Chapter 1
The Beginning. The End.
Red Hair Holds Meaning
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:: Admiral Grier's Office, Starbase 120

"So it comes down to the fact that we need her. She knows the ship, and the crew." The Admiral said, looking across his desk to the Bajoran Captain seated across from him. Admiral Connolly-Grier sat in a relaxed pose, fingering a padd. His expression was serious, but not sullen. Captain Devar Kiral sat across from the Admiral in a high backed wood chair, his delicate hands folded across his lap.

"And you wish me to make a judgment as to her fitness after the Enigma Disaster." the Captain said, more a question than a statement.

"Exactly." The Admiral said with approval "Your role is to evaluate her, because of her unique... talents. We need to know if she is stable enough for this role, as she is simply the most qualified."

"Everyone can be replaced Admiral. Let her go. Three years on Earth did wonders for Captain Sisko. Why risk... breaking a valuable officer?" The Captain questioned.

"Yes... but there are other reasons in addition that make Callen the more feasible option." The very tone of his voice implied the 'don't ask, I won't tell' statement, which Devar picked up on immediately.

"Very well, sir." Captain Devar managed to keep the disapproval out of his voice. He only fought the fights he could win.

"I trust you have read up on her file on your way over here, as well as the psychological profile." Grier intoned predictably.

"It made the time pass quickly." Captain Devar had been chosen for this role for two reasons. One, he was the captain of his own ship, and two, he had risen to this current position of relative importance from a counselor's position. It was an unusual qualification among captains, and the Admiral was going to make use of it.

"Good. Her appointment is at fifteen hundred, which is in five minutes." The Admiral returned.

Devar rose and smoothed his red uniform catching his reflection in the antique mirror on the wall. "I will meet her in your lobby."

"As you wish, Captain. Your methods are your own, at the moment I'm only interested in the results." The Admiral said, glancing over at the clock. Something else lay hidden in that statement, especially the last part, though Devar couldn't quite determine what it was.

"Thank you, Sir."

"Good luck, Captain." He said, turning his chair, issuing a silent 'dismissed' as Devar quietly left, situating himself for the snare. As the door swished shut, Grier turned slightly, and looked at his console... he shook his head slightly, then sighed, returning his attention to the one-way view out his office window, and all the people in the arboretum below...

The old fashioned grandfather clock stood regally in the Admiral's office. Captain Devar glanced over the padd and up at it. The time nearly read 3:45, or fifteen forty-five, for standard Starfleet time. He glanced over at the monitor, and touched it to see the outer office. She wasn't there yet. He cocked one eyebrow slightly in recognition, and then glanced back at the clock, more for confirmation than anything else. The thing he wondered most about, was what this lateness meant... and was it a statement on her part.

Meanwhile, in another corridor, Jesa rounded the corner... literally seeing red, as the red and beige carpet folded out before her in the spacious hallways that boasted a view of the station's arboretum. This was where the Admiralty worked, in all it's luxury, but Jesa wasn't caring about the grandeur of the place, nor anything else around here, she was mad. She was more than mad, she was furious---she was enraged. It was the first thing she had felt that wasn't pain since the pain began.

In that moment she burst through the doors into Admiral Grier's outer office, her eyes blazing and her hair on fire---not quite, but if it had been so, the look wouldn't have been out of place. The usual cadet serving receptionist duty was absent, being replaced by someone else who looked up coolly from her desk, pushing outdated glasses up her nose. If Jesa had been more in control of her wits, she would have thought something peculiar was up. But in her current state of rage, she could only rampage. Of course, the woman acted like this sort of thing happened every day, and simply placed the padd she was working on down on the desk and spoke. "Hello, may I help you?" she asked without rising.

"You BET your horned rim glasses you can! Tell that Admiral that someone out here he asked for an appointment with, is here---NOW!" Jesa demanded; ignoring the fact the secretary didn't wear horned rimmed glasses. She had stepped close to the desk and now leaned over it, clearly trying to intimidate, or at least annoy, by invading the receptionist's personal space. She only looked up at Jesa and narrowed her eyes. "I will let the Admiral know that..." she glanced down at her screen. "A Lieutenant Commander Callen is here. Please take a seat." She said as calmly as if she had been talking to a well-mannered individual on a leisurely Sunday.

