Jex, Noah and Sebastian stepped off the bridge and ventured towards the curving stairwell off of the first and second decks. As they headed downwards past the senior officer's lounge. The doors to which were swishing close but from within, a piano's keys started up with a light playful touch.
The trio of ensigns stopped on the lobby outside. "I didn't know the Captain could play."
Sebastian scoffed at Jex. "What? You thought to think you knew the Captain inside out after a month and a half?"
"Oh sorry, I forgot Sebastian you're above being intrigued or over awed by your commanding officers after all your experience. Please, I am a conjoined Trill who has served twice with Starfleet, and on numerous vessels. It doesn't get old. Your act of bravado and nonchalance however does."
"Whatever. Besides it might have been the doctor." With that, he turned and walked away.
Cutler managed a small smile. "That might be why he's a security officer, displaying such detective skills."
"Oh that insight makes him a regular Sherlock!"
Cutler suddenly smiled with a gloating preen about himself. "Ha! What happened to the ebullient Jex who could see no fault with anyone not even Mr. Chuckles?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Oh I guess I'm tired. I dunno; I have a sense of anti-climax following the launch. Come on let's hit the lounge before we turn in."
He frowned to that idea. "Oh Jex do we have to?"
"Come on Noah. It is our first day, how is it Commander Cartwright put it? ‘Flying'. Let's celebrate being out in space. Our first mission." Her mood was contagious and Noah found himself being swayed.
"Well things can only get better. At berth things didn't go too well."
"Ah, ah, no negative thoughts. Come on." She herded him on towards the lounge.
After they had descended to the lower decks, Noah broke his silence. "I suppose that explains the captain's comment on the day of our tour."
He pointed at a door that signified they now stood outside the Chief of the Boat's office. "When we passed on the tour the Captain said it ‘If you step out of line, the punishment is the cat of nine tails.' Of course I stupidly answered ‘That's barbaric!' to which he just laughed and said I was a racist."
Nervously, Jex just tried to laugh the line of conversation off. "Heh! Well we did not know at the time. Heck I did not know until he stood in front of me. Honestly, when I saw a Kzinti in front of me onboard a Border Patrol I just took him to be a raider. Come on let's get to the lounge."
"Gees Jex anyone would think that you were trying to evade the situation. I thought that was supposed to me. Anyway, you worked with him to retrieve the Captain when he went AWOL with the docking shuttle."
"That was all in the line of duty. Let's just say Kzinti make me nervous."
Somewhat astonished at Jex, Noah just looked at the door warily. "That's hardly surprising. He'd make anyone nervous."
"It runs a little deeper than that. Let's just say the Kzinti deserve their reputation."
He turned now to look at Jex with a concerned furrow lining his forehead. Something in her voice bespoke of a secret pain. "Are you alright Jex? What is it?"
"Nothing Noah!" She started to storm off.
"Hey Jex I'm only concerned. Normally you're all sharing is caring and divulging all the gossip."
"I know sorry, it is just ... Jex has had a rather troubled past with the Kzinti. A previous host. Back when the Kzinti were warring with half the powers in the quadrant. Let us just say, I was witness to the bloodshed Kzinti warriors are capable of. And let us leave it at that please Noah."
He nodded. "Of course."
"I hope this doesn't mean there's going to be problems working him ensign?"
Both ensigns turned startled to see Eddie Gardner standing behind them, having overheard everything. Jex hurriedly defended herself. "No, of course not Chief. I just would sooner not dwell on the fact. I worked with him to rescue the captain. I'll work with him again."
"Damn right he's the C.O.B. - the Cat of the Boat. Remember though, that he might be tough but he is fair. As for McGregor, he's the S.O.B. and he seems to relish in the title. Off the two of you go. After all, it isn't the best idea to stand outside a Kzinti male's door thinking bad thoughts about him." Gardner tapped the side of his head by way of further clarification.
