995: Thalia and Melpomene

by Jamie Halliday and Ashton Ledbetter
After Perhaps This is as Good as it Gets

-=A Large Forest, on Sibalt=-

Ledbetter crept through the woods with a remarkable degree of self-preservation. When properly motivated, he could be a formidable foe. For Ashton, motivation was provided by the knowledge that there was something to be gained by putting in a strong effort. There was really nothing for him in the tug of war, other than the possibility of being the first one into the water. Perhaps if Zanh Liis had been on point for the other team he would have risked getting wet for the chance to pull her into the mud, but most likely not. As lovely a sight as that may have been, even that was not worth ruining his carefully placed head of hair over.

At least now, there was no real risk in trying. At the very worst he would be splattered with a small spot of paint, and at the very best, he would get to shoot someone. Besides, this was rather fun.

It had been some time since he had seen anyone. Other than the occasional splatter of paint on a tree, there were no signs that there was even anyone on this planet. Granted, the playing area was vast and their numbers were limited, so it was inevitable they would all be greatly spread out. Then again, perhaps this whole game had been a ruse to get him to wander off into the forest. Zanh Liis and her crew were probably watching him on the viewscreen from the ship at this very moment, laughing hysterically with tears in their eyes. Even the Vulcan was probably in stitches at Ashton’s misfortune. Doomed to wander the forest aimlessly for the rest of his life, until starvation set in or he was devoured by some local bird of prey, or Venus Flytrap-like plant.

All for her amusement.

Up ahead he spied a significant amount of paint splatters on the ground. Perhaps they really were still around here somewhere. He noticed several of the impacts were blue, which did not correspond to the colors he believed the two teams had, yellow and purple.

He darted out from in between trees like a cat in an old cartoon sneaking around the furniture to get at the birdcage unnoticed. He wanted to get a closer look at the damage to see if he could tell who was the victor of the battle, and who may have escaped, and in which direction they may have gone.

As he drew in closer, he snagged the toe of his boot on a small loop created by the roots of one of the trees. At that exact moment he heard the pop of a paint gun. As he fell to the ground, a pellet whizzed past his head, exploding in a blue splatter all over the tree trunk next to him.

Ashton shrieked.

He scrambled to his feet and behind the tree, as the sniper, whom apparently was frustrated that Ashton’s well-timed trip had spared him, began firing again in Ledbetter’s direction.

“So is this how it is Zanh Liis!” Ashton shouted. “After all I’ve done for you! You shoot me without even showing your face!” The firing stopped, and Ashton realized whoever was sniping at him would try to come around the tree and finish him now. He looked straight ahead, and tried best to judge how he should escape. There was a rock outcropping ahead that would provide sufficient cover, if he could reach it.

Ashton leaned slowly around the tree, pointing his gun out in front of him. There was another pop, much closer, and a blue pellet whizzed by again.

“You’ll never take me alive!” He shouted, as he began spraying fire in the direction from which the blue pellet had come, and then took off running. He zigged and zagged away from the shots behind him, more because of a lack of balance than any sort of tactical decision. When he reached the rocks, effectively screening him from further shooting, he kept right on running. After several minutes he figured he was in the clear, and stopped to catch his breath.

He sat on a log, and reached for his canteen. There was no sign of anyone now, not even splatters to indicate someone had been here. He took a swig of water, while constantly scanning his surroundings for danger. Suddenly he heard a large crash in the leaves behind him. He turned around, and grabbed his gun, but saw nothing. When he turned back, he was no longer alone.

“Drop it.” Jariel Camen warned. The Bajoran had his weapon pointed right at Ledbetter’s chest from just a meter away. Ashton threw his gun to the ground in frustration.

“No fair, damn it! How did you do that! And my God man, what is on your feet!” He shouted, pointing with incredulity at Camen’s “shoes”.

Jariel had dozens of large green leaves wrapped around his feet and tied together with some sort of vine.

“We have something similar on Bajor. The leaves are very large and rigid, which spreads my body weight over a much larger area on the ground, and all but eliminates any noise when I walk. Would you like me to shoot you in the leg? It will be much less painful.”

Ledbetter smirked, and stood up from his log. “You know what? I happen to know a lot about you, so I know you wouldn’t hurt a flea. I don’t think you have it in you to shoot me.”

Ledbetter slowly reached for his weapon, to pick it up off the ground.

“Don’t,” Jariel warned.

Ledbetter kept right on reaching, and suddenly there was a pop. Painted splattered all over Ashton’s back, and he cried out in pain. “You sick man! I thought you were going to shoot me in the leg!” Ledbetter whined.

“Sorry, I’m not really a very good shot.”

Ashton grabbed his gun and tired to fire, but the weapon was locked out after he had been hit.

“Are you going to come to the detention area nicely, or do I have to try and shoot you in the leg again?” Jariel asked.

Ledbetter pulled the trigger several more times, to no avail, and then swung the weapon down onto the log in an attempt to break it. He failed miserably, as the gun merely bounced off the log and struck him in the temple.

“AH! Flummox!” He shouted. Jariel tried not to laugh at the nonsense word, as Ashton accepted his fate as prisoner and began walking towards the holding area.

“You’ve made an enemy today!” Ledbetter warned.

“Me and everyone else.”

When they made it to the holding area, Ledbetter’s shoulders slumped, as he saw Jamie Halliday all alone, just waiting for someone to talk to. Instantly Ledbetter’s inbuilt desire not to be here, typically rather strong already regardless of where here was when he wasn't enjoying himself, had doubled by seeing Halliday’s face; Halliday’s eager to communicate and infuriatingly optimistic face.

Right now the only communication Ledbetter wanted to do was complaining and mostly just to the people who’d actually, to his mind, at least have some ability to do something about satisfying those complaints. The man may just have shot him in the back but even the Vedek would have been preferable company right now.

However with Ashton’s delivery now complete, Jariel had already disappeared back into the woods to resume the game.

Never mind the fact that they were in the middle of a rather large, furniture-free zone. In Ashton’s opinion it was evident that chairs were considered too much of a luxury to be allowed to enemy prisoners as their options were either standing or sitting on the ground. Ashton could quote chapter and verse of Federation treaties and conventions that he believed must surely have qualified this as cruel and unusual punishment. Temporarily this did provide him a certain level of amusement as he considered that even if just ‘in the game’ Zanh Liis could face court martial. The amusement was quickly dismissed though as he realized even in the game things could not be allowed to go that well for him.

So with an exaggeratedly laboured walk he found himself an appropriately arbitrary area in which to stand with his back towards Halliday with arms crossed unwelcomingly over his chest in a gesture he hoped would clearly convey his desire not to speak without his going to the effort of saying it. To do so would have been considered impolite anyway.

Jamie was of course disappointed, though it passed quickly. He did indeed recognize the gesture but while Ledbetter’s stance said ‘I don’t want anyone to talk to’ it also very clearly said ‘I want someone to complain to’. Complaining was not something Jamie understood, finding it took valuable time away from not complaining, but if it was what Ashton wanted even if he didn’t realise it then he would oblige him.

Jamie didn’t really know him but he tried to start off every relationship by believing something positive about someone. Ledbetter would prove a challenge, which was something Jamie never minded. Jamie decided he would admire the man’s impressive observational skills. With only a single look he had evidently gathered enough information to realize he hated this place. When all Jamie saw was a nice clean clearing in the shade of the trees with a single guard to help them with any problems, Ledbetter must surely have in seconds seen something which in minutes Jamie just couldn’t.

So he made up his mind that he would speak to him even if it took a bit of effort, something the toll of which was paid immediately, but the success from which could last you a lifetime. So he set out trying to figure out what Ashton was thinking, hoping to start a conversation from there, figuring there could be many fascinating things in the mind of a man intelligent enough to be a Temporal Investigation’s agent.

It was fair to say Jamie was quite far from the mark at the moment. Ashton was in fact thinking about how he’d gotten here and concluding the Vedek must have set out to get him in the first place. Now the Bajoran probably thought he’d won. Well, he’d see about that.

It was difficult to get to a holy man through Starfleet channels but Ashton had his ways. Like, maybe this charity season he wasn’t going to give any money to the Bajoran war orphans’ fund. He hadn’t intended to anyway but he’d make a donation to a rival charity and make sure it was plenty public, letting the Vedek see for sure what he was missing out on. Yes, that would be very rewarding.

He knew Jariel and Liis had a history so was sure they were in cahoots here somehow. They wanted him out of the game early to humiliate him. Now everyone on their team would get to see that he’d been shot before them; not knowing of the Vedek’s leaf based cheating, and so would conclude that they were better at this than he was. The only exception to that was of course the one man Ledbetter was sure didn’t think. Ledbetter almost scoffed with disgust at the one man people would associate his skill level with as he began impatiently tapping his foot as if thinking it'd more swiftly get him out of here.

Quickly Jamie concluded there was no point in thinking about what Ledbetter was thinking any further; it wasn’t getting him anywhere. Instead he just cleared his throat, hoping to get Ashton’s attention.

