A Camping We Will Go
Location: Rock Outcropping Overlooking the Lake
Timeline: Mission Day 4 at 0600
For the second day in a row Irynya was up early. She'd caught the prior day's sunrise at the lake. That she'd found herself skinny dipping with the Captain at the same time was a bit of an unplanned twist to the experience, but it had been lovely. The night prior she'd stolen away with Timmoz and Noah and watched sunset. Somewhere in the midst of those two moments she'd developed the notion that she wanted to do it again -- to watch the sun rise at least once more before returning to the ship. She'd shared the thought with Mei around the fire the evening prior and when the other woman had expressed interest in joining they'd settled on a plan.
And so she once again found herself quietly slipping free of her tent as Noah, whose allergies still had not abated, snored quietly in his bedroll. She was earlier than planned and, with a stunning amount of quiet, had quickly gathered together the things she wanted before she settled into her chair next to the fire, the ring now cold, just waiting for someone to revive it.
A few minutes later, a rustling came from Mei's tent, and then the sound of the flap being clumsily opened. Then Mei appeared, bleary-eyed and yawning, running a hand through her hair in a vain attempt to keep it out of her face. She blinked up at the still-dark sky and its strange stars before looking around the empty circle of chairs and finally finding Irynya. "It's early," she said, stating the obvious before plopping down into a chair and curling up in it. "I don't suppose you brought any coffee or tea or anything?"
Irynya hefted the bag that was by her feet into the air. "Coffee," she informed with quiet acknowledgment of the definite need. She would never have considered herself a morning person, so to find herself so awake at this hour was almost worrying. "Let's get underway. It's about 10 minutes walk and then we can enjoy the view and the drink."
She stood, waiting for Mei to do the same and then flipping on a hand light led the way into the trees. The light would be superfluous quickly enough, but she didn't want to chance either of them tripping over anything on their way to the spot she'd picked. After almost exactly 10 minutes of quiet walking, the peacefulness of which was not lost on the Risian pilot, the trees thinned out giving way to the large lake. Irynya stopped at the tree line, scanning left and right until she spotted the rocky outcropping she wanted about a hundred yards down the beach. "That spot looks like a good one for watching the sunrise," she said, pointing the rocks out to Mei.
"Looks like. As long as we don't up and fall in the water, we should be fine." The spot was indeed a good one. The water stretched out wide enough that the trees lining the far shore were nothing more than a narrow shadow on the horizon, and there were enough clouds that the sunrise would likely be a colorful one. The sun's first rays were just now catching the highest altitude clouds, turning them a pale pinkish orange that stood out in stark contrast against the deep blue sky. Mei grinned and forced herself not to hurry ahead of Irynya. It was still quite dark, and the view wasn't worth a broken ankle if she lost her footing. "I think we're just in time!"
The enthusiasm in Mei's voice was unmistakable and contagious. Iry found herself grinning and casting sidelong excited glances at the other woman. It was a quick walk and, having chosen the spot, Irynya clambered up first, dragging a blanket out of her pack and laying it on the flattest part of the outcropping. Then she reached a hand down to help Mei as she climbed up beside her. Even in the few moments since they'd come out at the lake's shore the shy had begun to transform. Warm oranges were starting to weave their way into the high-altitude clouds, lining them as if an artist had intended the color as an outline to the paler pink. It was subtle, but the contrast sent a thrill through Irynya.
Pulling the coffee carafe free of her pack along with two mugs, she poured them each a cup, wrapping her hands around her own to enjoy the warmth of it. "Back home," she said after a quiet moment, "there's a spot along the shoreline. A cliff that doesn't have a marked path. I used to climb it as a kid and watch the sun rise or set across the water. It's always been one of my favorite things."
"That sounds wonderful." Mei sipped her coffee and stared up at the rapidly lightening sky. "We didn't have a place like that. Not for long, anyway. We moved around too much for that. And even when we were staying on Betazed with my grandfather, his house was in the forest. It's hard to see sunrise or sunset when you're surrounded by gigantic trees. But running around in the forest with my sister was great. And seeing all the new places was fun." Her words were upbeat, but there was a wistfulness in Mei's voice she couldn't quite hide as she took another sip. Her smile had faded and the look on her face had softened into something like longing.
Irynya glanced over at Mei, catching something in the quality of her voice and seeing it mirrored on her face. "Are you close with them still?" She asked, cognizant that being in the Delta Quadrant, in this place to watch this sunrise meant that all of them were impossibly far from home. It made her feel suddenly small and she set her mug next to her and pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them and resting her chin on the top.
"My family? Yeah. As much as we ever were-- with my parents at least. I'm a lot closer to my sister. We just-- we moved around a lot because of my mom's work. It seemed like every time we started to feel comfortable somewhere, mom's project would end and we'd be off to the next place. It was exciting to see all the new places, but . . . ' Mei's smile turned wistful, and it almost seemed like the sunrise before her was not the one she was really seeing. "But spending those five years on Betazed was great, too. It was nice to have roots for a while. A routine. People you saw every day, you know?"
