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CH03: S [D04|1900] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

[ Captain Anya Ziegler | Battle Bridge | Deck 11 | Vector 3 | USS Theurgy ] Attn: @Brutus

Carefully, so as not to lose her balance, Anya Ziegler rubbed a hand over her face as she walked down the corridor to the battle bridge. It was easy to say that she was tired. The day had been long and even though she had spent more of it unconscious that she would have liked, the captain didn’t find it restful. There was too much to do. Far too much to plan for.

Strolling onto Theurgy’s battle bridge, Anya felt a mix of emotions. Nostalgia, for a time past; She had enjoyed being the first officer on one of the most advanced vessels in the fleet. She also felt a twinge of anger. Since she left theurgy, the ship had cause multiple problems in her career, first when she was subjected to extensive questions at Starfleet Command, and now when they had come to her aid in the azure nebula.

As she passed through the command centre with light, padded steps, she found her gaze drawn to the captain’s chair. How would this end? Would Stark let Anya be on her way after everything, or would their past relationship be brought into contention? While she had accepted the story in sickbay, so far there had been no definitive proof besides Ziegler’s guy feeling. This left the longevity of this temporary alliance in a precarious situation. Eventually, Cayuga would be fixed and the scouting mission would return. Would they go their separate ways, or would something else come into play?

Musing over the variables, Anya walked on autopilot down the small steeps to the ready room door and pressed the wall panel. The aim was to meet with Stark before heading back to Cayuga for the night. Work would start in earnest. Tonight was the chance to catch up with an old colleague, and maybe a friend?

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #1
[Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Stark, Captain | Ready room | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy ]Attn: @Arista 

They called it a ready room. In point of fact, unlike Captain Ives primary ready room, of the bridge of Vector 01, this space, to the side of the Battle Bridge of the Stallion was hardly more than a glorified broom closet. It had just enough space for a desk, and three chairs: one tucked in against the outer bulkhead with a corner table next to it, one in front of the desk, low backed, and one behind the desk, higher back, where Natalie currently sat. At some point in the past two hours, her hair had come undone and hung limply around her neck, cascading over her shoulders as she leant forward.

A stack of PADDs littered her desk, and she was glancing between these and the computer terminal in front of her, eyes taking on that glossed over, starring too much at screens look. Her shift had ended some time ago, the beta shift had already taken over the bridge, and in fact were coming up close on the midpoint of the watch. And yet Natalie was still here, just within arms reach. Better she had thought to herself, to finish this last batch here, instead of in those quarters. Keep work out of there.

Not that there was much room in those quarters to work, but those at least were larger than this, and though they were considerably smaller than her own Department Head Quarters on the Helmet (and lacked a certain bathtub she found herself desirous of) they were a comfort. One she did not have to share with someone else, unlike many of the crew forced to double up, or even hot bunk in the wake of the Continuance Protocols.

Grimacing, Natalie set her cup down with a thud on the table. The coffee had gone cold. Not the bracing cold of a drink purposefully chilled, but that of one left alone too long. "I need to replicate a heating pad," she muttered as she stood and walked the three paces to the corner chair, and the tiny replicator she was afforded. "Recycle," she commanded, watching the mug vanish in a brilliant white swirl of light.

Nat unzipped the collar of her golden undershirt slightly, fingering the fabric. If the missed that next rendezvous, would she turn this gold in for red? She had been putting off the thoughts. The crew was counting on her to reunite them with their fellow Theurgiests, not to contemplate her future as a potential ship commander. She was in command now, and she was making the decisions. That had to be her focus. Repair the Cayuga; ensure that the Allegiant's mission launched without a hitch tomorrow; warn the others of the Borg threat.

A tinkling chime filled the room, notifying her that someone waited outside. She glanced at the clock. It was late enough that Natalie should have left for dinner an hour ago.  She had an inkling however, a trickle down the back of her neck, as to who might be on the other side of the door. She didn't bother putting her hair back up, though perhaps that would have been more professional. Instead, turning to face the door, Natalie simply raked her fingers through her hair, tucking the loose strands back behind her ears, and announced, "come in."

