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Part of USS Phaesis: Beneath the Tattered Flag and Bravo Fleet: The Lost Fleet

The Stew of Unity

Main Lounge, Deck 2
15th March 2401
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In the soft light of the ship’s galley, Commander Korrath maneuvered the hefty wooden spoon to his mouth with an air of anticipation, skillfully emulating the methodical, precise gesture of a seasoned chef. His aged, dark eyes, as much a testament to his experience as his rank, had an unmistakable glint of excitement, like a child eagerly awaiting the fruits of his labor. He allowed himself a moment to savor the scent of the stew, an intoxicating mix of spices and simmered meats that teased the senses before the first taste.

This was not any ordinary meal, but a traditional Ratamba stew, a culinary treasure from his home planet, with its carefully balanced blend of spiciness and sweetness. The first taste hit his palate, and instantly he knew he had achieved the perfect harmony of flavors, each ingredient playing its part to create a symphony of taste. A satisfied smile spread across his weathered face; his attention to detail, and his natural affinity for understanding the subtleties of seasoning, had paid off splendidly.

In a bid to foster camaraderie and a sense of belonging among his crew, Korrath had made a firm decision. He would draw upon his cultural heritage and bring his crew together with an age-old universal gesture of friendship and trust: cooking for them. The decision had been born out of a moment of inspiration, a lightning bolt of an idea that had struck him as he ruminated on ways to tighten the bond among his disparate crew.

He was not a man to do things by halves; the meals on Starbase 72 had always been supplemented with replicated food, which, while nutritious and sufficient, lacked the authentic, tactile pleasure of real, fresh ingredients. So, Korrath had made the extra effort to procure and stow away an assortment of fresh produce, spices, and meats, all non-replicated, during their last visit to the starbase.

He had been thoughtful about his selection, picking ingredients that would last the journey but would also lend an undeniable touch of home-cooked goodness to his Ratamba stew. Now, as he tasted the rich, hearty stew, the scent of simmering meats and spices filling the galley, he knew his hard work and planning would not only yield a delicious meal but also serve as a symbol of unity for his crew. The dinner bell was ready to be rung, and Korrath, master chef for the evening, was eager to share his culinary masterpiece.

Gently, Korrath lowered the knob on the heater, adjusting it to a steady, low heat to ensure that the stew would maintain its tantalizing warmth without the risk of overcooking. The soft, reassuring hum of the appliance faded into the background as he cast a final, approving glance at his creation. Now, it was time to leave the inviting comfort of the ship’s lounge, the heart of the camaraderie he had built this evening.

Stepping out, he found himself in the expansive corridor of the ship, a contrast to the lounge’s intimate warmth. The hallway stretched out before him like a steel artery, stretching most of the length of this deck.

His destination was the briefing room. While the leisurely ambiance of the lounge had reflected his role as a chef and nurturer, the briefing room was a stark reminder of his true role: the commander of the ship. And though he longed to bask in the collective enjoyment of his crew savoring his stew, duty called him to carry out more pressing responsibilities.

Ahead of him lay the crucial task of conducting the mission briefing. As much as he enjoyed forging personal connections with his crew, it was equally important to lead them professionally, ensuring the ship’s safety and the successful execution of their mission. The smell of the stew, with its homey, comforting aroma, slowly began to fade as he neared the more sterile, businesslike atmosphere of the briefing room.

With a heavy sigh, he steeled himself for the task at hand. He held onto the knowledge that once the briefing was over, he and his crew could return to the lounge. There, they would enjoy the fruits of his labor, a labor of love, a delightful stew that was a testament to his dedication as a leader and a team member. But for now, the call of duty prevailed, and he pressed on, leading his crew with the same attentiveness and care that he had shown in preparing the evening’s meal.

As Korrath made his way into the briefing room, he was met with an air of stillness, a testament to his promptness. He had arrived ahead of schedule, and the expansive room was hushed and almost deserted, save for two distinct figures who were already in attendance. The commanding presences of Commander Daniel Gardner and Lieutenant Commander Rayana Datam were hard to miss, leaders of the SWORD Unit, who were the raison d’être for the Phaesis’s present voyage.

These two, and their elite team, were entrusted to the Phaesis for delivery, and it would be his responsibility to later retrieve them, after they had executed their mission. As he appraised them from across the room, Korrath was struck by the air of quiet determination that seemed to surround them.

