(( Red Carrier Employee Domicile 14, Iana Station, 0132 hours the next day ))
Covered in sweat and grime, filthy and exhausted, the two stumbled back to their domicile, their task complete. The shuttle pieces had been hastily strapped down and the whole thing moved over to sector 66 of the drydock just as they'd been ordered to do. The worker bee, as Catscratch had correctly stated, had barely been started.
Too tired to talk much, Catscratch took the first sonic shower, and Mikali went in after her.
When she came out, Mikali found Catscratch lying on the floor, eyes open and staring up at the roof.
Catscratch: I hate Bolians now.
Mikali's bones ached and her fingers were sore. She just wanted to sleep. Instead she knelt beside Catscratch, patting her lap.
sh'Shar: Talk to me, kitty-cat.
Catscratch wiggled her head until it lay against Mikali's legs.
Catscratch: You definitely heard it, right? With those wigglies of yours?
Catscratch: Pff. I knew I wasn't imagining it. ::She whimpered softly.:: Aren't people supposed to judge us based on how we are, not how we were? Isn't that what people are supposed to do?
sh'Shar slid her hands around Catscratch's shoulders, gently squeezing them, massaging slowly. Her friend was so tense, it was like kneading steel. She switched tracks, slowly moving up the Caitian's neck.
sh'Shar: They're supposed to, yes. When it's not personal.
Catscratch: Okay, so, he's the bad guy here. We're the ones doing the best to fix up our lives, right? He was the jerk. We were doing what we were supposed to do.
Mikali considered a moment, hand playing through her friend's hair.
sh’Shar: Maybe. Sure, he’s a jerk. But he has a point.
Catscratch snorted, ears flattening on her head.
Catscratch: What point?
Mikali inhaled softly, held that breath for a moment, then let it out.
sh’Shar: Catscratch, there’s a reason I was riding you about the worker bee, and there’s a reason why Priard treats us like that. ::Softly,:: I imagine that you’re not alone in skipping necessary checks. Not alone in not doing things properly. The right way. And if you do shoddy work, reputation gets around.
Catscratch: So? He doesn’t have to be... that way.
sh’Shar: I used to be that way. ::The admission was difficult for her, but out it came anyway.:: Being a dick to the enlisted. Throwing your weight around as an officer. Picking on people who can’t fight back. I was a Jay-Gee just like him, in a similar position to him, and I know the smell of myself when I catch it. He’s just a sober circa-2390 Mikali.
Catscratch didn’t say anything, but she also clearly didn’t believe her.
sh’Shar: If I had my time over again, I wouldn’t be like that. Going forward, I won’t. That’s what change is. Positive change. That’s what I’m hoping will convince Starfleet to give me another chance. ::She tried something else.:: Do you think Priard should be punished for this?
Catscratch: Yeah, pretty much. He was a tool!
Mikali puffed out her breath through her nose, chewing on her lower lip.
sh'Shar: It's my experience that nobody gets up in the morning and goes, "Goodness, today is certainly a day for being wicked. I am the bad guy and today I will act like it." Lieutenant Priard, he... is behaving as good as he can be according to his moral compass. He sees people like us and he thinks, "Well, they are terrible people, and they’re in my way." He's not a monster.
Catscratch: He was rude. He called us a name. Made us do work for no reason. He didn't just cost us the better part of a day, we’ll have to get up early tomorrow again and it's already well past midnight.
sh'Shar: I know.
Catscratch: ::Angrily,:: He didn't even know us! He had no idea what we'd been through, what we'd done and what we were doing to fix it. He just saw the chocolate uniforms and made up his mind on the spot!
It wasn’t that. Mikali gently tried to nudge Catscratch toward the truth.
sh'Shar: Maybe. But I know how he thinks. He sees a problem, he wants that problem to be gone. I did the same thing.
Catscratch: But you don’t anymore.
She tried not to say something silly. Tried very hard.
sh’Shar: I know, but people don't see the effort you put into changing yourself, they only see the damage you've done. If he was judging you, it was because nobody comes into this program with a clean history. He probably knew that.
Catscratch's whiskers twitched, her ears pinning back.
Catscratch: So that's it, then. I just have to be judged forever based on what I did.
sh'Shar: ::Kindly,:: You and me both, girlfriend.
Catscratch sniffed, rubbing at her nose with her hand.
Catscratch: They won't forgive me, will they? The people out there. I'm never going to be free of this.
Whatever joy had been building in her voice faded away.
sh'Shar: I don't think either of us will.
Catscratch: I should just take a stroll out an airlock and get it over with, then.
Mikali squeezed Catscratch's shoulders tightly, leaning over her as though physically holding her there. That kind of finality was something that had crossed her mind, in her darker moments. The thought of it happening to her Caitian friend was unbearable.
sh'Shar: Please don’t.
Catscratch: Phht. Explain it to me, then. What's the point of even being here? We just work, and work, and the galaxy looks down its nose at us and... what, exactly? In ten years time, are we still held accountable for what we did? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred? In ten thousand years, will archeologists dig up our bones and go, "Here lies Screw-up and Blue-up, they were bad."?
Mikali thought about her answer before she gave it, still holding Catscratch snugly.
sh'Shar: It's not about what's behind you. It’s what’s ahead that you can control. You can't do anything about the past; it's a road that's already been built, and paved, and walked. The future is the only thing you can change. It's taken me a long time to learn this lesson. ::Softly,:: Maybe too long.
The confession seemed to surprise the Caitian.
Catscratch: Phht. I'm screwed, but I'm not you. You'll be fine. You're going to get your commission back no sweat, and you're going to be hanging out with Benna every day by Christmas.
Her optimism was genuine and refreshing, but Mikali didn't think it was going to be that simple. She relaxed her hold on Catscratch, straightening her back again.
sh'Shar: The more I talk with Valen the more I think that won't happen.
Catscratch squirmed around, peering up at Mikali with a single wide eye.
Catscratch: You're kidding, right? No way. You're doing way better than anyone else in the program. Way better than me. ::She frowned darkly.:: You should stop seeing that head-shrink if she won't support you. Like I told you in the first place.
Mikali definitely didn't want that at all.
sh'Shar: No. She helps me a lot. And she supports me, she just... ::Mikali struggled to find the right words.:: She... supports my overall health, in every way. She supports me in finding happiness in whatever way I can. She supports me working, and even in Starfleet, with some misgivings.
Hesitation. More combing of fingers through Caitian head-hair.
sh'Shar: I... told her something, the truth about something I'd done, and it changed the way she looks at me. It hasn't been the same since. She was full of optimism in the beginning, saying I could do it, confident... but after that day, everything's been... different. Asking why I want to go back to Starfleet anyway, you know. Trying to find something else for me to do. “There’s a galaxy of opportunities out there, Mikali!”. ::She sighed.:: I don't think she forgives me for it and I don't think she can, but she's sticking with me, and so I'm sticking with her too.
sh'Shar: Still. She thinks less of me now. She still supports me trying to help myself, she... she just...
Mikali couldn't find a good way to explain the gulf between them that seemed to be more than a medical professional's requisite ethical distance.
sh'Shar: Just once, before this year-long program is over, I want her to say that she's proud of me. Genuinely. Without an implied "but". I want her to feel that pride, and I think if I can get that, then I'll be... I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be proud of myself a little bit too. I haven't gotten there yet. I'm putting a lot of effort into it... I thought I almost had her in the last session, but I stuffed it up. Still. I'll keep trying.
Catscratch began to purr softly.
Catscratch: I'm proud of you. Are you proud of me?