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JL | Cmdr Valeese, LtCmdr Stacker | "So Long Cruel World" pt I/II

Posted on Sat Jan 19th, 2019 @ 9:01pm by Commander Valeese Stacker & Commander James Stacker

Mission: Lacuna

The dead world - the one of alien terrors and brutality - lay far behind the Campbeltown. There would be no more Federation boots to trod the rocks and dirt. No more sounds of humming tricorders and talking voices. No low moaning as gusts of wind swept through the temporary structures of the base camp and no bangs of doors closing. No MACOs clad in armor to keep silent watch on the perimeter. No running firefights and shadows outlined in green, orange, and red and silhouetted on the walls like afterimages of a staccato blast.

With departure from that cursed world came a feeling like a great shadow had been lifted. James saw it every time he entered the mess hall and saw a flash of white from a smile. Heard it in the laughter in the corridors. Felt it in the air when he entered the bridge. For those and many other reasons he slept better at night. It was less fitful now and more restful.

Of course, all that restful comfort and sense of a job well-done still didn't save him from minor trivialities in his off-duty time. Like being deeply engrossed in the repurposing of a comm badge. He held the device up to the light and squinted at it. The back had been removed and lay on the table before him. The noise of the two MACOs still up and awake out in the main compartment was a low murmuring in the back of his mind. The only thing he was focused on was the device held between the fingers of two hands, being slowly tilted back-and-forth under his careful examination.

All this didn't stop him from noticing a distinctive scent in the air, however. The corners of his mouth tugged in a smile.

"I've been told we're having no trouble tugging the craft along with us," The pleasure that came with smelling normal and having one's hair under control in soft, manageable waves rather than straw-like wild curls was a novelty that wouldn't soon be forgotten and was hard pressed to be put into words. Valeese reveled in it as she wandered, tucked neatly in a warm sweater and soft pants, with a bowl of strawberries in hand. Food, especially sweet stuff, had become a priority as of late - and taking part in something as healthy as strawberries was a delectable treat and kept her from diving eyeballs deep in something far more sugar laden. Chocolate came to mind and was immediately pushed out, "Or is that not something you want to talk about while off duty?" She asked, setting her bowl down and drifting to the replicator. Green tea with honey had replaced her usual coffee. Couldn't exactly order decaf while the king of the Spooks was sitting well within ear shot.

"We can talk about it. And you were told correctly: no issues so far. I'd knock on wood, but Starfleet seems to have given up installing wood on spaceships," he added with a trace of good humor in his voice. It had been mostly-absent since departure from the starbase. Now though he was evidently relaxing. That in turn brought out his more personable side. The one that didn't seem carved from a leather-bound book of Starfleet rules and regulations.

"That depends on who's office you walk into. I hear tale Commodore Ivanova has teak wood floors in her ready room and the command suite on Vindicator, but I'll spare you the work related chatter. What happens to that ship is really none of my business anyway." She chuckled, gathering up her piping hot cup of tea and making her way back to the table he sat at, "Maybe a bit of an homage to the Terran ships of old?" Not that she wouldn't have minded the chance to take a gander, but what the decor happened to be in parts of that particular ship were well out of her scope and reach. The romanticism that came with honoring time old traditions, however, had made its mark. If asked, she'd have said she approved if only because she'd only ever read about such things in books and taken cursory looks at seafaring holodeck programs. A poor substitute, really.

His arms lowered away from the light and rested on the table as he turned to eye her. Noting the way she walked. Her comfortable attire. A thoughtful sound came from his throat. "Maybe. Dare I ask how you're doing?" Relaxing he may have been, but the note of concern was still there.

Finally she deposited herself in a chair and rested her elbows on the table, letting her fingers warm around the luxury of the cup she held, "Me? Better now that I'm not fresh from the pit of despair and covered in anti-microbial crap. Super green now that I'm not being chased by the undead through a crypt. You?"

"I'm sleeping better," he admitted. The comm badge waved in the air as he spoke, light glittering and sparking on its edges. "The first few nights - after we left the station - I had some problems. Acclimation, I think. It'd been a while since the last time I was aboard a starship for any extended period of time. And there was the whole 'mission commander' thing to deal with. It'd been a while since I was last in command of an away mission." He took a breath, held it for a second or two, then released. With it went accumulated stress, and a lowering of his shoulders into a more natural position for him. He eyed the device in his hand. "I can actually focus on things again. Not just the roster for the next day's away team mission."

