21 The Limiting Factor
“One book of poetry.”
Vexa ran her fingers along the cracked spine of the antique book, and flipped through the browned pages. Something fell out. She picked it up; it was a dried red rose. She turned it in the light, and pondered the logic of placing a flower between the leaves of a book.
She remembered her task. After collecting Lieutenant Commander Tiroj's personal effects, she was to occupy her new quarters, as the ship's new resident Chief Operations Officer, with an unexpected field promotion to Lieutenant, Provisional Junior Grade. Captain Paris had presented her the pips himself in a quiet, dignified ceremony as befitting the occasion – accompanied by the five other officers he had upgraded, and the four others given full rank field promotions.
Vexa placed the book into the suitcase of Tiroj's personal effects. “Computer, resume recording.”
“Three bars of gold-pressed latinum.”
“One...” She opened the small case, and saw reservoirs of colored compounds and applications. “One cosmetics case.” She touched crimson, and studied the red stain on her finger, and regarded her colorless reflection in the mirror. She could never hope to enhance her appearance with the refined skill she had witnessed in the feral elegance of Commander Tiroj's Boslic facial morphology.
“One set of mechanical pencils.”
“One drawing tablet.”
The tablet revealed many half-formed sketches of fanciful unfinished buildings and abstract architecture, modern, ancient, and alien. According to her service record, besides being the Operations officer, Yurel Tiroj was a practiced architect and inventor – two hobbies she had entertained in her off duty hours. Her drawings varied widely; but the emergency shelters she had helped to create on war-torn Soltok IV had given hundreds of displaced colonists an immediate refuge – perhaps the beginning of what might have been a distinguished humanitarian side career.
“One picture frame.” Yurel Tiroj and Doctor Salvatore walked on a long strand of calcite silicate particles in a class M temperate marine zone.
“One copy of Taechlen's Unexpurgated Field Equations.”
“One cultural relic, a drawing on dried animal skin. It would appear to be quite old.”
“One wooden flute.”
“One...Vulcan meditation stone.”
She thought of her mother. It had been six years since she had stayed at home for more than a week at a time.
With her promotion had come an upgrade to bridge officer quarters. A living room with two viewports, a bedroom with two viewports, a dining area, and full bath. Vexa had never rated such personal space before. She doubted she could occupy it quite fully.
She finished her task:
“One officer's manual.”
“One pair standard issue boots. Well worn.”
She had taken one last look at the empty quarters, suitcase in hand, and deactivated the lights.
Tomorrow she would be moving into those officer's quarters. She would be placing her own personal effects and artifacts about the room, wondering who would be removing them. But for tonight, Lieutenant Commander Yurel Adlena Tiroj's quarters would stand empty, silent, and dark.
The Vulcan meditation stone lay concealed in her pocket; Doctor Salvatore had received the effects, intending to hand deliver them to her family; he had revealed to Vexa that he had been close with the lieutenant; and that Vexa was the only other one in the universe who knew. The doctor appeared to be a man of little disclosure to most people; yet Vexa had already felt an immediate bond between them. It was the bond of shared loss, which was a kind of logic she had never encountered before. When he saw the stone, he had studied it, and had placed it into Vexa's hand with a sad smile. “She would have liked for you to have this,” he'd said.
Walking through the corridors at the late hour, the crew still bustled with purpose and focused energy. But they seemed to veer a little too far from her; to notice her but pretend not to; to whisper after passing. She continued forward with an unfathomable lack of expression, such that none would ever know how close she had come, just minutes earlier, to defying her lifetime of purpose with the shedding of a tear.
Vexa entered the mess hall. The noisy relaxation of the crew filtered through the atmosphere. She could see faces watching her furtively, of crew she had yet to meet despite her months of working on the project. She really hadn't gone through the normal orientation procedures, and now her isolation, logically, felt pronounced.
She took her soup to a table of three female officers. As there were no available tables, Vexa interrupted them. “Would you mind sharing the table?”
The Human female looked at her friends. “Go ahead.” When Vexa sat, they arose. “We were just leaving anyway.” She watched them go with incomplete logical understanding and a sudden vacancy that seemed to enhance her public isolation. What was it that had offended the crew? Was it her mistake? Her first day of duty, putting them all in danger?
