Paradise or Bust
Mission: The Gauntlet
Aenardha sat in her seat on the bridge of the Delavi-1 in meditation.
Qaraq was trying his best to pilot without distraction but thought after thought was unintentionally forced upon him, like waves in a pool that someone did not know they were making. And that someone was Aenardha. She had asked to not be disturbed as she meditated and reached out.
Her antennae flittered about and she jerked minutely at times. Her pupils danced beneath her eyelids in a near frenzy. Aside from what he could see, Qaraq was getting sudden and brief thoughts of a roaring dragon flying low over a frozen villa, blurry images of him…not him…brushing Aenardha’s hair. There came a quick thought of a little girl skipping and humming an incomprehensible song. All the while though, there was space, thoughts of space and a consciousness zipping around between the stars like someone playing hide and seek in the forest. This consciousness was searching for something to anchor to.
There came a feeling, more like a longing for someone…Mauricio!
Aenardha sat there, still but jittering her head at times, twitching her arms and fingers. Each time another thought waved over Qaraq, Aenardha twitched once and the thought was gone, like she was throwing them away and attempting to maintain focus on the objective at hand. She was searching for something…or someone. Mauricio!
Though Qaraq knew precisely where Katya’s ship was, Aenardha was not looking for the ship, but for a mind. And she found it. As soon as that telepathic connection was made, the game of hide and seek was over. That pinpoint consciousness in the vast void of space zipped to somewhere else but, before Qaraq could receive any more unintended thoughts, they all immediately vanished. He was finally able to concentrate fully on piloting his vessel.
Aenardha opened her eyes and took a few deep breaths, somewhat drained from her efforts. “I found them. Mr. Qaraq,” she said almost happily, “I found them. I know where the Pandora is now. If you will, inform Queen Katya, we need to alter heading. We need to go straight to Paradise.”
"Ah! Excellent! We are very close to Paradise!" Qaraq exclaimed. "I am relaying the information to Katya now. Unless we are stopped again, we should arrive within the hour!"
Aenardha felt his exhilaration at the news and gave a brief smile in return. "It will be good to finally be aboard my ship." However, she was already feeling something of a loss with Qaraq not venturing forth with the Pandora. Not much time was spent with him and she could already feel a rapport, something she fell into quite easily and frequently.
This very thing happened on Earth, many times. And during her travels to and from Earth. Rapport built and then the person was gone. "It has been good traveling with you Mr. Qaraq."
Qaraq gave a wide smile. "I have enjoyed it as well," he said in a very genuine tone. "I hope I did not offend you earlier with my remarks on Starfleet and its business. I was not directing any of those feelings toward you personally." He laughed again. "I suppose I don't have to tell you that, given your telepathy!"
"As a rule, I do not read others openly. Strong feelings are hard to miss however. Still, I did not need to read your thoughts to know you are sincere. And...no. No offense taken."
"While I do not wish to ally myself with your Federation, I do stand by my friends. Admiral Francis was stranded on my planet for six months. During that time I had the pleasure of becoming his friend. He is a good man, and we are of a rare kind. I felt the same way of the other officer I met who rescued him, a Commander Nash, who will be your first officer." Qaraq looked at Aenardha now and smiled. "And I feel the same about you. We may have known each other for a very short time, but I am a good judge of character. I have no loyalty to Starfleet and no debt to pay them. But I am loyal to Katya, and I am loyal to Admiral Francis. If your Admiral Thac should ever visit my planet, I will gladly break his body. But you and the gallant crew of the Pandora will find safety and friendship in all my establishments. You have my word. It is the least I can do for the ship that saved my friend."
Aenardha sat and listened to him. Even with Qaraq's "break his body" remark, she was almost bathing in his aura of kind sincerity. She did not experience such a sensation on Earth among so many humans. Then again, there were many humans. Mr. Qaraq was the first and only of his kind that Aenardha had met. Already she had complete trust in the average Broot.
"I also will not forget that you are in my debt," Qaraq said, his tone very serious. "So I will not hesitate to ask its fulfillment, should need arise."
"Mr Qaraq," and she turned to him, "may I give you something? A thought. Something you will appreciate, especially when you need it the most."
Qaraq's brow furrowed and he thought for a second. "A... thought?" he said. "I am not sure what you mean, but I am intrigued! Please proceed!"
"It's already done," Aenardha said. She did not wish to admit how easy it was. It was certainly a foregone conclusion that all races had differing mental patterns. That, and that some minds were more simple than others. Simple-mindedness was certainly not what the Broot possessed. It was just easy for her to implant a thought into his mind. "The thought is more of a memory than a thought. And it is not something you can access independently. Think of it as a calling card. Should you ever find yourself in need and you have forgotten me, my name, what I can do, or should you ever find yourself in dire straits and not thinking clearly, or when all seems lost, then this thought will explode into the forefront of your mind and you will remember. I cannot guarantee this, but I may even realize something is amiss. Given our proximity of course."
"I am..." Qaraq struggled with what to say, and there was a strange pause. But then, gently, he said, "I am honored by this. You are a very interesting person. A kind I feel I never would have known had it not been for this task. In thanks for your thought, and to return the gesture, I will do something for you."
