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JDL | CDR J. Stacker, CDR V. Stacker | "Gin Malathon An-uir"

Posted on Fri Feb 5th, 2021 @ 2:33pm by Commander James Stacker & Commander Valeese Stacker

Mission: A Distant Thunder
Location: The Arboretum | Cold Station Theta
Timeline: SD 242102.05

So few knew of the beauty the arboretum afforded in the darkest hours of night. The high plains sang the softest of lullabies, the dune grasses swayed in tune with the percussion of the sea’s nearby surf and night jasmine bloomed, creeping along within the tall trees within the several acres of wooded bliss. It was there that Valeese had found sanctuary, barefoot and able to truly believe in the illusion of freedom and bliss that such a place afforded a creature as delicate and sensitive as the young Vorta.

Her fingertips skirted the roughness of an old oak’s bark, allowing it to tease along her sensitive skin. Oaks were a symbol of strength and prosperity, it had been no wonder as to why the Admiral had demanded they be brought all the way from Earth. This one stood fast, it’s gnarled arms reaching to embrace the false sky with far more energy and love than most could comprehend - but comprehend was what she did best when it came to things of the natural variety. Like Tolkien’s ethereal elves, the Vorta had been gifted with an inner light that aligned them easily with the cycles of life and nature. They were truly at home within the starlit darkness that only the freedom of the untethered wild could afford. She could as much feel it as she could feel her own heartbeat.

Or hear his as it hammered louder than the sea and higher than the plains.

It was a different sort of sound all together, and while familiar, it was hardly something she’d anticipated to hear within the holds of the arboretum and yet it belonged all the more. Was it not the place where their story truly began? Where they had been bound together to share one life? Her eyes flicked in the direction of the gardens where they had been wed not all that long ago. It was hidden by the density of the dark woods in all of their resilient splendor, but she knew it to be there all the same. Just as she knew he too was somewhere near.

Of course he'd have come to look for her here after the long hours she had stolen away within its storybook holds, especially with the ever present threat of harm looming over her like a dark cloud.

His personal feeling of concern had grown successively over the last few hours. At first he had rationalized it with suspecting she might be busy at work. That had turned to wondering if she had an extended shift. About an hour after eating dinner - all while eyeballing the door and hoping, futilely, that she might walk through any time about now - he had finally relented and queried the computer. Automated scripting would have told him if she left the station; his own kidnapping fears had been alleviated some time before. But he was still concerned to get a response saying she was in the arboretum.

Alone in a location with excellent concealment, in the dark of the night. It hadn't been long before he was out the door, tricorder in hand and phaser clipped to his belt.

The ride up had not been the most pleasant experience. Alone, in the humming and clean-smelling turbolift car, he had had to fight down an active sense of anxiety that wanted to rear its head. The man could, perhaps, be excused for his thoughts. It hadn't been long ago that Commodore Aksel Ravnsson was in his office, telling him that his wife was an enemy of the Federation. Barely a year before that she had been attacked by the same man. An individual who wielded considerable resources. James could perhaps be excused - almost alarmed - to find a computer telling him that she was alone in a wooded area of the station.

So now here he was, fighting down the temptation for the fifth time in as many minutes to unclip the handlight and start shining it around the place like a fucking beacon for all to see. Straining to see through the dark and hoping he wouldn't find something to confirm those worst, darkest, fears.

Of course no such nefarious thing had come to pass. No murder. No kidnap. Not even... Ok... Hair was out of place, ruffled by the breezes that wafted ever gently through the tall trees. Valeese could hardly complain about that. Wouldn't. Far too many other things were on her mind, the ever impending sound of the Ghost's rapidly beating heart included.

He was nervous, anxious even, and moving at a relatively steady pace across the uneven loam. There was a strong and barely bridled part of the Vorta that wanted to disappear into the darkness, leave him to search for hours while she slipped away back to their quarters to further afford herself the luxury of silence. Avoiding him, however, wouldn't solve a damn thing. It would only create a deeper divide and widen the chasm that had begun to grow and fester between them for over a twenty-four hour period.

She sighed, heavily, closing her eyes and allowing her hand to drop from the tree it had rested on. Her shoulders drooped, her ears drooped and hung as limply as they possibly could. The thought that his coming presence left her with a feeling of dread and a desire for abatement truly chilled her. Had they come to that point? It didn't seem or feel real or logical. It felt artificial and created by a compounded conflagration of negative stimuli that had left her feeling depressed and even resentful.

Somewhere at the apex of it all stood the Ghost, representing her inability to escape it all no matter how much her instincts told her to flee.

It wasn't an option.

The longer she put it off, the longer she denied him contact, the harder and worse it was going to be on everyone involved. She moved through the ferns and foliage until she happened upon the twisted trunk and bright sanguine leaves of a trident maple. She recognized the leaves, their color, size, and shape. It had been this tree - or one of its siblings - that had produced the leaf she'd used to tease the Ghost that first day she'd encountered him.

