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The Whitford Problem

Posted on Tue Aug 9th, 2022 @ 9:59pm by Fleet Admiral Sturnack & Rear Admiral Joshua Whitford & Commander Marlena Glenn & Captain Jocelyn Blake

Mission: Episode 3: Conflicts of Interest
Location: Sturnack's Office, Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco
Timeline: Mission Day 2 at 0630

[Sturnack's Office]
[Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco]
[MD 2, 0630]

The twilit dark of pre-dawn blanketed San Francisco as the denizens of Starfleet's headquarters made their way in to work. It was the most normal thing. People coming and going, nods given to security officers. Credentials displayed when needed. Offices entered and coffee replicated. The quiet bustle of those just waking up against the cacophony of the morning people.

There as much yet to do, but before Sturnack and Jocelyn had left the Andolini residence the night prior, they had agreed that Jordan would still take the press briefings for the day. It was the longest they could think of holding off if both Sturnack and Jocelyn would be once again visible, but it created space for the two to tell those in the chain of command what was going on. First and foremost among those was Joshua Whitford.

Outside of Sturnack's office, Jocelyn came to a halt. They'd arrived early, coffees in hand, but at separate times. Annoying, but a necessity just for that day while Andolini worked to manage their news. If Sturnack had been there to take her hand at that moment, he would have felt the dread roiling in her stomach. Maybe he wouldn't even need to touch her to know. It seemed to roll off of her in waves. But Sturnack was nowhere to be seen and the sound of a raised voice was coming through the door to his office.

"Yeeeeeep," Marlena spoke up, droll. "He's already in there with Admiral Whitford. I um...I don't think it's going well. Good morning, though!" she switched from a frown to a beaming grin, coming around the desk to offer her friend a hug. "I'm so glad you're both exploring this together. I know it isn't easy given all the baggage that comes with it," she said, chucking a thumb over her shoulder at Sturnack's door, "but I think this is a good thing for you two! Just um...maybe duck when you go in there?"

Jocelyn's arms wound around her friend and tightened, holding the other woman in the hug a moment longer than expressly necessary. "I'm glad you think so," she said softly. "Honestly, I just don't want to... come up short... if that makes sense. I don't want him to regret this."

She said all of this with her eyes on the door rather than on Marlena. Then she shook herself, took a deep pull on her coffee, squared her shoulders and looked at the other woman. "Might as well get it over with." And with that she stepped into the maelstrom of whatever was going on on Sturnack's office.

As the office doors opened, the raised voice of Admiral Whitford spilled into the anteroom. "You have a problem, Admiral. A big one. So big I can't even -- how could you do this? Especially now, with bombings and assassination attempts?" The DCinC didn't wait for Sturnack to answer, plowing on instead. "Do you realize what you've done, sir? I have tried so hard to get your administration off the ground. Get your agenda going and support everything...EVERYTHING," he almost shouted, "you've set a course on doing. And then you go and kick our legs out from under us. Do you even care what this looks like?"

Sturnack, for his part, sat calmly in the chair behind his desk, fingers steepled together in thought. He understood Whitford's very human reaction, though he did not share the level of concern his deputy had. Instead of replying to the tirade, however, he simply raised an eyebrow as he waited for Whitford to expend his explosive energy. The man seemed to be winding down -- reduced to embers of anger -- and the Vulcan deemed his strategy at handling Whitford to be working. Unfortunately, that was when the doors to his office opened and Jocelyn walked in.

Like a strong wind on a dying forest fire, Whitford's ire suddenly flared back to peak levels. "Oh, if it isn't little Miss Trouble herself. WHAT were you thinking?" he groused angrily, striding toward the Press Secretary. "For reasons I can't fathom, Sturnack made you Press Secretary out of fucking nowhere. For months you've gone up to bat against a press pool that's convinced you slept your way to the top. And now," he laughed haughtily, the vein in his forehead plumping up, "now you go ahead and do exactly what they thought you did. We are dealing with serious issues right now. People dying. One of them," he held up a blaming finger to point at Jocelyn, "got vaporized just for standing next to you on the street. And you go ahead and mire us in this juvenile mess? Unbelievable!" he thundered.

Jocelyn stood ramrod straight just inside the door to Sturnack's office. She had been dreading this, but this... this was more than she could take with a straight face.

"Admiral," she started to say and then seeing that Whitford wasn't about to pause in his tirade, she shouted at him. "Admiral!"

Jocleyn's voice, raised and angry, wasn't something that the DCinC had heard before. Truth be told it wasn't something Sturnack or Marlena had heard either. But Jocelyn could still recall exactly what it looked like watching Berryhill get vaporized. She remembered the smell of it and the shock of it with the kind of clarity that could replay in her head when she slept and for Whitford to imply that anything about this was juvenile was the final straw.

