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Part of USS Endeavour: Drink the Wild Air

Drink the Wild Air – 6

Aeriaumi III
September 2400
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‘It’s more than a test of skill.’ Cortez closed one eye to focus. ‘It’s a test of patience. Consciousness. Focus.’

‘Arguably, those are all a part of skill,’ said Kharth, and effortlessly flicked the raspberry into the empty cocktail glass on the table between their two sun loungers.

Cortez sat up. ‘You’re cheating.’

How?’ Kharth lifted her sunglasses, indignant. ‘How do I cheat at this – what did you call it?’

‘Fruit-Fly,’ said Cortez, then went back to outrage without missing a beat. ‘You’re a security officer! You’re an expert in hand-eye coordination and marksmanship!’

‘Shit, I should have told my Academy instructors that they were unfairly giving me an edge in drunken shore leave games and to cut it out.’ They stared at each other. Then burst out laughing, both flopping back onto their loungers and letting the beach-front sunshine wash over them.

‘Do you ever wonder,’ mused Kharth at length, one arm now thrown over her face to protect against the brightness, ‘if maybe Valance was on to something and we should be doing more with our time?’

‘I refuse to acknowledge she might be right,’ groaned Cortez, ‘and it’s gross for you of all people to suggest that.’

‘I’m not saying we go off and find culture. I’m saying maybe we need some beach sports.’

Cortez opened an eye and looked up and down the beach. While some of Endeavour’s crew had broken off for the various offerings of Aeriaumi, a respectable number were just as committed as the two of them to lying back and doing absolutely nothing. She herself was turning it into an art, onto the third of the Hypatia Bunk books – which were by now a rollicking ride through space and time with Hypatia struggling to choose between about three competing love interests per era – but had to admit that this mid-afternoon ‘game’ was perhaps a new low.

She looked at Kharth. ‘Not to sound passive-aggressive. But you don’t have to be here.’

With most of her face hidden, all that could be seen was a twist of Kharth’s lips. ‘I know. I’m not martyring myself on a sun-soaked beach to keep you company. You’re a grown-ass adult. I’m trying to switch off.’

Cortez thought to the past few days – some gentle surfing, some cocktails, a little beach volleyball, more cocktails, roaming the resorts for new and interesting dinner options, yet more cocktails, finished off by whatever decadent club lured them in at night or just the hotel bar or drinks on the beach. It had been a very vigorous switching off. ‘I guess,’ she said at length, ‘I didn’t think this would be your scene.’

Kharth sighed, dragging her hand back. ‘It’s not,’ she allowed.

‘And maybe I think there’s something on your mind.’ At Kharth’s expression, Cortez sat up. ‘Let’s get more cocktails.’

‘I’m not sitting around here with you because I’ve got a problem,’ Kharth protested only once they had refills of swirling pink, fizzy, alcoholic drinks on their tables. She’d taken a quick detour to adjust the sunshade, keeping them faintly more sheltered with the heat this intense at this time of the afternoon. Most of the rest of the crew had also ventured inside or were taking it easy, waiting for the sun to be lower and fatter in the sky before they returned to the open sands for simple pleasures.

‘Sure,’ said Cortez, adjusting her lounger so she could better sit up and still drink. ‘Grown-ass adult.’

There was a pause. ‘Dav wrote to me.’

Cortez’s head snapped around. ‘This is the first time?’


‘Since you fixed his brain and found out -’

Yes.’ Kharth’s jaw was tight.

‘What did he say?’

‘He said…’ Another pause. Her nose wrinkled. ‘He let me know how he was doing. Working on the frontiers where Lerin did the most damage as the Myriad. But he’s about to return to Admiral Beckett’s office, and he…’

Silence. Cortez sipped her cocktail and the straw gurgled noisily. She winced. ‘Sorry.’

Kharth sighed. ‘He just said we should talk. Catch up. It sounds so normal for something that isn’t.’

‘It does. But how else would you want him to reach out? Do you want him to reach out?’

‘I don’t want him to disappear. But what do I do? Talk about this shore leave? Talk about being second officer now? It all sounds so mundane.’

‘You could launch immediately into opening your heart and sending him all of your deepest, darkest, most complicated feelings about your messed-up relationship,’ said Cortez cheerfully, ‘but I think it’ll be easier if you reconnect on something simpler first.’

Kharth slowly drew out a PADD. Cortez had noticed her often having it to hand these past days. ‘…like what?’

Cortez sipped her cocktail again, thoughtful. ‘I think,’ she said at length, ‘you should start with explaining the rules of Fruit-Fly.’

Kharth didn’t say anything to that, and she didn’t seem to make much progress on any response for the rest of the day. But they had a packed schedule of lounging and relaxing to get on with, and Cortez knew better than to badger Kharth when something like this was fresh; all it did was make her cocoon in her insecurity.

So they sunbathed. Read more terrible books. Challenged the yeomen to beach volleyball, and found they had grossly underestimated both blonde and leggy Nestari, and the wizened senior yeoman, Chief Sutton, who acted like taking time out of her busy schedule to knock them onto their arses was in itself an inconvenience.

‘Okay, Nestari I get,’ Cortez huffed when they returned to their loungers, sandy and sore in spirit as much as in body. ‘I didn’t think there was anything between her ears, but I was wrong – there is, and it’s murder. But she’s at least taller than either of us. But Sutton?’

