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Up Up & Away

Posted on Tue Jun 4th, 2024 @ 8:12am by Captain Nycolas Temple & Lieutenant Caradan Eunidas

Mission: The Only Thing Left Was Hope
Location: Earth - San Francisco


"Just go." Emilie had said softly, reaching across the kitchen table to her husband. "Find them."

Nyx had smiled back broadly as he squeezed her hand, tears threatening to swell in his eyes. "Are you sure?" He had asked.

"It's what you're meant to do." Emilie had said firmly.

Several hours later, Nyx was standing at the transport hub of Starfleet Headquarters, waiting for his shuttle to arrive. He had said goodbye to the kids - for now, at least - and was about to make the journey to Risa to find the rest of the Pandora crew. He only had a small rucksack on his shoulders, but tucked inside was his uniform and comms badge. Just in case. Looking down at the PADD in hand, he read over his transport orders on the screen.

"Risa." He sighed to himself. "Why'd it have to be Risa?"

Caradan looked up from her PADD. She was reviewing the manifest of the U.S.S. Pandora and had only gotten to its CO when she heard someone complain about Risa. Though she only saw the man's profile, the face seemed familiar and she refocused her attention back to her PADD. Sure enough, the man was her new CO. And he was at the transport hub of all places. Not aboard his own ship. After several hours of waiting, Caradan had only asked once about transport to the Pandora and all she got in return was indication to wait longer. She had only been in Security for a short time but was already feeling as though something was up and out of the ordinary. Seeing her new CO here only added to that suspicion. At least things would get interesting fast and she would not have to be assigned to a ship with little work and loads of social time. Socializing was something she was not in the wanting to do.

Caradan stood from the couch that had been her office for the past several hours and started across the foyer to the presence of "Captain Temple, sir," she said. He was not in uniform so she did not snap to attention before him but paid him utmost respect all the same. She stood before him, covered from head to toe in her uniform along with the authorized addition of her al-amira head covering. She even wore white gloves which she fiddled with and ensured were a snug fit, all the way down to her plicae interdigitalis. The only thing he could see of her person was her face, as pasty as it was. She took on the form of a human but wanted there to be no mistake that she was, in fact, a Changeling.

Nyx had been aware that he was being observed and furrowed his brow in discomfort. After the last unknown visitor turned his life upside down, he was very wary of conversations with strangers. When the officer spoke his name, he looked across with a raised eyebrow and assessed quickly if she was a friend or another unexpected surprise.

With a quick sweeping look to her lapel, Nyx gave a curt nod. “Lieutenant?” He said, at the same time he noticed her appearance. He still wasn’t sure what to expect.

"Sir," Caradan began, "I have been assigned to the U.S.S. Pandora as her Chief Security Officer. According to my information, you are her captain. I have been," and she motioned with her head over toward the front counter, "waiting here for many hours for transport to the Pandora. Yet I keep getting delayed. And no one can tell me why." She had been holding her PADD under her arm and retrieved it to call up her orders. The information was displayed that these orders came with a referral from a character reference and this referral came from Master Chief Miles O'Brien who was also a professor at the Starfleet School for Engineering. The referral was accompanied with the blessing of Admiral (Retired) Jean Luc Picard. Caradan had only heard the name and did not know the man. She decided not to call attention to the referral, just the orders.

"If you are headed to the Pandora, sir," she turned the PADD around and held it out so that her captain could see the orders, "I would like to accompany you."

"To the Pandora?" Nyx disbelief belied his growing interest in the officer. How could this Lieutenant be assigned to a ship that was not currently in service, he wondered. Receiving the PADD in his hand, Nyx scrolled to find who had given the assignment. "Of course." He smiled, seeing Admiral Milne's certification.

Handing the PADD back to the Lieutenant, Nyx gave a wry grin, "I apologise, Lieutenant. You've been waiting here for me. Well, more precisely, for me to make the decision to go find the Pandora. Now that I have, we'll be on our way soon. I guess Admiral Milne believes I will need your expertise in that assignment."

