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Joint Duty Log - LtCmdr Smith & LtJg Sha'mer - "Firestarter"

Posted on 241802.27 @ 16:10 by Lieutenant Commander John Smith & Lieutenant Ra'lin Sha'mer
Edited on on 241803.12 @ 19:33

Mission: Lacuna
Location: Cold Station Theta
Timeline: SD241802.27

=^= Ballroom =^=

The buffet was the usual assortment of bollabons, quiche, replicated chicken legs, and some buttered french bread. There was fancier fare too, but many of these people came from solid backgrounds, and might not have recognised a lot of the fancier fare as food. The snails, for instance, were almost entirely untouched. As were the caviar, the Bollian-style truffles, and the gagh; which was moving.

One man, adorned in a tuxedo with a silken shirt, peered out at the eclectic mix of dishes from behind his plain black eye-mask. He could see clear signs that the buffet grazers had been fumbling through the standard fare for a while now. There was even a set of finger impressions in the french bread, as if someone had been trying to spear them with a pudgy finger rather than pick them up.

His stomach growling, the man in the black mask elected to forgo food for now, and to simply enjoy a strawberry smoothie from the gentleman running the blender. A handful of strawberries, some bananas, and a half-jug of milk later; the man felt a little like a kid in a room full of grownups. The straw didn't help, and he was certain the very presence of a man whose sole purpose was to blend custom smoothies meant that someone wasn't treating this as seriously as your typical diplomatic function.

Not that the smoothie wasn't expertly blended.

Moments later, and the glass was empty. Hunger pangs having subsided for now, the man passed the glass to a waiter, and noticed a flare of colour between two groups nearby. Both groups seemed to believe a masquerade was some kind of grim, gothic affair. In all fairness the history of such events did indicate such, but that aesthetic only worked if the masquerade was strictly themed, which it hadn't been. It appeared they had clustered together because, alone, they would look like the angsty goth in a room full of bleach-blonde cheerleaders.

Between the groups stood a lone woman, whose costume blazed like the sun between their gloomy clouds. Red, orange, and yellow were the dominant colours here, and dominate they did. Sequins flared in the reflected light, and the overall impression was that of a silent inferno raging in the darkness.

His curiosity piqued, the man in the black mask walked up to the fiery figure and moved in beside her, his arms folded neatly behind his back in a non-aggressive posture.

"Hi there." he opened with a smile, letting his gaze play over her mask as he sought out her eyes with his own.

In the presence of so many people – a lot of Vindicator crewmembers, several of Cold Station Theta crew and dignitaries, and a smattering of other guests – gathered in such a crowd, Ra'lin had raised her mental shields to her absolute maximum. It had the unsettling effect that she now barely perceived the people around her at all, making them seem and feel almost, but not quite, like holograms. Whenever she was talking or dancing with people, that sesnsation was easier to ignore. But when she was all by herself, like now, the feeling crept up on her again. It felt weird.

But this night, of all nights, she could channel that weirdness into the character she was portraying, making her more fey, more unsettling, more volitale than she normally would be. So when the black-masked man suddenly appeared next to her and addressed her, she managed to suppress the 'Eep!' which was her initial reaction to being startled and returned his smile instead. She turned to face him, a surprisingly fierce turn which made her dress stand out and added to the illusion of fire. "Hi to you, too."

While his countenance, aided by the mask, appeared unruffled by the effect of the flames at point blank range suddenly flaring towards him, his pupils slammed open so wide he feared she could see inside his head.

Unaware of Sha'mer's psychic prowess, nor the shields whose strain she bore well, the man in the black mask interpreted her unsettled state as a simple consequence of his sudden appearance. It was always a catch 22 scenario when approaching an interesting person. let them see or hear you, and it was difficult not to appear predatory when stalking up to them. But sneak up from behind them and you scared the living bajeezus out of them. Of course it was possible to send a waiter with a card, timed for a few seconds before you arrived next to them, but that approach lacked spontaneity.

Plus, he didn't have any cards, and padds just weren't the same.

"Would you, um, ah..." he stuttered, aware that though his mind felt perfectly cogent, his body was still reeling from the intensity of her sudden movement. The fact that she had briefly resembled a live incendiary grenade didn't help matters.

Quick, his subconscious said to him, you're losing her! Say something!

"Please don't hurt me?" he tried, kicking himself the moment he said it.

Ra'lin tried to suppress a giggle but failed. "I'm sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to laugh at you. But I wouldn't hurt you..." The very idea that someone might actually be afraid of her was faintly ridiculous. But the poor man did seem to be almost as flustered as she felt. Slipping bask into her role for the evening, she added: "Not unless you try to douse me."

