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Charlotte Matsumura

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About Charlotte Matsumura

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    Reading, writing. Movies. The occasional television series -- BSG, DS9, B5. World of Warcrack. Rock Band 2. Karate. American Colonial history. European history. Naval history. Arthurian legends. Politics.
  1. Change of Plans CAPT Roane Townsend (NPC) LCDR Anna Lorraine (NPC) *** Arriving from the Gamma Quadrant in the darkness of morning, the tangle of emotions flowing over her link with the Director of Operations, Roane Townsend, had threatened to overwhelm LCDR Anna Lorraine from the moment her feet touched solid ground. Curiosity, confusion, frustration, relief, anger -- the unrestrained tidal wave made for a very restless few hours. Having given up any pretence of sleep, she showered and dressed, then found her way to Intelligence headquarters. She swept past the yeoman with little more than a nod, entering the Director's office. "Has anyone ever told you," she drawled, "that you think too loud?" Roane turned from his window. "A time or two." A rueful smile twitched across his lips, his thoughts mingling with her own. Sorry...I'd forgotten how easy this was. Her own lips curved into a mischievous grin. It always amused her that even his mental voice had inherited his mother’s Australian accent. Did you forget I was coming? She felt his chuckle as she crossed to the replicator, ordering up a double shot latte. The warmth radiating through the ceramic was oddly soothing, the scent calming. She drew on the comfort and conveyed it across their link, smoothing over the spikes of emotion between them. "So why don't you tell me what's going on?" Folding herself into a chair opposite his desk, Anna watched as he frowned, struggling to express himself verbally. "You remember the loud, nosy ambassador on Betazed -- the one who kept saying that only an idiot fights a war on 2 fronts?" he finally asked. "And the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots fights a war on twelve fronts?" "That's the one." Captain Townsend jerked his thumb at his chest. "Meet the heir to the throne." Anna winced. "That bad?" The Director offered his own grimace. "Some sort of new subspace anomaly has popped up between Deep Space Nine and Camelot and it's playing hell with our communications. We're getting echoes and disruptions all over the place, which means more messenger boys and more cryptogeeks into the void. "We're still neck-deep in Council hearings, thanks to my predecessor and the...stormhe stirred up, and now, as a direct result, I have orders to pull my station chief from Camelot, and assign detached duty with the Diplomatic Corps." Anna stopped, blinking over the rim of her cup. "Oh." "Yeah," Townsend said, "oh." He rubbed his face with his hand, exhaling, then leaning on the high back of his chair. "Combined with a few other situations on the rise and a shortage of personnel, I finally see what the ambassador meant." "And Mal isn't going to like being pulled." "He's going to like it even less when he finds out what it entails." There was only one reason why Mal would be specifically requested. "Romulus?" Anna asked. The Director nodded. "Accompanied." "So not tr'Argelian." "Not this time; it's sanctioned." He paused. "Sort of." Lorraine arched a brow. "Sort of?" "You remember how this mess started, with Excalibur charging off after a bunch of arms dealers?" "Vaguely. Mal's filled me in on a few things, but I was still on Betazed for most of it." "Well, Command sent the Republic after her. Her captain and the higher-ups made some sort of exchange deal with the Rommies -- one of theirs for one of ours, to try and smoke out the arms dealers on both sides of the fence." "And now Mal will serve as one of ours." Roane nodded. "Exactly. Using one of his established covers is out of the question -- we can't afford to blow something we might need to use later." "So the Romulans have provided his cover?"Anna asked, brows raised. "That doesn't seem smart." "I may be operationally limited, love, but I'm not that stupid." The Director smirked. "We had a little help, yeah, but not all...open. We do still have a few moles here and there. Turns out we didn't need as much help from Galae as they thought." "I'll bet that went over well." The smirk widened. "Like the proverbial lead balloon." Chuckling, Anna shook her head, feeling his amusement with her own. "Well, when do you break the bad news?" "Provided Mal gets his marching orders in time?" Roane glanced at his terminal. "In about...four days. He has a pit stop to make at Deep Space Nine -- pick up Lieutenant Matsumura." Lorraine felt a knot rise in her throat. She took a swallow of coffee, forcing it down. "And hercover story?" A grin slipped across her former lover's features, matched with the gleam in his eye. Wicked amusement and understanding vibrated across their link. "Either his servant or his bondmate. Of course, I thought bondmate might be more appropriate." Anna nodded. "...on their honeymoon." This time, she choked. "Of course," she rasped. Reaching down, Roane took her cup from her hand, sipping from it himself. He grinned as his eyes met hers. "I'm not the only one who thinks too loud." ***
  2. It's like Tatooine and Hoth, all rolled into one...
  3. Plan 9 from Camelot Station CAPT Roane Townsend (NPC) LCDR Anna Lorraine (NPC) *** Securing the sash of her robe around her waist, Anna Lorraine stepped out of her bathroom as the LCARS terminal signalled an incoming transmission. A glance to the screen identified the caller. With a sigh, she flopped into her desk chair, booting up the terminal. “I go out here as a favor; you never call, you never write...” A wry grin twitched across the lips of Roane Townsend as he regarded her across subspace. “I know, I know. I'm a horrible friend. How ever will I make it up to you?” “Well,” Anna drawled, leaning back in her chair, “you can start by telling me why you're calling, and we'll go from there.” The wry grin reappeared, intermingled with a mischievous flicker in his eyes. “What? An old friend can't call out of the blue, when he hasn't been heard from in months, and you've already got a world of trouble on your doorstep?” It was Anna's turn to smirk. “Something like that.” “I'm calling about the Augustine.” Lorraine narrowed her eyes briefly in appraisal, a slight stirring along their link, despite the distance. “You've got a line on her orders.” The Director of Operations nodded. “One of our friends on the Council arranged to cut her orders. Details were classified, but it's what we expected: She was sent to verify the quarantine, deploy a few new-fangled sensors to feed information back to the bug-boys here at HQ, then report back to Camelot Station before heading for some R-and-R.” “...and when they never made Camelot, they sent in Excalibur to find out what happened.” “Something like that.” Townsend pushed aside a PADD. “What are you hearing from the field?” “Nothing good.” Anna paused, reconsidering. “That's not entirely true. The Excalibur away team – the one transported to the surface – has been retrieved. But there was a reactor incident aboard Augustine, and the team aboard was lost.” The captain frowned. “How many?” “At least 4. Mal has the full report.” “Plus the crew of the Augustine.” Townsend shook his head. “Whatever is down there can't be worth that – especially if it had the Klingons running scared.” “I completely agree. But Swain seems dead set on finding out just what happened.” “And what do you think happened?” Folding her arms across her chest, Anna scowled. “I think that the Augustine was dispatched to verify the quarantine surrounding the Dominion base, and to deploy those new science toys for observation. Once they deployed those new toys, someone aboard had to have figured out how to read the transmissions. Then, for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom, someone convinced Ostander to send down an away team. “The team went down,” she continued, “and came back with something in containment – a sample of some sort. Frell, at this point, I have to wonder if they didn't bring back a complete-bloody-specimen. Either way, containment was obviously breached, and the entire crew became the main course for whatever science fair project lives down there.” Townsend sighed, rubbing his face wearily. “Sounds like the plot to every bad science fiction movie going back to the Pre-Eugenics days.” To this, Anna nodded. She reached absently for the cup of tea just beyond her screen, cradling it as she considered the situation further. Her lips thinned over the rim. “And if we don't get Excalibur out of there soon, we're likely to have the really bad sequel.” “With one of our agents in a starring role,” the captain added. Anna recognized the edginess that crept into his voice, at once frustrated and exhausted. “All right – get an updated sitrep from Excalibur. Containment must be maintained. Make her aware; she may yet get a chance to practice her skillset.” “Done. Anything else?” Townsend shook his head. “Just keep in touch. We may have to act quickly.” “The usual, then,” Anna replied with a chuckle. “Speaking of – shouldn't you be having this conversation with Mal?” “Probably,” Roane admitted. “But...?” “But he doesn't look nearly as lovely in a bathrobe.” With a wink and a lopsided grin, the image of Roane Townsend blinked out, replaced by the UFP logo. Anna stuck her tongue out at the screen. She really hated it when he did that. ***
  4. A Likely Hypothesis LTJG Charlotte Matsumura CDR Malcolm Alexander (NPC) *** “Please tell me you're not stepping out for a bit of fresh air.” Charlotte regarded Malcolm Alexander with a wry grin, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms across her chest. It was a natural movement, made more difficult by the extra layers of her hazard suit. “Hardly. Try compressed, stale air aboard a very derelict Augustine.” The commander raised his brows. “You found her?” “We did,” Matsumura replied, “with no evidence of her crew, other than some disturbing organic substances that remind me of the snake house in spring.” Now removed from the situation, she allowed herself a small shudder. Snakes were one of the few things that still made her skin crawl. On the LCARS screen, Alexander grimaced. “There's a cheery thought. Don't suppose the Augustine's crew is being slowly digested by a giant space snake? They do have those sort of things out here, don't they?” “I'm quite sure there are no snakes on this...ship.” Her eyes twinkled as she responded. “As to the local flora and fauna, well, there are vampires and overgrown scorpions, so why not an overgrown space snake? It seems as likely a hypothesis as any.” Reaching up, she tapped a few commands into the terminal. “I'm transmitting our current location. The Augustine apparently took up orbit above an equally derelict Dominion base. What I've read indicates it was taken over by the Allies at the end of the war; it seems to have been marked off-limits shortly thereafter.” “Nothing odd about that... There are Dominion bases all over that sector, left over from their push into our space.” Mal narrowed his eyes, looking off to his left as he surveyed what Charlotte assumed was another data screen. “Now that's a little odd...” “What's a little odd?” Alexander focussed on the data screen, rather than looking to Charlotte as he spoke. “Well, you're right: The base was taken by the Allies after the war, then turned over to the Klingons as part of the treaty. But they turned it back over to the Federation almost immediately.” Surprised, Charlotte blinked. Her brow furrowed as she took in the information. “I've never known the Klingons to cede spoils.” At this, Mal glanced to her. “Me, either,” he replied. “Official record says it was a case of undetonated ordinances.” “Undetonated – Wait. Official record?” Matsumura leaned forward, resting her weight on her forearms on the desk. She cast a glance around, checking the location of her fellow security officers. Most were occupied with other tasks. Should have taken this in my quarters, she thought. Too late now. “So what does the, ah, other record say?” His expression was grim as he regarded her across subspace. “It was quarantined under recommendation from the Chem-Bio team.” Charlotte fought back another shudder. The Chemical and Biological Warfare Unit had a reputation for facing down some of the nastiest bugs and compounds in the known galaxy. That the base had been quarantined spoke volumes as to the threat; in her suspicious mind, it also suggested the Federation might be interested in what resided there. It would explain why the base had been quarantined instead of simply destroyed. “So what was Augustine doing here?” “A more important question is how long are you going to be there?” The wry grin twitched across her own lips. “Asking for professional or personal reasons?” “A little of both.” There was a warmth to his eyes, tempered with concern – a fine line between the professional and the personal. “I might be the tiniest bit biased, but it is off limits for a reason. The last thing we want is to lose another ship to...whatever it is, lurking in the shadows out there.” “I've never been afraid of things that go bump in the night.” “No, but slithering things definitely put you off your game.” “We owe it to the Augustine.” At this, Alexander could only sigh. “I'll make some calls. If I can't find out what you're up against, I can at least find out what Augustine was doing out there.” Charlotte felt a pang deep in her chest, suddenly wishing she were back on the station; back on familiar ground; back with him. She offered him a soft smile. “Thank you, Mal.” “Anytime, love. Check in again soon, hm?” “I will.” There was no further comment as the screen went black. The bad feeling she'd felt aboard Augustine had just grown by leaps and bounds.
