Obsidian Command
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Meetings and Such

Posted on 14 Sep 2018 @ 8:51am by Lieutenant Commander Kerry Malone

Mission: Character Development
Location: Promenade Restaurant

It had been one hectic day for Ira. The clean-up after the success of the Onyx Hotel rescue was never-ending. It had been a partial success: the officers had recovered both Kris Broll and the FCPD officers held captive along with the other missing women who had fallen prey to Adam Cross. They also took into custody the true leader of the crime ring, a Nausicaan named Blaise. However, their target Adam Cross had fled and Broll’s husband, Sean, was still listed as missing. With the level of difficulty this mission was, Ira was willing to accept the loses and have respect for the officers that had put a hand in the efforts.

After having a fairly rocky start with the CO of the base, Ira had also been surprised at the interactions she has had with her direct superior, Commander Malone. He was tough and direct and willing to listen to what she had to say and take the suggestions of his fellow officers. He had also accepted her and how she handled her work. She wasn’t always the most liked person whenever she worked in a team, as her honesty and rough delivery of it turned people away from her. He was also patient as she adjusted to more analyst type of work after ten years of field work and working undercover. Did he understand her and where she came from? Maybe, but she was still too wary of any outsiders to be able to come to that conclusion just yet.

Ira entered the restaurant, decked out in a fresh Starfleet uniform and her hair tightened into a pristine bun, and looked around the crowd to locate Malone. He had previously suggested a meeting to discuss ways to improve Operations on the base, so when she had spotted him in the back of the restaurant in plain clothes, she couldn’t help but raise her eyebrows at his seemingly casual appearance.

“I guess I’m a bit overdressed, Commander,” Ira stated dryly as she took her seat at the table across from him.

Malone looked up from the menu he was reading when his female counter-part took her seat opposite him. She had a dry, singular wit, which obviously tended to rub people up the wrong way. However, for his part, Kerry actually appreciated her candour. His face remained stoic and neutral, as he consulted the menu further. "Not at all, Commander." He said, coolly. "This is a work function after all. However, I finished duty some three hours previous, and have been relaxing since, so I saw no reason to change into formal uniform before attending. I suspect if you started removing articles of clothing, people will remember you for more than your bionic arm."

"You's be surprised at the number of Starfleet officers that have suggested I do just that, Commander," Ira raised her eyebrow at him. "Typical projection by a male military officer: must knock down the imagined threat of a strong female officer due to a lack of security in their own masculinity." Her lips tilted up in amusement at Malone's joke. "Flight officers are no exception. In fact, in my experience, their egos are slightly more fragile than officers in other departments. But I'm sure you're well aware of that."

"Indeed I am." Malone replied, putting the menu down. "I doubt I was the first 'fly-boy' to be knocked down a few pegs by the ladies, and I doubt very much I will be the last. Although I do hope that in my more... 'seasoned' years, I'm a lot more mature in my egotism." He said. "However, as attractive as you are, I assure you, I am not attempting to undress you or make any other untoward movements against you, Commander. It would severely hamper any efforts to improve this station if I started acting in an unprofessional manner towards you, as you'd feel uncomfortable in my presence."

"I appreciate the gesture to help ease my nonexistent concerns, Commander," Ira let out a brief quiet chuckle. "Though I expect better of you than to think something like that would affect me. You are only human and, yes, I am aware that sometimes my looks can become... distracting. While I would never use them for personal advancement, they have had come in handy during certain assignments." She then brought out her PADD and set it on the table in front of her. "Now that you got that out of the way, we can move on to more important matters."

"Indeed." He said, bringing out a PADD of his own to take notes with. "So, I've had a discussion with Commander Lance with regards to the security concerns you raised. Whilst she agrees there are areas we are lax on, she's not quite ready to abandon the Starfleet contingent just yet. I have pointed out that continuing to replace the Starfleet Lead is just leading to disjointed performance, but for now at least, her desire is to keep the Starfleet personnel in situ. She has, however, agreed to allow the marines to augment their efforts if its needed."

