A Pick Me Up
Episode 1: A Lesson in Humility
Timeline: En Route
Maralen uncurled himself from the floor and shook out his fur, tail too. He had been trying to meditate, but it had not been working. For one thing, he seemed to have too much restless energy; his tail kept thumping against the floor and distracting him. He'd tried curling it in his lap, but then it just beat his leg. No help.
Standing, he paced his quarters for a few minutes before that got ancient. So he dressed, combed out his long mane, leaving it free this time, and left his quarters. Where to go, though, was another question. Maybe he would just prowl the halls.
No, that might give crew the wrong idea, that he was spying on them or some such nonsense. So he opted for the lounge. Maybe he could find someone to talk to there. It had worked the last several times, after all. He entered, got himself a hot spiced tea and took a seat by one of the windows where he could watch the room... for now.
Charlotte entered the lounge a short while later. It was off duty time, and she'd decided not to be overly casual. She'd opted for a pair of jeans and Defiant T-Shirt, going for a comfortable outfit for the eventing. She'd entered, thinking she wanted to sit and read, but found herself suddenly less interested in that. She was turning to leave, when she noticed Maralen, tucked away on the side. Deciding to maybe have some company, she approached. "Hey, mind if I join you for a moment?"
He'd seen her come in but had waited to see what she would do. It was entirely possible, after all, that she just sought out the quiet of the lounge at this hour. But she surprised him, pleasantly, by approaching instead. He smiled warmly. "Please." He noted her casual attire and was glad that he had gone with something light and casual. His consisted of loose-fitting pants and a black tank top. The more of his fur he could avoid matting down, the better, after all. "What brings you out at this hour, if I may ask?"
"Just a bit stir crazy," she replied as she plopped down in a seat across from him. "Being at warp for this long just has me looking for different places to be. I was actually thinking of heading to the Rec Room, if you're interested. We could play some pool or darts or something. The second one might be a little dangerous given my aim, but could be entertaining."
Mar chuckled softly. "I thought it was just us cats that got Caged Cat Syndrome." he joked lightly. "That sounds like fun, though I'm not sure I know how to play pool. Darts seems straightforward enough, though I'm not sure I want to have to explain to the doctor why I have a dart somewhere it isn't meant to be." He couldn't help the tease; she had opened the door. Though he doubted her aim was that bad.
“Cool,” she said simply, hopping to her feet and waiting for him to follow her toward the door. “I’ll try to avoid any vital organs. Though, as I mentioned before, my aim’s not so great,” she replied, having a bit of fun at her own expense.
He finished the tea and stood. "I'm sure it isn't as bad as all that." he said as they moved toward the door. He stopped only long enough to return the glass before leaving. "Besides," he added with a smirk, "I can dodge pretty quick if I have to." His tail swished behind him, displaying his good humor.
The two walked down the hall toward the turbolift shaft, inadvertently sending a few junior Crewman skittering out of the way of the two command officers, one of whom looked far less assuming outside her uniform, at least until they recognized her. The other’s fur coat made it harder for him to go completely unnoticed. Charlotte felt a little bad. She didn’t intentionally intimidate them, but she supposed it only natural. “So I was thinking,” she began. “The crew have been through quite a bit recently. And while we might have just come off shore leave, these days on end at high warp are probably getting to more than just you and I. The Doctor and I had discussed the idea of doing some sort of movie night, to relieve tensions.”
Maralen was not pleased that he seemed to unnerve the junior officers. He preferred to present an air of inviting them in rather than running them off. He was not sure what he could do about it though, given that he was the Executive Officer; some people were just afraid of those. Instead of dwelling on it, however, he focused on what Charlotte was saying and smiled. "That could be interesting." he agreed. "I haven't seen too many Earth movies, so even I might enjoy it." He paused for a second, then pressed on. "Perhaps it might even get some of the crew to stop looking at me as though I was going to bite them." he mused, half joking and half serious.
Charlotte chuckled in reply to the last part. "I think the rank stripes on your sleeve are what they're afraid of. But I agree. Some crew bonding would be nice. And relaxation would do us all some good. I'll let you know once some of the finer points are figured out." She stepped into the turbolift. "Deck 8."
Mar stepped in with her before the doors closed. "I agree, actually. This crew has been through several kinds of hell, and it's not likely to stop any time soon. I think that an occasional break from it is good, even if it is only for a couple of hours. And it might encourage more... interaction among the crew."
