Ale What Cures You
Location: Pandora's Box
Aenardha was in Pandora’s Box. She denied herself any and all telepathic uses the moment she had sat down. She did not need to use someone else’s vision to look outside or around. Her ears gave her all the information she needed to know. The place was not well populated at the moment and there was very little conversation going on. The scene suited Aenardha quite well. It was how she spent a good deal of her time at the Academy, how she enjoyed spending her time; quiet and alone.
With the battle over and the Pandora on her way to the Rentara nebula, much of the crew who were not on duty, took well deserved breaks and the break of choice was, of course, sleep.
Aenardha had, before her, a small plate of cheese squares. She did not know why she ordered that. It was just the first thing to pop into her mind. Of course, she had a glass of her regular Arctic Andorian Brine fortified with liquid oxygen. After she had activated the liquid oxygen, it all fizzed to the top and wafted away in a thin mist. She did not see it of course. She did not need to.
Aenardha sat there, as she had for the past small stretch of eternity. Not thinking about much at all, she was also thinking about a lot. Most of her thoughts revolved around Mr. Qaraq. She wore her usual black dress. When it came to her casual attire, black was all she had. And black was a color to wear when mourning the dead.
For the vast majority of the crew, the death of the Broot known as Qaraq was seen as a bold sacrifice that carried hardly any weight. No one was particularly mournful. People were more interested in their own lives and jobs to worry about one small detail in a much larger war that ultimately had only a passing effect on them as the ship made for its final, last dash to Federation space. While things had quieted down in Intelligence for a few hours, Science, Ops, and Engineering were working overtime in preparation of the dangerous trip through the Rentara nebula. The medical staff tended to the minor wounds sustained in the battle, but there had been few emergencies.
Admiral Francis entered Pandora's Box with head low, hands behind his back. The maitre'd apologized and told him that the Admiral's usual booth was currently occupied, but there were plenty of other comfortable places...
"That's fine," he said, spotting his usual booth in the back, where the Aenar Ensign was already sitting. He hadn't learned her name, but he remembered the mark of kinfam branded on her temple. "Actually," he said to the maitre'd "I think I'll join that Ensign. I suspect we're here for the same reason."
The maitre'd smiled. "You must have heard about the gourmet cheese dish retrieved as a gift from the Paradise casino after the Warp Nine show..."
"No," the Admiral replied. "It's not that at all. But I'll take an order of it just the same. And I'd also like two Delavian ales if you have any."
"Certainly," the maitre'd replied. "We still have some of the cases left cold in the back."
Francis absently nodded and made his way over to Aenardha. He slowly came up to the table, but he could tell she was not aware of his presence. It wasn't a surprise to Francis. Had he arrived a few minutes earlier, it would be him in that seat holding the same expression.
Francis cleared his throat and placed a hand gently on the table. "Excuse me, Ensign.”
Aenardha jumped minutely in a start. Automatically, she utilized public vision enough to know, “oh, Admiral! Is there…?” She started to stand but stopped as he continued.
“I don't mean to bother you," Francis said, "but I think we both could use each other's company.”
Aenardha relaxed and kept her seat. She turned off public vision again. “Um,” was all she said, showing clear confusion as to what he was talking about.
“It seems we share a friend recently deceased," the Admiral replied. "If you permit me, it would be a personal honor to sit with kinfam of Qaraq."
‘Permit?’ The man was an admiral. He could do practically whatever he wanted. And here he was, among the highest brass in the service wanting to sit and be seen with among the lowest of officers. “Of course, sir,” she said. She recalled seeing him in Sick Bay, by Mr. Qaraq’s deathbed, but figured he was only there to offer gratitude. “I did not know you knew Mr. Qaraq.” She looked at the man. Without using his vision, she approximated where his eyes were as he moved to sit.
The waiter brought the two frothing glass mugs to their table and set them down while Francis sat. "I thought we could share a toast," he said, pushing one of the ales in Aenardha's direction. "I was able to acquire some Delavian ale from Qaraq's own brewery from one of the establishments on Paradise shortly before we left."
Aenardha did tap into his vision and only his. She went from looking back at herself through his eyes to sending her eyes to the large, pint-size mug filled with a deep gold, fizzy liquid he slid before her. At the top was a layer of frothy bubbles the exact color of a Broot's azure blue skin.
“I’ve never before sampled alcohol, sir,” she said. “For Mr. Qaraq though…” she trailed off thinking she would sample anything once for a toast to the Broot whose bravery probably saved the ship and crew.
"I'm not asking you to drink the whole thing," Francis said in a gentle tone. "But I think our friend deserves at least a good gulp." He held his glass up. "To strong hearts, big fights, and the ales that always follow. To friendship. To kinfam. To Qaraq."
