The arrival back to the Shingen wasn't too bad, given that we'd been to the mirror universe and back, and of course they had to take precautions that we really were ourselves and not our doubles. Noelle took it quietly and patiently, but it was clear she was relieved when they finally decided they could leave her alone, let her get on with recovering from the abuse Maddie put her through. Spiegel bitched and moaned through the whole process. It wasn't exactly a cake walk for any of us, but the True New Yorker came out in the dork during the ordeal. It wasn't good enough to suffer quietly through the indignities and insults of the welcome we were receiving, but he had to make it clear that he was receiving the worst of it. I know for a fact that he got the lightest and kindest touch, I think Marla likes him for some reason and doesn't realize he has a very strict no crew mates policy.
We'd written our reports on the Obama on the way back to the ship. There was a good amount of downtime with the distance we had to travel back to the ship, and without the stops at the various bars we had on the first half of the trip, it felt like it stretched out quite a while, so those are likely the best reports Spiegel and I have ever filed. It was probably pretty safe to assume that copies of the reports were distributed to everyone who had reason and authorization to read them, well before we actually made it back to the Shingen. That would explain why within 24 hours of our making it back on the ship, Admiral Johnson and his entourage arrived and noises were made about a proper debriefing.
Spiegel volunteered to go first, probably to get it over and done with, to better enable him to get back to his routine in Engineering. Since we brought him back from Andor, and his multiple year undercover assignment, Sharad had found himself tucked into Johnson's entourage. He got the task of debriefing Spiegel, which went fairly casually based upon Spiegel's mood and what he was babbling about when he got out. We didn't actually talk about the debriefing, but Spiegel had new topics for his book, and was talking about his cascade virus again, which lead me to guess that Sharad had approached these two topics during the debriefing. I had assumed that Johnson was just going to have Sharad conduct all the debriefings, so I was a little surprised when I entered the room to find a man I didn't know waiting for me. The debriefing itself was odd enough that I feel compelled to lay it out as accurately as possible so I can better analyze it later.
“Lieutenant,” he acknowledged me as I walked into the briefing room. As he was already seated, I made no effort to salute. I could easily have claimed it was to save him the need to stand in order to return it properly, if challenged. I sat down across the table from him.
“You're not Sharad,” I commented with a smirk. His blue-green eyes looked me up and down, and I let my gaze evaluate him likewise. He fiddled with the PADD in front of him as he silently considered what to say to me, so I took in the superficial details I could see. His hair was dark but starting to grey along the sides, his uniform immaculate, commander pips shining like a new penny, and the spots, not unlike my own, gave him away as Trill.
“You've been talking to Spiegel,” he finally said, as if this were a fact.
“Not about the debriefing,” I corrected him with a grin. When all he gave me was a silent look, I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms. “This doesn't seem to be your garden variety debriefing.”
“You've been spending too much time around Spiegel,” he suggested, but couldn't hide the mild amusement in his voice.
“Most of the colorful metaphors in my arsenal predate my making acquaintance with that spiky haired dork.”
“Now that you mention it, I do recall the dedication on his book mentioned you as an invaluable resource for a non-human perspective.”
“It's kind of scary how far that silly book of his has traveled...” I muttered. This provoked a raised eyebrow from him. “You know, I haven't even bothered to skim the thing. I have no idea what he's got in there, other than knowing the page number for a couple of key phrases he's pointed to the Blue Bastard.” There was a silence after this comment.
“You really shouldn't talk about your superior officers like that,” he finally told me.
“It's not like I haven't done worse, and he was the one who shot me in the back.”
“I did skim the report filed by Lieutenant Commander Navarro after that incident.”
“I'm afraid to hear how horribly she characterized me,” I sniped. The Commander chuckled, and I tilted my head to the side in question.
“I'll leave it at there's a very good reason she's posted to Milliway's.”
“So, are you one of Johnson's pets?”
“As much so as you are.” When I growled at this statement, he laughed. “Zack and I go back a long time. It's more likely you could consider him my pet, than the other way around.”