The doors parted and sure enough, there was the person she had known would come. Of course, Cpt. Anya Ziegler would show up before being sent off to her ship. Natalie had wished the woman hadn't made her way to the bride however. Nat would have come to her. She could tell instantly that Ziegler was still moving with the ginger determination of someone who was recovering from injury. As such, Natalie sprung into action, even as her back straightened ever so slightly, a semblance of coming to attention that she fought to suppress.

Ziegler was a Captain and out ranked her in pips, but not position. This was the case of two ship commanders meeting, rank notwithstanding, not an Admiral coming aboard for inspection.

"Please, come in, Take a seat." Lt. Cmdr. Stark gestured automatically to the chair by the desk. "I was just recycling the last dredges of a late, lamented cup of coffee." She tried to joke. "Can I get you anything?" Will you please sit down before you fall down? She thought it, but she didn't say it.

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #2
[ Captain Anya Ziegler | Battle Bridge | Deck 11 | Vector 3 | USS Theurgy ] Attn: @Brutus

When the doors parted, Anya found herself in a room she had rarely visited during her time as XO. She had commanded Vector 02, when Theurgy had split in previous missions. While this room was identical to the other, it still gave her the sense that she was stepping somewhere unfamiliar. It wasn’t pleasant feeling on a ship she thought she knew so well.

In fact, there was many things about this whole situation that went against what Anya thought she knew. Nothing was more apparent than that of Natalie Stark. Ziegler remembered the meek and quiet officer who had joined Theurgy as Hendrick’s new deputy. At first, Anya was confused as how someone so timid would have made it to Lieutenant Commander, especially one who flinched when there was an order barked. Later, Anya learnt of Stark’s insightful observations. Though never close, Ziegler thought she had earnt the operations officer’s respect through their professional relationship. Evidently, that wasn’t the case.

Stark had chosen to lie to her. Using a loud-mouthed officer to impersonate another captain and bring nearly the entire Cayuga senior staff aboard under false pretences. If it wasn’t for their shared history and the desperate need for help, Anya would have written Stark off straight away. There was an unwritten rule for Starfleet captains. Mutual respect and understanding. Stark had betrayed that very ideal the moment she turned Theurgy’s briefing room into that of a nebula class.

Assuming Cayuga would stay around long enough for Theurgy to re-group, Ziegler would have to have words with Nerina. No, wait, she reminded herself. Nerina was gone. Replaced by a man she didn’t know. Trent. If Trent was worth his salt, he would be training the rest of the senior staff in the virtues of command. Whether it was a failing of this man or in Stark herself, there was undoubtedly still work needed to be done.

After all that had happened, Anya knew there was only one way that she could let the forgiveness start. Stepping closer, the captain brought herself within spitting distance of the other officer, watching her with eyes that blazed with a high intensity. With one quick action, Anya brought the palm of her hand against Stark’s cheek with the loud crack of flesh hitting flesh. Throughout the entire action, Ziegler’s face remained a stern, unmoving, statue.

“Don’t ever lie to me again, is that clear?” The order was sharp and to the point. Despite the unequivocal tone, Anya wasn’t vindictive.

Even though her hand still smarted from the slap, Ziegler brought it down against her side. There was no more fighting to be done. She had done what was needed.

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #3
[Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Stark, Captain | Ready room | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy ]Attn:

For a moment there was silence, the doors shut behind them. And then there was the crack, and pain. Natalie was struck senseless, dumbfounded. Of all the ways she thought this meeting might go, getting smacked across the face by a fellow officer, her former first officer and a captain of a Starfleet vessel had never, not once, crossed her mind.

Heat stung her cheek, as a red imprint began to grow on sallow, pale skin. Eyes stared back in utter shock, ringed dark from lack of sleep. A year ago, those eyes would have filled with tears, and the then Lt. Natalie Stark would have cowered away, backed off. Curled in on herself and tried not to snivel. She'd have locked herself in her quarters for days.  And even now there was a part of her that wanted to do that. To hide away. Because for just one horrible moment, when she stared back at Anya Ziegler with fear in her face, it wasn't the pale, dark haired human woman she saw.

It was the dark skinned, mad eyed Vulcan, the mutinous, possessed gaze of T'Rena, as she lent in to wipe all that was Natalie Stark away from the world, in another Ready Room, on a different Vector of this very same ship.

