Backpost: Room Assignments
The Place of Skulls
Location: Deck 4, Senior Crew Quarters
Timeline: Mission Day 24 at 1900
[Immediately following the Arrivals post]
[MD 24 - Hours]
The entire, brief, transit from the shuttle bay to her... their... quarters was silent and yet Emni felt like a whole one-sided conversation was taking place as she continued to peel her defenses slowly away. She worked hard to keep her face doctor-neutral, managing to only wince once or twice at slightly louder eruptions of emotion from her companion than she had anticipated.
The entirety of the experience took no more than 5 minutes, but as she stood before the door, just beyond sensor range, she couldn't help a moment's hesitation. Karim's emotion wall was a bit like an old exterior wall made of stone--the kind she had seen used to separate pastures from roads with one, fatal, flaw -- the mortar that held the stones in place was missing. And everywhere that the mortar was cracked, crumbling, or altogether absent, raw intense emotion flowed through. Embarrassment mingled with the pacing feeling of anxiety, as though behind his wall he walked back and forth, deciding and undeciding how he felt in the moment. A swell of uncertainty had crashed down behind the wall, pressing through the cracks, when they had finally left the shuttle bay. And now, there was mostly trepidation.
"Computer," Emni said, her voice level, "Recognize and set lock for Karim-Delta-7. Assign to Senior Crew Quarters Deck 4, Room 18."
The computer chirped back its confirmation and the door swished open, revealing a sitting room. It was easy to see that the space was lived in, and as she ushered him inside, following behind, the small black form of a cat came hurtling from behind the couch, wending his way between Emni's legs with a plaintive demand for food.
"Kyi'i," she said quietly, but with affection, stopping to pat the cat and then, sliding one hand under his belly, picking him up.
"So," she said quietly. "This is us."
The dark-clad part-Vulcan cast his eyes across the room. There was no denying the contrast in size to the quarters they had been afforded on the Adelphi; there was a limited shared space that was conjoined to two separate rooms, being the individual living spaces for either officer, and Emni's decorations brought the small iota of character to the room that was present.
"This is decidedly you," the former counsellor stated in typical Vulcan fashion, as he quite suddenly halted his examination of the room, seemed to pay no mind to his own cat, and placed his opaque Starfleet-issue container onto the small table. With no other preamble for their new more intimate living arrangements, Karim stepped to the replicator and demanded some manner of tea. A spicy aroma soon rose from the generated glass mug.
The same mental 'pacing' Emni detected before remained, although the speed of Karim's emotional fluctuations seemed to be increasing. Whilst his outward mien appeared to remain that of a well-practised student of Surak, the dark-haired man's emotional state was nearing the equivalent of a caged animal, frustrated at an enclosed space, seeking any avenue of escape. Instead of these disturbing sensations being given any reality through his actions, Karim instead sipped his tea carefully.
"Which is mine?" He asked between sips, still not making eye contact with Emni.
The Romulan woman left her new Vulcan roommate to his devices, settling onto the couch and placing the now purring bundle of cat on her lap. Sharp claws flexed outward kneading and she absently ran a finger underneath each paw so that the motion of the cat's paws flexed around just above her middle knuckle on each hand. The rumbling of Kyi'i's purr was a steady stream and he made no immediate move to acknowledge Karim, something Emni noted with interest.
"The one to the left," she said evenly, tilting her head and glancing to his door to indicate the door of the empty room before reaching around the bundle of cat with one hand, and pulling a box out from a small alcove under the small coffee table in front of the couch. Lifting the lid she began to arrange materials on the table. A small reddish raised base with a hexagonal inset at the top appeared first.
"You're welcome to take a moment to settle in if you prefer, but I'd like you to sit and talk with me for a few minutes once you're done," she said evenly, beginning to set the stage on the red playing board with a mishmash pile of silver rods. To any uninitiated onlooker it would appear that Emni was merely setting things up at random. A small pile of additional t'an sat next to the kal-toh set on the table. With the press of a finger to the base the t'an rearranged into an early chaotic shape, edges jutting out at odd angles and looking for all the world like someone had dumped the pile there and it had simply frozen mid-tumble.
Karim looked towards Emni, although his gaze seemed more interested in the kal-toh set she had prepared. There was a new wave of ambivalence emanating from within him. This time, there was visible hesitation as he narrowed his eyes and made a couple of false starts to move. After a few more moments of internal deliberation, he came over to the table and placed his cup down. He stiffly claimed his own place to sit.
"You now have your own set," he observed, his tone indicating he had considered saying something more after that statement - a criticism or wry 'Karim' observation, perhaps, but it did not materialise.
"I do," Emni replied simply, voice level. Dark brown eyes flicked to the man perched on the sofa next to her as one slender hand reached for the small pile of t'an on the table. She held it gently at the end between thumb and forefinger, absently letting the t'an drop loosely until she caught the opposite end. A quick flick of her wrist twisted the rod back up to its starting position and she repeated the motion again. After a moment she stopped, placing the piece carefully into the pile, the game board shifting slightly with her choice.
Deft fingers selected another rod, holding it out for Karim to take. "Have you been playing?" she asked. Her voice was quiet, but intent--emotional senses tuned in specifically to his reaction to her words... to the game in front of him... to his surroundings.
Karim did not immediately answer the question, and his eyes flickered, almost imperceptibly, at the query, but his gaze did not deviate from the metallic display. He had placed his hands on his lap, near to each knee, and continued to examine the board in front of him. There continued to be more fluctuations beneath the surface, now with more than a hint of embarrassment and frustration, and something that, perhaps, tilted towards the sensation of fear - directed at the game.
