Neutral Zone Neutrality
Location: USS Hera, Deck 6, Transporter Room 2
Another onboarding was on the docket today, and Commander Rita Paris was making her way there to insure she was early for the appointment. As the first officer of the USS Hera, one of her myriad responsibilities was to greet new crew members as they signed aboard. This was a duty that served a multitude of purposes- it gave the new crew member a feel for the command style of the starship. It made them feel immediately welcomed as they were not left to their own devices upon arriving onboard. Then there was the fact that Paris rather thoroughly interviewed the new candidates to feel out who they were, who they pretended to be, what skills and personality quirks were evident, and it gave her a very good idea how well they would mesh with the crew.
Today proved to be an interesting one, as the officer in question had signed on to be the chief counselor. This was a position with no small amount of turnover, as the past few counselors had been self-absorbed, remarkably damaged and overall poor excuses for compassionate sentient life, forget about officers on a high-stress high-demand starship like the Hera. So when another counselor had requested assignment aboard the mighty starship, Paris had read over her service jacket with a critical eye and keen interest.
The safety and well-being of the 752 crew serving on the starship were her responsibility, just as it was Captain Telvan's. and Paris took it seriously. In her day the ship's surgeon doubled as what passed for a counselor, but in modern Starfleet those duties were subdivided, which made sense. Striding the halls at her martial pace to the transporter room, the officer she was preparing to meet had the capacity to do great harm or healing to the crew. This was Rita's opportunity to determine which it was likely to be, and make her recommendations. Ever the optimist, she hoped the woman would be compassionate, intelligent and empathetic, with sound strategies and a firm grasp of Starfleet while being broad-minded enough to see beyond the scope of traditional situations.
The next few moments would tell the tale.
Strolling into Transporter Room 2, the technician looked up, then blanched slightly. Commander Paris' relationship with transporters was well known amongst the engineering staff who manned the consoles of those miraculous devices, and she was well aware of that earned reputation. Thus she offered an upraised hand to the petty officer on duty. "Relax, Mr. Qualtine. I'm just here for an onboarding arrival today, so your shift should remain stress-free, I assure you."
The technician looked only mildly relieved, as just Paris' presence seemed to make transporters go haywire. But she stayed far clear of both the pad and the control panel, instead assuming a 'parade rest' pose with the ever-present PaDD in her hand clasped behind her back as she internally reviewed what she'd read, and prepared to meet the officer in question.
“I appreciate your assistance,” V’lera said as she took the last of her bags onto the platform.
The transporter chief smiled. “You are most welcome. It’s been great having a counselor for a while.”
V’lera had been disturbed that the Reliquin, an Ares class ship making a supply run to Starbase 241, had no counselor. They had been badly in need of one. The trip had taken five weeks to restock, pick up a few crew, and travel to meet the Hera. They’d left Earth but they’d had one thing after another go wrong. In fact they were supposed to have dropped her off on the Apollo but when the position came open on the Hera…and seeing that they’ve had a turnover of counselors that was fascinating V’lera had asked for a last minute switch.
To make a long story short she’d spent five weeks working twelve hour shifts helping the crew here. “I have spoken with Starfleet Counseling and have asked that a counselor be made available to the ship as soon as possible.”
The transporter chief smiled, “Thanks…I know you’ve helped a lot. Emma finally talked to me last night…she really opened up.”
V’lera inclined her head. “You must continue to work on it with your daughter. She … is struggling with her feelings not only about losing her brother but her father. You have lost your husband and son. You are both grieving in your own ways but you must find a common language.”
The woman gave a sad smile. “Well we’ve started and it’s thanks to you.” She took her position at the controls. She wouldn’t do the transport initiation but she’d monitor the patters of both V’lera and her unusual pet. The chief held up her hand in a standard Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper.”
V’lera gave a nod. “And you. Reach out to me at any time.” Just as she finished speaking she felt the pull of the transporter. She closed her eyes tight. She hated the idea of her atoms pulled apart and put back together. It was a frightening experience.
Within minutes ,she felt the last of the shimmer effects wear off. She swore she felt her molecules vibrate. Shaking it off ,she quickly took in the new transporter room, much larger than the one she’d come from. V’lera noted the uniquely uniformed officer standing at the foot of the transport and after a quick pip scan on the low slug collar she gave a salute. “Sir, Lieutenant Junior Grade V’lera reporting for duty. Permission to come aboard.”
