A Single Pot of Tea
Posted on July 6th, 2016 by Ilaihr and Alexis Wright
By Ilaihr and Alexis Wright
Alexis Wright had been unsure what to do when she first received Ilaihr’s invitation, and had opted to delay accepting it temporarily while she considered. Then the unthinkable had happened and everything had changed, and she had delayed again, buying time to muddle through her own personal issues. Now that she was finally prepared to accept, she fretted guiltily over the delays. Was the invitation still even open? What would she say if he asked about the schedule changes?
In addition, Wright felt woefully unprepared for one-on-one conversation, since the reasons for his invitation had been vague. She suspected it had something to do with either the extermination mission or the Gencodian experience, so she had rehearsed discussing both topics, but the intervening time had only increased her uncertainty. She found the older Andorian man to be something of an enigma that niggled at her scientific curiosity, though, which was why she now found herself standing outside his quarters at the appointed time despite her reservations. She took a moment to brush imaginary lint from her uniform and assume an appropriately pleasant expression before chiming the door.
The door opened shortly afterwards to an eerie pitch blackness, save for a strange orangey glow emanating from deeper in the room. “Hello, Commander.” Ilaihr’s genial smile appeared from the darkness. “To what do I owe the pleasure, my dear?” He gently took her arm and ushered her in. “Come in, come. Computer, raise light levels to fifty percent.”
As the room lit up, its eeriness lifted as its features took on a less than Starfleet decorum; it looked like a scene out of the holodeck. Bookcases and artwork covered the walls, exotic plants and fabrics dangled from the ceiling, a number of ancient artifacts and tomes rested on the tables, and credenzas filled any free space.
He brought Lexy to the source of the glow; an ornately crafted mantelpiece and fireplace, set between two windows, with a coffee table encircled by armchairs before it. “Do take a pew, my dear. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Momentarily forgetting her practiced decorum, Wright’s wide-eyed gaze took in the setting, filled to the brim with tantalizing odds and ends that suddenly put Ilaihr’s tales of his long and varied life into perspective. Distracted, she allowed herself to be guided to an armchair before the fireplace and sat, wondering if it would be rude to ask questions about some of the items in the room. “Yes, tea would be nice, thank you…” she responded absently, but then the first thing he said finally registered in her head and the present moment snapped abruptly back into focus. “And what do you mean, to what do you owe the pleasure? Didn’t you invite me?” She belatedly realized how she had gotten to this chair and silently scolded herself for permitting such a familiar action. While she was in uniform, no less!
He gave a light chuckle. “I did not believe you would come. I don’t have many guests anymore…. in fact, you would be the first since I came aboard.”
He pottered off into the next room to fetch the tea. He opened up his tea caddy and began muttering to himself as he chose the right blend. “Not the Cardassian blend, too petrichor-y… Rigellian? Too sharp. Bah… do I even drink this Efrosian blend? Ahhh…”
After some clinking and clanking could be heard, he returned to Lexy with a tray in hand. “I have settled on a nice aromatic Tulaberry tea from the Gamma Quadrant, blended by the Bajorans in the Tozhat Province.” He slowly placed the tray down on the table, and hobbled back to his seat.
“I apologise for my familiarity, my dear. It is but my way.” He smiled, noting the fluctuation in her emotions. “And you may ask me anything you wish; I am thankful for the company.”
She began to make a genial reply in kind as Ilaihr took his seat, but abruptly stopped herself and narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you listening to my private thoughts, Lieutenant? I accepted your invitation as a courtesy, but your presumption of familiarity and invasion of my privacy are extremely disrespectful. Was that your intent?” Her voice was quiet, but the finely honed edge of anger in it was unmistakable.
He took his seat, easing himself down slowly before replying; he gave her a tired sort of look, but with a glimmer from his smiley eyes. “Not at all.” His body decompressed, his bones temporarily showing him their age. “My abilities are complicated to explain, but they are a mixture of sight and sound and feeling. In my excitement and exhaustion I have become unrestrained, and I have forgotten my proper social etiquette.”
