Making up for Lost Time
Posted on Thu May 28th, 2020 @ 4:27pm by Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox
Heart and Soul
Location: Flight Control Office
The last year had been a roller coaster for Lieutenant Commander Mnhei’sahe Dox of the U.S.S. Hera.
What began with a simple night off-ship with her then newly pregnant wife and mother for dinner kicked off a string of events that could best be described as life-altering for the young Romulan Starfleet officer. A kidnapping lead to family revelations and journeys to forgotten colony worlds and finally, to her wife’s home planet to give birth to their triplets.
What each different twist in her life caused, for the often-damaged young officer was more and more time away from her home on the Hera. And more and more time away from her responsibilities at the ship’s Chief Flight Control Officer. A job that was far more elaborate than just flying the ship. Dox was in charge of the entire department, which meant monitoring and training every pilot on the Hera. It meant being in charge of who was on bridge duty and who was manning the ships multiple flight decks. It meant making sure that the ships support craft were all in pristine condition and that their pilots were the best they could be.
The Hera operated like a world onto itself, where each department head had a high degree of autonomy to make decisions and manage itself. And while every decision Dox made as the chief went back up the chain of command to be reviewed by Commander Rita Paris, they were still her decisions to make. And the point of fact was that she hadn’t been around much of late to make those decisions.
Now, she was back on the ship again after traveling to Miradon with Mona Gonadie to be there for the birth of their children, Hlai’vana, Amihan, and Tala, and she was feeling the pressure of getting caught up on everything that had happened in her absence. And this time, it was a LOT.
The Flight Control office was a particularly expansive one in comparison to other department head offices, with a massive window overlooking the bustling main flight deck. To the right of the double doors to the office, Dox had a decent sized desk with it’s back the right corridor wall. On her desk was two small starship models, both gifts from Rita Paris. One, a model of the Refit her old Constitution Class ship, the “Exeter”. And the other, a t’Liss class Romulan Bird of Prey called “The Raptor’s Wing.” In the middle of the desk, a haphazard stack of PaDD’s she was reviewing and on the left of the desk, her small work computer.
Now, though, there were 2-D photographs on the desk as well, next to the computer. She preferred them to holos, and wanted to keep the picture close to her. It was two, small framed images. One of her and Mona on Miradon with their newborn girls in their arms, with their respective parents behind them. The other, simply a photo of Mona herself taken when they visited the orphanage she grew up in on Miradon. Taking pictures of ANY kind was a highly monitored practice on Mona’s homeworld due to the ever-present problem of hunters from races that tried to invade the planet because of the horrific practice some races had of eating Miradonians. But these images had been approved, and Dox cherished them.
And she wanted them close, to remind herself every day, that no matter how much she tended to prioritize her work responsibilities, that THEY were her primary responsibilities.
On her screen, however, was a different kind of responsibility.
It was the reports regarding the Hera’s recent mission to confront the Romulan renegade, Riov Dalia Rendal, that had put the ship in deadly danger and left them temporarily stranded in a void known as the Undrheim. The realm where gods went to die… or to hide what they didn’t want found. A void that Rendal was only able to find because of data she had pulled from Dox’s own mind during her kidnapping. So, on top of that level of personal guilt, she had to now deal with her failure to properly prepare her new assistant chief, Ensign Wieaex.
For weeks, Dox had been training the Edosian pilot to fill the vacancy left when Mona had been promoted to the head of the new R&D Department, and it had seemed like Wieaex would be a good fit for the role. But when the chips were down, she had choked causing Ensign Jessica MacNielle to step in.
Looking over the record of the event, potential disaster was averted thanks to MacNielle’s quick thinking and cool head. She took over without exacerbating Wieaex’s panic attack, and controlled the situation. Weeks ago, when considering who would be the better assistant chief, MacNielle seemed disinterested in the role, in spite of having taken it on while Dox was kidnapped when Mona had been removed from active duty for a month. Jessica had done the job fairly well, all things considered, but also made sloppy mistakes in protocol and paperwork. And Dox viewed these as impediments in her performance, whereas it looked as if Wieaex just wanted the job more. Now, Dox had to reconsider her own choices here.
Had MacNielle not been there, lives might have been lost. That was on Dox, as far as the anxious Romulan was concerned. Wieaex had already submitted a letter saying that she no longer wanted the position, and Dox would have to deal with that on its own and would be sitting down with the Edosian pilot as well, soon enough. But for now, she needed to talk to Jessica MacNielle, because it was becoming clear to the young Romulan chief, that she had overlooked some things and needed to course correct.
