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Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Lower Gym | Deck 14 | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
More reasonable souls might question her presence in the gym after the events of the disastrous Culinary Tour on Qo’noS the night before. Talia didn’t even pause to consider not going; it was her thing, a need that had to be fulfilled, otherwise she didn’t feel right. Some might call that an addiction, others, an obsession; the raven haired pilot couldn’t really care less what they thought. It was her body, and if she wanted to push it to the edge of destruction, so fucking be it. Copious amounts of alcohol wouldn't stop her – Klingon or otherwise – nor would the mildly irritating side effects of over-consumption. Nothing a few hydration packs and some pain killers wont cure, Talia huffed in weak amusement at her own jest while she tightened her gloves. She was on her last set of back squats, with five reps to go.

She didn’t pay any attention to the few other late-night gym-rats; didn’t pay much attention to anything going on around her at all, really. Her body was coated in a thin sheen of sweat that soaked the loose strands of her long dark hair to her face and neck. The sports bra and leggings were of a similar shade, clinging to her body with tenacity that bordered on sensual, regardless of her intention. A loose, muscle tee covered her torso, faded gray with time and endless wash cycles; typical gym attire, for someone who practically lived there.

Talia finished her adjustment to her gloves and approached the Smith machine, taking position under the bar as her dark eyes blinked slowly at her reflection in the mirror. Usually, she didn’t mind working legs and glutes – it was a necessary evil, and a critical component to her regimen – but her body wasn’t fully recovered from the unfortunate turn of events from the night prior. Muscle tremors wracked her thighs as she moved, knees trembled. The few moments of stretching and recovery between sets hadn’t been enough. Fuck, Shadow cursed herself, gripping the bar resting on her shoulders as she sighed with bitter disappointment in herself. Get your shit together, ace. It’s only three times your body weight.

“Let’s go, Shadow,” she growled and set her stance. The heels of her feet rested on two elevated plates, to allow for deeper degree of knee flexion, while minimizing the need for hamstring and calf flexibility, which allowed for a more vertical squatting position. It also allowed an increased load capacity for her ‘petite’ frame; in essence, a simple trick of body posture and targeted muscle groups increased her ability for muscle destruction and how much weight her body could tolerate. Control was everything – once the load was on her, Talia’s will was consummately focused on her body, her reflection, her breathing. Nothing else mattered. Controlling the eccentric phase, (lowering) was essential. The pilot eased down in the count of two seconds and paused, holding the absolute range of motion for a single count to ensure maximum muscle stress and tension before shooting back up to the start position. The cast iron plates on both sides of the bar barely rattled with her movement.


Talia huffed a breath, set, and repeated.


Her legs and ass trembled with the burn of lactic acid and lack of hydration in a profound ache of every sinew and muscle. “C’mon,” Talia growled, and set again.


Talia rose with a snarl of effort, and knew she was in trouble. Failure was imminent, and her face twisted into a grimace, as she forced herself vertical in a halting climb against gravity. Fuck you, dark eyes glared at herself in bitter intensity, as she dipped into the well of loathsome inner hatred held in reserve to push herself. Limits were meaningless walls made to be torn down; bulldozed through, to find a new threshold. She used that philosphy and her own depthless reserves of inner self-loathing to climb up on wobbling knees, holding to pant as her heart pounded in her ears. Two more, she grunted.

Shadow set and began her fourth rep, but her right thigh locked tight in a painful cramp just as she reached the apex of her range of motion – unable to lift, despite her utter determination. She struggled for several pounding beats of her heart, before her knees simply gave out. The machine locked, sensing her failure, which prevented a couple hundred kilos of weight from crashing into her neck and shoulders. Talia fell forward onto her hands and knees, panting, cursing herself breathlessly. The long, sweat soaked strands of her hair hid her face, spilling over her heaving shoulders. “Fuck,” Talia croaked between ragged breaths, leaning back to stretch the burning cramp in her quads with a groan. Never drinking again. Never ever, she swore. Making an ass out of herself was one thing – but this was inexcusable.

Eventually, she managed to pull herself to her feet and went about returning the plates to their proper place, leaving the machine as she found it, ready for the next user. After wiping the moisture from the bar, Shadow stumbled her way to a floor mat and plopped down for a post-workout stretch. Her legs fully extended to the sides, nearly a full split, as she leaned forward with her arms extended and held the position, focused on simply breathing.

When her head lifted, dark brows narrowed as her eyes opened to reveal a pair of shoes that had no earthly business in a gymnasium; black, glossy loafers – slightly obscured by tailored slacks of dark green. Shadow arched her back slightly as her head tilted up, a tanned hand raking the mess of her hair out of her face as she gazed up.

Pretty-Eyes, a dark brow arched up at him in a mix of surprise and amusement at his presence. “Mr. tr’Aimne,” Shadow snorted a laugh. “What brings you here, I wonder? Business or pleasure,” she asked dryly, then continued her stretches.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #1
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Lower Gym | Deck 14 | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

He’d watched her with an intrigued fascination for a few minutes before shuffling close enough to catch her attention. The pilot was indeed strong, even when not under the influence of strange Klingon drinks. She had a readily displayed tenacious streak that Hirek speculated had caused her more than a few injuries over the years, likely both physically and emotionally. His mind readily recalled the various scents and sights of their prior adventure, some more intimate than others, and his smile grew as he walked across the mat to where she sat stretching.

“Pleasure if you’ll grant me a favor,” Hirek’s smile was warm as he responded to her playful greeting, “I reserved the holodeck to share some new features I added to the program detailing my home islands, but my holodeck partner had to call in what she called a ‘raincheck’ and now I have the time but no partner. And these particular features do require a partner.” He shifted back on the mat when Talia moved into another stretch, nearly sweeping his leg out from under him in her movements. “After the riveting developments of our outing yesterday, when presented with the loss of my original partner, my mind immediately went to you, and I asked the computer about your whereabouts.” Hirek moved out of potential striking range again when Talis readjusted into a new stretch position. “You have good form and an incredible drive. It is no wonder your championship yesterday won us such spectacular prizes.”

He smirked at her expression before falling into a crouch to be closer to her eye level, “Unless you’re too exhausted for the challenge, in which case, I can extend the same ‘raincheck’ to you that my partner did to me.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #2
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Lower Gym | Deck 14 | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz 
She didn’t pause or bother to maintain eye contact as she stretched, but kept the Romulan in her field of vision, regardless. Talia’s legs pulled in from the split as she rolled her hips and pushed up on her arms to focus on her quads with a slight hum while she thought on the offer. Hirek’s comment about their previous misadventure on Qo’noS prompted her to tilt her head up at him, dark eyes narrowed as her face flushed a shade darker, but Shadow couldn’t stop the corner of her lips from curling up at the same time. Of course, Pretty-Eyes missed none of it, as he edged closer to sprinkle on his own flavor of challenge, in his silky-smooth honeyed voice and that smirk Talia wished she could suck and slap off in equal measure.

Pfft – like I’m dumb enough to fall for that, Shadow shook her head subtly, even as the curl to her lips spread into a smirk to rival his. Sure, her legs were sore. Sure, she could probably use a few more hours of sleep, but regardless, Talia had dragged her hungover ass to the gym and got shit done. I don’t get tired, Pretty-Eyes, she wanted to say; dark chocolate orbs narrowed at his absurdly gorgeous mix of blue and hazel. The pilot had to give the Romulan credit; he seemed adept at adding just the right mix of goading and sass to provoke her, mentally and physically. Beautiful bastard, she snorted to herself.

Maybe it was the fact of where she was, surrounded by the familiarity of the gym – on her turf – or maybe Shadow was just still amped up from the workout...but she knew exactly what she wanted to say, and had no qualms saying it, for once.

“Mr. tr’Aimne,” Talia sighed, as her head tilted to the side, before she stood and rested her hands on her hips for a moment. “First of all, regardless what you saw last night, I’m not your plaything,” she laughed, as her brows met and folded her arms under her bust. “And just so you know – for future attempts like these – no one likes to hear how they were the second pick in the line-up, so don’t do that. You could have just asked me and left all that out,” dark brows rose as she smirked again, “Though I am curious who the first pick was – Moody? Duchess? Talia grinned. Kali?” Given everything that happened, that last one almost made her laugh; she held nothing but affection and respect for the Andorian, and didn’t blame her one bit for how she felt about Hirek. For her part though, Talia didn’t dislike the Romulan; he just had a way of talking that irritated and aroused her in equal measure that provoked an...amused wariness toward him. Her dark eyes flicked up and down him then darted to the time over his shoulder as her chin lifted slightly, still smirking at him as she undid the bindings of her gloves. “In any case,” a shoulder rose and fell in a shrug, “color me interested,” her lips pulled to the side as her nose scrunched up a bit. “As long as it doesn’t involve arachnids, overpowered liquor, and two-pronged exotic dancers, of course.”

"So what exactly am I walking into here, Pretty-Eyes," Talia asked with a huff of amusement, as a hand raked through her hair. Ugh, this is a bad idea, ace, a voice whispered in her head, but she ignored it in favor of the one that promised to show the stupidly sexy bastard what she was made of instead. A brow arched up at the Romulan, waiting for his response.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #3
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Lower Gym | Deck 14 | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Talia’s presumption on his viewing her as a “plaything” had Hirek’s eyebrows rising. He’d never considered her as such, determining quite early on in their little excursion yesterday that she was not the type to be interested in an easy-going dalliance with someone like him—far too damaging to her self-perceptions no doubt. So it brought a new layer of intrigue to their interaction, at least in Hirek’s mind, that she felt the need to state something like that in the first place. Her additional phlegmatically prickly response to being his “second pick” further testified to her highly competitive nature, which also caused Hirek’s lips to tug back into a broader smile. And Talia’s expressed disdain for spiders, liquor, and exotic dancers had Hirek chuckling as he shook his head. If anything, he rather figured his holoprogram would be too tame in comparison to their prior outing.

Perhaps to Talia’s surprise, during her stretches that undoubtedly accentuated her assets, Hirek kept his gaze firmly on her face before he purred out with a smile, “Miss Al-Ibrahim, I find myself most curious regarding your terminology and references to what I might have seen yesterday. While my fervent dreams last night were peppered with a myriad of images, sights, sounds, and tastes from our adventure,” Hirek folded his hands together behind his back, voice languid, smile casual, “I cannot recall what I might have said or done with you yesterday that would lead you to presume I’d view you as anything less than an equal. Perhaps you forget that while you were indisposed with the overpowered Klingon liquor, I was granted the distinct privilege of seeing you ‘in action,’ as I believe the Terrans say.” Hirek gave a heavy sigh, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth in a feigned display of concern, tilting his head sideways and leveling Talia with a heavy-lidded gaze. “Unless, of course, your after-adventure dreams depicted me in a certain manner that brought specific ideas about my intentions or what could exist between us to mind…”

Hirek winked, shifted back—in case she wanted to hit him—and gestured toward the door, explaining the program and his choices as they moved across the gym. “During my first meeting with Lieutenant Commander Pierce, my Intelligence handler, we shared favorite places on the holodeck as a way of ‘fleshing each other out,’ which is another Terran phrase I quite like. In any case, the commander showed me how to work the holoprogram, and I’ve been tweaking the program depicting my home islands in the days since. For this particular evening, I’d invited the commander to join me for a paired fishing competition that is often hosted this time of year. After discovering we both enjoy water sports, I thought the event would be to her liking, but when she told me she could not attend, I remembered how much you seem to enjoy competitions.” Hirek pressed the button to open the door and stepped aside to let Talia out into the corridor first. “While I know Romulans have a reputation for lies and deceit, for my time on the ship, I’ve endeavored to remain as unduplicitous as possible.” Hirek emphasized the “as possible” with a half smile before continuing, “I realize I could have lied for flattery’s sake, but as I said earlier, I see you as an equal, and such a lie is demeaning.” He stopped in the corridor then and raised a single eyebrow, “You are not afraid of the water, or abhor fish do you? If so, I can reprogram the scenario to be something more suitable to YOUR tastes.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #4
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Lower Gym | Deck 14 | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
She'd expected a smooth rebuttal, and Pretty-Eyes didn’t disappoint. Shadow kept her face neutral as she held his gaze, head tilted fractionally to the side while he spoke in his peculiar way; casually deflecting her defensive words with charm and reassurance. It was difficult for Talia to keep the curl from her lips, as she bent slightly to secure the gym bag from the mat at her feet. She remembered quite clearly how he had enjoyed the debacle at the Bakery yesterday, while also coming to her aid at the same time, more or less. Still, his eyes never wandered, as far as she could notice; Talia assumed he was either naturally discrete or being cautious in his behavior – probably both. Perhaps I’ve judged him incorrectly, her mind murmured, but then the Romulan clicked his tongue and countered with his own proverbial thrust of innuendo. Pfft, maybe not.

Talia cocked her head up at him, brows lifted in a look that said watch it – as he winked and opened up the distance between them. What she may or may not have dreamt wasn’t the point, and certainly wasn’t going to be disclosed as ammunition. That mouth is dangerous enough as is, Talia smirked as she straitened to fall into step with him. No wonder Moody was so tense around this guy – it’s a constant battle between the desire to jump him or throttle him, she shook her head in amusement. Or both. Hah, might be a fun way to shut him up.  She filed that scenario away for further contemplation at a later time, as Pretty-Eyes elaborated further. The pilot noted and analyzed key words that stood out to her as they walked across the gym: Pierce – unknown. Intelligence handler – Why? Fishing competition – interesting.

A muscled shoulder lifted in a shrug at his assumption for her predilection towards competition. Shadow was inclined to agree – she was competitive by nature – but the comment felt a bit over-generalized. Her mind filed that away for future contemplation as well. As they neared the threshold to the corridor beyond, Talia blinked as he stood aside and hesitated at his additional comment about honesty, even going so far as to admit his refusal to use deceitful flattery to further his own ends. Interesting, Talia pursed her lips and nodded, appreciatively. His words struck a cord – intentionally or not – as the pilot realized an uncomfortable truth: everything she knew about Romulans, beyond what little history and societal studies she’d learned at the Academy, colored her perceptions of him. I wonder what he sees, through his own lens of assumptions and pre-conceived notions? Overly optimistic, naïve, trusting fools? Hm. Perhaps we both have some things to learn from each other. Hirek’s final questions forced her to stop with him however, interrupting that chain of thought.

