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Part of USS Dvorak (Archive): Sometimes Bones Are Wrong

Go On, Leave Me Breathless

USS Dvorak, Mission Computer Core Access Room
Stardate 77110.4
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Between his uniform boots and his heavy footfalls, Leander Nune’s every step clanged against the grated catwalk that circled the upper computer core.  In one arm, the engineer cradled a memory module –the size of a shoe box– while he tapped on its interface panel with his free hand.  He tapped in the same command twice, when the memory module’s subspace transmitter failed to connect with the mission computer core.  This was especially concerning, because said core was hardly five meters ahead of him.  Even though the dedicated mission computer core was much smaller than the one that operated the Dvorak, it had been fabricated inside the starship’s mission module using far more modern bioneural nanoprocessors.  As Leander approached the railing that circled the computer core, he slapped the interface panel on his memory module with the back of his hand and he slapped it again.  “Do it,” Leander growled.

“I have a feeling you have a headache,” Kellin Rayco said from a few steps behind Leander.  His footfalls were oddly quiet by comparison, considering the Trill security officer was nearly a foot taller than Leander.  Looking back over his shoulder, Leander took notice, as always, of how thick-set Kellin looked in his uniform.  Thick-set and well-maintained.  Kellin spoke in the higher voice he used when he knew he was telling a dad-joke.  “You’re the Betazoid, not me.  But I noticed you forgot to drink your coffee,” Kellin said, proffering a fresh mug to Leander.

Upon smelling the perfume of the coffee, Leander gently set the memory module down on the railing.  He pivoted on his heel to clasp the mug between both of his hands.  Playfully, Leander started to say, “You can’t take your eyes off–” but he punctuated his own sentence with a gasp and a “No!”  

Leander spun back towards the railing in time to see the memory module tipping over the edge and plummeting into the depths of the computer core.  Dropping the coffee mug, Leander used the spin momentum and his hips to fling himself over the railing.  He managed to just touch the memory module with seven fingertips of his outstretched arms.  At the same time he tightened his grip on the memory module, Leander squeezed out a, “whoomph,” and felt the air rush out of his lungs, as soon as Kellin tackled him mid-air.  Leander clutched the memory module to his face, as Kellin’s arms tightened around his waist.  Catching Leander before he too plummeted over the railing, Kellin whispered, “Got ya,” and he pulled Leander back from the edge.

“You really do,” Leander replied breathlessly.  As he steadied his footing, Leander put the memory module down on a workbench and he looked around for his discarded coffee.  Kellin stayed close by Leander’s side.  Apparently, Kellin couldn’t trust Leander not to do something else careless in the next five minutes.  By Leander’s own assessment, he supposed that was fair.  In his peripheral vision, Leander spotted a small DOT robot already cleaning up the spilled coffee to protect the computer core.  “So much for coffee,” Leander said.

Telepathically, Leander could sense Kellin’s emotional disquiet.  His thoughts had been preoccupied, like he was stuck in a cognitive time loop.  Kellin, himself, was caught in a loop of looking at Leander with golden retriever eyes, unsure of what to say, and then looking away diffidently.  Leander put a hand on Kellin’s wrist and he asked, “What’s happening?”

With that permission from Leander, Kellin opened his figurative flood gates.   “What she said back there,” Kellin asked intently, “what do you think?  What do you really think?  Does Commander Taes like me?”

“She clearly likes you,” Leander said, elongating a couple of vowels to stress his words as fact.  “Clearly.”

Hunching forward for a moment, Kellin whispered, “Have you been… reading her mind?”

“No!” Leander shot back, mildly annoyed.  “I listen.  When you speak, Commander Taes responds by asking open-ended questions for understanding.  When Yuulik speaks, Commander Taes asks questions that contradict Yuulik’s premise.  She expects Yuulik to prove herself.  Taes accepts you as you are.”

