Folie à Trois

Posted on Tue May 14th, 2024 @ 12:01am by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant JG Ryland Dedeker & Ensign Rozreell Purr
Edited on on Tue May 14th, 2024 @ 12:01am

Mission: S1E6: Where Skies End
Location: USS Phantom
Timeline: MD 3

High above the bustling activity of Gamma Command, the Phantom held a silent vigil in orbit. Ryland hadn’t much else to do. Nothing was making him set foot off this ship in the Gamma Quadrant. Might as well keep it flight-ready. But then a communication channel opened.

=/\=”Mrazak to Phantom.”=/\=

Ryland sighed. The peace and quiet couldn’t have lasted long, but he’d been dumb enough to hope.

Phantom here,” Ryland said, “go ahead.”

=/\=”Prepare to receive new conscripts. Put them into the Strategic Operations Conference Room until I can sort them out. Mrazak out.”=/\=

The channel dropped before Ryland could reply. Not that he’d wanted to. Anytime he could avoid talking to Mrazak was a win in his book.

“All right,” he said to the skeleton bridge crew. “You heard the man. Let’s roll out the welcome wagon.”

Ryland swiveled around in the command chair that he temporarily occupied and waited for confirmation of the new arrivals.

“Do you know what the rumor is? They say the Captain is a real piece of work,” the willowy Andorian said with a mischievous smirk while clutching their PADD and getting into position on the transporter.

“Rumors are just that, Zh'shrallak,” the Bajoran said with a sigh as he too stepped onto the transporter. “You’ll only make things worse if you spread them around.”

“But rumors don’t just happen,” the final member of the conscript team, a Trill female, replied while adjusting a bag that was draped across her body and getting into position. “There is always some truth to them.”

“Both of you are going to drive me crazy,” he huffed. “Just keep the gossip to a minimum while we’re on this ship. Okay?”

“What’s the fun in that, Bolk?” the Trill replied with a smirk that now matched Zh'shrallak’s.

Bolk rolled his eyes as they received clearance and the transporter began to engage. “One day all that drama is going to catch up with you, Roz.”

With no more formality than a menial task repeated for the thousandth time deserved, the transporter chief sent them on their way. Little did he know that the “USS Xidada” was actually the Phantom in disguise or that he had just sent the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed science officers to the place where careers go to die. Once they were gone, he depowered the transporter pad and prepared for the next group.

When the trio materialized onto the Phantom, it was an entirely different atmosphere. Gone was the mid-level bustle and lazy hurry from Gamma Command. Everyone from the transporter chief to the Security officer guarding the transporter room carried themselves in the manner of people who expected to die at any moment and had become bored by the wait.

“You are ordered to report to the bridge,” the darkly complected Security officer said. No greeting. No status check. No introductions. Just orders. “Follow the lights. Now clear out.”

The three began to follow the lights down the hall as instructed, the morose mood almost palpable.

“Yeesh,” Zh'shrallak muttered under her breath to Roz. “I stand by what I said.”

“Right?” Roz snorted a laugh, the sound felt alien in this ship. The Andorian xenospecies specialist was one of her best friends at Gamma Command. The two were frequently sent on field missions together allowing them to become fast friends.

“Stop," the ever stern Bolk snapped behind them. His Dominion knowledge was appreciated but his personality wasn’t.

“It’s not gossip.” Roz looked over her shoulder with a sly smile. “Just an observation. Being observant is a valued skill in science.”

Despite their giggles and whispers the scientists became a touch more serious and formal as the doors to the conference room opened. The room was empty but still carried the same undesirable mood as the rest of the ship. Each taking a seat around the table, they waited for the Captain to arrive.

When the door opened, a ruggedly handsome man with lax dress protocol walked into the room.

“Well, hello, ladies,” he said with a shit-eating grin. The man in red ignored Bolk altogether and began pacing around the table. “My, my, my-my-my.” He wasn't quite salivating but his thought processes weren't exactly mysterious. “As a fellow conscript to Memory Theta, I wanted to give you all fair warning.”

Turning to face them, he kept up his grin but was somehow more solemn despite it. He no longer viewed them as slabs of meat. His eyes turned pained and almost pitying.

“Life is over. You don't know it yet but it is. Sorry to be the one to tell you. Just figured someone should.” He gave an apologetic shrug. “If you ladies need a shoulder to cry on later, come find ol’ Ryland Dedeker and yours truly will make your worries go away for a spell.”