Qaraq turned in his seat and leaned forward, taking Aenardha by the shoulders. His grip was soft, nonthreatening, and he carefully leaned in and touched his forehead to hers and whispered a brief word. Then he put his cheek on hers, and one of his thorns scraped Aenardha's skin just below the temple. Qaraq felt her jerk slightly and released his hold, leaning back in his chair again.
"You are now bonded to me as kinfam," Qaraq said proudly. "Kinfam is the highest honor given by Broots to other races. It is very rare. You are the second person with whom I have given this honor, after Queen Katya of course. You will be identified by the small mark from my horn. Other Broots will know you as 'Aenardha Kinfam-Qaraq.' Any friend or ally of mine, even those hostile to your Starfleet, will recognize you as friend. It can be very useful in the Expanse."
Aenardha felt the area beneath her temple and used Qaraq's vision to know what it looked like; small, but she felt the fact emanating from him that it was also undeniably Broot. She did give a short laugh at an unknown irony she was not able to share.
Qaraq grinned and continued, "And plenty riffraff elsewhere! I normally wouldn't give this honor to someone I have only known for a few hours. But it is in both our interests that the Pandora makes it back home safely. You see, I have already taken some advantages of my link to your fleet. If I want them to remain useful, the Pandora must escape in tact."
"I have no doubt that the Pandora will continue to fly for many years to come." She looked him square in the eye. "I shall endeavor to be one of these advantages of yours. And I hope we can expose the wrongs being carried out from within the ranks."
Qaraq nodded. "I will help in any way I can, should you require it."
"Allow me the time to acquire my bearings aboard the ship. It is possible that the Pandora's difficulty inside the Expanse stems from corruption from within her hull. I did not study only Intelligence at the Academy. If there is corruption aboard, I hope to find it. Then I weigh my options."
Qaraq couldn't help but snicker. "I think our arrival at Paradise Station will be most interesting," he said, clapping his hands together.
Things were not as harmonious on the other vessel heading to Paradise.
"It's a massive safety hazard." Katya declared stubbornly.
"No, you're missing the point." Mauricio sighed, exasperated.
"I may be unaware of all of your strange, human customs, but such practices will not tolerate on my station." Katya insisted, shaking her head in contempt. "Is this how the Federation operates?"
"It's not!" Mauricio protested.
"Tell me." Katya waved her hand at him. "How this person could have nine hundred and ninety nine containers of synthenol on a wall, and for that to be allowed?" Mauricio groaned in response, but Katya was not done yet. "The healthy and safety implications alone are most concerning, not to mention improper storage of a fragile product. Where is this wall located? Is it refrigerated? Is it in the back of house or in the main serving area where anyone could walk into it? You would be paying out of your armpits in compensation after one little knock!"
"It's just a song to pass the time." Mauricio tried to explain.
"Yes, but how exactly are we supposed to fetch one down from a stack so mountainously high, at such an unsafe location? A ladder? Hover lift?" Katya shook her head again. "You are placing your staff in guaranteed danger, Arnaldo. No wonder the Federation is in such dire predicaments if this what they consider a normal logistical practice."
"I give up." Mauricio replied, walking away as quickly as he could to cool off in the sleeping quarters.
"So you should." Katya answered, her tone showing her disappointment. As soon as he had departed from the cockpit, the Anh'Iran woman chuckled loudly to herself. She always did like to tease the human, watching him get so upset and frustrated never failed to entertain her - especially when his pinkish skin turned bright red with fury. "That's how I pass the time." She said to herself with a grin.
Paradise Outpost loomed into view, and Katya's smile only increased as she saw her beloved station. It had felt like years since she had seen it last, although it had only been a matter of weeks. She was glad to be home again.
No sooner were her and Qaraq's ships in close proximity to the Outpost, they were being hailed by it. Haj appeared on screen, his face full of thunder. "WHAT NOW?" He growled.
"Hajjy, my darling gate master, it is good to see you." Katya cooed into her viewscreen.
"WHO ARE YOU?" Haj immediately replied with a loud demand.
"Must we go through this every time?" Katya sighed and laughed, but she loved him even more for his thoroughness. "It is I, Queen Katya, designation - Station Chief. I am being accompanied by Qaraq, designation friend."
"Wait." Haj said as a means of response, as his squat face disappeared off screen for a few moments. He returned quickly. "Designation accepted. Your docking birth is ready and waiting. I will have one available for Qaraq soon."
"Thank you Haj. Is it a busy day?" Katya inquired with an eyebrow raised, noticing her docking chief was particularly ruffled at the moment. "Your tone is very harsh, Haj, even for you."
"Your designation allies are here." Haj huffed, "They are taking up a docking birth with NO reservation! I must redo the whole schedule!"
"Allies?" Katya asked dipping her head to the side, wondering who would be making an unscheduled birth. Just then, her ship came around to the other side of Paradise and Katya cried out in surprise.
Docked at the station was the USS Pandora, lit up in all her splendour. She had some battle scars on the hull, obvious signs of the tough journey that she had been through to get here. But the Pandora was safe and sound.
"They made it!" Katya beamed happily, giggling to herself as she fell back into her chair, raising her arms into the air with joy. "Yes!"