What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Ensign Keselowsky was at the main terminal before the Warp Core, working away, completing assignments and filling reports. Nearly done with his work, he noticed a new message coming in from an unknown source. It took only a few taps on the screen to see that the message did originate from within the Tornado. Opening it, his terminal went blank, save for a login prompt.
“Oh,” he sat back, “it’s one of those again.”
Looking up from a data report one of the underlings had given him, Mindo said, "One of whats?" He walked over to see what Kes was looking at.
“Well, sir, it’s one of these secret messages that Cara…er…Lieutenant Eunidas likes to send. She used to do these pretty frequently when she first started as Chief Engineer, but they kind of tapered off.” He turned the terminal so that Mindo could see the blank screen with a login prompt. He also tilted it downward. “As an exercise in information security, the Lieutenant would send us, at random, messages. The information is usually not secret at all, but opening them, that is the real trick. We have only one opportunity to log in and to view the message before it deletes itself. On top of that, she provides us with two hints as to whose login information we need.”
Keselowsky tapped on the screen. “And the hints are,” he waited for them to display. “‘I can fix that. I’m an engineer.’,” he said questioningly, “and ’Elanin Singer Stone’.” He looked to Mindo. “Does that mean anything to you?”
"No," Mindo lied, "but I think I can crack it. I'll take it in my office. It's probably for me anyway."
“Sure thing boss,” Kes said as he backed out and forwarded it to Mindo’s computer.
Mindo hurried into the Chief Engineer's office and pulled up his terminal, typed his login and password, and pulled up the message.
There was no message, at least there was no text. A diagram of the Tornado appeared before Mindo’s eyes. The diagram rotated and zoomed in on the Navigational Deflector room, literally the forward-most part of the ship. An overlay, displaying heat signatures appeared over the diagram and Mindo could see only a single occupant in that room. The heat signature was too low for any humanoid. The figure looked as though it sat there, looking out of the diagram of a window.
Mindo was suddenly unsure of what was going on. The heat signature could be anything, though he was sure it was a person. Caradan? The hints seemed to fit Cara, but Mindo knew there were spies aboard. He remembered that pesky Yeoman knew about the singer stone. Was she a spy? Wouldn't surprise me, he thought.
Mindo stood up and headed out, trying not to look too suspicious. As he passed Keselowsky, he said, "Need to take care of something." He grabbed a toolkit, just in case. "Kes, you have Engineering. Try not to blow anything up."
“What, me blow something up. Hey, guys,” he called out to everyone in Engineering, “when was the last time I blew anything up?”
Mindo left Engineering as hands rose and voices called out and within five minutes entered the Navigational Deflector room.
Sitting on the floor and looking out at the stars, was Caradan. She turned as the door opened and Mindo stepped in. “You got my message.” She smiled at the sight of him. Even thinking about him made her feel better. Seeing him and being able to spend time alone with him, well that made her feel almost larger than life. “Were the others surprised I still played that old game?”
Mindo smiled, relieved to see Caradan there. "You didn't fool anyone, if that's what you mean." Mindo walked over to Caradan and wrapped his arms around her. "I missed you," he said softly, hugging her tight.
“I missed you too,” she said with a sigh of relief. Now that the time since they last had time to spend together was at zero again, now that there was not some pressing matter of duty or obligation interrupting their personal time, “I missed you greatly.” Holding him tightly in return, she looked out at the stars. “I love you Mindo,” she said as though finishing in the middle of a thought.
Mindo buried his face in her shoulder and said, "I love you, Cara."
They held their embrace for a good, long moment. Then they pulled back, face to face, arms interlocked. Mindo smiled.
"You are always so beautiful," he said. "While I'm a freakin' mess." He felt haggard and worn, and his hair was thoroughly tousled. "I forgot how much more hectic things get when you're the Chief."
“Handsome Mindo,” she said with a smile. She then leaned forward and rested her forehead against his, looking into both of his eyes with both of hers. “Want to switch jobs for a bit. Me the chief and you the XO?”
Mindo grinned at that. "You really want me pushing you around?"
She pushed him away playfully. “I don’t push,” then, “Do I?” Caradan shook her head. “No, I only wanted to get across how hectic things are being the XO.” She lowered her voice some, “And dealing with that commander of ours.” She reached out to Mindo and pulled him close again. “It truly is great knowing I have someone to turn to. I…” she started as though about to say more, but cut off her own words.
Mindo waited for a second, wondering what she was going to say. "What is it?" he asked. "You can tell me."