Roz leaned over and whispered something into Zh'shrallak’s ear. Using a hand to cover her lips, she ensured the comments were as secretive as possible. She did however, make eye contact with Ryland the entire time she spoke to the Andorian. In response to the whispered comments, Zh'shrallak scoffed at Ryland before she dissolved into a fit of laughter.

“What do you mean our lives are over?” While Bolk wasn’t privy to Dedeker’s attention he was still listening to everything he said. “This is just a temporary assignment and you make it sound like a death sentence.”

“Slow learner, huh?” Ryland popped his tongue against his cheek. “Always gonna’ be one in every group.” He shook his head and gave a grim chuckle. “No worries. You’ll find out right quick. Don’t say nobody gave you fair warning though.”

The door opened again, this time to admit a lanky Vulcan with an arrogant sneer permanently etched on his face. He took pause at the sight of Ryland, then asked, “Lieutenant, is something the matter on the bridge?”

Ryland’s eyes darted sideways in thought. “No? All’s right as rain.”

“Are you certain?” Mrazak challenged, his tone becoming more tense. “Because the officer of the watch is away from the bridge. Rectify that.”

“Captain Mrazak, sir, I was just helping the new transfers—” Ryland got cut off.

“Immediately.” Mrazak glowered at Ryland until the man folded.

“Yes, sir, right away, sir!” Ryland sarcastically clicked his jackboots together, high-topped leather clunkers that were outside regulations, and went back to his station on the bridge. Whatever happened on the starbase, Mrazak was in a mood and Ryland was happy to make distance. Gossip would get back to him sooner or later.

With Ryland out of the picture, Mrazak turned his attention onto his new conscripts. In a fit of rage, he had used, arguably abused, his special clearance to bring them under his command for the duration of the operation or until he released them. The problem was that many missions, such as the one they had undertaken, allow no such dispensation for final release. The deeper the new conscripts went, the harder it would be to release them.

“I am Captain Mrazak,” he said at length. “Welcome to Memory Theta. While you are on my ship, you will do precisely as I say when I say to do it. For the duration of this mission, I own you. Nobody knows where you are. Your temporary assignments have been redacted for the time being and will be falsified to reflect a cover should circumstances call for it. We are no one. We do not exist. Our missions never happened. Have I made myself clear on all of the foregoing?”

“I have a family that is…ouch!” Bolk’s commentary was cut short by a swift kick to the shin under the table.

In a previous life, Roz had been an accomplished actor who agreed to be part of a novel Terran play with both script and director unseen. It was supposed to be a fun and cultured experience and it turned into something completely different all thanks to the tyrant of a director. During that time, she had learned to keep her mouth shut and simply agree with a megalomaniac.

“Yes, Sir,” Roz replied before Bolk could recover from the kick she had delivered. “We will patiently wait for your instructions.”

“Will someone show us to our quarters?” Zh'shrallak dared to chime in, the Andorian was known for self-advocating. Roz shot her a look and Zh'shrallak quickly defended herself. “What? We’re not living in the conference room.”

Mrazak glowered at the Andorian with a special contempt that some Vulcans retained from the old days. “Are you in need of a bunk, Ensign? Has the onboarding brief tired you out? Have you put in such a solid day's work that you are ready to put your name on it and call it finished?” His lips twisted into a sneering smirk that failed to touch his eyes. “Perhaps you should report to Sickbay for an emergency evaluation to ensure you are in good health. We cannot be too careful. I will not let it be said that your safety and well-being were neglected.”

Moving onward, he dropped all pretense of any actual concern and continued. “Our mission is classified at the highest levels. Intelligence will be dispensed on a need to know basis. For now, you three need to know nothing. Presently, however, I will know your specializations and see where you will be of most use.”

There was an uncomfortable pause from the conscripts sitting around the table. Had Mrazak selected them without really knowing what they did? That idea seemed preposterous.

“I’m Lieutenant Junior Grade Nalas Bolk.” Being the highest in rank, the Bajoran male began first. “I’m a specialist in Dominion affairs and relations. I work mainly with the Jem’Hadar but have knowledge on all species who are members of the Dominion.”

There was another long pause before the Andorian finally decided to speak. “Ensign Pilva Zh'shrallak, Xenospecies Specialist for the Gamma Quadrant. I’ve spent the last five years documenting and categorizing the flora and fauna found in this system. I’m knowledgeable about predatory species.”

The Trill spoke as soon as Zh'shrallak finished, she seemed to enjoy the moment when all eyes in the conference room were on her. “I’m Ensign Rozreell Purr, Geoscience Specialist. I’ve spent the majority of my time documenting water and volcanic activity on Class M Planets but I’ve recently started exploring asteroid belts in the quadrant.”

