Episode 01: "Exordium"
Location: Corridor - Deck 8, USS Thames
Timeline: Mission Day 01, 0500 Hours
ON: [[Corridor - Deck 8, USS Thames, Mission Day 01, 0500 Hours]]
Commander Jackson Makino knew he was alone in the corridor on Deck 8 but glanced up and down its length just to be sure. He stood facing the door to the Chief Counselor's quarters and shifted his weight between his feet- it wasn't like him to have second thoughts once his mind had been made up but this was different. Adessa had made an impression on him the last few weeks, in a short time he had come to appreciate her wit and her dry sense of humor and it seemed that more quickly than expected she had become the prime candidate. He didn't want to put her off or give her the wrong impression before things even had a chance to start- why was this so important?
Finally he stood at ease and with a resolute sigh he activated her door chime.
Were it not for the cat, Adessa would have never heard the door chime at all. A heavy sleeper by nature, Dessa possessed the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat and stay that way until it was absolutely time to get up. Five in the morning following a long day of what amounted to glorified paperwork in Counseling was not time to get up.
But Swix had other ideas. After several seemingly casual but utterly merciless strolls across Adessa’s sprawled form, it was near impossible for the Betazoid to ignore him. Lifting her head from her pillow to glare at the determined cat, she was fully prepared to shoo Swix away when the door chime pierced through her hazy thoughts.
“You’re worse than a dog sometimes,” she muttered as she pushed herself out of bed, reaching for the robe she kept by her bedside out of habit. It wouldn’t be the first time a patient had come looking for her at some ungodly hour, and Adessa cloaked herself in patience and understanding as she strode for the door.
As it turned out, it wasn’t a patient at her door after all. “Either there’s a serious problem that only a psychiatrist slash diplomat can solve, or you must be having some sort of an existential crisis,” Adessa told Commander Makino with a sly smile, surprised but not unhappy to see that he was her early morning visitor.
"Neither actually-" Jack corrected the Counselor, glad to see that she wasn't upset about the surprise visit. His eyes drifted to a very large cat that weaved it's way around Adessa's ankles all the while eyeing him with a defensive glare. "-cute cat..."
Glancing down at Swix, Dessa raised her eyebrows. "He's cute all right, when he wants to be." She gently nudged the cat with her foot. "Swix, be nice. You're the one who wanted me to answer the door." She looked back to the Commander. "He's sweeter than he appears. He just likes to try his hand at being a guard dog every once in a while."
Jack didn't like cats, actually, he didn't like animals in general but he especially hated cats. "I'll take your word for it," he replied as he shifted his attention back to Adessa. "I'm sorry to bother you so early but there's something that I'd like to show you- if you're willing to humor me."
Her interest piqued, Adessa tilted her head consideringly. "Well, that depends. I don't sense anything from you that would indicate an emotional or personal crisis, but as ship's counselor I really should double check: is this a professional call, or a social visit?"
"Both?" Jack said, his mouth curved up at the edges slightly. "Mostly social but also professionally educational."
He paused and looked at Adessa's bare feet before meeting her gaze again, "do you have hiking shoes?"
[[Mountain, Planet Surface]]
This was not the way she'd thought her day would start. Fortunately, it was better--by far. Halfway up what could only be deemed a mountain, the mist that had clung to them for the first part of their climb was now beginning to part, revealing what was shaping up to be a lovely view. The crisp, thin air was invigorating, and Adessa's only question was why she hadn't thought of attempting the climb in the first place. "I knew you were the athletic sort, Commander, but I didn't realize you had the time to climb a mountain not once, but twice," she called to Makino, who'd apparently already scaled this peak before.
Jack glanced over his shoulder with a grin, "I guess it's one of the perks of Command." It wasn't of course- the Thames' current assignment had been prolonged due to weather and extenuating circumstances, he was a little surprised that Adessa had found herself so busy. A testament to her work ethic perhaps?
The Commander breathed in the cool morning air, as thin as it was and enjoyed the wild scent that this planet had before retrieving an object from his backpack. He handed the full face respirator to Adessa, "you're going to need this once we get a little higher, the atmosphere thins out quickly."