Caradan also had no idea who this ADM Milne was, but had also noticed the name on her orders. But Caradan had dwelt on that for all of a second, maybe less, as she found herself with questions in the wake of her captain's wording; to find the Pandora. It was quickly turning out that this was not just any assignment to a ship but an assignment to find the ship to which she was assigned. This was already an interesting one and Caradan found herself internally thanking Miles for discovering and suggesting this one. She wanted to provide her thanks in person, but knew there was no time.

Retrieving her PADD, Caradan looked at the man as he looked back at her. She found she was not anxious at all with their eyes meeting. It was proven many times, during her sessions with her counselor that her anxiety seemed to have stayed away when Caradan was in 'work mode' or when her Starfleet discipline was required. It was during off-duty times, at social gatherings, etc. where her PTSD or her anxiety decided to rear its ugly head. "I will give it my all, sir," she said. "Please allow me a moment to gather my belongings."

"Oh, of course." Nyx replied, before he dipped his head down low, "I will brief you when we're in-bound to Risa."

Nyx looked up as a shuttle began to descend from above, gliding down slowly and rotating into position onto the landing bay in front of them with a satisfying hiss, the air blowing across his face gently. The rear door opened, and an officer appeared from within, already holding out his hands to receive the transport orders. When the Ensign saw the Captain, he snapped to attention, causing Nyx to smile again. It had been a long time since anyone had done that. Nyx handed over his PADD and was dutifully waved onto the vessel.

Before he did so, Nyx looked back to see if his newest crew member was ready.

Caradan had stashed her PADD away under her uniform top and drew it into her being for storage. That was always the best way for a Changeling to hold on to something; to carry it within. For a solid to attempt the same was gross apparently. She was quickly behind him, carrying her duffels with relative ease. Caradan was wondering why a trip to Risa was in order, but made no comment and decided to place her trust in her captain.

She had stopped long enough to drop her duffels, retrieve her PADD, showing it to the Ensign before being waved forward toward the awaiting shuttle. Replacing her PADD under her uniform top, thus within her being, Caradan grabbed her duffels and carried on in Nyx's wake. She did not smile but her voice sounded cheerful enough as she said, "Ready to go Captain."

Stepping onto the Class-C shuttle, Nyx stowed his backpack in the cargo hold near the rear entrance and made his way into the main passenger cabin. The shuttle had been loaned from the USS Versailles, a diplomatic vessel, so the configuration of the craft was suited to Ambassadors and Diplomats of the Federation. It included a long rectangular table with chairs in the center of the cabin, two sets of armchairs with small tables on either side of the cockpit door, and a royal blue bench sofa running down both walls. In the port-side corner, there was a large replicator with serving table, and the starboard side contained a shelf with historical books on treaties and wars, next to a large Federation flag on a pole. Both walls were adorned with multiple screens for sub-space conferences.

Nyx took a moment to look around before pulling up a chair at the conference table and sitting down, PADD back in hand. He could hear the crew preparing to launch again rather quickly, VER-1 clearly under orders to get enroute quickly.

Caradan stowed her duffels the best she could then gave the interior of the shuttle a far greater going over than the once over she performed upon entering. Yes, this remained a diplomatic shuttle. And she heard the flight crew announce the name; 'Ver-1.' Caradan could only ponder at the importance of her new captain, at the importance of this assignment, at the importance of the Pandora itself. She decided not to make any inquiries just yet but to peruse what information was granted to her via her PADD once it had a chance to synch with Temple's. She sat down across the table from Nyx and logged into her PADD after retrieving it from under her uniform top. She inputted her security credentials then initiated the synchronization application with Nyx's nearby PADD, inputted her security credentials again, then spun the PADD to Nyx. "Captain, sir. My PADD is requesting your voice print and command code to allow me access to further information regarding the Pandora."