Crestfallen, Kellin frowned at that and he squared his shoulders, as if he were readying himself for a hit.  Kellin asked, “So you’re saying Taes expects more from Yuulik than from me.  Yuulik is right?  Taes thinks I’m stupid?”

“No, that’s not what Yuulik said,” Leander replied firmly, with a shake of his head.  He breathed out a grunt of frustration and he rolled his eyes at Kellin.  Leander teased, “Stop being stupid.”

Nodding slowly, Kellin appeared to take that in.  His lips thinned and his brow furrowed, he reconsidered everything Leander had said until he eventually shared, “Commander Taes did… confide in me.  After the hiccups in our last mission, she talked to me about leadership and about…” –Kellin pivoted the conversation awkwardly to avoid mentioning the failed colony where Taes was raised– “But now she’s acting like it never happened.  Maybe it never did?  Maybe she was coaching me to be a better officer and not a friend?”

Emphatically, Leander said, “Dummy, you’re her Trevis in the Lake of Largesse.”

“No!” Kellin blurted out, but he was clearly overjoyed by Leander’s metaphor.  “Am I?  Am I her Trevis?”

“That’s not all,” Leander mentioned.  “Your hand is still on my lower back.”

Impishly, Kellin asked, “Is it?”

***

It wasn’t only Aloysius Sefton’s words that were resonating in Commander Taes’ thoughts, his calming presence lingered with her after they parted.  The passageways through USS Dvorak looked differently to Taes, surveying the ship through the rosy lens of Captain Sefton’s stories.  He’d hardly left any space for Taes to speak while they toured the ship together.  It was like getting his words out was a necessity; a primal urge.  Since Taes had come aboard Dvorak, Sefton had shared effusive stories about leadership and loss, all of them featuring the Dvorak‘s executive officer and crew.  Captain Sefton was a man running out of time to share his wisdoms –Taes could see it clearly– given his impending retirement from Starfleet.

Finding Yuulik in the archaeology laboratory, Taes could appreciate the workspace through new eyes.  As one of the centrepieces of the Dvorak‘s mission module, the archaeology lab was much larger than most she’d seen aboard starships.  The bright compartment was configured with transparent storage cases, specialty scanners, private office spaces, and a thermoluminescence chamber. The teaming stations were laid out with the typical smooth computer panels, operating the most current LCARS, noticeable for its shades of pale blue and burnt sienna.

As Taes padded towards the workstation where Yuulik was sitting, Taes remarked, “Two-dimensional consoles after a year-long refit?  Classique.”

Yuulik continued a rhythmic tapping on the interface panel before her.  She replied, “The regional science officers say the electroplasma systems aboard Springfield-class ships are… eccentric.   You can choose between ship-wide holoprojectors or… consistent life support?”

To Yuulik’s right, Taes grasped the built-in chair beneath next workstation along.  She pulled out the chair and sat herself down, folding her hands in her lap.  “Starfleet Science hasn’t been so lady or the tiger with our mission.  Our research design for the heritage study on New Tenar has been approved,” Taes said, making no effort to hide her relief.  For just a heartbeat, her words were followed by a brilliant smile of excitement.  Not long after, Taes felt a rush of shame in her chest, given all the suffering the Century Storm had laid on New Tenar.  The emotional weight of their mission sank her expression into something more somber.  

As Taes said those words, Yuulik pursed her lips thoughtfully.  She considered Taes through half-lidded eyes and there was something conspiratorial about Yuulik’s gaze.  With none of her usual brashness, Yuulik spoke with restrained academic arousal.  She asked, “Even the… expanded research, Commander?”

Especially the expanded research,” Taes said with some small emphasis.  “Our research team will be the first responders to New Tenar after the evacuation.  As Starfleet officers, it is our privileged duty to search for survivors and locate any bodily remains.  We will treat the dead with dignity and transport their remains to the morgue.  Amid that duty, conducting death scene investigations will be our second priority.”

“I’m sure Commissioner Gandres,” Yuulik suggested darkly, “would prefer we complete an expedited file review, an orbital scan, and then raze Vrans City with a torpedo bombardment.”

