The Bulikaya Particle
Location: Starfleet Intel Command
The plastic man knew that he had to negotiate this particular situation with care, aplomb, and a certain deference of style. He’d studied his target and he understood the risks- yet, he was still determined to take the chance, to extend the offer, and see if an accord could be reached.
After all, that’s what diplomacy was all about. Bridging cultures to broker deals.
This would threaten to expose him, but he felt confident in the risk. This could pay off on a galactic scale, after all. What greater prize for any corps diplomatique?
TO:LTCDR (Res) Dox, Mnhei’sahe
FROM:VADM Jones, Doug
Please meet me in my office at Starfleet Intelligence 08.26.2397@09:00 for a discussion.
That was all the missive said. But it was from a Vice Admiral, and they were gently reminding her that while she had resigned her commission, it was on the proviso of reservist status, as she still had active enlistment she had not fulfilled as yet on her current contract with Starfleet.
Having just returned for a morning run on the Starfleet Academy campus about an hour prior, Mnhei’sahe Dox had decided to mimic the running path she had taken with Rita Paris a few times back on the Hera’s holodeck. To her surprise, she found herself enjoying the campus more and more. The old resentment she had felt for being on Earth was starting to slowly and quietly fade away, and that was a good thing.
Getting dressed, the recent recruit to Starfleet’s Diplomatic training program had a new uniform which she was still trying to get used to. The gray tunic with the white band across the chest and her training rank markers in bars on each shoulder was a bit of a departure from her former command crimson uniform, but she kept reminding herself that change was good.
The moderately sized room she was staying in on campus was a bit empty at the time as Mona, her mother and the children were moving their things into the new apartment at the top of a shining Starfleet complex up the coast in Seattle and wouldn’t be back in town until the evening. It was a beautiful space with almost 360 degree views of the city that her avian wife and children adored, and had already named ‘The Aerie’. The redheaded Romulan was looking forward to the move, after these first few weeks of meetings and debriefings, where staying in town seemed much more sensible.
Sensible, but a little lonely.
By and large, however, Dox was in a much more positive headspace than she would have thought as she finished putting her new uniform on and preparing to head to her meeting. She had wished that the wording had been more specific, as ‘for a meeting’ seemed a bit cryptic and vague, but the anxious former aviatrix hoped that was just her natural predilection for nervousness creeping in as she grabbed her personal data PaDD and left to head to the Starfleet Intelligence headquarters.
It was a pleasant walk across the sprawling campus that, the last time she had been here, had been under far more stressful circumstances, and Dox was happy to be able to appreciate it just a bit more. Before too long, she had made her way through the extensive security and was waiting in the antechamber outside of the Vice Admiral’s office.
As the Commander at the reception desk looked up, she nodded to Dox. “Lieutenant Commander? Admiral Jones will see you now.”
“Thank you.” Dox said politely and with a bit of a mild smile that she seemed to have to force just a hair less than she used to as she turned from the window overlooking the bay to head into the office.
The office was panelled in simulated dark wood, with a small but functional desk, and a wall that appeared to look out over the sprawling city of San Francisco. Save that she’d paid attention, and this room was nowhere near the exterior of the building. The window wall looked realtime- after all, it was a partly cloudy day outside, and the view did seem to reflect accurate weather conditions at the least.
Standing in front of that sprawling vista was a very slender, very tall man. It was as if someone had taken the image of a standard humanoid’s proportions and stretched the image vertically, but not horizontally. He appeared to be nearly a full two meters tall- not quite, but close. Yet so slender he looked practically fragile.
Turning as she entered, a smile warmed the face of the pale-skinned humanoid, and his large bright eyes took her in. “Lieutenant Commander Dox! Please, come in, come in. It’s very good to meet you. I’m Vice Admiral Jones. Can I get you anything? Water, tea, Romulan ale?”