But it was not the same Natalie of a year ago, not Lieutenant Natalie Stark, Operations Assistant Chief and meek woman, more suited to burying herself in a conduit than running a starship. This was Lieutenant Commander Natalie Stark. Acting Captain of the third Vector of the USS Theurgy. Responsible for the lives of hundreds of souls and the truth of the infestation of the Federation.

She would not cower.

"What the actual Fuck?" She barked out in an angry voice, one that likely none on this ship, or perhaps any who knew her, had ever heard from the small girl. "Where the HELL Do you get off lecturing me" Natalie's eyes shown with a fury - guilty, perhaps, for she had lied, but a fury all the same.

"Just how, pray tell, was I supposed to know when we came upon you that this wasnt some trap?" She rounded on Ziegler, rank be damned. Propriety be damned. There was a haunted look in her face as she glared up at the other woman. Gone was the concern for Anya's health. The worry over her. If she could slap her about than she didn't deserve Natalie's worry. "How was I supposed to know when I broke the protocol I'd been given to come to your rescue that you weren't another part of the task force littering this nebula with a snake in your head like their admiral, with orders to do anything, anything to kill us on sight? No trial. No mercy. Just blast us to atoms?"

"Get off your damned high horse, Captain. Lying to you was the best option I had."

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #4
[ Captain Anya Ziegler | Battle Bridge | Deck 11 | Vector 3 | USS Theurgy ] Attn: @Brutus

It appeared somewhere along the way, Natalie Stark had grown a backbone. Standing there, it was easy to see any of the pity in Stark’s eyes were gone.  Anya knew she was no longer in charge of Stark, but looking at her now, her stomach turned. There was an overwhelming feeling that she was falling out of Starfleet trying to protect it.

Ziegler had seen it during the dominion war. Officers willing to do absolutely anything for victory, only to struggle trying to reintegrate back into peaceful life after. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t, allow that to happen again.

“Schiesdreck.” Ziegler grunted in a near whisper. “You chose the easiest path, not the best.”

Ziegler could follow Stark’s train of thought when it came to her defence, but that didn’t make it right. Standing before the other woman, them alone in this room, Anya continued her speech.

“It was easy to lie your way through that situation and then try to rein it in with a ‘no harm no foul’ mentality. But, here’s the thing, you aren’t a lieutenant anymore, you’re the captain."

It was time to drive the point home. She needed the lesson. Not in-case Theurgy never regrouped, but for her soul.

“There are many foundations of being a captain. Loyalty, accountability, compassion. One of the most important, if not the highest, is integrity. It may seem acceptable to give a tiny, insignificant, part away for the sake of temporary safety but when you do, the base on which you are standing is just that much smaller. The balance becomes just that much harder. Before you know it, you’re tumbling down with nothing. There’s no way back at that point.

“The road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is very much shorter than we think." Ziegler paused. Hoping the younger officer would understand. "You’ve been out here on the run too long. I can see it in your eyes. There’s a monster in every shadow.”

OOC: Schiesdreck means 'Bullshit' in Swiss German.

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #5
[Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Stark, Captain | Ready room | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy ]Attn:

 She could feel it coming almost before the word started tumbling out of Ziegler's mouth. The Lecture. Oh of course there would be a lecture. You don't just walk in, smack someone across the face and get called for it, and not lecture. That fit what she remembered of the Theurgy's former XO's style. Lecture. And sure enough, there it was. A bit of what Natalie thought was German, maybe, that the universal translator declined to explain, but Nat could put two and two together. Great opening she thought bitterly, eyes flaring. She gave herself points for not turning back around and smacking Ziegler in turn. Ingrained respect for the uniform perhaps, or the rank. Or simply Natalie was not a violent person at heart. No matter how hard she'd grown.

It took an effort of will that Natalie did not think herself capable of, in that moment, to let Ziegler speak without snapping back. How dare she imply that Nat had taken the easier option. Ohhhh no, no I did no such thing, she told herself, eyes flashing wide at the insult, and then narrowing as Ziegler pointed out that Natalie was a captain. It felt like  backhanded compliment, especially in the wake of the open handed blow she'd been dealt moments prior. Is this how she treats fellow Captains? Smacks them silly when they don't live up to her exacting demands, formed in comfort on a quaint little science vessel charting anomalies in a nebula? While the rest of us are trying to simply stay alive and keep an alien insurgency from destroying us all?

