((Starbase 118 Ops - Fleet Captain Sal Taybrim’s Office))
Work. It was a fact of life. It was as much a part of the great circle as birth and death were, especially if one was in Starfleet. The days varied, of course. Sometimes there were missions to run or participate in. Sometimes it was simply PADDwork, reports flashing on the screen, coming across the desk. Tasks that only the Captain could do, but even some of those could get tedious at times.
That work, however, was sometimes interrupted. Such was the case when the doors to the Captain’s office opened. Inside stepped an Andorian woman, her uniform marking her as part of security, but as a non-commissioned officer. Her eyes fell to the Captain and she inclined her head politely, both antennae arching toward him, then relaxing, one higher than the other.
He looked up, dark eyes falling on the Andorian woman. He recognized her face only vaguely from the reports on the Gratitude Festival, just enough to know she had been of assistance.
Taybrim: Good evening, miss. How can I help?
Sh’shelor: I’ve been told there is...a matter of some urgency to which you are requested to attend.
Urgency? He lifted his head in a vague sense of alarm.
Taybrim: What sort of matter?
Sh’shelor: That, sir, I have been instructed not to tell you.
It didn’t make any sense to her, and why Ithri had allowed herself to be drawn into this...strange...whatever it was, she wasn’t sure. But there she was, and she would keep her word.
Taybrim: ::he perked a brow at that. So a matter of off-duty urgency rather than on-duty urgency:: I see.
He was a telepath. One who rarely used that gift, but still - at times like this he was tempted.
Sh’shelor: If you would come with me, please.
He checked the chronometer. Sure as ever he was off duty over an hour ago. Technically with shore leave he could have been off duty all day. But he liked to keep ahead of the paperwork.
So he locked his console, set the security grid and stretched as he rose.
Taybrim: All right, lead on.
Ithri waited for the captain to rise and follow her, then turned and made her way out the door. She passed through into the hallway, kept going until they came to a turbolift. The doors parted and she stepped inside, then gave a command for it to take them to the Commercial Sector.
Taybrim: The Commercial Center? ::he queried. Now he was sure this was some sort of off duty shenanigans::
The Andorian woman cast a sidelong glance in the Captain’s direction, but she didn’t give an answer. Her antennae pointed toward him, then one resumed facing forward while the other sort of remained in position, as if it were waiting for him to try something. Anything.
Eventually, they got to where she commanded, and she stepped off, once more motioning for him to follow. Any queries to her were met with little to no response other than that it was something he needed to attend to right away and that was all she could say about it.
Through the commercial sector, past the crowds of people, a constant flow that only seemed to wane, but never ceased completely. Too many people wanted to do too much all the time, and there were enough on the evening shifts, that even the night time was filled with those who saw the rising of the imagined sun as a signal to go home and sleep.
Ithri wound her way through the mass, though never quick enough to lose the man. Finally, she came to a stop in front of an establishment, “My Favourite Bar”. It was a very brief pause, however, and she led him inside and toward the back, then up a flight of stairs. It was there she finally turned and motioned for him to go through without her.
Taybrim: Is this the place? Are there people inside?
Sh’shelor: All I can say is that you are needed in there.
Taybrim: Fair enough. ::too much diplomatic training meant he didn’t question this series of events too much.::
When the doors parted, Sal stepped into a whole other world. Around him, trees lined the horizon, both near and far. Most of them were in bloom, pink and white melting together with blossoms lighting up the scene, like puffs of clouds caught within the branches that stretched toward the sky. Some of those petals fell, like soft, velvet snow that lined the ground, green peeking through a velvety blanket of mixed hues. In front of him, a rectangular pavilion of dark brown sat among the blossoms, all the sides open to the wonder that surrounded it. The roof was tiled with shingles, the eaves and edges curled up and tipped in a fashion that hailed from that of Japan on Earth. Another building squatted behind the pavilion, partially hidden from view. Unlike the first construct, it was a little taller and wider, an actual enclosed building in the same oriental style. The doors to it remained closed, hiding whatever lay beyond.
In the pavilion, a table waited, low to the ground a single cushion as opposed to a chair next to it. Another, longer table was placed behind and a woman stood, her face painted, clad in a black kimono that was covered in flowers, peacocks walking among them. Her hair had been pulled up and held with a pair of chopsticks, and her ethnicity spoke of someone who was native to the image of the land that surrounded them. There was a presence, a familiar one, but it was not from the woman in the pavilion, rather it came from beyond. Upon his approach, the woman bowed to him, but she was blank, an empty shell, simply a hologram, though visually, she gave every indication of being real.
Makoto: Konbanwa, Captain. I am Makoto.
One hand swept out, motioning to the awaiting cushion. It was fairly simple, red with a gold kanji printed on it and edged in gold trimming. Drawing closer, he could see more upon the table behind her. An array of dishes, all of shining silver, but covered to keep whatever was underneath hot and fresh, sat, waiting.
Taybrim: What is this? ::he queried gently.::
Makoto: This meal is for you, captain. Please, sit, enjoy, and I shall serve you.