The task the Phaesis and her new crew were charged with could, at its most rudimentary, be distilled down to a three-step operation: insertion, recovery, and extraction. Yet, to view it through such a simplistic lens would be to overlook the intricate layers of complexity inherent in their current situation.

Looming ominously as a substantial threat to their assignment was the formidable presence of an old Dominion Fleet, combined with that of the Breen, whose activities had been increasing just beyond the famous Farpoint Station.

The mission, while straightforward on paper, was a delicate ballet of political, strategic, and tactical variables, all of which needed to be handled with the utmost care to ensure success. As Korrath surveyed the almost empty room, these thoughts weighed heavily on his mind. However, he held onto the hope that, like the stew he had meticulously prepared earlier, the mission too would blend perfectly in the end, each element coming together to achieve a successful outcome.

“Daniel, Ray,” Korrath acknowledged, his voice resonating through the semi-vacant room as he made his approach. The names were uttered with a level of familiarity and respect that only comes from shared experiences and camaraderie.

Between Korrath and Daniel Gardner, there already existed a robust bond forged in the crucible of past missions. They had served side by side before, their shared experiences knitting them together with threads of friendship and honour. Their companionship was the kind that wasn’t easily eroded by time or distance, a silent agreement of trust that was understood without needing to be spoken aloud. Gardner’s presence was a comforting reminder of this bond, his every gesture a testament to their shared history.

Rayana Datam was a newer acquaintance, but she had quickly earned Korrath’s respect. Despite the formalities that their ranks imposed, she had insisted he address her by her preferred name, Ray. It was a subtle gesture, yet one that spoke volumes about her personality. She wasn’t just a dedicated officer; she was also a person who valued personal connections and humanity, even in the most professional of settings. It was this unique blend of firmness and familiarity that Korrath appreciated, finding it a refreshing balance in the often rigid framework of the starship’s hierarchy.

Upon hearing his name, Daniel momentarily suspended his conversation with Ray, pivoting his attention towards the approaching Korrath. His face lit up with a welcoming smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling in a display of genuine camaraderie. In response to Korrath’s greeting, he lifted his chin in a friendly nod, a non-verbal affirmation of their shared bond and mutual respect.

Equally receptive to Korrath’s greeting was Ray. Her lips curved upward in a warm smile, an affable expression that managed to convey both her professional esteem for the commander and a personal appreciation for his presence. The bright glint in her eyes was a mirror of her enthusiasm, reflecting her keen readiness to embark on the task ahead.

With his question and smirk, Daniel injected an air of warmth into their formal setting. His inquiry of “All set?” wasn’t directed towards the imminent mission, as one might expect in the austere confines of the briefing room. Rather, he was inquiring about something more personal, something that added a touch of homeliness to their shipboard life. 

Daniel, being one of the rare individuals aware of Korrath’s culinary endeavors for the evening, was asking about the stew. His question was a testament to their bond that extended beyond their professional roles, delving into the personal sphere. There was an undercurrent of eager anticipation in his voice, as if he were already picturing the delightful concoction Korrath had been meticulously preparing.

His casual lean into the chair’s recline spoke volumes, carrying an underlying message of camaraderie and shared experiences. It signaled an understanding that, despite their daunting responsibilities and high-stakes operations, there was always room for appreciating simple joys and human connections – like sharing a hearty stew prepared by a fellow officer and friend. His friendly nod and the accompanying smile held the promise of a well-deserved break, one that would be marked by the rich flavors of Korrath’s Ratamba stew.

Korrath gracefully slid into his chair, one strategically placed at the zenith of the elongated table, a station of honor customarily reserved for the Commanding Officer or the highest-ranking individual onboard. This silent declaration of authority established the chain of command, a time-honored Starfleet and Navy.

Responding to Daniel’s anticipatory query, Korrath allowed a knowing smile to play across his features. “Yes,” he affirmed with an air of quiet satisfaction, his voice resonating with an undercurrent of excitement. “It’s perfect,” he further asserted, his tone carrying a certain boldness that suggested an achievement of considerable pride.

A peculiar sparkle kindled in his eyes, not a characteristic attributed to his Bajoran roots, but rather a testament to his Klingon heritage. This was a glint of fierce pride and joy, reflecting the fervor and robustness that were hallmarks of the Klingon spirit.

Caught in the undercurrent of this enigmatic exchange, Ray found herself somewhat adrift. With a mild tilt of her head, she directed a quizzical gaze between the two senior officers. The cryptic smiles and the unique glint in Korrath’s eyes were mysterious pieces of a puzzle she was yet to decipher.