“That must be handy, having brass in your pocket.” He laughed politely at this like it was a social jab, and I bristled.
“I can see why Zach likes you, Diz.” There was a pause. “It is alright if I call you Diz?”
“I'd be more inclined to say yes if I knew your name,” I answered, and he grinned as if this were a tactical jab I'd made.
“Where are my manners? You can call me Voralis Cryn.”
“Manners don't seem to be a strong requirement for those Johnson surrounds himself with.”
“You would know, you certainly test the limits of social graces. Didn't your mother teach you any manners?”
“It's hard to dance around social graces without knowing where they are first. Besides, my mother wears combat boots and eats men like you for breakfast.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“And what would you know of my mother?”
“More than you'd think.”
“What is the game here?” I stood, leaning towards him across the table, my palms spread across its surface as my arms supported my weight.
“Game?” He leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, and a sly smile graced his lips. Until now, he'd been sitting upright and professionally, hands clasped together on the table in front of him.
“Someone like me, the fleet's going to drop on a station like 668 to rot, not give nice assignments that involve combat and recovery missions, or the ability to play with prototypes like the Obama. Now you're supposed to be debriefing me, but instead we haven't even addressed the subject that plunked me down at this table across from you.”
“Okay, we can talk about what happened. Tell me about crossing over.” The ease and speed with which he changed gears on the conversation surprised me, and I had to take a moment to catch up as I sat down again.
“It was pretty much a non-event,” I started. He nodded as if he already knew this, but was patiently waiting for me to get to the juicy tidbits. “I was testing the handling of the Obama, in the Denorios belt, when suddenly the power dies. It's only a moment before it comes back on, but the comm traffic died at the same time, and comes back all wrong.” He made a small noise in the back of his throat as I mentioned the comm traffic, and I frowned.
“Why would you notice the comm traffic anyways?” As he asked this, he leaned forward with interest, tucking his hands together again. I leaned back in my chair as far as I could.
“Spiegel tossed together a program for me, when we served together on the Rothmore,” I explained, and he nodded at this. “It monitors comm traffic and informs me if anything interesting or important comes across.”
“How does it know what's important? And better yet, what about encryption on Federation and Starfleet channels?” His grin told me that he was impressed and amused by the concept of this program, but he was ready to stress test the idea.
“I feed it my security clearance when I open it up, and it's got a kill switch which disables it when I move too far away, or someone unfamiliar to it moves too close, which it monitors by way of the internal sensors. If I move away from the console it simply hides itself, but if someone else gets too close or tries to meddle with it, it acts as if it's crashed.”
“And how does it know what's of interest?”
“I can configure it with key words, phrases and frequencies to watch for. I've got maybe a few dozen preset combinations for standard away missions, and I can edit these settings on the fly as needed.”
“And Spiegel just threw this together for you?” His tone of voice made it clear he was impressed, but his body language tried to say it didn't really matter. I shrugged this question off.
“He said he had upgrades he could do to it, but we haven't had a chance to talk about it yet.”
“Understandable.” The silence that fell between us could be cut with a knife, but I was perfectly fine to wait for him to decide where he wanted to go next. I was starting to develop a morbid fascination with his thought processes, and wasn't sure what he was getting at, but it certainly didn't seem to be debriefing. “So, whose idea was the program?”
“I used to just leave an open comm when on away missions, scanning frequencies known to have activity I'd benefit from knowing about. When Spiegel started getting frequently paired with me for away missions, he expressed a desire to get the same data without all the noise.”
“Where'd the comm habit develop?”
“During my years with the freighter company, before enrolling at the Acad. Orion pirates just never figured out the advantage of radio silence.”
“I assure you, there are plenty of Orion pirates who understand radio silence, but those usually aren't the ones tasked with laying over freighters. I do remember your pre-fleet occupation being mentioned in your service record.”
“Interesting you'd feel the need to read my service record before a routine debriefing,” I commented dryly.
“You have a bit of a reputation. I just like to come prepared.”
