Gabriela Castillo slowly entered the bridge lounge, her heart and soul heavy. She spotted Jack at the bar cleaning some glasses and pulled herself up on a stool, “Moscow Mule.” He finished his glasswork, giving her a few side looks while he went to work on her drink. The Chief Helm Officer put her hands up, “I know, I know…not my normal.”
Rockwell mused, “What’s normal these days? We’re still getting this place cleaned up.” She stopped and glanced around. The tables were mostly destroyed, and the carpet was ragged and burned. She’d been so focused on getting to the bar she’d barely noticed the state of the lounge.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t even….”
“Don’t worry about it, Ensign. The Mackanzie’s in rough shape all over. The main crew mess will need a complete remodel – we’ve had to use a cargo bay for food and beverage service.” He set her drink down before her, “You remember the first time you walked in here?”
She took a sip and felt the warmth of a Synthehol wash down her throat and into her stomach. She did. “Yea. Catari ended up on the Oly and Mo…well…” She felt the sadness of his loss and mourning of what might have been if he had survived. What conversations would they have had? What connections would he have formed? What kind of fellow officer would he have become? She pushed her feelings down for the moment, “They warn you serving in Starfleet is hard. They weren’t lying.”
Jack nodded and leaned back on the expansive cabinet of choices. “I don’t know if it’s ever been easy…you think back the history we learned in the Academy about the NX-01 and the first days of the Federation…Kirk’s ships, Sulu’s journey…Spock, Scotty…Garret, Picard, Janeway, Sisko…those captains and crews never had it easy. And that’s just the A-Teams. I haven’t even dug into the B-teams or the C-teams. A lot of names on both lists that suffered and struggled in service to the Federation.”
Castillo took a deep drink from her cup, “What team are we on, Jack?” She smiled slyly, “I think we’re a B+ team myself.” She swirled the ice, thinking of the 35 officers they would never see again. The letters would be sent home, and the caskets would be draped in Federation flags. She changed subjects, deflecting her feelings, “You hear anything about this on the FNN?”
The bartender scoffed, “That’ll be the day. Been catching the daily broadcasts. Not enough synthehol in the world to wash away whatever sins are being committed at that level.” He accepted her empty cup, “Up for another?” She shrugged, and he went to work.
“Ensign Gabriela Castillo, may I sit next to you?” The voice startled her, and Master Chief Henry Wyatt looked at her expectantly, and she nodded, shifting in her seat. He gave a wave to Rockwell, “Hard cider, please.” He sat for a moment, examining the offerings on the shelf.
“I heard you were here once.” Gabriela turned to hear his answer.
“It’s those years that I don’t really enjoy talking about…but everyone else likes to, it seems.” He cocked his head to the side and stared back at her. Rockwell placed her drink down and set a topped bottle in front of the El-Aurian, who took a swig and gave an appreciative sigh, “At least the hard cider is right.” He admired the bottle before returning to the question, “Screw it. Let’s have it. It was a long time ago. The colony was in its infancy…there was no threat of Dominion or much of anything. It was an innocent corner of colonial operations. When I went down before the attack, I didn’t recognize much…they grew in leaps and bounds.” Another swig and a quiet smile, “You should try this, Ensign. It’s some of the best.”
Gabriela accepted a bottle from Jack and peered down the gullet of the bottle, “It smells…sweet.” She took a nip, her eyes wide in surprise, “That’s…not half bad, Master Chief!” The Ensign took a deeper pull and clinked her bottle against his, “You’re not half bad, either.”
Wyatt chuckled, “I’ve been called many things in my life…I’ll take it.” He accepted a second bottle and wrested the top off barehanded, earning a surprised look from the helm chief. He shifted the conversation, “You going to stay on the Mack when we return to Starbase 72? A lot of talk about people leaving for safer sectors.” He gave her a knowing look when she frowned, “I’m the Quartermaster – I hear it all.”