Aenardha lifted hers holding it with both hands. “To Qaraq,” she said softly. She really did not have more to add. Pulling a generous mouthful in, Aenardha held it a second enjoying the cold sensation of it all. Still, her Andorian Arctic brine was colder. This ale had a peculiar twinge to it that was foreign to her. After all, this was her first ever sampling of alcohol. Deciding to forego further analysis and to just swallow, though cold, there came a fiery sensation coating her throat, a wide opening of her sinuses and a near uncontrollable desire to gag. Those white-in-white eyes grew big and her antennae stood erect.
A thought burst into the admiral’s mind. It was simply two words. ~~~’Shuralan shelat!’~~~ And somehow, the knowledge followed that the words were of the Andorian language, meaning ‘golden excrement.’
Admiral Francis coughed down his own gulp. "I guess it's an acquired taste," he said. "I've only tried this drink one other time. It's as bad as I remember. But it was Qaraq's favorite drink."
Aenardha set the mug down and slid it away an inch. She immediately grabbed her glass of arctic brine and took a gulp. “It is rather good, sir,” she said after washing away the lingering sensation. “But I drives quite a blow to the senses. I would not like to see a telepath overdose on this stuff.”
Francis set his mostly-full mug to the edge of the table and signaled the waiter. "Can we get two Shirley Temples over here to wash that out?"
"Certainly," replied the waiter, retrieving their mugs. Within seconds he was back with two glasses containing a fizzy red liquid.
"This might be more to your liking," Francis said. "It's an old Earth classic. Basically carbonated cherry juice. No alcohol."
The beverage he placed before her, through his eyes, appeared more colorful and cheerful than she felt. It took a second of hesitation for her to give it a try. Though the flavors were good and this was a much easier beverage to drink, the fizziness to it proved a little coarse on her throat. She decided on little sips.
“Thank you, sir. This…is much better.” Aenardha was still a little unsure how she should act around the admiral. The sensation of sitting at the same table as he was about as potent as the ale of a moment ago. She had questions but was unsure if it was proper of her to ask; an ensign questioning an admiral and all. She decided to give it a try regardless.
“If I may ask, admiral. How did you come to know Mr. Qaraq?”
The side of Francis' mouth curled up slightly, as if part of it wanted to smile. "The first part of the story is classified, so I must leave that out. Due to a... we'll call it a misunderstanding, I was left on Delavi for an extended amount of time with no way out. The space port in Delavi is like a small town. Ships can land and people can pick up new passengers, supplies, things like that. I was there with nothing but the uniform on my back. In a place like that, a uniform makes you stick out like a fox in a hen house. I went into Qaraq's bar looking for someone who might be able to help me when I accidentally brushed up against a rather large Nausicaan. A real beast. I was facing imminent death when Qaraq intervened and told the Nausicaan he 'wasn't to touch any newcomers.' The Nausicaan took even more offense and decided to fight Qaraq instead. In about sixty seconds, the Nausicaan, now with a broken jaw and chipped fang, was buying me a drink. Qaraq had never met a Starfleet officer before, and since he dealt in information, I was of great use to him. We soon developed somewhat of a partnership and became fast friends... which was good because I ended up being there for another six months!"
Aenardha was more interested in finding out how a Starfleet Admiral, of all ranks, found himself alone and stranded. He did say that part of it was classified. “That does sound like Mr. Qaraq I think.” She shook her head and said, “I did not know him very well. Well enough, I suppose for him to,” she brushed a finger over the mark he had given her, “give me this. He helped smuggle me and Diplomat Valriya off of Carnwennan Station and transported us on his ship. I don’t know what made him think of me so highly or trust me as easily as he did.”
"I'm told kinfam is a great honor," Francis said. "I also know Broots often do things with an ulterior motive. It's possible this maneuver worked to Qaraq's advantage in some way. I found him to be very delusive at times. But making you kinfam... that benefits all of his kinfam. They are honor-bound to you, yes. But it works both ways. Which means at some point, you may face a situation in which upholding that honor could mean betraying Starfleet. Think of this, which Starfleet officer would benefit his family more: an Admiral close to retirement, or a young and talented whippersnapper with telepathic abilities and a very bright future? And someone in Intelligence to boot!"
Though Aenardha caught his meaning, she pondered briefly about what benefits she offered her family. It was, in fact, more beneficial for them to send her away. She did not know what further benefit she could be of her family but she could certainly benefit herself. How? She did not know exactly. She found a way of ridding herself of the feelings she had for Mauricio but only managed to replace them with an undying feeling for the dead Broot. Being linked to him as she was when he died left this powerful result. No wonder only elder Aenars are supposed to form such telepathic links.