  5. For the Team CDR Malcolm Alexander LCDR Anna Lorraine Note: Takes place just prior to dinner in the pub during liberty/shore leave. *** A scowl shadowed Malcolm Alexander’s features, the PADD in his hand dropping to the desktop with a clatter. "All that and the damned thing doesn’t work?" Anna Lorraine felt the frustration radiating off her colleague in waves – not that she could blame him. Since the end of the war, the general belief was that whatever contraption the Dominion had been developing had fallen into the hands of the Kalith: Intelligence had never been able to confirm the suspicion, one way or the other; the Kalith had done nothing to disabuse them of this assumption, instead fanning the flames wherever possible. It was a proverbial brick wall that taunted the organization for over a decade. During the course of this mission, the Camelot team prioritized the raw intelligence data. Their analysts spent countless hours and many sleepless nights pouring over the information, trying to pull something together. With the addition of the Masovian download, a new assessment began to emerge, complete with a new security dilemma: If Starfleet could get the mystery device to work, then it might set the power struggle in their favor. That, Anna thought, is a very big if. “Not at the moment,” she replied aloud. “But you know us... we've got a slew of those gifted engineers back home; they’ll probably make quick work -- change the political constant of the universe or something.” She sighed as she leaned back and folded her arms across her chest. “Though I suppose it still does, doesn’t it?” “Change the political constant of the universe?” Mal echoed, and she nodded. The senior officer sighed. “S'pose it does. We know that the Kalith know it doesn't work; we know that the Masovians know it doesn't work. We also know that the Kalith don't know that the Masovians know it doesn't work.” A smirk twitched at the corner of his lips. “Have a headache yet? Anna gave a snort of laughter, massaging her temple for effect. “I think feel one coming on...” “So if we know the Kalith don't know that the Masovians know,” Mal continued, “then we can barter a deal with the Masovians and play dumb with the Kalith.” Furrowing her brow, Lorraine pushed errant locks of black hair from her eyes. “And that gets us what, exactly?” “Two sides against the middle, and us with wearing a refs jersey.” “Almost like wearing a target – stands out about as much.” Anna paused, biting her lip as her thoughts clicked over. “What about the intel Charlotte downloaded from the Masovian ship?” Alexander grimaced, shoving the PADD further across his desk. “Confirms the data pulled from the shuttle. The analysts are still chewing on the rest. If there is anything of note, Headquarters will probably sit on it until it’s past its expiration date.” The lieutenant commander regarded the station chief for a long moment. Frustration intermingled with a hint of bitterness now, almost palpable on her tongue. “Look, Mal, it’s been a long push and even longer since you had a break. Why don’t you find Charlotte and, I dunno, take her out for dinner or something?” There was a momentary hitch in his movement, one that anyone else might have missed. “Well, it has been a while since we’ve caught up…” “Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Anna arched a brow at him, wry grin twitching across her lips. “Anna –“ “Look, we're friends, okay? I know you well enough to read you, and there's this" -- she paused, searching for the right term -- "background clutter between you. I won't say anything to anyone -- Goddess knows I have enough of my own issues in that department." She shook her head. “Seriously, go; relax; have a good time. I’ll look over the draft estimate and make sure our new ensigns don’t blow anything up.” “Maybe I should be more worried about you blowing things up.” The smile he offered was a touch forced, but a hint of mischief glinted in his eyes as he pushed himself to his feet; she could feel him struggle to lighten his own mood. “Not a chance! My eyebrows are finally growing back nicely…” “Fine, fine... Call me if anything comes up?” “You know I will.” Mal regarded her for a long moment. “All right – see you next shift.” Anna nodded and stood watching until he disappeared down the corridor. She then turned her attention to the PADD on the desk, perusing the new intelligence estimate her commanding officer drafted. “This is definitely taking one for the team,” she muttered. ***
  6. Tightrope CDR Rue Wydown CDR Mal Alexander (NPC) *** Commander Wydown flopped down in her desk chair and scrubbed her hands with her face. She had one hour left before the senior staff meeting to finish shifting through the multiple situation reports and come up with a clear timeline of events and actions. Dealing with different individuals POV made the job all the more interesting. A bit like trying to follow the moonwalking bear in the middle of dribbling contest. In addition, she was still waiting for the status updates from the Cape Horn and Valorous, the two SF ships who’d accompanied Excalibur on their mission. Both ships were to regain formation with Excalibur now that the missing freighter had been located, but Cape Horn was once again having difficulty with the ion storm. She hoped that the Cape could pull it together long enough to return to Camelot for that long overdue overhaul. She punched the button on her computer to accept the incoming call from...weeeeelllllll... she wasn’t quite sure where the call was form. She hadn’t been paying all that close attention when the OPS officer on duty had told her she had an incoming transition. She assumed it was from the Valorous, but maybe it was the Cape Horn. She answered in a distracted fashion as she tried to dutifully organize her notes for the senior staff meeting. “Whotcha.” "And a good afternoon to you, too," came the familiar voice of Mal Alexander. Looking up, Rue found his familiar features on her screen, a droll smile curving his lips. "How's my favorite Ralafean doing?" Thinking of only one reason why Alexander would call her, Wydown decided to cut the small talk and go right to the main event. She flashed a cat-like grin and leaned back in her chair, arms folded across her chest as she prepared for the entertainment soon to come. “Wuzhe done distime?” Her question about her ex-husband’s antics coming out like a run-on sentence. “He?” Mal furrowed his brow momentarily. “Oh, Clay! Oh, well, nothing -- that I know of, at least. He’s still on Terra Firma... though, with Jamie hovering nearby, I’m not going to make any promises. God save the planet if they get bored.” Smiling through her confusion as to why then Mal had her on the comm if he wasn’t calling to share some mischief caused by Clayton, she shrugged. “Lucky we’re out here then, aye?” “Not so much, no,” he replied, drawing the syllables out. This was the first confirmation for Rue that this was not a social call. Cautiously she asked. “What makes you say that?” Her own accent made ‘what’ sound like ‘wha-ought’. Leaning back in his own chair, the intelligence officer mirrored her position. “Well, let’s see. On one side, we have the Vorta and the Jem Hadar acting like dangerous amateurs; the Scorpiad and Al-Ucard fighting to see who’s on top; and the Federation behind us. I’d say luck has very little to do with it.” “See now, I think luck has everything to do with it.” She grinned, relaxing for the moment. “We’re lucky none of these factors can get their act together or we’d have our collective a...” -- she paused, rephrasing her comment for public comms -- “bustles in a bunch. And we’re lucky we have such awesomely skilled ‘Fleeters to handle it.” “Yes, well, I suppose Swain is something of an improvement over the mutt,” Alexander muttered. “Speaking of... I’m afraid I’ve something of an unusual request.” “And there’s the shoe....” She sighed, tensing up again. “What is it?” “You’ve been copied on on the comms traffic from headquarters about the Kalith-Hakarian situation?” “Yesssss?” “And you’ve read the intelligence estimate we did on the Kalith after the war?” “Emh, what intelligence estimate?” Rue raised a brow. Mal grimaced, shaking his head. “As I was saying about the Federation behind us,” he said under his breath. “You know the Changelings have all but buggered out, leaving the Jem Hadar and Vorta to fend for themselves.” He paused, watching as Rue nodded, still eyeing him skeptically. “It’s not a very stable situation, and several powers are lining up to take advantage -- the Kalith being one of them. “Toward the end of the war, intelligence sources reported Dominion R&D was working on some sort of...superweapon, something that would cast the war in their favor. The war ended before they had much of a chance to play with it, but the key research facility was located within the Hakar Empire. That facility is now in the hands of the Kalith.” “Oh lovely. That explains a wee bit about the firefight we walked into.” She paused, trying slide this new information into what she all ready knew. “I think.” The commander smirked, eyes twinkling with mischief. “Oh, wait -- it gets better.” “Just like Christmas and Birthdays all rolled up into one, isn’t it? What more do you have for me, luv?” “Well,” he drawled, “the data we downloaded just might indicate that the Hakarians have stolen that data from the Kalith. Using a spy, or maybe a double agent.” “Wow, it does getting better and better.” Rue actually grinned instead showing worry about this new information - like she should have been. “What’s next? Any spoilers?” “Spoilers would be really helpful at the moment, actually...which brings me around to why I called.” Sighing, he rubbed the back of his neck. “We need eyes and ears in your meetings with the Hakarians and the Kalith. The Director is going through proper channels to ask for assistance from Swain, but...” “But...?” “But I’m not entirely certain how far Swain can be trusted -- or even how useful he’d be as an intelligence asset. Whereas you --” “Are an old friend you can trust.” There’s the second shoe, she thought. He at least had the grace to give a sheepish smile. “Something like that, yeah.” “This is the first time you’ve asked me to do something like this. Why now?” Rue was cautious. She’d known Mal for the better part of twenty years. While she was pretty sure that several of Mal’s innermost circle (her ex-husband included) suspected that he worked for Intel, they all had a “monkey see no evil” blinders on. Plausible deniablity. It wasn’t until the whole disastrous mission last year that Rue had any official confirmation of what Mal did, when she had to rescue him from out the paranoia of her own crew. Apparently putting the blinders back on after the cat slipped the bag was no longer an option, especially since she’d moved up the ranks to Executive Officer. To make matters worse, she didn’t know where the lines were drawn and how close -- or how far across -- she could stray without getting herself thrown into the furnace. Being burned by Corizon’s previous actions didn’t help much, either. “Honestly? Because we don’t have any other way in; because I know you’re a reliable source. I need observations -- human ones -- to tell the other side of the story, and I can’t get that from a listening post.” He cleared his throat. “And, well, I was rather thought I could trust you not to blow my cover.” Wydown gave him such a look of reproach for thinking that she would ever compromise his position, even when he was asking her to do the same. If he had been within slapping distance, she’d have given him such a thwap to the back of the head right then. She shook her head, scowling rather sourly at Mal. “What is it you want to know?” “They’re going to have stories about what’s going on -- why they’re shooting at one another, and why there was a sabotaged pod drifting in space. I need to know what those are so we can do a little research and try to sort fact from fiction. And trust me -- there’s a lot of fiction going on with these two.” “Exhibit A - our ‘guest’ on board.” “And how is your ‘guest’? Has he regained consciousness?” “Aye, and was questioned a fair bit by our security team. His story wasn’t quite adding up to what we were finding with his escape craft. Apparently after the last round of questioning, he panicked or figured out the jig was up, so he decided to have a