Shadow turned to him in profile as her brows met, raking a hand through her long dark hair to drape it over the front of a shoulder as her head shook subtly. “That wont be necessary,  Mr. tr’Aimne,” she shrugged. “You've obviously put substantial effort into this program, out of a desire to impress or simple homesickness; either way, in the spirit that it was offered, I accept the invitiation. Water doesn’t scare me – drowning does, however, but that’s what safeties are for. I don’t know anything about fishing either, but I can learn. Its a great source of protein, too, so I’m all for it. I’ll need to clean up first though.  Shouldn’t take long,” her chin lifted to him. “Which suite are we using, I’ll meet you there,” Talia blinked, brows furrowed in thought as a hip cocked. “Huh. Um, what should I wear,” she asked, honestly clueless. “Do I need specific gear, or…?” Talia frowned as she shrugged again, curious to see this program for herself.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #5
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Lower Gym | Deck 14 | Vector 03 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

“I feel I must warn you that the safeties are set at minimum,” Hirek’s smile was playful, watching how Talia responded to that reality, “Pierce and I discovered a mutual preference for minimal safety engagement with our holoprograms. However, I have grown up in the water almost as much as on and around it. I hope it does not amuse or alarm you more than it may reassure you when I offer my guidance and protection should anything risky occur.” Hirek glanced down at her outfit and again smiled, gaze lingering on her hips and chest, “Traditionally, this event was conducted in the nude or, at minimum, in a loincloth,” finally meeting her eyes again, Hirek’s smile was still broad as he added, “however, you may wear whatever swimwear you like. The weather is programmed to be warm, breeze balmy, and the waters off our islands are quite tepid at the surface depths, which is where we will be functioning primarily.”

After her giving her the suite and deck information, Hirek left her before he was tempted to goad her further. He knew he shouldn’t press his luck as Talia was the type to not show up even after accepting the offer if she felt he’d been impertinent enough. Whether she was the type to try to put in him in holographically programmed harm’s way in vengeance for a perceived slight was yet to be determined.

[ Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 ]

The cerulean sky programmed overhead was of a similar hue as when he’d last brought Pierce. As it was intended to be at a different season from then, the lighting was less direct, casting everything in a warmer golden color. Similarly, the temperature was closer to fifteen Celsius, and the birdsong calling out from the wooded shoreline just above the rock-strewn beach were likewise different—though a native Uluman would only notice this detail. The ornately decorated long-narrow ceremonial fishing boats made with black wood and carved with a myriad of sea-inspired designs, with each carving painted a different bright color, and with the elevated bow and stern areas boasting colorful feather crests, were all lined up along the gentle surf, poised and ready for the festivities to begin.

Hirek’s mouth watered as he caught the scent of fire-roasted sken coming from the many dugout fires dotting the beach. The sken was something equivalent to a Terran octopus. He was curious if Talia, as ignorant of fishing as she was, would even appreciate the sea-gifted food this festival boasted. The elderly were tasked with preparing and providing the pre-fishing delights in food and beverage—and Hirek couldn’t wait to see how Talia responded to the freshly pressed nunkein berry juice, a local drink made from a fruit that was naturally fermented and in equal parts bitter and sweet. The youth, not yet of age to join in the fishing portion of the festival, made sure all the gear was in order within each vessel, triple-checking the integrity of the boats and refilling plates and cups with food for those participating in the ceremony.

The unmarried women already had their hair unbound, most dressed in black open-sided sheath dresses with brightly colored symbols intricately embroidered in long lines down the back and front, the dresses held to their lithe bodies only by silver shell belts handed down through the generations. Though uniform in form and base color of the material, each dress was unique in symbols and thread colors, representing the lineage of their families and the stories of their ancestors. Hirek had been unable to recall every household’s symbols that would be on these dresses were they at the actual festival. Still, the computer had done a remarkable job populating the dresses with designs that were satisfactory for a non-native to get the general gist of what it could be in truth. These women were preparing themselves for the opening dance, where they would line up facing each other, hands crossed over their chests, tossing their long tresses over their heads as they leaned forward toward the ground and then stood and dipped back, throwing their hair over their shoulders as they looked to the sky. The married women would join the elderly women in singing songs of blessing and protection as the unmarried women cleared the path between the boats and the sea with their hair dance. Hirek remembered one year that his cousin had misjudged her position in line and cracked her head against her friend's head standing across from her, knocking them both senseless and causing the whole line to keel over in a heap. The boat they’d been blessing with the doomed dance had been deemed unfit for the festival that year out of superstition.

The unmarried men were gathered around their chosen boats, oiling their skins and chatting with the married men, the successful veterans of the festival. While each boat was allowed two married men, the majority of the married men acted as guardians in their single-seater craft that would also push out into the surf after the ceremonial boats. All vessels were oar-powered only, in accordance with tradition. Hirek deftly removed his clothing in exchange for the traditional loincloth and embroidered black vest, made in a similar fashion to the women’s sheath dresses but only reaching his waistline. If he’d wanted to close it, there were simple eyehooks in the front at the top, middle, and bottom of the vest, but Hirek had no intention of closing it. He wanted the feeling of the sea breeze on his skin and needed the freedom and ease of movement an open vest allowed. For his vest, Hirek had intentionally not programmed the well-remembered symbols of his household. Though he’d taken pains to secure this program from prying eyes, there was no telling who had clearance to do what, and he had no intention of letting a passing hobby on this new ship endanger his family more than they were already.

He shook his head at the offered helmet, the design such that it would hang almost to his shoulders, narrow at the top and broad at the bottom, leaving only two slits for his eyes with all the rest densely protected. Talia had yet to arrive, and he knew she would already be taken by surprise at the scene; having to weed him out from a crowd of similarly dressed but helmeted locals would be amusing for sure, but he still didn’t want to jeopardize the opportunity of sharing this experience with someone. It indeed had been disappointing when Pierce couldn’t join him, and he hadn’t lied when he’d told her she’d been the second person to think of sharing it with. He was reasonably certain she had no concept of how much it meant to him to share this with her or even with Pierce, and he had no intention of telling her—Pierce would know already based on prior experience and greater insight into why he was on the ship. Emotional vulnerability was something he could do without and had done without for decades.

Taking the fishing spear in hand, the wood of the shaft likewise carved with images and symbols that denoted the lives of its previous owners, Hirek stood with his back to the shore, shading his eyes with his free hand, studying the currents as he waited for Talia’s arrival.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #6
[Ens. Talia "Shadow" Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
She didn’t know what to expect to see beyond the door, and her imagination wasn’t helping.

Still, curiosity burned in her, driving one foot after the other towards the holodeck. It had been roughly twenty minutes since Hirek had left her bewildered outside the gym; long enough for a quick sonic shower and a change of clothes: black and white checkered leggings over a black bikini bottom, with a loose tee over a matching tube top. Sandals slapped the carpet with every stride, as the loose curtain of her hair swayed, spilling over her shoulders; a set of mirrored aviator sunglasses atop her head. A small gym bag was clutched in one hand, containing the necessities: big water bottle and a few protein bars, towel, spare clothes – just in case. Talia’s lips pulled to the side in a smirk as she neared the holosuite.

Alright ace – this isn’t going down like Qo’noS. Don’t drink anything, don’t eat anything. Keep your eyes open and hands to yourself. Smile, nod, be nice. The pilot snorted weakly at herself, hesitating at the threshold. Yeah, sure. Solid plan, Shadow. C’mon, yallah – you’ll brood over whatever happens later anyway, she sighed, and stepped through the door.

The transition assaulted Talia’s senses as her toes hit sand; golden sunlight in a clear blue sky – the slightly cooler temperature prickled her skin. An ocean breeze lifted her hair, filled her nostrils; a potent mix of salt flavored with smoke and unfamiliar scents of a world she’d never known. Waves rolled, bonfires crackled, with the libations of a ceremony of some sorts underway nearby. Above all, the scenery; a luscious tropical island, green and bursting with life, and the sea itself; aquamarine waters deepened to a curious mix of darker blues and greens, stretching out to the horizon. For several long seconds, Talia simply stood there, slack-jawed as she took it all in.

“Fuck me,” the pilot murmured to herself, in absolute shock at the beauty on display. This…is Romulus? She blinked with a shake of her head in surprised disbelief. Why would anyone ever leave this? She wondered briefly, then remembered that there were, in fact, Romulans on Romulus; just like there were Humans on Earth – some of them where complete ass-hats. I’m sure he’s got his reasons, Talia thought of Pretty-Eyes, one hand holding down the mane of her hair, bag in the other, as she set off down the rocky beach towards where she assumed she was supposed to go.

As Talia passed the fires dug into the sand, her dark eyes lingered on the odd but exquisitely crafted vessels lined up upon the shore; no two were alike, except in overall form – her brows knitted in fascination over the intricate carvings decorated into the hulls. She saw runes, spiraling patterns, eyes of warding at the bows; strikingly similar to the ancient sea-faring ships of countless human cultures. Incredible, she paused, blinking in absolute wonder at the similarities, then turned her head as the sound of chanting broke into the air and moved toward it. This is…amazing. I could finish my thesis off with what I learn here, her mind spun, wheels chewed at the possibilities, as her eyes drank in the marvel of this unknown Romulan culture.

Everything was significant; the styles of clothing, the beautifully carved spears and odd shaped helmets. The way the people moved – which groups performed which tasks, the dancing, the chants – all of it. Talia’s eyes darted from person to person, activity to activity, object to object; she stood in place, literally spinning as she tried to observe everything all at once.

The fact that she looked completely out of place was utterly lost on her. The awe and excitement on her face was plain to see, even as more than a few of the loincloth-clad villagers eyed her with bemused curiosity, like some kind of stray animal that had wandered into their midst. A million questions buzzed in her mind – so swept up in fascination that she nearly forgot about the whole reason she was there in the first place. Shit. Pretty-Eyes, Talia laughed and spun her head around, searching for him. With all the activity going on around her – everyone dressed in similar fashion – the task proved difficult, given her state of excitement. Fuck sakes, where is he, Talia laughed at herself a second time as she spun around again, up on her tippy-toes to try and look over everyone.

“What are you,” a small voice laughed up at her, followed by a chorus of giggles.

Talia spun again, head tilted down at a crowd of small, pointy-eared children that were blinking up at her in innocent curiosity and amusement. The pilot grinned at them, all teeth and dimples. “I’m a Wolf,” she answered, cocking a brow at them, to which she earned another round of giggles and a few confused blinks. “I’m looking for someone,” she preempted their questions by raising her hand up to an approximation of Hirek’s height. “A man, this tall, hairy gray face, likes to talk a lot.” Half the kids pointed behind her, towards the shoreline, the others all pointed in completely different directions. All of them talked over each other before being summoned away by multiple adults. Talia chuckled as they scattered, kicking up sand in their wake, the sounds of their laughter filled the air as they mimicked her voice and tone: ‘Wolf! Wolf! I’m a Wolf! What is a Wolf?’

A hand smoothed the sea-blown mane of her hair as she turned again, facing the sea. This is paradise, Talia’s brow knitted as she shook her head, trying to wrap her mind around it all, as she made her way outside the twined line of dancers, watching with fascination as they flung their heads back and forth. Not a continent-sized cityscape, crushed under the dictatorial rule of an Empire. This is…innocent. Just…people. Simple, fascinating people; families, just living their lives.

As Talia drew near the gentle sounds of waves, her eyes locked on to a solitary figure that stood with a spear in one hand by the waters edge. A lean, imposing figure, she had to admit, pleasantly on display – though she expected no less. Well done, Talia smirked at his toned body, as her eyes looked him over appreciatively while his attention was focused elsewhere. Excellent genetics, her lips pursed, coupled with a life on the sea, she nodded, probably a lean, protein packed diet too. Explains his natural fitness, I suppose.

“Mr. tr’Aimne,” Shadow called out with a smirk, pointedly maintaining the game of refusing to use his first name. “Sorry for keeping you waiting,” she added, shaking her head again with a gesture to the program. “This is…,” Talia grinned, “this is all absolutely amazing. Truly. Thank you for inviting me,” she nodded, hoping to convey how honored she felt. “I have so many questions – but first,” she nodded again, then tilted her head to the side as her tone and voice shifted to respectful difference. “I realize now this is more than just a competition. This is a part of you; your home and culture. I’d be honored and happy to partake in it, as much as you feel comfortable with,” she shrugged, then gestured to herself, still wearing her leggings and t-shirt. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d really appreciate the full experience,” Talia added, then remembered who she was talking to. Ah, shit, the Wolf cleared her throat quickly.

“You know, for…academic and diplomatic purposes,” Shadow clarified, as her eyes held his.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #7
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 |  USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

The chattering of a pair of boys running by alerted of her approach him, speaking about the off-worlder with the strong gaze. Likely, Talia was as ignorant of the meaning of direct eye contact among his people as the rest of the crew on board. It varied from one region to another of his homeworld, but, by and large, Romulans determined dominance by eye contact—among other physical and vocal nuances, oft taken for granted by off worlders. That she’d already established a reputation of strength with the boys was a compliment. Since he’d programmed these holograms to react as authentically as possible given its limited parameters for the reality of his homeworld and, more locally, the Uluma Islands, it bespoke the likelihood of her being welcomed in truth should the opportunity to visit arise.

Shifting the spear from one hand to the other, Hirek turned to greet Talia. His gaze quickly tracked up and down her body, appreciating what he could see of her curves but not commenting on them. From the moment she greeted him, it seemed she was speaking without the layer of flirtatious distance they’d thus far kept between them. He saw the sincerity in her gaze and heard it in her voice, chuckling only when she seemed to grasp the inadvertent opening she’d given him to push the limits at the end of her tirade. Instead of answering her directly, Hirek called out to one boy darting past. Speaking the local dialect—a lilting brogue with hushing, close-vowel sounds and guttural consonants with a flowing, musical quality even in the spoken form—Hirek asked the boy to bring Talia two options for clothing. The boy seemed a bit surprised that this off worlder was being given the options but didn’t argue.

As the boy disappeared to do Hirek’s bidding, Hirek signaled another boy who eagerly trotted forward. Tied to his back was a leather sack filled with some locally brewed ale with the seasonal herbs infused in it, used only during this festival. After stabbing the end of his spear into the sand, Hirek accepted the two earthenware cups from the boy, kept in a special pouch tied to his waist and, handing one to Talia, held his under the unique spout that wrapped up over the boy’s arm so he could manipulate the level on the narrow neck.

“The pouch is made from the lung bladder of the g’ela fish,” Hirek ruffled the boys’ hair, having programmed the child to resemble one of his nephews the last he’d seen them, “this blend of ale is only served at this festival. The taste can be surprising, quite herbal, and almost bitter.” He saluted Talia with his cup once she had hers filled, and the boy waited for them to finish their drinks before he took back the cups and continued on his route. “When I first had it as a child, sneaking it from the pouch when I should have been serving it, I thought it was more medicinal than it needed to be, so, being the very helpful child that brought pride to my parents each and every day, I added nectar from the berala flower to my pouch, not realizing this would sweeten it and triple the alcohol content.” Hirek tossed the drink back in one swig, lamenting that even with all his detailed parameters set with the computer, it still was not exactly as it should be. “No one on the island would be offended if it is not to your liking, and do not feel you need to finish it.”

