Episode 1.1: Sidetracked - Too Old To Be An Ensign
Episode 1.1: Sidetracked
Location: Forward Lounge
Timeline: After departure
It was evening. Or so the ship's chronometer said. Barim noticed he had been having trouble getting used to spacetime again, after a year on Betazed.
He was sitting alone at a time in the forward lounge. It was a quiet evening, though there were several crewmembers enjoying a drink. He'd already declined a game of poker - not a game he easily passed up on - to get some quiet time. Or make room for a deeper conversation, as he told himself.
There came the first victim. An older officer walked by. He was greying and Barim was surprised to see just one pip on the officer's collar. Must be a promoted noncom, he said to himself, with some admiration. Starting at the bottom of the officer ladder wasn't something many noncoms wished for.
"Ensign," he called out. "Care for a drink?"
Castor almost failed to respond to the question. He had been deep in thought, only recognizing the people around him as objects not to bump into, and the rank of Ensign was still a bit unfamiliar to him. It therefore took him a couple of second longer to respond than would have been prudent.
"Commander, ehm, yeah sure."
"What's your poison?" asked Barim as he pulled up a chair and mentioned the Ensign to sit.
Castor chuckled lightly "I highly doubt they serve anything here that can be considered 'poison', or alcohol for that matter, but I'll settle for a nice synthehol red wine, a Risa wine if the replicator has it."
"Sadly, you're right," said Barim, while he motioned the bartender to come on over. He ordered the drinks: "Two Risa wines, please."
He gave Castor a meaningful look. "Don't look so surprised. We have take care of our crew."
Moments later, they were sipping their wines.
"Not so bad, though, for replicated stuff," said Barim. "Now, you probably know who I am... but I'm sorry: I don't remember your name. Would you mind helping me remember?"
"Castor Navin, sir. Counselor." He extended his hand, "And this ship is pretty large, I don't expect anyone to learn all the names on the roster. At least not this fast." A warm grin appeared on his face.
"I try to learn as many as I can," Barim said taking another sip. "Helps people feel special when you remember their names. So, how did you get to be where you are? Most counselors start out as Lieutenant, Junior Grade at the least. You must have taken a special route to where you are now."
Castor nodded in agreement, "I used to be a marine, I switched careers about a year ago..."
"Oh boy," chuckled Barim. "Do I want to hear this story?"
"The question actually is: 'do I want to tell this story'. Both questions are moot though. The bullet points are in my file, the specifics are highly classified." Castor's smile, while still on his face, had left his eyes.
"Even better," said Barim. "Those are the best stories. How about I get you a real drink and you tell me anyway?"
Castor's smile turned wry. "I can tell you this, the people I worked with are very good at making people keep secrets secret, so sorry, no details for now." He took a sip from his wine, enjoying the subtle fruit taste. "I can however give you the cleaner, 'approved' version so to speak. It would save you from having to read my file, well parts of it anyway."
"You can bet I'm reading it now," replied Barim with a wink. "But please, do tell."
"Very well," Castor made sure he was sitting comfortably, with his glass of wine close at hand, and took a deep breath.
"By now I think you've deduced, because of the secrecy, that I was in a unit that is commonly referred to as a 'black ops' outfit. The missions are off the books, the results can span sectors and the men and women serving in those units are cloaked in unanimity."
Castor chuckled at a joke made a long time ago, "We said that if we were ever caught on vid our faces would be automatically pixilated, as if they had grown that way."
Barim leaned back, already genuinely fascinated. That file was on first thing tomorrow morning.
"In 2387 I was on Secuna IV, and let's just say I wasn't on vacation. Secuna IV is a hotbed of Orion syndicate activity." Castor shifted around a bit, feeling uncomfortable. He wasn't telling anything the Commander couldn't read in his rapport, but it still made him feel like he was doing something he shouldn't.
"I hate Orions," said Barim, suddenly grim.
Castor took another sip of his wine, "Now here is where I can't really tell you the details, but you can safely assume me being there was 'business' related. By now I was far enough up the food chain that I was no longer in the field."
