The corridors and hallways already appeared sparse to Streth. The faces he passed as he walked along them had grown familiar since taking command of the Altai. Routines were setting in, the same people in the same places at the same times. A few transfers from the now departed Don S. Davis were peppered amongst the crew, all of whom had seamlessly blended with their Altai counterparts. Streth still struggled to fathom why many of them would have actively chosen to be assigned to such a remote posting, but he reminded himself to keep an open mind. Maybe some would come to realise sitting on the outskirts of Federation space was not the frontier adventure it was cracked up to be? Maybe some simply liked the isolation? Following the events of the past two weeks, all Streth knew was that this would be no ordinary assignment, with no ordinary crew.
There was a calm quiet to the mess hall and the scent of freshly replicated food floated through amongst the tables. Some benches were longer, inviting groups of officers and crewmen to sit around and share their experiences. Some tables were smaller, more private experiences for those who simply wanted to scarf something down, either to get back on duty or back to work. Streth’s tuber root partinna stared back at him from the bowl. He took a gulp of water and shifted the food around, coating the translucent fibres more evenly with red specks of lem spice. The taste was fiery, perfect for the long winters on the Indarax fjords. Streth dug at the food with growing enthusiasm, fully realising the hunger he had developed a tendency to forget about while on duty. Fully engrossed, he barely noticed who was standing by the table.
A moment ago, Jones had decided to try out the mess hall on the station that had been refurbished by the Corps of Engineers when he noticed a familiar blue Andorian. He give the man a moment to find his place before getting up from his table, picking up his drink and tray before walking over to Streth’s table. This be where he is currently standing by the table. “Seat taken?” He asked.
“Not at all, Mr. Jones,” Streth looked up from the food, “What’s for dinner?”
Jones set the tray down before taking his seat and smiled, “medium rare steak, seasoned mash potatoes and gravy with corn on top. Oh and tea.” He held up his cup before taking a sip.
“Ahhh potatoes,” Streth sniffed. The gravy smelt delicious, if a little rich for his taste, “the human staple. Can’t think of a human I’ve met who hasn’t loved them. What is it about them, anyway? Just seem like flavourless balls of starch to me.”
Jones chuckled some at the question, “They really are, unless you put some seasoning into them, add bacon, corn and smother it in your favorite gravy. Mine is beef, some people like chicken or turkey gravy or my other favorite, sausage gravy.”
“The huge variety of meat juice always fascinated me,” Streth mused, “but you can’t argue with how delicious that smells.” He looked down at his own half empty bowl, “Ever ventured to try something a bit more on the spicy side, Mr. Jones?”
Jones looked up at Streth with a raised brow and thought about for a second before smirking. “Spicey?” He leaned back, smacking his lips as he recollected his thoughts. “Well there was a time when I was out on my own on an assignment to investigate a suspect of biogenic weapons. I’ve been on the planet for several months, due for a resupply of rations to hold me out for at least another month, which was when my assignment was due to end. Anyways, the supply drop failed to arrive, so I was forced to look for other sources of food and sudden there was this wild targ, so you can guess I was on a Klingon world. It apparently had been starving for days as well as I have and when our paths crossed, we both knew that one of us was going to get our supper. It was a fierce battle between two hungry creatures, it charged directly at me, I dove to the left, it came to a skidding stop while turning itself around and was primed to launch at me and I was in trouble. I started reaching for my knife but it wasn’t there, must of fell off my belt when I lept out of danger so I had nothing to defend myself with when the targ jumped on top of me. I wrapped my hands around its throat and at the same time I was choking it, I was also pushing it away, keeping it from biting my head off. But its neck was still too thick, must not have been starving for as long as I had thought, so it was difficult for me to choke it. So while I held it at bay with one arm, I searched around for something to use, something to get this beast off me and as it came mete centimeters away from biting my nose, I found a large rock. So I grasped it hard and tight and I started bashing that rock right into the targ’s skull, knocking it off of me and I rolled on top of it, where I kept bashing until the beast moved no more.”
