The same cloth
The Junk Heap
Location: Commander Harper's Office
Clarissa was reading through the presently available crew roster, as she attempted her first day of actually doing work. She still had to introduce herself to people, though she wasn't sure she was up for social interactions, after the particularly emotional first 24 hours.
Still, the Executive Officer's biography file raised an eyebrow. It felt familiar to her. A little bit too familiar. She thought that someone who had a better understanding of her the current bag of crap, that was Clarissa's life, was a good first step, and she walked up to the Executive Officer's office, and pressed the door chime, intending to make a hopefully better first impression than the burnt out silhouette of an officer the Captain had met.
"Come in," Alex had yelled when the door chime sounded. She was standing to the side of her desk, glaring down at it as if it had offended her personally. The smallish room was bereft of any decor save for a single picture on the desk and a throw over the back of the chair. It was exceedingly cool in the office, which was probably why the XO was wearing a thick leather jacket over her uniform jacket, and why her cheeks were a bit pink as if she'd been out in the cold too long.
Clarissa stepped in, and shivered, mildly. She shook it off, fairly easily, before coming to something roughly akin to attention. "Hi. I'm Lieutenant Williams. Chief of Security. Thought I'd introduce myself before the rumor mill catches up, and I get bad first impressions made for me."
Alex arched an eyebrow at that. "There better not be a rumor mill," she warned as an odd type of reassurance. "I have no patience for that crap. Here," she said, plucking up the throw from the back of her chair and offering it to to the lieutenant. "You'll catch pneumonia in here. The last XO was an Andorian. The temp controls are all kinda borked up. I'm Alex Harper. Have a seat."
"My w-" Clarissa sharply cut herself off. "An old friend of mine is fond of saying that if a group of people exist together for longer than 5 minutes, it is a social requirement for rumor mills to start." Clarissa shook her head. "I didn't used to care about them, before I had my life thrown into them like a blender."
The XO grinned a little at that. "Yeah, tell me about it. That's why I don't tolerate it. People bleed in all kinds of way, and assholes- well, they shine in the spotlight of tearing others down. I'll keep a leash on it here, Williams. Don't fret over it."
"That is truly the best way I've heard it explained." Clarissa agreed. "I find them useful, to an extent, as a criminal investigator. As a person, who would rather not have classified aspects of their personnel file strewn about like dirty laundry, I find it repulsive. I used to think that only people who had things to hide hated a gossip. Now, I realize how hard it is, for those who get gossip spread about them. I've had to reassess my investigative technique."
Rather than sinking into her chair, Alex sat on the edge of her desk, nodding along to Clarissa's words. "You're giving me a hell of a lead in, lady. Is there something that you need me to know? I just got here, so I haven't read any files yet. Some of that is best summed up as speculation anyhow. It's better to get it straight from the horse's mouth."
"I'm not officially allowed to talk about it." Clarissa replied. "But I was recently demoted, and it has been very explicitly explained to me, officially, and not, that I'm lucky it wasn't worse." She frowned. "It's kind of hard to deal with something, when you can't even discuss it with your counselor. You know?"
Alex wrinkled her nose at the mention of the demotion. The girl had been kicked around obviously. The rest was just gravy. "So don't tell me the facts- tell me the feels. That's more important to the here and now in the long run, right? You want a coffee?"
"I'd like that." Clarissa said, nodding. "My friends, and relationship have all gone away. I got thrown at a new ship. I feel kind of..." Clarissa scowled. "Like I am tossed aside. No longer of any use to anyone. The counselor-" Clarissa winced. "I'm not sure how much help they're going to be. I have a nagging after image of a mind-meld suggesting that her methodology is potentially harmful to my treatment." Clarissa added, accidentally falling in to Vulcan speech patterns. She shook her head, to clear the leftover out. "Sorry. Anyway. The long and short of it is, I feel about as worn down as this ship."
"Sounds like you've had an awful lot of people doin' you wrong, darlin'. That's easy to do when you're a number first, not a name. Let's start off on the right foot so it don't happen here. I'm Alex and you are.." The XO brought back two cups of sweet and light coffee from the replicator and sat them on her desk.