right good time in sickbay. Bloody cheeky of him, trying to hold sickbay hostage.” She smirked. “He’s been moved to more accommodating accommodations.” There was a flicker of concern before he could resume his neutral expression. He cleared his throat. “Everyone’s all right?” Wydown was trying very hard not to laugh, highly amused by life or death situations. “No worse for it.” Her facial expression resembled that of a three year old with her hand caught in the cookie jar. “Wellllllll...I sorta gassed the place. Felt it was the most humane way to end the conflict.” Wydown shrugged innocently. “My self defense guru said I wasn’t playing cricket. I should’ve let the Marines storm the place. Oh, and, erm, my CSEC is apparently experiencing some...” she cleared her throat. “...extended effects of the sedative.” She held a hand over her mouth, unaware that the mic could pick anything as she muttered, “Loopy as a loon, that one is.” “Good, good,” Mal replied, visibly relieved despite his best efforts. Leaning in, he rested his elbows on his desk as he tapped a command or two into his terminal. “I’m forwarding you an eyes-only copy of the data we’ve cracked so far. It’s not much more than a barnstormer list: Names of deep-cover Masovian spies, the ones who probably ‘liberated’ the information to begin with. We suspect the spies may be aboard the transport... and so the Kalith want to kill several birds with one phaser shot.” “Um, luv, how much of this can I share with my Captain?” Rue had no blueprints on how this worked. She had started a decent working relationship with Swain and really, really didn’t want to lie to the man. “And how do I share it?” “Townsend will see that Swain gets copies of the report I’ve just sent you, and catch him up to speed on the Kalith situation. I’d, ah, prefer if you not tell him you’re going to feed information back to me, though. Trying to protect my assets.” Wydown cheekily peered over the viewscreen, pretending to examine said ‘assets’. “Your assets look just fine to me” She teased, winked. The two of them had been friends long enough, that a bit of teasing was always in order. “So watch, learn, listen and send information back. Erm, and how do pass on information to you?” Mal smiled. “Phone home,” he replied simply. “I can encrypt the call from my end so the data stays secure.” “You telling me this whole conversation has been encrypted?” “Yep,” he said, popping the “p.” “Never call Excalibur without it...well, rarely.” “I hope this isn’t going to become a habit between us,” Rue pulled a face. “This is only a one-off, so to speak, aye?” “Can’t guarantee, but, for the record, I didn’t want to ask.” She should have probably hesitated more when she answered, but that was one of her weakiness, “All right, I trust you.” and she did. She trusted him not to lead her into a Corizon-sized trap. She nodded. “Anything else, mate?” “At the moment, no.” He leaned back in his chair, once again folding his arms across his chest as he regarded her. “S’pose I’ll owe you a drink after this, hm?” “Was there ever any doubt?” Rue smirked. “Perhaps I should prepare a tab, hmmm?” “Let’s just say I’d rather not make this a habit... But I do pay my debts.” He paused, looking down, then back up, keeping his chin lowered. “Most of the time.” “Bollocks! You still owe me for the last time,” she snickered softly, then glanced at the chrono. There was another soft curse uttered under her breath before she turned her attention back to the screen. “I’ve got to get moving. I’ve only got a few ticks before I have to be at the senior staff meeting. Check in with ye later, aye?” “Aye,” he echoed. “And good luck.” Rue finger-waved at him as she shut off the comm, then leaned back in her chair. “What the bloody hell did I just agree to?” She sighed softly, squeezing her eyes shut. Another stream of Ralafean poured out of the Executive Officer’s mouth. A sticky widget this one was. She knew that Intel was on the same side as HQ, and providing insight to Alexander into the situation was the right thing to do. But for some reason it felt wrong. Well, not quite wrong, per se, but weird. How does he do it? For how many years now, too? How does he walk this tightrope? Rue pinched the bridge of her nose, inhaled deeply through her mouth, then threw herself back into compiling reports before the staff meeting. She had her own circus act to prepare for. ***
  7. Dangerous Games, Pt. 2 CDR Mal Alexander CAPT Roane Townsend Note: Takes place just prior to 22 Jan sim. *** “And the Council was worried you’d never be at your desk.” Mal looked up from his report, the familiar features of Roane Townsend gracing the screen of his LCARS terminal. “Hello to you, too, Roane,” he replied, placing the PADD aside. “So nice to see you minding your manners.” “Sorry, but I don’t have time for pleasantries,” Townsend said. “Your girl – Charlotte – she’s still aboard Excalibur?” “She’s the one that submitted the encryption I sent you a few days ago.” “Good. We’re going to need eyes and ears – and some cooperation from the commanding officer.” Townsend leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “How reliable do you think Swain would be?” Mal frowned. “No way to be sure, really; he’s an unknown quantity in a situation like this.” “Do you think Charlotte will be able to fill in the gaps?” “Hardly. In security, she’ll be acting as escort for any visitors, but she won’t be privy to any of the senior level meetings. To get her into those meetings might create a bit of suspicion.” He hesitated. “If there’s some concern, I could ask a favor of the executive officer…” The Director of Operations raised his brows. “Friends?” “Wydown is the wife – er, ex-wife – of an old schoolmate; we go back a bit. She was responsible for getting us out of that Romulan mess a few months back, under the dog’s watch.” Mal cleared his throat. “She might be willing to pass along some information.” “See what she’s willing to provide. I’d like to avoid compromising cover stories this early in the game, if possible.” Alexander nodded. “Understood.” Making a note on his PADD, he turned his attention back to the screen. “Why the press?” “You’re aware of the weapons technology the Dominion was rumoured to be researching just before the end of the war?” “The one that might have ‘turned the tide’ for the Dominion? I did. Never paid it much mind.” “The research was being conducted on an outlying world in the Hakar Empire,” Roane explained. “Three years ago, the Kalith absorbed the planet into their own territories, and our sources reported that they’ve adapted the technology for their own use.” “Which explains why the diplomatic corps have been handling them with kid gloves.” Mal grimaced. “The data we’ve decoded so far suggests the Hakarians may have stolen the information.” “Which leaves us high and dry if we don’t get a better read on the situation.” The senior officer sighed, rubbing his face. “We need to know if the Kalith have the technology. And, if the Hakarians have stolen it, will they trade?” “Thinking of levelling the playing field?” “If we can. The Scorpiad situation continues to deteriorate, and the Dominion are continuing to tuck tail. We can’t afford an unbalanced threat from the Kalith as well.” “I liked it better when all this was above my paygrade.” Mal shook his head. “All right. Go through your channels to reach Swain; I’ll do what I can through my contacts.” Townsend nodded. “All I can ask. I’ll copy you on the headquarters message traffic.” “Understood. Alexander out.” Mal slapped the comm button on his console and Roane’s image blinked out. He could only hope to maintain a stable subspace channel long enough to gain Rue’s cooperation. If she was willing to cooperate at all... ***
  8. Dangerous Games CDR Malcolm Alexander LTJG Katharine ("Kate") McKnight LTJG Ivan Kaufmann ENS T'Kiri Ataahua Note: Takes place parallel to the events of the past couple of sims. *** A shadow stretched across the dispatch she was reading and LTJG Katharine McKnight looked up. Ivan Kaufmann, a fellow JG, hovered before her, a broad grin across freckled features. His colleague in signals, ENS T’Kiri Ataahua, stood to his right. Even she looked excited – for a Vulcan, McKnight thought. She knew what he would say before he spoke. “We need to see the chief,” Ivan said. Kate shook her head. “No can do, Ivan. He’s finally sitting down to do his sitrep, and if I interrupt him, it’ll never get done.” “He’s going to want to see us, Kate – really.” The ginger junior grade leaned forward, eyes sparkling. “We cracked it.” McKnight blinked. Once Chief Alexander and LCDR Lorraine had reviewed the encrypted signals intercepted by Excalibur, the data had been handed over to Ivan and T’Kiri. Judging from the stubble across his jawline and T’Kiri’s matted hair, Kate guessed they had done little else since assignment. That had been days ago…and now it seemed their efforts had paid off. She hesitated only a second longer before sounding the interoffice comms. “Chief? Ivan and T’Kiri are here. I think they have something for you…” *** Malcolm Alexander regarded the eager junior grade and his calmer colleague across his desk. It sounded so simple – using daily status reports as a crib to break encrypted data – and yet he knew it was a complex operation. More surprising, however, was the fact that it hadn’t been Hakarian reports that ended up being key. It had instead been a stack of Kalith reports on a nearby ion field that provided the way in. “So the stored data is Kalith?” he voiced aloud. T’Kiri nodded. “Indeed, sir. Once we realized it was a ten-channel cipher instead of a five-channel, it became clear that the syntax could only be Kalith.” The station chief looked to the PADD in his hands, scrolling through the plaintext. “But the names here are Hakarian.” “Masovian, actually,” Kaufmann replied. “They’re a Hakarian ethnic group, one of many that composed the Hakar Empire. The Federation granted them asylum and safe passage about six months ago.” “I was just reading about that,” Alexander replied. “With the Dominion falling back even farther, the Hakarians are ceding territory to the Kalith on a daily basis; the Masovians will be just the start.” He frowned. “So if the data Excal downloaded from a Hakarian pod is actually Kalith, then odds are, we’ve stumbled across some form of espionage.” “We are not analysts, Commander,” the Vulcan began slowly, “but the conclusion seems logical.” His lips thinned as he considered the new facts. After a long moment he placed the PADD aside. “Your work on this is appreciated,” he said. “How long have you two been at it?” Ivan shifted in his seat. “Since Commander Lorraine delivered the data, sir.” “Then you’re both about four days overdue for some rest,” the chief replied. “Hit the showers, get some sleep, and next shift, take some time in the holosuites – just have them charge my account.” “Sir, we really couldn’t –“ Mal raised his hands to silence any further objections from Kaufmann. “You’ve both earned it.” He leveled a gaze at T’Kiri. “And even Vulcans need some down time.” The junior officer inclined her head. “Thank you, sir.” “More than welcome,” Alexander said. A grin broke across his features. “Now get the hell out of here so I can make sense of this!” “Yes, sir!” *** Mal watched with amusement as Ivan and T’Kiri filed out of his office. The smile was short-lived, however, as he regarded the information the two cryptanalysts provided: The names of Hakarian spies collected by a Kalith agent, unwittingly retrieved by a Starfleet Intelligence operative. It was enough to be a comedy of errors – or a very dangerous game. The Federation would have to tread carefully. Powering up his LCARS terminal, the commander selected the summary dossier on Kalith. Slowly but surely, the Kalith were making a name for themselves in the Gamma Quadrant, expanding into the vacuum left behind by the withdrawal of the main Dominion powers. His mind sought a familiar parallel, finding one in Earth history: The expansion of communism into the “Eastern bloc” countries following World War II. The major difference was that this was not a careful balance between two powerful nations. It was a diverse, chaotic region of space where intelligence was then and the actors were less than predictable. “Never a dull moment,” he sighed. Turning, he began prepping his report to headquarters – and his favorite field agent.
