One Understands Nothing and It's Charming
Shore Leave - An Internal Affair
Location: Starbase 34 — Promenade
"I'm a Sirran, one of four in Starfleet. 48 years old, which puts me at the start of my prime." Dina said. "I trained under the Sirran ambassador Garran and have diplomatic, combat and survival training. I like keeping in shape, dancing, partying, drinking and one day hope to find a sparring partner that can keep up with me." she smirked, eyes twinkling. "Anything deeper than that, you're gonna have to buy me a drink."
Paul chuckled. "I'll keep that in mind.
"More questions, yet no drink." She flicked an ear, tilting her head a bit. "I'm starting to think you're not as diplomatic as some people might think."
"We'll grab that drink when you're feeling better, if that's still an open offer." He said.
Dina paused. "You're the Lieutenant, Lieutenant." before continuing on her way.
Paul had never made a habit of using the lounge's provided on his ships. That was partially a function of his relatively short stay on most of his details—not enough time to make friends, no particular reason to be in the lounge. Paul had also found the crowds to be an issue, never having found a "Goldilocks" lounge: they were always so crowded it made Paul uncomfortable or so deserted, that it felt awkward to use it. The Shooting Bar, as it had been introduced to him, veered closer to the former than the latter, but Paul felt comfortable nonetheless. Still and all, he figured that he should make use of the Starbase with its open spaces and specialty shops while he had the opportunity. The Shooting Bar would be his only option soon enough.
Wandering around the Starbase promenade, Paul came upon a small shop jammed in the corner opposite the far-side lifts, a Sechin restaurant—Andorian cuisine he hadn't had since his time in Officer Candidacy School while stationed on Vulcan. He could only recall having had it once or twice but he seemed to remember enjoying it enormously. He meandered in, finding the tiny interior packed with people. An auspicious sign. Despite the long line, it moved quickly, and in short order Paul had a tray in his hand, heaping with a mountain of flat hishgala noodles and some kind of poultry—Paul couldn't be sure exactly what kind—in what smelled liked a spicy cream sauce.
The throng of activity in all corners of the restaurant meant Paul was not optimistic about finding a seat. As he surveyed the room, Paul caught a glimpse of his liaison, Dina Vossiborn, tucked back to the side, obscured by a jut near the entry way door. The large Sirran woman should have been extremely difficult to miss, but Paul had somehow managed it on his way in.
Paul hesitated for a moment. Their first conversation had not been entirely pleasant and Paul had not seen her since. Of course, it was not entirely unusual they wouldn't be running in to each other given the fact the crew had been allowed some leave, but it was noticeable nonetheless, given the small size of the diplomatic department. After a moment of consideration, Paul figured they were going to have to talk eventually anyway, so he made his way over stepping sideways through the patrons.
"Good evening, Ms. Vossiborn." Paul said as he arrived at the table. "It's not quite buying you a drink, but would you mind if I joined you?" When an answer didn't come immediately, he added, "It really is OK if the answer is 'no.'"
She looked at him for a moment in silence, before giving a shrug and kicking out a chair. Her arm was still in a sling, though her shoulder wasn't as bandaged as it was last time they spoke. Before her a large meal of some Andorian meat dish and a large, quarter filled glass of some drink that Paul might suspect was quite alcoholic.
"Knock yourself out." she spoke, her voice uncharacteristically flat. And it was only in the shifting light as she looked over at him that he could see how incredibly tired she looked, visible even through her fur. Her eyes looked bleary, her motions lethargic.
"How are you holding up?" Paul asked, indicating to her injuries.
"Eh, shoulder's healing up. Slowly." she quietly mused, rolling her shoulder a bit, though wincing as she did. "I should have full function back, but not full feeling, and it won't look pretty unless I do cosmetic follow-up surgery." she added.
Paul was far more curious about her mental state than her physical injuries, which seemed non-trivial but superficial enough to for the strong, sturdy Sirran to slough off. For a moment, he was forming the words to ask after her emotional well-being, but thought better of it. "Have you seen a counselor yet?" He asked, framing a difficult question in a banal way.
For a moment she considered a sassy comment about how he still hadn't bought her a drink, or that this was hardly the right place to talk about such things, in a public establishment on the starbase promenade, but she was just too tired and just gave a nod. "Yeah, saw her earlier today."
