Huh huh huh.
It took a few minutes before Lili O’Day realized that that was the sound of her own breathing. She was panting.
Silently, a wall display showed the date – November twenty-second of 2153. And then it showed the time – fourteen hundred hours.
Then it was several minutes more before she understood that the pounding in her chest was her heart racing. Mutely, she turned off the burners on the stove. The air was already pleasantly redolent of the turkeys cooking in the ovens for the crew’s Thanksgiving celebration later that day.
Then the first coherent thought popped into her head – the kitchen is dirty.
It was true. There was a godawful mess. First, there was the cast iron skillet, still in her hands. Then there was the drying mess on the wall, near the NX-01’s refrigeration unit. Then there was the stuff on the floor.
The door had swished closed, and she had barely registered the sound and the change in the ambient lighting.
Clean … clean … clean up.
It was her second coherent thought. The skillet was still in her hands. She put it into the sink, turning on the water, high. She emptied most of the squeeze bottle of soap onto the pan, and began to furiously scrub it with her bare fingers, as her skin wrinkled from the water and her nails grew rough as she scrubbed at the metal.
She rinsed and rinsed, but it didn’t seem to be clean. If she had been in a joking mood, she would have quoted – out, out, damned spot! But her mood was far from jovial.
The intercom came on, and it made her jump. It was Lieutenant Reed’s voice. “All hands,” he said, “the ship has been cleared of the Insectoid boarding parties. Return to your stations, or to Sick Bay, as appropriate.”
A second voice spoke. “This is the captain. So far, there are no reports of serious casualties. I’m proud of the fine job that everyone did in repelling this incursion. Thank you.”
She glanced over at the mess on the floor for a second, and then went back to her scrubbing.
The door slid open, and it was Major Hayes with Chef Will Slocum. “You got the particle rifle?” Hayes asked her.
She just stood there, shaking a bit, and continued scrubbing. Will came over. “What the hell are you doing, O’Day?”
“Bugs … bugs in the kitchen,” she stammered out.
He and the Major looked at the mess on the wall, and the mess on the floor, and put two and two together.
The Major bent down. The rifle was a part of the mess on the floor. He ran a scanner over it, and then a Universal Translator, before picking it up. “My guess is,” he said, “that this Insectoid came in and you whacked her in the face with something heavy. The head hit here,” he pointed to the stained wall, “and then the body fell here, am I right?”
Lili just continued cleaning.
Will looked at her. “You used that pan, right?”
She nodded her head vigorously and then continued to try to clean it.
“Stop!” Will commanded. He turned off the water. “Major, you don’t need the pan, right?”
“No, of course not. But we’ll study the rifle. We were looking for one just like this; so this is really helpful. You did a good job, Ensign,” he said to Lili. “That over there,” he pointed to a patch on the body’s uni, which had what appeared to be writing on it, “that’s, I’m just about certain, the Insectoid’s name. Do you wanna know it?”
Lili hesitated for a second. “Yeah, I think I do.”
“The name is She Who Almost Didn’t Breed in Time,” said Major Hayes, reading it off the Universal Translator’s display.
“My God. So this was someone’s mother,” Lili said softly.
The Major looked at her. “This is helpful.” He showed the rifle, jogging it slightly. “Thanks again.” He opened the door. “You can be put in for a commendation, yanno.” He left.
Will looked at Lili. “I should take that outta your salary.”
“It was a perfectly good, well-seasoned pan, O’Day.”
Together, they threw it into the disposer.