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Poker Night (Part 3 of 3)

Posted on Sun Sep 8th, 2019 @ 2:42am by Commander Keith Anderson & Lieutenant Commander Sebell Briggs & Lieutenant Commander R'Tan & Lieutenant Hel Samedi & Lieutenant Valeria Mordin & Lieutenant Nimeeh Vixil & Lieutenant Aryen Colan & Lieutenant Wakeham Paul Alasia PhD

Mission: Shore Leave - An Internal Affair
Location: Captain's Quarters

[[PREVIOUSLY]]

"And the lady has it," Keith said with a laugh, pointing at Corrine, "Pair of Queens. Nice job. You can add a nice stash of cash to your bank there," He said, already starting to pull the cards back to shuffle and deal for the next hand.

"So... Tell me about your self," He said, "Why did you join Starfleet? what lead you here," He asked, looking over at Valeria, "We'll go from the dealers left," He said with a chuckle as he started dealing.

[[NOW]]

"As fair a start as any. My path to Starfleet started as a personal quest for knowledge, that became something of an assignment. Personally, I enjoy learning new things and there was only so much I had access to back home. I served on a few minor science and operational tours because on Ts'usu, everyone serves." she held up a hand, "Don't think of it as mandatory conscription. Ts'usu gives so much, so we give back." she made it sound pleasant. Well, not pleasant, but certainly not terrible.

"Then, along came Voyager. A foreign craft, alone in the dark, and they just wanted to get home. Of course, they stopped along the way to learn what they could, but their goal was their home. We kept a few of the more dangerous interested parties off of Voyager's trail to help, but we never initiated contact. There were a few moments where we felt we were detected, but at the time I don't think Voyager's sensors were configured to recognize what they saw." she explained. "But the seal had been broken. Starfleet was a thing, and wherever they went, they brought curiosity and impatience. Ts'usu knew that it was inevitable. The Empire and the Federation would eventually meet. So we had to know."

"Would Ts'usu's culture survive, drowining in the sea of personalities that is the Federation? Would our culture and our society endure or would we, to coin a phrase, adapt to best serve? Just another petal on the sea. To answer that, the solution was simple: Apply for alliance status with the Federation and send some of Ts'usu's best and brightest to, in a sense, represent us. With the Dalacari Pathstone Project complete, exploration could begin in ernest. But, ultimately, I'm here for three reasons: I want to learn, I enjoy the freedom of all this elbow room, and I'm here to make sure that Ts'usu's culture can survive immersion in the Federation."

"As for about myself, I was a constant source of trouble as a child and I'm the middle mouth of nine. A farmer's daughter, with a farm and everything. Father works for the local magistrate as a coin counter. It's... a holdover position from ages ago, and the position itself is far more impressive than its name sounds. He works with the local magistrate of finance. Mother's a farmer."

"I skipped school a lot when I was a child, but only to skip to a higher school. Education in my grade bored me, but what they were learning in the next year class fascinated me. So I sat by the window and took notes. The truancy officer didn't enjoy my excuse, but that act set me on the path I'm on now. If young Valeera Mordin was content with school at age six, I'd never be here now." she giggled.

Hel chuckled, looking at Valeria with an ever growing look of warm and affection in her eyes, eventually even resting a hand on the Ts'usugi woman's and squeezing softly. "I sure know how to pick 'em. Glad I took the chance." she mused, before turning her attention to the discussion at hand. Her turn.

"As for me, nothing so impressive. Eldest of two, sister also serves on Asger. Mom and Dad always did their best to instill the values of family, dedication, honesty and hard work. We came up with our own peculiar brands of misschief by ourselves." she giggled.

"So where does someone who's parents did their best to give her a sense of responsibility and duty go? Someone who wants to make a name for herself while serving something greater? Someone with perhaps a slightly too strong sense of idealism driving her?" Hel smiled. "Only one place. So here I am."

"You're a long way from home, but we're glad you're here," Nim said softly as Valeria finished speaking, giving a slight nod to the Ts'usugi across from her.

"Well, I guess it's my turn." R'Tan said as his heart started to pulse a little harder. He looked at Paul with a knowing glance. "My history is long and sorted, and I do not want to bring the room down. Needless to say, my family is very influential. I grew up in the spitting image of my father. I eventually discovered something I wasn't supposed to and, long story short, the Federation saved my life. So I felt it only right that I repay them with my service." He then looked at his two cards. "Um. remind me, is an Ace high or low?"

Valeria listened to his blurb, a footnote on the autobiography of his life. She gavea nod, recognizing the look and feel of someone hiding something, though she didn't pry.

