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Posted on Sat Apr 17th, 2021 @ 12:26pm by Calderon Jarsdel & Lieutenant Colonel Storr Garlake & Captain Akiva ben-Avram & Lieutenant JG Jaya Maera Garlake & Laena ben-Avram & Ensign Nandi Chakma

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: Deep Space 9
Timeline: MD 1

The journey to Deep Space 9 from the Badlands was a short one. Such was the benefit of locating Memory Theta inside the closest equivalent to Hell known to the Federation. With both the field team and the administrative delegation on board, the Phantom had been rather thoroughly packed. At transwarp speed, though, it had taken mere hours before the Phantom had beamed the five officers into the restricted transporter pads in lower Ops center that were reserved for Starfleet personnel. They were officially on their own.

Akiva flashed his credentials for the Security officer's review, who then confirmed it with a tricorder scan.

"Captain Akiva ben-Avram and entourage," the Security officer read back. There was more information that he'd left out of the pointless formality. Station scanners had confirmed everyone's biometrics the moment they had materialized. The Security officer also turned a blind eye to the restricted access that informed him he would be unable to delve deeper. "Proceed."

Nodding at the nameless lieutenant who would likely have many similar encounters before the week was through, Akiva turned to his colleagues. "I guess we proceed. The state wardroom is nearby, but we have time to find our temporary quarters if not time for actual rest before the initial hearing."

The expression on Nandi's face was blank except for the slight bulge to her eyes. It had been one thing to be briefed over the situation. To arrive in the person and see the inner workings of classified dealings way above an ensign's paygrade was quite another. She did not want to be alone and knew no way to say so without breaking decorum.

Jaya squeezed Storr's hand, silently deferring to whatever he would prefer.

The tidal wave of emotion would have been easy to sense even without his ghost in the machine, but Cal mustered the gentleman who had once been and would be again rather than the danger. "Nandi?" He said, risking the lack of rank. "I think maybe Jaya might want to be rid of me for a moment or two," Cal smiled. "But I probably shouldn't be wandering about alone... Would you mind walking with me to find my quarters? Or we could locate yours first, then look for mine?" he offered.

Nandi found Cal's offer a welcome one. Spending time with the captain and the colonel intimidated her no matter how hard she tried to suppress the reflexive feeling. Whoever Cal was, his easy composure and wry grin was a more welcome sight than even Jaya's sunny smile. "I do not mind," she said at last, her strictly taciturn face lit by a shy grin.

"Would we not be assigned quarters that are close to one another?" Jaya asked.

Akiva checked the assignments. "As a matter of fact..." He perused the information with a second glance just to be certain. "We're all assigned to a suite with adjoining quarters and a shared common area. It seems the powers-that-be would prefer we keep to our own company."

"Excellent," said Cal with zero hint that he meant that any other way than happily. Honestly, he hadn't expected to be out of Jaya's immediate view for any length of time, but Storr's presence here suggested they'd all at least have some boundaries to respect. "Well then," he noted simply, looking pointedly from Jaya's gaze to her and her husband's interlocked hands as he asked for permission. "Perhaps we'll walk just a bit ahead, check out the common area?" He was in no particular rush to be in a small, private space right now.

While Storr was usually a stickler against PDA in uniform or official settings he still took Jaya's hand with ease as it slipped into his, hints of trepidation and unease flowed across their palms. Lt Col Garlake pressed back with feelings of calm and steadfastness as he assessed the situation. While the common area with adjoining quarters would indeed keep them to their own company, it would also keep them in a confined area easily sealed off or...he shook his head nearly imperceptibly. He could more fully ascertain the tactical situation later, he was more interested in this Cal figure and the unease he portrayed towards his bride. That would be a conversation for later as well.

Storr made a noncommittal shrug, eyeing Cal and then Akiva. He didn't know Nandi from Eve but needed to change that if only as they would be spending some time together and he had been unable to conduct her inprocessing brief when she first arrived. That, and he wasn't sure Cal had her best intentions in mind.

"Very well..." Akiva said, having learned long ago to understand his old friend's unspoken sentiments as if they were audible. "Let's go refresh ourselves."

As they left the restricted transporter area towards the outer habitat rings, though, Akiva found anything but refreshment.

The crowd parted, almost as if they had been asked to do so, and from across the room, he saw the sight of someone he wasn't expecting.

Laena stood there, steadfast, though her eyes were puffy and red and her chest rose and fell with the deep breaths she was using to calm herself. Their eyes met and for a moment, Laena could see the love he still had for her. But that moment was fleeting at best. She took a step towards the man, and he did the same.

As the two approached each other, she took it upon herself to speak first, before he had a chance. "Akiva ben-Avram. I don't know what's gotten into you, but that message you sent me was inappropriate. I refuse to accept anything automated when it comes to our relationship. You owe me that much respect. If not for me, for what we had," she said, her hands moving to her stomach instinctively, almost protectively.

Focused as he was on the dire matters at hand -- the inquest, their oral testimonies, the potential demise of Memory Theta and their careers along with it -- Akiva did not see Laena until she had set herself in front of his face. His first step was to turn tail and find another route to their quarters. This... this was not a good time to face matters of the heart.

But behind him walked Storr and Jaya, hand in hand despite Storr's discomfort doing so in uniform. The briefest of glances at Jaya confirmed what Akiva had already suspected.

Jaya smiled sweetly and shrugged off Akiva's unspoken suspicions.

Turning back to Laena, as she had already spoken to him, Akiva took a breath and held it as he shook his head in disbelief.