"Temple, Delta Two, Zero Eight Five." Nyx said casually into the PADD, granting the Lieutenant access to the files she required.

Caradan spun her PADD back to her and started pulling up information.

"" she was not sure how to approach the topic. Questions would only breed more questions. Answers only bred even more questions. Still, there was something she had to get out of the way, knowing full well questions, questions she did not want to answer, would shoot to the forefront of Nyx's mind. "Sir, are there any Klingons aboard the Pandora, part of the senior staff?"

Nyx frowned a little as he answered, "No, not currently." He hesitated for a moment before adding unhelpfully, "That I know of."

Caradan figured as such. His admittance did put her at ease somewhat. "Thank you, sir," she said. She did not need to see the frown he wore to know he had questions. "I...uh..." she started automatically but restrained herself as she was not wanting to discuss her past...if ever. "...was just wondering. Thank you, sir."

But before giving Nyx any opportunity to make an inquiry, Caradan returned her attention from her PADD to him. "Also, captain, you will see, in my in-processing documents, a contract for me to take on two regular forms; what you see now and my natural state. Any other forms I morph into will be in case of emergencies or if ordered to by you or the Executive Officer. That contract is meant for him to sign, but also for your records." She had far less reservations about discussing this topic and found herself expecting him to have questions.

Nyx peered over his PADD to the officer, now raising an eyebrow. "I've never expected such a contract." He felt the need the say this clearly, "I have had another crew member before on my ship with form changing abilities and I expected - No, I knew - that she was Starfleet first and foremost. I will assume, unless given reason not to, that your commitment to your service is all the contract that I need to trust that you'll act accordingly."

"Understood, sir." Caradan went back to her PADD. "It's just...I've not always been met with openness and..."

"Besides," Nyx sighed, "I have also learnt that one doesn't need to be a Changeling or a Chameloid to have the ability to change forms or loyalties. Someone can smile at you with the exact same face they have when they then turn around and betray you. The ability to deceive has nothing to do with species."

Caradan was nodding as he spoke. "Yes, sir. Of course." She liked him, as a captain, already. Captain Takado had previously signed the contract and that was that. Captain Temple seemed to ignore the contract ever existed. Caradan felt there was no further need to prove her loyalty to Starfleet, her duties, uniform, and captain. She went back to her PADD, returned to the information regarding the Pandora now that all the information had imported. She started with securities logs from before the ship went 'missing.'

After a brief confirmation from the cockpit that they had received a launch window, Ver-1 was soon lifting off from the ground and accelerating out of the transport hub, heading up above the San Francisco skyline. Nyx had to stop reading his PADD and close his eyes for a moment. It had been a long time since he had travelled off-world and he was no longer used to the rapid ascending motion of the craft. He waited and hoped the nausea would pass. Trying to take his mind off it, he peered at the Lieutenant.

Caradan did notice his slight discomfort. It was something she never experienced. In fact, there was so much she had never experienced nor would ever experience, given her biology or lack thereof. She did, once, perfectly mimic a human, so to experience what it meant to be human. She vowed to never do that again.

“You are anticipating roadblocks for yourself.” Nyx commented more than asked, having considered Caradan’s earlier questions. “I like that in a Chief of Security. Sometimes I need to be reminded that the path won’t always be…” he paused as the shuttle rumbled against the pull of Earth's gravity, “Smooth sailing.”

Caradan certainly had roadblocks along her own path. Her counselor named a few that appeared to be almost permanent. They were at least hurdles that seemed too high for Caradan to get over and beyond. "Yes, sir," she said. "I do anticipate roadblocks. And I will endeavor to ensure they do not hinder my performance." And, though Caradan was telling the truth, she was uncertain if that endeavor would come to fruition. Too many times in her sessions with her counselor did Caradan literally melt down. At least, now her automatic reaction was to harden herself; to outwardly appear the same but to become hard as a rock...harder than. "And if anyone tries to activate any of my 'roadblocks'," she continued, "they will encounter a titanium wall that cannot be chiselled through."