"That's good." Paul regarded the woman, large and strong, but unresponsive. Shutting him out. "I should have asked after that the last time we spoke." He said, indicating again to her arm. "I'm sorry about that."
She looked at him for a moment, expression unreadable before shoulders slumping a bit and giving a nod. "It's ok." she quietly offered before slamming back the rest of her drink and setting the large, empty glass down between them. "I could use a re-fill?" she ventured with a ghost of a smile.
Paul returned the smile. "I was hoping you'd say that. What was this?" He asked, holding up the cup.
"Double Jovian rum 'n cola. On the rocks." Dina flicked an ear.
Paul went to the bar to retrieve the drink, sensing a continued hesitance, or upset, on the part of the Sirran woman.
She watched him come back and set her drink down, reaching for the tall glass and raising it to him before enjoying a taste. "So, everything settled onboard? Have you read the reports for the mission?"
"About Everbright?" Paul was discomfited by the question but an inadvertent smirk crossed his face in spite of himself. "Oh, yeah. I read them long before I arrived. I read them as soon as they were filed on Earth. The one's that weren't classified, anyway. Why do you ask?"
"That's simple. You asked me what I thought, and I'm still trying to process." She mused, still her voice a bit quiet, still looking drained and beat, but at least a bit more open now. "Now I want to know what you think."
"What do I think?" Paul looked down, repeating the question in an absent mumble. "Well. My thoughts on the mission are that it's a mess—and it might be a tragic mess or it might a tragically unacceptable mess. And, frankly, I don't like that I don't know one way or the other. I'm nervous that I don't know. I don't like that I can't trust this institution—" he gestured all around them and to his own commbadge, "to do what I think is the right thing. What they say is the right thing. I don't like that I don't feel completely confident that if a bunch of Federation citizens died at the hands of Starfleet officers, it wasn't because there was absolutely no other way. In general, I don't like that several wars, Borg invasions and other threats mean that there are a lot of itchy trigger fingers in Starfleet now. And you got caught up in all that."
Paul paused, gesturing to Dina. "That's why I was such an asshole to you last time. It has nothing to do with you per se. It's that this organization—the exploration and scientific arm of a society that I chose and choose every day because I believe in it—has become little more than a shoot-first armada. The military arm of an increasingly insular and paranoid apparatchik." Without realizing it, Paul had been looking away from Dina as he explained himself. "I'm sorry. That was a long answer to a short question. The fact is, no one in Starfleet ever asks. Not ever." He sighed, with a weary smile. "And you've just been through an ordeal, and I was dumping my baggage about all this shit right on top of you." He paused. "Still am, I suppose. It wasn't right and it's not right. I really am sorry."
Dina just listened, ears perked and focused on him entirely as she did. Her expression hardened slightly as he spoke, though she let his verbiage flow until he was done. "Feel better now?" She answered, taking another sizable sip of her drink.
"What? Just by virtue of saying it out loud? Not particularly." Paul responded flatly before taking a swig of his own drink. "I'm not looking for catharsis. I'm looking for more certainty. I'm looking for a better Starfleet, I suppose."
"Starfleet hasn't turned into a shoot first force." Dina continued. "Our away team was kidnapped, under weapons fire. We were fired upon first, with intent to kill. We tried stunning them. Didn't work, to a spectacular extent. We couldn't disengage. We couldn't stun them. They were closing in on us, with intent to kill us." Her expression was dour.
"We made a call with the information we had. It's unfair to expect us to make a call on information we don't have. And, to answer your question from earlier - " She hesitated a moment before continuing. "Yes. Yes I think the call was the right one, given the circumstances. And now I have some issues to work through and it'll be some time before I can sleep again. But, you know what? That's the risk you run when you put on that uniform. And I still stand by what it stands for."
"Ms. Vossiborn, as to the particulars of the mission, I can't say for sure one way or another. As to Starfleet itself..." Paul said in a staid voice, trailing off. "I served on a Nova Class science vessel. It was my first ship assignment. During an away mission, an NCO—who just so happened to be in a relationship with ship's commanding officer, by the way—was hurt. The Medical Staff beamed her back and determined that surgery was necessary. My CO disagreed. Angrily. Did she have any specific medical training on which to make that determination? No. But did that stop her for one second from pulling a weapon on her own medical team? No again. Was she censured? Court-marshaled? Stripped of her commission? No, a third time. The Medical Staff were chewed out for disobeying orders and my CO was eventually promoted. On a science vessel this happened."
