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What Lies Beneath
Open Secrets

Captain's Quarters 900 <Deck 9> [Gibraltar Station]

These quarters are spacious and comfortable, and of fairly good size. The main room is a rectangle with the door centered across from a bank of tall, straight windows. A white sofa, large enough for three, is placed under the windows slightly to the left, facing the door. A small fern rests on the window ledge, and a bright bouquet of flowers sit upon a smoked glass coffee table in front of the sofa. Twin chairs of the same plush style as the sofa complete the seating arrangement. To the left is an archway leading to a separate dining area, smoked glass table ringed with four dark chairs. There is a replicator in that room, and a lamp hangs low above the table to provide a softer mood. To the right of the main doors is a maroon chair before a large panel that can display anything needed at will. Next to the panel is a painting of a nebula, swirling greens, golds, blues, and reds. Beyond this is the door leading to the bedroom. The bed is large enough for two, with maroon comforter and gray pillows. There is a closet and cupboards for the occupant's belongings, and a bathroom that boasts not only a shower but a full tub as well. The carpeting throughout the quarters is deep red trimmed with gray, the walls paneled in yellow. Soft lighting comes from panels in the ceiling, and there are twin vertical alert tracers on either side of the door.

Ed Danley
Gwen Hawkins

Hawkins seems to be in the middle of cleaning her quarters as the door chimes. She calls out, "Enter," and disappears into the bedroom carrying something. "It'll be a moment... Thomas' been so busy with this debacle that he's forgetting to pick up his clothing in the morning. I swear, I am going to strangle that woman with my bare hands." Well, then.

Danley glances around the quarter making a mental note of potential weapons and breakable objects before moving over to the LCARS terminal and quickly typing a few commands.

The Captain is still puttering around in the other room. "Get comfortable, have some tea. Or what is it Fred has you drinking these days? Iced tea with sugar? Ugh. Alison can't make it tonight... she's busy debriefing the Captain of the Montgomery. More's the pity; she knows a hell of a lot more about this than I do... been in on it longer." Gwen comes out of the bedroom and blinks. "You're not Commander Solvek... Mr. Danley. Can I help you?"

Danley leans over the LCARS and is just shaking his head, "You know, that's just an evil trick. I can't believe I didn't think of it. Who in the world are you after this time? Thomas? His mommy? Or did you flip sides? Did they make you some offer you couldn't refuse? It would make sense, who would question a member of SFI as a turncoat for 31?"

Hawkins stares at Danley for a long moment. "What in all the eighteen hells are you talking about, Danley?" She walks over to the replicator, quite calmly dialing up a latte. Yes, a latte. "Did you want something?"

Danley turns off the LCARS and pinches the bridge of his noses with his left hand while he paces a bit while making an effort to keep a solid object between himself and the woman. After a moment he says, "You'll have to give me a moment. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this..." He quietly talks to himself as he paces but keeps a close watch on the woman, "Your staff. You brought Solvek with you. That indicates either an extreme trust because it would be easier to hide what you were doing from someone you hadn't worked with in years. So is he involved? And Church, he shows up again in your life? Just luck of the draw? Or have you three been working on some plan for some time? Church hadn't reported for duty when the explosion happened if I'm not mistaken. Was he the one that may have planted the bombs. Well he did save Brooks. Because he knew how to work the bombs? That does make sense. Or is someone plotting revenge against you for some SFI thing and put all this in place to make it look like you've been involved in some plot..."

Hawkins turns to look at Danley, latte in hand. "Commander Solvek and I went through a war together. I held him when his wife died. He saved my life, oh, at least half a dozen times when I could have died doing stupid things during battle. He is my best friend. Plenty of reason to bring him along to my new command, yes? Lt. Commander Church... didn't even know who I really was until a few months ago. His mother," and oh! the scorn she invests in that word, "insisted on coming onto my station during the lock down, to get him in here. Went over me and Crawford both, just so her precious son could come to his new posting. None of the three of us were terribly happy about that. As for the rest of it, I have no idea who is behind all of this, why they've done it, or why they seem hell-bent on killing my people, but I'm certainly trying to find out, evidence or no evidence. Now, Danley, could you please explain what you're doing in my quarters, rambling on about my life as if you're making some sort of sense?" She moves to go sit on the couch, crosses her legs, sips her coffee. Not remotely threatening looking, and no weapons nearby.