Jones paused for a moment to see if he got the man engrossed into the story. “And being some sort of Klingon tradition, since I killed the targ, I found my knife, sliced its chest open, grabbed its heart and ate it.” Jones paused once more for the suspense. “But being as it is, I threw it up. But I did skin and cook the rest of the targ, very delicious.”
As the story had progressed, Streth’s expression evolved from intrigue, to concern, until finally his mouth hung open at the casualness with which Jones recounted the ordeal, “They say there’s nothing like freshly slaughtered Targ. But can’t say I’ve ever met someone quite so… Determined to find out.” He pushed his bowl away, “Never could fathom why the Klingons liked eating their targ so much. I’m sure they’re tasty enough, but aren’t they supposed to be pets? Faithful to the end? In what universe is it honourable to kill and eat the heart of a Klingon’s best friend?” Streth wasn’t really expecting any answers to these questions, “Anyway, Jones, I admire your enthusiasm in following the cultural practices of other species. Let me know when your next targ hunt is.”
Meanwhile, Beck and Cooper sat across from each other. Cooper with a fruity drink, and a taco salad, where Beck had coffee and spaghetti. Though they barely touched their food as they were going over the specs and exchanging ideas on various things, upgrading certain components on the DOT he obtained from the Don, and other things for the station. The Corps of Engineers did a great job, Cooper clearly exclaiming that well to Beck, which Beck didn’t deny, but he believed the ‘standard’ specs that they follow can be improved. He wanted to improve the efficiency of the sensors and communications, make it so they can hear a a flea nibbling on a Caitain lightyears away, and maybe even see through those grubby helmets the Breen wear and be the first to ever see their faces and make history in all of Starfleet history! Which Cooper found to be hilarious but unlikely. Nevertheless, their exchanges weren’t all that subtle.
Addison sat made his way into the mess hall and grabbed a coffee he sat down at a table. He was new guy so to speak and he wasn’t quite sure about the rest of the crew. While he wasn’t opposed to people he wasn’t sure this was the time to just start walking up to people. He found this the perfect time to do work and refocus from his day.
Ensign Vogler entered the mess hall with with Ensign Ortiz. The two women continued chatting as they went to the bank of replicators and ordered their food.
“Where should we sit?” Michelle asked.
Astrid scanned the room taking in their surroundings. She gave the Captain a polite nod, but as a junior officer aboard this ship it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to join the senior staff, but her eye fell on the chief of security, whom she hadn’t met yet. “Over there,” Astrid suggested.
Michelle shrugged, “Sure.”
The two women approached Ensign Blake, and Astrid flashed him a smile, “Is this seat taken?”
Addison looked up when he heard a new voice “No it’s not please take a seat, I’m Addison Blake” he said with a soft smile looking at the 2 ensigns standing by the table.
They both sat across from Blake and Vogler looked him over carefully . “This is Michelle Ortiz one of our science officers, and I’m Astrid Vogler, and you must be my new boss.”
A hearty laugh from Streth sounded in the background. It was something much needed, and yet something that had been in short supply of late. He appreciated the levity that Jones brought to the conversation as the two officers exchanged a few remarks about the state of the base. From the corner of his eye, Streth noticed a few of the officers had congregated around one of the larger tables. Beck and Cooper sat nearby too, and Streth half listened as they traded stories over their evening meals. “We should drop in,” he said quietly to Jones, “see how they’re finding the base,” he threw a glance over to where the two engineers were eating.
Cleared his throat from all the laughing, especially almost choking up on his drink earlier before looking over to Beck and Cooper that Streth pointed to. He was practically done with his food, well full really, so he agreed with Streth, only to quickly place the tray in a replicator to recycle, grab himself another cup of tea and join Streth in crashing the party.