At his question, though, she smirked, "I imagine that all depends on if you have one." A pause, "They're high, I believe. If Aces are like Lances, they're high."

"Really? Aces are high?" Nim asked, a shocked look on her face as she looked around the table. "I thought they were ones..." a hint of color rose in her cheeks as she offered a sheepish smile. "Well, I guess it's a good thing we're not playing for money."

Keith chuckled, "Aces are high, yes," He said. "What about you, Aryen? "What brought you to serve with us?"

"I used to work in a restaurant when I was at the academy and in a mission gone very wrong, I was forced into a different identity and there I owned a restaurant." Ayren's throat tightened. There she said it. She spoke about it openly. Of course no one would know what inner conflict she had had for years over that mission. Somehow speaking to Sonny must have released the burden enough that she felt better about it.

Valeria blinked, her ears perked for more of the story. More. MORE.... "Wait, you owned a restaurant? Interesting, what cuisine?" now she was curious.

Ayren did not expect any questions, but she kept her composure. Why did she open her big mouth? Now she had to explain more. How could she explain the cuisine from a planet that was blacklisted by the Federation? But at the same time she felt excited to answer the question. "In short, the restaurant was known for turning local robust produce into fine dining. We adapted the menu seasonally, and catered for a variety of palettes. Not a steak house," she laughed. "And no pizza's, but brilliant sea food, poultry and red meat dishes," she explained. "And good wine.." She said nothing of the entertainment which she provided. "Anyone for some more drinks?" she asked grinning.

"No pizza?" Hel chuckled. "Where's the fun in that?" though she did set her glass down for a refill. "Thank you."

"Sounds amazing," Keith said, smiling. "Is it still around? Maybe we can take a shore leave there sometime and you can show us around," he said with a grin as he laid down the last card for the current hand and waited for everyone still in to bet.

"No, unfortunately not," Aryen answered while maneuvering around the poker players to fill Hel's glass. "I will look what I can arrange with Sonny, maybe we can come up with something similar in the lounge some time," she said casually. What the hell am I thinking!?

"That sounds fantastic," Keith said, smiling brightly. "Looking forward to it... Alright, next victim... Paul, how'd you wind up in Starfleet?" He asked, smiling over at the Diplomat.

Paul chuckled in spite of himself, absently playing with this chips. "Bit of a circuitous path for me. I studied administration at Daystrom and I kind of planned on getting an analytical gig on Earth. Maybe for the Federation, maybe not. I didn't know exactly what direction I was going but Starfleet was about as far from my mind as anything could be. In my family—well, Starfleet is a big go-to boogeyman in my family. Anyway, as the Bajoran provisional government became less and less provisional, they had a need for people that could work in, and more importantly train, a professionalized bureaucracy, and because of their adjacency to the Wormhole, the most important administration needed at the time was an apparatus to keep open relations with the Dominion. So, I worked on that during the end of my undergrad and that was my first job after I finished. It became clear pretty quickly that to get into the high-level planning I wanted to do, I needed a doctorate, so I ended up back on Earth studying Economics. But, since I was more interested in development generally than I was in Bajoran development specifically, the single most interesting development case in the quadrant right now is what's going on with the Ferengi. So I pivoted my research to focus on that. That tipped into a post-doc with a Ferengi thinktank and before I know it, I have spent, like, my entire professional life, other than my doctorate, nowhere near Earth."

Paul paused and looked around "I'm so sorry, I feel like this has been a really long answer to a short question." Paul gestured as if to hurry himself. "Anyway, the upshot was that even though I hadn't studied inter-galactic affairs per se, it turned out my specific skills were most useful in diplomatic contexts. One of my advisors from Wisconsin was a Starfleet Commodore. One day, she sent me a message that the F.D.C. inspector general was interested in recruiting me, and I took the job, which brought me back to Earth. I didn't know it at the time, but she was using my time at the IG to kind of soften a transition into Starfleet. After more than a few months of subtle and not-so-subtle talks, bit by bit they wore me down and convinced me to join up. The rest is history I suppose. Like I said, long answer. Sorry about that." Paul smiled sheepishly.

Keith chuckled, "No, it's a solid answer," He said with a grin. "Do you like it so far? Maybe not what you intended, but does it at least work?"

Paul hesitated for a moment. "I—" he stammered. "I do—and; I guess if I'm being honest, it's actually been a bit of a mixed bag. I've never done this," he gestured to the table and the other department heads present, "I've never done this before. So, in the past, ship duty has been a little isolating for me, and my contributions to strategic planning and ship operations were not always—or really ever—valued. So, given how welcoming the staff has been, and how well-intentioned everyone seems, I'm optimistic."