Danley stares at the woman for a long moment before finally sighing. Moving over to a chair he simply plops down and sinks into the chair, "So basically I've got one of three choices. Either play this game which you obviously know I'm playing. Why else would you have given me the PADD of information. But even then it's really only two choices eh? Trust or don't trust. Coming here may have been stupid. It could have obviously been a trap. You tell your best friend to drop these hints to see how I respond. He does and I head straight here..." Danley stares at the woman a bit longer, "If it came to some sort of combat I imagine if it came to some sort of hand to hand thing you'd be full of surprises more than likely would even be able to take me. Weapons wise though, that might be a different story. But if I shouldn't trust you... wouldn't you be a bit more animated trying to position yourself for a weapon or an advantage? Or are you sitting there calmly trying to lure me into a false state of comfort." Another exasperated sigh escapes from his lips, "So when you were doing your thing for SFI were you always jumping? Over analyzing things?"

Hawkins frowns at Danley. "I had intelligence before I went in, I had training to know how to read people, and I trusted no one." She pauses. "At least, until my superiors told me to blow up a Starfleet ship to get at a supposedly dangerous man and his cult. Then I decided to go out on a limb and trust a Starfleet Captain, like I'd been taught at the Academy. Lo and behold, we found a better way to complete the mission, found out the real danger wasn't my target at all, and the man I decided not to kill is currently running to be president of the Federation. And I plan to vote for him, as he's always had excellent ideas--he just needed the right advisors." Which could mean one of about 3 people at the moment--the 3 male candidates for President. Hmm. She raises her eyebrows. "Hints? What 'hints' did Solvek drop?"

Danley says, "Well... maybe not hints so to speak. He just casually," Danley shakes his head, "When does a Vulcan do anything casually? He said you and Thomas go way back to your SFI days. I just hadn't thought to look at service records. It just... shocked me."

Hawkins blinks slowly. "That's an odd thing to say. Is he alright? He... doesn't really talk about my personal life to other people very much."

Danley says, "He was in the officer's lounge and had Aventino on his lap. Aventino wanted me to put a catwalk and brass pole in the bar. And then Solvek told Winifred he liked her hair. Then offered to have a drink with us while he was talking about your history in SFI. Struck me as odd but I don't know the guy and figured I shouldn't call medical again."

Hawkins coughs, nearly spilling her latte. "He... what? Aventino... why did he...?" Wait. The Captain's angry?

Danley stares at Hawkins for a moment as he glances around, "What?"

"Why was Lieutenant Aventino on Solvek's lap?" One thing at a time, it seems, from Gwen.

Danley shrugs, "She seemed to be trying to arouse him if you ask me. She kept repeating some strange thing what was it... umm... please stand up. So then Solvek threw her off his lap and she jumped in to mine. Pressing up against me and stuff before she ran after Volchenkov."

Hawkins seems to calm down. "Ahh. Right. So... Lieutenant Aventino was acting forward, Solvek was complimenting his girlfriend, and offered to have a drink. How did my SFI history come up exactly?"

Danley says, "Brooks said he spends too much time around you. That he was talking like Thomas. I asked Thomas from engineering? Cause he seemed kind of old and pudgy for you. And Solvek said no, Thomas Church. Go way back... SFI days."

Hawkins nods slowly. "I see. Well, that doesn't seem too unusual, given the... well. Solvek has a bit of a medical... issue at the moment. His behavior's liable to be a bit strange." Wow, good way to keep the subject off of other things...

Danley stares at the ceiling for a moment before asking, "So who told you what I was really doing here? Or am I just that bad at it?"

"Alison." Hawkins sips her latte. "Admiral Crawford, that is."

Danley sighs, "I'm must be awful at this. I've got no training in this and I'm just jumping at everything. I can't even get a medical report without having it handed to me."

Hawkins smiles. "Alison has her ways to know things... don't worry. She's very good friends with the person that recruited you. As am I."

Danley rolls his eyes again, "Oh great. So they tell you all so all can watch me and bail me out when I get to deep. Perfect. So much for my idea..."

Hawkins raises an eyebrow. "No, actually, we're all part of a group that--" She cuts off as the door chimes. Calls, "Enter." As Aventino enters, the Captain raises her other eyebrow. "Can I help you, Ms. Aventino?"

Aventino shrugs a little, looking around the place with something of a contented glow about her. "I dunno, I... just can't sleep, that's all. I hope you don't mind me stopping-- hey, Poker?" she gets distracted, "I play a mean hand, myself," she smiles warmly, then, finally spotting Danley, "Oh, hey, hi, sorry about before," she smiles. "Guess I was just glad to get off shift in the cargo bay. Clear for transport, check the readout, transport, unload, clear for transport, check the readout, transport, unload... it gets you a little giddy in the brainbox after a while, I guess."