“Well, at least it’s on her radar now and she is letting us try to find a solution...” Ira looked up at the waitress who just announced herself to them. “Do you have Akvavit, by chance?” When the waitress nodded, Ira gave her a grin. “I’ll take a shot of that along with a glass of whatever beer you have.”

Malone raised an eyebrow at Ira. Drinking at a work meeting? That did seem a tad out of character for her. Not that he knew her all that well, so maybe she did this a lot. "Aspall Cider please." Malone said to the waitress, who hurried off to get their drink orders. He then looked over to Ira. There were so many questions he wanted to ask her, some more personal than others, but decided to open the batting with something simple; "So, you settling in to station life here?"

Ira nodded as she stopped her typing on her PADD. "I am, Commander. Thank you." She then tilted her head slightly to the side. "And if you are wondering based off of that slight eyebrow raise, I believe we have much to celebrate after the work of your officers. While we still have a couple of missing pieces we were able to do more than was intended. The disbanding of the prostitution ring was a pleasant surprise to say the least."

"Well, it was certainly a pleasant outcome considering we didn't go down there to do that in the first place." Malone replied. "Sometimes, someone making a very simple mistake can snow-ball a very complicated and convoluted operation that has been hidden for quite some time. I'm certainly very pleased with the outcome."

Ira nodded in agreement. "Unfortunately there was no trace of any warp trail out of the system after Cross's apparent disappearance. He could be anywhere, Commander. And with the amount of currency he had been apparently making, he is going to be a hard one to find. I expect he has access to genetic modifications since he made a clean run out of the system. I sent out a BOLO to all of the bases and ships in the quadrant notifying of his disappearance and wants. He is particularly dangerous, seeing his treatment of the FCPD officers and apparent hands-on approach to women, so I sent a special request to SFI to look into any connections and leads."

"Based on debriefs from that Blaise character, Cross has been a subservient Lieutenant of his for quite some time." Malone said, as the drinks arrived. He accepted his cider, and handed Ira her drink. "Its entirely possible from his psychological profile that he'll head to ground somewhere whilst he works out what he's going to do next. Since he's not used to being on his own, it might take him a while to get back up and running. A good suggestion, that might be worth asking SFI to check into, would be recent cases of young women either suddenly going missing or abrupt changes in their personality. He's got a singular business model that he's unlikely to change, since he knows it works."

Ira grabbed her shot glass and beer with a nod and set the beer glass down. “16 years between his last operation and this one. According to his file he is 46 years old so he may be more likely to start back up again sooner than we may think, if he even does go back to it. According to Blaise, he raised Cross from his teens yet Cross left him to escape. That must have been an incredibly hard decision for Cross to make. Imagine being under the wing of someone for 30 years and being torn on whether to stay and defend or leave and survive. He is either overconfident in his abilities to make money and will start a new business after a bit of genetic modification or he will leave this type of work altogether. I will advise them of his M.O.”

She then brought he shot glass to her lips, swallowed its contents, then polished the rather sweet liquor (she preferred her Akvavit a little spicier) with a drink of her beer. “He is unpredictable, Commander. He assaults women and torments them but then is given the opportunity to kill the officers and women and argues against it. I don’t like his freedom one bit.”

"I suspect that he'll get careless if he starts up another enterprise. From the sounds of the debrief, Blaise was the one keeping things tight. He was also the disciplinarian who kept everything and everyone in check. Cross doesn't have that level of fear or respect going for him, so he'll come unstuck somehow."

Ira smirked. "Or his new girlfriend will, for lack of a better term, rat on him." Ira took another sip from her beer glass to give herself a moment to decide whether she should ask the question that had popped into her head. However, after going through their past conversation quickly, she figured Malone was professional enough to be honest with her without fearing a potential rift. "Commander, may I ask you a direct question?"