“You wanted to see me, Lieutenant Commander?” Jessica MacNielle said, standing nervously in the doorway to the Chief Flight Control office. She was standing, not quite at attention so much as what was technically called ‘parade rest’, which was common in Starfleet. But Dox, an expert in all things anxiety-based, could read all the signs off of the crimson-clad Ensign.
Standing a few inches taller than Dox, MacNielle was lean and kind of lanky with shoulder-length, straight brown hair and a plain face. Once upon a time, she was referred to by some of the other pilots in the department as a ‘brown-noser’. Someone who had a habit of watching Dox and occasionally even mimicking her chief. But that had stopped over the last year and MacNielle seemed to have just… stop trying.
Looking back, it was obvious to Dox, and she was ashamed at herself for missing the problem under her own nose. So here, she would try and see if she could make up for the mistake.
From her desk, Dox made a concerted effort to keep her face open and friendly as she replied. “Yes. Please, have a seat Ensign. I would like to talk.”
Pursing her thin lips, the average looking human woman came in and slowly sat down in the chair across from Dox’s desk as the Romulan chief did her best to look friendly and inviting, which was not exactly a natural expression for her. In truth, as a chief, Dox had a bad habit of defaulting to acting like her own mother, which created an extremely intimidating persona that had her the subject of more than a few unflattering nicknames from the pilots in the department.
In short, she came across very Romulan, and she didn’t like that at all.
“So, the first thing I’d like to say that, upon review, your performance during this latest mission was exemplary. I have put in a request for official commendation with Commander Paris.” Dox said, the smile feeling a little forced, even though the words were sincere.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” MacNielle said, looking sheepish and a little tired, the more Dox looked.
There was a moment of awkward silence for a moment as Dox struggled for a moment. It was easy enough to point out a problem, but that much harder to figure out what the problem was, and she suddenly had a much better understanding of how far she was from being able to be a good leader like Rita or Enalia. “The thanks are mine, Ms. MacNielle. In my absence, your quick thinking and decisive actions saved lives.”
“Ma’am… Ensign Wieaex did her job well. I only helped her, really.” MacNielle said, speaking up a bit trying to leap in front of what she was predicting was to be a meeting about the current Assistant Chief of the department.
“We aren’t here to talk about Ensign Wieaex.” Dox said, instinctively stiffening slightly. “We’re here to talk about you. About… why you weren’t in that position at the onset of that mission.”
“Ma’am?” MacNielle said, slightly confused. “You… I don’t understand.”
Standing up from her desk, Dox let out the slightest of sighs. She seemed to prefer pacing when she was working through a problem and decided to try and relax a bit as she stepped around the desk and walked a little closer to MacNielle, who stiffened a little bit. For most of her time as the head of the department, her leadership style was adopted from her stern, authoritarian mother and Dox was trying to be better about that.
Noticing how she had stiffened, Dox ground her jaw ever so slightly and nervously ran her finger over the tip of her ear. An old nervous twitch that came back up every now and again. “Miss MacNielle. Not too long ago, you were very much on your way to that position of Assistant Chief. You were energetic, ambitious and you put yourself forward whenever a duty needed to be handled. Then, you just… stopped.”
“You fell to the background. You lost that energy and, as such, when it came time to look at my options for a replacement for Lieutenant Gonadie, I looked at Ensign Wieaex, who was pushing for the position harder. Even in the tests between the two of you, she just seemed to want it more.” Dox said, as she stopped pacing and decided to take a chance.
She sat down in the empty chair next to MacNielle. “What did I miss? What happened?”
Turning to look at MacNielle, not as a commander but as a peer, Dox raised an eyebrow and smiled a bit more naturally. For a moment, there was only silence as MacNielle looked down, twiddling her thumbs. The moment stretched even longer, before the anxious Ensign replied. “Permission to speak freely, Ma’am.”
Without hesitation, Dox spoke up to the room. “Computer. Please pause any and all recording. Privacy mode. Authorization Dox, M. Lieutenant Commander. Access code 795-X9E.”
With a chirrup, the computer replied with a friendly sounding, =^=Privacy mode enabled, Lieutenant Commander.=^=
“Permission granted, Miss MacNielle. Say what you need to.” Dox said, folding her hands in her own lap, bracing herself.
“Well… you know what happened when you were away. Where the ship was… and all about… the nightmares?” MacNielle said, mentioning the horrible effects those still on the Hera withstood while the ship spent days trapped in Undrheim.
“I do, yes.” Dox said, nodding.
“I… I had a nightmare. I had a nightmare, and… and…” With a frog in her throat, MacNielle paused, closing her eyes. As she did, Dox got up and walked back around to sit in her desk chair, already feeling like a failure as she realized what she suspected MacNielle was avoiding saying.
So instead, Dox volunteered her thought, her own voice sad and distant now. “I was in there, wasn’t I?”
