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Like a Hole in the Head

Posted on Mon Jul 4th, 2022 @ 11:13pm by Executive Officer Jake Ford & Liha t'Ehhelih

Mission: Adrift
Location: Deflector Control - Deck 18
Timeline: MD-04: 1000 Hours
2200 words - 4.4 OF Standard Post Measure

The walk had been silent. Neither Jake nor Liha was apparently willing to make small talk or polite conversation on the long journey through the ship to Deck 18. Maybe that was for the best, Jake figured. He was four days into a disaster scenario and having her make sniping comments about how 'feeble' and 'inferior' he was would probably push him over the edge.

It was welcome relief when they finally reached the door that read 'deflector control' and the potential for simple work conversation to take over.

"We'll have to manually crank the door," he noted. "I'll do the manual release if you can pull them open," he suggested, slowly easing himself to one knee in the EV suit and pulling open the small panel adjacent to the door. A moment later, he'd primed the release. "Try now."

Liha nodded, simple acknowledgement of getting a sensible suggestion for once - certainly more sensible than Jake coming along for this. Any of the other engineers would have been a better choice in her opinion. But she'd gotten forced into this at the last minute, there was nothing for it but to grit her teeth and try to avoid conversation that would wind up needling each other. "No problem." She pried her fingers into the small gap in the doors, pulled until they began to move, then adjusted for a better grip and yanked them fully open. "There was no 'if' - had they been too stuck to open by hand, I'd have used a lever." Okay, maybe she couldn't resist a little needling, but he of all people should have known there was no question she could do something that easy.

"I was being polite," he muttered. Something you wouldn't know anything about, he added silently. Their progress now unhindered, they could enter the deflector control room. "It's more efficient if we're clear on who is supposed to be doing what. I thought you might appreciate that."

"Okay. Let's be clear," Liha replied acerbically. "I'm the engineer and I'll deal with the deflector. You are here only because we have to go in pairs where EVA suits are required. Emergency back-up." She said the words in a tone that suggested serious doubt as to his usefulness even for that.

"Yeah. Glad we cleared that up..." he sighed, shining his lamp through the room. It was as expected, with nothing out of place or particularly damaged in any way. "Assuming you can manage all by yourself," he said, emphasising the fact that she insisted on working solo, "How long to run a test on the deflector systems and ensure we're protected from the storm?"

"If nothing's wrong, 10 minutes, plus another five to confirm the first test. Probably double that if someone feels slighted and insists on helping," she snarked, walking past him to get started. "Think your ego can be satisfied with playing lamp post and holding the light?"

"You're in charge," he reminded her pointedly. Amazing that she was the only person on board who might legitimately believe that. "I'm sure you'll find something wrong with the way I'm holding it, or maybe it won't be sufficiently bright enough for you and that'll be my fault too..."

Wow. Liha had heard human women talk about 'male fragility' but used to think it was all grousing exaggeration. Now she'd apparently been saddled with the poster boy. "Get over yourself." She rolled her eyes, though the effect was lost inside the EV helmet. "If you don't think you can manage it, just put it on the floor. My night vision is a lot better than yours so as long as it isn't swinging about, I'll be fine."

He mirrored her eye roll as she made yet another 'superiority' comment. She was like a broken record sometimes. "Do you ever get tired of talking down to people?" he grumbled. Probably foolish to bring it up, but she was grating on him now.

"I was only stating facts - which you of all people know to be true," she shot back as she began checking the deflector. Dealing with him was exasperating. Sometimes she thought that getting to see what it was like to be in a Romulan body had broken him somehow. "Do you ever get tired of being so touchy about everything?"

"Do you?" he shot back. She was the one who seemed to want to react so strongly to literally everything he did. "Besides, I'm not touchy. I'm trying to do a job, and your apparent unwillingness to work together is just...so...emael dekonaes." He winced, noticing the foreign words coming out of his mouth and waiting for her to have another temper tantrum at his butchering her home tongue.

Eyebrows shot up, but Liha stayed focused on the deflector - pointedly. "You are not an engineer and not doing the job here," she stated as she moved around the deflector, taking readings and making small adjustments. "Your only role is being the second required because we have to be in EV suits, and your touchiness about it is what isn't helpful. Though butchering my language to grouse comes a close second."

"I can't help that," he growled. "And I actually mean it too - I can't help it. The language. the 'touchiness' as you keep calling it. And not because I'm human, but because of you. I got you in my brain and for some reason you didn't fully leave. And now I'm stuck with a piece of you in here." He touched his head - or at least the side of his helmet. "I never learned Romulan. I never used to sleep with my back to the bulkhead just because I was worried about being snuck-up on. And for some reason, I keep having these weird memory flashes of some distant colony with pink skies over a dark mountain range."

"So you got some basic survival instincts and very rudimentary understanding of a second language. You're welcome," Liha replied tersely, thinking And thank the Elements nothing of you got stuck in me. "And the colony is Bardat. You should be grateful for having those glimpses." The last came out perhaps a bit more bitter than she intended. But it was her home and she had little hope of ever being able to see it again.

