Lar’ragos took another sip of Caldwell’s potent brew. He was far drunker than he’d allowed himself to get in quite some time, decades at least. “So, he tells me he’s the imperial governor, that I’ve overstepped my authority, and that I’m wearing my medals in the wrong order on my dress uniform!”
Caldwell snorted once before releasing a deep belly laugh. Her arms went to her sides quickly until she regained control of her voice. While wiping at her eyes, she shot her former comrade-in-arms a toothy grin. "I can't imagine the look on his face."
“Then try and imagine the look on his face when I shoved him over the balustrade, that smug son-of-a-bitch!” Lar’ragos mimed the shove, forgetting he had a half-full glass of Aldeberran Whisky in his hand which sloshed out onto the cabin’s carpet. “And we were only five-hundred stories up! It took me a good minute to find a pair of binoculars, and I still had time to focus in on him before he met concrete!”
She widened her smile. "Tell me you watched him hit the ground, sir. That's always the best part," Caldwell said nothing about the spilt drink, as she had slammed her glass down on the desk hard enough to spill hers. "Remember that wannabe-assassin from Arcturus that was chasing our units on Rigel?"
“The guy you gelded with that Orion pig-sticker of yours? Oh, yeah... I remember him. Mostly his high-pitched screaming after you tossed his ass out of the flyer.” Lar’ragos’ legs gave out and he stumbled backwards, falling against the front of the couch and sliding onto the floor on his butt. “Damn, you’d have enjoyed the Hekosian army, Marcia. Your team would get assigned a mission, given six months to carry it out, and that was it. As long as you got it done, there were no after-action reports, no hand-wringing.”
Caldwell reached for her glass and drained it nearly dry. She gasped loudly, wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her uniform and said, "Starfleet's not so bad, once you figure out how to delegate the paperwork. I actually delegated mine to a shavetail who managed to make it out of hell week with his ass in one piece. I turned over my unit to him when he made light commander. You know, before Otex and Grazer told me to take this assignment."
Lar’ragos chuckled as he clumsily poured himself another glass of the murky green liquid. “That’s what you get for listening to one of those damned Marine officers. Join Vanguard and see the ass end of the universe.” He took another draught of the bracing spirit, which made his eyes water. “Me... I’m the fucking stand-in. Sandhurst stabbed me in the back and left me behind to clean up his mess.” He shook his head dejectedly. “You have any goddamn idea how long it’s been since I had to care? I swore I’d never leave myself open to that again... and here I am, in command of a fucking starship!”
She grunted and grabbed the bottle for herself. However, her pouring only filled the glass to just below the midway point as they had finished it. Caldwell looked inside to see if there was anymore, but dejectedly tossed it against the bulkhead with enough force to shatter it on impact. Her toss appeared effortless. "Fuck that, sir. Fuck being a ship driver, too. The best days were when we would ride fire and take lives like it was nothing. I-"
The door chime interrupted her thought, to which she angrily snarled. "What?!"
A timid voice on the other side replied, "Security, sir. Just checking to make sure everything is okay."
"I'm fine," she tried her best not to slur her words. "You may carry on."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Satisfied that they were alone once more, Caldwell continued, "This mission is the only reason I said yes. With the Romulans practically bed-buddies with the Federation, and everyone else worrying about their own backyard... there was nothing to do anymore. I wanted
this one." She reached into the open case and pulled out another green bottle. "I needed
He nodded with exaggerated gusto. “I miss killing Jem’Hadar. Dear Gods but they were the perfect enemy. Bred for war. Better even than killing Klingons.” He sighed. “Now I’ve got a boat load of kids out here deep in the black, and I have to keep them alive. Oh,” he laughed darkly, “and I have to do it while following their goddamn rules!”
He drained the rest of his glass and then stared at the empty vessel angrily.
Lar’ragos reached into his uniform jacket to produce a metal flask. He fumbled with the cap, finally unscrewing it and carefully pouring an amber liquid into his glass before offering the flask to Caldwell. “Saurian brandy. The lizards’ only worthwhile contribution to the metaculture of the Federation.”
Her whiskey-filled glass emptied immediately upon the sight of the new hooch. She pushed it toward Lar'ragos lightly, and it slid all the way to him. "Speaking of lizards... Grelk is here. He has Yorktown
. I would love another shot at that Gorn bastard sometime."
Lar’ragos filled her glass, and then slid it back to her with exaggerated care before raising his own in an inebriated toast. “That is one tough fucking lizard. Credit where credit is due. Cold-blooded, egg-hatched, ensign-eating endotherm!”
Caldwell smirked. "I didn't know he was that strong when he held me down after that little side-trip to Yault for that stupid ass farming dispute? His ship was the one that gave us a ride back to base, and we got a little sauced up in their lounge. Fucker nearly broke my arm."
“He’s three meters tall and from a one-point-eight g planet! Of course he’s fucking strong!” Lar’ragos chortled.
She grabbed the brandy and sipped it . "This is the good stuff, here." She knocked back another quaff before staring into the amber briefly. "I... is it..." Caldwell hesitated, losing her confidence from just a moment before. Suddenly, she regained and spoke clearly, "I heard about Indemnity. The general brought us up to speed when we thought we were going to be your backup."
He closed his eyes briefly. “Can’t believe we really pulled that off. I thought Leone was running the show, and then to find out she stepped back and let Sandhurst step up to the plate. Never knew he had it in him to be that damned cold...” his voice faltered and he fixed his eyes on the liquid swirling in his glass. “I wanted Galmesh. I wanted him so bad that I let myself get complacent. Lost two-thirds of my Team to that ridge-headed bastard.”
"Damn, I wish they'd let us reinforce you for that one." She silently cursed thinking about how close they'd come to convincing the general to let them launch. Until Admiral Coburn issued his orders to send the fleet, instead. "We hung the stars for your crew at the base, sir. And sir...?"
He met her gaze with glistening eyes. “Yeah?”
"The general ordered us to hang one for her. Because she was with your team when it happened." Caldwell continued, "She'd chewed up enough of the same dirt with yours, mine, three others while she was doing her bit for Intel. He said it was only fair."
Lar’ragos had to look away, unable to trust himself not to lose his composure. “Thank you, Marcia. She died like a Nightstalker.”
Caldwell raised her glass in respect, and then drained it unceremoniously. "She was one of the good spooks, sir. I was happy to have her with me." Her cheeks colored suddenly. "With us, I mean."
Lar’ragos wiped at his his eyes, chuckling. “Don’t worry. Few of us proved able to resist her charms. I certainly didn’t try.”
She looked away. "She... uh, she... it was different, I think. Convenience." Caldwell coughed and sniffled. "It was pretty obvious she had it bad for someone else, but she couldn't deny who she was. I talked to her kid brother about it a little bit."
“She was a complicated woman,” Lar’ragos confirmed.
* * *