Nyx nodded at this, impressed by the Lieutenant's determination. "That's certainly understandable. However," He pursed his lips, considering his words, "I do wonder, is there anything in particular you are anticipating with joining the Pandora? You said you've not always been met with openness before, but do you have reason to believe there will be a roadblock in joining this crew?"

Caradan almost spoke immediately, but she stopped herself after she had simply opened her mouth. She did it again; opening her mouth and then closing it without making a sound. "I..." escaped from between her lips. Caradan thought very briefly. Counselor Lauda had diagnosed her with three phobias. Only one of the three was at least manageable. Still, the simple mention of the word 'Klingon' made a rock form in her chest which Caradan was usually careful to keep that rock spreading across her being. The other two phobias would have to be tackled with time. Caradan swallowed needlessly; was not even aware she had done that. "Just...there may still be those who lost family in the Dominion War. Those who may still hold resentment toward Changelings." Though that was true, Caradan did realize, long ago, that she saw resentment everywhere, even where there truly was no resentment; that she had built her own roadblocks. "As you said yourself, sir, someone may smile at you with the same face they wear when the betray you." She did not realize she was fiddling with her hands. "That happened to me many times. I did find a home aboard the Tornado," she added seeing she was doom spiraling. "I made friends; had a...relationship. I hope for the same aboard the Pandora." She was unsure of the relationship part; if she wanted that or not; if anyone would want her or not, but stopped herself before doom spiraling yet again. "I realize we oftentimes build our own roadblocks. I also endeavor to keep myself from doing that," too much.

"Of course, and I hope that you'll find a home on the Pandora as well." Nyx replied gently. The two had only just met but he was getting a measure of the heart within the officer, and he was grateful that she was allowing herself to be open to his questions. They had to build up the trust rather quickly. "The crew and I - those of us who remain, who we're trying to locate now - we had been together for years, through incredibly great difficulties and amazing experiences. You are coming into a family that is already formed. But we are also a family that is a mix of humans, Betazoids, a Fesarian, a Drax, and so much more. We are many things, but we are not judgmental. The Pandora is a welcoming bunch."

Caradan nodded as he explained; restrained herself from reacting at the mention of a Feserian. Half of her wanted it to be Mindo. Half of her did not. In fact, things would probably be easier if it was not Mindo. Their last conversation aboard the Tornado did contain some hard feelings and words. She was also thankful that, to date, it was never known for a Betazoid to be able to read the thoughts of a Changeling. If one could, one would know just how much Caradan thought about..."I...look forward...sir..." she said, "to being a part of your crew, of these experiences, and to lending myself and my abilities and knowledge to aiding us through any difficulties that lie ahead." Right now, it seemed the difficulty was locating the ship and getting the crew back together.

"Then we're going to be okay." Nyx said, and there was a very real chance that he actually believed it. With a brief smile, Nyx shifted in his seat. Enough with the probing questions, he thought, there would be plenty of time to get to know the Lieutenant later. He had felt a moment of discomfort and decided it was time again to focus on their mission at hand. "Once we have the crew gathered, we will need to start looking for the ship. If the Pandora isn't at Luna or Planitia, then we need somewhere else they could hide our ship undetected." He frowned and looked down at his PADD, "Start compiling a list of potential locations, starting with the Sol system."

Caradan looked up from her PADD briefly. Could it be that the Federation itself was hiding the ship? Somewhere inside the Sol system no less? Her first instinct was to ask who could possibly...and that was where her thoughts settled on one culprit; the organization that was not supposed to exist and the very one she had some dealings with but never did she hear of them stealing and hiding a starship. "Aye, sir," was all she said. Caradan then entered her security code again to discreetly search for 'Section 31,' she typed into her search field.

The Ver-1 was soon out of Earth's atmosphere and heading en-route to Risa. Nyx heard Emilie's words in his head again and he smiled a little as the shuttle started to hit warp speed. The mission to find the Pandora had now begun.



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