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An Open Invitation

Posted on Sun May 29th, 2022 @ 9:42am by Uhlan Ezra Perez & Subcommander Kaiae t'Lien & Centurion Nancy Gable & Major Ashley Rogers

Mission: Chapter VI: Racing the Storm
Location: Mess Hall, Ourainavassa
Timeline: 238704.18

Perez smiled to themselves as they walked into the mess hall. After the training session with Hatham, the invitation for a drink in the mess hall had spiralled, and now the entire officer staff of the ship was invited. Well, with the launch of the first evacuation operations only days away now, what better time for the crew to get together, have a few drinks, and strengthen morale?

While the young Terran usually wore their old standard-issue Terran MACO combat suit while on duty - and often even off-duty - they had decided to "dress up" for the occasion, instead wearing a simple grey shirt with black slacks and boots, as well as their old Terran duty uniform, complete with bronze division colouring and sergeant's chevrons on the left arm. After all, it was the most "business casual" outfit they owned. They'd pinned the Uhlan's rank badge to the collar and the blackened silver combadge with Ourainavassa's phoenix crest on their chest, wearing the jacket zipped open.

They found the mess hall almost completely empty, and thus made a beeline to the bar, quickly taking the five bottles of whisky out of the bag they were carrying and putting them on the counter. One last bottle would be kept in their quarters, for later use, they mused. A quick glance at the chronometer confirmed the time: 2100 hours. People should start arriving soon.

Renee looked up and smirked at the self-brought alcohol. She nodded permission silently. The more they drink of their stock, the less she'll have to restock her's.

The next one to arrive was Hatham. Figuring there was only so much of that good whisky, and he was owed after all, he'd made a point to show up a bit early. It had meant forcing himself to set his tasks aside well before he normally would, but Elements knew there'd be more than enough long days and nights ahead. A breath was needed before that long deep dive. "I've come to claim that drink you owe me," Hatham said to Perez. "I hope it's stronger than the wheat soda I was given last time a human talked up their booze," he added with a wink and a grin.

Perez chuckled and handed Hatham one of the bottles, along with a glass. "See for yourself, my friend. It's not quite Romulan Ale, but it packs a punch. I reckon most of the humans on this ship would be in quite a sorry state after a bottle of this." As they were speaking, they poured a glass for themselves as well, and took a sip. "Ah, yep. Shi does know her whiskies. This is some good stuff."

Accepting the bottle, Hatham poured a portion into the glass and lifted it, examining the golden-brown tones of liquor before taking a drink. He held it in his mouth a moment before swallowing. "Mild," he pronounced, then inclined his head fractionally to Perez. "But a smooth, fine flavor."

"Precisely," Perez nodded. "That's what makes this the good stuff. It's comfortable to drink. There's some cheap swill out there that just burns. And not in a good way. More like if someone liquefied gagh, set it on fire, and poured it down your throat."

"Sounds like something some Klingons might like," Gable remarked sardonically as she approached the pair. "Me, though, I'll take smooth." She smiled, looking at the bottle. "If you're sharing."

Perez chuckled. "Klingons might like it, sure, but Klingons we are not. And feel free to help yourself, Doctor. The invitation was open, after all."

"You may not be. I have the genes," Nancy poured herself a drink and took an appreciative sip. "But not the inclination."

"You don't?" Gunnar asked teasingly, having arrived with T'Ango on his arm. "Could've fooled me..."

"You are good with a bat'leth," T'Ango agreed with a pre-emptively placating smile. Her t'mewt thought he was hiding a hitch in his step by leaning down a little to walk arm in arm with her, but giving Gable cause to look at him too closely struck her as bad idea.

"And you're good at provoking that side of me," Nancy retorted, eying Arnason - the boy was hiding something; that little too jovial attitude was a sure giveaway. Of course, with all the behind the lines runs they'd been doing the last couple weeks, taking only the people pre-arranged and leaving so many others to die was probably wearing hard on someone who couldn't bear to leave even a boarder who'd just tried to gut him to bleed out. "But thank you, T'Ango." She tipped her head to the Dosadi, then shifted her eyes back to Gunnar. "He's a lot more tolerable since you took up with him."

