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Part of USS Endeavour: I Burn and Bravo Fleet: The Archanis Campaign

Just a Formality

Counsellor's Office, USS Endeavour
June 2399
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‘This is just a formality,’ said Commander Valance as she sat on Counsellor Carraway’s couch. His office was maybe the cosiest room on the ship, all comfortable soft furnishings and soothing artwork, and in the gentle lighting even the stars looked softer as Endeavour streamed past them at a warp factor that made the deck hum lightly.

Carraway gave that gentle smile she knew meant he was not about to tolerate her evasion. ‘Of course.’

‘I understand the captain has to show he’s taking this seriously, I understand everyone has to do their due diligence, that there has to be a paper trail in case something goes wrong.’

Carraway’s eyebrows raised. ‘Goes wrong?’

She stopped and remembered she needed to be more careful with her words. ‘How about you just get started, Counsellor?’

‘It’s your counselling session. Feel free to talk.’

‘It’s a session on a specific topic, so we can confirm we’ve had this discussion for the record.’

Carraway’s gentle smile returned. ‘It’s a counselling session to discuss your romantic relationship with a colleague who’s in your chain of command. That’s a delicate situation which can easily turn difficult if we pretend otherwise. But with open and honest communication – with me, with the captain if necessary, and I expect especially with Commander Cortez – it doesn’t have to be a big deal.’

‘It’s not a big deal.’

‘Which is why Captain Rourke approached you before you reported it?’

Valance frowned. ‘We’ve not been hiding anything. I-’ Her jaw tightened, and she waved a dismissive hand. ‘It’s only been a few months. Formally reporting the relationship was a stage I didn’t yet feel was necessary.’

‘You think this session’s unnecessary?’

Greg Carraway was, by reputation, the nicest officer on Endeavour. In many ways this wasn’t hard; the senior staff preferred sarcastic commentary to emotional accessibility, and this had only grown worse with Captain Rourke’s arrival instead of the tempering leadership of the grandfatherly Leo MacCallister. But it meant Valance sometimes underestimated how the counsellor weaponised polite questions with a smile on his face and a desire to help. It was maddening.

She let out a deep breath. ‘Commander Cortez and I hadn’t yet discussed if our relationship was at a stage where we needed to take professional responsibility.’

Is it at that stage? Or do you think this is premature?’

‘I think the captain’s suggestion was… timely, I suppose.’

Finally, Carraway took pity on her. ‘I’m not trying to trap you, Commander. It’s perfectly fine to feel awkward discussing your relationship with me. It’s perfectly fine to feel awkward at this sudden need to measure and define that relationship. But that apprehension makes it easy for you to not think about the relationship, not think about your feelings, and that’s a large part of how conflict between the personal and the professional arises.’

‘I don’t need the captain to rearrange away missions so we’re not together,’ sighed Valance. ‘We’re grown-ups.’

‘I’m not talking about reasonable professional measures that might be taken to insulate you from harm. I’m talking about making sure you’re equipped to navigate that conflict if it arises.’ Carraway sat back on his overstuffed armchair. A pot of tea had been set on the low, rustic coffee table between them, which now he reached for to pour two steaming mugs. ‘Like that admittedly hyperbolic exercise you take to be bridge-rated: ordering a subordinate to their death. That takes on a whole new dimension with a personal relationship.’

Valance shrugged. ‘It does. But nobody called me in when Commander Airex and I became friends. I’d hardly find it easy to order him to his death.’

Carraway sighed, and slid a teacup towards her. ‘I don’t mean to dismiss the bonds of friendship. But experience tells us that romantic relationships are often different. There can be that intensity usually felt in the earlier stages that we all know can threaten our good judgement. Or in a more long-term, serious relationship, it’s not just someone you care about that’s in danger: it’s your entire lifestyle, your future, your home that would be damaged or even destroyed without them.’

‘Commander Cortez and I are hardly at that point.’

‘Then what about the former point?’ He leaned forward, cocking his head. ‘Come on, Commander. We’ve served together for three years, and I’m not sure I’ve known you to so much as date. If you have, you’ve kept your personal life hidden. That’s changed. It’s not a weakness, but from my past observations and everything you’ve said in this session, you’re on unsteady ground. For you, Commander, this relationship is positively impulsive.’

‘I’m not really sure what you’re asking of me.’

‘I’m asking how your relationship’s progressing with Isa Cortez. I’m asking how you think that might affect your professional judgement. I’m asking you to be honest with yourself about your feelings, because if you can’t be, then you have blind spots. And at that point your private business becomes my professional concern.’ Somehow he made a pointed finger gentle, but still a jab. ‘Nobody, including you, wants us to have a session talking about you freezing up in a crisis because of this. We avoid that by making sure you know your feelings well enough to not be ambushed by them.’ He sighed and sat back. ‘So I think this is going to be multiple sessions.’

Valance clamped down on the flash of frustration, and worked her jaw. She didn’t look at him as she fished for words, finally settling on, ‘The relationship is new. We’re taking it a day at a time. We don’t have any plans for the future.’

‘Is that by agreement, or is that just something you’ve fallen into?’

‘I suppose it’s… the latter.’

‘Have you two talked about this since Captain Rourke’s intervention?’

‘We’ve been a little busy with combat prep as we’ve travelled to Archanis.’

‘Does Isa want to talk, do you think?’

‘Isa always wants to talk,’ Valance muttered before she could stop herself. Carraway’s eyebrows raised. She sighed. ‘I’m – that’s facetious. You know she’s the talker.’