Jesa stood straighter and drove a finger down against the desk. "I am NOT going to wait around until he FEELS like seeing me! He wanted me here! I am here! I want to see him NOW!" she snarled at the unfortunate woman. Again, the receptionist only acted as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. "Look, Lieutenant Commander, the Admiral will see you when he is ready to, an arrangement I expect you would find decent, if someone below you was making an appointment to see you. And by the way, I have a name, it's Janet Mitchell, and you have no reason to shout at me. So you may either take a seat, or I can call security, and you can see the Admiral much later after you get out of the brig."

Even Jesa had to admit it in her irrational state, this receptionist was one cool customer. So instead of causing a scene, the rather livid woman bit her tongue and grumbled under her breath, then stalked over to the waiting room where she sat with a sigh and sent a snarl back in the woman's direction. Jesa may have been enraged, but she wasn't completely without her senses. She noticed the Captain on the way in, but dismissed him as she quickly recognized him from his file as Captain Devar. Totally ignoring him, she crossed her arms in front of her, similarly crossing her legs in a universal gesture meaning "I don't want to talk, leave me alone, or risk your life."

The Captain didn't heed her silent warning, and instead smiled pleasantly. "Greetings, Lieutenant Commander. Sorry the receptionist didn't off you anything. But I know where it is. Could I get you anything? We may be here a couple of hours, depending on what mood he's in. You know how Admiral's are."

She snorted. "Not likely." Then she turned her attention to him with a fiery glare. "No, thank you, Captain Devar." She said, looking away again, her thank you was too anger-filled to have any ring of sincerity.

'Good, she is aware, even if she is enraged.' He thought. "As you wish, Lieutenant Commander." Devar rose and disappeared into a small room whose entrance is hidden by a large fern. A couple minutes later he returned with a single cup of hot tea and some sort of pastry on a white plate. "I for one am betting on a long wait. What makes you think it's 'not likely'?" he said, doing an impromptu impersonation of an angry Callen at the end.

Jesa looked annoyed, no, further than annoyed, irascible; but she reduced it to a small snarl in her words. "I say it's not likely because much posturing goes on inside of these walls. And if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say he is just keeping me waiting long enough to give the impression that this little meeting is low-priority..." she stated firmly, somewhat smugly, then looked at him for another moment. "... and to even draw a further conclusion, I'd say it's a fair bet you're part of it."

"So your hypothesis is that I was called from the Sundstrom in the middle of a mission, back to Starbase 120 just to sit in Admiral Connolly-Grier's waiting room and make chit chat with a grumpy commander." He said with a short laugh and a smile; Callen was not amused.

"I don't draw great illusions of grandeur, but I do have the brains to recognize when something is up, Captain." She said, rather quipped, but not uncontrolled, clamping her mouth and shutting up tighter than a burrowing clam. It was clear she wasn't going to be sociable in even the least degree, and the longer she sat there, the angrier she became.

Devar simply shrugged his shoulders and concentrated on his tea. After several long minutes passed, Devar leaned back and started to read again. "By the way, I am sorry to hear about your captain and ship. I remember when our captain died and the Sundstrom Galaxy Class was decommissioned. No one felt right for months." He paused "It's not easy to lose so much."

"We will survive it..." she said softly, looking straight ahead, unfocused. The response was more automatic than anything else, as she sat there, stewing in her own anger. Devar took another sip of tea and studied the body language of Jesa. She sat quite rigidly, holding her face taught, and her knees crossed over one another. Her hands rested with her wrists crossed, on one knee, her fingers loose. Her whole body looked like a set of springs that could go off any moment. Her chest barely rose and fell as soft breath passed her lips.

'Is she barely hanging on? The Admiral would kill me...' he thought, silently appraising her mental state.

"You know if you ask to be stationed to Earth, they would do it. After what you have been through, you have the right." He said, a little softly.

Jesa turned her head and looked at him, seemingly moving no other portion of her body. "And you, dear Captain, are either are kept very well informed, or have something to do with this whole situation." She said with a quiet venom, then turned her eyes away from him, proceeding to completely ignore anything else he did, or said. She would save her anger, for she had bigger fish to fry.


