Burdens of Command: The First Session
S1-A1-Ep. 1: Spectrophobia
Location: USS Poseidon; Counselling Suite, Deck 6
Timeline: During Patrol in the Betreka Nebula
Tags: Franklin Johnson, Counselling, Betreka Nebula, Gorn Relation
Kana was making the finishing touches to her set-up this early morning in her large Counselling suite ahead of her next patient. Since their extended stay at Starbase 47, she had been able to secure a few more decorative items to give the otherwise rather neutral space a sense of character and colour. On the walls now hung various paintings and pieces of art, each reflecting the cultures represented within the crew. Sculpture decorated the empty spaces in corner at the far end of the room, along with large potted plants to contrast with them; give them a sense of breathing and living, so she liked to think. Along with these, she had from her own possession brought a selection of reading material into the room: primarily Human and Vulcan classical philosophy, but there were also reading materials on a wide variety of human sciences. On the wall behind her desk, she had finished hanging all her qualifications, and on the desk itself there were a number of personal embellishments.
Along with all these artistic touches, she had procured a slightly larger coffee table from Operations, which now took a more central location in the room on top of a rather vibrant rug, with two spacious lounge chairs on either side. She had it arranged so that her side would always have the viewscreen behind her, so that the patient would always have the backdrop of space behind her. That worked particularly nicely in the present location, with the wide variety of colours of the Betreka Nebula's gas-clouds slowly swirling and dancing in the space beyond. On the coffee table she had just finished placing down a tray with a boiled teapot and two cups, with a selection of sugar and other supplements, as well as some water. She had also prepared a board of healthy breakfast foodstuffs - fruits, nuts, cold meats and bread. Kana had booked this to be a long session, as she imagined she and her patient would have a lot to talk about, hence why she thought it might be more comfortable for them to start their sessions over a relaxed breakfast.
"Computer, time till Captain Franklin's counselling session?" The Chief Counsellor asked aloud. A few seconds passed, but then a response came from the ships computer.
"Captain Franklin's counselling session is scheduled to begin in four minutes."
Kana let out a breath of contentment as she took one last glance over the room to ensure that everything was as she wanted it. When she was sure, she straightened her jacket as she then patiently waited for the Captain to arrive. She knew that he would be nervous; in an odd way, that made her nervous for him, too.
It had been his goal to avoid this session for as long as he could. Captain Franklin Johnson awkwardly adjusted his uniform as he exited the turbolift for deck 6. He had just concluded another batch of reports in the CRR, which constituted lately the majority of his time. He felt more like a manager of a large company now rather than some actual star captain of a space ship, as most of that time that he felt required that label was detracted by the fact he rarely got a chance to even sit in his Captain's chair. It did, however, present to him the value of the time when he was able to. It was a gripe, nothing more, and nothing he expressed to anyone else readily enough. Still, he wished he had more time in that chair, more time to enjoy his position.
A grumbled sigh of resignation as he rounded a corner towards the Counselling offices. He had promised his XO that he would conclude their original session soonish and had not intended to complete that promise this soon. He hated counselling, hated the prospect of revealing so many weaknesses about himself. In the end, he decided earlier this shift in his Captain's Ready Room, it was better to get it out of the way than to allow the issue to grow. A slight grumble was allowed before he gave a polite nod to a passing group of Cadets and a Lieutenant. He approached the specified door and initiated the chime.
The Chief Counsellor pivoted on her heel as she heard the chime. Clearing her throat, she confidently called for Franklin to enter, "Come."
When the Captain was permitted entry, Franklin stopped in the doorway to admire the changes to the room. Before it had been barren, almost spartan in appearance. Now, it was clear that significant changes had been done to the rooms presentation and atmosphere. Franklin admired the new statues and general theme of things. Many of the various cultures were presented in the artwork here, along with what he could tell was a few human and Vulcan works in the literature stored on a few of the shelves. What caught his attention the most, however, was the presented table with food and drink offerings. The way it was presented, laid out, signalled a more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere than the one he had entered before.
