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The Mouth of Babes

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Elnor is overjoyed that Picard is no longer dead.

He would hold him and never let go if he could, but Picard isn’t very fond of hugs – a great pity – and Elnor himself is not entirely comfortable around him yet, and Picard is uncomfortable too since Elnor has told him that. Raffi and Soji and Doctor Jurati take all of Picard’s time anyway, so Elnor slips away one morning and goes to where la Sirena should be.

He thinks Seven might be there, and he hasn’t seen Captain Rios in a while now, and he misses both of them.

When he arrives at the charred spot where the ship initially crash-landed, he is surprised to see that there is nothing there. Why? Elnor wonders, anxiety coalescing in his chest into a mean jadashha that snaps and bite at his innards. Surely Captain Rios wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye? He wouldn’t leave Raffi, that is unthinkable.

But then Elnor remembers than Picard and Doctor Jurati used the ship to stop the Zhat Vash, and that they beamed down and left it up there. Nobody must have brought it back to the surface. Elnor goes back to the city and looks for Raffi, because she should know where Rios is.

He doesn’t find Raffi, but he finds Soji in a courtyard, angrily staring at her communicator. He doesn’t know Soji well, but he knows that Picard cares about her – that he died for her, which makes Elnor feel all kinds of sad and funny when he thinks about it – so she must be alright. She is Data’s daughter, and Elnor loved the stories about Data when he was a child.

“Soji,” he greets. He notices the pile of communicators next to her and the neural-enhanced portable replicator she is holding, and he frowns. “Do you have a problem with your communicator?”

Yes,” she snaps, “how did you guess?”

Elnor is a bit taken aback, but he quickly understands the problem.

“You are frustrated, and you are not yet accustomed to the way of absolute candor, adding to your irritation. If you wish me to leave, I will go.”

Soji holds up a hand and beckons him closer, the “hold on” implied by her gestures. He approaches and studies the communicator she is holding. It does not appear broken, and the others don’t either. Elnor is puzzled.

“I do not understand, they appear to be functioning.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Soji sighs. She holds up the device for him to see. “It works well for on-planet communication, but I can’t seem to get a hold of Rios.”

Elnor perks up.

“You wish to speak to Captain Rios? I was looking for him, I haven’t seen him in several days. Or Seven.”

Soji hands him the comm badge and starts fiddling with another one.

“You are growing increasingly agitated,” Elnor notices. Out of curiosity, he taps on the badge himself and raises it to his mouth. “Hello, Captain Rios, this is Elnor. Can you hear me?”

Silence answers him, and Soji gives him a strange look. It might have been meant to convey “told you so,” but Elnor is not yet entirely familiar with Human facial expressions. They can slightly differ from Romulan ones, and there was no need for face reading among the Qowat Milat. He tilts his head and waits for her to stop trying to get the other badge to work, studying her in the meantime.

“Rios, come in,” she says curtly in the device. “I need to beam up.”

“You do not appear to be eager to speak to Captain Rios,” Elnor points out, confused. “You are angry and short-tempered, when there is no actual reason for you to be. What is the real cause of your frustration?”

Soji huffs and crosses her arms, and looks heavenwards.

“Nothing too important. I’m just… I just thought I would get away from the city a little bit, now that things are settling. I just want to spend a day and a night up there and come back.”

Elnor nods in understanding. He looks at the communicator again, just as Doctor Soong strides into view. Elnor doesn’t like Doctor Soong. He has already told him once and been informed by Picard and Raffi that it was not an appropriate thing to say, but now Doctor Soong knows and the dislike is mutual. The time for hostilities is past, though, so Elnor nods politely when the man walks to them.

“Soji, Elnor,” Doctor Soong greets, studying the communicator pile with the same interest as Elnor has previously displayed. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to call Captain Rios,” Soji explains, tossing one of the badges at Doctor Soong. “Is there a disruption in the planetary tachyon field? None of these seem to work.”