“What are the rumors about me like these days?” I was pretty sure that if my tone of voice failed to convey my amusement, the smirk plastered across my face as I asked this made it pretty damn clear. He seemed mildly taken aback to be losing the control of the conversation, and he raised his eyebrow at me. “I could use some amusement, so tell me what the latest rumors are like.”
“A few crewmen who served with you on the Remington believe you're the devil incarnate,” he offered up, his face unreadable, but it was pretty clear this wasn't intended to be of any interest. I snorted.
“One of them happens to be the step brother of the kid in sickbay that foams green slime when he's nervous. Old news.”
“Others call you a black widow,” he continued. I didn't remember hearing this one before, so I leaned forward to indicate my curiosity. “Seems a little odd, since only one of your past lovers has turned up dead.” I narrowed my eyes, and he seemed to enjoy knowing he had the upper hand in conversation again. “Speaking of him, your report said you encountered his double in the mirror universe. Let's talk about that...”
“What's there to talk about?” I demanded. He winced at the sharpness of my reply, but didn't let up.
“Of everyone your team encountered, he seemed the most capable and the most likely to succeed, had he decided he wanted our technology or our people. Yet he seemed satisfied flirting with you. You claimed he'd never met your analog, yet he knew exactly what to do to provoke the reactions he wanted.”
“Is there a question in there?”
“Why do you suppose he paid so much attention to you, and didn't coordinate his efforts with that of the others?”
“He clearly didn't like Maddie. He even offered to help when I went to deal with her before leaving. I didn't get the chance to follow through on that particular task. As much as she needed to be properly dealt with, getting my team home was my primary concern.”
“That universe's Storvik was clearly not working for Maddie. Why would he not work with him instead?”
“Vicky was a fucking moron.”
“But your report-”
“Don't get me wrong, he had the book smarts needed to hijack the Obama, but socially speaking, a new born babe had more innate people skills than his pointy eared ass. Travis was somewhat coordinating with him though, but it was pretty clear he didn't trust the Vulcan any more than I did.”
“Do you suppose your choice of attire might have affected his actions? You weren't in uniform.”
“It's possible. But if you're suggesting I should have marched into a potentially hostile situation in uniform, when that uniform likely would have only made it worse, I'm going to have to insist-”
“That's fine, I get your point,” he interrupted, and cleared his throat. “You could have dressed a little less provocatively.”
“You sound like a father dressing down his daughter,” I quipped. A look flashed across his face quickly, too quickly for me to identify it. “The more normal, by your standards, one dresses in a place like that, the more suspicion one draws. If it weren't for Spiegel finding Travis and plunking me into the middle of that fight, my attention drawing outfit would have kept people from watching Spiegel and would have allowed him to find what we needed.”
“So you're saying it's Spiegel's fault you got captured?”
“It's Spiegel's fault that Noelle was there to get captured with us, but the fight was just shitty luck. Of all the people to run into and of all the people for him to be looking for... Well, the odds are pretty obscene.”
“That universe is known for being very closely related to ours.”
“We didn't know which universe we were in. Technically there are an infinite number of them and we hadn't had the chance to do much recon yet.”
“That is the universe with the most known crossovers with ours.”
“However, I've had dealings with a man from a different parallel universe, so I don't just assume I've ended up in Starfleet's pet mirror.”
“That's right, you've had dealings with that Storvik character.”
“Is that in my service record too?” I snorted as I pushed back from the table. “I really should take a look and see what crap they've added to my service record since I last got a look.”
“You don't have access to the version I do.”
“You have your sources, and I have mine.”
“Mister Spiegel has gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar a few too many times. He should be a little more careful. We're not amused.”
“You should play your cards a little closer to your vest,” I suggested as I brought my left ankle up to my right knee and started tapping on the heel of my boot. My tapping spelled out 'get the stick out of your ass' in Morse code. He glared at me, and I wasn't sure if he was just annoyed with the tapping, or if he knew Morse code.
“You should be more careful too. It would be a shame to see one so talented throw it all away chasing ghosts and sticking her nose where it doesn't belong.” This comment made me think back to a conversation with Spiegel not long after we'd met. He'd spewed conspiracy theories at me as to why he ended up in the fleet.
