“Lieutenant.” He sat behind the table in the briefing room as I entered, and I tilted my head ever so slightly to the left as I looked him over in evaluation.
“You’re not Sharad.” A smirk pulled at my lips as I settled in the chair across the way from him, and his eyes met mine — blue-green not unlike my own. There was a silence as we both looked the other over, and he fiddled with his PADD. His hair was dark but greying at the temples, his uniform immaculate with commanders pips shining like a new penny, and spots not unlike my own—though darker—marked him as Trill.
“You’ve been talking to Spiegel.”
“Not about the debriefing.” I grinned wide and was met with a silent stare for my troubles, so I settled back in my chair and crossed my arms. “This already doesn’t feel like your garden variety debriefing.”
“You’ve been spending too much time around Spiegel.” Though his face was unreadable, I was certain I detected a touch of amusement in his voice.
“Most of the colorful metaphor in my arsenal predate my knowing that spiky haired dork.”
“I do recall the dedication of his book mentioned you as an invaluable resource for a non-human perspective.”
“It’s scary how far that book of his has traveled already,” I muttered, and noted a raised eyebrow across the table, so I cleared my throat. “You know, I haven’t even bothered to skim the thing. Everything I know about it is based upon listening to him quote page numbers at the Blue Bastard.”
There was a pregnant pause before he coughed. “You really shouldn’t talk about your superior officers like that.”
“Calling someone who shot me in the back that is hardly the worst thing in my record.”
“I did skim the report filed by Commander Navarro after the incident.”
“Do I want to know how horribly she characterized me?” I rolled my eyes and across the table he chuckled, so I tilted my head to the side.
“Let’s just say there’s a very good reason she’s on Milliways.”
Silence stretched out between us again, and I tried to just wait him out, but as the moments rolled past and I watched him watch me, it started to bug me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what about him bugged me — and he really bugged me.
“Are you one of Johnson’s pets?”
“As much so as you are.” He laughed when I growled at him, and he folded his hands together over his PADD as he leaned forward. “Zach and I have known each other a long time. It’s more likely you could consider him my pet, than the other way around.”
“That must be handy, having brass in your pocket.” I rolled my eyes again, and briefly wondered how much more of this I could take before they just rolled out of my sockets and across the floor. He chuckled in that insufferable way that someone who considers themself to be better than you does when they’re not amused by what you said, but by the fact that you dared say it. I sneered at him.
“I can see why Zach likes you, Diz.” There was a pause — intentional, done more for affect than anything else I would bet. “Is it okay if I call you Diz?”
“I’d be more inclined to say yes if I knew your name.”
He grinned as if I’d just made a tactical jab, and I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Where are my manners? You may call me Voralis Cryn.”
“Manners don’t seem to be a requirement for those Johnson surrounds himself with.”
“You would know, you certainly test the limits of social graces.” He chewed his lip as his eyes darted over me again. “Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”
“My mother wears combat boots and eats men like you for breakfast.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“What would you know of my mother?”
Silence. So I pointedly met his gaze, and he didn’t flinch away like I expected.
“More than you’d think.” He finally blinked and looked down at his PADD.
“What’s your game?” I stood up, leaning across the table, bracing myself on my arms.
“Game?” He drew back on his chair, crossing his arms as he looked up at me with a sly smile.
“Someone like me, the fleet is gonna drop on a station like 668 to rot, not cherry pick for assignments that scratch all my violent itches and let me indulge my vices. Not let me play with special prototypes like the Obama.” Another measure of silence sat between us, this one you could cut with a knife. “You’re supposed to be debriefing me, but what are we doing?”
“Okay, let’s talk about what happened. Tell me about crossing over to the other universe.” He collected his PADD, and looked up at me expectantly. I stared at him a long moment, being thrown by how quickly he’d shifted gears, and the apparent ease with which he did it. I finally sat down with a sigh.