Kerry looked at her for a moment, then decided that she'd been frank with him so far, so he owed her the same level of respect. "I don't see why not."

"How do you feel about working for Commander Lance?"

Well, that really was a direct question, wasn't it? He had a dual conflict going on here. He could either be loyal to his commanding officer, or he could be brutally honest. The former was nagging at him, since Ira was relatively new, and didn't know the commander very well. He knew they'd clashed a bit, but he hoped they'd work through it. The other part of him wanted to treat her as a comrade in arms against what he perceived as severe weaknesses in the station command structure - which emanated from the top.

"I think Commander Lance is struggling in a role she was never really prepared for." Malone said, after considering his response. "She spent her entire career up until this point as a science officer, with limited man management experience. She then took a leap into the command track, and became a first officer, for all of six months before she was unexpectedly thrown into the deep end. During her six months as XO, she was forced to really step up and be the CO from the get-go when the previous Captain upped and vanished. So, whilst I think she has some severe gaps in her knowledge and ability, she's not shy from making tough decisions when she needs to."

"However, I do feel her extreme personal attachment to her junior officers is a significant impediment to her ability to put them in harms way." He concluded. He'd been forced to learn that lesson himself in the harsh realities of fighter combat, whereas Amaya had never been put into that situation before her step into command.

Ira was appreciative of Malone. He had given her a very thorough answer, and had solidified her own reasoning for being wary of Commander Lance. The Commander had, in fact, been unfairly dropped into a metaphorical war zone after barely having served on Obsidian. She had been given a bad hand but had managed to stay afloat with the help of a strong support staff. Even though Ira had been rubbed the wrong way during their first meeting, she had been coming to terms with Amaya’s inexperience being her only true hinderance. “Commander, I believe those shortcomings you have mentioned will be mitigated by experience. After watching you and Major Sharpe and both Commander and Captain Reed work with what little information you had on the Onyx Hotel, Commander Lance has been afforded a team that has helped keep her afloat.” She paused to take another drink from her beer.

“In regards to her personal relationships, that will also come with experience. She feels very protective of them as they have been very protective of her. They have also risked their lives multiple times for both her and for Starfleet without hesitation. I could compare the Reeds to Commander Lance and Major Sharpe but I believe since the Reeds have been working together, from my understanding, for far longer than they have been married. They also have a better understanding of their own loyalty to the Federation in comparison to their loyalty to each other.”

"I certainly have nothing against personal relationships." Malone replied. "Although I do have some bitter experiences from it. On the whole, I do find that a crew that likes and respects each other works more effectively in crisis situations than those that do not. However, there does need to be a degree of discipline, and its when the line of discipline becomes blurred that problems occur." He explained.

He took a sip of his cider. "Lets go with a hypothetical example; pure hypothetical case. Say you and I were romantically involved. It'd be great, because we'd be very close to one another, we'd understand one another, and have a solid working bond. However, were there to be a situation where I needed to be your superior, that could have ramifications to our romantic life. Same in reverse, if something happened in our romantic life, it could have a dramatic impact on our working relationship."

“Commander, I understand your concern over blurring the line fraternization line.” Ira leaned forward a bit towards him, keeping her fingers wrapped light around her glass. “I have witnessed it myself. There is a lot more that comes into play when it comes to interpersonal relationships between crew. There are rules and regulations, Commander, that have been written for specific reasons in order to prevent the opportunity for issues to arise.” She herself had never had a personal issue with dealing with romantic relationships as she had never found the ability to connect with someone on that level. Sure, she had been with men but had always kept her own priorities straight. “Problems arise when people begin to think selfishly and in their own interests. And that goes far beyond romantic interests. Commander Lance will learn that she will not be able to save everyone, including those she loves.” She paused and placed her glass up near her lips.”Your hypothetical situation would not be plausible as you are my direct superior and you do not have an understanding of my abilities to separate work from my personal life.”