"I can't believe you're here," he said. "Right now is... is not a good time." Emotions began to well up within him that he could ill afford to feel at all, much less display in public. Akiva fought for composure. This was the woman he had loved, to whom he had pledged eternal love, body and soul. But right now he could not be that man. He needed to be Captain Akiva ben-Avram. Everyone else was depending on that. The emptiness he had felt for so long came back to him as a protective shroud that helped bury his forgotten grief and longing back into the void where he'd entombed them. "It is good to see you." His words were sterile, his voice monotone. "We should talk. But another day. Will you be on the station long?" His clipped speech reinforced his normally subdued accent. The end of his sentence flirted with a falsetto that he managed to keep suppressed.

Behind him, Jaya fought to suppress a frown as if she had not been eavesdropping the entire time. This was not how it was supposed to be.

"I've taken a leave of absence for this, Akiva," she said, crossing her arms to match the energy she was getting from him. "That's all you have to say to me right now?"

"From the Academy?" Akiva asked, then quietly kicked himself. Of course from the Academy... Where else would she have been? "Right. I cannot talk now. The situation is... bad." Bad enough that he could not discuss it with anyone outside the formal inquest, much less in public. Why, oh why, had she come? And why couldn't he form complex sentences? This could railroad him completely in a few hours' time if he could not get a handle on himself by then. "It is not a good time. To talk or be seen together. I need space... to resolve... things. Please give me this." His face was on lockdown, but behind his eyes was a look of pleading. "Please," he repeated before attempting to move away.

Laena released a sigh. She'd waited over a month for this moment, so perhaps another day could wait. But then again, she traveled all this way for him and he couldn't give her even just a few minutes before dismissing her? "Fine," she said, her voice suddenly filled with the anger she'd felt since that day. "But I swear Akiva if you try and leave this station without speaking with me, I'll never forgive you."

Without waiting for his reply, she turned and started to walk away.

"Smooth," Jaya sarcastically quipped before passing by a stunned Akiva.

The Hebron was frozen in place. How many times would he be left speechless and impotent by that woman?

"What was that all about?" Nandi asked of Cal in her most discreet whisper.

"Love," said Cal, swiftly, but his voice low in line with Nandi's. "That... that's definitely about love."

Storr's now-free hand clapped Akiva's shoulder, turning the nearly-deflated Hebron towards him as years of friendship allowed Garlake to instantly decode Akiva's slate stare. The Station Commandant sighed as he shook his head. "Let's go get you that...space, Captain. I think we both might need it." The Marine's eyes cut over to his retreating wife and while her figure cut a nubile and alluring sensuality straight to his soul, he was both disappointed and angered at her response. Didn't she know that this man was in no condition to be "smooth" after seeing Laena unexpectedly while his deep & immediate concerns were parsecs away? Ben-Avram was only passably smooth on his best of days and the man's relationship with his Orion had been anything but since the beginning. Feeling a familiar warmth start to swell up through his neck, Storr redirected his rising anger into taking his good friend's seabag over his own shoulder and leading him to the room Garlake could only assume would be Akiva's while thinking about the bottle of Scotch in his own. It was meant as a celebratory imbibement when everything was over but the Lieutenant Colonel had a feeling they might need to break into it earlier than anticipated.

"Yes... let's..." Akiva heaved a sigh or two as he allowed the burly colonel to guide him along back into the group.

"So... has anyone been to DS9 before?" The look on Nandi's face was sheepish as she tried to move on from what had been awkward for everyone. "It's my first time. I've only ever seen it in holovids in history class. Things look... so different." A smile crept up on her face as she began to lose herself within her inner world of academia and knowledge, safe from external pressures and stressors like classified hearings and political intrigue that threatened her career before it even began. "It's more... happy."

Which was true enough. The station held the same bones and structure as during the Dominion War, but it had benefited from a facelift or two since then which hid all but the most stubborn vestiges of Cardassian occupation and industrial processing. All of the shiny fixtures were like a silent informercial about how if the Federation couldn't modernize an existing structure into a paragon of peace and prosperity, then nothing could.

"Yes," Akiva said. "DS9 was a port of call during our tour in the Gamma Quadrant. The Vindex, our ship, docked here on more than one occasion."

Storr couldn't help but think back to their visits here during what seemed like a lifetime ago. They were...difficult ones but he tried to look at the station with new eyes.

"Once," noted Cal. "Wasn't much time for sight-seeing though," he added quietly. "And definitely didn't have a suite."

As they arrived at their designated suite, Akiva stepped forward to input his command authorization. The doors parted to reveal a rather stately accommodation that must have typically been reserved for visiting dignitaries.

"Wow..." It was rude to let one's jaw fall slack, but Nandi couldn't help herself.

Jaya turned toward Storr, noting his displeasure with her. "We should retire, I think," she suggested.

Garlake looked down into her eyes, his hand firmly taking hers and nodding. "I think that best."

"Indeed," Akiva said. "The hearing is scheduled to begin in four hours' time, and I mean to be early. I suggest everyone get some rest."

"It's okay to have a look around first?" Cal asked. He'd been cooped up long enough to not want to immediately settle down and sleep just yet. "Just a short leg-stretch."

Watching Jaya and Storr disappear behind closed doors, he said to Cal, "So long as you remain here in the suite, since your chaperone is unlikely to follow you elsewhere."

Nandi raised a timid hand. "What if I looked after him?" she asked, eager to be of service.

But Akiva was already headed toward the room he would claim for himself. "Do what you want," he said without looking back. "Just be ready for the hearing in 3 hours." The doors closed and sealed him into his solitude.

"Sounded like a free pass to me," Cal noted with a hopeful half-smile. He looked to Nandi. "What do you think?"

Nandi suppressed a wriggle beneath Cal's smile. Those kind yet elusive probing eyes exhilarated her and she scolded herself for it. "I might have to agree," she said. "What did you have in mind?"

"Three hours..." He considered this for a second. "Food, drink, dancing... or maybe some gambling? You ever played Truth or Dare?"

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