The two scarpered away as Gardner knocked on the door. Noah and Jex hung back to listen in as the door opened and Eddie Gardner stepped in to speak to Rah Eyrrs Norr.
The C.O.B. answered the door without a word, as a disgruntled Gardner demanded of him, "Tell me Rah where am I supposed to stow that shuttle? And how did you ever go along with the Captain's harebrained scheme?"
The door closed leaving Noah to enquire of Jex, "What did Gardner mean?" He mimicked tapping his temple as Gardner had done.
"Male Kzinti can sometimes display the ability to read minds. As if they weren't a terrifying enough prospect in a confrontation. Come on I think I need a drink."
When they entered the lounge, it was a buzz with off duty officers, all of whom were feeling more content now the Kestrel was outward bound. It was more natural to be at motion than to be sitting around berthed at a space station. This Noah had gathered over these last few weeks as they repaired and prepped the ship for its launch.
The friendly NCO, Becca, had described it as the ‘Bulldog' mentality of a border dog. They had their patch to defend and patrol and they were all eager, from the lowliest yeoman to the captain himself, to get back to it. The attack by T'Hos had only served to focus them more on their ongoing mission and duty.
Noah initially thought this an absurd mindset, until Becca explained. "It's no different to a fleeter eager to explore strange new worlds and the like. They want to get out there into the great big beyond and explore, whereas we want to defend and police our back garden. Mind you on occasion we do meet strange new life forms before any of the fleeters swoop in acting all self-important!"
Noah spied Becca now throwing back her head in gales of laughter surrounded by a hubbub of merry enlisted crew personnel. Amid the crowd was the alluring figure of Yeoman Harris. The sight of her made Noah pause. A pause quickly caught by Jex whose response was to elbow him in the stomach.
"Oops sorry Noah, I must have tripped over your tongue."
Blushing he tried an attempt to cover up for his ogling. His attempt failed pathetically. "Just get the drinks in Cutler and meet me over there."
"Ok." Meekly he followed his orders and went about getting the drinks in. The barman, the ever pleasant and placid Gordon, greeted him warmly and set up the drinks even as Cutler came up to the bar. "How did you guess?"
"I'm afraid Mr. Cutler you are a creature of habit."
"Isn't Jex?" He indicated the wild exotic looking cocktail Gordon was putting the finishing touches to.
"Oh not at all. She's showing her wisdom. It might look wham bam stuff but an Auzerene Surprise has a lot of kick but it also lines your stomach. Hence your Trill friend is a very shrewd operator."
Almost aghast he exclaimed, "She never told me that!"
"That's the advantage of living over a number of centuries. Mind you for a first drink, it gives a hell of a kick so you have to mind you can keep up with it. Care to change your order then Ensign?" Gordon enquired politely.
Noah considered it thoughtfully for a moment and licking his lips he gave every indication he was indeed going to change his mind. Then he shook his head. "No, I'd best not."
"Very well ensign." Gordon smiled to himself as he passed the drinks over to Noah. ‘I thought you wouldn't.'
As Noah turned carefully around with the drinks, he almost bumped into Becca. "Oh sorry!"
"Heck no! I'm the one who should apologise. I near knocked your drinks out of your hands. I hope you hold onto a sonic wrench tighter than that! I also hope you hold onto any drinks you ever get for me tighter than that." She beamed happily at him, which made Noah blush in response for some reason.
"Wait up and you can help me carry over some more jugs of beer for the gang. Your friend Jex just breezed in as usual and is the centre of all the talking. Kinda a habit with her." Becca gave a heads up to Gordon and he acknowledged the order as he pulled out a number of pitchers to fill with ale.
"Yeah that's Jex for you. She's been like that ever since I've known her. Despite landing into a cadet year fours years after she originally joined Starfleet she just hit the ground rolling."
Becca strummed her fingers on the bar counter as Gordon poured the ale. "What was that about?"