"It was a hypothetical scenario for the sake of the conversation, Commander." Malone replied, tersely. "I am well aware of Starfleet regulations, but they don't apply to us directly, only to commanding officers. I am not your commanding officer, just your supervising officer. So the regulations do not apply." He said. "I think Commander Lance is trying to balance many plates, and she's doing it rather well. I think you and she got off to a bad start, but once she comes to appreciate your value and experience, she'll come around. I certainly value your candour and experience."

It was Ira's turn to raise her eyebrow at Malone's debating of the semantics of interpersonal relationships in Starfleet. She slowly drank down the rest of her beer and gently placed the glass back down on the table, all the while keeping her eye contact with him. It was best to turn the conversation back to its original topic. "At first I doubted Commander Lance as I believe she misunderstood my approach to my auxiliary assignment. She felt I had put blame on her when I wasn't. My doubt only came from when she tried to lie to me over a minor fact I had brought up in our meeting. She then reacted poorly out of embarrassment and trying to save face. After seeing her in the briefing I began to see and understand that she is doing what she can with what she has and is beginning to see her limitations. Don't get me wrong, Commander. A strong person knows their limitations, is able to admit them, and either learn to improve when she can or lean on others who do not have those limitations."

Malone nodded. "She's been forced to grow, because of her role." He said. "I think she'll make a fantastic Captain when she's able to see past her last mistake."

“And what mistake was that, Commander?” Ira’s ears perked up at his possibly unintentional reveal.

He realised he'd let far too much be revealed, and Ira's reaction had confirmed that. The whole situation with Alex Wood and Amaya's old friend was still highly compartmentalised, particularly Amaya's actions in regards to her 'old friend'. Malone knew that Amaya kept circling back to her actions during that crisis, but that whole saga had been classified. "Just an inadvertent breach of protocol." He replied, carefully. "She tends to focus on her errors a bit more than is healthy, is all I meant to say."

Ira nodded slowly, running her fingers up and down her empty glass. “Yes, Commander, I can see that.” She let the conversation lie for now. Drinking and discussing personal work matters would not go over very well for either of them. “Now, what do you recommend here for food? I don’t believe it would be wise for me to partake in another round of drinks without eating.”

"Well, the burgers here are fantastic." Kerry said, glad of a change of topic. "I thoroughly recommend them for your first time here."

Ira gave him a smirk and look at the menu Malone had been peering at when she arrived. "I'm not much of a meat eater but it doesn't hurt to vary things a bit every once in a while." She ran the thumb of her left hand across the bottom of her lip in indecision. "I may just have to trust your judgment." During the course of their short time together, she had been seeing Malone as an ally and someone she could rely on. He had been making her transition into working with others far more seamless than she believed it would be. Ira needed to tread lightly, however. Any misjudgment of her new work partner could lead to more difficulties in the future. "Which one do you recommend?"

"Well, if you like a challenge, there's the Philly-Cheesesteak, but I warn you, you end up wearing quite a fair amount of the cheese, no matter how careful you are." He smirked. "I'm going for the bacon double cheeseburger myself, its a solid choice." He looked over the table at Ira. She was a very hard one to read, probably because she'd been trained so well in intelligence work that she knew how to mask her feelings and mental processes. He knew she had incredible potential, and operated on a wave-length he admired. She had that incredible mind that allowed her to see problems from different angles to work out how best to attack them - something he himself prided himself on. He'd become lazy and complacent on Obsidian, allowing his edge to dull, realising quite how laid back everyone was on this posting. But now he had an ally, someone he could work with, who operated like he did. He had a genuine healthy respect for her, and it certainly didn't hurt that she was easy on the eyes.

Ira nodded, placing the menu down. "I always enjoy a challenge, Commander." She then flagged down the waitress and pointed down to it. "I'll have the Philly Cheesesteak, along with another shot of Akvavit and a beer, please." She looked back at Malone and gave him a smirk. "He will have the Bacon Double Cheeseburger and another cider."

