them off, can we? O. Marshall: Not with those peashooters. ::The tactical assessment of the runners flashed onto the display console beside the viewscreen.:: They're built to be fast and hard as nails. One good hit might take them out but you're talking… Bear trailed off, unable or unwilling to commit the mental effort to the probability arithmetic there and then. Instead, he started delving into what tactical information he could get from the computer, and anything sensors picked up they could shoot at. Johns: What if we sent a few knocks to their engines? ::He looked over to his partner and his heart gave a painful throb.:: Is it possible to stretch the sensors to get us subsystem information through this mud field? Slim olive fingers danced across multicoloured controls, her console singing — and occasionally blowing raspberries — in response. Her brow wrinkled in concentration, trying to pull the pieces of a puzzle together, Starfleet technology and training versus the shifting, unstable tachyon fields of the Shoals. Sienelis: I think so, but they'll need to be closer. ::She shook her head.:: The tachyons are chewing up the data and spitting it out again. Stay and fight, hope to win or at least get a few pot shots in to slow them down so the Azetbur could make the escape, or put the pedal to the metal and gun it. The choice wasn't an easy one. Fleeing exposed their engines, their nacelles open season for a torpedo to come on hurtling on the warpath. Johns: They're hailing us again, it's coming through. Orion Ship: =/\= Federation starship, you are in violation of the territory belonging to Le Seau Rouillés. Surrender now and we will not open fire. =/\= Johns: Yeah, you said that already. ::He grumbled and hit the control with the palm of his hand to shut down the channel, then he frowned.:: Was it just me, or did that sound exactly the same as the last time? O. Marshall: You've had that before? ::The man snapped back, eyes flaring to the dancer across the bridge.:: And now was a good time to mention it? Johns: We've got Orions incoming, it wasn't the first thing on my mind when they can fly faster than us! Sienelis: Will you two stop it! ::She exhaled through thinned lips, not taking her eyes off her console.:: It did sound the same. What does that even mean? Josett: It means they're full of pled. The hybrid grinned as the Cardassian curse rolled off her tongue, amused by either the situation, the antics inside the bridge, or perhaps both. Her deft fingers performed a familiar dance with the ship's control systems, pushing and pulling, dragging them along with what she wanted. Redirecting power away from life support, bringing inertial dampeners down to the bare minimum, even stealing power from spare capacity in the nacelles, speed-limited as they were. She shunted it into the shields and structural integrity, preparing the yacht for a rough flight. Josett: They're closer; check their profile again. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, PO Johns, Lt. Marshall & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part XI) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) Bear took that task, their tactical sensors straining to get a read on the two vessels on a collision course. In the middle of the Shoals soup, it seemed their technological capacity amounted to eight eyeballs and tactical projections of a flight path of the incoming ships relative to their position… but only for one vessel. O. Marshall: There's only one of them, not two. One and a probe it's bouncing a signal off. Johns: That's a Starfleet probe. ::He interjected, the realisation acting like a lightbulb flash for the comms specialist who dove back into his console.:: I'm sending a diagnostic routine to it, chances are they won't know how to break it. O. Marshall: You do that and the other will open fire. ::Grunting his exhale, he looked to Valesha.:: What were they expecting you to do? Stop and let them board? Take all the best china? A retort on the tip of her tongue — something about letting them take him — was forgotten. The question slammed into the forefront of her mind, what were they expecting you to do? What else was a little Starfleet ship going to do, when outnumbered, outmanned and outgunned? Sienelis: You think they're trying to make us run? Herd us somewhere? Johns: Filter us into a place where their reinforcements are, or somewhere we can't get out of. Beam aboard, take the ship, be gone before we know it. ::The dancer tongued his cheek as he sat back in the chair, looking over to his wife to be.:: It is a pretty slick business strategy. A fancy prize, if only for the bragging rights it'd bring along with it. Captain's yachts usually had Captains on board, meaning a substantial ransom if they played their cards right and a hefty dose of honour among thieves to carve up the ship. It was easy to forget that this wasn't their stomping ground, and as Bear ran his hand over his face to wake himself up, he remembered the more things changed out there in the Shoals, the more they stayed the same. O. Marshall: How often is a Starfleet Captain's yacht spotted in the Shoals? They're after who they think we've got on board. ::He [...]ed an eyebrow to Lena.:: Unless you've got a pirate homing signal. Josett: Not this week. ::She flung an amused grin his way, enjoying the thrill of the chase.:: The pirates here usually have better maps of the fields than anyone else. My money would be on them trying to drive us into a tetryon pocket and disable our warp drive. Sienelis: So... we change course? Head off the Mother Road in some random direction and try to shake them off? O. Marshall: They'll figure that out in no time. One wrong move out here and we'll find ourselves ripped apart at the rivets and seams. ::He ran a hand into his short crop of still damp hair and exhaled tersely through his nose.:: I'm not about to get blown up our first five minutes in here, so we need a plan and we need one quickly. The chime and chirp of the console in front of Chris set to life as the diagnostic routine on the projection probe finished, feeding back data at a rate of knots. Even through the muddy soup of the Shoals on the Mother Road, the readings were coming through just fine for him to reinterpret. Only the flash of inspired thought kicking around in his brain needed more than his communication knowhow. No sooner had it burst through the brick walls of his brain, the ship rocked from side to side beneath them, sending a cascade of churn across their exterior hull. Like a ripple effect, the hammer blow sent a grinding metal sound their way and the added bonus of a damage report. The Russian's heart gave a thick thump behind his sternum as he sent his probe data through to Valesha and jumped out of his seat to lean onto the console beside her. Johns: Can we set up a sensor mask on the probe? Enough to feed them back duff data of where we are? If we take that out entirely, they might abandon the chase on us. Green eyes flicked up toward him, not daring to linger on his features for too long, even as her heart pounded low in her chest. Her brow pinched in concentration, she filtered and assessed the probe data and its onboard sensors. Much like the ship it was slaved to, the probe wasn't the newest off the production line, the protocols it was using were just a little out of date. Sienelis: I think so. ::She nodded, still manipulating and page through the reams of information from the probe.:: It won't be an immediate change, it'll be a cumulative error, their read of our position will drift. Johns: Clever. Makes it seem like a natural problem rather than a manufactured one. Despite the pressing situation, Chris smiled in preemptive triumph; the last time they'd done this had felt entirely different, and a year later, Valesha was in sleeping shorts on the bridge of a Starfleet ship and they were a them. A strange thought to have in the middle of a crisis, but the young couple never were for convention. As though sensing the switch in mood from desperate to plan, Bear's authoritative bass drummed. O. Marshall: Better than the whole lot of nothing we've got now. ::He huffed and ran his hand over his beard. The yacht wasn't a peashooter, but one word from the Orion ship and who knew what would come running.:: Get it done. Lena, don't let them gain an inch on us. Can you keep up the pace while it works? While Valesha allowed herself a quick roll of the eyes and a small shake of her head, Lena just chuckled. Her curls bounced with her nod, hands moving quickly and easily across the flight controls of the yacht. The small ship shuddered again, indicators on her console flicking from green to amber — some holding there, others flicking back as the ship's automated systems compensated — and the hybrid's pulse beat a little faster, her grin widening. Josett: It's going to be a rough ride. Sienelis: Why does this always happen when I'm in a ship with you? Josett: I lead a charmed life. ::Another soft chuckle,:: Or a cursed one, depending on your point of view. Johns: Charmed. ::Said with a quick grin to Valesha as he moved back to his seat.:: Most definitely charmed. Space stretched out in front of them, taking them faster on their tunnel through the Mother Road, though whether that was the Orion's plan was another thing. If anything, they were adding time to their journey in how easy they'd have to take it later, and that annoyed the blond one no end. Mines, that's what this small ship needed. Mines they could shove out the back ramp. Orion Ship: =/\= Federation starship, you are in violation of the territory belonging to Le Seau Rouillés. Surrender now and we will not open fire. =/\= O. Marshall: =/\= On behalf of this Federation starship, bite our shiny, metal nacelle. =/\= ::His fist slammed down hard on the cut off command controls, ceasing the hailing frequency and channel the Orion ship used.:: Their hull would look a whole lot better with a torpedo-shaped hole in it. No sooner had the words left his mouth, the familiar lance of a forward phaser blast grazed their outer hull, rocking the yacht to the port side and the occupants along with it. Valesha cursed under her breath, catching hold of her console to steady herself, and quickly returned to the business of trying to interfere with the probe's inner workings. Josett: Seems the feeling's mutual. Sienelis: I'm almost done. ::Her teeth dug into the corner of her lip,:: If you are going to fire back, just remember they might spot the weapons aren't coming from where they think the shuttle is. O.Marshall: Then we'll not risk it. Give them no reason to think we're anywhere but where the sensors say we are. How's that phaser blast looking? Chris blew out a steady sigh as he compensated for Lena's compensating, throwing some of the power around into the shields and bolstering up their flank. It didn't need it; the blast was a glancing blow at best but a few more of them and the cracks would start. Johns: Superficial damage sustained, nothing major. ::Glancing to Lena, he sat back in the Ops chair and chuckled.:: Try and steer us away from the incoming fire trying to shave off a nacelle. Josett: It's fine, we've got two. She grinned back at the Russian, amber eyes sparkling, attitude as irreverent as ever. Still, when her gaze returned to the console in front of her, that Cardassian brow pulled together in concentration. Reduced power to the inertial dampeners translated into coordinated lurch of stomachs, an abrupt deceleration as she banked into a hard turn. More manoeuvrable than the heavier starship in pursuit, she led them into overshooting and forced a time-consuming course correction. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, PO Johns, Lt. Marshall & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part XII) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) Blasts from Orion phaser banks scattered across their hull, glancing off rather than searing through, and Bear could only imagine the cursing the Orions must be doing when faced with a pilot giving them a run for their money in the quite literal sense. They shot past them on the monitor, overshooting their mark for turning by a wide margin, Lena forcing them into a wider arc to regain ground and following once more. However, their angle was off, heading toward their bearing but at a twenty-degree angle away. O. Marshall: Whatever you're doing, keep doing it. It's working. The trill of another alert sounded from the ops console and Chris looked to it, moving his left hand over the controls as his right silenced the incoming communication from the Orion ship again. Information coming through from their operational sensors brought a cavalcade of feeling into his stomach and up through his chest. Johns: We've got a second incoming, considerably larger than our Orion friend and no signature yet. Valesha met the news with a sharp exhale, a flash of a memory from an unreal world where she sat on a bridge with Chris and another tall, broad blond. Outnumbered and outgunned, trying to avoid capture — and failing. She pushed the tension out of her shoulders, heart ricocheting off her ribs, her focus shifting from the probe to the new guest at their unwanted party. Sienelis: I'll see if I can pull something up. Josett: Who are they heading for, us or the Orions? Johns: Trajectory looks like it's… ::Consulting the computer rendering of the space available on their sensors, Chris frowned.:: In between us and them. Are they expecting us to launch a broadside or what? Bear leaned over, his hand running across the back of Valesha's chair as he peered at the operational targeting display, giving the outline of the ship in question. While it looked like another blockade runner, there was something distinctly Starfleet about it. Groaning, he palmed his face. O. Marshall: It's a cutter. Knowing our luck, it's the f— Cutter: =/\= USS Azetbur, this is CMC Cassowary. ::A tenor voice as cool as a cucumber rode the communication waves like a surfer.:: Welcome to the Shoals. Can we lend you a hand here? =/\= O. Marshall: —king Cassowary. Sienelis: Friends of yours? O. Marshall: Would you believe me if I said no? Johns: Easily. The blond scowled across the bridge toward the Russian, who looked to his side and grinned to Lena with a flicker of his eyebrows. Unfortunately for the blond, his wife was entirely on the side of whatever was most amusing, and grinned along with the dancer. Bear exhaled a gruff noise of frustration as he turned to Valesha with what could only be described as a measure of pleading in his eyes. O. Marshall: Just don't mention me. CMC Cassowary: =/\= Azetbur, is everything alright over there? Do you need assistance? =/\= Sienelis: What's it worth? A peal of laughter erupted from the pilot, still flying as though the legions of multiple hells were biting at their heels. Valesha grinned, just a little, and raised her eyebrows toward the blond. She hadn't expected her question to meet with Lena's approval, but having spent some time with the woman, the Romulan realised she really should have. Josett: I'm so proud of you right now. O. Marshall: This is an absolute betrayal, you realise. Johns: I don't think she cares all that much somehow. Rolling his lips in on themselves didn't stop the laughter shaking at Chris' shoulders as he tried, so damn hard, not to crease up. On the other side of the Russian's wife to be, Bear looked as though he might just pop a blood vessel in his temple, considered how much of a pain it would be to finish the journey to Ketar V with Romulan and Russian confined to torpedo casings, and relented. O. Marshall: Fine. What do you want? Valesha grinned at him, almost feeling sorry for the outnumbered blond. Almost. With mirth glittering in emerald eyes, she offered him a lackadaisical shrug and a careless answer. It was entirely the wrong time to be having a conversation like this, inappropriate to delay a distress call to negotiate terms with a fellow officer, and yet there she was — and being egged on by Chris and Lena, no less. Sienelis: Oh, let's just call it a favour for now. CMC Cassowary: =/\= Azetbur, this is the CMC Cassowary. Do you need assistance? Failure to communicate will result in intervention. =/\= The screens beneath Chris' fingertips lit up and he bent back in his chair to look over at the blond and his Romulan staring one another down over less than metre. Blue and green in a battle for the win, while their communications and sensors glared with the obvious transmission. Johns: While Lena's driving it like she stole it, ::said with a quick flash of a cheeky grin to the pirate, receiving an equally cheeky one in return,:: the cutter is powering up