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Part of USS Venture: Episode 2: The First 90 Days and USS Venture: Season 1: Into the Frontier

Do You Know the Mushroom Men?

Chief Engineer's Office, Deck 16
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“Wow!” Kazjra let the small duffel bag drop to the desk with a soft thump as she took in the sight of her new office. Of her office. “Wow.”

It was just an empty office right off Main Engineering with a desk, a chair, and a LCARS access point, but it was hers. She’d often imagined what it would be like to be the chief engineering officer aboard a starship, but decorating her office had never been a significant part of those daydreams. Now that she’d finally made it, however, she had the desire to mark her territory. Some of the antique drafting tools and engineering textbooks she kept would surely do the trick. And maybe a plant. ‘Definitely a plant,’ she thought, and that was surely her previous host Janrix shining through.

There was much more to see of the ship beyond the confines of her office, so she made quick work of setting up her paltry knickknacks. Scuttlebutt said they wouldn’t have a commanding officer for another month or so, and Kazjra was more than okay with that. It gave her time to truly familiarise herself with her new ship and engineering crew so that she’d have a proper mental inventory of all the proverbial tools at her disposal. “A whole month to explore the ship.”

As she placed the last book on her desk, her hand slowed and the smile faded from her face. “Oh my gosh, I only have a month to explore the whole ship!”

And with that, she dashed out of her office. 

Intently, Lt. Shepard examined the specimen in the science lab; her readings needed accuracy as much was at stake. “I like to eyeball before I take mah readings,” Mara said to the crowd. A few heads nodded in agreement. “Tech is great and all, but sometimes it can miss the little things.” The Lieutenant stepped away from the specimen, tilting her head. “Aye, there’s a natural green color, but I see some roll in the leaves. That’s not necessarily a bad sign, though.”

Whispers maneuvered through the crowd, with some officers in agreement with the CSO while others shook their heads in bewilderment. Lt. Shepard then scanned the specimen with her tricorder, reading aloud the data as it came. “Specimen two is 4.5 days old, healthy, optimal soil, and 97.54 centimeters.”

The crowd moved forward, hanging on Shepard’s following words. “And specimen one was 97.83 centimeters, so Ensign Ewik has won the bamboo growing contest. Yay!”

Many hands patted the Bajoran ensign on the shoulder for her victory as Mara bestowed a few chocolate ration bars that were the prize. “Congratulations, Ewik. It was close but good going.”

Ensign Ch’Rhihlon shook his head, tending to his potted bamboo. “I don’t understand it. I did everything right. Fertilizer, sunlight, regular pruning, and I watered it five times a week.”

“Five times a week, ye say?” Mara shook her head. “Bamboo needs ta drink, but it’s not a Scottish engineer. So four times a week is enough.”

The Andorian nodded, a lesson learned.

“Lieutenant?” began the Bajoran ensign, “I only have four bars of chocolate rations. I thought the prize was five bars.”

“Oh, feck. I think I ate one. I’ll go get ye another.” Mara raced out of the science office and into the corridor, bound for the mess.

Inevitably, word of her contest would reach the acting captain, Commander Henry, and she’d be reprimanded. Again. But without direction, at no fault to the provisional CO, Mara felt her duty was to lift her staff’s morale. And a plant-growing contest was harmless and far safer than the Klingon bloodwine mixer she initially had in mind.

Nearly to her destination, Mara turned the corner in the corridor.

“Hey! Hi! Up here!”

The head of barely-contained curly hair that popped out of the ceiling waited until Mara had spotted her before continuing. “Hello! Could you do me a kindness and spot me while I crawl out of this conduit? I’m not as fit or as graceful as I used to be and I’m afraid of accidentally kicking some poor passerby in the face.”

Upon hearing the voice, Shepard looked up to see the woman’s head sticking out of the access conduit. “Sure,” she said, placing herself on the opposite wall to aid the engineer. “There’s no traffic, so yer fine to come one down.” She watched as the woman descended the Jefferies tube, guiding her as requested. “Yer fine. Come on. Nobody’s – wait.” Two servicemen rounded the corner just as Mara did previously. “Okay. They’re gone,” said Mara offering a hand to help the engineer down. “I think yer all right to make it the rest of the way.”

