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Part of USS Dvorak (Archive): Turnabout Imposters

Closer to the Captain than Anyone

USS Dvorak, Captain's Ready Room
Stardate 77168.1
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Tiptoeing around the permitter of the Dvorak‘s bridge, Taes dragged her fingertips across the copper plate set into a bulkhead.  The Dvorak‘s dedication plaque dated back to the starship’s birth in 2352, despite all of the refits since that time.  Making contact with that living history provided brief moments of comfort to Taes, even though her sense of touch felt terribly muted while she lived within Melchor Dolan’s Zaldan body.  In the most recent refit, Dvorak had been fitted with a smaller bridge module to allow for a larger observation lounge and ready room, as well as a laboratory directly off the bridge.  Although the Springfield-class came from the same lineage as the Galaxy-class era, this bridge was equipped with a sparse number of stations, more like a battle bridge.  The true nerve-centre of this science ship was deep in its extensive laboratories.  

Even standing beside the door to the ready room, Taes was well within earshot of her first officer in the centre seat. Taes remained vaguely aware of Commander Elbon Jakkelb coordinating with the away team to distribute radiation medication, as they had been exposed to celebium radiation, deep within the planet’s crust.  Taes couldn’t quite make out Elbon’s exact words, because she was composing a letter in her thoughts.  Given Jeffrey Holmgren’s fading life signs, Taes had become preoccupied with mentally writing a letter to his family, telling them all the ways she has failed to save him, telling them exactly how she lad let their husband and father die.

Given the sheer number of starships in Starfleet, not every vessel could be blessed with a dedication quote like “…to boldly go where no one has gone before.”  The pads of Taes’ fingertips traced over the quote by a human author, Steven Hall, at the base of USS Dvorak’s plaque.  It read: we only see starlight because all the stars are bleeding.

Taes chuckled and she said, “Preach.”

Somewhere between mentally composing the third and fourth paragraphs of the letter, Taes became cognisant of having relocated to the ready room.  Commander Elbon had already settled himself into the sofa.  From the way he was looking at Taes, she feared he had asked her a question maybe thirty seconds ago?  Or a minute?  Or two?  She couldn’t remember.  Elbon was a fair few years older than Taes; not quite a decade, but he looked older than that.  Hard living as a Bajoran refugee had put lines on his face, and every one of them was accentuated by the way he had set his jaw.  His lightning blue eyes cut into Taes with utter conviction in his intent.  He wasn’t an insecure youth like so many among her senior staff.  The only thing Elbon appeared to be questioning was Taes herself.

“Where have you gone, Captain?” Elbon asked.

“I’m here, Elbon,” Taes said in a placating tone.  It would have been second-nature to her in her own body, but her own voice was far more soothing than Dolan’s.  Speaking through Dolan’s voice, Taes feared it came out as condescending.  She sat herself in one of the visitor chairs at the captain’s desk.  “I’m right here.”

Elbon shook his head forcefully.  “No, you’re not,” he said, as if he were delivering a sermon.  “You landed aboard Dvorak like a force of nature. You were only supposed to be passing through as a senior mission officer, tucked in the attic of our mission module.  Now, you’ve gone and completely reshaped the destinies of the Dvorak and her crew.  Where has that Commander Taes gone?  I’m not sure Captain Taes is much of an improvement.”

“I’m– I’m doing the best I can,” Taes said, wincing at a sharp pain in her temples.  She framed the side of her face with two fingers and her thumb.  Frustrated that she had to remind him aloud, Taes said, “I’ve been transformed against my will..”

“Do better,” Elbon said slowly, as if it were all really that simple.  As if Taes had truly never thought of that in her entire life.  Elbon said, “I had my shakedown to complete at New Tenar.  There were new systems to diagnose, an EPS grid to stabilize, new sensors to test out.  I hardly saw the upholstered walls outside the Jeffries tubes, but I could see the way you changed Captain Sefton on your little strolls.  He told me you never pulled rank, you never referenced your mission orders.  Even so, you enthralled him with your vision for your survey.  He spoke of your mission like he’d never heard of anything so exquisite in his life, and then he drafted our entire crew to support you.”

Taes shook her head, defensively, and she said, “Captain Sefton knew his own mind.  I didn’t–“

Elbon’s sermon continued: “Captain Sefton was so enamoured by the way you nurtured growth on your young team, he put the whole force of his reputation in recommending you to command this starship.  Aloysius went to command for you, and you’re wasting that chance, passing through the passageways like a borhya.”

The longer she received Elbon’s words like a lecture, Taes’ comfortable posture shifted.  In Dolan’s body, her shoulders were broader and she squared them off.  She clenched her jaw and she furrowed her brow in disgust.  “I see, I see… Was he supposed to recommend you for this command?” Taes asked, in a tone that suggested she already knew the answer.  “You know Dvorak and her crew down to the bones.  Do you think I stole your place?  If you think you can do a better job–“

“That’s not what’s happening here,” Elbon interrupted.  His intonation was flat, matter of fact, but his eyes flashed with annoyance.  “That’s a different conversation you’re imagining in your head.”