weapons as we speak. They're targeting our shield generators. O. Marshall: I see our time spent on the Scream had some affect. ::He tongued his cheek, not surprised, and considering who he'd married, not entirely unamused by it either.:: Fine. A favour it is. With a quiet snicker, she shooed him out of sight of the communication screen. Once clear, Valesha opened the channel with a tap of a finger, while Chris sat back to watch, the thrill of the chase in his heart, quite enamoured with his wife to be baiting the Bear, as it were. Sienelis: =/\= Cassowary, this is Lieutenant Sienelis of the Azetbur, we could use the assist. =/\= A moment of silence came from the other end as the Marshal did a double take to the screen, then looked down at the display screen beneath his hands. Dressed in the gear of the CMC, with the badge to go with and gold lapels shining, the dusty-haired older Trill officer looked back up at the screen, raising a questioning eyebrow and the Shoals twang to his accent. CMC Cassowary: =/\= Lieutenant, has Starfleet uniform standards changed recently, or am I just behind the times with what you crazy kids are wearing these days? =/\= Valesha squinted at the man, then looked down at herself, an olive flush rushing across her cheeks as she remembered she was sitting there in her pyjamas. She resisted the temptation to pull her robe across her vest, and instead ran a hand through tousled dark hair, smoothing it out. Sienelis: ::Flatly,:: =/\= Pirates have no respect for sleeping schedules, it seems. =/\= CMC Cassowary: =/\= That they do not, ma'am. ::He made some adjustments off screen and nodded to his co-pilot.:: Lieutenant Valesha Sienelis, assigned to the USS Gorkon. ::He paused for a second before frowning to her.:: You've got authorization to use this craft? =/\= Johns: Sure we do. ::Her Russian arched an eyebrow over to her, a smile curving on his lips.:: This time. Valesha's expression had pulled into confusion at the Marshal's question. Realisation broke, and then with a downturn to her lips, a sigh and slump of her shoulders, she nodded. Loose threads of her reputation had made their way out as far as the Shoals, it seemed. Maybe one day she'd shake them off. Sienelis: =/\= Yes. =/\= He nodded on the other end, satisfied with the answer and if he could shuffle papers, or ruffle his moustache he would do. The Marshal nodded to the copilot and leaned into the arm of his chair, epaulettes gleaming under the lights in gold, and Bear huffed a chuckle that the only one of them wearing a uniform - four Starfleet officers notwithstanding - was a Shoals Marshal. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, PO Johns, Lt. Marshall & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part XIII) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) CMC Cassowary: =/\= You can tell your pilot to move away, we'll take this from here. Where are you heading to? =/\= Johns: Along the Mother Road to the outpost past Meridian. From there, we're deviating through the Shoals to Ketar V. That's the course we were on before they showed up. Valesha glanced toward Lena, who grinned back, finding the whole situation (as ever) amusing. The stomach-lurching shifts of the Azetbur smoothed out, evasive manoeuvres settling into a more stable flight path. The Romulan gestured toward her partner, his answer a neat summary of their intentions without excessive details. Sienelis: =/\= Did you catch that? =/\= CMC Cassowary: =/\= Fully acknowledged, Azetbur, thanks for the update. If you send us your signature, we'll make a note on our logs and transmit it to the CMC. They should keep an eye on you from here on out. Make sure you report to the post on Ketar V when you get there. =/\= Visibly fed up with the line of questions, Bear groaned audibly and wiped his hand across his face, gripping his blond beard at his chin as the thought of being face to face with the law enforcement of the Shoals sent spirals through his spine. On the other side, Chris shook his head at the impatient blond, and transmitted their signature information over to the Marshal service as he flicked an eyebrow to Lena. Johns: And there I was, starting to get used to the g-force keeping me in the chair. Josett: I'd offer to do something else to keep you pinned to your chair, but there are members of the audience who might take exception. She grinned at the Russian, while Valesha's emerald gaze flicked skyward, Bear's frustration and annoyance echoing through her — albeit for different reasons. Looking back toward Marshal Shiny Shoulders on screen, she ran her hand a hand through her hair and suppressed a sigh. Meanwhile, Chris flicked an eyebrow to the hybrid pirate with an amused grin, receiving an equally unamused glare from the bearded blond. How the tables turned. Sienelis: =/\= If that's all, we'll sign off. Thanks for the help, Cassowary. =/\= CMC Cassowary: =/\= Keep your nose clean, Azetbur. Cassowary out. =/\= The communication line ceased as the former Starfleet ship drifted off their starboard bow, heading for the Orion ship and probe deviating away from them at a steep angle. Valesha grumbled to herself and Chris slumped back into his chair as his hand wrestled through growing tresses, quite relieved their derriere remained unmolested by Orion torpedoes. Across the small bridge, Bear rocked up out of his with a gruff exhale. It was only then Chris realised the blond wasn't wearing a shirt. Johns: That, ::he shot a finger bullet at his beautiful Romulan,:: was a close call. O. Marshall: Too close. The blond found his hips beneath all the layers of manliness, clear definition between pectoral muscles showing with a little too much flair to be anything other than a dominance tactic and Chris looked over at Valesha in her nightclothes, the Russian's eyebrow escaping toward his scruffy hairline. Johns: I think this is perfect swap over time, don't y— O. Marshall: Over my dead body. Sienelis: ::Mildly,:: Don't you owe me a favour? Bear stared at her incredulously for a second, eyebrow tilting upwards. Valesha graced him with a smug, lazy smile, her eyebrows performing a victory twitch. In the background, Chris rolled his lips between his teeth to stop from chuckling. Lena was not so circumspect and chortled to herself — whatever the outcome of their negotiation, she was going back to bed. O. Marshall: Of all the things you could ask for, of all the favours I could grant, this is what you want to spend it on? Sienelis: A few hours in bed with my Russian and the bonus of irritating you. Sounds like a win-win scenario to me. ::She paused, just long enough to seem like she was intent on that course of action, then grinned.:: Go on, get lost. Let the universe imprint on, ::she circled her palm toward his bare chest, echoing words last spoken on the Labyrinth's Scream,:: your canvas. Remember this day, when Valesha ir-Jhianhre t'Sienelis was merciful. O. Marshall: Thank you, kindest of Romulan empresses. ::Hard as he tried, he couldn't be angry with the woman and a brief tick of a smile crested one side of his lips. He wasn't even sure if Romulans had emperors. Glaring blue eyes pinned on Chris.:: Try not to [...] it up. The Russian saluted from his forehead, dramatically over the top, accompanied by the grin he'd failed to suppress at Valesha's antics as he settled back into the chair. Once they were back on course from Lena's creative flying mechanics, it'd be coffee and kicking back again. Johns: Understood, Captain. Bear pointed two fingers at his eyes then toward Valesha as he scowled through barely contained amusement, before he bent down beside Lena's ear, whispered something probably scandalous with a pressed kiss to her hybrid cheek, and left. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, PO Johns & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part XIV) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) The doors hissed shut behind him and with a lingering grin, the Romulan slumped back in her chair. She spun around to face Chris, poking him in the knee with an outstretched foot. He grinned at her, his hand dropping from messing up the scruff of his growing hair. Sienelis: Nothing ever goes smoothly, does it? Johns: Honestly, I'd be concerned if it did for once. Snagging her foot in his hand, her ballerino applied pressure to the points across her dancer's arch and ankle, turning enough in his chair to balance said ankle on his thigh. Skin soft and light as always, the thrum of green blood coursing through her veins, visible on the top of her foot; skin he ran his fingertips over gently as his thumbs pushed and massaged into muscle and sinew. His head rolled to the side and he looked at Lena in the pilot's seat, making her adjustments and doing whatever it was pilots of small craft did. Johns: That was some fancy flying, pirate. ::An exhaled chuckle lifted through him as he grinned.:: Drawing out that conversation with the Cassowary any longer and they'd have thought we stole it. With intentional flair, Lena entered the last of the commands on her console and stood up. A stretch rippling through her from head to toe, as though she were some big cat finally finished basking in the sun. She grinned at the pair, amber eyes sparkling, and put her hands on her hips in a fashion not entirely unlike a certain tall blond, minutes ago. Josett: Got the blood flowing, didn't it? ::She chuckled, a mischievous twist to her smile.:: I'll leave you two alone. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. The hybrid made for the door, curls bouncing, bare feet padding across the bridge carpet, the healing bruise on her thigh peeping out from under the hem of her (or more likely, Bear's) t-shirt as she walked. A scrape with piracy and peril and her mood wasn't the least bit dimmed, cheerful and irreverent as always. Valesha wondered how she managed it — if the woman genuinely took all the twists and turns of life in her stride, or if she used her cheerfulness as armour. Either way, the Romulan rolled her eyes, calling over her shoulder. Sienelis: That doesn't eliminate much. Spinning her heel and completing her journey off the bridge in reverse, Lena grinned at the pair as she passed through the doors, arms wide. Josett: Such is the wonder that is me. And then she was gone, leaving Chris and Valesha alone, just as they had been before the untimely arrival of pirates and colonial marshals. The Romulan sank down a little further in her chair, exhaling a long breath and wiggling her toes under her partner's ministrations. Taking that as a sign, Chris threaded his fingers between said Romulan toes and flexed the upper part of her foot back and forth, amusement and affection clear on his features beneath the scruff of his beard. Johns: I can't believe you answered a Marshal communication in your pyjamas. Sienelis: The things I do for that man. ::She breathed out a quiet groan, though it was unclear whether it was her own inner monologue or the foot massage that prompted it.:: What are the odds when we get to Ketar V I'll already be "The Romulan in PJs"? Johns: Considering he says he's filing a report, I wouldn't be surprised. ::His thumb moved in circles along her arch as he kicked up his feet onto the console, crossing one leg over the other.:: Starfleet does like to do the uniform shuffle every so often. Maybe they'll think they're reverting back to those heady days of skants. Valesha's dark eyebrows lifted and she tilted her head to the side, mossy eyes travelling along the full length of his outstretched legs from toes to hip. She exhaled a sound of contentment, grinned, and her gaze flicked back up to meet his. Sienelis: I could live with that. Chris' hazel eyes sparked as he grinned in response. A rare blush sparked from beneath his sternum and crept up around his throat as he looked at her, followed the line of her leg, dropped his head to the headrest of the chair and felt those striking matches. Being under her gaze shot a thrill through his spine and kicked his heart around inside his ribs. Johns: Are you objectifying a subordinate, Lieutenant? Sienelis: Every day. Johns: Is that so? ::His eyebrow curved and Chris ran his fingers underneath her foot. Her leg twitched, and she breathed a laugh.:: Is it Peek? He has incredible thighs. Sienelis: It's his thighs you look at, is it? Johns: Have you seen them? ::He made a shape with his hands like that of a side of ham.:: That foundation support there for his lifts, for his jetes and pirouettes. I could train him. His tongue poked into his cheek as he thought about it — Rob would definitely make for a more astute student than the Betazoid, at least he'd listen — then what Valesha said clicked with him and eyes brimming with [...] suspicion slid to her. Johns: Why, what do you look at? Sienelis: I only have eyes for you, my sahe'lagge. Hand over her heart, she delivered the statement with just the right touch of Romulan haughtiness and affectionate sincerity. The only thing ruining it was the stubborn, impish grin she couldn't quite banish, pulling at the corner of her lips and creasing the corners of her eyes. Johns: Well saved, h'levreinnye. A flick of the eyebrow at the term of endearment, a flutter in his belly like the beating of butterfly wings, and her betrothed echoed her grin with the ever strengthening pronunciation of his Romulan vocabulary. Running his fingers up the back of her ankle, Chris nodded to the console with Russian devilry. Johns: Autopilot is on. Valesha held his gaze, her grin slowly returning as mischief sparkled in emerald. Her gaze flicked toward the bridge door, back to him, and then she pushed herself out of her chair to join him in his. Arms around his shoulders, back in his lap, she stole a lingering kiss, heat spreading over her shoulders and curling down her spine in defiance of the ship's cool air. Sienelis: Shall we lock the door? Johns: Wiser words never spoken. As he drew her in for another kiss, the spark ignited like fireworks shooting into a dark sky. His hands ran over her hips, one up her back beneath her vest touching warm Romulan skin, the other reaching blindly for the console controls. The door latched into place, a tiny alert sounding as the light colour changed, not that either of them noticed as the Azetbur slipped through space and stars, lost as they were in one another. fin ---- Lieutenant Valesha Sienelis Science Officer USS Gorkon T238401QR0 & Lieutenant Orson Marshall Intelligence Officer USS Gorkon G239304JM0 & PO First-Class Christopher Johns Operations Officer USS Gorkon G239304JM0 & Lieutenant (JG) Lena Josett Intelligence Officer USS Gorkon T238401QR0
