USS VINDEX - NCC-2474-A
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The Deltan who came to dinner

Posted on Fri Jan 13th, 2017 @ 5:08am by Lieutenant Elsa Johansson

Mission: S1E3 - Operation Adrestia
Location: Elsa's quarters
Timeline: MD18 -- 1900

Elsa placed a glass vase with a small bouquet of purple chess flowers on her tables, finishing the setting for dinner. A small smile crept over Elsa's face, as the flowers reminded her of those her parents would place on the tables of their tea shop. It seemed a lifetime ago since Elsa had been able to enjoy things like flowers from home, or making dinner for a friend.

With that in mind, Elsa had gotten fresh supplies from the Officer's Mess, as well as a couple of bottles of Swedish wine she had managed to hang on, even through the Consortium takeover of the Cukela. Elsa poured two glasses of white wine and set them on the table, then returned to making last minutes preparations as she waited for Jaya to arrive.

A lot had transpired over the last several days, and Jaya found herself looking forward to some personal time with a friend. Elsa would not have been her first prediction due to her aloof disposition, but it was a welcome development.

Jaya took a breath, savored the moment, and put the stress of the day behind her as she rang the door.

"Enter," Elsa told the door, as she put a plate of stuffed egg halves on the table. "Come in, sit, please," Elsa said, as the door opened revealed Jaya. "Fyllda ägghalvor," Elsa explained, gesturing toward the plate on the table. "The shrimp and the egg are tofu, so not to worry."

Jaya smiled. Complex protein was problematic. "It looks delicious," she said.

"Excuse me for a second," Elsa said, gesturing toward her uniform. "I started cooking as soon as I got back to my quarters, so I didn't have time to change. Just relax and enjoy the wine. It's a white from Gotland," Elsa added as she disappeared into her sleeping area.

"Of course," Jaya said. Her uniform was nonstandard as support staff, so she seldom wore anything different unless on leave or if a given activity called for something different. And since this was a social visit, she was technically off duty. The wine glass sat in her hand with the stem nestled between her fingers. When she sipped, her eyes rolled back in her head and she let out a soft moan. "Oh, Elsa! This is simply divine!"

"It comes from a small little winery, at least four hundred years old," Elsa said as she stepped back out into the main area of her quarters, wearing loose blue pants and a sleeveless top with a shallow scoop, her long blonde hair released from its usual ponytail. "I want to thank you for this, Jaya," Elsa continued as sat across from the Deltan. "I haven't done something like this," Elsa said as she motioned at the table, "Well, it feels like it was a different Elsa who did those things."

"In some ways, it was," Jaya said. "In the same way our bodies replicate ourselves through cellular regeneration, in time our minds develop into new beings." She smiled, the beginnings of a daydream running through her mind. "I liken it to shrubbery. Chop off the top layer, and it grows back. Same plant, different branches." Her eyes fluttered away her reverie, returning her gaze to Elsa. "I like to think that no matter the changes we face, we grow back--still 'us,' just in a different form." She chuckled. "I'm sorry--I think the wine may have loosened my tongue. I am very happy to share the first dinner with the new you."

"Hopefully a new, new me," Elsa answered, taking a sip of her own wine. "The Elsa on the Cukela, the one who had to survive and defeat the Consortium and use any trick she could come up with...I'd like that Elsa to find some peace." Elsa lifted her glass for a toast. "To new beginnings, then."

Jaya tipped her glass against Elsa's. "To new beginnings." Normally she would advise against alcoholic beverages when facing post-traumatic stress, but Elsa's mind was a keen one. She seemed more deadpan than anxious. Her disposition and body language had thawed substantially from first meeting, and Jaya liked to think she had something to do that.
"Now that you aren't running a counterinsurgency," Jaya paused to sip the last of her glass, "what are you going to do now?" She offered her empty glass and batted her eyelashes. "More, please."

Elsa poured Jaya another glass, then set the glass down. "Careful when you try one of the Fyllda," she said, pointing to the half eggs on the table. "They are a little spicy." Elsa paused, taking a sip from her own glass before answering, "Being in charge of the Vindex's Science Department, for all the competing, larger than life personalities, is satisfying. It gives me a sense of optimism that, even with the situation we are in the middle of, that we have a ship full of brilliant minds ready to decipher the mysteries of the universe. I only wish we could get back to that mission," Elsa concluded, pushing an errant lock of hair out of her face.