He thought that he saw something, peripherally, move over to his left. Old instincts immediately kicked in and caused him to freeze in position, regarding that cluster of vegetation out of the corner of his eye with an intensity rarely reserved for any one thing. What had it been? Her? Someone else? One of the animals in here? He slowed his breathing and forced himself to listen closely for anything that might suggest something more. A snapping of twigs. Footsteps. Hell, at this point he would take even the sound of a hand running along the grass.

After a twenty-count the motion had not repeated itself. The man gave it another twenty just to be certain. Yet, having not seen anything by the end, he was faced with a decision. Investigate? Look over there, and maybe miss seeing her somewhere else? What if he was facing that way and she came out of the trees behind him? He took a breath as his self-control loosened up again and made the decision to walk in that direction. Maybe he had seen something.

Maybe it was her, just wanting some time to herself. Maybe she was still disappointed in him. A chill laced its way through the back of his mind as he went back to their conversation in the bathroom. A conversation whose ending pained him to recall.

A Barred Owl - or was it Great Horned? - panicked and fled from the grass level branch twenty or so feet from her. The sudden explosion of wing flaps and noise of effort from the bird caused the little Vorta to gasp in surprise and skitter backwards and away from the perceived threat. Of course the bird, fleeing from the much larger human, winged rapidly in the direction of thicker foliage and directly in its path between the maple and an aspen was the startled doctor.

It was dark, large, and loud. More so... It was completely unexpected. Fleet Admiral Red had set several species loose within the arboretum, including several esteemed Red Stags that were elusive enough to be considered rumor rather than fact for all but the crew responsible for monitoring the Arboretum and life within it. The species of owl, regardless of what it was, was a loud and harrowing beast to come face to face with in the pitch black and as it hissed its warning at her, refusing to stray from the safest and quickest path to safety, Valeese spun swiftly on her heels and leapt forward into what was supposed to be a mad dash for safety. It was anything but. She screamed in a mixture of surprise and holy terror as the toe of her left foot was snarled in the dead wood of an old, fallen branch and was sent hurtling - face first - towards the ground.

It wasn't so much that she screamed.

It wasn't so much that it was a blood curdling, shrill scream.

It was what she instinctively screamed that would later catch her mind and send her within her own mind through introspective deliberation and inspection.

His name.

Her body hit the ground with a hefty thud and the owl passed over her downed form without so much as a thought given to the strange, shrill little creature that it had passed over.

Later on, in hindsight, he would still be amazed that he 'had it.' He didn't recall the phaser being drawn, or even reset to lethal settings in almost record time. He also didn't recall toggling on the handlight. He did remember - in vivid detail - spinning around with the light blazing on in the darkness, shining on the back of his hand and then racing away into the darkness of the Arboretum. The phaser was up, armed, and ready to fire. The sound had come from ... that direction. So off he ran.

With considerably less subtlety than befitting a man of his years and training, he crashed into the undergrowth, branches and shrubs slapping at his face. His hand and the attached light swiveled and tracked back-and-forth as he burst out the other side and into the relatively less-forested areas between and around the trees and the tree trunks. Trunks, limbs, even the forest floor were all illuminated as he swept by.

It didn't take long to catch sight of a body, and his heart leapt into the back of his mouth. He didn't remember calling her name as he ran over to her, weapon and light still up and tracking beyond her and to each side in search of the threat. Any threat.

"Bird!" She managed to squeak as she dislodged her foot and rolled onto her back. Only it hadn't just been any bird. It was a large, dark, angry owl-bird that had come straight for her face in the darkness. "It was a bird." Elaboration had been needed. She gave it, gasping and torn between sobbing and laughing. A hand rose to shield her eyes from the garish light he held while the other rubbed her dirt speckled nose. She'd braced, but it hadn't been enough, and now her nose wrinkled and stung with the promise of being scraped in the onslaught. It was ridiculous to say the least.

"Please, put the light away." Going from total darkness to being exposed to a crazy high amount of lumens wasn't her idea of a good time either. None of it was a good time, not a single piece of the puzzle that made up the predicament she now found herself in.

The flaring white beam of the light died almost as soon as the request was made. This was then followed by the high-pitched sound of an electronic device being powered down, or at least dialed down to a lower power setting. It unfolded against the backdrop of human lungs straining for breath and the sound of an equally-human heart pounding from sudden exertion. It seemed that sudden running through a forest and undergrowth didn't quite agree with James these days.

"Are you all right?" He became acutely aware that his mouth was very, very dry as anxiety and tension collaborated to wick the moisture away.

"I'm ok." Valeese responded, letting the hand that had been shielding her eyes drop into the grass and leaves beside her. A pine needle tickled at the exposed skin of her lower back and her heart was still racing, but beyond that her step by step analysis of her body told her that she was very much physically ok even if her ego had been bruised and her nose scratched.

Without the blinding light of his flashlight, she could make out the majority of his face as he looked down at her. It was a unique perspective, but certainly not her favorite. "It was a bird." She repeated in a strained whine of amused embarrassment, finally reaching to fix her shirt and save herself from further discomfort.