“Is that what happened to my father?” This question seemed to take him by surprise, but it was almost entirely his silence as he formulated a response that told me this. His face had only registered any amount of surprise for but a fleeting moment, and I only caught the most trace amount of it.
“Such an overactive imagination you have,” he finally said with a chuckle. I was up out of my chair, and had slammed my palms down to the table top, even as the last word passed his lips. Leaning across the table, so my face was as close to his as I could get it without actually getting on top of the table, he coolly looked me in the eye as I took a moment to queue something other that cursing to pass from my lips.
“That is the one topic I have zero patience left on,” I finally forced out between clenched teeth. He sat and waited for me to continue. “I've gotten nothing but lies, red tape, runaround and pure bullshit, ever since I joined the happy fleet family. Fifteen years of that, after twenty of knowing nothing at all except that my mother was still pining away for him without any indication he was even still alive, has left me just a little spring loaded on the subject.” After a moment of silence, he reached up and put a hand on my shoulder to push me back across the table. He wasn't forceful about it, but it was pretty clear he wasn't going to accept my fighting his efforts. Despite figuring I could probably take him if it came down to it, I elected to move back, but I remained standing in front of my chair.
“He must be a pretty worthless man, if he's still alive and hasn't been in contact with his wife at all,” he said once he realized I wasn't inclined to sit again yet. “Unless he has been in contact with her, but had a good reason for staying away and not letting you know about it.”
“If she had proof that he was still alive, I'd know about it.”
“I know you're not on the best of terms with your mother.”
“Is that in my service record too?” The absurdity of the conversation I was having with a complete stranger hit me, causing me to let out a sharp laugh as I flopped back into my seat.
“No, but you just confirmed the rumors for me,” he conceded and I growled.
“My father is about the only subject that my mother and I don't fight about. She'd tell me if she'd heard from him,” I muttered, staring up at the ceiling as I did so. When he didn't say anything, I dropped my gaze again. “Aren't you suppose to be debriefing me?”
“So, let's talk some more about Travis.”
“Sure, fine, let's drag me through some more of that.” I growled, then exposed him to a colorful string of Klingon cursing.
“Watch the language,” he directed me, and for some reason it caught me short and I stopped midword.
“So, have the universal translators improved that much without my notice, or do you actually speak the language?” I finally asked, leaning forward with my head cocked to the side. He chuckled a little.
“I know a few of the important words,” he dismissed, and I made a small noise of amusement in the back of my throat.
“Some of those important words caused me to have to buy my own regenerator before I was eleven years old,” I explained.
“I know, that's-”
“In my service record too?” I drug my chair forward and leaned on the table. “Now you're getting out of the scope the Federation typically allows, and considering those incidents occurred on a non-Federation world, I'm pretty surprised they'd end up in my file.” I paused, and he opened his mouth to say something, but I quickly continued. “Frankly, I don't care what your sources are.”
“Oh, don't go getting any ideas that it's because I'm afraid of you, or anything silly like that. I just don't care. I wouldn't be surprised if you had a list of everyone I've ever slept with, dated or both. Probably even includes blood type, rank and serial number where applicable...”
“It's interesting how the only person on the second list who isn't also in the first was Patrick, but the first list is significantly longer than the second.”
“I said I didn't want to know.” There was a moment of silence between us, then I suddenly slapped the table. “Okay, fine. Let's hear it.”
“I don't exactly have the list memorized.”
“The hell you don't. I can smell a spook a lightyear away.” He stared me in the eye a moment, then sighed.
“Travis, O neg, Toby, A pos, Patrick, B pos, Jack, AB neg...” I waited when he paused, expecting him to just need a little time to get rolling again, but as the silence stretched out, I started to grow annoyed.
“Oh, but you're only scratching the surface. Why stop there?”
“You want me to run through twenty years of your overactive sex life by name and blood type?”
“Why not? It certainly would be more productive than what we've covered during the debriefing so far.”
“No wonder your mother hates you and your father ran off.”
