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JDL | Com Ivanova, LtCmdr Smith - "Make Believe" 1/2

Posted on 241803.12 @ 18:25 by Commodore Rochelle Ivanova & Lieutenant Commander John Smith

Mission: Lacuna
Location: Captain's Ready Room
Timeline: Current

Morning had come and with it the magic and mystery of the ball the night before had vanished into the make believe dawn of a new day out in space. No sun would rise. No stars would set. No birds, save those in the station's arboretum, would sing. Rochelle was content with that - long since having pledged herself to the service of the Federation and long since having found solace within the burning light of the thousands of stars visible against the abysmal black velvet of space. That, of course, came naturally for a woman who saw the universe completely backwards; a dreamer whether she chose to believe it or not. One that put stars in her coffee, and sprinkled sugar on the sky. One that dreamed of bathing in the clouds, while watching the sun hide behind lakes. Then again, the fiery redhead was always too busy tip toeing around her imagination and dancing with reality to take a moment to appreciate the impossible turned plausible and how she'd contributed it to that merry list simply by challenging the odds and defying absolution.

That morning was no different. Standing at the wall of windows, watching worker bees begin to finish the final touch ups to her valiant war-horse of a ship, the firebrand looked to the stars with eyes full of knowledge and passion rather than sadness for all that she'd lost, personally, in her pursuit of a better tomorrow for Starfleet... For the Federation. The chime of her door caught her attention, forcing her eyes away from the gas lights burning resiliently in the distance. "Come."

Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Smith entered the room with a steady pace, a calm gaze, and a heart hammering away in his ears. As a seasoned veteran, he doubted the the Commodore would be fooled by his cool facade, but then he felt no need to fool her. She wasn't hiring a block of stone, but a Chief Diplomat; someone who could be trusted to walk into the most stressful situations imaginable without weapons, armour, or backup. His only chance of completing those missions alive, let alone succeeding at them, was to show he could retain his logic and a positive professionalism while the aforementioned heart was putting up picture hooks on the inside of his ribcage.

"Lt Cmdr Jonathan Smith reporting for duty ma'am." he stated, shifting his grip on the padd held at his side, containing his newly-amended assignment. A hurried apology from Commander Bhatia had awaited him when he woke up this morning, explaining that her translator had failed to differentiate between the word Vindicator, and the word "bachaanevala", which was her national language's word for rescuer/liberator. This had resulted in him going two full days trying to find a ship that didn't exist. Not the most auspicious start, but since the only locals he'd spoken to about this had all been at the masquerade ball last night, he was hoping anonymity would protect him.

It would not, at least not completely.

"Commander Smith," Rochelle offered a polite smile as she turned to face him and a hand gracefully whisked in the direction of her Pietersite desk - namely the chairs set out in front of it - in gracious gesture that he find a seat, "I was beginning to wonder when you'd arrive and whether or not I'd have need of Starfleet to send a search party." The joke was mild, but it lit her eyes none-the-less as she left her roost in front of the windows in favor of her own chair and the expanse the ice and fire-like stone placed between her and those she was meant to observe as they reported in.

For a diplomat, he wasn't what she'd expected. Then again... Landon had been anything but conventional when he'd served as one; hardly Vulcan when it came to the way he'd conducted himself. This stranger held her fate, the fate of the entire Vindicator, on a string. It was enough to promote a shiver, well concealed, as it pushed her further from her comfort zone. Trusting him wasn't an option... It was a necessity. There was something there though, perhaps the way his eyes caught light, or the way he held himself. Maybe it was the bass of his voice, hidden in the under tones of every word, that left him feeling dear and familiar. "Lucky for all of us, here you are and no such need exists." She added with the lightest of good humored sighs, brushing off that sentiment all while searching through a desk drawer. A moment later appeared the PADD that would hold his housing assignments and general 'welcome aboard' info packet. Once set down, her delicate hand rested palm up, held out in wait for the orders he held while she powered on its mate, allowing her attention to focus there as she filled in general bits of information and added her permissions to other portions.

