Mr. Dubois was in the kitchen already when Jessica came downstairs, the sound of grease crackling as he prepared breakfast. She came up behind him and peered over his shoulder, smiling a little.
“Eggs and pancakes again?”
Mr. Dubois startled a little, turning around with his spatula raised before he recognized Jessica and let out a tired sigh. He smiled as he turned back to the food with a chuckle. “But of course.” He nodded his head towards a tray on the countertop next to him. “Would you mind, Jessica?”
She stepped next to him and lifted a plate off the tray, holding it out for him. He quickly lifted two eggs out of the skillet where they had been cooking sunny-side up and slid them onto the plate. Turning, he pulled a couple pancakes off of a small, steaming stack he had on another plate next to the stove where he was working and lay them next to the eggs with a “voila!”
Jessica shook her head, giggling a little at the show as she returned the plate to the tray before going to a cupboard for a glass. “You know, Mr. Dubois…she’ll probably only eat one of the eggs. Again.” She went to the antiquated-looking refrigerator and opened it, searching for the pitcher of orange juice. “Why the big breakfasts?” She paused, repeating what she had said to herself before turning around, looking ashamed. “I mean, I’m not trying to sound ungrateful. Just…”
Justine’s father stopped, staring down at the still sizzling skillet on the stove in front of him. He shrugged before resuming his work. “I do not know.” He reached over to a bowl and picked up a measuring cup, pouring the goopy contents out onto the skillet. “I suppose, making her favorite couldn’t hurt.” He fetched two more eggs and cracked them onto the second skillet, pushing them around idly with his spatula.
“But, she isn’t eating it.”
The elder Dubois laughed and shrugged again. “What else can I do, Jessica? You tell me. Je suis d’oreilles.” He turned around, crossing his arms as Jessica poured the juice into the glass she had retrieved. “She doesn’t talk. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t eat.” He shook his head. “I cannot go into my own daughter’s room without her shying away from me. I cannot console her; it isn’t a skinned knee that I can simply kiss away for her.” He motioned to the stove behind him. “I do what I can to keep busy while you do what you can to help. If all I have is breakfast, I will do it.” He turned back to his cooking and sighed, muttering something under his breath as he lifted the pan off the stovetop and turned back around. He held the pan out for Jessica to see. “It takes skill and patience. And a watchful eye. Otherwise…” He lifted the burned pancakes off of the skillet with his spatula and tossed them away in frustration.
Jessica watched the discarded food hit the floor and slide away with surprise. "I'm sorry. That was...that sounded terrible."
Dubois laughed and turned back to his cooking. "I do not think I will toss you out today, chere. Go, make sure she eats something. I'll have breakfast waiting for you."
"That's really not necessary, sir." Jessica smiled apologetically as she lifted the tray. "I still need to get dressed for my meeting today..."
"Nonsense. You need breakfast." He shooed her towards the stairs with the spatula, ending the argument.
Four hours later and high in orbit over Earth, Jessica was glad she had managed to scarf down the three pancakes and eggs Justine's father had made for her. The meeting was finally nearing an ending point, and she could tell the other officers were getting more uncomfortable and drowsy as the meeting progressed. She was sure she had heard a stomach or two growl over the audio feed in the holo-communication room.
Gathered around the large conference table were the holographic avatars of Elaina Seurer, the chief engineer of the Rafale; Obruz Dossu; and Nizeri Sano, one of her fellow science officers from the Rafale. The Trill woman looked the most uncomfortable and out of place in the meeting - so far, the subject of discussion had been the refit of their ship as well as a few personnel issues that Obruz, in his voluntary XO-position, had been following up on with Jessica.
"That about covers the list of repairs so far, Jessica. The SCE is looking to upgrade the space frame, give her a bit of a smaller build to help reduce subspace warp-damage. The design looks amazing." Seurer smiled a little as she leaned back in her chair. "She's going to look different, but damn; she’s beautiful.”
“Well, with that note, I think we’re done here.” Jessica sat forward, pressing her PADD to bring up the next order of business for her. “Elaina, thank you for the updates. Keep up the work. You can go.” She looked over at Sano, who was beginning to log out of the holographic conference. “Nizeri, I need to talk to you for a second.”
Elaina nodded and tapped a control on the table in front of her; her avatar flickered for a moment before dissolving, disappearing from sight.
Jess turned her chair to face Sano, who regarded her with confusion. “Nizeri, I wanted to know what your plans were.”
The Trill crossed her arms in front of her, looking from Jessica to Obruz and back before shrugging. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Jess…err…ma’am.”
“Did you want to stay aboard?”
Nizeri sat back quickly in her chair, looking surprised. “I honestly hadn’t given it much thought. I’m still not sure what the best place for me is right now.” She frowned, casting her eyes off to the side. “I’m not even sure I should still be in Starfleet.”
Jessica’s smile faltered, and she quickly glanced over at Dossu, who shrugged. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m a terrible science officer.”
Jessica laughed in disbelief. “Nizeri, you taught me pretty much everything when I came aboard. Hell, you were already working shifts on the bridge. How could you be terrible?”
Sano shook her head. “I didn’t question my scans - or believe them for that matter.” Her eyes slowly came up to meet St. Peter’s. “I shouldn’t have just dismissed it.” She closed her eyes and leaned forward, sighing. “I feel like I just added to the problems.”
“Added to what problems?”