It was an unfair thought, and Natalie knew as much. Hence the bitter words never leaving her mouth. Ziegler had, after all, just faced down what had once been the worse possible threat to the Federation that Natalie knew of. That was before the Savi. Before the parasites. This did little to lessen the actual threat posed by Borg in the Azure nebula, and nor did it do anything to cheapen the sacrifice and horrors that the crew of the Cayuga had so very recently suffered though, compounded by the assault of the Assurians. But Natalie did feel that Ziegler was thoroughly discounting everything that she and the Theurgy had been through as she stood in judgment of Natalie Stark, Lieutenant Commander by rank, Captain by duty.

Sucking in a deep breath, Stark waited until the Cayuga's ship master seemed to pause for more than just breathing or emphasis. Taking that as a cue to chime back in Natalie did just that. Her face was still red from the slap, that stood out against the fainter pink of her skin. She skipped the line, 'with all due respect' because rank had gone out the window the moment Anya felt it warranted to strike the other officer. Instead she just barreled right in.

"We tried to tell the truth, and a snake warped our message. The parasites on Starbase - 84 used the USS Resolve as a scapegoat to attempt to cover their own tracks. We barely managed to save their crew, whom have suffered through three years of hell. The last Federation ship that we encountered that we thought we could trust ended up being run by a megalomaniac Augment and his twisted, warmped Vulcan XO, whom attempted in a room not at all unlike this one here, to wipe my mind and replace it with slavish devotion to her cause. Oh, and lets not forget, Captain, that I've been hunted by a ship sent back from the future, or near enough. The AI of which was descended from Thea herself, that beamed aboard our ship and slaughtered half the bridge crew.

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you." She couldn't bring herself to talk about the events of Niga. Not even in her simmering anger. But that was there too. Oh, she knew well that she was unfit for duty. None on the Theurgy should have been allowed anywhere near a duty station until they'd had years of therapy. They didn't have that luxury.

"You accused me of lacking integrity. Of taking the easy option," she met Anya's eyes and held the stare firm now as she barreled along. "The easy option would have been to follow the order's I'd been given by the ships First Officer, and the Protocol set down by Captain Ives, in case something like this happened and they were compromised, killed or captured: Scatter, and attempt to rendezvous with the remaining vectors, 3 times." She held up her fingers and started ticking them off. "Make no attempt to contact or interact with anyone other than a sister vector. If able, make the rendezvous. If all three are missed, flee, and resume the mission to transmit the truth to the Federation, alone."

She held up one finger. That was how many rendezvous they had left now. Because she had stopped to save the Cayuga.

"The easy thing, Anya, would have been to ignore your distress signal like my orders required, and left you to die."

OOC: I think I'm accurate on the number of missed meetups but if not please do let me know. 1 finger has much more impact than two in this case XD

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #6
[ Captain Anya Ziegler | Battle Bridge | Deck 11 | Vector 3 | USS Theurgy ] Attn: @Brutus

Ziegler held her ground, standing like a statue as Stark fired back at her. The anger, the resentment, the anguish. It was all there. Anya let it wash her over, as she mulled the former Operations Officer’s words. The hardest part was the assertion that Stark should have left those aboard Cayuga to die. It was a verbal gut punch, and although she tried not to show it. It hurt. It really hurt.

Anya knew she couldn’t cry, nor would it do any good to strike back, figuratively or literally. Instead, she took one of the hands at her side and ran it through her raven black hair. She hadn’t tied up like she normally would have done on duty, this meeting was a courtesy, something the Captain felt imperative to do before returning for the night. No point stopping now, she reminded herself, she had set this course of action from the moment she had connected palm to cheek. With a deep audible breath out through her nose, Anya prepared herself.

“I can’t imagine what you have faced since I left Theurgy. You’ve had more thrown at you in the last three months than most officers have in their entire careers. But don’t, for a moment, think that I don’t understand the hardships of your situation. I too have lost the majority of my crew to a terrifying enemy and now I have also been drawn into this conflict with the Asurians. The one thing I know is that this is not a sustainable position. To continue, you need help. You need friends. You need allies. Otherwise you will fail. Not through lack of trying or a lack of passion, but simply through attrition.”