‘Do you think she’s waiting for you to make the first move?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Like you say, we’re heading into potential hostile territory for the first time in months. You two should probably make time to talk.’ Carraway looked like he was going to say more, then just picked up his tea.

Again she looked away. ‘If we do that, then… then there’s something I need to bring up with her.’ For once he deployed his most dangerous weapon: silence, and she knew there was nothing for it but to elaborate. ‘Captain Rourke accidentally let something slip. That she’d had some sort of… professional trouble about past relationships in a previous assignment. I don’t know. He immediately backed off and said I should talk to her.’

‘Why -’ Carraway paused. ‘How does the thought of asking her about that make you feel?’

Valance gave a curt shrug. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what she’s going to say.’ But that felt suddenly childish, and she looked back at him. ‘I’m not trying to be difficult, Counsellor. I understand the purpose of this process, and I’ve every desire to be responsible. I understand that may not have come across…’

‘I understand, Commander. Probably better than you do.’ His gentle smile returned. ‘Funnily enough, I talk to a lot of officers who aren’t good with their emotions. You have feelings. Plenty of them. But they’re not your first port of call in navigating your life, and most of the time that’s fine. But sometimes things happen, and then your emotions become this vast shape putting pressure on you. You know the feelings are there, influencing your choices and your thoughts, and you broadly know what they are. But talking about it is hard, because that requires teasing out the individual strands in that vast blob. It’s a learned skill, Commander, being able to analyse your feelings and having the vocabulary to capture them. Just like anything else in life.’

‘You’re saying I should practice.’

‘Well, yes. But also that there’s no shame in not having mastered a skill you’ve not applied yourself to before.’

Valance swallowed. ‘I’m not comfortable being ruled by my emotions.’

‘Then you have to face them. Examine them. And you don’t have to do that alone; I encourage you to talk to Isa about your relationship, about what you want from it, and where you see it going. It’s okay to not have the answers and to figure that out together.’ He cocked his head. ‘What’s the worst that could happen if you brought that up with her?’

She frowned at that. It wasn’t the question she’d expected but it was, she realised, cutting to the heart of things. ‘Not much, I suppose. I know she’ll want to talk and listen. I know she’ll try to be understanding. I know she’ll say her side if I encourage her. And I know she’ll try to make sure we compromise.’ Valance sighed. ‘I suppose I… I worry I’ll hurt her.’

‘How?’

‘By wanting something different.’ Valance shrugged. ‘She’s… very open. In touch with her emotions. I hurt her already by pushing her away, and I think that she… lets me take the lead to avoid pushing me. While I’m content to not rush this relationship. I’m content to take it slowly and see how things progress.’

‘If she’s not brought up anything to the contrary, then it’s probably either what she wants, too, or she recognises that’s comfortable for you. Karana, everyone wants something different, in every kind of relationship. The key isn’t to make yourselves want the same thing. It’s knowing what you want, communicating that, and navigating together through common ground. Tell her what you just said. And ask her about what Rourke said. It really can be that easy.’

‘Alright.’

‘And then we’ll have a follow-up. I’d like a session with you both together, but let’s make sure you’ve spoken to me separately and to each other first.’ Carraway reached for his PADD, still projecting her file before him, though the image was opaque from her side so she couldn’t see his notes. ‘So, moving on…’

‘There’s more?’

‘How do you feel about us heading to engage Klingon pirates? Likely facing them in combat?’

She tensed. ‘Are you asking everyone about this?’

‘About possible violence ahead, potentially inflicted not just on us but civilians? You bet.’

‘I mean the fact that they’re Klingons.’

Carraway looked like he knew he’d made a mistake. ‘I’m still familiarising myself with our records on the Hunters of D’Ghor,’ he said carefully. ‘But their particular brand of violent nihilism seems more in-line with a death cult than anything I’d normally expect from a citizen of the Empire. I’m not implying you should or would feel anything in particular facing them, any more than you’d feel anything in particular facing an unpleasant band of humans.’

‘That’s a little simplistic,’ she said before she could stop herself. ‘They view themselves as, to put this in more human parlance, damned. They think they’re dishonoured for life, condemned to Gre’thor in death. That doesn’t give a Klingon a lot of options, once they’re ejected from society like that.’

He slowly reached to turn off the notes on his PADD. ‘Why did my summary bother you?’

‘We get nowhere condemning our enemies as bogeymen, Counsellor. We have to understand them.’

‘Nobody on this ship will be better at that than you. I know you don’t like it if anyone paints you as “the Klingon officer,” but the mission will benefit from your wisdom and experience.’

‘That doesn’t bother me,’ Valance said. It wasn’t a total lie, but only because of the events on T’lhab Station. It was certainly not the truth. ‘But if you’re going to help guide us through this, Counsellor, you may want to get back to your reading. It’s the only way you’ll be of use in the coming fighting.’

She knew that was too far the moment she said it, an unfair lashing out with the topic of the D’Ghor putting her on the back foot. The fixed quality to Carraway’s smile confirmed it, but he still straightened and clasped his hands in his lap. ‘We’ll meet up again next week, Commander. Try to schedule in a productive conversation with Commander Cortez before that.’ Somewhat abashed, she nodded and got to her feet, and only then, as if asking her about the weather, did he pop up with his riposte.

‘Oh, Commander? Do you think you’re condemned to Gre’thor?’

Karana Valance froze only for a heartbeat. Then she lied, ‘I really don’t care,’ and left before he could press his point.