Maine looked to a casual viewer like an old mercenary. Sprawled on the large sofa that spanned the window side in Nestus’s aft facing observation lounge, now wearing olive fatigues combined with sturdy boots and trousers with one too many pockets, he could easily be mistaken for roving pair of hands for hire. He was rummaging in the pockets of a short leather jacket as David silently entered the lounge, still dressed in the ruffled blue uniform he had been wearing when Maine and his team had whisked him away from Starbase Bravo, save for his combadge which had been removed during the transfer.
“Have you ever…” Maine paused, looking up towards the door. “Have you ever put something somewhere safe and completely forgotten where it is.” He returned to his rummaging.
“No. Not really.” David replied, sharp annoyance tingling at the tip of his tongue. He’d been on this boat for days and no-one had given him a real reason, the most he had got was out of the giant Bolian who had released him from his cell of a room. The blue giant had shoved a padd in his hand with a schematic of the ship and a list of what authorisations he now had to the computer. Limited replicator access, limited library access, limited information and as David would discover after replicating a fresh uniform limited was the operative word. He only had basic replicator access, which didn’t surprise him, but his access to the ship’s library was aggressively locked down. When he asked why he was here the Bolian had chuckled and simply said “Maine picked you.”
“It seems you’ve also forgotten about me.” David hissed. “Makes for a bad jailor who forgets his prisoners.” It was a cheap shot but David was on edge and his mother always said he could be petty when cornered.
“I’m not your jailor David.” Maine said without looking up, his focus now switching to a small pack that lay under the coat. “Would you expect to walk onto someone’s ship and just be able to have access to everything?”
“I wouldn’t expect to be locked in a room until I was summoned.” David spat.
“You were never locked in your room.” Maine said, his head tilting slightly to the side. “Did you never try the door?”
In truth, David had not tried the door. And as he felt his face flush with embarrassment he turned toward the window, hoping to obscure his features from Maine. He had assumed in his sullen mood that he was indeed a prisoner, replete with locked cell door and aloof jailor.
“We assumed you were getting acclimated, or were just wildly antisocial.” Maine continued. “It’s a small ship, I just assumed you’d go wandering eventually.” A sharp smile spread across his face. “I expected you to be more inquisitive.” He returned to fumbling in the bag.
As the colour of his features slid faster down the hill toward true beetroot David admonished himself, “Obviously I should’ve tried the door. What person doesn’t think to even try the door?”
As silence settled into the room, punctuated only by the untellable mutterings of Maine, David stared out the large transparent steel windows at the starfield Nestus left in its wake. Unobstructed by nacelles or overhanging hulls the view could easily carry you away like a speck of dust in the wind and as he unconsciously moved over to take a seat at the end of the sofa he felt the sting of his heat of his embarrassment ebb away.
“We’re not the bogy man-David.” Maine muttered quietly but clearly into the depths of his bag. “I know people think there are all the secret little groups running around.” He paused, contemplatively. “And sometimes there are.” He seemed to shudder, minutely, almost unnoticeable, but David was used to seeing tiny changes in the normal. “We’re fully above board, sanctioned and under instruction by Starfleet Operations. I even have to file paperwork.” Maine offered a smile, different than the one David had seen originally at Starbase Bravo, this one seemed smaller, it didn’t stretch his cheeks into a ghastly visage, it seemed more honest, less performative.
“Then why did you pressgang me onto your ship.” David hissed, his ire had fallen somewhat in his embarrassment but he felt the fire stoked at Maine’s attempt at friendliness. The man had stolen him away from his home and more importantly from his work, packaged him aboard this dingy of a starship and was now trying to befriend him. “That’s how they get you, you’ll break more rules for a friend.” He quietly thought to himself, almost fearful that Maine might be spying on his mind.
“It wasn’t a pressgang.” Maine sighed, his form falling back into the firm burgundy cushions of the sofa. “I had a mission, I required a field specialist. You were already aware of the situation, you have the relevant skills and at the risk of offending you…” he paused, and held up his hands in honesty “weren’t so vital to the running of Starbase Bravo that you would be missed.” He paused again, the palpable silence waiting for one of them to push first. In the end Maine gave a great shove. “Base commander and admiralty agreed so you were transferred.”
“Without consultation?” David spat, he could push too.
“It’s the military, what do you expect?” Maine retorted, he wasn’t falling over that easily.
“Starfleet isn’t a military.” David said, his tone almost convincing. It’s hard to push a pillar of certainty.
“They gave you a uniform, sent you to their training camp, gave you a billet. Taught you to say yes sir, no sir. To trust orders and rank. They made you a soldier David, maybe one with really big and noble dreams but a soldier anyway. They taught you to fight and taught you to trust them and they taught you that sometimes people die in service to the dream.” For a moment David thought he saw the flash of anger, like a black hole off in deep space, more noticeable by its absence then its presence. Maybe Maine wasn’t pushing, maybe he was pulling.
David sat silently for a moment. “I’m a scientist.” He whispered quietly, science would be his anchor as it always had been.
“Do you think the scientists were spared Wolf 359, or the Dominion War. Do you think the blue of their uniform gave them any more protection?” Maine spoke to the air. It was a well rehearsed speech, spoken many times to empty mirrors and silent audiences of unmoved imaginary admirals.
It took a moment before David realised he was looking in his direction. “No.” David muttered quietly, even his steadfast foundation of science was not enough to stand against what was clearly a tempest in Maine. It was a similar argument he had heard from his parents when he had first suggested joining up.
“No. Those little metal dots on your collar tell me you are a soldier of Starfleet. Whatever colour you might be wearing.” Maine sighed, another shudder, though not of anger. “Starfleet, whose mandate is to protect the Federation and everyone in it.” Stifling the rising fire in his throat he put his hands in his pockets and almost instantly withdrew his right hand with a hissing of his lips. “Stupid thing.” he spat as he fished something out of his pocket.
“We’re all just soldiers David, we go where we’re told, do what we’re told and hope that it’s for something worthwhile. I believe in strange new worlds and 5 year missions and going where no-one has gone before.” His eye twinkled for a second. “I really do, but unfortunately when you put that badge on, you made a choice to take the risk of that soldier’s life.” His right hand extended, open palm. Within it sat a small golden Delta. “I need your help David. I need you to choose.”