Irynya did know. But in so many ways her own path had been so dramatically different. She had that stability in spades and then some and it had felt stifling to her. But it had also been solid and certain. It had been comfortable. Even Rami who everyone had simply assumed she would marry someday, had felt like a guarantee. "I do," she agreed softly and her gaze turned unfocused as well as if she was also seeing something other than their surroundings. The two women sat that way for a few moments, sipping coffee lost in their own thoughts before Irynya broke the silence again. "What does your family think of your choice to join Starfleet?" she asked, curious.
Mei's bright smile reappeared. "Completely baffled, honestly. Anthropology, they can understand. But Starfleet? It kind of blew their minds. The first thing they think of when they think of Starfleet is all the military stuff. They forget just how science-minded it is, though. It's hard to beat it if your goal is studying new cultures. I mean, isn't that the unofficial motto: 'seek out new life and new civilizations'? My sister was the one who took the longest to get used to it. She's the one who's supposed to be adventurous and all, being the older one." She wrapped her hands around her coffee mug and looked up at the swiftly-vanishing stars. "I never expected an assignment in the Delta Quadrant, though. What about you? Were your people baffled, or did they expect you to end up here? Not here, like Gentris IV, but here in Starfleet?"
Irynya sighed at the memory of leaving Risa. It hadn't been an easy transition for her. "There's a reason aren't many Risians in Starfleet," she said with a slightly noncommittal shrug that failed to come across as unconcerned. With a long exhalation she continued. "I was seeing someone. Rami. We were together for... years... My parents were fully expecting us to get married and have kids and maybe take over the family business. It's what you do on Risa. But I wanted to fly. So when I told them they mourned how far away I would be. But Rami..." She trailed off, eyes dropping to her coffee cup as she shook her head. "He has the wife and kids he wanted now."
"I'm sorry," Mei said softly. "I didn't mean to bring up difficult memories." She looked down at her hands, then up at the sky where the colors were shifting from dark blues and reds to lighter shades of pink and yellow. The clouds were starting to dissipate as a stiff breeze picked up, shaking the treetops and stirring up the previously smooth surface of the lake. "Do you regret your decision?" Mei asked at last.
The Risian's response was immediate. "No."
She was quiet for a moment longer, letting memories envelop. And then she shrugged as if the motion itself might push those thoughts away. "No, I don't regret my decision. My parents are supportive now, even if they wish I was home more. And Rami is happy. And I would not have been had I stayed. And I wouldn't have met so many wonderful people. You and Noah and Timmoz and Sheldon and..." With a twist of her neck she glanced in the direction of the other woman, offering her an apologetic sort of smile. "Sorry, I don't mean to be so... I don't know... whatever I am right now."
"Don't worry about it. If I didn't want an answer, I shouldn't have asked the question, right? Maybe it's our surroundings making us a little maudlin or something." Mei smiled again and looked back over the water. She felt a bit like she was glowing, having been included in Irynya's list of 'wonderful people'. "I guess we're all just a bunch of weirdos out here, confusing our families and going on some very strange adventures in the Delta Quadrant. I haven't even been on the ship very long, and we're already encountering light-based beings. Who would have thought it?"
Grateful for Mei's easy response and the way she seemed to accept her Risian companion's pensiveness without a second thought, Irynya chuckled, an almost sheepish grin lighting her features. She ducked her head as she did, shaking it in amusement as the sound of the laughter rolled out over the water ahead of them; almost as if it were just another voice amidst the many that made up this place's dawn chorus. "If we're all weirdos then we're amongst the best weirdos," she said.
Then, as if that needed punctuation, she scrambled to her feet, stretching her coffee mug up above her head in the direction of the sunset. She glanced back down at Mei when she did and the look on her face had a sort of wild gleeful abandon to it. "Here's to Starfleet," she shouted over the lake, "Bringing together all of the best weirdos!" She pitched her voice so the sound would carry and it did for a moment before the breeze picked it up and tossed it away, folding it, too, into the sounds of the world coming awake.
Mei clambered to her feet and held her mug up, too. "To Starfleet and its weirdos!" She laughed a giddy laugh, and for a moment it echoed in counterpoint to Irynya's call. They were quiet then, until the sound of their voices died away in the distance. "I wonder if anyone heard that back at camp. They're going to think we added some whisky or something to the coffee."
Irynya chuckled, fixing the scientist with a warm smile. "Wish I'd thought of that," she said. "Maybe tomorrow."
=/\= Starting the Day With... =/\=
Lieutenant JG Irynya
Asst. Chief Helmsman
Ensign Mei Ratthi