Kerry let out a small smile at her choice of food. Not only had she listened to his advice, but had taken up his metaphorical gauntlet that it was a challenge, and had gone in head first. It was admirable in the extreme that she'd take on a challenge without flinching, and wasn't overly effeminate that she cared about getting melted cheese whiz all over her. "I admire your courage, Ira." He said, using her first name for the first time.

Ira paused, slightly thrown off by the sudden change in his inflection. She had pegged him as someone a bit more straight-laced in his dealings with his fellow officers. First-name basis was a bit more personal, but how personal was he getting? Ira still didn’t know him well enough outside of his file and by-the-book dealings. Some officers preferred first name associations and she was just not used to being addressed by her first name. Was he misconstruing her interactions with him? Or was she reading too much into him like she sometimes did? She was walking on thin ice, risking causing an unnecessary rift if her interpretations were incorrect. However, Ira was normally correct in her readings. Why was she all of a sudden doubting herself? The woman straightened herself up a bit, feeling a strong need to gain control of herself and where the conversation was leading. “Since we are discussing work, I would prefer it if you would address me by my rank or my last name.”

"Actually, we're discussing food." Kerry replied, matter-of-factly. "We finished our work discussion and moved on to the dinner component of our evening. I tend to find that in less than formal situations, adopting a more informal method of address is perfectly acceptable." He said. "Besides, I was only trying to be sociable and friendly towards you, Commander. I felt that if we dropped the formality, you might feel more disposed towards entering into non-work related social interactions." Why had she thrown up a massive shield? Had he pushed too far on something? Had he been projecting his thoughts in some way that he might entertain the idea of associating with her beyond a mere work relationship? He certainly hadn't planned on that. All he'd wanted was to move onto a more familiar platform with her, but it felt like he'd just run into a wall, face first.

It seemed Ira had met her match.

Malone was smart, intuitive, and, most of all, inquisitive. He was curious about her. He wanted to dig around and get a feel for his work partner, much like she had always done. He believed in building a strong rapport with his team to increase the chances of successfully completing assignments. Ira had never worked with a partner who looked at everything through a similar lens as she did. Even in Intelligence she was often looked at with quizzical eyes. For the first time she was being looked at with respect and as a person outside of the uniform. And she had been letting him. “Commander, are you normally this friendly with your officers?” Her lips tilted up slightly as her eyes unintentionally darkened a bit.

"Only in certain circumstances in the right context." Malone replied, then took a sip of his cider. "In this example, we are off duty, we are in a public dining facility, we have concluded the work portion of our meeting, and are now about to engage in a nice meal. I felt it was a sufficient ice-breaker to begin the next stage of our evening."

She had a nice sparkle about her when she smiled, almost as if a stoic mask that she wore fell away in certain circumstances. He also noted that her eyes appeared to have changed to a darker shade of blue with the change in conversational dynamic. Had he put her on the back-foot? This was interesting, as he picked away at her persona slightly to find the root version of Ira Skovgaard, he was learning new elements about her.

"Are you cornering me into a legitimate social interaction that doesn't involve discussing the safety and stability of the Federation?" Ira's eyes crinkled at her own joke as she picked up the second round of drinks that had been placed in front of them. She then raised her shot glass in a silent toast to him and his efforts. "Alright, if you would like to move our discussion along, tell me about yourself. Why here? Why Starfleet?"

He chuckled at her very lame attempt at humour. "Alright, I'll bite." He said. "I chose Starfleet as that was what my father did, and I admired my father. I entered the service as a security officer, but after seeing the pilots on the Nimitz, I really wanted to be one, so I put in the hard work and became a fighter pilot. Turns out I was really good at it, and progressed accordingly. I was made a Squadron XO, then eventually the Squadron CO. Turns out I quite enjoyed command, so the CO made me his Second Officer. At around the same time that I had an application in for a command billet, a close personal friend was killed in a training accident on the Ticonderoga. I was offered the XO spot on Obsidian, and here I am."