The backdrop of space through the viewport added another dimension to the relaxed approach of the room. Almost instantly the defences the Captain had manufactured were shattered and, slowly, his shoulders relaxed as well as his posture. He comfortably adjusted his uniform as he gave his Executive Officer a slow nod.
"Kanaka," he announced, eyes still admiring the rooms new changes. "I like what you did with the place. It feels....nicer..."
It was clear he was still nervous to be here. Still, he had tried to offer some sort of appreciation for the efforts that were taken. He shifted nervously on each foot, waiting for her to signal which seat he should take.
Kana could sense how quickly the Captain's defences relaxed when he appreciated the new décor and space of the room. She smiled warmly in appreciation at his compliment. "Thank you, Franklin. It took a lot of work and a fair bit of negotiation with both the stores on Starbase Forty-Seven and Operations, but it certainly makes it feel more...homely, you could say."
Noticing how he continued to shift on his feet, she gestured a hand to the lounge chair on the side of the table looking across to the viewport. "Please, take a seat. I prepared us a nice breakfast spread and a pot of green tea." As she moved round to her side of the table, she picked up the ceramic teapot - decorated with a blend of Betazoid iconography - and began to pour the beverage into both cups. Once both poured, she also sat down, the backdrop of the Nebula almost embracing her when she relaxed into the chair.
"Please do also help yourself to the food." She gestured to the healthy and wide variety of choice she had prepared for them both, wanting to give her guest first pick not only out of politeness but because she was also intrigued to see what his choices would be.
"So..." She began, "How have you been finding the Betreka Nebula so far? Are you happy with how the ship and crew has been performing?"
Franklin gave a warm smile in return to the offered seat, taking it as he eyed the food and offered a sincere, "Thank you very much!", for the food provided. It was a homely spread of dishes that he was quite frankly surprised to see Kanaka have anything to do with. In particular was a dish of scrambled eggs and bacon, which he promptly grabbed a share of onto an empty provided plate. He added in what appeared to be french toast, but wasn't particularly sure. He noticed the Uttaberry crêpes and grabbed two, which he knew was a Betazoid dish.
"That's a very beautiful teapot," Franklin said with mouth half-full, chewing politely as he motioned with a fork. "What do the symbols mean?"
"Hm? Oh." She looked at the ceramic teapot she had just used to pour their drinks. "It's a scene, a continuation of an ancient Betazoid storytelling tradition about the creation of the Four Deities." Using her finger, she traced along them as she explained it all to Franklin.
"You see here the Tumultuous Waters, which froth and boil with endless energy and emotion. It's from these waters, so it's said, that the Deities achieved consciousness and forced themselves outwards and in that moment caused the explosion that set about creation." There was a glint in her eye as she recounted the story, as if it brought back a fond memory. "The story goes that we Betazoids were born from the first tears of the Deities as they faced the cold harshness of their new reality, and that is why we are so attuned to emotions and to the mind. We brought them joy, and so with their labour we were given abundance, which Betazed strives to maintain to this age."
A brief moment to swallow as he tried the tea, nodding in appreciation at the story and with a new understanding. "That is indeed a beautiful story," he said as almost instantly his expression relaxed as he released a soft "mmm" sound of utter contentment. He savoured the tea, nodding again to himself as he set his cup down.
"As for the Nebula," Franklin continued as he provided an answer to the previous question from Kanaka, "It's been rather interesting. I'm enjoying watching the cadets go about their exploration finally. I'm seeing vast groups of them genuinely learning about their departments and what is involved in life on board a starship. The Commodore and I shared a private message earlier this week and we remarked how morale has skyrocketed across the ship. This was definitely a good pit stop."
Kana listened to Franklin's words as she took her first sip of the tea and sat back in her chair, assuming a relaxed posture. Her eyes though were keen on taking in everything about the man in front of her; another trick about having her patient on this side is that, while they could be comforted by the backdrop of space behind her, that meant they were less attuned to the fact that they were being observed. It was a trick she had developed from hours of people-watching in starbase canteens, where she would take a booth next to a viewport, making it far easier to blend in against the large backdrop of the void of space.
