Seaside Supper

Posted on Fri Jul 5th, 2024 @ 11:42am by Ensign Vivienne Conrad & Ensign Liam O'Connor

Mission: Into the Qniverse
Location: Seashell Cove
3749 words - 7.5 OF Standard Post Measure

Liam stood in front of the full-length mirror in his hotel room on the resort planet of Legoria II, adjusting the collar of his light linen shirt. The fabric felt airy against his skin, a welcome relief from the warmth of the tropical climate outside. He paired it with a pair of neatly pressed chinos, a nod to his Australian engineering roots, where practicality always had its place alongside style.

Satisfied with his attire, he slipped on a pair of comfortable yet stylish sandals, perfect for the sandy terrain of the beachside. Running a hand through his tousled hair, Liam flashed himself a grin in the mirror, feeling a surge of excitement at the thought of his upcoming rendezvous with Vivienne.

The beachside restaurant they had chosen, aptly named "Seashell Cove," was renowned for its stunning ocean views and delectable seafood cuisine. Liam had made the reservation earlier that day after they both decided that since their competition resulted in a draw eating out was the only option. Reserving early meant ensuring they would have a prime spot to enjoy the sunset over the horizon.

Liam made his way out of his hotel room and towards the glass hover lift which was a rudimentary version of the shops Turbolifg and offered panoramic views of the seaside resort. As he descended to the ground floor, he couldn't help but feel a flutter of anticipation in his chest.

Moments later, he stepped out of the hotel lobby and onto the sandy shores of Legoria II, the salty sea breeze tousling his hair. The restaurant was just a short walk away, nestled among palm trees and overlooking the sparkling azure waters of the ocean.

As he approached Seashell Cove, Liam spotted Vivienne already seated at a table by the water, her presence adding a touch of elegance to the tropical surroundings. He couldn't help but feel a surge of admiration as he made his way towards her.

"Hey there," he greeted her with a warm smile, taking a seat opposite her.

As far as locations went, Legoria II had a certain familiarity to it that had left Vivienne feeling simultaneously right at home and also somewhat disappointed. An opportunity to relax off-ship wasn't something to scoff at and, though she was certainly capable of it, she wasn't driven to complain exactly but variety was the spice of life and so far everything she'd seen mirrored the landscapes of her teenage years. With one important distinction; the weather felt less predictable here. Vivienne had a degree of disdain for Risa's climate manipulation, having already formed the opinion that she preferred the coastline during rugged weather than persistent tropical perfection. It was with that degree of interest that she had arrived early to nurse a cocktail and watch the white-caps beyond the cove's shelter. Apparently there was a tropical storm brewing and she might have been the only tourist currently vying for front-row seats.

Such was her preoccupation that she hadn't noticed O'Connor's arrival but clocked it just in time to avoid looking too startled as he spoke. Much like him, Conrad had opted for the liberation of less formal attire, though her emerald green jumpsuit flowed loosely in direct contrast to Liam's starched efficiency, each leg wide enough that the whole ensemble, from sleeveless high collar down to the hemline, masqueraded as a dress but with twice the comfort as far as Viv was concerned. With her hair pinned up and a sandal already swinging loose on one foot, she at least looked at home.

"I was about to send out a search party."

With a half-cocked grin, Liam teased, "Says the eager beaver who got here early. I'm bang on time." Their playful banter resumed effortlessly. "Did you perhaps order drinks?" Liam hid his admiration for how stunning she looked in her emerald green jumpsuit. It draped elegantly, a stark contrast to his own attire. The loose-fitting fabric flowed gracefully, giving the ensemble a relaxed yet sophisticated allure. With her hair pinned up and a sandal already swinging loose on one foot, she exuded effortless charm. Liam couldn't help but feel a flutter of excitement reminiscent of his teenage years, albeit with a woman as sophisticated as Vivienne.

Had she been a telepath, Vivienne may have snorted at the prospect of being considered sophisticated, which could have ruined the allure or at very least raised a few objections. By cultural standards back home, her style was considered relatively plain, veering more towards hiding practicality behind just enough material to make the heat bearable and certain visual expectations to be broadly met. There had been a moment whilst getting ready where she'd become mildly frustrated at herself for caring that she didn't own anything with more ornate beading, or even most ostentatious jewellery to offset, but a decent scowl at herself in the mirror had put that concern to rest very quickly. She wasn't out to impress anyone.

An evaluative side-eye took the time to measure up O'Connor's similar attempts to remain nonchalantly disinterested in what others thought of him, which Vivienne assumed to be the case because a defensive stance made it easier to recover if you accidentally made, say, an idiot of yourself. Though, knowing her luck, he'd never screwed up a date in his life. Not a date, just a wager.

She lifted her glass to him. "I ordered me a drink, but then I've been here for almost half an hour. Good luck making a choice, their drinks menu comes in volumes."