"I don't know what Sturnack has said to you," she thundered back at him, eyes flashing anger. She seemed to grow slightly as she spoke, the fury in her tone making her larger than life, "but if you don't get the fuck out of my face and sit the fuck down I swear I will blast your behavior and actions across every news network that will hear me and if you think that won't be enough to distract from what we are navigating right now you know zero about how the press works. They will eat you for breakfast."

Whitford's eyes grew colder than Blake had even seen them. A quiet gathered about the man, worn over the shoulder like a heavy cloak weighing him down as his gaze bored into the woman. Finally he spoke, his tone bereft of any pretense of respect. "You're going to threaten me with a tell-all exposé? Where have I seen that move before..." he trailed off, looking mock-clueless. "Oh right, I remember. That's your go-to move when the people above you don't act in accordance with your whims. And frankly, it's getting old." Cold fire burned in his eyes as he quietly began again. "You know, it's one thing to let our guard down and have it out in private, like we're doing now. Threatening me with political retribution, though...I don't quite think you've thought that through."

Whitford took a seat on the stuffed couch, putting his right leg up to rest on his left knee. "I own this town. Sure, Sturnack's above me in rank but it's me who corals the power players and it's me who's been protecting you both from the worst of it. I've had to call in favors held in reserve for myself just to keep this administration afloat and it's barely two months old. You want to threaten me, Captain? Bring it the fuck on because I will stop everything I am doing to protect you and be 100% honest with the press."

"What was Captain Blake -- Press Secretary -- doing while families mourned the deaths of their loved ones?" Whitford asked, raising his eyebrow in a dark mirror of Sturnack. "She was playing house and fucking her boss. You think they'll eat me up? Oh you just just fucking wait, Captain. Because I will win and you will never be respected in this town again, Sturnack or not."

Jocelyn's tone had turned chilly in the same way that Whitford's had, but in her case, the chill came out archly. "Is that what we're doing?" she finally asked once the man had stopped talking. "Having it out in private?" She tilted her head to the side slightly as if he had said something confusing. "It sure seemed like I walked into you tearing the CinC a new one over his private life. Neither of us is obligated to inform you of our relationship. We could, instead, have simply filed the appropriate paperwork and let you find out through those channels. Instead we wanted to show you the respect of your position and speak with you privately so we could work together. Screaming at Sturnack or myself hardly does that, but then perhaps you'd be happier if we had let Admiral Chambers inform you."

She moved past the couches and lowered herself into one of the chairs in front of Sturnack's desk. Her eyes went to his, face a mask of renewed calm, though the green of her eyes flashed still with anger and no small amount of hurt. Whether she liked it or not, Whitford's words stung. That was the difference between herself and the DCinC. She cared.

"I believe," Sturnack finally spoke up, "that emotions around this topic are understandably strong. And I realize," he continued, "that both of you have a...history," he chose the word carefully, "of disagreement and conflict. However," the Vulcan said, "the situation is, as they say, what it is. No personal affront to you was intended, Admiral," he dipped his head to Whitford, "and I am aware and appreciative of the measures you've taken to buoy the administration. Still, Captain Blake," Sturnack used her formal rank and last name, "and I have chosen, as consenting partners, to chart this course together. Should you wish to offer your resignation to avoid dealing with that fallout, I will understand," he said, looking at Whitford.

The man was quiet for a few moments, several retorts screaming to be loosed like photon torpedoes at Blake. But instead, Whitford took several calming breaks and then shook his head. "We're not there. Yet," he cautioned. He knew Sturnack needed him. He was a necessary evil to get things done with an Admiralty that was not convinced of his leadership. But Whitford also knew that he was walking a bit of a tightrope at the moment, so pulled back. "This is going to get very messy. I'm talking months of this being our life instead of keeping our focus where it really should be. I hate that the press color so much of what we do but they govern public opinion. We have to have this out with them. And like it or not," his eyes shifted to Jocelyn, "you're going to become a punching bag the likes of which you've yet to see, Captain. I'll do what I can to help, sir," he looked again to Sturnack, "but we're bleeding out while the sharks circle."

Jocelyn listened and watched as the two men exchanged words. Her heart pounded in her throat at it. There were few people she might consider an enemy, but Rear Admiral Whitford was among them. Perhaps that was short sighted of her--she knew the importance of his position and his person to the CinC. "I have been a punching bag for the majority of my career," she said calmly, trying not to let frustration color her tone. For a moment she wished for some of the cool logic her chosen partner exhibited.

Whitford looked as if he wanted to respond but was quelled by the Vulcan speaking up once again. "Captain Blake and I are aware of the potential political ramifications. However, since you have chosen to remain my Deputy," Sturnack intoned, putting the onus of the choice on Whitford, "then you will no doubt play a major role in helping us to 'smooth over' the difficulties our relationship have created. Where do you suggest we begin?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.