The last line stuck out a little in Maralen’s response. “Interaction, huh? You referring to the budding romance between our Doctor and Comms Chief?”
Mar blinked. Had his tail not been wrapped around his waist, it would likely have flicked. His ears did. "Pardon?" Then he realized what she must have thought he had meant and chuckled, looking as embarrassed as it was possible for a feline to. "Oh, no. I didn't mean that. I apologize. The hesitation before the word interaction was only because I was looking for the best word. I only meant that it might encourage more off duty interactiveness between crew members of all departments," he clarified.
She laughed at her own misunderstanding. "Sorry. We humans have an annoying tendency of placing meaning in pauses. I'm sure that must be a nightmare for any race learning to interact with us. But yes, I think it'll be good for inter-department bonding."
He chuckled softly. "Well, I'm sure it didn't help most people. But I think your tendency to abbreviate and colloquialize everything is harder." he pointed out with a smile. "Phrases that don't mean what they say, letter sequences that don't spell anything remotely like what they represent." He chuckled again. "I'm sure the Translators have a fit."
“Ah, yeah those aren’t exactly the easiest to deal with either,” she said, as the stepped into the Recreation Room. She slowly made her way over toward an unattended dartboard. “I suppose it’s even harder for species with a level of telepathy, where things would be even less obscured.”
Mar thought about that for a second as he followed her. "Yes, in a way, it is," he answered. "But not for colloquials. In essence, you're thinking about the meaning when you use them. That obfuscation comes more into play in other areas where people think one thing and say another. The public mind can be" he paused to come up with the correct descriptive in this language "tricky to navigate sometimes. Projected thought is often subconscious; the person doesn't realize they're projecting it." He hoped he was clarifying things for her rather than making them more confusing. "Deeper thoughts I don't read unless invited. My people considered it a violation to enter another's mind without invitation." His tone was calm and simply explanatory, but there was a touch of guilt in his eyes that he was unaware had entered them. Being an interrogator for the Realm and the Singers had forced him to do many things that he would never have done otherwise.
“I see,” Charlotte replied as she took it all in. She had to admit, all this talk of the public mind made her very uncomfortable. Telepathy in general made her uneasy. She had to make a pointed effort to control the words she said. She shot from the hip sometimes, and that could be an issue for both diplomatic and interpersonal interactions. The idea that she projected thoughts made all that effort feel meaningless. It also made her own mind feel less like a haven, a thought that concerned her more than the idea of some slight. Passively understanding colloquialisms was a benign use of the passive thoughts. But the idea that they were readable at all still unsettled her. She found the idea of even Maralen reading her thoughts to be uncomfortable. The idea that anyone could...
“Well, situations like that can be delicate. Sometimes people will say things opposed to their internal thoughts to prevent an issue or avoid offending someone. The idea that those thoughts are available to others is a large portion of the reason people are wary of telepaths. People don’t like feeling like they can’t think,” she replied evenly, trying not to betray her unease...and also self-conscious of the fact that even that might be readable.
Mar frowned. Was that how she felt? Had he made her uncomfortable? "I'm sorry if my explanation made you uncomfortable," he apologized genuinely. "That certainly wasn't the intent. And I don't go poking around in people's heads. But there are times when listening to the projected thoughts is helpful. For example, when I meet a new alien, it helps me to pick up the language. Listening to their speech and the public mind enables me to pick up the language in minutes. But that certainly doesn't mean that I'm always listening or that when I am that I'm listening to everything being projected." He was trying to explain in a way that he hoped would help, but he had the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he was only making things worse.
"You're not really the kind of person I'm worried about," Charlotte said. It was a lie, but a slight one. Maralen really wasn't the kind of person she was worried most about. She was far more concerned about malicious actors or opposing diplomats who would be able to use her internal emotional reactions against her. Maralen was concerning in the way that anyone would be. And she wondered how much of this was visible were Maralen to be reading what he called the public mind.
She decided to change the subject. "Regardless, I'm sure the language can be a chore sometimes. But back on the topic of a movie night! Do you think you could work to coordinate schedules for the crew? We'll do a few showings, make sure everyone has the chance to actually attend one. I don't want only the senior officers to get a break and leave the rest of the crew to fend for themselves."
