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JL | Cmdr Luka, Lt Sha'mer | "A Welcome Distraction"

Posted on 241904.23 @ 21:39 by Commander Luka Kane & Lieutenant Ra'lin Sha'mer

Mission: Lacuna

PADDwork. PADDwork never changes.

If there was one aspect of Starfleet service that Luka loathed more than any other, it was this. The fact that his desk was still standing beneath the weight of lists, and reports, and regulations scattered across it was a testament to Starfleet engineering. Each facet of Tactical and Security had its own catalogue of reports and references, in an overlapping web of redundancy. One datapad listed every Starfleet issue firearm aboard, detailing serial numbers, storage locations, replication dates, hours of usage, and whose hands had been on the grips and triggers. A separate list informed him of who was and who wasn't cleared to use each one, while another detailed materials that had been commandeered by other departments, for diplomatic activities and other such things. The PADD by his right hand contained a veritable dating profile of information on each item of shipboard ordnance, just in case he was curious which sensor probes and which photon torpedoes liked long walks on the beach, and fine cuisine. The PADD to his left was of his own making, the stylus discarded haphazardly on its surface used to scrawl notes and reminders of which names belonged to which faces, and which stack of reports and requisition forms they were individually responsible for. At this point, Luka was perilously close to creating a grading system, a metric by which he could grade his new subordinates based on how much of his time their personal administrative impact had wasted.

What he needed right now was a distraction: nothing so drastic as a Red Alert, that would likely lead to more PADDwork, and as satisfying as it would be to fire a few torpedoes at something as a reprieve from the monotony, that would invalidate at least three of the PADDs he'd just managed to shift over to the frustratingly short 'done' pile. An intruder alert might be nice, as long as there wasn't too much running involved. Perhaps even an incident down on the surface, though he was still too new to the Vindicator to be confident that he'd be able to find his way to the transporter room without incident.

As ever, the Prophets saw fit to indulge him with kindness. Luka's eyes darted eagerly from a Bolian petty officer's disciplinary report to the doorway of his office, the source from which a chime had just sounded. He forced himself to complete a quick three-count before responding, to disguise the sense that he was a little too keen to be disturbed. "Come in."

Now that Ra'lin was on the ship, she figured she might as well drop in and say 'hi' to the new arrival. She normally kept her mental shields up, but the emotional emanations coming from the office of the new tactical/security officer were strong enough to be noticed even through the shields. It was one she knew well and associated with only one thing: PADDwork. Administration, reports to write, reports to summarise, reports to combine and compile… she was sure that any passing empath when she was buried up to her ears in PADDs would get a similar sensation as she just felt.

All the more reason to see if he wanted some company. Ra'lin didn't lower her shields to check if he was still in deep concentration or not, but the emotional weariness she had felt washing over her a moment ago suggested that it would be a good idea for him to take a break anyway. So with that in mind, she pressed the chime.

At his 'come in' she did just that, taking in the stacks of PADDs with one glance, and grinned in unmistakable sympathy. "Hi," she said. "I'm Ra'lin, yeoman of the Vindicator. I just thought I'd say hi. If that's alright with you?" The grin began to fade.

If Luka had been more familiar to and with his new crewmates, he might have responded with deadpan humour to her question: some comment about how it was a little too late to be asking for permission, given that the 'hi' had already been uttered, perhaps. But the Vindicator was too new to him for that, and in his present state he wasn't sure how well he'd be able to ride the line between fictional annoyance and the genuine irritation being brought on by frustration and fatigue.

He opted for a different approach, a rare smile offered in her direction, nowhere near enough to serve as a true counterpart to the friendly expression that Ra'lin offered, but sufficient to soften and smooth away some of the gruffness from his haggard features. His mind delved back through his recollection of the PADDs he had already processed, searching for the words that connected with the ones she had offered. Ra'lin. Yeoman. Recognition added a few more percent to the intensity of his modest smile. "Ah, Lieutenant Sha'mer! Please, come in."

