Neutral Zone Neutrality
Location: Gymnasium - The Golden Ghost
The meeting with Lieutenant Ayamo Oulette had gone long and, after running the woman through the proverbial wringer, there were still suspicions but the woman seemed to be innocent. But all involved were still acting on their plan to potentially weed out any spies or saboteurs in the mission, and to that end, Lieutenant Commander Mnhei’sahe Dox was going to go to the ship’s gym to unwind in public.
The ship in question being the Golden Ghost meant that the gym was much different than the comparably massive accommodations of the Hera. And with a decidedly different population. Being late, the red-headed Rihannsu pilot was hoping that she would have the room to herself until Az’Prel had finished her security sweep of the ship, but such was not the case.
The Golden Ghost was, of course, an Artan run ship, but also a Rihannsu one. A re-purposed T’liss class Bird of Prey from Rita Paris’ era, the ship’s crew was entirely Rihannsu. And, more importantly, the ship had been placed under Dox’s Barony, making it essentially her ship.
An awkward detail, considering she had barely met any of the ship’s 158 crewmembers. Crewmembers that had apparently voted to be under her command on reputation and pedigree alone. So when Dox walked into the medium-sized exercise chamber, hoping to have the room to herself, her stomach tightened when the half-dozen crewmember’s heads all turned to watch her enter.
“Uh… Jolan’tru.” She half-muttered as she walked in, dressed in black work-out gear with a towel around her neck and a water bottle in her hand.
The nearest crewmember to her stood at attention and offered her a sharp bow and replied in their native Rihan, “Jolan’tru, Enarrain Dox.” He was a lanky, tall young man who looked to be in his mid-twenties with short, messy brown curls flanked by the more common forehead ridges and slightly larger than not ears.
Sighing slightly, Dox bit her tongue slightly as it seemed that Sonak’s insistence during the initial meeting with the Ghost’s commander, Helev t’Liun, that she be called ‘Captain’ had made the rounds. ‘Enarrain’ being the Rihan translation of the rank that she was extremely uncomfortable being called, Dox nonetheless did her best to restrain her emotions as she replied, speaking Rihan back to the crew out of respect. “Thank you. At ease, please.”
Obeying, the crewmember offered a nod and relaxed his posture slightly as he spoke again, “Is there anything we may assist you with, Enarrain? Our facilities are at your disposal.”
“No thank you…” Dox said, trailing off as the young man had yet to introduce himself properly. A minor faux pas to which his eyes widened slightly as he replied. “tr’Rorian. Vriha'Erein Manan tr’Rorian.”
Recognizing the rank of ‘Vriha'Erein’ as the Rihannsu equivalent of a Lieutenant, Dox nodded lightly and continued. “No, thank you Vriha'Erein tr’Rorian. I’m simply looking to relax a bit with some exercise before settling in for the evening. And I believe I see what I’m looking for.”
Gesturing lightly to the far wall, Dox centered in on a row of padded torso shaped outcroppings from the wall, meant for combat training. They were well worn and looked as if they could use a refurbishment, but felt like a very old friend to the young woman. Beginning to make her way to the other side of the room, the young man nodded again to let her pass. “Very well, Enarrain. If you have any needs while you are here, do not hesitate to let me know.”
With the pleasantries out of the way, Dox walked over to the furthest most practice dummy and laid her towel down on the nearby bench along the bulkhead and began to stretch. Her back was to the room, but she could clearly hear that nobody had resumed their own exercising and from the general silence, they were likely all still watching her. For the slightest of moments, her stomach tightened as she realized there were six crewmembers between her and the door. Four male and two female, and if any were a spy or double agent, she might be in trouble. But she quickly put that thought out of her head until it was merited.
A month spent on a Rihannsu Warbird had made her more than a little wary around the company of her own people, for good reason, but she was no prisoner here. Quite the reverse and she was making a conscious effort to stop acting like someone under watch.
After a few moments of stretching, Dox wasted no time in attacking the practice dummy. It was remarkably similar in design and feel to the one she used to keep in her quarters and it felt good to unload some of her tension on the shape. As she attacked the form, she could hear faint whispers and murmurs from the room, most to the effect that the crew had no idea that she was trained in the Rihannsu martial art of Llaekh-ae'rl. One of the women made a complimentary comment on her form while Vriha’Erain tr’Rorian hushed the rest of the whispers. And after a few more moments, the room returned to what Dox assumed was normal activity.
Two crewmembers were jogging on forcefield treadmills against the aft bulkhead, both young me. One was of average height and build but the other was a bit shorter and stockier and both had short-cropped black hair. Tr’Rorian and another more muscularly built young man with a squared-off, flat face and longer, straight brown hair was sparring in the circular pad in the center. One lean but muscular woman with shoulder-length, light brown hair was lifting weights on the tension field machine and the last, another woman with a thicker build and short, slightly curly black hair was resting on the bench against the port bulkhead. But the Starfleet transplant was no longer the center of attention for the moment.
