The data crystals were plugged into the Endeavor’s computer and Shalvey was busy decoding them. Her work went well into the night as she tried every audio sorting method to get a clear answer. One such night, she was busy typing away at the computer when Thangred came in. “Shalvey, you need rest!” he boomed in the usual Dwarven bluntness. “You’ve refused to eat your meals, you’ve been skipping out on rest, and you’ve barely spoken to anyone! You’re about to kill yourself!”
“Yes, yes, I’ll get right on that once I’m done,” replied Shalvey absentmindedly.
“You’re not even listening!” snapped Thangred as he whirled the chair around.
“HEY!” snapped Shalvey as she forgot she was a Mermaid and tried to stand up to tower over him. She immediately collapsed to the floor, landing on her face. A few seconds after she landed, she moved her head so her face wasn’t lying on the floor and massaged her nose to relieve it of pain.
“Shalvey, Sweetheart, you can’t kill yourself over this,” urged Thangred as he scooped her up bridal style and carried her to the tub. He turned on the water and filled the tub so Shalvey could hydrate herself. Shalvey sighed as the water melted her aches and pains away.
“Oooh, that feels good,” she sighed. She then turned to Thangred. “I’m sorry, Sweetie,” she bid. “I’ve just been taking this personally.”
“Why?” asked Thangred.
“When I was a little girl,” explained Shalvey, “my mother was kidnapped. Even though Dad followed through on the kidnapping terms, we never saw Mom alive again.”
“…I…I didn’t know,” stammered Thangred as he realized Shalvey’s motives.
“You’re right, though,” continued Shalvey. “I’m not gonna be much help to them if I’m crashing into walls.”
“Then let’s get a meal at Barmek’s,” suggested Thangred. “You need food something fierce.”
“…Yeah, I do,” sighed Shalvey. Thangred brought her water chair to the tub and filled it with water, then helped Shalvey into it. They then made their way to Barmek’s and were greeted by Mr. Barmek.
“Welcome, my friends!” he cheered. He then noticed Shalvey’s expression. “…How many times did you sleep?”
“Sleep? What’s that?” snarked Shalvey. “I’m just taking a break from all the work I’ve been doing lately. I’m coming up with nothing.”
“You need brain food and something to help you rest,” declared Mr. Barmek. “How iffy are you with fish?”
“Love it!” sighed Shalvey happily.
“Perfect,” replied Mr. Barmek. He then turned to Jaltor. “Shalvey on table 2 needs a Galdredan leafy salad, Midoran salmon, Rokanth yogurt with berries and walnuts, and Wysper tea!”
“Brain food special for the Communications Officer on table 2! Coming up!” called Jaltor.
While Shalvey was having her long-awaited dinner, the Caldoras and their pet moray eel, Skalomel, were all in their main dining hall, enjoying their meal. “Rosa, sweetie, could you pass me the crab cakes?” asked Queen Jurma.
“Sure thing,” replied Rosa as she passed down a plate.
“And I’ll have more lobster,” called Skalomel. No one passed him a dish for a few seconds.
“May I have some clams?” Marianes asked Troga.
“Anything for you, my beauty,” answered Troga as he passed the clams.
“And I’ll have more lobster,” repeated Skalomel. Still nothing.
“Want some tuna?” Floona asked Samuje.
“Ooh, yes, please!” replied Samuje.
“HEY!” called Skalomel. “What’s a moray gotta do to get some shellfish around here?!”
“You’ve had enough, Skalomel,” remarked Queen Arlamu.
“No offense,” continued Erga, “but you’re getting pudgier than me.”
“Almost like a frightened pufferfish,” sniggered Jalmurna.
“Jalmurna,” admonished King Kulptak.
“What?! He is!” protested Jalmurna.
“Me?!” argued Skalomel. “I’m as lithe as a sea snake! Besides, I only had 14 of the 15 food groups!”
“What’s next?” snarked Dromu. “Whale blubber?”
“Dromu, please!” snapped Kulptak.
“Not to excuse my daughters’ insults,” mused King Jortol, “but maybe you should go on a diet.”
“I don’t need to go on a diet,” snapped Skalomel as he swam away from the table, offended, “because I’m not fat! I’m big-boned!” He headed for the little eel door and made it halfway through before he got stuck. He tried pulling himself out to save dignity. No luck, the Caldoras couldn’t help but giggle.
“Need a push?” asked Valomee.
“You laugh, I poop in your bed!” threatened Skalomel. He then noticed something outside. “Hey! Who’s that in the courtyard?” Marianes, Jortol, Arlamu, and Kulptak swam to the windows and found two people in the courtyard.
“It’s Thengo and Marshii!” remarked Marianes.
