321: At What Cost Part One

by Keiran O'Sullivan
Following To Lions
(04:30 hours the day after the return of the Away Teams)

-=Office of the Executive Officer, USS Serendipity=-

"Thank you for meeting with me," Salvek said cordially as O'Sullivan moved into his office. "Please, be seated."

*Like I had a choice,* Keiran thought with a roll of his eyes. Salvek, making notes on a PADD, missed the expression.

"Thank you, Sir, but if we're about to have the chat I think we are, I need to be standing up for it."

Salvek was intrigued.

"As you wish. I do not know which 'chat' you are referring to, so let us begin with a list of my concerns."

"Concerns?" Keiran clasped his hands behind his back, standing instinctively at attention for the impending inspection of his character.

"Yes. Your emotions are erratic. Your mood swings, considerable. You were not evaluated by our Counselor during the standard crew examinations recently, and I am lastly, and most seriously, concerned by the way that you conduct yourself where our Captain is concerned."

Keiran felt his blood pressure rising, but did his best to hold his temper in check.

"What conduct might that be, Commander?"

"You would prefer I be blunt?"

"I would."

"You act as if you know her much better than you actually do." Salvek responded. "You take liberties in the way that you speak to her, in front of the rest of the crew. As yet I do not understand why Zanh Liis has tolerated this from you where she has not, and would not, from any other member of the senior staff save," Salvek paused.

"Save yourself, Commander." Keiran observed correctly.


"The reason is that she trusts me. Perhaps you should as well."

"It is not that simple," Salvek insisted. "There is something more, and I would prefer if you are forthcoming with an explanation that might help me to understand your behavior."


"Otherwise, I will order a complete evaluation of your mental health, and I will personally recommend your reassignment to another post."

"You can't do that." It wasn't an objection, it was a statement.

"I can Lt. Commander, and I will, unless you give me sufficient reason not to."

"I've done nothing wrong, as far as the performance of my duties aboard this ship from the day I set foot onto her, that much I can promise you." Keiran began. He drew a deep breath and expelled it slowly.

There was no turning back now.

"But if you're uneasy around me, perhaps I can offer you an explanation for your perceptions. You see before you a guilty man, Commander Salvek. But the crimes I've committed are not the sort punishable by Federation law.

"On the contrary, it is at the hands of a much higher Judge that I will eventually suffer the full consequences for my actions."

He sighed. "Of course, I believe, quite honestly that this is the Hell that I have been damned to, and I am living in it no matter what I do. Whether it's living here like this or dying and facing whatever may be after, I'm already a dead man."

Salvek understood O'Sullivan to be a religious man in his way, and he also understood that many cultures taught eternal spiritual consequences for misdeeds performed by the populace during their current existence.

He just wondered what O'Sullivan had done that could be so bad that he was tormented so.


"I've broken more than one of the Commandments, that's to be certain. What's more is that I'm still guilty of the continued sin of coveting what rightfully belongs to another man. I have tried my best to let it go, but have been unable. It's a daily struggle between what I know is right and what I wish could be."

Salvek was losing patience with the vagueness of the man's words. "In case you are unaware, O'Sullivan, this is not confession and I am not your priest."

"Neither are you my conscience. I know. And believe me, if you think I don't have one you ought to understand that all I have done is live with the voice of condemnation of that very alive and active conscience. Berating me, in my head, every day for a very long time."

O'Sullivan surveyed Salvek, surmising that the man was still unconvinced he had any redeeming qualities whatsoever. He hesitated for a final moment, before reminding himself that Salvek knew the Liis of this line better than anyone, and he had no choice but to trust him.

He was going to have to tell him the brutal truth about his fears, his memories, and the life he had once lived in another branch of space time.

"Zanh Liis was assigned to me as a raw TI recruit. Angry. Bitter. Hell of a pilot, but no experience at all in the line of work for which she'd been recruited.

"Not too dissimilar, in many ways, from Dane Cristiane if you want'ta know the truth of it."

Salvek's lip curled imperceptibly. He did not smile but the comparison did amuse, if not surprise him in the least.

"Continue. . ." Salvek instructed. He leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling to give O'Sullivan some small amount of perceived personal space as he told this most personal tale. Intently, Salvek listened.

"We worked together very closely for a year of linear time. She took to the job faster than anyone I'd ever seen. She was quick, inventive. She was born for the job, Salvek. I, however, was not." He paused, regret creeping into his voice. "I was too mortal. Flawed, and my fallibility was far greater than I ever wanted to admit to anyone, least of all myself.

"I knew from the first day that I had a weakness where she was concerned. I wasn't the only one aware of it long. Soon I was warned about it privately by my superiors on more than one occasion. They said that I was allowing myself to get too attached. Too attracted to her."

"What course of action did you take to prevent any harm from coming to Zanh Liis due to this. . . weakness?" Salvek had been told by Zanh in the past that TI operatives were strictly forbidden to 'fraternize'.

"Short of having myself castrated?'

"Lt. Commander, be serious."

"I'm bloody serious. Your question was, if you don't mind my sayin' so, insulting. Of course I took precautions. Of course I made myself stay at a distance from her. I was successful, and we worked together very well as friends and partners for many years and on many missions. Missions, which are I might add, the reason why you're sitting here and able to be holdin' my feet to the flames. You're welcome."

"Thanks." Salvek droned, clearly unconvinced that this man had anything to do with anything in his life, past, or future.

"You don't want to hear that story though, the one about the ninety-nine times I was successful." Keiran said, knowing Salvek better than the Vulcan yet understood. "You want to hear about the time I failed."

-=Eleven Years Ago: Alternate Timeline=-

Liis stared intently at Keiran as he pulled his shirt over his shoulders but instead of buttoning it, left that task unfinished in favor of lacing up his boots.

The heat of the summer sun threatened to burn her fair skin if she stayed out in it much longer, and so Liis moved beneath the shade of the tree to finish dressing herself as a stirring, sweltering breeze whipped through the leaves overhead.

Those leaves were turning upside down upon their stems, and clouds were amassing thick and dark on the horizon. A storm couldn't be too far behind them.

"You know," Liis ventured, finally breaking the silence which had gripped the air between them ever since they'd finished their previous activities. "We just broke at least ten rules of the code of conduct. You could be a little happier about it."

Keiran snorted.

Liis frowned deeply, and set about twisting her hair back into the neat braid it had been secured in when the day began. "Seriously."

She was getting worried. He had finally gotten what he wanted, or so she thought, why was he so sullen and withdrawn? He wouldn't talk to her, and in days past, the one thing he would always do was talk to her.

"I'm taking a walk." He announced.

Liis growled and finished putting herself back together before going after him.

Lt. Commander Keiran O'Sullivan
Chief of Security
USS Serendipity NCC-2012