"I served on another ship," Paul continued, "that didn't even have a security department. All security was provided by the Marine detachment on board. Other than handling a weapon, I'm not sure at all sure what securing a starship on a day-to-day basis and planetary invasion have in common, but no one seemed particularly interested in asking that question, so there I was, being processed by a marine Lieutenant, being told that my security access was being restricted on the basis of some unnamed security threat."
"When I was 16 years old, my home planet was put under martial law, due to fear of a Changeling invasion. Armed security personnel were stationed throughout the entire planet. Despite wars fought against the Klingons and Cardassians, despite repelled Borg invasions and a two and a half century cold war with the Romulans, that had never happened before. In the post-war period, Starfleet has continued to produce Defiant Class ships—a spec design so heavily weapons-focused that the lion's share of the crew complement is devoted to simply maintaining a properly balanced power supply. It has almost no meaningful cartographic, scientific or medical research facilities and it is not well suited to long-range exploration. And yet, one after another rolled off the assembly line. That has never happened before, either."
"You believe Starfleet has not turned into a shoot-first force?" Paul asked rhetorically. "That's fine. You are a free-thinking being and you have the right to your opinion. It is, however, an opinion with which I disagree. Strongly. The Everbright incident was an informational failure and not a tactical one? Fine. I wasn't there and you were. You say there is nothing else that could have been done? The official accounts back you up. But the fact of the matter is, I've heard versions of that line many, many times before. 'This is what it means to wear the uniform. This is what it means to make the impossible decision.' And of course, sometimes they were right—sometimes a loss of life is absolutely unavoidable. It's tragic, but it happens. Space is dangerous."
"The problem is—" Paul sighed. "Other times, though, I was there and I know they weren't looking hard enough for another way. Still other times, I know they weren't looking at all. So people end up dead and it could be that there was no other way, or it could be that they didn't care to find another way. It's very difficult to know, from the outside, which is which because the story is always, always the same. And since our judgment about the overall trajectory of Starfleet differs, it becomes more difficult to believe our judgment would align on this. Not impossible, of course, but more difficult."
Dina just watched him, remaining silent for another moment before finally speaking. "So, what do you want, Lieutenant?" she asked, letting the question linger for a fleeting moment before continuing.
"You lay your backstory on an injured and recovering, off duty enlisted just trying to enjoy a meal in a starbase. You say I am free to believe what I will, but then you spend your entire rant trying to argue I'm wrong. If I didn't know better I'd say you had particular issues, doubts about your faith in the uniform, and you're projecting on me." she took another sip of her drink.
"So, what do you want?"
"Nothing in particular, Ms. Vossiborn." Paul said. "At least not from you. Not today. My specific intention was to avoid this topic altogether. What I wanted to do was to apologize. I promise, from here on out, I will not force you to listen to my opinions as to the general behavior of Starfleet or my opinions on the Everbright incident in particular. But, if you ask my opinion, I will give it. And you did ask."
Paul continued in an affected, even tone. "But, since you seem keen to make this about me and my personal hangups, I will say, you have read the situation 100% correctly. I do have my doubts about this uniform. More specifically, I have doubts about the motivations and priorities of the people that wear it. Do you not? Do you think it's somehow inappropriate to have and express misgivings about about a circumstance where Federation citizens were killed at the hands of Starfleet officers? Do you think your injuries and personal trauma, however serious they absolutely are, somehow inoculates you against basic accountability?"
"Please point out where I claimed, said or in any way insinuated that assumption." Dina flicked an ear, looking at him pointedly. "And, frankly, I find that question insulting." she added taking another sip of her drink.
Paul looked at Dina skeptically. "You have gotten demonstrably offended each time I've had the temerity to broach this subject, each time I've questioned the outcome of that mission. You get defensive and immediately try turn the conversation back around on me. That insinuates, using your word, someone who is not willing to be held accountable; someone who thinks having the crew's behavior questioned is inappropriate."
"I did ask for your opinion, yes. Though, to be honest, I got more than I bargained for. But that seems to be at the crux of the matter, doesn't it? Getting more than someone bargained for." She leaned back, furrowing her brows a bit as she spoke.