Taking the hint, John placed his assignment padd in her hand and accepted the welcome pack once she had finished with it. He held the new padd at his side, as there would be plenty of time to read it after the meeting was over.

Well, "plenty of time" was probably stretching things, but it was considered improper in most circles to keep your CO waiting while you caught up on your reading.

"Ensign Amelina to Commander Smith." clipped a disciplined Russian voice over the Commander's comm badge. He hesitated for a moment, concerned of the impropriety of answering a comm in the Captain's presence, before opting to answer anyway on the basis that she was still reading his assignment documents.

"Smith here."

"Sir, we have entered the system and will arrive at the Vindicator shortly." she announced, effortlessly pronouncing her double-yuus, but still managing to roll the occasional "R".

"Thank you Ensign, Smith out."

Turning his attention back to the Captain, he waited patiently for her to finish reading. She should be informed that his department would arrive in a matter of minutes, but ultimately nothing would catch on fire if they showed up before he could broach the topic.

It all depended on how fast she could read.

"Everything alright, Commander?" Rochelle asked, her eyes flicking up from the PADD to meet his while her right thumb pressed towards the bottom of the PADD, encrypting and authorizing the signature of her acceptance with her finger print. From what she'd managed to glean while skimming, something Skippers were champions at, seemed in line with what Starfleet seemed to believe was needed out in the unknown and while dealing with the tender relations budding between itself and the Stenellian Ascendancy. Sitting in front her was the first line of offense, and defense, when it came to navigating those muddied waters.

Sitting back, she folded her hands in her lap, "Your personnel file sings a pretty tune that you're a Marine. I have to ask," Her smile was small, as curious as the rest of her as she spoke, "Why does a devil dog choose to become a saint, and potentially, a martyr?"

"Several reasons, ma'am, and everything is fine; simply my team announcing their ETA." John replied, expecting the question. The Corps had been his home for a long time, and he'd only left them two years ago to begin his Diplomatic training at the academy. Since this was the first posting he'd had after completing his training, it was a mark of great confidence in him that he'd been recommended for this position. Despite the relative smallness of his department (a mere six people, plus himself) the pressures on him to perform would be immense.

As if he didn't have enough reasons to worry.

"I would say my main reason to become a Diplomat, ma'am, would be the trust. In my postings as a Marine, my opinion counted for little outside of the Corps. My last Captain called us his 'warmongers', and though there was no unkindness in that, he would rarely accept our recommendations; always assuming there was some tactical, aggressive motivation, even when there was not. However, the closer I worked with the ship's Diplomatic unit, the more I was able to present balanced opinions, and the more he would listen. I enjoyed being consulted on more varied matters, rather than just warfare, and I also enjoyed the company of the skilled diplomats on the crew. Ultimately, it was the recommendation of the Chief Diplomat that preserved my commission after the....unpleasantness, and granted me entry into the Academy's Diplomatic training program." John finished, winding down from story mode.

"I can appreciate that," The redhead nodded gently, "However they often say that once a Marine, always a Marine. Do you feel that to be true?" She asked, gesturing back to the PADD that now late inert against the glittering surface of her desk, "Or is the past simply that." Rochelle didn't feel the need to go into details about her own mistrust and relative contempt for the testosterone fest that was the average Marine. She didn't need to express the dire needs for diplomacy before bang bang shoot 'em up - which was remarkable given her own penchant for guns first, questions later, early on in her career. The man in front of her didn't fit the picture that came to mind when she immediately thought Marine - perhaps he was a gentle soul, philosophic, after all.

"Hmm." said John, touching his chin in thought. His eyes searched from left to right, as he searched his mind to determine the answer to the Captain's question. It wasn't a simple thing to respond to, unless you wanted to be glib. Even as a Marine, he had tried to curb the impulse to be irreverent under pressure. People shouldn't have to think about his orders to figure out if they were a joke. Hesitation kills, after all.

