The conference room that Admiral Lorc had managed to secure for the high-level briefings had been right out of some bad spy thriller in Tikva’s earnest opinion. It was dark, there were no windows, the whole thing felt like a tomb of some modern variety. Which considering how long the lift down had taken, a tomb wouldn’t be far from the mark. But the generous displays on all the walls, the large table that served as a holo-table as well, the impressive acoustics – they all granted the room a degree of gravitas. You knew this was an important place just from the looks of it.
“Dr Strangelove,” Adelinde whispered in her ear when they had first entered and Tikva had to suppress the laugh, leading to a snort and immediate questions if she was alright. Thankfully the People’s Navy and assembled guests in the room accepted her statement of it being nothing and didn’t pry any further.
She’d spent nearly three hours outlining everything the Federation knew about the Vaadwuur, from ancient history to modern times. Their previous accomplishments, the fall of their empire and the incident involving Voyager that made them a plague once more upon the Delta Quadrant. There was a technical discussion, promises to make all scans of their ships available, followed by talks about tactics and fighting abilities. But one idle comment that Tikva had made had apparently taken root with the visiting Under-Minister the Admiral had warned her about and was about to rear its head.
Under-Minister Yarrin had taken notes, whispered with those uniformed personnel either side of him but otherwise remained unobtrusive to the discussions. He had been so unobtrusive that during the lunch break, when Tikva had tried to do more then the cursory introductions from the morning and been intercepted by curious officers, he’d not made any attempts to close and use his own clout to speak with her despite making it obvious she wanted to speak with him.
She was pretty certain she’d seen him take a packed lunch out of a briefcase and eat from that rather than involve himself in the mad rush on the buffet table. An honest to goodness little packed lunch, in a red container. Even had his own fork.
But lunch came and went, the briefing continued to allow her to wrap up a few points, then she put it to the floor for questions which there were plenty of. She would have to thank Adelinde for stepping in on the more technical combat questions. She had vague numbers for phaser or torpedo yields, but leave it to the tactical officers to memorise them, or at least do prep to have them fresh in their mind for such a meeting as this. Ever the consummate professional when it comes to her field of expertise. Thanks would be anything other than professional.
Oh yah, look at her. Love a woman in uniform.
We are a woman in uniform.
Yah and look at us. We got Adelinde didn’t we?
You’re not allowed to make good points.
Hey Us, I think that Minister has a question. Can just feel the curiosity coming off of him.
“Under-Minister, you look like you have a question,” Tikva stated after wrapping up her answer, seeing a few hands rise to ask their questions, but quickly dropping. “What would you like to know?”
“My question,” the man said, his voice a raspy, quiet thing, like someone trying to talk after walking hours in a desert with no water, “is actually about a different entity you mentioned prior to lunch and mentioned in your reports you’ve provided to us – the Borg.”
Murmurs went around the room as people started to confer with their peers, the general feel of the room settling in to her senses as everyone focused, wanting to soak up whatever morsel of information came their way.
“You mentioned in your report that you destroyed a star in order to destroy one of their ships. You mentioned them in your discussion about the Vaadwuur, who before their fall knew them as having assimilated only a few species.” The stopped, checked his notes, then looked up. “My question is, what can you tell us about the Borg?”
With that, to her emphatic senses, she could feel the room was truly focused on her, save for two people. One stood just behind her, focused on the Under-Minister, studying him and only him. She’d have to ask her later for what she thought of the man.
The other was Admiral Lorc, whose attention was also on the Under-Minister, but more in wonder then anything. Wondering, slight confusion? She associated the feeling with a sharp cheese.
He’s trying to understand why the Under-Minister is asking after the Borg, and not a threat they can do something about like the Vaadwuur.
“I can tell you a lot about the Borg, Under-Minister. I can tell you everything Starfleet knows, how we’ve fought them in the past, how we’ve avoided them, how to stay under their attention threshold, or get their attention if you want. But I should warn you Under-Minister, some of information will sound…depressing? The Borg are a complicated problem with no viable, repeatable solution and even raw, naked aggression or firepower will only make you more of a target for them.”
“Well Captain,” Yarrin continued, with a slight smirk on his face, “I believe the Admiral has set aside three days for these briefings. You’ve made the Vaadwuur sound like a threat we should be concerned about, now make us aware of the Borg if would so kindly.”
She nodded her head, looked to Adelinde and shrugged. “Would you kindly bring up the Borg primer Lieutenant Commander? Big screen if you will.”
Rrr’mmm’bal’rrr knew they stood out amongst the People when they beamed down to the planet of Trent. But since their people let alone any silicon-based lifeforms tended to stand out, even in the multiracial and cultural melting pot of the Federation, it was never a concern. However, it would seem the Gaen were the People’s first introduction to the reality of sapient silicon-based lifeforms and hence now there was a collection of individuals, a crowd in reality, following them and the small group they’d beamed down with from Atlantis.