"No," he said, the lie plain to Emni. "Have you found another opponent amongst the crew?" His eyes finally switched back to the part-Romulan, a thin edge to his tone.
Emni eyed him, debating whether or not to call out the lie or let it go. It was difficult to say if uncovering that vulnerability would work in her favor or not so she let it go, tucking it away as information for later consideration. Her eyes tracked his face, noting the tone of his voice, sharper than normal. Where he had opted for untruth she opted for blatant candor. "I have not," she commented. "There was a Chief Science Officer who played, but he was injured severely and transferred off ship. I played a few moves with him, but besides that... I've largely played on my own."
She was quiet a moment, eyes tightening at the corners as she watched him. "I prefer playing with you," she commented, as close to an admission that she had missed him terribly as she had gotten.
Karim maintained eye contact with Emni. There was another spike that she detected from him - another stab of embarrassment or dismay, or perhaps even relief, as well as something that seemed peculiar to Karim himself. This time, he seemed to smooth over the loose fibres of his emotions.
"I..." he began, losing his words, an unfamiliar display from the former counsellor. He looked down at the set, seemed to give consideration to selecting a t'an, and then looked back at Emni again. "You were the last partner I played kal-toh with," he said, clearly shifting away from whatever his original response was going to be, although it revealed some information about his time with the Vulcans. "I must deduce that it is more than a desire for a challenging opponent that led to my appointment to these quarters."
The statement, though not phrased as such, was clearly a question, but Emni very nearly missed it. She had, instead, been holding her breath, caught in the held eye contact in a way she had not anticipated. It wasn't until he had faltered, looking away from her, that she had begun to breathe again, back pedaling slightly and working to press her own complicated emotional reaction to the back of her mind.
Her pause was telling. "I requested that you be quartered with me," she said continuing the route of honesty and transparency. "You requested I treat you so this seemed most convenient." She held his gaze this time, determinedly not looking away as her tone turned quiet and gentle, prodding underpinning her words, "Why don't you tell me what you are actually thinking?" she asked.
Again, there was no immediate answer from the part-Vulcan. As Karim finally took another sip from his cup, some of the more familiar stoicism she had become familiar with in months past seemed to return. The shift from the previous tumult was even further telling of his condition and ambiguous control.
"Imprecise words for an imprecise desire," he eventually said, his face more than just a mask of calm and control, but there was no hostility or disapproval that actually accompanied the comment, and he took another precise sip from his cup. "You have not changed since the last time we met, Doctor, or from the times before that. I commend your reliability, but must question your loyalty. I have done little to garner such a positive reception from you; your ongoing support of me is-" He paused as he considered an appropriate word, and his eyebrow arched ever so slightly. "Illogical."
Before Emni could respond, Karim continued speaking, perhaps capitalising on his period of lucidity. "I behaved incredibly inappropriately towards you in sickbay, after the Vidiian incident. It was not intentional, and not a reflection of my attitude towards you. I trust that is known to you." Although his emotional veneer remained firm, there was a certain 'Karim' intensity to his gaze. "You are not 'a mindless Romulan doctor'."
Even in his current state, Karim was better able to mask his physical reactions than Emni and with his comments her gaze shifted from surprise to a sort of soft affection that unwound from the patient-doctor relationship to the more intimate friendship they had begun to develop in the time since the very incident he referenced. "Thank you Karim," she said softly. "Those words were said in anger and under duress. I understood your reaction as only that... a reaction to the circumstance and not a true commentary on how you felt I performed as a doctor."
She pulled her gaze from him for a moment, returning to the kal-toh set. She reached for a new t'an brushing Kyi'i in the process and eliciting a small purring complaint from the cat who had fallen asleep as she did. Absently her hand paused and went to stroking the cat a moment.
"Affection for a friend is not illogical," she added after as the black cat's rumbling purr took hold. "I am not your friend because of what you can or cannot do for me or what you do or do not say to me." Her eyes came back up to meet his then, an earnestness to her expression that she hoped conveyed the truth in what she was saying. "I am your friend because I like you. And because of that you matter to me. And that friendship is given with no expectation upon your behavior. You may choose to reciprocate it or not. But it is there all the same."
The pause that followed was more uncomfortable, as Karim soon found himself seemingly unable to maintain eye contact with the doctor. There was a small flicker to his expression and Emni was once again party to a mild flurry of emotion from the part-Vulcan. Although Karim did not now look at Emni, the focus in his troubled eyes was unmistakable.
"I believe I should be going to bed," he finally said, almost casually and as if the nature of his mental fragility or the subject matter of their conversation carried any true weight for him. He began to rise just a second later, still not looking directly at Emni. "The journey was more taxing than I expected, and I require solitude once again, to recuperate and... meditate."
There was a faint emphasis on the last word, as Karim turned his attention to the nearby portion of the quarters that housed what would serve as his sleeping area.
"I appreciate your hospitality, Lieutenant," he added quietly, glancing back quickly in Emni's general direction.
"It's hardly hospitality if you live here yourself, Karim," Emni replied, tone gentle and designed to soothe the mental pacing that seemed to pick back up. "But you are welcome. Sleep well."
She watched as the part-Vulcan gave a terse nod, still not making eye contact, before disappearing into the adjoining room.
Once the door was closed Emni let out a shuddering breath, feeling tension roll through her and release. "Well," she said, seemingly to Kyi'i, "at least he's here."
=/\= A Mission Post By =/\=
Lieutenant Commander Karim
First Contact Specialist
Lieutenant Emni t'Nai
Acting Executive Officer