Watching as Zel stepped into the corridor, Mara gave the woman a nod. “There ye go, Lieutenant. Yer safe and sound and no casualties.” Lt. Shepard chuckled. “We should have signal lights in these corridors before someone is run over,” she added. “Or maybe put mirrors up?” She shrugged and gave the curly-haired trill a nod. “Good luck to ye,” Mara said and started off again.

“Oh, wait!” Kazjra dashed after Mara. “I’ll follow you! I’m giving myself a tour of the ship, but it’s been mostly Jeffries tubes so far. I could do with some fresh air and some company. Where are you headed to? Is this even deck three? I’m Kazjra Zel, by the way, nice to meet you!”

Mara stopped in her tracks as the trill caught up with her. The CSO wasn’t in any hurry, so she could spare the time and listen to the energetic woman. “Yer touring the ship are ye? She’s a big girl, Lt. Zel. I’m Mara Shepard. It’s nice to meet ye too.” The redhead extended her hand, and Kazjra shook it with enthusiasm. “I’m heading to the mess, but I’ll do my best to not bore ye,” Shepard chuckled and waved the Trill to follow, making her way to the turbo lift.

“I need to fetch another chocolate ration. Ye see, stuck at Starbase 11 as we’ve been, things have been a might slow, so I initiated a bamboo growing contest and the winner received five bars of chocolate rations, only I ate one of them. So, I need to find another.” She giggled, entering the lift. “Mess hall,” she said, and they were on their way. “So, yer new to the Venture?”

“Indeed I am!” Kazjra beamed as if this information were as vital and exciting to everyone else as it was to her. “Just arrived at the Starbase yesterday. But hey, bamboo! Did you get the idea from that one garden on the Starbase? Did you see the little mushroom people there?”

“No, we research plants in the lab,” replied Mara as she leaned against the wall and tilted her head. “Mushroom people?” The Lieutenant laughed. “The last time I saw mushroom people, I was stumbling out of Reidy’s bar, but I can’t say I’ve seen any on the ship.” Shepard gave Kazjra a little side eye, but who was to say she was wrong? On her scientific expeditions, Mara met rock, pig, bird, and cat people. So mushroom people were not out of the realm of possibility.

“Welcome to the Venture, Lt. Zel. I’m sure ye’ll like it here.”

The lift opened, and Mara stepped out, waiting on the Trill. “Deck three, where you’ll find the mess, the recreation room, and a few offices. I haven’t seen the entire ship either, and I’ve been on board for months.” The CSO made her way toward the mess at a fair pace. “So, tell me about these mushroom people.”

“Well,” said Kazjra, sticking close to Mara’s side, “They’re fairly short and they don’t speak, so I didn’t really get to converse with them, but they seem friendly enough! A staff member said they’ve been living there since the 23rd century when their home planet was destroyed. Hey, since things are slow here, maybe you’d like to come with me to the base to meet them? You might be able to make more sense of them; biology’s not really my strong suit.”

All Mara could do was try. “Okay,” she said and made her way to the galley. “Have ye been here yet? The food’s not bad, but don’t order a drop to nip on. The whiskey here is pure shite. It’s that synthehol stuff, y’know.”

“It usually is,” said Kazjra, sighing wistfully. She busied herself by scrolling through the nearest menu panel to see what sort of dishes they had pre-programmed on the ship.

The scientist reached the replicator and programmed a chocolate ration bar into the machine. She watched as the lights swirled into the form of the chocolate treat. “I guess I could have replicated it in main science, but after eating a couple, I needed the exercise.”

Done with the galley, Mara guided Kazjra to the transporter. She looked at the chocolate bar in her hand. “I can get this anywhere. Do you want a piece?”

“Oh, absolutely!” Kazjra beamed with delight as she accepted the chocolate. “Thank you! Chocolate really is one of the finest things to come from Earth,” she said, just as the transporter activated and beamed them down.