Danley smirks a bit, "In the brainbox? That wasn't whats seemed g... uhh... Yeah I suppose I can understand. Doing a good job can be a reward to itself I suppose."

Hawkins keeps her eyebrows raised. "I suppose so. Ahh. Well. Have you met Ed Danley, here?"

Aventino nods quietly enough and sits down at the poker table. "Yeah, we've crossed paths a few times," she looks up, curious, at the Captain, "You okay?" She looks toward the door, as if looking for someone.

Danley follows Aventino's gaze to the door and with a sly grin asks, "Did you bring a party with you? Or should we be expecting just a small gathering?"

Hawkins tilts her head at Aventino a bit. "I'm fine. I was supposed to meet with Commander Solvek, but he seems to be late."

Aventino grins on back at Danley, "Just a few close friends," she teases, "I like to keep the orgies small and cozy when possible," she laughs a little, then lifts a hand toward the captain, "Just kidding. Though the Ambassador will probably be up to see you in the morning," she admits. "Hm. I saw Solvek in the lounge, earlier. Want me to go see if he's still there?"

Danley shakes his head, "See the sad thing is I'm not sure whether to believe you or not. Part of me thinks, 'Yeah... wouldn't surprise me.' The other part is like, 'Naw they don't do that in Starfleet.' But I don't know... Anyway I doubt you'll find Solvek he was with Brooks and they were drinking. So I imagine they're busy looking at the pretty colors of the Maelstrom or some other science type thing. But what do I know. I'm just a bartender in these parts."

Aventino waves a hand dismissively, "Nah, I typically prefer sex to be a one-on-one activity," she shrugs, "I figure it'd get confusing fast you start adding more than that," she does, to be fair, sound like she's actually given it thought, but as blunt as she's being, that teasing edge is gone from her voice, and she's likely being perfectly honest, unless she's a really good liar. "Ah," she says, "Yeah, probably. Scientists," she smiles warmly, "Put something shiny and bizarre in front of them and they're like kittens with toy mice stuffed with catnip. You should have seen the science teams just descend upon the cargo bay today. Fred looked so happy. She worries me, sometimes, as she's usually either happy and drunk or miserable and sober... at least around me. It's good to see her eyes light up like that."

Danley shrugs a bit, "Yeah... I suppose so. Course there's also a difference between sex and love. Some of the regulars at the bar seem to be looking just for sex. More so now that Rayya is working in there. But I suppose that's to be expected. I just don't understand the whole, 'Ooh she's green. I wonder if she's green all over' mentality. But whatever brings 'em into the bar can't be bad I suppose. So what's this artifact look like anyway?"

Hawkins shakes her head as she listens to the conversation. "They're green all over, I assure you, Danley. You can tell your customers that, and save them and her the trouble, poor girl." The Captain feels sorry for the Orion girl. Interesting. "Fred has her issues. Who doesn't, these days? I wouldn't take 'quiet' for 'miserable,' though, Bunni... one of the happiest and most... entertaining women I ever knew was a Vulcan who wouldn't have said two words to you in a bar, and less if she didn't know you." Hawkins frowns for a moment, then says, "Yes, I've been hearing a lot about it. What does it look like?"

Aventino chuckles a little, "Well, there's nothing wrong with sex for its own sake, too. It's recreational, relaxing, and does good things for your cardiovascular system. As long as everyone's on the same page going in," she shrugs, then giggles, "No pun intended. It's an eye. A silver eye about, um, probably twenty five centimeters by ten," she guesses. "Fred says the innards are circuitry, but it feels pretty solid." She looks up toward the Captain, almost mournfully, "It's... it's not really the quiet, it's... ah, nothing, probably shouldn't be spreading gossip about Fred anyhow. She doesn't need that."

Danley says, "Ehh, recreational, relaxing, good for the cardio. Sounds like jogging. And as for Rayya she seems to be able to handle herself quite well. But it's a silver eye with circuitry? Sounds Borgish..."

Aventino's mournful look disappears and she smiles at Danley broadly, "I like to jog, too."

Hawkins tilts her head a bit. "She's a friend," Gwen says simply. "What's got you worried?" Pause. Blink. "Borg-ish? It sounds a bit big to be something Borg."

Danley starts to head for the door, "Well we've encountered giant races before. Maybe it was a giant Borg. Either way I'm sure you guys will figure it out. Myself I should get back to work."

