Command After Hours: After-Party
Posted on January 23rd, 2019 by Kuari and Kathryn Harper
by Kuari and Kathryn Harper
Long after the midnight countdown that rang in the new year of 2398, the holodeck where the party had been held was gradually emptying as the crew of Atlantis finally started to call it a night. Although Captain Harper never expected a prompt start to duty shifts the morning after a ship-wide party, the hour had grown late and the party itself had been adventurous, so she could certainly empathize with the desire to rest. Even after her wife had gone to bed, Kate, ever the socialite and devoted hostess, lingered by the exit until she could personally bid everyone a good night and a happy new year as they left.
Once the last reveler had departed, Kate turned to take one more look at the program she had created for the occasion. It was a recreation of the planet they had named Long Shot 4, orbiting a star near the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The planet was host to life analogous to Earth’s Cretaceous Period, and they had been forced to witness it end in a similar way, by asteroid strike. Fortunately, the scans they took from the surface prior to that apocalypse had enabled Kate to program this simulation. She had taken some liberties in creating the location for the party, a geothermally-heated lake on a mountainside, but the night sky above was faithful to the original, an incredibly bright nightscape powered by the black hole’s accretion disk and the dense local population of stars.
She had expected to find the holodeck empty, but was still only mildly surprised to see Commander Kuari still present, sitting at the edge of the dock and staring out across the lake, apparently lost in thought. Kate couldn’t help from wondering what had kept her friend and executive officer so late, so she quietly walked past the bar to stand silently by the Rucara at the water’s edge.
Kuari knew she was there, of course, but she hadn’t noticed Harper was no longer seeing people off until her finned ear twitched at her approaching footsteps. The pink, forked tip of her tail began to curl back and forth over the holographic boards of the dock, a common response to being greeted by someone she liked, but she otherwise didn’t move. “This planet really was something special. I wish I had got a chance to see it with my own eyes. I really do love your program.”
Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, Kate smiled. The smell of the air was an approximation, since they had worn envirosuits while on the surface to avoid contaminating the ecosystem, but she imagined it was close enough. The requirement to wear those suits had kept Kuari from the away team; she had not wanted to put on the cumbersome Rucara version, unaware that there would never be another chance. “Thank you,” she answered. “I am glad I could at least partially recreate it for you. Feel free to use it any time you like.”
Kuari’s grateful smile stretched back behind her eyes, but relaxed somewhat as she began to speak. “Places like this are so amazing. We’ve visited so many interesting places and met interesting species. The universe has so much to see, and we haven’t even…what’s the saying? Scratched the surface?” She looked at Kate with a puzzled expression.
“I am not exactly an authority on English idioms, but that sounds right.” Her eyes darted up to the black hole for a moment, then back to her friend. “If the universe is truly infinite, no one is likely to ever do more than scratch the surface. We are fortunate just to have pushed back the frontier and expanded our knowledge of our own little corner of the cosmos.”
“It’s all thanks to Atlantis.” Kuari gazed back up at the stars. “I’m grateful to be able to serve as part of her crew. Rucara don’t typically travel nearly as far as my family has. I’m even more adventurous than my father and mother, and I know they don’t like the danger I find myself in, but they allow it, because it’s what I want to do. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.” She looked back at Kate, her large eyes beaming with excitement.
Kuari’s enthusiasm and excitement were contagious, and Kate found herself wearing a wide smile before she realized it. She recalled those qualities, along with many others such as the Rucara’s boundless optimism, leading her to seek out Kuari’s friendship years ago. “You are extraordinary even among your species who, to us in the Alpha Quadrant, are already unique.”
Her friend’s words echoed similar ones her mother had spoken to her before. Kuari had already processed those ideas, so she took Kate’s observation in stride, focusing intently on her friend next to her. “Ruka would be completely unknown to the Alpha Quadrant if my family had not traveled all this way, even less so had I not been assigned to Atlantis. I sense that I’m meant to be here, with you and all the others. I feel like I belong here.”
“I am so happy to hear you say that,” Kate said as she sat down on the edge of the dock to dangle her bare legs in the hot water, taking a moment to appreciate the heartwarming sentiment. She looked up to meet Kuari’s eyes before continuing, “I have always wanted to foster a sense of belonging, even family, among the crew. It is even one of my goals for these parties. Hearing it from you, though, means so much to me. You do belong here, and we are all made better by the fact that you are.”