The first boy returned, holding two sets of garments in his arms. Handing his empty cup to the second boy, Hirek directed Talia’s attention to the clothing. In brief, he explained the designs on the women’s clothing and the reasons for designing the men’s clothing to be as…revealing as it was. Pointing the clasps on the vest, Hirek smiled at Talia, raising his eyebrows in a look of mischief.

“If you choose to wear the man’s outfit, you could always keep your vest closed with these if you like. They can hold up under a lot of, hmm, pressure.” Hirek’s gaze tracked over the sudden beach-wide movement, and his smile grew. “Not to rush, but we will begin the boat toss soon and need all our members at the boat.” He gestured to the boat they would use, where a group of young men were already gathering. “Before we can put out to sea, we have to shake the ‘bad spirits’ out of each participant and ensure the seaworthiness of our vessel.” A boat further down the beach had already started its toss, with one man standing in the center of the boat while the half-dozen men on the beach tossed it up and down, all the while with the women and children chanting an ancient rhyme in their sing-song way. The man did his best to stay standing, but by the third toss, he fell to his butt in the boat, and everyone around the boat cheered before lowering the boat to the ground for the next man to get in and the process to repeat. His gaze flickering back to Talia, Hirek smiled, “Whoever can stay standing the longest earns the right to man the rudder.”

Retrieving his spear from the sand, Hirek jutted his chin toward the boy and the options at Talia’s fingertips, “Choose as you like, wear as you like, I will wait for you by the boat.” After instructing the first boy to help Talia to an area of privacy to change in if she needed it, he moved to stand amidst the young men he'd programmed to man their boat alongside them, curious which route Talia would take with her clothing choice.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #8
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
After her honest interest was met with only a throaty chuckle, Talia forced herself to reign her excitement in with a forceful exhalation through her nose. Alright. Calm it down, ace, the pilot chided herself, but watched Hirek’s interaction with the youth with barely veiled fascination. The language was beautiful; melodic but...guttural, in a way, at least to her ears. Of course, that might just be his influence, Talia smirked as she glanced off at the festivities going on around them.

A group of youths – maybe twelve or so – had gathered for a dance of some kind off to their left, away from the lines of boats along the shore. They started in staggered rows, clacking the small sticks in their hands together in almost perfect harmony with the music that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Talia grinned at them, her head nodding to the beat almost unconsciously, watching them sway back and forth, then raise the sticks over their heads, beating them together as they twirled in place – but the sound of Hirek’s spear being driven into the ground returned her attention to him, just as a cup was offered.

Uh oh, the grin on her lips faded as she accepted the cup and listened to the Romulan’s brief story, keenly interested in every detail he cared to share about this amazing replica of his home, and his place in it. Her dark eyes flicked to the boy as Hirek ruffled his hair – dark hair – like everyone else. She couldn’t help but wonder at the significance there, but chose not to ask any questions just then, based on his reaction to her interest so far. Came in to hot. Just shut up and listen. She raised the cup to her lips, sniffing the liquid concoction as she watched him down his in one gulp. A dark brow raised while she stifled a chuckle, but she took a sip – regardless of her promise to herself only moments before. A flood of flavors assaulted her palate, as her tongue promptly went numb; bitter, burning warmth spread through her mouth, not entirely unpleasant, but Shadow panicked and quickly spit the liquid right back out into the cup with a gasp of air. The pilot cleared her throat, working her tongue around in her mouth to try to regain some sensation as Hirek continued, apparently none the wiser. Fuck me – that shit’s strong, Talia managed not to cough, as she nodded as the other boy returned with two sets of clothing.

The pilot smirked at Hirek as he man-splained the utility of what was essentially a bra. Like I have no idea what how that works. Idiot, Talia rolled her eyes, deeply amused at the irony. She noted that he, like all the other males who were near the boats – tossing one up in the air, with some poor fool in it, no less – were all dressed the same. Pfft. I’ve worn less in competitions before, she smirked again. If he was worried about her being uncomfortable showing a little skin in order to win, he was about to be sorely disappointed. She couldn’t honestly say how she would handle being tossed up in the air like that, without busting her ass...but Talia grinned at the challenge, nonetheless. What surprised her more than anything, however, was the fact that the Romulan left the choice entirely up to her. No pressure – no veiled wordplay or charming innuendo – he simply left the matter up to her and...walked away.

Talia actually pouted at that fact for a moment, but lifted a muscled shoulder in a shrug. Her eyes moved to the youth with the fish-lung-liquor-bag on his back, and lifted her chin at him. “Whats your name,” she asked, meeting his eyes – eyes so very like Hirek’s. The boy nearly flinched, and only shrugged in reply. “If I give you this,” Talia swirled the cup full of liquor, “will you be my look out while I change? No peeking,” she arched a brow at him as he nodded. “Okay. Gimme those,” she took the vest and loincloth from the other boy, who promptly scampered off, then moved behind the drink server after handing her cup off to him and started peeling her clothes off after dropping her bag to the sand. She watched him gulp it down, grinning at her provocatively as she stood clad in just her bathing suit. “Hey,” she laughed, twirling her finger at him, “eyes out, pal.” The boy laughed, but obeyed, and her eyes met Hirek’s briefly as she pulled the tube top off her bust, before the pilot turned her back to the Romulan. While she fumbled to close the vest across her bust, which was a tad tight but fit comfortably once she realized how far the material could stretch – Shadow peeled the bottoms off and quickly shimmied into the loincloth. It felt natural, in a way, not much different from a thong at all, which was surprisingly pleasant, especially with the ocean breeze and the heat coursing through her at the coming challenge and whatever the hell was in that home-brewed concoction.

“What name are you called,” a tiny, ancient voice rasped at her suddenly.

Talia flinched and spun, coming face to face with the oldest Romulan she’d ever seen, who was eyeing the youth with the drink bag suspiciously. Her dark eyes flicked to Hirek, who seemed to be trying his best to not seem like he was entertained by the encounter while in discussion with the other males by the boats. Talia met the old woman’s gaze evenly then, after shoving her clothes inside the gym bag at her feet. “Shadow. I’m called Shadow,” she answered.

“Come. I mark your name, silly girl,” the old woman cackled, gesturing to the boy, and the beautifully inked markings upon his brow that Talia had somehow overlooked. Her eyes widened at the artistry – a swirling pattern of jagged runes, marked in bright white upon the lad’s tanned skin.

The pilot nodded; not wishing to seem rude or impudent. “Okay,” she shrugged, and knelt before the elder, who only cackled again, and pointed at her leg. Talia barked a laugh, but stood, and extended the limb to her wrinkled, gnarled hands. Seconds later, with a speed that defied her age, the old crone had deftly marked Shadow’s tanned skin with a series of swirling runes that ran up the length of one calf – a  beautifully detailed pattern beyond the pilot’s comprehension.

“Fortune be with thee,” the old lady cackled, followed by a series of guttural consonants and syllables in the native tongue of the islanders that Talia could only assume was her name in Hirek’s native tongue.

The pilot tilted her head down at the crones handiwork, immensely pleased with the design. “You honor me, elder,” she nodded in profound respect, then headed off to join Hirek where he awaited at the boat with a pack of other males. Talia’s eyes focused on him briefly, noting his apparent amusement, but then flicked her attention to the tosses already underway – trying to grasp the best technique from the men attempting to stay on their feet while being thrown in the air, on a boat, no less. Fuck, this will be interesting, she laughed as she walked right up to Hirek’s side to rest with her hands on her very exposed hips.

“Alright, Pretty-Eyes,” she lifted her chin to the boat. “Who gets tossed first,” she asked, lifting a dark brow up at him.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #9
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Hirek would take a spear to the heart before he admitted to Talia or anyone else on the ship how much this simulated experience moved his soul. Once upon a time, tears had come fast and easy, and though a portion of that youthful naivety dwelled deep within him, Hirek felt no temptation to cry at this moment. With the sounds of the simulated caricatures of his kin jesting with one another near the boats mixing with those of the ocean and seabirds, Hirek closed his eyes and, for a heartbeat, could almost imagine this was all real.

If this were real, his father and mother, along with his aunts and uncles and those other noble elders who had come to make the Uluma Islands their home over the centuries, would be further up the shoreline at the pagoda where the noble elders sat to watch the race. If this were real, his home would be over the ridge just north of this exact spot, the labyrinth mansion perched on a ridgetop but with dozens of levels carved into and around the ridge, twisting down to the sea. If this were real, the cool, dark tunnels holding the blue liquid of their family legacy would be safely tucked away in the interior of this very island. If this were real, his lab and its adjacent garden would be within a two-hour walk of this beach.

Hirek opened his eyes, glancing back to where he’d left Talia with the boy. He caught her gaze and had an ample view of her barred breasts as she removed the upper portion of her clothing. She turned away before continuing to dress in the male garb. Hirek snorted. Shaking his head, he occupied himself with readying a spear for Talia. After leaning his against the edge of the boat, Hirek spied one made for a younger boy and was, therefore, smaller, lighter, and suitable for her build. Picking it up from the pile of spears still awaiting masters lying on the sand nearby, Hirek twirled it expertly, tossing it into the air and catching it before giving a satisfied nod. It would work well for her.

When he next looked back to where Talia had been changing, Hirek paused, lips quickly pulling back into an amused smile when he noted who had approached her. It was one of the thrai rinam, or wolf sisters. A member of the aged unmarried caste of women who acted as sages, medics, clerics, therapists, warriors, and hazing agents, judging the strength and character of any island newcomers. These hazing tactics varied in their element of danger or threat of personal harm, and considering what this thrai rinam carried, Hirek figured this type of hazing tactic would be less on the threat to personal health and more on the social “health” side.

Hirek couldn’t see just yet what the thrai rinam wrote on Talia’s leg, but from the way the aged woman continued to laugh and smile, even as Talia responded with awed respect, he could only assume it was something not at all what Talia thought it to be. Once she stood with her hands on her hips next to him, asking about the tossing ceremony, Hirek read the runes, and his amusement built into a hearty chuckle. There was no exact translation, but the closest equivalent was "dim foreigner," or shadowed alien; likely a vague reference to her callsign, and undoubtedly she'd shared it with the thrai rinam.

“Terrha bendaim indeed.” Reaching out, Hirek tugged at a portion of her vest that had been folded under, the backs of his knuckles briefly brushing against her sun-warmed skin. “The thrai rinam seems to have marked her approval on you.” Pulling his hand away, Hirek pointed to the runes. “The wolf sisters aren’t always so welcoming to outsiders. And,” glancing at the other men now gazing at the two of them with eager expectation, “since you passed her inspection with all your limbs still in tact, I think you should go first.” Hirek paused, curious if she would willingly comply with the suggestion or if she would try to go later in the order. “As the outsider and honored guest, it is only fair that we test your mettle first. The one who manages to stay standing the longest wins the right to man the boat's rudder while the others row.” Hirek kept to himself, for the time being, that this person was often the first one attacked by their prey as they were the ones standing tallest in the boat.

He explained the suggestion to their fellow boatmen, and they nodded in agreement, quickly pressing closer with mirthful smiles and teasing tones to "help" Talia into the boat, whether she wanted it or not. Hirek tipped his head up, jutting his chin forward in a swift motion, and all the men stopped, honoring his age and rank among them by complying with his signal to stop. Hirek held out a hand toward Talia and gestured toward the boat with the other, once more curious if she would accept his assistance or prefer to hoist herself up and into it on her own power—an interesting tactic if she chose this route as the edges of the boat were intentionally steep, and with the boat resting on the makeshift wooden pyre for safekeeping, the edge was just over her head. Or would she toss herself to the mercy of their fellow boatmen, who would gladly throw her in with all the youthful fervor they could muster?

"Think your stamina can last as long as theirs?" He winked. "Or mine?"

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #10
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
While she couldn’t say for sure, Shadow got the impression that Pretty-Eyes and his gaggle of holographic kin were sharing a joke at her expense...or were about to. Her dark eyes flicked from his to the large crowd that continued to edge closer around her. Even knowing they were only holograms, her body tensed to the point of visibly flinching at Hirek’s touch, nonetheless. Her brows knit at the horde of scantily clad men then, lips twitching in a smile that was very close to a snarl; like a nervous stray, backed into a corner, teeth bared in feral warning. Easy, the pilot breathed, calming herself as her eyes glanced further along the beach, blinking at another boat being tossed with enthusiasm – the poor bastard within flailing about as he tried to keep his feet under him.

Doesn’t seem so difficult, she huffed with amusement, then returned her attention to Pretty-Eyes, eyeing him and his offered hand with a look of mild suspicion. She had no interest in appearing any more nervous than she already was – while trying to ignore the growing sense of amusement from everyone surrounding her.

Of course I have to go first – fuck, she inhaled, forcing her eyes away from the leering gaggle of Romulan fishermen and Hirek, to focus on the boat; Talia tried to decide the best way to boost herself up and over the edge without causing a scene. A hand reached out to the hull, feeling the intricate patterns carved into the wooden planks, reaching up as far as she could to barely grip the edge. As soon as her hand touched it, murmurs started growing around her. Talia snorted, brow arched as she pulled the hand back to her hip as she turned to face the throng; the pilot ignored Hirek’s goading as she raked the lose strands of hair from her face, wondering if she could match them at all. I doubt it, she answered him silently, not that it matters. I'm a fucking fighter pilot - when have the odds ever mattered? Besides, I gave Medusa a run for her money – sort of, Talia tried to encourage herself, but even to her mind that assessment tasted like an exaggeration, at best.

This is slightly different, but probably going to end the same way, Shadow snorted mentally, lips pulled in a smirk. Fuck it, she turned her face to his, chin lifted in acceptance to the challenge.

“Let’s find out,” she stated evenly, head dipping as she took a step away from him and his offer of assistance. “Give us a lift boys,” she nodded up to the boat over her shoulder then, and dozens of hands seized her instantly. “Easy! Ah fuck, great idea ace,” Talia managed a laugh as she was hoisted up over a crowd of cheering, laughing Romulans before they all started chanting; the pilot struggled a bit out of instinct as she was carried away from the boat at first, tossed up into the air from one side to the other. “Whoaaa shit!” She lost sight of Hirek almost instantly, as a sense of alarm grew rapidly. The crowd wasn’t being gentle, but didn’t seem like they were trying to intentionally maim her either – as she was thrown up into the air, back and forth – for what seemed like several minutes. “Fuck...sakes...just...put the fucking boat!” Talia half screamed, half laughed, her voice almost completely drowned out by all the chanting and cheering. They tossed her higher, then higher still, until Talia was sent up and over, limbs flailing in the air with a scream of alarm as wood planks filled her vision.