  10. (( Bunker under Predator Paddocks, Asteroid Trueno, Bratax System )) Quinn Reynolds had crept up on them -- or perhaps he just wasn't listening -- with a grace that should not have been surprising. She rounded the corner with one hand wrapped around her chest, shoulders hunched. Splattered in mud from head to foot, soaked with rain, sweat, injured and bleeding, having been in an overturned car and then chased down by a dinosaur, yet seemingly escaped mostly unharmed. Emphasis on the mostly. Reynolds was probably in the worst shape that any of the three Tans had ever seen her in. He couldn't imagine her looking worse; she seemed as though she'd been thrown in a tumble-drier full of rocks, pulled out by wild horses who had subsequently dragged her through the galaxy's muddiest paddock and unceremoniously dumped in a drinking trough. Her hair stuck to her uniform, weighed down with mud, the dark brown making stark contrast against her skin. Her arm wrapped around her side. He could, once more, smell blood, a new source that made his nostrils twitch. For someone he'd never spoken to before, nor seen much of during the ride in the car except for a view of the back of her head, hair blown about by the breeze, she was as much a stranger as to him as she was an old, familiar friend. Someone who had been there for him during... (( FLASHBACK: Sickbay, USS Garuda, Six Years Ago )) A light chemical push. Alleran felt it as a real, physical thing; an intrusion into his sleep, forcing him awake. Forcing him to live. Open his eyes. It wasn't truly living with half a mind -- unjoined Trills were perfectly capable at any task they set their minds to, really -- but after years of having two brains, it certainly felt that way. The world was sluggish, dull, and had a strange unrealness to it; as though the dream, and the Otherplace was the reality. A shadowy figure stood above him. Alleran's eyes had not yet adjusted to the light. Alleran: Mum? Reynolds: Not quite. Oh. Through the fog came emotions; strong and raw. Embarrassment was one of them. Alleran: Hey. Perched on a stool by his bedside, she smiled at him, an expression worn and ragged around the edges. She looked pale and tired, strands of mousy brown hair falling limply about her face. Reynolds: How are you doing? Alleran: Oh... you know. Stuff. ::he managed a lopsided smile:: Dying. ::She tried to reply, but there seemed no words to express what she was feeling. Instead, she breathed a deep sigh, and nodded.:: Alleran: It's not so bad, really. I dunno. I'd always imagined I'd go in a... some kind of crash. Something dramatic. Lots of fire. Not like this. I don't think anyone really imagines it this way either. Just sort of... slowly fading away, and then one day, falling right over. Not everyone gets a dramatic send-off, I suppose. Reynolds: ::Quietly,:: No, they don't. He smiled -- strongly, more genuinely now. Alleran: I'm glad you're here. From the academy to the end, huh. There's a... pleasant symmetry to all this. I like symmetry. Reynolds: It's symmetrical for you, Alleran. Me, I just get to watch another friend die. Her voice cracked toward the end, and she looked away, taking a slow, deep breath. Yeah. He had buried friends too. It was never easy. Alleran: Yeah. She shook her head, looking back at him and forcing a smile. Reynolds: I'm going to miss you. That felt good. To know he was going to be missed. Alleran: I’m going to miss you too. A lot. ::a pause:: And I mean, well... I’ll still be here. Kind of. It’s complicated. Reynolds:: :She nodded.::I can imagine. I have a hard enough time just dealing with my own crap, let alone a couple of extra lifetime's worth from other people. Alleran: It would depend on the wants and desires of the new host, although it won’t be just up to them. There’s a whole host of emotions and feelings in there all mixed in together. Sometimes there’s a really desperate need to reconnect with the past host’s life -- something that’s very problematic and fraught with all manner of risk -- and sometimes... well. Sometimes they just want to get away from it all. I can’t promise anything. Reynolds: Is there anything you need? Anyone I can contact for you? It sounded really stupid, but Alleran had really only one request. Alleran: Make sure you come to my funeral. It sounds stupid, but Marlee -- my previous host -- well, she was something of a bitter workaholic misanthrope, which is easy for me to say now that she’s killing me. Accordingly, well, it was pretty empty when they put her in the ground. Couple of her old students. Some distant family members there because that was expected of them, just boredly waiting for the service to end. She winced. He reconsidered. Alleran: Actually, hell with that. No service. Just a big party. Lots of booze. Fun. Reynolds: One drunken wake on short notice. I'm sure I can organise that. He managed a little laugh. Alleran: Thanks. I’ll be kicking around for a while yet. Couple of days, maybe, on the outside. She nodded, her gaze dropping. He seemed to remember something. Alleran: Oh. And if the new host gets here, make sure that you check that they’re not crazy first. Who knows who they’ll send this far out. They might not have that many options. Reynolds: You might not want me vetting potential hosts. ::Her smile briefly returned.:: I suspect none of them would be good enough. That actually made him feel really, so much better about the whole thing. Just the idea that someone was going to look out for him. Alleran: Okay. I know you’re busy. I think I’m good here. Biobed’s nice and comfy. ::he smiled:: Take care, okay? I’ll be back soon... more or less. Reynolds: Call me, if you need anything. Anything at all, alright? Alleran: Yeah. Will do, for sure. She tried to say something else as she slid off the stool -- a goodbye, perhaps -- but for the second time in short while, words failed her. Instead, her hand found his, and after a brief, firm squeeze, she was on her way. (( Present )) It was not his memory. The symbiont had been extracted by that point. Unlike every other interaction they'd had, the words they had shared at that moment, on Alleran's deathbed, were something of a mystery to him. Serren had only the third-hand knowledge that she had seen him post-extraction as his body was dying, that they had talked as long as Federation medical science had let them, and that the decks of the Garuda had shaken with one hell of a wake. The rest... The rest was now only known to Quinn Reynolds. A little piece of Alleran Tan that she, and only she, possessed. From the first moment he had been joined, the symbiont had absorbed the entire life experience of Alleran Mapak until that point. The symbiont knew Alleran as a baby. Saw him grow up. The symbiont had felt its first host, Marlee Tan, die and seen her body with Alleran's eyes. It knew everything he knew, everything he had ever known. For every other moment since had been a wiggly little tape recorder in his belly, dutifully noting down everything he saw and said, everything he'd felt, and making those experiences part of its own -- etching them into the permanent history of the Trill species, a living cultural artifact of his species. Trill understood the value of memories. The Tan symbiont had so many, a lifetime of memories in Marlee, and everything Alleran had known was now part of Serren. Each was precious. He had memories of Idril Mar, that bold Trill Engineer turned Fleet-Captain. Of Jhen Thelev, that tea drinking mentor and idol, who once let him sit in the command chair of the USS Tiger. Of Karynn Brice, the friend who had helped him through so much pain. Of Danny Wilde, his friend on the Independence-A. Of Della Vetri, the bold Trill Captain for much of his career, who he missed so much. Of Kira Venroe, who he had loved so hard for so long, and entertained wild notions of getting married to. Of T'Lea, the fiery half-Romulan who he thought of as a dear friend. Of sh'Shar, that idiot Andorian he felt so strangely about. Of Tenzin Zhou, the Trill who might well, one day, have become Tenzin Tan. Of Doctor Skyfire, who had tried so hard to save Alleran's life. Of Tracey Townson, the one-handed Canadian who could kick harder than anyone he'd never known. Of Zinna, who had helped him adjust to life on DS-17. Of Toni Turner and Tallis Rhul, friends on the Ronin, who had helped him on Devinon V. Of David Whale, who had sheared off one of the nacelles on the Indy during Operation: Bright Star. Of S'Acul, his helmsman friend and drinking buddy. Of Marari, the half-borg Vaadwaur who had become, in the end, after crossing blades with him more than once... one of his friends. And all of the absolute mountains of everything that had happened with Sidney Riley. The joyous love and a child shared between them, the latter lost, the former turned to bitter ashes. The best of times and the worst of times. Life and love, loss and hate. All dutifully recorded, stored, integrated. And others. Everyone in Alleran's life was shared. From his earliest childhood memories to dying in a turbolift. Every kiss he'd ever shared, every punch he'd thrown, every time he'd ever loved or hated or laughed or cried, recorded forever, an eternal record that could potentially last a thousand years. It would be there long after everyone he had ever known had turned to dust. Those memories were part of Serren now. Everything except those few scant minutes aboard the Garuda. Alleran's death had been the only private conversation that host had ever truly had. Serran hadn't experienced it. Safine hadn't experienced it. Nobody else ever would. Only Quinn. Now here she was. Shorter than he remembered -- Alleran was a foot shorter than Serren, and taller than Safine too -- although not in any way diminished. She still carried the same strength, the same presence, filling a room. He was seeing her now through three sets of eyes, three lives, three opinions, three sets of memories and personalities all with their biases and complications and twists and preferences and tastes and opinions and thoughts. Despite their current predicament, and her current condition, Serren could only think one thing. Quinn Reynolds looked as strong, as brave, as wickedly intelligent, and as blindingly beautiful as the day he had met her. Symbionts had no ears. No eyes. No senses at all. They were just gross worms in a little pouch, nestled in amongst other organs, parasiting nutrients and providing cognitive function in return. In their natural state, they could only communicate through electro-static discharges, transmitting vague emotions and thoughts through the sacred Caves of Mak'ala. They had no eyes. Symbionts couldn't cry. But if they could... Reynolds pressed a kiss to the top of her son's damp head, a simple action that bought him back to the moment. No time to reminisce about the past. About lives lived and gone. There were still stompy-chewy-eat-y things out there. He still had a job to do. Reynolds: A hug? Things must be dire. He tried, so very hard to keep his voice professional, to maintain a business-y air, one that belied the tumultuous writing in his mind. But his voice came out with a little crack in it that betrayed him. Tan: It's... very good to see you again, sir. A sentiment the others might well have shared, but one which, to him, carried with it the weight of a lifetime of friendship. And fortunately, this time, Alleran didn't... betray him as he had with Safine. Quinn was "sir". Safine had called Quinn "ma'am" when they had first met. Because the treacherous worm in her belly, the part of it that was Alleran, had withheld that information. She blamed the neural blocker, of course, but Serren knew better. For some reason, chemical or otherwise, the symbiont had not liked Safine. It liked Serran. Picky little grub. Marshall/Cayne: Response Dylan clung to his mother and Serren could hardly blame her. He gave a little nod the kid's way, just enough to say, you did good, you did real good. Reynolds: I think I have T-Rex scales debossed on my ribs, but otherwise I'm all right. ::Hazel eyes travelled over them.:: What about you three? What's this about someone passing out? Serren smiled Cayne's way. He didn't want to speak for her, but he also understood she was still a bit shakey. Tan: The good doctor was more injured than originally suspected when the vehicle rolled over. She lost consciousness for a moment, but not to worry, Marshall's patched her up. Marshall/Cayne/D. Reynolds: Response Reynolds: We have to move, but we can take it slow for a while. There's some doors and a crossroads up ahead, helpfully without any signage whatsoever. If this is an emergency bunker, there should be some supplies and if we're particularly lucky, a map. Let's see what we can find? Tan: My thoughts exactly, sir. Mister Pointy and I will take the lead, with your permission. Marshall/Cayne/D. Reynolds/Reynolds: Response A moment was spent picking up their medical supplies, and he threw his bloody, mud-splattered jacket over his shoulder. With the spear held snug in both hands, keeping an alert eye as he moved into the indicated corridor, Serren carefully stepped through the dank, musty tunnels, glad to be ahead. It meant he couldn't smell the blood. Forward, forward. Carefully but not too slowly, Serren strode through the corridors at a somewhat-slower than normal pace. They didn't have a dinosaur at their back any more, and they were all various states of wounded. He had landed on something, or someone, who had cushioned his fall. Now the adrenaline had faded, he suspected it was Cayne. A minor little stab of guilt, one best distracted with a snide comment. He turned and regarded Quinn over his shoulder, the ghost of a smile on his face, as though sharing an in-joke. Tan: So. "Frank Reynolds", huh. ::beat:: Really? Reynolds: Response He only smiled and went back to his job. Marshall/Cayne/D. Reynolds: Response It wasn't far until they came upon a door, as promised. Serren leaned in to inspect it. Ferengi had been known to sometimes booby-trap their precious goods or private areas, but rarely their unsigned escape bunkers. Still, he gave it a once over, just to be sure. Not that there was much to see. A steel door, flecked with rust, and a glowing pad beside it. Tan: Ready? Anyone: Response He touched the open button. The door creaked and shuddered, as though it had not been opened in some time, then slid into the floor, retracting away with the high-pitched whine of metal on metal. The corridor beyond stretched into the promised crossroads. A passage to the left, to the right, and straight ahead, that one similarly with a door. Serren looked to the ranking officers. Tan: Which way, sirs? Marshall/Cayne/D. Reynolds/Reynolds: Response Nodding his acknowledgement, Tan headed to the left, speartip leading the way. The tunnel curved at right angles, as though navigating around some subterranean obstacle--maybe a huge rock that was too big to move--then it broadened, coming out to a small area with two sets of bunk beds built into the corridor, and a number of small cupboards, similarly unmarked. A quick once-over found nothing amiss. Tan: Clear. Marshall/Cayne/D. Reynolds/Reynolds: Response Something caught his nose. More blood. But this was different... older. Rustier. It did not carry the scent of any of their group. Tan: Wait. Wait... Marshall/Cayne/D. Reynolds/Reynolds: Response He crouched by one of the bunks, pulling back the sheets. The lower sheet was stained with dark Ferengi blood, right about where the heart would be on a person sleeping on it. The centre of the stain was burned in, as though someone had shot an energy weapon right-- Tan flinched and looked away. At least there were no bodies. But that did raise the question... where did the bodies go? Tan: I think this is a...medical station. Of some sort. Or possibly a rest area for the staff, I don't know. Either way something terrible happened here. ::he thought for a moment:: Still. Could be something useful in those cupboards, though? Marshall/Cayne/D. Reynolds/Reynolds: Response -- Ensign Serren Tan Security/Tactical USS Gorkon O238704AT0
  11. Lt. Sienelis & Lt. Marshall - Road Trip (Part I) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) Sat in the pilot's chair on the bridge, Bear had angled the ergonomically designed seat back as far as it would go, enough to kick his crossed boots up onto the console. A cup of coffee in his hand held to his chest, his mind was elsewhere as he stared out of the viewscreen, watching the space tunnel created by warp as the yacht sped ever forward through the dark. Memories of the last time he'd done this played on his mind, drumming a beat on his heart like a timpani. Only Lena had been within reach, recently married, indulging in a chunk of wedded hilarity while on their way back to the Gorkon. Scratching the underside of his chin, Bear inhaled heavily, deep chest rising and falling as he listened to the hum of the ship, that rhythmic undulation of the engine underneath, the faint sound of the deflector shield vibrating and pulsing containing them in their own little bubble. What he missed was Lena's voice; singing as she did in that breathy conversational low range, the power behind it, dream-like and beautiful, effortlessly flowing through those atmospheric tones he could listen to for hours. The husband might have received a summons to where his wife was, but he wanted her on his skin and his bones, alone together with no rush in it, wrapped up in one another and taking their time. The door swished open and Bear jumped out of his skin, leaping up from his relaxed composure and straight into what the hell mode, sending his mug of coffee splattering to the floor in a clang of enamel on corrugated metal. He rolled his lips between his teeth, [...]s of beard tickling his skin as he did so, a terse exhale through his nose and looked to the interloper. O. Marshall: Aren't you supposed to be asleep? It looked like she had been; hair askew, a tank top and loose pyjama shorts under a light robe. She took a moment to regard him in his startled predicament with a glimmer of sly amusement in her eyes, rarely failing to find amusement in catching people by surprise. Observation concluded, Valesha padded barefoot toward the replicator at the back of the bridge. Sienelis: I was. Do you want another? O. Marshall: That would be great. ::Enunciating every word, he scooped the mug up from the floor and tossed it up to deft Romulan hands.:: Black, like my heart, with a five percent sucrose factor for the spirit. Bear slumped back down into the pilot's chair as the small scurrying floor cleaner came whizzing out of a slot in the surrounding bridge bulkhead. Within a matter of seconds, the device had cleaned up the