Taes shook her head at Yuulik’s critique of Gandres’ intentions.  As a commander in Starfleet, she felt a natural kinship with other Federation leadership figures.  In her own observations, Taes hadn’t noticed any intentionally ulterior motives in Gandres’ request to Starfleet.  Despite all of that being true, it was also true that Taes smirked at Yuulik’s youthful candour.  

“Commissioner Gandres has stressed the importance of haste in every communique he’s sent us, yes,” Taes said in acknowledgement of Yuuilk’s assumptions.  “However, he has always put more effort into speaking eloquently on the importance of memory to the Trill people.  Only the brightest, the most virtuous, among the Trill have the honour of carrying a symbiont.”

Yuulik snorted when she interjected, “Funny how Kellin isn’t joined then?”

Ignoring the snide comment, Taes continued what she was saying.  “Joined Trill literally carry genetic memory inside of them.  As much as Gandres is eager to transform New Tenar into the sparkling jewel of the Paulson Nebula, he has no desire to lose his colony’s history.  It’s important to him that we help to celebrate the historical sites of Vrans City.”

Yuulik spun her chair to tap commands on an LCARS interface.  On a widescreen display, a colour-coded map of Vrans City appeared.  Nodding at the map, Yuulik reported, “Our team have studied maps, geological studies, land surveys, personal logs, photographs and anything else we received from the New Tenar archives.  I’ve fed their findings into this archaeological predictive model.” –At her commands, infographics popped up in different neighbourhoods on the map– “We suspect these buildings will meet the criteria to be declared heritage sites, we suspect these were prefab structures pulled up in the last couple of decades, and we know nothing about these areas here.  Based on this, I’ve scheduled meetings with each of the archaeologists to audit their field procedure lists.”

Her eyes widening expressively, Taes visibly winced at that plan.  The way Taes looked at Yuulik, it was like Yuulik was brandishing her perfectionism like a knife, and Taes was the Final Girl in a horror holo.  As soon as she’d done it, Taes regretted her overreaction.  Back in her days as a science director on Starbase 310, Taes’ unfiltered facial reactions had gotten her in trouble more than once.  Softening her expression, Taes asked, “Would you be open to some unsolicited advice?”

“Never,” Yuulik replied.  However, she laughed harder at her own joke than she laughed at anything anyone else ever said.  Taes was starting to recognize the cadence of that laugh.

“I’m counting on you as my Chief Science Officer for this mission,” Taes said.  She was learning it could be helpful to stroke Yuulik’s ego when she needed her to consider an idea that wasn’t her own.  “You’re leading a larger team than we had on Haven.  I need your expertise focused on the strategy of the entire research design.  Captain Sefton was just telling me an old starship cap’n aphorism this morning: ‘an officer who feels she must control every action taken by her crew destroys their will to take initiative when she’s not present.  Remember, another officer who provides help to others is not an intruder, but a friend’.”

As much as Taes knew Yuulik hated a poetic turn of phrase, it gave Taes delight every time she watched Yuulik’s eyes glaze over in hateful boredom.  Spelling it out for Yuulik, Taes said, “Do you have a friend on the team you can trust with auditing field procedures?  I don’t believe they’re the best use of your skills.”

“You might be right,” Yuulik said tentatively at first, and then she doubled-down in intensity.  “This entire mission is a waste of my skills.  There is no utility in heritage buildings from scant centuries ago.  They have poor accessibility, they’re always built for smaller people than are living today, and they smell bad.  Give me five shards of broken crockery from five thousand years ago and I can model out what their kitchens looked like.  This” –and she tapped her painted fingernail on the map of Vrans City– “is work for urban planners, not Starfleet.”

