Keyla gave her pork chop an exploratory poke with her fork. The food replicators had been sketchy ever since they’d taken a Klingon torpedo amidship and lost secondary systems for a few hours about a week earlier. Yesterday’s attempt to order seafood curry had ended in tears and recriminations.
“I mean, did you see that?” Rhys carried on. His grilled chicken Caesar salad sat untouched on the table before him, but he was waving his fork around emphatically, and if anyone managed to escape lunch without a semi-serious laceration, Keyla would consider it a minor miracle.
“Of course we saw it, Gen,” Owosekun said gently from Rhys’s left. “We were all there on the bridge with you, you know.”
Not for the first time Keyla marveled at Joann Owosekun’s natural ability to impart a sense of tranquility and calm, even when she was being at least mildly sarcastic. Whereas Keyla would have involuntarily appended the word dumbass to the end of that sentence.
“We committed an act of war!” Rhys’s tone became almost petulant and he stabbed his salad heroically.
“Newsflash: we commit acts of war everyday. It’s weird. It’s almost as if, I dunno, we’re at war or something.”
“Dammit, Keyla, not with the Romulans.”
“Maybe we’re at war with the Romulans, too,” Owosekun said.
“Because the one with the Klingons is going so well?” Keyla asked.
“They might have allied with the Klingons. Or perhaps this was pre-emptive strike to make sure that they don’t. Perhaps Captain Lorca received orders we were not privy to,” Airiam said.
Rhys snorted. “Captain Lorca doesn’t follow anyone’s orders but his own.”
“That, uh, I don’t think that came out right, Gen,” Keyla said and tried the pork chop. Acceptable. She almost felt bad about what she’d said about the replicator’s mother yesterday.
“You know what I mean. He does what he wants. It’s scary. It’s just damn scary.” Rhys then effected what Keyla assumed was his attempt at a thousand-yard stare.
“He’s the captain,” Keyla said simply. “End of discussion.”
“There’d have been plenty more discussion if Michael Burnham was on the bridge this morning,” Rhys scoffed and attacked his salad some more. “She wouldn’t have just followed those orders.”
“Easy on the Burnham-adoration, there, cowboy,” Keyla said. “One mutiny is enough for her record.”
“I’m just saying…she would have stood up to him. She’s the only person on this ship with the will to do that. Including me.”
“Gen loves Burn-ham…” Airiam teased in a singsong.
Rhys colored and speared a slice of chicken. “I just think we should be more aware of what we’re actually doing.”
“Our job is to follow orders, whatever we think of them,” Owosekun said. “Without that discipline, command breaks down and this ship cannot function. It’s the fact of life we all accepted when we joined Starfleet and took the oath.”
“Everyone loved Burnham back on the Shenzhou,” Keyla said to Airiam, who sat between her and Rhys.
“Really?” Airiam’s eyes widened in surprise, and the faint LEDs that dotted her corneas glowed a little brighter.
“Really?” Owosekun echoed.
“Really. I mean, it was a small crew, so the selection was limited regardless of your sexual orientation. But yes, she had that icy Vulcan reserve thing going, which some people just wanted to melt and let loose the fiery passions deep in her heart.” Keyla suddenly became aware of everyone at the table staring at her. “What?” she asked.
“Did you just make that up?” Airiam asked.
“One of our engineers had me proofread the declaration of love he was going to leave in her quarters for Valentine’s Day. It came from that.”
“I think the only woman in the crew who ranked higher on the Desire-O-Meter was Jira Narwani. I’m halfway certain that’s why Captain Georgiou made her tactical officer. Putting her in that big targeting helmet all the time kept the rest of the bridge crew from being distracted.”
“That’s command thinking, right there,” Owosekun said.
“So, yeah, it went, number one: Jira Narwani. Number two: Michael Burnham. And then I was like, number twenty-seven or so.”
“Poor thing,” Airiam said.
“’Oh no, you certainly must have ranked in the top five,’ is actually the response I was looking for.”
“I’m glad you all can just blithely dismiss what just went on this morning,” Rhys moped.
“Gen, goddamn it, just stop,” Keyla snapped. “We get it: you’re uncomfortable with Captain Lorca’s orders. Fortunately, all you have to do is follow them.”
Rhys snorted. “Figures that you’d defend him.”
Keyla put down her fork. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He hand-picked you for this crew. Of course you’re not going to criticize him.”
Keyla folded her arms to keep from punching him. Rhys’s problem was that once he started a sulk, he never knew when to pull out of it. Keyla had been completely unsurprised when she learned he was an only child.
“I don’t criticize him because he’s a great captain and the Federation’s best hope for winning this war. And that’s pretty damn impressive. And that’s someone you follow without question.” She said it more forcefully than she’d expected.
“Keyla loves Lor-ca…” Airiam chanted, and Owosekun laughed.
“Joann don’t encourage her,” Keyla said, trying to tamp down the flush she felt in her cheeks. She turned to Airiam. “I wish we’d never taught you that.”
“But you diiiid…”
“I can’t do this. I can’t,” Rhys put down his fork and leaned back in his chair.
“So…can I have your salad?” Owosekun asked. “The salmon is a bit rubbery.”
“So was my seafood curry yesterday,” Keyla said. “I think the replicator’s having trouble synthesizing marine life.”
“Surf-and-Turf Friday is going be a disappointment this week,” Airiam said.
Rhys glowered at the table. “I hate you all. And I’m eating my salad. You get none.”