Ledbetter rolled his eyes with frustration and began counting the seconds in his mind until the inevitable. *Three, two, one…*

“So they got you too, did they sir?” Jamie cheerfully asked like clockwork

“Actually, no I came here of my own accord.” Ledbetter replied with abrupt sarcasm, just deigning slightly to look to Jamie over his shoulder. “Surprisingly, this outfit came with the rather large paint spot directly over my spine.”

“Oh, right.” Jamie acknowledged the question was a little pointless, still remaining cheerful. “So, it’s just the two of us then.”

“Yes,” Ledbetter added more defensively than intended.

Even if in this case first was worse, Ashton didn’t like being second for anything. He was entirely certain that on a ship with exactly two Captains in spite of being most certainly the superior he was still the second most popular. He’d even come out second best in his divorce proceedings. Third best if you counted Maris’ cats, which might not necessarily be easy as he was sure with the alimony he was paying she could have raised an entire army of them by now.

On the bright side sometimes armies turned on their masters, however with cats that only happened when you were dead and even when she was fighting him for a particularly valuable Chateau Latour he’d still always thought dying would have been sufficient punishment.

Halliday could see this was going nowhere so he decided to change tactics, sure if he could just get it going that he could have a very interesting conversation with Ledbetter.

“So then, would it be alright if I called you Ashton?” He asked thinking they’d benefit from the loss of a bit of formality. Evidently Ashton didn’t agree with him.

“It’s Agent Ledbetter to you.” Ashton replied swiftly, adding with a mumble about the fact that this wasn’t what he felt he should be called. “Though I’d rather you call me Captain.”

“Sure thing, Captain.” Jamie replied happily to Ledbetter’s surprise. “I just wasn’t sure because Lieutenant Commander prefers I call him Rada.”

Realizing Jamie was joking, something which displayed at least some basic intelligence, and more than a little pleased to be being addressed as he felt he should again, Ashton smiled slightly and his opinion changed a little of this Halliday. He finally decided to turn around to face him.

Suddenly Ashton actually considered he might want to talk to Jamie. Perhaps it wasn't as he would with a friend, but Jamie was still a person who could serve as a pleasant enough distraction.

“I have to say you are the first person on the ship that ever offered to address me by my rank. Zanh Liis is quite insecure about it. Probably because deep down inside she knows who should be running the ship,” Ashton adjusted his sleeves nonchalantly as he spoke.

“I think she does a great job! But I’m sure you are a great Captain too. Maybe I’ll serve on your ship someday. Oh, wait, I forgot, yours was destroyed.”

Jamie looked truly sorry. He hadn’t intended it as a joke at all, he had honestly just forgotten about what happened to the Consequence.

Ledbetter glared at him for a moment, then steered the discussion back towards a topic he would find more pleasant. “You are right, I am a great Captain, or I would be if my every attempt to embark on a mission was not sabotaged. Instead they trap me on this ship where I can’t so much order a sandwich in the café without the permission of that Betazoid woman or her French cohort.”

“Wren and Fleur. Those are their names.” Jamie added helpfully.

“Really? How charming. I’ll be sure to send them each a card at Christmas. I suppose you are wondering how exactly I rose to greatness, despite being surrounded by utter incompetence.”

“Do tell!”

Ashton was actually beginning to like this Jamie Halliday. This was usually the point in a conversation where he was either laughed at, sworn at, or served with a restraining order. Instead Halliday was not only going to listen to him, but he truly seemed willing to do so.

“Well recently there were quite a few vacancies that came up when several people left TI. I strode right in to Gemini’s office and demanded that my years of service be recognized. I spent the better part of my life serving under the likes of O’Sullivan, Zanh and Lindsay, and I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that they’d all be dead were it not for me. After fourteen hours of regaling her with the details of my career, she finally could not help but acknowledge my contribution to the galaxy and time itself.”

Halliday was hanging on his every word. “That must have been quite a thrill for you! Do you remember what she said?”

“Yes, I do exactly. She stood up from the desk she had been seated at, looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Fine’.”

“And then what happened?” Jamie asked excitedly. For him this was quite an experience as well. People usually didn’t talk to him this much.

“And then, I believe, she went to bed. It was quite late.”

Jamie quickly nodded that he understood and continued watching Ledbetter like he was a source of incredible inspiration. Much like Ledbetter, Jamie couldn’t at all imagine that sleep deprivation may have played even the smallest part in Lassiter’s decision.

“That really is fascinating.” Jamie declared, adding without thinking. “I don’t think I could ever understand why so many people don’t like you.”

With that comment, Ledbetter looked genuinely hurt and the near constant smile fell from Jamie’s face. He quickly added apologetically. “Sorry, I thought you knew.”

Even as his eyes become positively spiteful, Ledbetter made no attempt at a witty retort or even an argument. He merely gave something close to a hurt scoff and turned away from Jamie again.

Jamie Halliday however was not a man to allow this and he made a point of walking around to in front of Ashton who then turned again. Jamie followed to walk to where Ashton was now facing, Ashton turned and then Jamie followed again until finally Ledbetter realized it was futile and instead just did his best to ignore Jamie even if he was standing right in front of him.

“I really am sorry.” Jamie said honestly.

Though trying not to let it sink in, something in his tone got through to Ashton who reluctantly looked directly at Jamie again.

“Don’t be.” Ashton insisted quietly even as a large part of him still felt Jamie should be. “Veritas lux mea.”

At first Jamie simply nodded his acceptance of this, but curiosity got the better of him and soon he had to ask. “Is that a good or a bad thing?”

“It’s a good thing.” Ashton replied, unsurprised by Jamie’s ignorance. “It’s Latin and means ‘the truth enlightens me’. So, I guess I can’t begrudge a man for telling me something he knows to be the truth.”

“Thank you.” Jamie said simply, at least feeling a bit happier himself even if Ashton couldn’t yet.

“It’s not like I don’t try to be popular, you know? I don’t want people not to like me. I just go out every day and be me and it happens naturally.” Ledbetter’s words were drenched in self pity even if for once a desire for sympathy was not at all part of his motivation.

Seeing the pity on Ashton’s face Jamie found himself unsure of what he was supposed to do now. Typically when people were unhappy they avoided him, not being in the mood for smiles, so he didn’t have a lot of experience in this type of situation.

“If it helps,” Jamie started, hoping it would, “a lot of people don’t like me either.”

“Really?” Ledbetter asked eyeing Jamie with curiosity to see if he was being honest, wondering if of all people this simple largely harmless fellow could really have any enemies.

“No, not really.” Jamie admitted without enthusiasm, then added more cheerfully. “But a lot of people still don’t like being around me.”

“They don’t? Why not?” Ashton asked, before realizing that Jamie likely had no great desire to speak about it. “I mean, if it’s not too personal a question.”

“It’s not.” Jamie assured him before adding his theories. “I guess it’s because I don’t hold back. I never repress a smile or pretend not to love life as much as I do. I know it’s too much for a lot of people.”

“Haven’t you even considered trying holding a little back?” Ashton asked, feeling a rare moment of genuine concern for another human being, as Jamie seemed just too innocent to have to suffer with unpopularity.

“No, I’m me and that’s simply who I must be: me.” Jamie answered immediately without a thought because this was something he knew to a certainty.

Ledbetter nodded, understanding his decision, and quietly adding but without quite as much as Jamie’s enthusiasm, “Just like I too must be me.”

Ashton thought for a moment and made an offer. “When we return to the ship, we should have dinner. Maybe if our personalities can meet somewhere in the middle, people will finally, like us a little. Besides, I haven’t yet told you the tale of T’Lara, but that simply cannot be properly conveyed without a bottle of fine Champagne.


Crewman Jamie Halliday
Engineering Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


TI Agent Ashton Ledbetter
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

994: Perhaps This Is As Good As It Gets

by Rada Dengar and Lair Kellyn
Soundtrack: Beautiful World by Colin Hay
Immediately following Still This Emptiness Persists


“I…I feel so guilty.”

With those words Kellyn began to consider something she’d hoped would be completely impossible. *Please, no.* She thought with horror that Rada’s memory of what he had been forced to do to the Domox may have been coming back.

“Do you remember…something?” She asked, being able to find no better way of saying it without giving too much away.

Rada’s ears seemed to prick up with her question and he looked at her, almost studying her, with curiosity that she should mention it.

“Remember?” He asked softly. “What would I remember?"

A powerful yet far from complete relief washed over Kellyn from seeing this response. It seemed his memories hadn’t come back but there was still a very serious problem.

“I don’t know exactly.” She lied, desperately hating to do it but just as fervently praying she’d be believed. “It’s just back there; you looked like you were reliving a memory.”

Rada accepted this, albeit skeptically.

“It wasn’t a memory.” He explained, still working on slowing his breathing. “It was just I had this horrible feeling when I fired on Jamie.”

“A feeling of guilt?”

Rada nodded that she was correct, not yet wishing to elaborate further.

“About what? No one was hurt, and I’m telling you Rada, it wasn’t even your shot that hit him…”

“I know.” Rada answered quietly.