  9. With the Territory CAPT Roane Townsend LCDR Anna Lorraine *** Note: Takes place well prior to Excalibur's last departure from Camelot, allowing for LCDR Lorraine's arrival during a TBS. *** "Nice office." Captain Roane Townsend looked up from his terminal, finding a slender brunette smirking at him from the doorframe: His former partner, Lieutenant Commander Anna Lorraine. Returning the smirk, he rose from his desk, meeting her halfway across the office and drawing her into a strong embrace. "I take it you got my message?" "I did." Anna nodded, flopping into the chair opposite his desk. "Though I had to wonder who 'Captain Townsend' was," she replied. Her lips twitched. "I take it the office comes with the job?" "And the pips," Roane answered. Leaning against the front edge of the desk, he folded his arms across his chest and regarded the junior officer. The long, dark hair he remembered far too well was pulled away from her face in an elaborate braid, accenting beautiful high cheekbones and hazel eyes that twinkled with mischief as she looked at him. Despite all they had seen, and the strain it had placed on her, she looked almost as she had when they said goodbye years before. I've missed you, he thought. The mischievous gleam gave way to something warmer and her smirk softened to a genuine smile. When she spoke, her voice emerged an octave lower and with some visible difficulty. "I missed you, too," Anna said. She gave a nervous laugh. "You haven't changed." "Yeah, I have." The rough edge of his native accent crept into his syllables, despite his best efforts. Roane grimaced. "Lots more gray hair, and a few extra pounds to go with the desk jobs." "Then Kate's been taking good care of you." "Ah, yeah, well... She was. Until about a year ago, at least. She and the girls live here in San Fran now," Townsend said. "Thought maybe we could work it out, but..." "No such luck?" Roane shook his head. "Seems I can't find a woman willing to live with me." "You've only tried twice." "Yeah. But I'm oh-fer," Townsend said with wry grin. The grin remained in place, blue eyes softening. "It seems silly to say, but it's...good to see you again." Anna returned the grin but diverted her eyes to the floor. In the back of her mind, the tenuous link between them practically vibrated, springing to life with renewed energy. She struggled at the familiar rush of their emotions as they intertwined. Linking her hands in her lap, she swallowed the knot that rose in her throat as she struggled with her control. "There's a lot we didn't say," she whispered. "But... you didn't call me here to talk about that." The captain shook his head. "Not yet. I don't think either of us is ready for that right now." "No, probably not," Lorraine replied. She cleared her throat and looked back up at him. "So what did you call me here for?" "The powers that be are requesting a special intelligence estimate on the Gamma Quadrant situation and I...I need an assessment of Camelot Station – background info, what assets we might need, so on." Anna furrowed her brow. "Wait – didn't you just send Mal Alexander out there?" "I did," Townsend answered with a smile. "But with all we've had going on at home, I want to make sure out bases are covered. Mal was on station when Corizon went rogue, and there's been some rumblings about his going back out there." "Are they suggesting he could have stopped the smuggling operation on his own?" Roane nodded. "They are. And they may be right – by the time he got the information from his Romulan contact, he might have been able to bust it open, and through appropriate channels." "But?" "But... he was behind the curve, and Corizon jumped out ahead –" "And we ended up with this mess." "Right." The captain shrugged. "So, I have his assessment; now I need a second opinion." Anna allowed a slow grin, eyes dancing with renewed mischief. "And you trust us not to blow up the station?" A frown flickered across Townsend's features. "They proved that was an accident." He cut her a glare. "Besides, you won't be running ops together, you know." "So you feel pretty safe then?" "Yeah, I feel pretty safe, all things considered." Roane folded his arms across his chest and regarded her with furrowed brows. "Any reason I shouldn't?" "No, no," Anna replied. She batted her eyelashes at him, crooked smile curving her lips. "At least it's not you and me on an op." Shoving his hands down into the pockets of his trousers, Townsend gave a rueful smile. "Probably for the best." "Yes, probably." A long moment of silence stretched out between them and Anna struggled briefly as memories washed through her mind's eye; she could feel the emotional twinge as Roane did the same. Distance between them would be good – very good, she thought. "So... when do I leave?" Neither she nor Townsend could miss the unspoken the sooner, the better that floated between them. "I'm having orders drawn up right now, and your transportation's been arranged," he replied. "You can leave as soon as you'd like." Pushing herself to her feet, Anna stood before her former partner. "Then I s'pose I'd better go pack a bag." She turned to go and paused. "It was good to see you again." Roane reached down, taking her hand in his, and bringing it to his lips. "It is good to see you again. Call when you reach Camelot?" "Of course." Anna nodded, even as the uncertainty between them threatened to overwhelm her. "And call me if you need?" Townsend nodded. "I will, love. Be careful out there. If you're up for it, we...we'll talk when you get back." He gave a genuine, if forced, smile. "We have a lot to catch up on." "We do. Until then, subspace will have to do." Lorraine leaned forward, kissing him lightly on the cheek. As she drew back, her lips thinned to a rueful smile. Then, with one final squeeze to his hand, she slipped free and disappeared down the hallway.
