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Posted on 23 Mar 2019 @ 11:31pm by Lieutenant Commander Atven Dantarno & Ensign Elliott Weaver

Mission: Prologue
Location: USS Mark Miller


It was a strange thing, serving aboard a Nova-class again. Those few years that Dantarno had spent aboard the Zodiac, almost two decades ago now, undeniably represented the least spacious assignment Starfleet had ever given him. Under normal circumstances, any officer transferring from a reasonably-sized starship to something like a Nova, or Oberth, or Defiant would find it a shock to the system. For Dantarno, the transition was even more jarring. A few weeks ago, the prospect of lunch had brought with it an overwhelming buffet of choices, from Starfleet Academy's selection of dining areas for students and faculty, to the prospect of a trip into San Francisco, or a short transporter trip to any other restaurant on the surface of Sol III for that matter. There was his apartment, there were the infinite options of a gourmet replicator, and with a little preparation, he could bring a packaged meal to enjoy in the tranquility of any Earthly vista he wanted.

The Mark Miller provided him with only two options: mess hall, or quarters. It was an option available to him only because of his status as well. For more junior officers, or for Enlisted crew like Dantarno had been aboard the Zodiac, the independent privacy of having one's own quarters was an unavailable luxury. That was what had made the mess hall the preferable choice, for today at least. This is where the crew was, and would always be. A few senior officers aside, these were the men, and women, and otherwise with whom he served. When one option was to isolate himself from them, and the other to sit amongst them, to observe, understand, and sense the small but thriving Starfleet community he was once again part of, his choice became hardly any choice at all.

Atven's wrist shifted ever so slightly, adjusting the precariously straying angle of the tray of food he'd just grabbed from the replicator. The tray was necessary, an important concession for those species whose skin wasn't impervious to the too hot to touch ceramic that his meal was served in. Dantarno had considered himself dexterous enough to carry the tray from replicator to table one-handed, and it was an overestimation that it was too late to go back on now. Instead, he modified his expectations, and adjusted his course to a more proximate location: a solitary gold shirt, rather than the solitary blue he'd initially aimed for. Engineering or Security. He could relate to that.

His throat cleared itself, softly. "Mind if I join you, Ensign?"

It was perfect timing.

Ensign Elliott Weaver's eyes widened as he gulped down a too-big bite of the steak he'd impulsively shoveled into his mouth. The oversize lump of food made its way leisurely down the Ensign's esophogus - as these things tend to do when appearances matter and time is of the essence - and eventually came to a resting point at roughly mid-chest, affording Dantarno an impromptu masterpiece performance of several of the stages of grief:

No, no, no no no no. Elliott's pupils dialated in surprise as he stood abruptly from his chair.

This isn't happening. This isn't what you think it is. Elliott decided that if he simply ignored the problem, it would go away. He smiled insanely at Dantarno, gesturing false-casually at the opposing chair.

Get. Out. Of. My. Throat! Elliott attempted an unconvincingly casual cough to dislodge the offending chunk of meat, to no avail.

The erstwhile Ensign sat back down heavily, bargaining that perhaps a jolt would assuage his esophageal interloper.

This is my life now. Or, I suppose, the end of it. A fitting end to this day, actually, Elliott resigned himself. He cocked his head to the side, a demented smile and crazy eyes wiping across his face, and clasped his hands in front of him as if waiting to receive the latest gossip from a close friend.

It took all the self control that Atven could muster to stop his eyebrow from rising. He hated when people did that, Vulcans especially. There was something so deeply arrogant about the shift in facial expression and yet, here it was, trying to happen on his own face. Ignoring the traitorous intent of his muscles, he settled the tray down on the table, and fought his features into a frown instead, fighting against the raised eyebrow with all his might as he tugged out the vacant chair opposite.

"You doing okay there, Ensign?" he asked, hesitating for a moment, still hovering over the table. "Need me to activate the EMH? Or is this more of a find you an attractive nurse sort of situation?"

Elliott was now a lovely shade of crimson, edging slightly to blue. He squeezed his eyes shut and pursed his lips together in a vain attempt to look both casual and confident.

His thumb and fist, presently in a shaky 'thumbs up', transitioned to one raised index finger, as if to say give me just oneeee moment.

With that, the Ensign stood slowly from his chair, hobbled a few feet to an unoccupied table, flipped it on its end, and belly-flopped on top of it.

With a 'k-ghaaaack' the meat chunk came flying out, landing in some dark recess of the mess. With a huge shuddery intake of air, Elliott rolled off the upended table, righted it carefully, squared his shoulders, and returned casually to his seat.

"Ensign Elliott Weaver, sir. New to the security department. Pleasure to meet you," he rasped, acting for all the world as though none of the preceeding two minutes had taken place.

