Thursday, May 15, 2014

"Just Friends, Nothing More"

By Christina Moore
_____


Bowman to Natale.”

The Orion commander of Sanctuary had just sat at her desk, a steaming cup of spearmint tea in her hand. A Trill she had met on the U.S.S. San Francisco, when the Excelsior-class ship had been in the same battle group as the Georgetown, had introduced her to the beverage. Spearmint had a number of equivalents from various planets, Serutian Hale had said, but there was nothing like the herb from Earth. Not when the tea was hot and very lightly sweetened.

Setting the mug down after taking a careful sip, she called out, “Go ahead, Ensign,” in response to the call over the intercom.

Captain, we’re receiving a priority message from the Trident. They’re reporting an emergency situation aboard ship and that they are holding their present position until the situation is dealt with.”

Synnove Natale tried to think of what Trident’s current mission was, and then she remembered: They had been tasked to transport sixteen Cardassians from Cardassia Prime to the station, though for what purpose was not clear. Admiral Tattok had not given a reason for precisely why they were coming, only that they were.

She really hoped the Cardassians were behaving themselves, but something told her that wish was in vain. When the devil are they going to learn that we just want to help them, that we just want peace? she wondered. Why do they have to make things so bloody difficult?

Stifling a sigh, she said to her Operations officer, “Acknowledge the transmission, Miss Bowman, and advise Captain Kimura that if there is anything we can do to help, we’re standing by to assist.”

Understood. Bowman out.”

After reaching for her mug and taking another sip of her tea, she keyed a few commands into her monitor and called up the passenger manifest Kimura had copied to her. None of the names were any she recognized. She wished Alok were here, as he would likely have information on the men and women listed—or he could get it—but he was unavailable, having left with the Ireland a week ago to assist with Ensign Sylari’s recovery. She’d have to go with what resources she had.

Tapping her commbadge, she said, “Natale to Kelley, Natale to Kirek. Please report to my office at once.”

Jordan Kelley acknowledged her summons, but Eton Kirek did not—most of the time he didn’t. As annoying as that habit was, she let her Cardassian first officer get by with it only because he appeared regardless of whether he answered or not. The one time she had confronted him, he’d told her there was no point in his wasting breath answering when he was going to show up anyway.

Both men showed up within minutes, with Kirek crossing the threshold of her office as insolently smug as ever.

“What’s up, Captain?” Kelley asked.

She swung the desktop monitor around. “This is the passenger manifest for the party of Cardassians the Trident is carrying our way,” the Orion said. “Do either of you recognize any of these names?”

Kelley and Kirek leaned forward and studied the list. Natale was not too surprised when Jordan straightened, shaking his head in the negative. “Sorry, Captain. I’ve been reviewing all the intelligence reports we’ve been receiving from the fleet captains, but none of these names are familiar to me. If Alok were here, he’d probably know some of them.”

“I’ve been lamenting our intelligence officer’s absence myself, Mr. Kelley. What about you, Kirek?”

The hulking Cardassian dal glanced at her as he stood away from desk, crossing his arms. “The passengers are a mixture of military men, politicians, and civilian laborers from various fields,” he said.

Natale stifled a sigh. “I am aware of that,” she said slowly. “I asked you if you recognized any of the names.”

“A few, yes,” Kirek replied noncommittally.

“And would any of those people whose names you recognize have a reason to cause trouble? Might any of them be hiding a hidden agenda?”

Kirek smirked. “The whole point of a hidden agenda is to hide something, Captain.”

She narrowed her eyes as Kelley whirled on him. “That doesn’t answer the captain’s question, Kirek!” he hollered, then whirled again to face Natale. “What’s going on, Captain? What’s wrong on the Trident?”

Sanctuary’s commander knew why Kelley was so excited. Rogan Enek, the Bajoran officer who was Trident’s XO, was a friend of his, though something about the look in his eyes told her with sudden enlightenment that there as far more to it than that. It was no wonder, she realized then, why Kelley always took special interest in any reports from the Trident. Had she known his feelings regarding Lt. Cmdr. Rogan before, she might have approached the situation differently.