Aventino stands up, herself, and shakes her eye, "No, not like a Borg eye. Like... like the eye gouged out of a silver statue. It doesn't look technological from the outside, but..." she shrugs, "Maybe it's a probe, or something. Eye imagery would be suitable..." she comes over to the couch to settle next to the captain, ignoring, for the most part, the common rules of personal space, but not otherwise being overbearing. "It's one thing to be quiet because that's the way you are... Fred's quiet and I'm pretty sure she'd rather not be, she's just--scared. She wants to be able to talk to people openly, but if it's not her own insecurity then she has to worry about Solvek's career and what people will say and all that... she thinks a lot of what people will think, and I can tell it hurts her. In vino veritas, and all that jazz."

"Mmm." Hawkins looks over at Danley and smiles. "Good night, Danley. Sleep well... and don't worry too much. Things will take care of themselves. You're not alone, hmm?" Odd thing to say. To Aventino: "I know she has certain issues, but by the records she's doing better than she was on her last posting. Thank goodness, too, because that only leaves one of my senior-level science people an emotional wreck." Which one she means she doesn't say.

Aventino kicks off a shoe and pulls a leg up onto the couch with her, holding it against her chest and nodding at Danley good-night. "Well, I guess I haven't known her long enough to have noticed any change, but I'm glad she's getting better. She's a real sweetheart, come down to it. I'm glad things seem to be working out for her and Solvek." At the final comment the side of her mouth just tugs upward a little as if she has some idea whom the Captain means.

Danley nods as he waits for the door to open, "Yeah, there's some strangeness afoot with people. But I can only imagine what screwed the crew up. War, Borg, death, friends, lack of friends, trust, backstabbing, drinking, excess, lack of excess, who knows. It seems like fleet took all the screwed up people and dumped 'em here. Hide them out in the middle of nowhere I guess. But as long as some strange intervention doesn't happen in Ops on a daily basis I supposes it'll work out. Thanks Hawk. Goodnight ummm... Bunni?" And with that he steps through the door.

Hawkins shakes her head at Danley idly. "That man needs a girlfriend. It's a shame this is really a terrible time for it, for him." She sighs and sits back a bit. "I'm quite glad, too. Solvek hasn't been quite the same since T'Mar died... it's good to think perhaps the wounds we have can heal, we can move forward."

"Who-- oh," Bunni replies, "Oh, yeah," she replies, beginning to sound a little sleepy, herself. "Well, you know what they say. Time wounds all heels. Just ask Achilles, he... never caught up to that tortoise. Too busy pining for Patroclus -- could never move forward a whole step, just... half-steps unto half-steps unto paradox. There's a lesson, there, somewhere, but I'm not going to dig for it right yet," she yawns, then, feeling the need, she leans closer to the Captain, rather innocuously leaning against her, just desirous of some human contact. "Jump," she suddenly utters, "Never mind, I found it. Jump," she says, either apropos of her earlier commentary or something else entirely.

Hawkins peers over at Aventino, an eyebrow quirked. "I think perhaps you should be getting to bed, Ms. Aventino."

Aventino yawns broadly, "Yeah. It's been a long day," she rubs her head against the Captain's shoulder in a bit of an affectionate gesture before slipping her leg down off of the couch, foot getting most of the way into shoe as she manages to make herself upright again and start shuffling toward the door, "Good night."

(There is a commercial break, with some music when we return to indicate a passage of time. It's clear that this next scene occurs shortly after the one before, as Hawkins is in the same place on her couch.)

Hawkins sits on the couch, sipping a latte. When the door chimes, she sighs softly. "Enter," she calls.

Solvek walks in looking slightly worried. Before giving even a greeting, he says, "Gwen... I'm so sorry. I know we had that meeting to discuss..." he looks around the room a bit, "the Cabal. I just got caught up, with.... well, with Fred. We went to the Promenade and I bought her an outfit... but that is not important... look, I'm sorry. I know this was important... I was just having such a good time I didn't want to leave her."

Hawkins peers at Solvek over her cup for a long moment, then nods to one of the chairs. "Sit." She leans forward and places the cup on the table, then stands, going over to the replicator. Her demeanor is not one of annoyance, or anger, really... there's a bemusement, a concern, and a determination to get to the bottom of things. She orders a cup of the tea Solvek typically drinks and takes it over to him.

Solvek gingerly walks to the chair she nodded to and has a seat. He looks worried as he takes the cup Gwen offers to him. "Gwen, you're not angry at me, are you?"

Hawkins shakes her head. "I'm a little upset, yes, but it's not as if this were an official appointment you'd missed. And you're here now. No... what concerns me is your demeanor. Your speech patterns. Are you feeling well?"