He had not been reading her mind, but her abrupt change of subject told him that she was at least a little uncomfortable with at least the subject. So he let it go and allowed himself to be pulled along with her subject-wise. "I can certainly give it my best. I think it's pointless if only the senior staff get the benefits of it," he agreed. "Maybe do a showing per shift. Then the two other shifts have the option of which of the showings not on their shift they wish to attend." He was thinking aloud, bouncing ideas around.
“And we’ll have to take over the crew mess. It’s the only place large enough. I think we spread it out over several days. Maybe a few showings for each shift. That way everyone gets a chance, even if one day doesn’t work,” she said. Picking an unoccupied dartboard, she grabbed the darts and walked to the starting line, handing the bundle to Maralen. “I’ll let you start.”
Maralen nodded to her observation, taking the darts from her. "Good idea. Maybe show a couple of different movies to give folks a choice too?" he suggested. Standing with his toes just behind the starting line, he studied the dartboard carefully, judging the distance. He had never really played this 'sport', but he got the general idea. Get the dart as close to the center of the board as possible. After a moment, he tossed the dart at the board. It struck in the middle ring, and he hissed softly at himself. "Not as easy as it looks," he commented as he lined up for his next throw.
One after another, the darts landed, but none at the center. He had to wonder what he was doing wrong. Moving to the board, he retrieved the darts and brought them back, handing them to Charlotte. "This is where you make me look bad," he teased, though he suspected she did have a good bit more experience with this game than he did.
"If this was the pool table over there, I'd agree with you. But here?" She threw the first dart. It whistled ever so slightly as it sailed ahead, striking firm...about a foot and a half to the right of the dartboard. A startled enlisted crewman stumbled away in shock. "Here, not so much."
Hoping this was a fluke, she took aim and carefully threw this time. It struck the edge of the board and ricocheted off landing several feet away. "Alright, this is downright dangerous. I think I'm endangering the crew at this point."
Mar was caught between laughing -- the reactions around them were amusing -- and feeling bad for her. But she had chosen the game. He chuckled softly. "Maybe we should try a different game then?" he offered, giving her the 'out' if she wanted it.
"You know, I want to like this game. I think it just doesn't share the sentiment," she said with a laugh. She gave one last attempt and this time the dart hit the board, albeit far from center. "I think I'll stick with it for now. I play plenty of 9-ball. This is a nice change of pace."
Mar laughed softly at her first statement but frowned slightly at the last. He knew 8-ball, but not this variation she had just mentioned. "Nine-ball?" he queried, curious as he moved to retrieve the darts and return to the starting line with them.
Charlotte’s eyebrow arched. “You’ve only played 8-ball then, huh?”
He shook his head, focusing for a second on the dartboard as he tossed the first dart. "No. I've heard of it, had it explained to me, but I've never played it." The dart sailed across the distance between him and the board and struck one of the areas in the circle just outside of the bullseye. He looked at her. "Is it much different?"
She gave a non-committal head gesture, before throwing her own dart. It struck within the dartboard again, so she was fairly pleased with herself. "Yes and no. General gameplay is the same. Use the cue to hit one ball into another ball and hope the latter ends up in a pocket. But the pace and strategy are all different. It's about numbers not colors, and you're actually aiming for a specific ball each time, not just one from your set."
Mar nodded, listening. "Interesting. And is there a sequence for each player? Or are we both following the same sequence?" he asked, throwing his next dart. This time, it hit the outer circle, and he hissed softly at himself. But even that was more playful than truly annoyed, which could be seen by the fact that his ears were perked rather than laid back.
Charlotte gave an amused look at his self-scolding. She was barely hitting the board and he got angry when he wasn’t hitting a near bullseye. She continued with her response. “Yes, both are following the same sequence. That’s part of the fun of it. It’s a race in a sense. Both are racing to the end of the same sequence, benefiting from each other’s success. But there’s also the element of out of sequence hits. You’re always shooting for the lowest number in the sequence. But if you can somehow manage to make that ball take out the 9-ball, it’s all over. There isn’t really a scoring mechanism either. It’s a game about pace and about ball placement. You always want to be on the hunt for your shot at the 9, and always attempting to prevent your opponent from getting one. Any strategic move you make runs the risk of offering one to your opponent.”
Maralen nodded understanding. "An interesting test. To gain an advantage while leaving your opponent none. Perhaps we could try it sometime?" The challenge of it intrigued him.
The captain nodded and gave a smile. It’d be a nice reversal of her current dart related fortunes. “I think that can be arranged.”