He gave a nod and sat slowly, allowing himself to take in the ambiance, the setting and the other person in the area. He dipped his head to Makoto.
Taybrim: Thank you.
The hologram bowed, then rose. Turning, Makoto lifted the first of the silver covers, revealing a plate with several small pieces of meat, sliced, then laid down in a triangle. Thin slivers of carrots had been curled and artfully placed in the middle, like a tiny spray shooting from within the set of three. On the side, a small dab of green was accompanied with a little slice of lime, and a white bowl decorated with red flowers held a semi viscous liquid of a warm, brown hue.
Makoto: Soft roe tofu, sea urchin, Japanese tiger prawn with wasabi and ponzu sauce.
Taybrim: May I ask who else is present?
Once more, the hologram straightened and paused, both thin eyebrows arching upward at the request.
Sal turned towards the lady in black, looking curious.
Makoto: Your hostess is preparing. If you wish, I can let her know you wish to speak with her.
Taybrim: Please ::he tipped his head unsure of the etiquette of this place::
Another bow followed and Makoto stepped back, but made no move to dictate any message to anyone. A moment later, the clack of wood sliding against wood, then shutting sounded from the second building and a figure made her way to the pavilion. Drawing nearer, it became obvious the form was Alora. Rather than her Starfleet uniform, she was clad in a kimono much like Makoto’s, though of a purple hue. Instead of peacocks, branches stretched out over the fabric, laced with petals like the ones upon the trees that surrounded them. They drifted over the fabric, waving with each small step, as if they might be carried off to dance upon the wind. Her long, dark tresses had been pulled up into a bun, but unlike Makoto, flowers adorned her hair in a cascading waterfall of lavender blossoms that fell down to caress her cheek. She paused just inside the pavilion and bowed politely to the guest.
DeVeau: Youkoso, captain.
The diplomat in Sal yearned to know the traditional response for that. But he admitted that while he knew all of the Earth-standard protocols, there were a mind boggling myriad of Earth subcultures that one could spend lifetimes learning about and still only scratch the surface. Still he would have to ask her what the formalities were as they directly piqued his curiosity.
Taybrim: Good evening. ::A polite, formal nod.::
Straightening, Alora finally lifted her gaze, studying the man seated at the table. It drifted over to the other, where all but one of the platters remained untouched, then back to her guest of honour. He hadn’t asked, but she felt she owed him an explanation since he had called for her to come.
DeVeau: I thought you might enjoy something...different. A chance to relax and have a nice meal.
Taybrim: This is a beautiful location ::He said softly, still marvelling at the vista and the setting.:: It seems so formal.
Yes. It was. Of all the places in Japan, she had seen very few there were not beautiful. This particular one was apropos for what she had wanted to do, and she’d set it in the spring, when the cherry blossoms were at the height of their bloom. Shifting, she decided to stay on the path she’d laid out. That was the safest route.
DeVeau: This type of meal is called kaiseki. It’s a traditional series of courses which is then followed by...well, that’s supposed to be a surprise.
Taybrim: Surprise? ::He queried gently.::
Yes, a surprise. One that, after the Festival, she had gone back and forth on whether or not she should proceed with those plans. Eventually, she had decided to continue with them.
DeVeau: If you don’t wish to stay, you don’t have to. I just thought…
She’d been planning to for a while. For months, actually, along with others that she had pondered and schemed over. Most were simple to implement, things that she had found that curried to their interests, but there were a few that called for more than simply a package upon a doorstep. The captain’s though, had taken a little more finagling. Just a little. That being said, if it held no interest, she wasn’t going to force him to endure it.
Taybrim: Is it a solitary meal?
Which was a poignant question from the empath who loved company.::
DeVeau: Not necessarily. I just...I don’t want to interrupt your meal.
Taybrim: I feel a bit lost. There seems to be a ritual to this meal that I would like to learn. ::he was most earnest about that. He wanted to know the culture behind things and to try to be respectful of it.::
She hated that he felt lost. The best laid intentions sometimes went awry, and though there was nothing catastrophic in his statement, it was certainly not how Alora had hoped he would feel upon being presented with the meal.
Taybrim: It strikes me as highly artistic ::He said softly:: As if someone melded food and sculpture.
DeVeau: The Japanese do that. Blend artistry with many things, including food..
Taybrim: ::Gently, comfortably.:: I know it’s been a stressful past few days on the station. But unless it breaks tradition, company at such a lovely artistic evening would be most welcome.
DeVeau: It...does not.
Initially, that had been her objective - a pleasant meal with the captain, like they’d had before. She had enjoyed his company, and as far as she could tell, hadn’t resented hers. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t for her, it was for him. She knew he liked people, but she had wanted this to be his special gift, just like she had obtained and done specific things for other people.
Then, the Festival happened. What had occurred had completely set everything off balance. In one way, it had been welcome. Something missing had been returned, an ability she thought had died along with the man who had claimed that part of her. Then, after she was treated, it was snatched away again. In its place remained something else, shadows of uncertainty that never seemed to settle, and kept her just at the edge of remaining off kilter.