Caradan thought back to her meeting with Ixelom. She never thought to take advice from a Tellarite, but this Tellarite in particular was the ship’s counselor and she made a rather good point. On top of all that, someone had to make the first move. “I…” she started, “I still do not understand many things and I know it is against Feserian culture as you have told me plenty of times, whereas Changelings do not even have a culture, much less social norms to even begin to understand such things or even anything in the way of scripts for others to act on, but…” Caradan suddenly concluded she was not making any sense whatsoever. “I told Riaan, Dr. Rrareth, that I love her. We’ve actually gone on a couple of dates. I do love her and this does not negate that in any way because, as I said, I do not fully understand these things as I…” was beginning to go senseless again. Caradan took a breath and enjoyed the sensation of air filling her mimicked lungs and then being forced out. “Mindo, when I think of love, and when I try to understand the concept of coupling with another, I only think of you. I love Riaan, and probably others, but I have come to understand there are levels and various definitions to love. And…if I were to choose between anyone, anyone that I have ever interacted with…” Caradan looked longingly into his eyes, “I would choose you.”
Mindo nodded, his face serious as he listened. Afterward, he looked down for a moment, trying to gauge his own feelings.
"I think," he started, then paused for a second. "I think... I understand." He took her hands and rubbed the tops of them with his thumbs. "When Feserians think of love, we do not think of the concept of being 'in love,' but rather the concept of simply loving." He paused, trying to think of the right words. "Lately I've been seeing Ziara, Riaan's wife. She's fun, and I like her a lot. I haven't said 'I love you' to her because... because it's just not something Feserians say. When I say 'I love you,' specifically you, Cara, I mean it in a way that I care about you romantically and personally, and in a way so deep I can't fathom being without you." He paused to clear his throat. "For me, for all the people, men and women, that I have loved, you're the only one that's really mattered. Don't feel bad about your loving Riaan. It's not a betrayal to me, not in my eyes. Feserians don't take things like that as personally as other peoples. Am I making sense?"
Caradan gave a nod, and a smile. “You are. You make perfect sense.” She looked back out at the stars. “I was just…” her form shift slightly, primarily the side of her face and her left arm almost liquefied, but she maintained form. Caradan flexed the fingers of her left hand. “I had a dream recently. Yes, we Changelings do dream. I was all alone in a hostile place. I tried to bring someone to me. I called out your name, then Riaan’s, I called for Kalin, Laurel, but no one came. When I awoke in my bowl, I thought of the captain, being a prisoner, I thought of Commander Shaqdac, and his hatred toward me.” She looked back at Mindo. “I thought about the last time we were together, you and I, and I knew I had to do something, knew I had to say something.” She looked down at her hands in Mindo’s and enjoyed his touch. “I understand, I think, your culture and your ways. Please, don’t read too much into my words. I guess I am just, what you may consider, a nervous wreck right now, you know, with the captain, and the commander, and that Trill pet of his. I’m sorry,” she reclaimed her hands, “I’m letting my emotions get the better of me.”
Mindo chuckled. "I think that's what love is supposed to be... emotions besting us." He looked down. "I've had my own struggles and conflicts too. Not just with Engineering either."
Caradan could hear the pain in his voice and she grabbed his hands gently, massaging just his fingers. “I was there when you told us…when you detailed your experiences on the Rhys.” She realized she was dwelling only on her own feelings and emotions, almost completely forgetting Mindo’s. “I’m sorry. I should have…”
Mindo's face turned serious, and he let go of Caradan's hands. "It's been a few months since Greep vanished and I still find no signs of him. Then there's the knowledge that this ship may be bugged, and that all of our lives could be in danger. Things have been quiet lately, but you know... something could..." Mindo trailed off, and he looked out the window into the stars, deep in thought.
“I was selfish,” she admitted. “For that, I am sorry.” She put a hand on his shoulder, slid it down his arm and rubbed lightly. “I am here for you Mindo, always here for you. If the ship is bugged…I have nothing to hide. Even if Captain Prost himself is listening. If we were being spied on by those who would turn us over to the SoK, I think we would be in deep trouble by now. I do not know how much danger we are all in light of possible spies, but I do know this,” she stopped rubbing his arm and squeezed where her hand stopped, over his bicep, “whatever happens…we can and will face it together. When things look bleak, I will not stop fighting for you.” She embraced him in a hug. “And I miss Greep too.”
Mindo put his hand on the side of Caradan's face and kissed her gently on the lips.
"We should probably get going," said Mindo, "before our superiors find us out. Do you happen to know if Davmorda has told anyone about us?"
“I’ve heard nothing. I really don’t even care if she does. Besides, it seems the only person who would take issue with ‘us’ would be the commander. I may get an earful, he may look lowly upon you, but there is nothing else he can do. I don’t let such things get to me,” then she remembered why she lured Mindo to the Navigational Deflector room, because things were getting to her. “Though sometimes, life seems a bit too much for one person to handle.” Caradan kissed him back. “I’m sorry I called you here for us to…” she cut off her own words to avoid keeping things deep and depressive. “Tell you what. Come by my quarters after your shift tonight. For all the time I have been on this ship, my bed remains unused. Still made up as the first day I arrived. Let’s make use of it tonight.”
Mindo smiled and put his hands on Caradan's shoulders. "I can't wait," he said, and kissed her again. "I'll see you tonight."