‘Also powered by murder,’ said Kharth, who had come off better in the whole incident but still without an unblemished pride. ‘They know the ship would fall apart without them, but who gets the glory? Not the admin. Every once in a while, they like to keep us in line.’

‘Diabolical,’ Cortez grumbled, brushing sand off herself with a towel. She looked up and down the beach, saw the sun getting fat in the sky, and sighed. ‘Right. I want a shower. To think about dinner. And then we need to find a new bar tonight.’

‘We do?’

‘To wipe that shame from our memories? We do.’

They didn’t. They did try, sprucing up and getting a bite to eat before wandering the resort’s main road to pass bars and clubs they’d tried before. Eventually, Cortez chose an establishment that looked like it wanted to somehow emulate a classic Earth diner and party all night, a terrible combination of alcohol and bad historiography that at least included alcoholic milkshakes.

But they had only had one drink before Kharth looked up and down the plastic tables, at the figures dancing on them – the tourists themselves, mostly, and said, ‘Is it me, or is everyone here about -’

‘About nineteen, yes.’ A boy younger than Cortez’s smallest sibling leaned back from the bar and winked at her. She averted her gaze and vigorously sucked at her straw. ‘We better go.’

It didn’t get better from there, so by midnight they were stumbling, tipsy but not wiped, back into the hotel bar. This place did, at least, reliably keep them going all night.

‘It’s a bad sign,’ sighed Kharth as they slid onto bar stools, ‘that they know to bring the tequila the moment we arrive.’

‘I think it’s a very good sign. But it is not, unfortunately, very good tequila.’

‘Is this what you had in mind?’


‘When you sent Valance away.’

Cortez made a face. ‘I didn’t send Karana away. We reached a mutual decision to vacation apart, like adults.’

Glasses were set in front of them. Kharth’s expression didn’t change. ‘When anyone insists something is a mutual decision…’

‘It actually is! Come on, there’s no way Karana would have gone into that joint with us tonight.’

‘Might have spared us some heartache and heartburn. You’re really okay with this?’

‘I… mostly.’ Cortez made a face. Then she drank tequila. Then she made another face. ‘I think the doc’s right. It’s better for us to mentally refuel however works best for us, instead of doing what we think we should. We’ve been together…’ She blew out her cheeks. ‘Over a year. Nearly a year and a half? I don’t think we have to act like we’re close so as to be close. Does that make sense?’

‘Maybe.’ Kharth’s lips thinned. ‘I guess I’m not the best person to judge.’

‘No – speaking of…’ Now she had a few drinks in her, Cortez didn’t mind leaning over, elbow on the bar, and zeroing in. ‘That letter to Dav.’

‘Oh, Vor…’

‘You should reply.’

‘I know.’

‘I mean,’ said Cortez, plucking out a PADD from her bag, ‘now.’

Kharth stared at the PADD. ‘When we’ve had this much to drink.’

‘And your impressive skills at pretending nothing he did hurt or affected you are compromised?’ Cortez smiled happily at her perfect plan. ‘Yes.’

‘I don’t think -’

Hi, Dav,’ Cortez started dictating to the PADD. ‘It’s me, Saeihr, your emotionally repressed ex whose heart you broke because it turned out you were a crime boss. I really miss you, even if I don’t admit it –

‘Give me that.’ Kharth snatched the PADD.

‘Was anything I said there untrue?’

‘That’s really not the point.’

‘You two have a chance to at least be honest with each other for the first time in years,’ Cortez insisted. ‘You should jump on that, and now, when you’re relaxed, when you don’t have to see him for his response, when you can send it and let him absorb your words in his own time…’

‘When I’m drunk?’

‘Exactly!’ Cortez waved down at the bar. ‘More tequila!’

‘I’m not doing it.’

The night became a blur from there. More drinks, staggering down to the beach with a bottle, an ill-considered game of dares with Chief Koya and her deck gang. Cortez didn’t particularly remember making it back to her hotel room, and when she was awoken the next morning by a hammering at the door, it was plain she’d lost not an insignificant amount of time.

Though not, she mused as she grabbed a robe and staggered to the door, noting it was barely 0700, enough time. She could have slept more. She could have sobered more. But the hammering was determined, and yet even the cheerful Cortez couldn’t keep a snap out of her voice as she opened up and demanded, ‘What?’

Kharth was still in the rumpled clothes from the night before, her hair wild, but her eyes were upsettingly clear. Cortez dimly remembered that her Romulan friend suffered far, far less from hangovers than her.

But was not, apparently, that much more resistant to alcohol. ‘We’ve got a problem,’ Kharth slurred, also still a little intoxicated.

‘Is it a problem we desperately need to talk about at this -’

‘We wrote a letter.’ Kharth brandished a PADD at her. ‘To Dav.’

‘Oh. Was it any good?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Kharth, voice going light in a way that suggested things were really wrong. ‘We deleted it.’

‘Oh. That’s a shame.’

‘But not,’ Kharth continued, eyes narrowing, ‘before we sent it.’

‘Oh,’ said Cortez once more. Then the vivid memory of them drunkenly composing something in the middle of the hotel lobby at about 0400 came crashing back. It was intense, but it was also rather hazy on petty details such as words. ‘Oh,’ she said again. ‘Oh, no.’