In the waiting room outside the Admiral's office, sat two figures. On the Admiral's several hundred year old coffee table, a white plate with a few crumbs and a matching empty tea cup rested. Captain Devar didn't spare a glance at the agitated Lieutenant Commander, but instead focused on his work. Jesa, on the other hand, glared blankly into the wall, shifting occasionally and grumbling internally.

Just then a slender figure walked through the doorway, looking quite different than she did a second ago when she was matching Jesa's anger in the stress factor of her words. She nodded at the Captain as he looked up and caught her eye. "Captain Devar, the Admiral will see you now." Her voice was soft, even friendly. Jesa took full notice, but of course, pretended she didn't.

"Thank you Miss Mitchell. I will just get my plate first." Devar said, rising and gathering the dish from the table; expertly wiping the crumbs onto the plate with a cupped hand. Then he disappeared into the side room before straightening his uniform slightly and entering the Admiral's office. Jesa again, pretended not to notice, but a hawk-like gaze rested on Devar' back. 'And just what are you doing now, Captain Devar?' she thought, her eyes narrowed as he disappeared into the inner sanctum.

In short order, Devar once more rested formally in the high-backed chair. The Admiral turned slightly, tapping off his monitor. His voice was slightly bemused as he addressed the captain. "I see why you were promoted from counselor." He paused for effect. "I certainly hope all your sessions didn't go that poorly."

Devar smiled gracefully at the rough joke, and skidded the padd containing his report across the desk. The admiral didn't bother looking at the padd, and turned his attention directly to the Captain. He found it was often more helpful this way, he could always review the padd later.

"So, Captain, what is the verdict? And I don't want to hear she is ready for a padded cell." He ended, the slightest touches of humor vanishing from his statement; indicating the seriousness of the situation.

"Hardly," Devar replied. "I would say she lost someone or several people rather close to her. She is not angry, she is grieving. It just feels the same sometimes. I find her to be a very perceptive and probably resourceful young woman."

"So you are saying she is good to go." He said, attempting to get the statement for the record.

"No, I am saying, as stated in my report, that she needs at least a month, preferably three, of leave while their ship is put back together." He stated forcefully. "...More than likely the whole crew does. It would also help long term to keep the crew together. On deep space vessels, these crews are closer than most families. Be careful though. Rush her off too quickly and you risk turning a potentially talented commanding officer into little more than a useful tool."

"Thank you, Captain." He said, with the slightest masked hints of annoyance. "But it seems you have traveled all this way to tell me what I already knew."

"It would appear that way." he said, then paused for a minute. Seeing as the Admiral seemed to have no further business for him, Devar began to rise. The Admiral caught his movement and motioned him to stay sitting. Grier sat back in his chair and contemplated for a moment, considering. Then he leaned forward and tapped the intercom.

"Ms. Mitchell, send Lieutenant Commander Callen in." he said, then looked at Devar and spoke under his breath. "I'd like you to remain, Captain, as this does require a witness of command rank." Devar nodded in understanding, even as Miss Mitchell's voice came over the intercom with a snort. "You mean you want the bull IN the china shop?"

"Miss Mitchell." The Admiral said in a warning tone, but a small shift in his voice told her that he didn't mind so much. "Aye, I'm sorry, sir." She said, with only the barest sounds of insincerity, a smile heard clearly on her face. "I'll send her in right away."

"Here comes the tornado, brace yourself." The Admiral tossed a slight grin over at the Captain, even as he relaxed into a very complacent posture, adopting an extremely composed and worry-free expression. Devar' eyebrow rose ever so slightly in response as he began to rise and move from the seat.

Jesa shifted slightly in her seat out in the office, wishing in that moment she could look through the walls and watch them. The minutes ticked by mercilessly, though she persistently worked at boring twin holes through the wall with the simple will of a piercing gaze. Then the she-devil who was the receptionist walked into the room tossed a slight glare at Jesa, then said in a stone-cold tone. "The Admiral will see you now."

Jesa almost snorted at the woman's manner. But another red cape had just been waved in front of her, and the trifling secretary was of no concern to her any longer. Rage fairly emanated off her skin as she walked towards the door and chimed it. The seconds that ticked by between that chime and his opening the door seemed like an eternity, and every second allowed her to continue the anger feedback loop that was so dangerous right now. Then, something happened.