She landed in a heap, rolled with the impact, then sprang up to her hands and knees. The boat was already moving. Talia launched herself up, both hands gripped on the edge of the boat, a stream of enraged curses in her native tongue rolling from her lips while she gestured down at them all. So incensed, the pilot quite forgot that she was now at the mercy of the crowd below, as the boat was literally heaved up into the air beneath her; the insults to their ancestry – involving all manner of vulgarities, including mating with animals – was quite forgotten as well, as Talia wailed, limbs pinwheeling to keep her balance as the vessel pitched up with alarming velocity. She landed hard, knees flexed, legs burning from her earlier workout, but managed to stay somewhat upright with a grunt of effort. Then the stern rose up sharply, and the pilot was airborne again; the momentum flung her forward, heading strait into the upward carved bow. “AAAAHHHH,” Talia screamed, but managed to kick off one of the seats, flipped, caught herself with an outstretched foot, then landed back on the deck. Her hands flung out, gripping both sides of boat as gravity pulled her down. “Fuck you, that all you got?!” she roared at them, panting with fear and adrenaline, before the vessel once again lurched up beneath her with even more force. “Oh fuck me,” Talia murmured as her grip slipped completely.

She rose, almost in slow motion, like some inelegant, flightless bird – drifting horizontal as her arms and legs kicked and pinwheeled uselessly at the air – at least three feet higher than the boat before gravity took its toll. Ah, shit this is gonna hur – Talia managed to think, almost amusingly calm, just before her back slammed into the deck and the world went dark.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #11
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

“You’d think she was Vulcan with all that unyielding pride.” The thrai rinam’s voice sounding over his shoulder was tinged with a hint of respect.

Hirek snorted but withheld his nod of agreement. Finishing dabbing at the broken skin on her forehead and knees with the rok’tai-soaked rag, he returned it to the thrai rinam. Hirek recalled telling Rhys about the rok’tai fish, though at the time, he’d spent far more time describing the myth attached to the dangerous yet magnificent piscine than he had on how the venom could be used medicinally. As this was a simulation and the computer had no record of the actual chemical makeup of the rok’tai venom, Hirek had instructed the computer to create a numbing agent with a similar, if diminished, result. It was unlikely that Talia would have any hallucinations once she woke up again and equally unlikely she would be temporarily blind. Still, it was possible that her body could feel oddly warm and tingly as if aroused yet not quite. Yet Hirek couldn’t be sure if that would take effect, especially not while she remained unconscious.

The thrai rinam retreated from the driftwood shack in search of fresh water to drink, leaving Hirek alone, kneeling in the sand next to the woven reed mat where he’d laid out the unconscious pilot. With a light touch, Hirek brushed a few wayward strands of hair from her face when they ticked her closed eyes, causing her brows to furrow and her lips to draw down in a frown. According to the computer, based on her vital signs, she should wake up with little more than a headache in a few more minutes. Eyes darting up and down the length of her, Hirek snorted again as he recalled how they’d ended up here.

As soon as she’d hit the boat floor and not immediately returned to her feet howling curses upon their heads and the heads of their mothers, Hirek had instructed the men to lower the boat completely to the sand. Finding her in an unconscious heap, Hirek immediately pulled her into his arms and questioned the computer regarding the severity of her injury. Based on the computer’s assessment and remembering the snarl of pride from the pilot when she’d refused his help and had instead allowed the young Romulans to toss her aboard roughly, Hirek had not taken her to sickbay. Hirek felt certain she’d find some reason to get aggressively prickly with him if she woke up in sickbay and not still in this simulation. Not that he feared her anger, but he certainly hadn’t intended for her to come to genuine harm within this simulation.

Hirek could still hear the sounds of the festivities outside the shack. Built in a rocky alcove further down the shore, it offered some privacy without complete isolation. There was no telling if she would wake up and rail at him for not taking her to sickbay, bringing her here and remaining alone with her, or not insisting on taking her unconscious form out to sea regardless. Hirek smirked. It would be entertaining no matter what.

“Give this to the terrha bendaim when she awakens,” Hirek looked up to see the thrai rinam standing in the narrow doorway that faced the not-so-distant surf, holding out a waterskin to him, “and tell her I challenge her to return to the boats. If she refuses, it will bring bad luck to our catch today.”

Hirek quietly nodded as he took the skin from the ancient fingers. It seemed the simulation stayed true to the fact that only the thrai rinam still operated according to the superstitions that had once dictated their lives. The older woman glanced once more at the prone pilot, sniffed, then let the linen flap cutting off the bite of the sand-ridden breeze fall back into place as she turned on her heel and retreated toward the main festival. He, too, was curious if Talia would be interested in returning to the boats, albeit without another tossing, or if she would want to walk out of the simulation altogether.

Leaving the skin on the sand near her hand, Hirek shifted away from the mat and leaned against the shack’s wall parallel to her feet. At least if she awoke and wanted to kick him, she could get it done quickly, and they could move on with life. Smiling at the amusing thought, Hirek took a deep breath before singing in a low voice, not wanting to disturb her and yet not precisely caring if his singing jarred her awake. It was a song about the adventures that could be had, the romances, the beauty, and the wealth, all from having a good boat. With a repetitive melody and a consistent rhythm, Hirek remembered falling asleep on the beach as a child, having stayed late at the festivals with his parents, listening to the fishermen's wives sing it over the crackle of fires. Closing his eyes, Hirek tilted his head back against the wall and continued to shift between singing and humming as he waited for Talia to reawaken.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #12
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
Something pulled at her from oblivion; a sense of dawning awareness, a wrongness, that she clung to instinctively. Muted voices? A sense of being watched? She didn’t know, but it felt…off. With that feeling, others followed, like being pulled from a dream.

Is that…singing?

Consciousness returned in a confused succession of sensation: warmth, followed instantly by a throbbing headache that forced Talia’s face into a grimace. Someone was with her, humming between lilted verses of a language she didn’t know. The ground beneath her was cool, slightly contoured to her body. A chocolate colored eye peaked open, to verify that she was – in fact – not on the boat, despite the overwhelming scents of the salty sea and wood. Her face shifted into a frown of confusion, blinking around as she lifted her head. Where the hell, she wondered, frowning at her surroundings and Pretty-Eyes, who didn’t seem to notice she had awakened. Listening to him for another minute or so, she couldn’t help but wonder what the song was about; even though she liked the tune, part of her didn’t really want to know. It seemed better that way. More mysterious. The gentle waves outside offered an almost romantic air to it all; as he sang in time with the sea. Talia blinked, surprised at how attractive he was there, in that intimate moment of vulnerability.

That didn’t stop the sudden urge to kick the shit out of him, but she wasn’t quite sure where that desire sprang from either, so it was easily ignored. Not his fault you got knocked out by a boat. First time for everything, ace, she quipped to herself while waiting for a lull in his song; but the longer she waited, the more she grew to enjoy the rumbling baritone of his humming. Alright, that’s enough of that, Shadow grunted to signal her return from slumber.

“Well, that was fun,” Talia mumbled sarcastically as she sat up with a wince, drawing her knees up to rest her elbows on them. Her eyes narrowed at Hirek briefly, before she pressed her fingers into them, trying to dull the ache with a groan. Make a joke, and I start kicking, she growled at him mentally, before silently berating herself. Ugh, why are you so dumb sometimes? The hell did you think was going to happen?

Talia cleared her throat self-consciously. “Suppose you got a good laugh out of that,” the pilot grumbled as she massaged her temples, only then noticing that she had been laid on a mat of some kind. The broken skin on her knees, elbows and forehead tingled, but wasn't bleeding. A drinking container sat next to her on the sand. Picking it up, she pulled the stopper and sniffed the contents. Unable to detect anything suspicious, the pilot shrugged and drank a sip.

“Wait – did I miss the fishing part? Where are we? How long was I out,” she asked, rapidly, between mouthfuls of liquid from the skin. It was surprisingly cold, and deliciously refreshing. Talia didn’t wait for him to answer, gulping as much as she could and ignoring the dribbles down her chin. “What’s going on? Did you go already? Who won?” She got to her feet with a grunt, growing more impatient and irritated by his lack of timely responses; as far as she could tell, he seemed perfectly content to sit there and smirk at her. Confused irritation built, as Shadow brushed the sand off her butt and legs, then froze, eyes narrowed at him.

Hello – are you drunk? Why are you sitting there grinning at me,” Shadow arched a brow at him as she stood tall, hands rested on her hips. Her ears picked up the sounds of the festivities outside the quaint little shack: sounds of laughter, more chanting, and cheering. Talia frowned then, as she noticed how warm and tingly she felt. Fuck, am I drunk? the pilot blinked, swaying a little. Other than the headache, which was to be expected, a curiously pleasant sensation coursed through her body in time with every beat of her heart.

“I feel...weird,” she mumbled then, almost to herself, before he could answer anything at all. Her brows knitted as she glanced around the shack in mildly alarmed confusion, then held up the “water” skin. “This better not be some Romulan home brew, Mr. Tr’Aimne,” Shadow growled at him, even as her body shivered subtly. Pleasant as she felt, Talia had zero interest in repeating the mistakes she’d made on Qo’noS. Her jaw set, lifted at him in challenge, while she waited for him to do something besides sit there and look at her.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #13
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Talia exuded near-manic energy as she got to her feet—likely too soon after a head injury—and continued to fire off questions and pelt him with accusatory glares. Upon first waking, it marginally surprised Hirek she hadn’t kicked him just for pride’s sake. Only once she settled on a threatening statement promising harm if she’d been given alcohol of some sort and stood in as aggressive a stance as she could muster, given her stature and attire, did Hirek move to stand. He kept his movements slow, drawing out the moment while also giving her plenty of time to mentally or physically prepare for his approach.

Hirek held up a single digit as he took a small step toward her, “No one laughed,” holding up a second digit, he added a second step, bringing him closer to her personal sense of space, “They are still fishing, and the thrai rinam expects you to dispel bad luck by returning to the boat once you’re recovered,” third finger, third step, his expression remaining neutral as he channeled all his mischievous energy into his vocal inflections, “This is a recovery shack on the beach where I carried you so you could recover in privacy and at your own pace without an audience, and,” fourth finger and fourth step, “were unconscious for approximately fifteen minutes. I debated taking you to sickbay, but the computer reassured me your vital signs denoted no emergency.” He was close enough now to reach out, smoothing his fingers down her wrist and tugging the water skin from her grasp. Holding it up, he shook it briefly before adding another finger accompanying a half-smile. “This is spring water that likely the thrai rinam  put additional herbs in it to help with your headache, but unlikely that it is anything that would incapacitate you further.” He tossed the near-empty skin onto the reed mat before shifting forward another step and adding two fingers from his other hand as he continued the relentless count. “Our team is awaiting your recovery before it puts to sea. A sailing vessel needs all hands to compete. And the winner is determined by the amount of the rok’tai caught, not the first catch, though a special award is given for that too.”

By this point, he stood toe-to-toe with Talia, and once he shifted forward again, Talia would need to step back to avoid being crowded and dipping backward. He made no move to touch her, but kept his hands where she could see them as he shifted forward again, this time widening his stance to increase his presence but not force her backward quite yet, and held up another digit in his continued counting.

“I may not be a formal member of your crew, but I would not abandon you to your injury and continue to the festival without you, as you are here as my guest, and though Romulan, I am not without my own sense of honor.” He leaned forward, watching her micro-expressions shift in the subtle movements of her facial muscles as she reacted to his proximity. Allowing a quiet moment, Hirek raised his hand to eye level and brought up a ninth finger. “I am not drunk.” Moving his last finger up as he pressed forward one final subtle step, this time, Hirek reached out and gently tucked some of her hair behind her ear before drawing his arms across his chest and raising a single eyebrow. “I was smiling at you because I was pleasantly surprised you didn’t wake up and immediately kick me for some presumed harm I did you while you were unconscious and instead fired questions at me as if they were lasers. That and,” his smile turned lecherous as he let his gaze drift down to rest on her chest momentarily, “you are lovely to look at regardless of your emotional state.”

Another half-second of close quarters and Hirek moved in one giant step to hold back the door flap, looking back to Talia for confirmation that she was following. “You are likely feeling the effects of the simulated rok’tai venom. For abrasions like yours,” his gaze darted to her scuffed knees, “we cleanse it with water infused with the venom. It helps numb the pain and often carries other, more pleasing side effects that further distract from lingering discomfort. It is actually the rok’tai that we are searching for today, so,” his smile was boyish and genuine, “when you feel you’re ready to face the crowd again, come join us and we’ll put to sea.”

He stepped through the entryway before she could try to find something to throw at him and wisely sidestepped in case she tried to barrel through the door flap in a tackling manner. His gait was slow as Hirek moved further away from the shack, taking a meandering course back toward where their boat remained on its stilts and the young Romulan sailors of their crew sat in clumps playing gambling games with the stone pieces that had been passed down for centuries.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #14
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
Shadow felt her body tense like a coiled spring while her eyes narrowed, watching every move as Hirek began counting off answers in his peculiar accent. He moved slowly, cautiously, towards her; hands plainly in view, like a shepherd trying to sooth a panicked sheep. Talia fought to keep her lips from curling in amusement, at first; but the closer her got, the more she focused on breathing to calm her heart rate and hold herself in place. The only tension she betrayed was the slight tremor of her jawline, and an occasional twitch of muscle. Her jaw clenched; not in anger, but in focus. Shadow refused to back down from him – or anyone, within reason – but especially him. You don’t scare me, you ass, her eyes blinked slowly at him in defiance.

She let him continue, right into her space, close enough for his scent to fill her nostrils. As he brushed the hair behind her ear, Talia’s head tilted away slightly but her eyes softened at the gesture; the ghost of a smirk pulled the corner of her lips, barely perceptible. For an instant, she felt something other than guarded suspicion…but then the moment shattered, and Talia rolled her eyes at his attempted compliment. Color me surprised, she nearly snorted, but held her tongue; keeping her eyes on him as he lingered close for a few more seconds. Just as her mouth opened to speak, the Romulan side-stepped quickly, making his exit, the stand-off apparently concluded.

Her eyes narrowed at him while she stood in profile, listening to him explain the possible side effects of his venom-infused first aid treatment. Wait – what? Talia blinked, brow knitted at his nonchalance. Her mouth opened to protest, but the Romulan walked off, leaving her there in the shack. This man, Shadow sighed, raking a hand through her hair. OK, OK, calm down, a hand fanned her chest, trying to cool off as she shook her head. “Fucking twit,” she snorted, once she was sure he was out of earshot.

