Simply Mrs. Dox
Neutral Zone Neutrality
Location: USS Hera, Deck 2, Commander Paris' Office
It was not unusual for a summons or a meeting to appear on the PaDD she happened to be holding at the time. After all, the tablets were tied to biosigns, so with the press of a button you could have the device recognize you and all of your files, calendars, agendas and personal data and clearance were available for you to peruse. Thus when a meeting flashed in as it was set in a calendar somewhere that affected her, the complex woman who was still somewhat unaccustomed to life on a Federation starship was not surprised.
However, this time the summons was from Commander Paris, the first officer of the USS Hera. Who had called the meeting for five minutes from now, in her office on Deck 2.
Looking at the message for a moment, Jaeih Dox cricked an eyebrow and typed in her response that she was on her way. The summons coming by text seemed unusual as generally such calls were made via commbadge, but the elder Romulan didn't dwell on the question for long. Placing the half-finished coffee she had been nursing back in the replicator for recycling, she saved the data she was reviewing on her PaDD and immediately left the table she had been settled at in Ten Forward to head to the Commander's office.
And after only a couple of short minutes of travel in the ship's turbolift, she arrived at the typically opened doors of the Hera's First Officer's office. As always, Jaeih stood at attention in the doorway with her arms folded behind her back, still wearing the dark gray uniform tunic of the ships Intel department, where she had been assigned for several months. "Commander Paris, you wished to see me?"
Standing, Paris smiled at the civilian operative on the Starfleet vessel. "I did indeed, Mrs. Dox. Please come in, and have a seat. I've a few things I'd like to discuss with you."
Taking a seat in the very modern and ergonomically designed chair that somehow still evoked the simpler age from which she'd come, Rita Paris stared out from her wall of bric-a-brac. The office was hers, and the models, images and artifacts strewn about in a somewhat claustrophobic manor was here for her comfort. They were tethers to her past, to her history. Keystones to memory, for remembering who she was, and where she had come from. There were modern holos as well as new additions, all against the backdrop of the odd period of starship design from whence she'd originated.
To a visitor, however, it was distracting as hell. Particularly a trained observer.
It wasn't the first time Jaeih had been in Rita's cacophony of bizarre nostalgia so she did her best to ignore the aggressive amount of tchotchkes about. That said, the precariously balanced piles of PaDD that always seemed to be one slight shake from creating an avalanche of data that would bury the golden clad commander was always a bit distracting. "That sounds... almost cryptic, Commander. But my week has been quite well populated by unusual meetings. What would you like to discuss?"
Leaning back in her chair, Paris folded her hands across her midriff. "It's driving you nuts that you have no authority on a vessel full of trained personnel, the majority of which you have seniority over for literal decades. You spend your time doing dull code work because you have nothing else to do, and while you have clearance as an intelligence operative, you have no authority. Which has made you feel, more and more, like a prisoner on a jail cell that moves. I mean, you CAN leave, but your life is here, so you generally don't. Which makes it feel like a prison cell of your own choosing, which is even worse. How'm I doing so far?"
Pursing her lips slightly, Jaeih processed what Rita had said for a moment before crossing her legs and tenting her hands in front of her. "Quite astute, Commander. If you didn't already know that I prefer regulation attire, I'd ask if you knew what color my socks were. I would also hypothesize that you are likely aware that I have been offered a different position on board the ship."
"Personnel assignments go through me to the Captain, that's how the chain of command goes, Mrs. Dox... as well you know. Of course I approved of it." Bringing her hands up off her torso while leaving her elbows on the arms of the chair, Paris opened the topic a bit. "We're an exceptional starship, with an exceptional crew... and by that I don't mean they shine their shoes particularly well. I mean exceptional as in the six month old who's already too heavy for poor O'Dell to carry, who is quite likely going to eventually grow to be the size of Petty Officer Jablonski, if not larger. Mona Gonadie explained to me in our first meeting that Miradonians are able to fly from birth, and the two misfits are down there trying to invent a portable personal inertial dampener. Petty Officer S'Rina refused to go back for another round of testing when they're ready, and it's her choice. She still feels pretty badly about nearly knocking O'Dell's block off."
"The point is, there is a lot going on down there. A lot of it has to do with these seeds of the future we're carrying onboard. Forces are in motion, Mrs. Dox. The little Minotaur, the Amazon girl, Princess Moira Artan... and soon three little warbirds. The Andorian twins. All these exceptional children are being born, here on this starship. Unlikely pairings get pulled together to form families like magnets. As unlikely people get pulled into the mix." Pausing, Paris smiled. "I appreciate you letting me ramble, Mrs. Dox. Rest assured, I'm almost there."
Jaeih simply nodded towards Paris's position for her to continue. Whatever she was feeling regarding the speech didn't read on her neutral face.