The Andorian had disposed of his own tray and replaced it with a large mug of jestral tea. Alongside Lieutenant Jones, he carried it over to Blake, Ortiz and Vogler’s table. He tried his best to keep it casual, knowing all too well the effect the commanding officer’s presence was likely to have on a group of junior officers like this one. Waiting for a natural pause in their conversation, he interjected, “Evening all. Don’t suppose there’s any room here for a couple of senior citizens?” He shot Jones a side glance, “Well, one senior citizen, anyway.”
“Oh course sir,” Astrid said warmly and scooted over to make room. “What prompts the Lord to walk amongst the peasants?” Astrid grinned.
Michelle was much less comfortable and sat silently looking into her tea waiting to be addressed.
Jones snorted at the senior citizen part until Streth corrected himself. He glanced over at the Commander with a smirk, “Is that why all you Andorian’s are grumpy? I mean, you’re born with that white hair right? So from the moment you’re born, you’re already swinging your cane at people?” Jones waiting for Streth to process that, but while he waited he raised his drink to the Ensigns, seeing the look on Ortiz’s face. He looked to Vogler, “Unlike the Middle Ages on Earth, we Lords like to make sure our peasants are comfortable and doing well.” He then looked to Ortiz, “And that they can relax, we don’t behead anyone for looking at us wrong, we’re beyond that.” He chuckled.
“Yeah, instead he sics his pet bugs on you,” Astrid joked.
Streth grinned. Memories of the banter at Cratek Pass came flooding back. He’d developed a sense for it after spending so much time there with the humans, “Yes beheadings are off the cards for now. Jury’s out on the cane though, so as they say on Earth Jones, get off my lawn.” Streth’s mock anger creased with a self-congratulatory smile on finding the correct idioms.
Michelle smiled at the jovial ribbing, “Good to know the brass is looking out for us.”
“We try, Ensign Ortiz.” Streth pulled out a chair and seated himself, his expression gave way to one of genuine concern, “In fact, while we’re on the topic of those bugs, I believe Doctor Randall is still screening for them now. I trust you’ve all paid him a visit? I want to make sure we don’t have any hitchhikers from down there among us.”
Astrid swallowed her coffee, “Twice now. Patient Zero is way less fun than it sounds.”
Streth’s mouth twisted into a slight smile. It was good to see that Vogler had retained her acerbic manner despite the ordeal. He elected to tread lightly, not wanting to make light of the situation. Unable to resist a little jape, however, he remarked, “I’m sure we’d all find zero patients much more fun. The less of those… Worms, the better.” He quickly followed it with, “So how are you holding up?”
“A little stiff,” she admitted, “but, I’m fine. It didn’t help things that Ensign Magara whacked me several times with a stick.” She waved a dismissive hand. “Long story. Don’t ask. Apparently it was an honor to participate… or at least so I am told. Some sort of ritual thing.”
Jones raised his brows and looked at Streth before back at her. “Good to know. Something to jot down into my own personal notes. Do not get injured. Period.” He smirked.
“Isn’t that the goal in general? Michelle asked Jones over her tea. “I suppose there are a few people who do in enjoy getting hurt, but that is contrary to evolutioary theory. Being injured makes you weak, and more likely to fall victim to preditors. So, if you are often injured you’d be eaten.”
Astrid frowned and gave Michelle an uncomfortable glance. “That’s an interesting thought.”
D’vaid had just finished up the ins and outs of all the supplies he had beamed down to the station during the…encounter. It was fun going through the hoops to make sure it was all approved, but if there was one thing he was good at it was taking care of admin work. He decided to head for the mess hall as his stomach was growling something fierce. He arrived to find Streth and a few others already there.
He went and replicated a small snack then proceeded to sit down with the group. He smiled “Hi everyone!”
“Ah, Mr. Maec,” Streth looked up towards the Romulan, “it’s good to see you base-side. Pull up a seat! What’s that you’re eating there? Pepperoni roll?”