Heat radiated from her entire body, while she tried to shake the tingling from her fingers in futility. “Oh, she’s unconscious, here, here’s some sea venom while I admire your tits,” Talia mimicked Hirek’s throaty growl of a voice in mockery as she slapped the flap to the shack open and walked out onto the beach. The wind instantly caught her hair, as she turned to follow his footsteps. The pilot stopped for a moment to let the breeze cool her skin, closing her eyes to compose herself. “Should’ve slapped that fucking smirk right off his…,” she sighed, not really sure what irritated her more: the embarrassment of her failure during the boat toss, his moronic use of a home remedy without her approval, or the fact that she wanted to believe his compliment was genuine – but couldn’t.

Alright, just…breathe. Clearly he meant well. Not that big of a deal, Shadow breathed deep. Just establish some boundaries and get on with it. When her eyes opened, she set off calmly after him, as the ache in her skull slowly dimmed to a dull throb. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the boat, once safely out of striking distance. Talia smirked at that.

“So that’s that,” Shadow called after him in question, loud enough to be heard over the wind and festivities. She waited for him to acknowledge the question, before approaching with a measured pace. “You just say your peace, walk off, life goes on? Good luck with that,” another smirk, after turning her face toward the sea. “What if I have more to say, hm? What if I feel the need to apologize, and…I don’t know…maybe explain myself a little? That’s usually how humans handle things,” she continued, walking up to where he stood.

“Look, I understand you meant well, and thank you for it, but next time? Wait until I’m awake and ask, before you envenom me. It’s called consent, Mr. Tr’Aimne, and it’s important in non-emergency situations,” she kept her tone calm, almost like explaining something to a child, but devoid of any mockery or condescension. “Consider it a boundary of our evolving acquaintance, and an insight into human culture.” Her eyes flicked over his body before turning her attention to the surf and boat waiting for them with a sigh, ignoring the glances and gestures of the other men clustered about, as well as the old crone that watched their exchange unashamedly.

You’re making a spectacle of yourself, she ground her teeth, uncomfortable with the attention, then lifted her chin and gestured with a hand to the sea to quickly change topics.

“So the fish, these…rook-tay,” Talia attempted to pronounce the word he used earlier, but even to her it sounded ridiculously accented, “are venomous, so…is that why we’re going after them with spears? Anything else I need to know about them?” A muscled shoulder twitched in a shrug. “You know, perhaps you should just enlighten me on how exactly this will play out, before it ends in disaster,” Shadow laughed nervously, without meeting his eyes. “I obviously have no idea what I’m doing, and would rather avoid more embarrassment,” she mumbled self-consciously.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #15
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Raising his eyebrows, Hirek kept his arms loose at his side when he responded. “What do you have to apologize for?” Hirek chose to ignore, for the moment, some of the sillier things she’d said once she slowed down long enough to let him speak. “I have noticed that humans tend to wander around apologizing for many things that are illogical to apologize for; one need not be a Vulcan to note that. And what would you explain? I never demanded an explanation for why you felt the need to have the men toss you into the boat instead of accepting my solitary hand, nor have I expected you to explain anything you didn’t want to explain. I am not whoever it is in your past who made demands on you to be a certain way, live to a certain expectation, justify your behavior, or whatever it was that invoked a belief that I would expect or want the same from you.” Hirek gestured to the beach and the towering cliffs of the fabricated island. “We value freedom here, in all its forms. This is one reason we have been targeted by the Tal Shi’ar for centuries." Hirek looked to the "sky" and asked the computer for the "venom" recipe: cloves, jasmine, capsaicin, olive oil, and fish oil. He chuckled then and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, "Consent, the Terran concept of politely telling someone you don't trust their character or intention. Not to worry, I have duly noted that there is more of the continental Romulan about you than you may have realized, Miss Al-Ibrahim.”

Though she’d spoken to him in a voice reserved for a child—he’d very much noticed and found it amusing—Hirek chose not to return in kind. Instead, he crouched, took a stick, and began drawing diagrams of how they’d begin with the fishing. He commented on her fears as he drew, giving himself the space to finish his rudimentary drawings before explaining the fishing process.

“I don’t understand why you should feel embarrassed when trying something new for the first time. And from a culture, you admittedly had many stereotypical preconceived notions about.” Using the stick, Hirek pointed toward the group of elders sitting around one of the roasting fires, their faces pulled back in laughter as one of the youth mimed out a story with his peers. “Even if this were real, no one here would have felt anything other than concern for your well-being at the incident and a determined hope that you didn’t crumple in fear after the pain and walk away. Why else do you think we involve every age and gender in this festival if not to teach, learn, and grow at every age?” Hirek gave a half-shrug, still one of his favorite Terran gestures he’d picked up since coming aboard, and resumed his drawing. “I believe it is a dangerously prideful thing to expect excellence and perfection of yourself in all instances at all things. Maybe this is where my scientific background clashes with your piloting one,” Hirek set aside the stick and blinked at Talia with a neutral expression, “to me, failure is a beginning, not an end. It is something to rise to, challenge, and overcome in creative ways, but not something to fear or grow embarrassed about.”

Hirek studied her then pointed to the diagrams and said, "The rudderman leads the oarmen. He or she is also the first to spot the pods of fish. I mentioned earlier that this position is often the most dangerous because the rok’tai can fly, and they are large enough to consider creatures our size prey, and there have been instances of the ruddermen getting knocked into the water and maimed or eaten. We use all parts of the rok’tai, their venom, their oil, their meat, their fins. Everything. Spearing them under their jaw while they fly overhead is the best way to preserve all parts of the fish, and it is a quick death for the fish. A secondary location would be through the torso, just behind the flying fins, though this spot is hard to get if they’re in the water. The only place you can spear them, if they’re still in the water, without completely ruining the meat with the venom, which can quickly happen when their venom sacks burst if not appropriately killed, is the same type of spear tactic as going for the jaw underneath but straight down through the skull. This takes a lot of strength as this part of their skull is the thickest, and just one millimeter too far in any direction will cause the venom sacks to burst. We only go for the fish approximately the same size as the boat, nothing smaller. Once each boat catches one, they click the transport button hidden on their spear, and the fish corpse is automatically transported from the end of their spear to their crew’s fire where those onshore can start preparing it. We repeat this until the pods leave the area, and as I mentioned earlier, the winner is the crew who caught the most fish.”

Studying her silently for another moment, Hirek nodded to the crude drawings, “What else do you need to know to feel more in control of the next steps of this endeavor?" He wasn't an empath, but the pilot seemed to crave control, which was to be expected for her chosen career.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #16
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
Almost as soon as he started talking, Shadow started pacing; jaw clenched, the sable mane of her hair pulled by the wind. Dark eyes locked with his, subtly lit with the emotions the pilot hid from her face behind a brittle mask of practiced neutrality. At the mention of her past however, that façade cracked in a blink, and she shot him a withering glare of warning. Talia froze in place for a second; brows creased, every muscle and sinew in her body locked rigid. Don’t, she nearly snarled, but the Romulan continued with a gesture, hinting of his people’s depredation at the hands of the infamous Tal’Shiar, seemingly oblivious to her reaction, which didn't improve her mood. While sympathetic to their plight, and in agreement with the ideals of freedom his people appeared to enjoy, Talia vented a sharp breath of air from her nose at his throaty chuckle; irritated at his amusement. She raked the hair from her face while her head shook at the list of ingredients from his ‘treatment’, mouth open to retort in an aggravated bark – to inform him that consent wasn’t just about trust, or the lack thereof  – but his casual comparison of her to his fellow Romulans cut that short, earning him another furious glare of indignation. The fucking balls on this guy, Talia fumed as her pacing resumed; the very image of a lupine predator kept at bay in the darkness: fangs bared, hackles raised, drawn to yet wary of the firelight. In truth, her lip barely curled in disapproval, yet his comment stung her deeply. Think whatever you want, you don’t know shit about me, she growled to herself.

When he finally shut up, Talia’s pacing slowed. She proceeded to ignore Hirek and everything else, closing her eyes to focus inward. Deep breaths followed, the sounds stolen on the wind. Slowly, Shadow felt the tension in her bleed away as her body relaxed – taking the anger and bitter embarrassment with it – swallowed down into the pit of her being that gave her the strength to do what she’d always done: persevere. Hirek’s voice pulled her from the momentary respite of self-isolation, however. He spoke casually, relaxed, as if merely thinking aloud. Talia’ jaw clenched, but listened; chocolate colored eyes, lit a shade brighter in the simulated sunlight, blinked open and turned to where he knelt. Talia tilted her head at his drawing in the sand, remaining on her feet at his side; offering no comment, nor any outward reaction at all. By his own words, she owed him neither – she simply raised her eyes to take in the simulacrum of his home and kin again, then nodded her understanding: as a scientist, of sorts, he saw the world and everything in it as a curious puzzle to solve by trial and error – mistakes were just another opportunity to learn. Shadow felt a pang of envy at that outlook, but refused to show it.

"Pride has nothing to do with it," she hissed under her breath, refusing to meet his eyes; instead, she blinked slowly, listening but focused on his crude drawing in the sand. You see a lot, but you don’t see everything, she wanted to snarl at him, but held her tongue; doubtful that he would understand and in no mood to divulge anything further. Perhaps that is the real truth behind all this, or part of it, Talia wondered, blinking at him as he paused and watched her. Was this really built for you, as a reminder of the home you left behind? Or just an elaborate ruse to study whoever you managed to lure in here? She’d never know for certain, because she’d never ask. In that moment, Shadow felt naked and more guarded than ever under his gaze – so her walls snapped up instantly, layering her in armor of neutral professionalism. This…scientist…had seen enough, and hit too close to home; Talia had no interest in revealing anything else. That’s quite enough of that, thank you, she breathed calmly, meeting his neutral gaze with her own.

The moment passed, and Hirek continued; Talia’s mind extrapolated and envisioned the hunt to come as he detailed the best options for how to kill the fish correctly. Again, she simply nodded her understanding. It sounded simple enough, and she wanted to see these rok’tai for herself; she wanted to learn about his people, the culture – even if only by observation. So, she sealed herself up and chose to ignore Hirek and his games for the time being, as much as possible, anyway. His final question caught her off guard though, televised by Talia’s brows twitching together in confusion at his choice of words. She regarded him for a moment – searching his eyes and face for any sign of mockery, but found none. Whatever, she huffed as her eyes fell away to the drawing in sand.

“Computer, pause program – five second interval.” Everything and everyone froze, while Shadow examined her nails in silence as she waited. Once the program resumed around them, it was her turn to half-shrug. “Thank you for answering my question; but I have all the control I need, Mr. Tr’Aimne,” Talia murmured, then lifted her chin at his drawing: a boat of stick figures, armed with more sticks. Some rowed, others raised their weapons to the sky – at the giant finned dragon soaring above. Chaos incarnate; a place she lived and breathed every time the canopy sealed around her. “Imagine trying to fly a warp fighter, knowing nothing of the dangers. Second nature to me, but I doubt you would feel so relaxed,” she gestured at the drawing, then shook her head with a tsk, realizing she was trying to explain herself again. "Never mind," she huffed. "I get the gist. I'll figure the rest out as we go,” she replied levelly. “Shall we,” her head nodded to the boat as she turned and walked towards it, shoulders squared, head held high. “I’m sure a great deal of shouting will be involved as well,” Talia continued, assuming he had followed. “So do us both a favor – just call me Shadow,” she stated, voice raised over the wind and surf and not-too-distant joviality she no longer let herself feel apart of.

As Talia neared the craft, and the gaggle of Hirek’s holographic kin, she accepted a spear from one and a helmet from another. All of them greeted her with nods and seemingly encouraging smiles; she let her eyes meet each of theirs, then nodded. “Let’s catch some fish.” The men cheered then, spears raised to the sky. Talia rotated the wooden haft in her hand, noting its lack of decoration, watching the sunlight reflect off its bladed tip as they hurried into the water and pulled each other onto the boat. I'll figure the rest out as we go, her own words echoed in her head, over their calls to her, using that peculiar name that she’d earned somehow. Famous last words, ace, she sighed, sensing Hirek draw near.

Fuck it, Talia growled to herself, wading out into the surf to join them, without so much as a glance in his direction.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #17
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

The variety of personalities and demeanors found in any species always fascinated Hirek. Plants, animals, or more sentient creatures—like this “Shadow”—it didn’t matter what the “thing” was; Hirek had always enjoyed coming across differences in the expected norms. He'd had minimal exposure to non-Romulans before his posting to Qo'Nos, but he used his clearance and position to access data from many planets. Hirek had studied the data with the same intensity as when preparing for an exam. When Hirek was permitted to join the starship and mingle with its crew without a handler, he'd felt like dancing with joy, like when his grandmother had given him a sweet as a child. They’d been at a famous observatory on the main continent. Since they’d been in “mixed” company, likely with more than a few Tal Shi’ar agents lurking about, Hirek remembered his grandmother—who normally delighted in his overenthusiastic, exuberant responses—chastising him for the little dance of glee he’d given in plain view of all. Hirek had quietly eaten the sweet, even though it had become bitter, to avoid disappointing her or frustrating his parents. Hirek also remembered how his parents struggled to recover after his mother’s sixth miscarriage and knew now that a few weeks later, they’d determine she’d been genetically poisoned by the Tal Shi’ar as a “thanks” for her public critique against them.

Watching Talia pace while he’d spoken, noting how her nostrils flared and pupils dilated as she fought for control over her emotions brought a mixture of fascination and delight to Hirek. Of course, he wasn’t so dastardly to find her discomfort pleasurable. The delight came from this opportunity. He was content to be in a place like home for one of his favorite festivals, watching an irate human woman partake in it without Tal Shi'ar intervention. He was very curious why his behavior caused the pilot to respond so harshly. The masochist inside him urged Hirek to touch her, perhaps pull her into an embrace, risk a kiss even, to see how violent she could become.

Instead, Hirek remained quiet as he followed Talia back to the boat. He collected his spear and helmet from one of the boys and overtook Talia on the way to the boat bouncing in the surf. Tossing his gear into the front, he took over holding the prow while the second largest and second eldest of their crew mimicked the same bracing stance at the other end. The crew climbed aboard, including Talia, with Hirek and the other man being the last two to get in. Neither he nor Talia had been given the position of rudderman. However, Hirek had taken the front for a reason, and after pulling the helmet over his head, he pulled the oval drum out from under the bench seat, a pair of leather-covered drumsticks dangling from the sides. His initial yelping cry signaled the men to raise their oars while the rudderman got into position at the rear.