The close-lipped smile that spread across the anachronistically-uniformed officer was genuine, and not without a hint of surprise. Bringin her feet together and drawing herself to attention, the old-school officer returned the salute. It genuinely gave her a warmth in her heart to see an officer come aboard properly, and her day was already off to a good start. Holding the salute for a two count, Paris released the salute with a snap of military precision, than spoke her acknowledgment, in tradition. "Permission granted, Lieutenant Junior Grade V'lera. I'm Rita Paris, the first officer of the USS Hera. Welcome aboard."
The emerald skin, pointed ears and sharp brows all pointed in the directions of the heritages in her file, so Paris started off with a choice between the two, by offering one of her own. A Human custom, that of offering her hand for a handshake, old-school fleet style. Vulcans eschewed physical contact because of the touch telepathy of their race. Orions, or Kolari as they called themselves according to something she half-remembered, were far more in tune to body language, considering it half the component of language itself. For the Kolari a handshake was, as far as she could tell, a warm greeting, as it was amongst Earthlings.
V’lera held the salute as long as the XO. As soon as Paris ended it so did V’lera and took on an at attention stance. The hand shake…was expected. The Vulcan side of her abhorred it finding that her touch telepathy was a bit stronger than the average half Vulcan. She had, as a counselor, learned to overcome that. Being a counselor required you to shake hands, hold a hand, and even give a hug sometimes. All these she found challenging but her whole life had become a series of challenges she conquered. Some took longer than others though. She stepped off the transporter pad and shook Paris’ hand. “Thank you ma’am for the welcome. Happy to be aboard.”
The handshake was professional- a grip, not too tight nor weak, two short pumps and it was over. "Just leave your baggage and it'll be beamed into your quarters. I assume the father of logic will travel fine that way?" Paris chucked a thumb at the luggage as she turned to leave, he other hang gesturing for the new officer to fall in step.
V’lera gave a nod. “He is better with transporters then I am. Surak takes a… logical approach to transporter travel.” V’lera fell into step noting that Paris issued more an order then a run of the mill assumption. As they walked V’lera reached into her bag and pulled out a PaDD. “For you, Commander. This came through this morning. Surak’s certification as a therapy animal. I find working with him has a positive effect on some patients.” She made a note to follow in a professional style but the curious cat within her made sure to take in every detail of the ship. The Hera was beautiful… from what she saw in it.
As they walked she wondered if this standard interview with the XO would be just that, and interview, or if it would be an interrogation like the one she got on the Flame. She kept quiet though adopting a ‘speak when spoken to’ strategy for the moment.
"Interesting. I hadn't seen the paperwork in your service jacket," Paris commented, bright and alert eyes scanning over the documentation before stacking the PaDD with the one she was already carrying, is if she were accustomed to juggling stacks of them. Stepping up to the door, as it slid open, Paris stepped out onto the wise busy concourse of Deck 6 and began walking, at a standard military stride. Speaking as she moved, she clearly expected her audience to be keeping up with her. "A racoon is an interesting choice for a therapy animal, particularly given that it's an Earth native species. How did that come to pass?"
A rare smile played on V’lera’s lips. “Surak was…unexpected. I met him while I was recovering on Earth. I was injured during an away mission and was brought to Starfleet Medical. I was discharged, early and while walking I became ill and fell. Surak, even though he was blind, managed to get help. He was very young at the time. He, by scent, found my room at Starfleet medical on the ground floor. He’d wait outside the window daily. I found that…I was attached to him and took to feeding him. When I realized his condition I adopted him, helped to train him and entered him for certification. He has proved to be a great comfort." She paused. "He is family."
Listening as they strode through the busy corridor, Paris nodded. "We're rather all about family on the Hera, and I think you'll find, more often than not, that unconventional tends to define our familial bonds on this particular starship. Thus the concept likely won't be as alien to most as you might imagine it would be in such circumstances. Speaking of which, this is an unusual choice for an assignment, but you sought out the Starfleet Intelligence vessel that lives in shadow, as they say. I'm curious what spurred on that particular choice?
She tilted her head to the side. “It was…a logical choice. As a Vulcan,” she said bypassing her Orion side. “I am a follower of Surak, the Vulcan master not the Raccoon, and as such I adhere to the IDIC principle and the principle of light in darkness. When one lives in shadow one learns to exist in it and shadow can turn to darkness. One needs light to avoid that and as Counselor I will attempt to provide that light. In the same respect I need to learn to exist in shadow a little. I have been told, that I am too direct, too truthful. I might learn some tact in the shadows. It was, as I said, logical.”