"How adventurous," Adessa said with a smile, more and more pleased with her decision to join the Commander. It hadn't been much of a difficult decision at all, seeing as she loved any and all opportunities to see new sights and enjoy fresh experiences. That, she suspected, was why Makino had asked her to join him in the first place. She hadn't been on the Thames very long, but she and the Commander had hit it off right away. Friendly get-to-know you conversations had led to the revelation that they both enjoyed this sort of recreational activity, and the fact that he hadn't batted an eyelash when she'd shared that she hadn't met a mountain she didn't want to climb had won him considerable points in her book. Not everyone believed it of a smallish counselor like herself.
"I'd take a real mountain over a holodeck mountain any day," she remarked as she climbed over a sizable character. "It's the smell, I think. You can't replicate this smell of earth and wind and sky." Adessa took a deep breath, letting it out with a happy sigh.
"I never use the holodeck," he replied. He slowed his pace slightly as he turned to regard the Betazoid, she was right about the smell- he had always felt the same. "Don't get me wrong, it's good- but not good enough. I guess I've been privileged enough to serve in close proximity to planets most of my career, the real thing was always a quick transporter ride away."
While there was no beaten path forward the terrain flowed in such a way that Jack was able to navigate the steep incline via switchbacks and outcrops. His legs ached but in the good way that reminded you were alive and really working toward a reward, he hoped that his companion was feeling the same. "The trees stop a few hundred meters ahead, when we reach the tree line it will be time for the masks," he stated. They walked quietly for a couple minutes, both enjoying the nature of the world before Jack finally broke the silence. "So, is this the first time your direct superior has woken you up first thing in the morning for an impromptu wilderness excursion?" He glanced back at Adessa with a smile, "you seem unfazed."
"It's the first time I've been woken up for an impromptu hike, yes," Adessa laughed, "but not the first time someone has shown up at my door at some strange hour. You'd be surprised how many patients take me up on my offer when I tell them to reach out to me at any time." She dabbed at her forehead, unsurprised to find she'd broken a sweat despite the coolness of the morning. Makino moved at a smart pace, and she'd enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with him. What good was an early morning adventure if you lagged behind your companion?
"What about before you joined Starfleet?" Adessa asked a moment later. "Were there mountains to climb where you grew up as well?"
"Oh yes," Jack replied as he surveyed the landscape ahead, they were approaching the tree line. It was a neat boundary that indicated where life had a much harder time establishing itself- this planet was far from hospitable. A far cry from home. "I grew up on an Earth colony myself," he said. "Takanara two. My family's estate is located on the side of a mountain actually- my great grandfather loved a good view. Or so they say."
"A family estate built right on the side of a mountain. It sounds absolutely lovely," Adessa mused, thinking of her own family home back on Betazed. It could fairly be called an estate as well, though her mother had always preferred to call it a manor-house. "There were no mountains where I grew up, but there was plenty of jungle to go around."
"Jungle is good too-" Jack said as a matter of fact. "-if you don't mind bugs. I hate bugs."
The pair emerged from the forest and the stony cliff face of the mountain stretched upward before them at a steep angle unobstructed. He took his own respirator from his backpack and slid it over his face, indicating with a gesture for Adessa to do the same. "It's worse than it looks."
"Is that a challenge, Commander?" Adessa asked with a grin before sliding her own mask onto her face. She followed his lead, trusting him to guide them safely along the mountain face. While Dessa loved a good outing, she knew better than to assume that she could make her way any better than someone who'd already made the climb before. By the time they reached the topmost precipice, Adessa was nearly speechless at the sight that lay before them. Not only could they see the Thames and the colony itself, looking tidy and small from their vantage point, but the whole of the crater and beyond was laid out before them.
Jack was satisfied by Adessa's obvious initial reaction to the view but there was yet more to come. He urged her to be patient and a few minutes later the silvery disc of the system's A-Class star began to rise above the rim of the crater. The dawn light was different here, it cast shades of deep blue and majestic purples- it was his favorite so far and he only had a few star types left before he had seen a sunrise of each spectral variety.
