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Posted on 04 Feb 2020 @ 5:03pm by Lieutenant JG Charles McCullen & Ensign Kelly Khan

Mission: Sentience
Location: Flight
Timeline: MD 1 || 1600 Hours

After the shift was over, not that she'd had much to do, Ensign Khan decided to go meet with the new Chief of Flight. With everything that had been going on and personnel being shuffled left, right, and diagonal, it was no surprise that she didn't even realize that the Black Hawk-A had a new Chief of Flight. She was a bit bummed, but knew she never would have been allowed to maintain the Helm during Alpha Shift for long, anyway. With a sigh, she checked her uniform for spots and wrinkles, then tapped the chime to the Chief of Flight's office.

Charlie looked up from his console, caught by surprise by the chime of the door. He was still trying to wrap his head around having an office, until recently, he'd been hot-bunking in a tiny junior officer's bunk, having his own quarters was overwhelming enough without having an office to go with it. The room was bare, aside from the standard desk and console and a pair of chairs, he hadn't even thought about decoration.

"Uh... come in," he called, staring at the door for a second before belatedly remembering to hit the key on the desk to let it open.

Kelly entered, then stopped. She looked at the basic room, then at the apparent teenager sitting at the desk. Or at least he looked like a teenager to her. "Hi, I'm looking for Lieutenant McCullen," she said.

"That's... uh, me." Charlie said, unable to hide the nervous grin that crept onto his face. He stood from behind the desk, noting the red uniform and scrabbling to put a name behind it. Ensign... Kim? Chan? Kwon? He had always been amazed by his father's ability to remember names, he had seen the man walking through a Galaxy class starship greeting every person he saw by name, it was something he had never been able to do. "What... uh, what can I do for you, Ensign?"

It was clear that the Junior Grade Lieutenant didn't know her by the look on his face. While she studied him, she saw that he was only about an inch taller than she was. It didn't bother her, but his baby face irked her even if she didn't let it show. "Khan, Sir," she said. "Ensign Kelly Khan. I'm here for the typical meet and greet the new face of the month."

"Ensign Khan," Charlie found a smile, stepping forward and extending his hand. "Charlie McCullen, thanks for dropping by. I've not had much of a chance to... uh... get to know anyone."

"Last minute change in orders, Sir?" Kelly asked while she inwardly twitched. This guy seemed to unsure of himself that she was tempted to call Security to report an imposter, but she decided to wait.

"Yeah, I only came aboard yesterday," Charlie explained, painfully aware that he wasn't making the greatest first impression but at a loss about how to fix it. He let his unshaken hand drop, resisting the urge to fold it across his chest. "I've spent most of the time I've been here getting to grips with the Century class. Uh... doing my homework, I guess."

She felt a bit bad about not shaking his hand but the situation was already escalating towards a place that would already get weirder. "Coming to grips?" she asked, wondering what was so hard about a starship that someone couldn't come to grips with one. "I can understand that, but there's really only a few areas that we need to be on top of. Then again, I've been with the ship since the original Black Hawk."

"Uh... well, getting to know her handling characteristics, figuring out what small craft are aboard and a little simulator work... mostly." Charlie explained, feeling suddenly defensive, worried that she was judging his professional skills and finding him lacking. Despite his best efforts to the contrary, he found his arms crossed across his torso.

Calm down, Charlie. He admonished himself, pausing to take a breath, unfold his arms and then start again. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to find the confidence he needed, employing the techniques he'd learned from the counselors he'd seen. "I like to be prepared before I fly, it's not like I couldn't just walk on to the bridge and pilot the ship, a ship is a ship, but to do the job right you've got to know the ship, what she can do and how she'll react. You're a pilot, you gotta know what I'm talking about."

"Oh, I totally get that, but on this ship, you pretty much learn as you go at maximum warp while the enemy does their best to kill you," Kelly said as if it were a simple fact of being on the Black Hawk, which it was.

Ever since he'd come aboard, Charlie had seen echoes of what had clearly been a terrible experience. The massive repairs that had been carried out, the murmurs of rumors and snippets of conversations he'd picked up on and the jaded, cynical attitude of the crew who weren't new. It was a side of Starfleet he'd rarely seen before, darker and harsher, and it left a bad taste in his mouth that was annoying him. It reminded him of his father, too, and that pissed him off even more.

He shook his head, letting his frustration fuel him and drive him to say what he wanted to say. "Last time I checked, ensign Khan, this ship was still in Starfleet, and we'll do things the Starfleet way. That means while we're not in an emergency, we'll be crossing the i's and dotting the t's, doing our homework and not making it up as we go along." Charlie paused for a breath, wondering just how he'd ended up sounding like his dad. His hands were shaking with nerves, the emotional backwash from forcing out the words was giving him a lump in his throat. "Look, I don't know what you have all been through, but the cynicism and negativity around this place is toxic, it's thick enough to cut with a knife and it's unhealthy. Go see a counselor, punch some holodeck characters, do what you need to do, but get yourself sorted out."

Kelly couldn't help herself if she had wanted to as she burst out laughing at his little iyrade. It wasn't a joyous sound, but full of bitter, dark secrets. "That what you want on your torpedo casing when it's your time, Sir? I's Dotted, T's Crossed. By The Book. Got it."

