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Surprise!

Posted on Thu Mar 18th, 2021 @ 8:35am by Comm Tech Wulf Edevane & Commanding Officer Mickey Serendipity & Executive Officer Kenneth McTigue & Client Soto Nabaal

Mission: Stories From The Expanse
Timeline: Fifteen days out from Eros

Soft music floated through Ken's small cabin. Quietly he was humming to himself as he was taking an applicator strip to a small strip of bamboo. The applicator was a sealant to avoid any moisture coming into the material.

What was he making? A small scale model of the Syracuse Twelve lander and its carrier craft. It had been a simple joy to be working wit his hands, splitting the pieces out of the frame, sanding, polishing, sealing, bonding. Slowly he was putting the final touches on the model. A smile formed on his lips as he hoped he would get the kind of reaction he hoped for.




Fifteen days out from Eros. The 'Tross was currently more akin to an asteroid than a spaceship as it was on a free float into the asteroid station. It would flip and burn in a few days, but not yet. The four of them had purposefully ignored any reference Wulf had made about his birthday. Shrugging it off, changing the subject, or just acting like they hadn't heard him. Ken knew it was killing him, and he was loving it all the more.

Ken was sitting in his workstation in Ops, doing his duty shift. Allegra hadn't gone down after hers, and Mickey and Soto had floated up individually a while ago to check in on him, or so they had said when they passed Wulf in the galley.

The engineer keyed his handterminal. "Hey Wulf, can you come up to Ops, I think I finally found that error in the air recycler, but it's a software glitch."

Wulf sat on the table in the galley, grumpy as hell and mainlining a packet of chocolate digestives he'd liberated from the cupboard. The last packet as far as he knew, but he didn't care anymore and he was, he was forced to admit, definitely sulking. They'd forgotten. All of them. He was just the IT guy, doing a job they were paying him to do and, his brain told him, no one cared.

Then his terminal presented him with an unwanted request with regards a problem he should be caring about, but didn't.

"I'm busy," Wulf lied, moodily. But he jumped down from the table and shoved the biscuits in his jacket pocket.

"You sure? Only thing you look busy with was working your way through the biscuits." Ken replied in a teasing voice. "Come on, it'll only take a minute. You know if I do it myself you'll just be untangling my software botch in a week."

Wulf pouted at the nearest camera and flipped Ken a close-up of his raised middle finger. He wasn't really mad, just childishly upset and refusing to admit that out loud. "I've saved you the last one," he threw back and sighed a Belter shoulder-heavy sigh so that the effect wasn't lost to those watching. "Fine," he complained openly. "I'll come up. You owe me another break later then," he added.

Out in the corridor that led to the crew ladder that ran the length of the ship, Mickey and Allegra floated on opposite sides barring the way. They were having an animated discussion with all the hand gestures and Belter emphasis you could imagine.

"-I'm saying is that would it kill you to treat the STC folks with a bit of respect? The Navigators Guild have us on speed dial because every time we float into port you get into a shouting match with the harbour master," Mickey said. Allegra, her hackles raised, readjusted the Red Comet baseball cap pulled down tight over her head.

"And if any of those terminal monkies ever heard the way a gal in the pilot's couch gets talked to they'd have a few fine words to say to their guilders. I swear, it's like the space traffic control service is the last bastion of mysogony in the system," the Martian down right snarled.

"And this is why we keep the safety locks on the PDCs when we pass the inner marker," Mickey said with a world weary sigh. Neither of them had noticed Wulf.

Great, thought Wulf, as he unwillingly stumbled into the conversation and gained zero attention from his mere presence alone. "Scuse me," he said, politely, but Allegra was in full flow on one of her favourite complaint topics and failed to even acknowledge his existence. So Wulf rolled his eyes dramatically and stamped a foot. Nothing. That was when he gave up waiting for them to stop talking and opted for direct intervention. He stumbled deliberately forward to accidentally-on-purpose bump a little too boisterously into Allegra (the lesser of the two evils in his opinion).

"Oh, sorry to interrupt," Wulf said, as sarcastically and with as much non-urgency to his tone as he could muster. "Important comms situation in Ops, gotta get through."

"Well, why didn't you say something?" Allegra asked, an eyebrow raised.

"Yeah, I mean we were talking but we have ears," Mickey added before looking at Allegra. "Were you listening?"

"To you defending the Navigators Guild," she said with a icy thin smile.

"That was...that was not my stance," Mickey said, directing her attention to Wulf. "How about we let the kid through and reconvene to the galley. This conversation seems to demand coffee."

With a world-weary sigh, Allegra moved off the wall, pushing her self off to the opposite side of the corridor and then pulling herself hand over hand quickly towards the galley.

"You don't hear from me in an hour, send Ken in his Sunday best in after me," Mickey said, brushing past Wulf and floating slowly after Allegra.

"I did say something," Wulf muttered, then he rolled his eyes in Allegra's direction and scowled brightly at Mickey. "Sure thing, bossman, I'll let him know." He watched them for a few seconds longer as they both vanished off in the direction of the galley, then exhaled moodily. "Great," he murmured. "You've all forgotten. Did you forget Allegra's birthday? Oh no. We had streamers and pretty lights..." He stopped there, and pushed the self-centred rant down a little deeper inside as he reached for the ladder and started to climb.