Leaning in, resting her elbows on her desk, Rita Paris looked out of those baby blue eyes, and with a chagrined expression folded her hands together. "You are not a Starfleet officer. You are not Starfleet personnel. Were the Captain to grant you rank, enlisted or officer, it would be an insult to every cadet who ever completed Starfleet Academy. It would be ruinous to morale, and would be summarily disallowed by the admiralty."
"I'm sorry, but this is plain and simple fact," the courageous commander held up her hands in surrender. "Which you also know all too well. In order to have authority on a Starfleet starship, one is required to have rank. We couldn't even try some dodge about you using your old rank from the Tal'Shiar, because the Romulan government disavows you as well, so even that wouldn't hold up. I've given this a bit of thought, as you may be getting the idea."
"All facts that, as you pointed out, I am abundantly aware of. And even if it were an option, as I'm sure you can imagine, I would have no intention of enlisting in said academy so that, perhaps when I'm 85, I can re-earn some level of professional responsibility once again." Jaeih replied, with which the first chinks in her blank facade began to show as there was the faintest of hints of frustration in her voice now. "So I remain in service to Captain Telvan in whatever capacity she sees fit. That is the debt I owe her and if that service is to be met in aid of the children of this vessel, then I shall do what I can to avail myself of that responsibility.”
“Spare me the martyr speech. Mrs. Dox. You’re better than that,” Paris scoffed, literally waving it away with her hand. “You’re not seeing the big picture here, you’re just confining your thinking to the problem that has no solution. You won’t be happy without some authority, yet you’re not seeing it yet. Do you know why I gave you that comm badge instead of a Starfleet badge?” Paris half-lidded her eyes, awaiting the response.
“I believe it was out of respect.” Jaeih said, sitting slightly further back, processing Rita’s words slightly more. “A reminder of what I once believed in and what was worth working towards again, or words to that effect. Not unlike the model Bird of Prey you gifted Mnhei’sahe for her birthday.”
“You were Starfleet property for years,” the ancient astronaut said bluntly..” I wasn’t about to put you in the uniform and brand you again. That was how I saw it- I gave you your independence and your pride, and we didn’t try to force you into a cookie-cutter of conformity with the rest of us.” At that Paris sat up straight, and a frown creased her pretty face. “It didn’t work out that way, though, did it? You resented it when I handed it to you, and you’ve resented it ever since. You see it as branding you as an outsider, one of ‘them’, not ‘us’. Am I wrong?”
“I would not say so entirely.” Jaeih said with a reserved expression. “And… moreso since the… incident with Mnhei’sahe’s grandmother and Rendal drove home where I belong. And where I do not. Since my return to the ship, it has felt... heavier.”
Reaching into the apparent clutter of her desk, Paris tossed over a dual towered Starfleet delta badge. "Here. Pin it on and the computer will activate it for you and transfer your ID to it. You can keep the old one as a souvenir... you don't have many of those, I suspect. If it's important to you that you be seen as aligned with Starfleet, that we can arrange. Now let's talk about authority. I haven't forgotten that topic."
"You cannot issue a single order on this starship with any authority, and that will not change, Mrs. Dox. Now, I am going to ask you a very simple question. And I want you to think very carefully about the answer. You've been on this boat for quite some time, and you've seen me in a number of circumstances. In all that time, in all of those circumstances- how many direct orders have you ever seen me issue?"
"Now you're going to try to dismiss the fact that with rank, I don't have to bark orders," Paris wagged that finger in the air. "The crew simply respect or fear the rank, and do as I say. But really, what DO you see me doing, if you would be so kind, Mrs. Dox. Please tell me, in lieu of issuing orders, what I am usually doing instead?" Paris had laid it all out for her, and now she waited for realization to dawn.
Looking at the badge still in her hand for a moment, Jaeih paused in her reply to remove the wings of At'thindor she had worn since joining the Hera, initially as a prisoner. But now, as a free woman, she held the Starfleet Delta in her hand and stared at it a moment as Rita could see the conflict on her face. Then, she looked up and gave Rita her answer.
"This I know well, Commander Paris. When I accepted my role here on the Hera, it was in no way compulsory. I was and remain in service voluntarily. And in all that time, I have respected your rank in all professional encounters because it was the appropriate response, not only for crew morale but because it is earned. You lead by example. You do, and only ask that those around you rise to their best selves in that same service."
"That's all true and appreciated, Mrs. Dox. But you miss my point. I doubt you have ever heard me give an order. I ask for what I want. I don't order, I ask. Please. Thank you. I even ask the computer to do things for me, because it's how I get things done. Given what I am called upon to ask of those around me, I could not order half the things I ask of them. But I do ask it of them, and when called, they rise to the challenge. It's a different way of doing things, I'll admit. But try it out... I think it may just surprise you. It is, in it's own way, the greatest of authority, at least within the Federation- politely asking for help."
