Neutral Zone Neutrality
Location: Medbay 3, Artan Bird of Prey, 'The Golden Ghost'
The night on the Golder Ghost had been an extremely frustrating one for Lieutenant Commander Mnhei’sahe Dox.
The crewmembers from the Hera had doubts concerning the observer that Starfleet had assigned from the Starship Persephone, Lieutenant Ayamo Oulette. As her assignment at the last minute was suspicious, the crew worked with the Ghost’s commander, Doctor Helev t’Liun, on setting potential traps to see if their suspicions had any validity.
Both Dox and t’Liun had the secret command codes that would allow anyone to get the coordinates for their final destination, a Rihannsu reunification colony known as Mol Krun’chi. And in a briefing with Oulette, they made sure she knew this fact. Then came the waiting. Dox went to the ships small gym to work out and spar with Az’Prel, as both women were natural fighters, but anxious and tended to deal with their anxiety through more… physical means.
Az’Prel was to protect Dox in the event of an attack, but none came. Instead, Oulette went to the Medbay to meet with t’Liun and go over the parameters of the mission. It was a meeting that went on for hours, but finally served to reveal what they had all feared when Oulette brutally attacked t’Liun to get her command codes and the coordinates of Mol Krun’chi.
But at the moment, that was all that Dox knew and that lack of information was gnawing at the young Rihannsu woman who knew she had been thrust into the middle of something sinister and far beyond her own experiences. She was also a Baroness in the Artan government, and the Ghost had been placed under her barony, making whatever had happened in MedBay very much her business. And she wanted to know exactly what that was.
Still dressed in her simple black exercise clothes, as soon as the intensity of the moment had passed, she was sent a message by the ship’s Doctor and Commander and made her way to t’Liun’s office in the Medbay. By the time she had arrived, Oulette, Rita and Sonak were gone and she entered to see t’Liun cleaning up the mess that was her office.
“Maenek t’Liun. You called to brief me on what happened?” Dox said, referring to the woman by the Rihan rank for ‘Doctor’, as she had expressed her preference. The floor was covered in scattered PaDD’s that t’Liun was picking up to restack, and as she came in, Dox bent down to assist without a second thought.
Immediately, t’Liun stood up to protest, “Please, Baroness… pardon me… Commander. Captain… ugh…” It was clear the woman was stressed after the events of the evening and was stumbling over herself. “I apologize. Please, let me. It is not your duty to clean up my messes.”
Finishing what she was doing, Dox remained calm and offered a mild smile as she placed a stack of PaDD’s neatly on the desk. “It’s no concern, Maenek. Whatever my rank, I can help out in such situations just like anyone else. And don’t worry about rank. If you’re most comfortable with ‘Baroness’, there’s nobody else here to worry about that confusing. Please.”
“My apologies, Baroness. This evening has… set me on edge.” T’Liun admitted as she finished picking up the PaDD’s that were scattered on the floor. She was avoiding eye contact and was clearly stressed. Dox knew something had happened in here that revealed that Oulette was a spy, but she didn’t know the details. But she wanted to find out and never liked seeing those around her upset. She barely knew Helev t’Liun, but the woman had risked herself and her ship to save Dox from ch’Rihan and followed that up by pledging their loyalty to her Barony. That all earned more than a little consideration from the young Starfleet Officer.
“So… this can go two ways, Maenek.” Dox said as she folded her hands behind her back and looked up at the taller woman with a soft expression and a light smile, “I can ask for your official report as your Baroness… or we can just talk and you can tell me what happened.”
From the other side of the narrow desk, t’Liun’s expression was hard to read, but twinged with a bit of what looked like confusion. And now, with t’Liun standing straight up, Dox could see a mild green bruising on the woman’s neck. Noticing the red-headed woman had seen the bruise, t’Liun rubbed it mildly and tried to not stiffen up. “Your… suspicions were correct. Oulette was a spy. We talked for hours, going over all the data and everything about her said she… was meek. Studious. The ideal woman for her job. As we talked, I had become certain that she couldn’t be dangerous.”
Walking over to the door to the main med lab, T’Liun was trying to keep busy as she talked, picking up the blankets that Rita and Sonak had been hiding under in the guise of sleeping patients as had been planned. Dox followed, noticing that the woman’s anxiety seemed to be increasing.
“Then, as she was about to leave, she… changed. Her voice, her body language. Everything. It was as if a switch had been flipped and a different woman was suddenly standing in her body. Her eyes…” T’Liun turned back to Dox while she folded up the blankets. “Her pupils dilated right in front of me and she practically picked me up and shoved me against the wall as if I weighed nothing. It was… unsettling, Baroness. I… I apologize.”
Narrowing her gaze, Dox nodded. “No doubt. Are you okay?”