It didn't take much provocation for her eyes to find the device in his hand and follow it as he moved it while speaking. A sip of tea later and an eyebrow inched a touch higher until she nodded in the direction of the hand and, by proxy, the device, "Something break or have you found a new pet project to fill your downtime? I know that going from one-hundred to zero in a short amount of time can leave some people..." Valeese set her mug down, idly rolling one of her own hands on its wrist as she sought the word, "Twitchy. Twitchy is a good way to put it. Are you?" She hummed in a quiet tease, "feeling twitchy, that is?"

"Twitchy? Me?" came the reply. The attempt at denial and lock of mock-seriousness failed a moment later when the corners of his mouth quirked into a rather wry look. "No. Not really. I just needed ...." Needed what? He fumbled for an explanation for a moment, then finally grasped - mentally - what he was looking for. What had led him to start this little project of his. "I needed a way to help me wind down. Ever since we left it's been go-go-go, and now that we're heading back it's the exact opposite. Something little and simple helps me to come back down ... I don't know. Maybe I am a little twitchy," he admitted. The device clicked onto the tabletop when he set it down.

"As to what I was doing ... I was trying to keep some old skills in focus. They trained me a long time ago how to rig a communicator to talk to a tricorder. It's useful for things like inducing artificial earthquakes. Minor ones, to be sure." Why am I starting to babble? he asked himself. Maybe she was right and he was a little 'twitchy.'

"Twitchy." The little Vorta nodded and popped a strawberry into her mouth, savoring the red fruit for a moment before swallowing and tapping the device with the tip of one of her fingers, "I can see where it would be helpful... You know... On missions and curbing the twitchiness." She added with a tilt of her head as if studying the device. Engineering was generally out of her scope of things and it held no real intrigue for her, but the device was interesting in and of itself. Or maybe it was because it was a product of his unease and pent up energy. "It'll be just as boring back on the station, at least when compared to the mission we were just on, you know." Her finger left the device in hunt of another berry.

"Boring? Cold Station Theta? Never going to happen. But what I will gladly accept is peace and quiet. It'll let me focus on other things," he said in a tone that was remarkably steady. If it hadn't been for the brief half-second pause before his addition of 'other things' it might have even been possible that his words had no hidden subtext. His hand - the one previously cradling the comm badge - shifted on the tabletop. A finger brushed against hers. "Even us spooks need some downtime between missions. We can be horrifically irritating people otherwise. Very straight-laced. No personality."

Valeese snorted softly, watching his finger as it barely grazed her own, "I once knew just such a Spook. Dreadful fellow really, viciously destroyed a poor defenseless fledgling maple leaf." Her head shook slowly in emphasis and she sighed before sniffing and gathering herself back up and together, taking up her tea as if they'd never touched at all, "Last I heard he was still haunting the station, actually. I rather wonder what became of him." The only thing that hid her amused little smile was the cup being drawn seamlessly to her lips.

"If he was smart he stopped molesting nature. Destroying a maple leaf: how dare he." James mournfully shook his head and eyed the communicator laying alone and forlorn on the tabletop. "Is there no decency in the world? And I tell you, I don't know what sort of grey collars I'm seeing these days. I know who enjoys literature, and coffee. The man's great with weapons; fancies himself a knight in armor charging in to save the day. He's relentless. And damned insatiable." The last one was added with a low mutter under his breath, as his fingers closed around the device and lifted it again.

"Insatiable knight in shining armor, huh?" The Vorta's eyebrow quirked skyward just a touch and she shrugged it off as if it held little to no meaning. Her feigned nonchalance was also the perfect segue into finding her bowl and at least pretending that what was held within was far more interesting, "Next thing you'll tell me that his favorite flavor crayon is purple or something."

He snorted. That turned into a coughing fit as he inhaled the wrong way. Skin flushed and turned a deeper shade of red, and he wheezed and coughed some more. His hand thumped his chest. "No," he managed to wheeze. This attempt at speaking was sharply curtailed by yet more coughs. After a few more he seemed well enough to continue. "It's violet. But only the color of it you find under darkened lights." As he spoke his voice steadied out and eased back onto tones more normal for him. Ones that didn't sound as if they were coming from something being strangled.