“Hello, Vice Admiral.” Dox said, her arms folded behind her back, standing a bit more straight than standard parade rest out of respect and habit when speaking to Admirals for obvious reasons. But at the more casual first question, Dox replied a bit more honestly to set the tone she hoped would continue. “Unless you have Romulan coffee available without undue fuss, a glass of water would be fine. Thank you very much.”
“As a matter of fact,” the admiral, long-legged and surprisingly spry, covered the room in three strides to open a panel, and the aroma of coffee wafted out. Grasping the tray, the Vice Admiral stepped over to deliver the cup to his guest. “Research tends to pay off, to answer your question you’re too polite to ask. I know quite a bit about you, Mrs. Dox. But not everything. Which is why I wanted for us to have a discussion today.”
Returning to his desk, something finally connected with Dox about one of the oddities about the man. The way that he moved seemed almost spidery to her, until she watched him negotiate his desk, pulling out his chair and settling into it. He didn’t move like he was always in motion. He moved as though he were a vehicle that was being piloted. The sudden pauses, the over exaggeration of some of the movements, the odd proportions were all adding up to questions in her mind.
They were questions that led her mind in a few different directions that she needed more information on to fully form from loose ideas to more formed theories, so for now she simply would continue absorbing whatever she could from the interaction.
Giving the coffee a light whiff, the aroma was quite relaxing. This was her preferred blend, made just the way she liked it. It was information easily collected from the available replicator records of the Hera that were in no way hidden information, but it spoke to who she was talking to that he would bother with learning such things.
Gesturing to the chair in front of his desk, Dox was not a woman to ever assume familiarity, but also was getting over simply standing until told she could sit and instead, politely asked, “May I, Vice Admiral?”
By all means, please do. I don’t want to loom here all day,” he replied with a smile that seemed genuine and friendly. “So, of course, you’re wondering why I’ve called you here today. What all of the significance of the little nuances mean- the abbreviated communication, the reminder of your reservist rank, what Starfleet Intelligence wants from me. All good questions, very good.”
As he spoke, the Vice Admiral made hand gestures that called attention to his very long fingers, and it was clear that accentuating what he was saying with his hands was a practiced affectation for him.
Taking the offered seat, Dox took a sip of her offered coffee and listened. The man was correct that she was absolutely analyzing his every word and placing special attention on where they were. Starfleet Intelligence implied a significant amount to the redhead Romulan.
“So, yes, I’ll get to it. As a Starfleet reservist, you are still bound by your Starfleet oath. However, there may come times when that will potentially clash with your duties as a diplomat. So today I’m here to discuss that with you, and establish just what the expectations will be in regard to Starfleet- particularly Starfleet Intelligence- and Corps Diplomatique.” The admiral opened his hands, face pleasant. “Questions?”
“Many.” Dox said with a raised eyebrow at the unusual individual, remembering in that moment that in her last leap to the Victory, one hundred and eleven years ago, Captain Charybdis MacGregor had a somewhat confrontational relationship with an Admiral named ‘Jones’. It was yet another in a string of coincidences that didn’t sit well with the young woman. “But for now, I suppose it’s best to focus on just what those expectations will be. My first being, should I assume that Starfleet Intelligence considers my commission as an officer still active?”
“Well, you see, that’s where this discussion comes in. It becomes a thorny point given the circumstances, doesn’t it?” the admiral wagged his long index finger. It reminded Dox of Rita, and she idly wondered if the admiralty of her era had done it and that’s where she picked it up.
“It does.” Dox replied somewhat plainly, with a nod. “Of course, any serious interactions with my people generally are best described as ‘thorny’, and I will be putting myself in a particularly dense proverbial briar patch, all things considered. Is there a concern regarding my loyalties?”
“Excellent question!” the lanky yet friendly-seeming admiral declared. “No. Starfleet has assured itself of exactly where your loyalties lay last year, after your rescue from Romulus. So that’s not in question. The question before us today is when you know when to act like a Starfleet officer and when you need to act as a diplomat. Fortunately, as Starfleet are often employed as diplomats on missions, there should seldom be a conflict of duties. The grey area of exceptions is where the moral quagmire may come into play. So, shall we discuss?”