Whitford blew out a long puff of air. "Public perception is our first priority. Admiral Sturnack told me," he turned to look at Jocelyn, "that you've already spoken with Admiral Andolini. Smart move...though it could have maybe waited until after Christmas dinner," he barbed but only lightly. "Assuming Andolini is on top of that side of things, the next is going to be wrangling the rest of the Admiralty. Sir...I want to put this delicately but I'm not quite sure how, so I'll just come out with it. Your ascension was not a popular decision with some of these people. And some of those same people are going to be against you on this. You're going to need their support if you want to continue as CinC and, well...this doesn't help that."

A pit opened up in Jocelyn's stomach. She knew most of this -- tangentially at least. Still, to hear it brought to bear as a consequence of their romance made her feel guilty and selfish. "What do you propose?" she asked the DCinC, her voice betraying little if any of the inner conflict she was struggling with.

"Keep things at work professional and distinct from your personal lives," Whitford advised. "If the Admiralty sees you both constantly in each other's orbit, all they're going to do is assume the relationship has taken over your work lives. We have to avoid that at all costs," he stressed hard. "While your jobs naturally bring you together a few times a day," Whitford replied cordially, "you need to avoid finding extra excuses to see each other while at work. No popping by just to say hello. No 'Oh, I was just thinking about you' comm messages for Marlena to deliver. And under absolutely no circumstances should you even mention Captain Blake unless you have to," he said, looking directly at Sturnack. "It needs to look as if you two aren't even involved. Like nothing has changed at all, Captain," Whitford said to Blake.

For good or ill Jocelyn couldn't argue with Whitford's reasoning. It made sense. Of course it also hadn't occurred to her that any of the sorts of things he described might happen. Everything was so new, that her brain had barely wrapped around the idea that they worked in the same building let alone any kind of interaction beyond what was normal professionally. It was a good reminder. "That makes sense," she conceded, "and seems like the right approach even without a disgruntled admiralty to be concerned with. I can assure you, Admiral, that I would prefer to keep work and personal life separate wherever it is reasonably possible to do so." She looked to Sturnack then, curious if he had any different thoughts. She didn't expect him to, but nor did she speak on his behalf.

Whitford looked at Blake for several long moments, attempting to assess whether or not he believed her thoughts on professionalism. He finally let out a soft sigh and nodded. "I'm happy to hear that, Captain. And thank you," he said and meant it. As the woman turned to Sturnack, Whitford did the same, wondering if the Vulcan had additional questions or counsel he might be seeking. When the Vulcan simply nodded in response to the plan -- asking nothing further -- the Deputy CinC recognized the gesture as one meaning there was nothing more to say for the time being. "I know you're busy. You've got that call with Admiral Celeste in a few minutes. But please do everything you can to keep things status quo around here. I promise to do what I can to help with the Admiralty," he offered congenially.

"Thank you, Admiral," Sturnack nodded to Whitford. He watched as the man rose from his seat and left the office, the double doors closing behind him with a whoosh. "Well, that was initially explosive," the Vulcan commented dryly. "However, we seem to have reached a favorable outcome. I find it best to allow Whitford to get out the rancor and then maneuver him into shouldering responsibility as a result of his own choices. Do you think I succeeded?" he asked Jocelyn.

There was a different feel to this point of discussion, a recognition of the blurring of lines as Sturnack asked her opinion. In this, at least, their relationship and their jobs were overlapped. For all that Jocelyn had insisted that the boundaries were there -- and she truly meant it -- the lines themselves felt greyed and indistinct. "I think so," she said softly. "He hates me, though. It's going to gall him to do anything that throws even a modicum of support in my direction." She sighed. "How did I do?"

"Under the circumstances," the CinC-and-lover replied, "I admire your restraint. It is unfortunate that Admiral Whitford is correct in his assertions that his clout is needed. Were he not such an effective political operative, I would have asked for his resignation long ago. I apologize that you must continue to endure him," Sturnack said, reaching out to take Jocelyn's hand. Beneath the surface of his emotional control -- which kept his facial expression locked into one of impassivity -- an undercurrent of lament could clearly be identified. The Vulcan gently stroked the forefinger of the woman with his own, a sign of intimacy among his own people. "We still have others to tell...but I believe the worst meeting just ended?"

