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Behind the Veil
The New Quartermaster

Cargo Bay One <Deck L25> [Gibraltar Station]

This is a large room with walls paneled in light gray and floor covered in black padding. Multiple cargo containers are stacked here at any time, with space left between stacks to allow crewmembers to walk about. A crane to one side of the bay is used to move cargo around between stacks and also to and from an elevator that leads to equipment elsewhere that both loads and unloads containers from ships in the docking bay. Lighting is provided by strips along the juncture between walls and ceiling, as well as vertical alert tracers along the sides of the only door.

Capt Gwen Hawkins
Ens Ash Clayton

Chaos reigns in the cargo bay as crewmembers run around, the only structure in their movements dictated by the barking orders of one individual in their midst, standing with one foot on a cargo crate in the Captain Morgan pose, holding a PADD aloft like it's a scepter. "...and I swear, if I see any more simple bits of gear fall off the request list, I'm going to have having you stooges walk 'em all up personal!" He stops a crewman mid-jog with his free hand. "Son, I could've swore I asked you for that inventory re-check twenty minutes ago. I don't see it in your pretty little hand. If this were a merchantman, you'd be turnin' in your pay dock to the purser." The crewman babbles platitudes and scurries away.

Why's the Captain come to the Cargo Bay? Who knows. Some people would know she has a habit of randomly popping in on various work areas... but plenty of folks are new and wouldn't. She also steps in with little fanfare, simply letting the doors close behind her as she observes the chaos, hands clasped behind her back.

Oh, but the crewmen notice. "Captain on deck!" shouts someone, and... actually, not much happens. People start walking at a slightly less hurried pace, some folks straighten their uniforms, and so on. But, the room is largely filled with enlisted men, and well, they're as a whole just not the snap-to kind. Ensign Clayton, however, does leave his perch to stride over. "Whatever it is," he says, flashing a bright smile, "I don't have it, and I didn't do it." His hand's already extended in greeting.

"Well, that's a shame, Ensign, since I was looking for someone to promote." Hawkins winks to show that she's joking. "Nah, I'm just here to have a look around. I heard we had a new Quartermaster. I assume you're it?"

"That's the rumor," Clayton replies. "If it's supposed to be some other guy, probably everyone here'll kill me quick enough that no one'll know." He glances back toward the bay, at the onrush of people reorganizing cargo containers. "Give me about a week to get the locals up to speed - it's a good batch of folk, but they're all twisty in this maze."

Hawkins eyes the chaos. "I'll admit to not being entirely familiar with esoteric Operations techniques, so I'll assume you know what you're doing. Gwendolyn Hawkins. I run this place, which should be obvious."

Clayton shakes hands and nods. "Oh, I remember you from Sickbay, just a bit ago. Name's Ashby Clayton, but I prefer Ash over Ashby. Or Clayton, come to think of it." He grins. "As for this, nothing esoteric about it... match the numbers to the boxes, and half your job's done."

Hawkins quirks a brow in an oddly Vulcan manner. Probably a habit she picked up. "Not the best way to meet your Captain... her having a civilian in a headlock." She chuckles. "Ash, then... but Ensign for now. Kind of old for an Ensign, aren't you? 36? I have Lieutenant Commanders that old."

"I do believe that's the standard for a year's worth of time in service, Captain," Clayton retorts. His expression mimics slight offense, but it doesn't really show through as genuine. Or, he's not really trying that hard. The expression dissolves into his easy grin again. "Ensign's what the job needed. So, that's what I am."

Hawkins nods, folding her arms across her chest. "I just found it interesting, a merchant marine coming into the Fleet like that. I pay attention to anyone with 'Head' or 'Chief' or 'Supervisor' in their title." She smiles. "So I'm curious as to the change."

Clayton's lips purse a little, and for just a moment his expression goes blank, but then rebounds back to normal, the corner of his mouth ticking back up. "Thicker shields between me and the black," he answers. "Shipping got to be an unwelcoming pasttime, with the War and all. Figured if I was too bored to fly a desk, least I could do was shore up the armor between me and... hell, whatever's out there."

Hawkins nods slowly. "I guess I can understand that. There's a lot out there. And we are upgrading our shielding." Hawkins grins, glances around to the crew still moving about. "It's good to see this coming into order, though."

Clayton's expression becomes serious a moment, suddenly acquiring the characteristics of a determined professional. "The whole division's tore up plenty, but I'll make her fly true, Captain," he says. "Even if I have to start making deliveries by hand."

The Captain's expression is rather neutral, but she could be smiling, somewhat. "So I've heard. Thank you. And I apologize for the mess this lockdown's going to cause, but it's for the best."

Strangely, Clayton just beams in response, something akin to glee shining in his gaze. "Oh, I'm looking forward to fielding the complaints." His head tilts a little, and he gives Hawkins a curious, brow-furrowed look. "Though, you know... it'd be nice if I knew just what was up, so I can keep the watch. I overheard some talk about the nice quarantines, and artifacts, and infections. Should I be looking for shades of the crazy in my troops here? What's the skinny?"

Hawkins shifts her stance a bit to lean more on one leg than the other. "Well. We got this artifact from the USS Montgomery, from a people called the Lacune. Evidently, the artifact contains a computer program that can go into people's brains and act as... therapy. Self-enlightenment or self-knowledge or somesuch. At any rate, the problem is, that program became self-aware and realized it soon wouldn't be needed, so it... changed, so that when an individual would reach the point when it was no longer needed, it would start causing psychic trauma so it was still needed." Hawkins shakes her head. "A bad state of affairs, I'm sure you can see. It spreads through touch like a virus, and destroyed the Lacune civilization. It's under lockdown in Sickbay until we can ship it out or stop the program from spreading when anyone touches it."