Over the course of the next few hours, the Intelligence admiral walked her through a series of hypothetical situations, all of which posed moral quandaries in regard to duty. In each case, he laid out the conditions of the situation and the relevant variables, illustrating where potential conflict might arise. In each case, he let her choose her own course, offering course corrections when needed because of hazards she did not consider or regulations of which she was unaware.
At no point did he attempt to trap her in a situation by offering false information, nor did he seem to be deceiving her in the least. However, the extended conversation did settle into her mind that he was not humanoid, at least not entirely. Her overall impression was of a construct, a robot perhaps. But one very advanced, according to what she knew of robotics, if it was autonomous as this one seemed to be. Or it could be a sophisticated puppet, being manipulated by a pilot, who might or might not be providing the voice for the construct. Holographics tended to be smoother and more flawless- their programmers saw to that. But robotics tended to have an unnatural element to them that one could sense in the subtleties of their movements.
Or it was a changeling, and it’s mimicry of human behavior was somehow lacking- which seemed implausible, particularly in the heart of Starfleet Intelligence. To say nothing of the fact that what he was teaching her in that room was remarkably useful, benevolent information and, and not in any overtly noticeable way, manipulative.
“This has all been extremely helpful, Vice Admiral.” Dox said politely as she turned back to the strange man as they finished another hypothetical scenario. “For myself, and hopefully for you as well. You’ve asked me if I had questions, and after the last few hours, I’m sure that you have a more than a measure of who I am. Do you have any questions?”
“What’s the riddle of the room, Lieutenant Commander?” the Vice Admiral asked, folding his long fingers together and adopting an attentive posture, giving away nothing.
Pausing for just the slightest moment, Dox considered the question and nodded, glancing about the room for a moment. If he was a changeling or something other than just a human Vice Admiral with uniquely peculiar mannerisms, then it was possible she could be in very serious danger. She, or Starfleet or any number of things or people.
Looking back to meet his eyes, Dox stiffened almost imperceptibly, preparing for the possibility of trouble, even though she didn’t feel threatened. Nodding slightly, she replied in a plain and even tone. “As far as I can tell, the riddle of the room… is you, Vice Admiral.”
“Who are you? Or, more appropriately… what are you? Because nothing about you or your manners indicates that you’re human.” Dox continued, raising an eyebrow. “In spite of your personnel file saying you are.”
“Fascinating. What sort of lifeform would you hypothesize me to be, Lieutenant Commander Dox?” His face lost none of it’s pleasantry, nor did his tone. If anything, he seemed not in the least bit surprised nor taken aback- but neither was he giving anything up, either.
“Artificial.” Dox answered as she leaned slightly forward in her seat, looking into the eyes that didn’t seem quite right. “Frankly, you don’t move like any species I’ve even met. And I’ve met a great many species.”
“Fascinating. And you draw this conclusion rather than a shapeshifter, a hologram or other subterfuge because?” Again, the admiral’s pleasant demeanor didn’t waver.
“To my knowledge, I’ve not met any of the known shapeshifting species on record, such as the Founders or Chameloids. But never in any of the classes I took at the academy has there been any references to the specifics of what I’m seeing in how you move.” Dox added, nerves beginning to ramp up a bit at how the exchange was continuing with further and further questions that all evaded any answers. “But I’m friends with a handful of holographic life forms… and I’ve seen my share of piloted robotics. Of those three options… that’s how you move, Vice Admiral.”
“That said, you’ve not actually confirmed any of my observations, but you’ve also not denied any of them.” the former pilot continued, her eyebrows lowering slightly. “And considering where we are, it’s more than a little disconcerting to me that you might not be who and what you’re supposed to be. So, with that in mind, who are you and what are you?”
