Chapter Seven (cont.)
“HOLD STILL!” Lara commanded, “Stop that fidgeting, Ensign, and look up!”
Chris grinned as he lifted his chin a little higher. “Aye, aye, ma’am,” he answered as his friend from the Academy finally managed to hook the tight collar of Robert’s dress uniform together.
“There,” she said stepping back and giving Chris an appraising look. “Not bad, Chris, not bad,” she mused as she circled around him. “I think you are now presentable.”
Chris sighed. “Why did he pick me
“Silly, he’s been having all of his officers for dinner—I dined with the Captain last week. Well, me and seven other officers dined with the Captain.”
“I know that, Lara. I mean, why this old ritual? No one else in Star Fleet does this.”
“I don’t know, Chris. Maybe he wants to meet his officers in a situation where he doesn’t have to chew them up and spit them out! Maybe he wants to judge us in a formal dinner setting—although my
dinner invitation didn’t include dress uniforms! Don’t forget, you’ve got the Ambassador at the table as well—and Commander Shrak.”
“Yo-you want to take my place?”
“Hush up. You’ll do fine, Ensign Christopher Roberts. Just remembers: Ensigns are supposed to be seen and not heard—Mister Shrak told me that one. So don’t speak unless someone asks you a direct question—and mind your manners, Mister!”
“Quiet I ca-can do.”
“Go get ‘em, Tiger!”
The dinner wasn’t nearly as bad as Chris thought it would be. Besides him, the Captains guests included the XO, Lt. Commander Biddle, Lieutenant Bowen from Engineering, Lt. Commander Tsien, the Ambassador, and the Vulcan’s senior aide, Zakariah. So far, the conversation had been light and witty (although Chris had followed Lara’s instructions and kept silent) and the meal was excellent. Not replicated, either, but hand-cooked
by Captain Dahlgren’s chef—another slot Chris thought he would never have seen aboard a starship.
They had finally arrived at the desert course, and the yeoman’s had whisked away the earlier plates and glasses, replacing them with smaller china platters with silver dome lids. The crewmen assigned to the dinner party refilled carafes of sweet iced tea, and water, and juice, and then the chef came out of the adjourning pantry and extended a sealed bottle to Captain Dahlgren. The Captain took out a pair of glasses—real spectacles
!—and put them on to read the label, and then he nodded at the chef, who removed the cork and poured a small amount of genuine
brandy into the bottom of a snifter. The captain inhaled the scent of the liquor; he swirled it in the glass, and then he took a small sip.
“Most excellent, Francis,” he said to the chef who bowed slightly. “I do hope my officers will share this cognac with me? Ambassador, I am aware that Vulcans do not drink . . .”
“We do not usually
drink, Captain Dahlgren, but I must admit I have developed a taste for earth cognacs. I shall try a snifter.”
Glass by glass, Francis circled the table and poured just enough cognac to cover the bottom of the curved crystal goblets. Then, the chef stepped back and the yeoman’s removed the silver lids revealing . . . a grayish stone mottled in green?
“You honor me, Captain Dahlgren,” the Ambassador said. “Ts’kaba
fruit is a rare enough delicacy upon its native Vulcan. I shan’t inquire too closely as to how you acquired ripened ts’kaba
in such a short time.”
and her officers wished to show their appreciation for the Ambassador’s service to the Federation, Ambassador.”
The Vulcan bowed his head slightly, and then his stern gaze settled on Chris.
“You first experience with ts’kaba
“I also believe that is the first spoken words I have heard from you all evening. Take these tongs,” the Vulcan instructed, holding up a silver utensil,” in your left hand and fix them firmly to the fruit. Then, using this utensil,” he held up a small silver hammer, “gently crack the shell along what you would refer to as the 65th-degree of latitude, were the fruit a planet. Taking the fork, pry the cracked rind up and away, placing it to one side. And then,” the Vulcan finished as he lifted a spoon and scooped up a glistening chunk of a reddish-orange pulp, “you eat.”
Sepak slowly chewed the fruit and then he swallowed. “It is a most excellent ts’kaba
Chris followed the ambassador’s directions as conversion resumed and the other guests were cracking open their own fruits, but his first tap did not crack the rind.
“A bit firmer, Ensign,” the Vulcan advised, and then he frowned. “I would suggest, however, that you reposition the tongs before . . .”
CRACK! As Chris tightened his grip on the utensil and began to strike it again, the fruit shot out of the grips and soared up on a ballistic arc.
“. . . you lose . . .”