  10. Name: Anna Isabel Lorraine Rank: Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) DOB: 24 October, Riix, Betazed Age: 39 Parents: Joseph Lorraine and Cerise Dazet Current Duty Station: Camelot Station, Gamma Quadrant Support Training History Starfleet Academy Basic Training Starfleet Academy Bachelor of Science, Security Studies Minor: Information Systems Starfleet Intelligence Intelligence Officer (Accelerated Series) Starfleet War College Masters of Science, Information Management Personal History Captain Joseph Lorraine, Starfleet Diplomatic Corps, first met Cerise Dazet, a professor of psychology from the Academy, while both were assigned to a joint mission on Betazed, as the planetary leadership renewed several memorandum of understanding between themselves and the Federation. The two struck up a friendship that, once returned to Earth, blossomed into a long-term relationship. Their daughter, Anna, was born some five years later in the Betazoid capitol of Riix, as Cerise returned home to visit family. Raised as a daughter of two worlds and two very busy parents, Anna sometimes struggled to belong. Her primary school record is full of reprimands as she bounced between social groups, some of whom provided negative influence, and encouraged her to act out. Indeed, her career in Starfleet began inauspiciously: Caught stealing artwork from a local gallery, the magistrate recommended enlistment into Starfleet. Given the choice between incarceration and enlistment, Anna chose to enlist. Basic training was not easy for the only child, but instilled her with a sense of discipline that had been missing. Trained as an information systems analyst, she excelled in her new profession, supporting intelligence operations. She was promoted to chief after seven years of service and enrolled in Starfleet Academy. The Dominion War brought changes to the galaxy, however, and by the time she commissioned, Starfleet Intelligence had been heavily recruiting Betazoids for their obvious skills. As a half-Betazoid, prior-enlisted officer, Anna was just the sort they were looking for. After an accelerated training program at "The Farm," Anna and her partner, Lieutenant Roane Townsend, were smuggled to Betazed in 2374, contributing to the eventual liberation of the planet. Peace brought Anna and Townsend back to a very different Earth – and the news that her parents, Joseph and Cerise, had perished in the skirmish to liberate Betazed. They were buried with full honors, with Anna, then a full lieutenant, providing eulogy. She then requested and received assignment back to Betazed to assist in recovery efforts. Four years later, she was reassigned to field operations. When her partner requested transfer to regular fleet, Lorraine returned to support further security efforts on Betazed. She was recently promoted to lieutenant commander, and assigned to security aboard Camelot Station. Psychological Profile Despite being half-Betazoid, LCDR Lorraine exhibits only slight telepathic or empathic abilities, requiring establishment of a long-time or strong emotional bond. As a result, she is mentally stable, and functions easily around others. It should be noted, however, that, like most field operatives, she faces life with gallows humor and a cynical eye. I find the commander suitable for duty, though she is not without her scars: She has been treated for survivor's guilt, relating to the death of her parents, and post-traumatic stress, directly associated with her actions in the liberation of Betazed. For this reason, I recommend continuing her quarterly sessions, with the possibility of tapering off to bi-annual, provided she is continues to improve. Dara Kimball, Ph.D. Chief of Psychology Starfleet Intelligence
  11. Hoi Polloi CDR Rue Wydown CDR Malcolm Alexander (NPC) LTJG Charlotte Matsumura Mr. Clay Wydown (NPC) Note: Due to the TBS, the events in this log take place approximately two weeks prior to this evening's sim. They follow immediately after "Best Laid Plans," taking place later that evening. **** The restaurant Clayton chose to meet his friends was one of the best sushi restaurants in the London area. While not nearly as good as actual Japanese sushi in his opinion, it was convenient enough. Besides, Wydown knew his wife - ex-wife - would have had an excruciatingly long day catering to diplomatic figure heads and he wanted her to feel relaxed, comfortable and happy. The host showed Clay to a booth with a decent view of the front door, provided they didn't fill the tables in front of him. He slid into the booth, slipping all the way over to the wall side as if he was expecting someone to join him and plucked the menu out to peruse the offerings. After a moment or so, he waved down a passing waitress. "Hello, love. How about a beer when you get a chance?" He flashed his best lost-puppy "pleading" grin, hoping to charm her into feeling sorry for him. She blushed, giggled a little, and took his order. Almost as if on cue, Malcolm Alexander stepped into the small, family-owned establishment, shaking a bit of rain off his jacket, and running a hand through his hair. He looked the same as he always had, really, with only a few more lines and wrinkles around the eyes and dimples. As Clay rose to greet him, however, a woman stepped around him, echoing Mal's actions. She was younger and a good deal shorter, with flowing black hair and almond-shaped eyes. Clay's interest was immediately piqued. Must be the date from last night, he thought. Reaching down, Mal took the girl's hand in his, approaching the table. "And here, they were telling me they kept out the riff-raff," he said. The corners of his eyes creased as he smiled, extending his hand. "Who are you calling riff-raff? I'm more hoi polloi." Clay grinned, gave his best mate a hearty handshake-back slap sort of greeting before turning to his female companion. At closer inspection, she was even lovelier, with a sort of exotic mixed heritage in her features that made her interesting to look at. He also noted that there was also an intelligence and no small amount of sauciness reflected in her eyes. It that didn't stop Clay from attempting to charm her, however, to see if she was good enough for one of his best friends. Slipping into one of his boyish smiles, he greeted her. "And who is this beautiful, charming young woman who shines so brightly in this low establishment?" "Ah, yes," Mal began, clearing his throat. "Clayton Wydown, I'd like you to meet Charlotte Matsumura. Lottie, this is Clayton -- or, Clay, as we all know him." Clay offered his hand, but instead of shaking hers, he brought it to his lips and pressed a chaste kiss to it. A very cheesy move, and he knew it. Clayton also knew that it might rankle Mal just a bit, which was more his motivation than impressing the girl. "It is pleasure to meet you, Charlotte Matsumura. I hope you're not too off-put by your companion's lack of social graces." He flashed one of his more charming smiles. Charlotte chuckled, shaking her head; beside her, Mal rolled his eyes. "Relax, Clay. She's heard all about you." "Now what the bloody hell did you do that for?" Clay snapped his attention to Malcolm, dropping the act while he feigning aggravation at being called out. "Because he wanted me to know what I was getting myself into when I accepted his invitation," she answered. Her accent was British, with the slightest hint of something more. She was still grinning as she slid into the booth, followed by Mal. "Taking all the fun out of this," Clay slide into his side, reclining sideways a bit against the wall so he could have an unobstructed view of both Mal and his girl as well as the door. "Spoil sport." "That doesn't mean you have to stop being charming," Lottie replied. There was an impish gleam to her eyes as she reached over and plucked up a menu for herself. "Your wish is my command, my dear lady." He grinned, saluting them with his beer. Having deposited Clay's beer, the waitress looked to Charlotte and Mal expectantly. "Something to drink?" "Junmai Ginjō-shu," Charlotte answered, ordering a mid-grade chilled sake. The waitress -- her name tag said "Anne" -- then looked to Mal. "I'll have water. No -- wait. Beer -- pale ale, if you have it." Clay muttered, "No beer? Was beginning to wonder. Thought you were turning into a monk on me." Mal shifted uncomfortably in his seat, even as Charlotte passed him a menu. "Decidedly not," he muttered. Aloud, he looked to Clay and asked, "Gyoza? Or edamame? The tempura was a bit...ugh...last time." "Why do we keep coming here? Why aren't we going to Japan for the real stuff?" Clayton accused as if this particular restaurant wasn't his idea. "Well, for one, we're home. We all know British food is far from...adventurous, and you're a damn sight safer going for the imports," Mal opined. The waitress grinned as she approached, hearing his explanation. She placed the sake in front of Charlotte, and the bottled pale ale before Mal. "And second, the beer here is better." "Here, here." Clay grinned and winked at the waitress. "And far more pleasant scenery to partake of." Then he cast a glance to Charlotte. Mal rolled his eyes. "Down boy," he said with a chuckle. "Speaking of scenery... where's Rue?" "I don't know." Clay glanced at the door, his smile fading into a concerned frown as he searched the entrance. When he turned back to the couple he put a brave face on the fact that his half of the booth is unoccupied. "I vote for edamame." Mal looked to Charlotte. "Lottie?" "I'll pass," she replied, "and wait for my sashimi." Appetizer ordered, Mal folded his hands in front of him and regarded Clay. "You sure you haven't killed your roommate yet?" It was Clayton's turn to squirm in his seat, "No, my roommate is alive and well. Neither have has she attempted to kill me either...yet." Clay shook his head, remembering the odd proposal that Rue had made that morning. Something about zip-lining in the dark had him uneasy, yet intrigued. Alexander smirked, then sipped his ale. "How does the girlfriend feel about the roomie?" "She's fine with it." Wydown answered with a flick of the wrist and a wave of his beer bottle. He was, in fact, not very good liar in some areas. And in particular not with friends. While in the boardroom and withing his social circle, he attempted to be just as charming and persuasive as he could. But there was always a protective wall to up to keep the backstabbers, thieves and liars (aka, his brothers) or the gold-digging throne-hopping harpies (aka, often his girlfriend flavor of the month) at arms length and his heart out of harms way. It was with his closest friends that he let his hair down, figuratively speaking. With his friends, he had permission to be just his warm, friendly, cocky, boyish self, and to be...well...stupid sometimes. So when he was asked whether his current girlfriend was okay with the arrangement, in truth, the girlfriend, Evelyn Harrington, had no knowledge that his roommate was in fact female and was his wife...err...ex-wife. "In fact, she's very supportive of the situation. After all, I can't exactly throw my roommate out on the street, can I?" He glanced at Charlotte who seemed to be watching the two men with rapt attention. "So love, what is it you do?" Charlotte chuckled at the change in topic, reflecting that for two grown men, they certainly sounded like an old married couple. "Security aboard the Excalibur," she replied. "Not terribly exciting, I'm afraid, but it does pay the bills." Clay shifted his gaze to Malcolm, slightly started look. "Oh, you didn't tell me that this morning." "Didn't tell you what?" Rue Wydown flopped into the seat next to Clayton after physically moving his outstretched leg out of her way. Once settled, she grabbed his beer and managed to