As she spoke, Ziegler impressed her emphasis to ensure her point was made. She was careful to be strong in the tone she used but not harsh. The conversation had reach a balancing point, too far and she risked being thrown out of the office but had to push far enough to make sure she was heard. After all, she was acknowledging her understanding.

“Yes, you need to be careful. Potential friends have turned their backs on you. Others you allowed in only for them to pursue their own agenda, but you cannot frame myopia as a virtue. do you honestly not see how your actions only served to alienate yourself further?”

Slowly, as she expressed herslef, Ziegler’s words tumbled from her mouth faster and faster as she steamrolled away from her professional perspective.

“Our shared history should make me your closest possible ally. Your easiest recruitment. You know it. I know it. Starfleet knows it. That is why I spent weeks at Starfleet Command, being interrogated over and over again. Within my orders, I should have used my rank and my remaining crew to seize control or destroy Theurgy, yet here I am. What do you think others would do in the same situation without our mutual past? Without the affection I hold for Thea, for Ives, for you? You saw how quickly the ruse fell.”

Ziegler wanted to keep going, to keep slamming herself against the brick wall, to keep on until Stark finally understood. The lecture had turned to a impassioned plea. Taking a break, she turned and looked over the oversized desk in the small room. Staring at the chair it held behind. Stretching out a hand, she touched the cool metal top of the table. There was more than one way to reach people and Anya knew this hard ass approach wasn’t working. With a deliberate motion, she took in a deep breath, before looking back to the former operations officer. When she spoke, it had a new, conciliatory, tone.

“There is a reason why I’m here talking about these things, why I’m lecturing on integrity. I have seen how you have grown. You aren’t the little lieutenant terrified to man the ops station during beta shift anymore. When you first joined Theurgy I struggled to see you in that centre chair, now I don’t want to see you anywhere but there. I have hope in your mission, I want you to succeed. When the day comes that you drive these parasites from the very core of Starfleet, you’ll have to try to reintegrate into peaceful life. You cannot let yourself be dragged down before that point. I won’t let you throw away your very being.”

Stop, she told herself. Stop and regroup. The conversation was exhausting, both physically and emotionally. For a small respite the captain sat, perched on the edge of the desk, taking a moment to recollect her thoughts.

“It’s ok to be scared. I’m scared too.” She said, finally. The conciliatory tone gone, along with the captainly voice. What Stark heard now was the real, unfiltered Anya Ziegler. “It’s ok to be cautious. I can respect that. But if you’re burning all your bridges for temporary safety or on the sake of what might possibly happen then, herrgott, Nat, I don’t even want to know you.”

In all the time they had served together, Ziegler had never used Stark’s nickname. Not once.

OOC: Herrgott means ‘My God’ in Swiss German

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #7
[Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Stark, Captain | Ready room | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy ]Attn: @aristia

There was a lot to unpack after Natalie dropped her bomb, about how the easiest option would have been to hide behind her orders and ignore the distress signal. She wasn't sure that Anya fully understood just what she'd ment. How do you make someone see that around every corner, around every call for help or offered hand is the chance that the serpent is just waiting. Just waiting to break you. She was never good at making her point, and it seemed. as the Cayuga's shipmaster continued, that once again Natalie hadn't been able to convey everything in the way she wanted.

Arms crossed, Natalie paced a away from Ziegler, which amounted to two steps. That was about as far as the little room would allow. She was talking about allies now. Maybe I'd be more inclined to see you as my best ally if you hadn't have slapped me the moment you walked in here just because I tried to do the right thing while following the spirit of my orders? Still, it was hard to keep the anger.

Captain Ziegler was right, after all, and it was something that Natalie knew too well. They would fail by sheer attrition if they didn't find an ally. But at first blush there was no way to know that the Cayuga wasn't a trap. Wasn't another Harbinger.  Or that Anya herself hadn't become another Sankolov. A parasite.