“It’s only a game.” She reminded him, hoping it’d provide a comfort, but from the frustrated change in his tone it was clear that it didn’t.

“I know.”

“I don’t think Jamie even minded being shot.”

Rada’s face seemed to light up with anger.

“I know!” He said, throwing his hands up in frustration and speaking very quickly. “I know that logically I’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. I know it’s just an innocent game and that I was just doing what I was supposed to. Yet I just couldn’t seem to stop the guilt and then there was this wave of fear and I just wanted to run. It shouldn't have happened.”

He stopped himself, realising that with all of the completely senseless emotions assaulting him the anger he was feeling was likely just part of it. The rage in his eyes dimmed slightly.

“I’m sorry.” He said quietly.

“You don’t ever have to. Just don't be sorry for. You--you know, it's just that I." She was for the first time he could ever recall actually stammering.

She kept trying.

"It’s not. Not with me, I mean.” She fought for every word, unsure any direction she could take the conversation in would be a wise one. “You don’t need to-” finally, she stopped.

The last thing that she wanted to do to a man struggling so hard against his emotions was to put too fine a point on the fact that he’d been so incapable of keeping them from her sight. She knew that if roles were reversed, Rada would pay the same courtesy and show the same concern and discretion in addressing any such painful display of her own emotions. She could offer him no less now.

She walked several steps away, as far away from him as she could go while still remaining within the confines of their cover.

She regarded her ‘weapon’ for a long moment, and then she sighed with disgust and tossed it away. Rada startled at the sound, and she looked back at him apologetically.

“Rada, I want to help you if I can. But I don’t know what help is for you right now. I don’t want to make you feel any worse.” Her expression changed from one of frustration to one of fear.

That surprised him as fear, even in the face of seemingly certain death, was not something he recalled often having seen on her face. Thinking about it, he realized he’d likely only seen it twice before: while Arie was missing, and when Salvek was in danger of being lost to the ravages of...


Rada’s thoughts skipped the track they’d been on. Suddenly, he couldn’t remember exactly what it was that Salvek had suffered that had made Kellyn so worried about him. He knew it involved a trip to Vulcan somehow.

He remembered her leaving their research for the Project in his care in case she couldn’t return. Yet, he couldn’t precisely recall the circumstances surrounding the time and events, and that made him even angrier now.

Something was wrong, he realized. If he didn’t remember something that he was so absolutely certain that he’d known for a fact before, what else had he lost to this ‘coma’ he’d suffered?

Kellyn’s pulse rushed in her ears, and she thought about how sick Rada had been, how lost in the madness that his actions against the Domox had produced in him.

Her mind flashed back to what Wren had told her of Rada’s true mental state at the time, when locked doors and security officers stood between Kellyn and her best attempts to get to her friend.

No matter how she’d tried to tell herself that he was okay now, that everything would be okay now, Kellyn couldn’t help but hear every single one of the heartbroken Betazoid’s words. Kellyn had only been able to stand by and listen helplessly as Wren Elton spoke so sadly about the mental state of the man she loved, saying:

"He’s not coping. He’s slowly slipping away and I don’t know why. As long as I’ve known him there have been these…”

Wren had fought for the words as tears started to flood her eyes.

“These barriers in place in his mind. They’re breaking down. He’s breaking down. There’s a…like a black hole within him which is still growing ever larger and it’s ripping him apart inside. Yet he can’t really feel it. His every mental defense has broken down and still I can not hear his thoughts. There’s…there’s nothing there to hear.”

Rada had been so completely lost. Kellyn asked herself again how could she speak another word now and risk what little she knew was left of her friend disappearing again if she should utter one wrong syllable? If she should breathe the faintest hint of one wrong emotion? She couldn’t risk it.

She ran her hand back through the strands of her perspiration soaked hair, tugging it at the back and tying it into a knot at the nape of her neck before she returned her eyes to his.

She threw her hands up into the air in frustration. “I don’t know how to help you and I hate it.” She confessed softly. “What can I do to help you, Rada?”

*What can I do or say that isn’t just going to make things a hell of a lot worse for everyone?* Kellyn asked herself sadly. She just didn’t know anymore if there was anything she could.

Her mind returned now to that dark day on Lethus IV when she’d almost lost her life, and Rada had done all he could to keep her talking, to distract her. He’d helped her that day, and she only wished that she could know that talking would help more than it would hurt now. But she couldn’t know that, in fact she had the distinct and sinking feeling that with every word she spoke she pushed him closer to the ledge of a cliff he may not be able to keep from falling, or jumping, off.

He’d taken up staring silently off into the distance. His eyes were fixed, his jaw set, and she had never seen him quite this way before. The rage in him burned slowly just below the surface, and she was growing increasingly fearful that if it wasn’t somehow smothered that it would smolder beneath until it consumed him, one piece of his soul at a time.

“Rada,” she entreated him, leaning her back up against a tree and sighing as she glanced up and into the leaves overhead. “Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“What it is that you’re afraid of.”

There was at first a silence and Kellyn considered maybe he wasn’t going to respond. It was only when she allowed her eyes to fall down to Rada that she realised how very wrong that was. The look on his face told her that something in Rada briefly her broken upon hearing her words before he snapped it back into place and struggled viciously to hold it together, almost shaking from the effort.

With his composure regained he reached his hand into his pocket and angrily pulled from it something which he proceeded to stare down at in contempt.

“This.” Was all he said, his eyes never turning from the small device held tight within his fingers.

“Your medication?” Kellyn asked, recognising the container.

Rada nodded that she was correct, turning the hypospray over in his hand and internally contemplating what force he’d need to destroy it. He was unsure he could do it but that wasn’t what eventually made him return it to his pocket. It was his uncertainty that he even wanted to.

Finally he looked up at her but his eyes fell back down just as quickly.

“What if it’s stopped working?” He softly whispered.

Now Kellyn was truly frightened as she knew perhaps better than anyone else, save only for Wren, just what Rada had gone through in the worst times before he’d first started taking this medication. He’d been a man entirely alien to who he was now, a man of anger feeling the pull of violence drawing him near.

“By the Prophets, no.” She said under her breath as for the first time she considered that maybe the damage done to him wasn’t as simple as an event he’d remember. He’d spoken of a strength in his darker self; a strength he may have needed to tap into when he was in his private war with the Domox.

Worse still, he’d spoken of the desire he’d once held to give into the madness to hold onto the power that came with the ability to take a life. Now he’d accidentally killed so many, that desire may have been reawakened even if he couldn’t remember how.

“Is that what this feels like?”

Rada resumed his staring into the distance, silently contemplating her question.

“No.” He finally decided. “No that’s the complete opposite of what this feels like. It’s as if it’s finally started working.”

“You mean you felt it wasn’t working before?”

“No, I’d always thought it was.” He said, shaking his head. “I never felt any of the urges that had been there before.”

“Then what’s changed?”

“Just everything that was supposed to.” He answered. “When I was sick I felt strong so now I feel weak. I felt no guilt and so now it overcomes me. I felt my anger could be useful and now it feels utterly futile. Then of course there are the memories.”

Kellyn used no words to ask but she had to know what he’d meant by that. It seemed he’d heard the question anyway.

“The funny thing about memories is that they’re so very empty, aren’t they? You can remember where people were standing and snippets of conversation but that’s about all. There will always be so much more that you forget. The present your friend gave you for a particular birthday, the way you were dressed on your graduation, how exactly that familiar old perfume used to smell. When I was sick horrible memories would be generated in an instant to fit the motivation of the madness and they’d be so clear because they were new. Now, even in things I remember there are a lot of small details I seem to have forgotten.”

“Like what?” Kellyn asked, even knowing just how dangerous it was to go in this direction.

“I don’t know.” Rada said shrugging his shoulders, it was not so much a lie to her as it was something denied to himself. “It’s sort of like my mind’s a corrupted database. It will only register six files but has recorded that there are seven. Perhaps it’ll just take a little time for all the files to be sorted out and for it to accept that all it can see is all its got. I need to accept that this is all I have.”

Sadness swept over Kellyn with his words as she knew he’d had so much more than he could see. He just couldn’t remember.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter.” He continued, regardless of how clearly he felt it did. “It would seem that I’m cured. They cured me.”

Now this was something that Kellyn hadn’t expected. He could so easily have meant many of the people involved in choosing his medication, but from the way his eyes fell to her as if expecting a question she had a feeling he didn’t.

“They?” She asked carefully. “Do you mean the people at Starfleet Medical?”

Rada almost scoffed with amusement at the prospect.

“People don’t just fall into comas and medications don’t magically get more powerful over time.” He replied, realising now how tired he was and resting back against the walls of their enclosure. “Something has happened. I don’t know who and I don’t know what but someone did something to me. Maybe it was these Domox you encountered. They must have done something to my brain because they’ve finally ironed out all of the wrinkles that were holding it in the mess it was.” He repeated it again. “They cured me.”

For a moment they both remained silent before Kellyn finally had to ask a question, knowing Rada would have given almost anything to have felt truly safe from this madness once upon a time. “Then why are you so angry?”