Atven's mouth worked in silence, trying to process the display that he'd just been subjected to. Lost on him were the subtle shifts in the Ensign's hue, but his ocular implants processed the unfolding story in different ways, as temperature, and reflectivity, and microexpressions translated it into terms his synthetic senses could comprehend. He had watched the Ensign as he abandoned his seat, watched him as he'd engaged in his acrobatic feat of self sufficiency, and watched him now as if he tried to brush it all off as if nothing had happened. Only then did his eyes stray away, meeting the gaze of the blue-shirted officer he'd initially planned on trying to sit with. In an altogether different timeline, an alternate version of him was experiencing a very different start to their attempted meal. He threw the Sciences Division officer a slight shrug, and then, following the Ensign's lead, settled down into his seat as if nothing had occurred.

"Pretty sure all of us are new to every department, Ensign," he countered, retrieving his cutlery from where they'd slid slightly under the rim of the nuclear furnace of the replicated plate his meal sat upon. Most people would have needed tactile information to confirm the plate's continued temperature, but for Atven the answers lay in a handful of convenient infrared wavelengths. Using the side plate that housed his salad to nudge the inferno off to one side, he skewered a cherry tomato with the prongs of his fork, hesitating before it disappeared into his mouth. "Commander Atven Dantarno, I'm the bus driver," he offered, by way of an introduction. An explosion of juice and seeds, and a few contemplated chews later, Atven thrust the tomato pulp into one cheek with his tongue, and clarified. "Chief Flight Control Officer."

The man's demeanor - world-weary but warm - immediately put Elliott at ease. Maybe senior officers, he thought, weren't all monosyllabic. Maybe some, perhaps, were far more achromatic.

"A pilot!" Elliott said excitedly, his half-eaten murder-steak completely forgotten. Out on bail, as it were. "When I was a little boy, all I wanted to be was a pilot. My sister is a theoretical warp field physicist at Daystrom..."

He blinked several times in rapid succession as his brain caught up with his mouth. What?

"... which isn't super relevant and I'm not totally sure why I told you that."

A slight wince pinched at the corner of Atven's eyes, but it didn't do much to erode the good nature that his expression conveyed. "I wouldn't go as far as to call myself a pilot," he countered, with a quick flash of a chuckle, smoothing over the Ensign's backpedaling from his overshare with an olive branch of openness of his own. "I served on a carrier during the Dominion War. I know real pilots. Flying a starship takes skill, sure. Reflexes. Awareness. A particular kind of thinking. But it's like herding cattle: you set your sights on where you're going, get the show in motion, and hope to hell that you aren't going to need to change direction in a hurry because all that mass and all that inertia stops for no man. Real flying, the real seat of your pants stuff, that's herding cats. There's no plan, there's no strategy, it's all instinct and in the moment. I don't have the flair or the innate talent of a true rocket jock: I'll get you where you're going, but I'm not gonna show off and be fancy about it."

A leaf was carefully folded in half, and swirled through a pool of vinegarette dressing before disappearing into the Commander's mouth. "Besides, when it comes to starship combat, all the fancy stuff is you security-tactical boys, right? I'm just the chauffeur, you guys are the ones who get everything done."

A tinge of red crept into the Ensign's neck, rising to just above the collar, and he found himself staring intently at the cold hunk of meat on the table in front of him.

"Cheers, sir, but I know we could say that about every department." He allowed himself a small smile, "'course if you ever need something smashed, or have need of someone menacing to stand behind you, I'm sure we can rustle someone up."

"If you think I need that," he countered, latching onto the latter half of the Ensign's suggestion in particular, and not entirely sure himself if he was joking or being grimly serious, "Then you've not met my Lieutenant." Adhaferra was a strange one, that much was for sure, oddly confrontational for an Angosian to such an extent that it left the Commander wondering if she'd skipped the day of school where they'd explained what the definition of 'pacifist' was. "But I wouldn't worry too much. You're probably thinking that a security tour on a Nova is going to wind up being a milk run, but I did one of those myself back in the day. Out here on the raggedy edge of everything? Something's bound to come up and ruin our day."

"I'm excited to see the adventures that await," Elliott mused, staring out a nearby window. "A new frontier, new challenges, new adventures... a whole universe of possibilities in front of us."

Ah, to be that young, and still that optimistic. It sparked a note of memory in Dantarno's mind of another young tactical Ensign starting out on a Nova-class like this. Of course, the situation had been a little backwards back then, compared to now. The Ensign had been a familiar face, one of the pilots he'd served with during the War; and he'd been a Chief Petty Officer, a Master-at-Arms trying to keep the flyboy out of trouble until he learned some sense. There had been a favour involved in the two of them reuniting, but even now, Dantarno wasn't sure which of the two it was a favour for: whether he was there to keep the Ensign in line, or if the Ensign was there as an act of charity as Atven recovered from the accident that had robbed him of sight and sound. Still, it was similar enough. Familiar enough. What was it they used to say, back on Earth - the more things change, the more they stay the same?

Atven let out a chuckle as he regarded Elliott's whistful gaze, and equally whistful words. "Well you sure as hell weren't in my class at the Academy, that's for sure. I would've knocked that sentimental bullcrap out of your head from the get-go."

The baser part of Elliott's mind did a quick sweep of the proverbial pasture and found that, indeed, some jimmies were rustled. Sentimental bullcrap, my left- But then the more erudite portion of his mind arrived, presumably due to bad traffic, and released a squirrel as distraction. Predictably, the baser part of his mind gave chase, leaving room for rational conversation.