"Well, ma'am, I have tried to keep the core qualities of a Marine; bravery, loyalty, physical fitness, and always striving to improve my skills. Spending time with the Diplomats has taught me that these tenets are not limited to the Marines however, so perhaps I have lost the insularity that is endemic to the Corps; the belief that the Green Brotherhood are the only true source of dedication and power in the Fleet. Does this mean I am no longer a Marine? Honestly, I do not know." he admitted, answering straight from the heart.

Trying to disguise or pause the smile that began to light her face was simply impossible. Rochelle found herself shaking her head and chuckling softly, "Forgive me my candidness, but I'd say that makes you a Marine that has had a bit of an epiphany and is now realizing that there's more to solving conflict than jumping feet first into someone's ass." She grinned with a gentle shrug, "I think that you and I will get along just fine and I imagine the same goes for your team. However I doubt there's another 'woke' Marine among them." Her fingers rose and quirked in quotations around the word 'woke' as she spoke, only to be rested in her lap once more. "I value many of the same attributes that make a Marine a good Marine; honor, integrity, grit... Honesty, most of all. That is a recipe for success when it comes to surviving anything and everything my command may throw your way." Her weight rested back against the cushion of her chair, and a hand came up to gesture in a flippant manner, "regardless of what the rumors are, I assure you that I'm quite easy to get along with."

"Yes ma'am." spoke the man trying hard to forget his CO's casual description of sadomasochistic homoeroticism. That mental image would now follow him all day. She had a way with words, he'd give her that.

For a moment, he was tempted to ask her why, if she thought so highly of Marines, were there none on board? Though he had minimal prep time on his way to the ship, he'd spent much of it memorizing the names and faces of the senior staff. Their pictures were head-and-shoulders shots, and the first thing he had noticed was the total absence of green. He hadn't had a chance to ask anyone about it yet, though the Captain's turn-of-phrase indicated that the typical jarhead stereotype was prevalent here. Whatever the reason, the Marines were useful when it came to black-and-white strategic assaults, so having none on a ship this size was likely a *thing*. He didn't want to touch sore spots on his very first day, so he elected to hold fire on that topic and bring it up with someone further down the chain, possibly over drinks.

Marines and Diplomats were two very different breeds, but they were both united when it came to evading the drinking ban.

Speaking of Diplomats...

"On the topic of throwing work my way, ma'am, may I ask; do you have thoughts on what form you would like our efforts to take? My team is structured and trained for PAR (Prevention, Advice, and Resolution), and I'd like to discuss, at a high level, how we can best fit that into your existing diplomatic methods." he asked, aware that the Vindicator didn't have a preexisting diplomatic team, and that attempting to simply absorb those duties could antagonize the personnel currently handling them.

He made a mental note to contact the department heads after the meeting, so they would know how and when to use his department's services, and visa-versa.

"Honestly," Rochelle began, reaching to toy with the corner of a PADD, "You're on the lucky side. The closest thing we had to diplomats have recently left." Getting deeper into the story of the brothers Neyes wasn't necessary. It wouldn't be long before he heard for himself what had transpired and what loss had been felt where. "Meaning the best thing you could do is simply keep Commander Dahe'el and I in the loop, which is standard procedure anyway, and bring whoever is sent our way as a new counselor into the fold. Right now that duty falls to Lieutenant Ch'Valenvok and Lieutenant MacLeod as they're more or less splitting the duty until further notice."

"Vindicator has always been a bit rough and tumble when it comes to diplomacy. We don't exactly have the finest track record, what... With the way a certain Romulan likes to mettle in our affairs..." She scoffed lightly and shrugged, letting the sentiment trail off into the background hum of the engines. "Anyway... Our number one diplomatic issue, as a ship and sector, surrounds the Stenellian Ascendancy. We have a member who was more or less a peace offering. She went through the Academy, is quite brilliant, and we truly appreciate having her aboard. There's no preferential treatment given to her, but we try to keep an extra eye on her given the fact that having her injured or killed would reflect quite poorly on the diplomatic situation. I'm sure you'd agree."

"Yes ma'am." John agreed, adding another mental note to speak with the Stenellian on the crew.

