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Chapter Notes: Thank ye much to the Ad Astra collective brain trust for getting me out of a jam.

Of Roses And Ensigns



Origin: Earth. Family: Rosaceae. Genus: Rosa. Cultivar: Peace. Common names: Peace, Beke, Fredrosen, Giolia, Gloria Dei, Mme A Meillard, Mme Antoine Meillard. Class: Hybrid Tea. Introduced in the year 1945 CE on the same day Earth's Second World War in the European theater ended, 29 April.

The irony. Beauty coming forth in the midst of war.

The large pink-edged yellow blooms hung in pairs on their long stems. Surrounded by sixty-six other rose varieties in the enclosed arboretum, they added their scent to the perfume wafting about the red-cobbled walkways. A perfume strong enough to stimulate even a Vulcan's olfactory receptors.

Captain Sutek took a few seconds more to contemplate the roses, then moved off down the walkway. He passed several other Starfleet personnel, spending their time on shore leave or as rest between assignments. His purpose here was not for leisure, however.

The Pennsylvania herself was between assignments, allowing Sutek to contact Captain Barbara Spillane of the Minerva to request a personal meeting. He laid out his reasons for the meeting, which Spillane, at first, was adverse to. She gave the matter more thought, then suggested they meet at Starbase 56 on Arka Tanos. The Minerva had nearly arrived there when he had contacted her. He agreed.

Discussion of crew complements had the elements for contention; once Personnel spoke, of course, such conflicts were essentially moot. But that didn't stop them from occurring, and Sutek was certain he was walking into one.

He exited the garden proper and followed the red pavers to a large two-tiered terrace. From the upper terrace, a blond-haired woman seated near the outer railing met his glance. She did not move for a moment, then looked away. Sutek climbed a nearby staircase, reviewing the information he had gathered before arriving at Arka Tanos.

Full name: Barbara Gayle Spillane, formerly Barbara Spillane-Thompson. Divorced with one child, a son, currently in his second year at Starfleet Academy. Birthplace: Gasperson, Indiana, Earth. Parents: Henry and Jean née Olivette. One sister, two brothers. 27 years in Starfleet. Previous commands: Palatine and Aspen.

Most of the upper terrace was empty, only a few tables occupied. The woman he had sighted sat away from the others, alone. She raised a hand and waved him over.

Sutek approached and stopped behind an empty chair across from Captain Spillane. A silver-colored cup rested on the table in front of her, a gentle column of steam rising from it. She picked up a long, dark green, reed-like object, a flavor quill, and stirred the liquid in the cup with it. The quills were produced on Arka from the leaves of an aromatic plant, imbued with other essential oils, rolled, dried and cut into sections eighteen centimeters long. Spillane laid the quill aside and turned her attention to Sutek. Her face held little expression, yet her blue eyes could not hide the fact that she was studying him, sizing him up.

He expected nothing less.

The Captain raised her right hand, splitting the fingers into the Vulcan salute.

"Dif-tor heh smusma."

Sutek returned the salute. "Dif-tor heh smusma."

She put her hand down and favored him with a slight smile. "Dom - lasha osavensu."

So, the teacher is here. She had used the honorific form of "teacher".

He clasped both hands behind his back and bowed. "You honor me, Captain," he said in Federation Standard. He didn't know how far Spillane's knowledge of Vulcan went, but he did not want her setting the ground rules.

"I thought you'd get a kick out of that. Have a seat."

While Sutek sat down, Spillane stuck the quill back in the cup and stirred. She took a sip and grimaced slightly.

"I've never been to a Starbase that didn't have wretched coffee. It could use a good belt of bourbon, but I'm driving."

Chuckling softly at her joke, she looked from her cup to Sutek. Calculating, measuring, seeking an opening. Sutek returned her gaze with utter calm, betraying nothing. Spillane put her cup down and tapped the quill on the rim, shaking off the last drops of brown liquid. Resting her arm atop the chair back, she held the quill between two fingers and raised it to near eye level. The posture portrayed someone totally relaxed, without a care in the Universe.

"So," she said, "why are we here?"

"To discuss the matter I brought to your attention on Stardate 33723.9."

"Refresh my memory."

"About Ensign Satterwhite."

"The kid you want for helm relief?"

"Affirmative."

"You could have waited until both the Minerva and the Pennsylvania arrived at Helios Station three weeks from now. Early bird catches the worm?"

"I believe the phrase carpe diem is more apropos."