“It was pretty much a non-event.” I looked down at my hand as I started to speak, inspecting my nails. When I looked up again, he nodded at me to encourage me to continue. “One moment I’m piloting the runabout—doing some shakedown maneuvers in the Denorious Belt—the next the power cuts out. It was only out for a moment, but the comm traffic was all wrong when power returned.”
“Why would you notice the comm traffic?” He made a note on the PADD, and set it down on the table as he folded his hands on top of it. I shifted in my chair, pushing back from the table just a little bit.
“Spiegel tossed together a program for me, back when we served together on the Rothmore. It monitors comm traffic and informs me if anything important comes across.”
“How does it know what’s important? And what about encryption on Federation and Starfleet channels?” He leaned forward with a bit of a grin, and I shifted my chair back again.
“I feed it my security clearance when I open it, and it’s got a kill switch for when I’m not at my station or if someone without clearance gets too close. He said he tied it to internal sensors. It just hides itself if I step away from the station, but if someone who shouldn’t have access tries– well, it looks like it’s crashed.”
His eyebrow went up again as he collected his PADD and made some more notes. “And how does it know what’s of interest?”
“I can configure it with key words, phrases, and frequencies to watch for. Got like a dozen presets, and it’s easy enough to adjust or add new ones on the fly.”
“And Spiegel just… threw it together for you?” He looked up from the PADD, and there was a brief moment where I could have sworn I caught that gleam in his eye that I always saw when Spiegel or Corey would ask about something they were fascinated with. It was gone so fast that I wasn’t even sure it was there to start with. I shrugged the question off.
“He said he had updates he could push, but we haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet.”
Silence settled between us again, and this time I was determined to leave it with him to cut it this time. Given how it’d gone so far, I expected to glean more by waiting to see where he took things than if I tried to guide the conversation. I wasn’t keen to talk about some of what happened in the mirror universe, so if he wanted to wander off behind the potted plant to fuck the dog instead of debrief me…
“Who’s idea was the program?”
“I used to just leave an open comm when on away missions, scanning through frequencies that I had reason to believe had activity I’d find of interest. When Spiegel started being paired with me for away missions regularly during the Klingon war, he expressed a desire to get the same data without the literal noise.”
“And where’d that habit develop?”
“While I worked with a freighter company, before I joined Starfleet. Orion pirates never seemed to learn to keep their traps shut when approaching, so…” I glanced up at the ceiling — I half expected to see one of those pendant lamps overhead they always used in those old movies for interrogations. When I looked down again, I caught his eyes moving down from the ceiling also. Did he look up when I did?
“At least the ones who were picking up small fish like freighters. Now that you mention it, I do remember your service record saying that was your occupation before Starfleet.”
“This definitely isn’t a garden variety debrief,” I muttered, then looked at him. “Why would you need to read my service record?”
“You have a reputation, I like to be prepared.”
“A reputation?” I snorted as I slouched in my chair and crossed my legs. He set his jaw as he looked at me. “So, what are the rumors like these days?” I smirked, and he frowned. “They’re usually a riot, and I could use a laugh.”
He looked at the PADD, then sighed. “A few of your former crew mates from the Remington believe you’re the devil incarnate.” I waited for him to look up, but he didn’t.
“One of them happens to be the step brother of the kid in sickbay who foams green slime when he’s nervous — though he really seems to know his shit during a medical emergency. Old news.” With that, he got eye roll number three of the debriefing.
“Others call you a black widow — a bit dramatic, if you ask me, as only one of your past lovers has turned up dead.” When he looked up, I fixed him with a glare and he smirked at me. “Speaking of him, shall we continue this debriefing? Your report mentioned you ran into his double while you were in the mirror universe.”
“I said everything there was to say in my report.”
He glanced down at the PADD again. “Of everyone your team encountered, he seemed the most capable, and he seemed the one most likely to succeed if he wanted to prevent your return to our universe — not to mention taking our prototype runabout. Yet he seemed satisfied flirting with you. You claimed he’d never met your analog, yet he knew exactly what to do to provoke you — get under your skin is how you put it in your report, I believe?”
