Deck 3 – VIP Lounge
En Route to N’Skatia
King X’Gaf---all two and a half meters of him--- straightened to his full height and expelled coarse laughter. The rest of the royal family followed suite to one degree of another, standing to yelp out their approval and amusement as they beat their clawed hands together. The quiet thunder of their applause drowned out the more reserved clapping of the attending Starfleet officers.
A Vulcan woman with high cheekbones and jet-black hair rose from within the semicircle of beings and bowed politely at the accolades.
X’Gaf winked. “Ah, who would have known Vulcans could be such masterful story tellers, aye Captain?” Like all N’Skatians, X’Gaf was a humanoid fully enveloped by a coat of green fur. He spoke through a snout accented by protruding incisors. The N’Skatians’ most striking feature, however, was the bat-like ears that towered over their heads, constantly pivoting towards anything of interest.
“I’m as surprised as anyone.” Jason Aubrey admitted. Intrepid
’s CO was every bit as undistinguished as X’Gaf was enthralling. Aubrey was in his early forties with a full head of dark blonde hair that crowned a friendly, oval face. For a command officer, his demeanor was curiously gentle and unhurried. He was known for dispensing orders in a conversational tone that carried the pleasing intonations of an English accent. By all appearances, he was a man who invested little passion in life. Only his radiant blue eyes hinted, on occasion, at something ragged just below the still waters.
Commander Shantok navigated through the intimidating throng, declining numerous demands for an encore performance. She made her way to the bar area of the lounge where Aubrey leaned on a stool near X’Gaf.
“Ah hah. Here is the star now.” X’Gaf cocked his head to one side in a disarmingly cute, and no doubt calculated, gesture. “’Star’…I did get that right, did I not?”
Shantok nodded. “There is no Vulcan equivalent of the term your majesty, but the sentiment is appreciated.”
X’Gaf bobbed his snout at Aubrey. “Captain, you’re welcome to take a turn. The mind boggles at the tales a Starfleet captain could impart.”
Aubrey tugged at the collar of his white dress uniform, which the infallible computer had made one size too small. He’d been chaffing under it all night but was held captive by etiquette. Now that the informal portion of the evening had begun, he was eyeing the exit. “Thank you for the offer your Majesty, but I’m afflicted with a dull and laborious oratory. In fact, my crew often dozes off at staff meetings. So unless it’s a bedtime story you’re after, I’ll decline.”
Shantok seemed to give the comment serious weight. “Captain, you’ll be pleased to know that during the last four years, I’ve managed to remain awake during all seventy-three meetings.”
Aubrey’s eyes widened. “You’ve been counting?”
The main doors hissed open and four caterers entered with a floating table between them. There were expectant grunts of approval from the Royal Family as they caught wind of the steaming trays of N’Skatian foul and vegetables that made up the entirety of the spread.
X’Gaf watched his six brothers, two sisters and even his daughter the heiress apparent, fall upon the meal with a voracious enthusiasm that harkened back to his people’s prehistory. “Your crew has done a superb job of preparing our native cuisine.” He observed. “Even more so as I understand that cooking is a lost art among your people.”
“Particularly among the people aboard this ship.” Shantok rejoined dryly. “However…I’m pleased that the results were satisfactory. Much of the credit goes to Master Chief Dunnery and his makeshift kitchen in Cargo Bay Three.” An eyebrow lifted pointedly. “My safety concerns not withstanding.”
“Lucky for us his great Aunt was a chef.” Aubrey put in.
“I am confused. Were you complimenting your crew or illustrating their shortcomings?”
The captain presented a jocular smirk. “Both. Remember, for a Vulcan that was very near a gushing compliment.” He yanked irritably at this collar. “Your Majesty, I hope you’ll forgive my brief absence while I change uniforms. When I return, I’d ask you again to consider my request for a private audience. I have information that may be pertinent to the crisis on your home world.”
X’Gaf nodded quickly at the reminder. “Oh yes, yes, of course. I’m sorry it’s taken so long.” He gave a throaty sigh. “However, the official obligations to my family have at last run their course. There’s now time for a brief meeting, captain.” His brilliant red pupils glinted with bemusement. “As to your uniform, I can only say it’s about time. You’ve been clearly uncomfortable all night.” He shook his head. “You and your suffocating garments. Your people should discard them all together as we have done.”
“Right now,” Aubrey huffed while pulling open his collar, “That sounds like a superb idea.”
Shantok frowned in alarm.
He had taken barely three steps before his combadge chirped. “Adol to captain
Muttering under his breath, he tapped his badge. “Mr. Adol, if you want me on the bridge, I’m going topless.”
There was a confused pause on the other end while his Andorian security chief tried to reconcile the comment. Then he heard Lt. Commander Adol clear his throat. “Actually sir, you just received an encoded message from Starbase Bastion. Priority One
“It can’t be regarding my report. Starfleet won’t receive it for another week at this distance.” He looked back questioningly at Commander Shantok. “Unless the Soto Array is already online?”
“Unlikely.” Shantok answered. “At last report it was months away from completion.”
“I agree sir
,” Adol said through the communicator. “The sign wave doesn’t show an amp signature. This message definitely wasn’t bounced off a listening post. That suggests our outgoing message wasn’t either
“Thank you, Commander. I’ll pick it up down here.”
“Captain.” Aubrey stopped short at the grave formality in X’Gaf’s tone. “I expect to be advised immediately of anything relating to the situation on N’Skatia.”
“Of course, but you needn’t worry. Given that the message is a week old, it’s unlikely that it would concern the alien incursion at all.”
X’Gaf’s thoughtful expression advertised a shrewdness consummate to his decades on the throne. “One would think so.”
Noting the suspicious undercurrent, Aubrey acted on impulse. “You’re welcome to join me, your Majesty.”
The N’Skatian scanned him with a dubious eye, as one does when evaluating whether or not to call a bluff. “I accept.” He said after a moment.