They still had a little bit of time before reaching Caldos. Deciding that she could use some “fresh air” she returned to her quarters.
She changed out of her uniform and into a pair of tight blue jeans complete with a brown leather belt embellished with silver conchos and a large belt buckle with “Champion” inscribed across the top above a horse and rider. She completed the look with a white tee-shirt, brown cowboy boots, and a black Stetson cowboy hat.
Digging through her desk drawer she extracted an isolinear chip containing her holodeck programs. Inspiration struck suddenly. She sent a message to Commander Q’orvha inviting the Klingon woman to join her.
It was night on Terra Alpha. It was crisp with the scents of pine trees heavy in the air. It was just chilly enough that a sweater or campfire was welcomed. Above the twin moons, one full, one waxing, lit up the night sky exposing the contour or rough mountainous terrain.
In the valley below at the junction of the North and South forks of the Trinity River sat the town of Riley City twinkling in the dark. With only 5,000 residents Riley City was a small town personified.
Elizabeth Kyle sat on a log near a popping campfire. The south fork of the Trinity River chuckled over the rocks behind her concealed from view by the forest.
Elizabeth was strumming a holographic guitar playing chords, but no song in particular. She had a coffee in a tin cup on the log beside her, and pot sitting on coals bubbling away, and a chunk of meat on a spit sizzling away.
The ambience was briefly, though abruptly, disrupted by the appearance of the Holodeck arch, complete with it’s doors sliding open to let in the light of the ship’s corridor behind them. Standing in the arch was the silhouette of a tall robed figure who strode forward into the holographic mountains, as the doors closed and the arch once again disappeared.
“You requested my presence, Lieutenant?” Q’orvha inquired as she pushed her hood back, revealing the long oily black dredded locks of hair that contrasted against the ghostly pale skin of her face, which almost seemed to dimly glow in the firelight as she approached the camp. While the robes of a Klingon Captain remained, she had traded in the black and grey armoured uniform for instead a pastiche combination of various fur and leather civilian clothes, also cut in the Klingon style. Of note, the borders of her open robes framed the thick fur low-cut collar of the leather jerkin beneath, made from sort of crimson haired beast.
“‘Request’ seems a little formal,” Elizabeth replied with a smile. “I just thought of all the people on this ship it would be you that would appreciate this the most. It’s not Klingon, obviously, but at the very least it will give you a respite from the bright lights. Besides, it’s chance for us to get to know each other better. We are all on this ship together, and we need to lean to trust our shipmates.”
”There is utility in what you suggest.” The Klingon commented with a nod, as she moved to sit down near the holographic flames. “Is this a simulation of your home world, Lieutenant Kyle?”
“Call me Liz,” she said as she bent forward and turned the meat to get an even roast. “And yes, for the most part it is a simulation of home.” She pointed North towards the twinkling lights of the city below, “My home town, Riley City. My dad owns a general store catering to the locals, ranchers, tourists and militia stationed at Camp Ryder. We’re on my cousin’s ranch right now the Rafter T.
“In high school we used to have parties here in this very clearing. We generally just made bad teenage decisions. Well, no one drove home, so I guess that was one bad decision we never made. But, one or two of the girls did get pregnant. Not me, by the way,” she added hastily. “And we got very drunk on multiple occasions.”
The coffee pot started boiling over and Elizabeth pulled it off the fire and splashed cold water into the kettle which settled the grounds to the bottom. “Coffee? Honestly, I don’t think there’s a better coffee in the galaxy than campfire coffee. Even better than raktajino,” she teased.
Q’orvha glanced over at the offered beverage and raised her ridged brows at the claim. “That is a bold claim, Lieuten-…Liz. Let us see if it holds true. Is it holographic? Replicated? Or did you actually bring real ingredients to a fire composed of resequenced photons and force fields?”
