Episode 1: The Maelstrom Awaits
Timeline: Day 7 at 1555
Ekal chimed the door to the Chief Engineer's office 5 minutes before teatime. She needed firm relationships among the crew to build a life among them, and he seemed both considerate and willing to look past her race.
She kept her smile on as she scanned for the Lieutenant Murphy. He'd seemed less inclined to accept her presence.
As much as she wanted to offer him tea, she didn't want to interrupt his work- and he was definitely busy at this point in the preparations, wasn't he. Hopefully, they could share some tea right here in his office, and she could scan the engineering crew. Not for anything nefarious, but just to familiarize herself with people she might see about the ship- and which ones were comfortable with her presence.
"Please come in," CJ said quietly. He rubbed weary eyes; tomorrow morning was the planned reactor start up day, and he ran through the starting sequence for what was probably the twentieth time. Mercifully the department was just about on top of the hundreds of other upgrade, repair, refit and restoration jobs as well as what Murphy, with his gift for the pithy, had labelled "random bullshit." The latest was just, well bizzare and CJ made a mental note to double check the holodecks again tonight. But tomorrow, if the Captain assented, from a cold condition the total system temperature and pressure would be slowly brought up from dormancy, using a combination of energy inputs from the electro plasma system with the matter reactant injector and a "squeeze" from the upper magnetic constrictors. He was genuinely excited, and looked up from the plan to see Ekal at the doorway. Offering a shy smile, he half stood to welcome her in.
"Ensign, welcome back to Engineering." He frowned, real concern creeping onto his face as he feared that something was awry. "Are the modifications to your cabin not satisfactory?"
"On the contrary, Lieutenant CJ." She smiled broadly at him, "I came by not only to thank you, but to ask if you'd like to share some tea with me? We don't have to go anywhere, I figure you'd want to keep an eye on the situation down here." Her instincts told her to remain cautious.
Ekal approached him slowly, "You said you'd never tried redleaf tea before, and I find it one of life's true delights."
CJ offered another shy smile. "I did, and I haven't," he said softly, although he couldn't remember saying that in their earlier encounter. He was genuinely pleased to see her. "I would be delighted to try it. Please," he gestured for her to sit. "This is a traditional beverage for your people, is that correct? It is very kind of you to arrange this."
She sat lightly in the seat across from his, “it is a traditional beverage in the way mint tea is traditional for humans, I suppose.” She downplayed it, “I wanted to offer some gratitude after you were so quick to aid me about my quarters, even while you’re so busy with the finishing touches of the refit.”
Her voice remained playful as she spoke- “It’s not like I’m never treated as an equal or valued member of the crew straightaway, but it was a treat to feel welcome aboard.” The sentiment was softened by her laughter. If she wanted to carve out a home aboard the Nogura she’d have to work hard to find and maintain amiable relationships. Pity had always been a good tool for her, but it was easy to over sell. “How do you usually take strong black tea? With sugar perhaps?”
CJ raised an eyebrow at the subtle undercurrent, unsure whether she was signalling difficulties in her earlier career or underplaying them. "Half a teaspoon, please," he said carefully. Sweet foods were a weakness of his; the predominant Devenan climate, soil biology and culture leaned towards savoury, Mediterranean type foods, home grown sweet things were rare which meant that every terran child on Denenva craved them. CJ, typically, had forced himself to be controlled, modest with it.
"It really was," he said softly, "the right thing to do, you know, adjusting your cabin. As for the rest of the refit," he closed tired eyes. "The team has worked hard, very hard," he said ruefully, "perhaps I have pushed them too hard." He looked at Dreisor, preparing the tea. "I am sorry," he said brightly, "I have dominated the conversation. How are you settling in?" He looked at the tea pretty openly, suspecting that any attempt at subltety would be swiftly detected. He was intrigued by the smells, and the colour. It was red, deeply, warmly red. He looked forward to sampling it.
Ekal stirred sugar into the tea, which smelled a little like cinnamon and orange. Cardassians usually favored strong flavors. “Your team deserves the recognition.” She mused, “I’m settling in just fine, actually. I had my physical, I checked in with Lt. Commander Adams. So far, I’ve been accepted by most, and I can’t ask for more.”
When the sugar was dissolved to her satisfaction, she set the mug in front of CJ. Closer, it smelled more like tea. A strong tea, bittersweet, kind of floral, with the spice and the fruit as more afterthoughts. Whatever it was, it had a lot of flavors at once, almost overwhelming the palate like mulled wine without the alcohol. She sipped hers without adding any sugar.
“I don’t know how much about cardassian culture makes its way into study at starfleet- no one would try to teach it to me if they did know it- but conversations are rather important to us. Don’t feel you’re dominating a conversation so long as I continue to listen. I’m curious what you’re thinking about.” She smiled over the rim of her mug. “Are you planning to get the reactor going soon?”