“Ie, Baroness. I will be fine. I’m just a bit shaken but I’ve dealt with worse. I just need to get some sleep, no doubt.” T’Liun replied, stacking the blankets with her back to Dox as she fidgeted, trying to find something else to do with her hands. It was all very conspicuous to Dox as she watched.
“And so you suspect mental conditioning? From the behavior and the physical cues? Brainwashing?” Dox asked, pointedly.
“I believe so, yes. I’ve encountered it before with people we’ve rescued from the Imperium that have had their minds tampered with. All the symptoms are the same, Baroness.” T’Liun replied as she tried to walk past Dox to the office. But this time, Dox wasn’t allowing it.
“Maenek, stop.” Dox said with a bit of an edge in her voice. As she did, she pointed to one of the medical tables next to them. “Have a seat.”
The woman who wasn’t used to taking orders on her own ship suddenly remembered that the Golden Ghost wasn’t exactly her ship anymore. It was Mnhei’sahe Dox’s. And she had no illusions that ‘have a seat’ wasn’t an order, as she replied. “Ie, Baroness.”
As t’Liun sat, looking over to the woman ten years her junior that looked back like someone that wasn’t new to command and had a serious expression. There was a moment of silence between the two women before Dox sat on the table opposite her and broke it. “I’m sure the attack was stressful. But like you’ve said, you’ve experienced worse. But from your behavior and your physical cues, there is something you aren’t telling me, Maenek.”
“If I had to guess, I’d say you were going out of your way not to tell me something. So, let’s try direct questions. Where is Lieutenant Ayamo Oulette now?” Dox asked with a concerned tone, looking t’Liun in the eyes.
Knowing how to respond to an order, t’Liun was stiff but direct as she answered, understanding where Dox was leading her. “Under heavy sedation in the brig. Under a security forcefield. To be… seen only by myself.”
Nodding, Dox looked like she had deflated slightly. She was beginning to suspect why Rita hadn’t messaged her herself afterward. Why she hadn’t seen her friend and Commander since the incident occurred. The pieces were beginning to fall into place in her mind. Two weeks of having her loyalty challenged, questioned, and threatened by Starfleet Intelligence had made this all far too familiar of a feeling. “That sounds like an order. And since there aren’t many people on board that can actually give you an order here, this would be a mission-specific order. From the mission commander, I take it. From Commander Paris?”
Sitting up a bit straighter as if to steel herself, t’Liun nodded. “Ie, Baroness.”
There was another long pause as Dox thought about it. At worst, she thought, Rita was now concerned that she had been compromised as well. It wasn’t an illogical leap, after all. It would mean Rita also doubted Sonak’s clearing of hor on ch’Rihan, but circumstances warranted caution to be sure. At best, it was a simple precaution. The less variables in a situation, the better, so it made sense. But still, the uncertainty of it all was palpable.
It was also a potential pattern that troubled the young Lieutenant Commander. This wouldn’t be the first time Rita had purposefully kept her out of a loop she should have been involved with. Dox thought back to the Captain’s tribunal a few months past now and how Rita organized a secret plan to use the experimental Thunderchicken in the assault, keeping those orders top secret on the Hera’s own flight deck. The flight deck Dox was supposed to be the chief of.
Trying not to dwell on the implications, Dox pushed those thoughts out of her head as best as she could. She had never asked to be bequeathed the Golden Ghost, called in her native tongue, the Isahj’ey Aheallh, but the ship was now hers. As such, she needed to at least act like someone who knew how to command. And that made making sure those under her felt confident and secure, even if she herself didn’t.
“Thank you for letting me know. Commander Paris will not make any orders that would endanger us or our mission and should be followed as if they came from me or Captain Telvan.” Dox said, reassuring t’Liun that all was under control. “As such, it seems as if the situation is under control. And we all need some rest if we’re to be at our best going into these negotiations. I would suggest you wrap it up here and try and sleep, Maenek. I’ll be doing the same.”
Standing back up, Dox tugged down on her exercise top as if it were her uniform and started towards the door. As she did, she turned back towards t’Liun. “Maenek… if there’s any way in which we can succeed in our purposes here, we will. That’s what Commander Paris does best. She finds a way to win when it should be impossible. I’m living proof of that.”
Listening, t’Liun could hear that Dox was trying to bolster her confidence, but she could also hear that the younger woman wasn’t lying and it was a comfort. Nodding, the ship's reluctant commander replied simply, “Ie, Baroness. Good rest. Jolan’tru.”
“Jolan’tru, Maenek.” Dox replied as she left the med bay and walked down the corridor to her assigned quarters on the Ghost. She had done her best to assure t’Liun that everything was under control, but it was a facade. Dox hadn’t heard it from the source, but that silence had been deafening. And while all she had was her own guesses about what was going on in her friend's head, she couldn’t shake the feeling that when the proverbial chips were down, Rita simply didn’t trust her and she didn’t know how to process that fear as it took root in the front of her already troubled mind.