Part Two: Familiar Patterns
He slowly tiptoed towards her from behind after having just stepped out of the shower. He wrapped a towel around his waist and stared at the woman lustily. She was also wrapped in a towel from her chest downwards while she dug a comb through her damp hair. He slowly put his arms around her waist, took a quick whiff of the floral fragrance in her long mane of red hair, and placed a soft kiss on her right shoulder.
Lisa Neeley put her hands on Mandel Morrison’s wrists hoping to coax him to loosen his grip. He was willing to oblige while continuing to plant pecking kisses along her shoulder. The Lambda Paz
’s head of security was hoping to put off discussing a rather sensitive issue a few more seconds once it had crossed his mind. They had grown increasingly fond of one another when Neeley was placed in charge of the company of Starfleet Marines stationed on the Lambda Paz
to the point where they eventually established a casual sexual partnership. Both agreed that either one of them could be killed very suddenly and unexpectedly during the Dominion War, so they decided not to be too emotionally invested in each other’s company. Morrison had found such an arrangement more difficult when Neeley was near death, leading her to become more emotionally distant and to eventually dissolve their partnership.
After the war had ended, they had once again turned to each other for emotional comfort. Morrison had welcomed having Neeley back in his life, but he felt that wasn’t enough. He continued to put off discussion of the subject, though, knowing what had transpired before when he allowed himself to become emotionally attached to this woman.
“Considering how we keep falling into familiar patterns,” Mandel said with lips close to the side of her neck, “you ever think about us becoming a complete couple?”
Lisa flashed a devious grin while letting her arm float up towards his head. She stroked his dark hair and pursed her lips on his left cheek. “Is that a genuine offer?” she asked with an air of suspicion. “Or do you not want me sleeping with other men?”
“Do you plan on sleeping with other men?”
Lisa scoffed as she clasped both of Mandel’s hands with hers. She loosened his grip on her even more, allowing herself arch her body around and look him in the eye. “Don’t tell me you didn’t sleep with other women the last time we were partnered.”
Mandel shook his head coyly in the hope that wouldn’t give a definitive answer either way.
Lisa again smiled deviously while placing on hand on his muscular chest. “When you say ‘complete couple’, you mean exclusive?”
“Exclusive,” Mandel answered with a slight tilt of his head. “Dating. Getting to know one another better. We make love rather than have sex.”
“Are you ready for such a commitment?”
He stroked her cheekbone with the back of his hand. “‘Commitment’ is a very strong word. That puts a lot of pressure on both of us.”
“The risks are still the same.”
“The war’s over now. But there’s still a lot of cleaning up to do.”
“And the possible conflicts of interest,” Lisa added with a mischievous smirk. “The deputy chief of security spot is still vacant.”
“You want that
job?” Mandel asked with mixed suspicion and hopefulness.
Lisa landed a soft nudge on Mandel’s chest with the palm of her hand. She flashed the same victorious smile that she did in previous instances of outwitting him. “There’s still time for the captain to decide,” she teased. She backed up from Mandel and slowly walked out of the bath nook and into his bedroom. “And we don’t have to decide just yet. As people making business deals say, ‘Don’t call us. We’ll call you.’”
Mandel just stared at himself through the mirror, not sure if Lisa Neeley was still worth pursuing or if he genuinely wanted a more committed relationship with her or any woman in the near future.
Morrison boarded a transport bound for Bajor and quickly took his seat. To his surprise, Limis Vircona was seated across the aisle from him. He smirked lightly to hide his embarrassment at crossing paths with his commanding officer. True, Limis would probably be taking shore leave on Bajor at some time or another. But for us to be on the same transport, sitting across from one another? What are the odds of that?
“Morrison?” Limis said with a look of annoyance. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Good to see you too, Captain,” Morrison replied with a teasing smile. His smile quickly abated, having realized that he wasn’t hiding his embarrassment as well as he was moments ago. “I’ve heard a lot about the many idyllic settings on Bajor,” he coyly added. “Never got much of a chance to see those places during our little adventure.”
Limis was none too pleased to be reminded of when Morrison was an uninvited guest on one of her undercover missions. It was at a time when Morrison and first officer Ronnie Kozar did not fully trust Limis. After Morrison and Limis had escaped the clutches of the fanatical Bajoran Teero Anaydis, they had gained mutual respect for one another. And Kozar had made more of an effort to try to peacefully coexist with Limis.
“You call almost being brainwashed by Teero Anaydis a ‘little adventure’?” she derided. “There’s something more going on here, Morrison.”
Morrison quickly detected the investigative tone in her voice. “Are you asking me in an official capacity?”
“Of course not. But you strike me as a man who takes his shore leave on Risa, Casperia, or Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet, not Bajor.
“You’re right about that,” Morrison conceded. “I’ve heard, though, that you can get relationship advice through Orb experiences.”