Solvek looks greatly annoyed after Gwen asks her question. "Why does everybody keep asking me that today? Is it so hard to believe that because I'm going through this transition, I am allowing it progress as it intends to progress? I'm not trying to hide it, I'm not trying to suppress it, I'm not trying to get rid of it. I'm just allowing it to flow as it wants to flow. So, yes, I am fine."

Hawkins raises an eyebrow. "It was just a question, Solvek. Not that long ago, you were worried about this transition, what it might do to you, how you might act. You're acting very differently now, and I'm curious as to why--that's all. If you're fine, and just handling this transition... great. But I need to know if it's that, or something else. Be sure you're in control. Okay? As your friend, and your Captain."

Solvek runs a hand through his hair. "I know, Gwen. I'm just... rather annoyed at answering that question over and over again. It's not anger at you, it's just the situation. I've realized through talking with Fred that I am in control of my emotions and my abilities. This transition is not going to control me. I am stronger than that. It's not plak tow. If I let it go as it wants, it's not going to kill me. It's just going to happen. I appreciate your concern, though, and I'm sorry for yelling at you."

Hawkins nods to this. "Apology accepted." She smiles a bit wryly. "You know, I wouldn't be terribly worried if it was plak tow. I'm sure we could find a way to deal with it."

"Let's not worry about that now... let's worry about it when it comes to that." Solvek has a smirk on his face. "So. To business. What exactly is the situation concerning the Queen Mary? Who are our suspects--besides, of course, Admiral Church."

Hawkins sighs. "No one else right now, really. Alison's looking into it. That's why she's not here, actually." She sits back a bit, crossing her legs, and peers at Solvek. "You know... and don't take this wrong way... maybe we should wait a bit on all of this. All we're really doing right now is twiddling our thumbs until we get the Andalucia out there, and then it's just sifting evidence. And Omtala is going to be doing the work on the implants. You have enough on your plate right now without worrying about this, too."

"I told you, Gwen... I'm handling this fine. This is nothing to shirk my duties about." Solvek pauses. "I do need to give that implant back to her."

Hawkins shakes her head. "Solvek, you're so wrapped up in Fred right now that you were almost an hour late to a meeting. You, the Vulcan who's usually early. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not saying I don't think you can handle this. I'm saying... there's nothing for you to do right now but hear what other people are doing. So take a break, focus on your personal life for once. It's not as if this is an official duty anyhow."

Solvek considers Hawkins' words for a moment. "You're sure? There isn't anything pressing for me to take care of at the moment?"

Hawkins nods in reply. "I'm sure. You have enough on your plate between your normal duties, this relic, and your new girlfriend. Oh, and adjusting to your hormone levels, which takes some doing no matter how nonchalant you try to be about it. There'll be plenty for you to be involved in later, and hopefully by that time some of the rest of all of that should be cleared out." She pauses. "Don't continue to make the mistake of thinking your personal life is less important than your duties, Solvek. There's no point in fighting for what we believe in if we can't enjoy it a little. Besides, a stressed and overworked officer is not an officer at his best."

Solvek nods. "I guess you're right. I do need to take some time off and spend some personal time with the people who matter. Well, now that that's settled, how was your evening?"

Hawkins shrugs in reply. "Danley came in and gave me a load of worry about my SFI days... Aventino came in and acted very oddly and had a very frank conversation with Danley. I'm almost done with my coffee here. Other than that... not much. How have you been?"

Solvek quirks an eyebrow and smiles. "About Aventino. You noticed she was acting oddly too? She practically solicited me for... I have no idea... in the Officer's Lounge. Something about standing up. What do you think is the cause of it? She said she was happy about getting off-duty, but from the times that I've seen her and Fred--which she acted odd those times as well--she was drunk. But nothing as odd as this."

Hawkins shrugs lightly. "She might have been drinking. As long as she's doing her duty, it doesn't matter much unless it becomes too much of a habit. In which case we send in the counselors and the doctors. Obviously we can't have an officer drinking too much or becoming too wild. Conduct unbecoming and all of that. We'll keep an eye on her, and if we need to have Koram or T'Lyt rein her in, we will. We have plenty of damaged people after the war, Solvek, and I've seen far more destructive ways to deal with that damage. Then again, we could just be happening to see her at out-of-character times, for her. We barely know her just yet."

"That is true." Solvek takes a sip of his tea. "By the way, how would you feel about me proposing to Fred?" Way to drop a bombshell, Solvek.

Hawkins's eyebrows raise. Both of them. "Propose... what, exactly?"

"You know what I mean. Proposing for her to be my mate. What else would I be proposing?" Solvek shakes his head. "Seriously, sometimes I think you humans don't understand your own language." He takes an idle sip of his tea.