He blinked his eyes a number of times, and with it some colour came to them; shifting from slightly milky to a light blue. “I do apologise my dear Commander, I have offended you.” He looked on sadly, trying to sit up straighter. “I forget myself.”
Wright searched the old man’s face for something that would contradict his professed contrition, but found only sincerity and sadness. Though skeptical, she carefully weighed the evidence and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Her expression remained stern, but she gave him a slight nod. “Very well. I accept your apology. Now, what did you wish to discuss?” she asked, picking up the cup of tea closest to her and settling back into the chair.
“There maybe many things to discuss, there may be nothing.” He leant forward, reaching for his tea. Gazing into the dark purple liquid in the cup as it shimmered up at him, his mind wandered momentarily. “I once parléd with a Xindi-Aquatic for seventeen hours in silent contemplation over the trade of water purifiers, only to receive a one-word answer at end of it.” He sipped his tea, collecting his thoughts.
“My door is open to all at all times, and something must have compelled you to accept my standing invitation at this time. Perhaps there is something that you wish to talk about, or maybe the invitation of tea was too good to pass up?” He chuckled.
Concealing her frown with a sip of tea, which was surprisingly pleasant, Wright considered her options. Clearly, she had misunderstood the nature of the invitation, which a rather embarrassing realization, but it was equally clear to her that this man was lonely and desperate for company. While there was a temptation to extricate herself from the situation, it was overridden by a mixture of curiosity and compassion.
“This tea is lovely,” she commented, in hopes of breaking the ice. “I’ve never been much of a tea drinker, but this is quite nice. Where did you come across it?”
“My crew and I; we went to hundreds of worlds, all across the galaxy. Sadly the Ferengi beat me to the Dosi and any really profitable trade in the Gamma Quadrant, but I did get a taste for tulaberries.” He chuckled, thinking of how upset he’d been at the time over losing that opportunity, and how insignificant it now seemed in light of the terrible events that followed the opening of the Bajoran wormhole.
They chatted without incident for some time after that, Wright pointing out various objects of interest in the room and Ilaihr explaining with enthusiasm, regaling her with tales of his adventures with his former crew. The stories were admittedly captivating but often seemed fanciful to Wright, a fact that she endeavored to conceal for over an hour before insatiable curiosity eventually got the better of her. “I’m really intrigued by this crew of yours,” she said brightly, seizing a quiet moment when he paused for a sip of tea, “And such escapades! It’s hard to imagine that it all really happened!”
He got up from his seat, plodded over to a small table in the corner and grabbed a small picture frame. “Here they are.” He returned, showing her a group photograph of his old crew. He was stood in the middle of the frame not looking much different, the ‘twins’ on either side of him, the exo-suit clad Mr Zzyxzzt behind him, his four children seated in front of him, and a Horta in front of them. On his left was an Efrosian, a Deltan, and a Tellerite. To his right was Dr Moran, an Axanar, a Caitian, a Cardassian and a Denobulan. Half a dozen Xindi-Insectoids were dangling from the ceiling.
“I think I’ve aged well.” He laughed.
She carefully took the photograph from his hands, which trembled ever so slightly, and looked into the face of a somewhat younger Ilaihr. She looked from the photo back to elderly man seated across from her, noting with surprise that although his face was a touch more weathered and careworn, posture slightly more stooped, and hair a bit whiter, he looked much the same. Her surprise grew when she looked at the widely varied beings surrounding him, clearly not the types to shy away from a fight, but with postures indicating deference to the apparently frail old Andorian in their midst. Perhaps there was truth in his stories after all? The most noticeable difference between past and present was the distinctly commanding posture of the Ilaihr in the picture, despite the fact that even then he had been leaning on a cane.