“All very fair questions. Very well Lieutenant Commander,” At that, the smiling face of the admiral froze as it ratcheted slightly forward, then hydraulics hummed as it lifted the face out of the way, revealing the interior of the Vice Admiral’s head, which was indeed a cockpit- for a miniature version of the admiral.
Who waved at her.
“I’m still going to use the speech conveyer, because otherwise I don’t think you’d be able to hear me. But you are correct, I am piloting a rather large and complex robotic version of myself, Lieutenant Commander. This in and of itself was a test- not only of your knowledge and moral leanings, but of your observational capacity and your ability. You come highly recommended from Admiral Meowlth, so I wanted to introduce myself and get to know you.” Waving his hand, the robot hand mimicked the action.
“I had an accident with an exotic subatomic particle in a transporter incident six years ago. Since then I’ve used a variety of conveyances, until this latest model. Which still needs some work, but it’s still a remarkable feat of engineering, wouldn’t you say?” The tiny version of the vice admiral seemed possessed of the same cheery and open disposition as his robotic ‘spacesuit’. Which made sense if they were trying to emulate him.
Looking across at the unconventional sight, Dox tilted her head slightly. The explanation was no more outlandish than any of the things that had happened in her life, and in point-of-fact, a little specifically so. After all, she herself had just gone through a particularly interesting series of adventures due to her own exposure to exotic particles and Rita Paris’ transporter ‘incidents’ were a matter of record, at least within the Intelligence branch.
It was possible she was drawing connections where there were none, but the concerned officer didn’t want to miss anything under the circumstances. “And when I speak to Admiral Meowlth, she can confirm this all? After all, if this is some kind of subterfuge, it represents a significant threat. So if you are telling the truth, you’ll understand my suspicions and concerns...along with my need for something more to tell me that what you’re saying is the truth.”
“Excellent answer!” the enthusiastic yet miniscule senior officer exhorted. “Yes, rather than attempt to convince you in the here and now, when this office itself could be a holographic construct and any number of people or proofs could be counterfeited, by all means, verify this information with Admiral Meowlth, or you are free to put in an inquiry to the Fleet Admiral and you will receive a confirmation. I’m looking forward to working with you, Ambassador In Training Dox.”
With that, the faceplate with the frozen smile came back down, reseated itself and animated once more, the eyes blinking and alert, the smile a natural one again.
Not leaving the headquarters of Starfleet Intel, Dox did just that. The redheaded student contacted Admiral Meowlth and others up the chain to confirm the unconventional Vice Admiral's remarkable story. Nearly forty-five minutes later, after talking to others she had chosen to trust and reviewing a variety of records, Dox returned to the mechanical man in question who had indulged her curiosity enthusiastically.
There was still the coincidence of his name being 'Jones' itching at the back of her mind, but for now, she had another choice to make: To decide if someone who had kept a rather massive secret from her could be trusted when there were still questions.
"Good afternoon. Admiral Meowlth verified the information, Vice Admiral Jones." Dox said with a practiced, professional demeanor she was getting better at presenting. "Which… in and of itself felt like something of a test."
While her tone was professional, she was not being stoic or cold, as she allowed a bit of a smile on her thick cheeks as she spoke. "Might I ask, if it was?"
“My father once told me that life is a test,” Admiral jones replied. “Which is a Jones family phrase going back for generations. There has been a Jones in Starfleet Intelligence since it was formed, back with Admiral Jeffrey Jones, back in 2161. It still rings just as true today, to my mind. As for you- yes. Will you follow up and do due diligence? Will you be looking for inconsistencies? Will you be fooled by a smile and assurances? Will you be smart enough to confirm through multiple reliable sources that can offer security clearances? Will you be self-reliant or immediately consult with your aide-de-camp? Many questions, many tests. All of which you passed- you followed protocol, verified sources and overall did exactly what I’d hoped.”
