Tashanas had told him that he could use the quarters as an office until the SI office was completed on station. He sat and stared at the screen in front of him, not really seeing what was on it. Only years of practice kept him from jumping when the chime rang.
"Enter." Under almost any other circumstance he would have smiled to see Riker. In this one however, he grimaced.
"Talapus hasn't been completely dropped." Without dealing with communications there wasn't a need for preemble.
Colleen had greeted Captain Riker enthusiastically, and then an ensign had taken him to see Captain Tashanas. She waited as some of the crew got off the Titan. A group of crewman headed to the Promenade. A mother with a child about Keith's age looked at a map and then went toward the crew quarters. One by one, or in groups, people stepped down from the docking ring.
Teddy was last.
She gave him a quick hug and asked, "How the hell are ya?"
"Good, good. Where's the little kid? Kyle?"
"Keith," Colleen said with a smile. "He's in school. You guys must've pulled Warp 8 to get here this fast."
"My helmsman skills at work," he said with a smile. "Let's get some lunch. You can catch me up on everything you've been doing."
"John should be on lunch break soon. I hope he can join us. Let me ask him real fast."
Teddy seemed to frown slightly, as he said, "Sure, fine."
Colleen tapped her combadge and asked John when he'd be down to the Last Outpost for lunch. The answer came back that he wouldn't--the Jordan was nearly operational and he was skipping lunch to run a quick sweep over the shuttle facility and make sure everything was ready to receive new shuttles when Mars started sending them. Teddy grinned, and said, "Let's go then."
"Alright, let's go," Colleen said with a smile.
*Tag anyone who wants to have lunch with them.*
T'Prel could feel him this close. The connection had been established when they were only seven and it continued to exist between their minds. It made her skin claw and her stomach lurch. It also made her feel, as much as she hated the very idea, lust and even contentment. Something in her screamed that she should just give in to her. It wasn't any natural part of her own mind. It was a connection forced upon her by her parents when she was too young to consent, a violation. She let out a deep breath. It was painful for any species as proudly logical as the Vulcans to be stripped of their reason like this but wasn't it a greater shame for an otherwise civilized, enlightened people to govern their marital relations with unabashed barbarism?
This was her last stop. She had spoken to the captain and been assured of her support. She had sought friendship and support from Lieutenant Hill. Both had been helpful. However, she also wanted to talk at least briefly with the one person on the station whose job it was to advise people on such matters. She had resisted until now on the grounds that no one who was not a Vulcan could understand. She wasn't sure what had changed her mind. Perhaps she was insecure about whether or not she could face what was coming. Perhaps her emotionalism recently and the number of crew who'd witnessed it was enough that she had given up on her pride, at least until it passed.
She glanced after a passing crewman. She looked to be in a hurry. T'Prel had very little idea what was going on on the station since she had taken her leave. It made her feel useless. That feeling inspired even deeper doubts about whether or not she had played a useful role since coming aboard. Part of her recognized the subsequent thought as merely more out of control emotions, the results of a biological condition which was no fault of hers. Understanding did not help. She pressed the chime.
Soran had taken a slow way to get to OPS. It was good to be on the station again. While his quarters on Vulcan were always refreshing and comfortable, unlike the climate on the station, Saril had been correct to point out to him that their odd little family had found a home on this station. Eventually he would be stationed elsewhere, but until that time, he would allow himself the comfort of knowing that he had friends on board, and that Saril had some as well. He looked through the door to Tashanas' at her desk. From the angle he was seeing her in only the corner of the chair she was in gave anything away that she was not in her usual position.
Her expression was one of annoyance and anger, though he doubted the person on the other side of the viewscreen would realize it. It was amazing how little of Vulcanoid expressions most being understood. While on any planet in the Federation she could pass as Vulcan, she was falling out of practice here. She had also had a harder time of it when on Vulcan. He rang the chime and watched as she looked up, nodded, and hit the button on the side of her desk without missing a beat in her conversation.
"...al, I am not eager to be the one negotiating with them either, but we are close enough to the Badlands that another ion storm like that is not outside the realm of statistical probability. At least according to every science officer on this station, and on DS9. I know. We talked to them this morning." Tashanas was having difficulty breathing as she spoke, not enough that Admiral Ross likely noticed on the other side of the call, but he did not have Soran's years of practice at reading her.
"Tashanas, My science people say the odds are very low, and now we have a better idea of how to dissipate it before it hits again. The Kalagians do not need to become involved in this." Ross sounded equally exasperated as Tashanas appeared.
"Sir, with all respect, while no one died in the storm, we have lost one crew member and nearly another due in part to the effects that this substance could stop." Tashanas' tone was the epitimy of calm, at least if you didn't know her.