A geologist, a biologist, and a social worker. Mrazak sighed in clear disappointment. “Well, better than another engineer or intelligence officer, at least,” he groused. “We are in pursuit of stolen Dominion technology, the nature of which remains classified. Your expertise may yet prove useful, Fusion willing.” Eyebrow raised, he decided to hazard a question. It was a total shot in the dark, but sometimes those paid off. “Are any of you familiar with the Stygian Traverse by any chance?”

“The kinoplasmic radiation anomaly?” Rozreell perked up at the topic. “Yes, I helped form the hypothesis that it controls the kinoplasmic radiation through biochemical piezoelectric chain reactions within the surrounding geological strata while I was a Senior Cadet.”

She huffed out a small sigh of frustration before she continued. “Now that I’m actually out here, I submitted a proposal to survey it further but it hasn’t been approved yet. Starfleet is dragging their feet on reviewing it for some reason. Do you have additional information about it? I’m eager to know more.”

“That… that was you?” Mrazak blinked at the Trill. This information was rapidly transforming his view of her. “I blocked that inquiry myself. You were seeking to review MT-2373, codenamed Medusa, which is something rank and file officers are to leave well enough alone.” But clearly he was not dealing with rank and file. These were science officers with specializations. Perhaps he ought to treat them with the dignity due their professions. “I will grant you provisional clearance to review our database. You will inform me of any other insights you have regarding our mission’s area of operations.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Roz seemed surprised by her own statement of gratitude. Her first impression of Mrazak aligned with all the rumors that she had heard about him, that he was some sort of imaginary monster used to frighten insubordinate ensigns. But once she had shown her merit he seemed to soften a little. Proving that when dealing with Mrazak, respect was earned rather than freely given.

“Ensign Zh'shrallak is knowledgeable in alternative forms of communication in xenospecies, if there is some type of contact that the anomaly is attempting to make she will be able to help decipher it.” Rozreell attempted to provide some insight into her fellow conscripts’ skills that would be useful in this particular situation. “And Lieutenant JG Bolk knows the trademark signs of Founder intervention with Gamma Quadrant species.”

“Yes, perhaps we can talk the stolen Dominion technology out of hiding,” Mrazak said in a tone that was as demure as it was contemptible. “Coax it right into our hands like a Barillian silkworm.” He couldn't hold back an incredulous scoff. “Our mission's region of space is prone to anomalous events and lifeforms which do not follow the preponderance of scientific norms. We must be on our guard.”

Mrazak had sneered at Zh'shrallak’s request to see their quarters; perhaps he would respond better to a different request. “Can someone show us where we’ll be working? We’d like to get started right away.”

“Deck 3 contains a forensic lab, but the full suite is on Deck 4,” Mrazak said to them all. “Standard Defiants feature redundant weapons bays but the Phantom has traded them for a secure lab with full clean room functionality along with cryogenics and hazardous containment protocols we colloquially refer to as the Vault. Anything you cannot accomplish with standard ship systems may be performed there.” Looking at the Bajoran, he said, “The mess hall is on Deck 2 where you may find tea and cakes in the replicator. Won't that be nice, hmm?” To the Andorian, he added, “It’s right next to crew quarters and the infirmary where you can see to your medical eval and a nap.”

Another long and uncomfortable silence filled the room as Bolk turned a bright shade of red and Zh'shrallak’s antennae visibly drooped. It was once again up to Rozreell to say something.

“Thank you again, Captain.” Adjusting her bag as she stood, Roz looked over at her fellow stewing conscripts. While regulations had been fairly slack on Gamma Command they both had enough sense to keep their mouths shut when dealing with a patronizing senior officer.

“We’ll take a look at Decks 3 and 4 before we start reviewing all the Stygian Traverse data. Any discoveries will be shared with you immediately.” Roz nodded her head in thanks and headed towards the door. The idea of escaping the conference room spurred both Bolk and Zh'shrallak to finally move. “We’ll see ourselves to the nearest turbo lift.”

“Yes, I should hope you are all capable of that much,” Mrazak said in a tone of mounting frustration, “since you are all leaving before you were dismissed.” He gave a snort of contempt. “Really, what are they teaching at the Academy these days?”

They had been treated like functional adults not brainless soldiers is what Roz would have said if she didn’t want this meeting to be over as soon as possible. Looking back at her fellow conscripts, Rozreell made a defeated sweeping gesture towards the chairs.

