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Part of USS Mackenzie: Mission 2: Wayward Sons and Bravo Fleet: Blood Dilithium

48 – Gather at the River

USS Mackenzie
11.30.2400 @ 1900
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“You’re getting better on your feet.  Your hands gotta stay up at your face more, but that flow of your hands in the right and lefts…together with the uppercuts?  You’re making some good progress.”  Juliet sat in the bridge observation lounge, a Synthehol rum and coke, while Kondo gave her an update on her skills in the ring. He was sipping at a Moscow Mule.  They were not in uniform.

She grinned, “Well, it’s good an’ all to hear that I am progressin’ in my in-ring talents.  You did say we were probably goin’ to start sparrin’ next week when we’re back in the Alpha Quadrant.”  She gestured with her glass at him, “You are goin’ to need all the help you can get.” Kondo chuckled and glanced up as the team of Okada and Greer walked in, debating the factors involved in warp core stabilization.  They continued to debate as they collected their drinks and sat down across from the other two.  Greer was getting better, Juliet was happy to note.  They’d been working through their sessions to help her find her confidence and courage while working through the trauma she’d experienced.    Soon the rest of the command crew had filled in the tables, and the low, relaxed chatter filled the room.  Woodward glanced around, taking a headcount. The only one missing was their commanding officer.  Before she had a chance to ask Kondo, the door opened, and Harris stepped through.

Atega and a few others moved to stand, and he quickly motioned them off.  He moved to the front of the lounge and waited for the conversations to slowly fade away.  He wasn’t dressed in uniform either.  It had been part of the invite he’d sent out.  The ECH was on the bridge with the Gamma Shift crew.  He smiled as he glanced around the room.  Clearing his throat, he began to speak, “Tomorrow, we’re scheduled to return to the Alpha Quadrant.” A cheer went from the gathered command crew, and his smile grew a little wider as he continued, “There’s a lot of things we’ll have to do once we get back home, but I’m not going to burden you with that tonight.”  His smile slipped into a sly grin.  He hadn’t told anyone about his plans, not even his XO.  He’d sworn the kitchen staff and galley crew to secrecy. “There was an old Earth tradition specific to North America practiced called, ‘Thanksgiving’.  It fell in and out of practice for various reasons over the years.  The core tenet that held on and off over the years was a celebration of thanks, gratitude, and gathering together to share food and fellowship.  Families and friends would join together to celebrate the year and all the good that had come.”  He gestured to the gathered crew, “Tonight, I’ve gathered us together to celebrate our first Thanksgiving together as a command crew.  I managed to smuggle most of the meal ingredients aboard before we left.”  He listed the traditional fare, from turkey to mashed potatoes to stuffing to green bean casserole to various other selections based on geographical locations.  Harris waited a beat as the murmuring of the gathering faded out.

“I am thankful for each of you – those that started with us on the Erigone… those that joined us on the Eddie…and those that have come to call the Mack home.  In the time we’ve been together, we’ve experienced…a lot.  We sit here tonight together, bound by friendship, camaraderie, and by duty.  We’ve shared in the good, the bad…and the ugly.”  He let the silence hold as each of them reflected on what those words meant for each of them.  He picked back up with, “We’ve shared in it all.  I am thankful for that – that we are together.”  He felt his emotions swirling up and was saved as the kitchen and galley staff slipped out from behind him.  “Ah. Chef Galloway.”

The older woman gave him a knowing grin and turned to the crew, “Alright.  Food is arranged on the tables behind me – you can take what you’d like and come back for more.  Get to it!”  Harris stepped aside as the command crew stood and began to line up.

 

Natalie Harris sat at a far table in the corner, stabbing at the various kinds of turkey that had been offered.  Boiled, baked, deep fried, and smoked were just some of the options.  She’d kept to herself since her conversation with her brother three days ago.  She’d quietly let Okada know she would need some time to think about her future with everything that had happened.  The Chief had been understanding.  Now she wondered what she would do when she went back home.  Return to Harris Transport?  Her mother would strongly recommend she seek out a college or university option to help expand her knowledge.  The specter of her cousin’s death still weighed on her heart, and walking back through the doors of the place she’d secretly fled…wasn’t going to be easy.

“May I join you?” Natalie glanced up to find Ensign Presley Atega standing at the chair across from her.  She gave a quiet nod.  The Communications Chief slid into the seat, “Thank you.  I have a habit of finding corners of the room to hide in…figured I should break out of my shell a little.”

Harris blinked.  Twice.  “You’re shy, and you’re in communications?”  She put her hand to her mouth and groaned, “I am so sorry…that was…real shitty…I mean…jerky.  Crap.”

Atega laughed out loud, her smile wide with sudden joy, and she waved off the engineering cadet’s worry, “I… don’t worry about it cad…it is ok if I call you Natalie?  We’re not on duty…and my counselor in my previous command told me I should try and…get to know people beyond just rank and last name…you know?”

Natalie knew.  “I know how that goes.  Your name is Presley, right?”

She nodded as she enjoyed the loaded mashed potatoes.  She took a drink from her Old Fashioned and replied, “My full name is Presley Paris Madlangbayan Atega.  My family was super traditional…and so I got the four names.”  She blushed at the admission, “It’s weird, I know.”

Harris regarded the ensign and her words.  “I don’t think it’s weird.  Different, maybe…but it’s what makes you who you are, you know.”  She offered, “Trust me, if you knew half of the stories about my extended family…you might call us weird.”

Atega blushed at her kindness, “Well, we’ll just be weird together, I suppose.” They both chuckled.