"She had to leave to enter the initiate program before returning to complete the last two years of her training. But it didn't bother her a bit. She's always the centre of the party and always getting me into trouble."
Raising her eyebrows, Becca enquired none too subtly. "You're both good friends then? Is it more than that?"
"What! No! No me and Jex are firmly just firm friends."
Becca punched him playfully on the shoulder. "Careful now one might think you protest too much. No I was only curious. So there's definitely nothing between the two of you."
A voice from beside them intruded. "Ah great then!"
"Oh leave it out Sven." Becca rolled her eyes at the intrusion.
Pushing his way into their conversation with his strong Scottish accent was an engineering specialist. However, he was not dressed in his uniform but it in an incongruous kilt. The kilt was even more bizarre for the tartan pattern of silver and gold with matching sporran. "Pleased to meet you Ensign. I'm Sven. But everyone calls me Jock. Jock the C..."
"Please Jock there's no need. People are having their supper drinks."
"Ock now Becca. If you'd prefer to wake up to me in bed then ye need onle ask. I'd be glad to comply." He winked mischievously. The wink and smile, added to his blonde spiked hair and stud piercing below his lip, gave him a sleazy sprite look. And so far, he matched that characterisation.
"Bare him little heed Noah. He's harmless but a cocky little turd."
"An' ye were axing me to mind me tongue!"
"She's always on ‘bout me tongue. Wee Becca here can bring herself to admit just how much she craves me body. She likes to think herself is morally superior to me. But she just likes te tease a man. She's right tho. I am cocky is right!" He gave a smarmy raise of his eyebrows by way of further insinuation and patted his sporran.
"Anytime Becca. Anytime. No need to beg. So this wee lassie of yours is available. I wonder has the old Trill ever had a Scottish man."
"I'm sure it would be an experience she'd be unlikely to forget."
"There ye go again Becca. You're just mad for it. I think I'd best introduce meself to your friend." Off Sven bounded. Energetically so almost as if he was trying to make the kilt expose the secret of what a Scottish man wore underneath his kilt.
"He's a dog and a prig but fairly harmless. Annoying though. Very annoying. A damned good engineer. Which is the only reason he is still here."
Noah watched as Sven made a beeline for Jex. Meantime Becca handed a bowl of crisps to Noah. "Carry these but keep them from Harris. She'll devour them in one go even though she's a skinny minx. I hate the little witch. Come on let's see how Jex handles Jock. We've tried to keep him away from you guys for as long as we could. But he had to come from the basement at some point."
As they approached the ever-widening circle of partygoers, a chorus of hollering and mock indignations went up in response to something lewd from Sven as he patted his sporran. Becca rolled her eyes derisively at what went unheard by herself and Noah. They did however hear Jex's answer as she leaned in with what Noah recognised as her pretend seduction pose he'd seen her play at the Academy.
In her best-feigned Scottish accent, she purred inching closer to the specialist as she did, "Tell me Jock, do you keep your sonic wrench in your sporran or wha?"
"Aye, as a matter of fact I do."
"Ock that's a pity! I thought it was something else."
A gale of laughter greeted the innuendo and Jock coloured angrily for a moment before he realised it was all in good fun. "Aw so the wee girl likes to banter does she. Is alright, I enjoy a challenge."
Filling up empty tankards from the pitchers, Becca peeled, "Is that why you keep trying Jock. I'd best say yes then some day to make you stop."
Nonchalant he shrugged his shoulders, undefeated, "Well that'd work too Becca."
"Oh never mind all that Jock. Raise your glasses folks. Time for a toast. To the Kestrel and her crew, may she enjoy good hunting."
The others, familiar with this old cheer responded loudly and Noah and Jex found themselves swept up with the cheer and raised drinking vessels, "Good hunting!"
From a lonely corner, Sebastian Templar lamely lifted his glass with a scowl and intoned half-heartedly. "Good hunting."
* * *