“Because I finally understand.” He said bitterly before his rage was replaced by sadness as he recalled an old song he’d once heard on Earth, though he couldn’t recall when. Then to her surprise he began to do something he’d so rarely done in the time she’d known him; he actually began to sing.

After a moment he sighed, seeing no point in continuing the song and bringing his hand to his head to rub his temples.

“Before the coma I felt like I had something better. Only, looking back now I realise there was nothing different except me. I still have the same job. I still have the same friends. Nothing has changed and yet, though not always, in recent times it all felt like so much more. It was like for all the insecurity and worry there has recently been this voice which convinced me I can still make a difference in this galaxy. Now I know I’m nothing special.”

“Rada, listen to me.” Kellyn swiftly replied, attempting to protest his statement but he didn’t even let her start let alone finish.

“Let me guess, you’re going to tell me I am? That I do matter somehow?” He asked and she nodded. “Don’t bother, I won’t believe you. I can see clearly now and it’s clear that I’m not. I once heard a philosopher say that exceptionality is nothing but the sum of small insanities. He was half right. Exceptionality is an illusion it takes a lot of small insanities to believe in.”

Now he was beginning to get angry again as he considered the life he’d been stuck with. “How can these be my only options? Returning to this life that feels like it means nothing now or one of insanity. Where is the justice in that?”

Kellyn stayed still, frozen. She wondered what she could possibly say that could begin to convince him when the one thing she wished she could tell him that might, she dare not.

She dare not tell him that he'd saved countless lives including her own, including those of the people- of the woman- he loved most. That he very well may have saved the life of every telepath in the Alpha Quadrant as well as many others who would have died in the battles to try to save them.

The one thing that she believed might be able to set him free was also the one thing that she was certain would damn him. The truth was in this case the sharpest double-edged blade of all.

Instead of risking injury to him by means of that sword, she grabbed a hold of herself emotionally and changed course entirely.

She laughed a short, bitter laugh.

"Come on. Philosophers say a lot of stupid bullshit. Like, 'what doesn't kill us makes us stronger'. Or another of my personal favorites, 'this too shall pass'. What kind of nonsensical garbage is that? I swear, I want to throttle people who say that to me. In fact, do you know the only philosophical statement I've ever heard that I could really see any sense in?"

Rada shook his head that he didn't.

"That Terran guy, Socrates. Professor Vetrall at the Academy drummed his stuff into our heads. Socrates said, ‘I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing’."

Rada stood still, unresponsive.

"Don't you understand what I'm trying to say, Rada?" Kellyn reached out and clamped a hand down onto his shoulder, shaking him gently once in hopes he'd look up at her. "What I'm trying to say is that nobody expects you to have all the answers, to understand all that's happened to you. Certainly not now, maybe not ever. You've been through so much. So..." she paused, looking away. "So much more than any one person should ever have to."

Finally, she'd regained her composure enough to face him again. She raised her eyes up to meet his as best she could. "For now, you just have to be kind to yourself, and trust those of us who know you best when we say to you that you are nothing if not exceptional."


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


Commander Lair Kellyn
Engineering Research and Development
The Alchemy Project


993: Still This Emptiness Persists

by Rada Dengar and Lair Kellyn
Hours after A Day in the Life


"Courage is knowing what not to fear."


-=A Large Forest, on Sibalt=-

To find himself staring down the barrel of a gun was enough to leave any man uneasy. It took incredible trust in another and in your own ability to know them; to not see within that weapon the choice available in an instant to rip from you as close to an eternity as you ever could have had.

From the most brilliant mind to the most clueless of fools that was enough for uncomfortable and unpleasant thoughts to be born. Those thoughts could take a lifetime to die.

Rada however was in this moment not looking into anyone else’s weapon. His eyes were ran along the edge of the one that he held. To his knowledge his life was in the hands of no one but himself, which amounted to no one in the end. This gun was after all just a toy. It was an utterly harmless creation meant only to cover its victims with bright colours and nothing more. No one would be injured. No one would die. It was all so simple and so clear. So why did this innocent toy place such a heavy weight in his heart and his hands?

Rada didn’t know and accepting that was becoming a habit he longed to escape but feared to leave.

Ever since he woke in sickbay and was told about the extended rest he’d had but not felt, he’d known there was something that he didn’t know. It was nothing he could pin down; not a fact that was missing like the lyric from a song to which you still remember the tune. It was much more agonising in its subtlety, like a whisper from the darkness so soft that you could never be sure it was there. Only he was entirely sure this was there.

As much as he may have wished it, it was not the behaviour of others that had given this truth away. The occasional odd looks, sentences which ended at the moment that his boots struck adjacent ground; these were nothing to the man whose paranoia was always there to keep him cold on the warmest of nights. Not even the beautiful waitress whose heart rate would seem to rise as he brushed even slightly close by her could truly have made him this sure.

It was in him, so deep but just beneath the surface, that something just wasn’t right. Yet like the soft whisper impossible to hear he could never put that feeling into words holding sense for anyone else. That was part of what was so wrong. These things he couldn’t say should never have needed to be said. It was like they should be understood by some impossible person. Impossible; that’s just what such a person had to be. To be allowed in so deep to know him even in silence would make them so much more than just a friend or just for a time; too familiar to ever be forgotten. Yet he did not remember and so such a person must never have existed.

There could be no one to understand that life simply felt off. His life, their lives, all life was utterly wrong. His only choices were either to accept it or to try to cope without accepting it as it drove him slowly mad. So he was understandable in his terror as he imagined the possibility that he could not accept.

He shook himself; an easy task with already shaking hands, bringing him back to the reality of the wilderness that was around him. It wasn’t real of course, not truly. In the wild one was lost but here he was never really out of reach of calling his home. He was still entirely uncertain though what he would say to them if he did.

So instead he tried to concentrate on all the small sounds being muffled by the silence around him. Muffled was the only way he could put it as noises from reality were intermixed and indistinguishable from those in his mind. A twig had just been snapped under feet which were maybe his own. He’d heard the sound so often here. He knew it would take him 360 degrees to be sure he’d turned towards where it had been.

As he cast his eyes through the many openings in the trees around him, he crouched down slightly lower even knowing it’d be no hindrance to men suited to conflicts of substance. It would stop Ashton Ledbetter perhaps.

He allowed himself a quiet sigh knowing if it attracted someone unaware of him then at least he'd have a target as well. As the air left his mouth it reminded him just how dry his throat had become. It was intentionally far too humid in this place, as if through your actions during misery you could show more truth than in any good times. With his weapon no longer steadied by a second hand he set it down to the ground as he reached for his small water supply and silently began to unscrew the lid.

Suddenly he stopped, now there was definitely a sound. He turned his eyes to where his ears at first swore then only suggested it’d come from to see if he could find who or what it’d been. At first it appeared there was no one but it was just the illusion of nothingness given off by being somewhere this large. There was a glimmer of white from a smile of possibly the only man who’d have one right now.

Rada knew this was his first and best chance. All he needed to do, his only mission for himself, was not to let down his team. If he could make as many hits as he would take then he could walk away with the fact that that’s all they’d each have to do for their side to win. He’d only be hit the once. All it would take him would be a single successful shot and then it wouldn’t matter what happened to him.

He could stop worrying. He could let himself be hit and taken out of the game. He could take this weapon out of his hands and go somewhere safe and far from here, alone. He had to make this shot, but holding his weapon up again in an attempt to aim he knew he couldn’t make it from here.

He ducked down low so as not to be seen as he took light steps around the trees and towards the clearing in which his target stood.

From her current vantage point Lair Kellyn could see nothing. It was what she heard, however, that concerned her.

She was keenly aware of the sound of crunching footsteps in the underbrush, and the wind rustling through the large trees overhead.

She poked her head out from around the trunk of the large tree she was lurking behind, knowing that doing so might cause her to get 'shot' but almost hoping that it would. At least if she was 'taken prisoner' she'd be given a chance to sit down somewhere, even if not the opportunity to catch a nap until it was all over.

Every exhausted centimeter of her body was throbbing with pain.

The humid air was doing nothing for her chronically reduced lung capacity. She was fighting to quiet the raspy sound of each breath, but it was no use, it was getting louder. The louder it became the more anxious she was to reach into the pocket of her vest and pull out the canister of medication that would help her lungs to better function. She resisted, though, knowing if she did that the hissing sound it made when it released the mist into her mouth would surely alert anyone in the area to her presence. She felt she owed it to her team to at least give this her level best, even if she really didn't care what was going on in these 'games' at all.

She had no doubt why the decision had been made to send the crew here, as a distraction and to hopefully help them to begin somehow to heal recent wounds. Still, she doubted that for some of them it could help the situation in the least.

She herself was someone she placed near the top of the 'doubtful to be helped' list. She was still raw from her experiences commanding the Alchemy during the battle with the Domox. She had wondered, frequently and often late at night, how anyone could have been considered to have won that fight. These troubling thoughts persisted even though the fact she was still alive should serve as proof that their side had been the one to emerge victorious.