Trying to avoid prolonged eye contact to prevent giving away any unintended signals, Liam picked up the drinks menu. Vivienne hadn't overstated its variety; the seaside restaurant boasted over 40 types of ales alone. Liam perused the menu, mentally comparing the offerings:

- Klingon Bloodwine Martini: A mix of traditional Klingon Bloodwine, vermouth, and a twist of Bajoran citrus. Recommended with red meat dishes.

- Romulan Ale Mojito: Romulan Ale, fresh mint, lime juice, and soda water. Perfect with light appetizers and seafood.

- Cardassian Sunrise: Kanar, orange juice, and a splash of Terran grenadine, served with a twist of lime. Best paired with spicy dishes.

- Vulcan Mind Meld: A blend of Vulcan port, bourbon, and bitters, garnished with a slice of starfruit. Complements savory and earthy dishes.

- Bajoran Spring Breeze: Springwine, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and a hint of lavender. Ideal with vegetarian or light, fresh dishes.

- Ferengi m Daiquiri: A tangy mix of Ferengi snail juice, rum, and sugarcane, with a dash of lime. Pairs well with exotic and adventurous cuisine.

After a moment of consideration, Liam decided on the Bajoran Spring Breeze. He flagged down the waiter and placed the order for two of them since the menu also stated it was happy hour and Liam was feeling happy. "How's your day been?" he asked Vivienne, genuinely interested and hoping to steer the conversation into more relaxed territory.

A non-committal shrug of a shoulder seemed a little dismissive given their location. "You know what they say; seen one tropical paradise, seen them all." Pausing over a sip of her drink, Vivienne conceded, "Or at least, they should. Still, there's no reports of space dinosaurs on the rampage so I'll take dull and predictable as an improvement." She studied him over the rim of her glass, tossing up her choices of reciprocated inquiry. "First impressions?" The ambiguity seemed, if not intentional, then at least unapologetic.

Liam wasn't entirely certain if Vivienne's remark referred to her appearance, the restaurant, or the resort as a whole. Preferring not to risk any misinterpretation, he chose to steer the conversation toward the resort and restaurant in general.

"It's quite the place, isn't it?" Liam remarked, gesturing vaguely toward the beachfront and the bustling resort beyond. "Though, I suppose you’re right it's like any other resort world, designed more for tourists than any authentic cultural experience."

As he spoke, his mind wandered to the resort itself, recalling Vivienne's observation that it was just another tourist-centric destination lacking in authentic culture. While he appreciated the luxury and comfort of such resorts, part of him longed for a more adventurous experience—a journey to a fringe planet, barely explored and steeped in unique culture.

"I've always imagined exploring a fringe planet," Liam continued, his voice tinged with wistfulness. "Somewhere hardly touched by Starfleet, where you can really immerse yourself in the local culture. Maybe even tinker with some of the local engineering relics, you know? That'd be a real adventure."

The speculation earned him a raised eyebrow over the crest of another long sip. Reaching out then to set her drink on the table, Vivienne sat back to regard her fellow engineer with a shrewd look lightly tinged by hesitation. It was, she doubted Liam had any way of knowing, a lifestyle she had some early exposure to. The question was, how willing was she to delve into the details of her childhood when intoxication was still such a long way off.

"Probably depends on how fringe you go," she eventually settled on, which seemed vague enough as an entry point not to leave her over-committed. "Say what you want about the Federation but standardization of conditions isn't a terrible benchmark for bare-minimum-before-not-interested."

"Unexplored, untamed, untouched," Liam mused, before adding, "Or maybe worlds that aren't part of the Federation—raw and ungovernable, like parts of Earth used to be before they nearly blew each other to hell." Before he could elaborate further, the waiter returned with his drink.

“Have you had a chance to look over today’s menu? We also have our specials. We have Plomeek Soup, a delicate Vulcan soup known for its subtle flavors and calming properties, served with a side of seared le-matya. There is also Hasparat, a spicy Bajoran delicacy wrapped in a soft flatbread and served with a cooling raktajino yogurt dip. For our main specials, we have blood pie, a traditional Klingon dish, rich and hearty, served with a tangy bloodwine reduction. Or you may be interested in our delicious house special of Aldebaran Whiskey-Marinated Steak, tender cuts of meat marinated in Aldebaran whiskey, grilled to perfection and served with truffled tuber puree, half a lobster shell, and scallops. Finally, if you have room for dessert, we offer Jimbalian Fudge Cake, a decadent treat made with layers of chocolate and infused with caramel from Jimbalian sugarcane.”

Liam nodded appreciatively at the list, then glanced at Vivienne to see what she might be inclined to try. "Sounds intriguing," he said, looking back at the waiter. "I'll need a moment to decide, but those specials do sound tempting."