A hand added emphasis to his words, beconing her towards the desk, before setting about adjusting the positioning of the PADDs on his desk. Nothing was discarded, nothing shifted too far from its organised place, but the effort was tokenism, a symbolic gesture that he was setting aside his work to give the Lieutenant his full attention, as opposed to the standoffish alternative of sitting behind his unabandoned PADDwork like a gunman behind a barricade.

"Truth be told, you're a welcome distraction. Feel free to help yourself to something from the replicator, if you can find it." His head jerked involuntarily towards the appropriate alcove, but unwilling to abandon the implied joke he nudged at one of the PADDs for emphasis, a faint chuckle and another degree or two of smile added for good measure. "I think it's buried around here somewhere."

"Oh, I know the feeling, believe me. If there's anything we yeomen know about, it's PADDs. Mountains of PADDs." Ra'lin swerved away on her way to the chair to make for the replicator and pulled out a raktajino. "Anything you fancy?" she asked, cradling the cup with her hand.

"If I have any more coffee, I think it's going to trigger heart failure," he replied, with a subtle shake of his head. "I weened myself off the stuff during my retirement, and now anything more than half a cup makes me twitchier than an Andorian at a pulse rave." He sighed, unsure if the strange sense of borderline nostalgia he was feeling for the sleep-deprived days of yore when his bloodstream had needed to prioritise caffeine over even oxygen to ensure that he could successfully function, was some sort of psychological warning sign. "Red wine on the other hand? That I can drink like a champion, especially if you let me sit outside in open-toed shoes."

It took Ra'lin a moment to get what he meant with 'pulse rave', but then she had a sudden vision of the stern science officer, Anaxar Shran, with his wild hair and his lanky body going totally out of his mind on the dance floor. Again that impish grin appeared, though she managed to bite down the giggle which usually accompanied it.

"Um," she said, banishing the mental image with limited success. "I can order a glass of wine from the replicator, but it's only synthale. But I'm sure you could go down to Apsha and get some wine there… though it might be a bit cold for open-toed shoes there at the moment." She remained where she was for a moment longer in case Luka offered an alternative.

"I'll survive without," Luka assured, with what would likely have been his paternal smile, had he ever lapsed in wisdom for long enough to let himself become a father. "Though I will take a glass of insight, if you're willing to offer it. There's a PADD in here somewhere about Apsha and the Ascendancy, but -" He trailed off and made a face, hoping it conveyed his meaning well enough. He sighed, his expression turning apologetic. "Run me through the basics? What do I need to know, that I won't have read on the front pages of the Federation Press?"

"Oeh." Ra'lin walked over to the chair and sat down, resisting the urge to curl up in her usual position. "Can't say that I follow the Federation Press, but I think what they know about the Ascendancy can be summarised by three lines. They're a big power, they're on our doorstep and their Empress is married to a relative of the Emperor of that other big power next door, the Romulans."

She took a sip of her raktajino and felt the fluid burn down in a pleasant wave of heat and energy. "So… I've never had dealings with the former Empress, but many of the crew of the Vindicator have. She was… not a nice person, to put it mildly. I'm sure Commodore Ivanova can give you the details…" After a glass or two of wine, maybe, she thought but didn't add. "Anyway. She has met an untimely end, I believe. The current Empress is a lot more, ah, reasonable, by comparison, I understand." She paused briefly, tapping her fingers against the cup while she thought. All the sprite-like bounciness had left her now, focused as she was on the task of sharing information. "Actually, the best person to ask is one of our science officers, Lieutenant Si'a Dai'xun. She's Stenellis."

Si'a Dai'xun. Luka considered making a mental note of that, but then thought better of it, reaching instead for one of the PADDs strewn across his desk. A few prods with a stylus, and he found the name in question. "Right, over in Stellar Cartography," he mused mostly to himself, with a nod of his head, recognising her name from his earlier glimpses at the Vindicator's crew manifest. He'd asked the computer to filter him a list of officers that were 'interesting' by a certain set of metrics. It had proven to be quite a lengthy list, and represented several more PADDs of personal information that Luka had yet to download. A few quick flicks of the stylus added some helpful annotations in Bajoran script. "What's she like? I don't want to approach her for the sake of my curiosity, and have her worry that she's about to be interrogated by the new Security Chief just for being a little different."