Hel smiled, reaching a hand over to rest on his. "It's ok. Being in social situations can be very intimidating. But I promise, we won't bite - at least, Valeria and me won't. She already ate and you're wearing entirely too many clothes for me to." she smiled sweetly.

Keith rolled his eyes, a bemused grin on his face.

Valeria gave a giggle, before settling back down, "Back in the Navy back home, one of the Shipmasters I had the privilege of meeting gave me some advice. He said..." and she said a few phrases in the haunting tongue of Ts'usubito, her native tongue. It didn't quite translate.

"Roughly, it means that any job that is necessary has a soul behind it. Meaning there's a person there. If you have a post, have a duty, it's important." a pause, "Never forget that." she offered, with a ghost of a smile.

"Yes," R'Tan interjected. "But duty can only get you so far. What happens when that duty betrays you, or turns out to be something very different than you were led to believe?"

"Yeah, I kind of agree with that, actually." Paul nodded. "I sometimes get the impression that for people that really strive for Starfleet, the duty part of it is enough. Duty to your ship. Duty to your colleagues. You're there for your brothers and sisters. You're there for the unit. Since Starfleet was never really an ambition for me, it's the mission that keeps me going. As corny as it is, it's the 'seek out new life and new civilization' bit that keeps me tethered to all this. Creating new knowledge. Building peaceful relations. It's probably not a great thing to admit to my Captain, but for me the duty of it is secondary." Paul looked at Keith. "My faith in the overall mission is what's important to me, and sometimes that mission can feel like it's really far off—sometimes it feels like a total phantom. I wonder if maybe that's the attitude you end up with when you fall into this work rather than aspire to it. I don't want to put words in your mouth, Commander." He glanced back to R'Tan.

Valeria gave a smirk, "No, it's actually poetic. Summarizes one of the vast differences between the Navy back home and the Navy here. If Starfleet is a navy, I suppose." the rabbitess gave a nod, "Seeking new civilization, was it? On some downtime, let's schedule a chat over tea. I can't promise answers to every question, but I can at least hear every question you wish to ask."

"Yeah, I'd argue that Starfleet is a navy." Hel mused. "We operate a fleet, containing ships, that have captains and crew, and we like to keep what's outside the ship and inside separated - just like a wet navy."

"Weeeelll." Paul hesitated. "Sort of. I mean, there's an obvious corollary between Starfleet and a Navy, but, at least on Earth, Navy's weren't usually responsible for exploring and mapping. In fact, that usually fell to merchants and colonists. So, that right there makes Starfleet pretty different than a traditional navy—which is usually more about protecting economic interests, shipping lines and borders of already-mapped waters and terrain. Also, the plurality of crewpeople working in Starfleet are scientists of some kind or another: biologists, botanists, chemists, cartographers, stellar physicists, what have you. That is also quite unlike a navy. At least on Earth. Starfleet is kind of like if you smooshed to together a navy and a university and then sent them to explore on an indefinite basis. The two sides would definitely exist in an uneasy alliance with one another."

Keith laughed, "I think that's a good analogy, Paul, yeah. And don't worry, I'm glad to hear that the mission is what's important to you. It's what's important to me too," He told him. "The minute we forget why we're out here is the minute we cease to be what we've strived for for so many years," He said, nodding. "You keep me on track and I'll keep you on track, alright?" He said, smiling at the other man.

"If that's ok with you, sir, I'll definitely take you up on that." Paul returned the smile.

"Definitely okay with me," Keith said, grinning.

Before anyone could say anything else, Corrine's commbadge chirped, "Haught," She said, tapping it.

"Lieutenant, I'm sorry to bother you, but we've got an issue down here and we're going to need a hand sorting it out. It's not dangerous, but it's a ... now sort of thing," A young voice said over the comm.

Corrinne sighed, "Are you sure it can't wait?" She asked.

"Positive, ma'am. I'm sorry," The voice replied, clearly apologetic.

"Alright, Richards, I'll be down in a minute," She said, sighing as she tapped the channel closed.

"Sorry, guys. Thanks for the good conversation, though," She said, taking one last sip of her drink before heading toward the door. "CEOs work is never done," She said with a smile, heading out the door.

Keith waved and gave her an apologetic look, "Always something," He called after her as the door slid shut behind her.

"Alright... Well, I think she just didn't want to be in the hot seat," Keith said with a grin to everyone around the table, "But that means it's your turn, Nimeeh. How did we get the honor of having a Trill aboard with us?" He asked, giving her a warm smile as he dealt out the next hand.

