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Empress Xue'Daio Nox & Cmdr. Evan Merlin | Condolences

Posted on Sat May 18th, 2019 @ 7:55pm by Xue' Daio Nox & Commander Evan Merlin

Mission: Permutations

One week in, give or take a day, and the station hadn't fallen apart, been blown to bits, or evaporated around him. No sudden wars had started, no nearby suns exploded. The worst which had happened on the station in the past week had been one barroom brawl. Unfortunately, the brawlers had chosen the 'Heart of Targ' as their place of action. After one shattered chair and some broken glass, the Klingon owner unfolded himself from behind the bar and had smacked some heads together. Five minutes later, the brawlers had stumbled into sickbay and that had been the end of it.

Outwardly, not much had changed. So he was now Commanding Officer of the station instead of Executive Officer. He had done most of the CO's work already. The amount of PADDs appearing on his desk (different desk, different office) remained the same. Admiral Red still kept her eye on him, same as before.

However, as he had realised from the start, that single changed letter in his position, that single changed word, was far more than a simple change. Yes, there was still an Admiral who kept close watch on him. But as Station Commander, he had far more leeway, far more power (should he chose to use it) and far more responsibility than there was before. It awed him, but much to his surprise, he found he actually liked it, too.

Some people, he'd once read, shattered under pressure. Others thrived. He hadn't been under any true pressure yet, but this change gave him at least some hope that if any disasters would hit the station, he would not shatter.

One of the PADDs on his desk concerned 'interesting information from surrounding areas', an innocently worded document about political and other changes in the other nearby superpowers, the Romulan Empire and the Stenellian Ascendancy. As former Chief Strat Ops officer, he read those missives with particular interest. Today, the PADD with information from the Ascendancy mentioned that earlier today, the funeral rites had been performed for the Stenellian Emperor, Maec Tr'Verelan. 'Missing, presumed dead' was the official status in Starfleet's files.

He stared at the scant, dry lines for a few minutes, frowning. Then he touched a sensor on his desk. "Commander Merlin to Ops. Please open a channel to the Stenellian Ascendancy for me."


The sea had consumed the Emperor's symbolic pyre mere hours before, and.the Ascendancy as a whole remained in wake and mourning. Bells had tolled, ash had risen, and the people wore black. Few visited bard and pubs, fewer still left their homes save to drop flowers and tokens of affection while lighting candles at the palace gates. Those that chose otherwise most often followed their feet to the shrine of whatever God they chose to pray to - most often for the soul of the fallen Emperor or that of the Empress and child he'd left behind.

May the stars guide them.

The call came in with little fanfare, nothing more than hushed whispers from a handmaiden, and Xue politely excused herself from a small gathering if delegation members to receive it.

"Commander Merlin." She greeted from beneath a long, black veil. Unlike at the funeral, her silken white hair was tucked back and up, acting as an anchor for the veil and the dark stone clips that held it in place. Her dress, a simple silk gown, rested lightly on her shoulders but shrouded her in darkness appropriate for mourning. Even still, the pallid nature of what little skin that remained exposed stood out like a beacon in the night. Seeing him at that moment was unexpected and came with a mixed swelling of emotion.

"Empress." As much as he liked to be more informal, this was an open channel. And even if it were secured on both ends, no direct communications between a Starfleet officer and an Empress could truly be private. He saw the grief in the lines of her posture, in the shadow of her eyes under the veil, and suppressed a sigh. He longed to be there for him, to hold her hand and be there for her, without any pressure or demands. Just a friend to stand there with her as she grieved for the man, the companion and husband she had lost.

But the distance between them couldn't be covered in a single step, and the channel was not a private one. So he had to remain formal and hope that his own eyes and posture, and the faint, mysterious link which existed between them would convey the rest. "I am sorry to hear about the Emperor's passing."

Shaking her head, Xue dismissed him politely of whatever guilt rode on the coat tails of such an apology. It was wise decorum, a good political move - but she could hear the sincerity laying beneath the words, even if they offered very little by way of comfort. "Thank you, Commander, it was unexpected." She finally replied, folding her hands delicately in front of her. The Romulan sigils barely peaked out from beneath the cuff of her sleeves, but the tradition failed to die even if she chose to cover them. In many ways they held far more meaning while hidden from outside eyes - allowing her to keep her thoughts and wishes regarding Maec private for at least a little while longer.