"Clarissa. Nobody ever seemed to make a nickname stick, except that one time one of the school kids called me Riss. Punched him in the face. Nobody called me that to my face again." Clarissa replied. "And... Yes. I agree. With your summary."
"Well, Clarissa, it's good to meet you. Now how about I ask you a few yes and no questions so you get in no trouble, but I can work on factoring out where I need to get you coverage on. Are you in danger?" That was the most important question, Alex thought.
A curious question. Clarissa appreciated it. "Only, from myself. And atypical methods of psychiatric care. A member of my staff has taken it upon themselves to assist with ensuring I don't do anything stupid. I appreciate your concern. I... Don't think so, though."
Alex nodded again as she chose one of the cups and held it under her chin. The steam felt glorious. "So you've got back up from your staff already. You're fast on your toes, chief. How about is anyone around you in danger?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Clarissa laughed. "And I'm not fast on my toes. I just have better crew mates than I deserve."
The XO wrinkled her nose at that. "Than you deserve.." she repeated, making eye contact with Clarissa. "Why wouldn't you deserve them?"
"I can't answer that." Clarissa said, quietly. "It's classified." She winced. "Still." She looked away. "How do you deal with losing people under your command?"
"Mmm.." Alex gave an understanding wince before taking a long sip of her coffee. "There's a few ways to field that question. I can give you the textbook bullshit about keeping your chin up for your fellow crew, going to therapy, training, etc. Truth is, that doesn't always fit the bill. Sometimes you hurt. Sometimes you're pissed. You might blame yourself or someone else. Throw yourself into exercise and training. Lose yourself in a bottle or pill. Everybody's different, hon. None of 'em are the only way or only means, and few offer answers that you haven't already come up with playin' it all out in your head. What I do personally is I dig. I weed out what would have prevented it. I make sure that all avenues to prevent it were taken and nothing was amiss. I mourn. I rant. I kick in teeth if I need to. Raise hell if no one listens. I learn- and I don't forget it."
"I do not blame myself without bias." Clarissa said, barely above a whisper. "I had a judge very eloquently inform me that I was legally responsible. Drinking has done me a fair bit of good taking the edge off. It's been suggested that I take a more combative physical fitness regimen." She looked away. "What if you know you couldn't have prevented it? And nobody else cares?"
"Oh, Williams, listen to me. Listen good, now, 'cause this is a hell of a thing that you're talking about and it goes like this: from the up high, someone has to eat the blame. Legally responsible not criminally negligent means that there was no one else to point the finger at. Blame does not equate guilt. Blame is unsubstantiated without proof. Guilt does nothin' but bury a soul while someone else lines a coffin. It's poison," sniffed the XO decisively. "If you truly own that guilt, wear it 'round your neck like diamonds and prove that you can do better, but if it's not yours, then it plain ain't yours. You let whoever you need to know that and fight for the next man."
"I made the choice." Clarissa replied. "Dad used to say, if you make the bed, sleep in it. Before he vanished." She took a breath. "Nobody else to blame. They're all dead."
"We all make choices. Under my command, I've lost a few people. Some to mistakes or training issues or lack of self-control.. There were accidents. There were so-called acceptable losses. Even a murder at one point. I've taken responsibility on paper for all of them, so I know that feel. Just really look inside some time when the mood is just right and your head is quiet and tell me if it's true that it's your fault, even if you couldn't stop it. I wasn't faulty wires. I wasn't panicked bolts. I wasn't a rogue ensign. But I was still responsible on paper," the XO said with a shrug. "It sucked every single time. I know what I did and didn't do. That part is just for me."
"I chose one life over 19." Clarissa replied. "Because they mattered more to me."
Alex took a long moment to think about those words with her eyes trained on Clarissa's shoulder, not her face. "Was it worth it?"
"No." Clarissa replied, with a level of certainty. "It destroyed my life. Including the value associated with that person."
