779: For Safe Keeping

by Rada Dengar and Lair Kellyn
Concurrent with Clocks
Soundtrack: Broken, by Lifehouse (album version)

-=Deck Eleven, USS Serendipity=-

Rada was in good sprits as he strolled through the halls of the Sera.

He really was enjoying the time when the ship was stuck in the Terran system because almost nothing could go wrong. There were no alien creatures infesting the hull or probing into their minds; it was just nice.

There had been an explosion in a building several of their crew occupied but Rada hadn’t been told about that yet, it was a good day for him. The warp engines weren’t being taxed because they weren’t even being used and so he’d had a chance to make a lot of small adjustments that had been a long time coming.

Almost all of the admiral’s engineers were gone now, but before they left they’d knocked out all the dents the Romulans had made and so the ship was once again both literally and figuratively shipshape. Everything was gong well and he couldn’t help but thinking that if they could simply explore this small section of space over and over again then that he would be a very happy Angosian indeed.

Kellyn had asked him to meet her for coffee and he certainly had the time to spare. He arrived in the Afterthought and looking around saw that Kellyn was not yet there so he proceeded to saunter confidently towards the counter. Naturally his eyes met immediately with Wren standing behind it and their smiles quickly aligned.

“What are you smiling at?” she asked with gentle laughter. Rada’s entire demeanour seemed different than usual almost as if he was actually confident in his ability to handle his life; a perfectly normal experience for most but to someone who knew him as well as she did it truly stood out as a wonderful thing.

“I could ask you the same question,” Rada replied, leaning over the counter and looking up to her eyes. It was true that Wren had seemed warmer recently. It was hard for most species, Angosians included, to understand how something as simple as a brief conversation with one of their own kind could reinstate to a Betazoid their sense of identity.

“Ah, but would either of us get an answer?” She sarcastically pondered, leaning down herself to match his eye line.

“At this rate I doubt it,” Rada answered, not even looking around before he snuck in a quick kiss.

Wren pretended to be offended by his taking such a liberty, by bolting upright and draining all the emotion from her face but her smile cut back through and gave the game away. There was a time when she’d have been afraid to do that with Rada because he’d have taken it seriously.

“What can I get for you?” she asked in her most professional tone, which, admittedly was casual by most people’s standards.

“I’ll have my usual, and I’m meeting Lair Kellyn so I’d better get her a Mocha Latte.”

“If it’s for Lair Kellyn then I’ll have to double the chocolate. That Fleur spoiled half the crew,” she observed, with a shake of her head. “There’s a free table in the corner. You go over there and sit down. I’ll bring your drinks over when they’re ready.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Rada replied with a cheeky smile, knowing he was one of the few people who could get away with it.

Rada had no sooner taken his seat than Lair Kellyn entered the room. She immediately spotted him and made her way towards him. Her eyes bore some concern but it was clearly focused on other things.

“Hello,” she said simply as she took her seat.

“Hello,” Rada replied warmly. “I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty of ordering for you.”

"Thanks." Kellyn answered absently. Usually one to look directly into the face of anyone she spoke to, Rada was surprised to see that she was still evading his gaze.

She was doing it again, actually; just as she had the other day in the Arboretum when they'd talked about things that weren't easy for either of them to discuss.

He hoped that she wasn't still unsettled over that conversation. Awkwardness between them was a feeling as new as it was unwelcome, and he wished for it to dissipate as quickly as possible.

He noticed her glancing up and away, toward the chronometer on the far wall. The third time she did it in the first ninety seconds she'd been in the room, he realized suddenly why it was that she was so nervous.

Rada Dengar was a man who detested gossip and never engaged in it. Still, it was hard to ignore or avoid completely the talk that had been going around the ship all day- that Salvek's inquiry was to take place, and that he may find himself out of a job if Admiral Lassiter didn't hear a good explanation for why the Away Team had stayed so long on the Romulan ship.

Knowing this was going on off-ship and that Kellyn was for some unknown reason not there to witness it, Rada felt sincere sympathy for her. He knew that she must be very anxious to know what was going on, why the party that had beamed down had not returned to the ship hours ago.

She couldn't seem to hold still in her chair, and Rada observed that she was wringing her hands and biting her bottom lip without realizing it.

He reached across the table, gently placing a hand on hers in an attempt to comfort her. "Has there...been any word?"

"No," she said, barely looking up to acknowledge Wren with a nod when she brought over two steaming mugs. "Not one."