The door opened, loosing the beast upon them. Jesa fairly flew through the room, landing in a spot directly across from the Admiral's desk, not even looking at Captain Devar who sat stoically on the couch behind the chair that had been emptied in preparation for Jesa. She stood there a moment, her eyes blazing; she had been composing this moment for the last hour. "LOOK! I am TIRED of being dragged around at the will of the brass! WE just LOST a THIRD of our crew because some diddly-bum in Research and Development decided cutting a few testing corners was a good thing to do. AND then sending us after them with nothing but a load of half-truths about what this whole thing was about! AND the Prophecy fared even WORSE than we! WE HAVE BEEN THROUGH FOUR (!), count them FOUR captains in the last YEAR on the ISANNAH! If that is NOT INCOMPETENCE on someone's part I DON'T KNOW WHAT IS!"

"You are all a bunch of stuck-up paper-pushing bureaucrats, who don't REMEMBER the time you had in the field, nor CARE about the LIVES that were destroyed in your simple word. We are just NUMBERS to you! And to ADD to this, we aren't even granted an IOTA of consideration, and shoved into temporary quarters down below to work on the refit of the ISANNAH! As well as putting ME in charge, this is nothing short of the ill-planned, short-sided, red-taped, idiotic thinking that got us in this mess in the first place! Sure, you don't have to reap the pain and suffering you cause, but let me tell you one THING(!) ADMIRAL! THOSE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO HAVE DIED, and PEOPLE who were my FRIENDS, closer than my FAMILY, and even my FIANCÉ, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! THEIR BLOOD IS ON YOUR HEAD!" she shouted at him, her voice squeaking off at the end.

And then she stood there, breathing heavily; her face still flushed an angry shade of red. The Admiral had sat quietly through all of it, knowing this sort of interaction was due to happen. He steepled his hands, resting his elbows on the arm of the chair, and looked back at her. "Are you finished, Commander?" he asked, quite seriously.

"FINISHED!? FINISHED!? I've only just begun! I could continue on with the ---!" Jesa shouted again, but this time was interrupted. "I'm sure you could, Commander, but we do have some pressing business at hand, such as your promotion." He said calmly, reaching into a drawer and removing a black box with a transparent top, then tossing it on the desk before her, clearly in her sight. That took the wind out of Jesa's sails, as she looked at it, quite stunned.

She looked at the box, she looked at the Admiral, then she looked at the chair---and promptly collapsed into the seat across from him. He looked at her for a moment, at her rather limp form in the chair, supporting her head in her hand, and avoiding his eyes. Then he pressed his intercom. "Miss Mitchell could you bring in two herbal teas with honey, please?" he intoned cheerfully, perhaps a little too cheerfully.

Her despondent posture remained intact even as Miss Mitchell came in and laid the two teas on his desk, taking one look at Jesa out of the corner of her eye and shooting a look at Devar and Grier that asked 'How the hell did you accomplish that!?' Devar bit his lip slightly, trying not to betray any sense of amusement at these proceedings. It certainly was one of the more... unusual promotions he had witnessed. Grier looked over his cup at Jesa.

"Come now, Commander, sip your tea and you'll feel better." He said in a condescending manner, nudging the glass closer to her. Normally, Jesa would have been annoyed at this pat-on-the-head command, but she was the furthest thing from normal at this time. She slowly reached out and grasped it in her hands, and took a long sip, still struck as dumb as she was when he dropped his bombshell. Then she set the glass back on the table and pulled herself up in the chair, sitting now erect and with a more correct posture and poise. She took a deep breath and spoke clearly and distinctly, trying to meet his eyes, but then finding she could not hold the gaze. "Admiral... please accept my apologies for what I just said. I was speaking out of emotion, and it was both not in proper taste and decorum, but was downright rude."

"No, I will not accept your apology, Commander." He began sternly "Because it is absolutely the most amusing thing that has happened to me this week." He ended with a smile, finally drawing her eyes to meet his. Jesa sighed softly, not really happy with this, but the one truth of words was... once they're out, you can't take them back. She felt almost like she had just laid her sliced up heart out on the table, and couldn't pick it back up. Even as her feelings sputtered around in front of her, in full view of everyone, she felt herself slipping back into apathy.