“Is there a question there?”
“Why do you think he paid you so much attention, instead of working with the others who did have the goal of keeping you, your team, and our technology?”
“jav, vagh, loS, wej, cha’, wa’.” I counted down under my breath, and though I pointedly looked away from him, I could see him staring at me out of the corner of my eye. I took a breath, and still pointedly didn’t meet his gaze. “He didn’t like Maddie — I certainly couldn’t blame him. When I first encountered him, he’d been looking for Spiegel’s doppelgänger specifically to get his own neck out of the noose with her.”
“That universe’s Storvik was clearly not working for Maddie, why do you suppose Travis didn’t work with him?”
“Vicky was a fucking moron.”
“But your report–”
“Don’t get me wrong, he had the computer skills needed to hack the runabout, but socially speaking?” Eye roll number four. “Vulcans are usually better at dissecting the social nuances of us more illogical and emotional species, so who the fuck knows what happened there. Travis was coordinating with him somewhat, but clearly didn’t trust his pointy-eared ass any more than I did.”
When he didn’t say anything to that, I looked over. He was scrolling through notes on the PADD. Finally he cleared his throat.
“Do you suppose your choice of attire might have affected his actions? You weren’t in uniform.”
“Are you suggesting that I should have gone into a potentially hostile situation in uniform, a uniform that probably would have drawn unwanted attention to me and my team?”
“I get your point.” He cleared his throat as he looked down at the PADD again, then muttered under his breath. “You could have dressed a little less provocatively.”
I snorted. “You sound like a father dressing down his daughter.” A look flashed across his face at that quip, but it was gone as quickly as I noticed and I didn’t dwell on it. “The more normal—by your standards—one dresses in a place like that, the more suspicion they draw. If it weren’t for Spiegel finding Travis, my outfit would have kept attention off him and on me, so he could focus on the shopping list we had.”
“So you’re saying it’s Spiegel’s fault you got captured?”
“No. It was shitty luck. I wish he hadn’t called Noelle to join us, but given how scrambled Travis had me at first, I understand why that was his instinct. Of all the people to run into, and of all the people for him to be looking for… Well, the odds are pretty obscene.”
“That universe is known for being closely related to our own.”
“We didn’t know which universe we were in yet. Technically there are an infinite number of parallel universes, and we hadn’t had the chance to do much recon yet.”
“That universe is the one we have the most known crossover incidents with.”
“However, I’ve also had dealings with a man from a different parallel universe, so I don’t assume I’ve ended up in Starfleet’s pet mirror.”
“That’s right, Vicky isn’t the first Storvik you’ve had dealings with.”
“That in my service record too?” I snorted, and stared up at the ceiling again. “I really need to look at it again, see what crap they’re littering it with these days.”
“You don’t have access to the version I do.”
“You have your sources, I have mine.”
“Mister Spiegel would do well to remember how he ended up in Starfleet to begin with. He’s pushing the bounds of patience.”
I thought back on the conversations I’d had with Spiegel that first time we hung out off duty, where he got trashed on blood wine trying to keep up with me. He’d told me he was strong armed into joining Starfleet after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar of intelligence files he shouldn’t have been able to get into — especially as a teen.
“You should play your cards a little closer to your vest.” I started tapping on the chair — morse code telling him to get the stick out of his ass. When he directed a glare at me, I smiled wide. It didn’t really matter if he actually understood what it meant, or if the tapping itself was sufficient to get under his skin.
“You should be careful too, it would be a shame to see someone with your potential throw it all away chasing ghosts and sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.”
“Is that what happened to my father?” Part of that conversation with Spiegel had touched on the matter of my father — how he’d been listed as missing in action since before I was born, yet Starfleet had long passed that point where it was reasonable to expect his return. As these thoughts rolled through my head, I realized he was sitting in silence. I tilted my head, and that seemed to jar him into responding.
