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Part of Starbase Bravo: The Homefront and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

Milkshakes and Mortality

USS Exeter, Mess Hall
March 2401
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In the largest mess hall of the USS Exeter’s rec deck, anyone in a commissioned officer’s uniform was conspicuous by their absence.  Sat at nearly every table were Starfleet cadets in their dark grey uniforms with the asymmetrical colour-blocking across the shoulders.  Cadet Lyrakkiton Parze, herself, was wearing the very same uniform and she assumed their junior officer supervisors were all tucked away in an exclusive officer’s lounge somewhere with exterior viewports and free-flowing synthehol.  Parze took a step closer to Cadet Katlyn Mianaai, hoping that only she would hear her.

“These feel like uniforms today,” Parze said.  The Saurian plucked at the sleeve of her own uniform with her clawed hands.  “I guess I always thought of Cadet Squadron Bravo as a gang.  If any cadets try to cheat the system, we jump them.  We know best what’s in fashion, so we dress the same.  We wear these to look good.

With a hum like a transporter, two tall chrome tumblers materialised in the replicator alcove.  Parze took hold of one and she could feel how frosty cold it was, even through the tumbler.  She shook her head and she smiled sadly at Katlyn.

“They feel like uniforms now,” Parze said.

It was with a slight yawn that Katlyn did one of the rarer things she did – smile. Smiling and fighting a yawn of course means neither is done satisfactorily and ends up looking awkward. She took her own tumbler, looking in at the contents to make sure the replicator hadn’t screwed up the order, then started on what she had wanted to say before the yawn had taken hold. “Hey, it might be a uniform, but I make this look good.”

It hadn’t taken long for the two cadets, or far even, to find a spot to sit down, a small table for two shoved up against a way, out of the way of the predominant foot traffic. “And besides, it was bound to happen eventually right?” She tapped her tumbler against Parze’s own. “To your health,” she said, before sipping at the straw that dutifully delivered the milkshake to her. “Oh gods that’s a lot of sugar.”

Begrudgingly, Parze nodded at Katlyn’s sentiment, the inevitability of their shipping out somewhere unpredictable and unknowable.  Parze nudged her tumbler back against Katlyn’s and took a long slurp through the straw.  Parze licked her lips and stared down into the tumbler.

“What did you call this again?” Parze asked.

“Lime milkshake,” Katlyn answered. She took another sip, luxuriating in the taste and consistency, before setting the tumbler down. Elbows found the table top and she leaned forward. “So, what have you heard?” she asked conspiratorially. “All I’ve managed to figure out is the Breen raids in the news are more serious than FNN or DNS or a dozen other news services are making out. I mean, why send Exeter out that far for a mere training cruise and with a cargo hold full of parts for a planetary defence grid?” She saw Parze’s questioning look. “What, I look at shipping manifests when I fly. I’m not taking anything anywhere if I don’t know what it is.”

Nodding slowly, Parze said, “It’s a lot, lot more than Exeter.  I was on a communications rotation and it’s the entirety of the Fourth Fleet being shipped out to Deneb.  You’re right; that’s gotta be overkill to protect a border.”  –She sipped at her milkshake and then lowered her voice– “The Breen must be deeper into Federation space than we know. …But what could they want with some decrepit old outposts and colony worlds?  What’s so valuable about Deneb?”

“Flanking position to gobble up the Ferengi Alliance? Maybe someone in the Confederacy thinks they’ve got something that could take on the Fesarius and they want to make a big show of it? Though I’m pretty sure the First Federation’s general interstellar relation policy is ‘stay off my lawn’.” Katlyn shrugged, having run that crazy consideration down. “Maybe it’s just a consequence of where their new shipyards and staging points are? But isn’t space past the Deneb frontier largely unclaimed for hundreds of lightyears? Launching an attack across all of that instead of somewhere closer inside the Confederacy must be a logistical pain. Then again, I’m just a dumb pilot, what do I know about strategy? I can’t even beat my padd at checkers.”

Parze clicked her tongue.  “You don’t make it in Cadet Squadron Bravo by being dumb.  I couldn’t have passed my flight certifications without you.” –After taking another big slurp of her milkshake, Parze leaned in closer to the table and lowered her voice– “Starfleet’s defense strategy must be going poorly if we’re upgrading the defense platforms around Farpoint Station.  That’s pretty deep under the skin of Federation territory.”

“Deep doesn’t mean modern. And the Breen have a history of suicidal deep strikes if they feel like it. Deneb and Farpoint Station are the heart of the sector, so a heavy strike there would be catastrophic.” Katlyn stared at her milkshake, twirling the straw, metal clanging on metal occasionally. “A good chunk of ships will be pinned there defending until the defences can be brought up to snuff and trusted to hold off any probing attacks by themselves.” She lifted the milkshake and stopped short of her mouth. “Think I can convince Professor M’telk any work I do on the platforms should count as course credit?” And then she sipped at the drink, noisily so in fact.

“Is course credit really going to matter if Farpoint Station falls?” Parze asked soberly.  Then she snorted unexpectedly and sipped from her milkshake again.  Blithely, she added, “And of course we’ll get course credit.  If we don’t, I’ll start a petition.”

“We’ll start a petition,” Katlyn said, correcting Parze’s statement with a smile. Then she sobered up, her tone falling somewhat. “This situation is all sorts of messed up though. I mean, why now? The Federation is stronger now than it was the last time the Breen fought us. We’ve got the Cardassians on our side this time. And why attack through Deneb? Something just doesn’t add up.”

Shaking her head, Parze’s gaze drifted to scan the room.  She nodded vaguely when she said, “You’re right.  It doesn’t make any sense.”  –And then she looked at Katlyn– “It probably sounds childish, but I always thought we were coming of age in a time when history was… well, when history was over.  Our parents survived wars with the Cardassians, Klingons, the Dominion, everything that happened on Mars.  By our time at the Academy, I thought the Federation had risen above all of that.  I thought nothing else remarkable was ever going to happen to us.”

Katlyn went very quiet at that. Her eyes dropped to the milkshake before her, then her hand let go of the cup, sliding to the tabletop. “Mine didn’t.” She sounded detached and quiet as she said that. “I didn’t.” She took in a deep breath, held it, exhaled. An attempt at rallying herself which failed. “Sorry, you weren’t to know,” she continued after a moment, putting on a forced smile that never touched her eyes. “Remarkable things happen all the time, just not always for the whole galaxy to see.”

Watching the look on Katlyn’s face, Parze breathed out a distraught, “Ah,” and she reached out to Katlyn’s hand on the table.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “I didn’t know.  That’s so awful.”

“Its…its fine.” Katelyn hadn’t pulled her hand back, or really responded to the physical reassurance at all. She was quiet and pensive for a few seconds more, then forced a smile as she looked up. “Let’s make sure no one else has to suffer any more either, yah?”

Nodding soberly, Parze replied, “That’s what makes the uniform worth it.”