“In this case the ground coffee is replicated. I haven’t been to Earth in sometime and ran out of the good stuff a long time ago.” She poured the coffee into a tin cup and handed it to Q’orvha. “Creme and sugar in the pouch next to you if you want it.” Elizabeth filled her own cup and sat down on a log and sipped it black.
“That meat is real,” she said absently. “Most folk in the Federation balk at the idea of eating real beef, but since Klingons don’t always kill their food before eating it I figured you wouldn’t have such objections.”
“No objections…” Q’orvha replied as she took the offered cup and took a large swig of the bitter liquid, almost as in defiance of the boiling temperature. She paused for a moment after, savouring the after-taste on her tongue, analyzing the flavour and grit. “Could be stronger…and I usually take my coffee cold…but not at all bad, all considered.”
She laughed, “I may have oversold it a bit, but, this is my prefered brewing method. But, it will continue to get stronger the longer it sits. ”
“In the monastery where I was raised…” Q’orvha’s voice grew noticiabley more quiet as she stared long into the dark pool of liquid in her grasp. “…the raktajino was made communally in a large cauldron that had been continually brewing for four centuries, without pause, each sister adding the ingredients to fill it back up to the brim each morning, before it could be depleted…I was practically weened on that stuff as a mewling babe.”
Elizabeth nodded, “A Klingon version of perpetual stew?” She lifted the roast out of the fire. There was a small table near the fire to which she set the meat onto a carving board and cut thick slices off the tender beef and forked them onto polymer plates.
Using the same for she stabbed a potato wrapped in tin foil from the coals of the fire. She peeled the foil away and let it fall onto Q’orvha’s plate. She split the potato and added a healthy dollop of butter before handing it to the Klingon woman. She repeated process for her own meal.
Handing the plate to her companion she returned to her seat. “I’m sure it’s not what you are used to, but I hope you like it. So, monastery eh? What was that like?”
“Incomparable.” Q’orvha answered. “A completely different experience from what I have gleaned is typical of others.”
Q’orvha studied the potato for a moment, touching it some hesitantly with one of her sharpened nails. “I was raised by the entire monastery, with strict training in a variety of subjects…the Daughters of Gre’thor were an order of infiltrators and assassins…in the bygone era, we were considered witches as we mixed advance science with the theatrics of mysticism.
“We existed on the fringes of Klingon society, living remotely in our mountain monasteries, some said to predate our ascendancy to the stars.” The Klingon paused for a moment to take a bite out of the buttery starchy dish. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but swallowed and continued her recounting. “…we only left to acquire what little we needed from the outside world, or when we were petitioned for a job…killing the dishonourable and ‘dragging them down to Gre’thor’, in exchange for…’payment’…”
“And I thought I grew up in a society that turned it’s back on our own people,” Elizabeth quipped and cut into the meat, chewed and swallowed. “I have to be honest with you, it sounds a bit like a cult. I confess my ignorance on Klingon culture, but that doesn’t seem like a very good way to grow up.”
“It was a cult.” Q’orvha retorted with a chortling laugh. “The Daughters of Gre’thor were a religious order that traced it’s routes back to the times before Kahless the Unforgettable himself; And continued right up until the Civil War between Chancellor Gowron and the House of Duras…but it was one of the few places were an unwanted defective mutant like myself felt wanted and accepted…and it will finally have died out when I draw my last breath.”
Q’orvha placed the potato dish to one side and picked up her serving of meat again with her hands and tore into it. “…it is an irony. That monastery gave me the skills I needed and have used to survive up right to this moment…but it could not save itself as a whole, from the machinations and ambitions of just a few members of the High Council. Now the monasteries lay throughout the Spine of the Fehk’lhr, as burned out and gutted ruins.”
She tore another bite’s worth of meat and began chewing, though not talking. “What about yourself? You mentioned a society that had turned it’s back on it’s people? Now, that doesn’t sound much like the typical view of a Federation citizen…especially an Earthling.”