Or would she? she wondered. Every officer in the 11th Fleet knew the risks of operating in Cardassian space, so whether or not there was anything going on with Rogan and Kelley besides unrequited feelings on her tactical officer’s part, she knew she couldn’t have broached the subject of Trident’s trouble any other way, nor would she in the future. It was always best just to be straight with someone, no matter how much it stung.

She shrugged lightly. “I’m not entirely sure. We just received a message that they’ve an emergency situation and are holding position until the matter is resolved. I let Captain Kimura know that we were standing by to assist if they needed us.”

“What about sending one of the other ships to help out?” Kelley suggested. “The Triumph or the Columbia or…”

“Commander, at this point we must assume the Trident crew has the situation well in hand,” Natale replied, her voice neutral, but with an underlying tone of authority. She didn’t want to draw Kirek’s attention to Kelley’s heightened anxiety if it wasn’t already, while at the same time making sure Sanctuary’s defensive coordinator understood he wasn’t to take any action without her approval.

Not that she really thought he would, but if she said nothing Kirek would have said something, and that something would have been a snide remark that would have set Jordan off. She didn’t want that and he didn’t need that.

“And as I said,” she continued, “I have made sure they know we are ready if they need us.”

Kelley continued to stare at her intently, then nodded stiffly. “Shouldn’t we at least alert the other ships in the fleet, or at least in Trident’s vicinity, to be on standby, ma’am?”

She could concede that much, Natale mused, and nodded. “That’s a good idea, but given we don’t know the details of the situation, they’re to be on standby only. Why don’t you go and take care of that now?”

The Human’s look of relief was evident, though he schooled his features quickly and, with a curt nod, spun on his heel and exited the office.

The orange-skinned Orion then looked up at Kirek. “Mr. Kelley made a good point—you didn’t answer my question. Do you have any idea if any of those people you recognized would have reason to want to cause the Trident or this station harm?”

“I find it very interesting,” he began slowly, raising one of his crossed arms to stroke his chin, “that you have already jumped to the conclusion that one of my people are responsible for the trouble your friends are experiencing.”

“That’s because the Cardassian passengers are the only element onboard the Trident I cannot say I trust. And considering this matter didn’t arise until after they’d set out from Cardassia Prime after picking up sixteen Cardassians, to what other conclusion would you have me come, Commander?”

“That perhaps one of your so-called ‘well disciplined’ Starfleet compatriots has decided to use the opportunity to get some payback, perhaps?” Kirek shot back. “How about that Bajoran—the ship’s First Officer?”

Natale was glad then that she’d sent Kelley out already, and smiled thinly. “Mr. Kirek, if Captain Kimura or anyone on the Trident wanted a little payback, they wouldn’t have let us know there was any trouble until after they arrived, and in all likelihood, were Commander Rogan the culprit, we’d never know it was him. Given his prior training, I’m fairly certain he’s quite adept at covering his tracks and would take any and all measures necessary to avoid getting caught.

“No, I’m afraid the only plausible explanation for the trouble is that one of the Cardassians is the cause. I know you don’t like hearing that—I don’t like having to say it. Now will you answer the question, please?”

She had tolerated a lot from this man in the months they’d been working together, but given that there were several of his people potentially at risk onboard the Trident, she couldn’t believe he was stonewalling her like this. Could he really be so callous as to be putting the lives of the passengers and the crew of the Trident in danger just because he didn’t like her? Now was not the time for him to be a stubborn ass, not when hundreds of lives could very well be on the line.

“I don’t know,” he said at last.

“You mean you don’t know if you’ll answer my question?” the Orion asked incredulously.

“That was my answer,” Kirek snapped.

“I see,” Natale replied. “You don’t know, or you’re not going to tell me?”

Kirek growled in exasperation. “I’m not a flakking child, Captain Natale, that would play games such as that. ‘I don’t know’ means I cannot answer your question. I said I recognized a few names, but that is all. I do not know any of those people personally, nor do I know them by reputation. Their names are simply familiar to me—perhaps I came across the names in a report sometime in the past.”

Natale stood slowly. Gee, Kirek, was that so hard? she said silently to herself, then placed her hands on the desk and leaned forward. “Had you simply said that when I first asked you if you knew anything about them, there’d have been no need for yet another go ‘round between you and I. You may not be a child, Dal Kirek, but you most certainly act like one when you refuse to give a straight answer to a simple question.