"Commodore Ivanova attended the service, she represented the interests of Starfleet and the Federation quite well." She nodded, offering the briefest hints of an emotionless smile, "I will grant the Federation a provisional alliance in the morning. Not because I fear that we have been weakened, but because it is a wise choice. Both sides have learned to begin to trust one another."

The deeply hidden, ever observant part of him wondered for a moment if people were watching this transmission as it came in, or if they would be pouring over it, dissecting it, once the channel was closed. Would they notice the delicate embroidery that occasionally peeped out from under her sleeves, like a shy maiden shooting glances from behind a curtain? Would they recognise it? Try to determine their meanings? Would they consider it a comment on another alliance, one forged in marriage?

As those thoughts flashed by, almost too quickly to be detected now but stored for further reflection later, the main part listened to her words and to her tone. Two layers, in everything, just like his own: the formal layer on top, the private one underneath it, only known to the two of them. "I'm sure the Federation will gladly welcome the provisional alliance," he replied. "In dynamical situations such as these, anything which provides stability and friendship is welcome." Well, most ramifications regarding that alliance were above and beyond his influence, thank the stars. Things would become a lot more complex if that was another factor between them.

"How is your daughter holding up?" he asked. There, a nice, neat, polite question, which only hinted at the question he also wanted to ask, How are you holding up?

The quiet of her demeanor didn't allow for much of anything even if Section 31 themselves chose to sit there and pick things apart frame by frame. The silver cuffs that adorned her ears, adding tell tale points to their pallid shell-like crests were dead give aways that she embraced and honored the man who had passed - that much was obvious - but choosing to believe that she lay tied to any further Romulan sentiments was a stretch to say the least. Had he said something about it, she'd likely have laughed. Maec himself would have been wildly amused, no doubt. For the moment, as it existed, she was oblivious to any implications, allowing her mind only to wander on what was presented before her, to the memory of Maec as a whole, to the complexities of her relationship with the man on the screen, and to Sanra.

"She is her father's child. Strong, brave, intelligent... Someday she'll make a fine Empress with qualities like those, but I know she's hurting and that she feels the loss as I do. There's a rather large hole that's been left." Xue's chin dropped ever so slightly as she spoke and her fingers wrung together, "You see, Maec was larger than life even though he was a man who often chose to listen more than speak. He made quite an impression upon the Ascendancy, one that won't soon be forgotten as it could be argued that he was one of the finest regents our people have ever seen. Regardless of the fact that he was born Romulan, he died a Stenellis. That fact is one that needs to be remembered by both of our people." She could have added that she knew how tense things were between the Federation and the Romulans, especially with Senator Tr'Bak and his bizarre, savage obsession - but she didn't. Her tongue was swiftly caught between her teeth before it could birth the words, knowing they were both inflammatory and unnecessary.

It stuck him then, though it seemed it was only a growing awareness of a subconscious thought which had been lingering around since he'd first received word of the Emperor's death. He had to press his lips together to hold the words in. You don't believe he's dead, do you?

He nodded instead. "The best of both worlds, indeed. I regret never having known him. And I'm sure your daughter will grow up to be a fine woman, and a great Empress… with the shining example of her father, and you to help and guide her."

"One can hope, though I have very little doubt." Conceited as it sounded, it was the honest truth. Same way his unknown thoughts echoed a sentiment that sat buried within the pit of the alabaster Empress's psyche. That hope, that Maec was still alive, was growing dimmer by the minute. Part of her had expected he'd come strolling back along the beach, crashing his own funeral with a high arched brow and any number of sharp witted comments that could have slid so easily from his tongue - likely about the fuss and, later, about her current condition. He hadn't and it left her gutted, remorseful, and tainted by growing guilt that shouldn't have been felt by one of her status or heritage.

But it existed.