drain half of it before turning her attention to her husband - ex-husband - and leveled an expectant look at him. "She's on Excalibur, too." Clay gave a little finger wave in Charlotte's attention. "And that's my beer." "Consider it my alimony payment. Buy another." Rue held the bottle out of his reach and turned her attention to the couple sitting across from Clayton. She'd recognized Mal when she entered. She didn't have a chance to see the young woman sitting next to him who'd been blocked from view as she entered. Now that she got a good look, she arched her eyebrows in surprise. "Matsumura. Hi." She blinked, trying to hide the surprise of finding one of her junior officers sitting across the table. When she turned to Mal, she arched a brow at him. "Date number two, or a continuation?" Mal glared. "Do you really expect a gentleman to answer?" Clay turned to the other Wydown. "He has you there, love." "Since when are you two gentlemen?" Rue grinned, then, as was her custom, veered wildly onto the next subject. "Have you all ordered yet? I'm starving." She flagged down the waitress, motioning with Clayton's bottle and indicated that she needed two more beers. Then she glanced back to Mal and Charlotte, her eyes drifting from one to the other, wondering when the hell the flirting on the ship progressed into a night on the town. She'd heard rumors on Camelot that the two of them had been semi-dating, but this was a whole new can of awkward. "Sooooooooo....." Charlotte shifted somewhat uncomfortably under the attention of the executive officer. She exchanged a glance with Mal, who chuckled slightly. "Soooooo...what? I suspect there's a question in there somewhere," he replied. He arched his own brows as he lifted his ale to take a long draw. "So how'd you two meet?" Clay grinned slyly, looking for dirt. Rather than have Mal and Charlotte explain that they'd been flirting all over her damn ship or explain that Mal had been engaged in that a covert op recently and break the cone of silence, Rue choose to answer before she thought Mal or Lottie dug the hole deeper. She smacked Clay's arm, leveling a look at him, "Matsumura. Get it?" It took a good few moments before recognition dawned on Clayton's face. "Oh. Oh. Oooooooh!" He grinned back at the other two. "That Matsumura." He glanced at Charlotte. "Does your father know you're here?" "He and Mum know I'm in London --" "And I offered my flat." "Hello, Kettle." Clay snarked. Rue, not being a part of the previous conversation, watched them like a ping pong match, waiting for the next volley. "You're one to talk, Pot," Mal replied. Rue shook her head and looked over to Charlotte. "I have to point out, in case you haven't all ready noticed: We are the only two adults at this table, yes?" "I'm beginning to notice," Charlotte replied. She smirked. "Have they been like this long?" "I think since nursery school." Rue finished the rest of Clay's beer and then smiled up to the waitress as she approached with fresh ones and their appetizers. "Thanks, luv. You're a life saver." She took both bottles from the woman, putting both in front of her only to have Clay take one away. "We ready to order?" Looking up at the waitress, each placed their respective order, selecting from the available nigri, sashimi, maki, and donburi. Mal tacked on another ale, and Charlotte another small sake. As the waitress made her way back over to the sushi bar, Charlotte looked to Rue. "I take it you completed your deposition today?" "Signed, sealed, and delivered." She raised her glass. "As is my career. It was nice knowing you." She took another long draw from the beer and then set it down on the table. "By the way, fair warning -- those JAG officers have no sense of humor." She picked up one of the edamame and proceeded to suck the soybeans out of the pod. This little action had attracted Clay's rapt attention, watching her. "I rather got that impression," Charlotte replied. She frowned. She hadn't meant to cast a pall on the evening activities, but she had suspected the reason for Rue's mood. "I was able to give my deposition last week, and I was not impressed. I suppose I should be thankful that I was early on the docket." "Eh." Rue shrugged a little. "It is what it is. We're all alive. Most of our bits and bobs are still in place. What could be worse than....What are you staring at?" Rue swiveled her head in Clayton's direction as she noticed he seemed to be in his own private world. "Nothing." Clayton shot her an innocent look, laying his arm over the back of the booth. He wasn't about to admit he'd been watching Rue's mouth. "Nothing at all." Rue turned to Mal. "Squirrel?" Mal nodded, sipping his ale. "Squirrel." Charlotte looked to Mal. "Do I even want to know?" "Not really, love, no." Alexander furrowed his brow, turning his attention back to his old school mate. "Wait. What about Evelyn?" "What about her?" Clay raised a brow. "Oh, she's still around," Rue smirked, giving Clay that 'look'. "But that doesn't stop him from scoping out the next one. Seriously? Her?" She motioned to the woman, a cute blonde thing, she thought Clayton was staring at. "She's cute." Clay shrugged, coloring a bit, afraid he'd be caught out again. Mal followed his gaze, noting the younger woman seated across the restaurant. She was a tall, willowy thing, with dirty blonde hair, excellent curves, and well-manicured fingers. "Not bad," he commented. His attention drifted to the table beside her, where a stack of PADDs rested, a backpack beside her on the upholstered bench. "Though I think you'd find her overeducated for his usual tastes." "Yes. She seems to have an IQ bigger than her bra size." Rue quipped. "Now come on, they're not all bad." Clay growled. "Name. One." Rue challenged. "Lilith." Clay offered after a few moments consideration. "Exhibit A: Lilith. Mal, would you like to take this one? Charlotte, I'll let you be judge, jury and executioner." "The fair Lady Lilith," Mal drawled, "eldest daughter to Sir Eric, and quite possibly the most...icy...woman I've ever met. In fact, she might as well be Exhibit 'C' for 'cold fish.'" He took a sip of his ale. "There were no public displays, always a peck on the cheek; and a nose stuck so far in the air it could have sunk the Titanic. Always treated your best mates as though as though they were something the hired help dragged in. Next?" Clay frowned. "Now what a min--" "The prosecution said next exhibit." Rue gave him a look. After a bit of a struggle, he pulled out another name. "Zadia," Clay's face transformed into a wistful expression. "She was very...well, I shouldn't go much further in mixed company." Mal chuckled. "Passionate, I think is the word. Though that extended outside the bedroom, as I recall." He paused. "Wasn't she the one that chased you through Covent Garden with a rolling pin?" "Yes," Clay deflated, giving Rue and Mal a shifty look. "What is this? Pick on Clayton night?" Mal shook his head, clearly disagreeing with his friend. "When isn't it 'Pick on Clayton Night'? Has been ever since boarding school. Didn't you get the memo?" "Shall I bring up one last example of Clayton's poor choice in women?" Rue leaned back, giving Clayton an evil look. She made the slightest flick of the wrist to hint at what was to come. "No. No. No, please god no. Let's talk about anybody but her. Please. I'm begging you." Clay cupped Rue's face with his hands, giving her a big, sloppy, wet kiss on the lips. "Please, for the love of all that is holy, don't say her name." He leaned his forehead against hers. "Please." He would have followed up with another kiss if Rue hadn't reared back. Rue flipped her hair back, head bobbing from left to right as she said, "Kourtney!" When she pronounced it, however, it was with equal emphasis on both syllables, so it ended up sounding more like, "Court-knee!" "You need to work on your powers of persuasion, mate." Mal regarded the two with his brows raised. Rue did another hair flip. "So Kourtney was a love interest that, like, was so awesome, that, like, she was unforgettable, that, like, she was so cool." She grinned manically. "Oh, God, no." Clay buried his head in his hands, then sank to the table top, his forehead pressed against the cool surface. "Make it stop; make. it. all. stop." Alexander looked to Rue, impish gleam in his eyes. "I think he's done for." "Remember that dress?" Rue was on the verge of a giggle fit. She'd fully relaxed, forgetting that Charlotte was one of her junior officers and not new to the group. "What dress?" Mal regarded his former classmate with raised brows. "Let's just say I would've been embarrassed to wear it in public." Rue pause a beat. "Hell, an escort would've been embarrassed to wear it out in public. Good God, that woman gave me fits of laughter for weeks after I met her." She flipped her hair again, giggling, breathy whisper, "Hi, my name is Koooourt-kneeee...and I wanna marry a smart man to take care of me forever and always. Will you be my pet husband?" Wydown made cow eyes at Clay, teasing him. "I can't find my way out of a paperbag, but I do know my way around Mercers & Rodgers store." Another hair flip, then, "Buy me something from Tiffany's, Clay-ee-waaay-ee..." Mal looked at his friend with something akin to sympathy. "For a really smart guy, you make some of the stupidest choices." He shook his head. "Especially when there are better, more obvious answers." "He obviously needs to be neutered," Rue quipped. "Or stop ignoring the obvious," Mal muttered behind his bottle. Beside him, Charlotte choked on her sake. He immediately reached over, patting her on the back as she coughed her way clear. Once he stopped patting, his arm stayed around her shoulders. "Sorry, love." "Warn me next time," she whispered. Alexander winked at her. "I tried to tell you." Clay picked his head up off the table. "Are you done yet?" He asked tiredly. Rue smiled, giving his arm a sympathetic squeeze. "Aye, mate. I'm done." She laid her head on his shoulder and glanced up into his face like a little limp. "You know I only say these things 'cause I love you." She fluttered her lashes at him. "I'd be more afraid of what you'd say if you didn't love me." Clay shook his head. He slipped his hand down and took hers, holding it and rubbing his thumb back and forth over the back of her hand. It was an unconscious move that those who knew them had seen countless times. Something in Clay's body language changed when he did it. And that was when the food arrived. Blushing slightly as she obviously interrupted a quiet moment between the couples, the waitress placed the wooden blocks of rolls and sashimi in the center of the table, then offered each a set of ebony chopsticks. She smiled. "Enjoy." After a few moments of chewing, attempting to muster his courage, Clay cleared his throat. Unfortunately, it made it sound like he was choking so Rue reached over and patted him soundly on the back. He wrestled her hands away, capturing them in his and not letting them go. "So, seeing as we're all here...." Mal broke his attention away from Charlotte, forcing a nonchalant expression at his friend. "Announcement to make, old friend?" "As a matter of fact, I do." He looked at Mal, whose expression puzzled him. He then followed Mal's line of sight and realized his friend was looking at his hands, entwined with Rue's. "Wait. No! Not that." He let go of Rue's hands and sat a bit straighter. "We're having a big shindig in a few days. An opening of a new division at Sterling. Going all out for it, too. Big bash. Wanted to know if you all would like to go." Rue knew he was asking not to share the party with his friends, but because he was hoping for moral support while he was stuck in a den of vipers (commonly known as his family members). She'd all ready been