“You're over simplifying, but any way you look at it, those are topics you really shouldn't disturb unless you want me to walk out that door right now, best case scenario.”
“And worse case?”
“I'll punch your lights out so hard that your children will feel it.” This comment amused him enough that he chuckled a minute before saying anything to it.
“Didn't you learn your lesson the last time you did that?”
“Clearly not. This time the difference in rank won't be as big and frankly, I don't care if they drum me out for punching a jackass who thinks some of the topics we've covered today are appropriate.”
“I could make you miserable enough, just for what you've said,” he threatened. I grinned at him, and we stared each other down for a long moment.
“And to do that, you'd have to admit you were baiting me on topics like my missing father, my sore relationship with my mother, or encountering the double of the man I loved more than life itself. All things likely to lead to your misery too.” There was an awkward pause on his part after I said this.
“What is wrong with you?” he finally asked.
“Do you want the Starfleet related list, the counselor's favorite theories list, or just the top ten?” My answer came back quicker than he clearly was comfortable with.
“Just forget I asked.” Again there was a pause, and he fiddled with his PADD as I waited for him to decide what topic to bring up next. “So, in both your report, and earlier in this debriefing, you made mention of wanting to deal with Noelle's analog, Maddie, but not having the chance to do so before the Obama was repaired enough to make the return trip. I'm pretty sure I know what you mean, but I want you to clarify for the record.”
“I had every intention of killing her,” I answered coldly. He frowned.
“I was afraid you'd say that.” The look that crossed his face was troubled, but it wasn't the typical ranking officer looking down upon the junior officer for poor choices troubled look. He seemed almost as if he was concerned about my well being and career.
“You read the report, you at least have an idea of how Maddie left her. I don't think my report effectively conveyed it, and I don't know if you looked up the report from the medical staff on DS9 who checked her out when we made it back to this universe. Maddie actually claimed she wouldn't be too terrible to Noelle, her words."
"So you wanted to sink to her level? That's what makes us better than them, that we don't reduce ourselves to their level."
"But we can and do reduce ourselves to that level, because sometimes that's the only way to effectively communicate with people like that.” I paused a moment to let that statement sink in. “What we call being better, being more humane, they call weakness. In the past, after previous crossover incidents with the mirror universe, they often pursued us back across the barrier. I was concerned, and am still concerned, that Maddie may attempt to pursue us."
"So you intended to break Federation law for your vigilante justice?"
"Isn't that what has endeared me to Johnson, my willingness to work around the rules to get shit done? Hell, we wouldn't even have the Blue Bastard right now if I didn't violate the rules, I disobeyed his direct order to save him."
“I know I'm not the only one to be confused by your actions during that mission, but let's not get sidetracked. There is a large difference between violating orders to save a life, and committing murder.”
“Challenging someone to combat to the death isn't murder, it is honorable.”
“Perhaps in the Empire, but you're a citizen of the Federation, and you're in service of its military.”
“Last I checked, the mirror universe is not within the Federation's jurisdiction.”
“You were still representing Starfleet.”
“So, is this just going to be a slap on the wrist and a warning not to follow through with such behavior, or is there any actual point to this line of interrogation?” He regarded me for a moment, as if considering something, then finally seemed to make up his mind.
“Everything else in your report seemed clear cut enough, so that will be all for now,” he told me, then stood up. “Though I do reserve the right to call you back for further debriefing if we find anything we need further clarification. No hard feelings?” He offered his hand. I stared at it a moment before I accepted it to shake.
“Just a word of advice,” I said, choosing not to acknowledge his attempt to make amends. “Since you seem a hands on kind of a man, not an administrative bull shit and debriefings sort. Leave awkward family history and relationships out when you're debriefing someone.” He favored me with a half grin as he took his hand back from me.
“I'll try to keep that in mind, if you'll try to remember that not everyone who outranks you in the fleet is out to get you.”
“I already know that, the problem is that they need to learn that blind faith and unconditional respect for officers often leads down the path of good intentions into hell.” Not giving him a chance to respond to that statement, I tossed off a sarcastic salute, and left without waiting for him to acknowledge it.