The humans, vulcans and andorian had all been unique, interesting, even diverting for a while, longer for some members of the local populace who Rrr watched either deftly or awkwardly make passes on their companions. But the majority of the crowd had kept their attention on Rrr as they and their companions, out of uniform but visiting in a group, went about their day as tourists. More then a few times however the group stopped and did the typical friendly thing, stopping to talk with people, answer questions from extremely inquisitive children, just engaging with small talk.
Why do you have pointed ears? Why don’t you?
Why are you blue?
You’re made of rocks! Are your feet heavy?
He’s got antenna like a siclik bug!
The questions of children really where the best here it would seem, born purely from curiosity without the filter to not ask ‘those sorts’ of questions of strangers.
The crowd following wasn’t a constant thing, membership being transitory as people realised they’d followed the visitors further then they meant to, or some other reminder pulled them back to reality. But it had been consistently there though, as new people joined, or simply stood still and watched, adding to the crowd till the whole phenomena moved beyond them.
“Seriously, I count like fifty people watching us have lunch,” Beckett said as he looked around the streetside market from his seat at the little café they’d all decided on for lunch. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze and because of Rrr’s size, the owner had asked if they’d prefer an outside table. It had coincidentally meant that the crowd then didn’t swarm the inside of the café and bring business to a complete halt.
“Forty-six,” G’pel said, sipping at her tea. “Six of them keep moving around.”
“I’ll take your word for it sweetie,” Beckett replied, his arm moving to rest on the back of G’pel’s seat. “So, boss man, you’re more aware of the damages then we are. We in for a short shore leave, or a longer break? I could really use a couple of weeks of doing nothing.”
“That is yet to be determined.” Rrr paused long enough for a few more drinks to be deposited on the table and their server to depart once more. “Maxwell is assessing the warp coils right now. At least a few days for that, then a couple of weeks for refurbishment once Commander Velan sorts out a viable solution. But don’t bet on weeks of nothing. All the department heads want to use downtime as well and I’ve seen the schedule requests. You’ll all be back at work in a couple of weeks, though it’s most likely going to be low intensity.”
“Okay, but what favours do you want to tweak the schedules?” asked Tiffany with a cheeky grin. “After all, I’m in geo-physics, I can hook you up with some rare mineral supplies.”
“Is that really the best bribe you have?” Rrr shot back.
Soon enough they all had meals in front of them, idle chatter was flowing and the crowds nearby thinned, bored with just watching a bunch of aliens have lunch like normal people. Even if one of them was a two-and-a-half-meter tall rock person. Aliens doing normal things would only hold the interest of the dedicated and determined. Plenty of odd looks from passers-by, but the roving crowd of the morning had finally passed.
Sitting on the couch afforded Adelinde the best vantage spot to massaging Tikva’s shoulders, who was sitting on the floor, legs pulled up, arms folder over her knees and head resting on those same arms. As soon as they’d got back to the suite their uniform tunics had been put on hangers and all semblance of rank was dropped. It didn’t take empathic powers to spot the tension in Tikva from spending four hours talking about the Borg, with the prospect of more tomorrow.
“You need a massage,” she’d stated, earning a meek reply of “yes ma’am” as Tikva had sat herself down with her back to the couch. It afforded her the vantage to massage her love’s shoulders as well to simply continuing to admire that skyline and watching sunset over the city. Time passed quietly, just the occasional gasp or sigh as her fingers encountered and then worked out knots in Tikva’s shoulder and neck muscles.
“You need to see Counselor Hu again,” she said as eventually stopped, but leaned forward to wrap her arms around Tikva in an enveloping hug. “You’re carrying a lot of stress.”
“No, I’m not, it’s crappy posture.”
“Then Terax for physio and then get your command and office chairs adjusted.” She kissed Tikva’s cheek, then pulled away so she could get around Tikva and more importantly to her feet so she could get back to the kitchenette and look at their dinner options.
She’d just brought up the replicator’s menu when she heard the meek, muffled response of someone who hadn’t even moved. “Okay, I’ll go see Hu. But only because my massage therapist said so.”
“You’re what?” she replied.
“Massage therapist. Just lucky I guess she’s also my girlfriend.” Then Tikva’s voice was nice and clear, clearly having looked up. “I could kill for a chicken curry. Tikka masala with a lager.”
“You don’t need to do that,” she replied, repeating the order for the replicator, doubling it and dishing it all up on the island in the suite by the time Tikva had brought herself over and perched on a stool. “But with your form, it’d be entertaining to watch. Struggling, trying to land that killing blow.”
“Excuse me, but who finally got the drop on you last time we hit the stadium?” Tikva snapped before diving into her meal in earnest, though offering her a killer glance, followed quickly by a wink before food took Tikva’s attention. And she couldn’t fault the woman, her own quickly turning to thoughts of the meal before her.
Silence this time didn’t last for too long before they settled into idle chatting over the day, discussing some of the points brought up during the briefings, then a diversion to what they wanted to see during their joined leave. A few recommendations by locals had been mentioned, some of them more enthusiastically than others.