In an almost-predictable air of indifference, Vivienne scrunched her face up in immediate dispute. "Sure, if part of the reason you holiday on a planet is to eat cuisine butchered from other cultures. It's the same on Risa," she added, as if seeking to at least be fair about it, though as far as the already-uncomfortable waiter was concerned, this was just trading one complaint for another. "Which is to say, fairly typical of resort menus because your average tourist isn't interested in stepping outside their comfort zone so much as wallowing indulgently in the centre of it."

With some reluctance, Vivienne sat forward to peer at the menu herself and shook her head as if to indicate that any or all would be much the same as the next. To the side, the waiter shuffled awkwardly, and without looking up, Vivienne reached across a hand to pat his arm. "Relax, nobody's blaming you. Is there anything local on this menu though? I can eat misappropriated meat any old time."

"Ofcourse, For a taste of the traditional, our Wavecrest Mussels are steamed in a broth infused with Tidepod herbs and Coral Petal essence, creating a fragrant and aromatic experience. And don't miss our chef's special creation, Coral Grain Risotto, where Legorian seaweed rice is elevated with a blend of Reefspine seaweed and Coralcrest prawns, perfectly marrying flavors from across Legoria II. If you're in the mood for something lighter, the Driftwood Salad offers a refreshing mix of sea greens, starfruit slices, and smoked Lagoonfin eel, drizzled with a zesty Zephyrberry vinaigrette. For those seeking a bold seafood entrée, the Luminous Reef Cod is pan-seared to perfection, served with a side of Sirensong butter sauce infused with seafoam essence and a hint of Luminary spice. And to finish on a sweet note, the Moonlit Jelly Parfait layers Legorian moon jelly with vanilla-infused seafoam cream and sprinkles of starfruit essence, a delight for dessert lovers on Legoria II."

Even with her background, which should have made her a particularly sympathetic ally, Vivienne was incapable of masking her mounting incredulity, which was slowly starting to resemble outright disbelief at the utterly rehearsed masturbatory sales pitch currently being dressed up as a menu. She blinked, a fluttered recovery, and then arched both eyebrows at the blameless staff member who probably deserved at least some sort of prize for being able to memorise that amount of sheer bullshit.

"Firstly," she managed after a moment of silence promised to become intensely uncomfortable, "if I took a shot for every time you used the word 'essence', you could feed me actual driftwood and I wouldn't be any the wiser. Secondly, I don't know what kind of flavour seafoam is supposed to be but given you don't normally get a foam without a shitload of dead stuff in the water, I'm gonna need to pass on that. Is it possible," Vivienne mused, "to just get a salad, made with local produce, and some sort of fish grilled with maybe a spice or two that doesn't sound like you pounded Tinkerbell in the face to extract her pixie dust?" She once against accentuated the lift of her eyebrows for added emphasis. "That work for you?"

The waiter, his face flushing a mix of red and white in anger and shock, huffed and turned away, muttering under his breath about tourists. His retreating figure left a palpable tension in the air, the kind that makes shoulders stiffen and hearts beat just a bit faster.

"He didn't even take my order," Liam protested, his voice tinged with both disbelief and frustration. He then turned his attention to Vivienne, who appeared slightly unhinged by the encounter. Her eyes still flashed with irritation, and he could see her fingers drumming impatiently on the table.

"You don't like resort worlds much, do you?" Liam said pointedly, hoping to steer the conversation into less turbulent waters. Then, with a touch of humour to lighten the mood, he added, "Also, what's a Tinkerbell?"

The faintest tinge of guilt wasn't enough to convince Vivienne to openly express remorse, though the tiny voice in the back of her head responsible for representing her conscience bleated pitifully that becoming a difficult tourist herself wasn't going to change the fabricated veneer that glossed over the actual realities bubbling beneath the surface. In truth, her mood was more a reflection of her awkwardness, the kind of self-sabotage that set in when she was presented with an opportunity to participate in a normal social event. It was therefore a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy that she shifted her dubiousness to Liam in order to answer, "You've never read Peter Pan?"

Liam shook his head, a look of genuine curiosity on his face. "Can't say that I have. Is it an Earth story?" His eyes sparkled with interest, clearly eager to learn something new. He leaned in slightly, genuinely invested in the conversation, which he hoped the change in conversation would lessen Vivienne’s inner and outer irritations.

"Far as I know." It wasn't always easy to tell the origin of stories, not when you knew them mostly as oral retellings, but she could have sworn the animated movie she'd been fixated on as a four-year-old had come from a human archive at the very least. O'Connor's unfamiliarity had her slightly squeamish and self-conscious.

"Tinkerbell's a fairy." Discomfort had leant her gaze a determination that was unrelenting. "Her main contribution is to throw tantrums and help everyone to fly." Keen to move on, Vivienne asked, "Come on, you must have a childhood favourite."