"I concur," She added when it was naturally her opportunity to speak, "I have certainly felt an improvement in the mood of the ship since our arrival. The cadets are certainly beginning to build some confidence, and what with there being plenty to do, they've been able to let go of their fears for the time being. I suspect that once we're done here there will be a lull again, but this time we will be prepared and able to help them through that as we wait for our next assignment."
A brief pause as she allowed Franklin to enjoy his drink and food, and then she asked the next question. "And how are you feeling, about your performance?"
Franklin uttered a sigh as he gave a shrug, setting the tea cup gingerly down. His eyes downcast and shoulders slumped a bit as he was deep in thought. A moment later he resumed a more proper posture for one of his position, looking back up to his XO and Chief Counsellor.
"Not that well, but at the same time I think I've improved?" he said in the form of a question. "I believe I've done better, I believe I'm providing the crew with the leadership they need. I've seen more of the crew than I have since our initial shakedown, that's for sure. A lot of those we had in the beginning have since moved on to bigger, better things which is fantastic for me. There were points I thought it my fault some left, but I have to remember the purpose of this ship and assignment from the Academy, so in that regard I think I've done fantastic."
He gave a soft shrug, adding, "but I still doubt. I still think, in my gut, something else is going on that I'm not seeing. I get a nagging feeling that at any moment, this entire world will crash around me and I won't be able to handle it."
Kana listened intently to the Captain's reply, noting how he initially expressed his doubts but then was quick to rebuttal himself with the sense that he had improved, something she thought was true. While he had relaxed, it was obvious that in his mind he was still wrestling with many different feelings. That was what was engaging for Kana, if not even a tad exciting: the opportunity to help someone uncouple themselves from those worries, to see the larger picture. For a man like Franklin, that was doubly important.
Having given him a brief moment to ensure he'd expressed everything he wanted to say, the Chief Counsellor chimed in. "I absolutely think it's right to say you've grown more into the role, and I have noted how active you've been in involving yourself with the crew. It's comforting to them, I think, to have such a present and empathetic leader in their lives. I have no doubt it brings some small sense of comfort to you, too; you don't strike me as the recluse type." She flashed him a warm smile of encouragement.
"I would not say there's any fault for you in the departures we've had since our initial shakedown." She continued with a considerate tone, her hands mimicking the weighing of scales as she expressed her thoughts. "While we have had our fair share of comings and goings in our relatively short service history thus far, like you said, our status as an active Academy vessel means that we're going to have a lot of those. What's more, I think that helps the cadets get to grips with the ever-changing nature of Starfleet; rarely do we ever stay in one place. Or even quadrant, for that matter!" She laughed softly.
"Which no doubt forms part of your own niggling doubts at the moment. You invest so much in your crew, and that makes you a Captain that cadets and senior officers alike can trust. But with their coming and going, it becomes a question of whether you ever really feel like you can trust them." She paused deliberately for a moment, giving him a chance to take in the thought before continuing, "You certainly are willing to, that's not the issue. But with all that has happened - in particular, the events of the Bright Nebula - it can be increasingly hard to feel secure in that trust. We're still processing a great deal of trauma, and that's OK."
She felt like she had said enough at that point, and decided to see whether Franklin would voluntarily fill the silence or whether he would wait to be prompted by another question. Until then, giving him the time to eat, drink and think on it was just as good a use of the time as any.
Franklin gave a sincere nod to each one of his XO's points, whom now acted in her role as Chief Counsellor. Her last remark, though, seemed to hit a nerve within the Captain as he visibly flinched. He brought up a hand quickly to rub his eyebrow, which had been the offending body part to flinch, before settling down for a moment to enjoy another bite of food and some drink. His eyes were distant for a moment before he managed to look back at Kanaka.
"I think the Battle of the Bright Nebula was a real eye opener not only for my crew and our cadets, but for me also," Franklin finally said. "Having to manage so many public and private memorial services almost did me in. It also showed me how vulnerable our ship really is in comparison to modern technology. The Poseidon may have a prestigious history, but that did little to save those twenty-three souls as they were sucked out into space from that weapon strike."
