It was strange standing in a crowd of Starfleet personnel again.
Hell, it was strange feeling clean again.
Robert Lansine was lost and alone in a place he'd considered familiar only a few months ago. After half a year stranded on the Cardassian occupied world of Carida Lansine now found himself on a Federation Starbase and couldn't help but feel uncomfortable. His officially debriefing with Starfleet had concluded a few hours ago. The entire event went quicker than he'd expected and the panel of the three attending Flag officers quelled any chance for fanfare. It seemed Starfleet wanted to forget about Carida as soon as possible. The conflict with the Cardassians had proved tiring and embarrassing for the brass and Robert was only a reminder of their failed policy.
Rob was standing in the middle of a large open room looking down the list of offices and services aboard the station when a red-clad crewman approached him, "Do you need assistance, sir?" The other man was about Robert's age and looked eager to help him. Exactly what Rob didn't want.
"No crewman, I'm fine," Rob's answer was pointed and almost rude. No matter how many months he'd been away from standard Starfleet operations he could still find his way around a Starbase. The crewman frowned and walked away dejected. Honestly, Rob had needed the man's assistance but had been too stubborn to ask for it.
He had been wondering throughout the station for a while now, without a particular plan, and with a vacant face of someone who doesn't quite know where he's going or what he's doing. Given this is rather surprising that he was unable to go so long as he did without being interrupted by anyone else. As it was, he took perhaps half an hour to look throughout the architecture of the station, while not actually seeing it. Other people walked past, some smiling, some studiously looking at the floor, but no one particularly going out of their way to avoid him. Such is the malaise of separation that the afflicted seawalls where there are none and see strangers faces were their only friends.
Fortunately for him, however, there were those aboard the station who were aware of the situation and were capable of dealing with it properly. He had friends which he was unaware of, and who had never met him, but still, the bonds of shared duties and shared histories were at times tighter than blood or friendship. A smiling face stood out of the crowd, pleasant gray eyes looking directly at him without a hint of the embarrassment or hesitation that a regular person may have. This was a familiar gaze, and a friendly one. It immediately stood out from the others, though they of course were not attempting to avoid him. Social instincts brought his eyes to meet hers, sharpened so many millennia ago. The same mechanisms that work then together hunters together into a tribe now brought Charon's newest crewmember home.
She was tall, taller than the average woman, and had features that might be called Etruscan. No, perhaps Indian was a little closer. Or perhaps Mexican, it was really impossible to tell. Still, she smiled widely and while her lineage was difficult to identify, the sincerity of her expression was not. Her voice was as well composed as her impeccable uniform.
"Mr. Lansine," she spoke cheerily, "I've been waiting for you. You seem to have made it onto the station all right, I just wanted to check in with you and see if there was anything you needed to know about your transfer."
It had been a long while since anyone had been happy to see him. Rob took a moment to think back to when someone had been so welcoming--Chelsea. It'd been the last time he'd seen her on Carida over a month ago. The thoughts of her either dead or stranded on that godforsaken planet made his hair stand on end. He was going to have a hard time forgetting what had happened to her.
"Er," Rob tried to remember the original question, "I've been ordered to attend my final debrief before my reassignment procedure," Rob said. The woman probably knew more about his transfer than he did. In fact, they'd hardly told him anything during his first series of briefings. He knew the ship and position, but that was it. He still couldn't explain why he was being assigned to a Deep Space explorer as a Strategic Operations officer.
The woman nodded, putting a hand on his shoulder and drawing him out of the growing crowd, to the side of the promenade. Her touches seemed odd - it raised his hackles and made his skin tingle. She didn't seem to notice. "Excellent, I'll be able to brief you on your mission parameters on Charon whenever you're ready."
She pulled a card from her sleeve, like a magician on stage, and put it in his hands. "You can find me there. Good luck, and I hope your debrief goes well. Come find me when you're done."
Rob looked at the card, still a bit taken back by the entire situation, "Thank you," his words were soft and sincere. Smiled at the woman as she left before turning back towards his destination. One more meeting with Starfleet brass, hopefully he'd survive and live to see the mysterious woman again.
= /\ =
He entered a small, darkened office - as if it were currently being unused and had only been visited by janitors for the past five years. The woman was waiting inside, looking at her fingernails, entirely nonchalant even with the lights off. The low blue of the stationkeeping lights were the only illumination. It made her look like a ghost.
"Ah, Mister Lansine. I'm glad you could make it," she said casually as soon as he entered. Her smile was flawless. "I'd ask if you wanted to sit, but I imagine you've got more than enough of that in your meeting with the flag officers. If it's all right with you, I think we should just get right down to work."
The room lit up all at once, but not with the regular room lighting. A holographic display filled the space in between them, burgeoning with overinflated images of space stations, fleet locations, boundaries, markers, and notations. All of the sector was a glowing blue square with it; the quadrant as a whole spread off in an ever fading expanse that stretched out past the walls. The woman seemed quite at ease amidst the display, as if it were her own element. She gestured at the space station that hung in the middle of the room between them.
"This is our current location, and also the flag post for fleet activity within a sector. We will be coordinating with flag, collecting strategic information and, if necessary taking initiative and advising fleet resources when needed. As you have never been a strategic officer before, I will go over the basics."
Around the translucent space station, orbiting specs swelled into starships that arrayed themselves out in a neat square as if on parade. "These are the major ships within our fleet. We control perhaps twice as many destroyed or and Corvette class vessels, as well as a large number of runabouts. We also have a logistical element, a fairly well-equipped Marine and ground force, and a dedicated intelligence division. Your job on Charon will be to coordinate with intelligence personnel throughout the fleet, providing them with information, as well as using the information they collect to help construct a viable, long-term strategic plan to ensure the safety, security, and the success of our fleet within the sector and within this quadrant."