"I am sorry, sir..." she said weakly. Grier stood, tugging the front of his uniform down, then waved his hand in dismissal. "Consider it forgotten." He walked around the table and then picked up the box. Jesa caught his meaning and stood to face him. "On behalf of Starfleet Command, with Captain Devar as witness, I hereby promote you to the rank of Commander, with all duties and privileges therein, upon the successful completion of your examination last month." And he reached up, removed the hollow pip and pinned the third full gold pip on her collar.

"Congratulations, Commander." He said, looking her square in the eye and shaking her hand. At any other time, Jesa would have smiled. But right now, with everything else weighing on her, she only managed a quiet "Thank you, sir."

Devar walked up from behind her and smiled slightly, but not gloating. Actually, a look of recognition and empathy about her situation was what Jesa could see in his eyes as he extended his hand. She shook it firmly, and was about to open her mouth to apologize but caught a slight shake of Devar's head that told her it wasn't necessary. Jesa managed a slight smile in thanks.

"Well, Admiral, if you will excuse me, I need to be returning to my little corner of our mutual fight." He said with a slight bow then looked at Jesa. "Commander Callen it was a... pleasure to meet you." He said, somehow managing to make it sound serious as Jesa mentally cringed at the word 'pleasure'.... Which, she supposed, was the whole point anyway.

"Of course, Captain. Safe journeys." Grier said, as the captain acknowledged his dismissal and left quietly. That left Jesa and the Admiral alone. The changeling stood across from him as Grier resumed his seat. He gestured to the chair, and she sat, determined to at least be polite after what had happened. Connolly-Grier just looked at her for a moment, thinking his own private thoughts about the situation.

Jesa returned his gaze, determining to not fold or show other weakness to him, maybe so the previous incident would be forgotten, or maybe just to keep herself together. After a long moment, he began "Jesa," he said "We need you to take command of the Isannah at this time." Without allowing her space to interject, he continued "Now, you'll be given full leave for a month as the Isannah is undergoing a refit to bring her up to current standards. Most of your crew will be granted the same, if that is your wish. But for at least the first two weeks of it you will be required to stay here on the Starbase, pending the closure of the investigation."

"That is all well and good sir, but I do not feel at this time I am ready or competent to command."

"I'm telling you that you are."


"We could bring someone in from the outside, but as you pointed out yourself, the Isannah has just been through four captains, and we need some stability on that ship."

Jesa laughed bitterly. "So you put her under the command of a junior officer that has been relegated to the shadows from every command position aboard that ship. Someone who is grieving over her dead fiancé, and is a changeling?!"

He looked at her levelly, impressing upon her with his very look, the seriousness of the situation. "Yes." He said simply.

Jesa shook her head, not happy with that answer. "What happened to Richards?" she said. "I have been locked out of the database, and can't get any updates on his status."

"He's in recovery, and he has been reassigned." The Admiral stated plainly, somehow the tone of his voice told her that she shouldn't ask any further. How she hated playing these games. With the enemy it was just dandy, but with those who were supposed to be on the same side, it was infuriating!

"I see..." she said quietly, looking over at him, her face a myriad of thoughts twisting and contorting in all sorts of directions. She almost was showing him that she was thinking deeply. "You also have not offered me any substantial reason why it is important for me to do this, here, now."

He didn't answer her right away, but instead just looked back her with a similar gaze as the one she had been casting upon him. "My dear, my specialty is tactics. That means I get to play with little ships on star maps, and guess what is going on in other tactician's minds." He said, leaning back in his chair and placing the tips of his fingers against each other. "It also means I don't say everything, and don't have to. And most times... it is enough to simply state what I believe the correct course of action is, and it shall be done."

Jesa's face clearly showed the disgust she was feeling right at that moment. Something that did not escape Grier's notice. "You do not seem entirely happy with that, Commander." He stated, prompting her to respond.

She looked at him, her clear blue-gray eyes almost piercing. "Sir, if you were in my place, would you be?" she asked him.

He stood, looking at her for a moment. "No, I wouldn't. And wasn't when I was in your shoes, Commander." Then he turned towards the window. "But you have more friends in high places than you realize, Jesa Callen."