"You don't think it's... maybe a bit early for that? And why does it matter how I feel?" Gwen still has those eyebrows raised. "I'd think her opinion is what matters."

Solvek tilts his head back and forth a few times. "Yes, I know her opinion is the most important in this matter, but I value your advice. As to your concern about it being 'too early,' I'm not saying we'll be bonded and start mating immediately... there are preparations to be made and observances to see to. I'm happy with her, more happy than I have been in... well, in a long time."

Hawkins puts her cup down on the table and then sits back, looking at Solvek with a very serious expression. "You're talking about committing to this woman... marrying her, really, is how she'd see it. Do you want to be with her the rest of your life? Live with her? Have children?"

"I understand what this procedure includes. I am positive that I want to be with Fred for the rest of my life. If I could, I would have her live with me at this very moment." Solvek pauses. "And I believe that any child produced from our union, regardless of how thin their Vulcan blood would be, would still have the connection to both of us that is necessary. So yes, I would like to have children with her."

Hawkins tilts her head, frowning somewhat. "How can you be so sure?"

"How are you sure that you love Thomas?" Solvek replies.

Hawkins sighs softly. "That's not the same, Solvek. I'm not talking about marrying Thomas... I don't know where we'll even be in a year. It's too soon for that, even if we'd been together before. I love him, yes, but love alone doesn't get you past the problems of living together, or family disapproval, or difficult times. You've got to know you want to be there with her no matter what happens, since you'll be telepathically bonded and all... T'Mar was chosen for you--"

"Exactly. This is my choice. This isn't being picked out from a group of females that were born around the same time that I was. What makes you think that I'm not certain of this choice?" Solvek looks mildly angry.

Hawkins sighs once more. "Solvek, you've known her for three months. What have you faced together? How do you know that the moment a problem rears its head one of you won't try to walk away? I'm not saying you will. I'm saying... isn't it better to wait until you're sure?"

"Gwen, I melded her. I showed her everything that is me, and she showed me everything that is her. We know each other in a way that even you and I do not. I know her past, and she knows mine. I know that no matter what happens, we will stay by each other's sides. I showed her a part of me that no one else, not even myself knew existed until that day."

Hawkins nods slowly, considering this for a long moment. "I forget that you melded," she replies softly. "If you're sure..." She smiles a bit, slowly. "Do you think she'll agree?"

Solvek shrugs. "I know she wants to, but she has certain doubts and insecurities that might get in the way. We'll have to see." He quirks an eyebrow. "Why are you jealous?"

Hawkins sighs. "Damn Vulcans." She shakes her head. "You're my best friend, the first person I'd trust with my life. And it's not that I dislike Fred or anything, it's just hard to believe she can know you better when I've known you longer." She smiles. "It's a silly, petty jealousy. I've become used to having you around a lot, and... she takes time away. I like the girl, and you're happy together--and you're still my friend, and always will be. I know that."

Solvek leans forward, a very serious expression on his face. "If you wish, I can show you what I have shown her."

Hawkins blinks and frowns at this offer. "I... well... I..." She sighs, suddenly at a loss for words, then manages, "Solvek, you might not like what you see."

Solvek leans back. "I think that's for me to decide, Gwen. So... should I or should I not meld with you?"

Hawkins frowns, bites her lip. "I always thought mind melds were kind of... personal." Stalling much?

"I've been working with you for how long?" Solvek smiles. "Contrary to popular belief, there isn't anything sexual about a mind meld unless you do it during such an act. It is merely... intimate."

Hawkins keeps biting her lip and then nods slowly. "Alright. Let's... let's do this, hmm?"

Solvek stands and begins removing his jacket. "Alright, this is usually done in the nude..." He pauses to smile. "I am totally kidding." He zips the jacket back up and walks over to kneel down in front of Gwen.

Hawkins stares at Solvek in horror for a moment and then frowns. "That's not nice," she protests, and then rolls her shoulders. "What do I do?"

"Essentially, you relax and do your best to clear your mind." Solvek reaches up a hand, "You are aware there is some physical contact involved? And some risk?"

Hawkins nods slowly. "I'm aware. I've heard about the procedure even if I've never seen it performed."

"Very well then. Let us proceed." Solvek lays his hand across her face in the familiar form that is often used for this task. He leans closer to Gwen and whispers, "My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts."