spill, beeped a merry tune, and flitted back into the alcove it came from. With a roll of his eyes, Bear groaned. The technically minded Admiral would have some kind of device to clean up after her five-year-old… and swiftly ignored the fact it had to clean up after him. O. Marshall: What's got you up? I'm not due to play the 1812 Overture in your quarters for another few hours. I thought ballet boy would get a kick out of it. He received a scowl for his intentions. A muttered request to the replicator followed by a whirl of energy into matter and the Romulan was walking toward him with a mug in each hand. She handed the black-hearted sunbeard his coffee and planted herself cross-legged in the chair beside him, pulling her robe around her. Hunched over the spices evaporating from her drink, she was tired and she looked it, yet sleep was proving evasive. Sienelis: What's with you two, anyway? You're like a pair of strutting viyssae, hissing at each other every time you catch sight. O. Marshall: Entirely professional reasons. ::Said with a quick flash of a grin as he resumed the position, kicking up his boots to the console, relaxing back, mug on his knee.:: Did he ever tell you how he got that black eye? Sienelis: Not really. ::She shrugged, eyeing him across the floor space between them.:: We'd not long woken up from the Skarbek. We were still trying to figure out if we were friends or strangers at that point. ::Mug held in both hands, she took a sip, tapping her thumbs against the replicated ceramic.:: So how was it your fault, then? A blond eyebrow arched upwards as Bear took a drink from the coffee mug, tilting his head toward his Romulan friend. O. Marshall: What makes you think it was my fault? Sienelis: I've met you. O. Marshall: Point taken. ::He tapped the outside of the cup with a clipped fingernail.:: If you want to get technical about it, it wasn't me; it was Ollie. Your Russian worked out a bit too much and got himself slung in the Brig with me. The Iotian ensured it didn't go any further. One delicious shiner for the trouble. Valesha closed her eyes, a procession of conflicted emotions marching across her face: understanding, anger, resignation. She unclenched her jaw a moment later and ran a hand through her tousled hair, slumping back in the seat and narrowly avoiding slopping hot tea over her hands. No wonder Chris had said nothing at the time, how dare Bear be complicit in the whole thing, the next time she saw that bloody pirate he'd best be grateful that she didn't throw punches herself. Then she sighed, too tired to maintain a temper for any length of time. And what was the point? It was closing on two years since it had happened; there was no changing or undoing it now. Sienelis: That would do it. Bear's lips thinned as he nodded, eyebrows lifting, recalling all too well the events of the evening which ensured his release from the confines of the brig cell, while Chris received a talking to. Looking back at the orchestration of it, he could have intervened, stopped the Russian taking a blow to the face to keep his mouth shut, explained the nuances of keeping his nose out of others' business, but that was hardly as satisfying. O. Marshall: Added to what happened in the brig the second time we were in there together and, ::he sucked in air through his teeth as his head bobbed from side to side,:: turns a simmering grievance to a raging grudge. A quiet, disgruntled noise ground in Valesha's throat, not needing or wanting any reminders of exactly how that scene had played out. The whole affair — from its origins in conspiracy and false accusations to an ending written in a poison which left her sliding into the grave — was a series of events she tried her hardest not to think about. Sienelis: Which you're content to prod. O. Marshall: Not maliciously. He just makes it so easy, especially when you're there. Like a red flag to a bull. ::He chuckled, taking a sip from the mug and shrugged a shoulder up as the mug came back to rest on his knee.:: How are you, anyway? Recovered from your pounding on death's door? Lena's copilot seat still has your fingerprints in the arm. Sienelis: Something to remember me by. ::Her eyebrows twitched upward.:: I'm recovered. If you're going to almost get pollened to death, do it when the Admiral plans shore leave on Earth. You get the finest Starfleet Medical has to offer, and the opportunity to fend off a dozen requests to write papers on your case because apparently Melanth poisoning isn't a thing they get to see very often. O. Marshall: I can't imagine it is, strangely enough, being a wonder product of Romulan assassination. ::He took another drink and his jaw stiffened some, enough to take note it was his teeth clenching.:: I should've seen it coming. That was the kicker he'd carried around with him, even when Valesha had come around and recovered. Taking the case back to their temporary quarters and opening it was asking for issues from the start; then again, a secure and sterile environment with environmental suits were scarce. One couldn't just sling one out of a pocket like a pop-up hologram screen. The bearded one lifted his mug to her. O. Marshall: I'm glad you didn't die. ::Deliberate or not, a note of affection was there.:: I didn't want to have to explain that to everyone. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, Lt. Marshall & PO Johns - Road Trip (Part II) ((Bridge, USS Azetbur)) The thought of Chris keeping secrets was still spinning around in her head, turning and whirling as the dancer himself did in their studio time. She could understand him choosing not to disclose back then — they had been trying to figure out what they were to one another, and what point was there talking about it months later? — but it had reminded her of other secrets he'd kept. That Christopher Johns was an assumed name, how long he'd held on to a belief instilled under the Moscow sky... Sienelis: "Fired her sarcasm at the wrong person." Simple. Believable. Probable. O. Marshall: Definitely not unlikely. I'll take note for future reference. Supping another mouthful of sweetened black coffee, Bear glanced up at the lights of space in front of them, taking the pair — and the sleeping dancer — toward the Shoals. When he looked back to his shuttle theft partner, the glint of a midnight blue solitaire caught his eye; one with a constellation baked inside, as though a relief of space itself. Settling a little further into his chair, Bear pointed a finger to the band. O. Marshall: I heard you'd got engaged. Going back was worth it after all. Her gaze darted down to the ring, currently worn on its "proper" hand and finger, at least according to the human custom, though she did tend to swap it around when the mood took her. A sliver of frost slipped into her belly, the guilt that it was a promise left unfulfilled because of this very trip. There was nothing in the universe she wanted more than to be Chris' wife — except find her beloved brother. It wasn't as though she was choosing between them, after all. Just prioritising one event over another. Sienelis: It was. ::Her green eyes flicked back up toward him, with a wry glint behind them.:: I heard you got married. O. Marshall: A terrible idea, really. Bear chucked as he echoed Lena's words following his proposal in the [...]pit of her shuttlepod. It was amusing; two people who shouldn't be married — to anyone, let alone one another — but there they were. He moved the ring on his finger in a slow circle with his thumb as he thought about her, then covered the small smile inching onto his lips with a drink from the mug. She knew what she wanted, he knew what he did, and for the time being, it fit. That was all. O. Marshall: Planning the big day? Do I get to wear a big hat and tell everyone how I knew you when you were a Starfleet fugitive? Sienelis: You make that request after cheating me of the opportunity. ::She shot a smirk at him.:: Why did you get married? O. Marshall: Her voice. ::The answer is quick, delivered with a sigh and a small nod.:: She was singing in the [...]pit when I woke up and it was the first time I've ever felt like I wanted to marry anyone. ::His shoulder shrugged up and with the slight realisation he'd been a touch too soft, Bear raised his mug for a drink.:: Her hips are great, too. Sienelis: Yes, the most important trait of a life partner. A fantastic pair of hips. ::She sent the droll barb back, then found a flare of amusement in the irony that she, of all people, said it.:: Though it explains Chris. O. Marshall: If only more species judged by the curve of an iliac crest. Divorce rate would decrease exponentially. ::Drink finished with a loud exhale, Bear looked to Valesha for a long moment, his eyes narrowing just slightly.:: Why are you getting married? Sienelis: Are you really asking me why I'm marrying the man I was pining for while we were risking our lives playing pirates? He smiled with a tilt of his head and ruffle of the blond beard, remembering all too well the forlorn Romulan he had to drag into the shuttlebay and onto the Unicorn, and try not to spontaneously combust under the glare burning through the back of his head. There were things he would do differently if they could; though the way they left wasn't one of them. He still believed, now more firmly than ever, that the sodding Russian would've stopped the universe where it was to get her back if they hadn't sold it like a lover's escape. O. Marshall: Yes, I am. Her ring finger tapped against the ceramic of her mug in a soft chime of a rhythm, ticking away the time as she debated her answer. It seemed obvious enough and she couldn't quite figure out why he wanted to hear it. Sienelis: Because I love him. ::She lifted her shoulders and shook her head.:: I want to be with him. Her answer brought a small smile to Bear's face — not that he'd ever admit it, ever — for the simple knowledge he hadn't hashed it up for them. He had enough riding on his conscience at any given moment, he didn't need their future on there, too. Deciding he'd had enough of thinking about his own feelings for the night, he rolled his shoulders back and exhaled. O. Marshall: And now you're off to pick your brother up in the Shoals. ::His eyebrows flicked up.:: Big changes since we were on the Scream. Sienelis: Doesn't seem like a year ago. ::She thought on that, sipping from her tea.:: I wonder where we'll be in a year from now. The door to the bridge swished open, revealing a tired and barely awake Russian, pyjama pants hung around his waist and hair in a kind of disarray it hadn't seen while short. Weary fingers rubbed the sleep from his eye socket and he looked through bleary eyes at Bear and Vee. Leaning his shoulder against the doorframe, he scratched his stomach. Whatever prejudices he held against the blond one while conscious didn't telegraph to that in-between time of awake and asleep. Johns: Did I… ::He yawned silently but widely into his fist.:: Did I miss the alarm? A faint flush of olive colour crept into the Romulan's cheeks at the sight of her Russian, flicking a scowl toward Bear as if to warn him against comment. Bear, taking the hint, rolled his lips in on themselves and said nothing, though the act of which included his eyes opening a little wider and attention shifting to the viewscreen. A small mercy, but one his friend appreciated nonetheless. Sienelis: No, it's still early. I couldn't sleep. Her Russian nodded slowly, some semblance of life coming back into him bit by bit, but not by much Fingers brushed in his growing fluff of sleep tousled hair. As he spoke, the soft rumble of his tenor sounded broken and gruff through sleepy vocal cords. Johns: Is everything okay? Sienelis: Just one of those nights. She unfolded her legs, rising from the chair, and scooped up Bear's empty mug. Depositing both in the replicator, she padded over to her fiancé and pressed a kiss to his cheek, sliding her hand into his. Chris smiled lazily in return, eyes refusing to open any more than they absolutely had to, and his stubbled cheek nuzzled against her temple. Sienelis: We can go back to bed. Johns: Mmkay. A sleepy hand raised from Chris' shoulder to Bear in the most languid wave anyone could muster and Bear sent one back; a salute of two fingers from his forehead. With a deep sigh as the couple headed out, the blond bearded one threw a grin to Valesha of the absolutely incorrigible as he hummed the 1812 Overture, complete with cannonade in a flourish of composer's hands. Her answer was silent, a finger pointed in warning, eyebrows raised in a death glare. Both vanished from sight a moment later as she tugged her sleepy Russian from the bridge and the door sighed shut behind them. Bear turned back to the helm console and relaxed into the chair, thinking about the next few hours until he could go to bed, and trying not to think about who he wanted to be there. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis & PO Johns - Road Trip (Part III) ((Conference Room, USS Azetbur)) Sat with his dancer's backside perched on the edge of the expansive conference table, in the middle to get a full view of what was taking place outside the ship, Chris gazed out of the observational windows. The huge red freighter — like a massive rectangle of metal and instruments — moved off slowly into space. It didn't bank or turn; just slid away backwards, heading in the other direction as the Admiral's Yacht slipped out from the vibrating wake of the enclosing tractor beam. They'd hitched a ride with one of the Red Carrier cargo ships courtesy of YanCo — for all your conglomerate needs — as it headed out into the Shoals on the Mother Road. Meridian was apparently the destination where the freighter would make a drop off or pick up and return to their location now, at Esperance, where it would once again break out into the regular swim lanes of the galaxy and head back to whence it came. A life sitting at the helm of that empire. What would it be like? For a moment, sitting there, Chris imagined it. Endless nights of parties and hedonism, without a care in the universe for what went on outside of the fashioned bubble. If he questioned any of the beliefs, he would keep quiet, live on the luxury of a family entrenched in everything around the galactic atlas. He'd never have known the sense of adventure that came with an enlistment in Starfleet Academy in his tender formative years, content instead to cruise around on a yacht built for having a good time. Maybe he would've stayed in Russia and carried on dancing for the troupes, seen the new wave in artistic revolution, spent the better part of his years introducing new age techniques or sticking to the old rules. Perhaps he could've one day taken on the roles of a Principal Dancer; twirled around the best Primas of his time, looked longingly into faces of ballerinas as the orchestral music played on, concerto after concerto, each enticing the dancers to act on conjured feelings and emotions. It was no small wonder why their world was rife with broken hearts and unrequited love; each headliner out to get what they wanted and hell hath no fury like a dancer scorned. It felt it like a process of evolution; as though breaking free from that life had come like a blinding flash of inspired thought. Chris took a breath of recycled starship air, considering how different his life would be if he had stayed under the wing of the family, if such journeys like the one he was now standing on the deck of the Azetbur for would have ever taken place, if he'd ever have met Valesha and in what context, if there was a set path in life to follow and he'd just pick it up again at some random point. He wanted to believe that was the case, and as he watched the red freighter move away into the darkness of space — where the whorls and constellations dazzled in an array of colours that only reminded him of the Romulan he shared his life with — Chris allowed himself to. Wherever he was on that journey, in the masses amounts of parallel universes there were out there in timeless mists of spacial entities, there was one where he had stayed behind. With a small smile on his face and a glint in his hazel eyes, the young Russian slipped off the edge of the conference table and headed for wherever his fiancee was. Tension needed a release and tempting her into a dance was the way forward. ((Guest Quarters, USS Azetbur)) The door to the small cabin slid open and the couple stumbled inside, already grinning to one another as though they'd never quite been able to stop. A sweet tang of sweat hung in the air from their drilled routine; their movements on their makeshift dance floor, the close proximity to one another, the rapid ascension of hearts beating fast, deep breaths and flushed faces looking into pupils dilated with the heady sense of want. A need for skin to be on skin, moans swallowed by chasing lips, whispers to entice groans, hands to roam flesh and find one another in the sheets. With a murmur, the door closed. Chris reached for Valesha, his hand slipping to her nape to bring them back together, never content to be too far. Under the edge of her ballet top, his fingers slipped, finding abdominal muscles flexing in exertion. His palms found her waist, then the small of her back, her hands running through his hair and across his shoulders, crashing and pulling, anchoring one another to the moment as each passionate kiss only sent them spiralling further. O. Marshall: =/\= Attention, passengers. This is Captain Marshall speaking. =/\= Chris groaned into Valesha's shoulder, though he didn't move, remaining suspended with his hands climbing her back as the disembodied voice continued from the ceiling. She was less restrained and grumbled a Rihan vendetta, her eyes narrowed and taut. O. Marshall: =/\= We're cruising at an altitude of not very far from Esperance. The temperature is a cool absolute zero, and if you look to your left, you'll see the edge of the Shoals in the distance. All crew please report to the bridge as we're about to experience some turbulence on entry to the station zone and I've only got one pair of hands. Bridge out. =/\= The one-way announcement communication cut off, allowing the sound of laboured breath to fill the air again. Chris dropped his head back to look at the ceiling and, licking lips still tasting like his Romulan, he grinned to Valesha, a sense of humour lingering. Her expression remained flat and unimpressed for a few seconds, then she sighed and shook her head, unable to stop the corners of her mouth ticking upward in turn. Johns: Was it good for you, too? Sienelis: If he survives this trip, it's going to be a miracle. Mood utterly murdered by the blond [...] on the bridge, and dopamine hormones yet to dissipate, Chris smiled in amusement and leaned down to steal a slow kiss from his wife-to-be; a contrast to their breathless embrace of moments before. A small noise of frustration rumbled in her throat as they parted, pinching the fabric of his dance top between forefinger and thumb, pulling it toward her a short distance before letting it fall back into place. Johns: Later? Sienelis: Oh, you can count on it. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, Lt. Marshall, & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part IV) ((Promenade Section, Star Station Esperance)) Much time had passed by since Bear had been on that station, looking through those windows, down at the expansive planet beneath them. The transport hub stuck up out of the surface like a needle and accompanying spinning top, ships coming and going all the time, staying for no longer than they needed to. They'd reached there in less than twenty-four hours, hitching a ride with a cargo transporter, depositing them less than a few hours from the station. This was the Gateway to the Federation, or in their particular case, the gateway to long voyages confined on the Admiral's Yacht. His arms folded across his chest as he looked down on the swirling marble of green and blue, beard fluffing each time his jaw moved from one side to the other as if chewing on something invisible. Mustache moving with every terse exhale. O. Marshall: She said the station, not the planet, right? Valesha twitched into a frown, throwing Bear a look askance. It grew into something else in a few heartbeats; amusement glimmered in her eyes, a corner of her mouth tugged up as the sentiment spread. It was a side of him she'd hardly seen, the heart under the swagger, and she couldn't stop grinning. Sienelis: Who knew that adorably anxious waiting for your wife was a mood you could channel. Narrowing his eyes at her, he shook his head with a mocking sneer. Not exactly the picture of someone refuting the claim. His arms crossed a little tighter over his chest as he returned his gaze to the planet and the reflection of the lithe Romulan in the giant window, expecting to see the small shuttlepod belonging to Lena zipping past to warp. O. Marshall: I'm being diligent about the rendezvous location. ::He glanced at the reflection of the pointy-eared devil.:: Where's ballet boy? Didn't want to stretch his legs out here? Sienelis: Not in your vicinity. It's almost like you're really annoying and I only put up with you because of that one time you saved my life. O. Marshall: Almost. If it wasn't for my winning personality and undeniable charm, I'd believe you. She rolled her eyes, valiantly keeping a grin from surfacing. Amused she might be, aware of that fact he might also be, but Valesha had no intention of being obvious about it. Bear, in turn, tried not to smile, once again tightening those arms like a drawbridge. Sienelis: What ship is she coming in on, anyway? O. Marshall: That's the other thing. ::He ran a hand through his short crop of blond hair and sniffed.:: She didn't mention it. Last communication was from the Veritas and she'll have cargo. Sienelis: What was she doing on the Veritas? O. Marshall: We're married, what makes you think I know? The Romulan opened her mouth, inhaling to reply, only to find that she had no immediate answer to that. Instead she shrugged, hands wide, shaking her head. She could hardly imagine a scenario where Chris would leave her with only shreds of information, guessing as much as knowing what was going on. Sienelis: You and I are going to have very different marriages. The blond annoyance flicked an eyebrow up to her as he glanced to the side and Bear let that roll around in his mind for a second before the corner of his mouth turned upwards. There were elements of her work Lena couldn't tell him; things it was easier to not talk about, even as colleagues in Intelligence. She had her way of living and he had his. Marriage didn't mean they were beholden to one another. Their marriage at least. O. Marshall: Not so much. They're both of convenience in one way or another. Sienelis: What's that supposed to mean? O. Marshall: Mine will be fun until one of us leaves, and there's no questions asked. Convenient until it's not. ::He thinned his lips as he gave her a long look.:: You're going to outlive him by what, two-hundred-fifty years? A frown carved its way onto a Romulan brow, the reminder of their mismatched mortalities unwanted at the best of times. Here, she couldn't quite wrap her mind around the point Bear was trying to make, except for the fact she was fairly sure she didn't like it. What was convenient about having to watch Chris grow old and pass on? Sienelis: That's the opposite of convenient. O. Marshall: Not for you. ::His shoulder shrugged up.:: You get a whole second life after. Can't be bad. Sienelis: You get that I've already outlived most of the people I love, right? It's not an experience I'm looking forward to repeating. Conceding the point, Bear tilted his head and grunted his agreement. There they were, in the [...] end of nowhere, about to go looking for her brother further out in the [...] end of nowhere, made him think of his own family. Whether Jo would go to such lengths do the same for him stuck in his gut. O. Marshall: Can't change those genes, kid. ::He caught her reflection in the window and tongued his cheek.:: Enjoy it while it lasts. Sienelis: That's the plan. ::She looked at his reflection in turn.:: I guess we have that part in common, at least. O. Marshall: And we'll always have Hai Tac. Amusement flicked on his lips as he leaned to her, bumping her shoulder with his, content to change the subject before he dug an even deeper hole and she let him take a long walk out of a short airlock. Lips pursed in an attempt to contain a sigh or a smile, perhaps both, she started to look toward him — until something in the window caught her gaze. O. Marshall: Speaking of, she did mention that bloody Iotian was with her. Sienelis: So I see. Her inflection flat, Valesha pointed at the reflection, past their shoulders where a familiar pair approached. She turned and there they were, the pirate duo advancing upon them and somewhat worse for wear. The Cardassian-Bajoran hybrid was walking with noticeable limp, a healing cut over one eye and bruises grazed across her knuckles... and of course, that infernal eternal grin. Josett: If it isn't my favourite pair of spoons. Zuccaro: We do have to stop meeting like this, in the strangest of places. Said bloody Iotian didn't look too clever either; a thick bandage wrapped around his upper arm somehow making him look even more dashing for it, and bearing a large shiner around one eye, which Bear couldn't say he was sorry to see. Ignoring him with a creased brow for Lena, Bear looked her up and down with an incredulous look adorning his face, marred only by the concern in blue eyes. O. Marshall: This is that quaint little job you talked about. She breathed out a chuckle, letting her momentum carry her forward until she stood between Bear and Valesha, spinning around to slide an arm around each of their waists. Bear got a kiss on the cheek, the Romulan ducked away from an attempt to land one on hers — although it was quite remarkable that she saw it coming at all, given the intensity of the glare she was directing toward the other pirate. Josett: Like sipping [...]tails on Risa. ::She grinned, quirking her head to the side as she acknowledged the state of them.:: Well, maybe Qo'noS. Zuccaro: With a slight detour through Rura Penthe, and safely we return. His smile didn't lose any of the effortless heroic intensity, coat swishing with natural swagger, catching the look from both laundry loads as he greeted Bear with a slap on the shoulder and avoided touching Valesha lest he lose a limb he liked. Jaw tightening, Bear gave the pirate a momentary flicker of a scowl and wrapped his arm around Lena's waist to aid the limping hybrid in her endeavour to walk. O. Marshall: Sounds like you both had the time of your lives out there. What pleasure cruise vessel did you roll into port on? TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, Lt. Marshall & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part V) ((Promenade Section, Star Station Esperance)) Josett: She's a beauty, the good ship Swishbuckle. ::She paused, and then added with a grin,:: The second. A continuing source of amusement, Lena threw a laughing smile toward Ollie. It was a tale for later, of how two pirates had come to work with the crew of the Veritas in tracking down another pirate. Stories of seedy space stations, corrupt watchmen, angry Orions, determinedly sour Starfleet officers, heroic boarding actions and a close shave with a warp core breach. Stories that the Romulan had no interest in hearing, extracting herself from Lena's embrace and squinting in disbelief at the pair. Sienelis: Swish..? Josett: —buckle. Zuccaro: The second. The Iotian repeated the addition while holding a relevant number of fingers up. Bear exhaled a terse breath from his nose, unimpressed by the particular brand of nonchalance Ollie exuded like a cologne, while the Iotian could do no more than simply be himself, avoiding spontaneous combustion under Valesha's molten glare. It took Bear a second or two to remember why the annoyed Romulan might wish the man would crumple like a barn in a hurricane. O. Marshall: Can I assume you're coming with us? Or disappearing into the night on the… Swishbuckle. Amusing as the name might be, it didn't conjure up any kind of reliable mental image, instead it made the blond think of a small boat in the middle of a large ocean, rocking back and forth, one raindrop away from plummeting beneath the waves. Or, in Ollie's case, from slipping into a black hole of his own creation. With a shake of his head and the dark locks of his hair on the invisible wind, Ollie sighed heavily. Zuccaro: Unfortunately, my newest vessel has acquired more holes than I can plug alone, so Esperance is where we part ways. ::Throwing a glance to Lena, he chuckled.:: Then, back to Hai Tac. Investments to look after, frothy vodka to drink, and a bunk or two to free up. Josett: Until the next time, love. ::She grinned.:: Look after Charger, won't you? Zuccaro: I will, but Charger cannot replace you in my affections, darling. A brief flicker of the pirate's eyes darted to Bear with a knowing grin growing on his features, then with a blown kiss from his fingers to his hybrid pirate in arms — both arms open widely to Valesha, a flushing face of deeds done recently and flourishing bow from his waist — Ollie strode off toward the port authority. Bear couldn't say he was sad to see him go, memories of receiving a fist to a glass jaw as poignant as any, and his eyebrow curved up to the hybrid pirate with his arm wrapped around her. O. Marshall: Charger? Josett: Charger. ::She smiled cheerfully at him.:: Kept me company on some cold, lonely nights, at least when Ollie didn't steal him. A flicker of an amused smile was there as the cogs worked behind blue eyes, trying to discern whether Charger was their new code word for a bottle of good rum, a pillow or a person. Even if he asked, he doubted Lena would give him a straight answer, and then he wasn't sure he wanted to know. Rolling his eyes to a chuckle from his wife, Bear inhaled the fresh, clinical smell of a station in the midst of a torrential influx of visitors, and forged ahead. O. Marshall: Is there anything else we need to pick up from here before we go? Aside from a limping pirate, ::he sent a tiny smile her way, then to Valesha,,:: and wherever your dancer got to. Josett: Maybe a crate of that Meadows whisky. ::Then as an afterthought, tonguing a cut on the inside of her cheek,:: And a good first aid kit. It was Valesha's turn to roll her eyes at the request for booze, though she had to admit she was a little jealous of Lena's indomitable good cheer. Part Cardassian, the pirate had to run into the same kind of suspicions and prejudices that the Romulan did — perhaps more so, given that there were plenty of people still alive who remembered the Dominion War and the conflicts that preceded it — and yet she never seemed to care. And where was Chris, anyway? As much as she'd needled Bear about it earlier, she realised she wasn't entirely sure where her Russian had scampered off to. Sienelis: Just the whisky, then. The Azetbur's got a small medical station. Josett: The captain's yacht? We are travelling in style. O. Marshall: Who knew the Admiral had a soft spot for this science officer. ::From around Lena, Bear reached to prod Valesha's shoulder.:: It'll still take the best part of a week to get to Ketar V and the Shoals isn't the most forgiving of places. If only he was just speaking about the many, many dangers in space. Time spent there in his early days of Rangerdom had brought him into contact with the less savoury occupants of the region, not limited to colonists, and more than his fair share of pirates. His own arrest hadn't occurred far from the station, either. TBC ---- Lt. Sienelis, Lt. Marshall, PO Johns & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part VI) ((Promenade Section, Star Station Esperance)) As if he'd heard his name on the wind, Valesha's dark-haired dancer appeared when a crowd of Bolian traders moved, one hand hooked into his pocket then other on the strap of his bag, and wouldn't have looked amiss as a backpacker making his way around the Shoals. Whatever he'd got into in his brief separation from the pack had involved food, and whatever he'd found was tart enough to make him wince as he chewed on it. Falling into step with Valesha, Chris held out the small dessert, a wrapped candied fruit peel resembling the head of a rose, only considerably bluer. Johns: I found osol twists. First one made me tear up, the second made my tongue tingle. His Romulan met the offer with a grin, the change in her mood swift and apparent. Valesha took the sweet with a faint tug of nostalgia, memories of her and her brother daring each other to eat the most sour twist as quickly as they could. The faces that came about as the result of the dare were long forgotten, but not the hilarity and laughter that ensued, especially once the twins had got their mother in on the game. Sienelis: Sounds like you started with a green one. Bold. Johns: Green has always been my favourite colour. He smiled brightly despite the sour-sweet revolt taking place on his taste buds. The bag slung over his shoulder contained more of the prize haul from the station, for later snacking while they did their bridge shift. The station managed to surprise the