Part of USS Altai: The Other Side of Us

Seven Inch Scars

USS Altai, The Siberian Lounge
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A casual drink among friends had turned into a pointed conversation, Kaksos loved to poke the bear. He grinned with a sideways glance towards Van der Luan. He acted confused while saying, “Amboo Jootsoo? What’s so ultimate about that?” He really hoped “Stern Streth” took the bait.

Streth sighed and took a sip of the green synthehol pooled in the wide-bottomed glass. The ice clattered as he lowered it to the table. Oblivious to Kaksos’ smirk, “Anbo-jytusu.

He corrected before asking in earnest, “The All-Federation Tournament? Probably the most attended martial arts tournament in the known galaxy outside the Klingon Empire? You’re asking me what it is?” He grew incredulous, “In your near-century of existence, how has this passed you by, Kaksos?”

“Must not be so spectacular really then by that logic…”

“That’s where you all get together, chain each other up then, then run around with icepicks?” Van Der Luan asked innocently, taking a sip of his Kummel and joining in baiting the Captain.

Kaksos kept the chuckle from his voice, keeping the bit alive, “Was it the one with the Lirpa, or the one with gigantic cotton swabs and funny blindfolds? Perhaps the poisoned gloves and ropes course one?”

Van Der Luan tried not to cough into his drink “Gigantic cotton swabs? Doesnt sound very dangerous, I thought this was supposed to be heroic warrior stuff?”

“Well I…” Streth paused, frowning, “The heightened awareness that comes from sensory deprivation. Your perception of time as you feel the smallest movements of the air currents moving around you. The experience is… Incomparable. But yeah they do look a little like cotton swabs.” He conceded, “And I suppose both of your preferred martial arts have more to offer?”

“Personally I prefer to keep an enemy at the longest distance possible” Van Der Luan replied, “Once it gets to Close Quarters Battle it all starts going south. Visual, cognitive, and motor control systems start deteriorating and people start dying…” A veteran of numerous skirmishes with many of the Federation’s enemies over his career Van Der Luan had been on the sharp end and lived. He could handle it, but, ever the pragmatist, he knew it was as much by luck as by training that he had survived.

Kaksos nodded gravely, “Aye, when our enemies come at us with dirty ears our man here will be ready but the good LT is right, the best martial art is a long range rifle and a keen eye for danger.” Kaksos winked at Streth, “Easy, I make jokes, but of course I know the All-Federation Tournament, probably the most attended martial arts tournament in the known galaxy outside the Klingon Empire… Anboo Gipsoo…”

Streth rolled his eyes, working hard to internalise a hearty laugh. He leaned forward to grab the elaborately glass decanter that between them on the tabletop. He topped up each of the officers’ drinks, “You know, back at Cratek Pass, we never saw the Tzenkethi up close. When we got raided it was long range, impersonal. From the reports, I’m thinking dealing with the Breen’s going to be a similar story. That right, Kaksos?’

He didn’t answer right away, it took time to get to an answer that wasn’t snarling or petulant. “Every Breen is different. It’s near impossible to recognize who you’re dealing with. Sometimes they use blades, operate in silence, other time is sabotage and mind games, or they simply land ground troops and advance conventionally. It became very common to look behind you whenever anything obvious drew your focus. They never meet you face to face unless it’s to trap you.”

He grimaced, and showed his forearm, several deep pockmarks from insertions of shock rods told the whole story. He had been one such fool who let his focus get drawn, fell into the trap, got tortured.

Streth eyed the man’s scars with apprehension. Hearing about the Breen’s callous brutality was one thing, but now he stared at it with his own eyes, the gravity of the threat sank in. There was the reason so few had been up close and personal with them, sealed away in their refrigeration suits. There were certainly plenty of other violent species marauding around the galaxy, but few possessed an appetite for arbitrary violence and capriciousness like the Breen.

“Dangerous and honourless,” Streth muttered, “that’s what the Klingons say at least. I find myself in full agreement.” He thought back to his own time in the war. Paper pushing at Starbase 104, he had seen many come and go out to the front lines. Some never returned. Kaksos had, but Streth knew from all the ashen faces that streamed through the airlocks over those two eternal years that there would forever be an absent piece of the Talarian. Left behind in some prison, Breen torture chamber, or wherever the chasms else Kaksos had been flung to over his thirty-nine years of service. “Can’t be many out there who survived capture, how’d you get out?”

Kaksos swallowed the same bitter pill he had to swallow every day since then, he did so with visible effort, before calmly answering with, “I told them everything. Thank the creators for compartmentalization. There was no resisting. When we were traded for other prisoners, we got rescued in flight, and that was a ruse too. I spent a year in therapy deprogramming what they had done to me, I had been given sleeper commands. I… well let’s just say I’m still not allowed near anyone with a serious title… just in case.”

“Well you’re on the right ship.” Streth had plenty of experience with others who had come out of the war in bad psychological shape. He knew the mental fortitude required to make it through an ordeal like Kaksos’. Even so, he had no wish to prolong the man’s suffering by dwelling on the topic for longer than necessary, “No titles here. I believe when they gave us the official assignment, what was it Alake? Ah yes, patrolling the ass-end of nowhere. What could be better, fellas?” He finished his drink, “Hmmm. Time to call it a night, I think.”

“Good idea, will be an early start in the morning” Van Der Luan agreed and finished off the last of his Kummel “I’ll check on Delta shift then turn in too”

Kakso downed the last of his drink as well. “Until tomorrow” He nodded to the two Officers and left the lounge.

Van Der Luan watched his leave then turned back to Streth “I knew he’d been a captive, I did not know it was that bad. A year in therapy? Still under security limitations? Everything is still pretty close to the surface… You think he’s going to be able to function on this mission?”

“I believe that’s a decision for the good ship’s counselor,” Streth leaned in, “to whom he will be referred in the morning.” His glass made a clatter on the table as he placed it down with more than the usual gusto, “Give my best to Delta shift, and see you at 0730. Bright and breezy.”

“Referral sounds appropriate” Van Der Luan agreed. “See you then sir”

The human and the andorian thanked the bartender, exiting the Siberian Lounge side by side. Once in the corridor, the veil of professionalism descended once again. Wordlessly, they walked in opposite directions, each mentally processing the story of a man once broken by the very foe they now faced.