Gunnar chuckled and lifted his drink. "I won't argue there."

Perez glanced with concern at the fact that the first bottle was already empty, and the second one was getting there, before turning to the two newcomers. "You must be the Doc's friends that have been doing the evac runs. Nice to finally properly meet, I'm Perez. Maybe telling Hatham to invite everyone was a mistake, looking at how the bottles are already emptying, and we haven't been here that long." They chuckled. "Ah well, hopefully Renee's supplies are well-stocked."

"Pleased to meet you, Perez," T'Ango replied. "And yes, we've been trying to get the folks on the list who aren't on Romulus or Remus. Almost there," she said glancing up at Gunnar with a slight smile. "But as to the booze, I wouldn't worry. I've never known Renee to not be well-stocked".

"Damn right, and I'll be glad to try some of your's to keep it that way," Renee said, sliding an empty glass over.

Major Ashley Rogers strolled in and saw her friends, both old and new sharing a drink. She took a place next to Hatham, "Do I owe you or do you owe me?"

Perez smiled at Renee and waved towards the bottles. "Knock yourself out. Figuratively speaking, of course." They nodded a quick greeting towards Rogers, then turned back to T'Ango. "I'm glad to hear things seem to be going to plan so far. Let's hope it stays that way."

"I'm sure those two will be fine," Mila chimed in, having just arrived in the mess hall. "How are the modified cloaking systems performing? Adaptive remodulation not causing any issues, I hope?"

"It worked well enough," Gunnar said with a small nod toward Mila. "The fact that we're here is testimony to that."

"It did get an active field test," T'Ango added, thinking 'as evidenced by how you were thrown into that panel when we got hit' though she refrained from anything beyond a whisker twitch and ear orientating on Gunnar to indicate the thought. "And it worked, especially after I had a feel for the cycle time. Jinking right after remodulation threw a warbird right off the trail. I practically flew straight over them doubling back and they had no idea," she added with a smug grin.

Mila nodded excitedly. "Can't believe this kind of tech isn't installed in a bird as advanced as this one, not going to lie. The system we have here is a bit more complex than the one on your ship, so it's taking me some time to adapt it, but great to hear that it works."

"It works," T'Ango agreed. "Though it's not foolproof. Federation detection systems along the Neutral Zone picked us up." An ear flipped back, and she glanced up at Gunnar. "They lost us when the cloak adapted, but we didn't know that until after we'd turned ourselves over."

"Hey, they were waiting right in front of us and hailed saying we'd been detected," Gunnar replied. "There was no way of knowing it was a bluff."

Perez chuckled. "And here I thought the first rule to sneaking around was not to respond when someone shouts 'anyone there'. Feds didn't give you too much trouble then, I hope?"

"Eh, the usual." Gunnar shrugged. "Huffed and puffed, threatened to recall me to Starfleet so they court martial me."

T'Ango chuckled. "Which we know would never happen. Can you imagine the publicity? I think that lawyer - the one who gave you his comm ID - would just about pay us for the chance to lead that defense."

Mila laughed. "That definitely sounds like an eventful trip. I can see if I can make some adaptation to make the cloak adapt quicker. In case you run into your Vidraysh friends again."

Gunnar and T'Ango exchanged a brief look. "That would good," he said. "We only have one more run before we gear up for Romulus, but I'm a little worried the Tal'Shiar was waiting for us on this last one. We might have to make the whole trip cloaked to get the families off the last out-lying world."

The young Lieutenant sighed. "I hate that we are running out of time. Just imagine what we could achieve if I could get my hands on the Terrans' fancy drive system. I managed to sneak a backdoor into some of their systems. Would you believe they got the tech from this universe? Apparently, about 150 years ago, one of their ships got swapped with one of ours that had this kind of drive system. U.S.S. Discovery, NCC-1031. That ship was destroyed in the 2250s, and there is almost no record of it, anywhere. Seems to me like a massive cover-up for something."

"I wouldn't discount the idea," Gunnar agreed. "Though if they never made another, there was probably a reason. The fact the Terrans use it but we never made another honestly makes me wonder what damage it causes that we don't know enough to see." He frowned, wondering if the next disaster needing their all would end up having its origins in using the Terran vessel so much now.