"Captain, we will take the whole piece under advisment." Ross said with a tone of finality.
"Yes sir." Tashanas admited, not letting the defeat show on her face or in her tone, but Soran could see her hands, and they had moved from clenched to passive in that moment.
Soran watched as Tashanas stood. He acknowledged the gesture with a nod. "Please sit Captain, I was looking forward to sitting and talking with you." That was all that needed to be said. She sat back down. Neither of them would speak how much it had cost her for that gesture, or the illogic behind the pride that drove it. However, if there was one 'sin' that both their peoples had in common it would be pride.
"God damn it, get that wire out of there, now!" Colleen looked up to see what John was yelling about. A small fire had broken out by the Jordan, and a petrified-looking crewman, probably no more than nineteen years old, was holding a conductive wire right near the flame. John brought over the fire extinguisher and quickly put out the flame, and then sighed. "Never, *ever* hold a conductive wire near a flame," he told the young man. That was the fifth time in as many days that Colleen had heard him lecture the young crewman on safety. She wondered if the kid would stick with Engineering or move to another profession. "Davis, come here."
She watched as another, older crewman came over to the area, and John gave her instructions as to what to do with the Jordan. "At least the fire damage wasn't bad. Clean up, start over. I want those directional controls operational by 1100." He walked away, and approached her. "What are you doing over here? Paperwork?"
Colleen had actually been checking up on the Titan's crew, finding the science officer that had been assigned to the project on ion storm damage. She was confused to find that the science officer had a relatively low position, and couldn't have been considered an 'expert.' It was a poor excuse, that with very little checking, could lead to discovery. "Yeah," she answered John, quickly switching her screen to a shuttle report from Mars. "Mom and Dad actually sent a memo late last night. They've got a relief facility stepping in for us."
John sighed. "The backup got to be too much, huh?"
"Yeah," Colleen answered. "Unfortunately. We'll be operational soon, so it won't be too much longer. But they said the engineers are getting antsy."
"Antsy shuttle designers are not fun to work with," John said ruefully. "Well let me know when you have a minute. I need you to calibrate the Jordan's controls for test flight standards."
Colleen nodded. "Give me a half hour," she said, and John walked away. She switched the screen back to the Titan's crew manifest, and tried to find *anything* in this science officer's record that would indicate some kind of unusual insight into their energy spike problem. So far, she was finding nothing, and it looked more than a little suspicious.
Soran stood with the young vulcan male at the viewport as they came to the station. Soran would admit that it would be pleasant to see Saril, and even Michael again. He and his young wife had made their peace with his traveling many years ago. However, they had married out of an interest in being together. He was thankful for the ongoing news that she had sent him as Tashanas had been injured and through her rapid recovery.
Soran was certain it was not as rapid as the Rhiansu officer would have liked, but time was a necessary piece of healing. She had left a message letting him know that she had some questions regarding modern Vulcan law and custom, which led him to believe that the security officer's mate was going to have a harder time than he seemed to think.
Soran had tried to point out the logic of T'Prel's decisions to this point, and how Vulcan tradition was not challenged by those choices. It may not have been wasted effort, as Soran discovered a couple of arguments that he did not believe he had used before, but it had done little or nothing to change the younger man's mind. *Granted, logic is a hard thing to listen to in this state.* Soran thought as they docked.
He had managed to convince the man to wait until Soran could accompany him to his initial meeting with T'Prel. He had also managed to point out that Soran had a responsibility to check in with the Captain and with his own family before completing that task.
As they moved toward the airlock Soran was pleased to see Saril on the other side. He put his fingers out as did she.
"It is pleasant to see you here my wife." Soran said formally as their fingertips brushed.
"I am content to be with you again my husband." Saril said equally formally. "As you are aware Michael is in school. Captain Tashanas is in her office. She had hoped to meet you here at the airlock but, she is in communication with Starfleet Headquarters about a scientific matter."
Soran raised an eyebrow at that, science was not something Tashanas would tend to argue about with headquarters, unless her rank was needed to push something that her science officer or engineer were needing. "I will of course go to her, as is appropriate in this circumstance." Soran indicated the young Vulcan with him.
"This is Solok, he is here to see Lt. T'Prel. This is my wife Saril." Soran had indicated in his communication to Saril the problem. She merely nodded. And much to Soran's relief proceeded in a very polite and traditional way that would leave Solok little room to argue.
"It would honor our home if you would join me for a morning tea and breaking of fast." Saril said as she inclined her head to the young Vulcan. The reached the promenade at that point.
"I regret my wife that you will have to host our guest alone until I finish with the Captain." He held out his fingers to Saril again, and she met the tips of them with a nod. He heard her voice as he headed towards the lift. He and Saril had agreed to watch Solok, in tandem as necessary. Leaving a Vulcan, especially a male, in his condition unattended at this point could be bad for the station.