Liam had to fight down the urge to mention that this Tinkerbell sounded a lot like Vivienne, but at the risk of losing a limb, he wisely held his tongue. Instead, he leaned back slightly, considering his response.

"I don't know if it comes across, but I never really watched a lot of shows," he began, his tone casual but thoughtful. "My parents were often busy, and when I was able to pick up a wrench, I helped out. We spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring and working on various projects."

He smiled at the memory, a hint of nostalgia creeping into his voice. "We also had a pet Labrador named Champ. A Labrador is a type of dog, or canine, from Earth," he explained, sensing the need for a bit of context in their interstellar setting. "Champ was always full of energy, always ready for an adventure. I guess, in a way, he was my Tinkerbell—always there, always keeping things lively."

Liam paused, glancing at Vivienne to gauge her reaction. He hoped his anecdote would bridge the gap between their worlds, offering a glimpse into his past while steering the conversation into more comfortable territory.

As the other engineer spoke, Vivienne was partially distracted by the world's tiniest voice in the back of her head berating her for her lack of chill. Being on this side of any tourist venture was never her favourite, she had too much insider knowledge to be taken in by the veneer of hospitality and that was even coming from a Risian context, where a certain level of sincerity around socialising was the norm. Vivienne had lacked the natural graciousness, and yet embraced the freedom of spirit enough that she didn't always fit comfortably amongst human-dominant settings either. Her sense of being constantly ostracized wasn't O'Connor's fault, however, nor was it helped by her actively encouraging it. As a distraction, she deviated towards a source of amusement and smirked at him, an expression far more reminiscent of the playfulness that had lead them to this point.

"You keep explaining Earth like you think I've never been there. Both parents are human, I'm only Risian by remarriage, right? I was 10 when Dad decided to turn a pleasure planet into a permanent residence, I know what a dog is." She watched him over her next sip. "Labrador suits you, actually. Same kind of energy."

"I'm Human, but if you trace my family lineage far enough back, I'm technically from Earth. I grew up on a remote colony known as New Australia, nestled in the outer reaches of the galaxy. It was a place teeming with adventure, hard work, and a strong sense of family. My parents ran a business specialising in all-terrain vehicles, so I was surrounded by the hum of machinery and the smell of grease from a young age. After school, my siblings and I would help out in the family workshop, learning the ins and outs of mechanical work. Despite the demanding chores, we always made time for exploration, often trekking into the untamed wilderness of our home planet with our dogs by our side."

"Growing up on New Australia wasn't without its challenges, but it forged a tight-knit bond among us siblings. With eight of us in total, there was never a dull moment in the O'Connor household. We navigated the complexities of family life, learning valuable lessons about teamwork and resilience along the way."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Liam chuckled, a fond smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I do have Labrador energy because I don't even know where that just come from or why I decided to tell you all that." He turned a slight pink.

The slight tug upwards to one side of Vivienne's mouth wasn't a mocking smirk, though there was a perpetual hint of deviousness to the amusement in her eyes. Regardless of natural disposition, she seemed to take the personal disclosure without mockery, though as Liam finished speaking and descended into his moment of mortification, there was the uncomfortable realisation that etiquette demand a similar offering from her. Factual recounts were one thing, letting her guard down enough to provide personal insight lead to what now might well be on the way to being referred to as Tinkerbell moments.

She cleared her throat.

"Well, I was born on Earth, so we can put to bed any expectation that I don't know what you're talking about. Didn't stay there too long, I suppose, Dad and I took to our space wandering not long after my mother died."

An internal wince recognised how stilted her efforts were, still pigeon-holing details in as brutal truths without any of the emotion that ran alongside it. Vivienne clearly had feelings regarding her lack of connection to her mother, she just would have preferred to eat ocean debris than actually express them.

"Not a lot of time for dogs when you're jumping from spaceport to spaceport after job contracts. A lot more scope for cats, actually, cheap pest management."

Just as Liam was about to reply, the waiter returned with their order and an assortment of additional dishes, which he described as local cuisine not listed on the menu. The waiter huffed once and walked away after Liam thanked him.

"Looks like we both got what we wanted," Liam said, gesturing to the array of dishes. "Shall we eat and then talk some more? Or would you prefer to take a walk afterward?" He left the choice entirely up to her, hoping to make the evening as enjoyable as possible.

Careful analysis of the meal in front of her was met with visible approval, a rare compliment from Vivienne who had the oft-unattractive tendency to stick to her guns even when proven wrong. "Why don't you," she said, picking up a fork, "eat your food, drink your drink, stay on your best behaviour and we'll see where the night takes us." It was intentionally ambiguous and entirely suggestive, but the appearance of actually-appealing food had restored the pilot's mood.

Glancing up, she offered him a wink and gestured with her cutlery towards his plate. "Eat your essence of seafoam.