Obruz cleared his throat and sat back. “I guess you hadn’t heard, Commander.” Jessica turned to him, waiting for him to continue. He frowned sadly. “Command had received…numerous reports from ships being attacked in that area of space, including Rafale and the Merveille. The probes did have a match, but everyone was sending their reports back to Command to be verified because it was such an impossible possibility.”
“Jess, those probes that attacked us, when you hit your head,” Nizeri was wringing her hands nervously in front of her now. “I got a match on them. They were Borg.”
Jessica drew in a sharp breath, looking from Obruz to Sano. Her breathing grew heavier, and she felt her eyes beginning to water. “You…knew? Did you…tell someone?”
Sano bit her lip and shook her head. “I was doing more scans when the last one was destroyed. I had nothing else to double check my initial scans. I…dismissed them.”
“You what?!” Jessica jumped to her feet as she screamed, her fists clenched. “You didn’t do anything with them?!”
Dossu stood up behind her, putting a heavy hand on her shoulder; she quickly shrugged it off as she stood over Nizeri. “Commander,” he quietly said in warning.
“I’m sorry, Jessica.”
“Do you know how many people died?”
Nizeri stood quickly, meeting Jessica’s glare with one of her own. “I know what happened, Jessica! I was there with you! My little scan is peanuts compared to what the Revere and Merveille sent Starfleet!” She leaned into Jessica, and Jessica could see her eyes welling up from her own emotions. “Starfleet knew and they didn’t do a thing! Don’t pin your friend’s death on me!”
Jessica’s vision tunneled for a moment as the words left her friend’s mouth. When it cleared, Obruz was standing in front of her, a hand outstretched and holding her away from Sano. Oddly, her palm was stinging, and she could see the other woman staring wide-eyed back at her.
“Commander, step back.” Obruz pushed Jessica away for emphasis before he turned to the science officer. “Sano?”
“I’m ok.” She shook her head, taking a few unsteady breaths. “Her hand passed through…I’m ok.” She looked past him at Jessica, who was staring down at her stinging hand. “I’m sorry, Jess. That…wasn’t right.”
Jessica pushed Obruz’s hand away from her and pointed threateningly at Nizeri. “Pull that crap as my chief science officer and I’ll escort you to the airlock myself!” She smacked her hand on the table, closing the connection to the other two officers.
As Jessica’s holographic avatar faded from sight, Nizeri turned questioningly towards Dossu. “Chief science officer?”
Dossu shrugged and smiled slightly. “Congratulations?”
Jessica didn’t say anything as she ran into the house and up the stairs to her room, slamming doors behind her as she went. She threw herself onto her bed, sobbing.
They knew! The bastards knew and they didn’t do a damn thing!
She sobbed harder, punching her pillow, the mattress, the head board - anything within striking distance wasn’t safe from her pummeling as she sobbed, repeating in her head over and over again.
They knew. They knew.
Frustration and anger, mixed with surprise - no... shock - and a deep, bitter sadness.
So easily felt, almost tangible. Yes, even palpable. The emotions were all so very clear. It may well have been the most lucid Justine had felt in weeks.
It was a lie, of course. In a manner of speaking, anyway. She hadn't really felt anything clear since... since...
Well, for some time now. Her eyes closed, and she looked through the soupy haze of a prison that had her own headspace had become. It was like a hot, wet blanket, gently smothering her, daring her to care or move. It had been awful... probably. She wasn't really aware of how she felt. Everything was numb, deadened by the blanket that softly suffocated and insulated any real assessment of her state. She couldn't shake herself out of it. Not that she cared to try, though. It was easy, really. Just lie back and...
Well, lie back, anyway.
But now the more solid, crystalline feelings, so easy to process and understand, threatened all that. Others might have seen a sign of her getting better, but she felt it was more an intrusion on her blissful nothingness.
And yet, they were important. They belonged to Jessica. Oh, Jessiy. How do you put up with me?
It didn't take a pure Betazoid to know why Jessiy was feeling this; sadness and anger... Well, yes. She'd lost someone close. Someone important. But... no.
They were directed at someone or something. It would explain the shock. The bitterness.
She’d been betrayed and found out about it. Justine attempted to retreat back into numbness.
Of course. I don’t have to be telepathic to know. Justine bit her lip, doing her best to keep herself from crying. She'd done so well these past weeks. She'd avoided all those potential pitfalls into a confrontation with the reality of what had happened. I’m just one great big, stupid, failure of a doctor. Five years wasted at Starfleet Medical for what? I couldn’t stop internal bleeding, with all the technology and medicine I have at my disposal? I couldn’t even stabilize her.
No, that's stupid. You knew the moment she came in that it was over.
Of course not! We could have kept her going... Adrenaline or a synth-narcotic to keep her heart-
To keep it what? Beating? Her kidneys were ruptured. Every beat of her heart did more to ensure there wouldn't be another. Her blood was poisoning her.
And she was right back where she had been all those weeks ago. Sitting over her first love, denying up and down that it would be their last meeting. Except now, it wasn't denial. A great swell of sorrow, of pitiful despair, washed over her, drowning her in her own memories.
What good am I? And that was how I say goodbye? By screaming at her, and hitting her?
The tears rolled down her cheeks. She was careful not to make a sound, lest anyone come into the room. It was better for her to stew in her own misery, rather than burden anyone else with her shortcomings...again.
She fell asleep with the saline flowing freely over her, intermittently cursing herself and wishing that tomorrow would return her to the safety of apathy.