Russian with its diversity. A transport hub without a doubt, it seemed to try to cater to all tastes coming and going, with several small cylindrical stores dedicated to souvenirs of the Shoals. Johns: There was also a strange conversation going on about cross-pollination with citrus fruits. An attempt to make them less sour. ::He shrugged a shoulder up, then noticed Lena had joined them, finally a distraction for the loneliest Bear; a phrase he kept in his head for later use.:: It's good to see you, Lena, but what the hell happened and why do you look like you've been fed through the customs door backwards? Josett: Introduced a rhinoceros to a Nausicaan. ::She grinned at the dancer, endlessly amused by the twitches the sour snack impressed upon his expression.:: It went about as well as you could expect. That earned her another screwed-up look from the Romulan, trying to determine exactly what that was supposed to mean. Given that she had no idea what a rhinoceros was, her attempt met with little success. Meanwhile, Chris chuckled at the thought of it, the inside of his cheek decidedly aflame. Johns: Now the limp makes sense. O. Marshall: None of that sentence makes sense. ::Grumpy as ever, Bear frowned, looking around.:: We'll get some information on Ketar V while we're here. Starfleet libraries don't give you the real feel. Sienelis: Is that code for you'd like to be alone with your wife? The green-eyed Romulan received no small amount of side-eye from the blue-eyed blond, though whether it was annoyance that she'd said it aloud or annoyance that it had hit on a nerve was up for debate. Bear didn't know himself. Chris suppressed a snicker by biting on his lips and slipping his hand into Valesha's with a gentle squeeze of a proud partner. Bear sighed and rubbed his forehead. O. Marshall: I'm saying we'd cover more ground if we split up. Four of us together look like an Andorian family going on a sightseeing vacation. Help with the effort, go find us the necessities, scamper off to the ship to get it ready to go… Sienelis: Alright, the necessary local whisky and warming the engines up while you... ::She shot a sly smile in his direction,:: gather information. Narrowed eyes shot back at her and Bear grumbled with a shake of his head, clearly not winning the battle taking place between words. He had peace and quiet in his Ranger days, none of the smartassery. Accept it or don't, there was no middle ground to be had. Tightening his arm around Lena's waist, he leaned across to kiss her cheek, perhaps the smallest hint of pink touching skin beneath his beard, and whispered something terribly scandalous in her ear. O. Marshall: ::Low,:: Please, save me. She laughed, leaning into the feel of breath and beard against her skin, inhaling the scent of him while he was close. Stealing a kiss right back, sending a flurry of feeling down his neck, she sighed into his ear and murmured back. Josett: Seems to be a theme. ::Patting Bear's chest, she grinned at him and then the Romulan, her voice returning to normal volume.:: The whisky's easy to find and I'm sure you know how to rev up his engine. ::She grinned, shamelessly correcting herself.:: The engines. The flush was quick and obvious, blossoming like an olive dawn Valesha's cheeks, her amused grin turned into a scowl. In sharp contrast, Chris' boyish grin only widened, laugh bubbling up in good humour, mind casting back to the situation they were faced with only hours before. He bit his lip and squeezed her hand, tilting his head toward the rows of vendors where the confectionery came from. Johns: Come on, before he abandons us here. O. Marshall: Oh, you know it'll happen. Sienelis: Fine. See you back at the ship. Valesha's lips thinned with a last glance toward Bear and Lena. It reminded her of their time on the Labyrinth's Scream, the back and forth between Romulan and human which often left the hybrid woman s[...]ing into a mug or glass of something. Only this time Lena had picked a side instead of simply enjoying the show. With a final huff, she stepped away with Chris, the pair heading toward the stalls and shops he'd indicated. Lena breathed out a chuckle as she watched them go, turning to grin at Bear. Josett: Best wife. He grinned back, hand slipping into waves of curls, and kissed her crown. O. Marshall: The very best. TBC ---- Lt. Marshall & Lt. JG Josett - Road Trip (Part VII) ((Small Medical Station, USS Azetbur)) Boots cast aside on the floor, jacket tossed over the back of a chair, trousers left in an untidy pool of cloth, Lena sat back on the small medical couch and hitched her t-shirt up over one hip. There was the source of her limp, a deep, ugly bruise in violent shades of midnight and wine, skimming across the curve of her iliac crest, down to the middle of her thigh. A palette of bruises littered the rest of her skin, angry shades of ruby around the cut on her brow, healing green across her knuckles, fading honey on her arm and collarbones. None of which dimmed her mood in the least. The hybrid grinned, extending a finger toward the most impressive of her collection, with no small amount of amusement. Josett: Stings a bit. O. Marshall: Not much though. A disbelieving eyebrow arched in blond toward the hybrid as Bear's jacket joined hers over the back of a chair. The hint of a smile appearing, he crouched down beside her. The medical kit made a dull thump on the deck, the hinged lid springing open on command, giving access to a small selection of analgesics and anti-inflammatories, and all the fun mild narcotics and stimulants. Retrieving the hypospray from the inlay, he clicked a vial of metorapan — five-hundred milligrams of — into the receptacle. Never one to pass up an opportunity, Bear patted Lena's leg with the back of his fingers for her to roll a little further to her opposite side, and pressed the hypospray into the dip of her hip. The drug seeped through veins and capillaries, silencing razored nerves, and pulled a long sigh of relief out of her lungs. A lazy smile took up residence and she ran her hand through his blond hair, letting it come to rest on the back of his neck. Josett: Ollie did have to pick the one shuttle without a first aid kit. O. Marshall: Judging by the state of you both, he picked the one without a decent deflector, too. With a smile and a soft exhale, Bear brushed the back of his fingers over the skin of her thigh, lightly touching one of Lena's darkest bruises with no small amount of reverence behind it; the tug of concern slipping through his innards. Gaze pulled at the corners, they dropped to the dermal regenerator and he reached for it, adjusting the setting with his thumb, and began the slow process of running the red light over the painter's palette she'd thrown together in skin and bone. Josett: Getting caught up in a warp core breach within the designated blast area is not an experience I intend to repeat. ::She grinned, absently slipping her fingers under his collar.:: Then again, I said that after the Scream as well. O. Marshall: You did. ::Despite the lingering concern there, he echoed her grin.:: Where you orchestrated the explosion, if memory serves. Josett: Broke my heart, too. Grin still clinging on, hard to dislodge even with the itching burn crawling through her skin courtesy of the dermal regenerator, Lena watched him work. An odd feeling curled through her chest, flowers blooming on vines that wrapped between ribs, and Bear moved his neck beneath her fingers, into their gentle press as though he'd missed it. Josett: What have you been up to while I was charming the terminally humourless, dodging core breaches and upsetting Nausicaans? O. Marshall: Sounds like it was just a run of the mill mission for you. The dermal regenerator moved slowly in small circles around the bruised skin of maroon and mauve, yellow around the dulled edges of some but not all. Bear made an effort to be soft with each pass of the device, watching the array of colour peppering her hybrid skin melt and change, concerned blue eyes watching small cuts knit back together. O. Marshall: I ate far too much Romulan food and caught up with an old friend from my Ranger days over some Romulan ale. ::He dipped his head to place a kiss on her bent knee.:: Who was terminally humourless? Not that bloody pirate, surely. Josett: It seems dealing with pirates makes some Starfleet officers very [...]ly. ::Her gaze darted down, amusement dancing through her copper eyes and she grinned.:: Thankfully others are a touch more... friendly. O. Marshall: Infinitely more so than “[...]ly”. ::His smile turned sly as he cupped her calf in his hand, clearly examining the length of her leg for added contusions.:: Something tells me you'd get to Captain, have your own ship, and still be running around the quadrant wearing the pirate cloak for the kicks. Her grin broadened, both at the idea she could ever be a captain and that he was absolutely right if she ever was. As often as she delighted in being unpredictable and unknown, her motives and goals obfuscated by good cheer and an irreverent attitude, she found she didn't mind that Bear had a sense of who lurked underneath. Josett: Did you save any of that Romulan food? I've been eating ration packs for days. O. Marshall: I might have saved you an osol twist or two. We've got a perfectly working replicator on the bridge, and seeing as we've got a good week now between here and Ketar IV, it's going to be worth its weight in latinum. As the dermal regenerator finished on the smaller bruises and cuts, with a gentle touch, Bear moved his fingertips over the larger wound adorning her hip and down to the middle of her thigh, barely skimming the surface. He frowned at the sight of it, how her skin changed with the mottling of the blood beneath, and it drummed like a torpedo misfire inside. It would've hurt, though he suspected a great deal of rum had passed through those lips in the time between. Shaking his head with a deep sigh and a thinned smile flecking in amusement, he looked up to amber eyes. O. Marshall: Damaging these hips is grounds for divorce, you realise. Josett: That too? It's such a long list I didn't bother reading it all. O. Marshall: I'm sure that one was somewhere near the top. She shifted on the couch and instantly regretted it, the movement overcoming the dulling efforts of the metorapan. A grimace twitched around her eyes, fingers pressed into the back of his neck for a half-second. Her teeth dug into the corner of her lip and with a little more effort than usual, she recalled her grin. Josett: Ah well. Divorce it is. Just let me get some food and sleep first. O. Marshall: Seems inevitable. I'll have the forms drawn up while you're napping. Like an intricate spider web of capillaries and blood beneath her skin, the large and wam bruise began to fade with the tingling application of the regenerative properties of the tool. Bear stroked down her leg with one hand with unconscious reassurance as he watched her skin repair, bit by bit, but the thick bruise wouldn't be entirely removed; the body needed to do some healing of its own. When the tricorder decided what could be repaired in stimulated nerves and epidermis, Bear moved his attention to the cut above her eye, and smiled as he brushed his fingers through her hair to move the dark curls out of the way. She continued grinning, ignoring the shivers that trickled down her temple and neck as his fingers grazed against skin. O. Marshall: Or maybe we'll let this one slide. First time offence, hardly seems worth it. Josett: It'd be a [...] to file them in the middle of the Shoals, after all. O. Marshall: Would take weeks to get back, better just to wait until the opportune moment. Amusement sparked in his blue as Bear looked into Lena's amber eyes, affection wrapping around his core, and he couldn't quite hide it. Held in that gaze, it softened her smile and sent a thud echoing through her chest. With a hand curling into the fabric of his shirt, she pulled him close for a kiss, fingers sliding into his hair, and Bear let himself get lost in her. Lovers coming back to one another, mutual need, tender connection, unsaid sentiments slipping through, stolen in a second. O. Marshall: ::Quietly,:: You were gone forever. I know. I counted. She exhaled a soft, short laugh and stole another kiss, brushing her nose against his. Her reply was just as low, whispered like secrets not meant to be spoken, and the ripples it sent down Bear's spine were felt in his kidneys. Josett: Next time you'll just have to come with me. O. Marshall: While I'd love to, ::he shook his head gently with a smile, nose to Bajoran nose, inhaling her again,:: I'd be depriving you of your pirate time. It just makes you coming home worth it. Josett: So you're saying I should leave more often? ::Her forefinger ran along the length of his jaw, gently catching the hair on his chin between finger and thumb.:: Give you more opportunities to appreciate my return? O. Marshall: To give you more opportunities to thoroughly, ::he pressed his lips just beneath her jaw,:: appreciate coming back, I think. The hybrid pulled in a sharp breath, sparks surging down her neck and past the soft chuckle that rumbled in her throat. She pulled him closer, seeking his warmth, a zerak to a flame, and wrapped her legs around his waist. Lips brushing against his ear, Lena murmured a response, feeling the thrum of her heart ricocheting through her chest. Josett: Mutual appreciation. I can live with that. Her husband hummed his agreement into the hollow of his wife's throat where the soft ridges of her Cardassian markings started, lips fought between grinning and kissing skin, hand moving down her bruised thigh to bruised hip, and the familiar intoxicating fire creeping over his shoulders as he lifted her up from the couch. O. Marshall: Let's mutually appreciate those two being out. Her response was a wordless one, any notion of further conversation lost with the press of lips against lips, fingers sliding beneath clothes to hunt bare skin. Wrapped up in one another, muscles and tendons ready to dance, burning and surrendering to a longing, colliding back together as though neither had left. TBC ---- Lieutenant Valesha Sienelis Science Officer USS Gorkon T238401QR0 & Lieutenant Orson Marshall Intelligence Officer USS Gorkon G239304JM0 & PO First-Class Christopher Johns Operations Officer USS Gorkon G239304JM0 & Lieutenant (JG) Lena Josett Intelligence Officer USS Gorkon T238401QR0
  12. OOC: Part 1 was just Genkos leaving the away team he was on. Part 2 here is where it hit me in the feels. We'll miss you on the Gorkon, @Genkos Adea, but I know you'll have a great time on the Resolution! ---------- ((TIMESKIP - a few days later)) ((Main Shuttlebay, USS Gorkon)) Genkos stood in the Executive Transport Shuttle that they had sent him from Starbase 118 to bring him to his new commission. He looked at the reflective surface of the inactive station, the black mirror reflecting his face back at him. He touched at his forelock, the reason for his transfer. After being brought back from the Brantax asteroid to deal with Gnaxac’s mysterious ailment, Genkos had retired to his quarters and heavily launched himself into a fitful sleep. A stressful series of dreams forced him to relive some the absolute worst moments of his career; causing a riot on Sikuna, fighting for his life on the USS Unpronounceable, the repeated jaunts to an alternate universe where he was a grizzled, alcoholic psychopath and savagely attacking people he had thought were friends on Væron. He had tossed and turned all night, and was finally awoken by Toto’s loud yapping. The littlest pup had clearly been affected by Genkos’ dreams as well, although Genkos wasn’t sure if that was because of telepathic projection or because he’d just been flailing around so much. Either way, as he had stepped into the bathroom and washed his face, he had made a startling discover. The curl of hair above his right eye had gone silver overnight, completely drained of the dark brown of the rest of his hair. Genkos remembered he had stumbled backwards from the mirror in shock. He’d broken his vow of abstinence that night, drinking several glasses of sapphire wine that he had hidden in the bottom drawer of his desk in his office. He had composed a request for reassignment, and then hovered over sending it for a few hours. He had weighed up the positives and negatives for what felt like an absolute age, and in the end, he had concluded that the only reason he had for staying were the friends he had on board. Without really realising it, he had grown afraid of the ship, every away mission was a chance for more death and psychological trauma and he was still reeling from revelations from years ago. He had not more room for new ones, and was in danger of shutting down. But even so, the Gorkon was his home. It was the first ship he had been assigned to, and he would miss so much about it. Drinks in Sto’Vo’Kor, laughing in his office with his fellow medical officers, and being sharked in games of pool by the command staff. He had known, as soon as he had pressed send, that it was the camaraderie and friendship aboard the Gorkon that he would miss the most. He had eschewed having a party in farewell, but instead had met up with those he would miss the most individually. Naturally he had started with Quinn, his request for reassignment soon turning into a personal conversation. Breakfast with Jo and Erin, croissants and some tears from the Betazoid, much like that breakfast so many months ago after his world had been shattered for the upteenth time. A meeting in his office with Cait and Loxley, where he’d toasted them and their abilities. A quick session of tassa’akai with ‘liss, in which he told her, if she did marry Loxley, Genkos would be on the first shuttle back. Finally he’d had a small round of drinks in Sto’Vo’Kor with Arlo, Samira and the rest of the crew. He didn’t tell them he was leaving, he just used it as an excuse to see them all one last time. As someone once said “when I leave, there will be no cake in the break room, I’ll just be gone”. As he piloted the shuttle out of the ship and into the darkness of space, he turned it around for one long last lingering look at the ship that he’d known and loved for the best part of three years, the best (and worst) part of his life. Adea: ::quietly:: Goodbye. Toto raised his head from the makeshift bed that Genkos had made him for the journey, and the Betazoid ruffled his fur. Adea: Good boy. ::Pause:: Computer. Set a course for Starbase 118. Engage. ----------------------- Lieutenant Commander Genkos Adea MD Chief Medical Officer & Second Officer USS Gorkon G239502GS0