 

“You’ve been pretty quiet.”  Prentice sat across from Sadie Fowler as they feasted on the buffet.  She swirled her potatoes in the gravy, her eyes staring a hole in her plate.  “You okay?”

She shook herself loose from her reverie, “I…don’t know.”  She took a bite and took a pull from her iced cider.  A moment passed, “I was an orphan.”  She spoke it plainly, an admission she hadn’t said out loud to anyone.  She gestured to the table and the gathering, “I never knew my family.”

Will wasn’t sure what to say as her confession had come out of the blue.  “I’m sorry, Sayd…I didn’t know.”  They’d started to grow closer in the last few months, and their conversations had started to become more personal.  She hadn’t been sure how to share her story.  As they’d grown closer and closer to each other, it had become an almost nightmare for her trying to know how best to let out the secret she held close to her heart.

“I…celebrations were hard.  The Sisters were traditional in what they did – so we’d have a thanksgiving, a holiday celebration in December…but it never felt…right.  It wasn’t that the sisters didn’t love me or care for me…but something was missing in it, you know?”  She took another drink, “I wish this was real alcohol.  Goddamn.”  She gestured around the room, “This whole…crew thing has been a new experience for me.  There have been moments where I felt like…this was what I was missing?  That this could be what my family was supposed to be for me.”  Fowler wiped away the tears that flitted at the edges of her eyes, “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, Will…and I don’t know how to feel.  I know it feels good and warm and right, and it’s…what I need.”

Prentice slid over to sit next to her and slid his hand into hers under the table, “I’m here.”  He didn’t pull her to him or lean into her.  He simply held her hand as she processed.

She whispered, “Thank you, Will.”  The memories of the Sisters of Mercy flashed in the back of her mind.  “I was the luckiest unluckiest kid ever.  They did everything they could for me.  It still wasn’t enough to patch up the hole in my heart.”  She leaned into his shoulder, “I’m still lucky, though.  I got to be part of this crew…and I got to be part of us.”  

Will pulled her close, “I’m thankful to be a part of us too, Sayd.”

 

“You’ve never done a drag race in a shuttle?”  Greer Moore was across the table from Calog Tir and staring at him in shock and awe, “You are missing out, man.  Whenever I’m back home, the brothers and I go at it.  I’m back to back champion for the last two years.  Going home is going to be an adventure, let me tell you.”

Tir was in his ear, laughing like a hyena, ~She is my kind of girl, Calog!  Man, she’d run you over three times and then break you in half if you would loosen up and follow her into bed!~

Calog turned red with embarrassment as he did his level best to ignore his symbiont.  He laughed lamely, “Well, I’ve never been one for adventures or daredevil things…I prefer books and digging into the latest journal.  I wouldn’t even know where to start learning how to…you said drag race?”

Moore cackled, “Well, sheeiit.  I can teach you!  Hell, if you’ve got some time when we get back and have some shore leave – I can show you how we do it…brothers would be game to give you some pointers too!”

Tir purred, ~Oh, she would be so good for you. She’d be the right kinda shock to your system, buddy.  I would love a ride-along when she eventually takes you down.~

His face reddened even more, and Greer gave him an odd look, “You feeling okay there, Calog?”

He sighed, “My symbiont…doesn’t have a filter.  She’s always in my ear, and she’s a bit of a wild card.”

Tir crowed, ~A bit?  A bit!?  The hell you say!  I’m a badass wild child, esquire. Thankyouverymuch.~

Greer set her head on her palms, “What’s she saying about me?”

He could hear Tir’s out-of-control verbal monologues as he slowly pushed the door shut against her, locking it.  She’d find a way out in fifteen minutes, but he needed a break from her.  “Nothing I’d care to repeat if I’m honest.”

“Does she at least like me?”

Calog took a drink from his hot chocolate, suddenly thirsty for something stronger as he admitted, “Oh yes.  She likes you.  A little too much.”

Greer cackled and shook her head, “Man, Tir is my kinda badass.”

 

Harris and Reid sat at their table, taking in the gathered crew.  Ambrose was sipping at a whiskey while Jordan enjoyed some saki.  She glanced at him, “How’s the stuff with Juliet going?”

He sipped at his tumbler, “It’s going.  I think I will be at it awhile if I’m honest.”

She gave him a knowing half-smile, “I had a feeling.  There are a lot of layers with this stuff.  Sometimes you gotta do the digging over a long period…can’t get the hole dug overnight.”

Harris chuckled softly, “It is interesting…as advanced as we are and as much as we know about everything…we still have a basic need of talking it out.”  He grasped his cup in his hands, “We’re both simple and complex in what we need, who we are, and where we’re going.  A maddening paradox sometimes.”

Jordan nodded quietly, “I remember a piece from my Shakespeare studies in school.  The line is, ‘What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?’  As big as we think we are…and as much as we think we know…we’re also just dust.”  She shrugged, “We are all paradoxes, Ambrose.  Infinite and finite.  Gods, angels…and dust.”

He gave her a look, “I never figured you for ancient earth literature.  That’s one way to interpret that passage from Hamlet.”  He said it with a dry smile, and she rolled her eyes.

“You know what I was trying to say.  I forget you keep the old stuff on your shelves.”

He gave her a nod of thanks, “I know what you were saying…and…I appreciate it.  Life is wonderful, and life is terrible…and usually all at the same time.  I’m thankful I get to live it with you, Jord.”

She took one last draw from her cup, “RIght back atcha, Amb.  Right back atcha.”