Chapter 0 - Hot and Cold

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It had been something of a rude awakening, the entire change over of the command team all in one fell swoop– a new Captain, and a new First Officer. 

For his part, Lieutenant Commander Tobias-Hirsh was relieved. 

While he’d been able to fulfill the duties of Executive Officer temporarily,  he had never actually attended Starfleet Academy. He had been trained by and advanced through the ranks in the Grazerite Defense Force, and then in more recent years joined Starfleet through the Officer Indoctrination Program, which he had been able to attend remotely through an extension program on his homeworld. 

The ways of Starfleet were still fresh to him, but even as little as his experience could inform him was enough for him to have had the sense that Captain Toron Pax was not the typical Starfleet Captain. Certainly the old man was dyed-in-the-wool Starfleet, but it seemed to Tobias that Pax went to extra effort to bend the rules or to look the other way… as if knowing the rules as well as he did only enabled him to seek and find creative ways to work around them. Often, Tobias sensed, Pax did so to prefer an outcome that the strict following of protocol would prohibit. But Tobias felt uncertain if, under the guidance of Pax, some of the outcomes actually were more morally palatable, or if they were just more risky. Sometimes the older Trill Captain had seemed to prefer more ethically correct outcomes, bending the letter of the law to do what seemed more right for the people at hand. And at other times, Pax seemed to prefer a more secure outcome. Often he had sat back, seemingly indifferent as his officers had tried their best to craft a solution. 

As it stood, Tobias was learning usually you couldn’t have it both ways at once: greater security and greater compassion.
But Pax was a very old man in more than one metric. He was one of the longer serving Starfleet captains, and he’d seen more than a few crews and quite a lot of action in his time in service. Tobias supposed he, himself, to be just one of many scores of support officers Pax had worked with, and so the Grazerite doubted that he’d made very much of an impression on the old Trill of several lifetimes. But, he knew, it was an entirely different story for Elli.

He’d been hesitant to approach her, leaving Elli a wide berth for over a week since the big changes had been made. Of the two of them, the smaller Grazerite was the more reactive one. She’d been very touchy for months back– really, ever since Tobias had transferred to the same billing as the Engineer. And more often towards haim than most of the rest of the crew, as far as Tobias could tell. They both knew why he had requested the post— that he had made the effort to be with Elli only seemed to make the whole matter more awkward altogether with her. Tobias realized he might have done a foolish thing, reading into their two weeks of shoreleave together something far more than it actually was. He had thought he had found love, and she had seemed just as stricken, up until he’d kissed her and she’d flustered and disappeared on him, just as her shoreleave at Obsidian Command had ended, and she’d left him with out any kind of indication as to what to think.

When the Potemkin had need of a Strategic Officer, he’d requested the billing, which had rolled over to the WabiSabi assignment and ended up with him as acting First Officer. But it seemed everything he ever did was wrong in Elli’s opinion, and while she would work on the clock with him, she was harsh and short tempered with him, and rarely ever spent any of her personal hours in his presence.

Tobias had been heartbroken at this bizarre outcome. Perhaps where he’d seen the potential for a life mate, she’d seen only a nice time on shoreleave. He felt he would have to press the question to her soon, and he was certain she was prepared to tell him not to get his tail caught in the airlock.

But he knew she was hurting right now, with her much loved Captain Pax being replaced by Captain Wilson. And while they rarely seemed to be able to just talk and connect like they had when they had first met, Tobias could trust at least that they had a lot of success communicating anytime there was an Engineering project at hand to work on. So he brought with him a couple of oversized padds as he approached Elli’s table in the Wabi Sabi’s lounge.

“May I?” he asked, motioning to the other chair.

Elli, in her seat, was curled with her knees pulled up, hugging a mug of what Tobias could guess from what he knew of Elli to be her comfort drink of choice, a mulled cider. In s sidelong glance, she looked at him, just barely, and then looked away again into to starry distance of the lounge viewing windows.

Seeing as it wasn’t an outright rejection of the notion, Tobias chose to interpret it as an invitation and settled across from her, his bulk taking up the whole booth across from her.

“How is your personal career review coming along?” The new first officer, Captain Trino Dronox, had force all of the department heads to a limited duty status for a month. While it had sounded harsh at the time, Tobias could see the good sense in it. Not only did the Wabi Sabi need to invest in some of it’s up and coming officers, but the senior staff needed to self evaluate their own career and futures. A month to put together their own career plan was healthy, in Tobias’ estimation. But he didn’t have much in the way of a department. Not the way Elli did. And to be told not to be managing the day to day in the engine room looked to be killing her, like a mother told she couldn’t see to her own child.

“Dronox can go choke on a hedgehog. I hope it goes down backwards.”

“Ah. So… you’re still working on revising your career plan.”

“I’m the Chief Engineer of the USS Wabi Sabi. It’s my career. What’s to plan?” She snipped.

“I’ve been working on a project I added to my own career goals.” Tobias set down the padds. In his hands they looked undersized, but the one he slid to her looked comically large beside her. He knew she was likely to feign indifference so he continued to explain. “I’m working on a tactical textbook. As you know, my methods are to be as non-violent as possible, so I find tactical textbooks tend to be lacking in many alternate defensive and evasive techniques as well as disabling measures.”

“What? So you want me to like, read your draft?” Elli looked at the padd strangely, Tobias thought, changing her posture in her chair and sitting back as far as she could, as if it might bite her.

“I was hoping you might be interested in co-authorship.”

“I’m not a tactician.” With a sharp shove, she pushed away the padd. 

Tobias set his hand down to stop it midway on the table between them.  He continued to explain, hoping she might catch interest as he elucidated the concept. “It could be a new perspective on the shared work of Engineering and Tactical. There’s so much crossover, really. You know this. Much of the defensive measures rely heavily on technological support— the tractor beam, transporters and replication, counter actives for nanotech, specialized deflector techniques, shield grid modulation, rotational phase pulsing, sensor ghosting, signal jamming, computer security… hacking. We could begin with your hacking approach, the one you’ve developed with Chief Petty Officer Basin…. Elli?”

He paused in his explaining as the Engineer… seemed to be crying.

She stood up and Tobias knew she was about to flee the scene. but before she could set down her apple cider, he stood too, blocking her way. He felt terrible for cornering her even as he did it, but he wanted an answer, not another evasion. “I don’t understand.” He said. “What have I done wrong?”

“You’re doing everything he did!”

“He?” Tobias felt a righteous indignation rise, protective of Elli. His mind cast around to think of someone Elli might have been with. Or someone who might have also pursued her. “Who? Was it Basin?”

“No! You.”

“I don’t understand.” He repeated.

“He did it too! Joined the Potemkin, Wrote me letters—” She motioned at the textbook outline, but then paused to sniff messily, before her voice cracked with pain. “next you’ll want to have babies! Just like him!”

Tobias put up both hands in a surrendering gesture. Someone had been moving altogether too fast for Elli, and he still couldn’t imagine it wasn’t Basin, whom she always seemed to work so closely with. He felt a deep green jealousy seething in him and a desire to tie the tactical non comm into a double pretzel and leave him at Doctor Artopolis’ doorstep.

But even as he was growing hotter under the collar, Elli shoved him and Tobias found that he couldn’t really trap her as he had intended. Her distress was too much for him and he let her by easily.

As he watched Elli escape the main lounge, Tobias swore to himself internally that CPO Basin wasn’t going to get past him, not without answering for whatever he’d done to Elli.