Backpost: An Old Man's Journey
Posted on Sun Dec 11th, 2022 @ 10:30pm by Lieutenant Xex Wang
A Camping We Will Go
Location: De La Guardia
Timeline: Mission Day 1 at 0233
[Runabout De La Guardia]
[Between Pathfinder and Sojourner]
[Approximately 1 week ago]
“You again?” the runabout's pilot groused good-naturedly, sitting up from her slouch and making a vague gesture of welcome.
Xex flashed her a grin, took the gesture as permission to join her, and flopped sideways into the other chair in the cramped cockpit space, one leg hanging over the chair's arm and his own arm draped over the chair's back. His finger's drummed on the upholstry. “You'll only have to put up with me for another couple of days,” he said, pitching his voice low. The rest of the runabout's crew and passengers were asleep, it being the 'middle of the night,' Pathfinder time. The passengers were keeping a fairly regular 'diurnal' schedule as based on Pathfinder's clocks, and the crew were cycling through their watches as usual. Nani, the pilot--who, after the third night, had insisted that he drop the Petty Officer First Class honorific to which she was entitled-- had pulled the short straw for the overnight watch.
“We're not even half way there, Sparkles,” Nani said, “I've still got to put up with you for another--,” Nani glanced down at her instrumentation, “Hundred and fourty-nine hours.” She sat back again, returning her gaze to the shifting blues of the warp bubble, interlacing her hands behind her head. “Seriously though,” and her profile-- what he could see of it anyway-- had firmed into solemnity, “You really should try to get some more sleep.”
Xex sighed, though he did try to keep it as quiet as possible. This was an almost nightly discussion. “I'm fine, really. I don't have the same sleep needs as humans,” he reminded her gently, for what seemed the thousandth time. His hanging foot was twisting back and forth to some unheard beat.
Though she didn't look away from the mesmirizing swirl of azure outside the viewscreen, Xex saw a definite upward quirk of her full lips. A self-deprecating chuckle followed, and she finally glanced at him again. “I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but I keep forgetting you're not exactly one of us.”
Xex's eyebrows arched, and he glanced down at his arm, twisting it left and right in the subdued lighting. Even so, it shimmered noticeably. “You do?” he asked, with a siginficant Look over the arm at her.
At this, Nani laughed and it was clear it would have been a full-bellied guffaw if not for their sleeping shipmates. With a small-vessel operator's reflex, she had dampened it down until it was a mere chuckle which nevertheless gave the impression of a hearty laugh. “I do,” she confirmed, catching her breath. “You'd be surprised what vanity mods an appropriately insecure human will subject themselves to.” With that, the dark-skinned pilot stood, stretching luxuriously. Xex was put in mind of the desert cats from Bajor. “I'm for another hit of caffeine. Want anything?” she asked quietly over her shoulder as she made her way to the replicator in the small dining area.
“Whatever you're having is fine,” Xex replied, ignoring her snort of amusement. He always asked for what she was having, but apparently she still harbored hopes he would have some preference of his own one of these days.
Left alone in the cockpit, Xex righted himself in his chair and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. His gaze roamed the view outside, but likewise skipped and skidded over the instrumentation, as though it might tell him some different, secret story not written in the swirling blues without.
Nani returned, handing him a steaming mug of a brown liquid. He accepted it with a nod of thanks, and brought it cautiously to his nose. “It's touba. It's always touba,” she told him with long-suffering patience, but a flash of white teeth in her dark face. “And I will say, if you're ordering it out of politeness, you can stop. No one likes touba out here.”
Xex shrugged, taking a careful sip-- it was still steaming enough to give him pause. “Almost no one,” he corrected her, “I don't find it offensive.”
“And I don't believe you,” Nani said, dropping back into her chair. “Do you like, not have taste buds or something? If it doesn't scald the roof of your mouth, it'll tear up your mucous membranes with that spice-- or so I'm told.” Her eyes crinkled; apparently she did not suffer these complaints.
Xex swallowed and settled back in his chair, tucking his legs up criss-cross-apple sauce like an angsty teen. He was dressed in the same casual attire-- loose trousers, a t-shirt-- he'd been wearing the entire trip, eschewing his Starfleet uniform for the time being. “You will be happy to know that my mucosal membranes are quite intact, thank you. I'm sure I could drink touba--” he paused, canting his head to the side as though questioning his pronunciation. When Nani nodded encouragingly, he continued, “all the way to the Sojourner.”
“We'll see,” Nani muttered, reaching out her free hand to input a few commands into her console. It chirped happily back at her and, apparently satisfied, she settled back to sip her touba. “So,” she took up the thread of last night's conversation, holding ticking off a few salient points on her fingers, “You've been posted nigh on everywhere in the Federation, you've been with Starfleet for years,” her inflection indicated both disbelief and disapproval at this life choice, despite her own enlistment, “and you're only just now making it out to the Dee Cue? You piss someone off? It's not exactly an old man's game out here.”
Xex almost inhaled his sip of touba and was forced to cough heartily to dislodge the liquid from his airway. A healthy splash of the dark brown liquid slopped over the side of the mug as he coughed, and Nani leaned hastily forward, relieving him of the vessel before he wore the entire measure of drink. “You alright?” she asked in alarm.
Xex waved a dismissive hand as the coughing fit subsided, his eyes watering. “Absolutely not,” he rasped at her as he caught his breath. “Old man?” he demanded, holding out his hands for the mug.
Nani's expression of concern first sharpened, then cleared, melting into a smirk as she handed the mug back. “I mean, I get you're not human, but unless you're an El-Aurian--” she paused, eyebrows arching with a question. At Xex's snort and shake of his head, she continued, “Fifty-nine doesn't seem particularly young.”
“And that, my good human,” Xex said, holding up a finger, “is a very narrow view of the world. I'll never understand how you lot got warp capabilities in the first place with your human-centric views or even if you should be allowed the big-kid toys.” His eyes crinkled at the corners, the rest of his expression hidden behind his mug as he took a sip. He was patently teasing, and Nani snorted with amusement at it. “Fifty-nine is plenty young enough for a first trip to the Delta Quadrant, young'un,” he continued with mock-injured dignity.
Balancing her mug on her knee, Nani lifted her hands in surrender. “Alright, alright. I'm a xenophobic asshole. Yeesh.” Her eyes danced as she too took another sip of the touba, clearly only slightly chastened by his lighthearted rebuke. “Anyway,” she turned back to the console, reviewing the readouts once again, “You're going to be in for a wild ride. Never a dull moment in the Dee Cue.”
The runabout's warp nacelles hummed around them and her precious living cargo slumbered on, but for the pair in the cockpit. Into that quiet and the warp-bubble blue of the viewscreen, Xex's grin flashed and his mug lowered as he leaned forward in his chair, every bit the eager puppy rather than the decrepit oldster. “And that, my friend, is exactly what I'm hoping for.”