"Bardat." He repeated it quietly, the word sticking as though reminiscent of a very distant memory. He paused, not sure whether the next statement would get him stabbed through the helmet or not. "It was a beautiful place. At least, from the memories." He took a half-step away, not necessarily out of fear, but more to give her space. He didn't want to steal that from her; home was usually deeply personal for a person. And Liha struck him as someone unwilling to share. "I won't speak of it again, if that's your wish. And I know you won't care for sympathy or platitudes, but...I hope you get to return there one day."

Liha sucked a breath at ache of a flood of unbidden memory, a pain all the sharper for the thought of her memories of home in this alien's mind. It felt worse than theft - a breach of her inner self worse than any physical violation. "They are my memories!" she snapped, fists clenching in a hot flash of anger. A Tal'Shiar officer had once needed facial reconstruction for less, but the feel of the EV gloves saved Jake, bringing her back to the moment enough for the mist of green rage to lift and his next words to register.

She took a deep breath. With luck he'd not realize how close she'd come to killing him because it would be just one more reason for him to complain that she was touchy and unreasonable. "My home remains. It is more than most of my race can say. But do not speak of it again."

"Like I said: I won't. I swear." He made sure that was clear. If he could have forgotten, he would. But he couldn't, and what was done was done. But trust was a different thing for a Romulan, he knew. To humans it was a far more natural thing, and there wasn't really going to be any sort of way he could prove his earnest wishes to her. In fact, the more he made an effort, the more hostile she became. And in a sense, she was right that he had essentially taken something that didn't belong to him - intentional or not. "As much as I doubt you'd ever want anything from me, I suppose I owe you something in return. If there's some way of providing actual reparation, you can name it." It was a dangerous offer to make. More than likely she would tell him to take a long walk out of a small airlock, but all he could hope to do was dangle the olive branch. She might surprise him, eventually.

A number of replies came to mind, most of indeed of the go space yourself variety, but she bit them back. When it had first started she had thought his use of Romulan words and references was intended to taunt her, and she was still not 100% sure there wasn't some of that involved, but she was (for good or ill) starting to see him more like Kalahaeia - someone with a vague nebulous sense of what it was to be Romulan and no idea how to express it. Certainly both of them had the annoyingly human tendency to worry it like a loose tooth, wanting to talk about it - all the time! - rather than having the good sense and decency to control the urge and bury it. "Whatever of me is in you is still mine and you have no right to throw it around or to demand explanation," she stated flatly, returning to her work on the deflector to focus and control her own responses. "So what I name is silence."

"As is your right. I won't bring it up again unless you insist," he agreed. He hoped that also meant she might be a little less affronted by his mere presence all the time. He fell back into the requested silence, watching her work and aiming the light where it was needed. "Assuming the shuttle does its job, do we have an estimated likelihood of the deflector holding?"

Liha sighed. She had been counting since he'd agreed to silence, but she knew silence on more than the topic of her memories was more than she could hope for. Still, more than ten beats. Better than expected, and he broke the silence with an engineering question. "Deflector operation seems to be nominal. I'd put odds at a bit over 80%."

"Reasonable, but we should reduce the margin for error if we can." He was back into the mindset of keeping everyone alive. Despite his lack of engineering prowess, he still felt that responsibility lie heavy. "I'd prefer the odds stacked a little more heavily in our favour. Any suggestions on how we could do that?"

"Wish really hard," Liha snarked acerbically and glared at him through her helmet. "Do you think I wouldn't improve those odds if I could? This is what we have and we're lucky it's that good." The words came out in a frustrated huff - one less expressive of her Romulan nature than being an engineer. Having to get by 'on a string and prayer' as humans put it, because she couldn't fix, let alone optimize the system, was like shrill sonic raking against her aural nerves. Still, she had managed to get by with worse. "80% is better odds than I've had anywhere for most of my life."

"It'll have to do then," he said. He trusted her skill, if not her bedside manner. "On the bright side, if it doesn't work and we all die, you won't have to hear me complaining about it anymore."

Liha chuffed a laugh, almost surprising herself at the sudden release of tension with that bit of humor. "Don't tempt me to break it," she joked wryly.

It was a weird sort of blessed relief to see her actually laugh. As though something of their tense relationship might be salvaged. If only for a moment. "You're a better engineer than that. And I suspect your instinct for survival outweighs your desire to do away with me. If the work is complete we should head back to the others and check in."

"It's as good as it's going to get," Liha agreed, if somewhat unhappily since less than optimal still galled her. "Yes, we should head back. Burnie's probably going to be driving everyone crazy waiting for a report."

"Sounds like I'm not the only one doing a bit of that then..." he sighed, leading the way back to the exit. They were both alive, and she hadn't promised to stab him in the back. Yet. Maybe there was reason for optimism after all.

 

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