“You don’t like me. I get that. I freely admit that I’m not overly fond of you either—but whether we like each other or not does not negate the fact that you and I have to work together, and I have tolerated your attitude for long enough. You will answer me when summoned. You will give straight answers to my questions. You will treat me with the respect I am due and you will treat every other Starfleet officer on this station with the respect they deserve. If behaving like the disciplined military officer you are supposed to be is more than you can handle, you tell me now and I will request your immediate transfer to a post more suited to your particular skills. Am I understood?”

Kirek stared at her for a long moment. “Understood, Captain,” he said stiffly, his dark eyes betraying no emotion. “Will that be all?”

The captain stood straight. “You’re dismissed, Mr. Kirek.”

With the same tightly executed about-face Kelley had used, Kirek turned on his heel and walked toward the door, exiting her office. When the doors had hissed closed behind him, Natale sighed audibly, then reached for her cup of tea, wanting a comforting sip of the hot beverage more than anything else right about then.

Unfortunately, her tea had already gone cold.

*****

The waiting was driving him crazy. It had been hours, and there was no word from the Trident. At first Jordan Kelley had chastised himself for getting so worked up—he and Rogan were just friends, nothing more. They exchanged subspace messages, hung out whenever Trident was docked and there was time…

They were friends, nothing more.

Quit kidding yourself, Jordan, his inner voice chided. The man means more to you than that, and has for months. Why not get off your lily-white ass and do something about it?

Like what? he’d countered morosely.

Oh, I don’t know… tell him, maybe?

After that, he tried not to listen to his inner voice. But even ignoring the niggling little voice in his head—which had been saying the same thing ever since Rogan had left the station for the first time—didn’t stop him from worrying about the subject of his mental conversation. His anxiety level ratcheted up a notch with each passing minute, and the next thing he knew, his shift was over.

He’d tried to stay over, but after an hour of his pacing back and forth between stations checking this readout or that one, Andon Vehl had kicked him out of Ops. The Trill lieutenant had said he was too much of a distraction for the Beta shift staff, and that they would let him know as soon as they heard anything.

Too antsy to settle down to eat or read or do anything else, Kelley called down to Nigella’s to see if any of the holosuites were free (ever since the Deltan who worked for Nadia Lawton had gotten them up and running they were usually booked solid) figuring a nice, strenuous workout would help get his mind off his worry. He was in luck—there was still one open—and without even bothering to go down to his quarters to grab his usual workout clothes, he made his way straight to the Promenade.

He spent the next 45 minutes in a mixed-martial arts program with the safeties on minimal—if he got hit, he wanted to feel the pain, because the pain was another distraction. And for most of that three-quarters of an hour, it worked.

That is, until the door opened and distracted him for just an instant, and his holographic opponent’s roundhouse kick connected with his temple, stunning him and sending him straight to the floor.

“Computer, delete character!” called out a voice, which in his daze Kelley recognized as that of Captain Natale.

She ran over as the shirtless Andorian he’d been fighting disappeared, even as he was raising a leg to stomp on him. When the dark orange face looming over him in the next moment raised an eyebrow, he belatedly remembered that he’d taken off his uniform, and was wearing only his tank-style undershirt and shorts.

“Sorry I’m out of uniform, Captain,” he said as she helped him sit up.

“Never mind that,” she replied as she looked into his eyes. “Are you alright? That looked like a hell of a kick.”

Kelley chuckled as he lightly shook his head. “It was,” he told her. “My head hurts now.”

He blinked several times, then said, “Have you heard from the Trident?

Natale shook her head. “Sorry to get your hopes up, but no, not yet. I came to see how you were doing.”

Clenching his jaw against the disappointment and resurgence of his anxiety, Kelley then formed a lopsided grin. “I was fine until five seconds ago. You didn’t happen to catch the name of that big blue truck that just hit me, did you?”

The Orion sat down on her rear, bending her knees to the cross-legged position, then looked at him pointedly. “Commander—Jordan—that isn’t what I meant.”