"Well, considering that she's the most knowledgeable crewmember regarding the Stenellian Ascendancy, and that it's your job to protect this ship against all potential threats, both internal and external, and given that we're in Ascendancy space…" Ra'lin took a deep breath after that long sentence, "…she'll probably realise it's only logical that you're going to ask questions to the resident expert. She is science, after all," Ra'lin added with a smile. "I like her. She's the first Stenellis in Starfleet, as far as I know."

"Only logical," Luka offered, with a soft chuckle. "You'll have to forgive me: I came up in the Bajoran Militia, and cut my teeth with Starfleet in the wake of the first Dominion War. Things were a lot different back then, and Security showing an interest in you didn't always mean good things for you, no matter how much logic was involved. The prospect that any person you meet could be a changeling or an imposter -"

He stopped himself, before the train of thought had the chance of bringing a shudder to his bones. He still remembered how it had felt back on Deep Space Nine, learning that one of the Founders had replaced Starfleet's senior physician without anyone batting an eye. Wraiths' sake, Luka himself had been treated by him - it? - more than once for injuries sustained on the job, and hadn't expected a damned thing. Luka had blamed himself, a failure of his own deductive skills. Others had blamed literally everyone else, jumping at every shadow, leaping on every uncharacteristic moment, friendships spiralling downwards as a witch hunt mentality had gripped the entire galaxy. The incident with Martok and the Order of Kahless, or Admiral Leyton and the coup on Earth? It wasn't just death tolls and collateral damage that the Dominion had needed to answer for, there was also the erosion of people's trust in each other. It wasn't the last time, either: Luka struggled to think of a time before now when he'd worn a Starfleet uniform without that potential concern being somewhere in the back of his mind.

"You're right: my job is to protect this ship and this crew from danger. I'm just not quite used to a version of Starfleet where everyone trusts in that. It'll take some getting used to, but in a good way."

Ra'lin sobered. The vivacious smile disappeared again, large brown-green eyes looked solemny into his. "I know there have been times when it wasn't a given in Starfleet that everyone was on your side, and those wounds run deep. I'm just fortunate to have grown up in a time of…" she sighed. There had been troubled times even in her lifetime, she knew that all too well. Even so, not nearly to the level that you didn't know who you could trust or not, seeing that a beloved one could be easily replaced. Ra'lin didn't know if she would be able to detect an impostor or not, and was glad she didn't have to find out. "…a time of relative quiet," she added softly. Then another thought struck her. "Won't it be hard for you to work on this ship, with Commander Dahe'el?"

It wasn't the first time Luka had been asked the question, and in truth it was something that had never quite strayed from his mind, lingering there on the periphery whenever his focus wasn't fully occupied. It wasn't that the prospect of serving with a Cardassian was problematic for him, per se: more that he hadn't quite found an adequate way to turn his answer to the question into words that felt like they conveyed all the right things. The relative youth of Commander Dahe'el, his own advanced years, adages about how time healed all wounds: they were all logical and rational lines of reasoning to lean upon, and yet he felt like he was hiding behind them, dishonest by omission, in a way.

"When I first started rubbing shoulders with Starfleet, working alongside the Klingons was something new. A lot of my people had been displaced to other worlds and refugee camps during the Occupation, but me? I grew up with the Resistance on the homeworld. I didn't know what a Klingon even was, let alone why everyone acted so strangely whenever they showed up on the station. It wasn't until someone explained the history to me that I started to understand: all those conflicts, all those deaths, all those generations born into a particular mindset of who Klingons were, and what they were. Then the Klingon War came, and ended almost as quickly, and suddenly we were allies, side by side fighting Cardassians and Breen and Jem'Hadar. But no one ever forgave. No one ever even saw a reason to, because that's just how the story goes. To quote an old friend of mine: Klingons are going to Klingon. There's no escaping that."