This time, Taes made no effort to hide the surprise on her face.  Swaying back in her chair, Taes said, “This is exactly a mission for Starfleet.”  As she was wont to do, Taes spoke more softly when Yuulik started to raise her voice.  “Commissioner Gandres would prioritize the history he prescribes: the history of joined Trill, the history of the settler families.  Starfleet’s removed perspective will empower us to remember the histories of all people on New Tenar, perhaps even the histories for which there are no records in the official archives.”

Squinting back at Taes, Yuulik said, “I hear you,” in a patronising tone that suggested the opposite was true.  “You speak eloquently on the topic, just like Commissioner Gandres.  But we are not talking about history on this mission.  You have me researching garages and florist shops.  There is no culture inherent in this brickwork.” Falling back on an argument she had declared in many an academy lecture hall, Yuulik said, “If a sample population would prefer an entire forest be used for paper, there is no objective measure to weigh if the forest or the collected works of Surak is the cultural site of greater beauty.”

“Objective–?”  Taes trailed off with a sigh.  Only now did Taes speak with gravitas, pleading with Yuulik, “Every speck of matter in the universe contains greater depths than their mere utility.”

Yuulik had to chuckle at that.  It was a gentle sound without much gusto and she couldn’t look at Taes while she did so.  Yuulik stood up from her chair and she stretched her shoulders.  Taes could only imagine how long Yuulik had been sitting in the same position, fixated on the screen, before she had arrived.  When Yuulik met Taes’ eyes again, she said, “You let me mock security boy, but I get under your skin with utilitarianism.”  Yuulik shook her head, and she chuckled again, and then she sighed.

“Why am I here, commander?” Yuulik asked in a sober timbre.  She tilted her head to the right, as if its weight had become too great for her.  “I openly criticized you.  We failed our last mission–“

Taes opened her mouth to object, to reassure Yuulik that they hadn’t failed, that they’d collected insightful data.  But Yuulik kept talking.

“I listened to the logs you recorded for the director of social sciences on SB-72.  You lied,” Yuulik said.  She spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully, and when to emphasize them.  “You told them you made every mistake in the mission planning yourself.  But you know, and I know, that I saw your mistakes by a certain point and I did nothing about it.  And I laughed.  My director probably knows too.  He has accused me of doing the same, once before.  He… would not trust me with a mission like this.”

“I requested you,” Taes said.  “I insisted.”

Comments

  • I am loving the little Imp of a Security Officer, going through the same thoughts of 'Does my CO really like me?' that I imagine every junior officer or new department head goes through. Then you have the entirely different dynamic between Taes and Yuulik. Relationships between crewmates are so much easier to establish when you only have a few to explore. You do it really well.

    April 3, 2022
  • Kellin remains a sweetheart - both the saving of Leander and immediately fretting about if Taes likes him. I always enjoy the subtleties of how your characters interact, the nuances in how they express their opinions for another, and Leander summarises them very aptly for us by discussing Taes's manner with Kellin. Also I'm a sucker for cultural references we're only supposed to guess by context! The discussion with Taes and Yuulik is also excellent, of course ('it was like Yuulik was brandishing her perfectionism like a knife, and Taes was the Final Girl in a horror' is a delightful turn of phrase, and Yuulik laughing harder at her own jokes is such a TELLING character note), but I love the way you weave in the personal along with professional discussions. Good stuff!

    April 14, 2022
  • First of all, how dare you traumatize me right out of the gate with a paragraph about backward compatibility issues. But I forgive you because we get to see more of Kellin’s secret brilliance: moving seamlessly from flirting to a desperate need for emotional reassurance and back to flirting again (a pattern I find distressingly familiar). I love the vibe we’re getting of Nune here that’s very much “kid who’s doodling instead of taking notes but still manages to absorb the whole lecture”. It makes him a great vector to deliver character insights like the one he made about Taes and Yuulik vs. Taes and Kellin. Speaking of Taes and Yuulik, will there ever be another being in the universe that so successfully gets under Taes’s skin? That’s only a semi-rhetorical question. After all, I’m still only on the 2nd mission!

    June 18, 2023