“Well okay, maybe a little of an exaggeration, but not by much to be honest. The colony was founded by a man named Nicholas Ryder. He was a former Starfleet officer and thought we had strayed from our paths a humans. Living in a society that wanted for nothing getting ‘fat and happy’. His words, not mine. With the help of his brother and some friends they built a colony that turned it’s back on utopia. Reintroduced money, a credit system based on latinum. Transporters, and replicators were available but discouraged. Instead we used cars, worked the land or business. We grew our own food, and the surplus was traded back to the Federation. Take AlphaTech, for example. It was founded by Ryder’s brother Tony, and there’s likely torpedos or other non-replicatable items on this ship made by the company. I suppose I grew up in a cult. Not too dissimilar from the Amish on Earth or you as well. So maybe it wasn’t such a bad childhood for you. I think I had a good one.”
“There are similar groups within the Klingon Empire, who reject technological and social progress in favour of trying to live a more so-called ‘pure’ existence…hunters who roam the backwoods of the lowlands, wielding not but spears chipped from volcanic obsidian and wearing naught by the crudely sheared hides of their kills. They are definitely cults…” The Klingon woman paused to take another bite. “…the Daughters of Gre’thor did not count amongst them. We embraced the advanced sciences and technologies of our enemies of old, long before the rest of our kin…though time took it’s toll and the rest of the Empire caught up. The old technology, the ancient generators and environmental systems that festooned the monastery, that I cut my ‘technical fangs’ on in my youth, was not used because of self-imposed self-limiting dogma…rather it was because they simply continued to work, more or less, and replacing them unnecessarily was…impractical.
“Since you did have such limitations, how did you end up in Starfleet? As an engineer, no less?” The Klingon inquired, once again ready to tear into the meat. “Pubescent Rebellion? The urge to have what had been denied to you by dogma?”
Elizabeth laughed, “Not exactly technologically limited per se. It was more of a social thing. But, yeah we are encouraged to work with our hands when practical. Build it rather than just replicate it. Grow it, and cook it instead of talking to a box. So, I suppose that lends itself to the job. You have to think about how it’s done. The inner workings, and how they go together.”
“Ah…similar theory to my training…” Q’orvha nodded before taking another deep swig of coffee. “…though the desired outcome of learning biology and engineering principles had less to do with how a body or system is put together…and more about how to take them apart. You dodged the question however…I asked how one with such proscriptions against technology, social or otherwise, ended up as an Engineer in Starfleet.”
Elizabeth took a sip of her coffee, “That isn’t really not strange if you know my family. I got an Aunt who’s an Admiral, and numerous cousins in Starfleet, though my parents never did. They did come here to get away from technology. And let’s face it, every human teen sees elsewhere as better than what they have.”
”I am told others of my species often feel the same in their adolescence…though Klingons don’t spend as much time between youth and adulthood as you humans do.” Q’orvha turned to stare into the campfire. “And some of us, even less than that.”
The Strategist glanced back to her food and then let out a chuckle. “What did you say this tuber was again? A po-tau-tow?”
Elizabeth laughed, “Close enough. Potato.”
”Well, however you say it, it seems to bring out the worst of melodramatics in me.” Q’orvha let out a loud belly laugh and then picked up the still steaming potato and bit it in half, swallowing the buttery portion whole, skin and all. “It’s no heart of targh, but it isn’t completely without it’s merits. There are the darkest methods of torture that could not have gotten so much out of me with so little effort…Qa’plaH, Elizabeth Kyle! I may need to call upon you and your Po-tay-toes, next time I need to perform an interrogation!”
“Q’aplaH my friend,” Elizabeth replied with a wry smile amused by this Klingon. “Thank you for sharing a meal with me in this unorthodox manner. I was feeling a bit homesick.”
“That is a sentiment I know all too well.” Q’orvha took another bite from the potato and then gazed up at the holographic starry sky projected above the two women. “May our homes, whether near or far, here or gone, be remembered in our hearts to strengthen our souls…”