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MSPNPC Aldur Inkaral, "Birthday stew"


Maxwell Traenor
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((Small Town near Remote Industrial Facility, Zakdorn))


::Aldur Inkaral mopped his brow and took another sip of the stew. Excellent, it was progressing as expected. Although, there was just a tinge of something . . . Ah, balroot, that was it. Just a little too much balroot. He adjusted the recipe in his head slightly to compensate, mentally weighing the different aromatic properties of the herbs at his disposal to find the one that would mask it. There could be no minor imperfections in this stew. Today was Minar's 11th birthday and he would ensure that she had her favorite stew just the way she liked it. Nodding decisively he reached into the storage unit and plucked a leaf off one of the bunches of herbs. He smelled it carefully to ensure its suitability, then frowned. He threw it away in disgust, but, no, it wasn't the leaf that smelled. He glanced down at his stew, horrified, but that wasn't it either. The window was open in a bid to attract customers, as the shift up at the complex would be ending soon. Aldur got up and walked heavily to the window and looked out to see a huge plume of smoke rising from one corner of the complex.::


::He froze for a moment, unable to think. Then, no. No, no, no, there was nothing wrong. There was no fire. It was just a test. Yes. Aldur wasn't sure exactly what they got up to in that complex, and he didn't need to. That was for the really bright people to know, and he was fine leaving it at that. But Minar should have informed him if there was going to be something awful looking like that. She wouldn't have wanted him to worry. Then again, she was only a child. An extraordinarily gifted child, to be sure. She got that from her mother. But a child nonetheless. They must simply have not told her about this test, or drill, or whatever nonsense they were pulling today. But it was nothing to worry about, he was sure. He almost convinced himself, almost turned away. It couldn't possibly be . . . But now he could hear the warning sirens, and now there were people exiting the complex. Not in the cheerful saunter of people getting off work and looking for dinner, but a rushing mob, shoving each other to get away. ::


::Aldur felt the dread rise in his chest. That fear was always lurking whenever Minar was at work, that something would happen and he wouldn’t be able to get to her, might not even know about it. Now it reared its head and tore at his heart. He threw open the door and rushed out, hobbling up the road as best he could. Luckily the fastest runners from the complex came level with him quickly, and he grabbed one of their arms, trying to pull the man aside to beg an explanation. He pulled away and bent over in a coughing fit, but it didn't matter. The panicked look on his face told enough of the story. Another runner coughed and collapsed in a heap in the middle of the road.::


::He looked up at the black plume hanging in the sky and for a moment stood petrified with horror at the thought he couldn't even bring himself to think. Slowly he moved one foot, then the other, and then he was running, too, he didn't know how, but he was running towards the complex and he had to get to Minar, had to get her out, but then someone reached out and grabbed him and he spun around, stumbled, and sat down hard on the edge of the road. ::


::He couldn't see clearly. There was a face hovering in front of his, but he couldn't make it out through the veil of . . . tears? No, they couldn't be tears, he couldn't be crying. Minar was fine, he just had to get to her, just hold her and make sure. He scrubbed his fist across his face and looked up at the person kneeling in front of him. Rican. A good friend, and one of the guards at the complex. He looked up and realized he’d made it as far as the gates. He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. She merely moved his hands away and stared at him worriedly. ::


Inkaral: Minar! Did you see her? Where is she?


Rican: Aldur, listen, you can’t go in there.


::Aldur wasn’t listening, he pushed her away and scrambled back up, walking towards the open gates as fast as he could make his legs go.::


Inkaral: I have to find Minar.


Rican: You know that isn’t true. Listen to yourself. You can barely breathe now, you won’t survive the smoke in there. Think!


::He stopped and spun to glare at her. It wasn’t a very powerful glare, since he immediately bent over, clutching his knees and letting out a sob. He tried to compose himself, blinked more tears away and peered up at her from beneath the wisps of hair currently falling into his eyes. She glared back at him more effectively with steely grey eyes and pursed lips, auburn hair hanging limply in the still air. Unable to answer without his voice cracking, he took a moment to think for the first time since he looked out the window. Out the window . . . of his restaurant . . . where the stove was still on. Wide-eyed, he forced himself back upright and peered over Rican’s shoulder at the second little plume of smoke there. Rican looked around as well, and threw up her hands, presumably in disgust. Aldur hung his head, trying to think clearly through the despair flooding his brain. He looked to Rican, conviction written plainly across his face.::


Inkaral: I have to get in there. I have to find her.


Rican: ::with a sigh:: Go home. Your restaurant is on fire. People will be panicking. ::she shook her head:: Aldur, you’ve never been the most reasonable person.


::Aldur nodded once, reluctantly, not meeting her eyes. He knew it wasn’t reasonable. He’d never been any good at tactics and reasonable decision making. That was why he was running a restaurant that was barely keeping afloat while his daughter supported them working on whatever top secret business they did up at the complex. If he’d just done better on the tests, he could have been the one working up there, and she wouldn’t be trapped in a burning building. And there it was, he’d finally admitted it. It was possible, of course, that she’d made it out, was just with a different group of people. But to the terrified core of his being, in the cold stone lump of fear that had been his heart a few minutes ago, he knew she was still in there.::


Inkaral: I have to make sure she’s okay.


::His voice was weaker now, lacking conviction. Some small portion of his brain was going ahead without him and mapping out a series of plans unclouded by fear. He felt betrayed by his own mind, but was powerless in the face of cold reason.::


Rican: There is help coming, qualified help. You won’t make it five steps inside. Go home. Make food for people. You understand that, if nothing else, so go do what you are capable of doing.


::Aldur bowed his head, defeated, and turned away. He spoke without looking back at her.::


Inkaral: Find her. Please.


::He walked slowly back down the road, putting one foot in front of the other. Nothing to do but keep moving. There were people swarming the shop and already that little fire was beginning to die out. But there would be no stew tonight, and no birthday. Just for tonight, though. Minar would be home and safe tomorrow. Clinging desperately to that conviction, he raised his head high, set his chin. He made it all the way back to the restaurant, to the blackened kitchen and the ruined pot of charcoal on the stove. Then he collapsed on the floor, buried his head in his hands and wept.::


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MSPNPC Aldur Inkaral

Chef


~as simmed by~


Ensign Mpeba - Engineering Officer, USS Darwin NCC-99312-A

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