The tension of the evening, however, had clearly been taking its toll on Dox as she had begun to increase the aggression of her workout. As time passed, she had begun striking the form with more and more intensity, making more noticeable grunts and exclamations with each hit. And before too long, she had begun to notice that the background noise had once again received.
Stopping somewhat abruptly, she turned to the room and wiped a bit of sweat from her brow. And, as she suspected, her efforts had garnered an audience. “I… apologize if I’m disturbing you.” She said, flatly.
“Not at all, Enarrain.” One of the two women, the one working the weights, said with a nod. “We apologize if our attention is unwelcome. It’s… rare to see anyone use those practice forms with such… energy. I am Arrein Kiania t’Retinel.”
Picking up her towel, Dox took a sip from her water bottle and nodded. “The day has been a long one… and I didn’t like the way he looked at me.” She gestured with her head to the practice dummy, attempting to lighten the mood with a somewhat weak joke. But it had the desired effect as the exercising Arrein chuckled lightly as she continued to pull against the force field weights in the machine she was sitting at.
“Better him than us, I suppose.” she replied, between reps, giving Dox cause to raise an eyebrow.
“I apologize. This is… likely not the most ideal way to make the acquaintance of the crew. Maenek t’Liun told me I would have the opportunity to speak with the crew in a more formal manner in the morning before we arrive at our destination, and perhaps it would have been better to have… made myself scarce until then.” Dox admitted, with a bit of anxiety creeping in at what she now realized might have been a mistake.
From the center where he had been sparring with one of the other young men, Vriha'Erein tr’Rorian interjected as he wiped sweat from his own brow, “Not at all, Enarrain. The Golden Ghost is under your Barony. As such, her chambers are all at your disposal as you see fit.”
“Thank you.” Dox said with a nod as she began to make her way toward the exit anyway, feeling very much out of place in the moment. “That said, I’ll leave you to your evening. I should try and get some rest before the morning.”
The room fell oddly silent as she stepped across it, past the crewmembers that she was technically in command of, yet felt embarrassed in front of at the moment. But as she reached the center of the room, the woman who had been sitting on the bench opposite them spoke. “Enarrain Dox… I am Arrein t’Ganon. May I speak?”
Pausing, Dox stood still for a long few seconds before replying, trying to remind herself of the lessons she was still learning on the Hera regarding command even just in the Flight Control Department. As she did, she nodded and replied, “Please do. Speak freely. That stands for all of you.”
“This mission. We all know the stakes. That the Imperium claims to wish to open dialogue with the reunification colonies.” The woman stood up nervously, not quite making eye contact with Dox. “I came from a colony such as this one we travel to now. Many of us on the Ghost did. Reunification is why many of us serve in the Artan fleet. Do you believe it… do you think that it is possible that the Imperium is… sincere?”
“I can’t speak for the Imperium, ironically,” Dox said, knowing full well that speaking for the Imperium was exactly what she was chosen to do on this mission. “I can only speak for Senator t’Rul. She is sincere. I know this as much as I know my own mind. She means to make this work… if only in the smallest of senses. And if we can do our part to show the Senate that there is only value to the Empire, and that the old fears that have kept reunification a forbidden subject for so long are unfounded… then there’s a chance.”
“She is your kin? This Senator?” t’Ganon asked, with a bit more confidence in her voice.
“She is, yes.” Dox answered with a nod after a moment of thought. “We have her support. And the support of those in the Senate that stood with her in the vote.”
“The rest…” Dox said, looking down for a moment as she thought, “Is up to us. And no matter what the outcome, we will try together. Starfleet and Artans. Rihannsu and Vulcans. All of us already working together. So we’ve already succeeded.”
There was another moment of silence as the woman smiled lightly and nodded with more confidence. And as Dox went to leave the room again, this time she stopped herself, “Now… If I may… why did you choose to serve under my Barony? None of you had ever met me before?”
“You may not remember all of us, but are known here, Enarrain Dox. You have been known since you and your mother ferried many of us as children from servitude on ch’Rihan all those years ago. You are the young Rihannsu with the hair like the fire of Al’thindor’s wings that flew us to freedom. You brought many of us to the only homes we have known since.” The woman said with a clear voice, “And now… you have shown us that perhaps you can bring us home again. To our true home. To ch’Rihan.”
“We are to you, as you have always been to us.” the young crewmember said, bowing. And as she did, so too did the others in the room. Watching, Dox blushed a bright green as she returned the bow, humbled in the moment.
The once little girl that only ever wanted to know the home she had been denied as a child stood with her new crew. All of them shared that same desire to know that home again and see it free. They stood as Rihannsu looking out over an uncertain future, but they shared hope. And in that moment, Mnhei’sahe Dox suddenly felt something she had never truly felt quite like this before.
She wasn’t a lonely Romulan girl anymore. She didn’t feel torn between her duty to Starfleet or the Artan’s. She didn’t feel like the broken parts of an incomplete whole. She was Starfleet. She was a Baroness. She was Rihannsu… and that difference was everything.