"So, tell me about you, that I haven't already seen in your official personnel record. What makes Ira Skovgaard tick? What do you enjoy?"

Ira shook her head as she quickly polished off her shot. "You just gave me your personnel file, Commander. You can't ask me a personal question and expect to get away with giving me some mechanical answer to mine. How did your father inspire you to join the service?"

"My father was a starship captain, and a very successful one at that." He said. "I didn't see him much growing up, but he always inspired me in how well he did. Then he was promoted back to Earth, as Head of Starfleet Academy, and he really pushed me to be the best I could be. I always wanted to make him proud of me."

Ira took a quick sip of her beer. "Is he proud of you, Commander?" Malone's admittance of relying on his father, who had been absent for a portion of his life and therefore could only possibly be a figment of an idea in his head, opened up her eyes a bit when she looked at him. Was he looking to prove himself no matter what he was doing?

"I'd like to think so." Kerry replied. "I mean, it started off trying to make him happy, but somewhere down the line, it became about making myself happy with what I was doing. I'm very good at what I do, and I enjoy the results of my labours."

Yes, he was very good at his job. He gave off a very stoic energy and was able to maintain control while assisting his crew during a high crisis scenario. In return, the crew respected him. "I expect being the son of the Academy Head added a bit of an extra challenge. The Academy is hard enough as it is. There is an added pressure just with your name alone. Do you feel like that affected how you viewed your efforts and your time in the service?"

"I think it affected my time in the Academy, being the Dean's son. Everyone expected that he'd carry me through. Couldn't be further from the truth - I had to work twice as hard as everyone else, because of that expectation." Malone said, taking a swift pull on his drink. "But - once I graduated, I became my own man, and although there were a few comparisons to 'the old man', I quickly became my own person, rather than Admiral Malone's son. No, his biggest bugbear with me is the lack of grandkids, but that's a normal parental gripe. He gives my sister a similarly hard time."

Ira raised her eyebrow slightly. "Is that what you're looking for, Commander?" Hey, he was the one who brought it up. It also didn't hurt to test the waters of his slightly more friendly demeanor around her.

Kerry smirked slightly at her casual query. "Eventually, yes. I'd like to settle down with someone and start a family. I'm at that age where I care about such things. I'm not your typical flyboy, who likes to pull chicks with his pilots wings. I'm looking for something more... substantial. A relationship. A partner to go through life with. That kind of thing." Was this a casual query, or was she probing the waters of his intentions with regards to her? In honestly, he had momentarily pictured a life with Ira, but it had been nothing more than a fleeting flash. She'd been very resistant to even having an informal discussion, let alone moving in a more developed direction.

“Just haven’t met the right woman yet, Commander?” Ira tilted her head to the side as she brought her glass up to her lips. Malone was like a puzzle to her with all of the varying pieces all spread out around her. He wasn’t typical of the officers and targets she had dealt with. Normally she would be able to sort and fit the pieces together within hours. Malone’s puzzle was far more complex and layered. A man who admired an absent father but learned to succeed on his own, an obvious workaholic but wants to settle down and find a different focus at some point, a strong leader who knows how to support his fellow counterparts. Maybe that’s what drew her to him and forced her to not flee when the conversation moved to a more personal topic.

Did she like him? Well, he was attractive.

But Ira’s mind and thoughts were far more layered and complicated than they normally should have been. She never took the time to think about the future like he has. In her line of work, the future never existed until it actually came. Some days she never knew if she would still be alive. Now that she was being faced with the idea of one being possible, she didn’t know what to do with herself.

That was a weird question from her. He looked at her carefully. How was she asking that question? As a general query on what he'd said? That seemed odd, that she'd question that. Clearly he hadn't met the right woman yet, since he was single and childless. Why would she question that observation? Or did she mean it in a hurt way that he didn't consider her the right woman, even though he'd met her? That was a very weird thought to have, given her reaction to any kind of personal inquiry or changing the dynamic from professional to personal. Even the way she'd asked it with his rank and not his name, conveyed that.

