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JDL | LtCmdr Ethel Baul & LtCmdr Smith - "Game Set Match"

Posted on 241808.13 @ 21:27 by Commodore Rochelle Ivanova & Lieutenant Commander John Smith

Mission: Lacuna
Location: USS Vindicator
Timeline: Current

=^= Corridor =^=

John clomped down the corridor with a stony look on his face, a padd held in one hand. The screen was slightly discoloured under his thumb; the slight warping a clear sign of pressure being brought to bear. The words "0915 - Mandatory Counselling Session for New Staff Member" could be read on the calender app, and there was a slight dent in the screen where the alarm-silencer had been thumped perhaps a little more forcefully than was necessary.

Far too soon, the Commander reached the doors to his assigned counselor's office. He stowed the small padd in his trouser pocket, took a deep, calming breath, and pressed the door chime with care.

Rochelle... Or rather... Ethel's bright eyes shot in the direction of the door. She could feel her blood pressure spike and her fingers instinctively fall upon the blade hidden at her hip. The idea of company was unwanted - but it wasn't about what she wanted. She had a role to play, a job to fill, and the show must go on. That was the clever reminder that she was 'safe' behind a relatively mousy disguise. Glasses, 'because mama told me the Lord made me this way and it was the work of the devil to change his artwork' - she wanted to gag - and dark, sooty, almost brown, dishwater blond hair were a far cry from the clean faced woman with a mane of fire that normally stared back at her through the mirror. For everything the 'Clark Kent' routine didn't cover, there was that blasted technology to change. A bit more of a point to the chin, softer cheek bones, a bit of work to the nose... She was safe. Clearing her throat and guiding her hand away from her insurance policy 'Ethel' called out to whoever waited beyond and plastered a smile across her face, 'Come in!'

"Good morning, Counselor." said John, giving the woman a warm smile as he entered the room. The doors closed quickly behind him, giving a barely-perceptible roundness to his words as the acoustics of the room shifted. He could see the change in the light of the room as the corridor was cut off from him, and felt the shift in the air as the doors had moved.

"Commander Smith, reporting as ordered." he added. Three steps brought him within range for a friendly handshake, and one hand was extended accordingly.

Tiramisu and blush wine. She remembered both flavors the moment her eyes focused on his face and for a split second marveled in the irony that he'd be her first 'patient'. Of course he would. Why not? "Good morning." Ethel beamed back and set her hand in his for a firm, yet deceivingly gentle, shake. "I like to leave formality at the door, makes things nice and a lot easier on everyone." Didn't matter that she wore similar pips, she wasn't Starfleet anymore than she was an actual shrink. Using the so called 'laid back, let's be friends, peace dude' approach was her only chance at masking that degree of ineptitude as she began to sink her talons into the crew of the Vindicator. In just a few short months, she'd usurp the throne if only to put Tr'Bak's melodramatic yearnings to an end and to give herself a fighting chance at a life beyond puppetry.

"Have a seat. Could I getcha a drink? Coffee? Tea?" Ethel's fingers gestured loosely at the sofa and loveseat set up across from her desk. It was cozy enough and far from the sterility some doctors prided themselves on. The latter, the chill, hardly being the environment she herself would have wanted to be found in if push came to shove and someone was playing the part of her professional 'friend'.

"No, thank you. I've already had coffee this morning. Feel to get one for yourself." he allowed, freeing her from the bonds of beverage courtesy. It wasn't normally the done thing for a host to drink while her guest did not, but the bonds of courtesy made more sense when people lived further apart; in farms, or across vast estates. When you met new people several times a minute, like you did on a busy ship, the little niceties were often extended (per protocol and good form) and frequently waived. A faux par, perhaps, but it simplified things

"You're too kind." The sooty buckskin maned woman chirped, "I have to admit... I only really partake to be polite. It adds up to a lot off coffee and tea a day. Sometimes I try and switch it up." Or so she imagined it would. Sliding into a seat, Ethel crossed her coltish legs and set her hands in her lap, "Your records say that you haven't been with the ship very long and haven't been on a mission with them, so maybe this question isn't fair but I have to ask. Do you feel like you've settled in alright?" Memories of him blubbering into his hands about his faux pas with the Empress was still very fresh. He hadn't been crying to 'Ethel', of course, but worse... He'd been crying to 'Rochelle', his boss.

