It was the end of her duty shift on the Bridge and Aenardha relinquished her station to her boss. She was not hungry and was certainly too restless to return to her quarters to rest. She made her way to Engineering. With much of the crew scampering about their daily duties, moreso now that they were on the way home, Aenardha did not need to seek out any public vision. There was plenty to go around. That, and a calming communal thought pattern that this was almost over.
Entering Engineering, Aenardha stepped her way over to the LT’s door and pressed the chime, letting anyone inside know that someone came calling.
The door swished open. As she entered the room, Zo and Mindo were discussing something, but it looked like they were wrapping it up.
Aenardha furrowed her brow a little upon taking in the visions of the two inside. They even shared a communal thought. She did not dig any deeper but got the feeling of someone moving out and someone moving in. Her antennae stood erect. Both cups aimed forward.
"Is it alright with you if I raise the desk a little?" Zo said. "Maybe add a chair instead of a giant beanbag?"
"Don't knock the beanbag, Zo," Mindo replied. "At least, not until you've tried it."
"We do have beanbag chairs on Baku you know," said Zo. Just then the two of them noticed the young Ensign standing just inside the office.
"Hello Ensign," Mindo said. Next to Mindo was a crate with several of Mindo's possessions inside, including some bottles of tranya and other alcohol, and orange juice. Zo regarded Aenardha with a smile and a nod.
"I'll give you two some privacy," Zo said. "Let me know when you need help moving your stuff to the XO office."
"Thank you, Zo," Mindo replied, and Zo departed the room.
She and Mindo were alone, at least for the moment. Mindo walked over to his beanbag chair and sat down, signaling the young Ensign to do the same.
"What can I do for you?" Mindo asked.
“Sir, I’m sorry,” she said as she moved toward a chair, “XO’s office?”
Mindo nodded. "Yes. We haven't made the announcement yet, but it isn't a secret. Commander Nash was horribly injured during the battle and is currently in sickbay in a coma. Captain Temple asked me to step in as first officer for the time being. Zo has been promoted temporarily to Chief of Engineering." Mindo rubbed his eyes, which had dark circles underneath. "Zo is helping me move a few things to Nash's office. Not everything... just the essentials." Mindo indicated the crate of bottles of drinks.
Aenardha nodded as he spoke. She already knew about the commander. She listened intently as he pressed onward.
"Ever since we left Hesiod everything seems upside down." Mindo said with a sigh. "Now, what can I do for you, Ensign?"
“You must be extremely busy, sir.” She sat. “Even moreso tired, so, I will not keep you. I just wanted to thank you and your team for the work on my quarters.” As small as it was, she smiled a genuine smile at him. “You have a magnificent team here.”
Mindo smiled too. "Thank you. How are your quarters?"
“Almost like home.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Could be colder but…Starfleet Regulations and all. Crewman Greep showed up this morning to verify everything was in order and to my liking. Also, to ensure there was no atmospheric leakage. He is a very dedicated engineer.” Aenardha made herself more comfortable and continued. “I must say that I find it disorienting working with someone whose race I cannot read telepathically. I’ve always known such races exist, but Ontarion is only the second I have personally encountered.”
Mindo laughed at that. "I think everyone finds Greep hard to read, and I think he likes it that way."
“I can understand that,” she replied immediately. “On Andor, among the Aenar, privacy is barely a concept. A family can have entire conversations within seconds with everyone spread throughout the house. I can be in my room, have a strange thought, and my mother butts in from the other side of the house, sometimes the neighbor’s house, correcting me or telling me to stop having such thoughts. To be honest, sir,” she leaned forward and rested her elbows upon her knees; certainly not very ladylike as she had been taught, “I find the telepathic silence here very comforting. I…take much satisfaction that my thoughts remain my own. In a way, I find myself envious of Crewman Greep.”
"That's an interesting thing to say," said Mindo. "I think Greep has reason to be envious of all of us. Sometimes I wonder if he is. He does so many things different from the rest of us. For example, he has difficulty with our language. Ontarions don't have the ability to talk like us. Greep has struggled over the last two decades to accurately imitate the sounds of our speaking. It's caused irreparable damage to his throat, hence the clicking noise he often makes. In many ways, it's a good thing not to be Greep."