There's a barrier at first, a wall of mental defense so well-trained, so long-held, that it stands firm against most assaults. This explains the Vulcan meditation device on her table, and the relative lack of emotion felt from such an outwardly emotional human... the barrier feels very similar to Vulcan mental defenses, and would likely be difficult to break though. It's clear she's trying to lower that barrier, but also clear lowering something she keeps up by reflex is hard.

The barrier shreds like tissue paper and Gwen gasps physically, as if not expecting that. Beyond, at first, there is... duty. Order. Lists of things that need to be done, plans laid out for future missions. Thoughts drift of recreation, of friends, of Thomas, but mostly there is the immense amount of information a Captain of a starbase must juggle to keep it in order.

Beyond duty and order in Gwen's mind, there is... emotion. Love for Thomas... love for Solvek (though of a different sort)... conflicting feelings about mother and sisters. Grief for Jason and her father. Memories of the past few years. And then, beyond that, deeper down... a self-loathing, a hatred for things done in the past. Memories of things done during her Intelligence years... missions completed, people betrayed or killed. A Klingon offers her his d'k'tahg; later he is killed--a feeling, perhaps, of being somehow responsible. Responsibility for so much pain, grief, so many terrible things done.

Deep, deep down, past the duty, past the emotions, past the self-hatred, is a single image: the seal of the Federation. The emotions and ideas tied up in this image are complex, but it is clear that whatever it is this means to Gwen is what drives her more than anything else, an ideal that is kept in her mind every minute of every day. There is a sense, too, of people... a crowd of people, staring, watching every move. Each one of these people wears a uniform, and though the uniforms and insignia are of different eras, every one is that of a Starfleet Captain. Two stand foremost, a man and a woman... the man in an old uniform, from perhaps 100 years ago... the woman in something more current. Both would be familiar images to Solvek--the man for his fame, the woman as an old friend. Kirk, Crawford, and it seems every other Captain in Starfleet history stand watch over Gwen within her mind, a silent audience to her every decision.

There is a long hallway filled with rows and rows of shelves. On these shelves are orbs of light filled the knowledge Solvek uses in his day to day life. Various smaller orbs float about, apparently unsure of where to be placed. The most frequently used information sits to the front of the hall, but as you move further in much more esoteric information sits about. Some of the orbs here lay covered in dust, not having been used in such a long time. At the end of this hall is a fissure. It appears something is supposed to go here, but at the moment, it is just an opening to the deeper vortex of Solvek's mind.

Past the fissure is a swirling tornado of colors, sounds, and feelings. Baser emotions--lust, fear, anger, joy--rest on the inner wall of the vortex. Images and sounds, what look like memories, fly past in a whirlwind of colors. Gwen knows if she was to reach out to one of these images she could watch the memory in its entirety. Beyond the memories lie complex feelings--love, hate, rage, annoyance. At the base of this funnel is a landing.

As the landing in Solvek's mind draws near, one can make out stone pillars encircling a statue. Marble walkways extend out from four corners. In the intersection is a statue of a woman. Her long hair frames her face in a cascade of curls. This area looks like it once held much more than it does now, but all that remains is the statue and the pillars. A white light emerges from the statue's right and the landing disappears.

The light encompasses everything. There is no sense of direction, only a sense of moving forward. Two figures begin to emerge from the light, one a male, the other female. They stand face to face, arms clasped, staring into each other's eyes, smiling. The male appears Vulcan, the female human. As the image becomes clearer, it's apparent the male is Solvek and the female Fred. The image stays for a moment and then light swallows everything once more.

The light continues for a few moments, or maybe eons. Suddenly, everything goes black. A small blue light appears from what should be above. It illuminates a cage; within this cage sits Solvek. He looks up and shakes his head at something unseen. He sighs and puts his head back down, seeming to go to sleep. The blue light fades and there is a sensation of falling. As the sensation slows, a human dressed in Vulcan robes appears. He holds out his hand and says, "Welcome, Gwendolyn."

Past all the rest, in that place of darkness where there is still light, there is a girl of perhaps 18. She is blonde, long hair held back from her face in a ponytail. She wears a Starfleet cadet's uniform, red for her command department training. Her body is lithe, a dancer's body, with the energy and exuberance of youth--yet there's a wisdom in her eyes that speaks of knowledge beyond the seeming years. She smiles and says in a voice that is Gwen's, though somehow younger (or perhaps not?), "Solvek, then. Hello."

"This is the center of both our minds. The place where we hold our true selves. Here, everything can be examined without distraction. From me to you, there is really nothing left to say." This Solvek holds himself with the superiority that befits his Vulcan heritage, but he speaks with the cadence of a human.

Gwen tilts her head, quirks an eyebrow in that manner she so clearly picked up from the man in front of her. "Really? Nothing at all? That seems hard to believe... there's a lot in here."