"The crew has been very welcoming, Commander." said John. He mirrored her motion and took a seat on the couch, finding it very soft and plushy. No doubt it had been designed by the best Starfleet neuropsychologists to induce the maximum comfort and relaxation. For efficiency, you wanted even the most guarded, hardened individuals to lay one finger on this couch and feel immediately at ease, ready and willing to spill their innermost secrets. It made for faster diagnosis and recovery, something essential in a military vessel.

"You can call me Ethel. No formality, remember? Anyway, this is good to hear. There's a lot of rumors about this ship's crew, mostly about them being very tight knit." 'Ethel' was pleased. He was talking, even if it was clipped and cool. He was wary, that was normal - hell... She'd be wary too if a stranger sat her down an some overly comfortable couch and started making pointed small talk, "I always imagined a crew like this one being more difficult to make any headway with." It was a leading statement if there ever was one, but it was valuable in so far that it could, and likely would, help her glean information about the inner workings of the Vindicator crew. Such would be priceless when it came time for the switch.

"The crew are professionals." John asserted, gesturing with one hand while the other rested on his knee. "We get along because the work needs to get done. No time for arguments on the job."

Though his words were ambiguous, they were delivered calmly, without judgement. The crew had been working extremely hard to enable the rescue of the captured officers, and his respect for their work ethic was palpable. They had delivered reports, enabled diplomatic negotiations for the ship tracking data, and there was always someone on hand if his department had needed something to further their efforts. A crate of Saurian Brandy? No problem Commander. Thirteen tonnes of Ripple Fudge? On it, Commander.

It was strange at first, not having to fight to get what he needed to do his job, but the change was refreshing.

The blonde smiled in kind, more so because she was intrigued by the stoic nature of the man in front of her. Had she not seen him crack, she'd have thought that such a thing would be impossible for him. The man had one hell of a poker face. A handsome one at that. "Is that only because the ship is currently in crisis mode? I'm sure people behave very differently when the pressure isn't on them." She more or less mused aloud, tossing bits of bait out there in a manner so flippant that the set up could easily have been two co-workers bullshitting at a bar, talking about the nature of the corporation they slaved for.

But were the men and women who made up the Vindicator's crew 'slaves'?

"I've heard the Commodore can be quite demanding." She grinned. Truth be told, she had no idea what the woman's command style was beyond the tale woven of her love story with the ship's former Commanding Officer and the guile and zest in which she crossed swords with Tr'Bak in order to protect... Who? Them? Landon? Archer? The Cardassian? Too many questions, and she had all the time in the universe to have them answered.

"No more than any other CO." John replied, wondering what the counselor was getting at, but wary of pondering too hard. Thinking about a psychiatric professional's thought process was liable to get a person trapped in twists and turns, exposing the very things a private person might seek to conceal.

"Besides, it doesn't matter if the crew behaves differently tomorrow." he asserted, deciding to push back a little. "Until that happens, it's impossible for me to know how they might change. All I can do is stay alert, stay in the present, and deal with it. Isn't that an anti-stress technique you counselors push? Mindfulness?"

"Guilty as charged." 'Ethel' beamed brightly with a wag of her brows and a chuckle, "There's no fooling you about our secret mind tricks, is there? Might as well quit while I'm ahead and just sidle back into mindless idle chit chat." The good humored sarcasm dripped from her lips as she spoke, leaning back into her chair. Even her fingers pushed the PADD away. Obligatory session notes could, and would, be written later. In the mean time, he'd piqued her interest yet again with his unapologetic candid cadence. "Are you the standard to expect when it comes to Marines turned Fleet or are you one of a kind?"

"I couldn't say." said John, evenly. "I haven't met any."

Against his own good advice, the diplomat noticed her little jab about mindless chit-chat, and found himself ruminating on her thoughts and methods. If she weren't a counselor, then her jab might be a passive-aggressive stab over his little mindfulness quip, followed by a borderline-compliment to bring things back to the positive.

Since she was a counselor, however, he assumed there was more to it.

