The muted buzz of the oxygen scrubbers was giving him a headache.
Hiding his distaste behind a mask of stoic indifference, Soval stepped through the open doorway leading to the dining facility. Despite his best efforts, he had yet to discover why his human crewmates referred to it as a ‘mess deck’ – it was neither disorganized nor a hall in the proper sense of the word – and was seriously considering a visit to Lieutenant Sato. If anyone aboard Enterprise could explain the etymology of the term, it was she.
Despite the hour, the cafeteria was almost filled to capacity with crewmen and officers who spent more time talking and interacting socially than they did consuming food. The emotions from the assembled humans swelled and thundered like a physical thing, pushing at Soval’s finely honed senses and causing him to inhale sharply as he redoubled his mental shields. Not for the first time since coming aboard Enterprise, he experienced a flash of muted awe directed toward the late Subcommander T’Pol – how in Surak’s name had she managed to survive an entire year without going mad? He himself had been aboard for less than two months and he never failed to end a day without suffering from a crippling headache from the unrestrained emotion that bombarded him like unrelenting thunder. Things were even worse in times like this, when they had narrowly escaped certain death as they had following the incident at the trinary star system. Eager to remind themselves that they were still alive, the humans laughed and played and cavorted like children.
And Soval envied them. Oh, how he envied them.
He pushed the illogical thoughts aside and walked slowly to the line in front of the serving counter. Two of the crewmen in front of him – he recognized the male as part of Lieutenant Commander Reed’s armoury team and the female as an engineer , but their names escaped him – did not notice his arrival and continued their heated discussion – or was it an argument? Soval could not quite tell, although he suspected it was actually some form of human mating custom. The third person in the line, however, was quite cognizant of Soval’s presence and gave the ambassador a quick, tight-lipped nod before clearing his throat. He fixed the two bickering crewmen with a look.
“You two done yet?” Petty Officer Rostov asked in a voice that rang with authority. “Make a hole for the ambassador,” he ordered.
“That is not necessary,” Soval began, but the engineering petty officer snorted.
“After you saved our collective asses yesterday?” he asked. “I think it is, sir.” He glanced back at the two crewmen. “Thought I told you to get out of the way,” he said softly.
They got out of the way.
“Subcommander T’Pol seemed to like the pasta,” Rostov said as he gestured for Soval to take his place in the line. “Chef sucks at making plomeek-”
“I heard that!” a voice echoed through the closed doors leading to the kitchen, but Rostov ignored it and continued.
“But he’s a master at making anything resembling pasta taste good.”
“Thank you,” Soval said after a moment. He was unsure exactly how to respond – since he came aboard Enterprise fifty-three days earlier, the only humans who had not treated him with open distrust were Commander Hernandez and Lieutenant Sato, although his own less than agreeable attitude toward the assignment had likely affected how he was perceived – so he opted for cautious gratitude.
He also could not disagree with Petty Officer Rostov’s assessment: the plomeek served on Enterprise was beyond deficient – it was positively criminal.
Since his choices were the recommended pasta or a salad with far too many carrots, Soval selected the former, noting the pleased expression that momentarily flickered across Rostov’s face when he did. On impulse, the ambassador also decided to try the small bowl of fruit, which necessitated his need for another utensil. As he stepped clear of the serving counter, he found Rostov standing next to the beverage dispenser.
“The officers tend to forget this sort of thing,” the petty officer said as he met Soval’s eyes, “so I figure nobody bothered to actually thank you for saving our bacon yesterday.” He smiled. “Welcome aboard, Ambassador,” Rostov added with a smile that was both open and sincere.
Humans had never ceased to amaze and confuse him – usually at the same time – and this was no exception. Was this the reason that T’Pol had championed the Terran cause as frequently as she had? This sense of … belonging that only humans seemed truly capable of?
Rostov turned away before Soval could respond and took a seat with several other senior enlisted personnel, leaving the ambassador standing there with his tray and a dozen questions racing through his mind. Soval frowned and took a long moment to study the options available on the beverage dispenser. In the end, he decided on simple water even as he silently acknowledged how seductive it was to have so many choices. On a Vulcan starship, one did not have the luxury of choice and accepted what was present without complaint. It was considered an illogical waste of time to have more than one option. His lips tightened.
T’Pol never had a chance. These humans and their seductive openness …
He sighted Lieutenant Mayweather sitting by himself and made a snap decision to avoid eating in the empty captain’s private dining facility. It was only logical, after all; both Captain Archer and Commander Hernandez were in engineering, conducting one of their weekly spot inspections while consulting with Commander Kelby about the state of repairs in the wake of the singularity incident.
“May I join you, Lieutenant?” Soval asked as he drew abreast of Mayweather. The helmsman was haphazardly stirring his meal around – Soval had no idea what it was supposed to be, only that it seemed to consist mostly of carrots. He visibly jumped at the ambassador’s words and shot a quick, panicked look toward the door before grimacing.