“So… what did you mean?”

“You have feelings for Rogan Enek, and you’re worried about him.”

Kelley laughed nervously, looking away as he said, “Why in the stars would you say something like that?”

“Jordan, if you’re worried I’m going to say something negative about a man being in love with another man, let me put your mind at ease by saying I don’t care about that,” Natale said. “You love who you love, and it’s for no one else to tell you whether that’s right or wrong.”

He turned to look at her sharply, wincing as doing so reminded him of the kick he’d just been given. “Who said anything about being in love?” he countered, rubbing his temple gently. “Rogan and I are just friends, nothing more. I’m concerned, yeah, but he’s a trained tactical officer. He can take care of himself.”

Natale sighed. “Look, I know you and I aren’t close. We’ve been working together since March and we barely know each other. It’s not because I’m one of those captains who thinks it unwise to fraternize with subordinates, because I feel that you have to be friends with someone if you’re ever going to be able to really trust that person with your life. But you know how much of a nightmare getting this place up and running has been, what with the assassination attempt on Admiral Tattok and Skrail Pavet turning out to be a saboteur working for True Way… There just hasn’t been a whole lot of downtime for any of us until about a month ago.”

Kelley nodded slowly. “I know,” he said softly.

“That being said, Jordan, I want you to know that I would like us to be friends. I want you to feel like you can come to me about anything, be honest about anything—including your feelings.”

He looked away again, swallowing heavily as she put a hand lightly on his arm. “I’m not blind,” she said, her voice as soft as his had been a moment ago. “I saw your reaction to the news that Trident was in trouble. Mild concern for a friend wouldn’t garner such a passionate response. If you’re not in love with him, you’re very close to it. Does he know how you feel?”

For a long moment he sat there in silence, refusing to answer, before resignation stole over him and he just shook his head. No point in denying it when she’d already seen right through him.

“You should tell him how you feel the next time you see him,” Natale said.

“But we don’t know what the hell is going on over there!” he suddenly exploded, surging to his feet and pacing away, then turning on her as he added, “I’ve got no idea if he’s sick or if he’s injured or if he’s…” He couldn’t make himself say the last word, refused to let it form in his mind, as the concept was too painfully unimaginable.

“I don’t know what, if anything, has happened to Enek … and I never told him.”

His captain jumped to her feet. “Which, if you ask me, is precisely why you need to tell him the next time you see him, Jordan,” she said firmly. “And I believe you will see him again. You need to believe that too. And when you see him again, you need to tell him how you feel so that every time he leaves, he will have a reason to come back. He needs to know how you feel so that if—heavens forbid—anything ever does happen to him, he will know he is loved. Everybody should know that they are loved.”

For a moment, Kelley could only stare. “What if he doesn’t feel the same way about me?” he asked, his throat constricting with each word.

Her smile was soft. “That would be his loss, Jordan, but at least then you will know where you stand, and as time goes on you won’t be frozen with fear every time you hear that the Trident is in trouble. You can’t go on like this, and I think you know that.”
Groaning, he raked a hand over his close-cropped hair and squeezed his green eyes shut. “I know,” he said with a groan, opening them again before he continued. “And I feel like a damn teenager for being so scared to tell him, but Captain, I’ve been screwed over before. Screwed over so bad I swore I was never gonna let this happen again, and I’ve managed nearly twenty years without getting seriously involved with anyone. It might have been almost two decades since that happened, but just don’t think I can handle being rejected like that. Not again.”

Natale shook her head as she stepped closer. “What I’m about to say is going to sound like one of the oldest clichés in the book—probably because it is—but how do you even know he’s going to reject you? Jordan, love is like life—it’s about taking risks. You might never know how Rogan feels about you if you don’t tell him how you feel about him first. Have you ever considered that maybe he’s as afraid as you are of being rejected?”

She could see he was beginning to think about that, but before he could answer her commbadge chirped.

Vehl to Natale.”

The Orion tapped the badge on her chest. “Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

Captain, I have an open transmission from the Trident. Captain Kimura would like to speak to you.”