Beneath the helmet, Hirek’s lips pulled back into a smile as he watched one of the men shove an oar into Talia’s hands, instructing her to leave the spear at her feet, pointed end facing toward him. If her earlier stonewalling was any indication, the woman was undoubtedly fighting an urge to toss it at him instead of the fish they were about to hunt. His voice rolled over the crew as he began to sing, the men echoing his words for the first few refrains without moving their oars. This was the moment of synchronization, where according to tradition, their hearts were strung together, their strength combined, and they became one unit. He didn’t merely watch Talia’s response to hearing the men around her singing, though he was tempted to. He savored the simulation, remembering the last time he hunted - many years ago. Pulling an arm up and back, Hirek’s guttural cry sounded with the first bang on the drum. The signal to drop oars into the water in synch. For this being her first time, Talia was doing well in staying on time with the others.

He began the slow, steady beat on the drum, the song shifting to match the rhythm. It was a call-and-response type song, and as the boat began to cut through the surf out into the bay, Hirek’s drum beats and lyrical calls for action changed. While the oarmen responded to his beats and song, Hirek responded to the signals from the rudderman, and so far, the only signal was to paddle fast and hard further out toward the deeper waters past the reef. He tilted his head to the side, smiling when he heard a distinctly Terran female voice joining with the masculine Romulans in the response. Hirek couldn’t tell if she was trying to sing the lyrics precisely or just making noises close to the words; didn’t matter either way. She was participating in this full-heartedly, and he hoped for her own sake she was finding a sense of accomplishment.

The rudderman gave the signal, and Hirek’s song and beat changed. The rok’tai had been spotted. Now it was a race against the other boats already bobbing in the waves. If Talia felt fatigued from the rapid paddling out past the reef earlier, likely her muscles would burn to an uncomfortable level now that they had to press harder to reach the pod first. Seaspray coated their bodies as they cut across the tops of the waves, quickly evaporating and leaving behind the gritty salt film from the burn of the overhead sun. Unseen to Hirek from his position, he heard the other crews’ songs and drumbeats change as they began to engage the rok’tai. Hirek felt a few droplets as a rok'tai flew overhead, blocking their view of the sun.. Eyes immediately traveling down the boat's length to settle on Talia, he smiled at her response to the behemoth flying sea creature.

While Hirek similarly changed his song and drumbeats as the other boats, now that they were amid the pod, the rest of the crew adjusted their positions. Half the crew stayed rowing, while the others, including Talia, armed themselves with spears. Despite her misgivings, she seemed to thrive in the physical aspect of the program. Beautifully armed and dangerous, and just as likely to spear anyone who remarked on the grace and balance she exuded as she readied herself for the hunt now that it had arrived.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #18
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
Talia was jostled into position near the rear of the boat, trying to adjust to the odd helmet; it was stifling, and limited her peripheral vision, but she assumed everyone was wearing one for a reason. Can't see a fucking thing in this, she grumbled silently. The acoustics took some getting used to as well; the sound of her own breathing overpowered everything else. While she looked to the others to mimic them, one of the men shoved an oar at her as he pointed to the deck and rattled off something at her. While she didn’t understand the words, she gleaned enough from his gestures and glared at him, but complied with a nod; setting the spear down to take up the oar, and considered jabbing the hologram in the back of the head with it. “Got it, thanks,” she replied dryly instead.

Her head tilted at Hirek’s rallying cries – the meaning beyond her understanding – but when the men around her answered in kind and moved as one, she quickly followed suit, and took up the ready position, stretching her back out in preparation for what was to come. Thus engaged, Talia missed the cue to start – dropping her oar a second late with a grimace – but skipped a drum beat to fall into sync quickly enough. She listened to the rhythm of the drum; a steady beat to Hirek’s sing-song cadence, and let it guide her movements.

“Hulae,” the men shouted around her, in answer between the first few lyrics. “Aeiiht val’htheale,” after the next two. Talia simply grunted, teeth clenched behind the mask of her helmet. They had barely begun, yet she already felt the sting of lactic acid creeping into her limbs – especially her legs, braced back against the bench for leverage – as she dug deeper into the surf with every stroke. Fucking leg day, she grumbled to herself. Soon enough though, a pattern in beat, song, and answered call emerged.  While Talia’s initial responses were murmured only to herself, eventually her voice roared alongside theirs, unconcerned if she pronounced the words correctly or not.

But then the beat quickened as Hirek’s song took on a growled edge of urgency. Shadow once again found herself lagging behind, out of sync, as the row pace doubled. The men’s responses had changed to a guttural call between rapid strokes as well; a deep exhalation that sounded like ‘choom’. As soon as she started doing it, Shadow realized it was helping her breathe in a steady, deeper rhythm, easing some of the burn from her muscles. The pilot dropped her head, and dug deep to keep up with the furious pace.

“Hwi, kre, sie, mne, hulae,” they called out suddenly, rowing like maniacs around her. Talia pushed herself harder, refusing to fall behind, as her mind blanked and her body took over. Water sprayed and splashed upon her skin, wholly ignored. Her eyes screwed shut between stokes, her heart pounded, the veins of her limbs pulsing just beneath her skin as her limbs cried out for oxygen. Just as the absolute limit of her endurance seemed near, the beat slowed. Talia lifted her head, and loosed a whooping laugh of relief and triumph; truly exhilarated. “Fuck sakes,” the pilot panted through a grin, oar rested over the side of the boat, trying to catch her breath. Belatedly, she wondered why they had stopped, arms too weary to join in the clapping.

Talia quickly realized several important things all at once: the clapping that she thought was cheering was in fact the sound of hundreds, if not thousands of tiny winged fish no bigger than her hand. They were swarming around them, striking the hull, each other, and the sea, almost driven from the water by something. The men around her had not been idle, either; oars had been stowed, spears raised. Perhaps most importantly of all – the blessed break in sunlight had nothing to do with cloud cover. One second she had been sitting there, drawing ragged breaths into burning lungs. Time seemed to slow as she looked up, between thousands of water droplets that sparkled in the sun, at a the blurred belly of a monster. Oh, fuck me, Shadow felt the blood drain from her face, rushing to her core as survival instinct kicked in. The next second, she was on her feet, spear clenched in both hands with a roar on her lips.

She was far too slow, however.

Talia’s spear bit only air as the monstrous fish sailed overhead, jaws gaping wide, filled to the brim with its prey. She heard its fanged maw slam shut with a queasy squish just before it’s head slammed into the sea, taking its bulk with it in a mighty crash. The boat heaved in its wake, forcing her to widen her stance and grip one hand to the side with a snarled curse. Shouts rose around her – men jostled for position – pointing out to the right, the left, all around them. The boat stabilized, wheeling in the bedlam. Talia’s eyes narrowed, followed their gestures, her head angled against the impacts of several smaller preyfish that pinged off it. “Ow, shit,” she grunted, as several of them scratched her skin deep enough to sting in the salty spray of the sea.

Off to starboard, something truly massive lurched up from the depths; Talia’s eyes widened at the size of the bow wave alone, as she readied her spear with the others. Allah have mercy, her mind murmured, as an explosion of water bloomed from the waves.

The beast roared as it’s fins spread wide, snapped rigid faster than a blink; it seemed to shimmer into being, it’s iridescent scales in flux, changing colors as it left one plane of existence for another. Two sets of eyes, above and below its maw, dilated with an almost instinctual malice and ravenous hunger. Even from this distance – less than a hundred yards – she knew it was easily larger than two boats, and it was coming straight at them. Talia had never seen anything so beautiful and terrifying in her life.

“That one’s mine,” she snarled.

A flash of green and a cheer signaled a successful kill from her left. Talia ignored it – preparing herself – willing the monster closer. C’mon, c’mon, her mind chanted, spear up and ready to strike; she watched it glide, feeding as it soared, steadily losing altitude, seemingly oblivious to all else. That’s it, eat up, her eyes flicked between it and the bladed tip of her spear. Beneath the jaw. Beneath the jaw. C’mon, beauty, Talia grinned as its cavernous mouth clamped shut; streamers of frothy blood leaked free like ribbons across its flanks. It drew closer, but was still too high; so she scrambled up onto one of the benches, extending the reach of her spear as much as she could. Men shouted around her, but Talia was focused on her prize. It was nearly upon them. Come on, come on…

Come on,” Shadow bellowed as she leapt vertical and thrust her spear, as far as she could reach – and missed. The spear-tip sliced up into the side of the beasts head; only managing to ravage one baleful, glossy eye – that popped like a blister. The bloated, titanic creature sailed on with a rumbling groan of irritation at the feeble attack.

Talia landed awkwardly an instant later, steadied by crashing into the back of someone, with no time to curse or recover her balance. The boat careened as if it had been shoved sideways, then heaved under her again, and the pilot crashed to her hands and knees as chaos erupted around her.

“Who the hell is driving this thing,” Talia roared as she looked for Hirek. The rudderman was gone, lost in the tangle of bodies and limbs. Her head whipped around to where she last saw the insufferable scientist, and saw just a pair of arms holding on for dear life to the side of the boat. She rose with a snarl, and shoved men out of her way; the spear was discarded as she raced to claw him back aboard with a grunt of effort.

“Have you lost your rabid-assed mind,” Talia snarled at him between breaths, after the fact, ripping the helmet from her head to throw at the deck by her feet – beyond furious. Somehow, she knew this was all his fault. Talia glared at him, despite the insanity that continued around them, covered in scratches, the wet mop of her hair sticking to her face. “What are you doing?! I was this close to that big one,” Talia hissed at him – holding up her finger and thumb at the eye slits of his helm for emphasis – then screamed a warning and ducked into a backwards roll, pulling him down with her; narrowly avoiding the glistening fangs of a smaller rok’tai that soared overhead.

The back of Talia’s head hit the deck, hard enough to make her grunt in pain. Something heavy and hard was on her chest. She lifted her head with a growl, realizing she’d inadvertently pulled Hirek directly on top of her; she lay pinned beneath his weight, thighs parted around his hips, blinking stars and water from her eyes. Ugh, wonderful, she thought with a groan.

Hulae! = Stroke!
Aeiiht val’htheale! = All together!
1 – hwi
2 – kre
3 – sei
4 – mne

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #19
[ Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

There was no opportunity to coach Talia on her stance or attack. With so many sightings and opportunities happening all at once, the Terran was left to her own devices while the rest of the spearmen sought their own quarry. Having elected to man the drum, Hirek was not expected to use his spear, much as those who remained at their oars were not, at least not unless an emergency occurred. There was great danger in being amid so great a pod, and with so many rok’tai elders within this pod—each with a scar or two of having survived a previous hunt. Hirek already knew they’d be lucky if they all returned to shore in one piece and in the same boat. He surmised that at least one or two of the boatmen would be knocked into the water, and if they kept their wits about them, they’d use the site-to-site transporter beacon on their spear to take them back to shore instead of becoming a rok’tai plaything. He also expected at least one boat in this hunt to be shattered, the victim of an intentional breaching rok’tai elder, more annoyed with the presence of the hunters than worried for its hide.

He had these thoughts in mind as he watched the crew move about the boat, scrambling over and among each other in an organized yet chaotic fashion. Talia stood out amidst this wrangled mayhem, not exactly working with them, and not trying to work against them, but certainly not lending herself to the teamwork necessary in taking down a rok’tai without risking retribution from an elder. There were so many nuances of the hunt that came naturally to Hirek and that seemed so practically obvious, he hadn’t thought to tell her, and watching her thrust at a rok’tai and miss before taking aim at one of the elders—one of the seasoned veterans of a hunt, and one they normally wouldn’t go after—Hirek realized many of these vital details were difficult to verbally convey. They were details he’d learned by doing, as no one had warned him of such things either. He’d mimicked his elders in the boat as a youngster, and had learned through watching them and following them what to do and what not to do. With that, he’d also experimented with many failures until he’d found his own way. So, in truth, Talia was just as a youngster in her efforts, yet she had a perilous “otherly” element since she was not inclined—or so it seemed—to watch and follow the others and had certainly ignored the warnings from the boatmen before she’d aimed at the elder overhead, taking out one of its eyeballs but doing it no harm otherwise.

Hirek dropped the drumsticks and reached for his spear. He knew that either this elder or one of its mates would seek payback for the offense. It was only a matter of time before-

The sudden heaving of the boat knocked Hirek against the side, well away from his spear. As the bulk of his weight tipped over the rail, he fell into the merciless air betwixt boat and sea. Only a quick reflex of twisting his torso and grasping hands kept Hirek from submerging into the churning waters beneath the boat. The boat offered some protection from the fleeing rok'tai prey, but a few still managed to cut his skin as they fled.

Dangling as he was, Hirek could take stock of their predicament from a different vantage point. There were many more rok’tai elders still beneath the waters. Perhaps they’d already fed and didn’t feel the need to chase the prey through the air. Or, more likely, they were herding the prey above the surface for the younger ones. Though large, those rok’tai going through the air were still not as large as those who remained below. While he’d earlier presumed destruction on this hunt before, Hirek knew it was a certainty now. This was one of the largest pods populated by the largest percentage of elders that he’d ever encountered. Perhaps the computer wanted to “show off” to both Hirek and Talia when it created this pod.

“What are you doing?!” Hirek moved his gaze from the goliaths of the deep at the sound of Talia’s voice. She peered at him over the edge of the boat with an expression of annoyance, the down-turned quality of her voice denoting frustration and not an ounce of fear. “I was this close to that big one!”

She didn’t give him a chance to respond before she squawked some incomprehensible word and hoisted him up the side and back into the boat. He felt the shivering shadow of a rok’tai on his back as the momentum of Talia’s “rescue” carried them past the point of intentional and on into the realm of accidental. Likely, she hadn’t intended to rescue him, but a more profound sense of duty upon seeing the rok’tai had prompted a spontaneous move on her part. There was nothing to be done. She hit the deck first, head knocking against it—again—and gravity drove Hirek’s mass to land on top of her.

He heard the rok’tai before he saw it. Barely had Hirek registered the new position—under different circumstances, he’d very much love to tease her about being between her legs again—before his legs tensed and he braced his arms. Hirek pushed himself forward, tucking into a roll, and coming to his feet on the deck near her head, spear already in hand. The same rumbling vibration of a rok’tai elder shook the boat as he jumped onto one of the rower’s seats and maneuvered over and around the writhing bodies of the rest of the crew, all moving to brace themselves for what they felt was an inevitable breaching. Rok'tai liked to breach at the stern or prow of the ship, hoisting their girth just high enough out of the water to land the bulk of their weight atop the offending vessel, crushing the vessel and crew to pieces, and pushing them into a watery grave if they lost their wits and forgot the transportation beacon.

