The Honesty of Brick Walls

Characters: Peter Carlacci, Katia Santiago

Peter Carlacci was leaning back in his chair, keeping one eye on the scarlet swirl of hyperspace on a small screen at his console and the other on the nearly empty bridge around him. Suddenly — but not unexpectedly — Yoshino scurried out of a lift, across the bridge and slipped into the seat at the Ops console nearby. He looked over to her, and said, “Captain’s in her office. But I got a message from Morgan, so I know I don’t have to kill you for being late.” Then he winked.

The vivid flush that had already begun spreading across Yoshino’s pale cheeks stalled. She caught her breath, then broke into a fit of giggles, which she futilely tried to hide behind her hand. “Thank you, Carlacci-san, you’re too kind,” she said when she could finally speak properly.

He grinned. “Not a problem. Too many other things a lot more important to worry about. Besides, I heard you were taking a flight test. How’d it go?”

She managed a shy smile. “Not bad for a first try. But I won’t be leaving this desk just yet.”

“Well, good luck next time. In the meantime I’ve heard you do very good work here, too. So I think I owe you a status update.”

“Yes, please.”

He noted the relief in her expression at the change of subject, filing it in his head with what he’d seen of her at the party the night before and what he’d gotten from her assistant Darion. Sometimes he felt like he should be some kind of personnel officer, not a navigator, the way he felt compelled to size up his shipmates. It had been a habit ever since the war, and his Ranger training had only sharpened the skill.

“It’s been a very quiet trip so far, actually. Not a lot to tell.” He smiled. “Still on course, ETA to the Abbai system six hours. All ship’s systems show nominal performance.”

“Thank you. I trust the jump engines are performing to your satisfaction?”

“Very much so. I was going to go talk to Santiago about the recycle rates, but it’s not a complaint.”

She nodded. “I don’t know how much trouble we might expect, but …”

Carlacci knew exactly how much trouble they could expect, but it seemed better to spare her the details. He simply said, “Exactly,” and from her sober nod as she turned away to her own console, knew she understood.

He watched her discreetly for a little longer, as she studied reports and had hushed conversations with others across the ship, making sure all was well. He smiled to himself. Yoshino, he thought, was one he could trust as far as he had to. In some ways, she reminded him of Marie. He’d have to introduce her to Candace, when he got back…

But for now, he thought, he’d better make good on his remark to Yoshino, and go visit the Chief Engineer. He had originally intended to talk to her when she came up to the bridge, but after her little talk with the captain at the viewports, he’d decided at least a short break was in order.

He had no idea what had been said between the two women, but the tension had been rippling off both of them in waves. The last thing he needed on his second day was to get into the middle of something like that, though he couldn’t help but wonder what it was about.

As he rode the lift down to Engineering, he decided to try Santiago, and see if she would come forth with a few answers.

In her office, Katia sat alone, studying the reports she had forwarded to herself from the bridge. It was quiet here, enough distance from the press of minds to make them easy to block.

She looked up in surprise, trying to identify a strange sound from the doorway. After a moment, she realized — someone had knocked on the door, rather than using the chime. “Come,” she said.

A human Ranger entered at a brisk walk, smiling as he approached. He was rather taller than Katia, and a streak of white blazed across his dark hair at one temple. “Santiago?”

Her brow furrowed as she tried to place the man in front of her. He was certainly new to the ship. She might have noticed him at the party the night before, but the encounter with Morgan had taken most of her attention. She gave a nod to fill the space, and said, “Yes, how can I help you?”

He bowed in the Minbari fashion. “Carlacci, Peter Carlacci.” The he offered a hand. “Helmsman.” As her expression stayed blank, he added helpfully, “Jump engineer?”

Katia nodded again as she stood up, hesitating a moment before reaching out and gripping Carlacci’s hand, keeping the contact quick, light and minimal. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Carlacci. How can I help you today?”

“Actually, I thought perhaps we could help each other,” he said, slipping his hand into a pocket. He had to resist the urge to look at it and make sure there wasn’t something messy on it.

The Chief Engineer raised one eyebrow, trying to smile. She wasn’t used to it. “Oh? In what way?”

Carlacci relaxed his jaw, which had begun to clench. He was getting the sense that he was being toyed with, and he didn’t like it. But, he reminded himself, he could be mistaken. Best to give her the benefit of the doubt.”Well, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the Phoenix’s tech, but I have been doing a bit of research,” he said, putting on a self-deprecating smile. “I have some ideas that could improve the jump engines’ recycle rates.”

Katia blinked, then nodded. “Okay…I would appreciate hearing them. If in any way they help, I am sure we could incorporate them into the current systems.”

“It’s all here,” he said, setting a data crystal on the desk. “I’m afraid it’s the best I can do by way of introduction and credentials.”

“It isn’t a problem,” she said, chuckling a little. “I am at least willing to glance over what other people come up with and see if it can’t help.”

Carlacci looked at her for a moment, finally beginning to understand. It wasn’t that she was toying with him, or being rude. She just wasn’t used to dealing with people at all. So he smiled and said, “That’s reassuring. It would be really boring if the person I have to work most closely with didn’t want anything to do with me.”

Katia couldn’t help but smile, though she thought her face might crack from lack of practice. “That would seem to cause a problem, wouldn’t it?”

“Just a little, yes,” he said, grinning back. She picked the crystal up and put it into the port on her desk, studying the files that appeared. “Hmmm… this definitely looks like it could work,” she said, mostly to herself.

“It’ll mainly be a matter of getting the extra power to the jump engines at the right time,” Carlacci said. He paused for a moment, then decided to take the conversation a step further. “Santiago?”

“Hmm?”

“You’ve been on this ship quite a while. I just came on yesterday. So maybe you can answer something for me.”

She looked up, giving him her full attention. “Yes?”

“Why does it seem like half the command staff are –” He cut himself off, then said, “Never mind. It’s probably not an appropriate question.”

“Are what, Mr. Carlacci?” Katia’s brow furrowed again. She kept her blocks up, though she wondered what he could possibly be asking.

After another moment’s consideration, he finally said, “Are acting like they’re on their way to their own execution?”

She blinked, looking up at him with a jaw gone slack. “Uh … I am not quite sure what you’re getting at,” she said, adding to herself, ‘our own execution?’ I didn’t realize we were that bad.

“So grim, so … fatalistic?” He was gratified by the response — it struck him as the first completely unguarded moment Katia had given him — but he wasn’t sure how to press the advantage. “I grant you, it’s dangerous where we’re going, what we’re doing … but …” He shrugged, not knowing what else to add.

She looked down and away, her features freezing into an impassive mask. “The Phoenix has been through her share of misery in the past few months, Mr. Carlacci. You are coming in on a time when people are recovering from that and trying to put it behind them.”

Think you just blew that one, Carlacci. He gave Katia a long look, but there was nothing to be had. Whatever was going on, she’d just snatched it far out of his reach. He sighed, running a hand through the white hair at his temple. It was a poor substitute for swearing. “As you wish,” he said at last, keeping his tone calm. “I guess I’ll be getting back to the bridge then.”

She nodded. “I appreciate your bringing these improvements to my attention, I will do my best to see how we can integrate them into our systems. I will be getting in contact with you.”

Yep, you blew it. Massively. “Right,” he said, bowed and left her.


© 1999 Tamara Friese and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.