She had given it some thought, but she kept coming back to why she was out here in the first place. “It’s hard not to want to discover.” Setting her bottle down, she gestured to the windows, “They called it a lot of things…The Final Frontier…the Undiscovered Country…the Vastness…the Expanse…as far as we have gone…there’s still so much out there.” She tapped her fingers on the bar top, “My family lived off the land since as far back as any of us can remember. Our farm was our life…our future. My mother told me one day she was tired of seeing me all muddy and dirty. Shipped me off to space camp.” A moment of silence spread between them as Gabriela recalled her mother. After a few minutes of reflection, she continued in a pool of memories, “I always wondered why she just up and sent me. I asked her in the days leading up to the Academy…and she told me our family had been tied to the mud and the muck for too long… that it was time to free ourselves from the deep muddy waters…and fly.” She chuckled as Wyatt gave her a look, “Yes, she really said that. Mom could be poetic when she wanted.”
Henry felt her eyes shift with the conversation. He leaned into her shoulder, “You miss her.” Family was universal in the universe.
Gabriela sniffled a little, tears holding at the corner of her eyes, “She is the heart of our family. Dad’s the quiet one – tends his gardens. That’s his language…the plants and the trees. I spent hours out there with him, learning and watering and sharing time.” She dabbed a napkin at her eyes, “Sorry, it’s been a year away from home…you think you’re ready to be separated…and…then you start to remember them.”
Wyatt placed his hand on her shoulder, “No need to apologize, Ensign. Being on a starship can be a lonely enterprise the first time around. Making friends and securing our mooring lines to people who care…that’s not easy.” He chuckled as he took a swig, “Somehow, most of us make it through that first year…and then we keep coming back until they don’t dare get rid of us. You are coming back, right?”
The Chief Helm Officer cackled, covered her mouth in shock at the sound, and then laughed at her embarrassment, finishing with, “And miss these delightful conversations, Master Chief? You couldn’t get rid of me if you tried.”
He gave her a devious wink, “Is that a challenge?” Her bright laughter was his answer.
Oscar Reede sat in the communications center, working on the final repairs to the consoles. It had survived without too much damage aside from every console being shattered. Half the day had gotten away from him before he’d finally managed to get the last one fixed. The door opened, and he stood at attention as Commander Charles Hargraves stepped in, followed by Gul Hasara. The cadet asked, “Good afternoon, sirs. What can I do for you?” His voice nearly squeaked, and he felt his face grow red with embarrassment.
Charlie was first, “Gul Hasara needs to submit his resignation from the Union formally.” Reede blinked. That was news. The Diplomatic Officer continued, “He can explain the details.” With that, he left, and Reede gestured to the desk console as the Cardassian followed him. They sat down.
“Commander Hargraves is being very kind. It was to be my choice to resign, but I received a communication early this morning that the Union is requesting my resignation.”
Oscar asked, “So…they’re firing you? That seems unfair.” He knew a little of the Gul’s story, but it seemed not enough.
Hasara laughed deeply, “Accusing the Cardassian Union of unfair practices is just another day at the office, Cadet Reede. Your sentiment is appreciated even though I could give, as you humans would say, two shits about them.”
Reede felt a smile spring to his lips and nodded in understanding, “I understand that reference, sir. Do you have wording in mind?”
“Oh, Mr. Reede. I have wording in mind. Do I ever. I hope your ears won’t be offended…it is going to be quite a vulgar message.” His smile was sly, and his eyes bright with anticipation. He had been waiting for this moment for a long time.
Oscar waved his concerns away, “Vulgarity was a specialty in my family.”
The Gul cocked his head, “Of the Cardassian variety?”
Reede was given pause at that. “Uh, no.”
Hasara’s grin went from sly to maniacal upon hearing the cadet’s reply, “Then I am going to be teaching you a great deal, Mr. Reede. Shall we begin?” Reede put his hands on the console. He was ready to learn.