“A… aye. Yes. It… it was all those months ago. And I was in the Second Flight Deck… with Raphael.” MacNielle said, and suddenly the realization of where this was going exploded in Dox’s mind. What she had overlooked. “I was there in the room with him, working his overnight shift. And… in the dream… it was much bigger. Much bigger than it really was. The assassin droid that… that killed him.”
There were tears beginning to well up in MacNielle’s eyes as Dox produced a box of tissues from her desk drawer and walked them back around, returning to the other seat. MacNielle took the box and continued, wiping her eyes with the tissue. “It was… terrifying. It was so big, and it came out of the darkness and it just… snatched him up and… and I tried to hold on to him, but he was just screaming my name over and over, and I couldn’t hold on. It just… pulled him away into the darkness. And then… from the darkness, his body fell back to the deck and he was dead, and… and you came out. Walked out from where the monster had… had been.”
While she talked, MacNielle couldn’t bring herself to look up at Dox. “And… and you said what you said to me when… when you came to me that night. To… to tell me he was gone. You said, 'I am very sorry, Ensign MacNielle. But while on duty, Ensign Paulson had been killed." But in the nightmare… you… you were so… so cold. And then it became different from what happened that night. You said… you said…”
Clenching her jaw for a moment, Dox reached over and put her hand on MacNielle’s shoulder, not quite knowing how to help. But she was trying. “Miss… Jessica. It’s okay. Just say whatever you need to. It’s okay.”
At which, the mousey Ensign snapped her head over to Dox, with angry tears in her eyes. “You… you said that it was better this way! That Raphael deserved it! But he DIDN’T!! He DIDN’T deserve to DIE!!!”
As she screamed, Dox did everything she could to remain as passive as possible, just taking it all in as she finally understood where she had failed. It had been just under a year since the incident in which a tiny Scorpion-Model Assassin droid had infiltrated the Hera, trying to kill her, and instead killing Ensign Raphael Paulson as nothing more that a means to draw it’s true target closer. Dox herself had barely survived the attack, and chose to be the one to tell MacNielle what had happened.
The two ensigns got along like oil and water and constantly bickered, but that hadn’t stopped them from beginning a relationship. A relationship that was still very new when the then-Lieutenant Dox came to Jessica to let her know that Paulson had been killed on duty.
Killed by a mechanical monster meant for Dox.
At the time, MacNielle was noticeably distraught. She took a week of leave time to recover, but seemed to Dox to otherwise be alright after a while. And the young Romulan had been so caught up in the Captain’s Tribunal shortly after the attack… the reason FOR the attack… that she allowed herself to believe that MacNielle was fine. But looking back, it was clear that the young, human pilot had been spiraling into a sadness that the emotionally distant Romulan chose to not see.
Slowly, Dox pulled her own hand back and bit her upper lip as she absorbed what MacNielle was saying as the young Ensign curled over in her seat, sobbing uncontrollably now. She still not only missed Paulson terribly, but she blamed the Romulan chief for his death. And on some level, Dox agreed with her.
“You’re right. He didn’t deserve what happened to him. Nobody deserved that, and I can’t tell you how sorry I am for what happened. Over and over again, I wish I would have been there instead of him.” Dox said, skipping over the detail that Paulson had been assigned the overnight guard duty due to his poor behavior on duty earlier that day, knowing that such a detail would only make things worse. “I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. And I wish I had known how to help you afterwards better than I had done. I should have seen how much you were hurting.”
Then, Dox paused. She didn’t know what to do as a commanding officer in such an instance. And she didn’t know what to do as an acquaintence that wasn’t quite a friend. She glanced over at the miniature model of the Starship Exeter, wondering just what Rita would do in an instance like this and let out a sigh.
And as she looked at that recreation of a Constitution-Class Refit from over a century ago based on the ship Rita Paris served on… the same model as the ship Charybdis MacGreggor one Captained… and her head sunk slightly as MacNielle’s sobs began to slow. She struggled to think of the clever words Rita might have. Or the sage advice Char might give her. Something noble and inspiring. Something worthy of the pips on her uniform. Instead, she simply opened up her heart and spoke.
“Fvadt…” She swore under her breath in her native tongue. “I saw. I saw how much you were hurting, but I just… didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to make it right because I couldn’t. So… I just tried to pretend everything was okay. I’m sorry, Jessica. Not just for failing Raphael, but for failing you. I should have been better. I should have known that perfect thing to say or do to help you when you needed it the most.”
Looking up, MacNielle wiped her nose with a tissue and tilted her head slightly. In the year and a half that Dox had been her chief, she had never seen the woman like this. She had never seen the Romulan woman seem so human, as Dox continued, looking at the tiny Starship.