The young man’s jaw dropped, his mouth opened, and the blood drained from his face as the errant fruit struck a carafe of iced juice, knocking it over where it spilled its contents directly into the lap of the ship’s Captain.
“. . . the fruit.”
Matt gasped as the sweet, sticky juice, chilled with cubes of ice, poured into his lap, and he jerked slightly, and then he looked down at the mess.
There was absolute silence in the dining room. Yeoman Sinclair moved towards the Captain, but Matt held up one hand, and she stopped in her tracks. He raised his head and lifted the drenched napkin from his lap, turning it around and around until he found a dry spot, and he patted his lips.
“Ambassador,” he said in a quiet and even voice. “Mister Shrak. I believe that I will retire for the night. Please, gentlemen, ladies, feel free to finish your meal.”
Chan Shrak had both arms set on the table, his face buried in his open palms, but his antennae weren’t merely twitching—they quivered
! A white faced Grace Biddle turned to stare directly at Chris in horror, and the other officers were only barely containing their shocked laughter. The ensign slowly closed his open mouth, as he tried to apologize but not a single sound emerged.
Matt reached down, and picked up his cane, and then he stood, followed by everyone else at the table. “Good evening, to all of you,” the Captain said as he limped to the doors and exited, dripping fruit juice behind him.
The Ambassador nodded and folded his hands before him. “Please extend my complements to the Captain’s chef, Mister Shrak. And I think perhaps it is best to end the meal here. Come along Zakariah.” The aide trailed out behind the Vulcan, and slowly each of the other guests began to shuffle towards the door.
Chris took two steps, only to be stopped by the stern voice of the XO. “No, Mister Roberts; not you. Everyone else, you are dismissed.”
Oh boy, Chris, he thought to himself, have you managed to screw up big
“Captains Log, Stardate 53750.0, USS Republic
. We have been traveling at Warp 8 for the past 116 hours since leaving the Solar System en route to the Cauldron. Republic
appears to have gotten her second wind and all systems are operating well within the limits of regulation. We will drop out of warp just outside the nebula and reconfigure the main deflector and bussard collectors handle the increased particle density. According to Stellar Cartography, it should take seventeen hours to penetrate the outer cloud at Warp 4--higher speeds being contraindicated by the prevailing conditions within the cloud itself."
"This is my first encounter with the Cauldron, and upon reviewing the data Lieutenant Commander Tsien has provided for me, I must say that I am impressed. Most nebulas, even those formed from the explosive demise of a star, are seldom home to sentient lifeforms. But within the interior of the Cauldron, space-normal conditions prevail after piercing the wall of dust and debris. Seventeen star systems lie within a ‘hollow’ at the center of the nebula. Those seventeen systems, contain at least fourteen known Class M worlds, several of which have been colonized by the Lorsham and the Kraal. It is most unusual and quite possibly unique, and Lt. Commander Tsien has expressed her eagerness to examine the nebula at close range, an eagerness that I must admit that I share. The dust clouds and debris fields that litter the nebula have provided both of these races with access to nearly unimaginable amounts of resources. Information on the Kraal exploitation of the nebula is not fully known, but the Lorsham have many ships dedicated to mining the resources, leaving their colony worlds ecologically pristine. Technologically, the Lorsham are roughly comparable to the Federation as it was in the late 22nd and early 23rd Centuries.”
“I am concerned by the reports that indicate powers originating outside of Federation space have made contact these two cultures within the Cauldron, powers that include the Klingons, the Orions, and the Ferengi. Whether or not any of these powers are behind the sudden aggressive actions by the Kraal remains to be seen, but the recent appearance of disruptors, shields, and photon torpedoes on Kraal ships in the past two decades indicates either that culture is rapidly advancing or receiving covert assistance and technological innovation.”
“Ambassador Sepak is convinced that diplomacy can resolve the issues; I remain skeptical that a race as xenophobic as the Kraal will respond to any such overtures from a being outside of their own closed society. Accordingly, I have stepped up drills and battle simulations aboard Republic
. I am confident that we can end any Kraal aggression quickly if necessary—provided that our information is correct. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable paucity of data on the Kraal, and many of the briefing notes which the Ambassador provided are prefaced with ‘to the best of our knowledge’; a knowledge that is sorely lacking in many key areas.”
“The crew are as prepared as I can make them for this challenge, and they appear to be rising to the occasion. Morale has soared as they have come to realize that if our ship can avert a war, the weight of her shame will be lessened. In addition, our system faults have been eliminated: crewman Zapata managed to locate the error in our primary and secondary computer cores and restored the systems to full nominal operation. Perhaps we have left our gremlins behind us.”