Lili O’Day sat in the galley of the NX-01, looking over her PADD messages and reminders. The date was displayed in the lower right corner of the screen – October ninth of 2153. The time was almost fourteen hundred hours. Behind her, the sanitizer chugged away as it cleaned that day’s lunch dishes.
She looked up when she saw Chef William Slocum walk in. “It says here that it’s Captain Archer’s birthday,” she said, “the big four-one.”
“Yes. We’ll bake a chocolate cake and then you’ll decorate it, all right?”
“Chef, why chocolate?”
“I’ve made him a chocolate cake for two years now. I haven’t gotten any complaints.” The man was, perhaps, a tad defensive.
“Well, haven’t you noticed, sir, that when we have toast, who takes which type of jam? Major Hayes takes the blueberry every time – without fault. Lieutenant Reed takes the orange marmalade. Ensign Sato varies – she doesn’t seem to have a set preference. Commander Tucker takes butter and doesn’t bother with jam. Commander T’Pol takes her toast dry.”
“And the captain?”
“He and Ensign Mayweather always take the strawberry. Although when I made cashew butter that one time, Travis spread it on everything. I swear I could’ve put it on his PADD, and he would’ve eaten that.”
Slocum chuckled a little. “So you want to make strawberry shortcake instead?”
“Uh huh,” she said, “and if he doesn’t like it, we can go back to chocolate next year.”
“All right,” Will said. He sighed. There was a very real possibility that there wouldn’t be a next year. The Xindi weren’t letting up as the search for their ultimate weapon continued.
Lili hummed a little as she decorated the cake. She had already covered it with a white vegan frosting made of powdered sugar, silken tofu and tiny chopped bits of vanilla beans. She projected the outline of an image of a shuttle on top, using her PADD. She traced the image with red icing and then added accents with blue icing, including the NX-01 insignia. She then did her best to draw the captain standing next to the shuttlepod. She finished by spelling out Happy Birthday Jonathan!
Chef looked over her work. “Captain’s not gonna like that,” he said.
“Yeah, I think I made his nose too big.”
“Not that, O’Day. It’s that you shouldn’t take liberties. You should have written Happy Birthday Captain Archer.”
“Too late to fix it now,” Slocum said, “he’s been in a lousy mood since that Loque’eque virus. And you’re serving tonight.”
Dinner in the Captain’s Mess was for Captain Archer, Commander T’Pol, Lieutenant Reed and Major Hayes. Lili had cleared away the dishes from the entrée and they were talking as she stood in the back and fiddled with the coffee maker and then a tea kettle. “We need the space to do drills and workouts,” Hayes was saying, “And there isn’t enough room with Security there as well.”
“Captain, if I may,” Reed said, “Security also requires full readiness. The Xindi could come aboard at any moment.”
“If Tactical lets them in, then yeah,” Hayes shot back to him.
T’Pol said, “Gentlemen, aren’t there rest days that are required? Why not simply use the training facilities when the other department is on a rest day?”
“That’s a good idea,” Archer said, looking at her with a sense of some relief. Refereeing between Reed and Hayes was not something he enjoyed doing.
“There are still only two rest days per week,” Reed said, “so that could be four. What do we do during the other three?”
“Work it out amongst yourselves,” Archer said, tightlipped and a little annoyed.
“Mornings and afternoons,” Lili murmured to herself as she turned off a whistling tea kettle.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Malcolm, who was sitting nearest to where she was standing.
“Oh, oops, did I say that out loud? Sorry,” she said, putting a trivet down in front of him and then a small pot of hot water, and then did the same for Commander T’Pol.
“What did you say, Ensign?” asked the captain.
“Nothing, sir,” Lili said, reddening. She brought over a selection of teas for Malcolm and T’Pol. He selected a rose hip blend she had been trying to perfect for a good month, and T’Pol took the chamomile. Lili took the wooden box away and then began to pour coffee for the two other men.
“No, uh, I want to hear it,” said the captain. “Maybe you have an idea that could work.”
“I, um,” she said, wringing her hands a little, “I just thought, you know, one group could drill in the mornings, after breakfast. And then the other group could go after lunch. After, um, waiting an hour, right?”
“That’s an old wives’ tale and it’s only supposed to be for swimming,” Hayes said, giving her the tiniest of half-smiles. He never seemed to fully smile at anyone.
“It could be a reasonable option,” T’Pol said, “and then the remaining time could be spent on weapons training.”
Malcolm seized the opportunity. “We’ll take the mornings.”
“Hayes?” asked the captain.
“Uh, sure. We’ll take the afternoons.”
They were about to adjourn and the captain was getting up. Lili said, “Wait a minute, sir!”
“I took the liberty, um, I noticed that, well,” she turned back to where the cake was and presented it. There were no candles; it was just the cake. “I hope you don’t mind.”
The captain read the greeting to himself. “Uh, no, it’s fine,” he said, tight smile on his face. He wasn’t smiling much, either.
“I made a vegan strawberry shortcake. Even the frosting and icings are vegan,” Lili said, “so that Commander T’Pol could have some, if she wished.”
“That was thoughtful of you, Ensign,” said the Vulcan.
“You made strawberry shortcake? Chef usually makes a chocolate cake,” said the captain.
“I know, sir. But I, uh, I noticed you seem to like strawberries.” Lili got a knife and almost dropped it.
“That was very thoughtful of you,” said Captain Archer, cutting the cake. Malcolm Reed also nodded at her slightly – she had noticed, he never seemed to eat dairy. But he had some of the cake that day, as did the Major.
Outside the Captain’s Mess, Captain Archer said to Lili, “I want to thank you, Ensign.”
“I can make strawberry shortcake for your birthday next year, too.”
“If there really will be a next year,” he said.
“I think there will be. I’ve got faith in you guys.”
“But it’s, uh, it’s not just the cake. It’s what you wrote with the icing, too.”
“Chef told me, sir. It was against protocols to use your first name. I’m sorry, sir.”
“Don’t be,” he said, “I think you’re the first person since the Xindi attack to see me, even for a second, as being more than just a uniform, as being an actual person. Next, uh, next year, when you make another strawberry shortcake, write the same thing on it, okay?”
“Oh, and another thing.”
“It looks like you forgot your sidearm today,” he pointed out.
“Oh! I’ve done that before. It makes me a little unbalanced.”
“Well, you shouldn’t go around unarmed. We really might be boarded at some point.”
“I’ll be okay if I’m in the kitchen.”
“Oh?” he asked.
“I’m kinda handy with a meat cleaver.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Ensign."