“I always try to tell myself to… just do what SHE would do. But I’m not Commander Paris. More often than not, I’m so frightened of failing that I default to just… acting like my MOTHER, Al'thindor forgive me.” Dox said, pursing her lips and wringing her hands together. “I should have figured something out. I should have focused on you. Seen that you were in pain and addressed it. For that, and for what happened to Raphael, I can only ask your forgiveness.”
Turning her own head, Dox’s eyes were dry but her cheeks were flush green as she met MacNielle’s eyes. She had learned to control her tears somewhat during her month-long captivity on a Romulan Warbird to some degree, though it was difficult. In this case, it was taking a massive effort. “But now… we both have choices to make. I need to choose to be better. To be the department chief you need me to be. But you need to decide what you want to do. And whatever that choice, I will support it without prejudice, because that’s my job: to support you.”
Standing up, Dox offered a hand to the young Ensign. “I still need to talk to Ensign Wieaex and see how she’s doing. I still need to make sure all of you are doing as okay as is possible. But for now, I would like you to begin sharing the responsibilities of the Assistant Chief’s position with her. You each have very specific strengths that you bring to the table, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my own time on this ship, is that we are stronger together than we are separately. And that’s both on duty and off.”
“If you choose to move on and would like to be transfered off the Hera, I will facilitate that for you as well. But…” Dox said, as MacNielle looked up at her. “I would like the opportunity to… make up for my own failings. And to help you… if I can.”
Slowly, MacNielle wiped her nose off again and tucked the tissue in her pocket before taking Dox’s hand and pulling herself up. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant Commander. I know up here that it wasn’t your fault. I really do.” She said pointing to her head.
“But in here… there was still a part that… I guess… found it easier to just blame you. Untill…” MacNielle paused slightly, her hand on her chest.
“Until?” Dox repeated, inquisitively.
“Until I was on the flight deck, and I had to help Ensign Wieaex out, bringing the support craft in. And with everything that was happening, in the moment, I was just doing what I needed to. But when it was all over, and I had a moment to think about everything, I… I went into the break area and almost cried and I couldn’t figure out why.”
There was a genuinely puzzled expression on the young woman’s face as she looked slightly down at her supervisor. But the slightest of smiles cracked Dox’s Romulan facade as she nodded. “Because when you had that moment to think, you realized that had you made the slightest of mistakes or made a wrong decision, crewmembers could have died. Died under your orders?”
“Y… Yeah. Yeah, it was like a kick in the gut and… and I realized that’s what it must feel like everytime you… you… make orders. Decide who pilots the support craft.” MacNielle said, half asking.
“Essentially, yes. When Raphael died, I learned that even something as simple as crew rotation could have impossible to foresee consequences. That is magnified when those decisions get larger. But, think about this, Ensign.” Dox said, looking up now with a bit more of the confidence of a commanding officer in her eyes, tempered with genuine concern.
“Had you not been on that Flight Deck, whatever would have happened would now be weighing upon Ensign Wieaex. Because of your clear head, you didn’t just save lives, you maybe helped save someone’s soul. Do not discount that. THAT is a big part of the promise of Starfleet. Of what the Hera stands for. That we are here for each other.” A smile came back on Dox’s face. “And as long as I’m in that chair, I promise to you that I will do everything I can to be the chief you need, and even the friend you need when you need it.”
“T… Thank you, Chief. I do appreciate it.” MacNielle replied, her eyes drying and her body language loosening slightly.
“As do I, Ensign. Thank you. Now… take a break. Go clean yourself up, and report back for helm duty at Oh Six Hundred hours. Tomorrow, we can start to discuss the next step. Dismissed.” Dox replied, snapping back to a more professional posture as MacNielle did the same. Then, as MacNielle turned to leave, she paused at the desk, looking at the pictures.
“Um, Chief… before I go… is this them?” She asked, with an awkward smile, slightly biting her bottom lip.
Smiling back, the closest thing to beaming that MacNielle had ever seen on Dox’s face, the Romulan chief picked up the picture. “This is them. This is Vana. Ami and Tala. And yes, Ensign Gonadie will be bringing them in for a visit before too long. And I’ll make sure you’re here to meet them.”
“EEE! They’re so beautiful, MacNielle squealed as she bit her lip again, a broad smile on her face. “Thank you, Chief. I can’t wait!”
“Indeed, Miss MacNielle. Thank you.” Dox said as MacNielle left the office, leaving her alone again. She would still need to talk to Ensign Wieaex and see what she could do the help in her case, but for now, it was just her and her thoughts as she stepped over to look out onto the Flight Deck which was under her aegis, and she smiled.