Dried vegetation crunched under his knee as he knelt beside her, not so much from convenience as due to the fact that his eyes were straining to see her given the sudden absence of light. And the prominent overhang of trees, he thought to himself as he glanced up, seeing nothing but dark shadows looming on all sides. It was not his favorite place to be. A stray thought wishing for night-vision equipment ran through his mind, before he put it aside and focused on the vague darker-than-the-surroundings silhouette where he knew her to be.

"I've heard about nocturnal birds in here but haven't seen any myself. Not that I've actually gone looking for them," he added, belatedly, with another respectful glance around at the trees. As if half-expecting some low-flying reptilian menace to come swooping back in for another strafing run.

"They come looking for you." Valeese puffed, only half joking. Birds had never left her with a feeling of comfort. Their beady eyes and horrible beaks and bills were the thing of nightmares. Some had talons large enough to completely eviscerate her and certain species of birds of prey had been known to be able to pick up mammals as large as the red deer that allegedly haunted the woods of the arboretum. She decidedly didn't weigh nearly as much as a stag, though she sincerely doubted that one such eagle species existed on the station. At least she prayed to whatever god was listening that there wasn't.

A hand rested against his knee as she continued to catch her breath. Her mouth had gone dry from panic and was just beginning to normalize and make it easier for her to come down from that momentary adrenaline high, "I really, really am not a fan of avian creatures, have I ever told you that?"

There was a pause. From the look on his face - furrowed brows, mostly, and eyes that had gone out of focus - it was apparent that he was contemplating this disclosure against whatever most resembled electronic filing cards in his mind. While this may not have been the best tradecraft in the field, strictly speaking, it also seemed he was less concerned now that he had found her. Absent-mindedly his hand covered hers, lightly holding it in place while he continued to think.

Finally his head cocked a little to the side. "I don't think so," he said, still half in thought. "I don't recall our previously discussing it, at any rate."

Suddenly awareness of where his fingers were (more precisely, what they were resting on) was matched by the equally-instinctive stroking of her skin. Not much and not severe. Just gentle caressing, as he glanced back down her. "Do you want to stay here, or get out of these woods?" he asked, a gentle edge of concern lingering in his voice. The glance of his eyes - again - to the upper branches of the trees hinted at just why he might be concerned. Winged alien critters in the dark of the night didn't sit well with him, either, or so it seemed.

Leaves and grasses crinkled and rustled as she answered him with a rather emphatic nod at the idea of getting the hell away from the owl and its potential hidden friends. "Out of here works." Not once did her mind drift to Ravnsson or his men or the dangers they presented to her. Nighttime strolls through the woodland portion of the arboretum wouldn't be a repeat occurrence, not now that she'd been reminded that those feathered monsters existed.

Getting up wasn't the most elegant thing she'd ever done. Bits and pieces of leaf matter clung to her like a bad habit and her ankle protested at the initial placement of weight upon it. It was all things she could fix once they reached the safety of their home and left her little experiment with nyctophilia behind. The night, and darkness, would always soothe, beckon, and welcome her - but so too would he. No matter what and come what may.

Leaving the arboretum had been a short hike. Heading home had been a much longer hike where people cast quick glances in their direction, mainly out of curiosity for the pieces of grass and such that she hadn't been able to brush off and away.

"I was angry with you," The Vorta's voice broke the silence as they rounded that last bend in the corridor, "When you left without checking in with me the morning after the devil visited you... I felt... I don't know... Small. Unimportant." Her head turned and tilted slightly, allowing her to look at him as they walked along, "I didn't like the feeling, took me a bit of soul searching to realize that it wasn't the case by any stretch of the imagination."

His eyes closed and stayed closed for a moment before reopening. Exposed was ... something. Pain, perhaps. Or regret. Clarity too. Before that all-too-brief window receded from view the eyes turned to her. The hand, however, that slid around her and dropped to her waist underscored his feelings. It held her closer to him as they together approached the door.

"I regretted it afterwards. I should have woken you," he admitted in the rather candid manner that seemed to be the hallmark of their interactions, "but I didn't. And only later did I realize how I was viewing things in a rather two-dimensional manner. I wasn't thinking of you and how you must've felt when you woke up." A thumb pressed to the control panel, and was read for a scan, as he turned his head to the side and pressed a kiss into her hair. "For what it's worth, I am sorry about that," he murmured afterwards.

"Apology accepted." It was easy to forgive him. The man, after all, was just a man and mistakes were a symbol of mortality and the ability to learn and grow.

Only after they were safely back inside the confines of their nest did Valeese truly begin to relax. The more she relaxed, the more questions began to surface. One in particular stood out like a beacon in the night, "Was it worth it? You leaving so early?"

He let out a long exhalation, head tilting to the side and eyes momentarily widening in that way that conveyed uncertainty. At least, in the World of James. "God, I hope so."


Commander James Stacker
Executive Officer

Commander Valeese Stacker
Chief Medical Officer


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