Smiling, Wright handed the photo back to him with the care befitting such a precious possession. “You call them your crew, but this photo leads one to wonder if it wasn’t more like a family. It must have been difficult for you to join Starfleet and start over…” Realizing that she’d begun to tread on very personal ground, she stopped and pivoted to the marginally safer territory of his previous comment. “I can’t say how well you’ve aged, of course, without knowing how long ago this was taken, but I don’t wish to pry.”
“Family is what a crew is meant to be, my dear.” He smiled sagely. “I’d say… this was taken around thirty years ago, some of them had been with me for even longer than that, and stayed with me long after. The doctor there was actually present when I first awoke.” He chuckled to himself, remembering that incident all too well, as well did Kessel; but that was another story.
“But it was difficult… leaving everything I’d known my whole life. I could have bought a new ship, but…” He choked up; he quickly sipped his tea to cover this, what he considered an emotional outburst, then coughed to clear his throat. “I don’t want to cause you any dispiriting.” He smiled again at her, trying to lift the mood. “I have found a new crew now. I do miss being Captain, but I am happy where I am.”
He looked at her more deeply for a moment. Without his telepathy, empathy, and ‘sight’, he could still see something in her eyes. He had forgotten himself, talking as he had this whole time, he didn’t question why she was here. It was something he may have seen when that picture was taken, but he knew now was not the time to ask. “I may not be a captain, but I can still be a guide from time to time. Sometimes all that entails is being there to talk.” He smiled yet again, in his soft genial manner.
Though the invitation in his words was not subtle, Wright seemed completely oblivious to it. “Thirty years! Then I’d say you’ve aged well indeed.” She picked up her teacup and took the last sip, buying time to consider her words. “I’m sorry to have brought up difficult memories, but I’m certainly glad you feel at home here.” As she set the cup back on the table, a small tinkling bell sounded in her pocket, reminding her of the time. Had she really been here that long? Her level of involvement in the conversation surprised her; she generally dreaded this kind of socializing, but this meeting had been far less painful than she’d expected. Filing that thought away for later processing, she hastily silenced the alarm and favored Ilaihr with a slightly sheepish smile.
“I apologize, Lieutenant, but that alarm means that I must depart for another appointment. I hate to leave so abruptly, but I lost track of time… thank you very much for the tea.” Wright stood to depart, hastening to add, “It really was quite lovely,” as he rose slowly to his feet with the help of his cane.
He slowly walked her to the door, his genial smile in tow. “Do come again, my dear. My door has always been open for those should they need it. And…” He pointed his finger up, bringing his usual animation to his exclamation. “I have many curios to show you, if you would entertain an old fool and his stories. There are even a number of books and journals I have written over the years, on particular topics. Such as… Alpha and Beta quadrant politics, economics and logistics, a manual to humanoid negotiation with the Tholians, the procurement and use of medicinal herbs and substances, my own personal studies of the Tamarian language, and my most proud achievement… a compilation of recipes from around the known worlds of the very finest cuisines those worlds had to offer.”
He rubbed his hands together, gazing back around at his bookshelves, wondering the exact position of the cookbook. “I would love to entertain the crew one evening; we have quite a varied crew, and I have would greatly enjoy bringing a piece of home to everyone.”
Wright nodded graciously at his rush of words as they walked toward the door, making noises of interest and vague promises to return soon, and thanked him again for the tea before giving him a parting smile and hurrying away. Her steps carried her down the hall and finally into the solitude of an empty turbolift; only then did she allow herself to heave a sigh and lean against the wall, exhausted. The interaction seemed to have gone quite well, but socializing in this manner often left her feeling depleted, so she was admittedly glad it was over. On the other hand, it had been far more pleasant than she had anticipated aside from a few bumps at the beginning; the conversation had been engaging, the company amiable. His promises of curios and stories had excited her curiosity, not to mention that he appeared to be truly interested in spending more time with her… perhaps compatibility between social misfits was inevitable.
Surprisingly, despite her initial reservations, she was already cautiously optimistic about their next shared pot of tea.