He paused for a moment, his brow furrowing into a frown. "By the same token, Cardassians are going to Cardassian. The same people that enslaved and slaughtered my race, that betrayed the entire galaxy to the Dominion not once but twice, who have been at war with the Federation countless times: that is who they are, and that is how they have been for as long as the galaxy can remember. It is a lesson that history has taught, again and again: you cannot trust the Cardassians."

Luka's eyes had gazed off into the middle distance as he spoke, but now they sought out Ra'lin's gaze directly. "But that is The Cardassians.The Klingons. When it comes to A Klingon? A Cardassian?" A small, near-silent and mirthless breath of laughter crept out of his lungs. "I have met too many people over the course of my life to pretend that you can predict anyone based on the species they belong to. I've seen Cardassians rebel against governments for the good of the people. I've seen Klingons carrying Federation wounded off battlefields, rather than leaving them to wait for the boat to Sto'Vo'Kor. I've seen atheist Bajorans, and ones so consumed by revenge that they are willing to commit the same kind of attrocities that the Cardassians inflicted upon us. Who we are as a People, and who we are as a Person are two vastly different things."

He nodded to himself, his eyes peeling away again, wondering if his words had successfully conveyed any part of his deeper thoughts. "Commander Dahe'el is a Starfleet Officer, who probably wasn't even born when the Cardassians occupied my world. It may be difficult, perhaps, but that rests entirely upon my shoulders. He is not my enemy, and I have no intention of allowing myself to treat him as such."

Ra'lin gave a small sigh. "I wish more people would know this… and realise this, and live by this." A hard-won lesson, one which not everybody was able to learn. Too many people lived by the credo: "Never forgive, never forget." And thus they blinded themselves and others with hate, never leaving room for change, for growth. For seeing the potential in individuals, in a person as Luka put it.

She had met minds like that, red-hot in seething anger or the dull red glow of embers, ready to be fanned to life at the slightest provocation. She remembered stories from her mother. She remembered Cold Station Theta's CMO, the Vorta who had kept Si'a alive and in relative good health when they both were captured. "It must be as hard for the Commander to live with what he is, knowing that he can never go to certain places without being judged, by people who see the Cardassian first and foremost, and who can often never see further than that."

Luka let out a sigh, agreeing with the Yeoman's sentiment. "Such is the story of far too many people throughout history," he mused, sinking back into his chair a little, arms folding themselves out of reflex and resting idly against his stomach. "The capacity of sentient beings to reject and ostricise each other for factors beyond an individual's control never ceases to amaze, or to disappoint."

A frown furrowed across his brow, as he contemplated his companion. "What about you? You'll have to forgive me, I'm not much of an anthropologist, and I've accidentally and unknowingly insulted too many people over the years to risk trying to presume your species."

Ra'lin shrugged a bit. "I'm Vo'Sh'un. My species originate from the Delta Quadrant, but my mom decided years ago she'd rather live here. Let's just say… from what she told me, compared to my people, the Cardassians would be considered 'a mild nuisance'. But I didn't grow up there, all I have is what mom told me, and she never told me much. So…" Another awkward shrug.

"On the other hand, sentient beings can also be capable of the most amazingly empathic responses, helping others in need at great expense of their own. I guess it's full spectrum… people can be completely awful, or utterly fantastic, and anything in between." She looked up at him and smiled. "I hope you'll find your share of fantastic people amongst this crew. I know I have."

The prospect of a species that could out-Cardassian the Cardassians made his eyebrow climbed, and for a moment Luka wondered whether it was a hyperbole or a grim warning. The Delta Quadrant seemed to have no shortage of threats and dangers, that much was certain, and that region of space seemed to breed cultures that had a certain survivalistic ruthlessess to them. The Kazon, the Hirogen, the Vidiians - hell, even the Borg. Apparently, the Delta Quadrant was just a particularly antisocial neighbourhood. But, it was also a long way away from here, and Luka chose not to pay it any further mind.