Doctor Soong frowns and checks something on a very small portable holo-transmitter he had in his pocket, frowning at the green floating screen. Elnor doesn’t know what the readings mean, so he waits.

“Well,” Doctor Soong says after a minute, “there is no disruption at all, and your badges are working just fine. Either the ship is experiencing a malfunction, or Captain Rios is ignoring you.”

The jadashha is back, gnawing at Elnor’s stomach. Captain Rios doesn’t ignore people. He listens, even if you are a despicable Zhat Vash assassin, and he talks, even if you are a very angry xB about to murder an old acquaintance.

“That would not be like him,” Elnor protests.

Soji makes a face.

“He hid in his quarters for a while when I got aboard la Sirena. Maybe he just wants some peace and quiet.”

“I do not believe that,” Elnor protests. And because he is now worried about Captain Rios and Seven of Nine, who is probably up there with him, he picks up one of the badges again and tries one more time. “Captain Rios? This is Elnor. I feel anxious because you do not answer our messages, and I would like to see you and Seven, to alleviate my worry. May I come aboard?”

Elnor dissolves away before Soji and Soong have had any time to call his endeavor pointless. He materializes on la Sirena’s transporter pad, of course, and Captain Rios gives him a two-fingered salute. Elnor copies it, and moves to hug him.

“It fills my heart with joy to see that you are alright,” he says as he folds the Captain into an embrace.

Rios laughs – it makes his chest rumble, and it’s a very peculiar feeling that Elnor likes – and he hugs Elnor back before gently pushing him away.

“Hey there, hermanito,” Rios grins. “Seven’s fine too, before you ask. I think she’s in the sonic. Or on the holodeck, I don’t know.”

Elnor nods and studies Rios, and he is disheartened by what he sees. The Captain looks tired and he has red eyes, like Humans get when they have not slept enough. He thinks it might be to make themselves more intimidating to compensate for their temporary weakness. Romulans do not get green eyes, so he cannot be sure. Elnor has seen the red eyes on Raffi, on Agnes, on Seven too, and even on Picard, but Captain Rios’ red eyes are worse. He must be feeling very weak.

“You are exhausted,” Elnor says. “I do not understand. We have won. Picard is alive. Are you not happy? Why are you neglecting to rest?”

Captain Rios stiffens like Elnor has just hit him. They stare into each other’s eyes for a long while, Elnor unblinking returning Rios’ scrutinizing gaze, and then Captain Rios sighs tiredly and motions Elnor to follow. They go to the bridge, and Captain Rios sits in his chair, leaning heavily against the back.

“It’s not that I don’t want to, kid,” Rios mutters, rubbing at his face. “I just… I just can’t right now. I don’t see pretty pictures when I close my eyes.”

“Is that why you were ignoring Soji’s calls? Because you did not wish for anyone to see that you are tired?” Elnor inquires. But wait, it does not make sense. “But Seven is there.”

Rios huffs.

“It’s not like that. I just don’t want to see people right now, especially not Picard or Soji.”

That confuses Elnor, but he decides to go back to that in a minute, once he has dealt with another puzzling aspect of Rios’ explanation.

“You are seeing me,” he says, sitting on the console so he can face Rios. “I am not people?”

Rios snorts.

“You asked, kid. And you were worried about Seven and me. I’m just not too keen on letting them touch my stuff right now.”

Elnor carefully reviews what he has gathered of Rios’ relationship with Picard and Soji. He remembers that Rios was crying too when Picard died, and that he came to find him and Raffi when they were both sobbing, alone. Elnor remembers what Raffi told him later, that Rios’ Captain died and that it involved Jana, a girl that looked just like Soji and Sutra. He remembers that Soji had only good things to say about Captain Rios, and that he’d accepted to let his ship go through a Borg conduit to reach Coppelius faster despite the damage it could cause to his home.