The base was busy as ever, with swarms of officers, dignitaries, enlisted personnel, cadets, and civilians going about their day. “Ye ever wonder where everyone is going? I know the station is big, but I bet they hire people to walk around and make the place look busy. But, of course, I’m probably wrong.” She sighed and kept walking until they reached the gardens Lt. Zel mentioned. “It’s a good thing I minored in botany.”

“Excellent!” said Kazjra, as if it were the best thing she’d ever heard. She stuck close to Mara, peering over her shoulder at whatever caught the CSO’s attention.

Mara began to scan the flora with her tricorder, noting various plant species. “That pink one, moving over there. The flower looks kind of like a pink hand. It’s a Terrestrius manus, a carnivorous plant that purrs when it likes you.”

Kazjra gasped in delight.

She pointed to a second flower. “It’s a Chameleon rose. It changes color depending on yer mood. If ye stand next to it too long or put it in a vase.”

“Ooooh,” said Kazjra, leaning in and gently prodding its petals.

Mara began to scan again, this time localizing on the mushroom people. “There,” she pointed and read from her tricorder. “They are fungi but with a bipedal form. Hmmm.” She scratched her head. “I’m reading a toxin in their system.” She glanced at the trill. “Noting dangerous, but don’t get too close, or ye might go warp factor ten without a starship.”

“Ha! That’s the last thing I need today. Although, that would explain why they were keeping their distance last time.”

Kazjra crouched in place and waved at the nearest fungal figure, smiling broadly when it waved back. 

The scene was cute, but Mara kept an eye on Zel just in case. The Venture didn’t need a Chief Engineer flying higher than a kite for several hours. The CSO watched as the industrious little beings worked with nearby foliage to create … something. Mara wasn’t sure what they were making, but they didn’t seem hostile or territorial.

“They remind me of the Aes sídhe or daoine sídhe or what you’d call fairies,” Mara stated. For a moment she wondered if the tales of the wee folk held more truth than fiction. Could the Aes sídhe have been from another planet?

“Fairies, huh?” Kazjra watched for a full minute before they stopped, and one of the mushroom people ran up to within half a meter of her and Mara, dropped something on the ground, and ran back to its cohorts. Looking closely, they appeared to have dropped two small wreaths.

“Oh!” said Kazjra, and she pointed. “I think those might be for us! Are they safe to touch?” 

The Lieutenant knelt and scanned the little treasures. As she suspected, the tiny gifts were made from leaves and twigs surrounding the little beings and bore no signs of harmful toxins. “They’re safe,” declared the science officer and plucked each wreath from the ground, offering one to Kazjra.

Kazjra tried her best not to squeal in delight, out of fear of frightening the mushroom people away with the shrill noise.

“Go raibh maith agaibh,” Mara said to the little mushroom people after excepting their gift. She placed the wreath on her middle finger and leaned toward Lt. Zel. “That means thank you in Irish Gaelic.” The redhead smiled. “Thank ye, Lt. Zel. This has been a welcome diversion.”

Kazjra stood up and turned to face Mara. “Guru maha guth…” She attempted to echo Mara’s words. “Guh ruh maagg- I think I’ll need to practice that. Thank you for accompanying me on this diversion! It was nice getting to spend some time getting to know one of my new crewmates! And I even got a little souvenir! I just need to decide if I want to keep it in my office or my quarters…”

Mara couldn’t help but chuckle as Kazjra tried to emulate the Irish Gaelic. “Ye’ll get it with enough practice.” The CSO admired her wreath wrapped around her ring finger. She’d have to find a fitting place to display the prize. “Maybe I can wear it as a very tiny hat?” Mara joked.

“You should, it suits you!” said Kazjra with a wink.

“It was nice meeting ye, Kazjra, but I should get that ration bar and return to the ship. Thank ye for the pleasant diversion.” Lt. Shepard escorted the Trill out of the gardens. “We’ll have to do this again sometime,” the Lieutenant said, nearing the transporter. She gifted Zel with a simple smile and a polite nod, before parting, headed for the station’s galley.

Kazjra veered off in the other direction. Her tour of the ship would continue after she preserved her wreath and hung it up in her brand new office.