Blue-green eyes dropped to their joined hands and the soft movement of Sturnack's forefinger against her own. A soft breath left her as the emotional connection re-established with the touch, like pulling back a curtain to reveal a much richer deeper view beyond. She was aware of his lament and also of the intimacy that his touch indicated, not because she had understood the cultural significance, but because she felt that depth of affection flow from him to her. Her own emotions were, as always, so much less organized. Frustration at Whitford. Relief that he was no longer in the room. Longing... that one was perhaps the most unexpected. She found herself wishing they could go somewhere. Be alone again. Not have to deal with the rest of those prying eyes. Even if the worst was behind them, there were still plenty of hard conversations ahead.

"How long do you think it will take until I get used to that?" she said softly, eyes lifting to regard him even as she returned his gesture by running her own forefinger along his. "This, I mean," she said indicating their joined hands.

"I have found," Sturnack replied, conjoining fingers then, "that most humans are not prepared for contact with touch telepaths. You may have noticed that my people typically refrain from physical contact with others. This is not rudeness: we are protecting ourselves and you from the strength of our emotions. That is not to say that an emotional connection will form with just anyone but we must remain guarded. Even what you are experiencing now is a pale shade of what it could be. It's like..." he stopped then, searching for an analogy, "it's like a garden hose. You have seen one, yes? What we have with this connection is but the tiniest turn of the knob that governs the water. Perhaps when you have adjusted to this, we will turn it further," he trailed off.

Jocelyn's finger had stilled as he spoke, taking in the reality, the implication, of what he was saying. Her eyes fell to their fingers, looking at them with something like amazement on her face. "If this..." she began, slowly resuming the soft stroke of her finger against his, "if this is only a small amount..." She stopped, gaze returning to his face. "Will you feel more... from me?" She asked then. "I mean... is... is that something you might want?"

"An apt question," Sturnack replied, eyes also on the entanglement of fingers. "The connection will become more intense for both of us, yes," he nodded slowly, his voice soft...almost tender. "Feeling what you feel will allow me to better understand you. The reverse, I hope you have discovered, is also true. I do not have to be governed by your emotions to understand but I do need to guard myself against their strength. And versa, so will you, Jocelyn. I must warn you...Vulcan emotions are incredibly volatile. They are like surging storms under the surface of our control."

"I have..." she tried to think of the right word; one that wouldn't seem too illicit considering the circumstances, "experienced you without control." It was a reminder as much as anything. A wash of emotion splashed through their connection toward him as memories of the culmination of his Pon Farr moved through her mind. It had been a singular experience, one that was hard to describe in words. Having that with Sturnack had simultaneously been the most intimate and intense experience of her life. "I understand you suppress emotion," she finished after a short pause, "but I was glad to know of them... to feel them with you... for a time. I will be glad to do it again."

"Indeed. We have much to explore, I believe," the Vulcan nodded back. "But for now, we should get back to work. As...intimate as these stolen moments are, we did promise not to let our relationship interfere with work. And," Sturnack almost lamented, "there is so much of it to do now that we are back." His fingers fell away from hers as he rose, moving towards the double doors of his office. "Are we staying at your place again tonight?" he asked, content to let Jocelyn make the decision. She could choose his companionship if she wanted. She could also choose to be alone should she wish. It was, indeed, very much up to her.

She stood when he did, but stayed by the chair at his question. "I... often... meet Dr. Cowell for a drink after work. And I'd like to tell him about us myself, if that's alright. I imagine he'll be at our usual spot tonight. It's not far from my place. I..." She closed her mouth before words could get ahead of her thinking. It had, certainly, been weeks, since she'd stayed anywhere alone. The last time had been the night before the bombing when she'd ended up sleeping at work, too afraid to be alone in her apartment. After that it had always been at Jordan's place or, more recently, at The Fortress. The thought of being alone made her uneasy, but she was equally uneasy asking him to stay with her when she knew he had a desire to move things slowly. "I do want to be with you," she said, the complicated set of emotions coming out in her tone of voice, "but tonight I'll stay on my own." Had the emotional link still been connected the wash of unease bordering on fear that washed through her at the decision would have been evident. Instead, though, she plastered on a small smile and moved toward where he stood at the double doors. "Back to work for both of us then."

"Very well," the Vulcan nodded in response, not feeling the same struggle as his paramour. "Staying at my own place will afford me time and opportunity to deeply meditate, which I've not had the opportunity to do since returning from The Fortress. There is much to think on," he tipped his head to the woman. Indeed, Sturnack found himself looking forward to the time alone, especially with so many recent events in need of sorting through and deliberating. "I am sure Doctor Cowell will be...chuffed?" he asked, confirming the word choice. "Yes, chuffed to see his predictions bear fruit. Enjoy the evening and we will talk later."

And with that, Press Secretary and Commander-in-Chief parted, both having no end of heavy lifting to do now that they'd returned.

=/\= A joint post by... =/\=

Fleet Admiral Sturnack
Starfleet Command


Captain Jocelyn Blake
Press Secretary
Starfleet Command


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