"The other reason?" the buxom blonde human pressed. "Logic alone does not dictate a move such as this one, nor a change quite so drastic. Assuming this was not a spurious decision, which logic would dictate it was not, more elements would need to be in play in order for logic to direct an individual to a choice such as serving on the Hera. Or is my logic flawed, Counselor?" Paris stopped at a turbolift access to press the call button, then turned to await her answer with a hint of a smile. There was no rancor in her voice nor arrogance; merely curiosity.
V’lera shrugged, “The truth is… I do not know. My life has changed over the years a lot. Perhaps discovering the truth of who I am might be easier when tested to my core.” It was the truth, plain and simple. “My life has been a series of overcoming challenges and I find that I grow the most within those challenges.” It was what it was. Simple, truthful. "Being here will be a challenge, and I hope that I will grow in being here. Perhaps the most logical of arguments. I am here to heal and to be healed."
The lift arrived. V'lera kept her place and waited for Paris to enter first. When they were inside V'lera stepped back a bit to allow the first officer the lean power position.
"Deck 8, please," Paris called to the overhead, tucking the PaDDs in next to her left breast like a yeoman. "Interesting answer, Miss V'lera. What truth about yourself do you seek, I'm curious?" The turbolift took no time to arrive down two decks, and the doors slid back open before the reply could be expressed. Paris stepped out, pausing for the counselor to catch up.
She thought a moment, "I am not sure. An observation if I may. You would make a great counselor. On the same line of topic I did notice that there was a high counselor turn over rate. I found that fact fascinating. May I inquire as to what happened? If they were lacking in some way it might assist me in knowing the full needs of the crew." Perhaps a sharp change of topics but she wasn't ready for counseling yet. She'd just gone through her regular series of tests for fitness and the counselor she'd had to deal with was not one that she was particularly pleased about. Earth had some good ones but this one, an independent agent that Starfleet employed to test the fitness of its counselor, was particularly bad. She needed some down time to process it all.
"I'm not much of a counselor, I'm afraid, but thank you for the compliment," Paris deflected. "I'm an explorer, and being an explorer often means asking probing questions; in this case, I have the safety and security of the crew to consider, so it behooves me to get to know you and grasp your motivations as you're coming aboard. In short, I need to know who you are, beyond your service jacket. To intuit whether I feel you'll be a good match with the crew, and their somewhat unique problems." Paris explained as she stepped forward again, her stride far more casual. The corridors of Deck 8 were narrower, and far less bustling with personnel as the wide thoroughfares of Deck 6, and the officers passing them were just that, for the most part- officers, not enlisted personnel.
"As for your question... empathy. A lack thereof," Paris clarified, speaking with her hands as she did so. "Previous counselors were self-absorbed, assumed an air of superiority, some were markedly inconsistent or uncertain in their skills, some were arrogantly assumptive in skills they lacked. In short, Starfleet Psych has yet to impress us with anyone they've sent our way. We've additionally had brainwashed individuals sent to us more than once, as well as changelings, so you may understand my recalcitrance to openly trust new onboardings. Exclusive of our issues with previous counselors, yet a trust issue all the same, which logically folds into the same issue."
"Thus you and I converse, and we'll do so until I am satisfied that I can trust you with run of the ship and the secrets of the crew. The Hera," Paris paused to pat a bulkhead fondly in passing, an affectation that said much about the woman, "is a starship of a great many secrets, both major and minor. Over the course of time, a Counselor tends to learn them all, which makes the position rather a unique one. Given the dangers inherent in that information falling into the wrong hands, I presume you can appreciate the logic in my caution."
She gave a nod, "Absolutely. Caution is wise. It also tells me that you care a lot about the crew. I've worked with some that do not so it is refreshing to see. I look forward to earning your trust."
They walked a little ways before she went on, "By way of a little about me. Communication is where I excel. I am an open book with respect to certain things, and sometimes too open when it comes to self and thoughts. Honesty, loyalty, and dedication are key. Confidential things well that I am used to. I know what is off limits, I am confident in my knowledge, I know what I don't know, and I would never assume to give advice if I am uncertain. My goal is to help.”
“Counseling is...a difficult task. Everyone needs a certain level of it and some need more of a sounding board then a counselor. I give options to clients I work with them. I'm not there to dictate what they should or should not do unless it jeopardizes their safety and that of the crew." V’lera paused. "Trust is earned and you've had bad experiences. It is my job to show you that I can be trusted. I will endeavor to do that. I would only ask that you provide feedback so that I can adapt to how things are here. This is new for us all. Each counselor is different and each ship or environment takes a different approach." She shrugged.