A gaze was cast to the exterior of the vessel behind Kanaka as Franklin adjusted the words in his mind. A brief moment later, he continued as he leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and chin rested on the fists created by his hands.
"If there was any moment that made me question my abilities as a Commanding Officer, it was that moment," Franklin admitted as he continued. "I had a lot of reflecting to do after that, but one of the most prominent excuses that kept me going was the knowledge that my crew did their jobs extremely well. We worked within what we had and succeeded. Only by some good graces didn't we get destroyed, now with the knowledge that we faced even greater odds. I think it's that situation that has me on edge, knowing they're still out there, waiting and watching. I wonder if that's why Starfleet has us out here. As bait to lure them to a trap?"
A soft sigh as he relaxed from his reflective posture, leaning up and back to sit properly in his chair. He continued after taking a sip of his drink.
"All that weighs on me, and I realize as I stated earlier it has all improved me in some capacity. At the end of the day I feel..."
At this his words drifted, it was clear he was having difficultly in describing those feelings. His emotions were a mixture of things. Most of which was excitement and a growing sense of confidence, but even in that a sense of deep foreboding and doubt was poking its head through.
Kana listened intently to each of Franklin's words, noting the twitch in his eyebrow and the movement of his hands and the change in his seating position as he spoke. He was clearly pent up with a hefty amount of anxiety, she thought, but it was worth noting that for the most part he did a good job of not showing it; clearly, this had been his life's experience even before he ever sat in the Captain's chair. Sipping her tea while she listened, she only interjected when he asked for her comment on the mission. His anxiousness betrayed him when he suggested that Starfleet could be using them as 'bait'.
"I think they have us out here, Franklin, because they realise that we are - for whatever reason - an attractive target for the pirates. So better to be on a proactive footing then be caught unaware. You're right, the Poseidon isn't impervious, but neither are they. We were caught off-guard at the Bright Nebula; we're prepared this time." She gave him a confident and reassuring look.
When Franklin became caught up on his words to describe how he felt, it didn't take much for the Betazoid Chief Counsellor to sense the swirling emotions emanating from him. After a while of being unable to complete his sentence, Kana now felt it was time to be proactive and help him in confronting the root of his current conflict. Crossing her legs, she put her tea down and held onto her knee as she looked Franklin directly in the eyes.
"You feel that while you have grown, it is as though you're only two steps away from being let down. Of letting your crew down, letting Paladin down. Letting yourself down." They were harsh truths, but by no means said in a mean way. Rather, her tone was quite soothing. "You're afraid that no matter how much you progress, it's still not enough. That it will never be enough. I get the sense you've had these self-doubts for a very long time, Franklin."
She gave him a moment to take that all in, before leaning in and adding. "But don't let those fears undermine what you also know to be true: You're a survivor. Despite these constant doubts, you've never failed to press onwards, and each time you've grown and adapted. That, I feel, is what likely drew Paladin to you in the first place; what made him desire to see you in the Captain's chair. A good Captain may insist on never letting himself make mistakes; it takes a great one to accept that mistakes are inevitable, and that it's how we learn from them that defines our success."
Franklin gave a nod of understanding. He gave a sigh as he relaxed in the chair, thinking back to when these emotions started.
"I suppose I should tell someone the story finally," he mused.
Then he began to tell the tale of his first romantic encounter on the S.S. Shipman's Quest, with a particular Gorn female named Nekol. About the aftermath of the relationship, the lack of a conclusion, and his eventual abandonment on Alpha Centauri.
Kana, happy that the Captain was starting to feel more comfortable in confronting his past and his feelings, would sit and listen for a while longer. While there would be plenty more sessions still to come, this was a watershed moment for the two of them, one which would hopefully make the burdens of command a lot easier to carry from here on out.
Captain Franklin Johnson
Commander Kanaka "Kana" Shakura
Executive Officer & Chief Counsellor