"I was a Major by then, observing from a 'field base'." Castor snorted, "Field base, a fancy term for a rundown loft in downtown gangster central." Castor faltered, not sure how to proceed. This wasn't really a comfortable story to tell, nor very heroic. Come to think of it, he couldn't really recall many of his missions that where.
"And you found yourself thinking... I could live without this crap and become a counselor. Right?"
Castor shook his head. “Wrong, well mostly anyway. This line of work doesn’t provide much time to think about such things. Even while supervising the opp you have to keep your attention on the mission. To be honest though, I was questioning some of my decisions by that time. I just wrote them off as an early mid-life crisis.”
He flexed his shoulder unconsciously, “The mission went tits-up, pardon the language sir. Somehow our safe house wasn’t as safe as we expected, not as safe as it should have been.”
"And then bad things happened," said Barim matter-of-factually, letting his fingers run along the brim of his glass.
Castor nodded, “And then bad things happened. We were attacked. I still don’t know exactly by whom or who leaked the safehouse location for that matter, but it was over pretty quick.”
He stared out of the window for a silent moment. When he started again it was almost if he was talking to himself. “It was a pretty well executed hit-and-run. Get in, get out, and cause as much damage as you can.”
His right hand moved to his left shoulder and grabbed it, the action only partially conscious, “They ‘damaged’ me…”
Barim folded his hands around the slim part of his exotic looking glass. "And what is it in all of this that's still so present on your mind, even to this day?"
Castor was silent for a moment, contemplating his answer. There were many things on his mind, very few condensed enough to actually name or identify. In the end he chose the main reason for his career change to tell.
"I've been on the other side many times, the side that did the damaging. Before I had only considered the 'macro' effect of my actions, you know. How my mission would affect the stability of a global government, how crime levels in a city would be influenced by my actions. I never really considered the 'micro' effect, the personal effects my actions would have."
Castor sighed, "Losing my left arm and shoulder and recovering from that, getting used to my prosthetic... It gave me plenty of time to think about how my actions have impacted the personal lives of those who crossed my path."
Barim just nodded in response. As if he knew exactly what Castor was saying.
"Afraid of the pain you've caused?" he asked eventually.
Castor took a moment to consider his reply, "Afraid isn't really the right word for it. It's... the needs of the many stopped outweighing the needs of the few, I guess. My conscience could not longer justify the pain I caused individuals, for the supposed well being of others. Not now I knew what that pain could be like."
He bit his lip in a moment of thought, "Fear does play a role in the situation where I fear the pain will catch up with my conscience, completely overloading it, so to speak."
"You still judge yourself. That's why you're afraid. No matter what you did, whether you still should face outward judgement or not... if you don't stop judging yourself on the inside, you will always be afraid. So the question really is... can you forgive yourself?"
Castor snorted, temporarily forgetting he was an Ensign talking to a Commander, "You sound like the ten counselors I went through to get myself declared fit for duty. Hell, you sound like me now that I am a counselor. I trust you are smart enough to know it's not that easy. I can't just go 'ooh, lets forgive myself and move on'." He grimaced, "Forgiveness takes time and effort."
Barim downed his drink. "Forgiveness takes as long as you want it to take. It takes as long as you yourself feel you should suffer. I'm telling you... once you decide it's been enough, you will be able to forgive yourself."
With that, he got up.
"Thank you for opening up to me, Castor," he said. "I appreciate it. Don't hesitate to call on me, if you want to talk some more."
"Likewise" Castor responded with a nod, "In fact, you are obligated, with me being a counselor and all."
"Alright, I'm gonna go hit the sack. Got an early watch tomorrow."
"Have a good night, Commander." Castor raised his nearly empty glass in a salute. He turned his head towards the viewport, looking at the stars streaming by in little ribbons of light. "Over 20 years of death has come before, will 20 years of life be enough to atone?"
Commander Barim Nash
Ensign Castor Navin