One of the wonderful things about a Betazoid working in a cafĂ© was that Wren knew exactly when not enter the clientele’s conversations. She could sense Kellyn’s mood and recognise Rada’s concern for her, so she didn’t even attempt to engage with either of them, just quietly slipping away out of sight.

Rada did his best to lift Kellyn’s spirits but given he struggled to believe his words himself there was no real conviction to them. “If you think about it, that’s probably a good thing. You know how word gets around on a ship like this, if there were anything more going on in there than just simple ticking of the official boxes then I’m sure we’d have heard about it.”

Kellyn offered a weak smile of acknowledgement but that was all she could give. That smile quickly dissipated.

Moments dragged on in silence, and Kellyn continued staring into her cup. She tried to drink from it, but as good as her senses told her the beverage smelled and tasted, she couldn't force herself to swallow more than a few drops at a time and seemed to quickly give up the attempt.

Suddenly she looked up at Rada and stood from the table.

"I can't talk to you here." She declared with urgent, barely contained frustration. "Please, will you come with me?"

Rada didn’t even require a second to think and he immediately stood up himself, offering her a nod. The gesture communicated his intent without the need for words.

He clearly didn’t have to explain to Wren that they were leaving because she was already collecting their cups as they moved to the door. When he glanced back towards her she waved him away, as if to go with no explanation needed.

It felt wrong to leave two full drinks as they were and were it anyone else Rada would have worried they wouldn’t understand. Maybe they'd even take it as an insult. But he wasn’t worried about that now. Since Wren knew how much he cared for Kellyn, she’d know why now of all times he couldn’t ask her to wait on her request even the time it took to drink a cup of coffee.

Soon they were standing in the corridor outside Lair's official Research and Development laboratory. She quickly keyed in the entry code for the doors and wasted no time in walking through them; doing so before they had even fully opened.

Rada's eyes took a moment to adjust to the light after walking into the dark space. He had remained just a step behind her and found himself unprepared when she abruptly called for illumination at full intensity.

As soon as the doors closed she ordered them locked and then marched over to the wall where she indicated a panel with yet another set of security keypads on it.

"No one knows what's in this safe except me and Salvek. Well, me, Salvek and Reece. Trill is so nosy it's impossible to get anything past the man working as close to his lab as I do."

She input a complicated series of commands and Rada suddenly became nervous. He looked up at the ceiling, and raised a hand in question as he heard a hissing sound followed by a series of clicks; the sound of the panel sliding open.

"If...no one knows what is in there, am I supposed to know what is in there?"

"You have to know." Kellyn answered, her response as simple as it was grim. She turned back toward him. "Because it might be up to you to continue on, working with the data contained in these notes if I can't."

Rada was clearly displeased with her words, and he gave her a look that she had never seen before. "What do you mean, if you can't? Of course you can. You're Research and Development. It's your job to... research... and... develop ...things."

"Neither of which I can do if my husband is." She stopped without completing the sentence. She folded her arms and took several steps away, leaning her back against the far wall and staring up at the ceiling herself now. "Look, Rada, Salvek is in trouble."

"Oh, they'll get the inquiry sorted out straight away, don't you worry about that."

"It's not the inquiry that worries me." Kellyn stared with eyes that seemed those of a stranger to him- hollow save for the sorrow they displayed, where they were usually so bright with ideas and intensity.

"He melded with Taris. Before she died. And he is...in pain." The last two words seemed to inflict suffering on her as well; merely by thinking them, let alone saying them.

"Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, I think that only one thing can possibly help him. He has to go to Vulcan, and I have to go with him."

All emotion drained from Rada’s face as she said those words. He knew it was selfish to even think it, but recuperation on Vulcan was rarely quick and he couldn’t stop himself objecting.

“You can’t.” His eyes flickered down at saying it.

It was almost as if she could read his mind, good friends developing such an ability over time. “I know that you’re scared,” she softly replied, clear sadness in her eyes at the self-doubt in Rada that still resided so closely beneath the surface. Rada was about to object all over again, but she didn’t give him time.

“Even though you’ve been running the department single-handedly for all this time, you’ve always known Salvek and I were here if something went wrong and that gave you comfort.” Her expression was no longer that empty stare; her eyes, though still lacking her natural passion, were now directed at him. "But I know you. I also know that you trust my judgment, don't you?"

Rada stood mute and motionless, knowing she knew the answer to the question already.