“Such an overactive imagination you have.” The chuckle he punctuated it with didn’t feel genuine, and I was up out of my seat in a flash. My hands slammed on the table, and I leaned forward to get as far into his personal space as I could. He didn’t even flinch as he looked back at me, hands folded on top of his PADD. It took me a long moment to be sure that something other than a string of curses a light year long would escape my lips if I opened them.
“That is one topic I have zero patience left on.” I bared my teeth at him, and he simply sat there and waited. “I’ve gotten nothing but lies, red tape, runaround, and pure bullshit even since I joined this happy fucking fleet family. Fifteen years of that, after twenty of knowing nothing other than my mother still held out hope for his return? You could say I’m a little annoyed.”
I couldn’t say how long I stood there, staring down at him. In that time, he didn’t look away, he didn’t move back. He didn’t seem the least bit put out. Finally he reached up and laid a hand on my shoulder — in other circumstance, that might have lead to me punching him, but I was too utterly shocked that he even dared. So I stared at his hand as he gently pushed me back across the table. I dumbly stood in front of my chair.
“He must be a pretty worthless man, if he’s still alive and hasn’t been in contact with his wife at all.” He folded his hands on his PADD again. “Unless he has contacted her, and she just hasn’t told you. Maybe he had a good reason for staying away?”
“If she knew he was alive, she’d tell me.”
“I know you’re not on the best of terms with your mother.”
“Is that in my service record too?” I threw up my hands with a laugh as I landed in my chair again.
“No, but you just confirmed the rumors for me.”
I growled, and he offered a polite smile to me.
“My father is about the only subject that she and I don’t fight about. If she knew anything, she’d tell me.” I took a deep breath as I looked to the ceiling again. When I looked down again, he was simply sitting there watching me. “Isn’t this supposed to be a debrief about the mirror universe?”
“Let’s talk more about Travis.”
“Sure, fine, keep dragging me through those coals.” I growled and slung a string of Klingon curses at him.
“Watch the language.” His rebuke caused me to stop mid word and I blinked.
“Have the universal translators improved that much without my noticing, or do you actually speak the language?” I leaned forward, head tilted to the left. He chuckled at me.
“I know a few of the important words.”
“Important words.” I made a small noise in the back of my throat. “Some of those important words caused me to have to get a regenerator before I was eleven years old.”
“Don’t tell me that’s in my service record too.” I drug my chair forward and leaned on the table. “Now you’re getting way outside the scope of what Starfleet is going to keep in my service record — especially given that a lot of this stuff you’ve claimed was in there occurred outside of Federation space.” I paused, and when he opened his mouth to say something, I cut him off. “Frankly, I don’t give a shit what your sources are.”
“Oh, don’t go thinking this is because I’m afraid of you, or any of that sort of bullshit. This is just so far beyond the point of ridiculous that I can’t even find the fucks to care. Hell–” I snorted and smirked at him– “I wouldn’t be surprised if among the clutter of this excessive file you have on me is a list of everyone I’ve ever slept with, dated, or both. Probably even their fucking blood types, maybe even rank and serial number where applicable…”
“It’s interesting that the only person on the second list who isn’t also on the first was Patrick, but the first list is orders of magnitude longer than the second.”
“I said I didn’t want to know.” I chewed my lip, then leaned in again as I slapped the table. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
“I don’t exactly have the list memorized.”
“The hell you don’t. I can smell a spook a light year away.”
Our eyes locked, and I waited to see how long until he’d flinch. Finally he sighed and looked down at the PADD.
“Travis, O negative, Toby, A pos, Jack, AB neg…” He paused, fiddling with the PADD. I crossed my arms and settled back in my chair.
“That ain’t even scratching the surface, why stop there?”
“You want me to run through twenty years of your overactive sex life by name and bloodtype?”
“Could you do it in the order I fucked them too?” I smiled wide at him and he drew back just a little. “It would be more productive than this debriefing has been so far.”
“No wonder your mother hates you and your father ran off.”
“You’re oversimplifying, but any way you look at it, those are topics you really shouldn’t disturb unless you want me to walk out that door right now, best case scenario.”