Ira Skovgaard was extremely complicated and complex. He supposed that was due mostly to her life in Intelligence, where she'd been forced to compartmentalise every single aspect of her life, and only access the necessary parts to do the job she had to do. Intelligence really did dehumanise people sometimes.

Deciding that he wasn't best sure how to tackle her query, he looked at her with a quizzical expression. "Well, yes. If I want a family, I'd like it to be with the right woman. As I don't presently have a family or even a girlfriend, I have yet to make that connection."

“Commander, it is very possible you have or had met the right woman but something could have happened...” Ira was interrupted by the waitress’s return with two plates of steaming hot food. She was rather enjoying watching him squirm a bit. Was it mean? Not to her. It was actually enlightening. He was opening up to her, saying things about himself he more than likely has never said to anyone else. “Thank you,”

Well, that thought was going to fester! Malone scowled at the plate, rather than the person he was genuinely irritated at. Why would she say that? Now he'd forever have doubts about his interactions with women. What if he'd met the woman of his dreams, but had missed the signal? What if one of his former girlfriends had been that person, but he'd not been strong enough to hold onto her? Hell, what if it was someone here on base?! He suddenly found himself extremely miserable and depressed, loosing all interest in his food.

"Thank you for this evening, Commander Skovgaard." He said, as he moved to stand. "I shall see you at 0630 hours tomorrow."

Ira looked up at him, furrowing her eyebrows at his sudden trigger finger. Her comment had struck a nerve. She had gone too far even though she was only making an observation. And this was why she had a hard time holding onto personal relationships. "Commander..." She wanted to apologize. And she never apologized for her actions. "Please, sit down..."

Kerry paused for a moment, then sat back down, looking at Ira carefully. She'd said something that really had caused him so much inner doubt and pain. There had been women he'd loved, yet had lost. There was also Jessie, the girl he'd loved who'd been killed in action. Had she been the one? He said nothing, as he waited for Ira to carry on, hopefully not driving the hot knife into his heart further.

Ira locked her eyes with his as she leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table. “Who was she, Commander?” Her voice was soft and inquisitive, curious to learn more about why she had upset him.

"Why does it have to be a specific 'she', Commander?" Kerry asked, looking carefully at her, raising his defences. He'd become wary of how deep she was probing, and he didn't want her to see any more of his vulnerable side than he'd already shown. Instead, he elected for a more defensive response. "Your comment made me wonder at every single interaction I've ever had with women in my life, and wonder if I'd missed the chance at happiness, that's all. It made me somewhat miserable, if you must know."

“Commander,” Ira began apologetically, “I was only disproving your point of there being a right person, the person. The idea of one perfect fit for you out of a galaxy of hundreds of trillions is incomprehensible. When you got defensive it led me to believe that you had someone you cared deeply about. I wanted to understand why you reacted the way you did.” She paused and let out a long breath. “I apologize, Commander. I overstepped my bounds.”

"It's alright Commander, no harm done." He said, accepting what she said. He wasn't sure he was ready to talk about Jennie yet, he hadn't spoken about her in a long time. Was he doing her a disservice by supressing what happened to her? They'd been so madly in love with one another, then one stray torpedo had ended everything. He'd watched from a distance as her fighter had simply exploded. It had made him hard, bitter, cynical. For a long time after, he'd rejected love in all its forms. Only in the last couple of years had he softened enough to allow people back in, in a limited extent.

"I think that a part of me still believes in the romantic ideal that there's that 'one person' out there for us." He said, fiddling with a fry on his neglected meal. "Despite everything, there's still a spark of an old romantic in me that hard life and service hasn't quite extinguished yet. The part of me that keeps alive the love I had for a girl, who was cruelly taken from me before my eyes."