Limis’s eyes again widened in disbelief, while she was barely able to hold in a light chuckle. Morrison knew that Limis was something of a non-believer with regard to whether the entities in the Bajoran Wormhole were really gods. Or she was a skeptic who didn’t definitively believe either way--an agnostic. Hence, her reaction only further confirmed his embarrassment at admitting why he was going to Bajor. “The so-called ‘Prophets’ can’t explain why they let the Occupation happen,” she remarked. “I seriously doubt they’re going to give Mandel Morrison ‘relationship advice’.”
Morrison gave a sarcastic frown. “Can’t hurt to give it a try. While I enjoy Lieutenant Neeley’s… company, I start to wonder if that’s all there is for me. Am I capable of having a more meaningful relationship?”
“On second thought,” Limis chided, “I don’t want to know. Your love life, or whatever you call it, is your business. If we should cross paths on Bajor, I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Agreed?”
“It’s a big planet,” Morrison offered. “I don’t think…”
Limis let out a frustrated sigh. “Agreed?!” she persisted.
“Yes. Agreed,” Morrison answered, properly chastised.
He took a few deep breaths and rested his head on the back of the seat, feeling certain he would ever cross paths with Limis on Bajor anywhere other than the spaceport.
In a secluded temple on Bajor, a monk opened the Orb of Contemplation, and then stepped aside. Morrison stared blankly at the glowing blue bulb before him waiting for the scene around him to change.
A flash engulfed him and varying images appeared in front of him. The death and destruction wrought by the Cardassians on Setlik Three. Broken and battered starship hulls left behind during the Dominion War. The Coridan Massacre, where fifteen hundred miners were asphyxiated after being trapped by orbital bombardment. The faces of friends and colleagues, living and dead, blinked in front of him.
He then found himself on the planet where he was part of an away mission during the
Lambda Paz’s maiden voyage. He had gone against orders to abandon a rescue mission in order save his then-lover, Sara Carson. He was in her crash-landed shuttle, Sara standing in front of him as a disembodied spirit looking over her own unconscious form.
“You should have left me behind,” she said in an eerily dull voice. “Those were the captain’s orders. I was just one person. One life. You are responsible for many more lives than mine.”
“The captain could have chosen not to lead an away team down to the planet,” Morrison explained. “It wasn’t entirely on me. And one member of that team was killed.”
Sara turned away and began walking towards a white light, often envisioned by people having near-death experiences. “Yet when the time came to abandon that rescue,” she said, her voice echoing all around, “you persisted in trying to save me. You could have relieved yourself of the burden of my expectations of our relationship.”
Mandel started to follow her towards the light. “No, that would have been selfish.”
He was engulfed in a white light, surrounded by complete nothingness. He could still hear the echo of Sara’s voice. “Captain Limis made a selfish choice deciding that my life was important than the life of the woman who died. What was her name?”
He was suddenly in the
Lambda Paz’s sickbay looking over the charred corpse of the Marine soldier who died during that rescue. “Dinara Nowitzki,” Mandel recalled aloud.
Sara’s appeared in front of him on the opposite side of the biobed. “What was your relationship to her?” she asked. “She was one of many soldiers under your command. Just a name, a rank.”
A quick flash and the deck was littered with corpses: those of fellow Starfleet officers and troops killed during the war and the miners who died in the Coridan Massacre, who not only died from suffocation in the underground mines, but because Morrison chose to abandon the rescue after his team suffered heavy casualties. “You made conscious choices that led to their deaths and the deaths of the miners trapped in the caverns below,” Sara reminded him.
Another quick flash, and he and Sara were in bed together when they first consummated. “Yet you chose to save my life,” she said while resting her head on his bare chest.
From his right, he felt a hand stroking his cheek. Mandel arched his head in that direction to see Lisa Neeley lying naked on the bed. “If we were just sexual partners,” she rasped, “you had no emotional connection to, we could have easily been replaced.”
He leaned over to kiss her, but she suddenly vanished. He then rolled over back towards Sara, only to see her and Rebecca making love.
The setting changed yet again. Now was he was on the transport traveling from Starbase G-6 to Bajor. As had happened during his real life trip to Bajor, Limis was seated across the aisle from him. “You are just as capable of the same feelings that everyone else has,” she told him, “no matter how much you deny them.”
He was about to respond, his mouth gaping open, but he had suddenly been taken back to reality.
Morrison quickly left the temple without speaking to any of the priests and monks. Upon leaving the building, he stopped and looked back at it, staring for a very long moment. During that time of additional contemplation, he silently wondered if this trip to Bajor was worthwhile. For one, the vision he had just experienced was about as straightforward as any Orb vision. Straightforward, considering Morrison had heard that the Prophets were notoriously enigmatic in their revelations of future occurrences.