"Would you do it again?" This time Alex did meet the other woman's eyes because she needed to know the eight of the answer herself.
"I suppose..." Clarissa looked away. "It depends on how much they matter. I don't take being left alone, behind, or abandoned very well."
The answer didn't sit well with Alex. Her jaw set and her nostrils flared for a moment. "Whoever set you up with combat fitness training was a fool. They didn't take no time to learn who you were our your motivations at all. This ain't a matter of rather or not you can pull a trigger faster or dodge more effectively, it's judgment and heart that you need to see to. Maybe a revisit to coursework. I still don't think that what you face is a lesson that can be learned though. Not if that's your answer. I won't let you down as a superior officer, Clarissa. Then again, I won't let your fellows down neither. I pray you don't have to make that choice again."
"I don't think anyone should ever be asked to sacrifice their spouse, Commander." Clarissa replied, forcing a stern tone to her voice that she did not feel. "If one does not have anything left to fight for, they're not going to fight at their best. I have a suspicion that you're familiar with that sentiment." She added, in as controlled a method that she could.
"I wasn't asked to sacrifice my husband," Harper responded in a tone a bit chillier than the room. "There was a technical issue in the shuttle he was using to train a new recruit. He didn't get to die in combat or even protecting another. His shuttle crashed and they both died. There wasn't even enough to scrape into a coffin, so he's packed in an urn on my damn mantle. Now," releasing her death grip on the side of her desk, Alex shoved her fists into her pockets to keep herself as much in check as she could. "Back to the facts. You're hurt. You're scared. You're lonely. Other people can only fix that so much. End of the day, with or without your spouse, you're standing here alone and so am I. You need friends. You need purpose. You need to know yourself. That will make the difference between this time and the next."
"And I have exactly none of those things." Clarissa replied. "You suggest them like I can just wave a magic wand, and yell accio my shit together and all of this will get better."
"You see me standing here with back up?" Harper motioned over her shoulders at the bare wall. "Friends rollin' up around corners? Big yellow ribbon of got my shit together? No. I'm on that road, just a different side of it, honey. Maybe we can salvage some shit and learn from each other or even learn it together. I don't know. Bottom line is.. on this ship I need you in one piece upstairs and in the skin. If that means that I need to hand you paste and bandages or be an ear, then that's what I do. You're not a write-off, or you wouldn't be here."
Clarissa'a eyebrow rose. "You've... You've met the Captain, right? I'm not certain if you're following the chain of events that I am, but I'm like 97% sure this ship is a write-off." Clarissa shrugged. "I'll find a way to manage. I'm not going to guarantee you'll like it, though. Or the results."
"So someone else thinks that you're a write-off. Screw them: it ain't their ship. You've got meaning here and a chance." Mind you, Alex reassured herself that it'd be monitored.
"I think I'm a write-off." Clarissa replied, with a shrug. "Their opinion has little to do with it. I hold myself in greater contempt than the courts did."
Alex's mouth had settled into a thin, grim line. "I guess it's lucky for you, then, that someone else decided to plonk your butt here. I look forward to reading your initial reports, Lieutenant. Please forward a copy of your crew rotation and any pertinent departmental needs/wants/specifics to me no later than tomorrow at 0800."
"Of course, ma'am." Clarissa nodded. "I have it already being composed, actually." She added, quietly. "I will have it for you, on time, ma'am."
More terse than before, Alex nodded to the security chief. "Looking forward to it, Williams. You be sure to stop by if you're given trouble. I'll stand by my word and keep the crap off your back. You stand by your pledge and protect your crew, and all 'll be right, right?"
"Sounds like a deal." Clarissa nodded. "Thank you, ma'am."
"Yep," Alex nodded towards her office' door. "Dismissed, Wiliams. Make the best of your day."
HIGHLY unlikely. Clarissa thought, but she simply nodded, and departed.
Once the door slid closed, Alex let the facade slide to the glare she'd been locking down hard through the last half of the conversation. "I'll be damned if there's a repeat performance."