"I ran away to join the military to spite over protective parents? Isn't that how all us cool kids end up in Starfleet?" Nim asked with a faint smile as she moved her cards around in her hand. "My story is no where near as grand or exciting as anyone elses. When I was doing my initiate training there was a medical officer from Star Fleet working with the Symbiosis Commission. We got friendly, the more he told me about his life in Starfleet the more I wanted to join, so I did."

Keith shrugged and smiled, "Sometimes the simplest stories do the trick," He said, grinning. "I know we're glad you're here to patch us up," He said.

"How about you, Sebell, you're the only one left," Keith teased, looking over at his XO with a grin.

"A story doesn't need to be grand to be exciting. Poet masters of old back home were said to be able to bring a crowd to tears with just six words." Valeria commented, before she gave her newly dealt cards a glance. She scowled, and cast a withering glance towards Keith, "I'd like to lodge a formal complaint about these cards." as she folded with conviction.

"Lady luck isn't on your side. You made her feel underdressed," Keith said with a chuckle, before turning back to Sebell.

"That's easy," Sebell answered over the fan of her cards. "My entire family is Fleet. Both parents, both brothers. It only felt natural to follow the flow that I grew up in and amongst."

"Oh, c'mon," Keith said with a smile. "That's only the start of it. What made you stay? What keeps you here? Must be something more than family," He said.

"I love it." Sebell grinned awkwardly at being put on the spot. "I love being out in the stars- meeting new people. The discovery, the tense moments, the bond of ship family.. you don't get this anywhere else."

Keith grinned and nodded, "That is definitely truth."

To this, Hel smiled warmly and raised her glass in a toast. "Hear hear! To the bond of ship family!"

"Hear, hear!" Keith replied, raising his glass with a grin.

R'Tan raised his glass as well. As he did, his communicator went off.

=/\= This is R'Tan, go ahead.=/\=

=/\= Sir, the doctor from the starbase has finished his analysis and would like to speak to you at your earliest convenience. =/\=

=/\= Thank you Lieutenant, I will head right over. R'Tan out. =/\=

"Sorry folks, but the work never ends. Captain, thank you for the invite. Next time, I will be sure to dress more appropriately." R'Tan then stood up and headed out the door.

"Thanks for coming, R'tan!" Keith called, giving a wave as he disappeared out the door.

The hours passed for the rest of them, playing and playing until Val and Hel sat with a pile of chips in front of each of them, both grinning coyly.

"I'm not giving you credit for wearing the dresses," Keith said, playing with the deck and bending the cards so they shot from one hand to the other. "I'm just saying that you both cheated somehow," He teased.

"I'm assuming you don't want to duke it out with each other?" He offered.

"I didn't have to cheat. Lady Luck sat to my right the entire night." Valeria said with a smirk, "I'm content to call it a draw. I came here for a fun night, and so far it's been that and more. No point in souring the event with the possibility of sore feelings." with that, Valeria rose to her feet while she smoothed out her dress.

With that, came something formal. Something ceremonial. Valeria called out her name, and then another name. A title, maybe, or a station, and then a declaration. All of it in the native tongue of the Sons and Daughters of Ts'usu. At the conclusion, the rabbitess gave a deep bow. Not directly to give Hel a glance down the top of her dress, but the bow was deep enough to do just that.

She rose back to a standing posture after a moment, and fixed her hair back a bit. "A formal declaration of surrender."

Hel smiled warmly at Valeria's antics. As she tended to do. A lot. Because Valeria was always doing something wonderful, to Hel's eyes. "Surrender accepted." she grinned, rising to her feet and reaching for Valeria's hands. "How about we discuss terms in private."

Keith laughed at that, "You know... it is getting late, and I think we've all got plenty on our plates tomorrow... What do you say we call it a night?" Keith asked, looking at the tired faces around the table.

"Sounds good. Here, I'll help cleaning up, first." Hel smiled. "Least I could do after such a fun evening."

Valeria was one step to the left of Hel, offering to help sort and pack and organize. "Thank you for being such a gracious host. It reflects well on your station and your soul." another piece of Ts'usugi culture there. "I am honored to be your guest."

"I've been honored to have you," Keith replied, smiling brightly. "Let's get this mess cleaned up and get some sleep," He said, standing up with the rest of his crewmates - no, his friends - to tidy up and call it a night.

As they moved about the quarters, putting away dishes and recycling the left over food and drinks, Keith watched as he worked, smiling to himself. His crew was coming together. Even in the wake of a really difficult mission... He was proud of them, and more than that, confident in them. They would do what was right. They would make the right calls and decisions. They were strong, they were just.

They were Starfleet.

 

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