And yet....she took a breath, seeing, superimposed, as if standing right next to Anya, all those they had lost to attrition. Commander Hendricks, her former boss. Cale Winterbourne, one of the best conn officers the Theurgy had, slaughtered right next to her. Rory....Sweet Rory. The dead were there, watching her, judging her as Anya paused in her recital, resting her hand on the desk that was littered with reports.

Stark watched her, impassively, as she warred with her own emotions. Anya was right, in many ways. Her attempt at subterfuge, helping but keeping their real nature a secret, had failed. And she was equally right - another crew might have tried to take over the Theurgy, Borg be damned.  But it had seemed like the best option at the time. Nat felt she was right too, and that's what made all of this so damned hard.

And truthfully, she was feeling petty and spiteful after being slapped.

She had just about summoned up the strength for a rebuttal when Anya switched tacks, like one of her father's sailing boats on the lakes outside Bradbury Point, cutting back across at her with a different wind in her sails.

So Natalie listened, and did her best to hide her surprise. She'd never had much of a poker face, of course. That hadn't changed in the intervening months since Anya left the Theurgy to assume command of the Cayuga. Some of what she felt, that war of emotions, the anger from the before, the flattered sense of surprise that she might be worthy of command, and the sting of hearing her name in that diminutive, in such a sad fashion.

When we have to integrate back Natalie thought, shaking her head.

"Captain," she began, then, "Anya," looking up at her. Sighing now, uncurling her arms and pressing one hand back behind her against the wall for leverage. Support. "I did the best that I felt I could do, to cling to the spirit of the orders id been given, to keep this ship safe and escape this nebula, while trying to keep my soul intact by not abandoning another ship in distress." There, she'd said it.  "I had to try and balance the precious few lives we have left on this vessel against a need to do right. Was it the best choice? Apparently not." She gestured to Ziegler, then her own cheek, and made managed a wry grin.

"You talk of integrating with the fleet again, once we stop these parasites. Of making peace, coming home into the fold," this was the painful part, and it showed in the way her voice broke. "We're not Jim Kirk, bringing back whales from the past to save the planet in the nick of time. There isn't going to be that kind of absolution for us. The trial won't end with a token slap on the wrist, a pat on the back, and a dismissal of all charges.

"We've killed too many Starfleet officers. Too many families torn apart by our hand." She pressed her hand to her chest. "Their families deserve absolution. Do you really, truly believe that in the end, if we purge this threat, all will be forgiven? The best future I see? is one where we all spend the rest of our lives shoreside. Dismissed from service, and monitored every day. That's the best outcome I can see."

She was red in the face and trying to keep calm. Nat hadn't poured any of this out to anyone, at all, "That everyone else will be able to go back to their lives. But this crew? Even if we save everyone and the truth is known? WE HAVE NO FUTURE! There will be no center seat for me. As much as I think I want to sit in in properly.

“There will be no absolution for any of us."

OOC: you start writing one thing and then the character throws you a curve ball mid paragraph :P

Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #8
[ Captain Anya Ziegler | Battle Bridge | Deck 11 | Vector 3 | USS Theurgy ] Attn: @Brutus

Watching from her spot leaning against the desk, Anya couldn’t help but feel a small corner of her mouth curl at Stark’s admission that lying wasn’t the best idea and gesture to her own cheek. Humour. Humour was good. It was a start of the healing process for a relationship that Anya had driven to the edge. However, the small amount of hope disappeared when Natalie continued.

As she spoke of absolution, of the things the crew had done, of the opportunities she could never take, Anya watched quietly. Her heart tore a little more over every broken word. Inside, she wanted to take Stark in her arms and tell her everything was going to be all right. Even with such a short time as Captain, Ziegler had found herself developing a motherly desire to protect. She had to be careful though, it wasn’t appropriate to act on those feelings. She could counsel, she could advise, but in the end, she had to set herself apart and not get drawn in. Averting her eyes for a moment, Ziegler allowed herself the briefest of moment to collect herself.

“Absolution is the washing away of sin. The promise of rebirth. And the chance to escape the transgressions that have come before.” Anya started in reply, holding a hand on the edge of the desk so that she didn’t stand and close the distance between the two. She was gripping it so hard that her knuckles turned even more white against her pale skin. Her voice betrayed nothing of her feelings. She needed to be strong in this moment. For Stark. “However, there's a price for absolution and it's called penance.”