Elnor tries, and tries, and tries, but he doesn’t understand why Rios would not wish to see Soji. Picard, Elnor can understand, because things are confusing and awkward and even he cannot seem to know how to act when he usually never bothers thinking about it. But Soji?

“I do not understand,” Elnor states.

Rios huffs and tilts his head back.

“I just want to be alone, Elnor,” he says.

“That is a half-truth.”

Mierda, you’re annoying,” Rios smiles. It’s a small smile and it’s tired, but it counts. “Okay, here’s the thing. I wouldn’t mind letting them come aboard if they asked, like you did. Soji hasn’t so far. She’s just told me she needed to be beamed up.” He takes in a deep breath. “La Sirena is my ship, kid. My home.”

“This is distressing to hear,” Elnor says sadly, mouth twisting into a little pout. “But if you told everyone how you feel, then they would ask.”

Rios frowns.

“Maybe I don’t do that because I’d like them to figure it out by themselves. I want them to get it.”

Elnor nods and got up. Captain Rios looks surprised to see him go, but Elnor has things to attend to.

“I will be back shortly,” he assures him, striding to the transporter buffet. “Please tell Seven I came by.”

“Sure thing, hermano,” Captain Rios says back.

Elnor teleports to the surface before any questions can be asked.

“Elnor!” Soji exclaims as she watched him reappear. “Are they alright? Why did he beam you up?”

“Because I asked,” Elnor answered curtly, brushing past her.

He needs to find Raffi.

“I believe that your behavior has been unsatisfactory,” Elnor tells Picard in lieu of a greeting, earning himself a confused look and a raised eyebrow.

Picard does not believe he will ever get used to the way of Absolute Candor. But blunt as it always is, he has rarely heard Elnor speaks to him so harshly. It reminds him of Vashti, when fourteen years of pent-up feelings of rejection and bitterness were suddenly free to overflow, and Picard does not like it in the slightest.

“What are you talking about, Elnor?”

“I am talking about you and, and Soji. Raffi has told me much of what happened on the ship during my absence. It has made me very upset, and I am angered as well.”

Picard sits back in his seat and frowned, waiting for Elnor to elaborate. It might all just be a misunderstanding, or so he hopes. After the resolution of the threat to both the galaxy and the synthetics, and his own death and resurrection, Picard is far too tired to engage in more conflict.

“Explain to me what this is about before this conversation goes any further,” Picard requests.

“Captain Rios was very hurt by your words and actions when you and Soji came back from Nepenthe, and I do not believe you ever apologized.”

That’s unexpected. Picard frowns, trying to recall what he could have done to deserve the scathing rebuke.

“You yelled at him,” Elnor informs him before before he can wrestle with his memory any further. “Soji hacked his ship and tried to steal it. You mutinied. Those were not honorable actions.”

Ah. Picard can understand why Elnor would see it that way. It’s a good thing Rios doesn’t. Clearly, this is a case of miscommunication, like he hoped.

“Elnor, Rios agreed to bring us to Coppelius. There was no ‘mutiny’ and no hijacking.”

Elnor stares at him intently, and then shakes his head. Picard sees his eyes narrow. He doesn’t understand why right away, but he has the feeling that Elnor is somehow terribly disappointed.

“You sat in his chair,” Elnor counters. “You tried taking control of his ship. Soji used the name of a dead person from his past to get him to say yes. I fail to see how you do not grasp the extent of your disregard for Captain Rios’ feelings.”

Picard would like to argue, say that Rios really didn’t mind, but the truth is that he can’t be sure. They were all under severe amounts of stress after the Cube and Nepenthe. It is possible that in his own eagerness to help Soji, he failed to see Rios’ own struggles with the situation. It would certainly be in character for him, at any rate.

“Captain Rios agreed to take you to Coppelius because he is nice,” Elnor deems important to add. “You needed help and he could give it. That’s not a reason not to ask.”

Elnor is gone before Picard can think of an answer. He sighs.

“Soji,” he calls into his communicator, “could I see you for a moment? I think we need to give Rios a call.”