The Captain snorted and sipped her coffee. "I pulled all her records last night. Smart, hard-working, scary good pilot, so adaptive she practically blends into the bulkheads. Captains get into knife fights to keep someone like that on their ships. Why should I even agree to you taking her?"

"Begging the Captain's pardon," Sutek said, "but your agreeing to my decision is not relevant to this conversation."

"Because you'll take her anyway. I gotcha. I don't have the pull at Command you do, but I can still raise a heck of a stink and make your life difficult."

"I do not doubt your intention to do so. I had wished to avoid such a confrontation."

"How? By giving up something of equal value, maybe?" Spillane gave a hearty laugh. "Begging the Captain's pardon, but you don't have anything I want."

"By asking your blessing."

Spillane frowned, taken aback. She took another sip of coffee and swallowed hard.

"Blessing?" she countered, waving around the flavor quill. "You don't need my blessing. All you have to do is get Admiral Kushogi at Personnel on the comm-pick and bother him. And he might throw in a couple of CPOs on the side just for you. Besides, you just said my agreeing with all this wasn't relevant."

"Correct. However, it is possible for you to give your blessing although you may not completely agree with my actions, if I explain my reasonings in a convincing enough manner to override enough of your objections."

"You're splitting hairs, Sutek."

"Perhaps."

Rolling the quill between her fingers, Spillane narrowed her eyes at him. "All right. I'll listen. And if you don't convince me, you'll have given me plenty of ammo to file with my objections. Shoot."

Sutek was more than content at having outmaneuvered the Captain in this instance, but his next moves here would be of paramount importance. He had to convince her that she was a partner in this venture, not a victim having it inflicted upon her.

"Good pilots are a highly sought after commodity," he began. "Excellent pilots doubly so."

"And?"

"The Pennsylvania is in need of an excellent pilot."

"Your ship goes through pilots like a Horta goes through rock. Consume, consume, consume."

Sutek nodded. "She has become the bane of many flight controllers, yes. An average pilot has no business at her helm. Ensign Satterwhite, however, is far from average."

"Agreed. Which is why I don't want you to take her."

"I completely understand your resistance. It is the rare pilot who can successfully deal with the Pennsylvania's idiosyncrasies."

"Why doesn't Command just scrap her, since she so much trouble?"

"That would be unwise. The Excelsiors are no longer being produced. It would take several years to replace her with a ship of a comparable class."

Mischief sparkled in Spillane's eyes. "And you don't want another ship. You don't want to get rid of her because she's just like you. Unyielding, difficult, stubborn, and always intent to have your way. I've been reading up on you, too."

He was quite certain she had. She may have had a reputation as a verbal brawler, but she didn't go into a fight without a plan or without doing the necessary reconnaissance. The words were meant to sting and sink in.

"I am aware of how I am perceived," Sutek said. "I cannot be other than what I am."

"Right." The sparkle died away, and Spillane became all business. "You said you wanted her for relief."

"In the beginning. Eventually, I wish for her to take the senior helm position."

"Sounds like you want to put her on the command track. Getting ahead of ourselves, aren't we?"

"How so?"

"You think she's cut out for command? That's being extremely optimistic."

"Anything is possible, but I do believe the potential exists."

The Captain shook her head, more in a pitying gesture than one of disagreement.

"Sutek," she said, "Starfleet is running over with potential. Only a small percentage ever reach command-level positions. You and I are the rare commodity, my friend."

"Indeed. You do not see the potential in the Ensign?"

"That's not what I'm saying. There is something there. It's buried, but...it's there. I wish I knew how to reach it."

"I, too, have sensed something under the surface. Once, I took that exterior for her true self. That judgment may have been in error."

Spillane's eyes widened in shock, the mischief appearing again. "You?! Made a mistake? Oh, this I have to hear."

Despite Spillane's attempt to embarrass him, Sutek continued in an even, matter-of-fact tone.

"I first observed Ensign Satterwhite as a cadet at the Academy while I was observing other cadets in her class. She came across as somewhat aloof, with an undercurrent of insecurity and anger. If she retained that attitude and outlook, I could foresee her future prospects as being limited."

"So you ignored her."

"On the contrary. Upon further examination and continued observation, I came to the same conclusions as you have."

Her ploy had fallen flat. "Okay, okay, so we're in agreement that 'something is there'. The question is, how does one reach it?"

"By discovering the truth."

"What truth?"

"Her truth."

"You lost me."

