Within the privacy of the ready room, Captain Leone had the service record of her new executive officer in front of her as he sat across from her with a expectant expression upon his face. As they moved into the room from the bridge, she said nothing to him. And as she suspected, he was a good enough of an officer not to speak out of turn, especially since his captain requested his presence in the first place.
"Let's get the most pressing matter out of the way, first," Leone began. "You don't like being called by your first name? What would you prefer?"
"I don't mean any disrespect, sir-"
Leone interrupted, "Neither do I."
"I just... I mean, no one's ever called me by that name since I left home for the Academy."
"Do you prefer Miguel?"
"My middle name? Uh, no, sir... I've always been referred to as my rank and last name."
The captain tilted her head. "And your friends?"
"They call me Jess."
"So, you prefer me to call you Jess?"
A brief look of consternation flashed on his features before he composed himself. "With all due respect, sir..."
"Speak freely, Jess. You're my XO, so I'm going to expect some straightforwardness from you."
"Thank you, sir. As I was saying... with all due respect, I would rather you refer to me as my rank and last name."
"Am I not a friend to you, Jess?"
"I didn't mean that, sir."
"But you said that only friends call you by your first name and now you're telling me otherwise."
Her executive officer's face seemed the definition of the word perplexed. "Sir, I don't mean to imply that you... I mean, I apologize if you read any impropriety into my statement, I just meant to say that I'm a little more formal than you might be used to."
She said nothing, instead fixing her most severe glare upon him.
He tried not to squirm under her scrutiny, but the long pause in the conversation eventually began to wear him thin. "Sir?"
Enough was enough. Leone's lips broke into a smile. "I apologize, Commander. I was having a little fun at your expense."
Kincaid let out a held breath and sighed. "I see."
"I think the first thing you need to do is head down to the ship's stores and requisition yourself a sense of humor."
"I'm not used to this type of command style, I guess."
"No, you're not," she replied, dropping any pretense of humor. "I don't hide behind the trappings of titles. I may be the master and commander of this starship, but this crew operates as a team."
"I agree, sir, wholeheartedly. However, I do observe standard Starfleet protocol when addressing my subordinates. Aboard Valdemar, I enforced the wishes of Captain Masterson, and he allowed me a wide latitude when it came to handling the crew," said Kincaid. "I'm used to that style of leadership."
Leone nodded. "I'm a little more hands-on with the crew than your typical starship captain."
He snorted, "I noticed."
"That's more like it," she said with a grin. "You need to unclench a little. Sounds like Captain Masterson ran a tight ship."
"Yes, sir. He sure did," he said with an edge to his tone. "I believe that I left a ship in excellent discipline.
"Discipline can be maintained under many circumstances, Commander. I don't subscribe to the notion that it can only be achieved through distance and formality."
"I will submit myself to your instruction, sir."
"Don't do that."
"Don't couch your responses in clichés. Don't fall back on the formality when you think you need to say something bluntly."
He sighed. "Maybe you need someone else for the job, sir."
Leone leaned forward. "You're going to run away, now?"
"No, sir, but it seems to me that you'd prefer someone a little more..." he trailed off, searching for the right word to use.
She helpfully filled in, "Loose?"
"No," she replied with a short exhalation. "I don't think so."
"I know I've made the right choice." She grinned. "Unless you're telling me that you're presuming to second guess my judgment."
"No, sir, I wouldn't want to presume anything."
"Good, then it's settled. Your presence here is serendipitous. It's a decree from on high."
Kincaid chuckled, "Yes, sir." The chuckle settled into a wide smile. "I suppose it is."
"Then given that we're both in the right place at the right time, do you think that perhaps you would let me call you 'Jess?'"
He took his time in responding. His eyes fell down to the desk for a long time before he lifted them back up to her. Permitting her this one indulgence, he told her, "Actually, sir, I would prefer it if you called me Jesse."
The ship shuddered underneath them and the red alert klaxon wailed. As the ship noticeably slowed to impulse speeds outside the forward viewport, Ariel's voice called out over the ship's public address. "Red alert. All senior officers report to the bridge."
Within seconds, Leone and Kincaid had returned to the bridge. Ariel brought them up to speed, quickly. "One of the freighters has just been destroyed with all hands. There was no warning and no signs of trouble beforehand."
Leone nodded as she returned to her seat, confirming the report from the small screen on the arm of her chair. "Greg, bring us to all stop. Wilson, contact Starbase 310 and update them on our status. We're not moving a damned inch until we find out what happened."
TO BE CONTINUED IN FSA #5: "ETERNAL MIDNIGHT"