Mindo leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs. "Out of curiosity, what is the other race you have trouble reading?" he asked.
“Oh, um,” she recalled the instance to the forefront of her thoughts. Her antennae turned toward each other somewhat. “It was when I was studying to become a counselor. Our instructor brought in a Changeling for a term exercise.
"No kidding?" Mindo said. "I suppose I'm not surprised. Changelings are almost as different to us as Ontarions."
“I had heard rumors of a Changeling in Starfleet,” she continued, “but did not truly believe it until, one day…”
Mindo uncrossed his legs and sat forward.
Aenardha’s words came to an abrupt halt. She picked up a sudden and strong feeling from Mindo after his mental patterns appeared to take on something of a massive mental double-take. It was familiar, something she had sensed before; that abyss of despair. This time though, it seemed she was close to picking up a name to attribute to it, but Aenardha denied herself from digging deeper. There was still a central thought from the active lieutenant, too strong to ignore. And she had his full attention. Looking back at herself through his vision, things looked a degree brighter. His pupils dilated. There was certainly a desire attached to his thought, a desire to lay waste to this abyss of despair. Something Aenardha said peaked his attention. She was not sure if she wanted to be the one with answers or not.
“…one day,” she pressed on after an ever so brief span of eternity, “Dr. Lauda introduced us, my class that is, to a Changeling, one of her own patients. Apparently she had been taken hostage and held as a POW. She was rescued but after suffering ill treatment by her captors. Returning to Starfleet, she went back to the Academy to expand her focus and also started seeing Dr. Lauda as her personal counselor.”
Mindo slammed his hands on his desk and leaned forward. "A name... what was her name?" he said loudly. He already knew the answer, though he was almost afraid to hear it.
Aenardha jumped a little in a start and was taken aback. “Um…” and she found herself having to search her memory. Though the memory was a unique event and unforgettable, she had to take a moment to gather her thoughts after that start Mindo delivered. “…uh…it was Lieutenant Eunidas. Caradan.” She nodded. “That was her name.”
Aenardha saw Mindo nearly frozen in time. There came a feeling welling within him that Aenardha could sense and only describe as a balloon of sorts. Though there was no telling how big this ‘balloon’ could become before it would, if it would, explode.
Not knowing if that was a cue to continue or to resort to silence, Aenardha awkwardly continued. “I only saw her three times during the duration of the course.”
"Was she... how did... what was she..." Mindo stammered for a second. He gave his head a vigorous shake and rested it for a moment, taking a few deep breaths. When he looked up, his mind was clearer, and he sat back. He didn't seem entirely comfortable now, but Aenardha could detect a little more restraint. He set his hands gently now on the desk.
Aenardha could also tell this Changeling meant a great deal to him. She did not even have to reach out mentally to see that.
"Was she healthy?" he asked the young Ensign, his voice calm and even.
Aenardha nodded. She could tell there was a deluge of other questions he wanted to ask, needed to ask, but he had settled on what was asked. She wanted to be careful with her words. Her training as a counselor taught her the power of words, also the damage words could inflict. On top of all, to be honest.
“She seemed perfectly fine, sir…well physically that is. My second meeting with her was our one-on-one session. Again, I had to rely solely on my education and on what I saw during our first, in-class, session. She told me that it was not easy to physically injure a Changeling; that they could not bruise and that cuts and abrasions they could simply think away, but I could tell her mental scars were deep and powerful. She wore an actual uniform, instead of forming one from her body.” Aenardha displayed her hands. “And she wore Starfleet issued gloves. ‘I don’t want anyone seeing me’ she told me. So, she covered herself up. My diagnosis was that she was suffering from a form of Body Dysmorphic disorder.”
Aenardha let that information set in a short second before continuing, hoping to find something uplifting.
“She often spoke of her crewmates aboard the Tornado, but did not refer to anyone by name. I think she was advised against that. Regardless, she indicated a continued desire to expand her focus to include command training. Despite what she endured and the lingering effects, she seemed determined to press on.”
