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Lunch Break

Posted on Thu Feb 18th, 2021 @ 4:28pm by Warrant Officer Gabriel Walker & Lieutenant Eklisa

Mission: Swarm
Location: Mess Hall
Timeline: Following "Turn and Face the Strange"

The tables were full. Of course they were. Everyone only had a few minutes to eat while they were working on repairing the Royal Oak. She didn't mind eating wherever, but it was important to sit up to a table. She also wouldn't mind someone sittting beside her, but some people did. So she pproached someone.

"Would you mind so terribly if I sat with you?" They had an empty seat, so maybe they would let her sit with them.

Gabe looked up from the book on his PaDD and chewed the mouthful of chili cheese mac that he ordered from the replicator. It was one of his more favored dishes from childhood and tried to have it at least once a week. But, sitting by himself and reading alone, he didn't realize how busy the Mess became since he entered and sat. Looking around, he noticed the crowded tables.

"Chair's free," he said, swallowing and washing the bite down with ice tea. With that, he went back to his book.

Denobulans didn't talk during meals, not usually, but humans did and Eklisa was getting used to that. Small talk seemed polite among humans, but this individual had been notably quiet. She looked him over quickly. Had she seen him before? She would probably remember if she had.

"What are you reading?" She offered him small talk as she blew on her hot syntheholic wine. Most other tables had some chitchat going on.

Gabe looked up again, taking another bite. Frowning he noted the remaining two empty chairs. Then he looked around. Had she been talking to him? He looked around again. He didn't see anyone else around that could be part of the conversation, and the chairs were still empty. "I'm sorry," he said, glancing at her collar pips, "Lieutenant. Were you talking to me?" The evidence for it was clear but...well...this would be the first time he's had anyone approach him for 'chitchat' for awhile.

"I asked what you were reading." She took a large bite of some sort of meatsauce. Her mouth opened more than a human's could, but she was careful not to open it too wide. "I'm not sure we've been introduced, I'm Eklisa." She did not offer to shake his hand, "I'm the Chief Science Officer here on DS12."

Gabe leaned back in his chair and took a drink to stall. She was an officer, a department head no less. Being annoyingly social was probably 'cultural' and therefore he'd be 'intolerant' and 'antisocial' if he told her what he thought of idle chatter. And now, he represented Captain Xerix directly, which meant upsetting a department head would reflect poorly on the captain. Yeah, that would get him into a lot more trouble than if he just told her to shove off and leave him alone.

"Warrant..." he started but remembered he was, technically, out of uniform and had to correct that. "Sorry, Chief Warrant Gabriel Walker, personal protection officer." He put the glass down, picked up the spoon to take another bite, then let it set back in the bowl. "It's a rather weak argument against Heidegger's 'Being and Time'. Which, is, in itself a pretty weak argument."

"Why are you reading weak arguments when you could have them with others?" She crossed her legs and sipped her warm drink. He looked particularly interesting, as a case study or a friend, so she wanted to keep the conversation going- even if it felt rude to talk while eating. One of her mothers used to smack her mouth for talking at the dinner table. Apparently, most races found meals to be the prime moment to get to know others, and she wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to become Walker's acquaintance. "I would wager you could have some very compelling arguments in person."

"I tend to find most others dull and unappreciative of having a good argument," Gabe said, unthinking of the consequences of the statement. "I find most people tend to be shallow in their thoughts and deep in their estimation of their own importance."

"Sounds to me like you only ever engage people on their most surface level." She hummed, "Not everyone is the best at constructing arguements, it's true, but often people are far more than what they know how to articulate. If you never ask the right questions, you'll never get the right answers." The anthropology courses she'd taken were coming back into her mind. Then the psychology courses. And then she was back to her comfort zone with biology and chemistry. "Tell me, what do you think about stars?"

"I don't," he answered, picking up his PaDD.

Eklisa smiled. If he didn't want to talk, she didn't have to either. So she ate her pasta and drank her hot wine. If he didn't care about others- or for that matter humoring her- He would not be a good friend for her to have. She'd met about three people so far that she actually believed that about, though, so she'd try again, to check if he was in a bad mood or upset for unrelated reasons. If not, if he didn't even want to engage with her, she'd find a way to live with him in her home. One of her step-step-brothers had been like that.

Gabe looked up and frowned. She was still there. Shaking his head, he bent back to his book. "Is that your field? Astrophysics?" he asked, setting the PaDD down.

"I have five doctorates. One of them is astrophysics, but it isn't my primary field. I'm currently working on my studies in xenobotany. My field is chemistry, if we split hairs about it, but I've never been one for limiting myself." She limited herself to five sentances, "I wasn't asking your thoughts about the science of stars, though."