From the sound of things, his team would be best served by adopting the default configuration at the start, while keeping the relevant officers supplied with summaries of their activities. This could then be adjusted as time went on and the ship's needs became known to them, with additional staff requisitioned later as necessary.

For now, he had seven people on the way; a pair of fellow treaty specialists and consultants, a linguistic xenoanthropologist, a professional gymnast, and a three-person research team for deep-dives (laws, histories, etc). There was still debate over the inclusion of a professional gymnast on a Diplomatic team, but John strongly agreed with the position that, when it came to ceremonies, you *needed* someone who could coordinate themselves to the millimeter.

Sometimes good intentions weren't enough, you had to get that sacred dance right the first time.

"Then, with your permission ma'am, I would like to station a consultant on the bridge, for advice. The rest of the team's standing orders will be to liaise with Federation-friendly species along our flight path, excepting the ones you would prefer to handle yourself, and to prepare cultural briefing packets for anticipated off-ship excursions. Events such as legal trouble, treaty violations, the unforseen, etcetera, will be handled on a case-by-case basis. How does this sound to you?" he asked, keeping things as simple as he could. He assumed she was asking for the general thrust of their efforts, rather than a multi-page dissertation on their duties.

"Consider it granted." Rochelle nodded gently, "I ask that the command crew be kept completely and fully in the loop on any and all things," She continued, the fingernail running along the seam of the PADD finding a small flaw in the plastic and digging at it half-heartedly, "The same way I'm sure that you would prefer that we be completely transparent with you in the same manner." Her eyes came up to study him once more as she spoke, working to gauge his expression and reaction as she spoke. What didn't need to be said was that as the Skipper of that ship, she knew almost everything that happened within the mighty vessel's hull.

It was her Camelot, but she would refuse to be the one to let the golden city burn simply because she was naive, arrogant, or ignorant. Arthur, legend or not, had become too big for his britches and succumbed to the stupidity that was his own heart. Her own Achilles heel had yet to be truly discovered, much less exploited, but her round table was proving to far more effective and loyal than the fictional King's.

Now, she had need to discover just where this new member of society would fit when practically forced and wedged into her circle of trust. Diplomats couldn't be kept on the fringe - but he was still a stranger yet and Rochelle... Had no time for strangers. The predicament was a beautiful conundrum, forcing her to learn and play nice when at first she'd preferred to have kept him at arm's length and far away from the nitty gritty details of the Vindicator... Of her. Had she known that the diplomatic stranger in front of her and the masked stranger from the night before were one in the same, she'd have blanched - perhaps even quailed even further from her line of thought... Or would she laugh at the irony and perhaps the good fortune at knowing such an intellect had joined the team? It was the furthest thing from her mind. "So long as we can work completely in tandem, I'm certain we can get along just fine. After all.. Fortune favors the bold."

"Yes ma'am." John replied promptly, his mind suddenly busy with two thoughts fighting for dominance.

The first was a flashback; hearing the music from the masquerade in the back of his mind, reliving the sense memory of the smell of dry ice, and seeing again the mask of the Winter Queen. The Captain's words echoed those of his chilly companion from the night before, right down to the intonation, making him wonder if the two were related. The Captain seemed much larger and more imposing than the diminutive figure from last night, but there was definitely a connection there. Perhaps they had spent time together. There was a thought.

The second was more a collection of memories, which had long since run a groove in his mind. Too many times had his former Captain refrained from bringing the Marines in on a potentially dangerous situation, only for them to be called on at the last minute. This meant that he was fully acclimated to an environment where he *wasn't* given all the information he needed. Some times it was the Captain forgetting to involve the Marines, and some times it was a deliberate exclusion of the department. "Don't tell the warmongers." had become a common order, often confessed to after the fact. His former Captain had done what he felt needed to be done, regardless of what it did to the relationship between them.

To Be Continued...

Commodore Rochelle Ivanova
Commanding Officer

Lt Cmdr John Smith
Chief Diplomat
USS Vindicator


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