They watched in serene silence as the shadow of the crater's rim diminished, as the light from the star finally reached the Thames the ship's gray hull- covered with morning dew, glistened like diamond. The surface of the lake near the colony shimmered similarly. Jack found a large rock to sit on and let out a long sigh of his own as he glanced over the landscape.
"The colonists may have a real challenge ahead of them but... If they can do this, even once in a while- it would be worth it. It makes me a little envious," he smiled at Adessa through the glass of his respirator. "But only a little."
Adessa wholeheartedly agreed. "No holodeck could ever capture an experience like this, I'll say that." She stepped closer to the edge, looking down on the colony below them. "I hope they'll be happy here. They've certainly waited long enough."
"I can appreciate their spirit," Jack replied as he watched her protectively, he stood, ready to spring forward should she get too close to the edge. "My own people have always been fiercely independent, they've resisted the Federation's overtures for over two hundred years now." He paused, looked back to the sun rise and had to admit that he wasn't so different from those he had left behind. "Some people just have to make their own way, it's in their blood."
"Like you did," Adessa surmised, her smile encouraging. She could appreciate his perspective, and she wasn't too proud to admit that she hadn't quite considered it in that light. "Well if anyone can make a home out of this crater, I'm sure it's them. It's admirable, really." The Betazoid moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Makino, following his gaze to the rising sun. "Not just anyone can thrive after leaving their first home. It's a sign of great inner strength, I think."
"You would know best, Counselor," Jack replied with a hint of amusement in his voice. He wasn't fond of talking about himself and decided to let her compliment go unanswered, though appreciated. He was more interested in getting to know her, being an obviously observant Betazoid he was at a serious disadvantage. "Are you always on the job? I haven't known you for long but I can't think of a time that you weren't observing, analyzing. Goes with the territory I suppose."
Adessa winced theatrically. "You've found my fatal flaw, Commander." Truth be told, she was more amused than embarrassed to be caught counseling even on a mountain peak. "I honestly don't know which is more to blame: my doctorate, or my species," she said. "Have you known many Betazoids?"
Jack shook his head, he had served with several Betazoids but had befriended few- he found them to be intriguing if unsettling at times.
"We're not exactly known for our shyness," Adessa continued. "There are no secrets among telepaths, and hiding how we feel or what we think goes against our nature. I can refrain though," she promised him good-naturedly. "I just choose not to most of the time."
"I'm an open book," the Commander responded though he wasn't sure that it was entirely true. "At least, I'm not trying to hide anything- feel free to tell me about- me, anytime you think it's appropriate," he nodded at her permissively.
Turning her head to hide her smile, Adessa nodded too. She'd learned a few things about the Commander this morning with and without her empathic senses, but something told her there was more yet to learn. Makino struck her as someone with layers, whether he knew it or not, and they were always the most interesting.
The silvery disc of the sun had fully crested the horizon and despite it's small apparent size in the sky it had become impossible to look at directly. Even at such a great distance it's warmth began to permeate everything it touched, soon it would be difficult to stand in it's direct light. "We should get back to the Thames," Jack advised with a smirk. "Before anyone realizes that we're missing."
"Right," Adessa agreed, taking one last, lingering look before she turned to face the way they'd come. Had it really been that steep? "Maybe I should go first this time," she suggested, thinking of the quick pace Makino had set for them on the way up. "It wouldn't do at all if I had to tell Commander Whittemore that I'd lost his Executive Officer while descending a mountain."
"Descending?" Jack asked with a crooked smile. He tapped the comm badge on his jacket's breast. "Thames, two to beam up."
That surprised a laugh out of Adessa. And here she'd thought that Makino would insist on making his way back down too. "Commander, you're a fraud," she exclaimed with a grin.
"No Counselor," Jack replied as the confinement beams encircled them. "I'm as real as it gets."
Lieutenant Commander Jackson Makino
USS Thames NCC-80629
Lieutenant Adessa Barra, MD
Counselor & Diplomatic Officer
USS Thames NCC-80629