"Please follow me." Her voice always seemed so melodic to him. He found that the part that he allowed to react to his surroundings rather than respond envied the young Vulcan his time with Saril, even though no more would happen than tea.
<I>Ensign Thaddeus Gilbert hadn't talked to Colleen since they graduated from the Academy. He had followed her career, ever-fascinated with the redheaded pilot. He knew she ended up on Empok Nor. But he had never gotten the courage to just subspace her. She had always been the better pilot, the one with more friends, and even though they had known each other on Station 10 back when she was a kid, even then he had gotten the idea that she was just *better* at everything than he was. He remembered Mr. O'Donnell's words to him after losing at a holodeck flight simulation game. "Colleen doesn't quit. She doesn't let anyone win. You have to be okay with that if you want to play with her."
But now, the Titan was moving toward Empok Nor on a mission dealing with some kind of residual energy spikes or...something like that, from a storm they recently experienced. The Titan had a science officer who did an enormous project on residual ion storm damage and some kind of hull component that was only found in the Kalagian's region of space. The project ended before she came on the Titan, but apparently Empok Nor needed the expertise. It confused Thaddeus as to why they picked *her*, of all the people who worked on that project--she had told him during dinner tonight that there were over 500 science officers assigned to it. But whatever. He would get the opportunity to see Colleen again. And maybe...maybe she would have changed her romantic interests.
He linked in the subspace, and waited for her reply. He saw her face after a moment.</i>
Jack had managed to keep his tone and body language completely detached and businesslike. He was thankful for the years of theater practice, without it there would have been no way. He stared at the now empty screen and ran his hands over his face.
*Who am I really?* He thought to himself, unbidden. He had played so many roles over such a short period of time that he sometimes wondered where the roles stopped. He had had a Betazoid friend tell him once that he had so many masks that he was extremely difficult to read, even when he lowered his own mental defenses.
He let his thoughts drift back to his early years in intelligence, to a ship that was to be the most useful ship ever for gathering information, his immediate CO had a splendid record, and Jack had been honored to be taken on as her protiege.
Then he had met the woman. She was brilliant. That was not a question, but her methods were not just calculating, they were in ways outright cruel. The Tilapus project went against the very treaty that the ship was supposed to be upholding. He had a photographic memory and remembered the younger O'Donnell family from the time he had spent on the project. They hadn't known what the EM breaching sensors were actually being designed for.
He had started the chain that would start the subtle inquiry process. He had checked where the Titan was at. kinda close but it would take Riker a bit to get this direction. Only the remainder of the Pegasus crew and himself had gone aboard ship when it reappeared. He could still hear that Captain's log replaying in his mind. He had nightmares about what it had been like for the crew to have the ship rephase, without them.
He also wondered which side of the SI/S31 fence had really been responsible for Matt O'Donnell's death. He suspected that it was indeed S31, but the whole project left a bad taste in his mouth now. He hoped Riker would understand and they could coordinate a get together. The members of that team had all been very careful about whether or not they interacted and where and when. Paranoia was not something one gave up easily when you had seen that level of duplicity in your own institution.
As he had been investigating carefully in the last several days he found it interesting that all but he and Riker had died during the war, or before. Statistically it wasn't outside the realm of possibility, but it didn't sit well with Jack in either case...
He shook his head to clear it one more time and headed back to the station.
John held the PADD with the latest data from Science and his engineers' progress on the damaged shuttle. The implications of what they had found was not only scientifically important, but it was also very politically charged. He couldn't wait to hear what the Captain had to say about it. He rang the chime, and waited for the answer.
As she had been doing throughout the medical leave, T'Prel was kneeling on the floor, her body perfectly straight and her eyes focused on the light of a single candle. It was the only light in the room at the moment and she had excluded all else from her universe. Most especially, she had excluded her own body, the rising and increasingly irresistible demands of her own biology. She had excluded her burning hatred for the man who would be her husband. She had even excluded her growing affection for the other members of the crew. None of that was any longer a part of her or even a part of the universe. There was only the flame. Time, too, had ceased to exist. The Vulcan did not know how long she had been meditating. It might have been the better part of a day. It might have only been a few hours.
The communicator beeped. T'Prel blinked once as the universe came crashing back. She could feel her anger and hatred and lust burning back into her flesh. Maybe she should just construct a partner on the holodeck and see if that worked. After the initial shock of being startled out of her meditation, it occurred to her that there was only one reason she was likely to be disturbed now. The man must actually be coming. The mere thought brought a small snarl to her lips as she answered, "T'Prel here."