Jaya ate while Elsa talked, though she grinned with delight as she devoured the first, then second, and then third Fyllda. "Oh?" Jaya asked, brushing some egg from her mouth. "What is stopping you?"

Elsa scooped one of the eggs and nibbled half of it, before setting it down on her plate. "Go ahead and finish the rest," she said with a half smile. "It does the heart good to see someone enjoy a meal the way you do." As Elsa stood up the next course, she answered, "We're at war. Which doesn't mean exploration and scientific progress halts because we're at war. But I have no argument against focusing our resources to fight the Consortium." Elsa brought in two slices of toasted sourdough, each covered generously with cooked, slice mushrooms, mixed with red onions and parsley. "Svamptoast," Elsa announced. "The mushrooms I picked myself in a forest near my granduncle's home, my last leave home after graduation. Usually you would put a little cream over this dish, but if you find a good batch of karljohnssvamp like I did, and get them immediately into stasis, well, it would be a shame to hide the taste under any sort of sauce."

"I really must visit Earth sometime," Jaya said around a bite of mushrooms and toast. "This is delicious." She swallowed and chased it with more wine. "You were an integral part of Biynah's development from what I understand, as well as other officers in your department. Perhaps the Consortium is not the obstacle that you perceive."
Jaya felt Elsa's sting from her probing words, followed by resistance. Clearly Elsa disagreed. Part of Jaya wished to leave the opening alone, not make waves, and simply enjoy the evening. But the insatiable curiosity within her could not help but tug at the string.

"I came up with a synthetic skin that could regenerate itself, and Lieutenant Saalkan and I devised a nervous system that could be organically grown," Elsa answered flatly. "I was handed a problem, I came up with a solution." Elsa stood up to get the next course, then paused. "I will say that it was good to see Lieutenant Saalkan and Ensign Bogolyubov involved and interested. Both of them have a tendency to detach themselves from their surroundings. Let me top you off before I get the next course," Elsa said, emptying the first bottle into Jaya's glass.

"Thank you," Jaya said. She really should slow down. "You could distill most adventures and accomplishments in life down to such terse descriptions, but that still doesn't diminish their worth." Jaya turned her head to one side. "What's really eating at you, Elsa? I've been inside your head once; don't make me do it again." She chuckled perhaps a little longer than warranted.

"Västerbottensostpaj," Elsa announced, bringing out a slice of cheese pie that had a small side of spinach leaves and tomato slices and both covered lightly with an onion marmalade. Elsa took up the empty plates after she set the two plates of cheese pie down.

"I suppose," Elsa said, resuming her seat, "I'm bothered that I'm not bothered. I spent a year on the Cukela, organizing a counter mutiny. I had to launch it two weeks earlier than I had planned to save the Renown, which meant individuals who placed their lives in my hand ended up dying. And the first response of the Commander of the Renown was to accuse me of treason. When I received my promotion," Elsa continued, touching the pips on her collar, "It was with caveat that my year with the Consortium wasn't a problem. After we defeated the Dark Horse, I was placed under arrest for suspicion of conveying classified information to the Consortium. I will admit that I was irritated but, in the end, it was just another problem to be solved." Elsa shrugged and took a bite of her cheese pie. "When I first reported to the Cukela, I had my duty, but I had other things. And now," Elsa took a sip of her wine, "I have my duty. Just my duty. That should bother me, but it doesn't." Elsa gave Jaya a wan smile. "You can read me, so you know that's how I feel."

"Elsa, extenuating circumstances notwithstanding, I am not a mind-reader," Jaya said. "You have layers upon layers of intricate emotions twisted around hardened thoughts and painful memories--all of which are protected by a steely resolve that's as much fueled by your intrinsic intuition as it is your exemplary focus." Jaya took a breath. "All of that is to say, my professional opinion regarding your innocence had little to do with the emotions I feel from you, because you are a cauldron of mixed signals and conflicting feelings. Experience and training predicted your innocence, along with my own intuitive hunch." Jaya set down her glass next to the slice of uneaten pie, her eyes growing large in concern, imploring Elsa with a voice all of their own.
"No more riddles, Elsa," Jaya reached out slowly, reflexively, to touch Elsa's face. "No feints, half-truths, or veiled inferences. Release what you have held back." Jaya removed her commbadge and tossed it through the door to Elsa's bedroom. "What are you so afraid to let out?"