A hint of intrigue slipped into her tone as she finally broke her silence, “What are you talking about?” she asked. Her question, though posed with innocent curiosity, hinted at a desire to be part of the camaraderie that seemed to be taking shape in this otherwise formal setting.

Ray’s interest forced Korrath’s smile widen and the sparkle that had appeared in his eye to persist. “I look forward to you finding out.” He answered whilst Daniel let out a small laugh. “I promise, its worth waiting for.” Daniel said to her, a mischievous glint in his eye now. 

Upon witnessing Ray’s intrigue, an appreciative chuckle escaped Korrath, causing his smile to broaden further. The glimmer of anticipation in his eye refused to fade, instead, it seemed to dance with a growing fervor that reflected his infectious enthusiasm. “I look forward to you finding out,” he responded, his voice ringing with an enticing promise of something remarkable yet undisclosed.

Next to him, Daniel’s amusement was apparent as he released a light-hearted laugh. His usually stern visage was replaced with an expression that could only be described as gleefully mischievous. The camaraderie between him and Korrath was palpable, and it added a jovial twist to their professional exchange.

“I promise, it’s worth waiting for,” Daniel assured Ray, his tone light yet filled with sincerity. He echoed Korrath’s sentiments, his eyes mirroring the same playful glint as his companion. His words were a vow of a delightful surprise waiting in the wings, further enhancing the atmosphere of pleasant anticipation that had started to envelop the room.

Ray’s half-Betazoid heritage endowed her with empathic abilities, allowing her to perceive the emotional undercurrents that were presently alive between the two men. A wave of excitement was clearly emanating from them both, with Korrath particularly radiating an anticipation that was almost tangible. She could sense his eagerness for the briefing to conclude, a sentiment interwoven with the anticipation of sharing something deeply personal. 

A solitary eyebrow arched upwards on Ray’s forehead, an unspoken inquiry that, barring the absence of pointed ears, lent her an uncanny resemblance to a Vulcan. Her lips parted, ready to voice her intrigue, but her opportunity was cut short by the arrival of the rest of the crew. The briefing room door slid open, admitting the men and women of the Phaesis who filed in one by one, each finding their respective place around the table.

As they settled in, Ray’s empathic senses were immediately inundated by a flurry of emotions emanating from her colleagues. Eagerness, anxiety, and nervous anticipation coursed through the room, creating an electric atmosphere. The emotional mix was a testament to the challenges that lay ahead. Daniel had mentioned earlier about the tension that had rippled through the bridge when Korrath had ordered a course set for the Ciater Nebula. The collective emotion of the crew now confirmed the significance of their upcoming mission.

“I understand everyone is brimming with curiosity regarding our mission, and I have no intention of keeping you in suspense with unnecessary introductions,” Korrath initiated, the weight of his crew’s anticipation evident in the silent intensity that clung to the room. He could practically feel their gazes locked onto him, their silent anticipation amplifying the gravity of his words.

“Commander Gardner and Datam,” he continued, acknowledging the duo with a respectful nod, “are the leaders of a Special Operations Unit from the Special Weapons and Operations Response Division.” He paused, allowing the crew a moment to register the gravity of the assignment at hand.

“Upon reaching the Ciater Nebula, our ship will engage its lowest power mode while maintaining the capacity to operate Warp Drive. Our journey will take us through the nebula,” he paused, manipulating a series of controls deftly. Instantly, a holographic projection shimmered into existence on the screen.

“Here,” he indicated a specific location within the projection “we’ll make a brief warp jump, reappearing momentarily at Leonis.” He let his words sink in before delivering the next crucial part of the plan.

“In that narrow window, Commander Gardner and his team will disembark via the airlock. Following this, we’ll return to the nebula to lay low and wait for a coded signal from Commander Gardner signaling our pick-up.”

Korrath then paused, allowing the information to fully permeate the room. After a few silent beats, he resumed, his tone slightly lighter, “I can almost hear your thoughts — ‘That’s easy.'” Despite not expecting any hearty laughter, his statement was met with a smattering of smiles, serving to ease the room’s tension just a notch.

“But,” he added, the seriousness creeping back into his voice, “I suspect our real challenge will present itself when it comes time to retrieve Commander Gardner. We’ll have to act swiftly and decisively.” His gaze swept across the room, giving every crew member a moment to digest the plan. “Any thoughts, questions, or suggestions?” he concluded, effectively opening the floor to a discussion.