In the end analysis her heart told her only one thing; there had been no winners.

Then there was Rada, Wren, and Tam.

She fought the urge to sigh; again worried that any smallest of sounds could give her away. The tighter she held her breath the harder it seemed to find air to take in at all. Her heart rate seemed to be slowing. The entire planet around her seemed to be dimming. Maybe the heat was finally beginning to get to her...

She heard a sound and looked up now. She saw clearly the form of Jamie Halliday, as he made his way happily (as he did everything) through the forest. She wanted to slap herself on the forehead; the only thing Halliday wasn't doing to help himself get shot quicker was singing a merry little tune.

Oh for the love of...

She glared at the man in the distance with irritation. Hours, she'd been tramping around in the woods trying to keep herself from getting hit and thus lowering the count of members of her team still standing, and here was Jamie, right out there as if waving a red flag saying 'come get me'.

Kellyn heard another sound now, and she looked over and saw the nozzle of a gun rising from the bushes across the way.

She couldn't see who was holding it, but their position and posture told her that Halliday was about to be taken out of the game.

She leveled her own weapon at the person aiming at Jamie, and her finger hovered over the trigger. The rules of engagement dictated that she should shoot first, ask questions later. Still, it was something she was finding difficult to do.

For just an instant she hesitated. In the end, there was more than just bragging rights at stake here and it bothered her on some deep, core-level that no matter who she shot at now, it was going to be someone that she had to look in the eyes later as she walked the halls of the Serendipity. They may for the moment be divided into two teams, but they were still one crew.

Still, she knew what her orders were.

She closed one eye, the other sighting her target. She drew in a breath, prepared to fire and just about to do so as a clear, loud splattering sound was heard. She looked down first at her own shirt to see if she'd been hit, but quickly realized she'd felt no impact.

She looked over at Halliday as a second shot was heard. It just barely missed Jamie as he looked down and saw the bright blue stain on his clothing. "Oh well." he said, with a soft laugh, "I guess that's it for me then. I surrender!" He called, putting his hand up. The rules dictated that all those 'shot' were to be taken as prisoners and held by the opposing team until one team was left standing.

Just then, the sound of more shots being fired near her caught Kellyn off guard.

Someone was firing from above.

She retreated quickly, back into a more densely concentrated stand of trees. She heard footsteps rapidly approaching her now, and she was certain that at this point it was going to come down to either 'shooting' someone or getting shot herself. She lifted her weapon again and just before she was about to pull the trigger, she stopped.

She saw his face, and his gun aimed squarely at her and she simply froze where she stood.

“Rada?” she asked in shock, though of everything about him his name that was certainly not the thing in question.

Something however was very wrong.

He wasn’t firing. He wasn’t moving. His gun though directed straight at her chest wasn’t held close like a weapon for better control but rather extended at arm’s length like something pushed away as far as it could go.

He wasn’t even looking at her, his eyes locked onto his hands in horrified disbelief as if questioning how they could even be.

“Yes…” He finally said softly, his first acknowledgement that he was aware she was there.

Kellyn dropped her weapon to the ground, forgetting now entirely about the game; not that she’d cared much about it to begin with. He made no attempt to stop her as she took hold of the barrel of his gun and aimed it away from her; both hoping and afraid it would startle him.

“Rada, what’s wrong?”

Confusion enveloped his features as he turned up to face her, looking for answers he knew his friend couldn’t provide.

“I don’t know.” He said in true fear at the statement.

The way he’d spoken the words put this now officially beyond anything Kellyn could just been content to let be. She knew Rada far too well to think that any fraction of what pained disorientation she saw in him now could have been considered normal.

“We should see if we can recall the Alchemy. Get you back to the ship.” She decided quickly; a decision of which Rada clearly didn’t approve. In fact judging by the look on his face which seemed to plead that it not be done she could see that it outright terrified him.

“I don’t need to go back.” He blurted out immediately, even as it was impossible for him to hide just how much he needed not to be here at this moment.

Kellyn’s chance to attempt to make at least some sense of his reaction was cut short by the sound of shots from above impacting on the ground mere metres from where they were standing.

Rada clearly did not want to go back to the ship and Kellyn would respect that he felt he had a damned good reason for it, however she knew he certainly couldn’t stay here.

“It’s the same person who got Jamie,” Kellyn informed, seeing the color of the paint splotches as they impacted against the tree just millimeters from her. She ducked down and pulled Rada down with her.

“I shot Jamie.” Rada declared regretfully.

“No, Rada, listen to me. The Sera team, their paint pellets are yellow. Alchemy’s color is purple. The paint that hit Jamie was blue.” She pushed him back a step, grabbed a hold of him by the front of his shirt and then dropped to her knees, pulling him down to the ground along with her.

The sniper, whomever it was, perhaps O’Sullivan or someone that Jelca Rued had sent, kept firing with increasing accuracy and Kellyn was afraid; not of what would happen at this point if Rada got hit by the paint and taken out of ‘the game’ but instead what would happen to him if he saw her get hit in his current state of mind.

“This has to be one of the traps that they…” she said softly. “Come on.” She crawled along the forest floor, until she could no longer hear the impact of the sniper’s fire and knew that he’d, at least for the moment, lost them or turned his attention to another, perhaps easier target.

She finally rose to her feet again and quickly scanned the immediate vicinity for somewhere with better cover. There was nowhere completely protected but there was a small clearing surrounded by a mess of large trees nearby. The clutter as the branches had become entangled made aiming through them nearly impossible and made it completely unsuited to use as somewhere to fire from. There was only one gap large enough to let anything, or anyone, in. Similarly there was only one way out, making it a very bad place to try to hide. Hopefully that would mean no one would be looking there.

“Come on, Rada.” She repeated the words firmly to him, completely unsure if he was even capable of hearing her given the look upon his face.

She realized she was still dragging her gun. Force of habit, she supposed, after all her training and years in Starfleet. She continued to carry it if for no other reason than because she knew if it were found then it could draw attention here. After a couple of steps she looked back to confirm he was following her and he was, he knew she was just trying to help him and help was something he desperately felt he needed.

It was a short hurried walk in which neither spoke, but it was more than enough for something in Rada to have changed greatly by the time they’d arrived at their destination.

At the instant they’d stepped through the small opening between the trees in to this dark area that was as humid as outside but at least a little more secluded, he seemed very much to have awoken. His breathing had gotten heavier. His heart was pounding. He stepped to the location of the farthest trees and then turned and continued to pace quickly. Then finally he stopped himself as he turned back to Kellyn.

She wasn’t speaking; just looking at him with the haunting concern of a woman knowing Rada had worse problems than even he did. At first he tried to force a laugh, to shrug off the issue, but remembering whom he was dealing with he thought better.

He reached down to his water container with slightly shaking hands and brought it up to his mouth, allowing just enough to slip down his throat to take the feeling of friction from the surface.

He sighed heavily as he screwed the lid back on the bottle and then, after a brief pause, spoke as honestly as he could.

“I…I feel so guilty.”

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


Commander Lair Kellyn
Engineering Research and Development
The Alchemy Project

992: The Ghost’s Confession

by Rada Dengar
Before Still This Emptiness Persists

-=The Afterthought Café; USS Serendipity=-

Melancholy eyes stared into the distance that wasn’t before them. This café was really not a large place and tonight when she was here alone it seemed even more claustrophobic than usual. The customers were gone. Fleur was home with the children, also looking after Tam, likely grateful for the company as by now she must have been truly missing the man she loved. Wren could have felt rather bitter right now that she would soon get hers back but she accepted there could be little comfort in jealousy that misery couldn’t more swiftly provide.

Twice already she’d checked the illumination settings with the computer as nothing here seemed as bright as it normally did. Something was missing from the atmosphere in this ship. It was true that the customers could make that atmosphere and many of the most influential were off the ship right now. She could not expect the irreverence of Dabin Reece to light up the place. Even Ashton Ledbetter, who to his credit had a great synchronising effect almost to the point of beauty on the moods of all around, wasn’t here right now to be of comfort. However from the moment she’d opened the door it was Wren who set the mood for the day. This was not a day for good moods.

It was late anyway, or at least what counted for late here on the Sera, and normally she’d not have even bothered to be open right now. It truth, a truth she’d not share with herself, she’d only come here in order that she could be alone without feeling it was by her own hand. At the loneliest of times one of the hardest things anyone can do is to forgive themselves for choosing isolation.

At least here she could pretend to be working. She could fake a reason or justification for why she bothered to be alive in those small hours when she had no one else to act for. Slowly she made circles with the cloth in her hand along the counter, barely pressing down hard enough to clean it but deep down knowing it didn’t need cleaning anyway.

By the gods she felt disgusted at how much of a failure she’d become. She knew it was her fault he wasn’t here. If she’d only been a little stronger then she would have woken up and made him rest before he was ever forced to go against everything he stood for just to protect her from the Domox’ assault. It was to her utterly ridiculous but then even in being alone now she had failed.