Xenobotany. The last woman to come to his table for 'coffee' and 'chat' had also been a xenobotanist. "If not about astrophysics, then why?" he asked, contemplating his congealing lunch.

"Well, stars mean a lot of things, too. When I say 'star', a vulcan might think about light frequency and the planets orbiting it. A bajoran might think about the stars of the celestial temple, the prophets, the gods- Denobulans usually think about our home star, and then the constellations we saw from Denobula. Humans by far have the most varied ideas of stars. Stars as the gaseous burning orb, yes, but also as a symbol for freedom in space as the field we traverse in, a symbol for being aspirational or very well known, since you have to look up to them, a symbol of perserverance or loss, since you can see them long after they die. Culturally, I mean, these symbols are typically expressed, any individual will think of something different." She leaned forward, "I have found many poetic answers from strangers regarding the nature of stars. My brother always imagined them as lifeforms on an astrologic time scale, watching over their planets and cheering us on as we met their siblings."

"You don't talk like most scientists I've had to deal with," Gabe said, washing down another bite with tea. "You're almost...normal."

"Not to screw that up, but 'normal' is a relative term." She laughed softly, not wanting to disturb the other tables. "I assure you, when I need to I can be as precision-oriented as any VSA grad or as lackadaisical as any layabout artist. I'd rather adjust my language to the situation than lose out on a good conversation- or argument."

"See," Gabe said leaning back in his chair. "You ruined it. For a moment you were interesting then...well..." He shrugged. "You had to get squinty and defensive."

"You'd be surprised how much you're asking from me when I only have a half hour to eat my food. If you want the conversations I think you want, you have to put up with the shallow ones to earn people's trust or maintain a friendliness between their work schedule until they can set aside hours to sit down and discuss with you." She turned her glass upside down to set it on her plate. She hadn't seemed to eat more frequently than he had, and had spoken a great deal more, but she was done with her food. "And not everyone is willing to give themselves away to anyone who thinks himself above the niceties of mundane conversations. You'll notice I never told you what I think of stars. I find you altogether rude, and somewhat shallow, but I look forward to seeing you again." She rose to place her tray into the reclaimer.

"Niceties of mundane conversations are just people's way of being falsely polite," Gabe said, stirring the cheese and chili covered pasta shells in his bowl. "Eventually, they get to the point of not being treated as special as they'd like and they just leave you anyway. What's the point of wasting time on fakeness? I'd rather get to the point." He watched her collecting her stuff. He shrugged, giving off the false confidence that her words didn't bother him. "Just another example right here." He glanced at his chrono and did mental math as to what was next on the captain's schedule. "People who don't have time to get to know a person don't deserve your time." He put harshness into the words, glaring at her. Working at driving her away. "Friends are just..." he trailed off and looked down at his bowl. "...just another waste of time."

“The time it takes to learn someone- the time it takes to let you learn them- are the only things in life that are not a waste of time. We left our planets to seek out new allies, new friends. We fight to live with our allies at our side.” She stopped beside him and gently set a hand on his shoulder, “we are all here with the time we have to seek out people to learn- who we will never fully know- because we all die alone. The futility is irrelevant. The attempt is all that matters. Don’t give up because it’s impossible. You might find that striving is all that keeps you from being dead while you breathe.”

"No, Lieutenant," he said, suddenly angry at her touch. At her words. At her offer of friendship. "I left my planet because I didn't have anything. I turned eighteen and had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. The only people I knew only cared about me because I was a paycheck!" He rose, unaware of how loud he was getting. "But that came to an end because suddenly I'm an adult and therefore they had to go to the other poor, pathetic orphans that nobody wanted!" He clattered his dishes on the tray. "I didn't join Starfleet for allies or friends. I joined because it was the only option open where I could do something and still get to eat and have a place to sleep. I joined Starfleet because no one else wanted me!"

Suddenly hearing the drop of voices and the interest turning his way, he grabbed his tray. "Yeah," he said, trying to keep his voice low, "I'll die alone. But I'm already alone so that doesn't matter!"

“Your honesty is appreciated. Welcome home.” She smiled wider than it was possible for a human to smile, something almost horrifying on her otherwise soft face. “If you find yourself lonely, confide in me. I do not sleep. I do not tire of listening or talking. I give shit advice but I’ll give it freely. I’m not a counselor- and you should see one- but I am your coworker, your annoyance, and your friend. While I am here you will never be without a soul to find your peace.”

Gabe glared at the scientist and started to say something several times. Then he just turned and took his dishes to the reclaimer and tossed them in, slapping the cycle key.

She glanced around to take note of who was still watching him from his outburst and who looked back up at the clatter of his dishes- noting as well who intentionally ignored him as he stormed about- and silently sent her dishes back. All she could hope was he’d actually heard her.

OFF

 

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