Kelley felt his eyes widen as he looked at Natale, adrenaline flooding through his veins as she told the Beta Shift watch officer she was in Holosuite 3, and would he be good enough to patch the signal down to her. He stood speechless as she called for the program to end and the holographic environment faded away, and remained frozen where he was as she walked over to the control station and keyed on the monitor there. He watched her sit down, heard her calm greeting to Captain Motoko Kimura.

“What is your status, Captain?” Natale asked.

“The situation is under control,” Kimura replied. “One of the Cardassians managed to bring an explosive compound aboard the ship by injecting it into his own body, where it was virtually untraceable and was hidden from our transporter buffers.”

“How did you find out he had it?”

“Internal sensors picked up the presence of dicollium, most likely when the individual cut himself preparing to carry out his plan. He was planning to turn himself into a bomb by introducing bio-mimetic gel into his bloodstream, which as I’m sure you know, when combined with the dicollium would have caused massive damage to my ship. He could very well have destroyed it, considering he planned to do this right next to the deflector dish.”

“Which is always charged with anti-protons,” Natale said breathily. “Thank goodness you stopped him in time. How has Trident fared? Is your crew safe?”

“We almost didn’t stop him,” Kirmura replied. “He injected the gel before being shot by Lt. Nhylas and another of our security officers, but Nhylas was able to depressurize Deflector Control to get him off the ship and we went to warp before he exploded.”
Jordan could feel himself breathing heavily, waiting, hoping to hear a word about Rogan that meant he was safe.

“Unfortunately, Trident fared better than my crew, I’m afraid,” Kimura went on, and he heard a deep sadness in her voice. “The ship lost a hatch that can be replaced, but I lost an engineer who cannot. Corax, the Cardassian who was behind all this, killed an engineering technician as well as one of the other Cardassians, probably his accomplice. He also severely injured my chief engineer.”

“I’m so very sorry for your loss,” Natale said softly. “Your chief will recover though?”

“Dr. T’Liann is still with her. I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as I do what her status is.”

Clearing her throat, no doubt to control the emotion in her voice, Kimura went on, saying, “We’re on our way again, but we’ll be a few hours late.”

“Perfectly understandable, Captain. We’ll see you when you get here,” Natale said, and then both captains signed off.

Jordan was still standing wide-eyed as Natale stood and turned to face him. “I know she didn’t say anything about Rogan, but that means he’s alright,” she said slowly.

Slowly, finally, his training kicked in and he began to slow his breathing, settling his nerves enough that he could speak coherently. “I know,” he said slowly. “But he came so close… God, Captain—a suicide bomber? With enough of an explosive compound in his system that could have taken out the entire ship?”

Natale nodded. “I know what you mean,” she said. “It takes a truly disturbed individual to go that far.”

She studied his face for a moment, then offered a small smile. “Jordan, why don’t you go on home? Get cleaned up, get some rest. I don’t think there’s anything else to worry about right now.”

“Yeah,” he said absently, walking over to where he had laid his uniform. By the time he had dressed, Natale was gone.

He sighed as he left the holosuite, and as he walked through Nigella’s, across the Promenade, and all the way to his quarters, he thought about what she had said to him, and he thought about how relieved he was that Rogan had made it through the crisis alright. It was terrible that one of Trident’s crew had been murdered and another injured, but the only thing he could wrap his mind around was the joy that Rogan hadn’t been one of them.

When he entered his quarters, he called for the lights, and as he was walking toward the bathroom, intending on taking a shower, a flash in the corner of his eye made him turn his head toward the desk. His message light was blinking, and though for a split second he contemplated ignoring it until after his shower, he figured he might as well see who it was from. Sitting down heavily in his desk chair, he reached over and switched the monitor on, highlighting the newest message in his inbox and clicking on ‘play.’

Relief, adrenaline, and something else flooded through his system, his chest swelling with emotion when Rogan’s face appeared on the screen.

“Hey, Jordan. I’m sure by now you’ve heard. I won’t go into any detail—not because I can’t, but because I still need to process it all. I just… didn’t want you to worry about me. I’m okay. See you soon.”

As the screen went back to the list of messages, Kelley sat forward and propped his head up in his hands, his chest heaving as his emotions crashed through him.

Just friends, nothing more.

Yeah.


Right.

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