“I believe the young and talented whippersnapper, as you say, sir,” she said. “But what if the whippersnapper cannot see this bright future? What if there are no known benefits at the moment?”
The Admiral smiled warmly as he looked at the young Ensign. A whippersnapper indeed. "What is your name, Ensign?" he asked. He knew the answer, but had no idea how to pronounce it.
“Ove…” she started but stopped herself mid-syllable. Did he really know the answer to his own question? Did he know the true answer or simply what was on her profile? She certainly did not wish to lie to an admiral of all ranks; she did not enjoy lying at all, but she had her own orders from her own people with their own repercussions to worry about. “Aenardha Sh’vastarth, admiral,” she said slowly, more like hesitantly.
"Ensign Sh'vastarth," he said, "no one can see their own future. Oh sure, one can be sucked into some anomaly and end up thirty or a hundred years later... but that future isn't necessarily the one where you're headed. I've read every classified report on the subject. It's a personal topic for me and that's all I'm permitted to say. To be honest, most of it's a load of hooey; unsubstantiated fairy tales. But I digress..."
The Admiral paused and centered his thoughts. "I don't look at you and know your future for sure. But I do know that anyone can take their future and make it better than their past. That's what the present is for. It's where you start. That's where your benefits are. You have youth on your side right now. That's a powerful ally. Ambition is something else, and if you're wearing that uniform you should have a lot of it. I saw your proposal to navigate through Rentara. Only the young and ambitious could come up with that. You even have the support of your Chief Engineer, who as far as I can tell is a damn good one. So what are your benefits? Youth, ambition, and respect from your peers. That's all the ingredients you need for a bright future, Ensign. That's what Qaraq saw in you."
She had heard similar speeches, all while attending the Academy. And though those speeches made her feel better and gave her something to look forward to, it was the future that others had in mind for her that always came flooding back, washing away all those good feelings and good thoughts. That lead her to a circle of friends she had acquired in San Francisco, the same circle of friends she always knew she would lose upon graduation. Still, that was where she felt she had found herself. All she needed to do was hold on to that, if the future allowed her to, of course.
After that brief moment of inner thinking and contemplation, Aenardha nodded to the admiral. “I will try to not let him down, though…” She was about to say that there were the expectations of many others that she did not want to let down. Right now though, Mr. Qaraq seemed the only one that mattered. “Though I’m afraid I may falter.”
The Admiral shrugged. "You might. It's very possible you won't live up to the expectations of others. Perhaps it's already happened. I assume there's a reason why your first name is Aenardha. My Andorian is a little rusty and I'm unfamiliar with Aenar dialect, but I do know the suffix 'dha' can be used as an insult in basic Andorian. And with the prefix being 'Aenar' I assume it has something to do with your nationality." He reached across the table and briefly laid his hand on hers, saying, "But it's just a name. Don't make it your identity, Ensign."
But it was not a name, not really. It was forced upon her by her Andorian superiors under threat to not clue anyone else in on its meaning or purpose. The admiral was mostly right, not entirely but he had the general idea.
She nearly flinched as he placed his hand upon hers. Firstly, she did not want anyone to assume she was fraternizing with an admiral. Secondly, she was not too accustomed to being touched on top of the warmth in his hand. She was sure she felt nearly as cold as a corpse to him.
“Thank you, admiral,” she said. “I have no trouble with my identity. Save for, of course, trying to find myself in all this.” And it was in that declaration of her trying to find herself that Aenardha felt she nearly had a hold on the incomprehensible tune the little girl in her memory was always humming. But, as the tune was about to surface in her mind, it went away, replaced with the lingering and ever so powerful feelings she had for Mr. Qaraq.
"Aren't we all?" Admiral Francis let out a soft chuckle and shook his head. He was briefly reminded of the fact that he'd eventually have to tell his wife that he wouldn't be leaving Starfleet after all. This, of course, right after she would find out he was still alive.
Francis stood up and stretched his back. "Well, I think I'll leave you be. I do like your idea for traveling through Rentara." He chuckled again. "It's super risky, but as they say, risk is part of the game if you want to sit in that chair... or wear that uniform, I think." He could see the young ensign begin to stand as he did. Francis added, "As you were, Ensign," with a nod, and left.
Aenardha sat alone for a while yet. Denying herself telepathic connections, she enjoyed the silence and the distractionless atmosphere. She pushed her shirley temple away slowly. It was a good beverage but felt a bit too cheerful for the moment. It felt a bit too cheerful for Aenardha at almost any given time to be honest.
She returned to her arctic brine. Its cold saltiness always seemed to help her center herself. Right now though, as usual, her center was deep, dark and cold.