"The truth that cuts through all falsehood, whether imposed from without or within. The truth that resonates with one's mind and spirit. The truth that illuminates the past, reconciles you with the present, and points the way forward. It outlines the mission objectives, plots and lays in the course, leaving nothing but to go forth and simply be."

"Sounds like someplace you've been."

Sutek noted the expression of careful study forming on the Captain's face. He could afford having the conversation turn from the Ensign to himself for a moment.

"I am a Starfleet officer," he said. "The son of Starfleet officers. My father, a highly accomplished scientist. My mother, a Vice Admiral. They shaped me, gave me their knowledge, guided me toward the path I now follow."

"Somehow, I can see you having a bit of a time following in your parents' footsteps in the beginning. Trying to find your place, choosing which way to go, wondering how you would measure up to them. Especially to your mother, I think. I wouldn't know how I could follow a Vice Admiral. What turned you around, if I might ask?"

"The realization that I am not my mother."

Spillane's brow furrowed. "That simple?"

"Granted, it is a simple truth. One with great implications. We are all born with unique gifts which may express themselves in unpredictable ways. Sometimes, however, it is the traits shared between parent and child that cause the most conflict. I came to the knowledge that I did indeed share some traits in common with my mother. But it was not necessary for me to walk the path she did in exactly the same manner to achieve my goals."

"But your career follows nearly the same path, anyway."

Sutek nodded. "I was freed to walk my path wherever I wished and not be concerned with how or if the paths meet. That they did so in the places they have is due to the logical and rational considerations we both applied to similar events."

"So it wasn't luck that you just happened to mirror some of the Vice Admiral's steps."

He raised an eyebrow. "I believe I said that."

The Captain set to stirring her coffee, indicating she was ready to return to the subject at hand.

"Even though the Ensign does not have the particular difficulties you did," she said, "you want to help her find her 'simple truth'? Then the ugly duckling will transform into a beautiful swan." She glanced over the terrace railing. "Speaking of the swan...I figured she'd find the roses."

Spillane pointed down to the arboretum's floor. Stopping in front of an example of Rosa 'Cathedral', Ensign Satterwhite touched an apricot-colored blossom. Three years out of the Academy, the young woman had put in considerable time at the helm of the Ambassador-class Minerva. The starship's previous commander, Captain Terrance Harper, remarked upon her piloting skills in an evaluation report, also noting that, with the proper stimulus--he used the word "pressure"--she had the potential to become "a damn fine officer one day."

Sutek looked back at Spillane, who wore a self-satisfied smile. Its meaning could not be more plain. She's mine, and don't you forget it.

For now.

Sutek glanced down at the Ensign again for a moment, then focused back on Spillane.

"Is there some significance to this flower?"

"For her, yes," Spillane said. "The counselor told me about it. Some form of the rose is a symbol of her family."

"Is her family of some standing?"

"No, it isn't, from what I could tell. Why do you ask?"

"Such symbols tend to be appropriated by families of stature in many cultures."

"Does that mean something to you?"

"It is simply more information to add to my body of knowledge. The attachment to such a symbol suggests family is very important to her."

The Captain raised an eyebrow. "As it is to you."

Sutek countered with both of his. "Your point being?"

"We keep sitting here talking, and we'll find more ways she's like you."

His brows drew together. "I am Vulcan, and she is Human. I do not see more than very superficial similarities between us."

"Uh-huh. Speaking of Vulcans and Humans, what makes you think you're one to help her 'find her truth'?"

"My record of training and developing officers speaks for itself."

"Five protégés who have gone on to be starship commanders in their own right. That's some track record. You're seen as a bellwether for measuring the quality of Starfleet's up-and-comers, and you've got a knack for picking winners. They call you 'the Vampire of the Presidio' because you lurk about the Academy grounds, selecting whom you're going to snatch up as soon as they get the first pip on their collars."

"Vulcans do not lurk."

Spillane leaned forward. "And I don't think you're up to this job."

Sutek raised his chin marginally. "I beg your pardon?"

She pointed down to Ensign Satterwhite, then back at Sutek. "Human...Vulcan. And rarely the twain do meet."

"I counter your assertion with the fact that three of my protégés were Human."

"But you have to admit those three already had their lives together and knew exactly what they wanted."

"This is true."

"Well, our little swan doesn't. Not yet. Plus, you have all the added emotional baggage to deal with."

"I recognize that."