"What would I douse you with?" the stranger replied, gesturing with his hands to try and move on from the faux par, "No wine, no water, no...bowl of soup. I think you're safe." he finished with a smile.

Now introductions had been made, and the rocky start had been hastily papered over, the man peered out from behind his black eye mask and tried to gather clues to this fiery woman's identity. Her dress was flashy, though that didn't tell him much. She could have dressed to intimidate, to overcompensate, or purely as a matter of style. His next port of call was her body language which, after you filtered out her alarming dress, seemed tense. Her reaction had been sudden, instinctual, but her hands hadn't tightened into fists as a fighter's would. This meant she was unlikely to be someone expected to fight hand-to-hand, nor someone used to governing others. An enlisted, or low-ranking person perhaps? Someone in the sciences maybe. It would explain her inventive use of sequins to refract the light like this; conjuring visions of licking flames with the slightest motion.

"I like your dress. Did you make it yourself?" he asked, admiring the design openly.

Ra'lin grinned now, relaxing – or at least, relaxing as much as she could behind mental shields like a fortress. "Yes. Well, lots of replicator programming, really. It's the counterpart of the Snow Queen's, over there." She nodded in Rochelle's direction. "You, on the other hand, decided to keep it simple?" she asked, both to keep the conversation going and to find out more about this man. She was fairly certain she hadn't met him before, but of course, she couldn't be sure unless she did lower her shields a fraction and she wasn't planning to do that. Then again, even on the Vindicator itself there were plenty of people she'd never seen before, and there was a fair share of Cold Station Theta people around here, plus assorted guests.

"I was offered my new posting yesterday, and only found out about this masquerade today. Though tempted by more fanciful attire, I opted for something that would not explode if I got it wrong." the stranger explained, gesturing to a cluster of people further away. Most of the people with clouds around their outfits had chosen to invest the effort into affixing portable holographic generators into their outfits. A few, however, had used chemicals (like dry ice) to make their costume effects. Of these, the majority had disabled the clouds after realising the effect it was having on others.

The few that were still going had been effectively ostrasized, shunned by a society that didn't want to cough up a lung trying to say hello. These had grouped into a cluster that no man nor woman dared approach; partly due to the rather intense levels of chemical warfare going on, partly because it was impossible to spot the individuals concealed in the overlapping mists, and partly because, occasionally, someone's chemical container would make alarming noises.

As if reacting to his thoughts, an audible *pop* echoed off of the walls, and a loud hiss could be heard. A figure in a dress fought her way out of the smog, her movements frantic and desperate. Behind the figure streamed a particularly thick stream of some chemical, and the figure seemed especially keen not to inhale. Some seal inside her dress' framework had broken, and now the whole contraption was groaning under the extreme pressure, with smaller gouts erupting from the front and sides.

Desperate, the figure grabbed at her waist and wrenched at some kind of emergency release. A series of rapid clicks caused the entire lower-half of her dress to detach and fall off, with her leaping over the rim of the frame and accelerating out of the hall in her bloomers. The hall staff didn't hesitate to beam the offending technology out of the hall, and the stranger was certain he could feel a gentle vibration through the deck as, he presumed, the exploding dress found a violent end somewhere far away.

Ra'lin pressed both hands against her mouth. "It's probably wrong to laugh at that, isn't it?" came muffled from behind those hands. Her eyes shone with suppressed mirth. "That poor woman- I'm sorry, I can't help it!" She dissolved into giggles.

"And that's why you don't mess with that kind of stuff," a voice said dryly behind them. It was the Element of Air, floating on a cloud which seemed to be an extension of her dress – actually floating a few inches above the ground. The masked woman patted Ra'lin on the back. "Breathe, dear," she said, then waved at both of them before moving off again.

Ra'lins flaming cheeks coloured surprisingly well with her dress. She managed to get herself under control, though not with some difficulty. "Good thing you didn't, then," she said, still sounding a little winded.

"I quite agree." the stranger stated, surprised at the sudden visit from the air elemental, but determined to take this unexpected turn a little better than the last one. "Exploding trousers do rather spoil one's evening. The shouting, the recriminations, the smoking underpants. Of course I have no experience with such matters." he added, quickly.

Ra'lin giggled again. "I certainly should hope not. Fortunately, neither have I. Fire, yes. Explosions, no." She took a deep breath. "Anyway… where were we, before we were so, ah, rudely interrupted? Oh, yes, new position. Where, if I may ask?"