A right eyebrow on her face cocked at his statement, listening to his words. She doubted that very much. But she remained silent, letting him speak. "Particularly, you seem to have quite a champion in Captain Trudeman of the Havela." He said.

In Jesa's mind a distant memory was relived, and words long past came back to haunt her. A chill ran over her skin at the remembrance of his presence. The tall form of Captain Trudeman stood before her, intimidating, as she was a stranger on his ship. But there was something else about him that was amiss, she wasn't sure, but she felt something out of place. Her suspicion was even higher after he had specifically asked her to stay for a moment.

"Ensign Callen, I asked you to remain for a reason you already know." he spoke quietly, looking at her. Jesa blinked, not sure what to make of his statement, her mind working threefold, trying to figure out exactly what he meant. Something seemed familiar to her about him, strangely familiar in a haunting and fearful way.

"May I shake your hand?" he asked, and outstretched his hand. Then it hit her and before she could think about it, he had outstretched his hand, resting it on hers. All of a sudden, the pink flesh turned from its normal humanoid form into an orange, semi-transparent liquid. Jesa jerked her hand back reflexively, feeling fear well up inside her. She tried to not be too obvious as she searched to find the nearest exit available to her.

"I understand." He spoke in response to her movement. Jesa's eyes nearly pierced him with their strength and suspicion. A hundred questions she wanted to ask him, but she would not fold and speak first. She would not be used by another, and she would not play into his hand, not this time.

"Talk you your friend, the one who let you in. I know you don't trust me, I understand that. There are more of us in Starfleet than you know. We should remain in relative secrecy for now, it would only make others fear us. You are the only one known, you pave the way for us. But be careful Jesa Callen, there are some with hidden agendas, and if you should be replaced, they wouldn't be able to tell the difference." He spoke strongly, pretending to be oblivious to her emotional state.

Jesa stared at him, ready to bolt if he made the wrong move. Her posture showed steadfastness, but a hidden anger and mistrust. She looked at him longer than was necessary. "You are right, I don't trust you. How do I know you aren't a Founder?" It was almost a rhetorical question, she knew for the same reason Gear had known... that she, at that moment at least, wasn't being coerced or killed. But maybe that was part of the plan...

He only gave a short laugh. "You are good, but you already know; so I shan't go over it again. Perhaps someday we can talk about our relative pasts..." he said, seeming to reach out for a connection himself. Jesa shot him a look that screamed 'don't hold your breath'. He laughed, but not at her, in some recognition of himself in her eyes. "If you need anything don't hesitate to call on me."

Jesa smirked at him. It wasn't likely she call on anyone, much less a Changeling... for anything! Frankly, she trusted her own species about as much as she trusted a fish not to swim. She knew their nature, and that she could not be a part of. He seemed to take her lack of faith very lightly, and with either much understanding, or with much disregard. "I know," he intoned, reading her face like a book "...but someday you may. Goodbye Ensign Jesa Callen, Deck Officer of the USS Isannah." He said with mock formality "May we meet again."

"Jesa?" she heard echo, then she snapped back to the present, and looked up to see Grier looking at her.

"Yes, I remember Captain Trudeman." She intoned, as if nothing had happened at all. She disliked Grier's use of her first name. 'Those days, in the past... those were the good days.' She thought silently, in contemplation of her flashback. She took a deep breath. "And I understand... I don't like it, but I understand." Jesa was folding, she wouldn't admit it to herself, but it was more a surrender to what they wanted, rather than something she wished---chosen by her own free will.

He smiled the barest of smiles. "So do all of us... Will you take command?" he asked, looking at her.

Jesa sighed, shaking her head slightly. "Yes." Her voice was obviously expressing her unhappiness, she tilted her head back to keep the tears back, as suddenly she was back in a time when she and Buck were discussing their careers. And he was offered the XO position on the Hammond. He turned it down... for her. And now he was not here, she was... she had a career, but what good was it?

Grier noticed her face, but decided it was just best to ignore it. "Good, then we should get down to business." Jesa bit her lip slightly, looking at him, not believing she was doing this. She shook her head slightly. "Yes... I guess we should." She said.

'What will they think about this?' she asked herself silently, thinking of all of those right now, who were grieving in their own way, aboard the Isannah.

Loaded: 03.10.2004

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