A hush descended upon the room, a quiet that was steeped in contemplation and held for a few seemingly elongated moments. Ray, with her empathic abilities, could feel a palpable shift in the emotional undercurrent of the crew. The previously prevailing anxiety had largely dissipated, its unsettling waves gradually smoothing out.

In its stead, Ray was heartened to perceive a new and resolute emotional landscape. A collective sense of determination was starting to take hold, slowly seeping into the room like a strengthening light cutting through the lingering shadows of uncertainty. The resolve was almost tangible, solidifying in the silence and serving as a testament to the crew’s readiness to face the challenges that lay ahead. The room was no longer a space filled with apprehension; instead, it had transformed into a sanctuary of shared determination and resolute commitment.

Nelot, having absorbed the details of the plan, confidently shifted forward in her seat. Her eyes sparked with the glimmer of a promising idea as she addressed the commanding officer, “Commander,” she started, her tone holding an undertone of earnest belief.

“I am confident that I can modify one of our probes by integrating an Anyon subspace flux emitter,” she proposed. The room seemed to lean into her words as she painted a picture of her innovative idea. “This modification should generate sufficient sensor interference.”

She paused momentarily to ensure her point was landing, then continued with conviction. “Moreover, I believe I can strategically transport the probe as we initiate warp from the Nebula,” she asserted, her statement presenting a potential solution to enhance their covert operations. Her words hung in the room, highlighting her commitment to the mission and the adaptability she brought to the team. “ This should hide our momentary presence and give us time to return to the nebula.”

Ray, engaging with the discussion, posed a crucial question. “Could such a modification potentially disrupt the functionality of our atmospheric insertion suits?” she asked. Her question reflected her concern for the practicality of the idea in tandem with their existing equipment, highlighting her attention to detail and the safety of the team.

Unruffled by the question, Nelot gave a gentle shake of her head, expressing confidence in her proposal. In an unconscious gesture, she reached up to massage one of the distinctive ridges gracing her neck, a response to the slight discomfort she had felt earlier today. Just like humans experienced backaches under stress due to tension knots, Cardassians had their own physiological responses; in Nelot’s case, it was a mild ache along her unique neck ridges, the stress contours extending over her shoulders. Nothing a deep massage and a sonic shower on the holodeck couldn’t fix, she thought to herself.

“If we provide you with the exact frequency of the flux emitter,” she said, her voice laced with certitude, “I’m certain you’ll be able to adjust your suits accordingly to mitigate any interference.” Her response underlined her skills as the mission’s Lead Science Officer, displaying both her technical acumen and her adaptability in brainstorming solutions for potential challenges.

Ray responded with a slight nod of her head, a nonverbal gesture of acceptance and understanding. The logic in Nelot’s explanation resonated with her, and her empathic abilities allowed her to discern the sincere conviction in the Science Officer’s assertions.

Shifting his attention away from Ray and Nelot, Korrath’s gaze swept across the room, absorbing the myriad expressions of his crew. Eventually, his eyes landed on Cassana, his intense gaze seemingly compelling her to contribute to the discussion. The corners of his mouth quivered momentarily, hinting at the emergence of a smile. However, it faded just as quickly as it had threatened to form.

Despite its fleeting appearance, Korrath knew that Cassana would have caught it. Such was their rapport that even these subtle, transient shifts in his demeanor did not go unnoticed by her. This brief, almost imperceptible exchange, reflected their understanding and mutual respect, the exact reason Korrath wanted Cassana as his First Officer

Upon catching Korrath’s fleeting smirk, a responding smile tugged at the corners of Cassana’s mouth. Quickly, she veiled her amusement with a broader, more congenial smile, skillfully masking the brief moment shared with Korrath.

With an air of confidence, she pivoted her chair to directly address the Bajoran Lead Security & Tactical Officer. “Lieutenant Orzal and I have been honing our skills with evasive maneuvers, and experimenting with set pieces’,” she explained, her tone reflecting her dedication to the task. Noticing the puzzled expressions on some faces around the room, she realized that her reference to ‘set pieces’ – a term borrowed from the Earth sport of football which she had taken an interest in – might not be universally understood.

She quickly provided clarity, “These are strategic maneuvers usually with more than 1 step, designed to tilt the odds in our favor even when confronted with a superior enemy.” The explanation highlighted her strategic thinking and commitment to developing new tactics that could potentially tip the balance of power in their favor.