Anya’s words gave herself more courage, allowing herself to regain her perspective and step back into her captain headspace. She just hoped the courage would do the same for Stark. “You will still be seeking redemption when you take your last breath on some distant day. I need to tell you though, someone's forgiveness will not heal you; condemnation or absolution is their test, not yours.

 “Admiral Kirk did a lot of things wrong; He tried to enact general order 24. Captain Sisko launched biogenic weapons against human colonists. The sum of a person's life is not determined by one action. It is what you do with the time you are given that matters.” The harshness of the words were clipped by the way she put them across. Though Ziegler was back in control of her emotions to a great degree, the care still came through in the tone. Finally moving from her perch, Ziegler brought herself back onto her feet.

“Is exoneration asking too much? Who am I to say?” She began, hypothetically. As she spoke, she closed the distance between the two officers. This could be the make or break moment, she told herself. Carefully, she took a hand and placed it on Stark’s arm. A comforting yet professional gesture. “All I know is you don’t have be alone. I want to trust you. I want to be by your side when you are standing on front the select committee explaining your actions and, if you take the right course, others will join you too.”


Re: Chapter 03: Supplemental [ Day 04 | 1900 hrs. ] Master & (Lieutenant) Commander

Reply #9
[Lt. Cmdr. Natalie Stark, Captain | Ready room | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy ]Attn: @Arista 

Despite everything between the duo, it was clear that Natalie's words had an impact on Cpt. Ziegler this time. Perhaps not the full impact she had been trying to make. The Ops Chief was fairly certain that the two of them would continue to share their current opinions about Natalie's recent command choices. But she was getting through to Anya all the same. It was a two way street.

A moment of silence hung between the two of them in the wake of Natalie's speech, her unburdening of a bit of her tortured soul. She felt a new heat creeping up the back of her neck. Natalie had not spoken the words, the thoughts before, and finally letting them out was a bit of a rush, but it also left her embarrassed. Too late to do anything about that she thought to herself.  At least it looks like Anya is just as off key as I am. She could see the iron grip the other woman had on the edge of 'Natalie's' desk.

So she listened, with far less malice, if not with agreement, as Ziegler spoke on absolution and forgiveness. On the subject of penance.  And of the horrible things heroes of the Federation had done. This wasn't the Dominion war any more, and Natalie wasn't sure that the actions that folks like Sisko took would be ignored in the case of the Theurgy. It wasn't forgiveness she was looking for, not exactly. It was just that the guilt....the price she was having to pay, every day now, every death on her hands, in an effort to save the Federation, to save Starfleet, from the infestation....

"How could they let us go back to serving, after all of this?" She finally said.  Her hand clamped down on Ziegler's, careful not to squeeze too hard, lest she hurt the other woman. The Cayuga's captain had only been released from sickbay a short while ago. Natalie shook her head a bit. That wasn't really the point that Anya was trying to make. Their odds of keeping their commissions would be vastly improved if they faced the boards of inquiry, the court-marshall's that would follow, with someone at their side.

Someone like Anya Ziegler. If they survived that long.

"I...." She sighed and shook her head again. "Thank you," she said quietly, holding Ziegler's gaze. "That means more to me than I can really say right now. Truthfully, it does," she proclaimed, holding the other officers gaze with her own, trying to say with her eyes what she couldn't really say in her voice. That she was sorry. Her face still stung and she still had a few deeply held disagreements with this woman, but that didn't seem to matter in the moment. Things had changed swiftly.

"All of this assumes, of course, that we get the chance to stand trial," There was a wry grin on her face, but it was a hollow one. An empty one. "At the moment, the orders are to shoot to kill. Offer no terms for surrender. Not that we would. Not until the job is done," she said stoically. Or what she hoped past for stoicism. "I'm not sure how we're supposed to go about gaining those allies when every step along the way seems to back fire spectacularly." Case and point, this situation.

"Plus, there's the small matter of the Borg to deal with first." The smile was shaking, but it stayed there on her face, as the two women set aside the argument they'd started the meeting with, to focus in on the tasks that lay before them, herculean though they were.


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