Perhaps she was attempting to push him back into a neutral stance, allowing her to lead him down a different path while he floundered in social discomfort. Maybe she really was annoyed, and was using some form of method acting to fuse layers of psychoanalysis with her own natural responses, thereby wrong-footing a person expecting false emotion. Or perhaps she wasn't using any special skills at all because she didn't have any; and she was merely faking being a counselor until it was time to implement a sinister plan.

A flicker of a smile darted across John's face at the half-joking paranoia in his thoughts, and the sensation brought him back into the moment.

"And yourself?" he covered, suddenly aware that they'd been sitting in silence while his musings ran their course. "I haven't met the other counselors on the Vindicator, actually. Are they much like you?"

The silence gave way to her own curiosity. 'Ethel's' head canted softly to the right as she watched the color of his irises shift in correspondence with the mood of his thoughts and his pupils contract and dilate accordingly. The evanescent hint of a smile tugged and pulled at the corners of her own mouth and she couldn't help but shake her head. This one, the Devil Dog turned Ambassador, was strange to say the very least. Had he known that she'd already seen him crumble and openly weep at his own perceived ineptitude, he'd probably have suffered from a massive stroke right then and there - and that was best left as an experiment not explored. She was a lot of things, but cruel wasn't necessarily one of them and he'd proven himself in some way, on some plane, to be worth watching. He'd had chances that lesser men would have jumped at and seized as granted without so much as a second thought or heart beat.

Not him.

So much for Tr'Bak's assertions that the Federation was filled with nothing more than scoundrels and has beens. Sitting across from her was very much a 'would be'. The future was undoubtedly bright for him... At least, it would have been had it not been for the Romulan poised and waiting for a chance to control Starfleet's fabled flagship - and the Federation as a whole.

'Ethel's' fingers drummed solidly across the top of her desk, chasing away those particular nasty thoughts about the same time he spoke up again. "Hmm?" She queried distractedly, her eyebrows lifting as she leaned towards him and finally grasped what it was he was asking, "Oh!" she exclaimed before settling into a wry little smile and her head shook again, leveling her gaze on him with an expression that simply read 'I see what you did there. Well played.' as she shrugged. The angle of her forward tilt increased until she set her elbows atop the desk and her chin in her hands in a way most definitely whispered 'conspiracy afoot', "I'd go out on a limb and say 'no'. I'm sure our styles and approaches are different." This time her smile was absolutely Cheshire in nature, "After all, no two people are ever the same, right?" So much for conspiracy... At least for now. If he only knew... Oh if he only knew. But for now, little jabs and teases, measures of humor that had long since been buried made things more... Fresh... Real... Even with so many elements of subterfuge afoot.

John watched expressions scurry across the counselor's face, and wondered what was going on inside her head. This time, though, he successfully resisted the urge to speculate. Whatever game she was playing here, whatever methods to try and expose his innermost, he would have no part of it.

"Of course." he returned, with an accepting smile.

"Kobor to Commander Smith." spoke the Commander's comm, grabbing his attention through the implanted transceiver in his ear. Some lower-ranking officers still used the badge as a stand-alone, he knew, but the implant was necessary for officers who needed to be able to receive restricted information in a crowded room

"My apologies." he said to the woman, turning his head away slightly. "Go ahead."

"Sir, you asked me to contact you at this time precisely."

"Yes, I see." replied the Commander, his expression grave. "You were right to call me. What's the situation right now?"

"Situation normal, sir. Nothing to report."

"Are there no other officers on hand?" he asked, his tone implying that he would like nothing better than to stay here and talk to this counselor forever.

"There are many officers sir." replied Kobor, confused by the Commander's responses but too professional to show it.

"I'm on my way. Buy some time if you can." John concluded, standing and tapping his badge to close the channel. He offered an apologetic smile to the counselor as he made to leave the room at a hurry. "I'm sorry to conclude our talk a little early. That was my duty officer on the bridge. I'm sure you understand."

"I... Well... Sure." 'Ethel' blinked at the hastily retreating form of the Commander. The entire sudden departure was more than a little mystifying, but left her with little to do to rectify it. It wasn't a game of 'bullshit' and she couldn't exactly force him to show his cards.

Game. Set. Match.

=^= End of Log =^=

Lieutenant Commander John Smith
Chief Diplomatic Officer
USS Vindicator


Lieutenant Commander Ethel Baul


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