D’vaid chuckled at the remark he knew most had no idea of what he was eating. It was something he had discovered at the Academy from a Cadet who lived in West Virginia. The food was delicious and D’vaid enjoyed them as a snack on many occasions.
He looked over at Streth and grinned taking the other roll and handing it to him “You have to try one it is worth it I promise.”
Streth raised an eyebrow, accepting the offer from D’vaid. He recognised the bead as an American staple, eaten nonstop by a few past colleagues who hailed from that area of Earth. “Have to admit I’ve never tried one of these before,” he said before taking a bite. The soft bread tore off easily between his teeth and the spiced sausage inside was still warm from the replicator. He considered the taste for a moment before declaring, “That’s damned delicious! Glad to see you’ve got a taste for the human food too, Ensign. Got any more favourites? Lieutenant Jones was just telling me all about the gravy.”
D’vaid chuckled and nodded “I have come to like food around that area of Earth. Gravy is good, but get you some Biscuits and Sausage Gravy and it will transport you to another world entirely.” D’vaid stated as his mouth began to water at the thought of the dish.
A thought popped into Streth’s head and he leaned back, “Hey Jones. Targ gravy. Could it be a thing?” He turned back to D’vaid, “Lieutenant Jones is the expert targ chef around here. I figured if anyone was going to know it would be him.”
Jones raised a brow at Streth and then looked at D’vaid. “Uh, maybe gravy poured over targ meat but targ flavored gravy? I don’t think so.” He chuckled, before talking directly to D’vaid. “Talking about Biscuit and Sausage Gravy, you tried some from the Southern of North America? I believe those from Alabama know what they’re doing, absolutely delicious.”
D’vaid raised an eyebrow in complete disgust at the thought of targ gravy. A horrible taste was in his mouth and about threw up at the thought. He had never been a fan of any Klingon cuisine and this discussion made him lose his appetite. He slid the plate away. “Most places down that way are known for their food. West Virginia had a restaurant dedicated just to biscuits.”
Having spent a good deal of time that evening extolling the virtues of meat sauces from Earth, Streth found the pair’s lack of enthusiasm for a Klingon twist amusing, but also perplexing. He didn’t pursue it further, it was just one of those things about Earth culture he was just going to accept if he wanted to preserve the flow of the conversation. As this human and Romulan evidently knew much of Earth’s North American continent, he focused instead on D’Vaid’s enthusiasm for one of the ancient ‘states’, “Never had the chance to visit there when I was at the Academy. Now I wish I had. People did mention that the place is famous for its country roads, too.”
Jones looked at Streth then at D’vaid before laughing.
D’vaid smirked before he spoke up “Computer play country roads.” As the command finished the tune started to play through the mess hall and D’vaid started humming the tune as the rest of the crew was just looking trying to decide if they liked the tune or not.
That evening, Streth laughed along with the others in that mess for what seemed like the hundredth time. Where before there had been only cold, desolate rock, there was now life. Conduits and pathways within that slowly tumbling asteroid, having laid in silence for years on end, now echoed with conversation and the familiar sounds of a Starfleet crew going about their business. It had been a grueling beginning. They had encountered surprises and horrors that nothing could have prepared them for. Somehow, though, he found himself able to peer through the foreboding shadows on his thoughts, present since that first day aboard the Altai. Reassigned from one desolate corner of space to another, Streth had resigned himself to eking out his days reading holonovels and letters from home. What had transpired could not have been further from his expectations. Things had been set in motion on this tiny rock that would ripple out across the galaxy. In time, he would understand. They all would.
For now, a feeling crept through Streth that he had been altogether unfamiliar with for years. Amongst friends and talk of food, it fell around him in a place he’d least expected it. As Jones told another story, Maec listened, Vogler, Ortiz and Blake swapped tales of their own, Streth smiled again. At that moment, in that room, there was peace.