“More than a few invitations to come and stay with certain members of their navy,” Tikva put out there with a shrug. “But it’ll just turn our holiday into a working holiday. I’ve been politely declining those, but softening the blows with the promise of a tour before we depart.”
“I have no intention of a working holiday,” she replied with a slight smile. “So, we’re agreed, the Telan Resort? Two weeks of pampering, relaxing, walks and diving?”
“Two weeks of you in a bikini,” Tikva replied with an eyebrow waggle that she wasn’t the biggest fan of, but gave her love the affirmative nod she was after.
“And you too.”
“Better believe it.”
It had been nearly a week since Atlantis had submitted herself to the tender mercies of the People’s yard dogs, with her own crew’s supervision, or handling of certain sensitive details completely. Which is why when Velan had called Mac, with urgent news, he’d resigned himself to having his holiday interrupted as well. Not that he’d gone to such lengths as his Captain of restricting communications such that only he could call her currently. He’d only restricted his to the entire senior staff so as to be available to them while he undertook historical tours. Least that’s what he was calling the wine tours.
This evening though he was going to be joined for dinner, and sure enough right on time, Velan appeared at the door, quickly spoke with the host and was shown to Mac’s table and served immediately with the vineyard’s own. “It’s as close to terrestrial wine as these people have,” he offered to the engineer. “Somewhere between terran and betazed wine. The fruit is kinda…weird.”
“Alcoholic?” Velan asked, sniffed at the glass and then took a mouthful, answering his own question with a satisfied sigh. “Oh, that’s nice.” Then another mouthful. “Okay, I’ll want a few bottles of this before we leave. Maybe a lot of bottles actually.”
“Well Mac, yes and no.” Velan shrugged, sat back in his chair and then glanced at the menu. “Anything good?”
“Already ordered for you. Something I had last night at the last place. You’ll love it.”
“As long as it goes with a,” he glanced at his wine glass, “blue wine I guess.”
“It pairs perfectly with a blue and well enough with a green. Don’t drink their reds though. They like it, I’m sure bolians will like it, but it’s really acidic.” He waited for Velan to nod in acceptance of that fact, then continued. “So, you wouldn’t interrupt my holiday if there wasn’t something particular bad.”
“Yah, you’re right. Minor bad thing, there’s a mountain of engineering paperwork needing your sign off. Basically, every nacelle locking mechanism was a piece of shit and we’ve had to phaser them all out. The People have offered to kindly making us new ones so I gave them the specs. Should have them by the end of day tomorrow.”
“Well, that’s not too bad, I guess. Does mean the Zeta Reticuli Yards have some issues.” Mac could just see the pile of padds sitting on his desk. Hopefully it wouldn’t take long to sort into ‘just sign’ and ‘need to read, then sign’. What he wouldn’t give to be on a larger ship where his workload would require a yeoman to help manage.
“Then we’ve got the problem with the warp coils. Coil 4 and all aft were basically wrecked when that damn virus hijacked the warp drive and ran the engines way beyond spec. I guess we maybe had like an hour or two at that speed left before we’d have melted the engines completely. The worst thing though is we just don’t have enough material to repair them. The People offered, but their refinement processes just aren’t as complex as ours. We’re going to have to melt a few of our coils down completely to fix the majority.”
“How many?” he asked.
“We’ll be short two one each nacelle. Luckily the People are making four coils for us, using the best equipment and techniques they’ve got to replace the missing ones. We won’t be setting any speed records, but we’ll be able to get up to cruise speed at least. Max speed will be eight nine most likely though.”
“Christ,” Mac muttered. “That’s going to take months and months to get back.”
“Over a year by my maths. We did that last sprint at near full speed remember?” Velan however smiled. “That’s the bad news. The good news is,” he paused for a server who came around to top up their glasses and reassure them dinner wasn’t to far away, “a Turei scout ship popped up on long range sensors earlier this afternoon. I’ve been on the comms with them as your trusty second officer and managed to sweet talk them into giving up a very limited Underspace map. Trip home should only take a few months to cross the gaps since he was being a bit of a jerk and gave us an exit a bit further from where we need to go.”
“Likely under some Turei space station so they can limit us using that entrance in future and our rapid return to this region of space,” Mac quipped, earning a ‘no argument here’ look from Velan. “Did you tell them about the Vaadwuur?”
“Yah. Figured they’d spot the debris soon enough.”
“Good man. Right, well, how long is the rest of the engine rebuild going to take?”
“Another week and a half at most I figure. Time enough for me to squeeze in holiday. Maxwell will be back tomorrow, going to take a couple of days to get him up to speed. Figure,” Velan said as he lofted his wine glass once more, “maybe I can start at the beginning of this tour circuit, or find another somewhere else.”
“I’m sure, if anyone can find the perfect glass of wine on his planet, it’s you Ra-tesh’mi. Now, you’re here, dinner is being served,” Mac pointed to the staffers starting to bring out dinner for the tour group and other guests here tonight, “forget work and tell me, what’s up between you and that young lady in geo-sciences?”
“How the hell did you hear about that?”
“Spies Ra, spies. First officer knows everything.”