The head of the rok’tai emerged from the water off the stern just as Hirek took two leaping steps. He switched the spear to his non-dominant hand, coiled his leg muscles, and jumped towards the rok'tai just as its first flight fins came into view next to the stern Hirek had seconds to make the kill if he was to make it. His hand gripped the sharp yet slippery edge of one of the flight fins, a series of gashes immediately cutting into his palm and across his fingers. He felt the rok’tai’s gaze as he pulled back his arm and thrust the spear into its side between the first and second flight fins. It was a trained thrust, though a risky maneuver. The rok’tai let out a deafening bellow as it fell towards the boat, still very much a threat to Talia and the others. Hirek’s bloodied hand slipped off the fin, his grip on the spear the only thing keeping him with the rapidly descending beast. Tightening his arm muscles and feeling the answering pull across his shoulders and back, Hirek hauled his body closer to the rok’tai. It was out of memory alone that Hirek knew where the button was as his blood-seeping fingers passed over it almost without feeling. Pressing the button, Hirek felt the great give in the spear, throwing off his plummeting trajectory, as the rok’tai’s body was transported to the beach, and he was left to fall alone.

The simulation at least looked kindly enough on him that he landed in the water next to the boat instead of crashing into it. The force of the fall knocked the breath from his lungs and he sunk for a moment, eyes taking in the underwater battle waging between prey and rok’tai, before he clawed his way to the water’s surface. His hand stung from the seawater gripping at his injury. Grimacing at the discomfort, Hirek swam back towards the boat but added a groan to the grimace when he heard their warning. Pausing long enough to take stock of what they’d seen, he noted another rok’tai elder, half-submerged, barreling its way through the pod, this time toward Hirek and not the boat. Letting out a curse to the trickster god who’d fathered these beasts, Hirek swam faster, already knowing he wouldn’t reach the boat before the creature was upon him.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #20
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz 
This is insane, Talia grunted as the pressure on her chest increased then abruptly vanished as Hirek rolled off and away. Her head throbbed in time with her racing heart as she tried to get up to follow, but Shadow could only blink in amazement as she witnessed his kill. As if in slow motion between heaving sprays of sea water, Pretty-Eyes looked like something out of an ancient Greco-Roman myth: every muscle and sinew flexed under water-kissed skin, glistening in the sun – spear clenched as it pierced the shimmering scales of a gargantuan monster. He was a demigod of legend, the performance a Herculean act of skill and bravery, all in a matter of seconds.

Shadow shuddered, without even realizing it.

In that moment Talia was the calm of the storm; unable to take her eyes off him, but she snapped out of it quickly enough; rapid blinks as she glanced around at the madness taking place told her the same tale, no matter where she looked - that they were well and truly fucked. The crew were in disarray; shouting words she didn’t understand, rowing like madmen, trying to stabilize the boat and ward off further attacks. The rok'tai were everywhere. There were far more than seemed realistic, even for her ignorant eyes, which flinched shut at the sharp, bright flare of teleportation then widened as Hirek fell to into the sea with a painful sounding smack.

Talia got to her feet with a curse. Another quick glance about verified her situation, and the pilot instinctively assessed her options. There really wasn’t time to think; she saw the beast closing in towards the bow, and the other pushing the stern with its massive head. The rok’tai were working together, almost pushing the boat into place for a final strike. Shadow grunted as the vessel was tossed about, searching the waves for Hirek.

“Yeah, this was a great idea,” Shadow growled as she staggered to the stern and scooped up her spear, doing her best to bat away the few flying prey-fish from slapping into her face. The boat heaved to the side again, slapped askew from the starboard bow, throwing her into the side with a grunt of pain. Anger flared then – hot and rancid – at the absurd insanity of it all; at the fish, at Hirek, but mostly at herself for being naïve enough to think she could possibly handle the situation in the first place. “Enough,” the irate pilot bellowed as she raised her spear and twisted her torso to thrust through the side of a smaller rok’tai’s head; momentum carried her forward as it pulled itself off the tip of her spear to splash limply back into the sea. The men around her ducked and weaved away from her to avoid her spear, distracted from their own hunts; Shadow spun, furious, eyes narrowed as she finally saw Hirek surface with a pained expression – right in the path of a huge bow wave. Her eyes widened, while her mind estimated the distance.

“BEHIND YOU – SWIM,” Talia screamed at him as she jabbed her spear, pointed behind Hirek, but she knew he’d never make it; she added a curse when he actually paused to take the time to look behind him. “Damn fish can have you after I’m done,” the pilot fumed through clenched teeth as she backed up to the other side of the boat in preparation to leap for him. It was a long swim, and the beasts were pushing the boat farther away every second. Talia breathed deep, legs braced, then launched herself into a run.

Several things happened in rapid succession just then:

From the corner of her eye, Talia saw an explosion of white; followed by a baritone rumble that drowned out the men shouting around her. She hesitated, mid-stride, and saw the head of a leviathan with one mangled eye drop its bulk across the entire bow of the boat in a blur of motion and noise. The boat buckled under the impact, fractured, and as the stern rose up out of the waves at an insane level of acceleration, twisted and warped as wood splintered like shrapnel. Then she was airborne; a living missile, along with all the others. Winks of light registered as she soared on in an uncontrollable trajectory – the teleport flares of some of the crew. Her mind wouldn’t work rationally enough to follow suit, however. On Shadow flew, up and over Hirek, spear raised with a primal scream of terror flavored with rage.

Somehow, against all odds, Shadow’s body hit the charging rok’tai’s flank with a jarring impact; the spear in her hands nearly wrenched from her iron-clad grip. The blade-tip had sunk deep, just behind the creature’s head, as it broke the water surface. The timing would appear preordained by anyone who happened to witness it, but to Talia, it was a blur of survival instinct and adrenaline fueled impossibility. She wasn’t even aware that she’d screamed ceaselessly the entire time.

One hand slipped free as the massive fish dove with a gurgle of blood, dragging her down beneath the waves. It’s fins knocked into her legs in a death spasm that pushed her almost vertical as it plunged for the depths. There was no air, no time to think; Talia grimaced, trailing bubbles of precious oxygen from her lips and nose, but regained her hold on the spear and a flare of emerald light sent the thrashing, wounded thing somewhere else. With every ounce of her remaining strength and will, Talia kicked towards the light; as her oxygen-starved lungs burned, clawing one armed for the surface – spear clenched tight in the other. Her eyes strained, bloodshot, through the greenish hued water. Enormous shapes danced at the edges of her vision, gliding through the shadowy depths below. Can’t drown in a sim, her panicked mind told her, just before her head broke up into the waves with a heaved gasp, part air, part water. Talia coughed, only succeeding to fill her lungs with more liquid; her body refused to function properly, oxygen starved and useless, as she tried in vain to search for something – anything – to hold on to.

She felt something grab her, just as emerald light dawned into being, but then the world faded to gray nothingness.

Something pushed her over on her side. Waves tickled her feet. She was coughing, sputtering, gasping, unable to see or hear, her limbs cold and tingling and everything hurt. Someone pulled the wet mop of hair from her eyes and face, as she heaved breath into pain-wracked lungs that felt like they were ablaze. A bloodied hand withdrew from her field of view and Talia’s misfiring mind couldn’t process the odd color that dripped from the lacerated fingers and palm; she blinked, trying to focus. Someone knelt beside her, over her. His features blurred, but she recognized his eyes easily: Hirek.

It took what seemed like an eternity, but gradually, Talia’s ragged breaths slowed enough to manage speech.

The pilot rolled onto her back, ignoring the dozens of cuts and scratches that stung with the movement, to raise her hands to cradle the sides of her head. “They ate the boat,” she told him through trembling lips, then closed her eyes and hid her face with her hands. “Fuck sake's, I was going to go after you, and they...” Talia sniffed, unable to stop the flood of conflicting emotions, overwhelmingly powerful. It always happened, every time; despite how utterly focused and determined she felt to accomplish something, in the end, Shadow’s emotions always ran amok. Win, lose, it never mattered, not really; this situation was all entirely new, and Talia had no idea how to begin to process it it. She tried and failed to recover by clearing her throat.

“S-sorry...,” she mumbled shakily, behind the veil of her hands, while she tried to regain her composure. After a few more seconds, Talia inhaled deeply, wiped her face, and raked the sand-strewn hair away to look up at him. "I think your program might need some adjustment," Shadow breathed out, her eyes glancing at his hand as concern hardened her features. "Are you okay?"

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #21
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Hirek’s legs scissored beneath him as he bobbed, watching the destruction. There was no point in swimming toward a boat that was no longer there. Yet, he had to move, somewhere, and fast, to avoid the oncoming rok’tai, now the wreckage of the boat, and the swarms of smaller prey whose scales continued to cut into his skin as they skimmed across the water’s surface in their flight to hoped-for freedom. He still clutched the spear in his good hand but didn’t press the transport beacon. Not yet. He needed to-

Both sight and sound answered his unvoiced question regarding Talia as the dark-haired pilot arced overhead, spear in hand, emitting a primitive sound that sounded one part fear, two parts confusion, and four parts pure fury. Hirek couldn’t help but marvel at both her beauty and—likely—unintended grace as her spear embedded in the head of a flying rok’tai, and she was flung about against its side for a few seconds before the giant monster dove beneath the frothy waves, taking her along with it. His body moved toward where she disappeared before his mind stopped replaying the scene again in his head—a scene that would undoubtedly serve as comfort and delight for many years. Twisting in circles in the gurgling bubbles emitted from a dying leviathan, Hirek scanned for the woman while he batted away the smaller fish from his face.

He felt the vibrations of another bellowing rok’tai, signaling its charge. Hirek caught sight of its tail pulling up and smashing down on another boat, sending its crew scurrying to press their beacons before the churning sea swallowed them up. Frowning, Hirek twisted again, curious if Talia had managed to find the beacon on her own or if…her head popped into view a few feet from his position. Hirek wasted no time and asked for no permission. The rok’tai, finished with the boat, had turned its menacing eye on them and would gladly swallow them whole if they didn’t beam out immediately. Staring down the gullet of the rapidly approaching beast, its mouth already open and ready to welcome them to their watery tomb, Hirek wrapped his arm around Talia, not even caring that his bloodied hand cupped her breast, and pressed the transport beacon. 

As soon as Hirek felt the rough pressure of sand against his back, he rolled to his side and pushed Talia onto hers. He rubbed the heel of his uninjured palm along the edges of her back, seeking to soothe as much as to encourage her efforts to clear her lungs. As Talia gasped in air, Hirek moved to the patch of sand in front of her. He watched green blood smear on her clammy skin as he pulled her hair away from her face, but Hirek figured they could worry about that later, both her new cosmetics and his injury. He doubted she could hear him, or if she could, he doubted she cared, but as she worked to regain composure and calm, Hirek hummed.

It was a simple song one of his aunts had taught him when she’d left him to nurse his uncle while she went to gather more help. They’d been deep in the wilds of one of the few uninhabited islands in the Uluma chain, and being without a transporter beacon, they’d had to rely on their wits and skills to survive until help could arrive. His aunt had assured him that so long as Hirek hummed the tune, his uncle’s heart would beat. He’d been hoarse by the time help and his aunt had returned but immensely proud of himself that he’d never stopped humming. Years later, he realized his aunt had wisely given a young child a task to keep him occupied and not panicky. Hirek still liked to think there was some power in the sound, so he hummed to Talia until she recovered enough to croak out her own words.

Hirek snorted at her first words, agreeing with the simple explanation for what they’d just lived through. Looking at their surroundings, Hirek snorted again. It seemed the program had anticipated his desires and had transported them to the secluded section of beach nearest his personal laboratory. The festival and all its members would be around the towering cliff on their right, and his family home would be in a small cove around the cliff on their left. From where they say, surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs and the sea at their toes, it easily felt as if they were alone in this simulation. Glancing again at Talia as she leaned forward and bowed her face into her hands, emotions swirling like a cloud over her shoulders, Hirek felt that the privacy was doubly useful in giving her time to process.

“Pierce told me that she liked going fishing some time back, and when I asked for her to describe the process to me, I was more than a little amused and surprised.” Hirek reached out and plucked a small piece of driftwood off Talia’s skin, temporarily attached by salt water and sweat. “I promised her that the fishing trip she’d take with me would be everything but sedate.” Glancing back at the sea and glimpsing the last of the pod as it soared further out to sea, Hirek shook his head. “I believe the program took that prompt a bit further than I anticipated, but I intentionally kept the safeties at a minimum. If one gets too casual about danger, even in a simulation, that can only spell out destruction elsewhere.” Following her gaze to his hand, he smiled at her question, “Care to play nurse? My lab is hidden in the cliff just over there,” he pointed with his uninjured hand, “It will be much like my actual lab and will have a med kit inside.”

Hirek waited until she was on her feet and walked close by her side, ready to lend a hand if she wobbled but not offering one either. He hoped in time, she would grow comfortable enough with him to take what she needed when she needed it, be it his arm, his attention, or his time. The concept of asking permission before doing anything with someone still baffled him and made him curious how Terrans managed to get this far if that was such a core part of their culture. Flipping up a rock to reveal a flat panel beneath it. After he pressed his hand over it, the hiss of the hidden door sounded, and what used to be a craggy rockface shifted sideways to reveal the entrance to his lab. Leading her through the entryway and on into the voluminous open space immediately inside, Hirek could help but glance at her expressions as she took in the space.

He'd hollowed out the mountain and yet incorporated it into the design as craggy outcroppings jutted into the gangways and over the vaulted ceilings of many of the rooms. In his work to hollow out the mountain, Hirek had discovered an underground waterfall and stream and kept them, often using the movement of the waterfall to build energy for his experiments and the water for his ales. Still bright from the skylights he’d tunneled through the roof, there were no shadows to fear in this place, except maybe from Shadow herself if she chose to be surly once more.

“Down there, closer to the cool dark of the water,” Hirek pointed to an area near the stream’s end, where it disappeared beneath the cliff and joined with the sea, “I have the tanks for the ales. The garden for growing the herbs and fruits and such needed for the blends encompasses three levels starting over there,” he pointed to another area of the cavern, directly across from the entryway, gesturing to how the vines of the garden area curved over the cavern walls, and the trees and shrubs he’d planted jutted high and fat. The air smelled of flowers and fruit, with a wisp of earth and the twist of the sea. “The animals I keep in the pens on the higher levels, and they have an area up top to explore,” he pointed higher up the cavern, his finger indicating an area nearly seven storeys above them. “The med-kit is over here,” he lightly tapped her shoulder to draw her attention as he led her across a wooden suspension bridge to one of the few more clinical-looking corners of the immediate area. “Although I keep one on every level, this is the closest.”