“Sure,” he said, sounding much like he’d prefer to walk across the Forge in only his undergarments Soval bit back a sigh – he and Captain Archer had truly done this young man a disservice in their ridiculously illogical power struggle. While he knew the captain was making every effort to make recompense for their foolishness, until now, the ambassador had not had the opportunity and had, in fact, made a conscious effort to limit his interactions with Mister Mayweather. As much as Soval hated to admit it, the emotion of shame had been the driving force behind this avoidance.
“Are you recovering well?” he asked as he took the seat across from the lieutenant. Mayweather shrugged – a purely human gesture that could mean so many different things – before returning his attention to the … food before him. Soval raised an eyebrow. “Is there something wrong with your meal?” he inquired after a moment.
“Yeah,” Mayweather muttered. “It’s horrible.” Soval’s eyebrow climbed even higher.
“If the taste is disagreeable,” he asked, “then why are you continuing to eat it?”
“Because Hoshi made it,” the lieutenant revealed glumly. “She thinks it’s great but honestly? I wouldn’t feed this sludge to a Nausicaan.” Despite his best efforts, Soval felt his lips twitch.
“I see,” he said instead. Mayweather glanced up.
“You’re a diplomat,” he mused. “How do you tell somebody their cooking should be classified as a weapon?”
“Very carefully,” Soval said calmly. “After all,” he added, “she may feel the need to inflict it upon you again in retaliation.” When Mayweather sighed again, the ambassador took a bite of his pasta. He inhaled sharply at the taste – Petty Officer Rostov had not been in error when he recommended this meal.
When the door to dining facility slid open, Mayweather’s head automatically snapped toward it. He visibly relaxed at the sight of Crewman Fuller, and Soval suspected that knew the source of the young lieutenant’s distress. The ambassador had, after all, been forced to render Commander Hernandez unconscious with a nerve pinch when he discovered that she was keeping Mayweather in her cabin against the younger man’s will. It did not appear to be due to any subconscious sexual desire on the commander’s part, but rather because of her aggressive defense of Mister Mayweather against the perceived threats in the form of Captain Archer and Soval himself. Afterward, when the radiation was no longer affecting her, Commander Hernandez had apologized profusely to the helmsman, but it had clearly had an effect.
“Ambassador?” Mayweather had abandoned even the pretext of enjoying his food and was now looking up with a conflicted expression on his face. Soval inclined his head as an indication to continue. “Why did you come looking for me? To fly Enterprise, I mean.”
“You are the chief helmsman, Lieutenant,” Soval said simply, as if that were the only reason. In truth, he had first sought out the captain – no matter his personal disagreements with Archer, Soval could not deny that the man was a superlative pilot and had been the best option to navigate Enterprise through the dangers they faced. Seeing Archer incapacitated by self-doubt and recrimination thanks to the singularity’s radiation eliminated that option, however, so Soval had been forced to rely on his second choice in the matter.
Even if had meant going through Commander Hernandez who had become deranged in her obsessive need to protect Mayweather.
“Guess we were lucky you were aboard, huh?” Mayweather glanced down at his bowl and made a curious face that was both disgusted and resigned, all at once. “I heard Phlox was bouncing off the walls.”
“He was … inconsistent,” Soval admitted. He frowned slightly at the memory of Doctor Phlox under the radiation’s influence; while the humans focused on one single thing to the detriment of everything else, the Denobulan had been unable to finish a single thought and jumped between subjects so quickly and randomly that it was all but impossible to understand his train of thought. Recovering from the radiation’s effects had the side-effect of pushing the doctor’s hibernation period months ahead of schedule.
Peals of laughter rang out from one of the tables closest to the door, and Soval glanced in that direction, raising an eyebrow at the sight of two junior crewmen – Masaro and Fletcher, if the ambassador was not mistaken – engaged in what appeared to be some sort of speed-eating contest while other members of Enterprise’s crew cheered them on. Both of Soval’s eyebrows shot up in surprise when he realized that the two men were consuming Lieutenant Sato’s dish … and both looked to be on the verge of being sick. To the ambassador’s surprise, Mister Mayweather was watching with a smirk and even Petty Officer Rostov appeared to be paying attention, albeit in a bemused sort of way that reminded Soval of a parent watching his children do something illogical.
The hilarity stopped the moment the doors to the cafeteria slid open and Captain Archer entered. He gave the two crewmen a knowing look before rolling his eyes.
“Carry on,” he said wryly before turning toward the serving counter. Still shaking his head, the captain retrieved a cup of coffee from the beverage dispenser and headed for the door. He paused in mid-step. “In my day,” he declared, directing his remarks to Petty Officer Rostov, “we had the loser of these things scrub the impulse manifolds with a toothbrush.” He was through the door before anyone could respond.
“I’m not letting either of you two idiots near my impulse manifolds,” Rostov grumbled as he resumed his own meal. More laughter answered him, and Soval gave Lieutenant Mayweather a look. The helmsman shrugged.
“They’re just blowing off steam,” he said. “We humans tend to do really stupid things after a close call.”
“In my experience, Lieutenant,” Soval replied, “humans do not need close calls to take actions that are questionable.” Mayweather laughed.
“That’s true,” he agreed brightly. “But it sure beats sitting around and doing nothing, right?”
Soval sighed. Sometimes, humans made no sense.