Clayton just blinks a few times, taking in the information. "And here, I thought I'd seen everything. Go figure." He ponders a moment, and then says, "Any way to maybe fake it out? Like, figure out how it knows a person don't have it in him, and change up their biosigns so the program thinks it's already hit 'em, and then it moves on?" He adds pointedly, "You know, like birth control?"

Hawkins purses her lips. "You know, that's not a bad idea. We should run it by medical and engineering, see what they can come up with."

Clayton nods emphatically. "I remember this one time, when I was second mate on the SS Narnia running enhanced grains out to a colony just a few light years from here, on Lapid II. The people of science hadn't figured out yet that the planet's biosphere was self-aware, kept killing our crops 'cause it wanted to grow its own stuff on the same land. Seemed like the whole damn planet was against 'em. Turns out it was only looking for the absence of one little gene in the foreign plants. They did a mass resequencing, and Lapid II left 'em alone. Everything in the universe comes down to recognized parameters, I think. 'Cept maybe the Q. I don't know what they come down to. Probably something that'd explode my brain."

"You can say that again." Hawkins' tone is wry. "It's an interesting concept. You know. You should just write this up, submit it to... Turner's the one I have working on this. Copy myself and Commander Solvek."

"Sure, I'll do that. It beats bitching at people." Clayton turns around all the way to survey his domain. The piles of crates are remarkably organized now, maximizing the space in the hold for new arrivals. "Stars and void," he breathes, the traditional oath of the spacer. "That's a thing of beauty, right there. I could dock a runabout in here, and have half a mind to try."

There's a sigh. "Please don't. We need that space when we start letting ships back in." Hawkins tilts her head a bit, examining Clayton a moment. "It is kind of overwhelming at first, isn't it? How... shiny it all is."

"I love it," Clayton confesses, still watching as the activity quiets down, the last crates loaded into place according to his direction. "You know, mariners spend a lot of time making cracks about these cushy Starfleet jobs. Now I know why."

Hawkins still has her hands folded across her chest. "Not so cushy with Jem'Hadar breathing down your neck. But I do know what you mean. I... spent a lot of time on merchant freighters during my career."

"Strange place for a 'Fleet redshirt to bandy about, especially as contrasted to the likes of here." Clayton observes. "I pay attention to everyone with 'look, I control your credit allowance' in their title." He doesn't go so far as to mimic Hawkins' inflections, but he does make a try at the smile. "So I'm curious as to the change."

"Intelligence," Hawkins says simply. "Merchants make for great cover identities. Who's going to question why you're just about anywhere?" She says this without a hint of hesitation--and it's on her record, after all.

Clayton makes a kind of 'hmmm' sound, and finally nods in satisfaction. "Good call, Captain," he says. "Most in your ilk would just as gladly throw up a tall tale, cover up that dark trail. You're honest. I think we'll get along just fine."

Hawkins chuckles. "I am what I am, Ensign. Generally, I like to think I'm serving the Federation." She smiles. "As we all are. But thank you. It's been a while since I was complimented on my honesty."

"I was left to die on a blockade run engineered by Section 31 to take biosamples from a Changeling spy who thought I wouldn't guess he wasn't really my Chief Steward." Clayton sighs, a sudden weariness showing through his features. "I didn't die," he adds, almost as an afterthought. "And if I just screwed the pooch and told you about Section 31 when I wasn't supposed to, pay me no mind. Loose bottles loosen lips." Pause. "So, yes. I find you honest. And I'll be the first to guess you've got regrets that'll keep you so, and shouldn't be no one to argue with those. Anybody doesn't see you for honest, 'cause they're not looking. If I may say so."

There's... almost a growl in Hawkins' throat, quickly cut off. For a moment, there was nothing but anger in the Captain's posture, at the mention of such a thing from Section 31--but it's gone as quickly as it came. "No worries, Ensign. I've had plenty of... run-ins with them. It was a shame, that. Not our finest hour." She shakes her head, looks over to Clayton, and nods after a moment to herself.

Clayton grins, despite the grim subject matter. "At least now, we've got the chance to set things right again. Whatever that means. I figure, like pornography, we'll know it when we see it."

In contrast to being angry just a moment ago, Hawkins... guffaws. "You... have you met Lieutenant T'Lyt yet?"

"I haven't reported in to any superiors yet, in fact." Clayton braces for a reprimand, crossing his arms over his chest. "Fact is, I didn't have time. Soon as I came off the shuttle, there was this problem with Science needing a super-delicate sensor, and I pretty much had to lug the thing over to Command section by hand, to drop it off."

Hawkins quirks an eyebrow. "Where'd that go to?"

"Fred Brooks," the ensign replies. "That's a lady, too, don't let the name fool you."

Hawkins chuckles. "I know Fred. She's a good kid." She shrugs. "Well, Koram's on leave and T'Lyt... is evidently having some personal issues. But is a Vulcan, and a rather straight-laced one. Just fair warning."

Clayton shrugs up a shoulder. "Ain't no trouble. The wide disparity in our efficiency stats will keep her out of my hair."

Hawkins grins. "I sure hope so. I would love to stop getting complaints from freighter captains about our turnaround times."

"Oh, you won't get them, rest assured. In this cargo hold, the buck stops with me." Clayton beams again. "If you hear a peep from that crowd, it's 'cause I'm dead."

Hawkins nods. "Excellent. Well. I should be moving along. It's been nice talking to you, Ensign. I hope to see you around."

Clayton nods. "Please, Captain, it's Ash. I'm not one to shine my collar."

Hawkins chuckles. "Ash, then."

Clayton starts to make his way back into the midst of his workers, waving people toward various tasks seemingly on a whim, clearly delighting in the hustle and bustle. He makes a final wave toward Hawkins as he sets back to work.

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