"No, no, no, no." She punctuated her words with flicks of her flavor quill. "I don't think you understand what I'm saying. This dealing with her anger. Its root cause is what happened in her childhood. The death of her younger sister. She lost the sense that she's in control of anything. As much control as you can have as a kid with your parents and teachers and whatnot directing every part of your life. She tried to find some kind of control, some kind of security, so she held on tight to her twin. If she could at least be there to stop bad things from happening to her, the world was right again. Then it left again when they entered the Academy. And if the Academy isn't a place where you don't have any control over anything, I don't know what is. That need for control somehow got buried. She probably gave up on it, seeing as how it was impossible now. But it came back as something else.

"If she couldn't get control, she avoided situations where she might get too attached to people, because the chance is always there that she won't be able to stop the bad stuff. That's where the anger comes in. To keep people at arm's length. Yeah, she does have friends, but she's not especially close to them. You haven't seen the real Sydney Shelby Satterwhite. That surly creature you see is a mask. I think she's worn it so long she believes that's what she really is."

A needle of annoyance worked itself into Sutek's calm, but he quickly banished it. These issues were known to him, he had studied them well. If he thought he was incapable of dealing with them, he would not have considered pursuing the reassignment. Where and when he needed assistance, members of his crew trained to deal with these issues could be called upon. He could seek advice from his mother, for she possessed longer experience with Humans.

"We both know that is not her true self," he said.

"Yes, we do. And, to be honest, despite your well-known keenness of judgment, I don't think you're equipped to handle this. It's too easy to damage her with one cold observation. One application of logic devoid of the 'contamination' of emotion."

"I was not aware you thought of her as delicate."

Spillane drank from her cup. Her gaze went distant, further mulling over Sutek's statement, and, perhaps, over what lay at the root of her objections.

"Delicate? No, not that," she said, looking back to him. "She's a tough kid to have made it this far."

Sutek cocked his head slightly to one side. "Then I fail to see where your concern lies."

"It lies in the fact that Humans often don't behave or think in a logical manner."

"I am well aware."

"You might be aware of that in your head, but in your, um...ah..."

"Heart?"

She scoffed. "I'm judging you by Human standards, so sue me."

"I understand the concept, Captain. The adjectives 'cold' and 'hard' are often applied to the Vulcan heart. Yet there are times where Humans will bristle when the terms are applied to their own. When the evidence clearly manifests itself."

"The pot calls the kettle black. Guilty as charged."

Sutek could sense the atmosphere at the table changing. Captain Spillane's posture no longer feigned ease, but took on increasing points of tension. The flavor quill had shifted into a closed hand. Her tightening fingers were on the verge of snapping the quill in two. Each taste of coffee grew more disagreeable.

He was not above taking advantage at this point.

"You are of the belief," he said, "that the only response to the Ensign's difficulties is a purely emotion-based one. I beg to differ. Truth can be arrived at only with the proper application of reason and logic."

Spillane pinched the quill between thumb and forefinger, releasing the scent of orange and mint into the air.

"What you're talking about," she said, "is orchestrating an epiphany, a moment of clarity, to cause a paradigm shift. Such moments can often be tinged with emotion."

"I am adverse to your non-scientific use of the term 'paradigm shift'. But if you mean a change in one's way of viewing reality, then yes, I am."

"You're ignoring what I said about Humans and logic."

"I am doing nothing of the sort. Has your exclusively emotion-based approach yielded any fruit, Captain?"

She glared at him. "No."

"Then please allow me the opportunity to assist her in finding the truth."

Spillane brought the quill to her mouth and gnawed on the end. Sutek remained silent while she pondered all that came before. Sometimes she would direct a thought-filled gaze in his direction. The corner of her mouth quivered, and the quill was returned to its place in the cup. She raised her hands.

"I yield," she said softly. "I won't fight you on this. Success is hard to ignore, as much as I want to. If she turns out to be a fine officer, who am I to argue with how it was done? Yes, Sutek. You have my blessing."

He bowed his head. "Thank you, Captain."

"But," she continued, pointing at him. "I think that, in Satterwhite's case, a...different application of logic might be warranted here. I'll leave that for you to figure out. You're the master tactician, after all."

Sutek stood up. There would be no celebrating at winning this battle. That would come when and if the young Ensign resolved her issues, recognized what lay within, and allowed it to guide her along the path of her choosing.

He looked down at Ensign Satterwhite still exploring the rose garden.

"Please put your fears to rest, Captain Spillane," he said, turning back to her. "She is, as you say, a 'tough kid'."

Chapter End Notes: Info on 'Peace' gathered from various sources including the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at N.C. State University (my alma mater ;)).

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