Aenardha took a breath to keep her thoughts on track. “Lieutenant Eunidas seemed to have been working things out and dealing with things well. She was obviously still met with some resentment from those who lost loved ones during the Dominion War. I asked if she had any thoughts on going into hiding, blending in and disappearing among the population. She did…have those thoughts, but always said she was bigger than that; that there were those she did not want to let down. ‘There are others out there…like me…” she told me. I was wondering if she meant other Changelings or others who endured similar treatment. I asked her to expand on that. She did not.”
Aenardha could sense a chaotic stirring of thoughts and emotions from the lieutenant. This Changeling was important to him. She allowed silence to expand between them, wondering if she had answered however many questions he had, if he had anymore, if there was anything more she could do.
Mindo was very quiet for a moment. He stood and walked over to the crate with the drinks, grabbed a bottle and poured himself a glass.
Aenardha turned, full body and used both her and his senses of awareness to keep her eyes on him, even if she could not look back at herself through his eyes. “Sir, I see that…”
"Would you like a drink, Ensign?" he asked. "I keep a bottle of fresh-squeezed orange juice here, and I also have a pitcher of zucchini water in the fridge which I find very refreshing."
“Thank you, sir. Orange juice will be great,” she said. She tended to the situation, reading the room, intently and watched, through his eyes, as he poured drinks, doing it all with a careful hand as a slew of images and thoughts continue to stir. Aenardha knew they were there but kept herself from reading them.
Mindo sat down with his drink and, after sliding Aenardha’s glass toward her, took a long gulp. "My people's chemistry allows alcohol to help us focus easier. It heightens awareness, reflexes, and can null other negative bodily functions and reactions," he said. He didn't feel the need to mention the restricting effect it had on Fesarian libidos. There was silence for a few seconds while Mindo finished his drink. It may have felt awkward, but he clearly needed the time to put his thoughts in order.
"I served with Car- Lieutenant Eunidas on the Tornado a few years ago, before it was decommissioned," he said finally. "I knew her very well. We were close." He sighed. "My transfer to the Pandora was very sudden. I barely had time to pack up my things, and I never had the chance to say goodbye to her... a fact that has haunted me the entire time I've been here." He hesitated, and when he spoke again his voice shook. "I heard something bad happened to her. Something horrific. I don't really know what it was, but I know it was..." he trailed off, not completing the sentence. For a moment there was a somber silence.
Eventhough he said alcohol can null other negative bodily functions and reactions, it certainly did not seem to null negative thoughts, which Aenardha saw he was clearly focusing on. “However horrible it was, sir,” Aenardha said softly, “she survived. She got away from that. Though there are lingering effects, the lieutenant went back to the Academy to expand her knowledge and skills to include Command. She is out there, possibly commanding a team, maybe someone’s executive officer.”
She took a swallow of her orange juice. It was a bit warm, for her, but satisfying nonetheless.
But her thoughts were not on the orange juice, nor were they on how true what she just said was, but on something she did not have to read minds to know Mindo was probably thinking the same thing. As an intelligence officer, Aenardha’s thoughts were circling around one glaring factoid. Why has LT Eunidas not attempted to make contact with Mindo?
The only answer to that question, for the moment, and as there was little to prove otherwise, was that something else was presently going on. And only one’s imagination could come up with the details of that something else, with many variations with all the dangers therein.
“Sir,” said Aenardha. She decided to focus on the here and the now as well as options. “My counseling instructor, Dr. Lauda, she was my counselor when I…” something came to mind that Aenardha did not wish to go into, “…I was at the Academy. She was also LT Eunidas’ personal counselor. It is possible she maintains contact with LT Eunidas.
"Interesting," Mindo said. "I know Dr. Lauda as well. She was my... counselor too!"
“Small world,” Aenardha replied. “You should make contact with her. Lauda may have more answers than I. She may even be able to relay a message. If she keeps in contact with the lieutenant that is.”
"I suppose it's worth a shot," Mindo said, wondering to himself how he'd pull this off without a fight. Maybe she's not mad anymore, he thought. It's been about ten years. Things can change in ten years...