Her father sighed. “We’ll be just a moment.” He offered her mother his arm, and together they went to the scene of the chaos. Ellie and Todd exchanged glances and followed. From the corner of her eye, Ellie noticed Leslie disengage from the conversation she was in and head their way, too.
The Tortugan had pulled in his considerable neck, but his hunched shoulders were set stubbornly rather than in fear. Meanwhile, Ambassador Gregar had turned his ire to the Impulsive’s First Officer.
“This is none of your business, HuFleet,” he all but spat. “Go make sure your ship will actually get us to the vote in time. That is all we need from you.”
“Gregar,” Ellie’s mom scolded, “I thought we all agreed this would be a social occasion. No politics.”
“Bah!” the Gavite ambassador retorted. “It’s always social with the Chatwayans—and should stay that way. Why are you even here? Chatway has no place in Union politics. They gave that up when they retired—and for good reason!”
“Gregar,” her father started, and his voice was full of warning.
Gregar picked up on it, too. “What? Would you prefer us all ignorant? Gaviy was not a founding member, but we were there when Chatway retired, and we have not forgotten—”
“That is quite enough!” her mother shouted.
Before anyone else could react, however, Lt. Strauss strode in.
“I’ll say!” she agreed as she interposed herself between Gregar and the rest. She stepped in close and craned her head to glare up at the ambassador. “You know, for someone who is supposed to be a diplomat, you’re doing a piss-poor job of being diplomatic.”
He gave her a disdainful glance, then turned his head toward Commander Smythe. “Who is this underling, and why is she interrupting us?”
Leslie took a half step to the left to interpose herself between her commander and the ambassador, angling so that he had to take a half step back. She said, “If you have a question about me, ask me. I’m the assistant chief of security on this fine ship that deserves your respect, and it’s my job to keep the peace.”
“By insulting your guests?”
“By reminding you to mind your manners.”
He glared down at her. “How is one so small and plain as you able to apprentice to the Chief of Security?”
She rose on her toes, so her nose almost touched his snout. “I’m that skilled—and I’m the perfect size for the job, and I make this uniform look as good as you do yours.”
She gave him a sly grin.
There was a pause as his deep-set eyes blinked. Then he snorted. “I’d invite you for a drink if I thought you could handle ballod.”
“I’d take you up on it if I thought you could handle apologizing.”
Both Todd and the Tortugan ambassador winced, and from where he was surreptitiously watching from a distance, Enigo set his hand on his phaser. Commander Smythe and Ellie’s father both kept their expressions studiously neutral, however, and Ellie followed their lead. Her mother hid her expression behind her fan, but Ellie thought her eyes twinkled.
Another pause, then Ambassador Gregar stepped back. He gave a small bow to the Tortugan ambassador. “I’m sorry if my actions seemed overly aggressive.” To the Doalls, he added, “You are right; we had agreed to keep tonight social. And Commander.” He turned last to Commander Smythe. “Thank you for carrying us to the vote. Now, I wish your assistant chief of security to accompany for the evening. To remind me of my…manners.”
“That is acceptable,” Commander Smythe deadpanned.
Finally, Gregar peered at Leslie as if to say, “Satisfied?”
Now her smile turned charming and flirty. She asked Commander Smythe if she might be allowed to indulge in a drink, and given permission, allowed the ambassador to take her arm—the one not needed for her phaser—and escort her to the replicator.
Satisfied the crisis was over, Commander Smythe suggested to the Tortugan ambassador that they partake of the snack table on the other side of the room. The two took their leave.
As Ellie and her family watched Leslie accept her drink and down it in one shot, Todd finally spoke. “Did what I think just happened, happen?”
Ellie’s mother fanned herself to keep from snickering. However, she said, “I hope that young woman understands what she’s doing.”
“Oh, trust me, she knows,” Ellie said. She bit back a sigh. She hoped Misha wouldn’t mind if she bunked with her tonight. Still, it might be worth it if Leslie learned what it was Gregar was implying that had gotten her mother so upset.
The rest of the evening went smoothly, which for Ellie, meant a variation from dull to tedious, especially since her parents decided now was the time to be proud of their HuFleet daughter and parade her around as Operations Officer Ellie Doall. Todd followed along, seemingly content to be an afterthought, but each time her parents introduced him as “Todd Ahndmor, a civilian specialist on the ship,” Ellie ground her teeth a bit more. It wasn’t like she was wearing a huge engagement ring, or anything. Todd, sweet, amiable, Todd, seemed perfectly content to smile, nod, and answer a few shallow questions before letting her parents take the floor again to expound the glories of Chatway, the Founding Member of the Union.
At some point, Leslie and Ambassador Gregar disappeared, which sealed Ellie’s need to find different sleeping arrangements.
Todd watched Ellie bite back a sigh—literally; she was biting the inside of her cheek, making it dimple. Would he think it was cute 20 years from now? Who was he kidding? Of course he would.
The latest person they’d been talking to excused himself to speak with someone else, and his goodbye registered just in time for Todd to give an awkward acknowledgment. However, he took his cue.
“I think I’d better call it a night, too,” he told Ellie’s parents. “This has been a very interesting evening, but I’ve still got bots to program. Ellie, don’t you have an early shift?”
“I do,” she said and somehow managed to feign regret. “Father, Mother, if you’ll excuse me, too?”
Once they were down the lazivator, she slipped her arm through his. “You are truly my hero this time,” she said. “If I had to hear, ‘and this is Todd Ahndmor, a civilian advisor on the ship’ in that…tone of hers…”
He kissed the top of her head. “It’ll be all right. I’ll win them over. You’ll see. You’re not the first woman I’ve dated who’s too good for me. You’re just going to be the last.”
“I love you so much.” She snuggled close, content to lean against him and let the happy fog of love suffuse her.
It wasn’t until she dropped him off and was almost to Leslie’s quarters that she remembered her friend had invited other company. She heaved a sigh for real and went to see if she could crash on Misha’s couch instead.
Four and a half hours of blissful nothingness later, Todd woke her from a sound sleep to announce that he knew exactly what to do, “though I’m not sure you’re going to like it.”
You know, if there’s a Kirk analog in Space Traipse, it’s probably Lt. Leslie Straus.