It had changed how she approached the Captain, imposing a view of him that she had never considered before, and still didn’t consider now, and yet couldn’t help but wonder. And that wonder turned to reprimand, and that reprimand turned to guilt. And then the cycle started all over again, thrusting her into a strange sort of restless turmoil that she wasn’t sure how to resolve.
After the festival, that had been the one change - that she wouldn’t join him as originally thought. Memories of what had occurred still plagued her, vying for attention, accompanied with embarrassment that would not fade. Embarrassment and confusion. The two made poor bedfellows.
It still wasn’t about her. It was about him.
DeVeau: Computer, another pillow on the opposite side of the table, please.
One appeared identical in hue and design, and Alora lowered herself down to her knees. A smile flittered over her lips briefly, like a newly born butterfly just taken to flight and still trying to find its wings. Turning her gaze to the dish that remained untouched before him, she licked her lips and asked softly.
DeVeau: Do you want something else?
He looked down at the bowl and smiled softly.
Taybrim: No, I want to try everything. I just had not focused yet on the food.
In silence, she watched him try the dish, her hesitation giving way to an almost eager anticipation. Carefully studying his face, she attempted to discern his thoughts upon the first tidbit of food that had been offered before finally asking -
DeVeau: What do you think?
He took a few considerate tastes, slowly considering the food. It was complex and flavorful, and delicate. Quite interesting.
Taybrim: It is as artful as the presentation. Very good.
He smiled gently, lifting those dark eyes to her. He wanted to reach out and find out what she was thinking, but despite that having worked during the festival his defenses were once again high and sober again he kept his telepathy in tight rein.
That second smile was more confident than the first, gladdened that he found it palatable. Now that the meal was started in earnest, Makoto added something to the table. A small ceramic cup around the size of a shot glass and a matching carafe were placed upon the table. Makoto started to pour, but Alora held out a hand to stop her and took the tokkuri from her. Reaching over, she carefully filled the tiny glass.
Taybrim: ::He watched her gently, curiously.:: What is this? ::He queried with an open, pleasant curiosity.::
DeVeau: That is sake, rice wine. Generally served with the appetizer, though you are certainly welcome to have more throughout the meal. I would be careful. It’s not as strong as whiskey, but it’s on the higher end for a wine. It should be nice and chilled. And you should never fill your own glass. ::She paused, then added.:: Just let me know when you want more.
Taybrim: Thank you ::He nodded gently:: Tell me, why do you never fill your own glass?
DeVeau: It’s considered impolite. Drinking is a communal activity. As the drink flows, so should the conversation and the interaction between the other person. Pouring for another shows companionship and respect for one another. It is referred to as kumu. The word refers to pouring for one another, but other meanings are “to consider, sympathise with, or understand”.
Taybrim: That is a very considerate detail. ::he smiled in a satisfied way, glad to know the explanation::
Another dish was set before the red-headed commander. This one was a lidded bowl, which Makoto lifted and set to the side. Within, a steaming, clear broth was punctuated by two meatballs that were white with an undertone of pale pink. Two green beans leaned against them on one side, while leaning against the other was a carrot cut flat and into the shape of a star.
Taybrim: ::Sal took a moment to enjoy the presentation and savor the aroma:: What is this?
DeVeau: That is called wanmono - which literally means bowl thing. It’s...just a bowl that usually holds a soup. Those balls are made of shrimp.
So the original ingredients were carefully shaped. Sal found that fascinating - part of the artistry of the dish he assumed.
Taybrim: It is lovely and smells amazing.
That was the way it went. Though she didn’t eat, Alora would offer an explanation of each dish as it came. The oshinogi, which was steamed clam on rice and yuba sauce, followed by yakihassun, which was a dish consisting of slightly larger portions of mackerel, oyster gratin, and edamame. Following came the mushimono of tilefish, lily bulb and gingko in turnip paste, the kawarizara that boasted deep water shrimp, shimeji mushroom topped with more curls of carrot. Beef cheek with radish and shimonita came next and on its heels was a small bowl of gohan or white rice topped with furikake seasoning. Lastly, a simple bowl of what looked to be fruity ice cream outlined with thin slices of white strawberries.
DeVeau: That’s brown sugar sorbet.
Each dish’s portions were small, and on their own would do little to satiate an appetite. Put together, even someone was big as Tony would leave satisfied.
Taybrim: It has all been delightful. I have learned so much and had the chance to experience more than I thought. ::he said with a deep, calm appreciation.:: Is this a holiday tradition?
There was a pause, then she shook her head.
DeVeau: In Japan, this isn’t a normal meal. It’s a traditional meal, but originally, long ago, only the rich could afford such an affair. Now, however, it’s part of the culture, and part of experiencing Japan.
Her gaze lifted, traveling over the view of the flowering trees, the branches swaying in a gentle breeze.
DeVeau: I couldn’t take you to Japan, so I brought it to you.
He smiled softly. He almost reached out to touch her, but refrained.
Taybrim: This was wonderful, thank you so much ::he murmured.::
His smile was returned with a gentle one of her own.
Fleet Captain Sal Taybrim
StarBase 118 Ops
Lt. Cmdr. Alora DeVeau
Starbase 118 Ops