“What are they doing here?” asked Troga from the table.
“No clue,” replied Jortol. “I’m getting to the bottom of this!” He grabbed the door handle.
“WAIT! KINGY! I’M STILL…!” Too late. The door opened and Skalomel’s rear end was slammed into the wall. As someone tended to the poor moray eel, Jortol swam to the courtyard.
“Excuse me!” he called. Marshii and Thengo turned to give him their attention.
“Ah, there you are,” greeted Marshii. “We’re using medical privilege here. Where’s Samuje?”
“Ah, it’s about her methods of dealing with her trauma,” realized Jortol. “One moment.” He swam back to the dining hall and got Samuje. As they returned to the courtyard, she stopped as she realized what’s going on.
“You have reservations about my coping mechanisms, don’t you?” she muttered.
“Your Highness, with all due respect,” replied Thengo, “it sounds like you’re trying to force yourself back into Realmfleet.”
“Doctor, I assure you,” soothed Samuje, “I AM giving myself time to recover. I know what I’m ready for and what still needs time. The fact that I’m talking to you tells me that I don’t have any grudge against Realmfleet Officers. I’m still uneasy about looking at a Realmfleet ship, much less setting a fin onboard. I assure you; I’ll make a full recovery.”
“There’s no such thing as a ‘full recovery’ from that kind of survivor’s guilt,” countered Thengo. “Trust me, I’ve had a few cases like that.”
“…Survivor’s guilt?” hissed Samuje.
“Like Thengo, I’ve seen this before,” continued Marshii. “It was at its worst when I tended to your injuries. You feel as if you should have died with your crew. You somehow think that you surviving dishonors those that died. It looks to me that you’re only trying to get back in the Captain’s chair so you can ‘die in glorious battle’!”
“You’re getting rather personal, Doctor!” warned Samuje. “Realmfleet needs ship captains, especially now that Oyed’s coming back!”
“Realmfleet needs STABLE ship captains, especially now that Oyed’s coming back,” corrected Thengo.
“I AM stable!” snapped Samuje.
“With all due respect, no, you’re not,” answered Thengo. “You really need to step back from Realmfleet for a while longer.”
“…You’re asking me to stay out of Realmfleet?!” shouted Samuje.
“We’re asking you to look at your mental health objectively,” countered Marshii. “You’re coming off as self-destructive and you’ve been pushing your family away for a while. Your mental well-being comes before your service record.”
“…You can leave!” hissed Samuje. Marshii and Thengo then left the courtyard as the guards escorted them.
“Er, Samuje,” ventured Jortol.
“Just leave me alone!” grunted Samuje as she swam off. Jortol winced as he imagined what was going on through her head.
Thangred and Shalvey were back in their quarters, both crashing on the couch. Shalvey had her head in Thangred’s lap as they snored. Shalvey was the first to stir. She sat up slowly and yawned, letting Thangred snore away. She stroked his beard as her chair arrived. “Keep dreaming,” she whispered. She then maneuvered herself into the chair and then she made her way to the coffeepot. She poured herself a cup, then moved back to her workstation. Her computer had its screensaver on. She chuckled a little bit. “Lots of pretty colors,” she sighed as her hand hovered over the mouse. Then…it happened. “…Colors,” she mused. “…Wait, what if…I mean, such files WERE mistaken once or twice…”
“Something the matter?” asked Thangred’s voice.
“Did I wake you?” winced Shalvey as Thangred approached her seat.
“Yes, but I have no arguments being woken by your voice,” replied Thangred.
“Sorry,” muttered Shalvey.
“Like I said, your beautiful voice is always a pleasant thing to be woken by,” assured Thangred. “I didn’t fully hear your muttering before I spoke. Is something wrong with the decoding?”
“I think the police may be wrong about one or both of the files,” replied Shalvey.
“How so?” asked Thangred.
“What if one of them ISN’T an audio file?” mused Shalvey. “What if one of them is visual? If that’s the case, I need to run an audio/visual sort for both, sorting one by sound waves and one by colors. After that, it’s a matter of stringing the two files together in a logical pattern.”
“How long will that take?” asked Thangred.
“That depends,” replied Shalvey. “What time is it?”
“14:45,” answered Thangred
“Accounting for the possibility that I might be running the wrong kinds of sorts on both files,” remarked Shalvey, answering Thangred’s question, “easily until 35:00.”
“Yikes,” winced Thangred. “Better keep some coffee and snacks on standby.”
“Yep,” confirmed Shalvey.
“Well, I’m heading off to see how the water pumps are doing,” rumbled Thangred. “We can’t have water in the engines. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” replied Shalvey as she typed at her computer, setting the parameters for the audio/visual sort and sipped her coffee.