"I hope so too," he agreed with a subtle smile of his own. "I was retired for a long time, and while I certainly didn't miss all of this -" He waved a hand towards the fortress of PADDs that dominated his desk. "- I did miss the people. What is it that the Vulcans call it, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations? It'll be nice to experience a little taste of infinity again."

"That's what they call it, yes," Ra'lin nodded. "There's even a restaurant on CST with that name. Haven't visited it yet, though." She finished the last of her raktajino and set the cup down, leaned forward. "What brought you out of retirement, if I may ask? Oh, and if you need to get back to work, just throw me out. There'll be plenty of time to talk later."

"You're kidding, right?" Luka chuckled. "I'd quantum weld you to that chair if it would guarantee me a few extra minutes before I return to administrative misery."

He let the statement linger in the air for a moment before turning his thoughts towards her more specific query. Why had he come out of retirement, and which of the myriad hypothetical reasons was the version of the truth that he wanted to share with the Yeoman? It was true to say that it hadn't been his idea, and yet at the same time part of him felt as if he'd been waiting for an excuse. There were people who could occupy themselves incessantly when given enough time, but whether it was his past, or his nature, or some other factor, he just wasn't one of those people.

"A favour for a friend," he settled upon: close enough to be honest, but evasive enough that he didn't have to delve too deeply into his own conflicted feelings on the subject. "That, and I guess I was getting bored. Existence is it's own reward, and for some people that's enough, but I just didn't quite feel myself without having a purpose to define myself by. Didn't quite feel whole. Besides -" He chuckled, casting a knowing glance at his desk. "Who the hell wants to sit around reading all day?"

"I don't know," Ra'lin said, and that grin flashed out again. "I've never tried it. Well, other than sitting around and reading padds all day… and summarising them… and, well, you know." She hopped up to put the empty mug back in the replicator and watched it disappear with a soft hum. "The Vindicator is a good ship," she said in a more subdued tone when she walked back. "I don't have much experience with other ships-" the tales Ethel told her resurfaced in her mind. She was sure that other ships held crews which were more professionally distant, where they didn't have that sense of an extensive family, or friends. But that was not the Starfleet she had ever experienced. Not on Trilista Colony, not in her time on the Academy, and certainly not here. "-but the people are nice. A lot of them carry their own scars," Some, like Lieutenant Shran, on the outside, others, like the Commodore, within, "but that hasn't stopped them from forming ties between each other, and welcoming new crew in their ranks. Maybe on the contrary. So, I guess this is just my elaborate way of saying 'welcome'. I'm sorry, I have a tendency to talk too much."

Luka chuckled softly to himself. Ah, to be young, and constantly feel the need to apologise for everything. It was a version of youth that Luka had never experienced himself of course, Occuption-induced maturity and all, but it was something he had seen again from young crewmen and officers, from peers to trainees to unassuming bystanders in corridors. Age seemed to be the antidote for that mindset, paired with a tired indifference with how the rest of the galaxy saw you.

"There's nothing to apologise for, Lieutenant. If it's a choice between talkative you, or some stoic and silent Vulcan or Klingon or somesuch, I know which one I'd rather be distracted by. Any time you want to come rescue me from facts and figures, you're more than welcome to stop on by."

"I'll keep that in mind. And…" Ra'lin flashed that grin again, "let's just say that if the mountain of padds will be the worst that befalls you while you're serving here, we'll all be happy. Bye!" She had been walking to the door as she spoke and now she ducked out, waved at him from around the corner. The door slid back, leaving the new arrival alone with his thoughts, and with his padds.

---

Lieutenant Ra'lin Sha'mer
Yeoman, USS Vindicator

Commander Luka Kane
Chief Security/Tactical Officer
USS Vindicator

 

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