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JL | Empress & CIO | Empress Xue' Daio Nox, LCDR Stacker | "Homecoming"

Posted on Fri Jul 20th, 2018 @ 12:55am by Lieutenant Commander James Stacker & Xue'Daio Nox Tr'Verelan

Mission: Lacuna
Location: Intelligence Hangar Facility | Cold Station Theta
Timeline: SD 241807.19

He stood at the railing of the observation platform - a full two levels above the floor of the docking bay - in an enviable perch; the observation platform outside the control room being well-suited to stand and observe. There was a cluster of bodies around a gurney, medics and gold collars in close attendance due to its holding a prisoner. Not the first, either: an earlier line had been led off the ship, appropriately restrained and under watchful eye of an odd mix of station security and MACOs.

It took no great mind to realize that there would be gunfights from all this. Starfleet Security would want law and justice. Starfleet Intelligence would want to conduct interrogations. No doubt it would land on someone's desk - probably a mid-level bureaucrat in a comfy office far beyond the sector. It would come to arbitration, and a meditated settlement, only to collapse into more bickering and thinly-veiled words hiding in memorandums. He was faintly amused at the notion; he could be amused for this would all play out above his level.

With a turn of his head, he glanced back over his shoulder and observed yet another squad of MACOs standing in the corridor outside. Tight shirts, weapons at their hips, all swagger and bravado - rightfully earned, of course. They would be honored guests of the station, for however long they stayed, and he would end up contending with the blackshirts on his doorstep. The station may have had the space, but only intelligence had the training holodecks that would keep them honed.

With his focus and attention elsewhere, he could almost be excused for not picking up on those footsteps. When he did, his head turned slightly towards the shadows and a faint white glow towards a door that had not been open before. "Your majesty."

The silent shiver of starlight burned brighter as she stepped closer towards the ghost. Her eyes were filled with questions, but her body well poised as she came to rest beside him, peering through the glass at what was happening below. "More military presence..." Xue's head shook, but that was small potatoes compared to why it was she'd sought him out. Push come to shove, even Starfleet's MACO's were no match for the Makta, and she knew it well. "You've brought them home?" She asked, tilting her head ever so slightly towards him, even if her eyes never left the activity below.

He grunted. It was a crude and bestial sound, but he'd be damned if he was going to make excuses after the hell of the last few days. Now was his time to start to wind down - and what a long process it was going to be, too. He knew it in his core. There would be fits in the night, startled awakenings, distracted thoughts in the middle of staff meetings, an inability to focus, even moments where he'd go from right-as-rain to a sudden skid into a deep bone tiredness. So he was damned if he was going to play some polished-up role for an Empress. Even one as powerful as she.

"A bit battered and bruised, but yes. They're back." He flicked a few fingers at the black-coated ship to their front. The Campbeltown; all safe and sound, and tucked away in protective gantries that held her behind the closed bay doors. "Call it a team effort."

"All of them?" She asked, hardly fussed with his gruff demeanor. One couldn't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but sometimes silk purses resembled sows ears after they'd been drug through the mud, ran over, and beaten a few times. Eventually - with tender and careful care - they returned to being what they were supposed to be. It wasn't her job to put him back together, as such she didn't care to try. In a blink, her eyes were upon him, studying his face, "I had heard that Si'a Dai'xun is expecting. Someone has loose lips, I'd suspect a junior officer who thought it would be great gossip and chose poorly. At some point you may think to address that." She nodded gently, "The question still remains... Have they all made it home as far as you know?"

He found himself repressing an instinctive desire to frown. The same rumor had reached his ears in the early hours after the abduction, only being confirmed when he'd looked at the list of merchandise as it was first pumped out over the airwaves by the numbers station. At the time it had seemed cold and dispassionate, and he hadn't given it much thought. Now, however, he found himself in something of a mild state of curiosity. It seemed pregnancies of her citizens - or rather, her cousin - were something that attracted a great deal of attention at the 'official' level. "Yes." He was going to leave it there, but felt the need to elaborate after a second. "She was checked by trained medical professionals. They confirmed she, and her child, remained in good health." And what would you do if I'd said no?

Xue smiled softly, visibly relieved at the news, "Thank the stars." She breathed, casting a glance instinctively upwards before returning her full attention to him "She will no doubt be fine sooner rather than later and this can all become a rather bad dream. Nothing more. Nothing less." Of course it was something more. It was a matter of security that would need to be addressed and people, if they hadn't already, would need to pay a price for tampering with the Ascendancy. Starfleet need not worry, but there were others that should be. "And what of Commander Valeese? Did she pull through alright?" It didn't hurt to ask, draped in as an after thought the question itself was loaded. Valeese was of great value to her house, a good soul on top of it all. To lose her, or have her badly hurt, would have been more than just a shame... It would call down the same thunder that came with losing Si'a. He, of course, couldn't have known that. Secrets guarded themselves well enough so long as they weren't spoken, it seemed.

To his great credit, he was able to maintain his composure. If the query were to have come in the few hours that followed her rescue, just how much he knew would have been disastrously apparent. Likewise for the fact that he just didn't care. The repercussions would have been ... interesting. Federation diplomacy set back a century? Maybe, he concluded as he flicked his fingers again, in an apparent gesture of nonchalance. "Of course," he said with a look down the bay, towards the closed doors. He turned back to the ship before them before continuing. "Say what you will about the Vorta; they're tough. And resourceful. I think it was more accident than anything else, but we found a ship at the station with significant computer damage. Her handiwork, or so I'm told." He permitted himself a trace of a grim smile at the last bit.