"What's filled you up with so much anger?" Charlie asked, his voice on the edge of cracking. It was all he could do to hold his composure. Conflict had never been his forte, arguments stressed him and left him feeling washed out. "I want it to say that I did my job the best I could, that I didn't forget... that I didn't stop being a Starfleet officer because... because something bad happened to me."

"Go read the logs," she nearly snarled as she pointed to a slightly tarnished pip on her collar. "See this? I took command of a busted ass Intrepid class ship and went into battle against a Romulan Valdore that was turning my crew to fucking dust with a Thalaron cannon. Then I scuttled the bitch, set the destruct codes and noped out with Captain Geisler. He gave me a field promotion for being a good little soldier. I was still a cadet on my senior tour when that happened, too. I don't know what Good Ship Lollipop that you just beamed off of, but this ship is chalk full of personnel that'll be more than happy to tell you that you aren't in Kansas anymore."

Sadness was the primary feeling that filled Charlie as he listened to Khan's story. How had she gotten so twisted up and hurt without anyone to help her? "When I was eight years old," he said, very much not willing to talk about it but also feeling the need to help the woman if he could, "during the Dominion War, I was aboard the USS New London - my dad was the chief tactical officer - we were disabled and boarded by the Cardassians. It was a running firefight all the way to the escape pods. I remember the look Chief Heltmann had on his face when he pushed a phaser rifle into my hands and told me to 'Kill any Cardie bastard that comes around that corner.' It was the same look you've got on your face now." Charlie had to pause for a second to shove the face of Chief Heltmann back into the recesses of his mind. "And I did, and it made me angry, and confused, and bitter and full of spite. But I got help, I worked it out and I learned to get past it. You can do that too, if you want to. I'm not going to order you to report to counseling, you have to want to get better, but you need it, you really need it."

"Oh boo hoo," Kelly said. "You had to protect yourself while being boarded. So traumatic. Have you ever had a fellow Starfleet officer turn on you? Ever read up on the final battle of Deep Space Eleven during the Consortium Crisis? Ever get blown to an alternate universe, or possessed by an alien parasite, had to fly through a war zone in a runabout full of screaming personnel while ships blow up around you or anything even remotely close?"

Charlie sighed, shaking his head again in wonder at the rage within Khan. This was clearly an argument he wasn't going to win and he wasn't interested in having. His emotions were threatening to get the better of him, the argument was giving him all kinds of anxiety and it was all he could do not to order her to get out just to escape it. But he had a job to do, he was supposed to be the department head and he needed to get it done, for his own sake as much as for anyone else. Time to do that officer stuff, Charlie.

"Ensign, I'm sorry that you're... you're... so full of rage and I'm sorry you've experienced so much trauma, but I'm not going to stand here and be... be... berated by you. We're both Starfleet officers and I've earned my place here, if that's not good enough for you, then... then... well, tough shit. Sit down and... and shut up for a minute." He gestured to the chair, unable to hide the shakiness in his hand as he did so, and plopped his own butt down in his seat, looking at her expectantly.

You haven't earned shit, the petite brunette thought, hoping he'd get where her rage was coming from, but she sat down and stared at a point just past his right shoulder.

Charlie took a moment to pull up her service record. It read impressive, a list of combat encounters and engagements longer than his arm. There was no doubt that Khan had experience - far more than he had, and that she was an ace pilot, what he couldn't get past was the attitude. He understood that Khan didn't respect him, he was, from her point a view, a fresh-faced kid with nearly no experience, but he'd never met a Starfleet officer who had such disrespect for the rank, and so blatantly flaunted the established protocols for behavior he'd been raised with. It left him feeling insecure, and uncertain, and at a bit of a loss.

"Look," he said after a minute, "you clearly know what you're doing, you've got more experience than most people twice your age and from what I can read here, you're an ace pilot. I get that you don't like me being here, I get that you don't... respect me, at all, and that's... okay, but I am a damn good pilot and I am here, so we're going to have to find some kind of way to work together. There's a lot I can learn from your experience, but not if you're going to... to... go off on me every time we cross paths."

"I apologize for that, Sir," Kelly said. "My outburst was uncalled for. We've been under...some stress...for a while now, even with shore leaves and rare moments. I promise to do my best to respect you as an officer and a person from here on out. Sir." Whatever personal feelings she had, she kept them off her face. The young officer - and higher ranked - deserved that.

"I'm not... I'm not looking for... brown nosing or for respect that I... haven't... uh, earned." Charlie replied, "all I'm asking is that you give me a chance to prove myself before you decide that I'm not worthy, and that..." Charlie hesitated, feeling even more insecure about admitting that Khan was at least partly right about the whole 'following procedures' thing, but he had always been taught that there was no shame in admitting weakness and seeking growth, so he plowed ahead despite his insecurity. "... that if and when the shit does hit the fan, you'll help me to make sure I'm ready for it."

"I'm not sure anything can make you ready for it," she said. "But I can share what I've been through and what I've learned and maybe it'll add a few pieces of armor to you for when it does come. As for brown nosing? Never did it, never will. I earn it like everyone else."

"That works for me, Ensign Khan." Charlie found a smile, at last, at the easing of the tension in the room.


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