Episode 1: The Maelstrom Awaits
Location: Captain's Ready Room
Timeline: Day 8 at 0700
[HELIN'S QUARTERS, DECK 3]
If evil had a physical form it just might have been inside those startlingly blue eyes that were staring back at Helin Lahm with utmost contempt from deep inside the pet carrier. He reached in, tried to coax the creature forward, but she was not having any of it. She hissed, swatted at his fingers and simultaneously sank razor sharp teeth into the fleshy part of his palm.
"Ow! Damn it," Helin pulled back his arm, assessing the damage.
The eyes just stared back from the darkness of the cloth tote. Helin pressed the wound with his fingers to stem the tiny bit of bleeding.
The comm chirped.
"You know, fine, just stay in there then," Helin told the beast as he answered. "=/\=Go ahead."
"=/\=The captain will see you now."
"=/\=On my way, then," he replied automatically.
[READY ROOM, DECK 1]
To say that she hadn't exactly been thrilled at the idea of becoming a field docent for another member of her species was probably an understatement. Whilst she remembered her own time with her docent as being relatively easy, she had heard many horror stories of initiates who had been subjected to horrible experiences at the hands of their docents. Even though she would do her best to support the young man on his journey, she felt really uncomfortable about the power that had been thrust upon her. It was an odd feeling for a woman who had literally been in charge of the fate of thousands of different people every day for over a decade, but she really didn't like the idea of having the sole responsibility of making the youngsters dream come true, or fade away.
In the few days since she had found out about Ensign Lahm's impending arrival, Nilani had sent and received hundreds of subspace transmissions to Trill she knew across the Federation, including her own father at the Symbiosis Commission, seeking advice. Had it helped? Not really. Did she have to go through with it? Well she couldn't very well crush his dreams from the get go now could she?
And that was why she was now pacing the floor of the ready room, eagerly awaiting the young man's arrival. With her fingers in her mouth, chomping on her nails, the Captain looked far from the picture of confidence she tried to display on a daily basis.
Helin approached Nilani's ready room and pressed the chime. He took the moment to center himself, drawing in a full breath and squaring his shoulders. He'd all but given up hope of becoming a host and in fact almost allowed himself to believe he didn't even want the experience anymore. However, the last few days, fresh from the conversation with the guardian, confirmed a renewed that spark inside. When the door opened, he crossed the threshold.
Helin looked upon the captain then gave a tepid smile and a dip of his head. "Ensign Helin Lahm reporting for duty, Captain. It's an honor, Sir." A little flattery couldn't hurt.
"Ma'am," the Captain retorted quickly before elaborating further. "Despite Starfleet tradition, I prefer to be called ma'am. It helps me to keep my pronouns in check," she smiled before offering a hand. "Nilani Azulas. Welcome to the Nogura, Ensign. Please," she smiled as she stepped aside and offered him a seat on the sofa. By sitting on the sofa, she hoped it implied the meeting was less formal than one that required sitting at her desk.
Helin gave a nod at the correction, which hadn't seemed to bother him at all. Aside from the business of the docent stuff, if he were serving on her ship, he would definitely want to understand and conform to her style and preferences of communication. After shaking her hand, he stepped over to the sofa and waited for her to sit before he did so as well. He thought himself, if not-quite-yet an expert, certainly someone with a heightened education to pick up non-verbal cues. Environmental position, micro-expressions, tone, and other mannerisms were all cues to to what stirred beneath a person's otherwise calm exterior.
Shifting uncomfortably in the chair next to the sofa, the Captain tried her best to get comfortable in this uneasy position she had found herself in. "So, umm, how was your journey?" Stupid idiot. Why did she feel so pathetically awkward? She'd only been asked to pass judgement on the poor man's probable dreams and aspirations.
He smiled. Was she this bad at small talk? She was probably not used to intimate, personal conversations, whereas he had made it his career. What better way to get to know someone than to observe them in casual conversation? There was nothing casual about this, however, and that made it akward.
"It was fine," he assured her. He didn't think she really wanted to hear about his abrupt transfer orders, the two shuttle changes he had to make to get to DS5 on-time, nor the Altairian cat that hated to travel in her box and decided to throw up on his clothing as a form of revenge. Maybe he could put the small talk out of its misery early on for her sake.
"I am looking forward to getting settled and established here," Helin offered. "Whatever I can do to support you and Commander Adams, I only ask that you let me know. I plan to meet with her as soon as her schedule allows."