asked once. She didn't think Clay was going to have the courage to ask a third time. She smiled, "Sure, why not. I could do for a laugh." For his part, Mal grimaced. He knew all too well the circles in which Clay regularly travelled -- circles he tried to avoid. At the same time, he knew the importance of a friendly face among the snakes. He sighed. "Where and what time?" Clay shook his head. "Don't sound so enthusiastic, Mal." "Sorry, Clay, but you know how much I try to avoid that lot." "No problem. You don't have to go. I just thought it would be fun." Clay smiled, although it didn't quite reach his eyes. "I'll just solider on without you sorry lot." He teased. Meanwhile Rue was watching the action between the two friends. She shifted her glance first from Clay to Mal, then back to Clay. Finally at the end of Clay's speech when it appeared that Mal wasn't going to answer, Rue gave the stubborn Intel operative a swift kick to the shin. If he could survive Corizon for weeks on end, he could live one night amongst Clay's family. Hell, he owed her one, anyway. Mal swallowed back the verbal reaction to the kick, glaring at Rue. He shook his head subtly, to which she responded by nodding surreptitiously. Giving in, he rolled his eyes. "I'll ask again: Where and what time?" "Friday night. Drinks start at 7 pm. Dancing at 8 pm. It's black tie." Rue answered for Clayton. Having spent most of the evening observing, Charlotte recognized the body language, tone, and facial expressions passing between the friends. Under the table, she placed her hand against Mal's thigh. "We'll be there." She smiled. "So dashing and debonair in a tux." Relief was evident on Clay's features. "So," he said, reaching for another roll, "where should we go next?" "Moonlight zip?" Rue offered. Charlotte regarded her senior officer with a furrowed brow. "Moonlight zip?" "Aye. You hike up a dark hill. You snap into a zip line. Then you run down the hill. Full tilt. Until your feet leave the ground. Leaping off a cliff and then go flying through the air. Did I mention this is all in the dark?" "And here, I was thinking we should just work a pub crawl," Clay muttered. Mal, his hand over Charlotte's, looked to his friend. "And you promised it would only be a quiet dinner." "Is it ever quiet with us?" Clay smirked. "Besides, I told Jamie we'd meet him at the pub around the corner at 10." Mal hung his head. "Oh, bollocks." ***
  12. Best Laid Plans CDR Malcolm Alexander (NPC) Clayton Wydown (NPC) LTJG Charlotte Matsumura *** Somewhere in the aether between waking and sleeping, Malcolm Alexander could hear the repeated chime of his LCARS terminal, signaling an incoming call. He opened his eyes to slits and glanced at the bedside clock. The bright numbers informed him it was after nine. He sighed. He couldn't complain about whomever it was calling too early, then. "Keep your shirt on," he muttered as he tossed back the covers. Rubbing his face, he stumbled across the room to the desk where his LCARS terminal sat. He then flopped unceremoniously into the chair, slapping at the access key. "This had better be important." "Whotcha!" Clayton Wydown grinned into the camera. "Damn, you look like....Up late last night?" "You could say that," Mal replied. "I'd ask why you were so bloody cheerful, but I think I have a pretty good idea." "I don't know have any idea what you're talking about." Clayton feigned looking hurt. "I'm always this chipper in the morning. Early bird, worm, and all that." He flashed another grin. "So, I have a fantastic idea. You're going to meet me for dinner tonight." Clearing his throat, Mal fought the urge to glance back over the bed behind him. "And if I already have plans?" "Change them, mate." Mal hung his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Clayton --" "No pub hopping. Promise. Just a quiet dinner out. Sushi. You, me, maybe Rue? How many times do you come to Earth, anyway?" "I know; I know. It's been a long while since we've had a chance to commiserate over a pint or twelve," Alexander replied. A smile flickered across his lips as he chuckled, shaking his head. "All right. Dinner it is. The one over by Regents Park?" "Perfect. 8 pm. Or, um, how do you military types call it?" Mal chuckled. Clay had never been Starfleet, and Mal doubted he would ever pick up on the standard lingo. "Twenty-hundred hours." "Excellent." Clayton grinned. "Cheerio!" "Cheerio? You really have been around Rue too much, mate," Mal said. He laughed. "See you tonight." The screen went blank and Mal sighed. With another shake of his head, he pushed himself up out of the chair and made his way back to the bed, crawling back under the covers. A softened smile tugged at the corners of his lips as his gaze fell on the sleeping figure enveloped in the white comforter and pillows beside him. "I take it our plans for tonight have changed?" Charlotte asked. She didn't open her eyes. "Afraid so, love." Reaching over, he gently brushed a lock of dark hair from her face, his fingertips tracing the line of her cheekbone. Her eyes fluttered open and she rolled over onto her back, smiling. His expression mirrored hers as noted her superfluous attempt to keep the covers tucked under her arms. He was still grinning as he lowered his head, brushing his lips lightly across hers. "I'm afraid if we don't meet him, he'll show up unannounced, and that would be a very, very unwelcome interruption." Charlotte sighed as she turned her head, allowing him better access to the curve of her jaw. "S'pose that means we're not ordering in?" "Not tonight," he whispered against her neck, "but I promise to make it up to you." "Hmmm," Lottie murmured. When he lifted his head, he found her lips quirked in a lopsided grin, eyes aglow. The intensity was enough to send a jolt through him. "So long as you promise." ***
  13. A Different Can of Worms (4/4) LTJG Charlotte Matsumura CDR Malcolm Alexander Dr. Elisabeth Blair LCDR Ronin Matsumura (Ret.) *** It was rumored among her students that Doctor Elisabeth Blair had eyes in the back of her head. There was no other way, they said, she could be so perceptive and know exactly what mischievous plan they were hatching. The reality was that experience itself was a good teacher: As original as her students believed themselves to be, they weren't – it had all been tried before. But if they wanted to mark it up to the supernatural, who was she to argue? Occult powers or no, the strange interaction between Charlotte and Malcolm Alexander caught her completely off guard: His hand hovering at the small of her back; the way he assisted her to her seat; monopolizing her time on the dance floor. There had also been no small amount of silent communication between the two, much conveyed with a single glance. They were all little details – things a stranger might miss. But as mother, friend, and nosey professor, Liz noticed. She wasn't yet sure how she felt about it. Then again, she thought, she wasn't quite sure what 'it' was. Friends? Lovers? Partners? There was a gamut of possibilities. She knew, too, that time in the field encouraged close relationships. Mal and Ronin became brothers, often capable of their conversations without a word spoken; there was a bond of shared experiences even she could not entirely understand. Between a male and female operative, Liz could see where such a relationship could be easily misconstrued – especially when combined with the innate chivalry Mal possessed. Still, there was something...off. Liz just couldn't quite put her finger on it. She looked to her daughter, seated next to her. The young Starfleet officer absently scraped at a flaw in the tablecloth, lips taut and brow furrowed in contemplation. It was a trend that began in the flyer, and carried over well past dessert. "Farthing for them," she said quietly. Blinking, Charlotte looked up. She gave a sheepish smile, her fingers still playing with the pick in the fabric. "Sorry, Mum. I don't mean to be so quiet." "S'alright, love." Liz reached and placed her hand over Charlotte's. "I'm sure there's a lot running through that head of yours. But I am here, if you need to talk." Charlotte visibly struggled, casting a sideways glance toward her father, Ronin, and Mal, now standing across the room. They were speaking quietly with the interim Director of Operations, Roane Thompson. When she finally spoke, her voice was low and barely audible over the background hum of the club. "Mal and I have led others to believe that we are...involved, or at least close. Aboard Camelot, it gives us cover to spend time together, where the truth might be uncomfortable. But all of this" – and here, Liz knew she referred to the inquiry – "I need time to deal with it. I just don't think I can, if I'm continually worried about being blown." She paused a beat. "I need some time to be myself, and I'm never going to find that so close to Headquarters." Well, that answers that, Elisabeth thought. She frowned. "I'm loathe to suggest it, but have you thought about leaving San Francisco for a few days?" "I'd thought about it, yes," her daughter replied, "but I just got home. I didn't want to pick up and dash away again." Movement to her right caught her attention, and Liz looked up as Ronin and Mal approached the table. "Well, I'm in no hurry to let you go again, but this isn't like you, love. If you need time, you should take it." Mal lowered himself into his seat. "Need time for what?" Liz looked to their old friend. "To recoup – recover. To deal with all of the goings-on." She waved her hand, as though indicating the situation surrounding them. "She's apparently feeling smothered by the uniform." "There's a feeling I understand." Alexander gave a snort, then took a sip from his wine glass. "And not for the first time, either." "I was just suggesting she duck out for a few days." Elisabeth turned her attention to her husband. "She could head to Niigata?" "If she chose," Ronin replied with a nod. "Though staying with her grandparents may not be as restful as she may hope." Charlotte chuckled. Older they may have been, Miya and Kaemon Matsumura had not slowed down; volunteer work, training, consulting and, for Miya, the occasional new holo role kept them extremely busy. "No, it usually isn't." Mal cleared his throat as he lowered his wine glass to the table. "What about London?" "London?" Arching her brows, Elisabeth looked to Mal. "It's not very restive, either, Mal." "No," he conceded, "but it's not here. And I happen to know her English is much better than her Japanese." Lottie straightened. "My Japanese is just fine, thank you. Better than your Welsh." Liz bit back a laugh even as Mal winced, shaking his head. "Point taken," the old friend replied. "If you wanted, you could even stay at my flat in town proper. I've got a bit of a guest room – hardly more than a closet, really, but it's yours if you want it." "I-I don't know. It's your flat, and –" "You know as well as I do that I've a lot to do here." Mal leveled a gaze at her and another silent conversation ensued. Liz couldn't be sure what was intended, but it was a long moment before he spoke again, smirking. "Either that, or you can stay with your cousin, Enid." At this, Liz laughed. Enid Fulton was her niece, and probably one of the most shallow individuals she'd had the displeasure of knowing. Takes after her father that way, she thought, inwardly grimacing at the thought of her former brother-in-law. They were the few members of the family that drove Charlotte to threats of physical violence. Beside her, golden eyes danced with amusement as Ronin regarded his daughter. "It would seem he knows you, Matsumura-chan." "Not helping, Papa." Her father only grinned in return. Charlotte looked to her, and Liz could only smile. "When do you pack, love?"