The sound of the Ops hatch sliding open made Ken's attention turn to it. "Christ man, you look like someone stole your crashcouch, again. Of such scowls songs are written." the engineer teased.

"M'fine," came the grumpy response from the comm tech. "Didn't you say something about the air recycler?" Wulf pressed, as he somehow managed to moodily float closer to Ken to look over the man's shoulder. "Sup with it?"

With a finger, Ken pointed to a badly written piece of code. "See, if I'm reading this right it has a feedback loop that kicks in the recyclers into a high fan mode whenever it detects CO in the atmosphere. But it doesn't shut off. That's why those fans wear out so fast that I have to keep replacing them. But I'm not sure how to correct that."

"Huh?" Wulf's expression suddenly became super serious as he leant into the engineer's personal space in order to manipulate the screen. "You're right," he muttered unhappily, then dropped some Belter cursing into the mix. "Friday afternoon coding..." the tech complained. "I must have screwed up somewhere, lemme have a look." Intent gaze and mind now fixated on the problem at hand, Wulf let his fingers tippy tap over the keyboard before Ken had even vacated the seat. "Subroutine hidden in the background," he murmured to himself. "Missed a coupla markers here and here, and there... ah... gotcha!" He hadn't looked up from the screen yet, and didn't now either. "I need to rewrite this," Wulf pointed to some lines of text, "and we should be good."

Ken nodded and got out of the chair. "Come on, let's grab some coffee and we'll get this sorted?"

As Ken exited it, Wulf slipped into the vacated crash couch and honed in on the screen. "You go," he said. "Mickey and Allegra are down there having a heated debate, I'm gonna stay outta their way." If this was how his birthday was going to be, Wulf decided he might as well just accept it. Perhaps his day might be salvagable, with some tunes and a hardcore gaming session for the rest of the shift... once he'd fixed this recycler issue.

"Dude, that thunder cloud has lessened, but not gone yet." Ken teased. "I found Allegra's cookies, and liberated a few of them. They're the ones with real butter."

Real butter. That switched the younger man's attention swiftly to right where Ken wanted it. Wulf's eyes were big and brightly dark as he rubbed his chin and regarded the Tross engineer. His head canted to the side as if unsure if this was Real Truth, but the hope in that gaze spoke volumes. "Cookies with real butter?" Wulf double-checked. "Yeah, okay, this can wait til after coffee I guess." It wasn't exactly birthday treatment, he considered internally, but he wasn't about to miss out. "Chocolate chip?"

From the centre of the Ops deck, out of the padded neck of the deck hatch, a stream of truly inventive cursing arose. Accusations concerning copulation, paternal infirmity, and the unsafe use of household items were but the seasoning on a word salad unique to the Martian Congressional Republic Navy. Allegra floated up through the floor hatch, ball cap still on her head, and continued up towards the ceiling hatch to the cockpit.

"I do NOT have anger issues!"

The hatch to the cockpit closed behind her, reverberating with the sound of its mechanical locking bolts sliding into place.

Wulf exchanged a serious look with Ken, enjoyed a moment of heavy silence and then grinned. "Woa," the tech said. "We better go check on Mickey, huh?

"I'll take point." Ken agreed. He kept his serious face on, but internally was wondering what the hell was going on. This wasn't part of the plan, was it? Not part of Ken's plan at least. "Makes you wonder if she realizes Mickey has the key for that lock." He said, more out loud than he intended.

The comm tech looked up after Allegra in silence for a second or two, then turned his full attention back to Ken. "My money'd be on Alliegator if she wanted to keep him out though," he said, with a lopsided smirk. He hung back, considering whether to go see if the pilot needed to talk, then decided he'd had enough bad ideas for this week and followed after Ken.

Ken floated into the mess hall and looked at Mickey, "Ready?" he whispered.

Mickey lifted the ice pack from his eye, which was unbruised under the cool white plastic and grinned. He then put on a pained expression, covering his eye with the pack.

"Clear!" Ken called from the mess hall to Wulf. "Well, Mickey's here but I don't think he'll tell on us."

Wulf swore, in Russian because it sounded cool, then winced. "You okay, bossman?" He asked, looking geniunely worried. "Allegra's in a mood..." Wulf frowned, putting two and two together and coming up with an unwanted total. "Did she find out Ken stole some cookies?"

Ken had positioned himself so that he was obstructing Wulf's view of the table, but floated over to Mickey to check the eye, supposedly. What was revealed on the table from behind Ken was a freshly made apple pie. In it was a little holo-banner saying 'Happy Birthday'. "Let me take a look Mick."

"And risk losing the damn thing," Mickey said loudly. What followed was a prescripted little to and fro until the ice pack floated free and into the space between Wulf and the two other men. The ice pack looked...odd. It was swelling for starters with the stretching his of rubber. Then the outer packaging vaporised, leaving nothing but the atoms of flash polymer littering the air. The loud pop of the pack exploding was replaced a moment later by a tinny rendition coming from the ship's speakers of...