"True, but if you wanted to know, you could have easily picked it out yourself. There are moments where I find your mannerisms rash and unthoughtful, and then there are moments where I idolize you for your ingenuity and your strength of will." Solvek begins pacing in an idle manner.

Gwen holds herself still, hands clasped behind her back, but there's a sense of energy there being held--like if she did decide to move it'd be all at once, in some pre-determined direction. She laughs. "You idolize me? Really? I'm just Human, Solvek... nothing special. Not for what I am, at any rate. Not worth idolizing. I've done... terrible things." She frowns, seems to brush that aside. "You straddle two worlds, two ways of being... and you do it rather well. I've always admired that."

"You see, that is exactly what makes you stronger than I. Where I am torn between being either Human or Vulcan, you are whole, despite what you have done in your past. You have betrayed, you have killed, and you have lied. But you still hold yourself with dignity, even if it is only on the outside." Solvek starts to move around her. "I, on the other hand, hide behind what I feel is proper for my station. I do my best to play the part of a Vulcan, without truly being one inside."

Gwen moves, and it is indeed all at once, to put herself in front of Solvek, forcing him to stop his pacing or bowl her over. "Then be both? No one is whole, Solvek... I'm certainly not whole. I may seem so, because you see things from the outside, but there are parts of myself that I push away as surely as you lock away bits of yourself. Besides... from what I understand, no Vulcan is truly the same deep down as they are outside. So just... be. You don't have to be torn. Be Solvek. Why does it matter if you're Human or Vulcan?"

"Because I am not..." Solvek pauses, stopping as Gwen steps in front of him. "Because I am not ready to accept myself as both. There are still things that I am not entirely certain both parts of me will accept. So instead of combining the two halves, I hide away my Human side and portray what I am comfortable with." His eyes narrow. "I know that doing things this way is not healthy, but it is easier than the alternative. I know that one day, hopefully, I will be able to be what you suggest. But at this time, I cannot."

Gwen smirks, folding her arms across her chest. "That sounds eminently Vulcan, Solvek. To push away that which you fear and do not understand within yourself, in favor of something more acceptable." Gwen reaches out a hand to place it on Solvek's arm. "It doesn't matter. You're still my friend. Do you think I'd ever let anyone else see... all of this? I'm here... I'm going to be here, no matter what. When you're ready, I'll help you... if you let me?"

Solvek smiles. "You don't need to phrase that as a question.. you know I'll let you help me, and you know that I'll need it. So. Is there anything that you saw that you wish to inquire about?" His hand gestures above him.

"Mmm. Not really. You don't have that many secrets." She pauses for a moment, peers up at him. "What about me? Any questions?"

"Just one." Solvek quirks his eyebrow. "Why is Crawford still a Captain in your mind?"

"Because that's how I met her. Because..." Gwen looks away, sighs. "I did a lot of very bad things because I was ordered to. I never questioned those orders, because they came from Command, from the Admiralty. If I had..." She shakes her head, looks back up at Solvek. "Alison helped me see a way out. Helped me remember why I started doing this in the first place. She was a Captain then, and she might be an Admiral now, but... Solvek, the Admiralty are all too often a bunch of desk jockeys who are out of touch with the Fleet, and it's far too easy for one corrupt member of the brass to pull the wool over the eyes of the rest. The Captains are out there every day upholding what we believe in. And so is Alison, still. I know the Admiralty is necessary, but... the best of us questioned their orders, the best of us refused to stay behind a desk. The only reason Alison does is that she needs the clearances for our work. If she could, she'd still be out here, with us. This is where the real work gets done."

Solvek nods. "I see. Well, that is all I have. Ready to go?"

"Not quite." Gwen wraps her arms around Solvek, preses her face against his chest. "I love you, you big lug. In, you know, a platonic, brotherly sort of way."

Solvek snorts a laugh, wrapping his arms around her. "I know, Gwen. The feeling is mutual, only in a sisterly sort of way for me. Even if I don't show it."

Gwen steps back. "You do. Even Fred doesn't keep you from breakfast." She smiles. "I guess that's it, then."

"Yes, I guess that is." Solvek nods and closes his eyes--and everything goes into rewind.

Solvek removes his hand from Gwen's face and stands. He helps himself to a chair and sits down. He looks as if he's been doing heavy exercise for the past eight hours.

Hawkins sits back, opening her eyes slowly, and smiles. "You look like you need some rest."

Solvek nods. "I do. I'll see you tomorrow, Gwen." He stands, and makes his way out.

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