Admiral Janeway had told her, in a quiet moment on the evening before the inquiry, that Vexa had redeemed any mistakes she may have made. The Admiral, in fact, had indulged in a moment of nostalgia when she recounted her own first day of duty. She had nearly set off an interplanetary incident when she had openly contradicted a Hralik dignitary from an orthodox religious sect about the age of his planet; further exacerbated by her inadvertently crossing his shadow, a breach of cultural protocol, and nearly invalidating the Federation as a mediary between two war-weary planets and plunging them further into conflict. The Admiral had stated that it took her a week to leave her quarters at night. But had been glad she did, for the crew sympathized, as they also had all made their own mistakes.
But this struck Vexa as different, somehow. Perhaps it compounded with her unanticipated field commission to Lieutenant Junior Grade and subsequent posting as ship's Operations Officer. It would not have been the first time her excellence generated the resentments of those around her. What they refused to comprehend was the amount of work she had put into her career in order to excel – one theorem at a time. They could not know the extent of sacrifice of all other life considerations and typical rites of passage, indeed, even the deeper disciplined study and meditation of Logic. In light of her inexperience with leadership, however, she was to attend command exercises under the tutelage of Doctor Salvatore, when he was available, and to “fraternize”, as the Captain had suggested, once weekly with the First Officer – the newly-minted Provisional Commander Seven of Nine.
“This seat taken?” Grif threw his leg over the chair and put down his tray. Vexa suppressed any visible reaction to the various dishes he had acquired, all orbiting a seared slab of bovine muscular tissue. “Just got back from Commander Bessek's quarters. Did you know he collected antique noire movies and crime novels? And he has a whole gigaquad of Victorian era detective stories. I know I shouldn't do this, but,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “I made backup copies of it all. I don't know. I just thought it might help me get to know the guy whose quarters I'm about to take.”
“I am certain the Commander would not have objected,” Vexa replied. “I don't know that I will ever understand Commander Tiroj,” she added. “Nor the significance of her unexpected and futile demise.”
They sat in silence for a moment. Then, Grif said, “Are you sure? They died doing their duties. They died being exactly what they were meant to be, in a righteous cause. That's how I want to go.”
Vexa said, “They may have been prepared; but my parents regard ship duty as a kind of death penalty. This will only affirm their positions. They described my motivation for ship duty as an emotional reaction. They fail to see my life's pursuit of logic in this matter. They think I have succumbed to emotion but, in this case, they are erroneous.”
“You should have heard my father when I told him I wanted to join Starfleet. I thought the walls would fall. Talk about emotional reactions.” Grif laughed in his cup.
“I do not understand why one chooses to cope with the free expression of emotion,” she pondered.
“I couldn't live without
them. They tell me who I am. Emotions are the reason I didn't take ship duty. After my father died – I just had to, you know, stick around close to home. My mother's health wasn't good. She needed me. And with the War, the Cardassians – someone had to be around to pick up where the old man left off.
“Then she died of complications. I was left alone. Don't get me wrong – plenty of family friends who offered me support and condolences. My father had won the loyalty of many. But by then all the good billets had passed me by. Never thought I'd get another chance like this. I plan on making the most of it. Might be my only chance to, you know, get out here.”
“Then perhaps we do understand something of each other.”
Grif regarded her. “I could never learn to live...without the free expression of emotion...the way you do. No feeling. No anger. No love. For me, that would always be a limiting factor. For a Bajoran, that's a kind of death penalty.”
Of the various conceptual responses occurring to her, as well as her subdued, naturally-occurring emotive and behavioral responses, Vexa failed to find a suitable reply. She couldn't argue; she found it too time-consuming to educate him enough to understand her component logic, let alone emergent logic. And she was tired. The subject vastly outweighed the constraints of a fleeting late night commiseration. And she found she had no motive – to offend Jace. She replied, simply, “For a Vulcan, love is the most destructive emotion there is.”
Sharp tones emitted from a nearby table, distracting their attention. Four junior officers sat in a shared criticism of something. Then one of them looked at Grif, and returned to the increasingly intrusive discussion.
Grif noticed the two Bajorans, a Bolian and a Human, whom Vexa recognized as having come from Hakton VII; a Federation colony in the DMZ under the constant watchful gaze of Cardassia Prime.
“And there it is,” Grif muttered.
It was the Human male who had started speaking loudly enough for their benefit: “Grifahni Gage advocated for dismantling of the Bajor provisional government, and to take a more aggressive stance in the DMZ. People like Gage gave the Maquis a bad name – committing aggressions, secret assassinations and other illegal means, any means at all, to secure Bajoran Maquis interests. The Maquis benefited from a lot of the terror techniques developed by the Bajoran Resistance over the years. But antique zealots like Gage would only undermine the Maquis cause as a frontier power and make the Maquis no better in the public's eye than the Cardassians.”
