254: The Learning Curve

By Captain Zanh
Hours after Prodigal

-=Captain's Ready Room=-

Having listened to O'Sullivan, Cristiane and Dalca give their individual accounting of the away mission as it had happened from their perspective, Zanh Liis now had to carry out the unhappy duty of telling them that while they may not have 'gotten their man' in their opinion, that Starfleet was wholly satisfied with the outcome of the situation as it had ended.

As she observed their reactions, or lack thereof in the case of O'Sullivan, she knew that each man would have to deal with their own feelings about the operation, and the ship's new CMO in their own way and time.

Rather than press the matter any further, she prepared to dismiss them and return to her work on the matter at hand- laying out the guidelines for their next Starfleet-assigned task.

That task was an elaborate series of departmental cross-training exercises, classes, and seminars. Simulations on the holodeck, defensive shuttle piloting lessons, the works.

All would take place as the Sera cruised leisurely out of the system, headed toward Vulcan to eventually rendezvous with a dignitary who needed to travel under a great deal of secrecy -for reasons which had not been divulged to her.

Zanh did not even know if the dignitary was male or female, another detail which would be given to her only upon their arrival- if the mission went through. She had been warned that they could be called off at any moment, and knew that a lot of factors must be in play here outside the current scope of her vision.

For now their orders were simple- set course, and get to work on fine tuning their crew into a truly well-oiled machine.

For one, Zanh was glad about this directive. The time allotted for the journey and exercises involved would give the crew a chance to truly come together as a cohesive unit before the next time they were divided into two teams- one aboard Sera, and one aboard Alchemy.

They were a flexible, talented lot, her crew. She wanted them to be able to draw upon all of the individual, respective talents of their crew mates on a moment's notice. She fully believed that the ability to know and trust what their fellows were capable of could very well make the difference between life and death someday.

"If there's nothing else, gentlemen," Liis said, concluding her meeting with the Away Team. "I will be checking up on you later to see how you are doing in your first Universal Sign Language class."

Dalca nodded to O'Sullivan and Cristiane and finally the Captain before heading off to resume his scheduled duties.

Keiran hesitated, and Zanh looked up from her computer screen.

"Something you need, Sully?"

"Just that I wanted to be sure you knew, Captain, how well Mr. Cristiane did in the performance of his duties during the operation."

Zanh bit her lip to preempt a smile. She looked at Dane, one eyebrow raised. "That so? Is there a recommendation to be made, here?"

"Yes, Sir. I would request that the Ensign be relieved of his disciplinary duty shifts so that I might take him further in hand and enhance the training that TI has given him."

Dane's mouth hung open in shock.

"This is high praise, Dane. What have you to say for yourself?" Zanh asked.

"I. . ."

"Very articulate." Zanh couldn't help but smile now. "All right, Officer O'Sullivan, you win. No more cleaning Bob's cage for Dane. He's all yours."

She gestured with a sweeping hand toward her Bajoran Tree Lizard, in its small glass enclosure across the room. "After his Communications shifts are over for the day, do with the Ensign as you see fit. Can you live with that, Dane?"

"Yes, Sir!" Dane was happy he'd no longer have to spend his off-hours scrubbing deuterium ports with a cotton swab, or cleaning the lizard habitat.

"I'll leave it to you to work out the details, Keiran. See you later, boys." She had a lot to do, and really wanted to get them moving on their way.

O'Sullivan was staring off into space, with the most indescribable expression on his face. Liis was tempted to snap her fingers directly in front of his eyes. "O'Sullivan? You in there?"

"Sorry, Captain." He cleared his throat. "Did you say something?"

"Go." She said at last, pointing to the door. If he had anything else to tell her he'd have to get in line, she had a long list of appointments to keep this afternoon.

O'Sullivan bowed slightly, and headed for the door. "Come on, boy. Let's put you back to work."

"Right behind you." Dane said, clearly wanting a moment alone with the Captain. O'Sullivan gave him his chance.

"Something to say?" Liis inquired.

"Something to return." Dane stepped forward. He held the earring out toward her gingerly, waiting for her to reach out for it. She gasped slightly, she had almost forgotten.

She took the item and analyzed it carefully. Not a scratch appeared upon it which had not been there when she'd loaned it to him.

"Good boy." She said, nodding gratefully. She tucked the earring into her desk drawer for temporary safe keeping. "Thank you, Dane. You can go."

He dragged his feet as he moved toward the doorway, stopping to tap on the glass of her lizard's terrarium. Bob looked up and blinked slowly, unaffected, as he continued munching on his leaf of lettuce.

"It was quite something, being you for a little while." He admitted, with a softness to his tone that Zanh never remembered hearing from him before. Unconsciously, he brushed his hand against the once-again smooth bridge of his nose. "You've. . .been through some things."

"Yeah." Zanh rose from her chair and approached him. "But so have you."

He looked at her sideways. "Maybe we understand each other better than I thought."

Not wanting to ruin the moment with a lecture or speech of any sort, Zanh merely let the statement hang as they continued looking in on the small creature behind the glass, who simply wanted to be left alone. He scurried beneath a pile of rocks, seeking privacy.

"That earring means a lot to you," Dane ventured, feeling brave suddenly. "So does mine. If I tell you the story of why it's so significant to me, will you let me wear it someday?"

Dane remembered the first thing she'd claimed as an assault on his individuality and, as she saw it, his bad attitude upon arriving aboard the Sera was that earring.

Then she'd made him cut his hair.

"I'd like to hear the story," she began slowly. "Dane, I remember that I made you a promise when you came here. That if you held up your part of the deal by working your ass off, the first thing you'd earn back would be the right to wear that earring."

She walked back toward her desk. She looked out the view port momentarily as she continued.

"You've held up your end, but I haven't. Yet." She glanced back at him. "You'll find though, that I am nothing if not a woman of my word." She reached into the desk drawer and pulled out the tiny, gold hoop earring and returned to him.
She reached for his hand and placed the earring into his palm, closing his fingers around it tightly with a squeeze.

"I am not saying it becomes part of standard Starfleet uniform code and when the Admiral comes to visit, it's the first thing to go. Got it?"

His eyes widened. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"But your original argument with me on it made a valid point. I, myself, have never understood why it's okay for Klingons to wear all of their decorations of family and house and Bajorans can wear their earrings and all, but Terran officers, well," she stopped.

"So," Dane veered dangerously close to smirking. ". . .you're saying I was right all along?"

"Do you want me to take it back before you even put it on?"

He frowned.

"Like I said, I'm not rewriting the standard. But it's my bridge. It's all right with me if you wear this, so long as everything else about your demeanor and conduct continues along the positive path you've blazed for yourself here since your arrival and is up to code. Clear?"

Dane almost, but not quite, smiled. "Thank you, Zanh Liis."

"Get out."

As he headed to the door, he shot her a mischievous grin. "Can I grow out my hair?"

She fired back a look that said he should know better, and with a single laugh, Dane Cristiane took his treasure and departed.

As soon as he was gone, Salvek was standing where he'd been.

"Captain, the day is long ahead of us and there is much to do,"

"I know. I know. First on the list is handing out these," She gave him a PADD containing orders.

"Get these exercises going. I want Grace to pay special attention to anyone who shows a talent for flight that can be exploited in the future if need be while she's running those defensive shuttle piloting courses. Give her the message will you?"

"Yes, Captain, directly. There is one other matter. . ." He reminded her. He was a patient man, but he had waited his turn for her attention.

"The lab?"

"The lab."

-=/\=-Captain Zanh
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012