“Thank you.” Kuari grinned. “I’ve done my best to perform my role, whether it was in security or command, and I’ve learned a lot over the years.” Backing up slightly, Kuari lay down on the dock so that her front paws dangled over the edge, finding herself more head level with Kate’s now lower position. “It would have been more difficult without your leadership during your time as Captain.”
“Having a command team made up of one of my best friends and my wife makes that easy, at least most of the time,” Kate began, leaning her head on her own shoulder as she smiled up at the sky with a feeling of contented gratitude. “But it is the quality of our crew that gives me the most confidence of our success in the new year.”
Kuari nodded in agreement, also gazing up at the stars. They sat that way for a while, contemplative in their companionable silence. After a while, Kuari looked around at the steamy water in front of them. “What time do we need to be on the bridge in the morning?”
Kate shrugged. “Oh, perhaps ten hundred or so? It is never firm after a big party.”
A mischievous thought occurred to Kuari, and a small upturn at the corner of her mouth was all that betrayed her schooled expression. “Good.” The wing closer to Kate shoved her forwards, tipping her into the water. Kuari wasted no time, expelling the air from her lungs and slipping off the dock into a dive.
Kate let out a surprised yelp as she fell, which was cut off by the water. She quickly surfaced, now thankful that she had neglected to put anything back on atop the white floral-print bikini that she had worn for most of the party. After a quick wipe of her face, Kate looked around in time to notice Kuari’s tail quickly receding into the water amid dissipating waves. With a few adept strokes, she managed to close the distance in time to grab the tip of the Rucara’s tail while taking a deep breath in anticipation of going under.
Kuari was stopped short when her tail snagged on something, and it only took a moment to realize it was Kate. The surprise had caused her to stop, long enough to halt her momentum, and her light body inevitably began rising to the surface. Her plans ruined, she began to curl her body to the side to free her tail.
Although she managed to keep a grip on the otherwise somewhat slippery Rucara tail because of its forked end, Kate was unable to avoid being pulled underwater by Kuari’s twisting motion. From just under the surface, she grinned through the crystal-clear water at her adversary, shaking her head to indicate that there was no escape.
Kate’s confidence only served to embolden Kuari. Freeing her tail was her first priority, and she went for the arm that held it. Her jaws reached further than her limbs could, her mouth opening just before reaching it, remembering to be careful to protect Kate’s skin from her teeth.
Of course, Kate knew that Kuari would never hurt her. Knowing that was one thing, and knowing that and having internalized it at such a base level to not react when a large mouth full of teeth was going for her arm was another. Kate instinctively let go of Kuari’s tail in time to pull her arm away from the attempted bite and made a grab for the horn on the back of Kuari’s head, since it was conveniently close. Connecting with both hands, she held on tight, knowing this was going to be a wild ride.
Only a few air bubbles escaped Kuari’s open mouth as she attempted to yell in frustration. In her haste, she had fallen for this known vulnerability. Her tail was now free, but her head was not. Unfortunately for her, she was running out of oxygen, as she hadn’t brought any down with her so that she could more easily sink. Flapping her sluggish wings, Kuari easily brought them to the surface where she took in a deep breath, making them float even higher.
Kuari extended her neck trying to pull her horn away, but Kate held on and was pulled onto her back. She tried to club her capturer with the back of her wings, but she couldn’t do so with much force. If Kate were an actual enemy, Kuari would have used the opportunity to fire the projectile spike that lay mounted on the underside of her horn, but both of them knew she wouldn’t. Instead she just growled, taking a moment to catch her breath and appreciate Kate’s prowess. “You’ve got me!”
Exploding into laughter, Kate let go of Kuari’s horn, then wrapped her arms around the base of the Rucara’s neck for a quick hug. Sitting up on Kuari’s back, she waited for her laughter to subside into a feeling of warm bonhomie before saying, “That was fun!”
Kuari turned her head to the side to look back at Kate with one eye, her jaw slack with her tongue hanging out. “It was.” After a moment she looked towards the river with another idea, then back at Kate. Perhaps she would win after all. “Race you to the river?”
Despite Kate’s pedigree as a competitive swimmer, years of swimming together had taught her that Kuari was faster in the water. Needing every advantage she could get in such a race, her answer was a noncommittal look before suddenly diving sideways off of Kuari’s back. Kate swam hard for the river with well-practiced form, but Kuari immediately gave chase and was soon right on her heels.