Elsa said nothing, taking a sip from her wine glass as her unfocused eyes stared off into the distance. She remained silent for a minute before answering. "When I was nine years old, my Uncle Nils took me to Tromso, Norway. From there, we took a boat to meet up with a pod of whales. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. It was one of those times that I always looked back on, any time I need something good, something pure to latch onto. And now, when I look back on it, it's like looking back on images someone else had taken." Elsa took a bite of her pie before continuing. "You asked me what I'm afraid to let out. The answer is nothing. Because I don't know if there's anything left to let out. And most of the time, that doesn't bother me." Elsa motioned with her fork at Jaya's pie. "The onion marmalade is an old family recipe, none of the ingredients from the replicator. Let me know what you think."

Jaya took a bite of the pie. "Delicious," she conceded. She toyed with the next bite, shuffling it around the plate, until she formed her next words.
"Elsa." Jaya looked straight at her, holding her fork in midair. "You are still describing symptoms. I see your post-traumatic stress and the detachment and anti-social disorder it inflicts as surely as a bloodstain on the floor, but those are symptoms of the wound. What brought you to this state? What robbed you of yourself?"
Recalling the mind-meld from before, Jaya hazarded a guess. Her voice was faintly above a whisper. "Was it Dmitri?"

Elsa took another bite from her pie, then looked up at Jaya. "Do you know, Jaya," she said with a weak smile, "that if I had met you two years ago, and we were having dinner together, alone like this, I would be a total wreck? Your pheromones and your mental projections would have definitely overwhelmed me. I'd be torn between being scared that something would happen and something wouldn't," Elsa added with a wry chuckle.

"It's honestly a little refreshing that you aren't a wreck," Jaya said, joining Elsa's chuckle with a laugh of her own. "Which is why I'd like you to trust me. It's in my personal interests for you to remain emotionally numb, but I just can't leave you like that."

Elsa took a sip from her wine before asking the Deltan, "Do you remember your first love, Jaya?"

More avoidance? Jaya smiled. No, a detour. I'll bite.

"That depends on your definitions of 'first' and 'love,'" Jaya said, lolling her head around on her shoulders, a smile drifting across her face. "There was one boy, though. He showed me the ways of the world... taught me things... opened my eyes, my heart." She coughed. "Then he moved on to my younger cousin. Such is life, I suppose." She took a long sip from her glass. "Your turn," she said, pointing at Elsa with her glass rim.

"Dylan Evans," Elsa said with a fond smile. "We were in the same class together at the Academy and, a couple of nights after we graduated, I gave him my virginity. And yes, I realize that's a rather late age for that sort of thing, but I'm from Scandanavia. It's been a region of Earth where sexuality was not a taboo subject and, if you don't have to sneak around about something, you don't feel the need to rush into. Or at least I didn't. I wanted someone I could laugh with, talk to, touch..." Elsa shook her head, softly laughing at herself. "And I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, wanting to prove myself to the world. Dylan didn't interfere with any of that. I had friends at the academy, people who were close to me, but Dylan. One day he way a study partner, the next...the next he was inside my heart."

"And we found ourselves posted on the Cukela. Not just us, but five of us from the Academy. And we quickly expanded to a number of junior officers who met, talked, exchanged ideas. Then there was Lieutenant Commander Aarav Kumar, Chief Engineer of the Cukela. One of those people who taught you by saying something to you in the day, and then you wake up in the middle of the night when the point he was making sinks in."

"I was the first person in my graduating class to get promoted to Lieutenant JG," Elsa continued, then blushed. "My friends were calling me the new James Kirk. We had a little pre-promotion party, and the Captain was going to put my pip on the next day."

Elsa's eyes, which had been sparkling with life, went cold and flat, as did her voice.