"Then trust me now when I tell you that you've never needed a safety net, or a security blanket. You, Rada Dengar, are the Chief Engineer of the Serendipity, and Alchemy. They've been your ships to care for since the day you took the post. This is your department and you've done a fine job running it." She paused, letting her words sink in. She believed the words whole-heartedly, but good could only come from them if he could grasp onto them, and come to believe them, too.

"Never once has anyone else had to swoop in to save you, or the ship because you couldn't do the job. You have always been capable of handling everything that needs to be done. That's why you have kept the job. You've earned the right."

She shrugged, and offered him a small, half-smile. "I'd think it'd be a relief for me to be out of your hair for awhile, actually. You don't need me around poking my wrinkled nose into everything and sending you modification lists all the time."

Rada shook his head, capable of fighting the feeling of fear but not the feeling of waste if this work were left to him. “It’s not working without a safety net that worries me,” he spluttered out, not entirely sure if his words were true or not. “It’s just that I couldn’t do justice to what you’re giving me. If anything you should take it with you, then you could bring your working back when you and Salvek return.”

Kellyn’s eyes told him he’d just said something wrong as she turned away.

"You are going to return." He added as a statement, not a question. His nervousness increased by a factor of ten as he moved to try to look at her directly again, and she continued to avoid looking him in the face.

"You don't understand. If he can't be...healed, or whatever evil part of Taris that is stuck inside his head can't be eradicated, then he may have to stay there. Resign his commission, and devote the rest of his life to trying to combat what joining minds with her has done to him."

He knew from the sound of her voice that the very thought was devastating to her.

"If that happens, then the focus of my life's work will shift, instantly. My new job will be to care for him, and nothing could be more important than that, Rada, nothing. That's why you have to have access to these notes, and hold onto them."

Rada was frozen for a second. He wasn’t sure how to respond and so just went quiet. Kellyn and Salvek were The Alchemy Project. They weren’t ready yet to run it without them.

He wasn’t ready.

Seeing the pain in Kellyn’s eyes he reminded himself of the importance of simply snapping out of it and keeping control; he sighed and forced the fearful look from his face. “How will I know?” he calmly asked, “I mean, how will I know if the time comes... when you’re not coming back?”

"I've already spoken to Reece and Grace, and it's my plan to leave Arie here, with them, for the time being while we go...do this. Whatever this is that needs to be done," she droned. It struck Rada just how Vulcan she sounded in this moment; the usually lilting tone of her voice dulled and muted, devoid now of all emotion.

"If I send for her, and she leaves the Sera to join us on Vulcan, then you'll know that the time has come for you to unlock those PADDs and use what's inside them the best you can for the good of The Alchemy Project in our stead."

Kellyn was one of very few people he would truly struggle to hide his concern from. He was tempted to try but she was one person he simply had to be honest with. “If the time comes, then I’ll do everything I can with the work even if I'm not sure I'll be able to handle it,” he sighed. “But I really hope it won’t come to that."

Kellyn knew that Rada would be able to not only handle, but excel at the work. Still, she didn't argue. She knew he'd try if the time came, and that he'd figure it out on his own so she wasn't worried.

Coping herself was what had her truly frightened.

If she couldn't come back to the Sera it would mean more than simply loss of her position, she could easily deal with that; it would mean the loss of her husband and with him a very large part of herself.

That scared her, the idea that she could spend the rest of her life by his side but that he'd not truly be there. Her eyes took on a deeply pained quality, the thought so torturous to contemplate that rather than voicing one of a million things running through her mind, she could only nod weakly in agreement.

"I'm sure it won't." Rada added bravely. "In fact, I'm entirely certain that your stay on Vulcan will be brief and you'll be back to eating Szechwan Chicken with Reece and I'll be back to pretending that I like it,” he rambled, betraying his true thoughts about the dish in a moment of flustered honesty.

Kellyn's expression evolved and she smiled softly, and genuinely, for the first time in days. "I knew you didn't like it. Just from the look on your face, no matter what you," she ceased speaking and blinked rapidly as she hurried toward the door.

Rada followed, holding the stack of PADDs in his hands. They felt much heavier than they were, because of the responsibility that came along with them.

Kellyn called for the computer to kill the lights, and then gazed back into the lab from the corridor for a long moment.

She looked up again, and fully into Rada's eyes at last.

"I'm going to miss..." her voice broke and she cleared her throat, trying to paste the brave face back on, one last time. "...this place."

Lt. Commander Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


Commander Lair Kellyn
Research and Development
The Alchemy Project