He had to go through another pad security measure, and then they were inside the sterile cold of one of the labs where he tested the blends of future ales. Hirek bent to open the desk where he kept the kit and smiled when it was exactly where he expected it to be. Dropping it on the metal desk closest to him, he fumbled with the locking mechanism.

“Do you mind?” Hirek nodded toward the kit. “One-handed is only good for certain things.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #22
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
Once she felt a little more in control of herself, Talia sat up and set to shaking the sand and debris from her wet, tangled locks. Hirek's reasoning behind the lowered safeties earned him a incredulous look – brows raised – but she couldn’t help but chuckle softly at the teasing follow-up. Her first aid skills were mediocre at best, but she simply shook her head with at him with a weak smirk. Her own injuries were irritants, for now, but she knew her head was likely bruised along with most of her right side. Some medical attention was warranted, and a shower, so she pulled herself together and stood with a grimace of effort.

“I’m sure she won’t be disappointed,” Shadow commented quietly, her voice a little hoarse from screaming at the top of her lungs and coughing up sea water. Whoever Pierce is, I hope she knows what she’s in for, the pilot smirked again as she turned and trudged through the sand with Hirek. She couldn’t be sure, but he seemed eager to show her his ‘lab’; Talia found it interesting and a bit convenient that they just so happened to transport closer to it than the village, but was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. From what she could see, they appeared to be walking towards a scenic set of cliffs against the sea; no sign of anything but natural, untouched landscape. Her head tilted, wondering why he went to such lengths to keep it hidden. Hm – Tal’Shiar, Talia remembered. Maybe it’s just another facet of their culture, too; whether they realize it or not? She wondered, watching him out of the corner of her eye. Her stomach growled suddenly, earning another wince. Ugh, not now, Talia frowned at it, then followed him inside.

Having no idea what to expect, it took her a few moments to truly appreciate the size of the complex within; she hesitated after a few steps, realizing they were both trailing sand and wet footprints inside – but he didn’t seem concerned, so Talia went along. Looking where he pointed, her face altered through several shifting expressions: stunned surprise, puzzlement (at the various equipment she was completely ignorant of), and then looking up at the tiers above, genuine amazement. Whoa, Talia’s brows raised. The scents alone threw her off-balance –the size and scale of the operation even more-so; she had no idea how one person could maintain such a place alone, but admired it’s construction and privacy. It was so different to any lab she had ever seen: more organic, built with a natural, efficient harmony.

Glancing at Hirek as she slowly turned about, Talia noted the subtle changes in his voice, the tone and tempo of his words as he gave her the tour. This is his element, his FAB, his Valkyrie, she realized. This space was important to him in a way she could relate to, a way she could appreciate and understand. Her lips curled in a genuine smile at an extremely hairy pig-like creature – munching on a mouthful of plant matter from one of the higher tiers – as it grunted down at her. Hello to you too, she chuckled. A light touch on her shoulder brought her attention back to Hirek, and with a nod she followed him across the bridge. Her skin prickled lightly at the change in air temperature, and a glance down revealed the stream, the sounds echoed lightly from the polished stone walls; yet the skylights offered more than enough lighting – for an underground complex, it was hard to believe. Talia was thoroughly impressed, and told him so.

After he’d opened another door in the rock wall, Shadow shivered from the chilly air as she followed him into what appeared to be a ‘clean-room’ of sorts, taking care not to touch anything despite it being a simulation. Her eyes took in the space, noting the similarities now to her own experiences with lab work at the Academy, trying to guess the various functions of the equipment. Her attention snapped back to Hirek as he gestured to a small case set before him on the dull metal table. “Oh, right,” Talia rasped, moving to assist. Her thumbs tabbed open the dual locks and the case opened fully, revealing a hoard of what she assumed was the Romulan equivalent of a first aid kit – her eyes moved across the contents as she chewed her lip. “Um…,” she glanced at him, then gestured at the kit. “I’m not familiar with Romulan gear. You’ll have to walk me through it,” she sighed quietly, then lifted her chin at his bloodied hand. “Should probably wash the sand out of that first,” she suggested, wrapping her arms up around herself against the chilly air. Zark would make short work of all this, she thought, envious of the Andorian’s medical skills and seemingly natural grace with people. Well, she thought of their misadventure of Qo’noS, with most people, anyway.

Her stomach growled again, angry and loud enough for Hirek to hear. “I’m hungry,” Talia explained with a quick shrug at his expression, wishing she had her bag and the protein bars within.

Once he returned, Shadow cradled the back of his injured hand in hers and selected the appropriate device he suggested – a sleek, handheld tissue regenerator – in the other. The gash on his palm looked deep, more painful than she realized. “Right,” Talia positioned the regenerator over the wound, “just…try to hold still,” she mumbled while the device hummed to life. She focused on what she was trying to do, despite how close they were, and the feeling of his eyes on her. Several seconds passed, as the wound slowly mended; Talia ignored the warm, sticky blood that dripped from his fingers. “So,” she cleared her parched throat, unwilling to endure the silence. “Is this home as well, or just where you spent most of your time,” she asked quietly, suppressing another shiver as her skin pebbled in goosebumps; her nipples stood painfully erect, feeling hard enough to cut transparent aluminum. The wet hair and barely concealing clothes didnt help. “Why is it so cold in here,” she grumbled absent-mindedly.

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #23
[Hirek tr’Aimne | Holodeck 02 |  Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Dumedion

Hirek carefully explained each item's function before putting the tissue regenerator on the table.. He’d already been on the way to rinse the sand and salt out of his wound when her directions caught up to him, and Hirek smiled. She sounded less emotional now, more rational, yet still as authoritative as ever. While he hadn’t heard her stomach growl over the noise of the cold water rushing over his injury, where he hovered over the sink, he did hear her complaint.

“We have a few options to fix that, depending on your preference. We could return to the beach and eat fresh rok’tai meat straight off the cooking fires with the others,” Hirek angled his head to look at her over his shoulder, “As with everything else, it won’t be a precise replication, but I’ve already tried the computer’s equivalent, and the flavor is meaty and mild, with a hint of sweetness, and the texture is moist but not chewy. I noted the computer pulled from Terran shark and Bajoran freshwater carp as meat inspiration.” Wincing, Hirek returned his gaze to his hand, pausing in the conversation long enough to dig out a particularly stubborn piece of broken shell from between the folds of the lacerations. “We could still enjoy the rok’tai meat elsewhere, more secluded, perhaps at the gazebo on the western portion of the island where the waves rushing over the rocks sound like singing because of the composition of the rocks and the way the air pockets form between the crevices.”

Returning to her side, Hirek didn’t hesitate before he held out his hand for her inspection, his smile hidden when she was delicate in her grip and equally delicate in her instructions for him to hold still. Hirek wanted to wash the sand and scales before going anywhere else in the simulation. His uninjured hand twitched with the desire to pluck away a few silvery scales embedded in the tangles of her briny hair. Best not to distract her too much. Hirek said nothing when she brushed against him while adjusting the regenerator. As much fun as it was to rile her up and watch the fire in her eyes, he would rather do it with two hands capable of fending off potential retaliatory attacks.

Continuing his line of conversation, Hirek jutted his chin toward the door, “There are also plenty of fresh food stores in this lab if you’d like to explore further.”

As much as he enjoyed sharing this facsimile of his workspace, Hirek was content to let her choose. When she didn’t respond with her preference right away, likely ruminating over the consequences of each option, Hirek let silence fall between them. Despite the throbbing pain in his hand, it was almost pleasant to stand close to her, letting her tend to him in a domestic scene he would never label as domestic out loud to her. Hirek tipped his head to the side, noting the hardened buds of her nipples as her body responded to the clinical cool of the lab. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had tended to his wounds outside of an official capacity. Certainly, it had happened since he’d reached adulthood. Still, as he drank in the sight of Talia holding his bloodied hand in hers, regenerator humming over it, her body soaked and shivering, still very much revealed to be admired thanks to the traditional outfit she’d earlier donned, Hirek couldn’t remember a time and was assuredly going to lock away this time for a revisit in the coming days.

His answer to her question was on the tip of his tongue, but he hesitated at her second complaint. “Computer increase temperature by five degrees and humidity by ten.” He lifted his uninjured hand to indicate the various cabinets and tables in the room. “This is where I experiment with flora samples, creating new blends for the ales. Since this is only a simulation of the lab, there is no danger in increasing the temperature and humidity to suit our needs, though. And, no, this is not my home, though before I took the position on Qo’Nos, I spent many hours here, both content to focus on my hobbies and attend to my parent’s needs yet continually enraged at the Tal Shiar.” His voice hardened at the mention of the Romulan secret police. “It is impossible to grasp true peace while they are still a menacing force among my people, still a threat to my kin.”

While his hand still maintained a dull ache from the injury, thanks to Talia’s diligence, it looked as good as new. As much as he enjoyed her holding his hand and standing so close, Hirek was also beginning to feel hunger pangs. He was slow about extracting his hand from her grasp, though he did give in to the temptation to tug away the scales from her hair before he dropped one hand to his side and rested the other on the table.

“What would you like, then? Beach, cliff, lab, elsewhere? We can rinse off either in the showers back there,” he twisted his torso to indicate a darkened corner of the room where a single shower was positioned in the middle of a glazed glass surrounding, “or in the spring water down below,” he again used his chin to point toward the meandering stream that flowed through the length of his lab before it disappeared beneath the rock and connected with the sea. Hirek’s smile turned playful again, “And as much as I’m enjoying seeing you wear our traditional outfits,” he was intentional about with the drop of his gaze, though he stopped the downward progression at her clavicle and returned it to her eyes, “we can either recall your original clothing to our location or I can share more traditional outfits with you. Some offer more coverage than others.”

Re: Day 16 [2300hrs] Cunning Raptor, Elusive Wolf

Reply #24
[Ens. Talia “Shadow” Al-Ibrahim | Holodeck 02 | Deck 8 | Vector 02 | USS Theurgy] Attn: @Ellen Fitz
With her attention fixed on tending to Hirek’s hand, and the top of her head barely meeting his chin, Talia listened but only her eyes glanced up at his words; the dark, sculpted lines of her brows twitched up however – along with the ghost of a smile – in appreciation when he altered the temperature. When he spoke of the Tal Shiar, Shadow simply nodded; not in true understanding, but empathy – having never walked a day in his shoes, nor lived under such circumstances, it was all she could do. Whatever they had done (and she could only imagine the horrific abuse of authority such an organization was capable of) it had obviously both wounded him and made Hirek into the man that stood before to her, for good or ill. Talia could never judge him for that; the Breen had done the same to her – in that respect, they shared common ground, found in the consequences of old wounds.

"I get it," she stated quietly.

The regenerator bleeped, signaling the end of its healing cycle, and Talia set it aside so he could inspect its handiwork to pick up a hypospray. She paused, meeting his eyes at the offered options, before her free hand gently gripped his wrist and the other injected a small dose of pain suppressants and anti-inflammatories into his forearm. Her head pulled to the side then, one eye closed in a half wince, as he pulled something from her tangled hair; she grunted as a few strands went with it, then sucked her teeth in annoyance. Do you mind, her eyes flashed at him in a emotive mix; appreciation for the attempt, irritation at the execution. Hirek seemed oblivious however, so she turned the hypo on herself then set it aside to pick up the regenerator once again. Her free hand raked the slick mess of hair over her left shoulder, away from him and the scalding raw patch of skin on her right. The device hummed there, while the pilot considered her responses.

She didn’t move away from him, only leaned a bare hip against the table; her eyes glanced between her shoulder and his, then off to the stall. “Shower is preferable,” Talia murmured, not wishing to strain her voice further. She doubted a dip in a still body of water would be adequate to get all the crap out of her hair, nor did the likelihood of sharing such tight confines with him unsettle her nerves. Besides, his sights seem settled elsewhere, Talia assumed, considering his repeated mentions of the Pierce woman. She chewed her lip, dismissing that train of thought to consider the choice of where to eat. Her head tilted then in a weak approximation of a shrug.

“If this were real, diplomacy would warrant as much engagement with your people as prudence and respect allowed,” her lips curled ever so slightly. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’m not very skilled in that arena,” or much of anything, outside the cockpit or the gym, she added silently.

The regenerator bleeped again, having healed her shoulder much faster than his slashed digits and palm. Talia shifted, raised her knee to the table edge to expose the grated, torn rash of abused skin on her outer thigh with a grunt. The device hummed to life again as she passed over it.

“The gazebo, then,” she decided with a curt nod. “After they tried to eat us, I think it’s only fair we eat them,” a dark brow arched up at Hirek with a smirk. It was a weak jest, but an honest attempt; the promise of sustenance having lifted her mood considerably. “I’d like to hear these singing waves as well,” she added, genuinely intrigued, feeling the aches of her body slowly alleviate to a more ignorable level of soreness.

Her lips curled in a true smile then, dimples and all. “I don’t mind the outfit, Pretty-Eyes; it’s rather comfortable in fact – I dislike being cold. People look where they will,” Talia shrugged, “sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes not,” her eyes flicked up to his. “I tell myself that it doesn’t matter, regardless. I am what I am; I do this for me, not them.” Her tone was light, attempting to share her own self-deception with him as a private joke of sorts. She felt nothing of her usual self-consciousness then and there, not after what they’d just survived; one of many layers of barriers lowered between them. The device bleeped again, and Talia sighed as she pulled her leg back down and returned the device to its place in the kit box before turning to face him fully.

“I’ll let you decide then,” she tilted her head up to meet his gaze evenly with a nod. “An extension of trust,” Shadow smirked, “so choose wisely,” her eyelids fell playfully, along with her scratchy voice, as she leaned into his space a little.

Her choices made, Talia turned and headed for the shower at an unhurried pace. “Shall we,” she murmured over her shoulder, eager to rinse herself off. Both hands dug into her hair as she walked, lifting and tossing the wet curtain, hoping he had some form of shampoo available. Either way, she’d feel much better without the gritty sand and salt embedded in every crevice of skin. Her head tilted at the stall itself, easily large enough for more than two, encased in walls of glass, yet with only a single outlet angled above. Given the rest of what she’d seen of his laboratory, it struck her as an odd use of space for a solitary occupant. Her brow twitched, dismissing the thought as irrelevant as the door opened at her approach.

Shadow padded onto the tiled floor within, peeling the bra/vest from her torso without hesitation. After tossing it to one corner, the pilot paused – thumbs hooked into the band of her loincloth – to frown at the control console of jagged, Romulan runic script. Unfortunate, she bit her lip, then tilted her head up and tried a voice command. Nothing happened, prompting another sigh. Talia rolled her shoulders, smirking at her own ignorance. “Your shower wont turn on,” she laughed weakly over her shoulder, keeping her back to Hirek, and started tapping random sigils as the console protested in a chorus of beeps.

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