"The USS Bachaanevaala." the stranger replied, uncertainty and concern riding on the back of his tongue. "I was told to meet them here at the station, but there are no ships docked under that name, and the registry insists no such ship exists. All very peculiar."

Adrift in hiis own mind for a moment, his subconscious spied a passing waiter, and used one hand to aquire a pair of drinks as the waiter walked by. He took a sip and noted the flavour of good champagne, which brought him back to the moment. Out of habit, he offered the other glass to the fire elemental.

"It apears they have broken out the good champagne. Extinguishing jokes aside, would you care for a glass?"

Ra'lin accepted the glass with a polite nod of thanks. "Doesn't ring a bell to me, either," she said. "Then again, I'm not assigned to the station. Maybe you'd better check station ops tomorrow." She smiled. "At least you get to enjoy a nice party while you're here."

"There is that. And the company is diverting." he offered with a smile, gesturing to her so she'd know he wasn't referring to the waitstaff.

"So, might I guess as to your posting?" he asked, daring to presume with his analysis anyway. "You move with the confidence of a Starfleet Officer, and the grace of a phoenix, so you have a high rank for certain." he observed, carefully weighing what he knew of her.

"Your comfort with strangers tells me you work on a ship, meeting new faces every day. There are two ships of note here; the Vindicator and the Endeavor. The latter is due to head home soon, and your vitalty tells me your adventure is just starting, so I would have to say Vindicator. Finally, when I appeared suddenly, you rushed to confront me without a single step back. This tells me you are used to being at the front. Hmm." the stranger hummed to himself, touching his chin in careful thought. All this, coupled with her lack of fists when she was startled earlier, told him she had a firm will and a finely honed diplomatic intinct. This meant she was either the ship's Chief Diplomat, or...

"If I were to hazard a guess, I would say you were the Vindicator's Commanding Officer. Do I have the pleasure of addressing Commodore Rochelle Ivanova?" he asked, brazenly.

Ra'lin grinned widely. Under most circumstances he would've been absolutely correct. Which just went to show that her instincts had been right when she'd persuaded Rochelle to go with the other costume. "Ha! That's because most people would expect her to be the Element of Fire, which is precisely why she isn't today, for once." Her eyes twinkled behind the mask. "Care to try again?"

"Well, senior officer for certain then. Something caring, yet requiring discipline and focus. Working with your hands for sure, with your coordination, but you don't seem to have an Engineer's calluses. My next guess would be the Vindicator's Chief Medical Officer. Yes, that must be it." he asserted. It would explain why her first reaction was to confront something surprising without violence. You couldn't punch a virus after all.

Well, you could, but the patient would probably object.

"And you're very deductive and analytical. Something sciency? No, you enjoy observing people too much," Ra'lin replied, getting intrigued by the game in return. "Not a counselor, though, I think." She grinned again and took a sip of her champagne. The tiny bubbles tickled her nose. "Mutual reveal after midnight?"

"Reveal of...positions? Is that a tradition here?" asked the man in the black mask, curious. He'd not heard anything about such a custom, though now he thought about it, there had been something in the invitation about midnight. In his rush to prepare, it was possible he hadn't read the entire document as thoroughly as he should have, and now it seemed he was paying the price for his haste.

"I apologise," he began, opting for humility, "but I don't recall what the invitation said about midnight. May I ask what will be revealed then?"

"Oh…" Now it was Ra'lins turn to be confused for a moment, mainly at his confusion. "At midnight is the demasqué, the unmasking, where people will reveal who they are. People who want to remain anonymous will leave just before then, of course. But I know there'll be an official part of the evening after midnight, so I guess most people will stick around for a bit. So, that would be a nice time to see if our mutual guesses are right, was my idea."

"I see. Thank you for explaining." the stranger replied, finally managing to understand the various half-heard comments about midnight. He'd been curious, but then he'd heard just as many comment about the profiteroles, so it hadn't really bothered him.

"Well, midnight is a while yet, and I should continue to make the rounds, as it were. By your leave, Doctor?" he inquired with a playful smile. It was always best to stay on a doctor's good side, lest you awaken from an appendectomy with your shirt sewn into your underpants.

"By all means, not-Counselor," Ra'lin said with a slight bow and a wide grin. "Catch you later!" And away she flitted, like the flame she represented that night.

=^= End of Log =^=

Man in the Black Mask
USS Bachaanevaala

Lieutenant Element of Fire
Yeoman, USS Vindicator


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