"Happy Birthday to you...Happy birthday to you..."

His gaze followed Ken's motion first, concern for Mickey's vision uppermost in his mind, but Wulf wasn't distracted enough to entirely miss the pie. The smell pervaded his nostrils with a deeply pleasant aroma of warm appley pastry, causing the comm tech to briefly and involuntarily close his eyes and savour that moment.

Opened a half second later, that dark attention shifted to a weird sense of off-kilter interaction as the XO sent the ice-pack into motion. A step back, one, then two and Wulf backed towards the entrance only to flinch first then lose all control of his facial expression. He flushed crimson while simultaneously beaming the biggest grin his features could accomodate.

"You didn't forget...." Wulf said quietly, recovering from the surprise slowly then making up for lost time with volume. "You didn't forget!!"

Ken let out a guffaw at Wulf and grinned a wide grin, "Of course we didn't, ya daft bastard!"

"I really thought you had," the tech confirmed, eyes bright in the simple enjoyment of being proved utterly wrong in this regard. "But why did Allegra punch you, Mickey?" He asked, not quite fully up to speed on the charade just yet.

"Because even though he's acting, I do not have a temper," Allegra said as she floated past, socking Mickey in the shoulder as she did so turning her glide into a gentle roll.

As Allegra ghosted past him, Wulf let his gaze hit Ken's in a 'yeah, right - no temper' glance. He shifted position himself then, fishing a knife and five spoons from the secure cutlery stash, then the tech paused and looked to the door. "Captain coming to join us?" He asked.

Ken floated over to the cabinets and quickly grabbed some plates, then took the knife Wulf handed him. "He should be out in a bit, right Mickey?" Ken asked as he moved back to the table. "Anyone want a slice?"

"Hell YES!" Chimed Wulf, handing out spoons while still keeping an eye on the door.

A saucer with the delicacy was gently tossed Wulf's way, floating gently towards the young man. "Mickey, you want in?" Ken cut another piece and extended it to his other friend.

"Guy can program a terminal blindfolded at high gee and he still asks the stupid questions," Mickey said with a grin. "And Soto will be here soon. He wanted to make his entrance once things had calmed down."

Wulf beamed happiness, his mouth already full of warm apple pie, and looked from engineer to captain. "S'good," he mumbled appreciatively, then finally swallowed and came up for enough air to speak real words. "Thanks you guys," he said. "This is awesome!" He'd caught up on current events some now too, though he still stared at Mickey's eye as reality overwrote fiction. "You guys faked the fight," he confirmed his understanding and chuckled. "Nice." More pie vanished into the comm tech's maw.

"Happy birthday buddy." Ken said as he put out the last two slices for himself and the captain.

"Thanks!" Enthused Wulf. "What's that?" He asked, indicating a box sat up on the galley counter.

"Birfday pwesnt." Ken answered with a mouth full of cake.

Spoon hanging out of his mouth, Wulf did a classic double-take and, head at a rakish tilt, regarded Ken with a happy confusion. "I thoug'his was'th present," the tech said around the spoon, but his eyes were bright darkness.

"This is cake." Ken replied with an empty mouth.

Wulf chuckled. "It *was* cake. Well, pie..." he corrected, happily. But his eyes kept going to the mystery box.

"Look, Wulf, if you don't want a present I'll happily take it back." Ken said before emptying his plate.

"I want the present!" Wulf said, far too quickly, standing up and walking over to the counter to pick up said box. There was a promising weight to it, a sense of something... interesting. Tentatively he looked back to Mickey and Ken, before carefully unwrapping the packing to reveal whatever was hidden inside.

Inside was a to-scale replica of the Syracuse Twelve Ken was building this past week. "It's a model of the first NASA mission to Titan. Thought you might like it." Ken explained.

There were no words capable of pushing through from the comm tech's brain to his mouth right now. No, all the languages Wulf knew and not one syllable of any of them would leave the confines of his skull. He simply stood, staring at this painstakingly accurate model with a sense of child-like wonder colouring his features, eyes studying every miniscule and accurate detail, mouth open as if something might magically present itself. He stood like that for a while, lost in study and appreciation of all the hard effort that went into this little fella.

"It..." Wulf honestly looked like he might shed a tear. "It even has to-scale cable ties," Wulf enthused. "And the bearings... the lettering..." The merest tip of the ball of his little finger on his right hand lovingly traced the tiny lettering 'Syracuse Twelve' on the lander. "It's just... so beautiful, dude."

"You're welcome, made it myself and all." Ken poured himself a cup of coffee and stepped next to Wulf to admire his own handiwork.

Wulf turned to the tall, wiry engineer beside him, expression conveying just exactly how impressed he was by this fact. "You made it?" The broad grin on the tech's face radiated happiness and pride. "Thank you, Ken," he said, with a warm sincerity to his words. "Best birthday ever." Wulf picked the lander up and let it rest across the open palm of his right hand to include their XO in the shared joy. "Check it out, Mickey!"

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