While that settled in, the living spirit of old Starfleet leaned forward again. "Now, with that said, I realize you want some sort of title to brandish, because you prefer a definition of position. R&D will be working with you as a scientist. Civilian, yes, but I strongly expect that your knowledge and experience will be respected. Intel will still be working with you as a cryptologist, as well as away missions where you and Az'Prel team up to go move in the places where the bright shiny Starfleet officers stick out and get people killed. But far and away, I think you've overlooked the important duty."
"We've all of these exceptional children on this exceptional starship of exceptional individuals. We live life on something of a very large stage, you may have noticed, ma'am," the escapee from an alternate timeline 130-odd years in the past explained. "These children will grow up seeing this as commonplace... and the future they build will make this seem tame by comparison. While I fully expect you to defend them if necessary, what I need from you instead, is to ensure there's structure, discipline, and order in their lives. To prepare them for the times that are not chaos, that are not when all hell's breaking loose. In short, they need a headmistress to teach them- to read, to write, to get along well with others, to imagine and shape and grow and learn."
"The majority of the senior staff are already signed on to drop their kids off at 'Daycare 1' for you to care for them all day. Is that lost on you, Mrs. Dox? " Paris shook her head in disbelief. "The most precious person in their lives, and they are not only willing, they are asking for you to watch over them. To help shape them, to help prepare them for the future. What greater respect could be offered, what greater trust be placed? Not out of the authority of rank- but of earned trust. In you, Mrs. Dox."
"What greater authority is there than that? What title could I bestow, what rank could I offer that could possibly compare to that trust? To be the sentinel of the future generations, guiding and shaping those young minds? Tell me, Mrs. Dox. If I'm not seeing the issue correctly then please, explain it to me, if you would be so kind." Sitting back, Paris spread her hands. "Because from where I'm sitting, it looks like you have all the authority that you need."
Sitting across from Paris, Jaeih cash her eyes down on the gray intel tunic she wore as she measured all that the buxom Starfleet Commander had said. The woman who once stood in judgment of her in her gilded cage on Earth who pressed her to rise to rise to the challenge of being a mother to her daughter. She was 75 years old now, not even middle-aged for a Romulan, but she had begun to feel the weight of it with more and more frequency as she looked back upon the wreckage of her life.
And it was that life that she thought of in that moment that seemed far longer than it truly was. Of the promise and hope she had, studying to be an engineer as a young woman, dreaming of creating the technology that would help her people thrive and grow. A dream that was deferred by the call to service that led her to the Romulan military, then eventually to the Tal'Shiar. When she was still in the spring of her years. When she still believed in her future.
There, she could build a proud career, defending the Romulan people from all who would threaten her great Empire and the home she loved. Quickly, she had advanced in rank through dedication and accomplishment. But it was also there that she allowed her passion to become a perverted thing. Where she became obsessed with protecting her people until she became the thing that they needed protection from. A career-minded opportunist who looked into the eyes of a man that loved her unconditionally and stepped away to reach for a goal that was always ahead of her.
In that long moment, it all rushed through her head. She though of Mnhei'sahe's father, and of Mnhei'sahe herself. And she thought of the mission that had just been completed as she spoke again. "My life... has been a series of missteps, Commander. A life spent in pursuit of... authority and prestige. And when that failed, in search of freedom and control. When I was young, I gave up a life with the man that would one day be Mnhei'sahe's father. because I would have had to become a politician's wife, and give up my command... my authority. I would have to become a wife and eventually, a mother and I chose my career."
"And when I threw that away and had nothing more, and was a fugitive among my own people, he was still willing to take me back. We... we had Mnhei'sahe... and again I had an opportunity to be a mother and give her a peaceful life where she might have been happy. Happy on that very colony you all now fight to save. But I took her from that out of a misplaced desire to be... something more than a mother or a farmer. I though that... even as a smuggler... I could do more. BE more. Be important. Matter. And in throwing myself into that greater life, I sentenced my daughter to a childhood of misery. In wanting to matter, I failed to see how I could matter to someone who needed me to simply be there for her."
"Because, ultimately, I have spent a lifetime choosing myself over those I could have served. Those for whom I could have... should have... been better. Now I find myself looking at that crossroad again, and I do not wish to make those same mistakes. To abandon those who need me for the illusion of false freedom and meaningless authority." Jaeih looked back up to meet Rita's eyes and the lost navigator saw genuine regret in those dark eyes that had seen too much pain. "I failed, Commander. I failed to be the mother my daughter needed the first time. I cannot fail in the same way all over again. I will not. I will not fail Minerva or Moira. I will be there for them, and for Tala, Amihan, and Hlai'vana. And for those that you all would trust to my care..."Looking down at the delta on her chest, she ran a hand down the gray Intel tunic she was still wearing and allowed a smile to start to form.