"I have heard that you have found a new role within Starfleet, that you now stand as commanding officer of ," Her chin lifted again as she studied him from behind the dark, gossamer veil, "With power comes responsibility and sacrifice. I'm sure if you haven't come to realize this, you soon will. You're a smart man, Commander Merlin."

Ah, yes. Hardly surprising that news about Starfleet's closest outpost to the Stenellian Ascendancy had reached her. He smiled, that warm smile which always came so easily whenever he saw Xue and talked with her. It soon grew thinner with the graveness of his words, but the smile lingered, nonetheless. "I know it, on an intellectual level. I doubt the full implications will sink in until something happens to this station and the people on it, something I alone cannot prevent or heal with a snap of my fingers. I hope that day will never come, of course, but statistically speaking, that is unlikely."

"Then may be something far from grave. You've walked through what you call hell once with the station, I'm sure you'll survive should it come to pass again. The point is, that you will need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes you cannot have your cake and eat it to." The old Terran adage passed so easily as she spoke, her hands remaining together and poised - concealing any trace of true emotion that she may have conveyed with motion in a manner that may as well have been considered oddly Vulcan and out of place. The day, however, had been anything but normal and the wake of it anything but easy to ride out. "I wish you luck."

"Thank you." Her words triggered the memory in him of that particular crisis, the explosion which had rocked the station, the blaring alarms, the hatch which had opened into Central Ops and through which a small group of survivors had crawled out, Xue amongst them. And that odd realisation, that half-memory of a past and almost completely forgotten life: that he had loved once before, loved and lost.

And with that came another thought, or flash, another feeling which felt completely true. He *had* been in a position of command before (when? where? No idea, as always those facts eluded him), and he had been in a situation where things were falling apart around him. He knew, somehow, he had risen to the occasion (what occasion?!) then.

With an inner scowl, he thrust those thoughts away. Later, once this conversation was done, he could pull this memory fragment out again and examine it at leisure, though he doubted it would yield anything beyond what he had just realised. But he forced himself to focus on the here and now. Here: an office which still felt three sizes too big for the man who occupied it. Now: a woman who had to cremate her husband and faced a lifetime alone, with only her memories to keep him alive.
He discovered, much to his own surprise, that he had pulled the crystal globe from a hidden pocket and made it dance on his hand and arms. He smiled, remembering how he had tried to teach Xue how to do it. She still had the twin to this ball, somewhere, he supposed.

"If there's anything I can do for you, let me know."

"That I will, Commander. Thank you." Her head bobbed in a simple nod. It would be a great stretch to suggest that the two of them shared anything even near as intimate as a friendship, let alone awaited the birth of a child. Her consummate grace and zeal, the very air of her nobility, allowed her to remain aloof with practiced ease. There were questions written across his eyes, lurking just beneath the surface, and somewhere she could even feel the buds of his confusion threatening to blossom into bloom. There was nothing more that could be said there, nothing more that could be done... And it was likely for the best, at least in the interim. "Were I you, I'd make ready for the return of Commodore Ivanova. She'll be on her way with her ship and people once my cousin is wed. Consider it a binding tie between the Ascendancy and the Federation."

"Thank you for the heads-up." The nod he returned was every bit as professional as Xue's. He thought it was best not to comment on the wedding. After all, the last thing someone who had just said goodbye to her husband needed was to chat happily about the wedding of others. He had a passing acquaintance with the couple, though. After all, the cousin was the woman kidnapped together with another officer of Cold Station Theta, and the groom-to-be had been part of the team which had rescued them. They were an odd couple, maybe (but no odder than his own more-than-friendship with the Empress, he guessed), but it was clear that they loved each other very much.

"Empress," he continued, "I wish you all the strength and care in the time to come. May happier times come to you, soon." Pale words, in the light of this day, but the wish behind them was no less sincere.

"Indeed. May they impart themselves upon us all." Xue's smile was hollow and, if anything, fleeting. Gone before it was truly ever set in place, "Until we speak again, Commander. Thank you for your condolences."


----

Commander Evan Merlin
Commanding Officer
COLD STATION THETA, SB 1170

&

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

 

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