The Empress's bright eyes flashed in evanescent amusement and pride - nothing more than a quickly passing twinkle as she regarded the ghost, "Yes. They are quite resourceful, very intuitive and science minded." The response was bland, or at least it would have been if one wasn't sure how to listen between the syllables, "I have heard that your Commander is a rather accomplished scientist, I'm not surprised that she'd have taken the chance to redecorate their system. That effort must have come at great cost, for that I'm truly sorry but eternally grateful for her efforts." Starlight flickered as the albino tipped her head and followed his gaze back towards the unloading vessel and the Marines surrounding it, "You must be very proud."

Proud? He tasted the word in his mind, mentally rolling it over and not just examining but comparing it to his internal emotions. Pleased. Satisfied. Appreciative. Proud, though ... his fingers drummed on the railing as he considered the events of the last few days. They had successfully gotten into the station, generated a not-inconsiderable level of chaos which culminated in destruction of said station, extracted the hostages, killed a number of criminals, impacted Orion Syndicate operations, and even extracted a fair amount of data. All for several personnel injured and none killed. Considering the odds, and that this had been pulled off by a scratch team thrown together on short notice, it was startling that it'd gone as well as it did. So- "Yes. You could say that," he said as his fingers stilled.

"Savor it, Mr. Stacker, that feeling is fleeting." She nodded knowingly, a delicate hand resting over one of his as if to ground the sentiment deeper into his being, "I fear that whoever orchestrated this will seek retribution, it's a feeling that is overwhelming the general populace of the sector - or so I'm told." Xue's eyes left the ship, the equipment, the Marines only to study the profile of the ghost's tired, haggard face, "Will you be ready for when it comes?"

There was something that instinctively stilled him from a fleeting urge to pursue the conversation down that particular rabbit hole. This had been orchestrated: that much was already certain. Some of the actors involved were already dead, but he was certain that more were out there. Did the Empress have more information? It wasn't a possibility he was willing to discount. But as that hand retreated from his he was left with a certain awareness that this wasn't over. Not by a long shot.

At this particular point in time, though, all he could do was dip his head and let out a chuckle. It came out as weary as he felt. "Give me a half-day to sleep, and then we'll be ready." Something popped in his back as he shifted: yet another reminder that the overall mission - from abduction to successful return - had been as physically exhausting as it was mentally.

Folding her hands back in front of herself, she nodded, "Give yourself all the time to rest that you can." The mental exhaustion was more than apparent, and the way he held himself promised that he was sore even if he was a man of considerable strength. A wounded warrior, he wouldn't let his injuries get the best of him - but the question did come to mind of who would protect him if the storm rose sooner rather than later. Another glance was cast towards the Marines, clueless as they often were, "I wish to caution you, Mr. Stacker, because I owe you a debt of gratitude." Xue began, "My advisors and I feel with great certainty that the threat against this station, this sector, is an internal parasite. It will be someone you all trust, someone who has access."

Oh for the love of god, now we're all going to be jumping at half-baked suspicions. He let out an exhalation of breath before speaking, hands clasping together as he leaned on the railing and looked across the way at the starship. "With respect, your majesty, there are a number of people with high-level access to this station. I can't initiate an investigate against half the Admiralty without something more to go on ... But I do agree. Not everything adds up about this."

"If I had more to give you, I would, but it's not our place to watch or babysit your Admiralty. I speak to you out of the respect you speak of. You've done me a great service by bringing home my family." The albino regent's tone never wavered, lifted, or changed. Even as the sea before a storm, she continued on - daring to reach and grasp him by the furred chin. His eyes were honest, haunted, but tinged with worry and kindness deep within the broiling turbulent fathoms.

Not all was as it seemed, and not all could easily be defined. Where so many were open books with large, child ready print, James Stacker was an onion with many layers all folded in over a fruitful core just waiting to take root and bloom. "You've let doom in by the front door," Xue hummed as though speaking to an injured animal while she studied those eyes, "but it will not depart that way." Her silvery head shook, her full lips pressing into a thin line. "I have faith." and faith would be what she'd need to bank and rest on, at least for now. He'd been warned well enough, and with Valeese back where she belonged there was little doubt that those truly responsible - the King pin and not the pawns - would be revealed. With Stacker as he was, there would be no need for her intervention - the problem would be solved and she would rest knowing retribution had been served.

It was a tangled web, but it would have to do.

From the certain involuntary stiffness that seemed to grasp his lower spine, it was clear that the physical contact was not specifically welcome. It may have been related to being held by a one-woman warp core. Such things tended to put mortality into a new light - especially when the woman holding his chin was the ruler of an alien empire, with her own motivations and goals that didn't necessarily align with those of the Federation. Other than the stiffness, though, he seemed to come through the sudden and decidedly non-electrifying experience intact. Or at least nothing showed on his face, by the time she released him.

To his credit, he didn't rub his chin - although every sense and neuron was probably screaming at him to do so. Instead he gave her a newly-thoughtful look, albeit colored by roiling turbulence, and lips compressed while his head turned slightly to one side. He finally spoke. "Then it appears I've got work to do."

Xue's hands clasped back together in front of her, and her head bowed gently to him, "I wish you luck, Mr. Stacker." With that, the star-like woman took her leave, departing through the same door she'd let herself through and left the ghost to his own devices and thoughts. Her piece had been said, and from there she would give him a solid measure of deference that he seemed to deserve. Like the Phoenix, the Ghost had well earned a place of honor and recognition within the house of Nox. Now... Now it was a matter of watching, waiting, and knowing that the parasite would be flushed from the system in due course and order.

=/\= End Log =/\=

Empress Xue'Daio Nox
Queen of Apsha
Ruler of Aleine
Stenellian Ascendancy

Lieutenant Commander James Stacker
2XO/Chief Intelligence Officer
Cold Station Theta, SB-1170


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