Finally, holding that Starfleet delta in her hand, she pinned it in its place and nodded with the slightest of smiles cracking her patrician facade. "I suppose it should be blue. For this new role. 'Headmistress'... heh. I would never have imagined."
A small, sweet smile came over the face of the young woman from a bygone age, one of innocence and idealism and a bright, optimistic view of the future where cooperation and the open hand of friendship could change the galaxy. Reaching across the cultural divide to the older woman who had lived half the years she had skipped to get here, her eyes were not unkind. When she spoke, her tone was soft.
"Do you remember what I said the first day we met, Mrs. Dox?" Paris cast back to their first meeting at Starfleet Intelligence, just after she had been moved to better quarters, not long before she would be transferred to the Hera. "I came because I wanted to let you know what a good woman you had raised, who had become a fine officer. I came to tell you that you should be proud of her, as the commanding officer over her who was qualified to make that judgment. Because I respected you. You've come a very long ways from that warbird in a gilded cage, but that has never changed. If anything, my respect for you has grown as you have changed and grown. You never would have put up with those two knuckleheads from R&D, yet you are a friend and ally to them. You defend Mona Gonadie as fiercely as you would were she your own flesh and blood. You've gone on dangerous missions and fought as hard as any of us in the Tribunal."
"You don't need a title, and you don't need any authority beyond the respect that you have earned from those around you," Paris pressed, hoping to drive the point home and illustrate her perspective to the severe Romulan woman. "Who will listen to you if you ask them, because they, too, respect you. So please, don't focus on titles. Because at least on this ship, there's nothing more you need to be than simply Mrs. Dox. That's quite a respected position all it's own, I think you'll find- if you look around and take stock of the people around you, and how they perceive you."
A light chuckle escaped from Jaeih's lips as the slight smile bent up into the wry grin Rita knew well enough. "Well, my people have quite the cultural affectation for titles. You now know the tongue, which means your poor head is filled with all the pomp and circumstance we afford for even the smallest of roles in that society. It's a cultural failing that I shall endeavor to surmount."
The tone from Jaeih now was the more familiar, lightly sarcastic one she took when she was more relaxed around those she cared about as she continued. "That said, I shall not torment the children by making them call me 'Hru'alha' or any other ostentatious nonsense. But... they will know the word under my aegis. They will know it and many others in every tongue I can manage to teach them. After all, the children of our future should be children of the galaxy, and I have a lot of work to do to prepare them for that."
"As always... thank you." Jaeih finished, nodding respectfully but sincerely.
"Thank YOU, Mrs. Dox," Paris replied. "You continue to validate my faith in the universe... and in your family. OUR family."
"Indeed. Well, I shall endeavor to continue earning that faith. And I suppose I can start by changing my uniform and reporting to the R&D department. That new modular facility won't design or build itself, after all." Jaeih said with a nod. "And someone needs to keep Moira and Minerva from playing 'stab the minotaur'. I... I believe I am looking forward to these new duties. To helping these children, and the ones to come."
Standing up, Jaeih adjusted her top and raised an eyebrow towards Rita. "Perhaps even yours one day."
Replying with a grin, Rita Paris nodded. “I’m quite confident that my children will know precisely who you are, Mrs. Dox, and I look forward to you meeting them in a few year’s time. While it does seem all the rage to start a family right now, not even the influence of Hera can bring about Human/Vulcanoid hybrid children, given our differing blood bases of iron versus copper. So for myself and Sonak, when we conceive, it will be quite deliberate, and on the timeline that I have established for our careers. Fortunately, my logical spouse informed me at the very beginning of our relationship that mine is to plot the course of our lives, as he trusts me to do so.”
“Thus by the time you meet my children, we will have arrived at the dawn of the 25th century, and we’ll be on Earth.” The matter-of-fact way in which she made the statement was surprising, but leave it to Rita Paris to make such a bold statement, imbuing it with the confidence with which she approached so many challenges. “Not that I need to be proven wrong, Hera…”
Six decks below, the goddess whose name had been invoked looked up from her embroidery work to chuckle to herself.
As Jaeih stepped over to the door to leave, she paused and turned back to Rita. "It sounds as though you have quite the well-reasoned plan, my dear. Once upon a time, so did I. Of course..."
Pausing, mid-sentence Jaeih gave Rita a Cheshire grin that tweaked the corner of her eyes ever so slightly, as she finished her thought, "...plans do change. Often for the better."
Thinking back over the stories Melanie Dox had told her of her upbringing and the stern, strict taskmistress who had so mercilessly prepared her daughter to protect herself from a hostile universe, Rita Paris compared to the genuinely cheerful and happy woman leaving her office. Smiling that million-watt smile that lit up a room and melted hearts, she replied in kind.
“They do indeed, Mrs. Dox. They do indeed…”