"In any case..." Gable cut in before Arnason could go all brooding. "It only helps so much. It can get in and out fast, but it's picking people up without getting to shot to pieces that's going to be the challenge. For now, I intend to focus on getting another drink and seeing what Renee has cooked up for this party."

Kaiae cut a rather more reserved figure entering than any of the rest had so far; and if she was trying for 'commanding presence' with her bearing and immaculate uniform, it was possibly undercut a bit by the same signs of chronic exhaustion and stress that she'd noted on herself the other day at the gym...And possibly a bit by an uncertainty with the dynamics and rules of the situation at this gathering, for that matter. As a mid-ranked or more senior officer, she had dined or drank with her commanders and her fellows. As junior officer she had done the same with her colleagues or her section chiefs; and she had spent many nights dining or drinking in Quark's regrettable bar during the war, as part of the comms staff for their joint allied headquarters presence during the war. But always near the other powers personnel, rarely with them: It was, quite frankly, a dubious look if your communications censor was spending their time drinking with foreign troops and officers; a caution she had been well aware of even when not quite yet 30 at the time. Here, though, in this hall, all sorts were mixed together; mercenaries and Terrans and her own people; officers and crew and civilians; a situation even further complicated by the fact that, well, she was still trying (badly, she feared) to figure out where the lines should be at her new rank versus her prior one, having skipped entirely and abruptly over the intervening decades in the one between it that would have trained her in such, and wasn't sure most of the time if she was overcorrecting or under.

"Something of note on tap?" Kaiae slid into a seat and nodded briefly at the rapidly emptying whisky bottles.

Perez saw the Subcommander enter, and immediately recognised the signs of exhaustion. They excused themselves from the conversation, and walked over, quickly grabbing a fresh glass from the bar on the way.

"Japanese whisky, straight from the distillery in Osaka, on Ter- I mean, Earth." They poured a glass for Kaiae, and refilled their own. "It is rather excellent. Kanpai, as they say there."

Kaiae took the glass, repeated the verbal salute with what was excellent inflection for someone hearing a word for the first time (honestly a common trait one found in current of former comms officers across most galactic powers), and downed the entire thing at once. "...Very nice. Certainly better than most of what is served aboard Drozana."

"Didn't know you spoke Japanese, Subcommander," Perez replied with a chuckle, and refilled Kaiae's glass. "And believe me, if you think the swill on Drozana is bad, be glad you've never been to a Terran academy graduation party. I still think they drink barely diluted coolant there. Surprisingly, this universe has higher quality liquor."

"Clearly you've never been to Quark's." Kaiae's dry sarcastic judgement of the absent barkeep - and the quality, of lack thereof, of his stock - could've split kindling. "I think he started with the absolute worst of anything he could find, then watered it down as far as he could and still legally call it alcohol. Reasonably sure besides the Dominion threat, the other thing all the allied powers agreed on unequivocally was that his drinks were atrocious and he was trying to cheat you."

Perez laughed. "Sounds like he would be right at home where I come from. Well, if he was human, or rather Terran, anyway. Ferengi are not particularly welcome in the Empire. Attitudes towards many aliens have softened quite a bit since Spock's reforms and the Empire's restoration. Hell, we have a Bajoran admiral commanding the fleet's flagship. The Emperor's personal guards are Kelpiens, all of them. They've certainly come a long way in the last century and a half."

They shook their head. "It's a barbaric place, really. Taking pleasure from the suffering of others is a favourite pastime. I mean, what kind of people would take defenceless children and pump them full of gene therapy to try and turn them into super soldiers?"

Kaiae shrugged her eyebrows, not endorsing the practice by any means by clearly not shocked by it. "This universe is hardly devoid of such types of things, either. The Dominion breeds entire species for their aims in such a manner. They modified the Vorta and created the Jem'Hadar simply to serve them. And while as far as I know it does not involve genetic engineering, the Tal'Shiar has been known to take custody of children who show...certain aptitudes at certain levels that they feel will be useful. Separate them from their kin and raise them into agents."