Cassana’s thoughtful contributions underscored her dedication to her role and her steadfast commitment to her personal growth and professional development. Originally trained as a nurse, she had always exhibited leadership capabilities. However, her recent foray into the command track, undertaking Bridge Officers and Advanced Starship Operations courses, had served to elevate these qualities significantly.

This insightful strategic proposition was a testament to her ongoing efforts to broaden her knowledge and hone her skills. Her mindset reflected a readiness to adapt and learn, embodying the essence of a lifelong learner and a leader. Korrath, observing this growth, felt a surge of respect and admiration for her. Her efforts to continually evolve and enhance her contributions to the team was, without doubt, impressive. Her performance was a reminder of the vast potential that Korrath knew Cassana had.

Shifting his focus from Cassana, Korrath directed his attention towards Sirella, his Deltan Engineer. He harbored a question, one he hoped might be unnecessary given Sirella’s expertise, but his role as Commander compelled him to seek confirmation.

“I trust there won’t be any difficulties associated with reducing our power output?” he inquired, his tone acknowledging Sirella’s technical knowledge but also expressing his responsibility to ensure clarity on all fronts. It was a delicate balance between deference to her engineering expertise and the imperative of thoroughness in his command role.

With a swift shake of her head, Sirella promptly dispelled any lingering uncertainties. It was clear from her response that she had already anticipated such concerns. “No, Commander,” she stated firmly, brimming with assurance. “I am fairly certain that I can manipulate the Phaesis’s power output to effectively blend us into the cosmic background noise. This, in combination with Lieutenant Mazer’s probe, should sufficiently mask our presence.”

Expressing his approval with an appreciative nod, Korrath rose from his seat, signaling the approaching end of the discussion. “Is there anything else?” he queried, a warm smile gracing his features. He carefully kept his enthusiasm in check, although the eagerness for what came next subtly danced in his eyes.

His observant gaze picked up on Daniel’s knowing smirk, a subtle hint that he was aware of Korrath’s restrained anticipation. Simultaneously, he noted Ray’s alert expression, a clear sign of her readiness to conclude the meeting. The delicate interplay of expressions reflected the crew’s shared understanding, their non-verbal cues as eloquent as spoken words.

Cassana and the others clearly were aware something was afoot and a number of nervous smiles appeared around the room, but the silence remained. “In that case,” He began, the glint that was in his eye earlier returning, “Your presence is requested and required in the main lounge. Ray, please forward my request to the rest of your team.”

With a nod of acknowledgement, Ray reciprocated Korrath’s consideration in involving the other members of her unit. However, there was something more in her gaze that lingered for a moment—an unspoken attraction that sparked within her. She found herself drawn to Korrath not only for his physical appeal but also for his evident competence in his role, which was an essential quality on her checklist. After all, there was nothing more unattractive than someone who lacked skill and dedication in their profession. Moreover, the fact that he possessed culinary talents added another intriguing dimension to his character, further solidifying his place in her thoughts.

However, aware of the need to focus on immediate matters, her attention swiftly shifted towards the practicalities of the upcoming meal. Sensing the opportune moment as the meeting reached its conclusion, she gracefully excused herself from the table, aiming to utilize the ship’s internal communication system with discretion.

As the evening unfolded, it surpassed even Korrath’s highest expectations. The aroma of the stew, prepared with genuine, non-replicated ingredients, filled the air, tantalizing the senses and eliciting appreciative murmurs from the crew. The crusty bread, lovingly crafted by Korrath himself, provided the perfect complement to the hearty meal, further enhancing the dining experience. 

Korrath watched with a swelling sense of pride as the crew engaged in lively conversations, their interactions becoming more than mere shipmates sharing a meal. In a twist of fate, Nelot and Nejem, hailing from Cardassia and Bajor respectively, two worlds once torn apart by conflict, discovered common ground that transcended their troubled history. Throughout the evening, it became evident that a genuine friendship was taking root between the two, their shared experiences and newfound connection bridging the divide that once separated them.

The scene served as a testament to the power of unity, reminding Korrath of the potential for understanding and camaraderie that could blossom even in the face of perceived differences. It was a testament to the transformative power of shared meals, where food became the catalyst for forging unexpected bonds and fostering a sense of belonging among the crew.

Amidst the laughter, the clinking of utensils, and the shared stories, Korrath allowed himself a moment to bask in the fulfillment of his intentions. His efforts to bring the crew together had borne fruit, igniting a spark of unity and camaraderie that would continue to resonate throughout their shared journeys.