A strawberry paused mid-trek to her mouth and she sat, both eyebrows up, quizzically watching the man go through his fit in what could only described as 'standby mode'. Had he been in any real peril, she'd have assisted, the doctor in her prevailing over whatever 'no touchy' rule was currently employed between them. Without any real medical emergency coming to pass, however, it was more of a surprise to her than anything else, "So... Plum? Amethyst?" The strawberry finally made it to its destination about the same time she slid her cup of tea towards him, offering him a chance to wash down the last of his coughs and soothe his throat.

It was accepted with a grateful look that spoke volumes that could not be said aloud. True to expectation - what else could one expect from a doctor, other than to know what she was on about? - the green tea soothed his throat magnificently. No doubt the honey aided in this. Careful to leave some for her, he set it down about as carefully as one might expect him too. There was no cringe when it touched the plate: that wasn't his style. But he also wasn't the sort of man to thump it down and loudly proclaim its wondrous properties. That was the realm of the dockyard workers on the starbase, of which he wasn't one.

With a careful look over his shoulder he surveyed the compartment back through the door, finding nothing amiss. No huddled bodies, no low voices of people talking. The dim lights showed only a room at peace. Evidently satisfied by what was seen he turned back to her, hand sliding out to push the tea back in her direction. "Violet." He said, reiterating his earlier comment. His voice lowered slightly. "The sort I only see in the darkest hours, in the best of circumstances."

"I see. A rather obscure color indeed." The cup met the palm of her hand as she gently blocked its advance and wriggled her fingers in a fashion that simply said 'finish it'. He'd understand, he always did - that was part of the unique and rather ornate nature of their relationship. It didn't require words or much of anything in order to ignite and stay burning. "And that's his favorite flavor of crayon? Tasty." She tutted, allowing her hand to retreat back to the brim of her bowl and dwindling bounty of treats.

"Whoever said he ate just crayons? Maybe he's thirsty for something else." The last was said with a teasing wink, an emboldened low note creeping into his voice as a hand lifted the cup from the plate. Further conversation - at least from his side - was put on hold while he drank the contents. His Adam's apple bobbed as the tea/honey mixture coursed down his throat, easing any further inclination towards coughing. Although from what he seemed to have in mind... well, sitting this close to her, just the two of them in a quiet side compartment, seemed to have an effect on him.

Valeese considered him for a short moment before choosing her answer, "Once a Marine, always a Marine. Notorious crayon munchers from what I hear. I once watched a comedy skit making fun of them using two alien puppets trying to figure out what to do with a book. Eat book. Smell book. Talk book." Another shrug, "You get the idea. The commentary was that it was very apropos." She deadpanned, though her eyes no doubt betrayed her level of amusement, though perhaps the amusement was only intensified by the clear knowledge that he strained against the bounds of their involuntary separation.

He forced himself to move on past the desire to linger on a word; it wouldn't do to fixate on that and become involuntarily bogged-down when there was so much else to talk about. It was undeniably difficult to do, however; had he known that she knew him to be straining against the bounds of professionalism he would have agreed with her without delay. Too much more of this and - No James! How the hell would you explain it if you lost your mind? A slight flush crept up under his collar at the thought - of certain thoughts, rather. He coughed.

"A comedy skit? Good think there weren't any Marines around. I hear they can be quite savage." Damn! he thought to himself a moment later, as the word choice caught up with him. A second later came the decision to just roll with it. Unconsciously his fingers slid on the tabletop. The cup was forgotten, although the contents had been emptied by this point.

"Yes. Down right dangerous to poor defenseless maple leaves." She countered and watched his fingers begin to cross the invisible line between them. To be touched was to lose the game at this point, putting all of them in danger of discovery and firmly ending his career... Likely hers to if they were to be discovered in that fashion by the crew. "More tea, Commander Stacker?" Valeese asked, plucking up the mug and saucer, along with her now empty bowl, to recycle. One of them had to stay on the straight and narrow, especially while the other - usually the more pragmatic one at that - began to falter.

To Be Continued...

Commander Valeese
Chief Medical Officer

Lt Commander James Stacker
Chief Intelligence Officer


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