Ira nodded her head slowly. “I’ve never had that, Commander. I’ve lost a lot of things but never something like that.” The loss of her parents was considered something on an entirely different level, something that couldn’t be compared to the loss of a love.

"So, I want to believe that there's someone out there that I've yet to discover is my soul-mate. I know its an outdated and irrational concept, but that's just who I am." He said, acknowledging what she'd said. So many people had lost so much, it was hard to say which loss was more painful than another. You couldn't really say that because each loss is different to a different person. "I do hope you never experience loss like that. I hope I am not out of line when I say that I hope that your worst days are behind you, Commander, and that being on Obsidian is the start of a new and positive future for you."

Ira raised up the hand of her bionic armed and waved her fingers playfully at Malone. “You can’t change your past, Commander, much like I can’t grow a new arm. We have to accept what we’ve been given and learn to adjust. Heartbreak is a part of life. It is how you perceive it that can either make or break you. I’m sorry for your loss, Commander.” She let out a long breath. He had opened up to her so much. it was only fair that she meet him halfway. “I thought coming here was the end of my career and my life. I had spent half of my life pretending to be someone else, different identities all for the sake of the Federation. I came here where life is lived completely differently. The bonds you have built with your crew… it’s unimaginable where I came from. But I’m alive here, I’m breathing here. I still get to protect the Federation. Maybe I can’t get my hands dirty like I had before but I still get to do what I’ve been trained to do my whole life.” She paused, shifting her eyes up to meet with his. “You are here, Commander. You are alive, you are breathing. You will find that person who will make sure to remind you of that every single day.”

"That's true enough." Malone said. "I know this seems selfish and callous of me to say, but I'm very glad you got sent here. I know its probably not what you wanted - I always thought I'd stay on starships - but you can still make a difference here. I like you Ira, I really do. I think you and I have a lot in common, and I think we're going to do some really good things as a team. So, I want you to think of this place as something positive, not something you need to get through. Know that at least one person around here, actually cares if you're here or not." He gave her a heartfelt smile at that point. "And, since we're being informal, the name's Kerry, not 'Commander'."

She'd obviously opened up to him, and it had clearly been difficult for her to do so. He appreciated and respected her for that. It was a positive step in the right direction, that she didn't feel that she was on a deep cover assignment, and needed to compartmentalise, but that she could be Ira Skovgaard, the person. It made him feel like he'd achieved something.

Ira gave him a nod. “Ok… Kerry…” She playfully forced out. “I am taking Obsidian as a chance to explore something new, something different. I should be thanking you for being so open and so kind to me. I didn’t think we would get along, especially since our first meeting was at your bio bed in the Infirmary.” She looked down at her now cold food and poked it around a bit. “Is it safe to assume this will no longer taste nearly as delicious as you have claimed it to be?”

"I'm afraid its not quite as good cold, no." Malone replied. "I'm afraid that's my fault for talking quite so much." He sighed. "Should we ask them to provide us two new meals, and I'll pay for them?"

Ira gave him a smirk and shook her head. “No, Comman- I mean, Kerry,” she chuckled a bit at her slip up. Old habits die hard. “I was the one who asked you the questions.” She stood up from her chair. “I’ll go to the bar and make a new order. Would you like another round of drinks while we wait?”

"Go on, one more, but we need to be careful. We've not had any alcoholic inhibitors this evening." He said. "We've both got duty first thing, I'd rather not need an anti-toxin in the morning." He chuckled at that. He was genuinely growing fond of Ira, he found her social awkwardness oddly compelling. Was he becoming attracted to her? No... he couldn't be... could he? That thought required further processing at another time.

“A key skill in Intelligence is being able to hold your liquor. A common bonding activity with targets is drinking. The better you hold your liquor, the more likely they are to trust you.” Ira gave him a smile as she turned and made her way over to the somewhat packed bar.

Kerry chuckled as he watched her go over to the bar. He couldn't shake the feeling that she still thought of him as a target, but they'd somehow made some progress this evening. At least - he hoped so.

 

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