It was the single greatest curse of Betazed that even now she felt like she was surrounded by people as a ghost floating along the decks of the Sera, unable to be seen by the countless many on this ship but observing them all as they went casually about their day to day lives. Their words were a distorted blur just as they were all too far away for her to overhear their thoughts as any more than whispers carried on the silent still breezes of these halls. It only stood to remind her how she was on the outside looking into their realm where she’d once been.

There was a couple nearby so deeply in love; their affections like soft laughter emanating from a corner on jokes no one else would understand. That laughter could warm the heart of one fondly remembering young love, or seem to mock another for whom it was lost.

Some were sleeping. Few were dreaming. One had just woken startled with fear from a nightmare. Soon he’d discover this was reality and that his fears had all slipped away. She did truly envy that man.

What exactly had him so frightened was a mystery she cared not to solve as the images in the minds around her were just vague background noise as impossible to understand as it was to avoid. Most Betazoids had trained themselves to silence the background noise when it was time to rest. Wren however had no such relief, instead having always tried to gain from it just that little more understanding.

Sometimes she just wished them all to be gone; it was so hard to keep up the front for all of them of the more acceptable levels of pain. It was Rada’s fault in his way that she couldn’t escape them now. His mind had always so fascinated her but especially at the start he’d kept it locked away. He believed it to be like a broken portrait better hidden so as not to attract the mockery of those more talented artisans, whereas she’d immediately seen it as a powerfully vulnerable masterpiece that simply needed to be guarded to ensure it’d always be there.

In the earliest days that guard was so rarely down when he knew a telepath was around, but the second he felt he was out of her range the defences could drop and so she would listen in. Then one day he was gone, she’d pushed him away, and she would use those skills to listen hopelessly for another its kin. It was an utterly futile search.

With sad frustration she sighed, wondering what he was thinking right now. She’d already accepted it couldn’t be of her. She was after all just that strange waitress that he barely knew.

-=Base Camp of the Serendipity Crew, Sibalt=-

“Danger?” Liis’ voice rose slightly accusingly as she spoke, hiding the fear she truly held about the meaning behind Rada’s currently distracted state, knowing everyone here had noticed it and that he’d get more attention by her ignoring it than if she could make him focus now. “Are you listening to me?”

“Yes, Captain.” Rada lied immediately, having at least been trying to that end. Even before he’d finished speaking though his eyes had begun to drift back towards the sky.

He wasn’t even realising he was doing it. It was like the habit of glancing down in search of the time from a watch you’d never owned. He would perhaps have gone on doing it unknowingly for hours if not for the silence in the group gathered around which made him realise he hadn’t been watching to see all eyes turn expectantly over to him.

They were all huddled around a diagram TC Blane had drawn in the dirt before he’d left, setting out the positions they should each take and the areas they all should protect. A straight line represented a path their opponents would be forced to take if they wished to get here into what would at least at first be considered to officially be Serendipity territory. A wavy line indicated the most likely route when they had options of how to travel. Various rocks had been dotted around their small map indicating where they should and where their opponents’ troops were most likely to be.

“Commander Reece and Lieutenant Grace will be moving along here. Commander Blane and the Lieutenant Tubman have already left to take this point.” Rada answered, indicating on the diagram where people were going to be to prove he’d been paying attention when really he was just as he spoke figuring out the map.

“And you?”

“I am to confine myself to this area here.” Rada said, quietly hoping he was correctly remembering the stone that was supposed to be him even though he was struggling to focus enough to care. “We keep distance between us whenever possible. A shot fired at two people together is likely to hit one of them.”

Liis nodded her approval that even if he hadn’t been listening he at least had the awareness to bluff his way along.

“Good. Then if everyone knows where they’re supposed to be...” she said, pausing to scan the faces of the people around to confirm this was actually the truth. “Then there’s no point in us waiting around here all day.” She waved her hand in a gesture to push them away. “Everyone move out.”

With her order the circle quickly began to disperse, except of course for Liis who took the time to rub the plans out with her foot and her husband who wasn’t about to leave her side. Rada was one of the last to remain as once again his thoughts turned to the sky. He didn’t know what he was thinking of in that moment, just that the thought was there.

It was only the briefest of pauses before he turned away prepared to pick up his weapon and travel to his territory, but evidently it was a pause one instant too long. Keiran and Liis exchanged a glance that seemed to silently debate which one of them it should be. Evidently, the Irishman was the final decision.

“Lad, are ya sure yer alright?” Keiran asked quietly approaching Rada, not one to draw attention to another man’s suffering when he didn’t want it even if that suffering was clear to everyone but the man himself.

Even in the momentary pause Rada’s mind had had a chance to get far enough from their reality that he seemed startled to be brought back into this place.

“Yes, sir.” He answered immediately with a little surprise before quickly trying to make if not keep the mood light. “I know it might seem strange for a man who just got out of a coma but I think the lack of sleep last night really knocked me about.”

Keiran’s eyes flashed knowingly and Rada quickly regretted that he’d given his insomnia away.

“Somethin’ on yer mind?”

Rada allowed himself just a moment to ask himself that same question before he shook his head that there wasn’t.

“No, sir. If there was something there I certainly can’t remember.”

Keiran simply nodded that he accepted this as the truth though Rada had no idea how true it was.

“Right then,” Keiran said, mustering all the encouragement he could find as he silently looked Rada over again to make sure he really was alright “of ya go.”

“Aye, sir.” Rada acknowledged quietly his mind already drifting back to the sky as he moved off to join in the game.

-=Afterthought Café=-

Wondering for so long about Rada’s thoughts Wren felt like she’d asked a question the emptiness around had outright refused to answer. Once more she took her comfort and consolation in what had become a now common pursuit; she planned for how she’d get his thoughts and the rest of him back.

As always this started with their first meeting as she wondered how she’d recreate the experience. Arranging for a group of sporting hooligans to threaten to injure him was not something she could easily do and even if it had been she realised it’d likely not earn her much of his affection.

She smiled to herself at how memorable and how perfect it’d been in its very weird way. It’d been the most incredible catalyst which would rapidly bring about their love. It wasn’t just that day, it was every one after which brought them together and made him open up to her as he’d done with no one else.

Then her smile evaporated as she realised how perfect it’d been.

It’d been too perfect; too perfect to recreate.

It’d been too perfect to ever capture again.

Her heart began pounding faster as she realised she could likely never make him fall in love with her again.

He was frightened of her reading his mind.

She could barely speak to him for fear of what would happen if she chose the wrong word.

The cloth dropped from her hand as she realised she couldn’t and decided she wouldn’t wait anymore.

Quickly, she shut off the lights and locked the door behind her as she headed with rapid steps to the nearest turbolift she could find. She ordered it to take her to her quarters and as soon as she arrived she headed in search of what she would need for what could barely even be referred to as a plan.

She took a sheet of paper from the drawer near her bed and slapped it down on the table before her. With shaking hands she rapidly started to write, not even thinking about the words she was putting down. All she could think was that when he arrived back on the ship the first thing he’d do would be to see her confessions of love.

He was strong, she decided, and just as he’d promised she’d always be able to she would have to rely on his strength when she didn’t have her own. He would have to find a way to be okay with his memory intact when she couldn’t be okay without it.

Once her message was finished she folded it in half, shoved it in an envelope and sealed it away. Mere seconds later she was standing outside of his door.

She looked left, she looked right, uncertain of why she felt shame at the idea that she could be caught. The coast was clear so she quickly bent down and pushed the envelope through under the door. She watched her hand moving independently like it was someone else’s and the instant the envelope was gone she felt physically sick.

In a panic she tried to push her finger under, to reach it and pull it back out, but it was already too far gone. She fell back against the wall with her heart almost pounding out of her chest. Gods, what the hell had she just done?

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

991: A Day In The Life

by Mellice Cem and Keiran O'Sullivan
Following Set Free


Special Assignment Event Log: Lt. Mellice Cem.
Stardate 91105.00

It appears that my timing so far couldn't have been more perfect.
Especially when it came to testing the two crews as to if they could truly figure out that someone other than Jelca and her staff was behind the sudden storms and high winds that have plagued their combined efforts to set up base camp most of this evening.

I believe I managed to pretty thoroughly confuse them at this point. They put Samson to work on the faulty grid- and I went to work on Samson from afar and by remote.

I manipulated the controls and just as he was getting really frustrated I then simply shut the rain off completely.

I think he thought he'd successfully hacked into the system, but he's going to get a rude awakening coming tomorrow if he tries it again. He may think he was successful (or at least may be reluctant to admit that he didn't really do anything if he does know it) but in any event, later he'll discover it's not so easy to turn down the sauna-type heat I've got planned for tomorrow's
ground combat exercise.

I suspect that in the next few days as the games wear on, that I'll really be putting myself into the thick of things and I'm looking forward to it.

Indeed this has been the most fun I've had in quite some time now.

The holographic blind that went offline exposed the hot spring that I found to use as a natural hot bath. I waited until both the men and women of each team had gone before getting one myself to clean up with. Truly this minor set-back nearly exposed my hidden base camp but with some quick thinking and even faster moving I managed to avoid detection by either team.