  14. A Different Can of Worms (3/4) LTJG Charlotte Matsumura CDR Malcolm Alexander Dr. Elisabeth Blair LCDR Ronin Matsumura (Ret.) *** "Seems you may have a guest to entertain," Elisabeth Blair observed as she and her husband returned to their home. She paused on the sidewalk, nodding toward the vehicle parked at the curb. Her brow arched in curiosity. "That's Mal's, isn't it?" Ronin nodded once, but said nothing. He offered her a flicker of a smile as she readjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulder, his hand coming to rest at the small of her back. Opening the door, he allowed her to enter first. "Mal?" she called through the house. Her bag was dropped by the entry table, and he could only chuckle as she made a quick inspection of the usual hiding places. Finding him nowhere indoors, she made a direct line for the back exit. "Malcolm Alexander," Liz began in tones that already told the garden's occupants that he was in "trouble." "How dare you come back and not even tell us! We could have a proper welcome home dinner and..." Her voice dropped off as she entered the gardens and for a moment she wasn't sure she could believe her eyes. "Lottie?" she questioned softly. Her breath caught in her throat; she hadn't been certain she'd see her daughter alive again. Since Excalibur's return, however, she'd been waiting with bated breath for her daughter to arrive. That moment had finally arrived. Motherly impulses took over and she hurried out into the garden toward her daughter. Lottie chuckled and smiled as her mother all but tackled her, wrapping her in a tight embrace. "Hi, Mum," she said simply. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to enjoy the welcome. Golden brown eyes full of unspoken emotion, watching as the two women in his life embraced, Ronin approached the trio and hovered. He glanced up at Mal, nodding a silent greeting. "You brought her home," he said. His voice was barely above a whisper. "Wish I could claim credit, but she was the one who saved me this time," he answered quietly. He gave a taut smile. "She's a good girl, she is." Ronin chuckled at the reference. "She is." Elisabeth looked up, one arm still around Lottie, but her other hand moving quickly to swat Mal's shoulder. "You," she said lightly, "are incorrigible." But there was gratitude in her eyes that they had both returned safe and sound. "At least you brought us a nice surprise." She smiled at her daughter. "You'd better say hello to your father, dear, before he decides to do something rash." It was an old joke: Elisabeth had always been the social butterfly; Ronin, the quiet, observant sensei. His patience had tempered her exuberance, and she had drawn out the romantic hiding inside the oyster, so to speak. Thus, his emotional displays were rare, and could only be characterized as reserved. Charlotte laughed. Stepping forward, she wrapped her arms around her father's neck, and impulsively planted a kiss to his cheek. "It's good to see you," she said. Like her mother, she had the gift of understatement; like her father, she frequently relied on her actions to speak for her. She felt her heart constrict in her chest, suddenly overwhelmed with the reality of being home, in her parents' garden, with her mother, father, and Mal beside her. Still, she found she could not voice the thought. Instead, she briefly gripped her father tighter, before releasing him. She wiped her eyes as she drew back. Beside her, Mal swallowed back the lump rising in his throat. There were too many ways this whole fiasco could have gone wrong, too many ways this mission could have been their last. She knew it, he knew it; Ronin, who had been in stickier situations during his career, suspected it. Mal wasn't in a hurry to confirm that belief. He coughed theatrically. "I should probably go --" "You'll do no such thing," Liz said. She folded her arms across her chest regarding him for a long moment before turning to her husband. "What do you think, my dear? Occasion enough to visit The Seasons?" Owned by a friend, The Seasons was a little more extravagant than they might normally do, but this was different. Family had come home. At this, Ronin had to smile. "I think that will be...very good," he said, purposefully keeping his answers succinct. "I'll call and make reservations." He winked at his daughter, knowing that playing up his role as sensei would annoy his wife while at full steam. "That's it? Our Lottie comes home and all you can say is that it's 'very good?'" Elisabeth charged. Her ire, however, was just as overstated as his statement had been subdued. "God save us, if a little excitement should be had." She fought to keep her expression neutral, even as a laugh threatened. "Maybe I should go and make the reservations, hmm?" Smirking, Mal stepped around Ronin and headed for the house. "Maybe by then you'll have it all sorted." Elisabeth now chuckled softly. "Some things, will never change." Happy, she impulsively took the few steps to her husband's side and graced him with a soft kiss. "And I would not have it any other way," she murmured. "She's home..." Her whisper was soft, fluttering like a butterfly against Ronin's cheek. Ronin roped his arm around her waist, watching as Charlotte followed Mal into the house, tossing a grin over her shoulder. He leaned over and planted a kiss on his wife's temple. "Come, wife," he said. "We should visit while we can." "Indeed." Elisabeth smiled. "I knew you were excited." She bumped her hip lightly against his and then she was bustling into the house, ready to corner her daughter while Mal and Ronin took care of the evening's arrangements. "Lott, come up with me. I've got just the thing—" "Really, Mum, I've been dressing myself since I was five." "Oh, I know, love, but it's a celebration, and you should definitely dress the part." Elisabeth had a bright sparkle in her eyes. Charlotte shook her head slightly, but there was a smile forming even as she crossed the room toward the stairs. "If it'll keep you happy," she said cheekily, "I s'pose I could do that."
  15. A Different Can of Worms (2/4) LTJG Charlotte Matsumura CDR Malcolm Alexander Dr. Elisabeth Blair LCDR Ronin Matsumura (Ret.) *** Lunch, as it turned out, was a couple of take away sandwiches from their favorite café, seated on a bench in the Japanese style garden built by her father, Ronin Matsumura. Water rushed over hewn rocks, filtering down into the koi pond before them. The koi themselves provided a splash of color, streaks of orange and silver as they swished just beneath the surface of the water. "I've always wondered what your father fed them, to make them so big," Mal said. He kept his voice quiet, reflective of their surroundings. Charlotte smiled. "I've never asked. If it was something disgusting, I didn't want to know. Especially since it was my job to feed the things." Alexander looked at her, wiping his mouth with his napkin, eyes sparkling. He turned sideways so he was straddling the bench and facing her. "So you're to blame for it." Recognizing the twinkle, she blushed slightly. "I wish I could say I was farming them for dinner, but I'm not sure we'd want to eat that." "No, probably not." Mal chuckled. With a sigh, he shoved his napkin into the container his sandwich had come in, and took a sip of his drink. "Though I suddenly have a craving for sushi." Charlotte couldn't help but laugh. "Maybe we can have sushi for dinner." "Is that a date?" Something in the tone of his voice caused Lottie to look back to the taller, senior operative. She found him watching her, his gaze visibly tracing the curve of her cheeks, her eyes, and the way her hair now fell around her face. Warmth crept up her neck and across her cheeks. How could he continually manage to make her blush with just the tenor of his voice? Reaching up, she tucked the errant locks of dark hair behind her ear. So much time alone – and apart since Excalibur docked – had left her with plenty of time to think. She'd known for a long while that what she felt for Mal stretched far beyond the school girl crush she'd once marked it up as. Denial, however, had a strong pull, and as long as she didn't admit the depth of feeling for him, she could continue as normal. They'd be friends, and that was fine. But the prospect of losing him frightened her more than she cared to admit. He had been there through her late night study sessions, answering random questions via subspace at two in the morning; had rescued her from the claustrophobic clutches of her parents during commissioning; had been her friend and mentor, what seemed a universe away. He was a warm, welcoming constant; his absence – his loss – would have left a gaping hole she would never be able to fill. That realization, coupled with a similar admission from Mal weeks previous, left them with two sizeable problems. The first came in the form of the Operations Directorate: They were decidedly less than supportive of relationships between operatives, and even less so when dealing with chain of command. Given Starfleet policy, they could not forbid such relationships, but revelation could result in permanent removal from the field. Neither she nor Mal were quite ready for retirement. Second, were her parents. Malcolm Alexander had been partner to her father and friend to both her mother and father since before she was born; he was as close to a brother as her father ever had. By the same token, she wasn't at all sure how her father would react to his little girl jumping into a relationship with his forty-plus year old friend. "Charlotte?" Blinking out of her reverie, Charlotte focussed once again on the familiar features opposite her. "I'm sorry, I'm just –" "Thinking it through?" She nodded. "I know what I want," she began, "but I keep asking myself if we should. Starfleet could pull us out of the field. And, even though it's my decision, I still can't help but wonder what Mum and Papa would say." Mal swallowed, the bob of his Adam's apple visible just above his uniform collar. "That's a thought," he said, sighing heavily. "I've had more than a few sleepless nights over that-- nightmares of your father and a katana. Not very pretty." Charlotte couldn't help but chuckle at the dark image, rendered somewhat comical by her own mind. "No, I would imagine not." "When we were in the lift, just after Rue ruined my complexion," he continued slowly, "do you remember what I told you – that I felt a lot more than I could say then?" In response, she could only nod. She knew he wasn't finished yet. "I meant what I said, Lottie. And, eventually, when all this settles out, I think your mum and da will see it, too; they know me better than that." "After all this time, I'd like to think so." Her smile was slightly lopsided, wryly amused. The amusement faltered slightly, however, as she thought of problem number one. "And Operations?" "Operations…" Mal rubbed his hand over his hair. "I've had a good, long run and I've more than outlived the life expectancy for operatives in my class. I mean, I'm not ready to be put out to pasture yet, but, as a station chief, I already have one foot in the grave – as it were." "But can you handle sitting at a desk while I'm out in the wild, dark yonder?" She frowned. "Because I'm not ready to give this up yet; I've only just started." At this, Alexander shrugged. "To be honest, I'm not sure. But I'd bloody well give it my best shot." "Then…" Drawing in a deep breath, Charlotte released it slowly. She forced back the overwhelming surge of emotions at the implications of their conversation; there was permanence inferred she wouldn't even begin to address. For now, she could only take things one step at a time. "I'd say we have a date." There was an impish gleam to Mal's eyes as he leaned forward. "Good. I have just the thing." "Oh?" "Mmhmm." Charlotte shifted, her expression and posture mirroring his. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her, anticipation singing through her. "Not going to tell me?" His gaze flitted over her shoulder toward the house, then back to her, a frown flickering across his features. "Can't." "Can't? Why?" "Because," he said, pausing long enough for a too-quick kiss, "your parents just got home." Sighing, she watched as he swung his leg back over the bench the way one might dismount a horse, and stood. His expression was apologetic as he extended his hand. "We'll have time, love." Charlotte could only give a smirk. "You do know my parents, don't you?" "Point taken." He chuckled as she rose, standing before him. She was careful to ensure the distance between them could be considered "platonic." "How does London sound?" At this, Matsumura blinked. Her brow furrowed as she looked back toward the house, seeing her parents milling about in the living room. It was only a matter of time before they were spotted. "Are you asking me to go away with you?" "Is that what it sounded like?" Mal continued holding her hand, his body blocking any view her parents might have. "I thought perhaps I was just offering a friend a place of refuge during a very trying time." "You're incorrigible," Charlotte replied. In reality, she felt torn. It had been over a year since she had seen her parents, had spent any considerable time with them. She wanted to stay. She wanted to chat with her mother over tea; to train with her father; to sleep in her own bed. She even wanted to catch up with a friend or two from the Academy – anything to keep her mind off the troubles at hand. By the same token, she was also swept up in the first blush of a relationship with her best friend, a man she'd been in love with for years. Escape would provide them the much needed time to work through the jumble of emotions. It would also, she thought wryly, give them plenty of time to work through the rush of hormones they'd barely kept at bay thus far. And the distance from just about everything Starfleet didn't hurt much, either. She smiled up at him. "One condition." "Anything, love." "Dinner with my parents tonight. I owe them that much." Mal nodded. "Done." He paused, then added, "What will you tell them?" "Just what you suggested: You're offering a friend a place of refuge during a very trying time." She placed the back of her hand against her forehead, affecting a dramatically withering expression. "It's all so overwhelming." "You'd better be a little less dramatic, and a little more convincing." He smirked, turning as he heard Liz and Ronin finally entering the garden. Charlotte returned the smirk. "I'm an operative. Convincing is what I do."