"Commander, I am cautious as well. I just do not want to be...lumped into the same category as the other counselors before I've had a chance."
“A very reasonable trepidation, so let me address that, Miss V’lera,” the curvaceous commander in the mod minidress stopped, and turned to face the counselor. “On the Hera, you’ll find that you are judged for your words and actions. Preconceived notions such as counselors past, spies and infiltrators will not be held against you. Instead, you will be observed and judged upon your own merit. Your words and deeds will be your validation, and I think you’ll find that for Starfleet intelligence, we’re surprisingly open-minded. Captain Telvan sees to that, and I enforce it. So while I will happily list the issues the position had encountered in the past, don’t imagine for a moment that you will be starting from a deficit.”
“Now, I won’t say there will be those who are cautious or trepidatious, and on a case by case basis you may encounter some degree of distrust and evasion,” Paris admitted with a spreading of the hands, palms upward. “But that’s part of counseling, is it not? Everyone is not an open book, everyone has their own preferences and every individual is different. On the Hera, there are a great number of unique individuals who face unique challenges. At heart, at the end of the day, they are almost all Starfleet. As such, they all signed on to make the galaxy a better place, and while we vary widely in our approach to accomplishing that, I think you’ll find that is a unified theme of our crew.”
“So, questions?” the anachronistic astronaut asked with a curious tilt of her head, her longish bangs sweeping somewhat into her eyes as she brushed them away in a practiced motion. “I’ve given you the basics, and before we proceed, it seems only fair to open the floor to any questions you may have. If you’ve queries, now would be the time to address them. So feel free, ask away, and if it’s within my power to answer without violating anyone in particular's privacy or security concerns, I’ll do so.”
V'lera shook her head, "For the moment, Commander, I am as...what is it humans say? I am as right as rain." She pulled out a small palm size notebook and opened it putting a checkmark beside something. She saw the Commander watching her. "It is my human phrases I like book. I try to use one a week....mild obsession. Humans have the most colourful phrases."
“So I am told,” the blonde bombardier replied with a ghost of a smile, the human bride of the kolinahr enjoying the observation that she'd heard many times before. “No questions… interesting. A starship with a history as varied as the Hera’s with a crew as diverse as ours inspires no inquiries, the first officer in the uniform that’s 130 years out of date doesn’t raise an eye, and the fact that we’re a pearlescent black starship no one has ever heard of is simply a casual passing fancy. Interesting. I would have expected more probing questions from a counselor, but… here we are.” Pointing to the LCD nameplate next to the door, it read LTJG V’LERA.
Handing over the PaDD she’d brought with her, Paris explained. "Here's your welcome aboard package, including your quarters assignment, maps of the Hera, limited computer access and some appointments to keep. You need to check into the command in order to have full access, so that means a meeting with the first officer, a meeting with the captain, a physical and a session with the ship's counselor. Once everyone signs off, you'll be checked into the command, and be granted full access for active duty. Any questions, Lieutenant?"
"Yes ma'am. One," She paused. "Is there a counselor aboard? I was told there was none so I took the liberty of getting clearance from one at Starfleet." She reached into her bag again and pulled out a PaDD handing it to the XO.
Looking confused, Paris paused, then snapped her fingers. "I said counselor, didn't I? Apologies, Miss V'lera. I meant Chief Medical Officer, who is also your section chief, and the one you report to for the onboarding physical, so it's a triple play. Odd Freudian slip there." Taking the offered evaluation and starting another stack of PaDDs in her hand, Paris extended her hand once more.
"Welcome aboard, Lieutenant. I'll be seeing you around." With that, Paris lit up a radiant smile that seemed genuine and earnest.
V'lera shook the commander's hand. "Thank you for your welcome. I look forward to working with you, ma'am." After the hand shake she gave off another salute and then stood at attention as was proper process until her commanding offers gave her leave or had walked a suitable distance for her to enter her quarters. She picked up on the fact that the XO appreciated proper respect and procedure and it was a way to honour that side of the woman.
Rewturning the salute a bit casually, the first officer smiled genially. "No need to stand on ceremony once we're on to day to day, Lieutenant. I appreciate it, but no need." Turning to leave, Paris paused, then half-tuirned back. "One last piece of advice. I doubt you would, but don't call the Captain 'sir'. It's a bit of a hot button for her. Just so's you know."
With that, Paris nodded and strode off, in that deck-eating stride of hers.
V'lera gave a nod. "Thank you ma'am. I shall remember that." She waited until the commander was out of view and then she took a deep breath before entering her quarters.
It was time to start her new life. It was time to settle in.