She smiled pleasantly, briefly changing the subject, "would you care for something to drink? I know there are regulations against some drinks, but given your past six months I don't think I would have any right to question you. Plus, I hear that there is some very good Rigelian whiskey aboard that I can get for you in short order. A little bit of liquid courage may make this discussion a little easier."
Rob thought about the offer for a moment. A year ago he would have said no immediately--times had changed, "I could never say no to a good whisky," he lied. He in fact could have said no, but as she said, she didn't have the right to question him after Carida.
A transporter beam hummed in the darkness where the galaxy seemed to end, though the light of the beam was obscured by something. The woman walked towards the source of the sound as she spoke. "Judging by your record, it appears that you have some ability in the marshaling and proper placement of strategic level forces. This is why the ships command crew decided that you would be the best choice for this job. I know that you don't have very much in the way of practical experience in this field, but I'm very sure that your unique skills will be more than sufficient."
He could hear the sound of pouring liquid into glasses. "Now, where was I.? Oh yes, the outlay of our forces within the sector and sleet. Much of our logistical force is located at Starbase Versaille. we have at our immediate disposal two Montgomery Scott class engineering vessels, with 12 attending worker bee tugs and various daughter craft. We also have four fleet tenders, 15 supply runabouts and four Constellation class supply frigates."
She returned with two tumblers, holding one out to him. "These vessels are generally only mobilized in times of need or war, but if at any point you feel that the use of vessels would be better served in another location, they are always happy to have different scenery. They do require a significant escort however, as they are very vulnerable. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that."
The woman gestured, and the scene changed. The Parade of ships around the small Starbase faded back into specs while other ships swelled into view throughout the sector. "These are the ships currently operating within this sector. Their mission parameters are in your briefing package; I won't go over it now. Needless to say, we are not in a state of war, but one thing you are going to find is that we are *always *in a state of war. It will be a good solid day of reading, and I suggest you memorize their mission parameters and projected plans. This information will be very useful to have at your fingertips; having to look it up will only slow you down."
She took a sip of the dark alcohol, half seated upon the top of the desk, "am I going to quickly? Do you have any questions?"
Rob's mind begged him to say 'yes' but his ego kept him from acknowledging any sort of personal fault, "No, you're fine. I do however have a few questions regarding the Charon herself," Rob's eyes continued to scan the holographic images. "In what capacity will I serve the Commanding Officer and crew? From what I understand about this position I will be more of a fleet consultant and not directly apart of the Charon's crew." Rob had a few problems with that aspect of the job. The last thing he wanted to be was a glorified narc.
"yes, and no. I suspect that you will be part of the captains advisory cabinet as your primary role. You will also be very closely tied to the command structure back at Flag. Giving your personality, I suspect that you will want to operate with the Marines on board, or perhaps the security forces. I have already spoken with the commander of the local Marine forces and they would be happy to accept you as one of theirs. Personally, I have always liked the idea of strategic officers operating on the frontline from time to time. It keeps them aware of the realities of their decisions."
The holographic view zoomed in on a small ship well off from the others. "Charon has a deep space exploration mission and often is the first line of contact with new situations. This is why the fleet felt it important that the ship get a strategic operations officer." She took another drink, admiring the last moment before turning to look at Rob directly.
"You have to understand what an important job this is. Charon is the eye of the fleet within Romulan space, and you are going to be the brain of the fleet where Charon is concerned. You, not the captain, will have first say on fleet activity with regards to Romulan space, as you will have the most intimate knowledge of the strategic situation within the sector. You will have to draw on all of your skills: mental, physical, logistical, charismatic; this will be challenging and you stand to learn a lot. But you have to have your heart in it. If you think this is too much for you, or if you feel reluctant, please, let me know."
Rob couldn't tell if the swell in his stomach was pride or nerves--he'd never been assigned such an important position. Never did he think that only two years after graduation he'd find himself in such a critical role. "Interesting," he pondered the types of situations he'd find himself over the next few weeks, it seemed he was trading Cardassians for Romulans.
He liked that deal.
"So when do we leave?" Rob's interest in hearing more technical detail suddenly evaporated, he'd always been someone who was involved in the trenches, he'd been cooped up long enough.
She smiled, "You have two days to relax here. The lounge on board is pretty good, and you'll find that the locals are friendly." Her grin turned sly and amused, briefly, "After that we'll be boarding a quickship and heading out deep into Romulan space. I'll have a more complete technical briefing for you then, as well as refresher courses on the skills you'll need. Oh, and I'll see if I can't sneak a crate of this whiskey aboard for you all. Is there anything else you think you'll need for while you're aboard Charon? We don't come back often to resupply, you know."
Lansine couldn't tell if the woman was doing her job or if there was more to her words than mere duty, "I'd like that," his words were awkward and came out out of tune. He'd barely needed to try with Chelsea on Carida. Their relationship had seemed so natural; he'd never needed to interpret the subtext of any conversation. Unfortunately, he found himself doing just that now.
"What's your name?" The words again just seemed to stumble out. Rob was bad at this, no matter how many times he'd stared down the barrel of a disruptor or been tortured by Cardassian prison guards, he still couldn't grasp the simple concept of conversing with the opposite sex.
"Savant," she smiled and nodded at him, "It's a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to working with you on Charon."
The name rang a bell.
"Wait aren't-" Rob was interrupted.
She just grinned and set the glass down, bobbing up several inches into the air like a wraith. Her smile was broad, a Cheshire smile. "Tch," she chided teasingly, "I guess the act is up. You can keep the bottle."
The holographic woman disappeared in a puff of photons, and the lights came up all at once. The bottle and two glasses were all that remained.
=/\= End Log =/\=
Lieutenant Junior Grade Robert Lansine
Strategic Operations Officer