  13. @Hutch @Quinn Reynolds - Thought this was really well written, guys! Lovely look at two old friends! -- ((Earth, Copenhagen)) Jhen Thelev yawned as he lifted the ice-blue teapot from the kitchen counter, pouring hot amber liquid into the glass teacup. Replicating tea was quicker, sure, but he preferred the little ritual of a proper brew. He was looking forward to having the next few days off after a particularly gruelling week of work. Although ‘gruelling’ could also be read as ‘tedious’, ‘dull’ and ‘repetitive’. The Andorian sipped his tea and drummed his fingers on the work surface. It was time, he decided, to do something he’d been putting off for quite some a while. Thelev: =/\= Computer, open a channel to the USS Gorkon, Admiral Quinn Reynolds. =/\= As the Federation logo spun lazily on the screen, Jhen found himself hoping that Quinn wouldn’t be around so he wouldn’t actually have to ask her in person. He had no idea what the time would be on her ship — she could be asleep, or off the ship doing… things. More likely, crawling around in a Jefferies tube fixing stuff on the sly. The thought made him chuckle, and even if he wasn’t exactly thrilled with his reason for contacting her, Jhen still thought it would be good to catch up with an old friend. The Starfleet logo blinked away, replaced by the sight of a mousy-haired woman sat in the panelled mushroom-grey ready room of a Sovereign-class starship. Light reflected off the admiralty brass on her collar, jacket discarded in favour of the grey-yoked vest afforded to command officers. The comm channel established, her eyes and smile came alive when she saw who was on the other end. Reynolds: =/\= Jhen! =/\= Her freckled face was little different to when he’d last seen it and very different to when he’d first seen it, all those years ago. He couldn’t help but smile. Thelev: =/\= Rear Admiral Quinn Reynolds, head of the Tyrellian Sector Taskforce… that’s quite a title you’ve got yourself there. =/\= Reynolds: =/\= It's a mouthful. ::She grinned.:: But you're a sight for sore eyes. How the hell are you? =/\= Thelev: =/\= I’d like to say older and wiser… but just older. It’s good to see you, Quinn. I’ve been meaning to get in touch for ages, but always something gets in the way. And I’m sure you’ve been more than busy out there. =/\= Her expression turned wry, an eyebrow lifting while her head dipped in a nod. Still, the delight continued to dance in her hazel eyes, beyond pleased to see her old friend and academy classmate. He was one of the few people still in the fleet who'd known her back then, in all her easily startled, stammering, and awkward glory. Reynolds: =/\= That's a polite way of putting it. =/\= Thelev: =/\= I know the Gorkon spent some shore leave on Earth last year, but I got called away to Bolus at short notice. Bad timing. =/\= Reynolds: =/\= I know. ::Her grin returned.:: You missed my wedding. =/\= Thelev: =/\= You got married?! ::Jhen was genuinely speechless for a moment:: But… how? Wouldn’t that have meant a whole day being the centre of attention? =/\= Reynolds: =/\= Yes. Yes it did. ::She chuckled.:: Although it turns when you throw a really big party it's fairly easy to hide in the crowd, even when you're the guest of honour. =/\= Thelev: =/\= Wow... I’m sure you were thrilled with that part. =/\= Jhen shook his head as he sipped his tea. Clearly there was a lot he had missed and he felt even more regret for not keeping in touch. He used the pause to regard Quinn for a moment - there was a lot more confidence about her now, hardly surprising given her rank and the fact she’d been commanding starships for years. But there was something else, a sadness maybe, that he couldn’t quite identify. He wondered briefly what those hazel eyes had seen… and thought it best that he didn’t know. Reynolds: =/\= I survived, just about. ::Her smile refusing to budge, she sat back in her seat.:: What about you? It's been forever since we last spoke, what have you been up to? =/\= Thelev: =/\= Me? Oh, I’ve been around here and there. After the Achilles was decommissioned I came back to Earth, spent some time working as a Starfleet liaison at the Federation Treaty Office. I even had a secondment to the Department of Temporal Affairs for a while. I’d say that I couldn’t tell you more because it’s classified, but really it’s because I had no idea what was going on most of the time. ::She grinned and he sipped his tea again, his antenna dipping in the Andorian equivalent of a shrug:: But last few years I’ve been part of Starbase Command. =/\= Reynolds: =/\= Stuck in an office. ::A finger pointed upward and performed a circular motion.:: I know the feeling. =/\= Thelev: =/\= That’s why I was contacting you, actually. Although I’d been putting it off because it felt too selfish. Hells, it feels even more selfish now…. ::Jhen sighed:: I want to get back out there, Quinn. Sitting in an office planetside, attending the odd meeting is, well, let's say it’s not exactly exciting. I miss being on a starship, on a bridge. I put in a transfer request months ago, but I’ve heard nothing. So… I was wondering if you had any ships that needed a new Chief of Ops or something...? =/\= He left the question hanging, his azure features turning a little plum-coloured with embarrassment. Her smile softened in reply, a gentle amusement creeping into her expression. Quinn hadn't been asked for many favours in her career, usually only by those in desperate situations seeking an equally desperate escape. Perhaps she didn't seem the type, and perhaps she wasn't; the last time she'd pulled a significant favour for a friend, it had backfired to say the least. Come to think of it, the last time she'd been asked for a favour was over a year ago now, when Sienelis — resigned to what she'd thought had been an early doom, or at the very least, exile — had asked if she could let Johns' insubordination toward a JAG officer slide. Quinn had done that and one better; she'd promoted the young Petty Officer. A decision that in retrospect, had really turned out quite well. Reynolds: =/\= I'm fairly sure I still owe you for hauling me and my ship out of an ocean, so... =/\= Thelev: =/\= Ha! You know, I had actually forgotten about that. ::He shook his head slowly.:: So many crazy adventures, you need the memory of a Cardassian to keep track of them all. Or just be a highly organised flag officer. But that’s exactly the sort of stuff I miss. =/\= Reynolds: =/\= Let me see what I can do. The Hawking is due to join our taskforce and the crew roster isn't finalised. How does an Oracle class sound? =/\= Jhen’s dark eyes sparkled and her smile widened again, delighted to have delighted. Intentional or not, he'd picked the perfect time to ask and she was more than willing to oblige. Perhaps she'd accumulated a bit of a reputation for it, offering positions in the taskforce for officers like Walter and Harry, Sienelis and Bjarnadottir, who for various reasons had asked her or been asked by her for a posting in the task force. Thelev: =/\= Well now! That would be quite something. ::he held up one blue hand:: But you know you don’t owe me any special treatment. If I was offered the job of technician on a prison transport right now I’d take it, just to get back out into the black. =/\= Reynolds: =/\= I'm just offering a posting to a good officer. You'll have to do all the hard work. =/\= Thelev: =/\= Ha! ::he laughed again:: Seems reasonable, Quinn. I’d like a challenge more taxing than sourcing a thousand stem bolts for Starbase 118. Although don’t get me wrong, those stem bolts can be tricky to find. ::The Andorian finished his tea with a flourish and placed the cup down on the surface in front of him.:: I appreciate it more than I can say. Thank you. =/\= Reynolds: =/\= You're very welcome. =/\= Thelev: =/\= Well, with that out of the way, I think there’s a few things you have to bring me up to speed on. Such as who is Mr Reynolds? =/\= Reynolds: =/\= Well. ::She grinned, a familiar touch of pink colouring freckled cheeks.:: I don't think you ever met Walter Brunsig... And so the conversation ran on, two old friends with a great deal to catch up on. Conversation, laughter and reminiscence ran on long into the small hours, counted in cups of tea and aching cheeks, until the two friends bid each other good night, to meet again soon. -- Commander Jhen Thelev Simmed by Lt (jg) Loxley Medical Officer USS Gorkon R238401JT0 & Rear Admiral Quinn Reynolds Commanding Officer USS Gorkon T238401QR0
  14. ((Counselling Suite, Deck 7, USS Gorkon)) Trepidation forming like a stone icicle in the pit of her stomach, Jo Marshall, ever the effective evader of most things emotionally explaining, slipped into the Counselling Suite with her hands clasped behind her back. Some while since she’d last had anything that approached near to counselling, despite sending new Ensigns and fellow officers off for their heads to be shrunk, the guilt of that hypocrisy had finally reached a little pinnacle and toppled over, which led to Jo standing there, which led to Jo feeling uncomfortable. An appointment made with the bubbly Counsellor, Jo pressed the button for the contact on the side of the door. Fortune: Come in! Inside was the usual style of Corliss’ office, various colored chairs, her plant at its home on a shelf, and herself settled in a seat with a PADD, one leg slightly bouncing. Fortune: Jo! It’s nice to see you. Marshall: You too, Corliss. Feels like it’s been an age. The blonde took a quick glance around the counselling office, a representation of the internal workings of their unique counsellor. Fortune: Well, it feels like decades between missions sometimes. It’ll take a bit for my internal clock to reset itself. She chuckled, sweeping a loop of pink hair back behind her ear, gesturing at a chair. Fortune: Come, come, sit, sit. Need anything to drink? Leaving the safety of the doorway behind, Jo walked inside and took up a seat where instructed. Ever comfortable on a ship she knew like the back of her hand, coming for an appointed talk was something that set her on a bit of an edge. With a heavy exhale, Jo relaxed into the chair and smiled. Marshall: Coffee would never go amiss, but I think I’ll go for green tea, this time please. Influence of the better half. Fortune: Strangely, I’m not at all surprised Erin drinks tea. Some people have that feel to them, I suppose. Anything added to it? Marshall: I’ll take it how you have it. ::Said with a grin.:: Show me the ways of the tea. Fortune: A roommate showed me the glory of a dab of honey inside, and I’ve never gone back. Corliss happily replicated them a pair of cups of tea, slipping the steaming cup onto the table between them towards Jo. Her own cupped into her hand, the steam warming her face a little as it curled up. Across from her, the blonde picked up the mug and cradled it in her hands; the little warmth was welcome. Fortune: So! Here to chat things out, I take it? Marshall: If you’re willing to have your ear bent in all kinds of directions. I’m not one for sticking to a particular topic when the flood gates open. Fortune: Everyone likes a listening ear, sometimes just as a sounding board, or just to reason things out to themselves. ::she cooled her tea with a breath, taking a sip.:: If walls could talk, I’m sure they’d report me to Quinn for losing my common sense...and, sometimes, a random object. They always end up on the dresser… Marshall: Always the dresser. Or the coffee table. I’m half convinced there’s a blackhole down the back of the sofa that just randomly drops things back onto various bits of furniture from pockets. Sipping at the warm tea, Jo relaxed a little further into the chair. Never one to sit in a chair like a normal person, she tucked a leg underneath her and leaned to one side. This was just a conversation; nothing to worry about, no hidden depths to probe, no hidden meanings to discover. Just a conversation with a friend over tea. Marshall: It’s been a while since I’ve sat down for this, you know. Last time wasn’t long after we came back from Over There. I’m a bit rusty. Fortune: Momentum is a funny thing like that. Once you get going, there’s no stopping. Marshall: I’ve never found it easy to do, not about me anyway. ::She hazarded a smile, motes of nerves threading through it.:: People can be usually persuaded to talk about themselves more. Anyone who does find this kind of thing easy to do are right up there with those who eat salad for breakfast. Fortune: ::she wrinkled her nose at that thought.:: Salad? I’m more of a waffle person. ::she grinned.:: Actually, a lot of people find it hard to talk about themselves. They’re not sure what to say, or how to say it, until they’re asked questions or something pertains to their interests. Nodding, Jo dropped her gaze to the tea in her mug, floating there without a care in the world. Marshall: What do you suggest? Fortune: Well, your bike...or talking about Erin...oooorrr maybe something you’ve done on shift lately? Maybe anything with the recent mission…? Jo pursed her lips for a moment, teeth chewing on the inside of her cheek, mind revolving around several things simultaneously. Despite the appearance of being as shallow as a teaspoon sometimes, there were hidden depths in there, as deep as the oceans of the planet revolving beneath them, as expansive as the space around them. Marshall: I’m finding it harder to… ::The false start didn’t help and she rolled her eyes at herself.:: Do you ever find yourself so angry with someone it just sits there? Fortune: Ah, stewing anger? ::she popped her lips in thought.:: Sometimes, if I’m frustrated. It’s a normal response to certain events, but it’s not healthy to keep it rolling around like a hot ball in a pan, you know? Marshall: I’m aware completely ignoring these issues is an unhealthy coping mechanism, ::she took a sip of tea and exhaled,:: so I’m ignoring that fact, too. Fortune: Ignorance may be bliss, but only up until whatever it is sideswipes us across the face. The young blonde exhaled again, this time through her nose as the tea mug came down away from her lips and rested in her lap. On the out breath, her shoulders relaxed and she willed her heart to stop beating so fast, like a drum behind her ribs, solid and consistent. Marshall: I— ::She bit her lip at the false start again and closed her eyes.:: When we were trapped in the dreamworld, ‘Kos and Erin did a mind meld to get back and wake the Admiral up. They… I don’t know, merged minds? Is that a thing Betazoids can do? Fortune: Not…::she paused, as if trying to work through her words.:: Not...really...in a way. Marshall: It’s a difficult one to explain, ::she exhaled with a self-deprecating