I have moved my base camp further into the woods and have found another hot spring to use as a bath. Jelca and her command staff have been informed of the now faulty blind. I hope they can either repair or remove it without the others seeing it.

Mellice finished his typing, shut off the PADD he had out and he then placed it back inside his pack.

"Tomorrow will be an interesting day..." he thought aloud.

He sat before his fire while the fish he had caught in the river cooked in his small camp pan. Taking up the spatula, he flipped the fillets over so they could finish cooking. "Very interesting."

-=Base Camp of the Serendipity and Alchemy Crews=-

Keiran O'Sullivan watched his wife as she once again stood across from him, on the opposite side of the largest fire pit at the campsite.

He knew very well the look in her eyes.

It was a look that told him that her mind was far away and yet, the smile that had just begun to slightly raise the corner of her mouth told him that she was finding her way back.

O'Sullivan's own eyes moved along, taking in the sight of the officers crowded around the crackling flames. The weather net had finally, mercifully, shut off the rain and that seemed to have improved everyone's mood quite a bit.

So had the baths in the hot springs and putting some food in their stomachs, even if those meals were only standard Starfleet rations.

Watching them, he couldn't help but shake his head in wonder. Each member of this team was so unique, such an integral part of the whole that he had no trouble at all understanding why Liis loved her crew so much.

The crew of the Serendipity truly was one of a kind.

When Keiran's stare met with Vol Tryst's, he slowly lowered his head in a nod of thanks. Whatever the Counselor had said to Liis it had apparently helped her a lot, and for that O'Sullivan could be nothing but grateful.

The Betazoid smiled gracefully, inclining his head as if to say, 'that's what I'm here for'.

Keiran was so focused on communicating his thanks to Tryst that he was unaware his wife had started towards him. He was pleasantly surprised as Liis came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her chin against the the back of his shoulder.

"What are you thinking?" She asked softly. He brought his arms in, enclosing hers as she continued to hug him.

"Was thinkin' that these are some of the very best people I've ever had the privilege ta know."

-=The Next Morning=-

"Are ya reall'a gonna do this to 'em, Liis?" Keiran cringed. "A bugle would be a hellofa lot kinder, yeah?"

She grinned at him wickedly, wiggling her eyebrows. "I know."

She raised the small electronic amplification device to her lips, being sure that it was set to 'echo' so that if the volume of her voice didn't startle them, the resonance of her words would.

She sighed softly, taking in the beauty of the hazy sunrise, enjoying the last bit of silence of the still, undisturbed planet around her.

She took in a long deep, cleansing breath.

"RISE and SHINE!" She shouted with glee.

Groans, screams of shock, and various grumbles of the
discontent emanated from the tents surrounding where she stood.

"Get up, get dressed, and get out here. We've got our work cut out for us this morning."

TC Blane, who had been up for awhile already, poked his head out of his tent. He'd won the draw to have a tent to himself last night, and so had really managed to sleep rather well. He felt rested and ready for the challenges of the day.

He approached, whistling a few bars of Reveille, and nodded to her and Keiran each in turn. He eyed the pile of weapons that was on the ground before them. "Target practice?" He inquired hopefully.

"Simple rules, last man standing is declared winner and takes all for their team." Zanh explained, then she frowned slightly to TC. "Tryst is going to have an advantage here."


"Yeah, that. Also, he is damn good at a game similar to this back at home..." Zanh explained. "We're gonna have to watch out for that one. He's full of surprises."


As she stumbled out of her shared tent, Lair Kellyn grumbled. She took the water bottle she'd filled from the hot spring last night, long since gone cold, and dumped it over her face in an attempt to wash the sleep from her eyes. She considered it highly ironic there could be any need to do so since she had really not slept much at all.

She shivered and shook her head, trying to clear her mind of the fog that seemed to have seeped into it from the very ground around her overnight.

She was soon greeted by the very perky voice of Jamie Halliday as she stumbled somewhat blindly onward.

"Any advice for me?" he asked brightly. "It seems our next game involves firearms and I know you're very good with them."

"Yeah." Lair grumbled. How he could possibly be so awake so early in the morning and so happy to be here was beyond her ability to comprehend. "Don't get shot."

Lieutenant (jg) Mellice Cem
Assistant Security/Tactical Chief
USS Revolution NCC-71605-A
Games Saboteur


=^= Keiran O'Sullivan
Security Liaison
The Alchemy Project

990: Set Free

by Vol Tryst and Zanh Liis and Trev Sterling
During and after Sage Advice

-=Base Camp on Sibalt=-

"I don't know, February." As he pushed two tent poles together and turned them until they clicked into place, Trev Sterling almost frowned. "He just doesn't seem that into the idea."

"Oh, he's into the idea." Bru replied, handing him the material that she had unfolded that would cover the frame of the tent. "What's your game plan?"

"This time I have no plan."

Bru made a noise somewhere between a shocked squeak and a disappointed sigh. "You always have a plan!"

"Yes. But if you try a plan on a telepath..." Trev sighed. "They know it's a plan and you're doomed at the start."

"Point taken."

February watched as Dabin absentmindedly tried three times to secure the canvas of the tent he was working on to the pole and failed. Now she really did sigh.

"What's the matter with the Science Guy?" Trev asked, jerking his head in the direction of Dabin.

"Don't know." February bit her lip and frowned, an expression that seemed completely unnatural to the normal, optimistically upturned features upon her face. "But there's something. His mind is fogged. I have to go see what's up."

"Well foggy mind or not..." Trev widened his eyes at Bru teasingly, taking his chance to comment at last on the 'tactics' that Vol had used during the tug of war. She'd just confided that the Betazoid was definitely not above hitting below the belt. "The Counselor is right. Dabin is irresistible."

"Shut up." Bru said, pushing him playfully. Trev simply laughed, brushed the sweat and mud dampened bangs back out of his eyes, and continued working.

A short time later, he found himself sitting in front of a small fire that he'd set up in front of the tent he and Vol were assigned to share. Vol, who was inside the tent making clucking noises with his tongue and mumbling softly, popped his head out from the opening.

Trev sipped his warm beverage from a small metal cup and he kept his eyes on the flames.

"You're hogging my side of the tent." Vol accused.

"I am not." Trev replied simply.

"You are to. Your sleeping bag was over the line past the pole which is the clear demarcation of the middle point. I moved it."

"Thank you, I think." Trev said, almost resigning sigh escaping his lips.

"Something the matter?" Vol inquired, stepping out of the tent as he did so.

"No, just exhausted from today." Trev lied.

Vol sat on a log right across from the fireplace from where Trev now sat. Vol said nothing as he simply stared at Trev through the flames with raised eyebrows. It took Trev a moment, after looking a Vol's expression, before he realized his mistake.

"I suppose nobody can successfully lie to a Betazoid, can they?"

Vol silently and slowly shook his head from side to side, a small smile forming on his lips.

It quickly faded though when he felt a strong rush of emotions- one so strong that it nearly overwhelmed his sensitive Betazoid senses.

Trev immediately responded to the change in Vol's expression. "Vol, are you all right?"

"I am." he said slowly, scanning the immediate area for the person whose emotions had become so quickly and clearly evident to him.

It was a very familiar mind- a pattern of thought that he knew well and so to feel it so distressed struck him as being very wrong.

"I have to...excuse me." Vol rose and immediately moved away. The woman whose mind had reached out unintentionally to his was not far from him- though the moment he called her on what she was feeling, she would wish that she was.

Vol swept up behind her before she was aware that anyone was there.

She was standing in the shadows.

The rain had stopped, and Vol didn't know if they had the Gods or the Science geeks to thank for it, but either way, he was grateful.

The woman before him cared not in this moment whether it poured. In fact, she was so far away in her thoughts now that Vol was certain that the sun could've broken through the clouds and begun to shine as brightly as it would at noon in the middle of the night here and she would not have noticed that, either.


Zanh jumped, sloshing coffee out of her cup and onto the toes of her boots.

"Vol, I swear, one day-" She turned toward him, and the look in his eyes told her not to even attempt to do what she was thinking of attempting doing.

"Please." He said softly. "You know that you need to talk about this. Don't try to push it away, or push me away for that matter. You know I can be very insistent about these things."

"That I do." Zanh replied, sounding a lot like her husband as she said it. The very man who was, at this exact second, standing across from her on the other side of the firepit where most of the Sera crew had assembled now and was alternately bartering food items, telling stories about past missions or even attempting to carry a tune when someone suggested a sing along.

The moment the last suggestion had been made, Keiran's head had snapped up to take in the countenance of his wife; and he found the look in her eyes to be just as sad as he feared it may be. He mouthed her name to her, hoping to catch her eye and remind her where she truly was. She was among friends here, she was safe and this was not the kind of camp that she remembered so well from the days of her childhood.

Now her eyes finally met his and though he was no telepath, he didn't really need to be to read her. He could read her like a book, chapter and verse. He nodded slowly, encouragingly, to her. She knew what that meant. He was asking her to talk with the Counselor.