"And then the next day Dmitri Bogolyubov and a select number of marines and security personnel, along with other crewmember, took over the ship. The rest of the ship's personnel were herded into the cargo bay and divided into groups. Except for myself, my circle of friends and Commander Kumar were put into the group that was summarily executed. No reasoning, no bargaining, no offers. Dmitri and his followers just went in and executed the lot."

"Oh, Elsa." Jaya nearly dropped her glass, her face overcome with horror at the story and with Elsa's emotive recollection cascading over her. "So much ripped away." She bit her lip, then set her glass down, got up, and went over to Elsa. Without asking, she hugged the other woman. "I'm so sorry."
Jaya felt tears well in her eyes, though she knew they weren't her own. Not really. They were Elsa's, but she let them fall anyway. "I... am so... so sorry." Jaya wept, her body wracking with sobs as she clung to Elsa, weeping the tears that Elsa denied herself.

Elsa wasn't sure what to do, but found herself wrapping her arms around Jaya, cradling the Deltan woman's head to her chest. Placing her chin on the top of Jaya's head, Elsa made quiet reassuring sounds to Jaya.

"It's okay, Jaya. I promise to one day cry for them, when I can. But for now, they are my strength." With that, Elsa gave Jaya's head a tiny squeeze against her heart.

Jaya shut off the influx that she felt from Elsa, even clamped down on it as Elsa had. "They will carry you better," she said through a sniffle, "when you are not carrying them."

Elsa lifted Jaya's head from her chest, lightly brushing the Deltan's cheek with her fingertips before giving the Jaya a kiss on her forehead.

"Miles to go, counselor, miles to go," Elsa said as she stood up. "And I made dinner tonight to thank you for what you had to sacrifice, not to make you sacrifice more. I'm going to bring out the chokladfondant med glaserade tranbär. Glazed cranberries make a remarkable contrast to the chocolate," Elsa added as she headed into her temporary kitchen area.

The moment alone allowed Jaya to compose herself. Her breathing evened out, her eyes dried, she smoothed over her uniform. "Sounds good," she said to herself, as it was too late to reply. She returned to her seat and sighed, her cheeks rest on her hands.

Elsa returned with two bowls of chocolate pudding covered with raspberries and a light dusting of powdered sugar. Elsa set the two bowls on the table, then disappeared, returning two small stemmed glasses, each holding a light, golden liquid.

"It's an apple ice wine. I think you'll enjoy it," Elsa said, setting the glasses on the table. She paused before adding, "Jaya, you can't save everyone, but you do need to take care of yourself. I can't apologize what I had to put you through, because it was an unfortunate necessity, but I do deeply regret hurting you."

The pudding looked enticing. "I cannot be other than I am," Jaya said slowly. She took a scoopful of chocolate pudding and shoveled it into her mouth. Choosing her words carefully, she set her spoon down and fixed Elsa with a determined stare. "Don't you pity me, Elsa. I made my choices and I will not regret them, but most importantly I want you to remember one thing." Any mirth left in Jaya's face drained away, leaving behind an uncharacteristically grim expression. "Whatever burden I carry was not given me by you."
The golden beverage was downed in one swig. She continued.
"I joined Starfleet because I wanted to see the universe. I chose counseling because my sister was always the clever one. All I ever dreamed about was exploring the galaxy and stepping outside the shadows of my family." She stirred her pudding before taking another reluctant bite. "Now all I seem to think about is going home. I don't know if I can handle it out here anymore."

Elsa gave Jaya a lopsided smile. "I can empathize with you, Jaya." Standing up and holding her arms open, Elsa added, "And I can give you safe harbor when you need it."

"Thank you." Jaya stood up and took everything in--the sight of the full spread set out on the table, the cozy environs, even Elsa with arms outspread--and felt deflated. Oh, there was plenty of feeling; love, loneliness, anger, lust, even regret, despite her insistence to the contrary, all mingled together in a reluctant epiphany.

"I appreciate that," she said, indulging the hug for just a moment. "Thank you for dinner, it was lovely, but I should go... there's something I realized I have to do. Next time is on me." Her wink was half-hearted.

"Next time," Elsa agreed.

Jaya lingered but a moment, watching Elsa with a maelstrom of conflicting feelings beneath her pained smile. "Good night."

 

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