More to the point, this vision did not reveal anything about Mandel’s life that he didn’t already know. He had been dating Sara when the Lambda Paz
had embarked on his maiden voyage. His devotion to her had indeed been tested when her reconnaissance shuttle had crash-landed on a planet believed to be housing a Dominion installation. Captain Limis had chosen to lead an away team down to the planet to rescue Sara and her copilot. The rescue party soon came under heavy fire from Jem’Hadar troops, and Limis eventually chose to abandon the rescue. Rather than honor those orders, Morrison chose to go in the shuttle after Sara. Following her recovery, she and Mandel consummated for the first time. Afterwards, Sara made an innocuous comment about the things people did for love, and he started to question whether he could describe his feelings for Sara in those terms.
Their romantic affiliation had eventually dissolved, and less than a year later, Morrison found himself in a casual sexual liaison with Lisa Neeley. Morrison found that arrangement satisfactory, given the risky nature of their careers, until Lisa had nearly died. In subsequent weeks, she had been increasingly distant, which Morrison chose to ignore until he found her in an amorous embrace with another man. Neeley later transferred to another ship after they were unable to peacefully coexist. Yet they crossed paths again during the closing weeks of the Dominion War. And despite giving Mandel a wide berth, she eventually turned to him as a source of comfort after the war’s end.
Essentially, the vision reaffirmed that Mandel was in love with both these women, yet they were both unattainable for different reasons. Sara was now involved with Rebecca Sullivan, and Lisa continued dodging the issue of whether she desired a more committed relationship.
So what did Limis’s appearance in the vision signify?
Morrison kept asking himself. Was it meant suggest he should pursue relationship with her? When she first assumed command of the Lambda Paz
, he found she possessed great assertiveness and exuberance that he found attractive. He could never act on that attraction, however, since a starship captain had to be completely objective regarding her crew. More recently, of course, Limis’s annoyance at his presence on the transport to Bajor reaffirmed that such a relationship would never happen.
As he was walking further away from the temple, Morrison stared at the ground. He didn’t realize the presence of another person walking in the opposite direction until he crashed into that other person, looked up, and saw Limis standing in front of him. They both chuckled with embarrassment, both certain they would not have crossed paths in such a secluded rural setting.
“Captain…” Morrison stuttered. “I didn’t think you’d be here.”
Limis pointed an accusing finger in his direction. “You didn’t forget our deal already?” she asked.
“There aren’t a lot of people around here,” Morrison offered. “And it’s not like the priests and monks here gossip.”
Without either of them realizing it, both of them slowly sauntered towards the temple. “You’ve got a point there,” Limis acknowledged with a smirk. “I take it you’ve just consulted the Orb of Contemplation.”
“I have,” Morrison answered with an emphatic nod, as if trying extra hard not to reveal the contents of his recent vision. “So what are you contemplating
if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’ve been invited to an honorary banquet in my home village.”
“I can imagine. I can see how you’re quite the hero around here.”
Limis sighed, as if she didn’t feel deserving of such an honor. “I don’t know if I’m entirely worthy of being canonized. I’ve done as much bad as good.”
Morrison gave a sympathetic smile. He, himself, had often been put in the position of having to make really tough choices throughout the war. Ones that determined which of his people lived and died. That was especially true when he abandoned a rescue during the Coridan Massacre. Surely, Limis was reluctant when political pressures forced her to temporarily relieve him of his duties as head of security. “I was there for a few of those instances,” he said, “but I wouldn’t put it that way. It may seem like a platitude, but we’ve all done things we’re not proud of.”
“I know, I know,” Limis relented. “But during the war, we just made the decision and moved on. Now that things have quieted down, I can’t exactly ignore everything that’s happened over the last two years.”
“We do whatever we can to continue living our lives,” Morrison reminded her and himself. He had often been racked with guilt over the choices he had made throughout the course of the Dominion War and the earlier Federation-Cardassian border conflicts. More recently, he had learned to put that guilt aside, realizing the wastefulness of holding onto it.
They were so caught up in their conversation that they didn’t realize they’re arrival at the temple until a monk stepped through the enclosure’s wooden door. “Captain Limis,” the elderly Bajoran man said, “the ranjen
can see you now.”
“I’ll be right there,” Limis said with a somewhat contrived smile. “Good talking to you, Morrison.”
“You as well, Captain,” Morrison agreed with a nod. He waved at her as she walked into the temple.
In Limis, he had seen something of a kindred spirit. Morrison knew since they had first crossed paths two years earlier that they both projected hard exteriors while internally, wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Even so, Morrison was pleasantly surprised that she had chosen to open up to her. Maybe that was the Prophets or Wormhole aliens or whatever one chose to call them were suggesting: that he would become her confidant on matters of difficult command decisions. As far any type of romantic relationship: never going to happen