CJ's first reaction to the tea was that it was incredibly strong; a veritable explosion of scent and taste struck his senses. Then he was aware of the 'buzz'; he suspected that the Cardassian metabolism broke things down more quickly than Terrans, so even accounting for that it had an effect. She was right about one thing, it was like mint tea, or perhaps a herbal blend. He thought about the reactor. "Well, we're all ready to go. The night crew will complete the checks for a cold start, I'll probably get up early and do it with them, and we'll slowly increase the reaction rate until we can establish a stable warp field. Of course, Captain Azulas needs to approve it. And of course, if holodeck two goes insane again we could need to rethink," he said this with a hint of sarcasm. "I'm sure that you heard. Ensign Crichton brought a new programme with him, something based on Earth's 'ancient west'. Anyway, there's a problem with one of the characters," he caught her slight head tilt and explained, "he wouldn't die. Kind of a drawback when he's repeatedly being shot at by young Crichton." He sipped again on his tea, again appreciating the gesture. "I must remember to have the galley make some fresh Denevan bread. Ah yes, I digress. So Murphy is up there now. Apparently the programme is an interesting one," he said this speculatively. She really did seem content to listen; CJ found that intriguing, as most of his fellow officers loved to speak.
"So that's where Murphey is! I wondered if he was off duty, didn't see him when I came in." She crossed her legs and leaned in, "I've heard the ancient west was both rough and tumble, I can't imagine how hard it would be to finish a program with an immortal enemy! Chriton must've had quite a shock." Ekal resolved to try that program when it was fixed up, if more people would try it due to the rumors of Crichton's misfortune she'd want to be able to discuss it. "I don't know if I see how holosuite 2 would affect the warp core, but then, I'm no engineer, despite being female I never had a head for machines, just maps."
"It doesn't, of course," CJ said in wry confession. "I'm in no way an expert on that part of Earth's history; I gather that Murphy was, is, quite excited by the idea of being a 'deputy," he said the unfamiliar word slowly, "my world's view of its Earth roots are quite complex," he paused, worried that he was revealing too much. She seemed interested and an awkward silence was not what he wanted, so shrugged and continued. "As a 'first family' the Materos trace their ancestry back to the first ship from Earth," he said this without any pride or arrogance, ""but beyond that it's a bit confused. This must be boring to you," he said with apprehension.
"I assure you it is not." She was surprised by how much she enjoyed listening to him. It was very strange that he freely offered so much information, and of course she memorized it to research later to verify that it wasn't a cascade of lies, but as long as he was happy to talk she was happy to listen. "Parts of histroy get lost or muddled over time, that's simply how memory works without meticulous records. If your ancestors didn't have records of every little thing on earth we can hardly blame you for having a slightly more confused understanding of earth's history than the average Earth-born human or later colonies' people." To assure him she was listening, she said a bit more.
"Anyway," he said, feeling that he had said too much, "is it the same for you? Is there a proud Dreisor line?" He sipped on his tea, much less overpowering now that it had cooled.
"Proud? No, I'm afraid the Dreisors never rose far above the planet's surface. My father was a pilot, he fell in the Dominion War. In fact, I believe I am only one of ten Cardassians who carry the Dreisor name. My mother never remarried." As she spoke, she wondered how much of her life she should reveal. "Many would claim we are a failed family, since we are dying out like that."
CJ nodded as she spoke. "I'm sorry that your father fell," he said very softly, having also lost a father through violence. "If it helps, I know precisely how you feel." He decided not to say more on that, nor to press her further. Instead he spoke from the heart. "I suspect that he would be very proud of you," he said simply.
"I'm sure he would." She said just as simply, smiling appreciatively to his sentiment. She was lying. She'd joined Star Fleet, her father would probably have disowned her. Her mother was more accepting, but she didn't like that her daughter was so far away. Even frequent communication couldn't comfort her.
Ekal sipped her tea for a moment to compose herself. "Was your father an engineer?" She wanted to turn the conversation back to him.
CJ sensed that, realising that the focus was indeed upon him. It made him uncomfortable. "My father was a relief worker, quite a senior one, he died trying to stop two Romulans from killing each other over replicator credits," he said this with real bitterness. CJ knew that somewhere on a Romulan refugee world he was spinning in his grave at the notion that his only son was a Starfleet officer. "It was ages ago," he said quickly, evasively, uneasy at the attention. Time to change the subject. "This redleaf tea. It is excellent. Is it replicated, or do you have a supply on board?"
Ekal realized they might be in the same boat about their fathers based on the tone of his statement and subsequent question. Neither of them wanted to be the focus of conversation, did they? Well, she could handle that.
"My mother left me with a bag of the tea actually, but this cup is replicated. I plan to save the real stuff for special occasions, you'll have to forgive me if this doesn't quite warrant it." She chuckled. "Did I tell you she was a farmer?"
CJ offered a smile, a lopsided grin rather than the head bowed, shy smile he usually offered. "You did not. And, please," he nodded to himself, "keep the good stuff for birthdays and promotions. I'm grateful, even for the replicated stuff. In truth this is the deepest connection that I have so far made. Oh well," he veered away from her gaze again, "we're busy enough with work. I suppose I should check that the team is ready for tomorrow," he said quietly. "You are welcome to stay, but I understand if you'd rather escape."
"Thank you. I think I will escape, I've got some sims to run in holodeck 3." She didn't tell him that this was the deepest connection she'd made so far as well. That much should be obvious. "Best of luck with tomorrow, Lieutenant, I'm certain you and your team will get this ship up and running."
They both stood. "Just please not two," he said with a smile. He risked more humour. "I'm not sure who would win, you or the gunslinger!"