The trio sat back down and waited for Mrazak to speak again.

“That's better.” Mrazak cleared his throat and softened his tone, which is to say he sounded firm instead of harsh. “I will expect updates by the end of the day. Dismissed.” When they didn't immediately jump up, Mrazak said, “That means go. Now.”

As if playing a game of musical chairs the conscripts stood up in unison. With a slight nod of the head in acknowledgment and gratitude for their dismissal, the conscripts once again headed to the door.

Outside in the corridor that ran adjacent to the bridge, Ryland leaned against the wall with one foot propped against it and his arms crossed over his chest. He could tell exactly what happened by the looks on their faces. Even if their faces hadn't given it away, Mrazak had an unbroken trend in his leadership style.

“Uzaveh! That guy is a nightmare,” Zh'shrallak said with a laugh as they rounded the corner and were far enough away from the conference room to speak freely.

“If he thinks he’s going to keep me away from my family indefinitely, he’s got another thing coming.” An empty threat from Bolk but at least he was on their side now.

“Told ya,” Ryland said with a wink. “Can't say nobody tried.”

Roz placed a hand on the giggling Andorian’s shoulder to bring her attention back towards the Terran who had spoken to them earlier. It caused all three of them to stop walking and turn their attention towards Ryland.

“Yeah, I suppose you did.” Roz folded her arms across her chest and sized up the smug looking Ryland. “This is Pilva Zh'shrallak.” Roz gestured to the Andorian next to her. She was tall and thin, her vibrant blue skin and the shocking white hair typical of her species. “And this ray of sunshine is Nalas Bolk, "she continued while patting the grumpy Bajoran on the shoulder. He still seemed to be stewing over Mrazak which left him a touch more agreeable when it came to conversation.

“Which leaves me, Rozreell Purr.” The Trill stepped forward and offered him a hand to shake, a custom she picked up while at the Academy. She had large dark eyes and soft brown hair that was pinned back to show the unique pattern of spots that started at her temples and traveled down the sides of her neck. “How long have you been in hell?”

“All my life, sweet thing,” Ryland winked again. “All my life. But I’ve been stuck here for the better part of a year. Took me a spell to realize it might be my last ride. I came to terms, though. Not all bad. Got some bright spots.” He cocked his thumb back at the conference room. “Steer clear of that one though. Only reason Starfleet puts up with his crazy ass is he has a knack for keeping the bigger monsters at bay. He will throw you to the wolves without blinking, so watch your ass.” He let his eyes rove up and down before adding, “Of course, never hurts to have friends watch it for you.”

“We get along just fine.” Roz draped an arm over Zh'shrallak’s shoulder, their height difference made the gesture comical. “We’ve logged about 2,500 hours out in the field together. We look out for each other.”

“That doesn’t include hours at the bar, right?” Zh'shrallak said with a grin.

The pair looked at each other before a fit of laughter erupted between them. There appeared to be more story to their relationship than they were letting onto.

“Unless of course, you’re offering friendship…” Roz’s lips curled into a sly smile. “Because I’m always looking for new friends.”

“You could do worse for friends around here than yours truly.” Ryland returned Roz’s sly smile with a broader grin of his own. “Set down roots where you can. Never did see anybody get out of this outfit fit as a fiddle. Although I been known to get a lil’ lady outta her outfit in nothing flat.”

“Roz too!” Zh'shrallak said in a way that made Bolk swear out of disgust in Bajoran while Rozreell laughed.

For all his bravado, there was a certain lack of conviction behind Ryland's routine. It was as if he himself didn't believe his own lines. He abruptly stopped. “If any of y'all need a helping hand,” he said with a changed tone, “just whistle.”

“Oh please, all you human males are the same.” Roz waved a dismissive hand through the air. “Lots of big talk to cover up all your insecurities and shortcomings. There’s no line of maidens looking to crawl into your bed. You’re lucky if one merely tolerates you.”

“Fuck-sure I am.” Ryland grinned even wider. “And if I'm a good boy, she tolerates me all night long.”

Rozreell made her way towards the turbo lift at the end of the hall. She turned to face Ryland as the doors opened. The Trill offered him her own wink before she began to whistle a beautiful but foreign tune.

The trio entered the lift together but before the doors closed Roz spoke once more. “I hope to see you around, Ryland Dedeker, and who knows, maybe we’ll be friends.”

Ryland sucked air through his teeth hard enough to make his lips squeak. “Hot damn. That one is already trouble.”