An old sea dog. Salty. Just like some of the professors at the academy used to talk about. Been around the block, like. Could teach you something, Weaver, if you've got the brains to listen.

It was a big 'if', but the cruel machinations of the cosmos did occasionally allow for miracles. Possibly they were off having tea at those times.

"Academy? Sir, I didn't realize... well, I mean, of course I haven't, I've only met you. That is to say-"

Elliott forced himself to reboot. "You were a professor at the academy, sir? Which year? What courses? I was class of '93."

Dantarno felt his eyebrow climb. "'91 through '95." Quickly, the expression transitioned into a frown, as Atven attempted to scan his memories for a glimmer of familiarity. Weaver... Weaver... Not someone who'd been in one of his regular classes, that was for certain. Names were a challenge that Dantarno frequently forced himself to overcome: he'd have remembered and recognised a former student like that. The fact that nothing sprung to mind was potentially damning: even outside of the scope of their own classes, instructors at the Academy still knew about the exceptional students, both the exceptionally good and the exceptionally bad. That Weaver didn't seem to have left a blip on Dantarno's awareness likely meant he had either been unremarkable, or underwhelming. "I took over from the Tellarite Master Chief with the unfortunate-sounding name. Shoot, what was it?" He waved his fork around vaguely, as if he could somehow skewer the identity out of thin air. "Pokk Pai! That's the guy."

The Ensign's eyes widened as if re-experiencing a distant, buried trauma. Master Chief Pokk Pai had left an indelible mark on the young man's psyche - scars that had healed nearly as quickly as they'd been rended in his flesh, only to make him, and his classmates, that much stronger.

Of course, none of this changed the universal fact that Master Chief Pokk Pai was an absolute, stone-cold, dyed-in-the-wool son-of-a-

"Ensign?" Dantarno queried, his unruly eyebrow threatening to arch once again. He knew that look, knew that descent into nostalgia and memory. The nudge snapped Weaver's attention back to the here and now.

"Man, who could forget ol' Master Chief," the young Ensign crooned wistfully. "10 klick runs up and down Pointe Hill for the whole class if anyone was even a second late for lecture. Didn't earn any hearts, that one."

He shoved the stone-cold mashed potatoes around on his plate. "We finished that semester, I passed him on campus the next day, and then never saw him again..."

"... not that I'd particularly want to." He quickly added. "I wonder whatever happened to him?"

Dantarno's expression faltered again, the burden of knowledge weighing on his shoulders. He considered his options: to say nothing, leaving the Ensign's memories of his past intact; or to offer context, potentially changing the past irreparably. For a few idle fractions of a second, he considered whether or not the Temporal Prime Directive should apply. After all, once the past was past, wasn't everything just memories? What made objective reality any more real than the subjective perspectives of those who experienced it? After all, didn't they always say that history was written by the victors, and the survivors?

"His daughters died." He offered it as a simple fact, trying to hold an avalanche of implication at bay, crossing back and forth in front of it down the mountainside of conversation like a slalem on a snowboard. "An accident. Routine. No one to blame, nothing to be done. His hide was always tough, but no creature's heart is impervious, and the leave of absense I stepped in to cover turned into a four year placement for me. Last I heard -"

Atven's brow furrowed. "I think he came back to Starfleet? Transferred to a boarder posting, something like that." A flicker of a mirthless smile tugged at Atven's lips, as he recognised the sentiment. "I guess he figured that life is too short to waste it standing at the front of a classroom when you've still got some years of useful service left in you."

A thick blanket of... something... settled over the Ensign. What was it? Sadness? Guilt? Weaver wasn't sure. He bit his lower lip and cocked his head to the right, taking in the inky, unforgiving void of space outside the nearby viewport.


For once, words failed him entirely, a swirl of conflicting thoughts and emotions rolling through his head. Dead, just like thatSnap of a finger, just because.  Not fighting some enemy. Just... whoops! Ah, well. Accidents happen. 

Routine. Just the casual machinations of a cruel universe.

No, cruel wasn't right - cruelty required thought. Cruelty could be, at least on some level, understood. An unconcerned universe.

His pulse quickened, blood pressure rose, lightheadedness threatening to send him spiraling down to the floor. His fingers tingled, and a sudden, intense thirst struck him. His mouth had become dry, like sawdust.

Even if Atven hadn't been empathic, he would have felt the cascade of emotions flowing off of Weaver like a wave. He knew that feeling. He'd felt that feeling, long before wars and experiences and the passage of time had burned it out of him. The corners of his eyes pinched a little tighter in sympathy, but he did the younger man the courtesy of keeping his outward reactions reigned in.

"Hold that thought, Ensign," he offered, with just the faintest softening of his tone. His seat scuffed backwards a few inches across the Starfleet-issue carpeted floor. "You look like you could use a drink."


Lt. Commander Atven Dantarno
Chief Flight Control Officer
Ensign Elliott Weaver
Asst. Chief of Security/Tactical
USS Mark Miller


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