"Captain, let's talk." Vol suggested, with the gently insistant finesse she knew so well. He was truly surprised that she offered no further resistance to the idea. She mutely followed as he led her forward back toward the smaller fire across the way where only Trev was sitting.

"Mister Sterling..." Zanh began when she saw him, "If I might beg your indulgence, do you think we could sit here for a few minutes and talk, Vol and I?"

"Of course, Captain." Trev rose, pausing to nod to Vol before moving to join the others around the larger fire.

Zanh slowly sank to the log, and Vol sat beside her.

"What did you see in the fire, Zanh Liis, that frightened you so?"

She knew that there was no point in pretending now. "I saw my past. And I saw her."

Vol's ears perked up. "You saw Naloy?" He was intrigued by this; the Captain had not mentioned having felt, whether real or imagined, the presence of her grandmother in some time. She had even told him at a point that she felt she'd never see her the same way as she had before in dreams again.

Zanh nodded, and the chain on her earring jingled softly. "She was sitting there, before the fire, clear as day, Vol. Just as I remember her." Liis shook her head in disbelief. "I didn't know if I'd 'see' her again. But I did and she was." she paused, and he noticed her eyes took on a glimmer that threatened tears but did not actually create them.

"She smiled at me. She nodded slowly, and she looked at all around her. All around us." She whispered the rest, uncertain that she could even believe what she was saying herself let alone that Vol would. "She looked at each person by the fire, and then she looked over at. At."

Subconsciously Vol let a hand run up and down Zanh's arm in order to provide some sort of comfort. He'd already surmized what name was coming up next.

Her throat tightened, but she fought for the words.

"She looked at Keiran." Vol concluded, knowing that only one person could stir such deeply felt emotions in the woman before him. Again, Liis nodded.

"She did, she looked at him and she gave me a look, I can't describe it to you other than to say it's the one I remember that she gave when she was very much pleased by something." Liis voice faltered, and she cleared her throat before continuing. "She looked at him, then at me, and she nodded very slowly."

Now her eyes did hold tears. "She gave us her blessing, and then she told me that I didn't need her anymore. That I'd set her free, and that she could be at peace."

Liis head dropped into her hands. "She said that...or thought, or..." she rubbed her eyes then looked back at Vol. "She said that she'd always be within me when I wanted to remember her, but that I didn't need to hold onto the sorrow any longer. That we were both free." Tears spilled down her cheeks and Zanh furtively brushed them away.

Vol's arm now traveled the length of Zanh's upper back as he held her in a semi-hug type of embrace. He allowed a little time to pass, so that the Captain could fully appreciate all that she'd just said. After a moment or two, Vol simply said,

"Personally, I don't know what she was talking about. How can you both be free when you're both on this bloody planet."

Zanh wasn't in the right head-space for humour just now. She heard the joke, understood that it was quite funny, but her face and feelings just would go for it. She looked up into Vol's eyes, her own silently asking for his forgiveness.

"Oh come now." Vol shrugged it off and fully embraced Zanh now. His chin rested on her shoulder as her's did on his. "This is no time to be sad Captain, this is a time to rejoice." Vol comfortably grabbed onto Zanh's arms, moving back so that he could look into her eyes.

"It is not an end, it is the beginning." Vol smiled.

Zanh knew than the Betazoid was right, but her heart wouldn't give in just yet. For a moment, she wished she was back on the Sera in the comfort of her ready room and the halls of her ship instead of this planet. Looking back at Vol, and hearing the words, whispers and laughs from those in the area, she realized that she had deceived herself. She didn't want to be back aboard the ship, at least not more than she wanted to be with her crew, her support, which is exactly where she was.

A smile finally formed on her lips, and she subconsciously let her hand squeeze Vol's. As if it provided some sort of assurance that, if he was still there and real, then so was the rest of her . . . of her family.

"Would you like to join the others Captain?" Vol nudged without pressure. The Captain let out a long sigh of mixed emotions when she finally nodded.

Vol was right, and it was true, this was a beginning. She would always remember Naloy, but her departure meant that Zanh had to move on from her.

As she neared the larger fire, and made eye contact with several members of both teams, she knew there was no other group of peopel she'd rather be moving on with. What was even more reassuring was the thought that Naloy most certainly would continue watching over Zanh, and she was going to need it when it came to tomorrow's challenge for the Sera and the Alchemy teams.

Lieutenant Vol Tryst
Ship's Counselor
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


-=/\=- Zanh Liis O'Sullivan
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

989: Sage Advice

by TC Blane and Zanh Liis
Following Tastes Like Dirt

-=Base Camp on Sibalt=-

TC had made three rotations checking on both teams to make sure everyone‘s shelters had been set up correctly. He was impressed in how well everyone had been jumping in to assist their team mates as well as their opponents.

Satisfied that no one would be left in the rain due to a poorly constructed shelter he had turned his attention to getting a fire going so that the team could be at least wet and warm. With any luck the weather would have been programmed to let up or even stop and everyone could at least get their socks dried out before the next days events started.

Having collected wood from the surrounding forest he neatly stacked it in the somewhat dry confines of his tent. He then picked a central location nearby and began to dig a wide shallow hole, tossing aside the wet grass and leaves. He took the muddy soil from the hole and stacked it neatly around the parameter of his new fire pit to form a sort of low wall.

Taking small rocks that he had scavenged, he formed two rings, a small one in the center made with the smallest of the rocks and a larger one that ringed the edge of the fire pit by setting them into the mud ring.

“Playing in the dirt, Thomas?” Zanh’s voice sounded from behind him.

TC looked up. “You could say that.” He stood and walked over to the tent and retrieved three pieces of relatively old wood and returned to his project. Kneeling back down in the wet ground he broke the wood into smaller pieces and stacked them neatly on top of the smaller ring of rocks.

“Anything I can do to help?” She asked.

TC looked back and noticed that she was holding one of the emergency food rations that she had wisely brought with her. “Yeah, give me your food ration.” He held out his hand.

Liis paused and pursed her lips as if she was really considering whether or not she should. But he knew her well enough to know she was only teasing him. "Hmmm, I don't know. I had my heart set on the dessicated mac and cheese." Finally, she grinned as she handed over the bright yellow packet. "Hungry?"

"Yes." He ripped open the packet with his teeth. "But not for a cold meal." He reached in and pulled out the individual packet that contained the entree and desert packs and handed them back to his captain.

He kept the accessory packet that contained salt, pepper, a small chemical heater bag, matches, a small packet of coffee, creamer, hand cleaner, matches and toilet paper.

"Hey, I want something in trade for that pasta." Zanh demanded.

"Such as?"

"Gimme your coffee."

"I think I've just been swindled." Blane laughed, before he tossed the packets more at her than to her. She caught them and tucked them into the pocket of her vest before putting her hands together and tilting them toward him in a gesture of thanks. "Though if you really wanted a good deal, I'd have advised that you shop our health and beauty aids section."

"Thanks but need I remind you who I'm married to?" Zanh asked. "The man packed enough hand sanitizer and kleenex to disinfect and wipe the noses of an entire army."

He smiled as he separated out the meal's chemical heater bag and the matches. The heater bag was used to heat up the main entree by adding water to the powered chemical in the bag which caused a reaction generating heat. He handed the remaining contents to Liis. "It's not noses that concern me." Blane's ice blue eyes flashed mischievously. "Well you can add the rest of this to your collection. Don't lose the TP. You'll thank me later."

"I think that may be the best tactical advice for this sort of thing anyone's ever given me." Zanh answered dryly.

Pulling a rather wicked looking knife from his boot he cut open the heater bags the dumped the powered contents onto the wet wood and let it dissolve. It immediately started to warm up. He then stuck the match off of his boot and touched it to the log and the chemical flashed into flame. The wet log sputtered and crackled but eventually caught and began to burn in spite of the wet conditions.

TC stood and tossed the spent match into the slowly growing flames. "Modern chemistry defeats Mother Nature."

"Hail the conquering chemists." Zanh joked. "Enjoy your dinner, I've got to go. Oh, wait. I came here for a reason actually." Zanh paused. "That control panel that you found, and thank you by the way I know the Alchemy crew is very grateful for the chance to wash the mud off."

"I live to serve." Blane replied, poking at the food and looking for steam. Finding none, he frowned. "Maybe I should just use my phaser on this. What about the panel?"

"Do you think that it could be hijacked?"

"To what end?"

"To shut off the freaking rain."

"If anyone could do it, Samson could." Blane said after a moment's consideration.

"Damn, I gave him to the other guys." Zanh frowned.

"Well, we're still one camp tonight...maybe he can be persuaded."

"Persuaded, huh? What do you suggest?"

"Well there are generally two major types of persuasion in the universe, my kind and your kind, which do you think he is most likely to react to?" He smiled.

"We should probably try mine first," Zanh grinned, "then resort to yours if all else fails. After all...we don't want to scare him to death when..."

"...only half to death will do the job." Blane concluded.

Zanh nodded her approval. "Yes. You see, Thomas? This is why we work so well together."

Commander TC Blane
Second Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


-=/\=- Zanh Liis O'Sullivan
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012