Mixed Signals, Pt. 2 - Matsumura

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Mixed Signals, Pt. 2 - Matsumura

Postby Red » Fri May 12, 2006 3:06 pm

Charlotte should have trusted her instincts.

Despite successes elsewhere within the Federation, the socio-political changes following the United Federation of Planet’s formation had been unable to dissolve entirely the complex system of peerages and rank within the United Kingdom. As a result, seating at such formal occasions was governed by a centuries-old order of precedence.

Or was usually governed by it. In this particular instance, Admiral Alexander had dispensed – at least partially – with the formality. As a commoner, Charlotte should have been seated toward the end of the table, far from her host; only her Starfleet rank kept her from being completely last in the “pecking order.” When he had the seating chart reorganized, however, Alexander had seen to it that Charlotte sat at the head of the table to his left, opposite the position usually reserved for the hostess. The change resulted in quite a few raised eyebrows when dinner was served and several frank appraisals from others down the table.

Dinner itself was delicious, prepared in a traditional kitchen, and perfectly presented. With the conversation she struck up with Malcolm and his cousin, Catherine, the meal passed all too quickly. The guests were soon dismissed and passed into the ballroom, where a band awaited to provide the evening’s entertainment.

As she entered the ballroom, she felt a strong grip on her arm. Looking up, she found the offending hand belonged to Mal. He held his index finger to his lips, motioning for quiet. Brow furrowed, she allowed him to lead her out onto a nearby balcony.

“Malcolm! What the –“

He signaled again for silence, withdrawing a small device from his pocket. He depressed a button in the center of the silver disk and placed it onto the café table to his right. Charlotte recognized it as a signal jammer.

“After I got your message earlier today,” Alexander began, “ I thought it might be best if we had this discussion outside the office. If we do have a mole, the last thing we need to do is scare him off before we’ve had a chance to catch him.”

Charlotte nodded. “I don’t like to think that one of our own would sell us out, but…” She shrugged. “I suppose anything is possible.”

The admiral turned and stood beside her, folding his arms across his chest as he leant back against the railing. His eyes followed several of the couples twirling across the parquet flooring in the ballroom. “It is possible, unfortunately. It’s the only way anyone could have gotten a device in our own building, Charlotte. It’s also the only way that anyone could have gotten to your parents – to Johnson’s parents.” He heaved a heavy sigh. “And we have so little to show for it since then.”

“Admiral and Dremel,” she said, lips pursed. “Captain Tolerre searched the databases and found a few files, but nothing concrete…and nothing that indicates a relationship to our case.” Shaking her head, she moved in a perfect echo of Alexander’s position. “Our informant will be conscious again soon. Maybe some of our interrogators can get more out of him?”

“I’ll assign Commander McDonaugh. She’s had incredible success with some of our more reticent prisoners, so maybe she can get something out of him.” He paused. “On another, but related topic: How has your team been performing of late?”

Glancing to him, Charlotte could see the concern in his features, and note it in his voice. “Their interrogation techniques could use a bit of polishing,” she began slowly. She recalled all to well the condition the prisoner had been in before his rush medical treatment. “And I’m not sure that Commander Johnson has been able to put aside his personal involvement…but I’m not sure I’ve been able to, either.

“We’re functioning, we’re working. I suppose, in a way, we’re still healing.”

To this, Alexander nodded. Hazarding a glance toward him, Charlotte found he was staring thoughtfully at his shoes. “I spoke with your father earlier today. He says the nerve grafts have taken, and the doctors are very optimistic at this point.” He looked up at her, head still lowered. “They suggest she might even be walking without assist by this time next year.”

Charlotte felt the all-too-familiar lump rising in her throat as the visual memories filtered back: of her mother, laying unconscious on the floor; of the blood spattered across hers and her father’s white karate uniforms. Despite extensive abuse, her mother was going to live…and probably going to walk again. The thought made her very proud of her mother’s determination, but it also left her uncomfortable. She couldn’t shake the feeling she was responsible – that this had happened because of her.

“I know,” she replied at length. Her voice sounded stronger than she felt. “Papa told me when I called earlier. It’s wonderful news.”

“Have you seen her since the attack?”

“Once. We’ve been away, so I…haven’t had any more opportunities.”

“You should go, Charlotte. She’d be delighted to see you.” There was a slight pause as he pursed his lips, as though trying to decide how best to phrase his next thought. “She doesn’t blame you. You know that, don’t you?”

There were tears stinging at the back of her eyes as she nodded. “I know she doesn’t. But she should, Mal. She really should.”

His hand grazed against her upper arm, slowly drifting up to rest against her cheek as she turned toward him. His thumb brushed away the first tear as it crested over her cheekbone. “Lottie,” he said quietly, “it really isn’t your fault. I can’t make you believe that, but it’s the truth. If anything, you were right -- I’m the one to blame. I knew he had broken out, and I should have done something to protect you -- all of you.

“We’ll find our mole. He will pay for what he’s done.”

Charlotte nodded slowly. She raised her eyes to look up at him, suddenly aware that his hand had not yet moved, that his thumb was still tracing lazy patterns on her cheek. Her voice was a whisper as she forced herself to speak. “I know he will.”

When she recalled the moment later, she wasn’t sure who moved first – whether it was Malcolm or herself, but she was sure she remembered the feel of his lips brushing lightly against hers. His fingers had begun delving into her hair at the base of her neck when a soft “ahem” broke through the haze.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Catherine said coolly, “but Lord Webster is looking for you, Malcolm.” Her expression betrayed her calm voice, however, as she was blushing a bright red.

“Of course he is,” Malcolm said, no small amount of exasperation evident in his tone. He traced his index finger across her cheek, green eyes mirroring her own. There was a sense of euphoria, a strong sense of being found, but it was weighted heavily by the responsibilities and intricacies of the real world around them -- a real world in which he was directly in her chain of command. “We need to talk about this.”

“We’ll have time, Mal. Right now, you have a very important person waiting for you.” Charlotte smirked up at him, making a hard attempt to lighten the mood. She knew as well as Mal did that Lord Webster was only looking for him to gloat over the last rugby game.

Alexander chuckled. “All right. But come to see me tomorrow -- here. The last place we need to discuss this -- any of it -- is in the office.” His eyes flickered to her lips, and then he leant and planted a kiss on her forehead, his lips lingering for a moment. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow.” She watched him disappear into the crowd; Catherine remained behind for just a moment, passing her a wary smile. Charlotte returned it, then moved toward the table as Lady Catherine followed her cousin. Picking up the silver disk from the table, Lottie powered down the jammer.

Tomorrow was going to be a very interesting day.

***
MCAPT Katja Romany
USS Daystrom
=/\=
LCDR Charlotte Matsumura
Starfleet Intelligence
USS Phoenix

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