Deflecting automatically, Taes riposted, “Is that how you spoke to your congregation as a ranjen or to your patients as a counselor?”

“Both,” Elbon said with a big ol’ period to that sentence.  His eyes dared her to question his approach.  “Life is too damn long to prevaricate.”

Absurdly, a quick snort of a laugh escaped from Taes.  “I was just saying the same thing,” she remarked.

“…When exactly?” Elbon asked, his manner dubious.

Taes stared at Elbon, looked right at him, and she sucked in a long breath.  For a couple of heartbeats, she struggled with how to frame an explanation for her evening with Leander Nune.  Suspecting that Elbon wouldn’t like any which way she put it, Taes turned back to the matter at hand.  “I hear you, commander.  I’m not ready for this command.  Dvorak is a serious science vessel.  I’ve barely graduated the command training program.  Starfleet was supposed to assign me to command a patrol ship.  I– I’ve already failed to keep my crew safe.”

Elbon rubbed his hand over his mouth, as he appeared to collect himself.  He didn’t look away.  Elbon breathed in through his nose and Taes could see the daggers in his eyes grow dull.  “This is an awkward conversation to have before I really know you, captain.  I’m feeling distressed about Holmgren, and Nelli, and our difficulty working together,” Elbon said.  His communication was guileless.  Even without her biological empathy, Taes could feel the vulnerability in what he said, and she could also see he was practiced as performing vulnerability in his time as a Starfleet counselor.  “On Starbase Three-Ten, you led a science department with more personnel than the crew of this entire ship.  All of the evidence in your record tells me you’re a skilled and accomplished leader, and yet you won’t even wear your own uniform, or sit in your own chair.”

Raising a palm slowly, Elbon gestured to Taes and the jumpsuit she was wearing.  He went on, “When you say you’ve already failed, what I’m hearing is that you’ve set impossible standards of performance for yourself that nobody could live up to.  Worse, you’re giving up before you even begin.  This kind of doubting in your own duty, this feeling like a fraud, we used to call it imposter syndrome.  There’s no diagnostics or pathology to it today, but it can be useful as a frame of reference.”

Taes shook her head at that and she crossed her arms over her chest.  “No, my command of the USS Nestus was a disaster,” she said.  “The research we collected was tainted by conspiring and coercive behaviours between my senior staff.  …I thought I was going to be a good captain.  I wouldn’t have raised my hand for command if I didn’t believe I would excel.  Starfleet Command made a mistake.  I shouldn’t be here…”

Elbon wouldn’t let up.  “This is especially common among science officers in command.  Today is basically still your first day.  Nobody expects you to already be the captain you dream about becoming.  It’s not going to happen in a snap.  The crew will give you grace to learn,” Elbon said, practically pleading with Taes to understand.  “You only have to be a captain.  Any captain.  You’re a work in progress and that’s excellence in itself.  Think of all the good stories you’ll be able to tell your crew based on all the mistakes you’re making right now.”  And Elbon laughed at that, undercutting any of the sting in his words.  A few heartbeats later, Taes laughed at it too.

“I’m so embarrassed,” Taes muttered, dropping her face into her open palms.  “I felt this way when I became a chief science officer for the first time.  Exactly this way.  I thought I’d learned this lesson already.”

“You had a different support system as a science chief,” Elbon supposed. “You’re different, now, as the captain.  That part.  You’re split in two now.  No matter what else you’re doing –if you’re eating, or reading, or swimming on Risa– a piece of you will always be concerned with this ship and her crew.  It’s going to be hard for you to be fully alone, fully yourself.  All the more reason you need to be intentional about reaching out to friends who can offer perspective, or sympathy, or a laugh.  I can be your friend, if you’ll let me.  From what I’ve seen, Kellin is your friend too.”

The mention of Kellin gave Taes reason to look up.  She reached a hand out and she touched the betrothal bracelet on Elbon’s wrist.  “When are we going to talk about Kellin?” Taes asked.

Elbon didn’t recoil or look away.  He considered Taes and he told her, “When you’re back in your own body.”

Comments

  • Come on, Captain! Your crew needs you. How on Earth is this situation going to get resolved if Taes doesn’t get her act together? I love the truthfulness of the XO, and how he clearly wants her to live up to the hype, but he seemingly wont suffer fools gladly. Get your act together, lady!

    May 14, 2022
  • I have just caught up on all of the action on Dvorak and I gotta say I am thoroughly enjoying this storyline. This particular part has been nice to read as it truly starts to develops the relationship between Taes and Elbon into the early days of what we expect from a Trek captain and her XO. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for this duo! My gut is telling me there’s more mischief left to see how the crew gets out of this fine mess.

    May 14, 2022