"You claim Starfleet has gotten more and more militaristic. Perhaps. But if that's so, it's in response to outside threats. Have you ever tried bargaining with a Borg cube, Lieutenant? Maybe offer the Dominion a trade deal or a cultural exchange?" She asked, rhetorically.
"Even though right now I find it difficult to sleep at night, I wear the uniform because I still agree with what it stands for. Why do you?" she asked, reaching for her long neglected meal.
"On that point, we agree, Ms. Vossiborn." Paul replied. "I don't think our difference is not whether or not we agree with the values of Starfleet. Our difference seems to be our belief in the extent to which Starfleet is living up to them, and what we're willing to sacrifice to protect to protect those values. You imply that a trade deal with the Dominion is utterly ridiculous. And 100 years ago I imagine someone with an equivalent attitude would have thought a multi-decade alliance with the Klingons was equally ridiculous. Dangerous, even. And nonetheless, we have stood side-by-side with them almost every moment since. You forget that after all the fighting and all the bloodshed, the leader of the Dominion War effort promised to acquiesce to peace only after she linked with a Changeling working for Starfleet. Their version of a conversation. That link, that conversation, saved more lives and prevented more suffering than every phaser blast and new military technology brought to bear in that war combined. That's why I serve. To gain peace. To generate knowledge. To build the scaffolding of cultural understanding. To unify and construct. To never, never, ever destroy unless every other option has been exhausted. And when we fail to do that, I say so. Even when it merely appears that we've failed to do that, I say something."
"It is your chosen methods of saying something that puzzles me. You say something to the exclusion of properly introducing yourself. You say something to the exclusion of showing any curiosity or compassion towards severe injuries in your direct subordinates, injuries that will likely leave permanent disfigurement. You imply I believe I am beyond accountability." She flicked an ear, tilting her head a bit. "Have you said similar things to the person who made the call? And similar accusations? Or am I special?"
Paul sighed and considered Dina's point for a moment. "That's a fair point. I haven't said anything to you that I wouldn't say to someone else, someone at or above my rank. But it's a fair point in the sense that you're the only one who has engaged me on this topic. So in one regard, I'm not talking to you about this because I see you as especially or unusually responsible for what happened at Everbright, so I'll totally stipulate that that's not fair to you. I do imagine I will be having a version of this conversations with others down the line."
"The call was made to use lethal force." Dina said. "Considering the circumstances, I believed at that moment that call was appropriate, so I made the call to act on it. Nothing about that was easy. Nothing about that sits right with me. Everything about it haunts my nightmares. But given the same situation, I would make the same call again. Unless that is something you can accept and live with, I think we are going to have a problem going forward." She exhaled sharply through her nose. "And I do not appreciate you projecting your own insecurities onto me."
"That's fair, too. I should be more sensitive to what you've gone through. And I will try to be in the future. I really will. But, if we're going to work together, you're going to need to understand: my loyalty is to them, down there." Paul pointed to the ground, implying the denizens of Federation worlds. "Not us up here. We serve them, not the other way around. You've said twice now that I'm projecting—implying that my values and my questions to you are driven by some type of individual psychological weakness rather than sincere belief. And you know what? Maybe they are. Maybe you see something in me that even I don't. But, whatever synapse is firing in my brain to cause me to believe what I believe—to question what I question—I am steadfast. And for right now at least, I'm not going anywhere. So, it sounds like you have a choice to make. And I will support that choice either way."
Paul stood from the table and looked down at his uneaten food. "Do you want this?" He asked.
She shook her head. "Nah, I'm fine, thanks." Seeming to relax a bit again, looking at him with a hint of a smile, albeit a very tired one. "We're both steadfast in our beliefs to the point of hardheaded stubbornness. But, in the end, we want the same thing. I think we can work together after all."
"I'm glad to hear that." Paul said. "But you should retain the right to change your mind. If you feel that you need to transfer out, I will sign the orders. And, as long as we're alone, you have my permission to call me out on being an asshole whenever you feel it's necessary. Have a good evening, Ms. Vossiborn." He nodded and began his journey through the crowd of people.
She watched him leave, giving a soft chuckle when he'd disappeared into the crowd. "Hooo boy." she quietly mused to nobody in particular, spearing another piece of meat onto her fork. "This is going to be an interesting posting, that's for sure."
Wakeham Paul Alasia
Chief Diplomatic Officer