Perez sighed and moved to tap their badge, before remembering once again that it did not have holoPADD functionality. Instead, they took a small projector out from their pocket, and showed showed Kaiae a photograph. It showed Perez, wearing a plain, black kimono, stood in front of a teahouse. Next to them was a young woman with long, black hair, in a similar kimono, along with the Lynn twins, Ash Rogers, and another woman who somewhat resembled the Major. "We took that on Earth, when I went there on my little stint of unauthorised leave. That woman, next to me? She's who I would have become if the Terrans hadn't done what they did to me. She is also the one who sent me these bottles."

"Good taste in alcohol, then." Kaiae considered that the alternate universe concept was only slightly less headache-inducing than time travel; and hopefully, somewhere, there was a version of herself who never had to deal with either, let alone at barely more than forty. Somewhere, where the homeworld was not slated for destruction. Or where their own leaders had not forsaken then. Or where the Federation had not abandoned them. Or even simply where Areinnye had not vanished. And it was pointless to wish for it; because all she had influence on now was before her, not behind her.

"Definitely. Food, too. You should try the family recipes I gave Renée some time." Perez' glance fell to the rank insignia on the Subcommander's collar, and they stiffened up, suddenly realising they had been conversing with their commanding officer as if she was just another crewmate. "My apologies, sir. I seem to have forgotten who I was speaking to for a moment."

Before Kaiae could respond, Perez felt someone walk up behind them. They span around to see who it was - and it took a moment to recognise who had entered the mess hall.

"At ease, soldier." It was Captain Mannerheim - but she looked very different. Instead of her usual sharp uniform, she was wearing an outfit that was more reminiscent of a crewmate on a freighter - brown cargo pants, black combat boots, and a red-and-black chequered shirt.

"I'm just here for a drink," she explained. "I've been helping the folks from Nygard to get Skidbladnir ready to assist in the transport of refugees from Romulus. Undercover, so as to not mess with the timeline too much. Everything is on schedule, and we should be ready to go tomorrow morning."

Freya turned to Kaiae. "I've had word from Admiral Lynn. The target date for the attack on Hobus has been set to three weeks from tomorrow. That should give us enough time to get in and out before it happens. Provided everything goes to plan. Don't ask me why they've pushed it back that far, though."

"Unfortunately, undoubtedly for some reason they believe is to their advantage." Kaiae said, downing a second shot of the human alcohol. "Hopefully a judgement that is in error."

The Captain shrugged. "Honestly, I don't really care what they do in their universe. I'm already a traitor to the Empire, I have no attachments to anyone in that universe. I just hope I can somehow get back to my own time, but we'll figure that one out after the evacuation."

"It is not theirs which concerns me; but whatever they plan to enact for ours." Kaiae sighed.

"I don't know about you, Cap, but I never thought the Empire had much of an interest in expanding its influence to other universes," Perez remarked.

Mannerheim nodded. "Not until they're done with their own universe, anyway. And there's a lot of that left to conquer. I think just about now they're going for their first big war since the restoration of the Empire and the dismantling of the Alliance. Spoiler Alert: they won't be quite as successful as they think."

"If they cared nothing for interference in the affairs of our side of the divide, they would not be planning whatever they are that we are working against as a hard stop." Kaiae pointed out, with the careful but firm cadence of one who had been consulted on delicate matters in the past.

The Captain shook her head. "The timeline is constantly changing, especially with time travel involved, I know that. I don't know if your training included basic temporal mechanics, but if it did, you will, too. The tiniest factors can have huge repercussions. That is why, in my opinion, the Temporal Prime Directive is unenforcable nonsense. Even by simply being physically present, you might end up altering events. Sure, the timeline has an urge to resist these changes, but still. For example, Subcommander, the files I have access to on Amelia indicate the date and cause of your death. However, simply by accessing those files and then interacting with you, without revealing any of that information, it might already have changed."

She sighed. "I have no idea what is going to happen, or what the Empire is planning. All I do know is that we cannot change it. What we can do, however, is make sure our mission goes off as planned. We have just about enough time to get it done, provided everything goes to plan."


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