smile,:: I’ve thought about this in so many ways. Is it like how Vulcans share their melds? Like how Deltans do? Or something else entirely. Fortune: Not like Vulcan melding, in...a way. So. ::She sighed, raising her hand up, then placing it back down in thought.:: So there is something, like bonding, but it’s not something any one Betazoid can do on their own. A blonde eyebrow raised as Jo took a sip of warm, fragrant tea, enjoying the soothing effects of it more than anything else, though still surprised she hadn’t tried to drown in the contents of the mug. Marshall: You guys do this in groups? Fortune: Oh you need priestesses, some people from the Houses to stand over and ensure all goes well. ::she flittered her fingers in the air.:: But not like how Vulcans can...reach in and grab someone’s mind. I...suppose our difference would be like...well, like a river. ::she placed her cup down, lacing her fingers together.:: With Vulcans, they’re fisherman. They can reach in, grab up someone’s thoughts, and physically touch them. With us, or rather, in my experience, it’s like...grazing the river. You can touch the river, but not the fish. Marshall: And you make a bond with the river or the fish? ::She scratched at her cheek with a slender finger, confusion bouncing around on her features.:: I’m not sure I understand. Fortune: There’s not a bond as much, unless a familial link of course. Is...there something you’re worried about for the both of them? Wrinkling her nose, Jo looked down at the liquid in the mug sloshing around as she held the vessel in her hands. That was the Skarbek; this simmering layer of viscous liquid and the rest of it beneath the surface. They were different people in there, leading different lives under different circumstances, but out of it… She chewed her lips as she looked back up at the lively counsellor and her shoulders deflated. Marshall: Yes and no, with a hefty dose of I don’t know in there, too. ::Her tongue stuck in her cheek and she exhaled heavily.:: Erin says it’s like a library in her mind; there are all these books there dedicated to Kos’ life and she could choose to read whatever she wanted, but she doesn’t. It’s a choice not to. Fortune: How intriguing to think of it like a library...and kind of her not to intrude in on his privacy. Is it the fact she’s able to access those memories…? Marshall: That she’s in that position in the first place. That she’s walking around with someone else’s every thought and memory in her head. It didn’t do anything, it didn’t change anything, it just implanted this in her head and her in his. She leaned forward and placed the mug down on the table, fingers threading into her hair as she sat back, curling one leg beneath her. Visible agitation wasn’t in Jo’s litany of behaviours and she didn’t know what to do with herself while every cell tried to vibrate on an unfamiliar wavelength. To Corliss, it was like watching sparks of electricity around a statue, shifting and crackling in equal measure. Marshall: He knows more about her than I ever will, and he knows more about me than I want anyone but her to know. Fortune: And...you don’t like that. Jo chewed the inside of her cheek as blue eyes unfocused somewhere around where the table was; the serious side of the middle Marshall brimming up to the surface through those deep layers where she kept it as buried as possible. It made her heart hurt to think about, and had done for the longest time; tarred on the inside, set aflame and left to burn. She bit her lips as the rolling urge to burst into tears in a hot ball of rage melted and stemmed. Marshall: I can’t be mad about it and I can’t even begin to talk to Erin about it. She’s the one with all of this to deal with, not me. What kind of person feels like this is anything to do with me? Fortune: A private person. A concerned one. And, it makes you human, Jo. Marshall: Does it have to? Fortune: Well, mortal, human, same? ::she laughed, shaking her head.:: All the same, it makes you a person. If there’s something besides ‘just a feeling’ that’s making you worried, for instance, some new habit she has or the like, then I’d suggest encouraging her to talk to someone about it. With a shake of her head, the young blonde lifted the mug to take a drink, thinking through the year since. Erin hadn’t changed; still as funny, unassuming and genius as ever. Jo had lost countless hours watching her talk, laugh and frown and so much love had given her the strength to seek counselling for all the anger with nowhere to go. Marshall: And if there’s not, what do you suggest? Fortune: Well...I suppose you should think about your view on privacy. A frown crested for a second and Jo leaned forward, elbows on her knees as she looked at Corliss as though self-reflection were a foreign concept. Her hand found the back of her neck, feeling coming in waves like fluctuations in temperature. Growing up in a Federation colony, the majority population Bajoran, the sharing of telepathic and empathic thoughts and feelings was a near foreign concept to her until she started seeing more of the galaxy. Perhaps picking up on the fact she didn’t know quite what to say, Corliss continued. Fortune: It wasn’t until I went to Academy that the foreign thought of someone not knowing what I was thinking, or about to do, had settled into my mind, and made me feel...alone. For some of my friends, the thought of their families being able to access and stroll through their mind like a walk in the park made them cringe. ::she shrugged, lacing her fingers together as she watched the other.:: Every feeling someone feels is valid. I do think you need to talk to Erin about this. It’s about her, and about Genkos, and about your relationship as well, and being open and honest in a relationship is something I always encourage. Nodding, as though the information had filtered through her mind and wrapped in vines around her heart, her lips disappeared behind her teeth for a second as she thought on it, then exhaled again slumping back into the chair, hands on the arms of it, fingers drumming. Talking to Genkos would be difficult, talking to Erin doubly so. Pinpricks of tears started at the corner of her eyes as her jaw clenched at the back, one long breath exhaled and she smiled; a fleeting thing that barely remained. Marshall: How are you, Corliss? I’m sorry I haven’t asked. ::Picking up her mug again, she smiled.:: Your hair looks good, as always. Fortune: Ah, do you think? ::she slipped a hand up to a stray curl, winding the pink hair in a small circle.:: I gave it all a good scrubbing on my shift off, it’s my own form of stress-relief, I suppose. ::she cracked a grin, tilting her head.:: Would you like to talk about my wigs, I take it? Marshall: I can only take so much talking about me. ::Her lips thinned into a smile that verged on the self-deprecating, or mawkish, certainly nothing joyful.:: And it’s a rare occasion we see each other; not properly since we were on Nassau playing pirates. Fortune: It’s hard talking about oneself, it’s true. We tend to prey upon our own fears and embolden them in ways that others don’t tend to see them. ::she hummed, shrugging.:: Plus, I think I made a convincing pirate captain. A chuckle through a mouthful of tea shook Jo’s shoulders and she nodded, remembering full well the destructive force that was the Captain persona Corliss had undertaken on their Nassau journey. It wasn’t the most welcoming of places; even when they’d first touched down, it was touch and go whether they would be able to stay or not, and Jo recalled trying to think of an easy escape route should it go south. Marshall: The fact that you pulled the character out of the hat with a seconds’ notice was incredible; that you kept it up while an Andorian with a mohawk asked for the docking fee was something else. I can just about remember you talking to the docking agents when we were trying to leave. Fortune: Well, I think had they pressured more questions, I might have cracked. I do like the name Marisol however, it’s very...rolls off the tongue, hm? Marshall: It does. Maybe she’ll make a reappearance one day. Their trip there had been anything but simple, and resulted in the near-death of not only the Orion trying to prevent their escape, but Jo had almost tripped the light fantastic too; sitting in the back of that shuttlecraft, preparing for the eventuality that seemed a little too inevitable. With Corliss’ quick thinking, they’d finally got free of the asteroid and back into space to meet up with the Triumphant, and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Fortune: How are you and Erin? Beyond the…::she wiggled her fingers in the air.:: with Genkos, how are things when you’re together? Anything new? Any sentient plants I might need to warn the Admiral about?? ::she teased.:: Marshall: There’s always sentient plants to warn the Admiral about. ::She grinned at the mention of her partner and settled a bit further into the chair, not quite the live wire she’d walked in as.:: We’re fine, at least I think we are. She’s met my parents recently, she seems to get along with my younger brother fairly well, through a mutual love of adrenaline rushes and building things. Fortune: Ah, a pair, are they? ::she chuckled.:: It’s good they’re getting along, I know some feel anxiety over if their family will care for someone they are in a relationship with. ::she took a sip of her tea again, humming.:: Mm. So...what’s brought all this on then? Marshall: Guilt, I think. ::Her teeth chewed around on the inside of her lips, the feeling like a warm stone sinking from heart downwards.:: She’s empathic; I know she can feel it when I’m… ::Her hands made a gesture as though she were holding a lump of energy between her palms.:: A tiny ball of rage. Corliss nodded. People in a rage tended to sit like a stone around her, feeling like they were about to burn to a crisp should they continue to smoulder. It certainly was an odd feeling. Fortune: Yes. She’s most likely waiting for you to come to her about whatever it is. I’m told it’s improper to bring up someone else’s emotions if they don’t talk about it first. Jo chewed the soft fleshy bit of her cheek as she nodded slowly, trying not to imagine how hard it would be if their roles were reversed, knowing she’d be afraid of asking the question in case the answer shattered them like glass. But they were made of stronger stuff than melted sand, sustained heavier blows than an internalised quarry over a Betazoid/Deltan mind warp. As if knowing Jo needed an explanation from the part of a Betazoid, Corliss continued. Fortune: Thoughts, emotions, they’re all kept tight under lock and key. Those of us who can easily feel or read them, we try not to step into the pitfalls of privacy that others may have. ::she paused.:: It can be hard, especially if you care for them, but can’t bring it up under the pretence of privacy. Marshall: You're right. I haven't really... ::she sighed with the words,:: thought about how it feels for her. You'd think an operations officer would be half decent at communicating. ::Swallowing down a swell of emotion and ran a hand into her hair, she exhaled a laugh.:: Selfish in more ways than one. Fortune: Not selfish...well...::she gave a helpless shrug.:: It's so much easier to read someone's mind than to talk it out that speaking can oft seem straining. Speaking was often straining, especially about the tumultuous warp core performing the fusion reaction every day. Jo felt selfish, and that was the issue; at the core of herself, where her internal M/ARA drive pumped fluid around her vitals. Erin — the ichor and nectar of her life as they tried to navigate being together — was different. Part of her wasn’t human, and it was that part which made Jo’s spine tingle and flesh goose and read from her skin that crosscurrent of emotions. It was selfish that Jo had tried to hide it for so long while Erin could feel it simmering beneath. Fortune: Lots of couples dance the dance of 'do I or don't I?'. People, in general, do that as well. They don't want to talk about something, but at the same time, wish the other party just...knew what they were thinking. If you...want, there's also mediation you two could do. Marshall: As in diplomatic mediation? Fortune: Mostly I sit here as you two talk to one another, and fill the silences in-between with compliments to your uniforms for the day. ::she cracked a grin, chuckling.:: But no, some people find a serious talk daunting and having someone they can rely on, a little, to help get their words across, helpful. The thought had some merit as Jo’s blonde eyebrows furrowed in thought, winding her way through how that would work between them when a red blush caught her cheeks as she remembered how Deltans usually took their diplomatic mediation. With a grin, she shook her head. Marshall: I errr, I think it might be best if I do this one alone, Counselor if you don’t mind. Fortune: Ah, no insult taken, but it’s there if you’d like it to be. Has our talk panned out like you thought it would? ::she smiled.:: I’m told counselling can be…’an experience’. Not sure what that could entail. Marshall: An experience. ::She smiled with an exhaled laugh, heart feeling a little lighter for the moment, even if it wouldn’t last long.:: I haven’t had counselling like this for anything other than work and myself for a long time, and I’m glad it was with you. Fortune: You’re kind, Jo. ::she chuckled.:: So, what’ve you got in mind then? Marshall: Some kind of an action plan, I think. ::That was the best way she worked, after all. Give her a task list and it would all be done in no time; let her mind wander and she’d be thinking of new bike parts.:: Erin deserves an explanation and I… ::she forced the words out as they tried to stop in her throat,:: need to talk about this with her. It’s not going to be easy, but nothing worth having ever is, is it? Fortune: That’s how the saying goes, I believe. So! ::she clapped her hands, looking excited.:: Action plan it is! Some people find writing out what they want to say easier so that they can let it all out at once. The blonde nodded again, the process of getting her thoughts down onto a PADD to make sense of them seemed like a good idea. Seeing everything in a line would give it a priority, give it purpose, let her refine her thoughts before they came tumbling out into her partner’s lap like tribbles from an overhead storage locker. Fortune: There’s no guessing how she’ll respond, but you can take the time to craft out your beginning explanation, that way there’s no...hesitation, or fumbling for words. And then, from there, the conversation flows. Marshall: I think I might just have to do that, Corliss, thank you. ::She smiled and let out a breath to relax her shoulders again; armed with a plan, it would be easier. Armed with a plan, she could do next to anything. It was only two steps. Two steps she could do. It filled the inner cavity with a motivation; a need to press on and do it now.:: Would you… would you mind if we cut the session here and I go do just that? Fortune: Oh! Not a problem at all! ::her hands fluttered a bit in the air, although she figured Jo would want to go and get started now that she had a starting point.:: It’s always as long or as short as you prefer. If you need me, I’ll be here! Filled with the inspiration to do just that, Jo deposited the empty mug into the recycling pad of the replicator and when she returned to Corliss, it was with a growing sense of gratitude, perhaps a little bit of a high now they were finding a way through those mental blockages like her brain had started to speak in a language she understood instead of strings of curses. Fortune: As my great-grandmother would say, may fortune be with you! And probably an admonishment on not visiting more often. Marshall: Then, I’ll definitely try to. Next time, I’ll bring danishes and we can talk about my parents. ::Her lips twinged in a smile, definitely finding its way to her eyes this time.:: Thank you, Corliss. I was dreading this and… you’ve actually made me feel a lot better about it. Like I can try and do this. Fortune: I’ve never doubted you, Jo. Danishes sound very good! I’ll look forward to it. ::she grinned, pleased with how relaxed Jo looked now.:: There was a slight moment of hesitation, as if Jo wanted to say something else and just couldn’t quite bring herself to, then she smiled and shook her head. Another time, perhaps. She had other things to worry about. fin -- Lieutenant Corliss Fortune Highest Quality Counsellor Brain USS Gorkon G239510CF0 & Lt. Commander Jo Marshall First Officer USS Gorkon, NCC-82293 G239304JM0
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