A muscular Bajoran Ensign stared at Grif smugly. “Well the Occupation was over. The demilitarization of the disputed colony worlds was just a formal technicality easily worked around, since the Cardies continued feeding arms and military support through third-party intermediaries like the Xepolites. Still plenty of action to be had for the bloodthirsty. And plenty of soldiers still craving blood with nowhere else to channel it.”
“But that didn't afford the mercenaries any suitable longterm strategy,” the Bolian countered. “Grifahni Gage and his terrorism singlehandedly undermined everything the Maquis had accomplished up to that point. It's because of people like him the Maquis will have to surrender to Bajoran bureaucracy now. With the Cardassian Union straining under joint fatigue, and exhibiting much less military cohesion through the sector, which could easily - ”
The Bajoran Ensign interrupted: “Grifahni Gage was a mercenary and a loose cannon. He was incapable of taking any longterm view. He wouldn't care if his actions and the actions of rogues like him destroyed all chance of Maquis security, in his quest for personal salvation.” He turned to Grif directly. “And I think I'm looking at another loose cannon right now. Our new Lieutenant Tactical Officer. Am I wrong? What are
Vexa watched Grif still himself in considered silence; then he got up, removed his two Lieutenant's pips and combadge, and set them on the group's table.
He stood that way for a minute. Nobody moved.
“My father didn't fight for salvation,” Grif said. “He fought for survival. But not his own. For your
survival. The survival of your
families and your
homes. You're just too obtuse to realize it. Oh I know you. I know each and every one of you. I know your assignment, I know what you studied at the Academy, and I know each and every posting you've served and what route you took to Mars and the favorite lunch of the shuttle pilot. Ensign Fetho. Ensign Lohr. Ensign Batilla. Ensign Cheraon. I know where you're from
. My father flew missions in each
of your colonies. And if you didn't know that, it's because the mission succeeded
. You're in that chair right now because of him. You're here to debate the longterm greater good because of him, and people like him, who gave their lives
to keep you alive, so you could live to fight the righteous fight another day. So go ahead and spit in his name and his cause. Because you
were his cause.
“You think I'm like him?” Grif leaned into the Bajoran Ensign's face. “You're wrong,” he spoke lowly. “While you sit around hatching your political theories, when the Cardies come to burn your homes and families – I
won't be there taking fire for the likes of people who would rather vilify their champions and hold themselves above the cost of their own survival.” Grif straightened, and replaced the combadge and pips to his uniform. “I'm a Starfleet Officer. I answer to Starfleet Command. As do you
, now. So the only question left to ask, Ensigns
, is - what are you
The group remained silent. The entire mess hall watched in stillness.
“My old man isn't around anymore. But someone else here is. Sitting right over there, listening to you blowing steam like a first week cadet. I haven't seen one of you people thank her or congratulate her for saving your hide. You can't even talk to her.
“Now let me tell you what I see. I see four untested uniforms. But I'm not going to expect you to prove yourselves. I'm not going to give you any absolution. I'm not judging you by your service records, or your commanders' evaluations. The only thing I see are your actions
. I want to know if you're worthy of the lives of those two officers that died defending this ship; worthy of the lives of this crew; worthy of the lives of my father, and all the Maquis who died for your chance to be a Starfleet officer on the Federation's only starship in the outer quadrants. So it's time to ask yourselves the question. What are you
The Bajoran Ensign stood at attention. “Sir.” He nodded, and went to Vexa's table, and offered his hand. She met it.
One by one, the other officers followed suit, rising, excusing themselves with a “Sir”, and shaking Vexa's hand before leaving.
Grif returned to his seat and started eating.
Vexa said, “I will never understand you.” Nor could she understand, after just suppressing the paralysis of cautionary dread, why, looking at him, her entire being began filling with strength, and radiant warmth. She was certain she could not hide it in her eyes – if anyone but looked.
“What's to understand,” Grif said unnoticingly, and bit into his steak.
Vexa spent the next hour shaking the hands of every crewmember who stopped by her table on their way out.
In her final night in cramped Ensign quarters, she lay awake another hour processing the day's illogical extremes. Asking herself questions his mere existence had unwittingly provoked.