Okay, so, he was eager to get stuck in. That was a positive as far as she was concerned. Maybe this thing wasn't going to be so bad after all? "I am sure the Commander would appreciate that," the Captain lied, but had fun doing so. The acting XO was far from a talker, so being sat down with a Counsellor was not going to be her thing. AT ALL. "So, I understand there is a more formal role for me to play here, specifically for you. I think it is only fair to tell you that I, or to be specific the Nilani host, has never been a field docent before. Both Toran and Jennica did it, but that was three lifetimes ago," she smiled, the first sign of her actually feeling at ease came as she talked about her symbionts past lives.
At the change-over of topics, it was then Helin's turn to look uncomfortable. His gaze shifted down at the floor for a moment in pause, then he looked up into her face directly. "I'll be honest. When I went through the application process to become an initiate, more than four years ago, I was a different person. I had different hopes and expectations for my life. Until recently, I hadn't even thought it was still a viable pathway." He paused a beat, "All that to say, I'll respect whatever outcomes unfold. It won't affect my duty to this ship."
Nilani shook her head slowly, "You're twenty-two and talking like you are ninety. I was twenty-six when I was joined, and I've known people who became joined in their thirties. It happens, and it happens later and later as modern science improves," the Captain told her initiate, hoping that tales of her experience would help him. "In fact, the youngest of the Azulas hosts was twenty four, the oldest, Kalani, was twenty-eight. It is up to you to prove to the Commission, and I guess myself, that you are right for joining... whatever age it may come."
"I understand," Helin said with a slow nod, "and I intend to do my best in that regard." It was like entering a dart-throwing contest held entirely in the dark in a room that may or may not even have targets -- he had no idea what Nilani's criteria would be. He'd just go ahead and ask. "Is there anything I should know about your expectations, ma'am?"
That was an interesting question that the Captain pondered for a moment. "I want you to show me what you would bring to the life and experiences of the symbiont you get matched with. How would you enrich their lives? How would you contribute to joined Trill society?" Those had been the criteria of her field docent, and seemingly had worked since she had been joined successfully. "Doing your duty as a Starfleet officer will help, but it wont be enough. Joining is a privilege, and you need to earn that privilege."
Helin didn't admit aloud that he couldn't see how he would stretch himself beyond being responsible for the mental health and welfare of 878 of Starfleet's finest would be at all feasible on top of being one of the youngest chief counsellor assignments he knew of and overseeing a small staff of even-less experienced counsellors... Instead he gave a heavy nod. "I just hope that I see my opportunity to earn it."
Nilani laughed a little. "One thing that I can say with the utmost certainty is that there well be plenty of opportunities for growth, development and advancement under my command. Life on my ship is always one big adventure!" she grinned, hoping to put the young man at ease.
"Well, if that's not exciting, then that definitely sounds like a red flag." Helin grimaced lightly.
He hesitated just then. "Uh. Two other topics I'd like your feedback on if we have time. I'd like your take on casual duty attire for counseling staff and, although I understand the importance of ranks on this ship, I would respectfully request that I and the rest of the counseling staff be referred to by position instead of rank unless the rank is relevant to the situation. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that what I do calls for a... uh.. certain amount of mutual respect and sometimes when the captain refers to junior counselors by 'Ensign' or some other rank, then that junior rank is seen as a reason to dismiss the person or their work. I would hope that wouldn't happen here, but I've heard stories.. from both doctors and counselors alike."
"As you wish, Counsellor," the Captain smiled as she nodded in response to his request. "As for uniforms, you have the same latitude as all other officers. Duty uniform attire when on the bridge. When conducting your duties elsewhere you are free to dress a little more casually," she confirmed. She'd once served with an officer who had dressed like a certain Betazoid that had served the Enterprise-D. Nilani had not liked that. At all.
"I see," Helin nodded. "Thank you for that.. uh. clarity." He raised his eyebrows, wondering if she had anything further she wanted to talk about.
"As soon as you can, report in to sickbay for a physical. They get a bit tetchy down there when a newcomer comes aboard and they don't stop by for the old clean bill of health," the Captain smiled, sensing that the meeting was probably coming to an end. "We'll talk in the next few days about where to go next," she advised her compatriot.
"I look forward to that then, ma'am. Well, our next talk, anyway. The doctors..." he gave a shrug and a smirk. "An ounce of prevention, or so they say."
Nilani rose to her feet and offered her hand to her fellow Trill. "Glad to have you with us Counsellor. I'm sure you will be very busy here," she smirked.
Helin shook the captain's hand and nodded his affirmation. "I would have it no other way. Good day, Captain."