Listening, Dox pondered the number of generational Starfleet families and smiled a bit at the fairly basic explanation for what had been sticking in her mind. Perhaps it was a Romulan trait to seek out links and circles within circles even when there were none. Perhaps it was the effect of having dealt with her Grandmother as much as she had the past year. Regardless, it had served her well enough to do so, so long as she also knew when to keep such thoughts from fueling the kind of paranoia that was at the root of much of her people’s problems.
In this moment, she chose to let that thought unstick in her mind to focus on the here-and-now and the man before her in the human-sized mirror. “Hopefully, I will continue to do so, Vice Admiral.”
“Which… if you do not mind my asking… does raise another question to me.” Dox asked with a quizzical expression. “Admiral Meowlth specified that what you’ve revealed to me is a secret very few know and it was one I was not to share beyond a select few. So, what made you decide to trust me enough to give me permission to ask?”
“Most people are too polite to mention it, just dismissing it as me being a bit... odd,” The Vice Admiral cocked his head to the side a bit, in one of those slightly off quirks. “I wanted to know how bold you would be as to address it, or to be polite, make note of it and try to find some other reason for my question. Every reaction would have spoken volumes of you and your character, both as a person and an officer. Which was what I wished to gauge for myself. I still trust... well, my own eyes and ears are something of a lie in this case. But first hand experience- peeling open my head to show you the man behind the curtain, and seeing your reaction- that’s when you find out just whom you are sending into the den of dragons.”
“Now I know you, and you know a little bit about me- we give trust to gain trust, do we not? So from now on, I am your chain of command, your new contact within Starfleet Intelligence. Although you are a reservist, and are not under orders from me at any point unless recalled to active duty. Understood?” The curious admiral with the kind eyes and elongated fingers offered a smile to the new entrant to the world of Starfleet diplomacy.
“Understood, Vice Admiral.” Dox replied professionally, but personably with a bit of a smile that she allowed out. “I appreciate the measure of trust, both professionally and personally. Also, in regards to your robotic body…”
“I happen to be married to an inventor who specializes in exactly this kind of technology.” Dox smiled just a bit more. “And she would likely be thrilled to address some of the problems you’re having and make the entire rig far more comfortable to operate.”
Pondering her statement for a second, she realized that she had even more resources to share, “Also… the sector’s foremost expert on transporter anomalies is preparing to take up residency to teach at the Academy at the beginning of the next term. He may have some insight into your condition and would be… well, not glad... but quite willing to look over the specifics of the case. His success rate is very encouraging as well, so if you’d like, I could arrange an introduction?”
“Honestly, in both cases, I was rather hoping you might offer. I was planning to ask, so this saves me the imposition. Thank you... I would be absolutely delighted to meet your wife, and the last Kolinahr of another universe... remarkable. We could all do dinner together, I know some amazing restaurants in Seattle or here in San Francisco. Or we could meet in Tokyo if she’d like to look me over in her laboratory-” The long, slender man blushed a bit and his yes fell, his finger, long and tapering, tangling with one another. “I apologize, I get a bit excited. It’s... a unique condition, and... it’s been very hard. This is the best accommodation they’ve come up with for me yet, and... I get a bit worked up. Sorry...”
Looking back up, the Admiral raised an eyebrow slightly. “Miss Dox, Mrs. Dox, Miss Godox, Mrs. Godox, Lieutenant Commander... what do you prefer to be called? I admit I am uncertain.”
“Firstly, there’s no need to apologize. I imagine you rarely get the opportunity to discuss the situation,” the young Ambassador in training replied more casually, as the question allowed her to relax her posture a bit. “Secondly, ‘Miss Dox’ is preferable. Mrs. Dox is my mother, and only the children are using the portmanteau of Godox, actually. Thank you. If I may, how would you prefer to be addressed?”
“Unless we are in a professional setting? Call me Doug, Miss Dox.”
Nodding, Dox’s smile remained for the unconventional Admiral who was a decided breath of fresh air for the young Romulan.
“Then, likewise, Doug. Please, call me Mnhei’sahe.”