“And worse case?”
“I’ll punch your lights out so hard your children will feel it.”
He immediately broke out in laughter.
“Didn’t you learn your lesson the last time you did that?”
“This time the difference in rank won’t be quite so wide. Besides, do you really think I give a shit if they drum me out? I’d been fully prepared to get expelled from the Academy last time, and pretty sure you’ve better earned it than Paris did.” I shrugged.
“You realize that some of what you’ve already admitted to could be enough for me to make you miserable, right?”
“And you realize that should you bring that crap up, I’ll be able to also bring up that you’ve been baiting me about my parents, as well as the bad carbon copy of the man I still love more than life itself? I know I’ve got nothing to lose I won’t miss, can you say the same?”
He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. “What is wrong with you?”
“Do you want the Starfleet related list, the counselors’ favorite theories list, or just the greatest hits?” He winced at my immediate response.
“Just forget I asked.” He fiddled with his PADD again, and I snorted. “Both earlier, and in your report, you made mention of wanting to deal with Noelle’s analog—Maddie—but not having the chance to do so before the runabout was repaired enough to make the return trip. I’m pretty confident I know what you mean, but I want you to clarify — for the record.”
“I had every intention of killing her.”
He frowned and looked down at his PADD again. “I was afraid you were going to say that.”
“You read my report.” I leaned against the table, tilting my head to the side again. Reading people wasn’t one of my strengths, but even so I wasn’t getting the normal superior officer judging me vibes from him — I felt like he was disappointed with me and concerned for me. “I don’t know if I effectively conveyed just how fucked up Maddie left her, but if you read the report from the medical staff on DS9 maybe you–”
“So you wanted to sink to her level?” The look he fixed me with was as cold and sharp as a knife. “Staying above that is what makes us better than them.”
“Starfleet moral superiority,” I grumbled and shook my head. “But we can and do reduce ourselves to that level, because sometimes that’s the only way to effectively communicate with people like that. What we call being better, being more humane, they call weakness. In the past—after previous crossover incidents—they’ve often pursued us back across the barrier. I was concerned—still am—that Maddie may attempt to pursue us.”
“So you intended to take matters into your own hands and break Federation law?”
“Isn’t that exactly what’s endeared me to Johnson in the first place? My willingness to work around the pesky rules in order to get shit done? Hell, we wouldn’t even have the Blue Bastard right now if I didn’t violate the rules, I disobeyed a direct order to save his ass.”
“I know I’m not the only one confused by your actions during that mission, but let’s not get sidetracked. There’s a large difference between violating orders to save a life, and committing murder.”
“Challenging someone to combat to the death isn’t murder.”
“We’re not in the Klingon empire. You’re a citizen of the Federation and a Starfleet Officer.” He took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“Last I checked, the mirror universe is not within Starfleet’s jurisdiction.”
“You were still representing Starfleet.”
With my fifth eye roll of the briefing, I slumped back in my chair and crossed my arms. “So, is this just gonna be a slap on the wrist and a stern reminder that I need to conduct myself better next time, or…” Since I couldn’t ensure there wouldn’t be a next time, I thought to myself as he watched me a long moment.
“Everything else in your report seemed clear cut enough, so that will be all for now.” He stood up. “Though I do reserved the right to call you back for further debriefing if we need further clarification. No hard feelings?” He held out his hand, and I stared at it a long moment.
“Just a word of advice,” I said as I stood up and clasped it. “Since you hit me as a hands on kind of a man, not an administrative bullshiter, next time? Leave the baiting about family and relationships out when you’re debriefing someone.”
He offered me a half smile as he took his hand back. “I’ll try to keep that in mind, if you’ll try to remember not everyone who outranks you is out to get you.”
“I already knew that, the problem is the sort who usually are also usually expect blind respect and obedience — down that road lies the path to hell, following good intentions.” I didn’t wait for him to formally dismiss me, only pausing just before the door long enough to toss him a sarcastic salute before I left.